Category: Stories

The Fisher Princess III

The Fisher Princess I / The Fisher Princess II

The stranger lies on their two-seater sofa, a wrinkled cream-colored bed sheet tucked neatly around her body. Her hair, still damp to the touch, has been arranged so that it falls over the edge, pooling on the corded rug. Max kneels down, a plastic comb in her hand. She begins very slowly carding through the fine strands, stopping only to delicately pick through the worst tangles with her fingers. The stranger doesn’t stir.

“How you doing?” Cal asks, bringing a wooden chair over to sit by them. 

“Plummy keen,” Max says, an old inside joke. Cal feels relief then, clear and warm. In the truck headlights, arms wrapped around her chest, in a state of partial undress and shivering furiously, she had looked not fragile, but frighteningly unfamiliar to him: alien, threatening. He’d had to push past the feeling to rush to her, peeling his fleece jacket off as he jumped out of the truck, but still it had lingered—a ripple of fear in an otherwise placid mind.

Now, secure in the cabin, he feels the last of that emotion release him. He eases into the chair, resting his chin in his hands as he examines the stranger’s face, studiously, methodically, as though searching a craggy mountainside for a foothold. Her oval-shaped face is completely, unnervingly still. Every muscle is relaxed, pliant, freed from the burden of expression. A pallid canvas. But underneath purple-veined lids, her eyes move feverishly, unnaturally.

(more…)

Ur-Girl

Twenty-nine and rapidly losing her battle with self-disgust, the oracle takes the complicated step of formally rejecting her birthright. It’s a big deal, but, as with most of her decisions, the enormity of it is inversely proportional to her confidence about it. When she meets her sisters at a bar downtown, she is cagey, leery about questions, and secretive about her motives. She meanders from point to point. A hummingbird in a sea of carnivorous flowers.

She tries to soften the blow of her departure even as she formalizes it. She tries to play it off casually, but winds up defending her desire to leave with more passion than she truly feels. An actor in a play, in an ill-fitting costume lined in pink seed pearls, stumbling over her overwrought lines, she chatters like a parrot at the table. Cigarette smoke fills her vision. Three pairs of unfeeling green eyes stare at her through the gray haze, but she can’t seem to stop talking. There isn’t any money in prophecy anymore. Truth isn’t a commodity worth selling.

“It’s my choice,” she says. Inside her starchy, rigid white blouse, her flesh recedes with horror at the sound of her voice, which wobbles, cracks, and then fades into nothing but noise. The hummingbird, which at least possessed its beauty even when it was lost, transmutes into a blood-soaked mosquito.

Her sisters listen in dutiful, but sullen, silence. Identical oval-shaped faces hovering above thin necks and clasped hands, symmetrical as gems set in a choker. They don’t say it, but she understands what they want her to do. She takes a deep breath and focuses on their eyes, turning the key in her mind that exposes her to the current of their true feelings. The hard pebble of honesty, lost in the dirty waters, retrieved by her hand. Swirling around her sister’s irises as monotonously as stock tickers along a marquee, she reads the dull, soapy froth of feelings that collect there like tea leaves: condescension, apathy, and, naturally, glee. The unabashed and unconcealed joy of lesser members watching the scion fail.

Even more than this sisterly contempt, which she expected even as she implored them to consider her feelings, she hates the shame of unfulfilled potential, a dagger which she aims at herself and which rises in her throat as she walks home, bilious, chunky, aggressive as heckling after a poor performance. Standing naked in the shower, she punishes herself with the image of their eyes.

(more…)

In the Shadow of the Rain

On her way to collect a secondhand bedside table from a Craigslist user, Emma looks up at the sky above Setagaya to find the most beautiful cloud in memory. A mass of corpulent, slow-moving, baby pink sweetness, it hovers in the center of the firmament like a nude Renaissance courtier pillowed in rose-colored velvet, or a bulbous mountain of huge, bruised, tumbling peaches. Caught halfway into a crosswalk, she stops and stares spellbound until a car horn yelps at her and she jumps, half-bows in apology, and hurries over to the other side. The buildings immediately eclipse her view of the cloud, and she puts it out of mind, turning instead to the vibrating, navy blue arrow on her phone screen orienting her towards Setagaya 1-chome.

There is an awkward exchange of greetings and the Craigslist user–a young woman much like Emma–unceremoniously presents her with the little bedside table, made of flimsy plywood and seafoam-green fabric and just light enough, Emma thinks, to carry back to the station. However, having seriously overestimated both her strength and her stamina, she is forced to stop a few times on her return, huffing and puffing under the street lights that are now blinking on. She ducks into a drugstore, bedside table and all, to buy a bottle of sour-tasting, violet-colored sports drink, and chugs it in the shade of the store’s awning.

Even in the evening, summer is woundingly hot, and her undershirt sticks to her skin as closely and as suffocatingly as glossy protective shrink-wrapping. Around her, commuters are walking the last mile home, and the air buzzes with snippets of phone calls and crows cawing. She wipes her mouth and tucks the bottle into her bag. As she looks about her, she spots the cloud again. It feels closer now, somehow, as well as larger and more beautiful. Dominating the darkening sky, it moves, serenely, entrancingly, like a carnation-pink whale swimming in the bluest waters. Emma smiles, saturated in the feeling of wonder that only the natural world’s sudden, unexpected pleasures can provide.

She goes to pick up the dresser again but, as she heaves it up into her arms, she notices something strange and new. An alleyway spirals perpendicularly from the main road where she stands, and, at its end, a soft, strange light flickers. Maybe it’s the cloud, its cool-toned shadow casting far into her mind, leaving her drunken, mystified, sopoforic, and all too eager to participate in the world’s hidden secrets, but she is instantly, overwhelming fascinated. She quickly tucks the chest of drawers against the wall of a nearby apartment building where it can remain temporarily undisturbed, and sets out to investigate the source of the light.

(more…)

The Fisher Princess II

The Fisher Princess I

The stranger hovers above the water, perfectly upright, as though her body were an ornament hung from heaven. Her toes point down, rippling the surface ever so slightly. Max stops moving. The cold water laps at her as she stands at the edge of the red-orange square, looking up almost shyly, like a child encountering an imposing work of art. The stranger’s chin is tucked against her chest, and her long hair obscures her face, but the breeze shifts the strands and Max catches a shard of her unconscious, inanimate expression, a glimpse of her plummy, veined eyelids. Max breathes in sharply. The spell instantly breaks. The stranger, consumed by gravity, falls like a rock, straight into the water. The red-orange square vanishes.

Not thinking, Max rushes forward. The lake bottom drops underneath her, and she is submerged. Blind, she swings out clumsily, her open hand making contact first with the stranger’s hair, which she grabs by the fistful. She finds a limp arm, and then a shoulder, and Max reaches in to encircle the stranger’s waist and prop her up so her face is above water, just like Cal had shown her on the first day. Max pulls the body in towards her own; the stranger is warm to the touch, like peaches left in the sun. At this depth, Max can just barely touch the lake bottom, but she finds it in the blue-black darkness and she pushes against it hard, swallowing water in her exertion. The shore is hardly ten feet away but it takes all her energy to half-swim, half-drag, the stranger there.

Max leans down on the sand, her ear above the stranger’s mouth, and one hand on her throat. She waits there for a moment that feels like it expands like elastic into an eternity. But eventually she hears how the waves beat in time with the stranger’s heart and improbably steady breathing, and she sighs with relief. The rush of adrenaline that powered her disappears, and the weight of her exhaustion drops hard onto her mind and buckles her legs. She allows herself a moment’s rest, her chest heaving. A bird cries out somewhere on the other side of the lake. Max fishes out a walkie talkie from the zippered-up pocket of her canvas pants and presses the large central button. It buzzes, and a voice appears on the end of the line.

“Max? What’s taking you so long?”

“Hey, uh, C-Cal…” To her surprise and horror, Max discovers that she can’t answer without her voice breaking.

“Where are you?” She hears the creaking swing of the cabin’s front door as he steps outside.

“The l-lake, just off the path. N-Not far. Can you bring the truck around?” Her teeth chatter loudly. “And blankets.”

“Stay put, OK? Don’t go anywhere.”

Max laughs bleakly. “Where would I go?”

The line beeps, and Max sets the communicator aside. She drops onto her elbows, next to the stranger. Looking over, she remembers with a start that she is naked, and quickly she removes her t-shirt and drapes it over her. Unsure what to do but convinced this is not yet enough, Max arranges her arms alongside her body, and gingerly brushes the remainder of her wet hair onto her shoulders and chest. The glacial stillness of her features, freckled with water and sand, seem to suggest a rest far beyond dreaming. Max reassures herself that the stranger is breathing and then returns to the path, shivering in her sports bra, to watch for the truck’s headlights.

The Fisher Princess III

The Fisher Princess

At about half-past nine in the evening, a red-orange square appears over the lake. It ripples against the water like a vast impermeable sheet, or the reflection of a bloodied, disfigured moon. The square itself is invisible from the dirt path, but Maxine, bicycling back to camp, immediately notices its light, which appears as a wash of color that bathes the dark treeline in orange. Her body reacts before her mind does, and she clamps down hard on the hand brakes, skidding to a halt.

Her weight shifts, and one foot comes down to rest against the path. Between the dense boughs of pine, Maxine watches as the bright red-orange light flickers, intensifying and deepening in color. Her eyes track the color as it projects itself, a wave of dark orange, onto first the dusty path, then the front bicycle wheel, and her old sneakers. The effect reminds her of Venetian blinds against a window, blocking the rich sunlight and scattering it into bars against the floor. For a moment, she is convinced she’s lost track of time somehow and passed out on a bed of pine needles. What she’s seeing now must be the reflection of the dawn on the path. But it is almost completely dark out, and the red-orange is too impossible, suggesting an artificial, rather than a natural, origin. Max frowns as she examines the treeline more closely. The light looks almost like neon of a searchlight, or a particularly strong flashlight, and she imagines a lost camper in a canoe whirling one around in terror. In her mind’s eye, the canoe tips over and the anonymous camper sinks wordlessly into the lake, arms akimbo, the tendrils of her hair coloring the surface of the clear water like an ink stain. Panic rising, Max quickly gets off the bicycle; it tumbles into the dirt as she pushes past the foliage.

Maxine’s sneakers, scuffed up after two months of summertime, sink softly into the sand. Catching her breath, she stares at the square. It lays, rippling but unmoved by the tide, a few meters from the shore. She cannot make sense of it rationally, but still her mind tries on different interpretations: A bright orange mainsail, ripped from a pleasure boat during a squall, a waterproof picnic cloth, a strip of shimmering industrial plastic, brought by the west wind. Which could it be?

She’s still lost in thought when the square suddenly erupts, doubling in size in a matter of seconds. Its sides quiver and shatter, blossoming into smaller geometric forms that group and reform into the original square. Despite this frantic activity, the rest of the lake water remains undisturbed. Max watches, perfectly still, her gaze fixed to the image as it decomposes and recomposes, over and over. She blinks a few times. The panic she felt earlier has gone. Her mind is instead dominated by a peculiar wave of calm. With barely any realization of what she’s doing, she rolls up her pant legs and sheds her shoes to wade into the water.

It doesn’t occur to her that something so paranormal, so explicitly removed from nature, could pose a danger to her. Later, when she tries to recall the setting, she remembers only the water, cool to the touch. A clouding of her mind, as though each of her senses were filled with white noise, bars any other possible memory. She is almost knee-deep into the water when the stranger emerges from the dead center of the square.

The Fisher Princess II

Two people

In in the morning she wakes up very suddenly, the dream caught painfully in her throat. She sits up and spits it out onto her hand. It is is small, soft to the touch, growing and shrinking to the rhythm of human breath. It leaves thin lines of blood and saliva on her forefinger and thumb, and on the sleeve of her pajama shirt, where she rubs it clean. 

The curtains are drawn. Her roommate on the other side of the room is asleep, face turned towards the wall. According to her blue neon alarm clock, palpitating intermittently in the dim light: there are twenty-seven minutes before nine, and so twenty-seven minutes before she must leave the bed, wash her face, and prepare herself for the day.

Sitting in a pool of white sheets, her knees at her chest, her arms over her bare, unshaven legs; she rolls the dream between two fingers, trying to commit the weight and texture of it to memory. It is heavy as a marble, heavy as the moon. Holding it feels like summer’s end strawberries taste. She closes her hand around it; she lowers her head.

In the dream, a girl she loved (loves? She’s given up on tenses) held her hand on a school bus. Much too real; never real enough. A dream’s life is early and fatal like one of early April’s milky snowbanks, an instance of tender, pink-hued cold shot through by sweaty weather. That girl’s doe eyes, her baby blue jacket, her fragrant hair; the illusion of warmth of her fingers spreading through her body like a criminal’s car moving out of sight, getting away. The heat of the dream stains her, slick and violet, smooth as butter and sweet as honey in her blood.

An unpleasant, painful expression sweeps across her face — and then, as always, she recovers. She swings her legs off the bed. She is getting older, and her dreams are getting smaller, and smaller, and smaller. I’m not disappointed, she says out loud, to herself, to the translucent, beating dream resting in the center of her hand. I’m realistic. And yet somewhere, maybe not anywhere physical and quantifiable, but somewhere: she is leaning over to the girl in the school bus, in the sunlight, and she is kissing her temples, the apples of her cheeks, her toothy, blissful smile.

It’s difficult for her to learn not to be bitter. She is still trying.

Eve

She names herself each time. She is Sphinx, once; her back to the door and a knife between her pink breasts. She is Rose, once; at the bottom of the lake, arms a circle around her head, blossoms in her green heart. Butterfly, then Beulah, then Beast. A prostitute, a priestess, a pirate. Her bodies are always perfectly formed, glowing and new as spring’s first bird, summer’s last moon; she is born with silver coins under her tongue, feet and hands like the opening lotus.

And yet, each time, she cannot help but feel displaced, formless, somehow, like a shifting tide, a faint memory owned by a fainter mind. It is as though certain parts of her were taken while she was still clay and never returned to her. As though she were Galatea, or David, and her sculptor had given her body unearthly beauty but the wrong weight, all cool grace and no substance, possibility becoming fantasy.

Often she tries to understand what she needs so acutely; in the dark, she closes her eyes and says to herself these parts of me that were taken, they are a little like the smell of apples, a little like the layers of the ocean, a little like the cure only touch can be. It’s like trying to remember a painful dream and she is never comforted. Apples, ocean, touch? She doesn’t want to be a poet; she just wants. Neither her thoughts nor her voice can give these parts that she is missing life, but none of her desires are stronger than their absence. No pain like that pain.

Whether she is Gelsomina on the rocks of Gibraltar or Mata laying seeds in the valley of the dead, she knows, in some blurred, quiet way, that she has arms and a mouth but no light, nails and teeth but no real eyes. A half-made spirit in a silken body; white-gray marble princess melting into the sand. She is the shape of a river after rain, spilling over its banks, losing blood to the dirt in bitterness. And yet — even when her waters leave her for the hunger of the trees, she is still the river, tied into the bowl of the earth and the breastbone of the heavens, and she will empty into the oceans of Aphrodite and the groves of Athena. She will come back, again, and she will take any body, any name, until she has what can only be hers.

HOROSCOPE PREDICTIONS FOR THIS MONTH

ARIES, TURN FERAL: You’ll be more domestic animal than humanoid; oily blood and salt fish will be more yours than maple sugar and liquid sunsets. You don’t just break hearts, you eat them. Everyone likes a little tenderness, yes? But they think love, and you’re thinking chewable.

TAURUS, BLEED OUT: That blue-black night when you accidentally drop your briefcase on the subway floor not once but twice, don’t you dare take the short-cut through the yellow wheat fields home. Those Capricorn boys don’t care for you, they will cut your hair with butterfly knives and sell your clothes to housewives.

GEMINI, SKIP TOWN: There’s a spot behind the burger joint, you know which one. When your Pisces mother kicks you out, walk the two blocks there and feel the onion-sweet, beef-thick air in the dark until it snags underneath you; pull, pull. The fabric of this dimension will dissolve at the acid of your palm and perseverance, creating a hole two feet across, into a new universe. It’s just big enough you to jump in headfirst. No, I can’t tell you if you’ll be any happier, should you go.

CANCER, ACCEPT IT: You’ve got no beauty, but you will be lucky. You ugliest, worthiest of queens: rise.

LEO, MAKE LOVE: If you’re going to kiss him, do it at the pulse point, the throat, first like a wolf then like a married man, and keep at it until he forgets his mama’s name. Good. Get a tattoo afterwards (might I suggest a lion? No? Too obvious? A dragon, then.) If you’re out looking for a quickie, consider picking up an Aries. They’re biters, though; beware.

VIRGO, DON’T GO SLOW: On the day the city floods, hike up your skirts and run. You can’t cheat Death, but you can beat him up, if you find and catch him unguarded (his favorite victim, a sweet-tempered, curly-haired Aquarius, was taken during a storm; so now Death sleeps during rain. All villains have something they’d rather never remember.)

LIBRA, WANT IT: But don’t say it, don’t touch it, not yet. Some things must be courted before they are killed. Wait. Soon you will sink your hands in, run your tongue through. A warning: wanting is a kind of cheating, sometimes, and even if you get away with it, that won’t make it worthwhile.

SCORPIO, SPIT: Onto the sidewalk, and then into the fire, before you start up your brew. Eye of newt is a little old-fashioned, how about the heart of a Taurus?

SAGITTARIUS, WRITE: Last month’s paycheck was cut in half, and your blouse will disappear from the laundromat (Leo looks better in it. Sorry.) It’ll be alright. Sit at your kitchen table, half-naked, and finish your stories.

CAPRICORN, BE CRUEL: You are hungry. So feed.

AQUARIUS, COME HOME: Count your wounds and gather your things. You gave it your best shot, but it’s time to call it a day. Don’t fall asleep on the subway; don’t run the risk of a Libra’s love. Your body is demonic, but never rotting; can the same be said of the side of the angels? Those bastards are falling, every which way.

PISCES, IT’S OKAY TO CRY: You’re still here, aren’t you? Yes. Yes. Yes, you are. Say it with me, and then repeat it: yes, I am.

Unedited Excerpts of the Very, Very Bad Novel I Wrote in November 2012

PAGE 69

It is a landscape of a song: greens and yellows, lulls like hillsides, crags and cliffs as notes strike and shiver, the sun in the mouth of a singer that would foretell their deaths. They listen, Henrietta’s weight shifting until their thighs are touching ever so slightly, and she can smell butter and wool and salty sweat and throaty, musky something-or-the-other (Roy). And suddenly the song has new associations. It’s not death, anymore. It’s a room in shadow, and sitting, and touch, and eyes closed and listening until the music is all gone and then looking up into someone’s face and smiling, smiling.

PAGE 27

And she shows them her hand-ax and tells them stories of golden robberies and nights spent under the stars, when they took from the rich and kissed the poor on the lips, and taking blouses from clotheslines and wearing scars like tiger stripes and battle wounds like lipstick, accessories after the fact, proof of living, of living greatly. And Henrietta grins and pokes fun at gang methodology, at the sloppiness of their structures, at the ill-timed plots and too-close getaways and Penelope rolls her eyes and asks are you jealous, do you wanna join, do you wanna be our planner, our strategist our bloody fucking timekeeper? It’s a joke but Henrietta says yes, yes, yes. And Penelope gets up and knights Henrietta the engineer with her ax, laying the handle parallel to her neck, just above the shoulder, and she whispers all hail Henrietta, general of the Lucky Dragons before dissolving into a fit of laughter.

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And then the universe will take them and remake them. The heart of a star out of bicycle parts, the viscous swirl of a newborn galaxy out of the body of the continents, a glimmering planet out of the red streaks in Henrietta’s hair when she stands in the sun, a square foot of space dust out of the curve of Toru’s cheek, a meteorite out of the plastic bags collecting at the bottom of the ocean. It’s barely any consolation at all, but it is something.

PAGE 91

There is lays, the barbed lattice, exposed, layers of blood peeling off, distance and days of time, draped over him, mixing in with milky warmth of his black eyes, drilling into a lifetime’s worth of wanting, understanding; all he’s been meaning to say, emerging, some maritime naked goddess stepping out of a grey-green pool, cautiously, purposefully, dripping, shedding. Henrietta listens to it all as though watching it happen, as though his loneliness occupied space in the room, as though it shifted the gravity of her world, pulling her in, unfolding before her (she wishes she could stab it, kill it, or else clasp it close, keep it safe, and the conflict grates against her, wound like a bond, a chemical link that not even a millennium on Earth could not destroy). He keeps going.

PAGE 100

“There’s one other bit, too,” She leans in. There’s a theory between his brows, a string of variables in the soft threads of his dark hair, a list of environmental factors hidden in the heart of his hands, where he shakes, like the newborn surface of the Earth separating, like the switch in seasons traced out in the swiveling of the sky, like the poetry that is a pustule rather than a prayer, it hurts and harms him, the way her eyes bore and search him; one last trial run, one run into the ocean, one final experiment. “One thing I haven’t said,” she continues, purposefully dragging it out. There’s a luxury in that: there is no time left for them, but she can keep him here, hanging on the edge of truth and pain (the pain that accompanies truth, the truth that gives pain its value, shaped in the form of her smile, crawling closer). Her fingers come up to his jawline.

PAGES 101-102

“What do you think it’ll be like?” He asks her, as she travels from collar to cuff, peeling away cloth. “Will it hurt?”

“No,” she says, reverently, “No. You won’t even realize it’s happening. One second you’ll be here, and the next you won’t be. Like falling asleep.”

“Falling asleep,” he repeats. “Will there be anything before? A flash of light, an explosion?”

“Oh, you’re so melodramatic,” she says, laughing. “That kind of stuff only happens in movies.”

He rolls his eyes. “You say that like you’ve been through this before, but even you can’t know exactly how it’ll go down.”

“I can make an informed guess based on evidence,” she says, arms curling around his neck. Now that time is going, it’s so much easier to make these movements, take decisions like pressing her toes to his ankle, her fingertips to his ribs (count them, count the bones from which you were made, the bones you now reclaim before the universe turns you both into dust, again). He smiles and the density and temperature of her heart increases by at least a thousand percent (pure mathematics) and she groans a little (I’m a goner).

“No,” she says, “it won’t be a big deal. It’ll be quiet and it won’t hurt.” If the universe hurts him, she’ll come back in the next one, she’ll tear it to pieces with her teeth, she’ll pin it to the ground and break its back.

The Last Three Days of Nissil And Henny, Part the Second.

PART THE FIRST

In the morning, Nissil and Henrietta go out for ice cream. The first three food carts are empty, but Henrietta spots a fourth in the park.

It’s on its side, the collapsible roof and poles in a muddied huddle, positioned and hit by the light in such a way as to give the illusion of wide shoulder blades and a tail, some kind of slow and shy prehistoric mammal. Henrietta is reminded of her family dog, a comically stupid Great Dane named Mario.

There had been an autumn evening a few years back when a thunderstorm had stranded them in a grocery store twelve blocks away from home. Henrietta had untied Mario’s lead from the door handle and sat next to the cashier while he padded in and out, sometimes stopping to lie in the rain before slowly returning, and then repeating the process again. His body, becoming progressively darker, quivered and shook, muscles distending and contracting on the pavement. His head would rise and swivel towards her, eyes invisible in the waning light. Henrietta had had to laugh. It was only twenty hours later, when she woke up to find him motionless on the kitchen floor, that she realized what those movements had been  – a death dance.

She walks towards the cart with her arms outstretched, hands out, just like how she used to approach Mario. The illusion remains in the folds and bends in the broken structure, the dirty fabric and the pools of still water, even after she smiles in sad surprise, her arms dropping to her sides.

The freezer is rapidly defrosting, flooding the compartments. The paper packaging is soft and soggy to the touch. Nissil sticks one arm inside the inside of the cart and, with his usual good-humored gumption and magician’s luck, finds one orange popsicle, still relatively intact. They sit on a bench, close enough that it’s clear they are together, but still too far apart for a casual observer to believe them to be intimate. Henrietta is wearing her dirty school blouse and a pair of bright yellow shorts, found underneath the hotel bed. Nissil has taken a concierge’s uniform jacket from a closet behind reception.

“You’re not going to be able to return it.” Henrietta says.

“I’ll put it back within 48 hours.” Nissil replies smoothly, unwrapping the popsicle. “I did say that, didn’t I? Here, have some.”

Henrietta takes a bite, chewing in a preoccupied way for a few moments before speaking again.

“I just mean, we’ve got, maybe, three days tops, and with all the stuff there’s left to do how could we go back and leave the uniform?”

Nissil rolls his eyes a little at her. “What stuff, exactly? What stuff have we got to do?”

Henrietta lets a minute pass, just so that he’ll mistakenly think she’s puzzled, that she is genuinely stumped. For the first time in days, she dedicates herself to a careful examination of her surroundings. In front of her lies a paved road, meant for bicycles, followed by a row of trees, one of which is a magnolia in flower.

“Good thing we didn’t miss magnolia season,” she says, just so he’ll think she’s trying to change the subject, that she doesn’t remember what stuff they should do in the last sixty or so hours of their lives, “that would have been so unfair.”

Nissil nods. His grin is so thankful that she almost decides not to say anything. Henrietta touches his shoulder like one does piano keys: consciously, with purpose, but gently, very gently. His face, she notices, is trembling very slightly. He continues to smile at her and once again she recalls Mario, half a day from death, sitting in the rain, turning to her with dark eyes.

She looks out at the magnolia, watching for some movement in the branches that she can interpret as a divine message, a decisive, godly signal. Like a child she tells herself if a flower falls from that tree, I won’t say anything. A minute passes. Henrietta takes the half-eaten popsicle from him, flings it into a trash can and stands up.

“Come on, Nissil. We should get to the hospital before noon.”