Thursday, September 8, 2011

Moto-Recall


By Steven B. Fuson


I monitored its progress patiently at first; then, as deadlines loomed closer, I became aware that the fertile aroma that the desert offers to the rain had been displaced by the stench of the weathered concrete parking structure. In Albuquerque, one rarely has to wait more than ten minutes for a weather window and from my court complex vantage point I could see the sooty edge of the storm. Accordingly, I decided not to bother with rain gear. Today, however, the storm-monster had its claws dug viciously into the landscape vowing that it would not be rushed in its efforts to devour all motorcycle-positive conditions.

After forty-five minutes, the storm’s edge had not moved and I could no longer wait it out and still be on time. So, I clamped my parking ticket and a fiver between my lips and rolled my ’93 K1100RS into the maw of the creature. I knew instantly upon emerging from overhead shelter that I had underestimated the value of wet-weather gear, but I was past the severe tire damage grate and decided to push on.


“Howya doing today?” smirked the parking attendant as he squinted against the water splashing off my shaved head.


I grunted and rolled through, donating my change to the parking comedian relief fund.

Leaving the parking area, I cautiously paddled out into the stream called 6th Avenue. Reminiscent of an impressionist painting, the light and cityscape reflected off the flooded streets leaving the notion of Paris at dusk – or so I imagine it would have had I been able to see it clearly through the funhouse mirror of my water-distorted riding glasses.

Fortunately, I was able to take the left onto Lomas without having to stop or slow and there was no other traffic with which to contend. I would usually have slid all the way over to the right hand lane but it was swollen and had a current. Although I was barely moving and maximized my contact patch by keeping vertical, I was hard pressed to come to a stop at the 5th Street light, the bike sliding unstably under me. The extra five feet it took for me to make a controlled stop gave me pause and I tightened my grip on the handlebars. As the light turned, the Toyota behind me broke traction, fishtailing through a hellish shriek and narrowly avoiding my left saddle bag, as I pulled out from the light more cautiously than the driver had subconsciously anticipated.


As I approached the Central –Lomas merge, the rain washed the sun block from the top of my head over my brows and into my eyes in a symphony of acid-green wetness. Unable to stop for maintenance due to bumper-to-bumper traffic, I tightened my knees to the tank and began to rethink my pre-flight checklist. I was unprepared for the safety realities in every conceivable way. First, as is my custom, I had not worn a helmet which would have eliminated the chemical burns to my eyes and largely mitigated the potential fatal visibility problems I was currently at a loss to confront. Next, had I checked the weather before leaving, I would have had her make other arrangements for transportation so that I would have had plenty of time to wait out the storm, if necessary.


My eyes now providing more of their own water than the storm, I merged right to the blaring of the horn of some jerk who, having been put on notice of my intent by my turn indicator for an entire block, was apparently displeased that I was going to take up another six feet of space in front of him, thereby causing him to be an additional 1/1000th of a second later to arrive at his destination.


The water in the intersection was up to my pegs as I struggled to keep the bike as upright as possible while navigating by ear, wind direction and air pressure – my eyes having been rendered useless. Here I began to calculate the likelihood that I would survive the trip and I vowed that, if I were to survive, I would never again leave the garage without a brain bucket. Having determined that my chances were very low, I was granted a reprieve by traffic.
The lights at Mountain and Rio Grande had been knocked out by the storm and traffic was backed up to Old Town Pizza. This gave me a moment to dump into neutral and wipe as much of the offensive lotion as possible out of my eyes and off my head with the short sleeves of my saturated t-shirt.

As I replaced by glasses which were smeared with lotion but otherwise much better visibility-wise than they had been when I needed them most, I noticed several sets of teeth aimed at me from behind the tinted rear windows of a minivan. As traffic began again to move, I watched the youngster in the front seat – who apparently was named Troy and played soccer if negative image stencils applied at the car wash can be believed – indicating to the driver that he had sighted an actual mental patient.

At this point, feeling more confident in my survivability, I decided that I would take Rio Grande all the way up instead of risking another bout with blindness while negotiating traffic at freeway speeds. As I crossed under the I-25, the dry traction conducted through the machine and radiated over me a warm mustard confidence that all was again right with the two-wheeled universe. This confidence was confirmed as I emerged into much drier road conditions and diminishing sprinkles on the North side of the big slab. The sprinkles quickly gave way to sunlight and warmth as I made my way into Los Ranchos.


With my freshly recovered swagger, all of my tense safety-related vows vanished into reverie of a time when, riding North on the 313, I had encountered a swarm of light-yellow green butterflies that must have been a hundred-thousand strong. They rose in force from the sun-soaked pastures on the west side of the road and fluttered about the road like the silver-dollar sized snowflakes of a warm early season snowstorm. They contrasted and complemented the blues, purples, browns and grays of Sandia Mountain just before the sun does its watermelon magic. I remember the sky being an unusually dark and deep blue, almost the color of a Windows default desktop.


The swarm also seemed to suspend the rushing of the wind and replace it with a deep silence. A silence that seemed extracted from an ecstasy-enhanced Hindustani-influenced techno joint perfectly positioned and performed to elicit primordial abandon to the essence of music.
Just as the music of my mind turned experientially to the memory of the sweet breath of a lost love, a sudden movement to my left caused my stomach to lurch.


The black and chrome gangster-tinted Toyota swerved into my space and clipped my front tire. The hand grip was ripped with such force from my clutch hand that I thought my arm may have been torn from the socket at the shoulder. My right hand still firmly around the throttle, the bike was horizontal beneath me and I was poised, arms and legs akimbo, to do a flying face plant into the tarmac. There was to be no amnesty this time, my life was over and there was nothing I, or anybody else, could do about it. All sensation seemed to release - as though my sensory clutch had disengaged -and I was not afraid.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Not One of Us



By Rudolfo Carrillo


The doctor I visited asked had I ever undergone surgery.

He worked in a building on Gibson Avenue, near the airbase. The building he worked in was near the very spot where the first American astronauts came to have tests done, before each got the chance to roar into space on the tip of a large flaming stick.

The astronauts came to Albuquerque in the late 1950s to be examined by a doctor named
William R. Lovelace. He had developed the first high-altitude oxygen mask, while working at another airbase, in Dayton, Ohio, a place in America, coincidentally, where my twin brother lives and works.

Lovelace
had been hired by NASA to make sure that the spacemen could withstand the rigors of rocket flight, could successfully go to and return from a place where there was no oxygen or gravity at all.

Dr. Lovelace was a New Mexico native. He founded a clinic in Albuquerque that became a set of hospitals that still bear his family name. Now, there are advertisements for this hospital all over town.

Do me a favor. Next time you see one of those signs, while you’re thinking about your health, like the sign asks you to, take a moment and look up into the sky.

Anyway, there is a replica of one of the metal sticks that the
Gemini 7 used to visit outer space, right here in Burque. It’s parked at a museum near the edge of town. The museum chronicles the history of large flaming sticks. Some of the sticks, as I mentioned before, were used to lift fragile and living human bodies into the unexplored void that surrounds the earth.

Other versions of these magic sticks had
a less noble purpose, however. That purpose was also defined here in Albuquerque and in the areas that surround our fair city.

But back to the surgery thingy, which also took place in Albuquerque and has got some outer space stuff going on, too.

I was
born with pointed ears. The ears I was born with were not quite as pointy as Mr. Spock’s ears, but they were very noticeable none the less — just about every one of my school chums referred to me as Spock, a situation which amused me but horrified my parents.

After one of my teachers told my mom and dad that casual parental marijuana use had been shown to have produced minor congenital defects of the sort I manifested, after the sailor framed his retort with the most elegantly insulting Spanish ever heard in Rehoboth New Mexico, my outraged mother decided that enough was enough.

She made an appointment with a plastic surgeon in Albuquerque. His name was Gooding and he was a tall thin man with big hands. He examined me, asked me how I felt about my ears. I pretended to be stoic and logical and did not smile or smirk when he took pictures of my profile with a large Polaroid camera.

Afterwards, my dad took us to the
Los Altos Twin Cinema to see the new Peter Sellers film, which was about a bumbling French detective. I couldn’t concentrate on the film and wished instead that he had taken us to see Escape to Witch Mountain, a film we had heard was about outer space. It happened to be showing on the other screen. When it was quiet in our half of the building, due mostly to the fact that American audiences really didn't understand Sellers' brand of humor,  I strained my pointed ears trying to hear what was going on next door.

Two weeks later, my family returned to Albuquerque. I was admitted to
a small hospital in the Northeast Heights. The hospital was called Anna Kaseman Hospital. Everything was new and glistening and clean at that hospital, which resembled the inside of a fancy spaceship, as far as I was concerned.

I was treated like royalty there. I was treated like a very high emissary from another world, I imagined at the time.

The next evening (which, by the way,
was spread out against the sky), I was wheeled into the operating room and anesthetized. When I awoke, my head was bandaged and my brother was standing over me in the recovery room.

—How you doing,
Spock? How was space?

—It was dark and quiet, but warm. Nothing like books or television... or movies. Not quite what I expected.

A man in gray brought in some white ice cream, my smiling parents trailing behind. We looked out the window at the city of Albuquerque, where it was still nighttime, but on the verge of dawn, a time when there is faint light  on the edge of things that you would never guess is coming from a huge fire in depths of eternal darkness.





Note: This piece was cross-posted to a writing blog called Things in Light. It is a city blog run by the partner of the author of this post. The Eds.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

my name is a number is a bird, darkly


By Rudolfo Carrillo
One time, I wrote to you amidst the starry, provocatively celestial and wind-borne influence of night.
Two dust-speckled birds lit on the mulberry tree in the garden. I heard a low and mournful whisper coming from the train yard. It weren't a ghost, but just a locomotive breathing out its coarse, dread diesel discourse into the obscure hours. Before long, those two nightjars commenced, uttering caliginous chirps and whistles. All of those sounds combined, and once entwined, spirited themselves away into the upper atmosphere.

There was a fancy sodium lamp burning nearby. Its output caused just about every nearby object to appear yellow and sharp. Purple shadows blossomed beneath all the cars and plants and cats that moved or sat within the circle of its electric radiance.

When I spied Polaris, it was still spinning in one place, churning thorough eternity like the maelstroms that take boats down to Neptune's hidden garden. Seeing as how that idea gave me an unfamiliar but welcome sense of worldly ease and well-being, I lay myself down and fell into a dream.

In that other world, it is naturally and comfortingly bright and sullen at the same time. I let my old yellow volkswagen do the driving. That car carries me with all of the benevolence its chugging engine can muster, across empty mesas and up into foggy foothills.

The road gets hard to manage and has been flooded with paint the color of water, but the city of Albuquerque is glowing beneath me, a planar outpost, an obscure and distant space station. I tell the volkswagen (whose name I cannot pronounce in reality) to wait while I investigate the geometry and nocturnal animal life in the mountains ahead.

A pack of coyotes is breathing out howling noises aimed at the moon and a uropygid skitters through the arroyo, whipping its tail and snapping its black claws. Somewhere east of supper rock, I find a wooden door by a cliff I used to climb. I pull it open to discover the Sandias are hollow. There is a pale blue light blasting from outta that hole in the earth. Within it, someone has built an ramshackle fence, made from bones and telephone wire, around a great and green meadow. Sheep graze here and there and my old dog Arnold bounds up to say hello, wagging his tail and carrying on about the beauty and serenity of nature.

Of course the sun come up just about then. The solar emanation brightly and efficiently wrestled me away from the arms of morpheus, just as I am calling telepathically for the Volkswagen to come and get me, before my dog can run off again.

Activating my personal levitation device, I floated into the kitchen and processed some coffee beans into a stimulating beverage. Then, I climbed off the machine and swung the backdoor open in a gesture meant to reconcile myself with reality. I did not bother to look for my shoes before stepping into September.
A cool breeze was wafting through the air. The whole place smelt of water and autumnal relief. Two fellows were working on the swamp cooler next door and cursing a clogged copper pipe while the neighbor's cat patrolled the fencetops and prowled for Inca doves.

Out in front, my black sparkly station wagon just sat there under the carport, not saying a damn thing (this part of the story happens in reality, after all). I figured this morning would be as good a time as any to take advantage of the Carl's Junior coupons that some faithful and steadfast federal employee had recently deposited in the snail mail receptacle adorning the porch.

So, filled as it was with a variety of earth-poisoning petroleum by-products, that old Toyota practically came to life when I turned the key. After fiddling with the radio some, I chanced upon a broadcast of an old Rolling Stones tune. It was a song called 2000 Man and it goes something like this (I listened to it intently while zooming towards a cholesterol and fat-laden breakfast) :

Well, my name is a number,
A piece of plastic film.
And I'm growin' funny flowers
In my little window sill.

Don't you know I'm a 2000 man?
And my kids, they just don't understand me at all...

Well my wife still respects me
Though I really misused her.
I am having an affair
With a random computer.

Don't you know I'm a 2000 man?
And my kids, they just don't understand me at all...

Oh daddy, proud of your planet!
Oh mummy, proud of your sun!
Afterwards, I got home, switched off the radio and the car and et my breakfast. I fed the meaty parts to the dogs and afterwards, exclaimed to no one in particular, "Damn Good!".
When it gets dark, I'll try and write all this stuff down.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Remembrance

By Steven B. Fuson

I took another sip of my Crown and noticed that I had been unconsciously servicing “the itch” by tugging at my shirt sleeve through my heavy wool funeral suit. I needed to chip but I couldn’t walk all the way out to the truck; she needed me near and people would see. It was raining and the overcast gray-white of the front-room window reflected off the various facets of the ice cubes in my glass which, when held in the foreground of the hickory flooring in her dining room, created a color scheme reminiscent of early 80’s minimalist apartment d├ęcor; you know, the kind with a Nagle print over the white brick fireplace. As I stared into the glass, I overheard a couple of the high school girls whisper about how hot he was and that they would have hooked-up with him in an instant and that they could not understand how she could give him up for that.

I remember thinking about how beautiful and caring and loving she had always been. All the way back to the summer days at the local softball fields talking behind the bleachers about G_d and Karma and Nuclear War. I remember thinking that she was the most intelligent woman that I had ever met. I remembered that she was always generous of spirit – never without understanding or true forgiveness for those who would do her harm. I remembered the way she smelled of saddle soap, hay and heady femininity after unloading the wagon in the August sun; how that very sun burst through, and back-lighted, the loose ringlets in her hair burning the image permanently in my mind’s-eye. I remembered how, on that day, she had convinced me that I could be forgiven; that to go on with my life was not an affront to G_d; that my sins were those of a boy forced to grow up way too quickly; that, at that instant, G_d was weeping for my pain and hoping that I would find solace. I remember how, even though we were damp with sweat, prickly from chaff and I was crying uncontrollably, I was not embarrassed or restrained in our hug. I remembered how, on the day she walked into my office, her hair and scent launched me into a reverie of that spiritual day three decades past.

Although she had tried to wipe her cheeks clean, I could tell that she had been crying. As she mustered the nerve to talk, what I saw in her eyes was sadness so profound that it could only have been known by one who dared to love completely.

J2


By Steven B. Fuson

You took his call; the door creaked open and a gaggle of soldiers, pig-farmers and elderly tourists milled aimlessly about our sanctuary, trampling our clothing with mud and feces.

I wallow in it of course. Why have I settled for mere survival, nourished only on the scraps you sporadically slop into my trough?

I sit alone now, languid; I remember the taste of your mouth, the knowledge of your breath. I wish that I could believe that I cannot live without it but that is simply not true. Am I so inconsequential? Do I deserve to be of no consequence?

My identity exists only in the image reflected in the greasy water pail that you place carelessly next to my food.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Slip Space




By Steven B. Fuson

Wednesday, as the rain began, I stowed my upper Midwestern – think Fargo – accent and hung up the phone with my Aunt Carol. She is in the hospital and it is possible that I will never see her again. This was my mother’s closest sister. Her children were the same ages, within days, of me and my little brother and we spent all of our free time together, with their family taking advantage of all the leisure activities that were available to those lacking any disposable income. Nearly all of my positive memories from childhood include Aunt Carol.

My primary memory of my mother, on the other hand, is that she ceaselessly cleaned the house to the spirit recorded on vinyl; apparently, my mother was a fan of Ray Conniff, as she had his arrangement of nearly every popular song of the '50s, '60s, and '70s in her collection. I was too young to know the difference between the originals and the covers and never thought to ask her why she collected the way she did.

My little brother and I were pressed into full service only on the weekends and holidays. My assigned duties, outside of kitchen functions dictated by meals, included: 1) cleaning baseboards, walls and registers using Formula 409; 2) dusting all furniture, bookshelves, and each and every knick knack using either a clean dry cloth or one infused with Lemon Pledge, depending upon the medium of the item to be dusted; and 3) raking the algae-green speckled shag carpet with a specialty carpet rake (a rigid hunter-green plastic affair evocative of the rakes used to create Zen gardens).

That day, clad in a T-shirt and my royal blue Sears Toughskins, which mother had ordered from the catalog and picked up at the outlet 14 miles distant in Barron, I was to dust the entire house. After sternly rebuffing my protestations regarding the unfair nature of my having to perform tedious housework while all other boys ran the woods in keeping with their primordial birthright, my mother started the album and, to the tune of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” as covered by the Ray Conniff Singers, I set my jaw, retrieved the Pledge and started with the wood furniture
The TV smelled of plastic electricity and the furniture polish (which I was not supposed to use on the device) mixed with anger as I smeared the sides of the plastic cabinet and I started to construct a world in which I would never have to carry out such a menial task again. As I have always had an affinity for the gray day, this place would be cool but not cold with a leaden sky that would not force my robin’s egg eyes to squint against the annoying metallic sunlight which causes the world to run on time and makes my clothing cling to me as though I were thinly coated with syrup extracted from something citrus.

The cloth took on a moldy hue as a snarl of dust rolled thin and ever longer before it, like clay rings in a seventh grade pottery class. The clouds over Wisconsin’s north woods moved in to the tempo of “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” as I stared out the bay window that was my mother’s pride. Promising, I thought, cheering for the storm. The storm could force the hazy, humid summer day to match my ideal.

As the Conniff Singers continued to cover the most popular songs of 1970, my mother chastised me for daydreaming, stating that we had to hurry up because someone was coming over, her tone revealing that the guest was not just any someone. Sensing an urgency that went beyond mother’s usual Germanic nagging, I doubled down my efforts while continuing to build my ideal and, dare I say, sacred space in my mind’s eye. Finishing just as Mrs. Wathke rang the bell, I retreated to the basement to escape the sweltering heat of the day. Down there, I sat against the concrete block wall in the cement floor just under the hospital bed that I was told my father had lived in for a year (before I was adopted) due to a bad back. There, I continued to live in my gray world, picking at the delaminating soles of my high-top Converse All-Stars, until my father called for me from the top of the steps. I had not even heard him come home from work. My endocrine system perceived his noontime presence as a threat to my survival and I flushed head to toe with a full-blown panic reaction. As I mounted the stairs, the three adults were standing in the hallway. I stared at the mustard and olive paisley patterned linoleum, ready for the ass-chewing for whatever it was that they had discovered that I had done, when my father reached out and took me into an embrace.

The next thing I remember is realizing that I was sitting at the kitchen table alone, enveloped in the grayness of the high and distant clouds. I understood that my parents had introduced me to Mrs. Wathke and told me that she would be taking care of me while my mother recovered from surgery – I didn’t know it at the time but she was to undergo a radical mastectomy on the 'morrow – but that reality was profane. Hence, I preferred to slip into my cool gray world where time was suspended. There, I felt safety and comfort. There, no matter what came, I was strong. I was prepared.

As I walked back into the house thinking about Carol, I realized that I was singing “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” – the Ray Conniff arrangement.



Saturday, August 13, 2011

Three Dances


By Rudolfo Carrillo

“Vamos A Bailar”, the floating image blinkingly announced. The quote was supposedly an approximation of the words spoken by FBS scientist Refujio “Chico” Takuya as he plugged a modified digital recording device into a small and oddly configured port just behind his left ear.

By pointing to this text with one’s eyes and blinking twice, it was possible to read about Takuya’s discovery on a floaty viewscreen that appeared twenty centimeters in front of and parallel to the users face. This was a great innovation and it changed the world.

The device had been designed in a laboratory that was part of a military outpost in the desert. If that laboratory could talk, had been sentient (and believe me, the wizards at FBS had done their utmost to try and contact the spirit of the main room, with no luck, of course) it could have told you all about implosion fuses; a type of metal foil that could be folded into seven dimensions and a computer that could predict droughts five hundred years into the future.

Anyway, the computer interface Yakuda discovered was called the plastic tunnel. Besides making keyboards and mice everywhere sad and forlorn in their obsolescence, the bundle of equipment and magic of which it was comprised produced an unforeseen but widely embraced anomalous phenomena. It had the capacity to access the memories and perceptions of other network users just as the present slipped into the past. These images, sounds, tastes and feelings of another world were mostly random, interrupting the continuous buzz of information pouring out of the system like a broken summertime garden hosepipe; chaotically and momentarily replacing it with ghostly echoes of anyone and everyone that was online. Luckily, none of that stuff could not be recorded.

When any computer attempted to read the data that had been downloaded from a plastic tunnel, the host machine hissed and turned itself off.

Still, Takuya was quoted as saying, the time would come and quickly, when scientists would develop the machinery necessary to make recordings of the entire process. His discovery, he believed, would revolutionize human life in a way that made the device itself seem like a wooden wheel on a jet aeroplane.

Diaro Burquenista
would have nothing to do with the scientist’s optimism, though. It called the discovery “attempt to take good money from country’s security fund” and “just dumb dream”.

The local alt site,
This Paranormal World
, missed the event entirely, having chosen instead to focus on the expedition it had sent two lucky readers on, to Loch Ness. Their editorial board had sent a microscopic flying camera drone along to check in on their winning reader’s activities. They streamed images from the drone onto their site randomly, to keep the interest up
.
Meanwhile, Tucker Dowd, at
nytimes
, who happened to be the clone/grand-daughter of a semi-famous columnist (also a clone) whose mother was named Maureen, a now forgotten writer, waxed poetically about the seeming leap forward, writing that “Now, we be immortal”.

But, back in the middle of the urban area that sprawled out around the Rio Grande, from El Paso to Taos, people had their own ideas about what was happening over at Flatland Binary Solutions. Coatlicue Wilson, a sidebar skin specialist at Flatland, thought that...

“Hey, are you going to come in here and help me with the dishes or not?"

“Sorry, I just had an idea and I wanted to write it down”.


“Has anyone else ever told you that you have the tendency to desert social situations for any terminal you see, for any computer in your general vicinity”?

"Yep, like a moth to a lit candle”.

“It can be sorta disturbing”.

“I don’t have any control”.

“It seems like a choice”.

“No, when it wants to come out, it does”.

“Sort of like literary…”

“I’ll come into the kitchen now, I’ll wash, you dry”.

He piled utensils, dishes and glasses into the sink, in that order. The Utensils were placed at the bottom. Then the plates were stacked, from largest to smallest, with bowls on the top of that rough pyramid. Finally the glasses were arranged around the construction. Hot water was added. Working quickly, the pair cleaned and toweled the dishes. They were placed in a cabinet which was painted white. “Next, the glasses, he said, while also marveling at the multitude of bubbles on the surface of the water in the sink. For a second he imagined that each bubble was a separate and exotic universe, each with its own physics and metaphysics . Then, grasping a blue tumbler with his right hand, he began to sponge the glass with his left. His hand slid across the curvature of the vessel. Simultaneously, he noticed that it was broken.

“What a sharp edge that is”, he mumbled to himself just before the ragged border penetrated the skin of his pinkie, slicing it as one might remove the skin of an apple.

He screamed.

“What happened”? “I think that I just cut my finger off”. “Let me see it”.

There was a one inch piece of skin dangling from his finger. And some blood, too.

“Get me a washcloth”. “They’re all in the washer”. “I need something to stop the bleeding”. “Here use this”.

“You were using that to dry the dishes, it’s dirty”.

“You need to stop the bleeding”.

When the bleeding had stopped, he said to her, “Hey look at this, it’s like a trap door to another world. It’s all white and bubbly underneath”. Years ago, he had gotten used to injuring his hands, when he had been a welder, carrying around pieces of hot steel. So, the wound did not bother him. In the interest of hygiene they decided to drive to Wal-Mart. She believed it would be best to disinfect the wound, to cover it properly. It was Thanksgiving and every other place was already shut. Wal-Mart would have what they needed and it was nearby. They drove down Monroe, then Zuni, to get there. The parking lot was only sparsely populated with cars. There were beggars, though, at both entrances. She lit a cigarette after he parked the car.

“Don’t make eye contact with them”. “Why not”? “They’ll ask for money”. As they approached the entrance to Wal-Mart, she began to think about putting out her cigarette. She couldn’t take it inside.

A man approached. She made eye contact.

“Do you have any more of those?”

“I was going to put it out and throw it away, do you want the rest of it?”

“Yes”.

They spent several minutes deciding which type of bandage would be best. Afterwards, they picked up a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, which he intended to pour over the bloody phalange.

“Phalange is another word for finger”.

“Also works when you’re talking about the toes”.

“I didn’t know that”.

“Freerice.com”.

“What?”

“Never mind. Look, that line is the shortest”.

There were two people in line number 23. One was a man, the other his child. They were buying a toy inspired by a popular movie about a superhero named Spiderman. The child was counting out coins when the couple came up behind them. He didn’t have quite enough, so he looked up, to his father. The man, who was unshaven, reached into his coat pocket. He withdrew a battered Styrofoam cup. The cup had a word written on it, in black ink. The word was "Thanks". Looking up and around him, the man handed the child two nickels. He smiled wanly and looked at the strangers behind him.

They glanced at each other. Then both of them looked him in the eye.

On the ride back, they were playing Bon Jovi on the radio. Something about being a cowboy. The new artificial grass at Highland High School shone in the half moonlight: a storm was moving in from the east and clouds had begun to diminish its light.