Archive for November, 2022

Goodreads: OK for you… but for me?

I don’t know how many of you tune into Goodreads online (except you, Nebish). I joined around 2011, back when I started spouting these ruminations – and before Goodreads was absorbed by Amazon, like every other book-related activity online.

It’s a site for folks to paste reviews of books and book-like things, trade literary (even literate!) observations, and convince each other that the world still cares about the written (not broadcast) word.

In a Facebookish way, you can like other people’s reviews and comments, follow them (I picture slavering puppydogs) or become a “friend”: I still don’t understand the difference between follower and friend – ragged beggar vs. dedicated apostle?

I’d get a weekly email linking me to reviews posted by either followers or friends. (Somehow I accidentally cancelled this email and can’t for the life of me find how to revive it.) I’m not sure how I hooked up with half these people – did I choose them or did they choose me?

As usual, I don’t quite fit in. I have no interest it “rating” a book without posting a written review. (My favorite one-star review that I posted: The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran: “Total crap.”) What does it mean to give a lumbering tome 5 stars if you don’t say why you liked it? I take such stuff (too) seriously.

On the other hand, I read slowly and do other things with my time, like splitting firewood or petting the cat, so my postings are sparse, to say the least. One guy I’d somehow joined to has read every single work on the Holocaust ever written, usually expanding his stash by 3-5 more a week and spattering his comments with endless intrusive quotes from the texts. Other commenters are tied into unlimited series of fantasies about alternate universes (yeah, I know, we could use one about now). Then there are the Cthulhu freaks, those champions of gore, stench, adjectives and H.P. Lovecraft.

But this one young woman… I won’t ID her here, since, despite the current universe’s disdain for privacy, I just wouldn’t do that. Probably in her late 20s, I figured when I first read her reviews, she writes gorgeous, unrestrained yet contained prose, reacts to her reading with an innate balance of personal and analytic, uses words as though they were rare objects found in an ancient jar. She both delights and shames me with her exercise of mind.

Then, one day a couple or three years ago, she mentioned she was about to start college. Holy ejaculating christ – a 17 or 18 year old. What limits can this girl have?

I’ve dipped into her non-Goodreads blog and found a gay young woman without either apology or aggression, showing not the least regard for what anyone might think of who or what she is, just explaining her life as if you were standing next to her, looking out the window. An amazing mix of poise, acceptance and stability. She seldom mentions her family (in what I’ve read so far) but it’s clear that she grew up in an atmosphere where she was given the keys to the world as her right, openly encouraged to form her… completeness.

As always, being as self-centered as a channeled drill bit, I started thinking back to my own childhood (a stupid but unavoidable activity of old farts as they slip further into geezerhood). At home, I was mostly alone, frightened, friendless, given no information necessary to realization and expansion. In school, always first in my class and the source of all factual wisdom, I was treated as a minor inhuman deity. Again – I always want to stress this – I’m not blaming anybody, just painting a picture for contrast.

I’ve received comments about my bumbling inabilities as parent and grandparent (with which I heartily agree), and it’s easy as canned pumpkin pie to say, “Yeah, my parents done me wrong and I passed it along.” But… on the other hand, my parents were who they were and I’m damned well who I am, an often terrified individual who has not the slightest right to point the finger at anyone else as cause of my sodden temperament.

This remarkable teen flowing into college was not just supported; she is obviously, by nature, a vital, self-accepting entity. I’m not, could not have been even with the cuddliest of parental teddy bears.

Nature, nurture, and the role of the neuronal dice. 

(What the hell does this have to do with Goodreads? Damned if I know.)

*  *  *

The above was originally written while listening to jazz pianist Johnny D’Amico (who billed himself as “Father” John D’Amico), the most liked kid in my high school class, the best of the best, one of only three from St. Thomas More High School I met again in later life.

I never heard him or any other Jazz pianist live (or any jazz “name” except Herbie Man). I think Johnny played in the same bar on 22nd St. in Philly where William Lashner set part of his Bagmen novel (and which my current novel heroine, Jenny, visited, though for myself, I’ve never set foot in the place).

Like Mike Macchiaroli (the only kid in my class shorter than me, and the second most liked, behind Johnny, and for the same reasons as Johnny), he thought about but didn’t become a priest. Johnny used the “Father” moniker as a nod to things contemplated.

Did anyone from our class actually become a priest? I hope not. Johnny died a few years back on the day he was supposed to be released from a hospital stay. And some people think there’s a god.

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Ring Out the Old

The Old Year, ripe with the stink of Thunderbird, sprawled back against the pilaster of an abandoned neoclassical bank. Most of the graffiti above and around him was indecipherable, but “nuke the faggots” stood out in block letters. Below, someone had added, “and the skinheads.”

The Old Year sang “Rock of Ages” off-key, frayed and guttural, with a glutinous flap added from his throat, a gargle through molasses. He held his pie-plate out to passersby, a gesture that suggested nothing like expectation.

He broke off in the middle of the hymn and shifted to a sing-song melody of his own, stronger, his voice clearer. He slapped the empty tin pie-plate beside his legs in rough time to the words:

Throw the old bastard a nickel,

Throw the old bastard a dime,

Throw the old bastard a quarter,

Cuz he is a victim of time.

“Goddam millennium friggin NO GOOD GODDAM city buildins fallin over useta be camels put em up camels an slaves…” his voice rising to a bellow then slipping inside until it disappeared.

The Old Year was cold, weak, wrapped in a torn blanket, a three-inch bedding of newspapers under his legs and butt. He could have shifted to the steam vent at the corner, but he preferred the internal warmth of the Thunderbird. And with only eight (seven?) hours left in 1999, he could freeze solid and it wouldn’t make a difference one way or the other.

A figure moved up near his feet. From The Old Year’s semi-recumbent vantage, the man – given the overcoat and outdated Stetson hat, it had to be a man – loomed like a giant, his face invisible within the nimbus of the setting sun behind him.

“Jerry?” questioned the man.

“You got money? Awww shove off. I’m outta Bird most out. Looka tha…” The Old Year held his bottle of wine by the neck and swung it side to side, a glass pendulum. “Wha ya want? Got sumpin? Gway.”

Jerry. Je-sus, what’s happened to you? Look, there’s maybe… somethin I can do?”

“You can climb a purple horse an FUCK OFF. Aint no Jerry.”

The faceless man fumbled under his overcoat to pull up his trouser legs as he dropped into a squat.

“It’s you. Jerry Walton. You think I wouldn’t know? We fired you, I gotta know. You got that one brown eye and one blue eye –”

“I GODDAM KNOW I GOT ONE EYE AND THE OTHER. You think I’m friggin stupid dont know which eyes I got? Where you goin? Heaven? You goin Heaven? There’s that Indian thing bout how we work outta that. Rein… re-chrysamthemnum. Where you dunt die just go over again an over. An over.”

“Reincarnation?” The figure leaned forward. Sunlight leaked around toward his features.

“Yeah, recarnation carnation. Once I member I was back in Egypt, allll way back. The pharaohs? So Chops Cheops 3150 BC aroun then course didnt call it BC had their own calendar but itd run off schedule an Niled flood when they wunt lookin fer it tappen. Big friggin mess water all over town. But they could – an they did –  floated the blocks up. Fer pyramid. Cheops pyramid. Camels hauled em! Pretty much bes year I ever was. Who you? You Jerry?” The Old Year raised his hand to cut the glare of the dying sun. It didn’t help much.

You’re Jerry. Jerry Walton.”

“I AINT NOT NO JERRY. Yer stupid dunt listen people. Know what I was last time? 1916. There was nothin not one goddam good thing happened 1916. Friggin waste inna whole world. Seven eight million people killed off in France. Just in France. I hadda keep the count bad parta the job. 1999 I can watch it all happen right here millennium. Next timell kick me inta middle of a century. Yknow how much a millennium? Every thousan years! I gotta wait thousan years an they wont anyway give it me nextime. Somebody else. Sucks sucks.”

The Old Year began to cry, the bottle on the ground, his hand wrapped around the neck. He picked it up, crying, took a swig, another, drained the bottle. He looked at it, his glare tight and almost clear, cried harder.

“You…?” asked the man.

“Me 1999 yeah. Right here. Til minnight. Yknow what? Millennium er not stupid goddam year ta be but dun wanna leave. Never wanna leave. Tha old way-old woman ya know her the nun? She was six years old last time now gotta disease an I wone know when she dies. An wuz gonna happen with Apple computers?”

“They got Steve Jobs back. The nun… you mean Mother Teresa?”

“Mother Tresa yeah….”

“She’s already dead. Couple years back.”

“Goddam. Shit. Buy me a Bird? Need more Bird. Time?” The Old Year tapped his wrist.

The figure hiked up his overcoat sleeve an inch. “4:27. I don’t know where there’s a liquor store.”

“Wuz wif you? You got on wool an you dun know where a booze store? I member somebody like you but hats wrong. Mean it swrong cuz it sright. Same hat from las time. 1916 hat. Din have Bird back there. Gin in trenches sneak it in get drunk heads blowed off. On guard duty. I wasn no Jerry Wharton. Wasn nobodys name just was. So mister man how you get through from then ta back here? Snot yer hat. Somebodys elses hat. Not Mother Tresas hat,” and The Old Year laughed, laughed until long snot strings hung from his nose.

“You are Jerry. Jerry Walton,” said the figure, “because we choose it that way. You have been Jerry Walton and you will remain Jerry Walton, now and always. And this time you won’t get fired. You are released, clear of title, into the millennium and through to whatever comes next – actually, Apple’s buying Next from Jobs.”

“Overpopilation too many,” said The Old Year.

The figure leaned forward and touched his fingertips to The Old Year’s eyes.

When Jerry Walton opened his throbbing eyes, the figure was gone. He stared into the afterglow of the sunken sun and felt a physical need, something his body craved. But as his vision cleared, the craving slipped away like gravel from the edge of a roadway.

Jerry rose up to his feet, wondering why he’d been sitting on a cold sidewalk at the end of the year, a section of newspaper hanging off the seat of his pants. Out of a job, for shit sake. That was hardly the end of the world, just another dumb distraction in life’s inevitable march.

Tugging the newspaper loose, he saw that it was the classified section. He opened it to “Help Wanted.”


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Ode to Syd Bradford

Some time back I wrote about Syd, but I left out the most important parts: What I learned from him, and how I failed to be there for him when he could have used it most.

While I was arts editor at the Welcomat in Philly, a fusillade of absurdist letters ran in the Letters to the Editor column, coming from a person who, for whatever reason, called himself “Syd Endeavor.” What’s most unlikely about this moniker is that Dan Rottenberg, the paper’s overall editor, had a usually rigid prohibition against the use of pseudonyms. I don’t know if he knew Syd Endeavor from “real life” – I suspect so – but even so, I don’t understand why he suspended the prohibition in his case.

I also have no clear recollection how I first met Syd – real name Bradford – in the mid ’90s. Was it before or after I followed Dan as top editor at the Welco? Whenever it was, by then I knew who he was. No, let me amend that: I knew his true name, but I’m not sure anyone knew Syd the person.

My growing involvement with him had to do with a weird little print mag he edited that he called Schuylkill Scallywag. What did that rumbling, bumbling name mean to him? I think it signaled that it was off-beat, irreverent, skewering, but, most of all – that it was planned to be like no form of writing previously recorded throughout human history. A mite ambitious, but at least in Syd’s literary case, close to the mark.

When I joined – to put together a quarterly edition at Syd’s Center City home – the “staff” numbered Syd; Richard, a somewhat simpering, vaguely Communist-aligned retired engineer; Ram, the former Indian ambassador to Jamaica; and, a newcomer: Me.

(I don’t know what later became of Ram, a beautiful human being who told us about when, as ambassador, he brought Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie to Jamaica during its most intense Rasta era, where the thoroughly puzzled god-king found himself venerated with wild adulation for no reason he could understand.)

I couldn’t say how many issues we put out during our roughly 3 years together. And who did they go to? A select (how selected?) mailing of 20, maybe 30, possibly 40, conceivably 50 people I never met. Syd controlled all that (of course). 

The editorial meetings were a wonderland. We didn’t spend that much time on the content – an editorial “failing” that often pissed Syd off – but it was one of the most open, altogether invigorating, if sometimes antagonistic (on Syd’s part) small assemblages I’ve been involved in. (Syd often harried Dick for his Communist leanings – not from a rightwing stance, but just to poke at Dick, as you’d poke at a sick toad.) I wished then, wished later, wish now that this unlikely quartet could have continued longer.

How did it fall apart? It was precipitated by Syd, because all things Scallywag were precipitated by Syd. He quit. He refused to say “resigned,” insisted on “retired.” Why? If you’d known Syd, you’d know that question would lead nowhere. 

Dick and Ram and I decided to keep the remains of the magazine, renamed Castaways, going on a roughly quarterly basis. Though I don’t think we specifically chose that name as a comment on Syd, his defection had definitely left us adrift. (I have copies of Castaways in a box somewhere, along with issues of Schuylkill Scallywag.*) 

Castaways slowly (perhaps not really that slowly) vanished. For one thing, we didn’t have Syd’s full mailing list, but that’s not the most important determinant. We vanished because, without Syd, we – at that time and in that place – became a side issue.

In those early days of email, Syd and I exchanged late-night notes after his “retirement” from the Scallywag. Syd, imperious Syd, continually insisted on telling us how our remaining trio should organize all aspects of publication. That pissed me mightily, so on our final online night I responded to some aggrieved demand with this snarl: “Bug out and stay bugged out!

That shit response haunts me. Yes, he had yet again insinuated himself into a conversation he should have moved beyond, but I had heaved something reckless and nasty – if not downright evil – into a pointless drunken conversation. (Don’t, if you retain any self-concern, ever respond to a bad-tempered, drunken email with an equally bad-tempered, drunken email.)

But what am I trying to accomplish right here, right now? Ask forgiveness of Syd? No, because there is no way to ask forgiveness of the dead. But I can try to expiate the wrong I did to… I don’t know to whom, because I still can’t say who Syd Bradford really was. None of us could. That’s not offered as an excuse, but to lay out my difficulty in attempting to exorcise that evil.

Syd was unique in ways both infuriating and inspired. I exited that final online night dealing only with the fury. In retrospect, I find that unforgivable. I failed to give support when needed. Would he have accepted it if offered? Frankly, I doubt it. That was part of his infuriating side. But such caveats do not relieve me of my responsibility and continuing guilt.

What I failed to tell Syd is that I genuinely admired him, his personal and literary eccentricities, and his steadfast inability to compromise when he felt that his outlook was both correct and essential. Going through issues of his earlier magazines, I read articles by him – particularly one with such an idiosyncratic take on the meaning and purpose of the U.S. Constitution as to be barely comprehensible – which helped me see that, even when most off the wall, he was pointing with unique insight to how the wall itself was misaligned.

Sorry, Syd. I fucked up. Lean over a cloud and chuck me down some manna… wrapped around a stone.


*Here’s one of those eerie weirdnesses of timing: Shortly after I wrote this paragraph, I started moving items from our ugly Home Depot piece-of-crap shed to the new shed up the hill (repurposed from Linda’s decommissioned wood-burning kiln).

To my horror, mice had entered, nested in and shredded the contents of 10 or 15 cardboard boxes. One turned out to hold my old Scallywag and Castaways issues, along with copies of Syd’s previous magazines, put together with other friends-of-the-time. Some issues I’ve salvaged, after airing to reduce the mouse stink; others are now muck and dust.

Damn! But at least all weren’t forever lost, as I’d feared.

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A story

Ice Age

She had injected herself into a meeting that MacGregor was attending as a consultant (it didn’t matter what he was consulting on; his sort of parasitic vermin were expected to be experts on everything). Tall, willowy, almost insubstantial, with her shoulder-length auburn hair tossed like pasta, her unsettling green eyes held an almost frightened look, a certainty that something was about to go wrong, that she would be asked to fix it, and that she would not have the tools to pull it off. 

She moved like a teenager, and from across the room looked at most twenty-six. Up close, her facial lines placed her in her early-40s, but those lines reinforced her otherness. There was nothing of the bureaucrat about her, no trace of rule-dominated meanness. 

Over the weeks that they worked together, fitfully – she was often off somewhere no one could identify – she showed herself smarter than any five pompous bright-boys he’d met in the last decade, and she quivered with enough energy – blasting through non-stop until nine at night – to put his weak-kneed meanderings to shame. Nothing he introduced during “consultation” touched an area she could not detonate with explosive insight. Hers was dedication in its purest form: the worship of helping others, of devising cures for the afflictions of all humanity.

Yet her own humanity struck him at first as stunted or malformed. Her coos of appreciation or consolation were delivered in the high-pitched sing-song of a four-year-old, at once genuine yet spurious, as though she had never developed the organ of personal contact. Until the evening he invited her to dinner at a mid-range restaurant. It hadn’t mattered which restaurant, because he knew we would not be focusing on the food or décor. 

The previous day, he saw her reading a sheaf of papers at her desk, some log of triviality floating down the effluvia stream. He’d found her pretty from the start, and those searing eyes held an intensity he had never before conceived of. But here, as she lasered down at the empty words, he could not, could not remove his gaze. Hers was a face beyond faces, a clean-lined perfection he could follow like a lapdog.

The dinner “date” (presented by him as business as all too usual) was an excuse to continue gazing. And so it flowed, through the appetizer. But somewhere in mid-entrée, her generic mix of concern with fear melted, the blazing eyes grew smaller, and the almost pinched mouth expanded into a puckish, sensual curve. Her rakish body seemed to swell two inches, the etched bones to coat with ripe flesh.

MacGregor broke out in a sweat. Good Christ, was he facing some form of multiple personality? No, it was the escape of the wondrous woman trapped within the overly-competent little girl. How seldom she got out, because there was so little space left for her in a life of mad dedication. It took coaxing, time, an unusual quietude to release what he would long insist twas the “real” Catharine.

Through the rest of the meal she joked, focused on him with open delight, told him how much his friendship meant to her, took his hand in simple companionship. As they rose to leave, she reached to hug him – and dropped an ice cube down the back of his shirt. 

MacGregor was instantly, ineradicably in love.

Tonight, God help him, he was charged with forming a plan for an amiable divorce.

This restaurant (a different one) was oppressive, the ceiling low enough to threaten his dome. The fans whirred busily, pushing the air from here to there, making his chill worse; if they were lower they would tangle his hair. He brushed his hair back. The action did not force the fans into the distance. What kind of place was this? “Esmeralda’s Garden.” New Age food? Why had she chosen it? And where was she?

There, at a table half way back, head bent to the menu, not looking for him at all. How typical. And how typical his response: Oh, that tilt of the head, that obvious yet unobtrusive beauty. “Shut up, self.”

“Pardon me?” A waiter or seater or maitre’d or whoever oversaw, undersaw….

“I was wondering….”


“Do you serve Rocky Mountain oysters?”

“I don’t….”

“Nor do I. See that woman?” He pointed at Catharine’s inclined head, and his intemperate temperature rose in wrath when the maitre’seater did not exclaim at her magnificence.

“Yes sir.”

“Please indicate to her that I’m here.”

“Who should I say….?”

“You shouldn’t. Just go.”

The Whatever went. He gesticulated. Catharine raised her head – the hair today straight, spiked and dyed an almost luminous, uniform brown – then with an inimitable wrinkle of her green green eyes, waved him over, smiling.

“There was once –” he started, but realized there was no point to belaboring her with an introductory joke. Too damned late for that. “Hello.”


“For god’s sake, you know –”

“It is your name.”

“It is. Yes.” His response, as always, had been wrong – this time, truly wrong.

She laid her hand on his. Such a thin, almost emaciated hand (hers).

“Oh Cat, oh Cat Cat Cat.”

She continued to smile, a smile machine. What was she smiling at? Did she even see him?

“I fell in the river,” he said, nothing that he’d meant to say.

“You said so, on the phone. However did you do that?”

“Good all-fucking Christ, how does it matter what or why or…. I’m sorry. It comes out that way every time.”

Her hand again latched onto his. “You know I don’t –”

“I know so goddamned little about you these days, finally, that I’m a piece of sausage. Stuffed.”

She started a laugh, and had she continued, it might have gone so much better. But she stifled the laugh and looked at MacGregor with an intensity that lacerated his mood.

“What do I do after this, tomorrow?” he said. “How do I get out of it?”

“Out of what?”

He splayed his hands on the table. “Out of what’s right here. The past and the present and the future. Do you think that’s easy? Is it easy for you? You believe in what you do. You’re so fucking immersed in what you do you can’t see straight. You believe in humanity, in the great murmuring mass of the human race – you can save them, make them what fifty years ago nobody could even have thought possible or tried to make them. I’m babbling. I get up in the morning and I rage against being awake. Look at you. Right now, right here. Awake, striving to go ahead while the evening’s closing in, believing – do you realize I can’t believe in anything? Of course you do. I go to sleep and I almost believe in something, a swirl of I don’t know whats – no explanation, no logic – then it’s gone as soon as I fall asleep. Is it because I was drunk or because I was sober? Jesus horseballed –”

Catharine’s attenuated form has leaned across the table until she is almost drooling on his napkin. “Please don’t talk that way. Those words.”

Without transition he began to cry. Cried like a baby in front of his ever-blessed sexy off-the-edge-of-reality once-was wife. Knives pierced his chest and stomach and lungs, twists of embarrassment and regret, and under it, the rage threatening to….

It had to stop. He stood up, tears washing his useless face and said –

But he didn’t say it. He simply sat down again. He would order something. He wished they really had Rocky Mountain oysters. A big wafting pile of spiced bull gonads. He ordered something with pork in it.

“What do you want to do?” she asked between bites at once dainty yet almost wolfish in their appreciation of the food. The lancing green of her eyes could have cut ribbons at a fashion opening. 

“Oh, I suppose I’ll have to pay something. For the process, the legal process. For the, for the settlement. I will.”

“Have you decided how much? Altogether?”

“I thought you would suggest something.”

“I don’t know what you have available. We never talked about that.”

“Jack shit. I have Jack shit. And I was shot. Shit, shot.”

Professional concern swept her face like a monsoon wind. Such a beautiful wind.  Her care looked manufactured, but he knew that no one alive encapsulated more genuine concern. When a need arose, she leapt on it like it was a raging stallion she must tame. More than anything, that do-good response in her had driven him to rages. Humanity was the Creator’s prime mistake, and no one should try to tame it. Let it run wild, marauding.

“You were actually shot?”

“Actually. With a gun. Once. Upon a time.”

“Are you recovered?”

A strangely formal, absurd question that threw him because it was so dead on the mark. Was he recovered? Would he know? In a bid for time he reached to scratch his nose, but he was holding his fork and almost thrust it in his eye.

“I suppose I am. And yet I’m really much the same. I never wanted a child. You knew that.”

“Is that what it is? All of it? Having a child? I’d hoped… you would change your attitu – your mind. After Brian’s birth.”

“Two years of afterbirth aren’t enough to change that. My mind. The years before, though… Gifts. I don’t know what to do with a child. I don’t relate to anyone who can’t hold a rational conversation. Stand back and look at him and grin? Children don’t think like people. I didn’t like other kids when I was a kid.”

Catharine daintily wolfed down two forkfuls of duck salad. “I don’t want to be unfair.”

“You couldn’t be unfair. It’s not possible.”

She smiled and patted his hand again. That… “It’s hard for me to ask this, but I must – did you love me?”

The tears, now inside, fled to the back of his head. “Did I? There’s no past to it. It is and was beyond love. It is and was necessity.”

“I don’t really understand.”

“There’s no way you could realize…. You are the ideal made flesh. Beautiful, desirable, wondrously… complete. It wasn’t constructed, it existed before I came to it. A whole world recognized at once and beyond need of my contemplation. Then, well… reality always throws shit on the fire.” The pork was good, whatever it was. Some kind of fruit treatment. A glaze. “Oh. Did you love me?”


“Inconceivable. I’ll send, spend what I can. Maybe more than I can. To support Brian. And you. Do you need support? Right now I have nothing, but I’m working on it. So how is he? Brian.”

“He’s not talking rationally yet.”

“Ha! Eventually.” For the first time in the evening he laughed, lightly but honestly. “I don’t choose how I look at things. Honestly. It’s in-built.”

“I know that.”

“Good. Good for you, to know that. You were so much more than I deserved, and I got kicked hard. Good that, too. That I did deserve.”


“Please, Christ. Not the name.”

Catharine smiled again, an entirely different smile that opened the door to the room where she stored her ice-cube assaults. Sultry, knowing, a loving, lovable beast. She reached across to place two fingers, lightly, on the inside of MacGregor’s wrist. An almost audible click resounded in his head, nothing electrical, nothing at all, yet, his worldview flipped like a pancake. No one receives a true magical revelation, not ever. But this was not revelation. It was statement. The same unfathomable future still lay before him, but where before it had steamed in a landscape of blood and snot and garbage, now it shone with softly whipping grain and possibility. He could leap from the table and dash out the door, speed effortlessly down the street.

He hadn’t run, voluntarily, in decades. What just happened to him? Pointless, absurd, unquenchable, unquestionable ecstasy. He looked at the wrist she had touched. He took her thin-boned hand in both of his and and held it like a small bird. “Thank you, thank you.”


“I’ll never be able to live with you again, it’s gone, oh, oh, oh, oh.”


MacGregor shrugged his entire body. “Not possible. Not necessary. But understanding – understanding is so much more important.”

“I’m glad you understand. I don’t.”

“Some modes, some possibilities are given, strewn across the universe.”

Catherine slapped her napkin against the table top. “You don’t usually talk rubbish.”

MacGregor stood and bowed slightly, perhaps to her, perhaps to fate. He didn’t care to whom he bowed. “There was a time, you know, when I didn’t think this would be possible, that we would ever… If I could hand you my life, wrapped in twine, I would. I don’t need it any more.”

“A fine gift, if that’s the case.”

“There are ice cubes in you glass. Still.”

Catherine upended the glass, pouring water and ice cubes on her plate. “There.” MacGregor picked up two of the riddled cubes and pressed them in his fist. But the cubes would not crush. He opened his hand and let them fall.

At the front of the restaurant he paid the bill with cash or a credit card, he could not tell which. All he felt in his hand was ice.

Ice. Ice.


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