Thaddeus Rutkowski

In Cars

      My brother and sister and I were riding in the car with our father. He was quiet, but the dashboard radio wasn’t on. His silence was a sign that he could become loud at any moment, so we didn’t say anything.
      Suddenly, he pulled the car to the side of the road and stopped. We were on a dirt shoulder, next to a pasture that sloped upward. He pointed at the hill and said, “Look at those.”
      I could see, among the scrubby plants and limestone rocks, a couple of white, egg-shaped objects the size of soccer balls.
      “They’re puffballs that haven’t turned to dust,” our father said.
      We got out of the car and walked up the hill. Next to the fresh fungi, I saw some dry specimens. I stamped on them with my shoe soles, and their spores filled the air like smoke.
      We broke the white objects off at the ground. Some soil stuck to the root fibers.
At home, our father cut up the puffballs and fried the slices. Each cross-section was large enough to fill a frying pan, so he cooked one slice at a time.
      We ate the soft slices with butter and salt. To me, the puffball tasted a little moldy, but barely tasted like anything at all.
      “We’ll find wild food more often, and grow what we can’t find,” my father said. “For protein, we’ll hunt and fish. We’ll be self-sufficient—live like the Amish. We’ll have no contact with the outside world.”
       I looked around the kitchen and saw several electrical appliances. I also saw a number of brand-name goods. The room itself was dingy, papered in a yellowing-rose pattern and lit by a couple of incandescent bulbs. Outside, the sun was shining.
       I turned to my brother and sister, who also had white slices on their plates, and said, “Maybe someday we can move to town.”
      “This family will never live in a split-level,” my father said.
      After the food, my father gave me a glass of beer. I set it on the arm of the couch while I watched television.
      My father drank beer and bourbon in the kitchen while he waited for my mother to come home.


      The boy who lived next door invited me to his clubhouse. I walked to his back yard and saw a large box built from wood planks. “Before you can come in,” the boy said, “you have to say the password.”
      “I don’t know it,” I said.
      “Yes, you do,” he said. “It’s ‘Easy.’”
      “It’s not easy for me,” I said.
      “That’s the word,” he said. “It’s ‘Easy.’”
      “Oh,” I said. “ ‘Easy.’”
      “That’s what I said.”
      Inside the box, we couldn’t stand up, but we could sit on planks. There was a square hole in a wall with a sheet of plastic over it that worked as a window.
      “Club members have nicknames,” the boy said. “Mine is Pork Chop, because it sounds like Porter, my last name. Yours will be T-Bone, because your first name starts with T.”
      I looked at a book while Pork Chop boiled water and made coffee. The book was called Sonic Slave. In it, a female agent was captured and placed on a conveyor belt. The moving rubber strip carried her toward a laser beam. The beam was aimed at a sensitive part of her body. In the future, I understood, laser beams would replace buzz saws as the most dastardly killing implement.
       Pork Chop gave me a paper cup filled with black coffee, and I took some sips. The coffee tasted bitter, and it had another, unfamiliar flavor. The liquid stung my throat and abraded my stomach. By the time I finished the cup, I felt woozy.
      “If you want to be a full-time member,” Pork Chop said, “you have to take the admission test.”
      He tied my hands and feet with telephone wire as I sat on the plank. He lowered me to the floor of the clubhouse, then tied my hands to my feet behind my back. The wire was so tight that I couldn’t turn my wrists.
      “T-Bone,” Pork Chop asked, “do you have anything to say?”
      I shook my head no.
      “If you do, just pipe up.”
      I didn’t pipe up.
      He reached for the front of my belt and unbuckled it. “If you ever get caught by our enemies,” he said, “they may de-pants you, like this.”
      I heard an adult voice calling my name. “I have to go,” I said.
      Pork Chop picked up Sonic Slave and started to read.
      After a while, he unwrapped the binding wire with his fingers and pliers. I walked shakily out of the clubhouse.


      At home, I went to my bedroom. I shut the door, but I could hear my mother’s and father’s voices.
      “I need cash,” my father said. “When I go out, I’m not flush. I don’t want people to say to me, ‘If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’”
      “Maybe you should get a job,” my mother said.
      “I can’t join the rat race,” my father said. “That’s a waste of life.”
      “You could borrow from your parents,” my mother said.
      “I could,” my father said, “but they’ll tell me to get a job. That’s what they’ve been saying for years. But they’ve also been saying, ‘You’re not qualified to do anything.’ Actually, I’m overqualified for most things.”
      “Where I grew up,” my mother said, “the Buddhists didn’t look for money. They chanted in the hills.”
      My father’s voice became louder. “How can I find work if I’m underqualified for everything and overqualified for anything?”
      “You sound like the Buddhist who went crazy,” my mother said. “We called him the Mad Monk. He was drunk most of the time.”
      I heard a door hit its molding as my father left the house. I looked out a window and saw his car approach the one intersection in town. His turn signal indicated he was heading for the hotel bar. I didn’t know why he couldn’t just walk there. The bar was less than a hundred yards away.


      My brother and I walked out to the road in front of our house. We hiked on the blacktop between fields of tall corn until we came to the place where our father had once driven off the road. A splintered power pole stood at the spot. One of us said, “There it is.”
      In the dusk, we saw a car coming toward us without its headlights on. As it passed, we yelled, “Lights!”
      In response, the car stopped in the middle of the road. The driver got out and said, “What did you say? You want to fight?”
      “We said, ‘Lights,’” I said. “It’s getting dark. Your lights were off.”
      “There’s enough light for me,” the driver said.
      “I’ll fight,” my brother said.
      The man took off his windbreaker. He was wearing a T-shirt, and his arms were sinewy and bulbous. My brother also removed his jacket.
      “No,” I said, “we don’t want to fight.”
      “Come on,” the man said. “Take a swing. Take a shot for free.”
      I grabbed my brother from behind, but he shook me off. Even though he was younger than I was, he was bigger, and all he did was twist his torso. I fell away from him as the man got back into his car and drove away.
      “Come back here!” my brother shouted at the car.
      I saw the car slow down before it disappeared.


      As I walked home with my brother, I saw the boy who had invited me to his clubhouse. He was swatting flies on the ceiling of his porch. He was so tall that he could jump up and hit the surface over his head with the rubber flap of the swatter.
      He stopped for a moment and looked at me, then went back to jumping and swatting.
      “That boy has a club,” I said to my brother. “He showed me what happens if you get captured, but he didn’t let me join.”


      During the night, I imagined that I was traveling by car. After a time, the car stopped on an incline, on a dirt road in a field. I saw a shack with a glass window, and I saw a child’s hand slapping against the window from inside. I knew the door was locked and the child was trying to escape. I also knew that if I opened the door, a wild animal, not the child, would burst out.
      I got out of the car and walked across the field, but I didn’t open the wooden door. I thought I could call the authorities and have them rescue the child. But I had no phone, and I was in the country, where there were no phones. I couldn’t make a call.
      The child would have to stay.




Jason Rice

A Knock at the Door

            The first thing I thought of as I stood in the driveway preparing to get on my bike was our last trip together. Mom and I traveled once a year to see some friends of hers who lived outside of Flint, Michigan. I don’t know what it was that made me think of this, but as I slung my leg over the seat of my bike I realized I was thinking about the pool at the motel we always stayed at during our trip. The last time was very clear to me; Mom sat by the pool relaxing in a lawn chair while I swam around in the shallow end. We had been driving all day. When we reached the motel after driving for as long as we did, I felt tired, worn out, but at the same time it felt like I was rejuvenated. Weird.
            The motel wasn’t all that exciting and except for the pool I can hardly brag about any of it. After about an hour in the pool, I swam to the edge across the pool from where Mom was sitting and rested both arms on the cement skirt that surrounded it. My arms absorbed the heat from the cement. As I was feeling the afternoon sun dry my skin, I watched a man about my father’s age walk over to my mother and sit down next to her in one of the lawn chairs that surrounded the pool. From where I was there was no way I could hear what he was saying to her, but I watched him carefully while noticing what he was wearing. Mom slinked away from him slightly without really moving from her chair. The man didn’t notice this and took another drag of his cigarette that he held in his right hand. Interested in what was going on, I doggie paddled my way across the shallow end of the pool and returned my arms to the hot cement in front of my mother’s seat. “Who’s this?” The man pointed down to me.
            My mother didn’t look at me. “My son.” She stared off into the horizon behind me. Smiling in my direction and taking another drag of his cigarette, then looking back at my mother he said, “Nice boy. Where you guys off to?”
            Mother’s voice cracked slightly and she motioned to
stand up. “We’re going back to Rhode Island.”
            A lie. We weren’t going there. We were going to Michigan. I wanted to tell this man where we were going, but I couldn’t find the right words to say it.
            “Really. What’s there?”
            “We live there.”
            “No kidding. I don’t think I know anyone from Rhode Island.”
            My mother didn’t say anything.
            “Well now you do,” I said with a smile, finally getting into the conversation.
            The man laughed a little. His mouth turned up at either end, showing me he recognized my joke.
            “What’s your name, son?”
            “Jake,” I shot back to him. A shocked look crossed my mother’s face.
            “Jake. How would you like it if I bought you and your mother dinner?”
            I smiled. We hadn’t eaten yet and probably were going to go to McDonald’s or some other place with a drive-thru.
            “We’re not interested.” Mom looked pissed, maybe at me, maybe not. Her face was solid and expressionless.
            “Really? Jake looks hungry. Come on, we can get a bite at the diner down the street.” While the man said this I looked at him a little longer. His pants were wrinkled and his shirt was open three or four buttons from the collar. His brown hair was twisted around in a sloppy mess; I couldn’t tell if it was on purpose or not, but he looked like he might have just gotten out of bed. Both of his hands were dirty and I could see thin black lines of dirt under each nail on the ends of his fingers. Sliding his cigarette back into his mouth, he rolled up the sleeve on his right arm and I noticed a large red tattoo in the shape of a cross on his forearm. I watched my mother’s eyes follow and
focus in on the tattoo, watching as her eyes wandered around the pool and then back to me.
            “Jake, run back up to the room.” Her voice was flat and serious. This wasn’t open for discussion. Getting out of the pool, I saw the man looking at my mother as I dried off. Running the towel over my head, I could hear what he was saying but I could see my mother wasn’t that interested.
            “Meet you in the room. Okay?”
            “All right, Jake. See you there.” The motel was ground floor only and as I walked through the gate that surrounded the pool and felt the heat coming off the pavement of the parking lot, I looked over my shoulder to my mother and the man sitting next to her. I didn’t know if this man was going to have dinner with us. Mom didn’t look like she wanted to talk to him.
            As I rode my bike down Washington Road towards the dump on the other side of town on Upland Way, I thought about what happened after I got back to the motel room that night. I’d been there for a few minutes and Mom came in and closed the door behind her and locked it, not only the lock on the knob, but the chain that hung half way down the door.
            “Jake. No matter what, we are not opening that door for any reason. Do you understand?”
            I didn’t, but that didn’t matter. Mom sat down on her bed, turned on the television set and spun the volume knob up as loud as it would go. It was just about six o’clock when the first knock came on the door as the evening news came on the television set. Sitting on my bed in my wet shorts, I almost got up to answer the door—but looking to Mom quickly, I was reminded not to as her head shook back and forth.
            The knocks became louder and I began to hear them instead of the television set. I started to hear the man’s voice on the other side of the door.
            “Open the door. Come on. Don’t be like this.”
            His voice sounded like it was going to come through the door at any moment. But at the same time, it was politely pleading with us too.
            “Come on. I just want to buy you dinner. Come on.” He banged the door with his fist. It became louder with each minute he stayed there.
            Mom looked at me for a moment and then quickly stepped over to my bed and knelt down in front of me.
            “No matter what, we don’t answer that door. Do you understand?”             She was scared, which made me scared.
            “He’ll go away. These types of men always do.”
            “Why is he yelling?”
            “I don’t know.” She stepped away from me and sat back down on her bed. “Jake, just watch the news. He’ll go away,” she said, as she lifted herself off the bed, walked to the bathroom and closed the door behind her.
His banging became louder. I decided I should get near the door to better hear him.
            “Open this door, you bitch. Playing hard to get. What the fuck?” He stopped pleading with us; he wanted in. I didn’t think he’d break the door down, but I didn’t think he couldn’t either. The pounding on the door lasted a few minutes and then stopped. Mom came out from the bathroom after about an hour, and at this point I began to feel less worried since the man on the other side of the door wasn’t there anymore. I didn’t know for sure, but I guessed he was gone.
            “He’s gone, Mom,” I announced confidently that the
trouble had passed.
            “I know.” She sat back down on the bed and looked to me with a smile. “Do you want to order some room service?”
            A small butterfly fluttered its wings in my stomach as I turned to her with a smile across my face. “Yeah, of course.”
            “Good. Get whatever you want.”
            Later that night I wanted to ask my mom what ‘playing hard to get’ meant, but I didn’t. We ended up watching the movie Private Benjamin with Goldie Hawn in it. The next day we left the motel very early. I didn’t see the man who was banging on our door that night. For some reason I thought he would be waiting outside our door the next morning. But he wasn’t.


              The dump in Barrington, Rhode Island, has three large open-air garages that are each filled separately with bottles—colored and clear, newspapers and magazines, and plastic. All of this is supposed to make Barrington a town that recycles, but not everyone brings their recyclables here, we know that for sure. Past the garages is a huge open area filled with garbage, old furniture, bags of trash, bushes, discarded toys, and a swirling, migrating swarm of paper trash lifted into the air by the breeze that’s flowing around the dump. On the parking lot side of the garages, where people slide their recyclables down three separate shoots, is a Coke machine that gives out an occasional free soda. It takes some doing, but if you can get your arm far enough up the tube that dispenses the cans you can sometimes wiggle one free. I’ve seen it done a couple of times, but trying it right now, in this heat, would be difficult. My arm is too fat anyway. I open each trap door and look down into the garages that are sunken down into the ground below me. It’s nearly a two-story drop from the shoot entrance to where the discarded bottles, plastics and newspapers are sitting. The last garage is filled with newspapers, and if I’m careful enough I’ll find some old Playboy magazines somewhere in this mountain of crap. Last month I found a stack of Penthouses that looked like they’d been shot at with a gun. It was a stack about three feet thick and all over the pretty girls on each cover was a perfectly round ripped hole. I guess about the size of a bullet. Each hole was about an inch apart and there were at least a dozen holes. At the end of the wooden roof that covers the garages is a cyclone fence that is really easy to climb. Once I’m over it and sliding down the grassy hill to the bottom where the piles of recyclables are spilling out, I smell a nice stench of slowly simmering garbage. The bottles are great to break, but after a while I just want to find some girlie magazines. Today the dump is silent. No one is stopping to throw out their empty bottles, and as I walk around the dump I feel a certain amount of excitement mixing with fear. It’s weird, like I’m afraid of something that’s not really here. After I come across a stack of old records, maybe thirty of them, I whip them into the air over the dump, away from the garages. I love the way a record can cut through the air, so cool. I decide I won’t find any magazines, and that this trip was wasted. I didn’t even find any large bottles to break against the wall of the garages. The excitement and fear I felt a little while ago are gone, and now I don’t know what to do with the rest of my day.
            Back on my bike, I’m suddenly thinking about last week when I ran down the driveway naked and flashed the passing cars on Washington Road in front of my house. I think for a minute and wonder again about that day; why, you know, did I do it? And why am I thinking about it now? A Barrington police car passes me, and the uniformed officer looks my way as I take the corner at the intersection of Federal Road and Upland Way. After the streaking event, the cops came a few nights later and knocked on the front door during one of my mother’s cocktail parties. I have this argument with myself all the time. Why were you streaking down the driveway? I was, and that’s all I can tell myself. There really is no other way to explain it. I took my clothes off, put on my sneakers, walked to the front door of the house, and proceeded to run to the end of the driveway and stand there long enough to see two cars go by in either direction. As they passed, I threw them the middle finger and ran quickly back to the house, locking the door behind me, sitting quietly in the bathroom by the kitchen in case the drivers of the cars came back to my house.
           But the night the cops came was a different story; they weren’t here about my streaking, I don’t think they know about that. I had just made this slingshot out of an old rubber tire and was testing it out on the streetlight across the street from my house. I was reaching back with the base of the slingshot in my right hand and the strawberry- sized rock in the rubber sling, awaiting its ascent into the early evening air when a cop car drove by. My aim was bad and I hadn’t shot the rock yet, but it looked like I was aiming at the cop’s car as he passed. And, of course, he was looking my way when he passed me. This is when I realized that when you’re scared, really white-hot scared, you run like a rabbit. No pain in the chest, never winded, you run flat out like there is nothing else of any consequence in your life, period. Inside the house, my mother and her friends sat around the living room, talking and sipping from their drinks.
She was having a dinner party with some of her graduate students. My father was not home, but I’d rather he was, since I would have gotten the spanking out of the way. The cop was nice, or so my mother said later, and just wanted to make sure I didn’t hurt anyone with the slingshot.
            When my Father got home he asked me to follow him out to the garage and into the studio, which was far away from the party. Just before he took his belt off, he ripped the slingshot out of my hand and stuffed it in his back pocket. For that I got thirty lashes with the belt. He doubles it over so the thick part is directly over my ass. After five or six strikes I stop screaming. It doesn’t hurt anymore. He holds me down with his left hand while he whips me with his right. I don’t feel it and the pain is only dull and numbing. Afterwards he’s out of breath, and slowly puts his belt back on. Pulling up my pants, I know that one way or another I’ll get that slingshot back. I watch it dangle from his back pocket. As he leaves the studio, he looks back at me quickly.
“Go directly to your room and go to bed. And don’t make a fucking sound.”
That night under the covers I listen to the radio, the station for CBS at the end of the dial. My headphones are big and swallow each of my ears. The show I’m listening to, Bob Newhart, ends, and I take the headphones off my head. I can hear the people downstairs talking. Slowly their voices disappear, and after a while it’s silent and I know my parents are asleep. I lay there for a moment thinking about the movies. I’m not sure why I do, but like my argument for streaking it’s one of those things that just pops into my head.
           Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is the first movie I remember seeing. We went to the theater in downtown Ann Arbor. I don’t remember the day of the week, or what time we saw it, but the theater, I remember the theater. A tall ceiling with red curtains on the walls and the screen was huge, bigger than any of the theaters we go to now. For a while I wondered why we had gone to this movie, but eventually I knew. Mom wanted to see it, she loves Ellen Burstyn, and I could see her smiling as she strode across the screen,
singing her days away while her husband worked as a deliveryman for a bottle company. The dinner scene was something that made me laugh. The kid did something with the salt shaker, or was it the sugar, either one I can’t remember. But his dad got mad at him for doing it and he was already mad at Ellen Burstyn’s character because she made a lousy dinner, according to him. The kid got chased around and yelled at, even smacked, I think. The dad was really mad at the kid for a long time. Then the father died. He was killed in an accident that he had with his truck. The kid was free; he didn’t seem sad at all. Ellen Burstyn was really scared because she had to raise the kid by herself.
They moved out and went from town to town looking for a piano bar for her to sing at. After the father died, I looked at my dad and wondered what he was thinking?
            And why did the guy on the screen remind me of him? Would he die suddenly? How would I feel if he did?  I didn’t have any answers those questions. Ellen Burstyn went on to meet Kris Kristofferson and they fell in love, and everyone was happy at the end. I think about that movie almost everyday. I liked the kid in it; he got to do whatever he wanted and he made me laugh.




Darryl Halbrooks


           “Yes sir?”
           “ I need to see you in my office.”
I don’t get many call-ups from Main so when I put down the talker I hustle on over and Snyder hands me this slip with a name I don’t recognize.
           “I got a write-up for you,” he says.
            What makes my eyes bug though, is the level, which they always note at the top of the form. This was out of my usual duty range. Why, I wonder, didn’t Snyder hand this one over to a Middleman or take it on himself?
It wouldn’t be unusual to report a Homie or a Shrinkwrapper, but when my super tells me I should do up an Irregularity on some Leader I never laid eyes on, I get a bit antsy. For all I know, the whole deal could be another Big Mistake. All it would take is one word from a Leader and I’m up in Punishment takin’ it in the hindquarters for somebody else’s Fuckup.
           That’s what happened to Buzz Thurman and it took him three cycles to get his chits back, not to mention another month in Payoff before Bribery turned him loose.
           Now he’s got all his chits--and a severe limp.
           But what am I to do? It’s either write up this J.P. Lobo or I’m out on the street, knocked back to Homie, just when I’m planning my move up to Middleman.
           So I write up.
           But I’m getting ahead of myself. This JP Lobo deal happened after Sally and I had already coupled.

           Sally must be pushin Mom by now and although I should probably be embarrassed when I think back on the whole episode, somehow it all seemed so natural at the time. I guess in those days I was still somewhat of an idealist, as Youngers are likely to be, regardless of class. I was in the Guard of course, and I had come across Sally in the usual way. She had been in Stable for only about six months and was barely a year out of Sex School and despite her level I found her very attractive.
           Now, I know what you’re thinking. A Sexer? Attractive? Looking back on it though, I’d still say anyone might have said she was attractive--cute even.  Of course, I’d be afraid to see her now. You seldom see Moms or Dads out in the economy, but not long ago I did see one on an electrified bus and let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty.
           Anyway, besides finding her attractive there was something else. I could see it right away although as you might expect, that first time I just had the sex and left. But her face kept coming back to me and the next time I was at her Stable I made a point of looking her up. After the sex I hung around and actually had a chat with her. Like real talky-talk.
           Of course, I couldn’t tell the other Guards about our conversation. They would have made fun of me at the Picnic, but I’m telling you straight up this was for real. For example, when I mentioned her situation she laughed and said she was ‘instable.’ Like in Stable, which of course as I mentioned already, she had been for only about six months, but she combined it into one word, which meant that she had made a Joke.
           I know. I know. What she meant was unstable and we all know that Sexers are not Jokers but it sort of worked. Besides, when have you ever heard a Sexer even try to joke? It was further evidence, as far as I was concerned, that she was different, not only attractive but … well …smart.
           Predetermination or no, I could tell right off that Sally had something going for her that you seldom see in her class. Our talk cost me two extra chits and we even got buzzed twice. I told her all about my plans to move up from Guard to Middleman, even though the other guys laughed and said that the test is just this big yuck-yuck up in Edifice. They act like they’re real serious about grading your paper and all, but according to the other Guards, they just take them home for a guffaw with wifey then stamp them REJECTED anyway.
            “I’m planning to get my GED,” she tells me. “They say if you make it you’ve got a real good chance to move up in class. I know I’d never make Guard like you but … F-1 Working Stiff would be fine with me. I could get off Sex and maybe apply for a cleaning card. It’d be real nice to clean for a Middleman or maybe even …”
           Her voice trails off and she looks down at her hands.
           “Even what?” I ask.
           “Maybe even … a Leader.”
           I have to admit, when she comes out with this, I have to stifle a laugh but I can see she’ real serious and so I say, “Right. Maybe you could clean for a Leader.”
           “But first,” she says, I’d have to learn to … to read.”
           I don’t say anything. It’s too awkward and I’ve already used up all my chits. When I finally go, I have to walk past some pretty angry faces waiting on line for Next. But I keep returning and before long we have sort of an arrangement.
            Sexers had their own little sleeper booths where they went after work but no one really checked up on them--like a curfew or anything--and if you went missing for seven nights straight they just turned your slab over to another Sexer. Then, of course, if you showed up and found some new torso on your old slab you were SOL.
           We both thought a co-hab could be risky but she seemed like a nice kid and even if it was a drop in class I didn’t see it as a setback to my plans. Still, we were careful to keep up appearances. Anyone could tell Sally was a Sexer by the way she dressed: bright colors, fishnets, overdone makeup and all. The guys, of course, were harder to pick out of a crowd with their Dockers and loafers, button down shirts and sport jackets, but a female Sexer leaves little doubt.
           “I heard of a Sexer who learned to read once.”
            The subject came up on break one day after the usual sports talk had degenerated into sex talk. That’s when Charlie told us about this rumor he had heard, about this Sexer who had tried for her GED. He didn’t think she had passed but just the idea that she would get that far into processing got some of us thinking about how it might be possible and all. That was a couple years before and I don’t remember if it ever came up again, but when Sally said that about wanting to learn, it was like something in me said ‘Well, why not?’ I mean she could talk and all. What would be so impossible about learning to read?
           So the next time I see her I say, “Listen, you know what we were talking about the other night--about the reading?”
            She nods but keeps her head down. We’re both a little embarrassed about the idea.
           “Well, I was thinking. I could teach you.”
           She doesn’t say anything but I can tell, she’s giving it a consider.
           “We couldn’t do it here, of course.” I laugh. “I couldn’t afford all the chits. But after you get off, you could come to my place, and I could teach you.”
           “You’d do that? But … what would people think? I mean, they know, that I’m …” Her voice trailed off. “You don’t have a wife or a live-in?”
             “I did. Once. Not a wife but … you know. Anyway, I don’t now and besides, I don’t care what anybody thinks. I … I like you.”

           We worked at the kitchen table on RED and DOG and BIG. She was really ecstatic about how the symbols could be put together like that and that each one of the letters made sounds, etcetera. Now I’m no Learner like the ones I had back in Guard training but I remembered some of their techniques and I have to admit, I sort of enjoyed being an authority figure. Afterward she gave me a blow for free before I took her back to her Stable.
             Her situation there was pretty depressing. Her sleepslab was in this big sort of open-air dorm with about twenty other Sexers who made hooting noises when they saw me. They offered me freebies if I’d come in but I just dropped her at the door and took off.
           But once I got home I kept thinking about her in that cold dorm and I felt so sorry for her that I fixed up this little room in the basement. I wouldn’t even have minded if she stayed upstairs with me but she insisted on staying in the basement and I didn’t want to make a huge scene about acting like I objected and all. You know how it is. You need your space.
            Anyway this little ‘room’ didn’t have real walls, but I had hung some bits of scrap carpet and some old curtains from the overhead pipes to make an enclosure not unlike her booth back at Stable. But at least she had privacy and even a high window that she could see out of if she stood on some boxes. It was just a view of the undercarriage of my truck but I’ve seen worse things. I put in a folding cot from back in my guard training days, which she said was really comfortable.
            After a couple weeks of our lessons, she could stumble through some simple sentences, and was able to write a few words in big block letters. One evening, for a little surprise, I brought home a book I had picked up at a Sale put on by some Shrinkers to raise money for the Moms and Dads Home. It was called Curious George and I read it to her just to show that you could do that. She was amazed that you could just pick up any book and there would be this whole world right there for the taking. She loved it so much that she slept with it in her little cot.
           I bought her an electric heater when it started to get colder because there’s really no heat down there and one night, she must have been pretty cold so she had pulled the heater right up to her cot and one of her blankets started to smolder. When I heard the fire alarm I ran down and found her sound asleep. We were able to put it out though, and I found some newspapers to cover her up with until I could get her some new blankets.
              It was touching. I was almost tempted to stay down there with her, but as I say it was pretty cold and I was already heating the upstairs.
Then one night I come home and find my neighbor, Ted Dubious standing at his mailbox pretending to be engrossed in his electric bill, when I know he’s just waiting and watching. He’s bustin’ a stitch to figure out what’s really going on. He’s hoping for one false move so he can turn us in and collect a handful of snitch chits from Uncle. I give him a little wave and chat through the open car window about his landscaping, how nice it looks and all, like there’s nothing in the world suspicious about my little co-hab with Sally.
           But he suspects there’s more to it so we’re real careful to leave the blinds open so he can watch when she brings me a beer and goes down on me as I read the paper. Of course, I’m laughing the whole time behind my newspaper because she’s really not doing it, although her head’s bobbing up and down like crazy and she’s laughing as well. Once we’re sure he’s decided everything’s on the up and up, we settle into a pretty domestic evening, watching TV like Normals--except for the reading thing.
             As you’re probably guessing, things got pretty tight over the next few moons and I eventually let her start sleeping upstairs. Before long I began to get sort of upset about the Sex back at her Stable. It got so I really couldn’t stand the thought of it. I’m not sure why I felt that way but she agreed that she’d go full time at my place (which the other Guards thought was a hoot.)
As time went on our little deal got cozier and she learned to read pretty damned well. In fact, in a fairly short time, she was reading stuff that was frankly over my head, things she called “classics.” I had to laugh though. They didn’t even have pictures. She showed little interest in my collection of graphic novels, but to each his or her own, I say.
            She liked to show off by reading out loud, which was pretty painful at first, with all the starts and stops but fortunately, whenever anyone reads to me I fall asleep real quick. She read this one book though, with lots of big words that we had to keep looking up but eventually figured out it was about this guy in Old Real France who did the right thing by his girl by letting them chop his head off. I liked it.
           “I’d give it a four,” I say.
            We got out these maps of Old Real Paris and Old Real London and looked up locations mentioned in the book. I liked that part best because it was more like a graphic that way. We even talked about how someday we might take a trip to New France where nobody speaks French--so it’s a lot easier.
              My neighbor, Ted meanwhile, kept up his watch so we’d have to put on a little show every now and then just to keep him guessin’.
              It was at the Winter Holiday Buffet that Burgess and Jeffers presented us with this gift, because despite our efforts, they had our situation ‘sized up’ as they put it, due to my weight gain.
           “Looks like you’ve put on a few, Bud,” Burgess points out to me one day in the break room.
           I had in fact, gained maybe ten pounds since Sally had started on this cookbook she picked up at some Sale. She was always making cookies and cakes and pies which I encouraged her to give away once we had tried on a piece or two ‘cause I could see what was happening.
           “A few more pounds,” Jeffers says to me after Burgess’ little dig, “and you’ll look like a Homie from Discountville.”
           “Ha, dee fuckin’ Ha,” I say back to him. Putting on weight is a sure sign that there’s more to a co-hab than meets the eye. Also, I noticed that Sally herself was getting a bit broad in the beam. No way that would have gone down back in Sex.
           Anyway, this gift they give us is two tickets for a cruise on Happy Boat III to Artificial Martinique. On board, there’s not a whole lot to do so everybody eats non-stop for the three days of “sailing.” Everybody knows the boat isn’t actually making any progress and if you climbed down into the water you could walk over to the sky and step through the cloud port and find yourself blinking at the mercury vapors in Parking. But with the rocking and the mechanical dolphins leaping along the bow, it’s all pretty convincing. I even see this one guy get seasick.
           So we “dock” in A. M. and stroll through the little shops and haggle with the Natives over the price of Chinese-Jamaican hand-painted ceramic voodoo angels, which of course, aren’t native to Artificial Martinique Culture anyway, until we’ve blown most of our chits and then we eat more so that when we get back I’m looking like a Shrinker coming off three weeks wrap-duty at Porktown.
           “So how was the Love Boat?” Jeffers asks.
           “Real nice,” I say, suspicious of what’s coming next and trying to hold in my gut while I nibble at my salad.
           They’re all smirky and like bopping each other on the shoulder.
           “Any murders?” Doug Jennings asks. “I hear there are lots of murders on those cruises. They try to keep it quiet, so’s the public won’t get alarmed.”
           Doug’s sort of out of the loop and so his dumb-ass questions are legit, at least in his mind.
           “Nothing suspicious that I heard about,” I say.
           ‘Well,” Burgess says. “We knew they hadn’t thrown you overboard or nothin’ ‘cause we didn’t hear about no Tsunami’s.”
           “Ha, freakin’ ha,” I say.
            Sally’s convinced me to clean up my language if I’m going to make my move up. I don’t say fuck or fuckin’ any more if I can remember.
           It’s around this time when we get a visit from this woman who looks like she might be Out of Bounds. People like her don’t usually come knocking at some Guard’s door, let alone a Sexer or a Parker.
           “Mr. Blister?” she says.
           “May I come in?”
           I’m already pretty jittery. She’s all smiley and polite, not like most folks you get in this neighborhood and she’s got a body like a Rank-1 Sexer even though she hides it under one of those suits that you only see on a Leader. And I’ve only seen hair like that--long and silky--in the Glossys. If I weren’t so worried that I would get written up for stepping out of class I’d offer two chits for a touchy-touch.
            She sees it written all over me and says, “Would you like a feel, Mr. Blister?”
            I reach out to touch her hair when I notice Sally standing in the doorway to the kitchen and for some reason I actually get the feeling that this would be wrong. I know you probably want to giggle ‘cause Sally’s just a Sexer, despite the fact that she’s porked up to 145 and all, but what can I tell you?
           “Mr. B,” the lady says. “I’m JP Lobo.”
           The name’s familiar but I can’t remember why.
           “And you,” she looks at Sally. “You’re Sally P.”
           Sally “P” she says. Sally’s old Sexer name. Not Sally Porter, the name we had agreed on when we moved. We’re both real nervy now because some stranger shouldn’t know right away that Sally is a Sexer. After all she’s a Chubb now, and she ditched the wardrobe and the fake Bling and the fishnets when we moved down here to Slum. (I couldn’t afford to house and feed two in Lakeview on one set of chits). And--since we no longer had Ted spying on us we had dumped all the pretense. Naturally, they dropped me in rank when they figured us out but only down to Parking. Hell, I was lucky they didn’t bust me all the way to Shrinkwrap.
           “I believe,” she says, “that about a year ago, you wrote me up, Mr. Blister.”
           Now I remember. I was afraid that one day this would come back to haunt me.
           “My life,” she says, “has been rather a hell, since then, and I was wondering if there wasn’t a little something that we might do about it. Um … Miss P? Perhaps you would excuse us?
           I catch a look from Sally that makes me go all sad, but she doesn’t return my gaze and instead merely turns back to the kitchen where I smell a pie cooking. After she goes, JP Lobo high heels her way over to close the door behind Sally. I stand there like a goof as she clops her way back to me. High heels have always scared the jiggers out of me but she comes in real close and lifts a handful of that hair up to my nose. The scent is more intoxicating than one of Sally’s cherry pies and I can’t help myself.
              She backs away and picks up some knickknack from the coffee table. It’s the voodoo angel we got on our cruise to Artificial Martinique. She puts it down again.
           “Mr. Blister, I had heard that you were thinking of testing for Middleman. I have a friend up in Ediface.”
           I have no response. I’m happy enough in Parking and gave up the idea of Middleman after Sally failed her GED despite posting the highest score ever by a Sexer. They told her that her test got lost and since you only get the one chance that was that, so I didn’t want to rub it in her face by taking the Middleman exam.
           “They didn’t bust me, Mr. Blister. But I seem to be stuck in Medical when by now, I should be President or better, and it’s all because of your Irregularity Report. Did you really believe all that when you wrote me up?”
           I do a bit of stammer. “I didn’t know you,” I say. “Still don’t.”
           “It was all a lie Mr. B. And maybe we should get to know one another better. But anyway, in a day or so, the only guy who knows--or thinks he knows--is going to run into a bit of misfortune during his little cruise to Artificial Krakatoa with wifey.”
           She had to be talking about Snyder, my old super back in Guard. I should probably have been concerned but somehow it didn’t matter to me what happened to Snyder. Too bad about the wife, but what the hell?
           “What I’m getting at Mr. Blister, is that after Mr. Snyder’s accident, maybe we could give each other a little helpy-help. Hmm?”
After she fills me in on her little plan, she plants a kiss on me. It almost makes me dizzy, being kissed by someone that high up and who looks and smells that good. As she’s about to leave, she spots Sally’s copy of Curious George where she keeps it on display in her art niche, next to the bust of Prince Charles, her favorite watercolorist.
           JP picks it up and thumbs through it.
           “I remember this book,” she says. “Momma used to read this to me when I was just a seedling.”
           “It’s yours,” I say.




Raymond Federman

Concerning Hotel Soap


             The following letters are taken from an actual incident between a London hotel and one of it's guests. The Hotel ended up submitting the letters to the London Sunday Times!

Dear Maid,

             Please do not leave any more of those little bars of soap in my  bathroom since I have brought my own bath-sized Dial. Please remove the six unopened little bars from the shelf under the medicine chest  and another three in the shower soap dish. They are in my way.

     Thank you,
     S. Berman

Dear Room 635,

             I am not your regular maid. She will be back tomorrow, Thursday, from her day off. I took the 3 hotel soaps out of the shower soap dish as you requested. The 6 bars on your shelf I took out of your way and put on top of your Kleenex dispenser in case you should change your mind. This leaves only the 3 bars I left today which my instructions  from the management is to leave 3 soaps daily. I hope this is satisfactory.

    Kathy, Relief Maid

Dear Maid - I hope you are my regular maid.

             Apparently Kathy did not tell you about my note to her concerning the little bars of soap. When I got back to my room this evening I found you had added 3 little Camays to the shelf under my medicine cabinet.  I am going to be here in the hotel for two weeks and have brought my own bath-size Dial so I won't need those 6 little Camays which are on the shelf. They are in my way when shaving, brushing teeth, etc. Please remove them.

     S. Berman

Dear Mr. Berman,

             My day off was last Wed. So the relief maid left 3 hotel soaps which we are instructed to do by the management. I took the 6 soaps which were in your way on the shelf and put them in the soap dish where your Dial was. I put the Dial in the medicine cabinet for your convenience.  I didn't remove the 3 complimentary soaps which are always placed inside the medicine cabinet for all new check-ins and which you did  not object to when you checked in last Monday. Please let me know if can be of further assistance.

     Your regular maid,

Dear Mr. Berman,

             The assistant manager, Mr. Kensedder, informed me this morning that you called him last evening and said you were unhappy with your maid service. I have assigned a new girl to your room. I hope you will accept my apologies for any past inconvenience. If you have any future complaints please contact me so I can give it my personal attention.  Call extension 1108 between 8AM and 5PM. Thank you.

    Elaine Carmen

Dear Miss Carmen,

             It is impossible to contact you by phone since I leave the hotel for business at 7:45 AM and don't get back before 5:30 or 6PM. That's the reason I called Mr. Kensedder last night. You were already off duty. I only asked Mr. Kensedder if he could do anything about those  little bars of soap. The new maid you assigned me must have thought I was a new check-in today, since she left another 3 bars of hotel soap in my medicine cabinet along with her regular delivery of 3 bars in  the bath-room shelf. In just 5 days here I have accumulated 24 little  bars of soap. Why are you doing this to me?

     S. Berman

Dear Mr. Berman,

             Your maid, Kathy, has been instructed to stop delivering soap to  your room and remove the extra soaps. If I can be of further assistance, please call extension 1108 between 8AM and 5PM. Thank you.

     Elaine Carmen,

Dear Mr. Kensedder,

             My bath-size Dial is missing. Every bar of soap was taken from my room including my own bath-size Dial. I came in late last night and  had to call the bellhop to bring me 4 little Cashmere Bouquets.

     S. Berman

Dear Mr. Berman,

             I have informed our housekeeper, Elaine Carmen, of your soap problem. I cannot understand why there was no soap in your room since our maids are instructed to leave 3 bars of soap each time they service a room. The situation will be rectified immediately. Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience.

     Martin L. Kensedder
     Assistant Manager

Dear Mrs. Carmen,

             Who the hell left 54 little bars of Camay in my room? I came in last night and found 54 little bars of soap. I don't want 54 little  bars of Camay. I want my one damn bar of bath-size Dial. Do you  realize I have 54 bars of soap in here. All I want is my bath size  Dial. Please give me back my bath-size Dial.

     S. Berman

Dear Mr. Berman,

             You complained of too much soap in your room so I had them removed. Then you complained to Mr. Kensedder that all your soap was missing so I personally returned them. The 24 Camays which had been taken and the 3 Camays you are supposed to receive daily. I don't know anything about the 4 Cashmere Bouquets. Obviously your maid, Kathy, did not know I had returned your soaps so she also brought 24 Camays plus the 3 daily Camays. I don't know where you got the idea this hotel issues bath-size Dial. I was able to locate some bath-size Ivory  which I left in your room.

     Elaine Carmen

Mrs. Carmen,

             Just a short note to bring you up-to-date on my latest soap inventory.   As of today I possess:     - On the shelf under medicine cabinet - 18 Camay in 4 stacks of 4  and 1 stack of 2.   - On the Kleenex dispenser - 11 Camay in 2 stacks of 4 and 1 stack of 3.  - On the bedroom dresser - 1 stack of 3 Cashmere Bouquet,  - 1 stack of 4 hotel-size Ivory, and 8 Camay in 2 stacks of 4  - Inside the medicine cabinet - 14 Camay in 3 stacks of 4 and 1 stack of 2.  - In the shower soap dish - 6 Camay, very moist.  - On the northeast corner of tub - 1 Cashmere Bouquet, slightly used.  - On the northwest corner of tub - 6 Camays in 2 stacks of 3.  Please ask Kathy when she services my room to make sure the stacks are neatly piled and dusted.  Also, please advise her that  stacks of more than 4 have a tendency to tip. May I suggest that my bedroom window sill is not in use and will make an excellent spot for future soap deliveries. One more item, I have purchased another bar of bath-sized Dial which I am keeping in the hotel vault in order to avoid further misunderstandings.

     S. Berman



Love in Soapland

             Over yonder in Soapland nobody watches television. In Soapland everybody is too enmeshed in love to waste time with TV.  Anyway, by avoiding television one preserves one's sweetness.  In Soapland love occupies 97% of the average person's time.  That's a lot of time spent on love.  It doesn't leave much for watching famous killers doing their things, or movies stars being sued, or athletes being busted, or rapists being paroled, or politicians being accused of improprieties.

             Right now in Soapland, Edmund is marrying the most beautiful young brain surgeon ever produced by Johns Hopkins University Surgery Department.  Her name is Dr. Karen Much.  Their love was touch and go for a while because it looked as if Edmund might be in love with Brooke, who was on the rebound after being jolted by her husband Tad, who is now in love with Dixie, whose marriage to Brian never worked out.

             The wedding ceremony of Ed and Karen, incidentally, has interrupted the trial of Erika accused of stabbing her latest husband, Dimitri, in a fit of hysteria brought on by the fear that Dimo (as Erika always called him before she eliminated him) was in love with Kendall, Erika's teen age daughter by crafty old rapist Charlie, but it turns out that Kandall did not give a shit about Dimitri because, in fact, all along she has had her eyes on the lady brain surgeon.  But that's another story.










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