Raccoon Redux (Copyright 2005)

The boy Chris hadn’t slept well in the small two person dome tent, curled up on the floor in his sleeping bag with his lanky Uncle Richard, two knapsacks, and a cooler. His uncle didn’t snore, but he murmured every so often, and upon hearing the garbled voice the boy would strain to imagine what interesting episode from the man’s life he was commenting on, and whether he was going to say anything sexy or in any other way interesting.

For that matter, Chris had experienced some difficulty in keeping his own mind quiet, what with the memories of his first caresses of a girl’s leg, Karen’s, pretty as a grownup’s, her skin sleek as a glossy photograph, her thigh, ah her thigh, the texture of peanut butter. From vivid recollection to active imagination being an infinitesimal step for a twelve year old, images of Victoria Secret breasts and hips flooded his head and his hyperalert penis with waves of ecstatic pulsations, though he knew, of course, that Karen wasn’t yet possessed of such wonders. Still, she had pretty, sleek, and tanned legs, and he had touched them, caressed them, and who knows? In a year or two those legs might lead to those other things, and  . . . who knows?

But it wasn’t only his uncle’s gravelly mumbling and the wonders of his fanciful early adolescent sensuality that had kept him awake most of the night. Nor could he attribute his sleep deprivation to the dry ground that the tent floor and his sleeping bag did nothing to soften, though that too was part of the problem. No, the main source of his sleeplessness was the passing alongside the tent of the nighttime critters, the snoops, the tireless wanderers, the inveterate foragers and scavengers, probably raccoons but maybe skunks too, some of whom had the temerity to poke and sniff and breathe near his head, sometimes rubbing along the tent’s thin nylon skin and consequently along his back or arm, whichever was touching the wall in the confines of that space too crowded for even Chris to easily crawl around in. If his annoyance with those little furry guys hadn’t kept him in a state of alarmed wakefulness, the image of Karen’s legs might have been confined to sweet dreams and his uncle’s growls to the domain of perpetual silence.

And the sight that confronted him at five forty-five in the gathering dawn under the canpy of beech limbs wouldn’t be holding him in the thrall of pity. And terror.

So this is what raised his hackles just a short time ago, woke Uncle Richard too: the terrifying screeching, the sounds of flailing mortality. Paralyzed with chills at first, he had, once the din ceased, followed an impulse to drag his uncle out of the sack to help him find the source of the noise and they had followed a trail two hundred yards under the guidance of flashlights and Chris had been the first to see the carnage.

Unable to take his eyes off the mangled animal, the boy’s desire to run was thwarted by his fascination with the grim spoilage. Uncle Richard, he said.

Yeah?

Over here.

He heard the dead leaf shuffle of hiking boots on the messy forest floor, the crackling of dried twigs. He saw his uncle’s lags standing beside him, heard the whisper Jesus.

The boy stared hard. I guess that’s what made the noise, huh? he said.

I guess so. What a beating he took.

Yeah. What a mess.

Uncle Richard crouched down. Look, he said. He pointed to a mild disturbance in the air just above the raccoon’s torso. See the heat rising?The boy nodded. He’s still warm. He’s not been dead for more than a few minutes.

Chris raised his head, directed his gaze to the small patches of sky visible through the treetops. He was blinking rapidly. I know. I heard all the noise.

Uncle Richard stood and placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. The boy sniffed once, then several times rapidly. I can smell the blood, he said. It smells like what I’ve tasted, only stronger even. He looked down at the carcass, left the site and returned with a long gnarled stick. He tried to turn the carcass, managed only a nudge before the stick broke. Heavy, he said. He looked up at his tall uncle and asked if he could maybe touch the fur.

Sure, his uncle said gently.

Chris squatted, reached out a tentative finger, touched the fur on the top of the head, on the ear. Lying on its side, the raccoon’s open eye stared at nothing and the boy touched it too. After withdrawing his finger, he hesitated a moment before touching the little teeth in its open mouth, caught in a mute final snarl of pain. He didn’t say anything. Then he touched the fur matted with its rapidly drying fluids, withheld his hand and studied his red fingers, rubbed them together, smelled them. Can I touch its guts? he asked.

Go ahead.

He touched it the way he had first touched Karen’s calf, her ankle bone, the tendons behind her knee, with great reserve, with great care, like a pianist touching the keys of the first piano he’s seen after a month of starvation in a desert. It seemed to him strange and mysterious to feel this warm, smooth, rubbery thing, this vital thing, this thing hidden inside a body that contributed to the livingness, the functionality of this creature, now so useless, so inert, so meaningless. He shifted his feet a bit, rested his arms on his knees, his hands dangling. Flies were beginning to gather, to land on the nose, the gums, the drying flesh, the first of the scavengers to begin nature’s work. He stood up, buried his hands in his pockets, raised his eyes, rapidly blinking again, and scanned the forest. A single snort, a suppressed sob, escaped him and he used the back of his hand to wipe a tear from his cheek. His uncle reached around and drew him against his side.

Uncle Richard, he said.

Hmm?

The boy returned his hand to his pocket. Why . . . Why do people feel so bad when an animal gets all wrecked and killed like this?

Uncle Richard studied the boy with raised eyebrows. He clenched his jaw, pursed his lips. I suppose, um, because it’s life, Chris. He hesitated. It’s life gone. You know, it was a life and now life is gone. Zapped. Kaput. Vacant.

The boy looked up at him. Yeah, but it’s only an animal.

Mm hmm. But it used to be a live animal. And cute, right? Raccoons are cute, don’t you think?

Yeah. but he’s sure not cute anymore.

See? He was a cute little guy, full of life, before. Now death has made him grotesque, ugly. Do you think he wanted to be grotesque and ugly? And dead?

Chris smiled. No. Not at all.

Do you think he still wanted to be alive and cute?

Sure.

Do you think all living things want to stay alive and be cute? Maybe even forever?

Sure they do. Except maybe flies. They could never be cute.

True, true. But I’ll bet they want to kive. Just like the raccoon. Just like you.

Yes.

The boy watched as the flies zipped around on the carcass. He listened to the waft of birdsong, the calls of distant geese, smelled bacon on the breeze. Do you think he suffered a lot?

Uncle Richard nodded, pursed his lips agaion. I expect so. It must have been pretty bad.

Uncle Richard?

Yes, Chris.

How come people don’t feel as bad when people get wrecked and killed like they do when animals do?

What makes you think they don’t, Chris?

Well, it seems that it’s in all the movies and TV and everything. People are always hurting and killing people, and people who watch all that stuff think it’s cool. And it’s always on television, and in my comic books. And my games. It seems like people really think it’s cool to kill people, but they feel bad when animals get killed. I can’t figure it out.

Uncle Richard stepped in fron of the boy and grasped both his shoulders. You know what, Chris? Neither can I. He drew the boy to him and embraced him, then stepped back, his eyes holding onto the boy’s. He shook his head. I sure can’t either. . . Come on, he said. Let’s get back to camp. We’ll have a bite to eat and then go fishing.

Chris gave a farewell glance to the rapidly cooling carcass and joined his uncle. I don’t think I want to go fishing, he said.

You don’t? Why not? That’s what we came here to do.

Maybe later. I’m really tired. I didn’t sleep much last night. Can I just get in my sleeping bag and go to sleep for a while?

Uncle Richard threw his arm around the boy’s shoulders. Sure, he said. You take a snooze and I’ll go throw a line in and wake you up in two hours. Okay?

Sure. Thanks. He smiled and held the smile the rest of the way to his campsite. He was able to hold the smile so long because as he trod through the ferns and old leaves and broken sticks of that tamed state forest his mind was on Karen, she of the smooth skin and the soft lips, she of the peanut butter thighs and the sweet fingers on his face, and he thought of what he was going to do under the cover of his sleeping bag with only her image to excite him.

 

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Note on the second story in a series called “Fleeting”

This second story follows the raccoon after her fruitless attempt to break into a campground tent until her death. It’s one of the most violent things I’ve written, and the only violent one involving nonhumans. For that reason, some readers might be put off, though the violence occurs in nature and is part of the conditions animals confront in nature. Be assured it wasn’t written for fun. The patient and careful reader will see the importance of these first two vignettes as the series progresses. If you’re just beginning with this story, scroll down past the immediately preceding one, “The Raccoon’s Sore Snoot,” to my intro to the series.

As I transcribe the stories in my book The Soul in There,  I’m a bit amused by some of the stylistic changes between that first book and my second, At a Loss, in which I play more freely with syntax and punctuation and I tend to combine words rather freely. But the changes are not accidental. I view them as progress.

The Racoon’s Final Swoon (copyright 2005)

Feeling she was finally safe, the racoon shinnied down the oak trunk and found herself once again in the security of the forest floor. She had nursed her sore nose, grazed by a camper’s black leather boot, and her biting eyes that had been lashed by the boot’s whipping lace, for a good long time, and now the first small swarm of a new day’s light appeared and she was plenty hungry. She was also confused. She should have a full belly by now, should be savoring a well deserved sleepiness, should be on her way to her lair to smack her lips as loud as she wanted and to lie down luxuriously for a nice undisturbed slumber. Instead, she was hungry and a bit dispirited. In this her favorite campground she had never been treated with such meanness before. Children merrily chasing her with squirt guns, leashed dogs lunging comically, some people sending halfhearted kicks in her direction — those were the kinds of threats she had to deal with, playful threats mostly, made by campers actually delighted with any wildlife they encountered, especially cute little guys like her and her kin, and of course, the black squirrel and the deer.

She looked toward the row of tents standing like craggy warts on the wooded slope and considered a last forage before sunrise, but recalling the hostility she’d encountered only a few hours earlier she elected to turn around and make her way back to her own shelter under some thick deadfall on a comforting sandy dune overlooking the great lake. Probably she’d find some nice tart wild grapes along the way, and she knew where lay the remains of a small bag of garbage she had hauled away and hidden a couple of nights ago for just such an emergency. Heh heh, she was one smart raccoon all right.

Lumbering quietly under the soft ferns on her skinny legs, she was making good time until her hearing was shattered by a sudden barking noise and a vicious snarl from behind and another series of barks in the other direction between her and her lair. Her heart stopped and then leaped into a furious pumping and she ran mindlessly to the safety of her lair where the dog, a large and barely distinct form, crouched surprised and delighted. As she swerved the dog grabbed her and she felt its teeth clamp down on her neck and she felt herself rise from the ground and fly briefly. She smacked something hard, a tree trunk, and bounced off and lay stunned for a moment before one of the dogs, she couldn’t tell which, of course, lay claim again to her neck. But this time, alert now, she drew on every defensive resource she possessed, teeth and claws and speed of movement and her weight and her chilling caterwaul and she broke loose and lashed at her attacker until it yelped and withdrew. But not far. It stood and stared at her, panting, and suddenly there were two of them looking at her, assessing her. She returned their stare, her awl-sharp teeth bared, breathing hard too but ready for a fight. She knew she could take one of them without too much of a problem, but, because she had never before faced two such powerful adversaries, the second one frightened her. Probably she could make short work of the one, but two? On top of that concern, she now became aware of intense pain shooting through the back of her neck, into her shoulder and down one of her front legs.

She heard a snarl from one of the dogs. In the billowing dawn she could see it, a big hairy thing with sharp ears and short dark hair and eyes that seemed to burn red. That was the one she focused on. It snarled again and she bravely answered, her voice shrill and frightening and eerie. The dogs backed up a step or two and she repeated her raccoon epithet. But her bravado faded when she saw the big dark one dip into a nasty looking crouch and lower its ears. Its teeth glared and its distorted black gums quivered as it took its first slinking steps toward her. The other dog, black faced and mottled like a rotting log, moved to the side, its head turned toward her, preparing to attack from the flank. The raccoon snarled in a low tone this time, her voice raspy and deep and whiney, as if saying Hey guys, come on. That’s enough guys, huh? Hey guys.

A tree stood a few feet away and she sprang for it and grabbed on and began desperately to climb but something sharp and heavy grabbed her hind leg just above the midjoint and pilled hard. Against a rush of pain she tried to clamber up the slippery bark, she lost her grip and fell and as she hit the ground rolling and tumbling she she felt the second dogs mouth on her throat, bringing her to a sudden stop and holding her down, the first still pulling on her leg. She tried to thrash but the weight of the dog on her neck held her like a burial stone and she felt her leg break like a stick and heard the crack at the same time, and the dog freed her now useless leg for a moment only before she felt its mout around her haunch, the teeth digging in and pulling hard again, tearing her meat. That’s when the second dog, sensing her relinquishment, released her throat in favor of her loin, sinking down into it and pulling with the ferocity and rage of a snaggled tempest. At this point all the pain she had felt coalesced into a numbing black cloud beshrouding her like a heavy blow frozen in time, she could no longer fight or resist at all, she could only thrash in the limited way her body allowed under the weight of the dogs. And she could shriek. Unfortunately no shriek from her gurgling throat could save her, none could call forth help, and in fact none could be heard above the greedy snarling of her ferocious killers. And then she felt things snap in her side and haunch like a heavy rubber band breaking as flesh separated from her flesh, and suddenly the heavy force was gone as the dogs retreated and the pain returned and filled her like a jolt of electricity that charred her entire being.

Mercifully, her pain was now so pervasive that, like Guido eternally consumed by his flame, her nervous system no longer distinguished it from nonpain, it was just there, like her fur, so she watched impassively as the dogs returned and chomped rudely on her meat, saw the bone and torn flesh of her bedraggled leg and the pink of her intestine sagging in the dirt. She managed to turn her head and, summoning all her remaining strength, she forced her torn shoulder muscles to activate her front legs and pull her body forward a few inches. But with the movement came a nasty growl and she felt the force of another hammer blow on her shank, her body shook raggedly as the dog dragged her backward, its own head shaking as it worked to separate meat from meat. Then she fell, she let out another low raspy sound, it might have been Oh ooo ow. Jeez guys, that’s enough, huh? Come on guys. Oh jeez it hurts. Oh jeez. That’s enough now, okay? But it wasn’t. The other one leaped at her, had her by the throat, shook her like a hairy dimestore toy, his buddy joined in the game, and when they were done they spat out what was left and silently ran away.

The Raccoon’s Sore Snoot (copyright 2005)

Get out of here. Out of here. God damn it, get out of here you goddamn pest. Something much larger than the raccoon’s head came down hard near her nose, something black and shiny with skinny flopping things flying around as the big thing went up and down, up and down, hitting the floor near her, making a racket louder than the other roar of sounds coming out of the mouth of the big guy clutching the black thing. The raccoon pulled her nose out of the small space and backed up a few paces, not too fast or too far because the big guy didn’t seem inclined to emerge from his thin shelter to threaten or chase her. All he did was make those roaring noises and lie down again,the din fading to a mutter, when the raccoon backed off.

The raccoon stood there for several minutes assessing the situation. She ought to just leave, find some other source of nourishment, but the aromas coming from that space, inside the smooth skinned shelter, were so abundant and so inviting that she figured one more try would be worth it. There were salty things and yellow, almost rancid little blocks of things and, oh best of all, oh heavens alive, fresh smelling fish maybe just brought in and cleaned, mmm, maybe perch, yes, her favorite, and there was the spongy white stuff that she loved, even when she had to spit out the crinkly stuff that surrounded it. And the thing was, there were these spaces at the foot of the shelter that were so inviting to the raccoon, spaces that all the other shelters didn’t have, they were all sealed tight, but this one wasn’t sealed all the way, only half of it was, the other half was only pinched at these intervals by some funny looking very thin things that shined in the needle of light coming from inside the shelter and by some bigger, strange looking things, much heavier but also shiny.

These bigger things had round heads and what appeared to be jaws clamped down and holding together the bottom and the see-through side of the shelter where the big guy entered and exited during the light hours just before the dark took over. These jaws wouldn’t yield even when the raccoon swiped at the long, hard, stiff tail that was attached to the head. Usually that bottom and the see-through side were held together by tightly closed little teeth that ran along the whole bottom, but with this one the teeth only held together half of the see-through side and the bottom, and these weird heavier, clunkier things and little skinny shiny things held the other half together. They were clamped tight, but they left these spaces big enough for the raccoon to get her muzzle through, and she just knew that if she worked hard enough she’d be able to thrust her way through that space, maybe forcing some of those jaw things off, which would help a lot. In any case, she recalled a few occasions of expelling some fairly big things through this little hole in her bottom, and even though it hurt, it went to prove that difficulties like big things punching their way through little openings could happen with a little perseverence and a little time. Maybe with some quieter breathing too.

She waited some more time and watched as the light dimmed within the shelter and finally disappeared. Except for some humming sounds coming from other shelters nearby and some distant whip-poor-will music, all was silent. She sniffed the aromas hanging in the still air — ah, that fish! — and followed her nose to the clunky things holding the bottom of the shelter to the see-through side. Using her multifaceted nose to feel an opening, she inserted it and carefully began to slide it forward until the firm barrier pressed against the bridge between her eyes. The idea of opening her mouth to see if the strength of her little jaws might make the thing yield a bit occurred to her, and when it worked she shot as much of her head through the expanded space as she could.

Unfortunately, she didn’t get it in very far before the rim of the opening tightened around her head like some tough sinew, and she found herself trapped. She tilted her head back and forth as though boring through an impediment when suddenly a ray of light shone directly into her eyes and she heard the roaring of the big guy within. God damn you, you little son of a bitch. Jesus Christ! Blinded, she knew she was in trouble and she began a desperate attempt to retreat. She heard a loud whomp and felt a vibration and a rush of air, and she knew that the shiny black thing with the skinny floppy things had just missed her snout, she panicked, her legs and all her weight pulling hard, she finally got her snout out just as the black thing, quite hard and heavy, grazed the tip of her little black nose.

Throughout the friendly blackness into which she sped she heard the big guy’s awful roaring. The cool evening air felt good on her nose. When she finally stopped, her heart still beating hard, she found herself safe on a low branch of a small scrub oak. She looked backward toward the campground and might have thought,

Well, that’s that.

Note on what’s upcoming

In 2006, when I published my first bunch of stories titled The Soul in There, I positioned six tales separately that could have been included under one heading, each with its own title. The decision to place them separately came after a lot of wrestling with myself and discussion with others. Each was written between other stories, but I clearly knew from the beginning that they would constitute a running series. But I also thought that their placement between other stories might function as strophes to them, and that if my audience read the stories sequentially, as I always do collections of short stories, they’d perhaps follow the thread and at some point see their relationship to each other. So that’s what led me to arrange them as I did.

Recently I’ve heard from people who read the book that they didn’t read the stories sequentially and thus didn’t see the relationship of all six. Because the word “raccoon” was in three of them, they figured they were related, but not the others. So I’ve decided to include the six on this site under the  simple title “Fleeting.”

The racoon is the main character, complete with imputed thoughts, in the first two vignettes. In the third, what remains of it is discovered by a boy named Chris and Chris’s Uncle Richard. Chris is the main character of the next three stories, the last of which ends with an epiphany and an affirmation, though the future of course remains impenetrable.

In the first vignette the raccoon, roaming around a campground, sniffs some aromas that beckon it to an apparently vulnerable tent. The tent’s bottom zipper is broken and held together with a line of tools, mostly wrenches and vice grips and safety pins, which present quite a challenge to the hungry little pest.

Why Is This Here? — 12th and final installment, continuing a sentence from #11

. . . where did this rage come from he wondered then and for a long time after, what match lit it, what fuel fed it, how long has it burned, how quietly. He locks both her wrists in one hand and throws open the door to the baby’s room, his baby’s, his, and drags her inside, throws her into the wood rockingchair, it slides, tips, she falls off she falls legs flailing, her head strikes the wall then the floor, everything’s in full sight, her body has no secrets, the room’s an anarchy of wails curses growls screeches, Bonita’s on her knees and elbows and elbows forcing herself up, the heel of his bare foot thumps her forehead her head snaps back and she crumples, his face is locked in terror, he runs to the other room throws sloppy clothes on and around himself, storms out, he never sees Bonita or the baby again, leave the city his messenger later tells her, don’t ever initiate contact with him again, you’ll receive a generous check bimonthly when you inform me where you are, never initiate contact again, be far away out of his life or. After a week that little house burned to the ground, an unsolved arson, but like an underground coalfire, an eternal holocaust, the tongue of those flames forever crackled out the name Martin Major.

He rests his arm on Marci’s strong hard neck, in profile from forehead to nosetip it’s almost a straight line, almost comical to him, she’s returning his gaze through those little triangled eyes, all logic is gone, reason evaporated, words in hiding, they’re all replaced by images streaming past like a gust of hurried careless birds in a silent video, soft swaying leaves on a young spirea bush and springtime grass in a light breeze, peristalsis, a woman’s hair and heaving breath, beams of sunlight, all things undulant, cadent, alive, writhing snakes and throbbing tears, a percussion of gunshots rumbling guts sparks of downed wires, I’m all of these things he feels, all and more, he closes his eyes, shuts out Marci the tapestry the teak, it’s dark now I’m all of these things in the dark and more, vastly more, the dark is vaster than all these things, he yearns for the dark, it’s all he wants, it’s all that matters now.

Time to go he finally whispers. He unwraps his arm from Marci’s patient neck, struggles to his knees and pushes himself upward, Marci tenses and raises her head, there’s blood on the floor it’s still oozing from small slits in his leg, he glares at it, Marci’s snuffling. An odd but familiar sensation assaults his thigh just above the knee and as he looks a long blue snake wrapped in transparent sheathing is shooting out, the sensation lasts only seconds this time but Martin shivers with fear and disgust and the image disappears. Time to go before I can’t anymore he mumbles, time to kill that snake once and for all. He’s still shivering. He looks down at Marci and spots the dumbbell nearby and automatically bends over and lifts it and looks at it almost fondly. Neglecting her instinct to test the red spots on the floor with her tongue, Marci turns and trots across the room, turns again and picks up the pace again, seems undecided, finally sets off toward her master but he’s out the door now, closes it behind him, the dog begins a deep drumbeat of a bark. Over the speaker system Martin Major hears Offenbach’s Barcarolle, he sops, listens, begins doing curls. Mezzos slay him every time.

He advances to the kitchen. Before entering he stops, stands, he’s a bit unsteady, he feels aromas swirling, the ripeness of fruit, the pliancy and blush of fresh meats, the clay pot rests on the cuttingboard, he hasn’t broken anything in this room yet, stained the floor with his blood or wet it with his urine, I’ll bet the wife will regret going out today he thinks as he crosses the threshold. It’s a goodsized kitchen with windows and a sliding glass door overlooking the Hudson and the New Jersey banks and dense trees and skyline across it, there’s a balcony outside stretching from the door to another one in the adjacent bedroom, the one he and his wife, he doesn’t even try to recall her name anymore, have ridden in so many times, bucking bronco rides from kitchen meal preparations to the firm wide bed under a sweeping impressionistic willow tree in the the thick goldgilt frame, their playful concession to coarseness in that room once governed by abandon and ardor. Blood smears underfoot on the bright tile floor as he advances toward the door.

The last aria on the CD has played itself out, the apartment is quiet and a pall of sadness descends on Martin Major, he stops and turns and slowly oscillates his head, his eyes are clouded with perplexity, he’s a slopeshouldered bloodied man without pants, a twentypound dumbbell in one hand, for him even the distant past has with all sound faded from his pendulous head. If he were looking in the direction of the hallway he’d have seen Toni in the livingroom, door open behind her, inching her way toward him loosely holding a plastic Rexall bag, her smooth oval face encoded with dread. The motion of his head stops, his eyes focus on a plain roundfaced clock with a thin black rim, he pivots, sees the sliding door and without hesitation winds up and hurls the twentpound barbell at it, his pacifier since the livingroom suddenly alive with menace, he screams in pain as the door shatters around an ugly hole in its center tiny cubes of glass flying like glistening water droplets, the missile thuds weakly against the baclony railing outside and drops to the floor, the remaining door a field of tiny attached cubes jutting from the heavy aluminum frame. Toni shouts from the hallway, she runs a halfdozen paces and embraces Martin Major who’s bent over yowling and holding his shoulder and crying streams of tears. He keens like a beast and writhes as she holds him and he sobs and hooks his chin onto her shoulder.

Philip O. Jung

Why Is This Here? — 11th installment

Martin Major turns his attention to Marci, returns her attention that is, she’s calm now, breathing slowly, she’s gotten her sniffing in, she licked his cock leg foot and  slipper, now her long smooth face lies on his lap, her body stretched and legs splayed on the floor, her odd little eyes alternately fixed on nothing and searching for his. One of the arguments that his wife . . . Toni . . . had used to delay his final departure — obliteration rather, since he’s in the state of final departure now, had been for some time and and will continue to be indefinitely unless he takes action to end it and soon — was the appeal to his sympathy for Marci, she’d be heartbroken Toni had said, she’ll miss you and she’ll be even sadder when she’d see how much I miss you too. She’d be living in a household of misery. And she’ll be happier watching me slobber in bed? he said in return, she’ll be happy with me unrersponsive and staring off into deep space with vacant eyes and an empty brain while she’s running off steam roomtoroom knocking down lamps and soiling rugs? You’re not the only one occupying this place she said, I’ll always be here to play with her, No you’ll be out he said, you won’t be able to stay in here with a thousandyearold man who stares unseeing at colorless ceilings, you’ve given your life to children, that’s your profession, or if I’m in some nursinghome Alzheimer unit she’ll be lonely too, my god she’s only three years old. But Toni’s appeals always won, at least they always had won, but with her out he’d better do something quick get out on that balcony quick, a fourteen story drop should take care of everything.

I’ve got a little will left he thinks, feels really, since words are hard to summon in such times of turbulence and repose as he’s experienced in the last twenty minutes, and a little eye for beauty yet, the view from the balcony is lovely, the harbor, the boats out there, the ribbon of park and boulevard, the green grass fourteen stories below, the bright sparkles on the waves out there . . .

Come here girl and sit by me.

Thickbodied Marci scrambles up beside him, he puts his arm around her powerful neck, her breathing remains quiet as she peers at him, their eyes are locked together, you’re a good girl he tells he, I’ve got two good girls.

He used to have reason too — he resumed his wordless thoughts — he was a master logician, he used and abused logic like few out there, it’s all gone now, he can’t even make points with his wife anymore, none, the . . . what was her field again? damn she was as good in hers as he was in his, reason has pretty much left him, it’s as though it had only been visiting, as though it were traipsing all around spacetime and decided to set up shop in his head, it was pretty good to him, pretty good, he tried to banish it more than a few times but it was , what? he thought hard, it was pretty much invulnerable, no no, indefatigable, no, invincible — ah yes invincible, good one — until it decided to leave him him and dry, make a getaway, a sneaky getaway, that and memory, most memory anyway. Not all of it. Not everything. Not the awful one, the nightmare. Ravenhaired Bonita in the nude. Bucknaked. Gorgeous. She murmuring in early foreplay you’ve got to leave her you’ve got to leave her you promised, he kneading already panting not now not now she pushing him away Wait a minute, hold on, the baby . . .  the baby, what about the baby, what about me, what do you mean not now? In the next room the baby wakes in a panic, screams and cries out mama, it’s a fourroom house he pays for, the meager rent, they’re in the livingroom the blinds are closed, they’re on a sofabed, it’s now a battle zone. Bonita’s hitting him with her fists on arms chest and shoulders he blocks wild punches aimed at his face, cock flailing strenuously as though imitating the punches, finally he grabs her wrists tight, teeth gritted, she struggles, her soft body, accustomed to babyflesh gentle strokes and massages in all the right places, quavering, flapping, Stop it stop it goddamnit stop it . . . . .

[That’s it for now. It’s called worn out.]