In April 2009, I woke from a dream thinking of Radio Mary for the first time in years. (The novel itself was first prompted by a dream, a cop who felt guilty about putting a woman in jail, fearful of the bondage she was likely enduring.)  The idea in the dream was to cut the character of Tom Reese out of the book until he appeared in the last third at a murder site. I pondered this in bed for a while, then went downstairs and cut out all of the early Tom chapters -- 20,000 words gone in ten minutes. The novel was now an alternation between Mary and Hayward's POVs.  It was very floaty, and very quickly, and the for the first time, it felt like something that should also be a movie. That dream set me on the path of making Radio Mary as a movie. This draft is riddled with typos and it is incomplete and it  not yet incarnated in its ideal form as a novel, but this is the basis for the first draft of the screenplay.  In fact, I loaded the novel into Final Draft and began the process of conversion line by line. 

DOWNLOAD FULL NOVEL

(Or you can read it here, formatted as plain text:)

RADIO MARY

a novel by

GARY WALKOW

Draft 7    4.15 - 5.25.2009

Thursday

8:17 AM

IN THE GLASS TOWER

     Riding the elevator up, Mary Delany feels like she is ascending into a castle.  A separate world.  The Magic Kingdom.  This feeling gets stronger high up in the glass tower, where none of the windows open.  She doesn't miss the feeling of real air, she has enough of that her sixteen hours away from work. 

     She gets off the elevator, alone, at the forty-second floor and walks down the windowless gray-green hallway past the raised gold letters of Traum, Pittman, and Black, stopping to smooth her olive jacket and pleated skirt, one last check. 

     Mary’s sensible black pumps glide over the carpet as she walks toward the coffee room.  Rand Foley stands at the counter and pours himself a cup of coffee, jacket off, starched white shirt and suspenders.  With his back to Mary, seen unexpectedly, he seems handsome.  Dark, straight hair, but not too straight.  Smooth, tan skin, but not too tan.  Not bad for a boyfriend, even a secret boyfriend.  But somehow, at the same time, not good.  Turning for the Sweet-and-Low Rand sees her.

     "Good morning, Mary."

     "Good morning, Mr. Foley."

     Tearing the pink packet, he smiles again and steps aside to let Mary pour herself a cup.  "I tried calling you last night."

     "You must not have tried very hard."

     He reaches for a spoon, an excuse to brush against her, but she deftly sidesteps him. 

     "I got out of my meeting incredibly late, you know?"

     She turns to leave. 

     "A negotiation.  It went pretty well.  In fact, very well."

     She feels herself lingering: the moment has come.  She can either walk away or she can be humiliated.  Why should she stay and listen to him?

     "Are you doing anything tonight?  Why don't you come over.  I'd like to see you."

     For the moment he seems bored with everything except her.  But does he mean what he doesn't say?  Is the space between their words a place where they will ever be alone?  She feels frozen, the Dansk mug heavy in her hand.  If he was a little nicer it wouldn't be so complicated.  If they didn't have to be a secret office romance across castes, a peasant girl and a knight.  Does he make me feel cheap or is it just me?

     "It'd be nice.  So what do you think?" he asks.

     "About what?"

     "Coming over."

     Rand adjusts his black Armani glasses while he waits for her reply.  He's told her again and again there is no easy way for him to be with her without threatening his rise to partnership.

     "Maybe."  She leaves first, feeling his eyes upon her as she walks away.  She feels nervous knowing that he is watching and tries to keep this from translating into the pace and flex of her legs.

     As Mary turns into her cubicle, she hears Rand walking past, hesitant but arrogant footsteps.  If I'm thinking about him, then he must be thinking about me.  I think.

     She tells herself to stop thinking about him as she sits down inside the padded gray partitions of her work space.  She looks out her window as she sips her coffee, but there's not much city to see today, the horizon hemmed in by brown smog.  But above the smog the sky is a desert blue.  She delicately touches the spikes of the baby cholla cactus that sits on the sill, protected from the brown air outside by the window pane that protects them all.  One cactus looks too lonely.  Maybe she'll buy another cactus at the supermarket tonight, then she'll have a pair. 

     She turns on her computer screen, takes off her earrings, puts on her headset, adjusts her chair as if preparing for a take-off, starts the micro-cassette, and enters the slipstream of words that are her vocation.  This morning the disembodied words are a forensic pathologist's, a precise description of a Mrs. Ludlow's final state.  "...with severe trauma occurring to the Occipital lobe, note contusions between the sixth and seventh..."

     The words pass through her ears, through her fingers, onto the glowing pixels of her screen.  Her job is so orderly and breathtakingly separate from the city on the other side of the glass.

     Mary doesn't feel like going past Rand's office en route to the ladies room, so she takes the longer alternate route through the reception area.  Not that she is avoiding him, she just doesn't want to chance upon him again, not twice in one morning.

     Stepping into the lobby she smiles at Sylvia, the receptionist, who wears a headset nestled inside her big hairdo.

     "Good morning, Traum, Pittman, and Black...Mr. Foley is in a meeting but I can patch you through to his secretary..."  Mary catches Sylvia's eye and nods hello, then stares jealously at Sylvia's yellow blouse.  The raw silk has that special glow of being worn for the very first time.  The brilliant yellow swims in Mary's eyes; she knows she's seen it somewhere -- Ann Taylor -- it must be on sale if Sylvia bought it.  Mary offers some quick and incisive sign language to let Sylvia know how she covets the blouse and Sylvia smiles thanks in the middle of answering another call.  Mary decides on an early lunch and hopes Ann Taylor's has the blouse in another color.  Then she looks up and is surprised by a man watching her.

     Reese is startled by Mary's eyes.  So green.  And her hair, such a perfect, soft red. 

     In that first moment, she feels an immediate chemistry as he guiltily looks away.  But guilty of what? He offers an embarrassed smile and drops his eyes back to the magazine in his lap, but she knows he is not reading, because his hands grip the pages too rigidly.  His dark brown hair curls over the collar of his jacket -- he needs a haircut.  He looks uncomfortable in a tie and he looks uncomfortable sitting on the lobby couch.  She senses kindness in his eyes but there is another part, an uncomfortable part, which makes him complicated and hard to summarize.  Crossing through the lobby she wasn't expecting to feel anything but she does.  She walks past the man, touched that he will not look back up to meet her smile. 

     In the pink pastel tiles of the bathroom she wonders about this man while she fluffs her hair back up to its eight A.M. glory and mounts a smile to greet him with at their second meeting.

     But when she returns the waiting room is empty.  She continues on to her desk without saying a word to Sylvia, the bounce deflated from her step, unsettled by the brief encounter, her work now a burden to fill until lunch.

12:02 PM

lunch

     When Mary steps out of Ann Taylor and into the open-air mall, empty-handed, unwilling to buy a blouse the same color as Sylvia's, even on sale, no other colors available, she sees Rand.  He walks toward her, in a clique of dark suits, a lunch foursome.

     Rand sees her and hesitates in that first flash of eye contact.  She can feel him instantaneously deciding whether or not he should acknowledge her or pretend he does not see her.  Finally, he waves.  The hundred feet that separate them give him a safety buffer; he shrugs and is carried by the tide of Italian suits into an expensive French bistro.  She feels hurt by his treatment of her.

     Then she sees the herringbone pattern of a man's jacket.  She knows who he is, even from behind, by the pleasing untidiness of his hair and the hunch of his shoulders as he wolfs down a hot dog.

     She wants to say hello to the man, but she doesn't know how best to.

     She goes over to the hot dog cart.  The vendor has the winning smile of an aspiring TV actor.  "A...pretzel, please." 

     Reese looks up at her, surprised, caught in mid-bite.

     "Hello," Mary says.

     "Hello," he says after swallowing.

     "I saw you in the waiting room today.  At Traum, Pittman."

     "Yes.  Hello again."

     "My name is Mary Delany."

     "Tom Reese."  He offers her his hand, but takes it back to wipe off a line of mustard, and she smiles when he offers his hand again.  A firm handshake; their hands meet with equal pressure.

     "Hello, Tom."

     "Everyone calls me Reese.  Most everyone."

     "Then hello, Reese."

     "Please, if you please, the other customers," interrupts the hot dog vendor, antsy to catch the lunch trade.  Mary exchanges money for an oversized pretzel and steps aside.

     They stand together.  She doesn't know what to do with the doughy thing in her hand.  She doesn't feel like eating it.  Reese, too, seems embarrassed, at a loss, awkwardly holding his hot dog.

     "You were in the office," Mary tries.

     "I came in to give a deposition."  He would like to try that sentence again.  But it's a conversation, sentences aren't deleted and rewritten as in a crime report.  "Would you care to join me for lunch?"  He waves his hot dog toward an empty bench behind them, waiting like a prop.  "Or we could go have a cup of coffee somewhere."

     "I'd love a cup of coffee.  Not coffee, but hot chocolate.  There's a cappuccino cart."

     "That sounds great."

     She leads the way.  They walk slowly, hesitantly, feeling their way into conversation.  Mary holds the pretzel by her side, out of his sight.

"You said you were giving a deposition."

     "Yes.  For a murder case.  I'm a homicide detective."

     "The Selma Ludlow case?" she asks.

     He nods yes.  "You're an attorney?"

     She smiles.  "No.  You know I'm not an attorney.  You're just flattering me."

     "No.  Not that I'm opposed to flattering you," he says, looking down at his loafers. 

     She notices his shoes are shined on top but scuffed at the heels.  He tries to look nice, but it's an effort.  "Go ahead and finish your hot dog, I didn't mean to interrupt you." 

     "You're very observant."  He takes a big bite and swallows in a hurry, to be ready to speak again.

     "It's a safe guess that you'd like to finish eating," she says.

     "Not that -- you saw me for ten seconds this morning and then you spotted me again in this crowd."

     "You should be flattered that I noticed you," she teases.

     "I am," he replies softly.  "I noticed you too."

     "I know," she says, the softness of her voice matching his.

     "Was I that obvious?"

     "I saw you noticing me.  But I liked it.  I mean, the way you did it."

     "You were talking to the receptionist and you caught me staring.  That embarrassed me."

     "It wasn't a bad stare.  It was a nice stare."  She smiles again.

     They reach the cappuccino cart, chained to a concrete post. 

     "A hot chocolate, please," she says.

     "Nothing for me," Reese says, quick with his wallet to make her drink his treat.

     A squawk of static then a voice emits from his hip.  He lifts up a walkie-talkie clipped to his faded black belt and depresses a button.  Mary sees a gun holstered to his belt.  She seizes the moment to throw away her unwanted pretzel, discreetly tossing it into the trash can beside the cappuccino cart.

     "Reese here..." 

     The vendor hands Mary her hot chocolate, its steam fragrant in her nose.

     "Sorry.  I've got to run.  Maybe I'll call you?  We could have a real lunch?"

     "I'd like that," she answers, and she really would.

     "Great.  Nice meeting you, Mary Delany."

     "Nice meeting you, Tom Reese."

     He takes off quickly, gathering steam.

     Mary watches him sprint through the shoppers, his tie flying, getting curious stares.  She sips her hot chocolate slowly, reviewing the conversation as she strolls through the outdoor mall.  So nice, just touching his hand, their handshake, relaxed and balanced.  Reese felt so nice, his skin.  Not perfect skin, like Rand's.  She can't help comparing Reese to Rand.  The comparison favors Reese.  In fact, there is no comparison.

     Lolling at a dreamy pace, Mary takes another sip of lukewarm hot chocolate.  She hopes Reese will call her.  She'd love to have a reason to break a date with Rand.  Any date.  Every date.  It shames her that she has accepted someone as a lover whom she does not even like.  The more she thinks about it the worse she feels.

     Mary sits down on the bench where she almost sat with Reese.  She promises herself not to think about Rand any more just now, but to try and think only about Reese while she drinks the hot chocolate he bought her.  At first she can see only his face, not his body.  But she works at remembering him, piece by piece.  She could be something important to him.  Maybe.  She knows she is dreaming, but why not?  Why not make a big deal out of something small?  It feels nice.  They connected.  Even the pauses when they walked without talking, even the awkward moments felt nice.

     Mary senses a guy sitting on the bench opposite, in black Angels cap and shades, staring at her.  Or is he?  Bodies are weird, the idea that someone “wants” hers, which Reese had maybe also "wanted" but in a kinder much more secondary way because he wanted to just be with her, not as a euphemism or prelude to something else.  The guy on the bench is definitely staring.

     Mary takes another sip and decides it is her favorite cup of hot chocolate ever, out here in the California sun.  So much to think about.  Laura, her little sister, never worried about this kind of stuff.  Or did she?  So much to think about.  Sit and sip and think.

pink and green

     Green flecks in her pupils, when Mary stood close to the mirror, staring hard into the eyes she saw the world with.

     Pink lips that Laura squeezed through to enter the world.

     Green notes from the nurse, excusing Mary from P.E.

     Pink lemonade in Laura's pink Pinocchio cup that no one else was allowed to drink out of.

     Green striped sheets, crisp and cool against the green silk pajamas that Mary mail-ordered with the Christmas money from Grandma.

     Pink panties stained with Laura's first menstrual blood.

     Mary's green amethyst ring, her birthstone, on the ring finger of her right hand that held the green Bic pen that wrote in the green diary with the copper clasp corroded to a mossy green, all resting on the green ink blotter that covered the top of the pink desk.

     Pink appealed to Laura because it was warm and hopeful but not dark and violent like red.  It was the happy cousin of red.  It was up.  Pink could lift into the air like red could not.

     Green snuck up on Mary as something she kept choosing: blouses, notebooks, wintergreen gum.  Her eye was drawn to green as a happy vibrating place.  Nature.  Grass and trees.  But Mary didn't choose green because it was healthy.  She chose it because she liked it.  Unlike Laura, who was determined to have a favorite color.

     The science class fact that stuck with Mary was that green was the complementary color of red.  Was its exact opposite on the color wheel.  And pink was the tepid cousin of red.  Which explained a lot to Mary, though she didn't mention a word of this to Laura.  Let Laura find it out for herself when she had the same seventh grade class in two years.  If Mary had to wait until she was twelve, then why should Laura get the news any sooner?

     Pink and green.

     Big sister, little sister stuff.

     The battle lines were drawn.

12:46 PM

ELEVATOR MUSIC

     Mary walks across the plaza between the glass towers, smiling to herself, a cool breeze on her face, daydreaming as she drifts back into the building.

     Reese was shy about looking at her but he wasn't shy about running.  She guesses that his job is the real life and death on the other side of the bloodless words that she transcribes, out in the world, on the other side of the glass, in the dangerous air of the city.  She hopes he'll call her.

     Still buzzed from the flirting, she can't remember getting on the elevator.  Hayward follows after and stands behind her, a lone baseball cap in a crowd of suits. 

     The metal doors close; the car sways gently from side to side as it climbs.  Something syrupy coats the air, something that Mary does not remember hearing before.  But elevator music is like that: you usually don't notice it, but if you do, it irritates you.

     The elevator stops as it climbs, getting emptier as it goes higher.

Mary senses a guy standing behind her.

     Please allow me to introduce myself.

     Mary glances over her shoulder.  It's the guy from the bench, the guy in the black Angels cap.  She avoids his eyes, better to watch the shiny metal doors.

     I'm William Ward Hastings.  But you should call be Hayward.  As in 'what the hay" -- you know how people say 'what the hay' when they mean what the hell?  Hayward's the first part of my last name put in front of my middle name, sort of a half-backwards, turn me on dead man kind of moniker.  Hayward is kind of like backward.  Neat, huh?

He lays a hand on her shoulder, long pale fingers, yellow fingernails, not a light touch.  The hand touches a neutral zone, a socially accepted area, but she feels violated by the familiarity of the hand and, by extension, the arm and the mind of the man, it must be a man, who is touching her. 

     She frowns and turns to face him and his hand falls away.  "I beg your pardon."  She sees that they are alone.  What do his sunglasses hide?  The elevator music sounds louder now and thumping, no longer syrupy, but hard. 

     "Do you believe in love at first sight?" he asks. 

     She turns away from him.  Only four floors to go.  Nothing bad can happen, not during lunch hour.

     He lays his hand on her shoulder again, with a heavier touch.  She steps forward, all the way against the shiny metal door, and his hand slowly falls away, stroking her back as it drops.  Her shoulder feels cold where his hand touched her, as if the silk of her blouse has dissolved away.  She touches her shoulder blade, afraid to look back at the man.  It hurts -- how did he make her hurt like that?

     "Do you believe in magic?  In a young girl’s heart?  How the music can move you whenever it starts?"

     Oh, god no, Mary thinks, trapped with this man, afraid, very afraid.  Then the elevator doors slide open, startling her, and she stumbles off, ready to run.  Up ahead are the familiar gold letters, Traum, Pittman, and Black.  He doesn't follow her, thank god.

     "I was going to kill today.  But this is much better," he says, his voice sounding hollow and metallic from the elevator cab.

     "What?" she wonders.

     Hayward gives her a little wave good-bye as the elevator doors close.  "See you."

     Alone, Mary touches her shoulder, puzzled by the throbbing.  But he didn't follow her, and he didn't touch anything private.  Whatever it was, it wasn't a sex thing.  Mary walks unsteadily toward the office.  So strange, as if she imagined it, but...she touches her shoulder again.  "Ow."  It hurts -- that part is real, the pain, isn't it?

     Her sensible shoes on the familiar gray-green carpet.

     One step at a time.

     She concentrates on deep breaths, evenly spaced, a yoga of normalcy, and hurries into the ladies room, surprised that she doesn't need her key.

     The bright fluorescent light reflects off the mirror and tiles.  Like a hospital, Mary thinks.  She takes off her jacket, lays it across the counter and starts to unbutton her blouse, just to take a peek at her shoulder, make sure that nothing is really wrong, and as she lifts the green silk from her torso, her pale skin catches the light.  Her eyes sort of hurt, but she doesn't see anything wrong with her shoulder, not even a red spot.

     But...the pain seems to have traveled down her back, creeping toward her spine.  She cranes her neck to try and look.  Great -- the only part of her body she can't really see.

     With trembling hands Mary gets her compact out of her purse, and holding it near her face, manages to see her back reflected in the wall mirror.  One reflection into another into her green flecked eyes.

     Mary's neck cramps as she strains to see if the strange hand has left marks on her back.  Which still burns.  Her eyes really ache now but she thinks she catches a glimmer of red, a finger mark protruding from under her bra strap.

     Mary unfastens the underwire.  The important thing is to stay calm, not panic.  She hums to herself, as if she's undressing for a shower. 

     But the chill continues its downward creep.  She feels the weirdness on her waist now, traveling down, and she feels dizzy from the glaring porcelain, the odd shapes hugging the wall opposite the mirrors.  What are those long, skinny sinks doing in here?

     As her bra comes off, Mary definitely sees a red mark in the creamy field of smooth skin.  But couldn't it be from pressing with her own finger?

     Mary loses track of what she is doing, because she is doing too many things: holding the compact mirror in her right hand, reaching over her shoulder with her left, watching the reflection of a reflection, feeling a burn that might really be a chill or might not.

     The chill travels further down.  Mary feels a beachhead of cold on her butt, like a delayed touch from the strange hand, that strange man's hand.  She unzips her pleated skirt and steps out of it, careful to fold the garment neatly before she puts it down beside the rumpled silk blouse.  She's very pleased that her pantyhose are iridescent green.  She is green inside and out this morning.  She takes off her pantyhose, nothing hidden now, nothing unusual down there, her rear end a pleasing, blushing pink, nothing there, except the weird feeling.  What is that feeling?  What is it?

     Mary closes her eyes, forgets the islands of cold that connect her shoulder to her hip, and she dips and turns to the music, humming to herself, a familiar tune she can't name, just a random piece of pop, telling herself to forget it, nothing wrong, nothing really wrong, just a high school dance darkness behind her closed eyes, so the pain can slip away into the forgotten years between then and now.  Dancing across the dark floor she finds herself in front of the strange skinny sinks.  No, they aren't sinks, they must be...

     "Mary?"

     Urinals.

     A familiar voice, wire-rimmed glasses, a blinding white Oxford cloth shirt.  "Mary, what are you doing?" Rand asks.

     "There was a hand on my shoulder, then I felt it lower, but now...it's hard to remember exactly."

     "Mary..."  He starts to step closer but is too embarrassed.  "You're naked."  His owlish glasses are blank, without answers.

     "Oh.  Yes.  Something is wrong."

the monkey man

Special Collector’s Edition DVD

Containing new scenes

not in the original theatrical release

*****

This is a true story.  The events depicted are based upon eyewitness accounts, police files, and court records.  Some names have been changed to protect the families of the victims.

An interview room in a maximum security prison.  Malcolm Hasty sits across from his lawyer, his hands and feet shackled, his face pale and puffy, his lumpy body stuffed into an orange prison jumpsuit.

     “Anything you can remember, Malcolm.  Anything that might help.”

     “Don't call me Malcolm.”

     “All right.  Mr. Hasty.”

     “No!”

     “What would you like me to call you?”

     Malcolm smiles.  Its the kind of smile you'd rather not see, filled with bad teeth, hinting at bad things.  “Call me M.”

     “M?”

     “Like the movie.  You ever see that flick?”

     “No.”

     “Cigarette!  Gimme a Camel!” Malcolm orders.

     “No privileges after this morning,” the guard says.

     Malcolm grunts.  He looks like he's ready to fall asleep, like a rattlesnake baking in the sun.  “Anything?  Like childhood shit?”

     “Anything.”

     “Mal was my nickname, Mal short for Malcolm.  You know mal means evil in French?  Think about that.  I just became my name.  You know, you look like the kind of fucker that goes out to the desert for a vacation.  I saw you my whole life, driving out on Friday.  And Easter.  Easter's some kind of big deal for you guys.  A getaway.  If you really knew the desert you'd shit your pants and stay the fuck away.  That's why I came to L.A.  Had to see the big anthill for myself.”

The East Mojave.  An isolated canyon of jagged peaks and Joshua trees littered with: a tarpaper shack, a Ford Mercury with a coat of primer, a rusting pickup pocked with bullet holes.  The ground is strewn with broken glass, the guts of cars, the metal innards of mysterious things, a graveyard of rusting machines.

     Malcolm, in greasy combat fatigues, sits on a broken car seat with his arsenal of well-oiled rifles and guns.  Three boys, age six, eight, and thirteen cluster beside him.  They are scruffy, sun-baked, dressed in K-Mart hand-me-downs. 

     “Lemme shoot the .06, Uncle Mal,” says William Ward, thirteen.

     “Lemme, lemme,” chime Six and Eight.

     "You got money for the shells?  The shells are costly."

     “I got a dollar.”

     “Let me see it.”

     “It's at home.”

     “Dollar's not enough anyway, son.  You got to earn those shells.  There's a cost.”

     “You said I could.”

     “When you earn it."  Malcolm lifts up the shotgun, lovingly chambers a pair of shells, caresses the gun barrel.  "You want to pay the cost?”

     The boy doesn't answer.

     “Well, you go over and pet Petey.”

     The boys grow quiet.  “But Petey bites.”

     “Not always.  He doesn't bite me.  Now you go pet Petey or you go home to Momma.”

     The boys are quiet.  Malcolm picks up a .38.  The boys cover their ears and Malcolm shoots at a bottle on a rock.  He misses.  Shoots again.  Misses again.  The gunshots echo through the canyon.  A monkey shriek drifts across the junkyard.  “I said go pet Petey.”

     William Ward reluctantly walks toward the rusting pickup.  The younger boys follow safely behind, nervous and giggling.  William Ward looks into the cab.  A howler monkey sits chained to the broken steering wheel.  Blackened banana peels and monkey shit litter the cab.  The monkey shrieks and lunges, caught short by his chain.  The boy jumps back, afraid. 

     “Go on, then, I ain't got all day.”

     The boy takes a deep breath and thrusts his hand into the cab.  The howler shrieks, and the boy stumbles back, his hand bleeding.  “Ow, motherfuck, motherfucker.”  Above the wound there are other scabs on his arm.  This isn't the first time that he's had to pet Petey.

     Malcolm's laugh echoes in the rocks.  “Now why don't Petey like you?”

2:23 PM

ADMITTING

     Mary looks over at Rand.  His face is green.  It must be the light, Mary thinks, but when she looks up at the light, it is white, cool, fluorescent, with a soft hum, soft enough that she imagines herself inside it, traveling down the corridor of luminescence, getting smaller as the tube narrows, reduced finally to an electron, but an electron with a beautiful body, an electron eager to mate with the world, to ground with the world, and she swims upstream, like a salmon, she flows against the current, she spawns through the copper wire, haloed in the metallic light, slides into the roar of Hoover Dam, backwards through the generator turbine until she's alone in the cold water where electricity is born, swimming in the fetal blue blankness before her own birth.

     "Mary?"  A voice, irritated, repeats, "Mary?  Mary?"

     Laura.  My baby sister.  Change that dowdy hair, lose some weight, lose those frumpish pink clothes.  Please.  If you want my advice.

     "...Mary, you'll be sharing a room with two other women, but that's all right for now, don't you think?"

     "...at least until we get the insurance straightened out," adds Albert, the husband, the second husband, fingering his limp mustache.  Does he really look uglier?  Why are they here?  She feels cold everywhere.  The chill, remember the chill?  Seems to have won.  Mary places a finger on Sis's arm -- warm skin -- Sis flinches back.

     "Ooh, you're freezing."

     Please explain.

     "...I've got a call in to the firm's insurance agent," says Rand, sitting on the opposite bench.  He tries to look concerned, tries to act the part of the concerned boyfriend, the concerned lover who never expects to make love to Mary again.  It had been a challenging romance, like the conquest of territories that seethed with revolt, where the right to rule was hardly divine, but was a mix of benevolence and cleverly structured despotism.  She wouldn't necessarily make love like something they did in the natural order of things after dinner, but she would do whatever he liked in the middle of the night, after they'd gone to bed, in the darkness where he didn't need to speak.  Then she was libidinous, non-verbal, a prurient child, there were no boundaries in that wonderful darkness, he could experiment, put his penis wherever he liked -- she slept so deeply, he'd start fucking her and she'd wake up, either moaning, or saying no, or moaning and saying no, and he would finish whatever he was doing, it always got better when she joined in, even if it was just her voice.  God it could be good that way, not having to ask.  He gets excited just remembering it, sitting across from Mary here in this ugly green room. 

     And Mary herself, dislodging from the currents that course through the fluorescent lights, ponders the finite resolutions of the three bodies sitting near her.  She knows that things are slipping away but she can't exactly say what is gone, and this inability to say what is missing is terrible, is terrifying.  She knows that sometimes she is Mary and sometimes she is not.  The terror, the terrible part, is crossing the boundary into either being or not being herself.  Something has slipped, she has slipped out of herself, but now...it seems like she has slipped back...but how?  Can she actually not be herself?  And then come back?  Like going to sleep and waking up.  Like waking up in this room.  From lunch.  All this happened after lunch?  She wants to fight it, but she doesn't know what it is.  What happened?  What happened after lunch?  Please explain. 

     "Mary?  Mary?  Mary!"  It is a new voice, a voice in a white uniform, a voice to ask her questions and make a place for her to sleep.

     Nobody seems to care where you go when you sleep, but they get very upset if you travel through the light and down the wire, no, they don't like Mary traveling with her eyes open, there is something wrong with that, that's what Laura says they will explain here, that's how they will make her well again Albert says, and Rand nods yes and kisses her like he is sad but Mary feels relief in his sour breath, sour underneath his Tic-Tacs, sour with a sickness that only she seems to see.

     Yes, this is the place for Mary, they all tell her that, but right now she can't remember exactly who Mary is, apart from someone sitting in a plastic chair and dreaming up at a light she wants to travel through again.

     She lies alone now in a room with two other women who breathe noisy bubbles of thoughts and smell like rough soap and she sees that she is Mary in this lonely place and she starts to cry before the sedatives drag her down to a slow red place, down to a world that tastes like cough syrup, and her eyes close and there is nowhere else for her to visit this night, not even in her sleep.

friday

2:14 PM

THE SHRINK

     The windowless office seems temporary.  Boxes of books wait to be unpacked.  Dr. Glass sits behind a gray government-issue desk adorned with a lone pot of ivy, its leaves sickly-green from fluorescent light.  The doctor wears designer knock-offs and thick pancake make-up, her lips curled into a curdled frown.  Draped across her shoulders is a lavender Hermès scarf.  She teases the silk with her fingers, a cloaked nervous gesture, as she reviews Mary's file.

     Mary feels as if webs of invisible cotton candy insulate her from the world; a pink spider crawls up the sweet web, spinning it tighter. 

     She hopes her strange feelings come from the pills the nurse gives her.  She works at separating herself from whatever the drug is, like dividing two piles of laundry into clean and dirty, or cotton and wool, or darks and delicates, but it all stays tangled.  The web presses too softly everywhere against her head and fighting against the web she can't think clearly about anything.

     In the clear cotton webbing an echo dies.  Mary senses that a question hangs unanswered in the fibrous air but she doesn't know what the question is.  It's like playing seventh grade softball, in February: she knew that a ball had been hit toward her because everyone looked her way, but all she could see was the sun, the huge red sun, and beneath it all the other faces watching the arc of the ball that she couldn't see, until by some miracle the unseen ball hit her glove and bounced to the ground and life continued on the other side of that suspended moment.  She smiles, enormously comforted that she still has this memory, the ability to call it up, to feel that suspended moment of long ago softball.  It means, she thinks, that her history survives in a way that is accessible -- access -- axis -- ask us --

     "Mary, I'm here to help you," the doctor says, and looks at her watch.  Fifteen more minutes of this...loser...

     Dr. Glass doesn't say anything else out loud, but more of her words fade in and out, like a radio not quite locked on a station.  Such nice hair -- How, with the shit shampoo here?...dying of hunger...I’m still hungry...but...that croissant was at least three hundred calories...

     Mary stares, her mouth open, genuinely amazed, the caricature of amazement.  Mary rubs her ears.  Nothing changes.  Well...say something, missie...or don’t... The doctor's voice is still inside her head.

     The doctor stares back at her.  Mary closes her mouth.  Yes, I need help, she thinks. 

     "What is it, Mary?"

     "When you're crazy do you hear voices?"

     The doctor lets go of her scarf, getting interested.  "Why?  Do you here voices?"  Diaphragm in my purse?...what's the use?...

     "Can you help me at night?"

     "Help you with what?"

     "With what happens in my sleep."

     "Are you having trouble sleeping?"

     "No.  The trouble starts later, after I'm asleep.  At night.  I've got trouble at night.  Bad things."

     "You mean nightmares?"

     Mary shakes her head no.

     "Bad dreams?"

     "More complicated.  I don't want to do bad things."

     "What?"

     Mary shrugs and stares down at her hands in her lap.  A peaceful corner of herself, just looking.  If I say the wrong thing I'll be here longer -- I seem crazy? -- is crazy quiet? being too quiet?

     “Business” dinner, Italian rustic Italian yawn...diaphragm just in case, making too much of it, not that kind of dinner...suck his cock if it's clean, how long has it been?...don't, do not dwell...not fucking worth it just to get fucked...don't fucking think about fucking so fucking much hah hah...well...

     Yes, I hear her thinking, that babble, if I had to listen all day I would be crazy.  Don't care about what's left -- it can't be any worse -- honesty is the best policy now.  Now.  "Yes, Dr. Glass."  Lesson one -- talking makes it quiet. 

     "Yes, what, Mary?" Dr. Glass asks, pulled out of her daydream.

     "You spend too much time thinking about sex.  Most people do, especially for how little it actually happens, I mean how little time sex actually is.  Relative to other things, that is."

     Dr. Glass stares at her, startled, white lips pressed tightly together, her own brand of amazement.  Lucky guess. Lucky fucking guess about fucking.  "Your time's up for today, Mary."  Be stern, be assertive -- close it clean.  "I hope you have more to say to me next time."  The doctor flashes her frozen lip I'm-your-friend-superior-but-equal-smile.

     If I want help, won't I have to ask for it?  "Please.  Can you help me get out of here before something...bad... happens...?"  Mary trails off, caught in the webs that only she can feel.

     The doctor's smile brittles, like glass cooling.  She had her fifty minutes, don't eat into my break time, missy...  "We'll talk about that more.  Next time."

     Next.

the monkey man -- dvd chapter 2

Twilight in the high desert.  Trucks and vans parked off the shoulder of the Pearblossom Highway, circled like a wagon train.  Halogen lights burn white-hot under a purple sky.  A tired film crew, heat-addled, underpaid, scrambles to get a magic hour shot -- a campfire scene in the sagebrush, ragged foothills in the background, ghoulish biker dudes and their choppers in the foreground. 

     “Move the Brute to the left -- the Brute to the left!”  A light is rolled into place.

     “Put a cutter on the key.  Come on!  We're losing the light!”

     “Bring in first team!”

     “First team!”

     Malcolm, in his best pair of fatigues, stands off to the side, near the snack table, mesmerized, talking to the craft service guy, a film student working for free, the person in charge of making coffee.  “You mean it's a vampire movie like Dracula?” Malcolm asks.

     “No, it's a biker vampire flick.”

     “Real vampires don't suck blood.”

     “Really.”

     “No, see, they feed off the life force.  The aura.  You know, the life force that surrounds all living things.”

     “Well the producers need to show blood -- it's commercial.”

     “Oh, yes, knives work good to puncture the aura.  There can be blood.  But they should get it right.”

     The craft service guy rolls his eyes, busies himself with replenishing the cookie tray.  He doesn't want to antagonize the locals, and it's not like the guy has been mooching food. 

     But Malcolm has already forgotten about the clueless kid because the female lead, a blonde, is making her way across the set.  She hands an assistant her flannel robe, revealing a hippie blouse, embroidered, and flowered panties.  She looks wholesome, her face, if you don't look too close.  Those vacant eyes.  Malcolm sees them.  Those eyes that ask you to do anything.  He knows the type -- won't eat meat but shoots meth.  That kind of girl.

     She lies down on the sand, pissed about having to give up her cigarette, and the prop man puts chains on her wrists.  Another prop man manacles her legs.  The chains and manacles are attached to the choppers.  It's a gang bang torture scene.  “If you need any help, boys...” he hears a guy with gloves, one of the heavy lifters joke to a buddy.

     Malcolm steps close, can't believe his luck, getting to watch.  Let's see if the shitheads know how to really do her.

     “Quiet for a take.”

     “Quiet!”

     “Rolling.”

     “Speed.”

     “Action!”

     The guy between her legs, he's got a chain of his own that he puts around her neck.  His buddies with the beers, they aren't doing shit, they aren't even laughing right.  There's blood trickling from the babe's mouth, but it looks phony.  And no one has a knife -- don't they know about cut & fuck?  They're all so clueless. 

     “Cut.”

     A make-up man touches up her bruises.  The camera guy holds something like a remote control up to her face.

     “Going again.”

     “Quiet people”

     “We're losing the light.”

     “Quiet!”

     Man, there's a lady who needs the right kind of love, and they can't do shit.  Malcolm feels that nice hard thing, that great ache in his pants.  She should be the love of my life.  Everyone would be much happier if-

     Malcolm feels a hand on his chest -- a twerp wearing a headset and glasses.  “This is a closed set.”

     “What's the star's name?”

     “Brad Lockwood.”

     “No, the girl.”

     “Sherry Sales.  Now, please, this is a closed set.”

     “This is the desert.”

     “Please.”

     Malcolm would like to clock the fucker, on principal, but what's the point.  Sherry's just the girl for a death trip.  He could write a script for her.  The real thing.

     “This ain't a real horror picture.  This is shit.”  But no one is listening.  He picks up a script from a canvas chair -- "Harley's From Hell" -- and thumbs through it as he walks away from the lights, into the real twilight, the real desert. 

     “I could do a shitload better than this.”

10:26 PM

dizzy land

     The ward is dark, except for the lights that never go off, the night lights that reflect off the green waxed floors.  In the air is a metal hum that never sleeps.  The night nurse sits at her station, doing the crossword puzzle.  The orderlies smoke dope on the roof top.  The night drags the stars slowly across the sky.

     Mary opens her eyes.  He stands beside her bed, dressed all in black, his uniform.

     Please allow me to introduce myself.  I'm Hayward.  Not wayward.  Hayward.

     She recognizes him from the elevator.  "How did you get in here?"

     He laughs.  During the day I'm an orderly.  At night I'm disorderly.  There are other laughs from other people in the room, dark visitors crowding around her bed like dinner guests, like it's the best table in the house.  She sees two women and another man.  In Mary's mind their laughs mix together in a music of several voices that blend into one.

     Meet Michelle, Olivia, Danny.  The gang.

     "What did you do to me?" she asks.

     I've created a new kind of AIDS.  Its purely mental -- you get infected with insanity -- just from getting touched.  He touches her arm to illustrate his point.  Tag -- you're it, Mary.  His fingers slowly travel up to her shoulder, her neck.  I bet you've broken a lot of boy's hearts, Mary Mary quite contrary.   

     You've done bad things before, little bad things, amateur bad things.  The funny thing is you've got it. The knack.  I mean talk about fucking bonus points.

     It's hard for Mary to see clearly in the dark room, but she does see that he is speaking without moving his lips, like a ventriloquist, but without a puppet -- unless -- could she be the puppet?

     Hayward strokes her cheek with yellow fingernails.  She wants to flinch, she has the idea of flinching, anything to get away from the nasty feel of his fingertips.  But she can't move.  Don't panic.  "How long do I have to stay here?"  Please explain.

     You don't have to stay here.  In fact, we're all going on a field trip.      

     Hayward leads her by the hand, sneaking along the hospital fence -- how did they get outside?  She stares up at the fence top, covered with curlicues of barbed wire. 

     No, not climbing, Mary.  Crawling.

     He pushes back the waxy leaves of a manzanita and peels up a corner of the chain link fence -- how did I get on the ground?  She feels the dirt and grass in her fingers as she crawls through. 

     The night is so big on the other side of the fence.  No security lights...no security...no...  "But...I'm supposed to be asleep now."

     Sooner than you think sleep will be obsolete.  It'll all be one long dream, unrolling like a highway, no traffic, no stop lights.  Just pure glorious go.    

     Mary sits inside of her body like it is a car.  She relaxes in the front seat of herself, hands on the steering wheel, listening to the radio, a catchy pop tune that is really a tricky ad for a theme park.  The theme is a secret.  She thinks they are singing Dark Land or Dizzy Land, but she's not sure, like a song you hear a million times but never know the words, like her ears are afflicted with peripheral hearing, that what she wants to hear is forever slipping away.  She sits inside her car at a car wash and the water cascades down the windshield like a Rocky Mountain stream, the water pure enough for baptism or beer, and she hums the theme park theme as the water cheerily spills down her windshield, leaving her car body clean and new, and as she pulls out of the car wash the car dissolves, her car, into tight skin and the windshield melts into the convex arc of her eyes, her body becomes the boundary of the world, and that boundary leaks, she's being violated, she sees herself walking across the hot asphalt, she is both the world and herself in the world, and her mind itches at the shriek of her senses, shrieking like a tea kettle whistling, shrieking as she stands frozen in mid-step and again it is night, it is always night, and it is bliss to be inside of her head and nowhere else, to be standing on this dark road with Hayward, whose face is now as white as the marble that Michelangelo caressed with his chisel.  Did he give me drugs?

     Love is the drug.

     As Mary stares at Hayward's face it seems to disappear.  She is blinded with peripheral vision: she can only see things by not looking at them.  Wherever she looks, that's her blind spot, that's exactly what she cannot see.

     Hayward's disciples walk in the shadows that trail him like black wings.  Their several voices are soothing, dark water as they walk down a dark canyon road.  The woman with round cheeks, Michelle, takes Mary's hand, and they walk together like sisters after dinner, but Mary doesn't remember dinner, doesn't remember what exactly led to these steps down the dark dirt lane. 

     Michelle squeezes Mary's hand hard enough for Mary to question her companion.  Just so you know this isn't a dream.  You can't squeeze hands in a dream.  Michelle loosens her grip.  Really, it’s as natural as bleeding.

Hayward said something about what?  About me doing bad things.  Like Mike, the deaf kid at camp?  She never made fun of him for talking funny, and that day at lunch they were just horsing around, I mean, really, they weren't treating him any worse than anyone else, when Amy dared her to secretly put Tabasco sauce on his French fries and she did and when it burned his tongue they couldn't help but laugh and then he cried -- he ran away from the table and cried and babbled his deaf kid baby talk.  She felt bad about that, bad enough to remember it now.

     How fucking sad.  I'm touched.

     Hayward leers in, his face impossibly close.  She looks down at her own feet, relieved by the view down her chest, reassured that she is walking inside her body down the dirt lane.

     With each footstep forward Mary sees the hill behind Hayward's head flattening out, revealing a horizon of lights stretching into the orange fog, the lights of the city.

     They stand at the edge of a manicured yard, brilliant green Bermuda grass, a black Porsche parked under a Joshua tree, a cliff side house that faces the orange sea of light.  Mary feels the beating of an unseen helicopter, not the sound, rather the percussion against her ears.  But it's Hayward breathing close and then kissing her, his eyes filling hers, his lips funneling a hot green breath that fills her like a balloon, and Hayward is the air that she floats up through, the balloon growing enormous and red in the thinning air.  She tries to resist.  Tries.  Really tries.

saturday

4:02 PM 

SUSPICIOUS MINDS

     Mary walks to the far side of the grounds, as far away from the other patients as she can get, the closest thing to being alone here.  By herself like this she sort of feels okay.  Sort of.

     She stares through the fence at the tangled chaparral, dusty in the dry heat, feeling frail, outside of herself, lonely, sitting on the ground and staring at the shiny metal fence, listening to footsteps approaching, a familiar rhythm: confident, athletic, arrogant.

     "Hello, Rand."

     She can feel him jolt as he wonders how she knows it is him without looking up to see.  And then Rand strokes his fat, purring, fluffy-furred ego, deciding that Mary is so taken with him that she knows the rhythm of his footsteps.  She feels sad for him, but sadder for herself for having been with him, and she feels the stirring of bad thoughts, delicious thoughts -- how can she puncture him, how can she collapse his safe life with a sentence or two, how can she reach under his perfect skin and pull him apart?

     "Mary.  Hello."

     She feels Rand’s hand on her shoulder, then sees his smile, filled with white teeth, but today she senses gaps in his buoyant selfhood.  Why?  What do I see that’s different now?

     Rand debates about giving Mary a hug hello, and he wonders if she remembers their last bedroom encounter, or what happened in the men's room, and in the context of that strangeness, what were their parting terms?  "You're looking good, Mary."

     "I am?  How did I look before?"

     "You've always looked good."

     "So have you."

     "Well, that's nice, we've both decided that we're beautiful," Rand summarizes.

     "Not that I don't have other problems.  Hence the new surroundings, the change of venue."

     The words stop rolling.  For the first time she hears crickets; their chirps fill the gap between the spoken words.  She feels caught again in the world of surfaces, the skin deep universe where she cannot read thoughts.  This last day or so has been so spooky.  But maybe it isn't completely bad, hearing things, if she really is hearing and not just imagining.  A hot breeze seems to fan out of the earth and the crickets swell in fricative chorus and Mary knows that she does not want to return to where Rand can take her.

     "Don't leave me again," he says, in a voice that sounds to her like he had rehearsed in front of his bedroom mirror.  He often practiced like that, speeches, jokes, not with her in the room, that embarrassed him, but when she was in the kitchen or the den.  He didn't mind her overhearing him at a remove but he didn't want a direct audience, embarrassment to Rand being a relative thing.  The mirror served him well; he used it to prepare for important meetings with clients, staring at his reflection and talking through alternate scenarios, gauging his tone, polishing his relaxed manner.  "Would you like to go for a ride?"

     "It doesn't matter," Mary says, and to her it really doesn't.  "Whatever you want to do."

     "Let's go for a ride.  They've given me permission -- given you permission -- for an outing.  It'll do you good to get outside."

     "We are outside.  More outside than being in your car."

     "I've got a sun roof, remember?  Come on."

     Rand places his hand lightly on the small of Mary's back as they walk toward the main building, propelling her along like he owns her.  As he holds the hallway door open, an orderly in a black baseball cap brushes against Rand and gives his shoulder a squeeze.  Did he just squeeze my shoulder?  The orderly grins back and gives Rand a big thumbs up.  Weird shit happens at the nut farm, right?

     Rand hits the toggle on his key chain and his car alarm yelps like an electronic dog.  He gallantly unlocks the de-fanged black passenger door for Mary.  She looks dismayed, her game expression wilting in the heat waves that shimmer off the black asphalt. 

     "It feels good riding with you.  It feels like old times," Rand says, and puts his hand on her knee, casual contact that she can't help but stare at, the hand lifting to downshift and curse a VW Van puttering on the road ahead.  Mary sees that Rand has put on a pair of mirrored sunglasses.  He is the mirror that she tries to see herself reflected in.  He is blank and smooth and silver-coated.  He is the mirror that doesn't mind her looking.

     "Oh, the shades?  Pretty goofy.  I got them at Venice Beach."

     They stop at a red light and Rand leans close to tantalize Mary with her own reflection, but she only sees the mirror.  Not its reflection.  And like the snap of static of a radio turning on, Mary feels Rand hoping she will kiss him.  He won't disturb her recovery with an overture of lips, but she's certainly welcome to seize the moment, to revive their intimacy, he's invading the bubble of her private space to let her know that he's available.

     A horn behind honks at the green light that Rand has neglected.  "All right, all right, cool your jets."

     His desire ripples away, leaving her peaceful, and as the car climbs up the foothills, past lemon groves that smell sweet in the afternoon heat, she realizes that she is enjoying the ride, the rhythm of the road, and the music, the trumpet and the voice, corny but true, Suspicious Minds.

     We're caught in a trap,

     I can't walk out,

     because I love you too much, baby...

     "Isn't that Elvis?  Turn it up."

     "Turn what up?"

     Suspicion...breaking my heart...suspicion...

     "Suspicious Minds."

     But the radio dial is dark. 

Radio not on? can I hear it anyway? radio like thoughts in the air to tune to? 

     The song is still there, in the air, and like a backbeat, Mary can hear Rand's suspicions that she is hearing things, his worry throbbing like bass notes beneath Elvis' voice.

     "Mary, there's nothing to turn up because there's nothing on."

     "You know how you can hear a song in your head?"  As if that explains it, but who cares what Rand does or does not understand.  She enjoys the next verse, wondering if there will be another song, and what the song will be.  Somehow the new world doesn't scare her, not today.  What's the next song? can I pick do I decide to do this?

     Maybe I'm suspicious because true love is so hard to find...

     Rand clicks in his Barbra Streisand CD and she can hear that, too, it's a battle of the bands, too many notes and words, all of them mixed, and Barbra just won't go away.

     "Do you mind turning off the music, Rand?"

     "But you love Streisand."

     "No, I don't."

     "Yes, you do."

     "I lied.  But I'm not lying now.  She's got a beautiful voice, I suppose, but I hate her."

     Rand turns off the tape, defeated.

     Suspicion...breaking my heart...suspicion...

     Mary enjoys the end of her song, alone.

     Back in the parking lot.  Before Camarillo, Mary often thought that Rand was a blank, but today she knows better.  She wills herself not to hear him thinking, and it seems to work.  She hopes maybe now she has intuitive control, untutored mastery over the switch that turns the special hearing on and off.  Maybe.

     She kisses him good-bye.  A steamy, crawling kiss, her hands hooking inside his shirt, to the soft skin on his chest, touching him like an experienced dowser, raising a groan like water from the parched earth, leaving him with a memory of her lips and skin that he will take back home to the city and his bed, stroking himself as he thinks of her.  She kisses him because she wants to mirror his selfishness, to be his last thought as he drifts to sleep, because then she will own him for that long stretch of dark hours.  She breaks off the kiss and skips out of the car, feels him breathless with desire watching her glide back into the hospital.  He doesn't have a clue.

     She doesn't look back as she goes through the automatic doors.  The air goes dead as the automatic doors shut behind her.  She stands on the other side of her signature, signed back into the ward, watching her feet travel across the green linoleum, but superimposed are Rand's thoughts, the words blooming into the color of dying grass on the hills he drives past.  She feels connected to Rand, to his thoughts, his confusion, until the static of distance fades him into white noise.

     Rand glances over at the passenger seat, remembering Mary.  All the times that he was with her rushed back in that kiss, and there is more: the excitement of kissing a woman for the first time, there was both familiarity and strangeness in that parting kiss.  The freeway rolls past him unclocked, he drives behind a slow Toyota for he doesn't know how many miles, that isn't like him at all.  He crisply changes lanes and accelerates up to a precise sixty-four miles per hour, just below the threshold of a speeding ticket.  But the little spurt of freeway aggression leaves him as faint as an out of shape sprinter, and he keeps drifting back to the kiss.  He feels a stirring of nerve ganglia in his groin that he presses against with his palm.  He dreams about what to do with his excitement.

     Sheila Berk.  He had cultivated her as a professional buddy for months, teased and flirted with her, had lunch twice, and then maneuvered it into seduction the day after Mary was gone.

     He hadn't called Sheila about tonight because he wanted to leave things open -- Mary was an imponderable, he had no idea when he would be back from Camarillo or what his mood would be.  He knows now that seeing Sheila would be useful, to exorcise his need, but going over to her condo, hungry to instantly fulfill the arousal from Mary's kiss, that won't work.  He doesn't quite have the patience to go through the game of picking out a restaurant, acting appropriately convivial during dinner, then waiting while Sheila deals with her cat.  And when he finally gets her in bed, he will still need to splice Mary onto Sheila, he'll close his eyes and dream about being with Mary.  And even with the warm expanse of nice skin that is Sheila's well-protected dowry, he still might completely lose his concentration, get the two images mixed up, and feel unsatisfied, even after all the time invested in getting Sheila to fuck.

     Rand's hand remains pressed to his groin as he hurtles along the 405, his mind a reliable automatic pilot of the freeway grid.  No, he feels much too impatient for Sheila tonight, especially since what he really wants is Mary.  His unconscious guides him safely through the transition lanes and onto the Marina Freeway.  Although his hand is well out of view he begins to feel self-conscious and silly.  He releases the comforting pressure and fiddles with his car stereo, popping in a CD.

     My Name Is Barbra.

     Now he hates Streisand too, the beautiful voice grates in a way that it never has before.  In a moment of uncharacteristic whimsy he takes the CD out of the deck, whirs his tinted window down an inch, and tosses it out into the freeway night.  The gesture feels pure, a bold stroke, a sacrifice, propitiating the spirit of Mary.  Belatedly, he checks his rear view mirror for police.

     He touches the passenger seat thinking, that's where Mary sat, he caresses the dark leather thinking, if Mary was still here I would feel her skin now, I could be feeling the contour of her vagina through the thin fabric of her panties, I would be getting her -- us -- excited for the triumphal return home, like that wonderful March Sunday driving back up from Laguna Beach.  Rand feels excited and ridiculous, stroking the air above the empty seat, but what's crazy about that?  Everybody does crazy things, he's just horny, that's a natural thing, he can even think about something else if he likes, a legal problem, he'll solve a problem with the Wilkes probate, puzzle it out right now, if he likes, but what for, it's Saturday night, horny thoughts are normal, he'll be home soon enough, and out of his clothes and he'll find that last video he made with Mary, the video he should be very careful with because it involves the question of legal consent.  Arguably Mary was not a consenting adult when he made that last tape.  The camera was hidden and she wasn't exactly self-aware, though she was undeniably alive, had been very, very alive that night.  But he had mistakenly left the date/time feature turned on; their exceptional lust was demarcated minute by minute, the date/time of the taping uncomfortably near to the date/time of Mary's commitment to the hospital.  In the wrong circumstance, that wouldn't look good.

     At home, Rand kneels down on his bedroom carpet and roots through his tapes, looking for the magic box, The Mary Tape, the supplement to an already potent memory.  He doesn't remember how he got there, has no sense of having parked his Lexus.  And why are the tapes suddenly so jumbled?  He decides the day has been too long, the drive too tiring, that must be why he keeps remembering the dead grass in the hills, the landscape blurring past again.  A sudden headache dizzies Rand with a sliver of double-vision, multiplying the confusion of tapes, and what does he need the tape for anyway?  He rolls on to his back, his hands find their home, he remembers Mary as he touches himself.  That kiss.  What a great kiss.

sunday

2:30 pm

in the jacaranda's shade

     Mary feels better outside.  She is allowed to sit unsupervised outside because she has proven that she knows how to behave, properly behave, and she has found a nice place to sit, cross-legged in the shade of a jacaranda tree in blossom, the branches overhead a canopy of purple, a sprinkling of the beautiful flowers on the grass beside her.  Even here, in the hospital, life is getting better.  Having a breakdown isn't a bad thing, not if you get put back together.  Then she hears footsteps approaching.  The closer they get the more tentative they become.

     "Hello?"

     A voice that she remembers but cannot name.  She smiles up as he stands over her, heroic against the lemon yellow sky.  The face assembles itself into a pattern.  The pattern has the residue of a taste.  Chocolate.  Hot chocolate.

     "I'm Tom Reese.  Remember?"

     "Of course.  I just didn't remember your name.  Mr. Hot Chocolate."

     He kneels and sits down in the grass beside her.  "I heard about you, that you were here..."

     "How?"

     He hesitates.  "I called your office.  And then I was out this way on another case and..."  Paler now, but she’s still so beautiful -- don’t sit too close Reese you idiot -- act casual -- act relaxed -- act -- no big deal, relax relax, relax -- make her feel comfortable.  

     She smiles again, so nice to listen to him.  "That's sweet.  I know this must look bad, but actually I'm here for all the wrong reasons.  I suppose a lot of people -- people here -- say that."

     Reese picks up one of the purple flowers from the ground.  He is finally here with her, and he still feels shy.  Just sit here.  Don't say a thing, if she's not crazy then we'll be together -- maybe -- maybe.  "How are you doing?"

     She smiles and touches his hand.  He looks surprised. 

     "It's so nice to see you," she says.  "We're connected, you know.  Of course you know.  And not just holding-hands-type-connected."  Yes, love at first sight, yes, tell him, he needs to know, he can help, him, only him.  "I need to get out of here.  There are bad people here.  They do bad things at night."

     Do I believe her? does she believe me? make it easy for, once, fuck it, please just once, don’t fuck it up.  "Well, I..."

     "I better stop talking because I'll scare you away, Reese.  You hardly know me.  And I'm so glad you're here.  You talk." 

     He looks around.  Not what I expected -- off the deep end? farther along? not hopeless? dear God, don't let her really be crazy, say something, my turn to say something.  "It's a nice day.  Sort of."

     She laughs and playfully squeezes his hand.  Don't need to or want to hear anything else he's not saying, purple tree, smiling, here, us, turn it off, sit here, try try try NOT to listen to the inside of him, quiet now.  Yes.  Thank you.  Mary smiles, not hearing his voice in her head any longer, pleased that she can turn it off, whatever it is.  A nice day now, for the moment.  Please.

     Mary smiles at Reese, again.  For the first time?  Again.

     Feeling strange himself, pained by what he doesn't understand about his feelings, which is so much, but oddly comfortable with her, odd just to sit with someone so beautiful, holding her hand, not having to speak.

     Reese smiles back.

The Monkey Man -- dvd chapter 3

A blistering summer day on Hollywood Boulevard, the sky a filthy yellow-gray, the sidewalk gritty with fine black powder.  Malcolm walks close to the buildings, hugging to the slim zone of shade.  He sneers at a Tourist Mom, sipping a Big Gulp, her big butt in white shorts, head down, looking for names on the Walk of Fame.  “Mickey Rooney!” she calls out.  “Boris Karloff!” Tourist Dad excitedly calls back.

     Malcolm's new clothes feel itchy, but everything has a price.  Everything.  Brand new black Levi's.  And a black tee shirt that says “Hollywood” in silver sparkles.  Under his arm is a fat folder of papers, some white, some yellow, some typed, some handwritten.  If they only knew what he was carrying.  Gold.

     The lobby smells like piss.  Not a clean place.  But he sees the name he is looking for on the building directory: Chopper Films.  It's like he's lived here forever, like he's seen it in his dreams, the way he already knows his way around this town.

     Up the stairs, in the hallway, the sound of screams from some kind of machine.  Through an open door Malcolm sees all kinds of TV screens, a woman walking backwards, her head coming off her neck -- then back on -- head off -- head on -- as the tape winds back and forth.  He stands in the hallway, mesmerized.  "Is that an editing machine?"

     A little snot, curly Jew hair, looks up at him.  “Yes?”

     “Is this Chopper Films?”

     “This is the editing room.  You want down the hall.”

     “I've got a script.”

     Little snot doesn't say shit, just keeps rolling that head on and off, on and off, like he's some genius.  Fuck, it's the machine, he's just the hands holding it.

     Down the hall, Chopper Films in red on the door.  Inside, a desk, lots of scripts, no one home.  Then she walks in from the private office.  SHE.  Sherry.  His all time favorite torture victim, even the half-assed version he witnessed.  She's wearing jeans just like his, black jeans.  Destiny.  Soul-mates.

     “I saw you acting.”

     “Yeah?” Sherry says, deadpan, staring at his tee shirt.  Won't even look him in the face.

     “Harley's From Hell.  I watched you shooting it in the desert.  When's it gonna be in the theaters?”

     “It's straight to video.”

     “That's too bad," he sympathizes.  “Especially since you starred in it.”

     “I was only in two scenes.”

     “I thought you were good.”

     Back in her chair, Sherry’s busy with her pencil, busy with a piece of paper, busy with everything except him.  He knows what that's like.  The phone rings.  “Chopper Films...no, he's in a meeting...yes, I'll tell him...good-bye.”

     He'll give her another chance.  “I wrote a horror script.  The real thing.”  He hands her his manuscript.  But she eyes it suspiciously, the loose pages sticking out, won't take it.  It's embarrassing, holding the thing out for her to take.  Finally, he just puts it down on her desk.

     “It's my first script, but I've got a knack for it.  For horror.  I mean, lots of people say that evil is eternal, but they don't really mean it.  But I really know how it works.  A screenplay's like a blueprint, right?  That's what this book I borrowed said.”

     “We don't take unsolicited manuscripts,” Sherry says, very frosty.

     “What's that mean?”

     “You can't leave this script here.  You have to send it to us through an agent.”

     He smiles.  Surely she sees.  “Well, maybe I'm the agent.”

     “A real agent.  We have to protect ourselves against lawsuits.”

     Malcolm smiles.  Now he sees the logic.  Of course.  To be the perfect torture victim she needs to provoke the torture.  “It's your life.”

     “What's that supposed to mean?” she asks uneasily, feeling unsettled.  The folder that he dropped on the desk is grimy, handwritten, retarded looking, diseased.  Don't freak, he's not a stalker, he's pudgy, he's harmless, she thinks.

     He smiles.  “I'm not a stalker,” he says.  Good -- she finally looks scared.  “This is a script of real horror.  Not just a stupid movie.”  Leave no traces.  He picks his opus back up.  “You had you're chance, Sherry.  I wrote the part just for you.  But I'll do this one all by myself.”

     “Fine,” she says softly, busy with her pencil again.  She won't look up until he's gone.  That's the safest way.

     We'll see how safe.

11:58 PM

brain condoms

     Tony Taylor sits in his boxer shorts on his beige leather couch, smoking a joint and watching MTV, his sideburns still wet from the hot tub. 

     He notices that the singer's lips don't match the soundtrack.  The video is an oldie, something he's heard a thousand times, but the name of the tune eludes him.  He sneers at the poor lip sync, but then wonders if it might actually be hip and intentional.  He finally decides that he is just stoned, very stoned, and that he has gotten good value for the four hundred dollars the sativa cost him.

     So stoned that he doesn't hear them come in, a man and a woman.  Tony mutes the music with the remote control.

     The man is all in black -- jeans, vest, baseball cap, goatee, the whole Hollywood cowboy trip.  The woman has wide-awake startled eyes, pale skin, dressed in a white hospital nightgown.  An odd couple, lost souls, but why here?

     "I've got a story line for you, Tony, baby.  Perfect for a double threat like you.  This is a book and a movie.  It's a fucking franchise," Hayward says smoothly, but with some bite.

     "How did you get in here?"

     "Don't dwell on the trivial, Tony.  Not now."

     "Look, if you're interested in any kind of professional relationship then behave professionally.  I did not invite you into my house, mister."

     Please allow me to introduce myself.

     "The name is Hayward.  That's Ward, my middle name, and Hay, the first part of my last name, put together backwards.  I got that idea from The White Album, you know the song Revolution Number Nine, where, if you play the record backwards it says "Turn me on dead man?"  You know that one, Tony?"

     Shit, don't think the worst, turn on the charm...

     Mary hears it -- a voice in her head -- this Tony's silent words.  Beads of sweat dot the shiny top of his head.  A soft pulse of color surrounds him, like ink from a squid, the same dark purple, except this color is in the air and it clings to Tony, shrouds him, in a way that Mary has never seen before.  These colors are a new thing.  Auras, that's the word.  What's next -- will everything be strange, like, stoned?  Maybe I really am crazy imagining all this meaning I'm not really here -- what's next?

     Hayward strokes Mary's arm and smiles.  Welcome to the club.

     Tony puts the dead roach down in the white ashtray he stole from the Plaza Athénée.  He sits forward, shoulders hunched, index finger lightly tapping the thick glass coffee table.  In the body language of casual control, this meeting is hopefully coming to an end.  "I like your chutzpah, Hayward.  Come by my office tomorrow, we could do business."

     "It's a disease story.  A virus story.  A lethal virus.  It's a natural for a novel or a movie but there's enough material for an apocalyptic mini-series, if you want to take it that direction.  The underlying concept is that evil is eternal, you can't kill it off, so, like, you kill a body and the virus just travels to a new host.  Now that's an old idea -- eternal -- hah! -- but I've got a killer hook.  The concept is mental AIDS.  So, like, if you fuck a crazy person, a disease carrier, like Typhoid Mary, then you go crazy.  Or it can be from casual contact -- you can get infected with insanity just from getting touched."  Hayward lightly touches Tony's arm to make his point. 

     Tony drifts in a stoned, twisting current of panic.  This Hayward looks small enough to tackle, run for the door, how'd he ever get in, how big are her breasts? unhappy looking chick, his cold hand stuck to me like Crazy Glue.  Tony starts to reach for the roach, to take another toke and sort out what, after all, might be a workable high-concept.  And didn't he say that a hand can infect you, or an idea -- clever of him to touch me then, to add a tactile element to the pitch.

     "...imagine the possibilities, because there is no mental prophylactic.  There aren't any brain condoms to protect you from mental AIDS."

     Tony tries to stand up, but Hayward pushes him back down.  He knows beyond a doubt that this small man with crows feet at his eyes, with his young mouth and ancient skin, is a menace.  Dangerous, do not expect the worst, breathe deep, agree, don't provoke, offer whatever.

     "Relax, Tony" Hayward tells him.  "Relax and enjoy our conversation.  Don't talk just to fill up more time." 

     Mary.

     She stands very still, feet planted on the edge of the Navaho rug.  If she doesn't move then maybe she's not really here, not part of it, whatever it is.

     Mary -- come over here and join us.

     The words come to her directly, undistorted by vocal chords or air.  "Did you say something?" she asks, a normal question, an anchor thrown into dark water.

     You heard me.  Don't make me repeat.  On the couch, next to the meat.

     Mary decides to resist on general principle, out of stubbornness, when she feels her left leg jerk forward, then her right leg, tugged like a rag doll.  Ugly and futile.  And when the tug lets go, she stumbles and falls to the floor, feels the wool rug fringe curling over her fingers.

     It's not all sweetness and light, but listen to me, and a good time is guaranteed, Hayward tells her.

     Mary sits on the couch.  She wants to know if she put herself there, or if it was Hayward, but he ignores her for the moment.

     "It's a great idea.  Great," Tony gamely tries, but he's an experienced pitch-man, and he feels his own words hang dead in the air.  "But I didn't invite you in here.  We -- could do business together, if you..."  Tony trails off.  He stares at his own hands, a familiar and welcome sight, but Hayward's cold hand rests on his forearm, unwanted and unmovable.  He said you can get infected from just getting touched.  Tony, the master of eye contact, is afraid to look up, afraid of the man's face.

     "By the way, you know that book you wrote about Malcolm?"

     "What?"

     "See No Evil.  Clever title, but fucked-up.  Trivializing."

     "I'm sorry you didn't like it.  That was a long time ago.  I've become a better writer."

     "A more honest writer?"

     "Yes.  Yes, of course."

     Try being really honest.  Take a moment to think about eternity, Tony.

     No not here not IN this room not now not now not now Tony's head screams, a big scream that Hayward catches and throws back.

     Other hands, unseen, turn Mary's head.  She sees Tony's aura bright as a firecracker, the fast glint of metal in Hayward's left hand, and then new blood sparkle as it greets the air.  Hayward's hand moves in a wide, sawing circle around Tony's chest.  But how can blood be like a Roman Candle?

     Mary closes her eyes.  He can't keep my eyes open.  Please.  She hears such big questions now, and between the questions is the huge darkness between heart beats.  That's the darkness where she sleeps, between blinks.  Why can't I leave, please?

     Pretty please?

monday

8:12 AM

jumps to morning

     Darkness.

     Mary opens her eyes but she is afraid to look around the gloomy room.  She feels a million miles from sleep but as she wonders about the time, the world jumps to morning without skipping a beat.

     She hears the groans of hospital dawn, the rattle of a pill cart and tired, minimum wage footsteps.  She wakes up between blinks, a bad dream still fresh behind her eyelids.  A silver shape swims in her eyes.  Sitting up she sees two Hershey's Kisses on her pillow, waiting for her to peel back the silver foil.  As the shape of a kiss dissolves into a sweet puddle on her tongue, she remembers a Joshua tree, a blue moon in an orange sky, a white hallway.

     And bad things.  Color and blood.  Real -- what is real?  I remember what?  Something red, something bad, but I wasn't me, can't be.  It was not me. 

     The last Hershey's Kiss looks so lonely on her pillow.  She pushes it aside and crawls back under the sheets, curls up and stares at the foil-covered chocolate, only inches from her eyes, huge and silver, a talisman of childhood.  Mary cries quiet tears, feeling the phantom pain of the children that don't exist, of the husband that she doesn't have.  The sun burns hot outside the room's locked and barred windows and she shuts her eyes so hard that bright spots dart like dead fireflies in the corners of her eyes.  She wants to go back to sleep while there is still daylight to shelter her, a deep sleep free of voices and dreams.

11:37 AM

a warm membrane designed solely for his pleasure

     Rand stares at the aquarium, at the endless procession of bubbles escaping from the toy diver's head.  At the diver's feet is a ceramic sign that says The Rand Corporation, a gag gift from a securities lawyer Rand does occasional business with.  There are no fish in the tank.  The last of Rand's Siamese fighting fish, the one he called Mohammed, died the week Rand was away in Maui.  His secretary, Jan, was also vacationing that week, but in Santa Barbara, and she'd neglected to provide for Mohammed's care in her absence.  Rand harbors a grudge because while he was responsible for feeding his fish, Jan was responsible during vacations.  This implied, oral contract rendered Jan guilty of the fighting fish's wrongful death.

     But the death of Mohammed is low on Rand's current agenda, even though he stares at the little sea where Mohammed once swam.  He is mostly thinking about yesterday, about Mary, about waking up naked on the floor and feeling hung over even though he drank no wine.

     Thoughts of Mary lead Rand back to himself; he discovers that his fly is open and he is squeezing himself.  He stares at the deposition on his desk, as long as a Dickens novel, but lacking characters and plot.  Just thousands of dead facts that keep the cash register ringing -- but registers don't ring anymore, they beep, like his phone beeps, which reminds him -- freeing one hand from the rote pursuit of onanistic pleasure, he hits a sequence of numbers that tells Jan to hold all his calls so he can focus on this ache he feels for Mary.

     An ache he remembers once conquering, right here in this office, with cajolery and a seventy-dollar bottle of Alsatian wine.  He had been elevated to the corner office the week before, after the hasty and unpleasant exit of Barnes, a partner who had failed to produce.  Rand had moved in before he could re-decorate.  He wanted to consecrate the office, break a bottle of champagne on its metaphoric prow, which meant that he wanted to spill his seed into Mary's mouth.  Although it was 10:20 PM and the office was empty except for a junior associate, Mary had insisted that he lock the door, in return for which he had coaxed her out of all her clothes.  He stroked her head as she knelt between his legs, and closed his eyes, only to greedily open them again.  He was drunk with the view his new windows commanded, but it was nothing compared with the curve of Mary's back, her beautiful shoulder blades centered between his legs, her head moving rhythmically.  Sitting in his new chair, Rand felt that he was fucking her head, that her consciousness was disembodied in the lips that gave him such pleasure, that he was penetrating the deepest part of her soul, that her lips were not for words but a warm membrane designed solely for his pleasure.  Her posture of submission and the dominance he felt moving in response to her lips, this power excited him more than the sensation of her skin against his, and it was only her voice and the empty vacuum of her stopping that pulled him back from the glory of his life at that moment.

     "You don't have to press my head, you don't have to push me like that," Mary said with slow anger.

     "I'm sorry, it's just...I got excited..."

     "I don't like to be pushed like that."

     "I'm sorry, Mary, please, I'm sorry."

     She stared at him.  She waited.

     "It was just passion," he tried, the intermission painful.

     He thought he read the hint of a smile.

     "Please, Mary," he pleaded, surprising himself with his suddenly childish tone.

     "Maybe it's the wine.  That's making you whine."

     "Maybe it's..."  He was lost.  It was Mary on the floor, but he had lost track of what words could get her to continue.  She was naked, but the bliss was suddenly unattainable.

     "Maybe it's the wine," she repeated.

     "Yes, it's the wine," he quickly agreed.  "Forgive me,, don't stop."  He bent down to kiss her, as if he was sanctifying her lips, no, sanctifying sounded too grandiose, even as he described the event to himself.  He knew he was trapped that way, narrating to himself what had happened in his life, like he was a sports commentator with a privileged seat and a motor mouth.  Not sanctifying -- he was validating her mouth, and he was tasting himself on her lips, that delicate edge of salt, bouquet of Rand.  But was his kiss feeling enough?  Because his immediate need was to persuade Mary to resume her fellatio.  And even as he was strategizing his dilemma, the world, conspired to do for Rand what it had done so many times before -- the world made Rand happy, rewarded him for blatantly being himself.  Mary's mouth took him back in, he was back inside her head, he was fucking her head again, his hands went reflexively toward his crotch, surprised again by how soft her hair was, and then his hands retreated, fearful of invading and breaking the moment by pressing her head again.  He grabbed the arms of the chair, digging his manicured nails into the black leather, feeling the arch of tight dorsal muscles in his back.  It was so perfect that he wanted the moment to extend and expand forever, it was too good to let end, he must keep Mary kneeling between his legs forever, he was greedy for orgasm and greedy to postpone it, and the greed compromised and distracted his ecstasy, but he was happy all the same, he was white hot and perfect, and coming, coming, he soon found himself abandoned and Mary furious now, pushing at his legs, madder than before because he was crushing her with his Nautilus legs, but that was fine, he could and did drop down out of his chair to be apologetic and concerned and she didn't even cry about it.  There were dark bruises on her rib cage for the next two weeks, but he took her to Sante Fe for a surprise weekend and bought her a red cashmere sweater and

     here he sits, pecker in hand, coming back, post-coital?  Rand wonders, cannot think of the precise word for afterwards, post-masturbatory?  It's crazy -- he realizes that his office door is unlocked, but Jan has the fear of God about coming into his office without knocking.  He is surprised but not surprised to find that his pants are down around his ankles and with some distaste he sacrifices a linen handkerchief to clean up the remains of his morning's passion.

     With a brief knock Frank Askins barges in and Rand in a panic rolls his chair close against his desk.

     "The Marsh depositions, have you seen what that asshole did in the discovery?  It's ludicrous!"

     Rand busily shuffles papers, careful not to overdo it.  He feels himself blushing but he knows that his tan cuts him some slack.  Fucking senior partners, they'd storm into the stall while you were taking a shit if they could.  "Frank, I'm putting out a fire on the Wilkes case, a brush fire that's threatening to engulf a couple of multi-million dollar houses.  Give me ten minutes and I'll be down to talk about those depositions."

     "I want his nuts on my trophy wall, Rand.  See you in ten."

     Alone, Rand catches himself hyper-ventilating.  Scared.  He has never done this, not in the office, not in peak morning hours, not with the door unlocked.

     Mary.

the monkey man -- dvd chapter 4

Animal prison.  The smell of dung in the hot dead air.  Parrot caws echo from a distant pavilion.  Except for a few mommies pushing strollers, the walkways are empty.  Just another Wednesday afternoon at the zoo.  Malcolm leans against the bars of the monkey cage, wearing the light blue jumpsuit of the City of Los Angeles, a Daily Variety tucked in his hip pocket, sipping a Mountain Dew and studying the primates.  But the monkeys are lazing in the heat and Malcolm is bored. 

     Then he sees Sherry Sales, actress and secretary, Miss Chopper Films, strolling past the lions, heading toward him.  She wears jeans, halter top, a summery straw hat. 

     “Fucking destiny.”  Malcolm finishes his Mountain Dew, throws the bottle in the trash, fusses with his jumpsuit, primps his hair.  “Sherry Sales, hiya.”

     She smiles, pleased to be recognized.  “Do I know you?”

     “I saw you shooting that vampire movie out in Palmdale, then I came by the office.”

     “Oh.”  She remembers; a look crosses her face.

     “Boy were you right, that script I brought in, all those loose pages, no wonder you looked at me like I was crazy.  But I took this class, you know, act one, act two, act three, plot points, how wide the margins should be.”  Malcolm offers a smile.  He needs dental work.  “Hey, I know this sounds like a line, but that was my first day in town.”

     The howler with a birthmark on his mouth, Malcolm's favorite one here, comes right up to the bars and shrieks at Sherry.  Howls.

     “Is it your period?” Malcolm asks.

     She stares at him like he is of a lower species.

     “I bet it is.  Monkey's can tell every time.  They've got a much better sense of smell than us.”

     “Well, nice seeing you.”  Don't provoke him, it's better to act polite, that's what she thinks.

     You cannot walk away from destiny.  Cannot.  She does not understand, not yet.  Sneering at my uniform.  Like she knows all about a good job.  I do honest work.  Not her -- she's a day player who gives blow jobs.

     Sherry walks away, with an unmistakable sashay, confident, arrogant, unfuckable, pleased that she has handled a situation well.  Like I was just a situation.

     “Hey, don't just walk away.”

     “I'm sorry, but I've got be somewhere.”

     “If you're at the zoo you can't be in that much of a hurry.”

     “Excuse me.  That's none of your business.”

     Malcolm tags along.  If she will just listen.  “Hey, if you got stood up, that's his bad luck -- and my good luck.  Our good luck.  I was going to wait and show you the script after I got it perfect.  But this is fate.”

     She doesn't wait.

     “What, are you upset because I said something about your period?  Bodily functions are nothing to be ashamed of.  Hey, I was just commenting on what the monkey did, why he got so excited.”

     Sherry doesn't answer, her shoes clicking along.

     “Hey, this script is not just another script.  I'm not just trying to feed you a line.  My movie will change the way that people perceive horror.  I could have any actress I want, and I want you.  Chance of a lifetime.  I mean, you've got this amazing look.  I mean, it's like you're perfectly innocent but you still want to fuck.  You express this wonderful duality, the classic half-virgin half-whore thing.”

     She passes through the zoo's front gate.  No one is around.  It's like the twilight zone around this guy.  “Are you following me?”

     Little Miss Unfuckable.  He smiles again.  He really does want to give her another chance.  “I'm not a follower.  I'm a leader.”

     “Don't follow me.  Because there will be consequences.”

     She thinks she's bulletproof behind those sunglasses.  Like she could bring down some big heat.  She does an abrupt turn and clickety-clacks toward her car.  Heavy.  He snickers.  She glances back, to make sure he hasn't followed.  No.  He holds his ground.

     When Sherry gets to her green Gremlin, a little dinged but the price was right, bought cheap from a friendly stunt man, she takes another look back.  He, whoever he is, is gone.

6:33 PM

RADIO MARY

     Mary makes her way down the cafeteria line, on pins and needles, repeating the same question to herself as she pushes her orange plastic tray along the stainless steel runner: just because I remember something it is real?  Just because...

     She hopes not.

     She considers the meat loaf, makes a snap decision to become a vegetarian and chooses dinner salad, macaroni and cheese, fruit salad. 

     The cafeteria reminds Mary of high school except, she thinks, people are mentally crippled here.  But weren't we mentally crippled in high school too?  She suffers the long walk from the food line to the tables.  Thankfully, the droolers are spoon-fed upstairs.

     She debates about taking a table by herself.  It would be her and five empty chairs and then who would sit down beside her and what if no one did?  Being alone is the best thing, get her thoughts organized.

     The chair she picks, metal and laminated pine, wobbles when she shifts her weight, but she doesn't change seats.  She takes her food off the tray.  It's a little more elegant this way, but she's not really hungry.  Dinner is just something to do, before the next thing to do, and what she really has to do is think about how one thing after another can lead to her going home.

     After dinner, what then?  There was that Grisham novel with the cover torn off that she found in the lounge, yes, that book could help put her to sleep.  But sleep, that might not be such a good thing, not after last night.  Whatever last night was.  If she could just go home, that would help, get things back to normal, back to a normal sleep cycle.

     A woman with a round face carries her tray in Mary's direction with a big smile hello.  Mary remembers her from somewhere -- group therapy?  The swimming pool?  What's her name, she's very attractive, her dark hair pulled back into a perfect ponytail, and she's got brought a friend, shorter, curly hair, also smiling.

     "Hi, Mary."

     "Hi."

     The two women join her.  "I'm Michelle, remember?"

     Mary doesn't want to.

     "Last night, silly!"

     "O-liv-ia!" the shorter one squeaks out between gashes of cherry lipstick. 

     A man joins them, also short, freckled, his hair an irritating shade of red.  Mary sort of remembers him.  He has a double portion of meat loaf on his tray.  "Hello again, Mary," he says, and offers his hand.  She shakes and it feels awful, his clammy skin, the pasty freckled kind.  Mary averts her eyes.  When she looks back at him she knows that he hates her, just knows it, even though he keeps smiling.

     "You got to have all the fun last night," he says in a dead quiet tone.

     "You got to go inside," Olivia stage whispers.  "Teachers pet."  She takes a sip of chocolate milk, leaving the print of her cherry lipstick on the glass.    

     Mary acts busy with her food, having trouble spearing the slippery macaroni with her fork, staring down at her plate to keep from staring at her new table-mates.  She can't really say what the colors on her plate are supposed to be because the food is now a blur.  She feels unprepared for this social situation. 

     "You're the first new playmate we've had in a while," Danny says. 

     Mary lifts her fork, she doesn't know why, she's anything but hungry.  The cheesy morsel hangs naked on the tines.  She doesn't know quite what to say.  It's not like she has something to say and can't.  There is nothing to say, and this absence of anything is the opening note of a panic sonata.

     "I didn't mean playmate like a Playboy Playmate."

     "Danny, shut up," Michelle says.

     "You can't tell me to shut up."

     "I can tell you anything I like."

     "I don't have to listen."

     "Guys, guys," Olivia says, "you're not making a good impression on Mary." 

     "Who cares."

     "Danny!"

     "Danny doesn't like you.  But don't worry, Danny doesn't like anyone."  Michelle crunches into a raw carrot and smiles serenely.

     Danny is busy eating his meat; he doesn't look happy.

     Olivia smiles as she sips her milk.  The lipstick stains collect around the rim. 

     Mary's new table-mates don't have much to say to each other.  "Hey," Olivia asks Mary.

     "What?"

     "Hey, what ward are you in," Olivia squeaks.  She has curly hair and to Mary's eye a curly smile, in fact everything about her seems curly.

     "Olivia, cut it out."

     "Cut what out?"
     "You know what.  Or you're going to be in big trouble."

     "Hey, what kind of trouble?  Hey, will you ward off the trouble?"

     "Okay, fine, it's your ass."

     Mary does not want to be there.  She really would rather be someplace else, away from this queasy food and wobbly company.  She'll give it a minute, if she can endure a minute, to be polite, then say good night and get up and turn in her tray.

     Michelle touches her arm.  She speaks to Mary but her lips don't move.  We'll have some fun tonight.  Crawl through the hole in the fence again.  It was His idea to hide us in here.  That's why we're here -- who would think to look for us here?

     Mary doesn't understand.  Has Michelle been speaking silently like this all along?  Because Mary hasn't been paying attention, it's not something you look for in an ordinary conversation.  And why should she expect anything ordinary here?  But can you really speak without words?  Is it a two-way thing, is there really such a thing as telepathy, and not just in a night dream?

     Yes, Olivia shakes her tight curls up and down.

     Yes.

     Yasssss! 

     Mary hears music reverberating in the echoey cafeteria, not the panic sonata but cooler stuff than she would ever expect to hear in a hospital.

     I'm so happy

     because today I found my friends

     they're in my head...

     Isn't that Nirvana, Mary wonders.

     You should know, you picked it, Olivia purrs.

     "I picked it?"

     Who said telepathy was just words, what book said that?

     "But I don't want this."

     Don't want what?  Did you ask to be born? Michelle asks.

     You're our radio.  That's why Hayward calls you Radio Mary, Olivia explains.

     Boom box, you're the boom box, says Danny.  I wanna make boom-boom with the boom box.

     Danny I said shut the fuck up.  Enjoy the music, Mary, it's what you were always meant to do.

     "No."

     Yes.

     "No."

     I'm so lonely,

     that's okay you share my head

     I'm to blame for all I've heard...

     Nirvana, M, funny stuff.

     How can I be so scared at dinner, Mary wonders.

     No, that's backwards, they're scared of us.

     "Us?"  Please, not us.

     Us.

tuesday

7:49 PM

FUCKING HER FACE

     Rand stops the videotape and gets busy selecting tonight's wine.  He feels like drinking a young cabernet, but not too big.  He selects a Ravenswood, uncorks it, and while he waits for the wine to breathe, he thinks about watching The Mary Tape again.  He needs to re-live the memory again, and meditating upon his need, he catches himself drinking the wine, the unbreathed wine.  Suffocated wine, he thinks.

     He wants to get drunk quickly and swim in warm thoughts.  He feels like regressing back to the Nineties, his days of 'ludes and ecstasy, when his skin glowed effortlessly young and warm.  Most of all he wants Mary back.

     And she waits in his bedroom, in a black box, stretched out on the black tape, an erotic collection of zeroes and ones, mating with him forever.

     There on his TV screen is Mary, her legs and arms entwining him.  Is he bisexual for loving both Mary and himself?  Is narcissism bisexual?  His Italian trousers get tangled around his ankles and he drinks right from the bottle, gauche and absurd, his hand sticky with himself, the designer wine label sullied as a nervous tic sends shudders through his left eye and his lip twitches to the rhythm of his blood.  Is he dying now, here on the floor, has he finally spasmed himself out of existence?

     Rand weaves drunkenly into the bathroom, like a sailor on a listing deck.  He washes his hands, straightens his clothes, and frowns at his crooked smile in the mirror.  He feels small and confined in the forty-two hundred square feet of his house, bored out of his mind, roaming from room to room, wanting Mary and hating her and very surprised to hear his front doorbell ring.

     Sheila.

     In a panic, he checks his watch, remembers that he forgot their date, but he can't remember what they were supposed to do.  And what is the wine bottle doing in his hand?  He quickly hides it behind the leg of his reproduction Mission Oak side table and opens the door for Sheila.  She looks more intimidating than attractive in her powder blue suit.  Unlike Mary, Sheila is not innately sexy.

     Sheila's eyes travel down to the flap of Oxford cloth shirt that dangles in front of Rand's rumpled trousers.  Her smile withers.  His kiss smells heavy with notes of black cherry and a hint of peppercorn, long in the finish, a bit acidic.  "Is something wrong?"

     Rand sees her nose crinkle at the taste of wine on his lips.  Her petulance bores him, but he is also afraid to be alone tonight, his house and his skin are both unbearable, and if he can't fuck Mary, then Sheila is the next best thing.  But she is a professional acquaintance, there is that to consider, though the outcome of their liaison, certain to fall short of marriage, will no doubt be awkward.

     "Would you like a drink?" he asks.

     "I'd like to eat."

     Rand is lost.  He has no idea what they've planned for the evening.  He wants to get back to The Mary Tape, he can't get enough of that, and his desire feels so delicious it distracts him from his forgetfulness.  Was he supposed to make dinner?  Or did he make reservations?  And if so, where?

     "You're drunk," Sheila observes.

     Let her lead, he thinks.  "I've had a setback on a case.  A major fuck-around, and yes, I am drunk.  But I'm a nice drunk."  He puts his arms around her and likes the reassuring feel of her solidity.  There is resistance in Sheila’s muscles, then she relaxes against him, her wool jacket scratchy against his forearm, her arm resting absently on his shoulder and he senses her deciding what's up, and how this night might fit into the pattern of their relationship, the rise and fall of the last few days.  They are still a little new to each other, but maybe already not new enough.

     "Did you make the reservations?" she asks and feels his shoulders stiffen.

     "I think Jan did.  I've just been overwhelmed.  And then I got so depressed -- it's the first time I've been depressed in three years so I opened a bottle of wine.  I'm sorry if that was rude but I'm just not myself tonight.  Forgive me?"

     "You are acting strangely, Rand."

     "I'm just a little drunk and worn out from the week.  But it's Monday, we've got the whole week..."

     "It's Tuesday."

     "I told you I was drunk," he says.

     "No, I told you that you were drunk.  But you're not that drunk."

     "You've got me distracted."  He intensifies their embrace, but the gesture feels false, even to himself.  He doesn't want her, but he also doesn't want to be alone.

     Sheila steps back from his limp arms and sees that his shirt is buttoned wrong.  His clothes look wrinkled and thrown on.  She wonders if she will find another woman upstairs, and if not, will another woman's scent be lingering on his bed sheets?

     "I think I might be getting that flu that's been going around," Rand says with the conviction of a summer stock Camille.

     Sheila touches Rand’s skin; it feels clammy.  "Why don't you take a shower and then fix yourself an espresso?  Sober up and then we'll go eat."

     "Great idea.  I'm off to the shower."  He is grateful to get away from her.

     Rand undresses and gets into the marble shower stall.  I own this floor, I own this door I am closing, and I own this water, until it passes down the drain and through the pipes that I own.

     Rand’s thoughts focus tightly, like a reduced strike zone, on his possessions.  He worries that he can't think outside of this little zone.  Like his brain is opaque with steam, his mental power diminished by the cascade of scalding water spraying down from the German stainless steel shower head that he also owns.

     Sheila stands on the other side of the bathroom door, suspicious of the perfectly made bed, pulling back the bedspread to sniff at the freshly laundered sheets.  Disappointed that her suspicions of infidelity aren't confirmed, she speculates that he has already changed the sheets, and looks for the laundry hamper.

     Then she sees the wine stain in the weave of the pale blonde carpet.  She bends down and feels the fabric: the wine stain is still wet.  Sheila sniffs at the carpet, like a truffle pig, hunting for the scent of a woman, and instead she smells the sweat of expensive food and lifting weights every other day, the aroma of Rand.  And with her face near the floor she sees the remote control.  Sheila grasps the control and presses the button marked play.

     On the screen, a woman, in this same bedroom, on April 31st at 12:42 AM, Mary.  Enthusiastic but certifiable Mary.  Rand had cried the story on her shoulder, not really cried, but told it in emotionally clogged narrative, brilliantly stirring her sympathy.  I thought I knew her, loved her, but maybe I didn't really know her, she wasn't who I thought she was...it's just a terrible thing, seeing someone you care about fall apart and there's nothing you can do to help... 

Sheila watches the videotape, engrossed, and completely grossed out.

     The electronic ghosts are doing things Sheila has never done, but things Rand has tried to get her to do.  Not just a blow job, but thrusting against the poor girl's face, on his knees, fucking her face, there's really no other word for it.  And sodomy, surely that must be sodomy, with Mary on her stomach and him on her back, too bad he has such a nice butt, such a nice butt, but the way that she's kicking her legs, shaking her head from side to side but not stopping him, so violent, not love-making, like animals, groaning and smiling, god how he's smiling.  The last time Sheila was in this bedroom Rand had manipulated her into a semblance of this same position she now watches on tape -- he said it was an accident, his penis against her anus, but Sheila knew what he wanted, no way, not her, no thank you.  She had slept with Rand in this same bed that she now sits on as she watches. 

Sheila abruptly stands up, repulsed.

     The wine stain looks nasty, like dried blood.  Rand must have been jerking off when she arrived tonight.  Sheila looks around the room, worried that a hidden camera taped her two nights ago, is taping her right now.  Sheila deduces the probable location of the camera based on the camera angle she sees on the TV screen, and when she throws open the most likely cabinet doors she finds no video camera.

     Sheila rifles through shelves of videotapes, but only finds a lot of musicals and what looks like the collected works of Barbra Streisand -- isn't that kind of gay, she wonders. Just look at the TV -- you don't need a woman for sodomy.

     Then the quiet feels wrong.  The shower has stopped.  Sheila frantically hits buttons until the tape spits out of the machine.  Best to quickly leave with the evidence, watch the whole disgusting thing and see if she's on it too.  Undoubtedly the tape will be useful somehow, in forcing a painful reckoning.  Lord knows Rand deserves a painful reckoning.
11:02 PM

hole in the fence

     Mary opens her eyes, surprised to be outside.  The night is grainy and quiet, like a silent movie.  Michelle holds her hand, her purple fingernails digging in, and pulls Mary through the hole in the hospital fence, a gap in the chain link.

     Under the shadow of a live oak, Hayward waits beside his old green Mercury, dressed in black, only his pale face visible, his white hands waving for them to hurry.

     Mary sits sandwiched in the back seat between Michelle and Olivia.  She feels naked in the flimsy white hospital nightgown; Michelle and Olivia wear gingham and denim and leather and spangles, a pair of hippie cowgirls. 

     "Here's your duds," Hayward says, and passes back a crumpled brown bag, his eyes never leaving the black and white road ahead.  "Hurry and get dressed." 

     Mary feels embarrassed.  Scrunching and squirming, she pulls a long flowered skirt on under her nightgown.  The car sways along a dark canyon road making things difficult.  She finds a black leather vest in the bag but no blouse.  There is no underwear. 

     "Hurry up, Mary, we're almost there."  Michelle helps Mary pull the nightgown over her head.  Danny, riding shotgun, turns around to get a look at Mary's bare chest before she can pull the vest on. 

     "Love your freckles, Mare." 

     She wonders if she is blushing.  The leather feels cool and alive against her skin and Danny slouches back around, nothing left to see. 

     No one says anything else. 

     The road is dark, but above, craning a bit, Mary sees stars streak past, then slow to a lumbering crawl.  The gravel crunches as the tires slow.  Why are they stopping here?  

     Why?

the monkey man -- dvd chapter 5

A night cruise out to the desert.  Talk radio garbled by static.  Malcolm smiles at the road ahead, one hand draped rakishly over the steering wheel.  He's holding his Mercury at a steady fifty-five, double nickels on the dime.  In his lap is Sherry Sales' head, unconscious, silver duct tape across her mouth.  She lies across the front seat, her body covered by a green army blanket.  Except for the duct tape, she could be an affectionate girlfriend, cuddling up to her honey, a red-blooded American road dream.

     “Maybe you'll understand me better, baby, when you see where I come from.  Where we all come from.  The wilderness, Sherry, baby.”

     Past Palm Springs, the lights of the Coachella Valley far behind, the Mercury turns onto a gravel road.  Mal takes the blanket off his peach, his prize.  Sherry's hands are tied with a sash cord, and her halter top pulled up around her neck.  Malcolm drums his fingers on her breasts, thumps them with his finger, testing their bounce like choosing a cantaloupe.

     Sherry wakes, sees Malcolm looming over her.  Her scream is muffled by the duct tape, but she flops and squirms in his lap like a netted trout.  Malcolm squeezes her breast hard and Sherry arches in pain.  But she stops squirming.  Tears roll down her cheek and bead up on the duct tape.

     “See what you made me do?  It didn't have to be this way.  No, no, no.”

     He sees that she is trying to speak.  It sounds like muffled baby talk, but he understands.

     “I know, I know, you're sorry, we can be friends, forgive and forget.”

     Sherry keeps trying to talk, gasping sobs, the hint of words, choked things that Malcolm nods in response to.

     “Hey, I'd love to take the tape off now, but then you'd bite me and then where would we be?”  He strokes her face, her neck.  “Sherry, please, don't lie to me.  It's undignified.  Honey, you've played this kind of part before.  Remember?  I saw you on the set.”

     He nods his head as if listening attentively to her, then chuckles.  “Save it, girl, really.  I'm not as gullible as I look.”

     At the ranch Malcolm eases out from underneath her.  The crotch of his jumpsuit is stained.  Staring up she can see so many stars, so many, through the car window, and she hears a howl, like at the zoo, in the distance. 

     He is gone for a long time.

     When he finally comes back, he approaches from the other side of the car.  He's wearing a cowboy shirt over army fatigues.  He pulls on her legs and she starts kicking.  He falls to the ground, laughing.  “Lord, its a shame we got us such a private movie.”  He stands back and wrestles with her legs, gets her zipper down, tugs at her tight jeans.  She falls out of the car.  The bounce takes something out of her.  “How in the hell did you ever get into these things anyway?”  He tugs and tugs.  “I swear I'm going to cut 'em off you, I swear it.  I'm not afraid to improvise.  This ain't Shakespeare we're playin'.” 

     Maybe she relaxes.  Maybe she goes limp.  Either way, he manages to tug the jeans off.  Her panties are a leopard pattern, French cut, high on the hip.

     “Now ain't that a sight.  Were you expectin' to see a beau later?”  He helps her to her feet, courteous, but she's skittish, not cooperating.  She sees a light coming from the open door of a tarpaper shack.  Moths swarm against the screen door.  Except for the dim stars above, there is no other light.  She steps away from him, cautious, considering.  But her shoes are gone and the rocks sting her bare feet.  The duct tape garbles her pleading words.

     “No, I don't have to take the tape off to talk to you.”

     Her eyes widen, she tries again, a rumble of choked words.

     “Do you really think all I want to do is hurt you?”

     She backs away, then jumps in pain.  Looking down, she sees the sparkle of broken glass littering the ground.

     “Fine.  I'll show you I'm agreeable.”  Malcolm approaches her but she flinches back, but he's quick, his hand on her shoulder.  With a quick rip he removes the duct tape and steps back.  She gasps for air, sucks in sobs, her crying and breathing all mixed up.  Her shoulder is red and raw where he grabbed her, marked by his handprint.

     “I've never been a patient man, but I'll try to explain.  I guess it's important to explain, now that I'm trying to do such a big thing.  Okay?  Now this script I wrote, you see it's a movie, but you don't have to film it.  You see we're actually making the movie right now, you and me, doing what we're doing here, what we're about to do.  Now if you'd listened to me, we could have done it the easy way, we could have gotten lights and a camera and put it on film and showed it to people.  I don't know if that's really the easy way, 'cuz look what happened, no one really read my screenplay.  But now, we're just going to do it.”

     “Okay, yes, you're right, great.  Let's go back to town and really make you're movie, let's,” she blurts out, panicked, but trying.

     “No, it's too late for that.  We've moved past that.”

     Malcolm tries to take hold of her hands but she jumps back.  Now she sees the coil of rope in his hand.  She starts to run, trippingly, but he grabs her and in an instant he's pulled the rope between her bound hands.  “Come along, darling.  Follow me.  Baby steps.”  He uses the rope to lead her away from the car toward whatever is howling in the darkness. 

     “Now when you go around saying that evil is eternal, everyone yawns and says they've heard it before.  But you see what makes this eternal is separating the soul from the body, that's a different thing from just killing.  I'm not just a killer, see, I'm making the most important film in history -- and I don't even need film!  Ain't that great?  Ain't that something?”

     “Please, why me, you don't need me for this.”

     “Don't sell yourself short, Sherry.  You're perfect.  You know, I think that's been the problem with your career.  You should have been much bigger but you probably just sold yourself short.”

     “No...it's not supposed to be this way...”  She falls to her knees.  He tugs hard on the rope.  She gasps in pain, tries tugging back.

     “We can do this the easy way or the hard way, but we're going to do it.”

     He loops a hank of rope around his fist, drapes it over his shoulder and starts dragging Sherry forward into the darkness.

     “Ow, no, fuck, stop it, I'm standing, stop it.”

     He stops.  Her legs are bleeding.  She's in no hurry to get to her feet.  He moves behind her, runs a dirty fingernail up her back.  He bends down to kiss her shoulder.  She cringes.  He gets a hand under each armpit and hoists her back to her feet.

     “It hurts so much, please, God, it hurts so much...”

     “You don't need to act with me Sherry.”  He sees that her nipples are hard in the cold night air.  He'd like to touch them again, but they're past that point too.  “Not much longer, not much farther,” he soothes.

     “I can make you happy...very happy...very...” she tries.

     “You are, darling.”

     The howling gets louder, more agitated.  There are metal thumps in the darkness.  Something vicious is bouncing around.

     Sherry stumbles again, collapses.  “I can't... please...I just can't...”  She shivers.  “We could have a party...just you and me...please...”

     Malcolm helps her to her feet, he carries her along, moving at an angle, like a crab, through the dark shapes of the night junkyard.  “That's Petey,” he says in answer to her unspoken question.

     They reach the rusted-out pickup truck.  Monkey shrieks echo through the arroyo.  “Evolution.  Natural selection.  Evolving to a higher form.  Now a higher form isn't necessarily a nicer form.  Look at me.  Evolution isn't about being nice.”

     “No, please, God, don't do this to me, please...”

     Malcolm hugs her from behind.  His jaw clenches hard.  He looks unbearably excited.  “Now man is one step up from the monkey.  You go from monkey to man to something higher.  I got this well of souls that needs filling and you're going to be the first sweet little drop in the bucket.”  He creaks open the rusting door to the truck cab.  Petey jumps to the end of his chain, howling and snarling.

     “Forgive me father please forgive me...” she incants, a shivering gibberish prayer.

     Malcolm runs his gums along Sherry's sweet neck.  He wants to sink his teeth there, but that is not for him to do, that is not this movie.  No.  “Sherry, meet Petey.  Petey will prepare you for what we need to do here.”

     He pushes her into the truck.  Sherry screams as the howler monkey claws and bites.  The noise is terrible -- if you bother to listen.

     Malcolm raises his eyes to the stars, then his arms.  The dark world above is watching.  Who needs words?
11:44 PM

THE HOLE IN THE SKY

     Mary walks across gravel.  She smells orange blossoms.  Trees close in around her, whispering in the wind. 

     Needful peaceful gleeful.

     She hears Hayward walking ahead of her, hard to keep up with, hard to see in his black pants black jacket black baseball cap. 

     Black against black. 

     A break in the clouds -- the moonlight brightens. 

     Mary sees Michelle walking under the shadow of a live oak, her flowery dress alive with the sway of her hips.  Danny’s freckles glow like pale scabs in the moonlight.  Olivia's curls are dark and snaky tonight.   

     They stop at a black wrought-iron gate. 

     Where is Hayward, where am I, where is this? 

     Danny clambers up the metal and offers his hand to Mary.  She does not want to feel the touch of his pasty freckled skin.

     Just give me your hand, bitch, you shouldn't even be here, you haven't earned this -- and why is my skin so fucking distasteful to you? no one asked you to kiss my fucking skin.

     Mary takes his hand.  "I'm sorry, Danny."  He helps her off the ground, her boots slippery on the gate's ornate metal lattice.  She is dizzy, afraid to fall, surprised by the cowboy boots on her feet.

     You're not sorry -- you're not shit -- hurry the fuck up!

     Danny yanks Mary’s hand and she topples to the other side, the ground zooming up at her face and the gravel stinging her hands as she breaks the fall.  Mary wonders if it is worth crying as she picks the rocks out of her palm; she doesn't have to cry, but she could.  You can never tell how tears work, they can work so well when they do. 

     Quit being a fucking baby-

     Then Danny shuts up and turns paler than the white moon that hangs over the trees.  Danny now stands perfectly still, as obedient as a bird dog. 

Mary feels the muscles of her mouth contract to spit out the word what when Hayward looms inches from her face.  His billowing shirt ripples in the lifeless air, the black fabric glowing like dead skin.

     Baby.  Such a cute baby.  He takes hold of the lapels of Mary's black leather vest, his fingers curling inside, his yellow fingernails stroking her breasts.  She feels worse than naked, but she likes it, in spite of herself she likes it.  Somehow life has never been this exciting before.

     Needful peaceful gleeful.  Funny how some words stay in your head, like a song.  Pity I never got famous writing songs.  Pity pretty shitty little policemen in a row, see how they run like pigs from a gun, see how they run.

     "I know that one...that's..."

     "You know so many songs," Hayward says, then he touches her warm lips with his cold ones.

     So real, she thinks, well, if it has to happen, here I am, and I've been kissed before worse than this.

     Then Hayward stops kissing her.  Why?  You don't just stop, she wonders.  Danny looks impatient.  Olivia looks jealous.  Michelle hums to herself.  Something is about to happen, something...    

     I'm thinking of a song, I want you to think about the song that I'm thinking about, Mary hears from Hayward.

     It is so quiet.  The treetops sway in the wind but she can't hear a thing, not even the wind.  Mary sees they are in some kind of garden.  Every plant looks strange, cacti and colorless roses, black not green in the night light, their points and spines tempting Mary to touch them, just to see if they really sting.

     Mary looks up.  So many stars.  She stumbles.  She hadn't noticed, but they are walking again, like changing channels between blinks, different programs, different shows: the nature show, the night show, now.

     Don't look at your feet, Hayward warns her, at the precise instant when she starts to think about doing just that.

     You can hear me all the time, Mary thinks toward Hayward, but I can only hear you when you talk to me -- if you call this talking.

     That's because you're a baby.  Taking baby steps.  Teething.  Tonight you teethe.

     Now Mary sees a house with a white picket fence and a tidy yard that glows green in the moonlight.  One side of the house shimmers in the blue ripples from a swimming pool.

     Mary sees no movement but everyone seems closer to her, everything in the world.  She feels Michelle's arm around her waist.  All these hands, everyone's hands, touching me because they want me.

     Here's our house.  Time to ride the wheel of meat.  Hayward strides toward the front door.

     Danny and Olivia, looking like sidekicks in a Sixties biker flick, skip behind him.  Michelle nudges Mary forward, then Michelle’s arm slips away as she hurries ahead.  Dark shadows trail Mary's companions like diseased wings.

     Mary looks around.  Somehow, suddenly, she is alone.  In the solitude of darkness she panics and races through the open front door.

     An epileptic strobe light divides events into uneven categories, before and after, then and now, a cleave between seconds, between words, between heartbeats.

     The house feels big, warm, brown.  A high ceiling with wood beams, cottonwood furniture, tapestries.  A nice place for a party.

     A tan, good-looking man in a blue polo shirt and gray slacks sits on the velvet couch beside a dirty blonde in a bikini.  They look oddly surprised by Hayward and his night class.  Mary thinks they must be stoned, but she's standing too far away to see if the whites of their eyes are red.

     Go round up the others, Hayward says.

     "Hey," says the man, in a slurred voice.

     Mary sees that wrinkles of dissipation anchor the eyes of the blonde in the bikini.  Mary's hand twitches with the hope there is a remote control to change channels, to keep whatever is happening from happening.

     "Did your car break down?  Do you need to use the phone?" the man asks, exhaling smoke up to the wood beams.

     "Break down?  We want to get down!  We're coyotes!" Danny giggles, his freckles throwing sparks.

     Round up the others.  Don't make me say it again.

     Danny slinks out of the room.  Michelle and Olivia follow after.  Mary stands alone with Hayward and the frightened couple.

     Looks are exchanged among the mortals.  Mary gulps a breath of sour metallic air, worrying, why did I call them mortals?

     Yes, M, you burped the word.  I didn't put it there.  What about the music?

     "What do you want?  Money?  Credit cards?  Help yourself," the man says, trying to hide his growing fear. 

     The blonde retreats behind the couch.  She fumbles with a black silk kimono, its dragon trembling on her back. 

     "I said you could have our money.  Please take it and leave."

     Jake Mitchell...Cindy Welton...how do I know their names, Mary wonders.

     Just let in pour in, baby.  "Don't worry, Jake, we'll be leaving shortly," Hayward says.

     "How did you know my name?"

     "You’re famous, Jake."

     "Hardly."

     "You're famous with me.  With my family."

     Jake waits for an explanation.  He does not want to provoke.

     "You defended Uncle Malcolm.  Of course I use the word defend rather loosely.  He never denied committing the crimes, but the word guilty always bothered him.  And it bothers me."

     Mary knows that the man is forty-one.  The woman is twenty-nine.  He has a little boy.  She's had an abortion.  Their biographies pour into her, facts that Mary does not ask to know.

     I'm pleased that you are listening so well, Mary.  Just listen and these mortals will tell you everything.

     A scream echoes from another part of the house.  Orange light trickles in from the hallway like smoke.

     "And you thought that you'd seen the last of Malcolm," Hayward says.

     "Malcolm Hastings is dead."

     "Think of him as an idea.  Ideas don't die.  At least not this idea.  Think about it."

     Olivia and Michelle push another woman into the den.  She wears flowered underwear.  Pamela. 

     No this can't be happening, not tonight, my movie starts shooting Monday, Mary hears.

     Mary doesn't understand why Pamela is bleeding.  Then she sees the hunting knife in Olivia's petite hand.

     Take a moment to think about eternity.

     "I don't have anything against you.  Your uncle and I got along very well," Jake says.

     "And I don't have anything against you."  How 'bout cuing up that music, Mary?  "You just happen to be part of the master plan."

     Mary stands perfectly still.  Lamps crash to the floor. 

"They're going to kill us," Cindy moans.

     "And who says dying is such a bad deal?  Why is everyone so wigged-out about dying?  I mean, have you died?  How do you know if it's good or bad?" 

Olivia puts her petite hands around Cindy's neck.  Cindy screams but Mary doesn't hear anything as color spurts from Cindy's mouth, a queasy cartoon purple.

There is so much light, Jake and Cindy and Pamela trapped inside packets of light, molten light oozing from their mouths.

     This is not real, not real.  Not-

     No, baby, this is the good part, this is what's really real.

     The dirty blonde in the bikini and the tan man scatter into distant rooms.  The light breaks into nauseating blobular globules.

     Mary is alone with Hayward.  Pretty colors, but wrong -- I should be afraid -- I shouldn't want it -- shouldn't.  "Please, let's go back home, all of us, or just me, I don't want to hurt anyone, I don't, please."

     You don't want to leave, not really.

     Mary hears screams.  Why don't they bother me?  Sweet things, screams...why?

     The air is hazy with a lovely lavender mist, the room so...airy...floating...like a black and white film that has switched to gentle Technicolor.  Mary hears a guitar ringing clear in the smoky air.

     That's right Mary, crank it up, that's the song.

     She wants to be afraid, the right thing to feel is afraid, it's important to feel the right thing, not this smile, not her body tingling so nicely in this tickly purple air, not feeling proud that she is playing this song.

     When I get to the bottom

     I go back to the top of the slide

     Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride

     'Till I get to the bottom and I see you again...

     YES!  Isn't this the best? Hayward asks.

     But what about the victims?  What about them, their feelings? Mary asks.

     Victims is such a poor choice of words, Hayward muses. How about calling them inductees?  Because they can hear the music, too, when they get inducted, when they fly up to the hole in the sky.  Here, come with me, and feel the colors.  They feel blood-rush-amazing when you set them free.

     Hayward's hand on Mary's back pushes her along, and she feels aroused and disturbed, because isn't that a bloody handprint on the wall?  Isn't that a trail of red on the terrazzo tile?  Aren't those moans coming loud in bubbly gasps from the bedroom that Hayward steers her into?

     Dark colors collect like toxic smoke near the ceiling.

     Mary feels Hayward crawling in her head, listening, then she feels his icy hand against her shoulder blade.  He pushes her down the hallway, through the thick purple air, and into a bedroom, messy with women's clothes, to a locked door knob that he easily turns, snapping the lock to reveal Cindy, in her bikini, cowering in the shower, clutching the clear vinyl shower curtain and screaming terror that means nothing to Mary, because the only sound is that wicked guitar that pours everywhere.

     ...Well will you, won't you want me to make you?

     I'm coming down fast but don't let me break you...

     There's a reason for the song, it's a great song for this.  People don't point that out much anymore, but there's truth to it, don't you see, Hayward says, but from behind Mary, his chest nestled against her back, his arms guiding hers, like teaching her a golf swing, leading Mary to Cindy, the shower stall dry except for the wet bikini and the tears, and Cindy's glow is purple flecked with red, queasy colors, and Mary knows without knowing how that she is seeing fear, and as Hayward guides her arms around Cindy, Mary feels Cindy's fear, but inside Cindy's fear beats the pulse of twenty-nine years, felt directly by Mary, a wash of sensation.  Hayward forces Mary to envelop Cindy with her arms, just as Hayward envelops Mary with his own arms, and Mary enfolds the woman even as the man enfolds her, and the colors pulse in a fierce glow that warms her skin with delicious heat.

     Take a moment to think about eternity.

     "No, I don't want to," Mary says.

     Don't be afraid.

     "No, I'm not afraid."

     Don't be afraid to enjoy it.

     "But it's bad, it's killing."

     It's not killing.

     The purple and red explode slowly into white, a blinding glow that rages inside of Mary's head -- now she is inside of Cindy's head, she knows the minute that Cindy was born and the exact hour that she dropped out of high school, about the boyfriend Bob who made her cry, Mary knows everything about Cindy instantly; the ball of light floats up through the ceiling.

     The hole in the sky, Hayward says. 

     Mary feels Cindy limp and broken in her arms.

     Cindy dead doesn't feel good anymore, she feels awful now, the worst.  "You made me kill her, you made me!" Mary screams at Hayward, words that echo against the dead flesh and white tiles dirty with tears.

     Baby steps.

     "I never wanted to," Mary cries.

     You wanted it, I heard you want it, Hayward says, still holding Mary tight against Cindy's dead body.

     "But I wouldn't have done it.  Not on my own.  You held me and crushed her against me."

You just didn't have the balls to do it by yourself.  But now that you've had a taste, you'll feel the hunger again.  And you'll feed it.  All by yourself.

     "No..."

     You crushed her and you danced in the joy of her light. You wanted it.

     "I would never kill anyone."

     You just did.

     The last guitar note reverberates and the music goes dead.

     "No..."

     Baby steps.

     Hayward takes Mary by he hand, leads her into the kitchen.  He helps her step over the body on the floor.

     Rice Crispies or bran flakes?

     Huh?

     Any preference in breakfast food?

     Mary nods a vague no.  Hayward selects the Rice Crispies, sprinkles it over the body.  In nominee patri.

     I don’t understand.

     I’m leaving a clue.  For the clueless.

     You want to be caught?

     “Caught” is such a small, dated notion.  So.  Do you get it?

     Mary is afraid what pain a wrong answer might cost.

     Give up?  Of course.  You always give up. 

     He sprinkles more Rice Crispies.

Cereal killer.

wednesday

11:11 AM

between blinks

     I...am awake.  What do I feel bad about?  Last night.  That wasn't me.  No.  I need to get out of here, out of here, out of here...the doctor is watching...closely...

     Mary sits across from Dr. Glass.  The doctor fingers her lavender Hermès scarf again.  Her books are still in boxes, the plant on her desk looks a few days deader.  The doctor studies Mary, bored and envious, fragile and authoritarian.

     I can hear her, I can do this. 

     Mary has tied her hair into a demur ponytail.  She changed clothes twice to achieve just the right look, finally deciding on her gray cotton blouse and.  On Mary’s chest is a Smiley-Face button she found in the solarium.  Her hands lie in her lap with carefully upturned palms. 

     ...staff meeting, frozen yogurt -- vanilla, no, chocolate -- catatonic or calm category? hands upturned, check, minimal tension, check, relaxed? why?

     Mary is pleased that Dr. Glass favorably notes her submissive body language.  "I'm feeling good about myself, my self-image, but I also feel guilty, not guilty really, but impatient.  I miss work.  Work helps me feel organized -- that's a natural feeling don't you think?"

     Dr. Glass smiles, suspicious, stares at Mary's hair.  ...beautiful hair...fuck her, make her suffer...she's tricking me?  Tricky bitch...

     Listening to Dr. Glass makes it hard for Mary to talk, like being both the host and a guest on a radio talk show.  Dr. Glass, please let me out.  I have to get out.  Let me out.  Let me out!  Mary listens to Dr. Glass in her head, and sees Dr. Glass outside her head, watching.  Quit thinking -- say something -- she's waiting -- say something quick -- the right thing -- not schmaltzy -- the right thing.  "I like to work.  I always...liked to work...and I miss..."

     Dr. Glass twists her scarf tightly around her index finger.  Mary sees that the doctor's fingernails are chewed to the quick.  "You sound hesitant, Mary.  Tell me what's bothering you."

     Mary feels hot under the spotlight of Dr. Glass' thoughts.  Dr. Glass, the pro, who's heard it all and knows a con.  Dr. Glass who does not feel needed or appreciated. 

     "Oh, the usual insecurities.  Like, I wish I had a boyfriend.  Being here has helped me.  But...but I like doing things for myself."

     "Do you feel that you're ready to live out on your own again?" Dr. Glass asks.  Why should I give her what she wants?  She's pretty.  Unfair.  She always gets her own way.  Not with me.  Why should she be so pretty...?

     Mary listens, gauges.  A hormone of cunning courses through her veins.  Don't be proud, she hates pride, do it right.  Mary feels nervous, wants to itch her arm, but doesn't.  Be confident, seem confident, not too much, the doctor hates over-confidence, do it right.  "I don't want to overdo it.  Independence is my goal, but if I take too big a step, I know I might fall down, and I don't want to...fall down again.  I don't know what happened to me.  I guess I let too much...stress build up.  I guess I was sick then, and maybe I'm still not one hundred percent, but I know enough now to know what my limitations are.  Some of them.  I was unrealistic before.  My goals are more...modest now."

     Dr. Glass smiles wanly, stroking her scarf like a favorite pet.  I don't like her, she's playing too dumb, it feels wrong, get a second opinion, cover my ass -- why is she smiling?  Oh...because I am...creepy, she's watching me...oh, my fingers in the scarf...

     Mary drops her eyes.

     Dr. Glass gets more suspicious.

     I’m being too obvious, stop listening, let it be over, let it be quiet, please.  Mary bends down and reties her shoelace, careful to avoid looking at the doctor. 

     She hears no more words. 

     How long has she been tying her shoelace? 

     Looking up, Mary sees Dr. Glass' lips moving, but she can't hear a thing.  Will the colors start again?  I'm afraid.  Try not to look afraid.

     Dr. Glass stands.  Mary understands that she is also supposed to stand.  Oh this is bad -- try smiling, smile, everyone dies someday...

     Between blinks: Mary stands alone in the institutional green hallway.  So much happens between those blinks.  She hears the nylon scrape of pantyhose and the clip-clop of padded soles, a nurse somewhere nearby, out of sight.

     If they will just let me go home.

thursday

10:36 AM

OUT OUT OUT

     The molded-plastic chairs are neatly arranged against the waiting room wall.  There are old, well-thumbed copies of People Magazine on the white laminate table.  Mary sits with her legs demurely together, her back straight, a model of good posture, wearing a pastel flower-print dress, a small suitcase by her feet.  Even though no one is watching her just this second, she tries to look alert, poised, normal, proud.

     ...it's your decision as her next of kin...I always say hope for the best but expect the worst...

     Mary isn't straining to hear, but if she has the ability, why not, because it is her future they are discussing.

     ...I don't know, I just don't know...

     ...your decision...I can only advise...

     No, don't listen, it won't help, what will happen will happen, just be good, look good, hope, Mary thinks.

     Finally, Laura steps out of the office.  Her hennaed hair is cut Peter Pan short.  She nervously smoothes car wrinkles from her pink frock, the same shade of pink as her crescent earrings.  Mary admires the skill with which Laura tries to hide her weight.

     "Hello, Mary.  You look very pretty."

     "Thank you for this dress, Sis,"  Mary says.  She hugs her sister, not something they ordinarily do, but today is not ordinary.

     "Are you sure you want to go home so soon?"

     "Didn't they say I could?"

     "Yes, but I'm asking you.  You don't have to do anything...you don't want to do."  God knows I don’t want you...if you crack up again, then I need to bring you back out here?...it's a hassle either way -- why do I have to take care of you? why me?  "Are you sure?  I mean..."

     "Yes!"  Whoops, said that too suddenly, Laura's worried, be firm but not too eager, I have to leave, please, pretty please, sis.  "There's nothing to worry about.  I mean, I'm fine, if that's what you're worried about."

     "I'm not worried."

     Mary sees the doctor watching her from the doorway.  He thinks his scraggly makes him look older.  It's not too late to keep her here for another week, better to reverse the decision now if I have to, let's see how she socializes...

     Mary waits, afraid to speak, because the next thing she says is important.

     "I'm not worried," Laura tries again, "it's just that...oh, well.  You look nice."

     "I'm sorry I've been such a bother.  Thank you, Laura."  Mary picks up her suitcase.  "Thank you, doctor."  She inches toward the door.  I am walking we are walking I am making this happen.  The hallway feels better, walking toward the exit.

     "You don't have to go right back to your apartment.  You can come stay with us.  In fact, we'd like that, we really would."  What if Mary says yes?

     "No.  Thanks."

     Laura looks both relieved and pained.  "Are you sure?"

     No I'm not sure of anything except getting out of here.  Out, OUT, OUT!  "You're very sweet.  I'm fine.  I really am."

     "Really?"

     I'll brain her if she asks again, I really will.

     "Really?" Laura asks again.

     The door is getting closer.  Outside is the world.  She can already see Laura's red Acura, waiting to take her home. 

     "Really," Mary answers.

the monkey man -- dvd chapter 6

The ocotillos are in bloom, red-tipped wands scratching at the desert sky.  The cholla cactus sport a fresh set of spikes.  Malcolm, shirtless, pink as a pig, lifts a piece of rusted tin off the top of a sinkhole, all that's left of some prospector's failed dream.  He pops open the Merc’s trunk, huffs and puffs as he lifts up a bulky object wrapped in a green army blanket.  He unrolls the blanket and a body rolls into the hole.  A dull dusty thump echoes up from the darkness.

     Malcolm lifts a plywood plank off of a storage box.  Inside, a scorpion has found a new home.  He brushes the spider aside and hoists up a fifty pound sack of lime, pours the white dust into the sinkhole.  He wipes his hands on his pants and lights a cigarette.

     The sunlight here is so special.  It burns everything. 

     Malcolm pulls on a black tee shirt, the ghost of the word Hollywood on his chest, the silver sparkles long gone.

     Then he sees the boy, sitting higher up the canyon, on his haunches, a shape between mineral and vegetable, watching.  “William Ward.”

     The boy doesn't move.  Watching.

     “Come here, son.”

     The boy uncoils.  He was waiting to be noticed.

     “How long have you been here?”

     “All my life.”

     Malcolm chuckles.

     “Can I have a smoke?”

     Malcolm gives the boy a Camel, loans him his own smoke to get it lit.  One coal ignites another. 

     William Ward leans over the edge, looks down into the pit.  Below, the white ghost of a broken arm, what looks like doll parts, and that thick smell, the wrong kind of sweet -- heavy, choking the air.

     “How many you got down there?”

     “If you're asking how many, then you're doing the job wrong.  It ain't a numbers game.”

     William Ward nods, says nothing.  He's got the patience of a rock.

     Malcolm watches him closely.  "What about the other boys?"

     “They're pussies.”

     “Yeah .”

     William Ward rubs his eyes.  There is a lattice of angry looking white scars on the back of the boy’s hand, the residue of childhood monkey bites.  Malcolm puts his arm around the boy's shoulder.  One little push and he'd have another soul in the hole, a live one to cry up at the sky.  “You know what this is, William Ward?”

     “A hole.”

     “No.  It's a well of souls.  Don't you feel the power?”

     The boy stares into the abyss.  He wants so badly to understand.

     Malcolm sits down in the dirt.  “There's so much work to do.  And I'm so tired.”  He lies down.  The dirt doesn't matter.  “Do you understand?”

     “You're better than they are?”

     Malcolm laughs.  “Yeah, you could say that.  Yeah.  Yes.  Yes.  But why?”

     “Because you did that to them.  They didn't do it to you.”

     Malcolm stares up at the sky, thinking.  It's so blue up there, like there's no air.  It's easier to float if there's no air.

     “I could help you,” William Ward says, interrupting Malcolm’s daydream, the boy's voice against the sky.

     “This isn't about killing, son.  This is about bigger things.  Bigger and bigger things.  You don't know half of what this is about.”

     “Teach me, Uncle Malcolm.”

friday

11:19 AM

the FACE IN THE CLOUDS

     Back at her desk, everything in its proper place, Mary's fingers comfortably clacking the keyboard.  Her baby cholla cactus on the windowsill still looks healthy.  She wears her navy blue suit today, a statement.  Her first day back is the day to make a statement. 

     Her phone rings.

     "Hello, Mary," Rand says.

     Blank.  With possibilities. 

     "Hello."  Mary is thrown off her game.  What can he do to her?  Most likely nothing. 

     "I thought you would have called me before now," Rand tries.

     "No."

     "I'm a little hurt."

     "No, you're not.  Who told you I was back?"

     "I have ways of finding out."

     "I'm sure that you do."

     "This isn't going like I expected," he backpedals.  "I'd like to see you.  For lunch.  Just as a friend.  We can at least be friendly to each other, can't we?"

     "No.  We were never friends.  Look, I'm pretty busy right now."

     "And I'm not?" he whines back.

     "I'm sure you're very busy, so I won't keep you."  Mary hangs up.

     The sun feels good as Mary strolls back across the windy plaza, returning from her solitary lunch.  She walks past a bench where a woman in a gray suit, eyes closed, tilts her face up to the sun, trying to catch some color.

     Two men walk past Mary in a hurry, their silk ties blown back over their shoulders.

     Mary hurries toward the revolving glass doors that will admit her back into the glass tower, back into the kingdom of paper and words.  She doesn't mind the lunch hour ending, because she has something to go back to: a desk, a computer, a tape to transcribe, a deposition to depose.

     Mary feels Rand nearby, sulking.  ...what a fine ass, I'll buy her some flowers or a fruit basket, no, flowers and a fruit basket, overkill, fine, yes, I've done it before, I can get her back, god, what an ass...  Rand lurks somewhere behind her in the crowd of suits and ties.  She likes his vulnerability, enjoys the feeling of power as he follows behind her, as if sucked into her vacuum.  She feels the brush of his thoughts like a breeze at her back.  ...should I run into her accidentally-on-purpose before I get the presents? it's not like I'm going to fuck her right off the bat but brushing into her to say hello that can only help, can't it? no, better wait...

     Well now I've got a little power too, Mary thinks, don't question a gift, use it...but...I'm not feeling so great.  Fragile.  Queasy.  Need to get back to my desk, sit down -- don't panic --

     Mary doesn't want to talk to Rand.  Not again today.  It would only be a repetition, and who knows what reserves of manipulation he has, even in his fragile, reduced state?  She wants to get back to work, lost in the words, a vacation from the broadcasts of her brain.

     But where is the revolving glass door back into the tower?

     And why have the colors gotten dark?

     And why are those rainbow auras trailing the lawyers?

     And what are those wings beating in the sky, dark wings that cover the sun?

     Laughter echoes behind the tower; the concrete and glass looks as flimsy as cardboard, a stage set that the next breath could blow away.  Don't panic.

     There is no traffic on the street.

     Only laughter breathing into her ear.

     Where is the glass door?  Mary is lost; panic makes the blood burn hot inside of her skin.

     You thought you could get away.

     Hayward's voice.

     You thought that if you kept to safe places, public places, that even if you saw me then you could handle the situation.  I am not a situation.

     No, Mary answers.  What should I do? what should I say? where is he talking from? can he hear me? think, yes, of course...no privacy, he can hear everything, oh, god, no, everything? everything curling through my head?    

     That's right, Hayward laughs.  You can't keep any secrets from me.

     Mary tilts her head up, startled -- but not -- to see his face in the dark clouds that skirt the tops of the metal-and-glass buildings, Hayward hovering in the sky above her, it looks like his face, but can't you see anything in the clouds? anything you want? as long as you imagine hard enough? is it just my imagination?

     NO!  It scares you that I am this big.

     Yes.  What do you want me to say, Mary asks.  How do you do this trick?  How did you get to be up in the clouds?

     You won't know that until I teach you.  And I won't teach you until you love me.

     Mary’s neck hurts from craning.  She feels dizzy, a vertigo of strangeness, the sudden drunk darkness of Hayward above her.  Don't panic.

     Mary sits down on a concrete bench but she does not remember moving a single muscle.  She does not have to look up to know that Hayward is still there.

     You thought that you could just walk away?

     An orchestra is tuning up on the plaza.  The string section, violins sawing notes, a melody in the darkness under the cloud that is Hayward.

     A symphony.  Beethoven, she thinks.  Violent music, a storm of notes.  The Ninth?

     Hayward laughs in the clouds.  The Ninth, Mary.  Your taste is improving. 

     I've never really listened to Beethoven.

     You must have some time.  Some part of you remembers.

     She stares down at the sea of crushed shell concrete, the plaza that stretches out from her black pumps.  The concrete brightens with renewed sunshine.  A wind from the Pacific sends the clouds scuttling toward the desert.  Is Hayward the wind too?

     He does not answer.

     He's gone, Mary thinks.  Or is he hiding?  Listening?

     She looks up from her feet.  The revolving glass door is back in its usual place.  Mary can use the door to get back to the elevator, and return to her chair and her desk.  But now there is no peaceful place to sit in the building.  Is he gone or hovering?  Is he always hovering?

     Big music still fills the air, like sunlight.  No one else hears it.

     Mary turns her face up to the sky and closes her eyes, feels the relatively glad absence of scattered clouds.
7:51 PM

the mary tape

     Twilight is settling into night but Rand wears sunglasses, baseball cap pulled low, as he cruises the Sports Connection parking lot.  He almost hits a hefty blonde in leotards when she darts recklessly between parked cars.

     Then Rand spots Sheila's vanity plate: LITAG8R.  Her BMW's tail lights are an angry red.  He parks next to a fire hydrant and slumps down, and watches Sheila cross the parking lot with her gym bag.

     Buoyed by the clarity of his scheme and the reassuring sense of sequence, an order of events that has otherwise been desperately lacking this week, Rand hits the gas but his engine whines in mighty impotence.  Did the valets at lunch mess it up?  He fusses with the clutch and the transmission grinds into first gear.  The mission is a go.  The moment calls for music, something to calm him, maybe Barbra, but where are his tapes?  Where is anything?

     Rand parks around the corner from Sheila's condo.

     He feels the key in his hand, the duplicate he made before he messengered the original back to Sheila in return for his own key.  But she violated his trust by stealing The Mary Tape, his property -- all bets were off -- an eye for an eye, so to speak.  These thoughts calm him during the interminable and untenable walk down the landscaped sidewalk to the door he wished he had never entered.  He vows never to have sex with another lawyer -- other than himself, of course.

     The key is moist from his sweaty palm when he tries to insert it into the lock.  Standing inside her condo darkness, Rand’s head throbs so painfully that he worries about dying here, absurdly, but what about the drudgery of years of fitness?  All the hours at the health club -- the hours billed to his body -- or billed against his body -- billed somewhere. 

     He digs in his pocket, finds the Maglite he bought at Sharper Image today just for this caper.  The flashlight beam sends streaks across his retina, ghostly comets, and Rand gets down on all fours in front of her TV cabinet, holding the Maglite between his teeth, tasting the aluminum as he roots through Sheila's collection of DVDS: Buns of Steel, The Sound of Music, Ghost.  The DVDs scatter as Rand searches through them.  He tries to put them back but there seem to be too many now.  He shuffles things around, but now Forrest Gump is upside down.  It's hopeless.

     He abandons the mess and looks around the room, scanning the bookcase for his missing tape, his head tilted sideways, dizzy from the heartbeat lurch of gravity. 

     Under the sink, with the garbage.  A voice of reason that must be his own voice.

     And in a trance, feeling sort of stoned, Rand falls to his knees again, this time on the clean scoured linoleum of Sheila's kitchen floor, and there, under the sink, tucked behind the Comet and the 409, is The Mary Tape.

     Rand picks it up.  He can almost feel the images inside DV cassette.  He wants to be back in his bedroom alone again with all those prurient pixels.  His little flashlight carves a path for his Reeboks back across the black-and-white checkerboard linoleum.

     Then Rand feels the bulge in his pocket and remembers the master plan: he's brought along his DV cam: better to take a second to check it out than get home with the wrong tape and have to endure the stress of another break-in.  His fingers fumble the tape into it's slot, and then: there on the little flip-out LCD screen is Mary, entwined with him.

     By rote Rand reaches for his groin.

     A key rattles -- the front door opens -- lights flare on.

     Sheila.

     Adrenaline heats his blood.  He fumbles with the DV cam, but he can’t find the right button to stop Mary's tinny playback moans. 

     Sheila stands in the doorway, flush from exercise and anger.  "You son of a bitch!  I'm calling the police!"

     "You gave me the key."

     "You were supposed to give it back.  This is breaking and entering!"

     With a sickly whir, the camera spits out The Mary Tape.  As he pulls the tape free of the tiny metal jaw, Sheila pounces upon him, trying to strip him of his prize.

     He breaks free and stumbles out the door, swatting at her clawing hands, her fingers frightful talons now.

     "You give that back to me!  Give it back!"  She jumps on his back again, her fingernails deep in his neck.

     Rand finally heaves her loose and she goes flying into a bed of pink zinnias, yowling a garbled mantra of "sue you sue you sue you..."  He feels a hot flush on his cheek, wet with what must be his own blood, but he didn't mean to hurt her, even if she hurt him first.  There is something about seeing Sheila in pain -- if their pain could be the same -- if they could share that.  He offers a hand to help her up, but she claws at his hand that holds the tape -- the hurt she inflicts heals him of any doubt -- he jerks free and runs, clutching The Mary Tape.

     A wail behind him, his name dying in the dark wind.

     And where is his car?  Nearby, parked to the left? 

     But left doesn't work.

     He wanders to the end of the block, and then turns around.

     Right succeeds.

     His Lexus waits for him like a loyal friend.

     In the mirror, his face looks damaged and disorganized. 

     Will Sheila press charges?  And what will those charges be? 

     Rand drives slowly away, comforted by the deliberate, rolling motion of the car, comforted by the tape in hand and its promise of repeated relived revels.  He has the tape, he has the rest of the night to dress his wounds and decide how to explain the bandage at the office.  An accident on the squash court.  His life will all fall back into place now that he has re-acquired The Mary Tape.

10:20 PM

lava lamp

     Mary's door is locked, her windows closed: safe inside until morning.  It feels strange to be back in her apartment, as if she's another person visiting someone she used to know quite well.  Before Camarillo she was proud of how she had fixed up the studio apartment, redeemed its tackiness -- throw rugs to hide the avocado green carpet, a white pine bed and dresser from Ikea, a dining table she'd picked up at a garage sale and re-stained herself, an aqua-colored lava lamp for her night stand.

     There is plenty of time to contemplate the two hundred and eighty square feet of her private life.  It seems real, all these things that she brought into this empty room by choice, by natural selection.  But the other part...did I really see a face in the clouds?  The bad things, did I dream them or did they happen?

     The TV is her companion, another voice, but when the eleven o'clock news comes on, she switches channels to a re-run of Cheers, because the news could tell her something that she is afraid to hear. 

     Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens,

     the name of the bar is heaven...

     She remembers that song, likes it, it applies to "Cheers," something comforting about nothing ever changing, like life on a sit com, or like life in this room, unchanged between visits, but what if I move the lava lamp, say, six inches to the left, move it just a little, is my life different then?  But -- but -- but what is left of me, the part that connects, say, 6:30 and 11:32, the part that connects the big hand to the little hand?

     Finally, Mary is so tired from fretting that sleep comes unannounced, with the lamp still on.  It's so hard to move that it almost hurts to shrug out of her blouse, her bra, her jeans, spongy steps over to the closet for her pajama top, lights off, settled under the blanket, but now after dressing for bed, it's so hard to get back to sleep.  Why?

     Because real sleep happens in the dark, where anything can happen.

     Mary's cottage cheese ceiling sparkles like a star field in the wash of lights from passing cars.  Outside the window she sees a searchlight hovering in the sky, hears the helicopter's blades beating in the air, and closing her eyes she hears the beating of her heart and breathing in her ears.

     You thought you could get away.

     She opens her eyes.  Hayward's face glows like a waning moon, his fingers pale white wands, cloaked in black, from his Angels baseball cap to his Nikes.

     How did he get in, she wonders.

     Easy.

     "Why me?"

     Why not?

     She sees that the window is open a crack -- so that's how he got in -- if he really is here.

     Fuck, we're not back to that, are we?

     He rips off the bedclothes.  She's only got her pajama top on.  She feels exposed.  There is nothing else between her and him, his words poised to violate her.

     "Why me?"

     The eternal question.

     "But why?"

     Because.  Showmanship.

     "I didn't ask you for anything.  I just want to be left alone."

     You know too much.

     "I don't know anything."

     And you've got a taste for the kill.  You enjoy the glow of meat.  Nothing can eat you now.  Except me.

     He grabs her wrist and yanks her, hard, out of bed, to tremble on her feet.

     She feels his lips upon her, a dry cold kiss.  She feels him frisking in her head, like a cat, his fur whisking through the inside of her skull.  The darkness in her head mixes with the darkness in her room, the boundary confused, streaked with sparkles, the cat chasing its tail.  Her back arches, as if from electro-shock, convulsing with the itch of pleasure she does not want to feel, not from him, not with him.  But there is no part of herself that she can separate from him.  What's left of me?

     Leftovers, he laughs.

     His fingers dig in, red marks on her arms, glowing, as if his fingerprints are being etched into her flesh, fingerprints everywhere, stains, colonies of sickly colors, a virus on her aura.

     God, not the colors again -- but the colors feel so good...

     There is blindness in the sparkling and the tingle of a hundred secret fingers.  Exciting.  Terrifying.  Sex.  The best.

     Why not?
11:22 PM

mercury

     Between blinks.

     The shadow behind the stars on her ceiling.

     The shadow of a plane crossing the sky.

     The shadow of a cloud in her eye.

     Her next sensation is motion.  Scenery rolls past.  She feels the pull of blood against the back of her brain.

     The stoplights are all green.

     Mary sits as far away from Hayward as she can, up against the passenger door of an ancient car.  She sees the word Mercury written in flowing chrome script on the dash.  He looks small to her; he has trouble reaching the gas pedal, even with the front seat scooted up close to the dash. 

     If you don't think that people aren't elastic, then think again.

     The double negative confuses Mary -- “don’t think” “aren’t elastic” she repeats to herself and reverses the meaning -- think elastic -- as if multiplying two negative numbers to arrive at a positive sum -- whatever Hayward just said about being elastic -- said -- or thought -- told her somehow -- it must mean something -- must.  She presses her lips tightly together and tries to take the deep breaths that Dr. Glass told her were calming, tries to stay inside of herself and not succumb to this small man.

     As Mary thinks the word small, she feels a jolt of pain that pulses from the inside of her ears and down through her sinuses, a hot pain that she cannot scratch or squeeze or scream away.

     He turns to look at her, his pupils dark and fierce, a labyrinth of wrinkles leading out from the corners of his eyes.

     There is no traffic.  The car creaks and sways like a freight train.  She does not recognize a single street.  The word small drifts past like a street sign she cannot read, but she is afraid of more pain from thinking the wrong word about Hayward.  She touches the crumbly green car upholstery and decides that this ride definitely is not a dream. 

     Hayward laughs silently, a sick cackle that does not disturb the air waves.

     Which is not a relief -- better a nightmare she can wake up from and instead be back in her bed.  Why does he torment me, why did he pick my life?

     You flatter yourself.  And why shouldn't you?  I've paid you too much attention, my brat.  Blame me for your troubles.

     "Yes."

     That's what I mean.  That kind of ignorant answer.  You just don't know.

     She can't follow the logic of the conversation.  Or is there no logic at all and is he inducing yet another kind of hurt by making her think that she is missing something that was never there at all?  She fights between the idea of logic versus no logic and the ideas take on the shape of the metal and neon signs that slowly streak past, and just as she gets close to recognizing and nailing her idea down, it is gone, like the billboards she just read, but now doubts: is there really a theme park called Dizzy Land?

     She looks down at the interlacings of her worried fingers on her lap, nestled in the comforting mint green flannel of her pajama top.  Looking up, she sees Hayward staring at her, his left hand on the steering wheel, his right hand reaching forward to caress her left cheek with a cold index finger.

     Shut up, Mary.  Stop worrying.  It's boring, and if you do it anymore I'll just drive us into a fucking tree and be done with you.  Because I can walk out of my body and go wherever I want, but you'll just be a heap of bones and blood, understand?

     Afraid, she thinks about jumping out of the car, but she's just not sure if her body will obey her command to move, shadowed by the fearful certainty that Hayward hears everything she thinks to herself.

     But he doesn't respond in any way.  He doesn't even smile, even though she knows -- knows -- that he is enjoying this frozen moment, recklessly hurtling through space in the old Mercury.

     The stoplights are all green.

saturday

12:13 AM

the dead weight after

     Mary topples out of the car, her dizzy footfalls in the night, following the dark shape of Him.  The air smells like salt but she can't see the sea.  Waves crash somewhere in the darkness.  Ozone thickens the air.  Fog haloes the streetlights, which seem so far away from this alley. 

     Hayward stalks ahead without looking back, expecting her to follow.  She doesn't want to be with him, but she doesn't want to be left behind.  Because -- because why? punishment? or is there some kind of fun I don't want to be blamed for?  Because he made me come here.  Hayward made me.

     Hayward made me wayward, he taunts.

     Dreamy footsteps in a dark alley -- how did I get here? -- she sees the back of a house, yellow panes of light glowing in the fog.  And behind each window what kind of life? that's a kind of guessing game I could walk into...

     Looking around she finds herself alone in the fog, caught between the high black fences that border both sides of the alley.  She remembers to be afraid.  It's not my idea to be here I told him told him that I don't want to be here...

     An open back gate is waiting for her.  She walks between a garage and a fence.  No voice tells her to.  She sees Hayward outside a backdoor, his back to her, busy with some tool.

     I'm your backdoor man, lemme be your backdoor man, you say good-bye and I say hello, I don't know why you say good-bye I say hello.    

     She sees him smile so sweetly, his lips not evil just this moment.  She wants to touch his soft beard.  Is it really us in the fog?  If it's only me, then his smile is for me. 

     She feels his hands on her shoulders, the beginning of an embrace, then a jolt of light from above, a motion sensor light, and he pushes her roughly into the closed door, spins her to face the window pane in the door, and she sees the ghost of her face reflected back -- why -- and inside the house socks and slacks, a man approaching -- I shouldn't be trespassing here -- Rand -- why am I at his backdoor? 

     Rand looks puzzled and pleased.  She looks toward Hayward, who smiles, leaning against the side of the house like he is holding it up, hidden from Rand's view.  Rand smiles big at her now, a flesh-colored Band-Aid on his cheek, his fingers dancing on the wall inside the door, shutting down the alarm system before he opens the door.

     "Mary."

     "Hi," she says weakly.

     "So you came."

     And if she's here, it's okay to kiss her, I don't have to wait anymore for anything, she hears him.  Rand’s hands are on her shoulders, feebler than Hayward's, red wine on his breath, but she doesn't feel anything except skin, is that all kissing is, skin?

     "You came.  You really came."  His hands touch her clothes, strokes the cloth that covers all the personal, private places that are so important to him.  He kisses her again, quickly, greedily, then pulls her by the hand.  Really her, not just the tape, the real her again, I can make a new tape, I can have everything again, she hears.

     As he pulls her over the threshold, she looks back. 

What is He thinking, what is Hayward thinking?

     Well why are you so worried about me?

     In Rand's bedroom, she wonders about the serious gap that got her here.  When did the door close?  Did He come inside after?  Did I really walk up the stairs without remembering? 

     His bedroom looks the same as Mary remembers and it looks smaller.  His quilted comforter lies crumpled on the bed.  An empty wine bottle sits on top of the TV, its label stained with red dribbles.  His hands fumble with the buttons of her pajama top, clammy fingers, awkward at their work, desperate.  Did I really come here only in my pajama top?  Mary hears the flannel tear and then she feels cool air on her skin.

     "You came back, you really came back to me."

     He wants something from me, he wants me to agree.

     "Why?" Rand asks, his fingers busy now with his own shirt.

     "Why?"

     "I want to know why."

     "You never wanted to know why before."  Something means nothing means something...

     "I hoped for this but I never thought it would happen.  But it is happening."

     "What's happening?"

     "You're here."

     "It wasn't my choice."

     Rand smiles, hopping on one foot, his pants in a tangle.  Then he is naked except for his clock-patterned Armani socks.  You couldn't help yourself, you couldn't keep away from me, Mary, too long between fucks, you need me worse than I need you, you came here, so I can do anything to you, everything I did before, and more, tonight, all night, forever...  "I made a tape of us, before.”  ...fucking, all different kinds of fucking....

     "I know."  Was he always like this -- little, pathetic?

     Rand presses against her, tanned, moist, hasty to have her, panicky that she might still slip away.  She feels him against her.  Is that all, just skin, hair, two slightly different bodies, one part slips inside the other, what's the big deal about that, why does that little slippage mean so much to him? 

     He breaks loose to fiddle with some kind of machine, a blinking red light in the darkness against the wall, then he pulls her to the floor. 

     I don't have to feel a thing I don't want to feel, but she cranes her neck to look back toward the doorway.  Did Hayward really put me here, to feel nothing except all that skin and hair on top of me?

     "You're mine, aren't you mine?"

     You’re so ridiculous, she laughs.

     "Does that tickle?"

     Something means nothing means something...

     "Say you're mine."  All mine, I can be back on top again, of everything, not just her, things aren't as wrong as they feel, Mary used to do more than cooperate...

     "Say you're mine."

     "What?"

     "Mine."

     "What do you mean ‘mine’?"

     "Just say it.  Say it!  And move your ass, the way you used to."  Doesn't matter, this is just the beginning and fuck it if she doesn't want to talk, who needs to talk...

     Hot stuff, Hayward says upside down from the doorway.  Feeling hot and bothered again? 

     The black and white room blisters into something else.  Color.  Bigger feelings. 

     She feels a blush of embarrassment, compromised on the floor, rocked by Rand's motions, her hands on his back for lack on any better place to put them, her fingers feeling faint webs of red.  Rand's a creature of color, brightening with his own excitement, his eyes closed, faster now, am I just an excuse for friction, does he even feel the real me?

     She's mine, this is her again, here again, her again...

     Look what you're letting that boy do.  You're too easy, Mary.

     "You put me here," she protests.

     I didn't put you on the floor with him.

     The color of Rand's skin stirring under her fingers stirs something else, something that she wants. 

     Feeling something again?  Desire? Hayward asks.

     "You brought me here."

     "What?" Rand asks in a thick voice, anything that'll help, anything to make this the best fuck ever...

     "I didn't want to come," she tells Hayward.

     Didn't want to come?

     "Are you coming?" Rand asks breathlessly.  "I'm coming...are you coming?"

     A sad, sticky business, wouldn't you say?  We can do better than that, can't we, Mary?

     Rand is charcoal red now, worth a squeeze.  Doesn't Rand see how better it can be? 

     Hayward is with her now, another gap, how did He get on the floor?

     "What?" Rand asks, interrupted by the new pair of hands.  "Wait, who are you?"

     I came with her.

     "Hey..."  So close to coming, yes, Mary now this can't stop but who's the man? can't stop but it hurts wrong hurts...

     And now she feels stronger hands on her back, Hayward's hands pushing, Rand's eyes big and slow and surprised, Hayward looming over them.

     "Who are you?" Rand asks, a scared voice in the night.

     And now she feels herself squeezing, it's only sex isn't it, but it feels so good now...

     "No..." Rand says.

     No, she protests.

     Do you really mean no? Hayward asks.

     "No..."

     No...

     You don't really want to stop not really.

     No...

     "...no..." Rand says, lost, gone.

     Oh...

     The hole in the sky, M, dig that hole.

     Yeah...oh...

     Mary feels the extreme glorious color and sizzle and is that a smoke mark on the ceiling?

     And the dead weight after, on top of her like a beached whale, Rand's sweat chilling her arm, her fingers, drying to a sticky brine.  And Hayward.  Hayward?

     "Hayward?"

     She tries heaving Rand aside, he was always heavy after he had what he wanted, but not this heavy.  She feels the itch of carpet digging into her leg.  When the heave doesn't work, she tries crawling, scuttling like a crab squeezing out from under a rock.  Maybe he's just sleeping.  Maybe please.  Please.

     "Hayward?"

     Rand is lying all wrong, not curled, his head facing the wrong way.

     "He brought me here," she says, but Rand isn't listening.  Can't listen, his ears are done with that.

     She closes her eyes, to rest in the quiet behind her eyelids, back in another gap, and when I open my eyes it will be my sparkling ceiling, I’ll be back in my own room when I open my eyes again.

     Please.

2:54 AM

TUNED TO A DEAD CHANNEL

     Thick sheets on fog blow in from the ocean.  Reese drives with the windows down, the wet air waking him up.  His car has a suction-mounted flashing light but no siren, so he leans on the horn at the intersections as he speeds down Lincoln Boulevard.  The stoplights are all red, glowing in the fog, appearing suddenly in the milky darkness.

     Reese gets out of the car and breathes in the cold salt air.  He shows his badge to a rookie patrolman guarding the perimeter.

     Vanderhorn waits on the front porch with another patrolman.  "The alarm was tripped at 2:07.  Big Stick's man found the front door open.  I've got him out in my car."

     "Are Forensics here yet?"

     "Not yet.  I've got a patrolman posted at the backdoor and another one baby-sitting the suspect upstairs."

     Across the threshold Reese smells no salt in the air, but rather the dead calm of central air.  A beige house, the living room a narrow medley of browns.

     "Whose house?"

     "A Mr. Rand Foley."

     Vanderhorn leads the way up the carpeted stairs, fussy brass bars holding the runner firm against each step.  As they climb Reese hears the crackle of white noise.

Upstairs they walk toward a room spastic with flickering blue light.  A patrolman stands guard inside the door.  A woman sits on the bed, looking lost inside of a big white terry cloth bathrobe. 

     The patrolman nods and leaves. 

     The woman stares at the television, tuned to a dead channel.  Its blue light plays over a man's body, naked, his neck and limbs splayed at wrong angles.  The blood looks black in this blue light.

     "The Big Stick man found them both on the floor -- he thought they were both dead.  She was still on the floor when I got here.  I put the robe on her.”

     Reese can see her face now, a face so far out of context that he can't remember her name at first. 

     Mary.

     Mary Delany has sprung back to life, back into his life.  "Mary?"

     She opens her eyes.

     Vanderhorn is startled.  "You know her?"

     "I met her once, at Traum, Pittman," Reese explains.

     "No shit.  Small world."

     "Are you all right?" Reese asks her.

     She nods quietly and stares at the shape on the rug: the nose, the fingers, the flat plane of the stomach are all Rand's.  But if there is no aura left, does the husk stop being Rand?

     "Are you all right?"

     She looks at him directly, deeply.  "No.  Things have been so wrong since then."

     "Since when?"

     "Then.  That day.  We met."  She can feel herself breathing, the pull of breath, her body making herself breathe, without even trying, but now that she remembers breathing, she has to work at it, what a job, to spend her whole life working at breathing.

     "She didn't tell me her last name," Vanderhorn says.

     "Delany, right?  Mary Delany."

     She nods yes.

     "I read her her rights.  Didn't I read you your rights, Mary?"

     She nods her head faintly yes again.

     "I didn't find her purse."

     "Where's your purse, Mary?"

     "He didn't let me bring it."

     "How well do you know her?" Vanderhorn asks him.

     "I told you we just met once.  Twice, actually."

     "Twice.  Christ."

     She counts her breaths and feels how the dried blood sticks to her hand.

     Reese nods for Vanderhorn to leave.  Vanderhorn looks doubtful.  Reese holds his finger up -- One minute alone, please.  Vanderhorn shrugs and steps out of the door. 

     Mary feels the room changing as her breathing slows down.  The man is breathing harder than she is.

     "Do you remember me?"

     "I remember you.  You bought me a cup of hot chocolate."

     Reese doesn't know what to say.  He wants to tell her that he still likes her, but he feels caught, motionless, becalmed, compromised.  How can Reese hold the shell of a romance that almost but never quite happened against the hard fact of her presence at this murder scene?   

“What will happen to me?"  She looks up at him for an answer.

     Does she remember that I visited her in Camarillo, Reese wonders. 

     She feels her cheeks flush from the television's staticky blue light.  "I can see auras."

     "Now?" he whispers.  Is Vanderhorn just outside the door?  I have to be above this, this thing, this.    

     "Sometimes.  Recently.  Not just this second.  You have a good one.  You can read about these things, they're in books about the human spirit."  She pauses; she can hear Reese waiting.  She doesn't have to explain what an aura is.  He knows, must know, not afraid of me per se but afraid of his feelings for me, whatever is left of me now.

     "I want to help you."

     "I know."

     "And I want you to help me, with what you know."

     "I know more about you than you think.  I've seen every color aura -- more than I ever wanted to see.  Sometimes I’m awake even when I dream, and it's one long flow of seeing through everything, hour after hour, whether I want to or not.  It's not just something you can shut off, like a coffee machine.  I know that you've had these kind of thoughts, unusual thoughts, things that no one will say, unless they're someone like me.  I didn't want to.  I really didn't want to.  I want you to believe that, even if you're the only one...who does..."  She stops.

     Reese waits, afraid of saying the wrong words to her, of hearing the wrong words from her.  But I'm not here for her, I'm here to do my job, she's the job now, she's the goddamned job now.  "Just tell me what happened."

     She feels herself breathing, no longer working at it, her breath happening on its own, just a machine she's riding.  Simple sentences, stay true to the simple sentences.  "He brought me here and that's how it happened, but I'm leaving out the gaps."

     "Who is 'he'?"

     "Him"

     "Who?"

     Mary sits very still.  She doesn’t dare answer.  She sees that Reese sees that she doesn’t dare answer.

     "What gaps?  Tell me about the gaps."

     "The space between here and there, like I'm at the backdoor and then I'm up here without remembering the stairs.”  How can she explain what's missing, what Hayward has covered with convenient amnesia?  She sees Rand staring at her from the floor.  Rand had aspirations and vulnerability and he might have changed into something shining, given time and the right mix of air and incident, but his face is a mask now, his lips almost a smile, almost a smile forever -- smiling dead -- Hayward's joke.  "Oh, God, no..."

     "I know it's hard, but try and tell me step by step all that you remember."

     A harsh white light glows to life in the fog outside the window.  Reese hears muffled footsteps and Vanderhorn steps back into the bedroom, poker-faced, practiced eyes reading body language, Mary's and Reese's.  "It's getting busy out there.  The news goons are here."

     "I know, I see the lights.  Do you feel well enough to stand up, Mary?"

     She nods yes and stands, the sash of the robe falling loose, revealing her nakedness.  She feels as if she's underwater, like a statue, unconcerned.  Embarrassed, Reese fumbles with the sash, tightening it for her, pulling the bathrobe's lapels close together.  "Where are her clothes?"

     "No clothes.  She was wearing a blood-soaked man’s pajama top."  Vanderhorn glances at his watch, looks unhappy.  "We need to get Forensics up here.  We need pictures." 

     Reese nods, distracted.  I could lose everything here.

     "The time line is getting funky.  Right?  Right, Reese?"

     I'm a professional, must be a professional, must.  "Okay, Van, send 'em up."

     Vanderhorn goes back downstairs.

     Reese and Mary are alone again, but there are loud voices in the yard, radio squawks.  Soon they will swarm into the room.

     "You don't have to be ashamed of what you're feeling," she says.  "I know that you have to act differently when we aren't alone.  You don't have to prove your kindness, not to me."

     How does she know what I'm thinking?  Because I'm transparent? because I'm obvious? because I'm fucking up?

     "I can't read your mind, not like you think, not like a map or something.  It just happens." 

     A chill creeps up his forearms. 

     "I just hear things.  It wasn't my fault it got out of control.  It wasn't me, not really, not the fucking part.  That was Rand's idea, fucking.  I guess I sound pretty crude but it wasn't making love, it's just not right to say ‘making love.’  I guess I could say sex instead, having sex, but do you really 'have sex?'  What do you have about it?"

     Reese is getting lost -- her words give him so much to think about -- personal things -- so much to decide, in so little time.  "So you knew the deceased?"

     She looks blank.

     "The deceased," he nods at the body.  "Rand Foley."

     "Oh.  I thought you said did I know the diseased."

     "Well, did you?"

     "Yes."

     Sweat trickles down Reese's brow but he endures the salty tickle, declines, out of discipline, to touch his face.  The hard part: no more circling, no more dancing, time for the direct, clear question.  "Did," his voice cracks, then arrives at its proper timbre, "did you kill Rand Foley?"

     "By fucking."  She feels guilty, not explaining about Hayward, but it would just be too dangerous to say his name out loud here in this room.  He seems so easily summoned, by saying his name, or just thinking his name, as if he were a dark genie.

     Reese feels dizzy.  He likes her.  He wants her to like him.  One day, a very long week ago, it might have been -- was -- love at first sight, from his side at least -- or just infatuation -- but now it looks bad for her, for that dead fantasy of romance.  And it isn't like they are lovers -- they haven't even kissed -- a cup of hot chocolate, that was the extent of their aborted romance.

     Mary attempts a hopeful smile.  "That day we met, I thought a lot about you, but we weren't lucky, not with each other, not that way.”

     Again, that chill as she picks up, repeats out loud what he is thinking, what he wants to hear.

     She is beautiful, in a vital way, more than the sum of her flesh, the sum of her parts.  But what about...manipulation, the wrong side of coincidence?  What's happening in this room is too complicated, it draws too many things together, it draws too much from the other side, inside side of his life.

     Reese hears Vanderhorn's footsteps back up the stairs, and other shoes behind, a gang of feet about to invade the room.  Mary looks expectantly toward Reese, quiet, in seemingly perfect empathy with his anxiety. 

Vanderhorn comes back in.  The short curtain comes down on their brief privacy.

     "I'm going to handcuff you now, Mary.  I'm sorry-"  The beginning of an apology further alerts Vanderhorn, but Reese blows past the misstep as if it is a hiccup.  "I'd like you to please put your hands behind your back."

     Mary does as she is told.  Reese disappears from her sight, but she feels his hand encircling her wrist, followed by the snap of metal.  He holds her other hand, and they interlace their fingers, squeezing tight, the rendezvous of digits hidden from Vanderhorn, their secret touch a brief, graceful communion, the softest touch imaginable, felt through the thin membrane of a surgical latex glove that protects Reese from the potential plague of bad blood.

     And on that brief touch the bedroom fills with cops: scrawny, beefy, black, white, with radios, with cameras, with bad breath, the room like a demented after hours party now, the guest of honor dead, the maid of honor in handcuffs.

     Standing near Mary, Reese feels awkward and useless.  He's never felt this useless before, not at a crime scene.

     "Hey, Reese, check this out," Vanderhorn calls from the master bathroom.

      Reese turns away from Mary, trying to distance himself from the warm bloodstream confusion she causes.  He threads his way across the crowded room, away from Mary, feeling hung-over, his mind fuzzy, lost on an idea that won't come into focus, feeling, well, just wrong.  Inside the bathroom, above the Carrera marble countertop and the stainless steel Chicago faucet, on the mirror, written in moist blood:

                    HOLE IN THE SKY

7:41 AM

the closest thing to drowning

     Reese is supposed to meet his partner McGee at the lock-up ward at nine A.M.  He arrives at eight and walks down the long green Lysol-scented corridor to Mary's room; the guard waves him through.

     She is curled up in her bed, a white-gowned phantom with sleep-twisted hair.  Reese sits down in the only chair.  He wants a moment just to look at her.

     "Mary," he says softly, just to hear her name in the air.

     "Mary," he repeats, as an endearment.

     "Mary," as he might whisper to her in the morning, with her head tucked against his shoulder.

     Her eyes shine to life and she smiles at him.

     He smiles back, pained to see her this way.  "Hi, Mary. It's Detective Reese.  Remember me?"

     "Of course."

     "How are you feeling?"

     "Okay."

     "I got here early to talk to you alone.  You're a suspect in Rand Foley's murder.  But...there are a lot of buts."  What to say?  There's so much to say.  "I got hold of your sister.  She and her husband were down in Rancho Mirage.  They're driving back."

     "So I ruined their weekend."

     "Do you want me to try and get you back into Camarillo?"

     "No!  He can get me there."

     "He?  Who?"

     Mary is afraid to say his name, as if that will summon him out of the air -- after all, hospitals are his favorite habitat.

     "Do you remember anything more about last night?"  He can see that she wants to say something but she doesn't speak.  "Is there anything else you can tell me?"

     "If he wants me dead, then I'm dead.  He's taken a lot of interest in me.  I haven't been able to dissuade him."

     "Who?"

     "Hayward."  There, I've said it.

     "Tell me about Hayward.  Please."

     "He'll kill me."

     "We'll protect you."

     "Not from him."  She reaches and takes hold of his hand.  He gratefully squeezes her fingers. 

     "Don't worry.  You're not going anywhere that's not safe."

     "No.  No place is safe.  But Camarillo's the worst place of all."

     He plays with her fingers and waits.

     "He's made all the bad things happen."

     "Was Hayward at Rand Foley's house last night?"

     "Yes, he took me there."

     Because she is staring at the wall she doesn't see his astonishment.  And she also doesn't see him try to hide his astonishment.  "Hayward took you there?  Hayward knew Rand Foley?"

     "He knows everything."

     "Did Hayward kill Rand Foley?"

     She thinks of an answer, an honest answer that works.  "He makes it all happen.  They sneak out of the hospital, through the hole in the fence."

     "They?  Were there others there last night?"

     "No, but they came along the other times."

     He feels the chill on his arms.  She's saying what he wants to hear, but he doesn't want to hear her say it.  Not her.  "What other times?"

     "I don't know.  Other times, other nights.  It seemed real and then it didn't.  Two other nights, maybe."

     “Tell me about those two other nights.”

     "It's hard to describe."

     "Try.  Please."

     She blushes, a crimson glow on her pale cheeks.  "It was sexual, and, and I'm embarrassed."

     "Did he ever say anything about a hole in the sky?"

     She looks at Reese, locks onto his eyes, very afraid of dreams that might be more than dreams, that might be real, what passes for real.  "Yes."

     He waits for more.

     "He's here," she says softly.

     "Who?  Hayward?"

     "No."  She nods behind her, back toward the door.  Reese looks up and sees McGee staring irritably through the wire-mesh door window.  She must have sensitive ears, Reese speculates, as he tries to delicately remove his hand from hers.  But she resists.

     "Get here early, Reese?" McGee asks as he steps inside.

     "A few minutes ago.  Traffic was light."

     Reese uses his left hand to gain his right hand's freedom.

     "I see you brought your bedside manners."

     "Whatever," Reese says, his tone not as blank as he would like.

     "Good morning, Miss Delany.  Sergeant McGee, at your service."

     McGee waits.

     Reese waits.

     Mary is there for the duration.

     "Wait outside, McGee."

     McGee frowns and leaves.  They are not quite alone anymore, but at least McGee isn't standing inside with them.

     Reese studies his shoes.  Mary waits, breathing softly.  Their contact is silent, waiting together in the gray-green gloom of the hospital room.  For the moment, they both have all the time in the world.

     "So..."

     "What else can you tell me?"

     "He can do anything.  He has."

     "What does Hayward look like?"

     "Try not to say his name, please."

     "What does he look like?"

     "Like death."

     "Dark hair?  Light hair?  Specifics?"  Mary looks distracted now, calculating.  She's not good at hiding things; that's something to believe in.  "Anything else that you can tell me?"

     "You're right, it looks bad.  He's a perfect paranoiac projection, a transference mechanism.  That's the lingo -- I fit the lingo." 

     Mind reading again? Reese wonders.  Mary just smiles back, as if that is enough of an answer.

     She looks too fatigued to continue and he wants to touch her forehead, or her hand, extend himself in a gesture, but with McGee outside there is no privacy for such touchy-feely folly.  Or is McGee just the most immediate in a long line of excuses?

     "I'm tired but I'm afraid to sleep," Mary says.

     "Don't be afraid.  I'm here.  And when they release you later this morning, you'll have round-the-clock protection."  And you'll be under surveillance, he doesn't say, silenced by guilt.  Maybe she really doesn't know.

     "I'm afraid to sleep because I'm afraid of my dreams."

     He looks at her.  He doesn't know what to say.  That he likes her, really likes her, maybe loves her?  That he hopes, really hopes, that she didn't murder Rand Foley?

     Mary smiles at him, and he smiles back.  Maybe he is finally with a woman he doesn't have to say everything to, or anything, a simple love who is not simple-minded.

     "I don't want you to see me like this.  I'd like you to see me on a good day, in a good place.  Somewhere in the sun.  Somewhere smiling." 

     She conks out. 

     Reese stands up.  He watches her sleep, wanting to touch her hair, to brush it back in place.  But he just stands very still, until his heels hurt.  He doesn't know how long he stands there.  He doesn't want to look at his watch to put brackets around the moment.  Mary sighs in her sleep and Reese finally leaves, to face McGee and the hallway and the world of murders, wherever they lead, outward from Mary's bed.

     Later, waiting in the hallway, Reese needs lunch, or breakfast, he feels like shit, it's been a hard day's night.  Chet, the sketch artist with a scraggly Van Dyke beard and charcoal-stained fingers, comes out of Mary's room, toting his sketch pad and kit box, shaking his head.  "I didn't get anything usable."

     "Show me anyway."

     Chet flips open his pad.  Reese sees a huge pair of wasted eyes under a baseball cap, a void of charcoal and erasure, a smear of a face.  "Is that a beard?"

     "Who knows."

     "Did she say it was a beard?"

     "She said it was a beard sometimes."

     "A beard that he shaved off?"

     "You're being rational."

     "So?"

     "So rationality doesn't strictly apply."

     Reese is angry but he doesn't know what to do with it.  Chet's not the one to be angry with.

     "I can only draw what they tell me."    

"I know.  Thanks, anyway."  Reese turns to look through the wire-mesh glass and sees Mary's back, curled away from the window, sleeping, presumably sleeping.

     Later, Mary is patient enough to watch her cup of Lipton's tea cool, degree by degree. 

     McGee sits opposite her with a big notebook of photographs, Camarillo faces.  He drove one hundred and twenty-seven miles round-trip this morning just to make this little show-and-tell possible. 

     Reese leans against the wall, watching Mary's face, his arms folded, outwardly a model of professional detachment.  He studies her reactions, measuring her beauty against his doubts.  Is she Rand's killer?  Is there really a Hayward?  If she acted, did she act alone?

     Mary hears his doubts as she looks at a black and white photograph of a woman's face, careworn, no make-up, no hope.  "No."

     McGee flips the page.

     Another woman's face, darker hair, a little crescent scar near the corner of her mouth.  A different face, but with the same hopeless eyes.  "No."

     McGee flips the page.  It irritates him that she takes so long looking at each picture.

     For Mary each face is a landscape of pain, but never Hayward's face.  "No."

     McGee flips the page.  Fuckin’ waste of time...unless I put my hand on her leg and let it slide right up the glory trail...would she even notice? would she know to say no? 

     "No.  Wait.  That's Olivia."

     "We're looking for Hayward," McGee says.

     "Olivia's part of it." 

     "Part of what?"

     "Hold it, Mac."  Reese uncrosses his arms and takes the photograph from McGee.

     "Olivia Spears," he reads from the label pasted on the back.

     "Yes."

     "Who is she?"    

      "One of them.  She and Michelle and Danny.  They all sneak out through the hole in the fence."  She feels herself doubting what she says, even as she works at making every word that she speaks true, fearing that Hayward has warped all her words, like iron filings skewed by a hidden magnet.

     Reese can see that Mary is trying, but her story is stretching thin, as hard to pin down as a blob of mercury.  "Let's keep looking."

     McGee flips to the next page, and the next.

     She eventually finds Michelle and Danny also living in the stack of photographs.  "They scare me."

     McGee rolls his eyes and fingers a cigarette.

     "We didn't find Hayward," Reese says.

     "No.  He's too smart for that."

     "Mary, I've talked with the Records Office at the hospital.  There's no patient named Hayward, hasn't been for six years, and even then, going back twelve years, the last two Haywards were both women."

     "Hayward isn't his real name, I told you that."

     "No, you didn't."

     "I thought I did.  What about Olivia and Michelle and Danny?"

     "They'll be questioned.  Maybe they can help us find Hayward."

     "No, they'll never help."  She sees how he is looking at her now, in a lost way, yes it's just gotten worse, the more I've said, the less he trusts, it's hopeless to try and explain.

     After they leave with the photographs, a gray void hangs in the air where Reese stood, and the bed sheet throbs where the photographs were stacked.  Her tea has cooled to the temperature of her throat; she feels balanced pouring liquid into herself, the closest thing to drowning.

1:25 PM

bagpipe sky

     The big air outside.

     Stepping out from the green corridor light, Mary walks down the cracked sidewalk with Laura on her right, Albert on her left.

     Big gulps of air.  The clouds ordinary but glorious.  What was miserable is now mysterious.

     She feels the balance of gravity in her ears, in her feet, walking again, on the planet, across the parking lot.

     She senses Hayward waiting in the wings, though she feels cloudy and cannot say for sure who or what Hayward might be today.

     And if He finds her again?

     When He finds her again.

     But for now Mary enjoys a ringing clarity, like a faint dial tone, a hum through everything, more constant than a heartbeat.  Living comfortably in my head again -- my name is Mary -- I am Mary because of my name -- or in spite of my name?

     Laura and Albert don't know what to say to her about what happened to Rand.  Would it be awful to tell them it didn't matter, not the blood and the body, because that wasn't Rand, that was what was left behind, and there was no putting Humpty Dumpty back together again?

     "I really wish you'd reconsider and come home with us. For a few days at least," Laura says and touches Mary's arm.  Mary feels the pink silk of Laura's jacket on her arm.  The color feels as distinct as her sister's breath.  Pink has finally become the smell of her sister.  After all these years of obsessing, Laura is now married to pink.  And why did she pick pink?  What if pink picked her?

     "That's sweet of you, Sis, but I'm okay.  What happened was terrible, but I didn't have a relapse.  The doctors said I'm fine."

     "You look pale."

     "I'm afraid of getting skin cancer from too much sun."

     "That's not what I mean.  You look tired."

     "Maybe Mary needs a vacation like us," Albert says in his brightest voice, intending the dig only for his attuned wife.

     "If sorry I ruined your trip," Mary says.

     "Albert's behavior was absolutely alcoholic."

     "I'm sorry about your vacation, and I'm sorry if Rand got murdered at an inconvenient time.  You didn't have to come back on my account.  I wish you hadn't, I could've gotten home by myself."  What Mary doesn't say is that it pleases her to still be walking the earth, while Rand, who ran five miles a day and thought cellulite a moral failure, walked no more, except maybe with the king, if there is a king up there in the scudding castle of clouds.

     Alone together -- three separate chains -- chains of thoughts.

     Mary can listen, but music is better.  Easier.  The silence of the car ride fills with radio music.  Bagpipes -- Mary likes their piercing sound, angular but melodic.  She is glad that there is a hidden side to Albert -- she would never have guessed that he listened to public radio.  I should make conversation, won't be with them much longer.  "I love bagpipes.  It must be the Irish Delany blood."

     Albert and Laura look at each other, two warring countries deciding how to respond to a neutral city-state they both have diplomatic relations with.  Mary is thankful to see only the surface this morning, the outside of their expressions -- the guessing game of normal life -- sometimes it's better not to hear too much.  "It's nice that they're playing bagpipes on the radio."

     "Yes," Laura says tersely, her lips pressed tight and pink as she flips down the sun visor and looks at Mary in the vanity mirror.  "You're not wearing your safety belt," she scolds, her smile retreating.

     "No need.  We're here," Albert announces as he smartly stops his Infiniti outside of Mary's stucco apartment building.

     Mary steps out of the car and stretches, glad to be standing on the brown grass of her adopted front yard.  She smiles at the blooming jacaranda tree in the little park across the street, its purple wands waving against the bagpipe sky.  The clouds look pleasing, dramatic, billowing in from the east.

     Albert and Laura wearily unbuckle but stay seated and talk in low voices.  Mary doesn't want, or need, to hear their words.

     The bagpipes fill the air, the counterpoint of minor keys resolving into harmony, a shield of music, from radios somewhere.  Not to question the source.

     Because Mary has made it back home.

     On her feet.

8:17 pm

romantic paranoia

     The night is not the usual map of familiar street signs and signals but a dark tunnel that leads Reese to Mary's street.  Across the lawn of brown grass is her apartment, somewhere behind the crumbling green stucco facade, a room that he can only imagine.

     How appropriate that her street is named Curson.  Curse on Mary.  Curse on Reese.

     He parks behind a gray unmarked police car, the heavy shape of McGee slumped inside.  When he gets out of his car he feels the hot Santa Ana wind against his skin like a million pinpricks.  Palm fronds swaying and scraping in the dry wind.  Reese slips into the passenger seat, surprising McGee.

     "Wake up.  This is important."

     McGee yawns.  "I know you've got the hots for her," McGee says.

     "McGee, I think you spend too much time beating your bishop.  Who else is on detail?"

     "Vanderhorn's in back.”

     “Do me a favor and try to keep your eyes open."

     Reese gets out of the car and studies the lay-out.

     The apartment building is two stories.  On one side of the property is a sidewalk running back to an alley.  A hedge of overgrown oleander breaks the sight lines.  Along the other side of the building is a driveway, cluttered with cars and an aluminum storage shed.  The building looks like it was built in the Twenties, with some of its original grillwork still intact.  No security lights.  There is a trellis of bougainvillea, and drainpipes with adequate handholds for climbing.  Picturesque, but unsecure.  Reese walks down the driveway and sees a back staircase.  All his alarm bells are ringing; there are so many ways in and out of Mary's building.

     In the alley he sees Vanderhorn's car, parked at the junction where two sides of the building and the backstairs are visible. 

     "Hey, Reese."

     "Hey, Van."

     Reese gets into the car.  "What a leaky-looking place.  Have you seen anything?"

     "No."

     "I caught McGee napping."

     "Christ."

     "I'm going upstairs and question her."

     "I talked to her when I came on watch. She's a couple of sandwiches shy of a picnic."

     "Well..." Reese says, trying not to say anything.

     "Later."

     Reese walks up the sidewalk, completing his tour of the perimeter, the oleander brushing against his shoulder as it sways in the hot wind.  On the porch he sees Delany handwritten and taped to the corroded brass mail slot for Apartment Two.  The buzzer is broken, the lobby door unlocked.  He steps inside.  The red Spanish tiles are cracked and dusty.  As Reese walks up the unlevel stairs he pats his hair, as nervous as a first date.

     Outside Mary’s door he hesitates.  She's not expecting me, what will it be like? what will she be like? will she still like me?  Stop it.

     Reese knocks.  Shards of memory tinkle like slivers of silvered-glass in a broken thermos.  But I'm haunted by every woman I've ever wanted to kiss.  Isn't each kiss a door I might have opened?  Is it too late to stop being who I am?

     Mary opens the door and smiles.  Tonight she wears a white blouse and jeans.  She looks brighter, even more beautiful than remembered, drawn further into the light. "Hi."

     "Hi."  He feels lame saying that; he feels sixteen and frozen.  The first thing he says freezes him out of a relaxed, appropriate second thing to say.

     "I'm glad you're back."

     Reese is embarrassed, thrilled.  "You were expecting me?"

     "I was hoping."  Mary steps back, inviting him inside without saying exactly that.  Reese closes the door behind.  Her room instantly registers as small, tidy, infinitely sad.  Different from what he had imagined.  But what had he imagined?  Three doors along the opposite wall -- bathroom, closet, maybe a second closet, no, he spots a door latch -- a backdoor -- unusual for a single-room apartment.

     "It's not much," she says.

     "My place isn't much either."

     "I'd like to see your place.”
     "Why?"

     "Because I'm curious about you."

     They stand close.  He aches to touch her.

     She has never been privy to such reticence; she has never had to make the first move.

     Which he has always had trouble with.  But this is not the right night.  "I'm on duty, you know."

     "That's why you came up to see me?"

     "Yes."

     "That's the only reason?" she teases.

     "No, but..."

     They stand so close together.  And still, as always, there is no moment that seems perfect for him to touch her. 

     "Would you like some tea or something?"

     "Yes, but I can't, I've got to go."  His silent worries counter hers.

     "Don't."  Her hands flutter near his arm, dancing with the idea of touching him.

     "I've got things I need to do.  He could touch her shoulder, lightly, reassuringly, professionally.  That would be easy to do.  But where would it lead?  Vanderhorn is outside, at the bottom of those back stairs, McGee is parked in front.  They aren't really alone up here -- his colleagues outside are clocking these minutes.

     Finally, he touches her shoulder, feels something electric -- her -- that she is solid, exists, is with him for this moment in this room.  She touches his shoulder.  It would be so easy to kiss, the specific misery is so soluble, but not now, it is not the right thing to do now.  "I've really got to go."

     "No."

     "I'm trying to help you."

     "It's hopeless."

     "No, it's not.  I'll come back as soon as I can.  I promise."  A last squeeze of her shoulder.

     "Don't go."

     He thinks of all the deaths that brought him into her room, a rush of romantic paranoia.  The world beyond the glow of her face becomes a blur.  Their good-bye is without a kiss. 

     He remembers that their good-bye was without a kiss.

     Back outside, the hot wind irritates Reese’s neck.  The dry grass crunches under his loafers as he crosses the dead brown lawn to his car.  He knows that he is biased toward Mary's innocence as a matter of his own emotional survival; he knows that this is wrong.

     "Don't go."

     Startled, Reese turns to see her coming across the lawn, barefoot, defying good-bye, outside, where someone, anyone (McGee, Van) can see.  It's night, but the darkness isn't hiding anything.  With a quick glance he sees McGee watching from his car, smirking. 

     "I don't feel safe without you."  Her eyes look wild to him, desperate. 

     "There are two officers on duty, one in front and one in back."

     "That's not enough."

     He knows that she's right, for different reasons than his.  He could send Vanderhorn out to Camarillo, that would work.  "Okay, Mary, I'll stay through the end of the shift, but then I've got to go."

     Reese sees her eyes asking why.  He speaks softly, hoping that McGee can't hear.  "I'm heading up this investigation.  There are a lot of things I'm responsible for."

     "But you'll stay now?  You won't go back out to Camarillo tonight?"

     Camarillo surprises him, he was careful not to say that word.  "Yes, I'll stay through the end of the shift."

     "So we can have tea."

     "No, I don't think that would be a good idea."

     "Coffee then?  I can make coffee."

     "No, it wouldn't look right."

     "Oh."

     Again, he feels that pull to kiss her, as if she too is waiting for that.  The question being: is it his imagination, is it him imagining what he wants, what he could do, what she would let him do?  Does a kiss come from both sides, with equal pressure? 

     "Thank you for staying."  She smiles and turns smartly and walks into her building without looking back.

     "She's a babe," McGee mutters from the car.

     "I'm sending Vanderhorn out to Camarillo and taking over his watch."

     "Yeah?"

     "I know it's a challenge but try and stay awake."

     Reese gets back in his car, gives the engine an angry rev, and drives around back.

     Parked in the alley, Reese looks up.  Mary's window is set back from a small wood-rail balcony, her curtain billowing in the wind.  He can smell night-blooming jasmine.  Except for an occasional car, nothing has happened for two hours.  He picks up his walkie-talkie.  "Radio check."

     "Yo," McGee answers.  "There are some kids smoking dope in the park across the street."

     "Let 'em."

     Reese puts the walkie down and stares up at Mary’s window.  Watching her shadow on the curtains, Reese imagines himself lying in her bed, Mary curled up against him.  He imagines everything but their conversation.  What would they say after they knew, really knew each other, what then?

     The staircase door swings open and Mary steps outside.  Reese frowns, annoyed with himself for spacing-out, for letting his attention flag.  Mary stares at him -- daring -- determined -- then walks across the alley and climbs into the front seat without asking.

     "I can't stay up there alone."

     "You don't have to stay up there.  You can do whatever you like.  We're just watching."  He needs to report this to McGee, he has to obey the protocol and report the suspect's movement to his partner.

     "No, you don't understand.  I can't stay up there alone knowing that you're outside.  Why can't I be with you?"

     "Technically, you can.  It's okay for you to come down here and talk.  But I'm on duty."

     "I know.  You're protecting me."

     He is supposed to pick up the walkie and report her movement.  But before he can, Mary flows into his arms, naturally, contouring against him.  Her hands rest on his shoulder blades and he feels the warmth of her palms pressing in.  He tries to memorize her touch.

     "Forgive me?"

     "For what?"

     "Being weak," Mary says.

     He doesn't know how to answer when her lips find his, their lips come together, and the breath between, their breath, entwine.  His emotions swim in what he hopes are twins of her feelings.  The kiss is perfect, beyond what he could imagine, because how can you imagine exactly how lips will feel?  Her lips are so warm, and he feels her hands on his neck, the warmth of her palms pressing in.  His eyes close and he feels suspended from time, from gravity, falling, from himself, the world shrinking to the sensation of Mary in his arms, Mary lips, Mary's hands on his neck, Mary's fingers sinking into his hair.

     Mary, her eyes closed too, feels the kiss she wanted, and it doesn't have to stop, it’s the right thing with the right man.  Crowded in the car against Reese, Mary feels the steering wheel dig into her back.  Stroking his chest Mary feels his pistol holstered to his belt, no kiss in her life without a weapon, without some way of going wrong.  Mary cracks open her eyes to find a better angle for their lips to collide and sees the tingle of blue on his skin, the glow of his electricity, and she is frightened to hug him any longer.  The colors again, do the colors always mean killing, greedy squeezing killing?  No.  Please, no.  Did Hayward invade their kiss?   He did.  Mary flinches at a flare of light in the sky, a cannonball of color shooting up to the heavens, cranes her neck to see the fireball shooting up -- to the hole in the sky?  Can it be?  Some fireworks in the front yard, or what? 

     The kiss is gone; Reese looks strangely at her.

     "What?"

     "Didn't you see it?" Mary asks.

     Reese gently moves her aside, scans the alley quickly, studying every shadow.  He feels prickly and weak from this lapse.  "What did you see?"

     "A light in the sky -- that way -- from the street."

     "What kind of light?"

     "Like a roman candle."  She feels wrong saying that, but it's the easiest way to try and explain -- without really explaining.  Mary sees Reese looking at her, his eyes cloudy, wanting another kiss, confused, suspicious, torn.  The blue glow of an aura clings to his skin like static electricity waiting to spark.  Or like blue eel skin to shed before he slithers away.  Everything feels so different on the other side of that long kiss.  Was it the wrong thing, no matter how good it felt?  Was it the wrong thing?  Mary feels so afraid now and turns quickly to look back up at the sky: nothing.

     "What is it, Mary?"

     She looks down from the sky.  She wishes that his aura would go away.  Infected just from getting touched, like a virus, she remembers His words, spoken somewhere, is she really supposed to believe His crazy words?  "Was it wrong to kiss you?"

     "No.  You know I have feelings for you.  But, yes, this is the wrong time...it's dangerous."

     "It is dangerous."  The words feel as intimate as kisses.  "I've been unfair to you.  I should have waited, but...but I'm weak.  I was afraid that if I waited that you'd be gone." 

     She squeezes Reese’s hand, just his hand, feels him squeezing back, then she slides across the seat, out the passenger door, back across the alley and up the stairs. 

     Reese hears Mary's footsteps fade, lost in the wind.  She was here, she must have been here, but it feels so unreal now, in this moment after she's gone, as if he just imagined it.  He feels weird and jangly.  Reese's vision shuts down to a tunnel bounded by throbbing darkness, his eyes ache, his thoughts won't focus.  Emotions?  Untrained emotions?  An emotional migraine?

     Mary steps back into her apartment and sees only a smear of colors, wipes away tears she doesn't remember crying.  She remembers Reese.  But she doesn't trust her memory -- He can intervene, rearrange things.  Mary sits down on the edge of the bed.  Trapped.  Her skin hurts from the weight of her clothes.  Everything feels wrong.

     Because everything is wrong.

     Hayward leans against the wall, a laconic cowboy, the Man in Black, smiling.  But we can correct that.  Tonight's the night.

     Mary stands up -- maybe he's just a shadow, don't act afraid.

     No.  Hayward laughs and pushes off from the wall.

     Mary eases back into the kitchenette, little baby steps backwards.  If I move slowly maybe I can sneak away.  Maybe. 

Mary slides the utensil drawer open and metal clatters as she finds the knife she is looking for, the big knife.

     The right tool for the right job.  Hayward crowds her against the stove.  Shall we call him up here so you can do the deed?  

     "What?"

     The deed.  It's time to get to the point.  No more school girl kisses.  It's time for you to do Reese.

     "No."

     Hayward floats toward her, like an oily shadow.  Where is He really standing?  He waves his own knife at her, or is that His arm, the shiny part of His arm?  Nothing looks right.  Nothing looks stable or solid.

     Help she tries to say, but the word will not travel out of Mary's mouth.

     Hayward stands close to her now, so close, and not to kiss.  His shadow touches her, or His hand, the boundary is unclear, He makes the world look so smeared.

     She knows what she wants to do, what she has to do, but she cannot say it, cannot think it, not even to herself.  Cannot let Him know.  It will only work, only save her, if it is a secret.

     Hayward smiles.  You're cute.

     She jerks her arm forward, feels the knife puncture black cloth and slice home, carves something more solid than air.  Hayward bleeds; He looks surprised.

     Wow.  You've gotten strong.

     He tries not to act hurt, but she knows that He is.  Knows.  She stabs again.

     My best student.  Fuck.  He raises His own knife. 

     Run away now, get out of here before he gets me gets Reese.  As Mary dashes for the front door she struggles to push a name out of her throat and into the air.  One last name.       

     Reese!

     Mary’s voice fills his head -- a plea, a regret, love and fear, all in the single syllable of his name -- her voice inside his head.  Reese doesn't understand, but there isn't time to understand, as he jumps out of the car, walkie-talkie in hand.  "McGee -- I heard something, I'm going up.  McGee?  McGee?!"

     No answer on his walkie as he bounds up the backstairs, hit by the musty smell of mildewed carpet, taking the steps three at time, .38 in hand.  He knocks on her backdoor.  "Mary?!"

     Tries the door -- unlocked -- pushes it open.

     On the other side of the threshold: fresh blood splattered on the bedspread and sprayed across the white pine headboard.  Blood sparkles on the cottage cheese ceiling and soaks the avocado carpet to the dark shade of rotting fruit.

     "Mary?  Mary!"  Bracing his gun Reese pivots into the bathroom -- sees a plastic shower curtain with dancing fish -- no Mary.

     "Goddammit, McGee, report!  Report!"

     The red trail leads Reese through the open front door, the blood opaque against the red floor tiles, everything so dark, night rushing in at the corner of his eyes, his vision pulsing to his heartbeat loud in his ears, the worst thing he could imagine, all this blood, how could it happen so fast?

     Hurrying across the lawn, Reese looks for her everywhere, down the sidewalk, across the street.  Dizziness trails behind him like a vapor.  He sees McGee sprawled in his car, head thrown back, his neck broken, no pulse.  "McGee!  Jesus!"  Reese reaches across the man's motionless belly to grab the mic and call in on the radio.  "Dispatch, I've got an officer down, and a wounded suspect, I need paramedics and back-up..."  Reese hears himself saying the right things, going through the right motions, the trained response, but he feels outside of his body, spectating himself, desperate to throw the radio down and chase.  Find her -- hope -- pray -- that it isn't as wrong as it seems, please god, no NO NO!

     Suddenly, between blinks, Reese stands in the park across the street.  There is ringing in his ears, as if after an explosion. 

     Reese.

     Mary's voice in his ahead again, softer, scared, defeated. 

     ...reese...reese...

     Reese feels Mary's pain in the jagged syllable as she repeats his name.  Her voice from above, from the sky, can it be?  Looking up Reese sees the purple jacaranda petals swaying in the hot wind, scraping against the sky.  He feels dizzy, nothing looks right.  He walks, runs, follows his feet, fallen purple petals underfoot, petals fluttering in the wind.  Dark dead fallen purple flowers.

     Then Reese sees a man standing in the shadow of the molting jacaranda tree.  Between blinks.  Everything is happening between blinks.   

     Mary is faced off against the man, bloodstains on her white blouse, a bloody knife in her hand, Reese's worst fear, Mary poised to stab, to kill. 

     "Are you okay?" Reese asks, staking his position as the third point of an acute triangle, his angle of fire narrow enough to cover both Mary and the man.

     Mary feels pain in the ache of Reese's words.  She gasps for air, tries to speak, fails.

     "Are you okay?" Reese asks again.

     Mary slowly nods yes.

     "Put down the knife, Mary."

     She nods no, her eyes on the man, who remains half-hidden in the shadows. 

     "Is that Hayward?" he asks, his gun pointed at the dark silhouette, but mindful of Mary's knife. 

Even holding a gun, Reese feels helpless.

     Got her, dead to rights.

     Reese hears the voice in his head.  A voice that sounds like his conscience.

     "He's playing his games again," Mary barely manages to whisper.

     No games here.  Just a crazy lady and her victim.

     Reese can't separate his own thoughts.  And what are his own thoughts, whatever is in his head, whatever he hears himself say to himself, isn't that his, isn't that him?

     Yes.

     The bobbing gun barrel betrays his shaking hand.

     The man in the shadows sways unsteadily against the wind.  As Reese watches he seems to disappear -- becomes less solid -- or is he stepping closer, moving away from Mary, toward Reese, rebalancing the triangle in his favor?  Reese wants to say freeze, but words aren't doing what he expects words to do, the words won't follow his command to leave his lips.  Finally, finally:

     "Both of you -- don't move!  Get your hands over your head!"

     Help me kill him.  We're strong enough now to kill him together.  Mary's voice or her thoughts, somehow her words reach him.

     Reese feels underwater, choking.  Death from the bends waits for him at the surface of this terrible moment, as he collapses upwards, helpless, even with the gun held on an unarmed man and a woman.  The only woman for him.  Mary.  Holding a bloody knife.

     Take a moment to think about the consequences, Reese.

     No, it can't be his conscience.  Reese knows he would never call himself Reese.  He suspects that the silent man in the shadows is capable of an impossible ventriloquism.  Mary convulses in pain.  The man steps closer to Reese, with invisible footsteps, exploiting the moment of distraction.  So slippery, who could attack who.

     Take a moment to think about eternity.

     "You, don't move!  Mary, put down the knife!"

     Silence.

     Reese's ears ring with painful, burning noise.

     Mary feels pain that burns green into white.  She cannot see Reese in the blindness of this hurtful white, but she tries to remember him as someone she loves in softer, sweeter colors.  Mary tries to tell herself reassuring things, she needs to hear her own words, to escape this terrible silence that Hayward inflicts.

     Needful peaceful gleeful.

     Reese looks at Mary, still worried about her knife.

You are my only way of hanging on. 

     Those words -- inside of his head -- that Mary speaks to him, without lips or voice.

     Then a thundering voice intrudes his inner-ear: Save yourself, Reese.  She's the killer and she's conned you.

     No that's a lie, I'm not a killer, he made me -- made me -- made me -

     Liar, liar-

     - made me-

     -pants on fire.

     -made me -- made me -- made me, Mary chants.

     Reese is crazy with the voices, hers and his, Mary's and the man's, raging back and forth, Reese's feelings pulled by the silent voice that probes him, violates him.  Reese moves his finger off the trigger, afraid that his muscle will spasm and fire an accidental shot.

     She fucks and she kills.  Look what she's done to me.  The man totters closer, into the street light, his black shirt blood-soaked, glistening. 

     Reese can finally see the man's face, flat dead eyes above a losing smile.

     Please allow me to introduce myself.  I’m William Ward Hastings.  But you should call me Hayward.  Malcolm sends his greetings.

     "Who?"

     Uncle Malcolm.  The Monkey Man.

     "Malcolm's dead," Reese whispers in pain as the silent voice probes him, violates him.

     Hayward shrugs.  His spirit lives on.  Bloodlines.  Neat word.

     "Fuck you."

     Why?  Because you haven't fucked her?

     I'm not arguing with this madman, Reese thinks, I'm not getting sucked in.

     She's just a piece of ass.  If you ever manage to fuck her you'll see that she's nothing special.

     No, Reese thinks, not Mary, don't talk about her like that.

     Mary lunges at Hayward, leaps between heartbeats, stabs Him.  Stop it, shut up, die, no more lies!

     "No!  Mary!"

     Mary stabs and stabs.  No more no more no more! 

     No clear target, Mary and Hayward spinning, Reese can't shoot her, but he has to stop her.  Has to stop it.  "Mary!  Halt!" 

     She steps back, gasps for breath.

     Hayward's gray aura leaks, spreads like a stain, getting bigger, coloring air, displacing air. 

     No longer a triangle, now they stand in a straight line; Mary blocks Reese's view of Hayward; Reese sidesteps to bring him back into view.  Hayward sways on his feet like he's dancing to unheard music.  Mary stands an arms-length back, ready to stab him again.

     Hayward's lips curl into a smile.  ...needful peaceful gleeful...  Sinks slowly to the ground.  ...so fucking dumb, you think you've won... 

     Mary raises her knife, tensed to strike again.

     ...so fucking dumb... 

     Hayward’s voice retreats like a wave that has crashed on the beach, leaving dirty foam behind in the sand.  Mary sees Hayward's gray aura shatter -- smoky splinters -- glittering shards -- gone.  Like an airplane descending, her ears clog with pressure, and then equalize, de-compress, drop her ears back to ground level.

     "Mary.  Mary.  Put down the knife."

     She is afraid to take her eyes off Hayward; she expects him to attack again. 

     "Are you hurt?"

     She shakes her head no.

     "Mary, please, drop the knife."

     She shakes her head no again.

     "Mary, I want to help you, but you have to drop the knife first."  Reese keeps his gun drawn, though not quite pointed at her.  He circles around her for a closer look at Hayward, sees the glint of blood pumping from his severed carotid artery.  Dying.  The blood's rhythm slowing to a stop.  Dead.  Reese can't check for a pulse, not while Mary still holds a weapon, not until the back-up arrives.

     "Is there anyone else?"

     "What?" she asks without turning.

     "Besides him."

     "Us."

     "Besides us."

     "No, there's just us.  Now there's just us."  She finally looks at Reese, but she doesn't seem to recognize him. 

     "Put down the knife."

     Mary looks into his eyes.  Tom Reese. 
     Her voice, again, separate from the sad smile on her lips. 

     "Did he hurt you, Mary?"

     "All he did was hurt me."  She drops her arm by her side, but she doesn't drop the knife.

     Reese hears a siren and belatedly realizes that sound has faded back into the world, normal sound, the siren somewhere close behind, the whole world behind, catching up.  The questions should be easy, the questions should be obvious, he's asked suspects these kind of questions so many times before, when he's been tired, when he's been wounded, so why does everything feel so wrong now?  "What happened?"

     "He underestimated me."

     "How did you get out here? 

      "He wanted you to come up to my room.  See how I did the opposite thing?"  She smiles.  "I can't hear them."

     "What?"

     "I can't hear the voices anymore.  They're gone."  She steps close.  So close that he can feel her breath again.  "When you fly up to the hole in the sky, where do you go?"  She looks up at the sky.  "Is he really gone?"  She looks at Reese like she's expecting an answer. 

     He feels the charge of something forbidden.  She won't stab me, not me. 

     Her neck strains up, her lips opening, like she expects a kiss.  It's safe for us now. 

     In his ears hateful voices blur with radio static, garbled commands that sound like a foreign language.  He stands his ground but he wants so badly to feel her lips against his again.  Not my fault, not something I did if she kisses me.  And what can it matter, lips meeting, what can it hurt?

     It can't hurt.  It's the only thing that can't hurt. 

     Still holding the knife, Mary raises her arms to embrace Reese.  It's wrong, against the code, but everything is so wrong.  And why do I close my eyes to kiss?  Why does anyone, everyone?

     Closing eyes is natural, it's finally safe to kiss, just us, it's finally just us, finally us, Mary says without saying.

     "Halt."  A harsh voice in the dark.

     Reese feels the warm glow of her lips on his.  Nothing else matters.     

     "Halt!"  The harsh voice again, whose voice, Reese wonders.

     Yes?

     Yes, she answers.

     Yes.  Perfect.     

     A gunshot explodes. 

     No...

     No! 

     Mary looks startled.  The knife drops from her hand, clatters off an exposed tree root.      

     "God...no..." 

     A wave of vertigo and the world turns upside down as Mary slips through his arms.

     Reese. 

     Mary stares up at him from a bed of fallen purple petals, her red hair spilling across the ground.

     "Be careful -- she's still armed!" yaps someone as Reese drops to cradle Mary in his arms.  Nothing else matters. 

     You're very handsome.  I always wanted to tell you that because you don't seem to know.

     "Mary..."  Stroking her red hair.  Don't cry, don't scare her, don't let her die.

     I liked that you didn't know, but I wanted to tell you anyway...

     "Suspect down -- over here.  Suspect down!"

     Mary seems to glow; a warm pulse of color surrounds her.  Reese wipes his eyes, feels the tears on his hand.  Tears?  How did they get there? 

     Hold me tighter.

     Reese cradles Mary closer and feels the glow of her against him.  Like a religious painting, something like that, what beautiful green light, what?  "You're going to be okay, Mary."

     No, I'm dying.  I know I'm dying.  You know it.

     No.

     She tries to smile.  Well... 

     She's so brave it hurts so much but she's so brave.

     I've never died before, I don't remember that.

     No.

     Reese...

     "Fight it, Mary."  More sirens.  An ambulance, please god, please.  She's so bright now and warm.  She feels so good, why does this green light feel so good?  What can it be?

     Auras, like I told you...see, I'm not so crazy...  Mary tries smiling again.

     So fucking brave.

     Because you're here.  I'm so glad that you're here.

     Reese can't stop crying.  She shakes in his arms.  Mary...

     Just think...we almost never met...

     Don't die.

     ...almost never...

     Mary!

     Reese feels a flood of colors, rushing, swarming, the colors so warm, delicious, smiling.  Mary...

     ...never...

     Darkening, vanishing. 

     Gone. 

     Mary lies still and dark and cooling in his arms. 

     Other arms tug at him, other voices.  Nothing else matters.  He looks up at the sky.  So dark up there. 

     Black shoes trample over the fallen purple petals.

     "...she had a knife, she was going to stab you..."

     "You killed her," Reese barely mumbles.

     Arms pull Reese away from her, but it isn't Mary anymore, it's just what's left behind.

     "She's dead."

     "The guy's dead too."

     "What the fuck is the matter with Reese?"

     "Jesus, Reese, are you wounded?"

     Reese feels himself falling up to earth, onto the purple flowers, curling fetal on the pale bed of petals.  Reese remembers the oddest thing, a junior high school science class fact: the human eye really sees the world upside down, but the brain converts it to right side up.  "Why did you have to kill her?" 

     "Jesus, she had a knife and..."  Reese hears words, reasons, but there's no real reason, nothing is reasonable, not now.  He can't see anything except the play of hurtful flashlight beams streaking across his injured eyes, and a little patch of white -- Mary's blood-stained blouse.  

     "William Ward Hastings was working as an orderly out at Camarillo.  His alias was Malcolm Ward.  You were right, man, you were right," a cop voice, a cop friend, someone whose name Reese usually knows.

     Reese turns to look at the sky -- down, or up, direction is so confusing just now, Reese's face haggard with dirt and blood and dead jacaranda petals.  A light is circling in the sky, descending, a dark angel disguised as a machine.

     "What the hell is wrong with him?"

     "Reese?"

     "He's lost it, man."

     No, there's something else, something to explain here, can't they see?

     Hands on Reese's arms, gentle but insistent, help him stand, lead his feet away, but they can't turn his face down from the sky.  Can't they see?

     Wings beating, and drums, the drums that have always been beating in his heart, unheard, but now he listens.  Can't anyone else hear the thunder speaking?  There's something else to be explained, something slipping away, please.

     A tepid ball of light congeals in the sky, born in the orange glow of streetlights, a translucent presence that floats in the hot air.

     Can't anyone else see it? Reese wonders.

     Please allow me to introduce myself...

     Angry orange ball of light in the sky, drifting away in the wind. 

     If he can just get some sleep.  Maybe it will make sense tomorrow.

     Maybe. 

     Except for Mary.

     Mary.

     Won't she still be dead tomorrow?