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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Diana, Princess of Wales (1997)

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The glass coffee table sharing the phone and the powder cocaine vibrated with the ring of the phone bell. Dimitri scowled.
“I just got a fucking unlisted number. Who’s trying to sell me stuff today!?”
His housemate, Mike, a thirtysomething divorcee paying twice his rent in child support, just muttered, “Your turn.”  With the rolled-up $20 bill that lived on the coffee table, Dimitri snorted his now somewhat disorganized line, and answered the phone on the third ring.
“Da?” He answered in Russian to leave open the possibility of making a telemarketer hang up.
“Dimitri, did you hear?” It was Samantha.
“No. Hear what?”
“There was a terrible accident. They think Princess Diana has died!”
Dimitri was not a big royals fan. In fact, he knew more about Kansas City Royals pitcher Kevin Appier than he did about the House of Windsor. He only knew about Princess Diana because her campaign against land mines held the attention of one of his piano students. Cheryl was a 15-year-old Miss Junior USA wannabe who needed to prepare something for the talent component of the competition.  Dimitri wrote a song for Cheryl.
            “Lady in white lace
            Red velvet heels
            Cries, ‘childhood’s no place
            For funeral peals.’
            Glistening tiara
            Reflecting bright light
            Shines on the children
            With no place in this fight.”
Cheryl’s mom, a knockout, used to be a broadcast reporter with WCBS-TV out of Manhattan. She “stopped out” of the workplace to have Cheryl and her brother, twenty months younger. Oops. She struggled to return to a major market, finally joining the new Fox Broadcast Network affiliate WTAF in Philadelphia, after ten years of trying. She looked a little like Samantha. Dimitri knew that he should NO WAY do anything too interesting on his weekly trips down Rt. 561 to Voorhees. Cheryl was too valuable a student. So valuable, in fact, that even after he got the gig on the Boardwalk, he kept her and two of her friends on his calendar. On Tuesdays, he made the haul back from Atlantic City to do lessons with her after school. She could have been at a friend’s one day, and I could try it with Mom. Cheryl is still in high school – dangerous. Could I convince them to go out with me at the same time? Ostorozhno – careful. Besides, I give three lessons on one day. Can’t risk that.
That calculus had nothing to do with the price of tea in England. Samantha was shaken. Dimitri knew that the woman meant something to him, or he would find ways to blow her off when he wasn’t in her bed. He knew for certain that he meant way more than a ready orgasm to her. She called him. Him! She had three girlfriends she chatted with, and extended family in the area. Not to mention that she was starting to date someone steadily. Wow. He had better get over there. His 280Z knew the way. There had to have been streaks of rust on Haddonfield-Berlin Road from his underbody. He did one more line for the road, cut two lines for Mike, and shoved off. Literally. He always strode with a forward lean.
Out the metal door of Apartment 217. Through the plank with the torn veneer pretending to blend with the faux maple paneling in the hallway. Down the staircase and through the fire exit into the sizzling blacktop parking lot. Whoosh! Into the Z without even rolling down the roof and, in a daze, down 611 to Roosevelt Expressway, the Schuylkill Expressway, the Vine Street Expressway, the Ben Franklin Bridge, Rt. 30, then Rt. 70, right on 561, then off into Sam’s development before Cherry Hill turned into Haddonfield. The Z drove itself; Dimitri was tuned into special coverage on the NPR station Rafi the Kibbutznik always listened to. Who was driving, the Egyptian scion of the Harrod retail chain?  Was he drunk? Idi na khui!Go to hell! The paparazzi did it. One took pictures of the dying princess and tried to sell the pics to the BBC. Asshole. Put him in jail and throw away the key. Better yet, put him in the Gulag. Naked. In February.
Dimitri swung the Z next to Samantha’s BMW. He checked the space that he left and avoided flinging the door into her shiny black side panel. Noticing that his khaki shorts had just been hooked by a spring that had cut through the upholstery in the driver’s seat, he uttered an imprecation, reached into the tape storage compartment and pulled out electrical, not audio, tape, slapped a piece on the errant spring, and slammed the car door. Before he could knock on the solid wood door of Samantha’s condo, it opened.
“Sam!”
“Thanks for coming, Dimbo.” They hugged, for once without sexual overtones. Dimitri felt moisture on his cheek. Samantha had been crying. “Dim,” she said in an undertone, “don’t be alarmed. My girlfriend is here. She knows you’re coming. She wants to meet you. It’s OK.”
Dimitri misread Samantha’s comment.
“Which one?” He assumed it was Ashley, Jessica, or Val, the girls she would hang out with.
“No, this is my girlfriend, Natalya. She’s the assistant GM over at Hooters.”
Dimitri swallowed the hard-boiled egg that had suddenly blocked his throat. He and Samantha had an understanding since they had decided to be friends with benefits. Neither would talk about the other’s sex lives outside the relationship. Sam wanted to find a life partner. Dimitri just wanted to have fun, as Cyndi Lauper might have said. If Sam needed to become monogamous, so be it. Dimitri, for his part, promised not to bring any viral visitors to the bedroom.  But Samantha a bisexual?? Never considered it. But, interessno. Ochen interessno. Very interesting.
Samantha removed her right arm from Dimitri’s shoulder and showed him in. As if he didn’t know every square inch of the place.
Natalya greeted Dimitri in Ukrainian, really just a dialect of Russian.
Primitye moii soboleznovaniye, accept my condolences,” Dimitri replied. Nataliya, jet-black-haired, with green eyes tinged with red from sobbing, sat in her denim miniskirt and a white tank  on Samantha’s sofa. “Please don’t bother getting up.”
The two conducted a bit of an introduction in Russian and Ukrainian. Dimitri was surprised to find himself translating half his thoughts from English into Russian. Unwrapping the linguistic pretzel of his trilingual brain, Dimitri switched to English to ask the women about the only question that mattered to them at the moment: the impact of Princess Diana on their emotions. If either woman felt discomfort with Dimitri in the room, neither gave evidence of it.  As for Dimitri, the situation presented many possibilities, but he knew he’d better just support his friend in her shock and surprise, and let everybody figure out their emotions in the weeks to come.
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Indian Lake (1997)

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Rafi had been married to Segal for six months when the whining about wanting to go to the Adirondacks became a little too loud. Segal was a big fan of the naturalist and writer Anne LaBastille, author of Woodswoman, about her experiences living in a log cabin with no utilities in the forest at an undisclosed location, somewhere outside of Old Forge. Readers of the book thought they could identify the locale as on Six Mile Lake; even though they were wrong, the specter of a throng of hero-seekers drove LaBastille into the forest on whatever body of water allowed her to receive her mail by motorboat.  Segal was as fired up about spending time in the woods as she had been about making aliyah, emigrating to Israel.
Not satisfied with the student’s year abroad, or even finding a job through an agency, Segal had lived on a kibbutz. No, make that two kibbutzim.She went once out of a Jewish nationalist fervor, with the intention of returning. The second time, she had made aliyah. This second time, she joined the governing body of the kibbutz, drove a tractor, became fluent at Hebrew, and even dated Orientals. Not Chinese pilgrims, learning about the triumph of the New Socialist Woman. In Israel, the term referred to Jews from Arab lands. This guy was an Iranian, an irooni. She liked him because he was shy. Rafi was a little like the irooni. She couldn’t tell why she found his social clumsiness attractive. Why do some women prefer facial hair, some prefer clean-shaven men, and some like three days’ worth of stubble?
“I don’t think we’re ever going to do something unless I do it myself, are we? ARE WE?”
“You said that, not me. Why are you saying this now? We talk about this over Pesach; I agreed we’ll do it this summer.”
“But it’s JUNE!” Segal raised her voice. It was reaching the level of annoyance that it had when he had just dumped Margie six weeks before and then he turned down a request for a dinner party so that he could attend a stargazing party at the Cricket Club. Strictly secret; a friend of a friend worked there, and he would unlock the gates if everyone could get there at the same time. Late arrivals would have to climb an eight-foot-high fence. The lights on Willow Grove Avenue didn’t stay on past 1 am, so it was very dark, suitably flat for telescopes, and manicured beyond the possibility of tripping and damaging valuable equipment. By the end of the fight that ensued when Rafi was demonstrating that he would not meet Segal’s every demand, she half-yelled, “I think this relationship has gone on long enough, don’t you?!” Rafi did not. He had fallen madly in love, and as far as he could tell, so had Segal. Best news? It was with each other. So ma yesh?
Rafi tried to defuse the current situation.  “Let’s walk up to Borders, get some coffee, and buy a Lonely Planet guide. We can make our reservations when we get back.”
Borders, to the annoyance of all their Mt. Airy clientele, closed at 6 on Sundays. Mt. Airyites always laid the blame for that one on the twenty society ladies who ran Chestnut Hill. Rafi and Segal were renting a house right next to Jenks School. Segal, who worked mostly from home, would lug her laptop on some days, or just take a tablet more often, to the Borders three blocks away at the top of Chestnut Hill. It was Rafi’s job, when he would let their Norwegian Elkhound Jezebel (the name was Rafi’s idea) out to pee, to toss the basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, and Nerf balls back to the kids waiting at the picket fence. Conveniently, it was 4:30 on a Sunday, so the school yard carried the usual weekend variety of basketballers, kids playing dodge ball, a young woman pounding tennis balls against the wall, and a few kids on bikes, several with training wheels, riding in circles while one parent watched. Jezebel relieved herself; Rafi had taken her running earlier in the day. No basketballs to worry about; the players were too old to control the play that poorly. Segal shut down the computer. Jez came in. Rafi gave her a biscuit. Rafi slipped on his Birkenstocks and Segal tied her shoes. Up the hill they walked. Rafi surged ahead, and remembering himself, slowed down and let Segal pull even. Rafi held the door open at the big bookstore. Segal started, by habit, to the magazine section. Rafi, heading off to the back of the store, shot off, “I get the guidebooks. See you in the coffeeshop in ten minutes.” Rafi felt Segal’s glower on the nape of his neck. She makes the money, she makes the decisions. But she would make his year hell if they did not go, not to mention that the whole marriage might be endangered.
Rafi knew not to order until Segal was on the way up the steps. He started browsing The Adirondack Book. History of the region. Boring. Geography. Lo ichpat li. Guide boats. Blorcz. Okay, okay, the index. Here we go. Camping – she’d never go for it. Bed and breakfast – too nice for me. I’d rather let her stay at a hotel and I’d camp on top of Mt. Marcy. Well, maybe Blue Mountain Lake – half as high. Well…
Segal materialized with her normal array of writing and tech magazines. She asked for Rafi’s coffee order.
“I’ll take a café mocha, cold, no ice. Would you like to stay at a bed and breakfast, a campgrounds, a motel, or some combination of the two?”
Ma yesh, Rafi, anachnu y’cholim livkhor acharei she’anachnu osim kamah zayin kri’ah! Maduah chayav l’cha ish rutzi-rutzi? Ben kamah atah, hamesh? (WTF, Rafi, we can make that decision after we do some fucking reading! Why do you have to be Mister Hurry-Hurry? How old are you, anyway, five?)”
Breathe, Rafi. “I will look at the books. I will make some lists. You order the coffee. Rak anachnu tz’richim la’asot mashehu b’itim k’rovot (Only we have to do something soon).
That evening, Rafi made lists of high-end, middle-range, and low-budget choices for each of the five geographic regions in the Adirondack State Park. He knew that Segal would make the decision in any case, but he would damn sure not take the blame. Segal was not going to work Monday without the decision being made.
* * *
The first stop was a detour to Cooperstown. Actually, below Cooperstown, on I-9, at the Viking Kennel, specialty breeder and boarder of Norwegian Elkhounds.  Jezebel was the first Elkhound that either Rafi or Segal had ever met; now, as she bounded out of the Saturn to meet the permanent residents of Viking Kennel, she was surrounded by silver doggie butts with tightly curled white, silver, and seal-tipped tails, wagging like icy circus hoops, the front ends being spade-shaped noses all sniffing her rectal cavity for a personal postcard.  The breeder remarked that Jez was a “stunning exemplar of the breed, clearly the work of a master breeder and a miracle of Nature.” Rafi and Segal would laugh at this on the way into the historic baseball village. Jezebel came from the Montgomery SPCA, Conshohocken Branch.
Rafi was not much of a baseball player. The game was not popular on the kibbutz. But Madonna had just costarred in the movie A League of Their Own, which told the story of the All American Girls’ Baseball League, and Segal wanted to come back with a Negro League souvenir for her boss. Plus, Segal, who had grown up Anastasia, was from the town that was “first in war, first in peace, and last in the National League.” Neither spouse had any illusion that Cooperstown was going to be the highlight of their trip, but as Segal had discovered the Viking Kennel, both thought that it would have been a shame to pass up on the opportunity for a pilgrimage. Neither one thought that the sun would be setting by the time they retrieved Jezebel and headed north to Indian Lake. As New York Route 10 droned on and on, and the sun dipped lower and lower, Segal grew testier and testier, and finally exploded with the phrase that serves as the ultimate rejection of a man,
Eizeh GEVER!What a (stupid, worthless, arrogant, ignorant, brazen, morally suspect) man!”
Rafi jutted his jaw against the barrage of buyer’s remorse as well as against the treacherous winding and lack of illumination on Rt. 30. Whenever Segal got too loud, Jezebel would trumpet her disapproval. Otherwise, the dog nuzzled the back of her parents’ necks, first Rafi, then Segal.
Finally, Rafi dragged the car into the Indian Lake Motel. The host’s cabin was dark, except for a clip-on flashlight that illumined a paper ripped out of a spiral notebook. On the paper was scrawled, “Rafi, Segal, Jezebel.” When Segal lifted it out of the pitted aluminum screen door, a dog biscuit fell out.
Suite 6 sported a double bed, a bunk bed, a TV with cable (this fact, advertised prominently in a laminated card with 1” stenciled letters reading, “CABLE GUIDE,” convinced Segal that she shouldn’t go with the cabins), a kitchenette, and a dining table. In short, a palace by Manhattan standards. Sadly for Rafi, Segal had never lived in Manhattan, and she didn’t grow up on the kibbutz, either. These were the Adirondacks, for heaven’s sake, thought Segal. She resolved to have a miserable time. She did not tell Rafi that she was planning to fall back to CNN instead of springing forward into her adventure. Rafi was already planning the first day’s hike up Sawyer Mountain, a little “stretch-your-legs” outing to make sure that everyone was adjusting to the altitude. “Everyone” included Jezebel. Elkhounds were bred from before the Dark Ages to be vanguards. Rafi had trained Jezebel to run at an 8:30 pace for five or six miles, but neither they nor Segal were much adapted to hills.
Segal threw her backpack into the lower bunk and began directing Rafi.
“Get the crate.”
“Where’s Jez’s bag?”
“Do you have your meds?’
“Where’s the ID? Where’s my purse?”
Ma yesh? Al tid’f’ki alai!
D’fok alai” is a cognate, roughly speaking. Very roughly speaking.
It was all that Rafi could do to keep from moving Segal’s backpack and curling up with Jezebel in the lower bunk to go to sleep.


Thor (1997)

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Hector was the kind of muchacho who, had he been born in Los Angeles, would have spent the vast majority of his eighteenth year walking onto sets by day and walking over the cutest chicks’ boyfriends by night, and the girls would be paying the tab.  In Puebla, there were no movies or television commercials to audition for, no agents to impress, and very few fast cars or stretch limos. Hector worked at a limo service after school, and in fact, the only fast car in the barrio, a 1984 silver T-Bird with a 280cc turbo, alternately purred and growled into Hector’s street for another totally unwarranted timing adjustment. Angel Diaz had a master’s degree in systems engineering, ran the power station, and when anyone official might see him, he would be tooling around in his Town Car or being chauffeured in a Diamante Limousine, along with government officials far too sober (and far too chary of drawing attention to themselves) to red-line it on Avenida Vicente Suarez. But Diaz, now thirty-four, had gotten Hector a job in the limousine garage after seeing Hector, then twelve, assemble a fully functional one-seat roadster from scrap parts.
One other thing about Hector. He was the one boy in the school, or the church besides, who treated Anna like she wasn’t a sex object. Walking to school, thirty or forty boys would calculate strategic angles of approach with the skill of a Euclid to preen, strut, or flex along Anna’s route. Anna would dismiss them like a royal waving to the “little people.” Anna was not to be had by a mere schoolboy. Was Hector just a better geometer than all the piñas? One thing for sure, when Anna sat down on June 12, 1996, in the courtyard of the Basilica, Hector knew enough geometry, or psychology, or just plain knew enough, to cross her path, reach over and inspect her book, and say, “Nietzsche. Man killed God,” and walk away. 
“Uh…,” was all the language that could squeeze past Anna’s larynx, which had turned into a habañera. Forget about her tongue. It had the flexibility of carne asada.
Hector’s stitch-popping jeans and Hollywood-tight white T-shirt strode off toward the Basilica archway. 
“Jodito,” cursed Anna, pounding Nietzsche into the open palm of her left hand. She unwrapped her lotus-position, swiped at her sandals, and caught Superman before he ducked into the shadows.
Hui, chingόn, just what the f…” The Basilica dome is right over my head, and a giant dead Jesus almost heard me say…
“All right, disculpa. But where do you know from Nietzsche? And who are you, anyhow?”
“Hector. Como se llama?” ‘Se’ my ass, I know exactly who you are, Princess.
“Anna. Do you visit iconic Catholic buildings for fun, Friedrich?”
It was still before noon, and the thorny crown on the dead savior’s bleeding head broadcast its shadow straight down on the young man’s sweaty brow. The philosopher girl tucked her leather sandals under her left arm along with Also sprach Zarathustra, hooked one of the man-child’s belt loops with the index finger of her right hand, and led him inside the church. A yellowing marble recessed water fountain was the goal. Nothing special here, two teenagers ducking into a building to slake their thirst. Only this was the Basilica, Anna was barefoot, and from ten meters down the hall, the curaappeared, rattling a key ring the size of Anna’s waist.
Now it was Hector’s turn to guide. He slipped Anna’s leather Jesus-sandals out from under her left arm, then placed the sandals next to her feet. Respectfully shod, they stood in front of the water fountain a little longer before turning to admire the iconography. When he felt certain that the curahad lost interest, he play-punched Anna’s right shoulder. 
“You owe me.”Que raro. Anna never owed nobody nothing. Who was this patudo, anyway?
How a person takes one fact about something as complicated as Nietzsche and turns it into a conversation remains one of the dating world’s great unexplained mysteries. By the time that Anna was convinced that Hector had planned his approach like all the weak boys from school and church, his subtlety, self-confidence, and shrewd intelligence had blinded her to the fact that not only was he older than she by only a year, but she was a diplomate and he had not finished tenth grade.
Skillfully, he guided the conversation away from the philosopher and back to the girl.
“Do you think that God died after creating the world?”
“And who said that God was done when He created this one?”
Hector waved his left hand toward the dome under which the two had found the water fountain.
“These people think so. What do you think?”
“I think there is a God, but I think that God underwent a shift when He created the world. The God that was compelled to create the world may be dead, but that doesn’t mean that my God is dead. Besides which…”
“You refer to God as a He. Does God have cojones?” Hector smiled broadly when he said this. Anna felt a wash of shyness, just a touch of embarassed self-consciousness. This stranger, this naco, had captured the initiative, like a gambiteer in ajedrez
   ,“ Anna gulped, and then recovered. “No, I just think of God as a man. My God is a man. Maybe your god is a woman, but I can’t believe in a woman. I couldn’t pray to a woman.”
“Neither could I, unless, of course,” Hector paused, “she were my mother.”
“So if I become a mother, you’ll have to pray to me?”
Ya eres madrisima. But if you’re Hera, I’ll be Thor. Bumm, bumm, bumm, bumm.” Hector pounded his fists on the grass as if he were the Norse god. “Tierremoto! Earthquake!”
Anna opened Zarathustra and hid her head in it.
“OK. I fall in. Do you put the Earth back, or do you rescue me first?”
“I pull you out.” Hector took Anna’s left hand (Zarathustra still held her right), sprang upright in one great motion, and lifted Anna up to standing as well. “Now we are Titans, straddling the wounded planet, and we invert the mountains to heal the breach!”
Anna waved grandly with her book. “I hereby declare a new era for mankind. Now we have overcome our humble origin, and now we are ubermenschen, celebrating the rectitude of our creation and permitting ourselves the full joy of the lives we claim!”
Hector was out of his league, and he knew it.
Orale! You go, chica, orale!”
Anna felt buoyed by this audience, beyond anything that she had experienced in theater arts class. She created a manifesto for Superman, and Hector played the role of the Greek chorus. Neither the philosopher-princess nor the motorhead with the physique of the god of thunder noticed the passage of time. Only their shadows, lengthening and mostly overlapping, showed cognizance of the passage of the day.
Jesus’s crown of thorns no longer projected a shadow, as the evening sun cast a rosy, almost living tone on the savior’s granite cheeks. The west wing of the Basilica nearly enveloped the courtyard in deep shade. Lacking midday frequencies, the light disguised a hint of chlorophyll on Hector’s T-shirt where his pectorals pressed into the grass.
“Anna,” Hector whispered, brushing back a cascading lock of her hair with the back of his index finger.
“Yes?”
“I only read the study guide.”
“I know.” She guided his lips to hers.

Roberto (1994)

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There was an angel hovering over Anna – but she couldn’t see through the translucent haze of its wings. She felt a coarse, lined texture with the sole of her right foot. Stroking it, sensing the high friction of it, she began to be aware of sensations   Que raro, she thought to herself.   I feel something. I hear my own thoughts. Is this Heaven or Bedlam? She became aware of a dull sensation where her right wing should have been. She tried to move it. It was folded, half behind her, half under her. it started tingling. This isn’t how a wing is supposed to feel. She could not move that wing, but she could hear her voice inside her head as clearly as if she was standing over herself, preaching. She instinctively reached her left wing to the aid of the right, still anesthetized and immobile. Pick, pick, pick, she plucked at the skin of her right forearm. No sensation. 
Pick. Pick.
It occurred to her that her left arm moved too easily. There was no wing. Maybe this is Bedlam – or Hell?! She sat up with a snap – seated, but at rigid attention, she looked like a mitered joint waiting for a framer. She batted her eyelids – nothing. She lifted her functioning left arm to her eyes and rubbed – just a cloud. And an echo. She was not dead, and she was not loca. Somewhere between Heaven and Bedlam, between Bedlam and Hell.
“Chica,” a deep angelic voice parted the clouds on the horizon on her left. Maybe I’m dead after all.  She raised her left arm in the direction of the voice. “Como‘stas?” The angel’s swarthy Mestizo features parted the clouds and clarified the situation, at least a little bit. Anna was not dead. She sat with the toes of both feet pressed into a rough handrest of a rugged but accommodating sofa. She hadn’t said anything, not out loud at least, but her verbal centers were communicating with each other, not with her voice. Her eyes, at first sightless, opened wide, but as her already darkest chocolate irises, dilated to the size of swimming pools, began to focus, she glimpsed a living room interior. Behind the man hung harvest gold drapes on a bare white curtain rod and…
Oja! Oja!´ The neurons controlling her jaw more or less engaged, causing her jaw to fall shapelessly open while her verbal centers cried in pain and confusion. She noticed that she was wearing clothes, not wings, and that, other than being severely rumpled and with a bit of errant sputum here and there, she showed no sign of anything worse. She tried, but failed, to slap her now spinning head with her right hand, now throbbing as the blood began to force the small blood vessels open anew.
Calmate, chica,  no puedes hacer nada, que vale.” Settle down, girl. You can’t do anything anyway. The words could have been menacing, but the man wasn’t a menace. His voice still sounded like it was coming from the Cathedral of St. Mark’s in Venice, not from a sparsely furnished living room in a four-room bungalow in…
Gradually, scenes of B. B., Before Binge, cracked through the coconut milk that was Anna’s brain. She had left Puebla to take a summer course in business communications. The school, in Mexico City, was still just a classroom and a silhouette. But there were faces – giddy faces of girls, a boy, a bottle, beer. La cerveza!Oh, did it course in frothy rivulets through her memory!
“It’s Sunday afternoon. You’re in Netza, I brought you here when you couldn’t get out of the taxi.”
“Usted es taxista? Crei, que Usted fue un angelo.”
“No, no angel. Just a man who was put in the right place.  I’m Roberto.”
“Where did you find me?”
“You got in my taxi in front of ( detail ). I don’t usually work until closing time, because I’m just a soltero  and I don’t want to be thought of as a wolf. But you seemed lost, and not stoned. “
“I.. I… was alone?”
“Si.”
“I left with four girls and a muchacho.  Cute, but young, like me. Maybe fifteen. No, they served us, so he must have…”
Anna’s voice was overtaken by its echoes in her throbbing head.
“You were alone, and you looked lost. I don’t think you live in La Ciudad, do you, chica?”
“I come from Puebla. My father is…” Anna thought better of revealing her lineage; her mother had shamed her before for not living up to her father’s standards. As if she did. Jajaja..
“You are very young, to be in La Ciudad alone. Who is taking care of you here?”
“I am at (school ). I stay in the student dorms. At least until last night.” Anna was pleased that her mouth and brain seemed to belong to the same person; it was too bad that there was a razor splitting her head into its hemispheres so she could barely tell who that person was. That person just moaned like she was in labor.
“Vuelvo ahora mismecito.” Before his words stopped echoing in Anna’s wretched head, he was back with an ice pack. His workman’s hand stroked her bangs backward, and he laid the ice pack on the symptoms of Anna’s pain.
More images knitted themselves into memories under the coolness of the ice pack. A few bottles. A joint. The munchies. The muchacho had a fattened wallet from some good fortune or other, Anna could not think which. So it was dinner. Bistecca. Carne asada. Tamales con arroz. Y mas cerveza. Was it pitchers? Anna sucked her teeth. Bits of beef still bled their marinated juices from the gaps. So a night out? No, in her memory, the sun warmed the sidewalks underfoot. The beer started early that Saturday.
It must have been six or seven in the afternoon when the party began unraveling. First, Silvia and Ynez took leave. They had been wearing (soccer colors) futbol jerseys. They must have gone to the game – Guadalajara was in town. Busloads of Guadalajarans always made the trip – Guadalajara was like the Pittsburgh of futbol gringoso; their fans traveled well – and loudly. Anna liked watching futbolistas. But the muchacho – ja! Right, his name was Placido, like the opera singer. The Placido wanted to go sing karaoke. And he could buy the pitchers. And she could drink the pitchers. 
The Placido, Anna, and the two other girls. Anna remembered that much. The two girls – they looked like Flora and Magda – no, they couldn’t be!  Stop dreaming, he’s talking to you.  A voice tried to dispel the renewed fog between Anna’s ears. Instead, it was as if her receptive speech centers were vibrating crystalline molecules, and the rich baritone vibrations of her unlikely host Roberto just amped up the noise without clarifying the signal. Anna raised her right hand, still tingling, to her forehead and adjusted the ice pack.
That song. “Amor, Amor” by Jose Jose. Or by The Placido. Wow. It just flooded out everything else. Anna blinked, but in her mind all she could see was The Placido with the mic in hand and a dream in his eyes. She wanted him. As he found his rhythm with the house band, The Placido relaxed more and more into the song and the beat. With a broad forehead, a furrowed brow,  a squared jaw, and an aquiline nose, The Placido looked like the famous singer’s son. Anna wanted him.
“The others? Jose? No, not Jose Jose, Placido,” Anna stammered 
“Your are alone, in Netzahualcoyotl. I had to take you home with me.”
”Placido.”
“No, senorita, Roberto, el taxista.”
“Where was I?”
 “ I don’t know, but I found you outside La Casa Teddy. Not far from here. I was coming home.”
“Mande?!?!
“A terrible place. A real (    ). You look somehow like a muchacha I picked up around 8 last night.”
“I remember very badly. I cannot imagine it all. I think I remember going to the zoologico. My classmates were  – two of them – going to the futbol match. Magda – lo siento, lo siento – Marisol and Fatima. Marisol is from Guadalajara. “
“Yes, I remember. I picked you and this Placido and some others on Avenida 533. That wasn’t such a great bar either. You’re too young to drink, chica.”
“Legally, señor. Remember, Placido is older.”
“Who is this Placido, anyway? What kind of gorilla is he that leaves such a young girl alone? No offense, Señorita, but if I recognized him I would break his head for him and serve it to him for lunch.”
“No, Señor…señor…”
“Roberto.”
“I can’t remember. But I can’t find bad feelings anywhere in my heart for him. We must have left 533 to go to a karaoke bar. I don’t remember the trip. I think I remember something about you, though, señor Roberto.”
Si?
“Alarcon, was it? It was like the name of the zoo.”
“You said something about Jose Jose. Were you going to see him?
“No. The Placido loved his songs. Where you took us to – wasn’t that a karaoke bar? I remember singing “Amor Amor” with him.”
“You have a beautiful voice, Señorita?”
“No. terrible. I can’t sing well at all. The Placido sings very well, but he lied and told me I sang beautifully,” Anna sighed and paused. The sigh stuck on the roof of her parched mouth. “I am so thirsty. May I have something to drink, please?”
“Just the thing. I am coming back right now.”
Pressing the tender points on her temple and brow, Anna pulled herself up to sitting. She saw that her lace sandals sat in a neat pair near the armrest of the sofa – just on the side that her feet had been. It seemed, she thought, that the two of them might have been a pair of nosy neighbors from her vecindario in Puebla who, upon encountering her, were telling (“can-you-top-this”) stories about her scandalous night before. With a feeling of panic that occluded her hangover, Anna shot her hand up her right thigh. Gracias mi Dios, she thought through another sigh, this one so heartfelt that it forced its way out her desiccated throat. She heard herself cough, and then – nothing.

mothers (1993)

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“Magda,” Anna offered, “what if the man in the moon were a woman?”
“Maybe she would go be the seventeenth moon of Saturn.”
Magda’s house was tiny by comparison to the Garcia mansion that occupied the street corner. The rest of the block used to house people who worked for the occupants of the Garcia mansion in the nineteenth century; Magda’s was the last one in the row of narrow two-story adobes. For weeks now, Anna had been skipping across the rooftops to reach the roof exit at Magda’s. There wasn’t any logistical reason for this odd route; but there were whispers that Magda was showing too strong an interest in the female students at the new high school. Anna had heard the whispers; she didn’t like it. She knew from the way Magda hugged her, touched her, even held her hands and touched her face, that this was a special friendship. Anna, now in seventh grade, liked the touch; Magda felt like a dear sister to her. Magda, in ninth grade, was old enough to mean something different by it. The rumors left Anna confused. 
Still, the two girls created a little hideout on the roof for sleepovers. A small blue plastic tarp, weighed down by jagged chunks of concrete, covered notebooks, flashlights, Anna’s emergency cigarettes, a lighter, and an alarm clock. Sometimes the cigarette box contained marijuana, usually inserted into a cigarette that had been emptied of its contents. Magda had stopped lecturing Anna about cigarettes; Anna’s whole family smoked – even Ernesto the doctor. Another key piece of equipment climbed up the ladder to the roof in the hand of one girl or the other, switching hands when the girls parted. This was the foot-powered air pump to inflate the tarp into an air bed. Tonight, the bed was inflated. A shared cigarette, smoked down to the filter, exhaled its last wisp of smoke from its deathbed in the fine gravel on Magda’s side. The girls held hands, lying at an angle, looking mostly at the moon. 
“The only difference, I guess,” Anna picked up the metaphor, “is whether she would cross the Asteroid Belt.”
The night was just a bit too warm for early May, even in Puebla. A breeze came from La Malinche, rustling both girls’ straight hair. Magda’s belly button contracted from the breeze, peeking out in the moonlight under her bare-midriff white peasant blouse with an embroidered white-on-white neckline. Anna smiled at her friend. She lie on the volcano side, from whence the wind had come. 
Ja, I even covered you. Shall I give you my coat?” Anna was only wearing a T-shirt and gym shorts.
Magda squeezed Anna’s hand and continued. “I wonder which I would like less, if the moon swung back to Earth orbit from time to time, or if it crossed the Asteroid Belt.”
Some time passed. The girls listened to the Puebla evening. In the stillness of the hour before midnight, they could hear the passage of each car or truck on Avenida Vicente Suarez. Even on a weeknight, one salsero played clarinet in the background. You could tell that this came from the neighborhood, not el Zocalo, the open plaza at the center of town. Magda thought the rhythm must be coming from a synthesizer, because it was just too perfect. Beside, there would have been few people to play for. The sound was faint, and no singing could be heard. The only distinguishable voices were those of the nocturnal owls seeking mates.
Anna brought the metaphor back to Earth – or more precisely, back to Puebla.
“My mom left when I was eight. She was really separated from my dad for a year already. She had her own bedroom, and for all I knew, she might have had a boyfriend. Our family had been falling apart from the time I went to first grade.”
“Where did she go?”
“She flitted back and forth to Cozumel. She didn’t say who she was seeing or what she was doing, but she just took money and comes back every now and then to make my life mierda. I haven’t felt anything except anger or hate for her since last summer.”
“But she taught you to smoke?”
“We all smoke. Some gift, right?”
“I like smoking joints with you. Didn’t you share that?”
Chinga tu – mi madre, no! She slapped me in the face when I lit a cigarette in front of her.”
“Hipocrita.Did she slap you a lot?”
“Slap me, shake me, yell, always yell. She hasn’t been back for six months.”
“What happened?”
“Magda, I just don’t care.”
A statement of such utter disdain for the woman in whose womb one grows tends to burrow itself in one’s consciousness. Both girls fell silent. 
“My mom didn’t divorce my dad, either. She just left.”
“You come by your big sister role honestly.”
“Yes, I have no complaints about that part – I feel closer to my dad. He needs me. It feels good to work in the store. The vendors drive in and ask for me. I do work that my mom would never do. I just hate being abandoned, that’s all.”
“Magda, how did your mom get here?”
“It had something to do with politics. Puebla and Copenhagen were talking about a sister city relationship. The PRI wanted to show the people that they were doing good things outside the capital. My mom came on a development mission, met my dad, and they got married. 
“I don’t even know how she decided that she didn’t love him. Mostly, I don’t know how she could have ever decided that she didn’t love us. She has two girls here in this town, under this volcano, breathing this air and listening to these owls and that salsero. My father and I built a little shrine, not to Jesus, but to Heike Hjort da Silva. I wonder what she tells her Danish lovers.”
The last line shot like a ballistic missile in the direction of Denmark.
“It should have been so romantic. Sharing cultures, languages, hopes, dreams, futures, bodies, souls.”
“My own parents met in the boring way, family, church and all that. Your mom was probably full of romance, but it sounds like the Gringo romantic writers and the Tainos, the …”
“Noble savage,” the girls said the phrase in unison. Anna was studying U. S. literature from the Romantic period in her Language and Literature class. Magda remembered the class well. That phrase left a permanent hole in her character. She developed a loathing of James Fenimore Cooper and Herman Melville. 
She found a poster for a production of Moby Dick, stenciled, “Comen los Blancos” on it, and drew a crucifix behind the “savage” Queequeg. 
The full moon cast enough light on Magda’s face that Anna could see the tears welling up in her eyes. Anna stroked Magda’s hair and curled it behind her ear. The gesture was too close to home. Recalling the exact same touch from her mother when she was five or six, Magda burst into tears. Anna took her friend deeply into her embrace, absorbing Magda’s shaking and her sobs.

Dramatis Personae II

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PART II: ANNA

Dramatis Personae II
Rafi sat at the Abington Club bar, with Dimitri standing in front of the fireplace like it was a Hindu god.  The sharp bite of the Torpedo microbrew beer shot Rafi’s imagination like an arrow back to another moment of trouble between Anna and Dimitri. The sun circled over her shoulder that cloudless day in August. Anna looked like a cigarette sweated through, formless and wilted. “Shit!” she screamed, realizing that she would not get to the early childhood Spanish class she would be fired from. “Shit! Mierda!” she cried more softly, wondering what to do and cursing the tar that had left her lungs unable to handle the hilly five-mile bike ride to Chestnut Hill. She flagged a cab, but left the cab in tears when the meter exceeded her last penny.  This was a time of tzuris, trouble, between Anna and Dimitri; Rafi heard it all. She would say, “Intellectually, Dimitri is as wide as a football field and, emotionally, as shallow as the Astroturf.” “Agreed, but he’s got a good heart, and he’s pulled my stones out of the fire more than once. Beside, if you want to be understood, that’s my role in the relationship.” Or he would gasp, “She’s way over our head, she needs help.”  “Yeah, I’m helping her get a shrink without being admitted and fucking deported.” So it was little surprise on that day, stranded in Mt. Airy, all the pain came out trimmed in passion.
Running his rescue errand, Rafi saw her crumpled up under the schist walls at the Lutheran Seminary across the street from Wawa convenience store. She didn’t know that if she had gotten there just a little earlier, she could have ridden the #23 up to O’Doodles, the boutique toy store, to teach her class. But she could barely raise her head, and there were no tears to cry.
Without speaking, Rafi cradled Anna’s left arm under her shoulder and helped her to her feet. Despite the puddle dripping off her school T-shirt, Anna collapsed on Rafi’s chest. This hug of gratitude rippled into an embrace of passion when the cocktail of pheromones and sweat hit Rafi’s nose. Fast did their lips meet, and faster their arms encircled the other, fingers in search of aching skin. Rafi hadn’t even taken his sandals out of the car. For her part, Anna had flip-flops. She preferred to teach the class barefoot, like the children in her classes. So as ankle met ankle, toe met toe, and instep met calf, there flowered the fragrance of what could have been, what Rafi dreamed about, what Anna had even called Rafi a “Puta Madre!” for not pursuing after he lost his job with the Philadelphia School District.
Dimitri did not know any of these things. While Rafi relived all the times they would have become lovers in a sane world, Dimitri rediscovered the meditative nature of the fireplace. “No quiero me hacer un paracaidista,” “I don’t want to become a parachutist.” Rafi finished his beer, wishing that she had been alone when he had first met her, and that the afternoon saw them become two naked wood sprites, climbing trees and making love, but Anna’s son Gabriel was visiting. Now, there could be three outcomes. First, she would remain in Texas. Rafi would begin with e-mails, move on to calls, use everything in David DeAngelo’s and Vin DeCarlo’s programs to keep her attracted and off-balance (because, after all, she chose Dimitri because of just why she was now through with him. Wide as a football field, deep as Astroturf). I’d get her to pay for her own ticket back here, but then I’d propose at the station. My right brain to God’s ears.
Second, she could fly back up here, and be so pissed off from the drama that they fight and break up. She sleeps in my extra bedroom, until… Third, they forget the ill feelings, keep on hitting the therapy, and muddle through somehow. With my luck, though Rafi, it’s gonna be #3. Where’s the bettor’s windows?
His cell phone battery was dead. Rafi had been fired from a job earlier in the Great Recession, and he had started his work day with no computer and a phone that didn’t remember where its charger was. When he started that day, he suffered the same frustration he had when trying to get his child support obligation reduced when he lost his job. By the time the hearing happened, his unemployment started, so he was making enough money that if he paid no utilities, he could be that revenue stream for the Rhinoceros. Segal and he were so much in love once, but then he lost his music career, and she lost her soul. The two events were separated by a time lapse of two years, but the Rhino even admitted to the causality. Both prisoners of that ill-fated bond knew the play Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco. People with brains and souls morphing into monomaniacal half-ton beasts in front of a barely comprehending audience. She admitted to his characterization, but blamed him for beating her soul out of her. Facts, like he never touched her in anger, she threw objects in fury at him, and that their children revered him, were as disposable as truth in politics.
Rafi parked his car in front of his garden. Every plant there served a function to make a little postage stamp environment with three seasons of interest. Tonight, the gardener ignored the garden. A quick kiss to Whisper, who had climbed up to meow out from between the indigo-pink blooms on the hydrangea and the yellow leaves on Rose of Sharon. Unlocking the door and leaning into the pressure of Serena, rubbing against his leg. Dashing into give the cats milk, to drop a pinch of Brightflash’s food into the little Betta tank. Ripping the electronics out of the canvas bag with its broken clasp. Hunting for plugs. The charger – oops. stepping on that. The modem. Check. The computer charger. Latex – that’s how he’d been saying “later” for twenty years – to the computer charger; it was pretty much charged from work. Charger to cell phone, modem to computer, modem booting. Cell phone charging.
Rafi’s messages all pointed to the same thing. Anna’s family had forgotten to set the alarm clock, Anna had, in a moment of self-sabotage echoed from her time drinking, had not attended to this at all. Anna saw that she wouldn’t get a connecting flight to Philadelphia until very late. She might have to sleep in Atlanta. Anna changes her reservation.
Dimitri cuts off Anna’s phone. The whole Garcia clan starts texting, e-mailing, and sending magic owls out for help. Rafi’s unsuspecting e-mail full of wishes for happiness whispers into this maelstrom to which it is irrelevant.
Rafi picks up his phone and calls. Anna’s phone’s back on. “Anna, I hear there’s some mierda pesada going down. How can I help?”
This was going to be another day in which nothing counts – until everything does. Raf knew he had been on the exercise bike only by the fact that his butt hurt and since the hot water wasn’t on yet, he could smell his man-sweat. Not that this will happen, but I wonder what Anna’s reaction would be if she made me like this. Rafi made a desultory gesture, a wave really, at the housework that needed done, and locked into his data. Cell phone on. Computer, check. NPR, must have. Rosetta Stone Russian discs? Loaded.
Rafi was well aware that the possibility of reading texts, checking e-mails, fielding voice-mails, listening to Marti Moss-Coane, and learning Russian at the same time was nil. The research says we don’t really multitask, anyway. It’s more like sequential minitasking (You heard it here first, thought Rafi. But if I’m doing stuff, I might be able to stop worrying about other stuff.At one of Anna’s meetings, someone said that “planning” was different than “projecting.” Rafi’s crystal ball was looking pretty opaque right now.
OK. First, an e-mail. “Dearest Annochka,” he typed, using a Russian diminutive for Anna’s Mexican name, “I spoke at length with Dimitri last night. He feels betrayed on two or three levels. If you are coming back, and not staying in Texas, you need to read this e-mail carefully. If you are leaving Dimitri, then remember that I have pledged to you my love and I will bring you back to me.
“Dimitri is a teacher, just like me. He doesn’t understand when you do things that wind up costing money. Of course, the car, but I convinced him to segregate drunk Anna from sober Anna. So now, he’s focused on the $200 for the flight, and he’s in his head over the $200 – it’s, how do they say, emblematic. He also is afraid you are getting drunk again. He doesn’t believe your aunt. He also thinks that the only thing he can trust you for is to make drama and upset. So you have to regain his trust by spending a lot of time doing normal things and producing predictable results.” Rafi wanted to finish with, “If you think you can’t handle it, stay there a month, leave him, and marry me. If we’re so chingado that we wind up on the street, at least we’ll have each other.” How he longed to add that.
He grabbed his Kyocera Melo and shot a quick text. “Check your e-mail. I love you.” Rafi always spelled out “you,” even when texting. “It shows respect,” he would say.
Then he e-mailed Dimitri. “She’ll be there when you are. Let me know if I can help.” Dimitri texted back. “Rafi, I have to handle this on my own. WCB after schl.”
The day became a blur from then until a moment that froze like scrawled text on an oil painting.  Rafi texted them both, “I am here if you need me.” Within minutes, Dimitri called back
“Everything’s OK. In fact, Anna and I are closer than ever. Thank you for all your help.”
WTF? Thank you for all your help? If that fucker only knew…

…but a Whimper, Part II (1995)

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…but a Whimper, Part II (1995)
Good. Her car is not in the garage. She must have had to work overtime.
Rafi parked his car across the street from the smallest house on Euclid Heights Blvd. For the first Valentine’s Day after he moved in with her, he bought her a dozen roses. A dozen bare-root roses. Jackson and Perkins had shipped them in two waist-deep boxes. Four weeks later, the parcels arrived on Thursday afternoon, one at a time, totally obscuring a delivery driver. Margie was at work, and Rafi was at the keyboard – with the TV on to Wake Forest vs. North Carolina – NC A &T, that is – and the radio tuned to the Cleveland Indians pre-season exhibition game. Sprawled out over the coffee table were three years of Margie’s back tax records, so she could finally collect her refunds, so Rafi’s use of the keyboard was as much for a writing surface as for a pitch source. Rafi had bought the cheesy cherry-red wrapping paper with the “Happy Valentine’s Day” hearts. He wrapped the boxes and applied the pink bowtie.
Now, it was five years later, and the roses were glorious – from Mr. Lincoln red to Peace white to David Austin sunshine yellow doubles. A three-dimensional kidney-shaped hill rose from the center of the lawn, with its contours shaped further by a shock of coreopsis interwoven with spears of iridescent navy-blue liatris. Various other flowers, selected for their thin, churchlike form, rose up like chaste fireworks out of the sedum that held the topsoil onto the clay foundation. Trim rows of baptisia and astilbe trimmed the sides of the little garden – power pinstripe meets psychedelic tie-dye.  All that was wrong was that Margie, owing to her vitiligo, had not been out to weed in far too long. Rafi headed to the garage and found the canvas sheet that he used for collecting weeds and clippings where he had left it two years before.
You never were the pushy one with the women. All the other boys, as soon as we could see the Tzaha”l on the horizon, would start posturing like peacocks. The girls would become ashamed even going near those guys. In the army? Hui, just like the old song says, “Go out and check out the soldiers from our farm, girls! Don’t hide yourselves from the soldier boys, the men of the army.” I don’t know if my dad was born when that was written. Me? Ha. I only got the ones that ran from our soldiers of the farm. Now I let this one pick me and here I am, about to pay the price. How should I have handled myself? What should I have done? Not gone on that first date? Not made out? Not moved in? I would have had to move in with somebody, why not her? Damn. Garab. 
The weed pile mounted between the rose garden and the architectural mound. As the sun’s rays grew increasingly direct, Rafi’s skin pleaded for release from under his sweat-soaked shirt. 
Ok, Rafi, focus. She’s a good person, but she refused help when the med school offered it. You kept telling her to stop the TV and the ice cream. She didn’t listen. (Damn, how I begged her. She nearly took my head off.) You couldn’t have done anything else; she was a slow-motion train wreck. And how could she have not seen this happening to herself anyway? What wag said that quote about the three invisible things – the air to the bird, the water to the fish, and his life to the man?  
Yeah, what do I look right at? Am I such a good man – and would I do so much better if I strike out to go after fame and fortune – or at least a musical career? Oh, that – I can just see it now – the cantor, if I can’t become a legit opera singer, has to cancel a rehearsal because he has to get the children at Vacation Bible School? “Jesus love me, yes he do, Jesus love me, with a love that’s true.” Choke me. I don’t get it. I’m sorry. I can’t live that way. 
Rafi moved forward to the eastern tie-dyed row. He was almost done weeding. She wasn’t back. 
But what about her? She gave up a job for a dream. Then her dream was stolen. How can she recover? What can she do? Can she crawl back to the hospital, tail between her legs, and beg for her old job back? How can she recover? And what about the depression?  
Will someone teach me how to have my own life and not be responsible for the whole world? If any normal person saw that he was on a train that was going to crash, he’d get the hell off the train, right? Don’t I get to be normal? I’m not her Jesus, I’m a man, and her train was going to derail with or without me in a crewman’s seat. 
Just then, Margie pulled into her driveway. She stumbled out of the car, swinging her legs in her hospital scrubs out of the driver’s seat, and with all her psychological pain wobbling in its physical manifestation, reached her enormous arms to Rafi.
“But I’m a mess.”
“I don’t care.”
Rafi did not think that this was THE MOMENT. So he returned the hug. It didn’t register with Margie that she had never seen Rafi with a shirt on in the bright sunshine if there wasn’t a penalty to be paid.
“Get out of the sun, Margie. I’ll be done in ten minutes.”
“OK, Rafi, I’ll make iced tea.”
The last time I was in her kitchen, the linoleum was curling, there were weeks’ worth of dishes in the sink, the refrigerator was a graveyard for heaven-knows-what, and I have no idea what will happen when this tea comes out. And she hasn’t lost an ounce. I hope she doesn’t offer me ice cream. 
Rafi wrapped up the canvas that held the weeds. Slinging the parcel over his back, he headed around to the backyard where the strawberry pyramid grew, and emptied the waste product of the war of the roses into the compost bin. He returned the canvas sheet to its resting place in the garage. Just before trudging up the steps to the little house, he thought twice and crossed the street. The keys sat edgily in his right pocket. He took them out and opened the driver’s door. His gym bag was on the passenger’s seat. Out came a plain T-shirt. Off peeled the drenched yellow second skin. Having switched tops, Rafi returned to the bungalow.  
“Did you have to work today?”
“No. I was at the Intro to Judaism class at Beth Shalom.”
“Really?”
“They’re mostly women, engaged to or going with Jewish men.” 
“Were their guys there?”
“No, not many. There are about thirteen of us in the classroom, and only five guys; two in the class and three BFs.”
“How are you finding it? Is it worth your time?”
“ Rafi, just like I brought you closer to the farm, you brought me closer to Judaism After growing up on a kibbutz, you probably never thought you’d have anything to do with farming ever again, and here you are, weeding a hundred different species of flowers and vegetables. And I might never become Jewish, but at least I know they don’t have horns.”
“Funny – I think the people in Fredonia sensed I was different – a lot – before I turned to them to say anything.”
“I think they noticed your skin color. Maybe they thought you were a Muslim. The closest mosque is in Dayton. My brother says you should open up a kosher butcher shop – you’d have no competition.”
“I’d have no customers.”
“Right. Minor problem.”
The carpet, if it could be called that, parted in two nearly stony pathways: one straight ahead, past the keyboard, the hall, the bathroom, and the bedroom, and one branching to the left, past the TV to the sofa that Margie and Rafi had bought when they lived together. The sofa where Margie slept, indecent, with a remote control clutched in her pillow-like right hand and a half-gallon of ice cream empty at her side. Sometimes, Rafi’s cat Kinneret curled up on Margie’s stomach; sometimes on the back of the sofa. Rafi still had pictures of his golden Angora cat highlighting the fine threads in the olive upholstery. The sofa was quality – no permanent impressions had been left by Margie’s sprawled out form. No cat hair remained either, a near miracle. Margie was drowning in depression and clutter, but she managed some of the big cleaning jobs by turning on the adrenaline when family was in town for a visit. All the clutter would wind up in laundry baskets in the basement.
Margie headed into the kitchen. The linoleum was still curled up, with chunks torn out, because of a sprinkler accident four years ago. Connecting to the hose was easy; the dry rot was the hard part. I learned not to take anything in this house at face value.
Margie was babbling as she yanked the pitcher of tea out of the freezer. The clinking of ice cubes punctuated her narrative – was it Fredonia, or Lake Wobegon? It made the same impact. Rafi hated Garrison Keillor. Rafi lurked around the fork in the carpet. To the sofa? The chairs across from the pile on the coffee table? To the kitchen? Stand here and wait? Was this tea made this morning – last week? Hell. Garab. I can’t even hear her words for the echoes between my eardrums.
The chair near the phono. I dubbed a huge collection of records that WCPN was selling off, and it looks like she left the chair empty in my memory. Why in hell else is there no crap on it? 
Margie crossed into the living room and set the glasses of tea down on the smallest pile of glossy magazines. She ripped her shirt and bra off, and kicked away her flip-flops, but there was nothing sexual about the gesture. Don’t go for your shorts. Please. Please. 
There was nothing else to do.
“Margie, stop.”
The victim looked up and froze, in the same moment.
“I’m leaving you.”

End of Part I