The Carriage House

by Pauline Mortensen

When Martin Blumenthal awoke that morning, he rolled over on his back and discovered that he had a stiff neck which seemed to cap the chill along his spine. He lay there looking at the picture above the foot of his bed. In it was a lamb shivering in the snow and an English sheep dog howling into the night storm. It made his neck hurt. He lifted himself to a sitting position and let his feet fall over the side, his toes just brushing the floor. He was wearing his long night-shirt that Ruth always said was too warm for summer. So, if she was right, how did she explain the cold down his back? She’d probably been fooling with the air conditioning again. Martin tested his legs on the hardwood floor and hobbled off to the bathroom. When he came back, he sat down on the edge of the bed and lifted the bottom of his nightshirt around him. He sat there trying to remember; when he woke up in the mornings it always seemed like he had just forgotten something. Every day forgetting. Where would it end? He clawed the shirt up his back and pulled it over his head. He finished dressing—his smooth tan pants his wife always ironed with a crease, and an olive-green shirt. He brushed his stringing white hair back across his sunburned head and noticed that if his body stiffened anymore on him, made him stoop another inch, he would not be able to see into the mirror on his dresser.

Ruth was waiting breakfast in the kitchen. He spoke to her in a high-pitched graveled voice. She shouted something back that he couldn’t quite make out as she placed his plate of eggs in front of him on the table. He looked around for the ketchup. She had forgotten it again. When he got up to get it, he spilled his milk. He dabbed it up with his napkin.

“What is it this time?” He heard that. In the refrigerator he grabbed the bottle of ketchup in his fist and held it up like wine.

“The ketchup. You forgot the ketchup again.”

“Forgot, nothing,” she said. And he heard that too.

After breakfast he took his position in his rocker which faced out the front window toward his roses: Red and Amber Regalias, Bertha Whites. They grew as tall as men because he pruned them to grow vertically, the rows angling back slightly almost like auditorium bleachers. The plants seemed to soften the effect of the carriage house front which rose abruptly from the surrounding concrete walkway—the house not having the advantage of a porch.

The carriage house had two stories like the main house and faced Ninth East like the main house; it had been converted to apartments like the main house, but once when university students came to sketch the main house, they told Martin that the carriage house lacked “architectural integrity.” During American Heritage Week it had been described in the paper as “blunt and stark with a utility of design.” So, Martin had always kept it bright yellow as if to compensate for what it lacked in shape.

People still came to see the main house even though it had been neglected; the porch woodwork was chipped and had an occasional spindle missing from the railing. Where once roses had climbed trellises from the porch to the roof, students now chained their ten-speed bicycles. On one side of the porch was an original Davenport where neighborhood cats slept, and on the other was a chest of drawers that someone had started to refinish leaving it half stripped of paint.

As Martin took his place this morning, he glanced out the side window. Some men were unloading lumber from a pickup truck backed up on the lawn at the main house. Perhaps they were going to make some repairs, maybe build a fence around those garbage cans. “About time,” he said aloud. “Get the Board of Health after that lazy Don Avery.” He began to rock back and forth. His father would never have permitted such an eyesore, not the Judge, not on his property.

Martin felt something on his arm; it was his wife’s bony fingers. “I keep telling you, you should build your own fence,” she shouted at him, her face sticking out from her neck like a chicken’s. He pretended he didn’t hear. She leaned closer. “Did you hear me?” Martin rocked his head up and down so she would leave him alone.

Why should he do it? He had already built a fence, a chain-link fence, one that would keep the student renters off his lawn—out of his roses when they played football. In a way he had built it against his better judgment, as a matter of survival. The fence had divided the yard, cutting across a connecting sidewalk whose usefulness had passed away with horse-drawn carriages. There had seemed a crime in that. And he had built the fence at his own expense; Don Avery had resisted paying a penny. What did he care? He was no real neighbor, renting the place out to just anybody.

The key point was that a wooden fence on his property would completely block his southern view, and it would block out the sun. If Avery built a fence, a small one around the garbage cans, that would be the most logical and agreeable thing to do. But Avery wasn’t agreeable on most counts and logical only when it suited him.

There had been few occasions when Martin had actually visited the main house after the remodeling. He had returned several letters over the years delivered to the carriage house by mistake. There had been the trips to see the manager, but there had been many managers, students who only lived there two or three years and moved on. He preferred to catch them in the yard or to phone to discuss his business of reminding them about their responsibility of keeping the place up. This was better than walking to the manager’s apartment down the darkened hall with its two bare light bulbs, one at each end of the corridor. The remodeling had destroyed rooms and entry ways. The house had changed so much Martin always had to struggle to figure out where he was; he was never allowed to go into the living rooms where the fireplaces had been, where his bedroom was with the window seat, where his mother punched down bread dough in the kitchen, and where the chandelier in the parlor mirrored a million images of his face. These rooms he was not allowed to go into because of some new wall that felt like chalk and rubbed off on his shirt when he brushed against it.

Martin watched out the side window. There were two men on the back of the truck and one on the ground; he couldn’t make out if one was Avery. The man on the ground could be him—he wasn’t doing much. The other two were bringing out the lumber, sliding one end out onto the pile and dropping the other end like dry bones.

It was a lot of lumber for a fence the size Martin had in mind. He stopped rocking and pushed back with his legs to see if he could get a better look. The window glass was old and had ripples in it that made the men look like snakes. He put on his reading glasses, but it didn’t help. The men were still warped and their purpose even more so. Martin put the glasses back on the end table. The clock on the mantel began to chime.

It was the clock Ruth had brought home from some antique store just after they were married. She had brought it home and removed some dusty old thing from the mantel, replacing it with the polished brass clock. There it had bleated out the Westminster chimes every fifteen minutes for the past forty-five years. Martin had known then that she wasn’t going to be of any help, that she didn’t understand about the main house and the Judge and couldn’t because she had never known either one. She didn’t know that the Judge had convicted a man once just because of the fancy clothes he was wearing. He had told Martin this and warned him when Martin wanted stripes in his new suit. And Martin told Ruth this, but she still didn’t know it. She had decorated French Provincial, even the piano with its cat’s-paw feet. She had insisted on that. And Martin had had to give lessons on that new French Provincial for thirty years. Now that he never played anymore, the cat thing was finally silent.

He touched the arms of the oak rocker where the varnish had been worn away, where the oak was nearly opalized with the oil from his hands. Now dry, wrinkled and covered with brown spots, his hands caressed the oak. He leaned back into the rocker and closing his eyes thought of a Talisman rose.

The sound of dropping lumber changed into footsteps in his head, the footsteps of his father on the porch saying “Where is Martin?” Martin was under the porch hiding where the cats slept and where it smelled like mice. He hid for fear of what his father would say when he got home, what he would do for breaking the eggs that he and Lew Mitchell had stolen from the chicken coop and splattered on the roof of the barn just for the fun of it. Martin’s father found him under the porch shaking with fear and took him to the carriage house where things smelled like leather, horse sweat, and axle grease. There his father had set him on a bale of hay, and the Judge himself climbed up on the lid of the grain bin. “Hear ye. Hear ye. The court of the Honorable Judge Blumenthal is now in session. You are charged with stealing and destroying property that does not belong to you. How do you plead, Martin Blumenthal?” Martin had pleaded guilty because there was no way around it; his mother had caught them throwing the eggs. So, the Judge took the pitchfork and pinned Martin’s leg to the bale of hay, and closing his eyes to represent blind justice, he passed down the sentence of guilty, for which Martin was to take the hired hand’s place in the carriage house cleaning stalls and feeding the horses for a period of two weeks. This was to repay his debt to society, to his mother, and to the Judge. Martin did it and felt that it was fair and felt anger and pity for Lew Mitchell who got away with it here but would have to pay in the next life. When the sentence had been delivered the pounding stopped, and Martin opened his eyes. That was always the way it came out, and the forgetting that seemed bent on taking it all, had not taken that.

Next door they had finished stacking the lumber and were pulling the pickup off the lawn. Someone was parking it on the street. It reminded Martin of the off-street parking ordinance that Don Avery ignored. Martin had obeyed it, digging up half his lawn and his roses to provide private parking for his tenants as required by law. But what did the law matter to Don Avery? Martin’s fingers tightened on the arms of the chair, and he started rocking.

Avery’s only chance was to redeem himself with a fence. The Judge would approve of a fence, a small white-picket one around the garbage cans, something unobtrusive that would blend in. The Judge had always taken the plain view of such things. His tastes had remained simple in an age he said was architecturally extravagant. This meant that his house had less of the gargoyle effect, as he would put it, and more of the straight-line effect which created the feeling of solidarity, strength, and truth, more courthouse and less gingerbread house. Martin agreed. While other houses in the neighborhood of the same age had stained glass windows and faces carved over the entries, the Blumenthal mansion stood out bare-faced and open-eyed. The Judge was proud of that. It was the architect and not the artisan who gave the building its beauty, its gabled roofs and dormer windows instead of minute carvings that from a distance obscured the true lines and cluttered the solid space. The Judge had maintained there would be no angels or devils looking down on him when he went into his own house. And there were none.

Martin stopped rocking. There was a man dragging a ladder around to the front of the house. He disappeared when he rounded the corner, and Martin decided it was time to water the roses.

The hose was coiled along the side of the carriage house on the cement patio where he always left it. He bent over slowly and picked up the end, unscrewed the sprinkler head, laid it on the windowsill, and started for the roses, the hose uncoiling behind him.

There was dignity in caring for roses. Kneeling beside the Judge under the rose trellis, pulling weeds, Martin had felt that. The Judge under his judicial robes wore a red rose on his lapel where he could smell it when he was in court. It was something to keep him separate from the riffraff he had to deal with. The Judge told him about transients, about the winos down by the warehouse, how they’d sell their own mother for a bottle. They had no place, not like Martin who would someday inherit all of this, and his father would lift him to the top of the cement hitching post and pan the whole block with his arm.

Martin nosed the end of the hose down into the soil, waited while the circle of soil around the roses filled and the excess flowed out into the lawn. He could see what they were doing now. They had a ladder stretched up to the top of the porticoed front entry. And there was Avery, himself, starting up the ladder with a crowbar. They were not going to build a fence. Two other men waited at the top of the ladder, leaning against the dormer window of Martin’s bedroom. Martin moved the hose. They were going to work on the dormer.

Sitting in the dormer Martin could look down on the street and the carriage house yard waiting for his father to come home or waiting for Dave, the hired hand, to do something interesting. The rain would drum on the window sometimes, but always Martin felt impervious to the storm, sitting so far out from the house, yet always protected. Once he had seen lightning strike a tree in the vacant lot across the street, and the tree had caught on fire and some men had put it out.

Again, he moved the hose. The men on the roof were beginning to remove the shingles from the dormer roof. The nails squeaked and the old cedar splintered and cascaded down the roof into the flower garden. Martin felt the coldness of the hose. He bent over to collect some fallen rose petals with his free hand; he tucked them into the pocket of his shirt, pinching the softness to release the fragrance onto his fingers.

While he was bent over, he saw two boys cross the street from the ballpark. They each had on a baseball glove and were tossing a ball back and forth. They joined the sidewalk in front of the carriage house and started toward the main house. Martin held the hose tight in his hand, and the coldness seemed to move up his arm. Leaning over the Red Regalias he drew in the reassuring smell of the roses.

The boys hovered around Avery’s pickup for a while, then headed for the peach tree in the front yard, just on the far side of Martin’s chain link fence. “Just let me catch them in my yard,” said Martin just under his breath, “and there’ll be hell to pay.” He pulled up the hose to stick his thumb in the end and squirted down the grass between his roses.

The boys began searching the ground under the peach tree. They started throwing peach pits at each other. Not finding any fresh peaches, one of the boys started up the tree trunk, the other boy boosting him up with his hands.

On the roof Avery and his men were ripping away the shingles, clawing at the wood with hammers, Avery tearing things with his crowbar. The top of Martin’s head burned with indignity while the whole right side of his upper body seemed paralyzed with the coldness from the hose.

With his left hand Martin massaged the numbness out of his right arm. He pulled the hose into another circle of dirt and changed hands. He took a leaf between the fingers of his cold hand and polished the dust away with his thumb until the natural wax was restored.

There had been no trespassers when his father was at the head of the estate, at the head of the bar. There had been an iron fence to define the place, posts made out of four-inch plumbing pipe, and three iron chains draping between. Only a segment remained in front of the carriage house, a segment rusted but still solid. Avery had removed the rest of it and had hauled it away in the back of his red pickup.

The boy in the tree was tossing down peaches to the boy on the ground who caught them in his baseball glove. Then there was a crash. Martin wasn’t sure where it had come from. He stood there unmoored, drifting. It came again and again like signals for his attention. The boys at the tree were shouting, one jumping up and down, the other shaking the limbs of the tree. There were peaches falling all around. Martin stuck his thumb in the end of the hose and aimed it at the tree. There was more shouting, something about a crazy old man, and the water seemed to blur his own vision. But he kept squirting, squirting them out like ants. They retreated, dancing out of range on the sidewalk. Still, he kept squirting, but the sound persisted. He looked up at the house through the limbs of the tree, leaving off the pressure with his thumb. There was a gaping hole in the side of the dormer roof, and Avery stood with his crowbar lifted high for another swing. The bar came down on a new spot and slats and cement of the old-style construction were knocked away; they fell inward into where the window seat had been.

Martin had not understood. They were not putting on a new roof; they were not repairing the dormer, but removing it altogether, as one would attack and remove something evil, something offensive. The coldness in his arm seemed to spread into his chest and move outward from there spreading to his other extremities. His arms went limp; they hung at his sides, the water from the hose running down his leg and onto his shoes. His legs felt pinned to the ground.

In this position Martin felt he had to say something. He dropped the hose. Someone was talking to him.

“Hey you. Hey you.”

He turned to the sound, towards the street. Something hit him in the arm, but it didn’t hurt, and then he saw boys running down the sidewalk. He waited. He heard the surrey coming home, the sound of the wheels on the hard road in front of the carriage house, heard his father on the steps, and the horses pawing for water in front of the house. “No,” he said in answer to the voice inside his head. And to himself he remembered there had been a Depression, and there had been debts to pay. The voice persisted.

“Excuse me, but do you own this place?” Martin knew he had to answer true.

“No,” he said.

“We saw the sign. The ‘For Rent’ sign in the window? Can you tell us where the office is?” The voice drifted, moved outside.

“Excuse me, but could you tell me who we could talk to about seeing the apartment for rent?”

“Apartment?” The voice was standing beside a blue Volkswagen; the voice had a mustache. It was a young couple from the university. The woman was still in the car. He moved towards the young man, his feet squeaking inside his wet shoes when he walked.

“Yes, an apartment. We were just passing by and saw the sign. We’ve been looking all over for a place.”

Suddenly Martin demanded, “What is it you want?”

“This is really an interesting place. Are you in charge here?” The man looked at his wife through the front window.

Martin came up to him, stopping a few feet away. “My wife, she handles . . .” He looked at the student with the mustache, a number ten plastered on the front of his red shirt and demanded, “What did you think? Of course I’m in charge here. I used to own all this,” and he panned the whole block with his left hand.

He stepped in closer, tried to stand straighter to look the student in the eye. “I’ll show you something interesting if you want.” He took hold of the student’s arm just above the elbow and tried to pull him so he could get a look at the main house. The young man resisted slightly. Martin paid no attention—he held the student’s arm out like a turkey wing.

You see that house, built in 1889. That house has architectural integrity.” He pointed with his free hand, his wrist limp, and his fingers unable to straighten out. “You see what they’re doing to it? they’re destroying it, that’s what they’re doing. Do you see?” He pulled the man’s arm to get him to move to a better spot. “Do you see? I didn’t sell it to Averys to have them destroy it.”

Martin moved in, stuck his face next to the mustached one, stared into his eyes for an answer. The student tried to pull away again, but Martin held him firm, sinking his fingers into the man’s bicep.

“Hey, search me I . . . “

God knows what Avery’ll put up there, probably his garbage cans. Do you want that? Do you want that really?”

The student looked back at his wife and then to Martin. “I really couldn’t say. It looks like they’ll do a nice job.” And then, “I’m sure they will.”

Martin gave back the arm, pushed it away with both hands in disgust. “What do you know about Avery?” The student got in his car; he said he’d come back another time. There were flowers painted on the car door. What did he know?

Martin looked down at his own wet shoes and pants and made his legs move out onto the sidewalk. He had to stop Avery before it was too late. In front of the main house Martin stopped about where the cement hitching post had been that had held the iron ring where the horses were tied in place, to keep them from pawing the lawn. He looked up to where the dormer was being taken apart by the three men. The men moved from side to side on the roof like matchsticks on the piano, like the matchsticks he moved back and forth when he practiced.

He had tried to work all the matchsticks to the right side of the piano, playing a piece over and over, moving one match if he played the piece all the way through without a mistake, but moving it back when he fumbled the next time through. He tried to get all the sticks on the finished side at the same time, three times perfect so he could finish practicing. His father had hired Mrs. Finch because she was particularly strict about practice. She smelled like vinegar sitting next to him on the piano bench, sometimes onions. She’d sit there nodding, trying to stay awake while he labored through the pieces, and Martin had felt guilty about making her sit there that way.

The sides of the dormer were disintegrating before him. Avery was smashing the wood, bringing the crowbar down as if it were something hateful. The wood splintered and popped, and soon the obstruction that had been Martin’s childhood had been removed. Avery was coming down the ladder.

He came over to where Martin was and stood there smelling of sweat, bits of wood and plaster stuck on his arms. He said that Martin needn’t worry about a thing because he had a lot invested in the old house and that he wouldn’t do anything to bring the property value down. He insinuated that Martin couldn’t understand such business matters. Martin wanted to tell Avery how the house had been built, the design of the thing, what it meant, but Avery told how the tenants were complaining about how drafty the dormer window had become and that he, Avery, poor mechanic, was stuck with the bills because he paid the utilities. Martin could only say that he understood, because, after all, he rented apartments too. So, he only said that he hoped it would look nice when he got done. And Avery walked off still clutching the crowbar.

Martin thought it had been all right living next door cultivating his roses, prodding Avery and his managers from time to time to keep the place up, to keep his tenants in line. But Avery was going too far in this. He shouldn’t be fooling around with the way things were.

And Avery had stood there dusting his pants and stomping his feet on the sidewalk, never really looking Martin in the eye. There was no reassurance in a man who couldn’t look you in the eye and swear to tell the truth. Martin started home rubbing a pain that was working up in his thigh.

Walking back, Martin heard laughter coming from his yard. Those boys, the ones with the baseball gloves, were in his yard after his roses. One was grabbing at the flowers, pinching and twisting the petals free. The other one was running in and out of the columns of plants. A fistful of petals showered into the air, and then another. Martin was working his feet.

“Hey you two. Stop that. Stop or I’ll get the law after you.” He was moving as fast as he could; he was out of breath.

The boys saw him coming; one cupped his hands around an entire flower and popped it off, and he trailed the petals in the air behind them as they ran all the way to the corner of the block. They were gone by the time Martin reached his yard. There were petals all over the grass. Too many for Martin to pick up.

He picked up the hose, turned off the water, and recoiled the hose by the side of the house, more out of habit than from conscious effort. Martin went into the house and dropped down into his rocker, his hands rubbing the arm rests.

He leaned back into the chair, his head bobbing up and down slightly, but out of control as if it were in water. When his head was down, the water tapped his mouth so he couldn’t breathe; then he heard his mother shushing him, holding him in her arms, rubbing his toes and fingers trying to make the color come back into them. They sat in her chair, the oak rocker, gently rocking while she tried to shush him from crying so much. The Judge was saying, “He should have done what I told him; he should have stayed in the carriage house until I came for him, but he was bound and determined to get back to the house.” Martin saw himself looking out the carriage house door from where he was perched on the seat of the carriage, where he was wishing he were in his room away from the water. Only yesterday there had been snow up to the second step of the house, but now there was only water running down the street, through their yard swamping the carriage house and most of the sheds. There were animals drowning which his father and Dave were trying to save, rabbits and chickens struggling in the foot-deep water. All the sandbags and digging was not helping very much. Going out to help his father had not turned out to be as fun as he thought it was going to be. The water came up over his boot tops and spilled in on his toes, and it was cold water having just been snow, and he had wanted to go back when his father set him on top of the carriage seat and told him to stay until he came for him. But Martin had become colder sitting there waiting and doing nothing. Outside, the water surged at him knocking him over. He remembered going down, his face hitting the water, the water trapping his mouth and burning his eyes. He had closed his eyes and mouth tight and his eyes had seemed to push inside his head. He had slid along the hard packed ice underneath the water, his face going under and up and the water going down his back turning him over and up and moving him along. He had tried to lift himself up, but his arms wouldn’t work. The cold had dislocated them taking them away from him, and his legs were tied together with the cold. So, there he was without arms and legs, a rolling sightless lump, until a hand grabbed his coat and lifted him up. Then there he was with his mother stripping his clothes off of him in the foyer and throwing the blanket around him, and the Judge was saying, “He should have done what I told him; he should have stayed in the carriage house until I came . . .” In the foyer, then in the parlor before the fireplace where his mother was rocking him gently and shushing him and telling him everything was going to be all right. The Judge leaned against the mantel and said, “He should have done what I told him . . .”

But Martin on his eighteenth birthday had come down the spiral staircase very proper in his long-tailed coat, pressing his piano music against his side. He came down the stairs and into the parlor where the Judge’s friends were waiting, and the Judge was waiting, standing by the fireplace, his arm resting on the mantel with his foot on the grate. Claude Debussy was on the cover of Etude magazine, a memorial tribute. Martin played Suite Bergamasque, wading through it as best he could. The men in the new style suits told him that he certainly had a chance, and they shook his hand and made a bow towards him. They talked with one another in the corner, and then they talked with the Judge in front of the fireplace and shook his hand. Everyone who shook Martin’s hand had whispered congratulations as if they all knew he had already been accepted.

Perhaps they had known more than he had, for he went away to Juilliard that fall to study the piano. His father had put him on the train and had given him his best valise. Martin had put his music into where the legal documents and books had been.

He went away in August and came back for good after eighteen months. Martin was sitting in his father’s study, uncomfortable, fidgeting in his father’s leather chair. It made his legs sweat. He sat there behind the massive desk and tried to comprehend the shelves of books “the dark covered mysteries” the volumes of law.

From behind the desk, he could look out on the street at the spring rain. The side window had been opened for spring cleaning and airing, and the rain was coming in on the floor. Martin went to the window and pulled out the pins and let the window slide down into place. The Judge was dead. Last week Martin had gone to the funeral where they had lowered the Judge beside Martin’s mother. Martin was alone in the house now. He had decided not to go back to school; there was no point in it anymore. He wondered what he should do, not knowing then that he would go to Lew Mitchell for financial advice. His eyes toured the high-ceilinged room with its endless books, and he seemed out of place in the solid-grained, leathered-covered room.

Martin saw himself then as a young man starting out on his business career with Lew Mitchell, and he saw himself old at the same time, watering the roses, and in his dream he laughed at what a young man thinks, about how a rich young man thinks there is enough money, and how it had seemed that there would always be enough if he handled it, not prudently, but wisely.

Then in ‘29 Martin saw himself sitting in a dark-colored room. There was a lemon-shaped burning object out in front of him, a sphere not completely round that was solidifying into a lamp. The lamp was on a desk made out of fashionable mahogany. It was deep reddish brown with square black leather insets in the top; the walls of the room were paneled with similar dark wood which absorbed the light from one small lamp.

Out of the darkness Lew Mitchell leaned forward and placed some official looking papers on the desk; his eyes were one dark bar across his face, the face that was the grown-up face of his childhood friend. Lew spoke.

“I believe I have found the way for you, Martin. A way that will leave you financially solvent and secure for the rest of your life.”

“I appreciate how you’re helping me, Lew. You always were the one for making plans.” Martin heard himself talking, remembered how it had always been with Lew sitting across the desk with all the answers.

“Yes, but you realize, of course, there is going to have to be some sacrifice on your part.”

“Of course.” Martin felt his head bobbing in agreement. “It’s just that with the city building up around the place, I can’t afford the taxes.”

“Yes, Martin, but it’s not just the taxes. You’ve piled up a considerable debt in the market. Continuing to live in the style you are accustomed to is no longer the question. There are going to have to be adjustments.”

“I see. Well, what have you got for me?” Martin leaned forward on the mahogany desk, trying to see the papers in Lew’s hand.

Lew leaned back into the darkness. He waited a few minutes as if trying to find the appropriate starting point. He began slowly. “You are familiar with the current situation in the housing market, are you not? The new steel mill, the expanding university?”

“They say there is a shortage.” Martin tried to see his face; it was like trying to see through water.

“Exactly!” Lew seemed to leap on his words; he slammed his flat palm on the desktop. “Here it is. The best deal I’ve been able to manage under the present conditions. I have several interested parties who want to buy your place.”

The news did not exactly take Martin by surprise, but it was still a blow. “What do you mean my place, Lew?”

Lew’s eyes reflected the light of the lamp; they seemed to glow with the prospects of the plan. “Just this. The crash has left you penniless. I couldn’t predict that. You have debts, and your only assets are tied up in this real estate. You’ll have to liquify those assets.”

Martin tried to say something, but Lew went on.

“The way I have it figured, you could keep the carriage house. Convert it into apartments, make a place for yourself in it, and live off the income from the tenants. With the sale of the rest of the property, you’ll be able to pay off your debts and be able to afford the remodeling.”

When Martin woke up from his nap, it was late afternoon; he opened his eyes slowly, unsure of where he was. There was light on the philodendron in the corner and the philodendron

silhouettes on the wall. His neck hurt. There was something pushing, hammering against the top of his head, forcing his head downward into his shoulders. He tried to move, but a sharp pain down his back restricted him. He grabbed for the arms of the rocker, but his hands seemed strapped in, encased in thorns. He looked down anxiously at his lap, at a grey wool comforter drawn up over his arms and tucked in at his sides. After a moment he remembered it was the one Ruth had put on the foot of his bed. Slowly he lifted his head and upper body away from the back of the chair, and the pushing sensation gave way to a throb in his head. He tore his hands free from the blanket and caught hold of the rocker, gripping the wood, working his fingers into the worn indentations. He sat there tilted forward, staring out at the roses that were shaded by the carriage house.

He smelled bean soup from the kitchen and heard the clank of silverware on the Formica counter. Then the day came back, distilled into the one impression of roses cascading down from Avery’s crowbar.

Martin pushed himself up from his chair trying to raise himself straight. He went out into the afternoon sunlight to see what Avery was doing. He walked around his stadium of roses that stretched from the asphalt parking lot to the chain link fence. The wet grass squeaked under his feet as he slid them along underneath him. He moved down the fence until the peach tree was out of the way, and he looked up. On the roof of the main house above the Judge’s porticoed entry was the fence for Avery’s garbage cans. The new wood only roughed out the shape of the remodeled room, but rather than a gabled roof, the roof sloped outward to the street like a rabbit hutch, broad and squat.

Martin took hold of the steel fence, sticking his fingers through the holes and around the wires. He clung to it as if he were receiving a freezing electric charge, the jolt reaching the center of his body.

“He should not have done that,” said Martin, and he released the fence and started backing up. His feet dragged, and his legs were stiff. There seemed to be movement around him, but he couldn’t account for it. He rocked forward and back, turned west to the carriage house toward the sun, toward where his roses should have been, but he was blinded by a whiteness that pushed in his eyes. He thrashed out with his arms expecting to take hold of something, but he seemed unable to locate himself. There was a cold pain down his back, and he was turning and falling forward, crashing down through the roses, his face peeling against the thorns. He clenched his teeth against the impact, clenched them so he couldn’t get his breath. The ground hit his shoulder first; it compressed his chest and knocked all the air out past his teeth. And then he was on his face sucking in the wet grass, and the throbbing in his head was like a pounding gavel.

The Tomb Guard, Arlington Cemetery

by Kevin Klein

They drained this swamp two hundred years ago
but didn't dry the air out half a damn.
Sweat rolls down the inside of my shirt;
a crowd of patient foreheads glisten above sunglasses.

He walks that black-rubber carpet
like clockwork, stepping in the worn shoe-prints.
When we were kids, he couldn't sit still
through one half-hour of cartoons, His letters say

all they do is drill, And he kids me about my divorce
like it's some old joke between us. He dropped
his gun once, and was sore the next dry
from pushup., He twists and shoulders the sharp rifle

while staring straight ahead through mirror shades. Pretty good
for a kid who couldn't take off a starter with a socket set,
I wonder if beneath those shock-white gloves
last summer's grease still ruts his palms and nails.

He pivots toward the crowd, and cameras click
at the striding monument to sacrifice
who at eleven still wet the bed, and believed
in Santa Claus till he was twelve,

which was my fault. I feel the nation's pride
hinge on his precision, his flawless wool and cotton,
all symbol but the black tag: MORRIS.
His monkey suit's still hanging in the shop,

oiled smooth, his name in white cursive: Shane.
He could have been my assistant manager. But I guess
he's got a higher ladder to crawl here. lt's too bad
I forgot my camera. I wrote him once

to ask if there really was a soldier
buried in the Unknown Tomb, He didn't know.

Oil

by Melody McGrath

Following a brief rain,
your car will unintentionally deposit
in an asphalt nest
a perfectly shelled and shimmering
egg of oil.
It arcs a rainbow under 
your Toyota,
a slight pocket of crude
within a rim of color.
You will marvel at its loveliness,
remarking on its wild, murky abandon,
feeling the grandeur of life in a 
handful of swirling blue.
The sky dampens and repeats the downpour,
and your lovely rainbow creature
driven to frustration by an incessant drumming of rain
breaks its shell
and rolls away.

Pro Libertate

by Kent Wallace

The pub where I was drinking with a group of Brits and Egyptians one foggy autumn evening in 1991 in Aberdeen, Scotland, used to be a church. The ornately carved wooden preacher’s pulpit still stood high on the right side of the nave. But now the pulpit contained a mixing board, three spinning record turntables, and a grinning black Rastafarian D. J. with long dreadlocks and a large Jamaican hat. Bob Marley was pounding out of the speakers and reverberating off of the grey granite walls. The music became a cacophony. No one seemed to mind. The pews had been removed to make space for tables, chairs, and a dance floor. The bar stood in place of the altar. Where the crucifix of Jesus Christ, King of the Jews, should have been hanging, there was, instead, a huge mirrored sign advertising “Budweiser—King of Beers.” Despite the high vaulted ceiling, cigarette smoke was thick. It was crowded. The women there were all typically Scottish-ugly, with bad teeth and short, stocky legs. 

lan, Kieran, and I were sitting at a table where the first row of pews should have been. We were ignoring the Egyptians. A barmaid came over and asked us what we wanted, She looked at my elephant skin cowboy boots and Wrangler shirt and asked me if I wanted a Budweiser, and tried to pronounce “Budweiser” with an American accent. I ordered an Irn-Bru, an orange-colored but rusty-tasting Scottish soda pop, lan and Kieran, my two friends, ordered Glenfiddich neat.

We were all taking a three-week course to familiarize ourselves with a new drilling tool our company had developed. Our company, a large American oilfield service company, had its eastern hemisphere office in Aberdeen, and engineers from all over the hemisphere were sent here to train on the new equipment. This new tool was used for measuring the angle and direction of the drill bit, and it gave the data while drilling. It was cutting-edge technology. Some of the components were the same as those used in the Cruise Missile. I had learned more about the inclinometers and magnetometers than I
had really wanted to know, but it really was an interesting course. 

I had become good friends with Ian and Kieran. Kieran was an Irishman who was based in Saudi Arabia, lan was the instructor, and today was his last day at the school. He would be leaving for the Far East the next morning. 

“I’ll miss you two,” Ian said, “but it’s good riddance to our tea-towel-headed friends. Present company excepted, of course, but this was the thickest bunch of engineers I’ve ever taught. I can understand that there might have been some language problems, but we used Arabic numerals in the equations.You’d think they would have understood that part, at least. What a lot of gits.” Ian glared over at the Egyptians’ table.

The Egyptians would all be going back to Egypt and were trying to drink as much as they could before returning to a country where Allah could keep an eye on them. I shared Ian’s dislike of the Egyptians. When we ate lunch, the Egyptians would paw through the food hamper and cast aside all the BLT’s and the ham and cheese sandwiches. They were all married, but they still tried to hit on the secretaries and any other females they saw. At night they drank like fish. These Egyptians were all officers in their army and were as conceited as any group of people I had ever met. They were also incompetent, and the class had dragged along slowly because of them. Until I had met them, I had always wondered how a numerically superior Egyptian army could get its butt kicked consistently by the Israelis. After a few weeks with these guys, I was convinced the pyramids must have been designed and built by aliens. 

Kieran, like the Egyptians, was headed for a Muslim country and seemed to feel a need to get particularly blasted now that the course was over, Ian had been in a black mood all day, Like me, lan was recently divorced. His ex-wife was destroying him financially, so he was going to leave the country. I would be returning to Norway the next day, and I really wasn’t looking forward to going back.

I had been concentrating so much on successfully completing my course work that I had managed to block out all thoughts of anything after this course. I should have been sending out my Christmas cards. For each of the past six years I’d written a cheerful letter full of good news—job promotions, interesting family vacations, the births of my three children, the purchase of a lovely new house with a great view of the ocean. And each Christmas letter had a picture included of my happy family, two proud parents and three lovely blonde children. My ex-wife was a typical Scandinavian beauty. Unfortunately, I thought of her, and the image that came to my mind was of her naked. She had a great body with perfect, full breasts, fine feminine curves, and flawless skin. Even after giving birth to our three children, she still didn’t have a single stretch mark, And I could smell her perfume. 

“Kent,” Ian said as he punched me in the shoulder, “Hey, mate. You still with us. You look like you could use a drink.” I shook my head. 

“You know what sober means?” Kieran asked, He was pretty drunk and slurred the words, I shook my head again. Kieran counted each letter off on his fingers. “Son of a bitch, everything’s real.” I laughed, but Kieran had hit too close to home. Everything was real and it was rotten. I wanted my old life back, but there was nothing I could do about it. I kept drinking my soda pop. Ian was pretty drunk when a uniformed woman police constable came up to him and told him he was under arrest. The woman read (or attempted to read; she was unable to pronounce many of the words) from a typewritten sheet detailing crimes from drunk driving to lewd conduct. Then she took off her blouse. A circle formed, and I found myself with no way to escape and with an unobstructed view as the stripper removed clothing until she was completely nude except for high stockings and a garter belt. She had stretch marks on her belly and thighs. Probably in her mid-thirties and a bottle blonde-not a woman I wanted to see naked. 

The fattest of the Egyptians had gotten so excited about this stripper that he had climbed onto a tiny pedestal table in order to get a better view. The crowd pressed in on me until I was so close to the stripper that I could smell her and see every blemish on her skin. I felt claustrophobic and frantic. I pushed back hard against the crowd to keep as much distance from her as possible. 

She hugged Ian and he grabbed for her breasts. She pushed him away. I saw fear in her eyes. She was trapped by a drunken crowd of men, and she was naked. Before anything else could happen she quickly hugged Ian again and kissed him on the cheek. Then she gathered her clothes and began dressing. Once she was mostly clothed, the crowd broke up. I was disappointed that the Arab’s table hadn’t collapsed underneath him. 

Everyone ignored the stripper as she left. People from the office came over and shook Ian’s hand or pounded him on his shoulder. Ian was in a good mood now. The cigarette smoke hurt my eyes and gave me a headache. Kieran launched into another of his Irish history lessons and told us of the outrageous things the English had done to his people starting hundreds of years ago and continuing right upto the present. 

“What’s it like to be from a country with no history?” Kieran asked me in a break during the Irish history lesson.

“It’s not too bad,” I replied, “What’s it like to be from a country with no future?” I asked flatly. I’d been playing the ugly American with them before, but now nothing seemed funny. On other nights, when they were as drunk as they were now, they’d get serious and start to ask questions about my religion. I’d always make a couple of jokes and let the topic slide. I had learned as a missionary that it was futile to teach religion to someone who was under the influence of alcohol. But, now, I wanted to tell them about my great-grandfather and his baby daughter who was born in a dank dugout in Winter Quarters. This little girl survived the long trip across the plains and died as my great-grandfather’s wagon train entered the Salt Lake Valley. She had the dubious honor of being the first person to be buried in the Salt Lake Cemetery. The mob had forced my people out of the United States while the government stood by and did nothing to protect their rights.

I wanted to tell them about another ancestor who was a scout on the Hole-in-the-Rock expedition in southern Utah, where a group of Mormon pioneers had taken a wagon train through an area so impassable and barren that the area still has few roads and hasn’t been settled. The wrongs my people had suffered were in the last century, but we had gotten over it and pushed our way back into American society. We remembered our past, but, unlike Kieran’s people, we didn’t need to use bombs to punctuate our struggle as a minority group. I wanted that little Irishman to know that my people had a history and that I knew my heritage. Kieran leaned over to me with his whiskey breath and said something else about America that I didn’t catch.

“Do you know what an American is?” I asked. They both shook their heads, “We’re just Europeans who had intelligent ancestors.” They smiled, but I was feeling really angry. Everything suddenly felt so very wrong. I told Ian and Kieran that I needed some fresh air and would be back in an hour.

I stepped outside but I still felt dirty. My clothes smelled like cigarettes and beer from where the barmaid had spilled on me. But the feeling of dirtiness went much deeper. The stripper made me sad. That woman was obviously uneducated and was exploited and demeaned in order to earn money, and I felt like I had been part of it. After all, I had looked. There was more to it than that. A stripper and a bar in a church. It was blasphemous.

A grey fog had rolled into Aberdeen, a grey city built of granite. Everything was monochrome. Grey people wearing grey coats scurried along grey sidewalks. I was wearing an oilskin duster and Tony Lama boots. I was sure I looked as out of place as I felt. I hated Scotland, hated living for three weeks in a constant overcast drizzle. I was glad my ancestors had been bright enough to hightail it off to America. The chieftain of the Clan Wallace now lives in Bermuda. Bright boy. l could hardly wait to leave too, except that I really had nothing to go back to. In the morning I would fly back to a town I used to call home and take another load of my things from what used to be my house to my basement bachelor’s apartment, all under the cold, watchful eye of the woman I had been married to for seven years. We had three children together, but now she would recoil from my touch as I had from the stripper.

I moved off Union Street and followed a street I had never been on before. It felt good to be away from the smoke and the noise. I had learned the appeal of pubs. They were clean, well-lighted places that surrounded a person with sound and a kind of warmth. As long as you had money, you could feel part of something larger in a pub. The loud music prevented serious discussion or thought, which was also probably part of the appeal. Outside it was numbingly cold. The dank fog from the North Sea seemed to go right through to my bones, but the fog also seemed to soften things. I could see no farther than ten meters, Away from the noise of the pub, I could think clearly again. 

I had been divorced now for three months. The four MormonsI had known who worked with me in the oil business had, within a two-year period, all gotten divorced. In each case it was the wife who had wanted out. I was the only one who still managed to remain active, and I was only barely hanging on.

I came to an intersection where there were churches on each corner. Two of them were, in fact, no longer churches but an architectural firm and an insurance building. The third one was being remodeled and had a “For Sale” sign on it. Stained glass windows were being replaced with double-glazed ones.

The one that was still a church looked shabby. Its exterior was darker than the others. Moss grew a few feet up the sides. The massive wooden door was old and scratched and battered. It had a key-hole that would fit a giant skeleton key, and I felt that a good kick could put my foot right through the rotten wood of the door. The times of the services were stapled to the door in a plastic sheet. Scotland seemed in a hurry to join the rest of Europe in its post-Christian splendor. I wished the door was open and that there was a priest inside to talk to. I felt like I was badly in need of absolution. 

I thought about Provo, Utah, my hometown. Churches were still being built there, and they were filled to capacity each week. But Utah seemed so far away to me that I almost doubted its existence.

Maybe I needed to get back to Utah where my Mormon God could keep an eye on me. I was thousands of miles from where I wanted to be and light years away from being who I wanted to be. I could feel the drag of the world working against me, and I knew that if I stayed in the oil business I would eventually turn out like Ian. Or, worse, I might find myself perched on a wobbly bar table like a fat bird straining for a glimpse of an ugly stripper. The money I was earning, however, was too good to leave. Oil is an exploitative business, reaping where it hasn’t sown. It exists for quick profits and leaves town the moment the wells run dry.

I felt like just quitting and taking the next plane to Utah, but I knew that I couldn’t. I was shackled to my job by a golden chain that I didn’t have the will to break. After all, if I left its employ, what would become of me? 

Ian had said that the stripper had been the first naked woman he’d seen after his divorce. I couldn’t have said the same, I hadn’t slept with any of them yet, but it seemed like it would just be a matter of time before I did. Women have always been my weakness,
I thought marriage would have been the cure, and, in a way, it was. I had never been unfaithful to my wife. I also hadn’t ever been totally happy with her, or, for that matter, any other woman I had ever known,.

Hugh Nibley, a notable Mormon scholar, and I once talked about the nature of man. He said that he felt that men belonged in one of three classes-celibates, monogamists, and polygamists. He felt that he was, by nature, a celibate, but he had been married for nearly fifty years and had a fine family. I guess that I have always been inclined more toward polygamy. I was working in the North Sea region and had girls in Bergen, Stavanger, Oslo, Copenhagen, Esbjerg, Aberdeen, Cheltenham, and London. lt was nice that I could get into nearly every town I worked in and have someone to spend time with. I never liked being alone for too long. The girl in Bergen was tall, blonde, and had been a model. The girl in Aberdeen was short, dark, and (by Scottish standards) a beauty. None of the them, however, seemed like someone I wanted to marry. 

A couple in long coats came toward me, gliding like chess pieces through the knee-deep fog. They were the only people I had seen in sometime. Almost everyone was inside on a night like this. As I went further, a man came out of an alley with a glowing cigarette in his mouth. My company had warned all of us engineers about walking alone in Aberdeen, since a Dutch engineer had gotten beaten up and robbed a few weeks previously, I laced my keys through my fingers. I let the big key to my company BMW stick out between the second and third fingers on my left hand. With my right hand, I released the snap on the sheath of my Buck hunting knife. I really wasn’t very worried. Standing six-feet tall and weighing more than 200 pounds, I felt like a giant in Scotland. The man was a good six inches shorter than me. He ducked backdown the alley. I could see the glow of three cigarettes as I passed by. No one came out, I was almost disappointed. Getting into a fight would have let me release some of the anger that I was holding in. I am, by nature, a very violent person, but I always keep my anger under control. I did, however, find myself regretting my good behavior and often wished that I had beat up some people who seemed to deserve it.

A few weeks before I left for Scotland, I had gone to a party at an American couple’s home in Stavanger. It was a theme party, and we were all supposed to come dressed as a song. I couldn’t think of anything for a costume. When I got there, one man was dressed as Puff, the Magic Dragon. One very confident woman wore an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow polka dot bikini.  And one guy was wearing a cheap, shiny blue suit with a tie that had the narrow part hanging below the wide part. He had on white socks and scuffed brown shoes. None of us could guess what song he was. “I came,” he said, “dressed as a ‘Norwegian Wood.”‘

A few days after the party I found myself in front of a Norwegian judge who was dressed just like the guy at the party, and I stood there meekly while he gave my car, my children, and the house I had built to my ex-wife. 

The fog was getting more dense. It swirled around me as  Iwalked. I could no longer see the ground. I began to be afraid, silly fears like my next step would be into a manhole missing its cover. I was sliding my foot along the ground and making sure I was stepping onto firm ground before putting my weight down. The streetlights and autumn trees played tricks on my eyes. I would think I could see someone, but no one was there. My visibility was reduced to a couple of meters, but a thick patch of fog would occasionally drift past and reduce my visibility to nothing. As the fog boiled and swirled around me, I thought I could see faces in the fog.

I became disoriented and terrified, And I was angry at myself for being so afraid. As I walked along, I noticed that the newly painted, black wrought-iron fence by the sidewalk now had painted metal crests between some of the bars. The painted crests were bright colors—red, blue, and gold—the only colors I could see. As I looked closely at one of the crests, I recognized it as the crest of my clan—the same crest that was on the key fob I still had clenched in my fist. Ahead of me loomed a large, lighted statue. The statue was on a little island in the street where the road made a T-intersection. I crossed the road to the statue which stood higher than the fog. The statue was of Sir William Wallace, Scotland’s national hero. A wreath of fresh flowers had been placed at the base of the statue. William Wallace had been dead for nearly seven hundred years, and yet someone was still placing flowers on his statue.

According to legend, William Wallace was six-foot-five-inches tall, brave, fearless, and loved by everyone-except the English. Standing there at the base of the statue, I drew my right hand out of my coat pocket. The blade of my hunting knife looked ridiculously tiny compared with the claymore in the hand of the statue.

I didn’t know where to go, so I sat down on a park bench, the toes of my cowboy boots pointing upwards, my arm along the top of the bench, the knife still held in my hand. I took stock of my life. Nothing was going right, and I had lost everything that mattered to me. I couldn’t think of a single reason for carrying on. I wasn’t suicidal. I just didn’t want to continue to exist. I wished that I could just disappear into the fog. 

William Wallace’s life had never been easy. His father had been killed when he was young. The English had drowned his wife. He had fought against oppression his whole life, and he never compromised. Pro Libertate. For Liberty, the motto of the Clan Wallace, William Wallace wasn’t the type of man who would have allowed himself to be ruined by a badly dressed judge and some lopsided laws. He would have gotten out his claymore and fought for his rights. Of course, he got hung, drawn, and quartered for his efforts. I just had to move into a basement apartment. 

My life had been good for so long. I had always succeeded at anything I’d ever tried, and I usually hadn’t even needed to try very hard. And now it was all unraveling. I just wanted to go back to the pub and get drunk. It seemed too much to have to face the tail end of this century stone cold sober. On the other hand, I’d seen enough of the world to know that it didn’t have much to offer. 

I sat there a long time. After resting for several minutes, I got up and circumambulated the monument. There were inscriptions on each side. One of the inscriptions was some advice that William’s uncle and guardian, Argyle Wallace, allegedly gave to William that had inspired him to fight for Scotland’s freedom. “l tell you the truth, liberty is the best of all things, my son, never live under any slavish bond.” 

The fog started to lift as I sat there. I looked up into the autumn sky and watched the familiar stars. I was no longer as world weary as I had been. Wallace’s statue was luminescent in the starlight. I have never considered myself a mystical person, but something had happened to me. I felt a real connection with my legendary clansman, William Wallace had changed me, had given me some hope. 

Orion was directly above me, I hitched up my own belt and put my knife back into its sheath, I felt some new strength and was ready to go on. Ian, Kieran, and the others would be waiting for me to drive them back from the pub. I remembered the words from Ecclesiastes and decided that I would discover if being a living dog really was better than being a dead lion.

 

Pica

by Krista Halverson

This eighth month I have been painting women. Gesture
Juncture, profiles next to apples, in poses that embarrass
Me. This one cracks her knuckles on the back of her neck, stares

Like the plump sister in another wash–arm raised overhead
Like a crescent roll. Same skin
Slipping over her jaw, same monochrome and glaze,

Poised, like she could never think of breathing,
My doctor tells me to explore, play music, buy yellow–for a boy
Or a girl. Explains why I hold mouths full

Of soil, bite my tongue until my eyes run,
And take small swallows of warm grit. She calls this Pica,
Which condition bothers women, mainly, She knows

A woman whose husband found her digging clay
From under a cold rock; she ate the roots of her Geraniums.
The hair on this girl looks like roots. She smells like me, like paint
And that hole in the wood floor where the oil drains.

Soupe de Poisson

by Eric Freeze

The bench was cold. Red carnations sprouted from a worn stone pot on one end, and I slouched against my pack at the other. It was nine-thirty, about the time my friends the Houdins were supposed to get home from church activities in Montpellier a college town in the south of France. They didn’t know I was coming. 

At the front of the house was a wrought-iron gate. I jumped it after a hitch from a guy going directly to Castlenau-le-les. He said that I was the first Mormon he had ever met, though he had often seen them on T.V. And the fact that I was Canadian, not American, added to a general awe which I admittedly enjoyed. He had a round face and bright eyes, and I really felt that picking up strangers wasn’t something he did everyday. At least that’s the only way that it made sense to me.

I had been lying propped against my pack for twenty minutes when the gate opened the first time. I wasn’t expecting the branch president to come walking up. I was half-asleep, and I know he recognized me, I served as a missionary in the Montpellier branch for five months a year before. It was my last area. He couldn’t remember my name, and he covered his hands when he talked. He came to drop off some items left from a camping trip in Ardeche that the youngest of the Houdins, Augustin, had forgotten. I was talking to him when the gate opened the second time. It was the Houdins. I remember they were happy to see me.

As a missionary, I first met the Houdins at church one Sunday in March. I had just been transferred to Montpellier and was introduced to them by my companion—a missionary whom I had known since the MTC. Specifically, I remember meeting Mathilde Houdin, She was light complexioned and had bleached blonde hair and would playfully hit people when she talked. I remember her because she didn’t hit me, just asked me how I was doing. She had four children: Roman, Samuel, Gisèle, and Augustin. Roman was not living at home and was to be married in a month, Samuel was on a mission, Gisèle had just graduated from the “fac” similar to high school, and would eventually go to Utah the following year to learn English—the same time that I would be going to BYU. Augustin, the youngest, was obnoxiously funny and often went tracting with the missionaries.

I don’t know exactly how my companion and I ended up getting to know them better. I know they invited us over to eat every Sunday. She would make soupe de poisson, and we would eat cheese. They had a nice apartment in a small town not far from Montpellier called Carnot-les-plages, where they had moved after their father died. Their father had been a physician, and they had lived comfortably in a large villa in Bordeaux. Their new apartment reflected the furnishings of this larger villa—their lavish meuble a façade of a less austere life when they lived in Bordeaux, had two cars, and didn’t worry about money. 

We started teaching Sister Houdin’s parents after the long Sunday dinners we had in their home. While the rest of the children went out to play volleyball on the beach, we lingered to teach them both about the gospel. Sister Houdin was excited to see her parents discussing religion so openly; it had been a source of friction ever since the missionaries frist started coming to their home when she was a teenager. Though her parents were never baptized, we found they enjoyed learning about the Church—to know why their daughter was baptized (wasn’t a Catholic baptism enough?) and why she was happy even after her husband died. We also loved coming over to teach because it gave us more time to be with the Houdins. Often after teaching, we would join the children on the beach and play mock games of soccer or volleyball. Sometimes, those Sunday afternoons would turn into evenings or nights; the Houdins would also invite us over during the week for special occasions: a birthday, holidays, Sometimes just to spend time when they wanted company. By the time I finished my mission, my companion and I considered them our family—or we told ourselves they were. That was the only way we could see things clearly—we had both been away from home for almost two years, and this was the first time either of us felt so readily accepted by a family. Her soup, the cheese, grandparents, gospel, and the beach all became part of a familial collage we had been searching for during our missions. We were close and had already started planning time together for the next year, when we would all return for the summer and Bastille Day—not as missionaries, just as her kids.

The first bise was uncomfortable. Mathilde hadn’t seen me for a year, and we hadn’t really written much; I always assumed that since I was coming back, it didn’t matter I hadn’t written. We could cover the whole year when I got there, and I always felt it was better in person. I called them at Christmas and for birthdays—wasn’t that enough? Her daughter was at school with me—I saw her almost every week, so I didn’t think anything was wrong when Mathilde scolded me for not writing. Everything that had happened over the last year, for me, was everything that had happened with them. I still felt so necessarily connected with their lives, and the memory of the apartment, the meals, and the discussions were a part of me. But it was uncomfortable when she bised me. The way she formed her lips and kissed the air—and her cold cheek when she asked me why I hadn’t shaved in the last few days. “l’ve been travelling,” I said, then told them how I met a nice man in the neighborhood who had given me a ride and knew where avenue de trident was because he lived a couple blocks away, and was going there anyway, how it was blessedly coincidental, and weren’t they glad to see me anyway? She still thought I could’ve shaved. 

When the branch president left, closing the wrought-iron gate behind him, Mathilde shooed me inside along with Augustin. They were in a house now. She had found a job and was finally able to pay for something that could accommodate friends and relatives. It was not far from her other house, still near Montpellier, but in a more residential area. Most of what was in the house I still recognized. The meuble was the same-large, dark finished cabinets, and armoirs. They were beautiful, but not perfect. Pock marks from termites a few years ago scarred their surface, but just on the bottom, under the finish. She had bought a new kitchen table, larger than the first, and she had a set of chairs that I thought was new, but they were actually her older chairs, recovered with red cloth and brass studs. I walked on the Turkish throw rug they had had in their living room in Castlenau. I took off my shoes, gripped it through my socks. I spread my feet a shoulder widths apart and started talking to Mathilde. 

“Comme tu es mince! You’re thinner now. Haven’t you been eating anything?” she said. 

“I just haven’t had anyone stuffing soup de poisson down me every time I turn around,” I said. She gave me a curious glance—looking first at my backpack, then at the frayed cuffs of the coat I had bought when we were in centreville in spring a year ago. She looked at my boots, then my face. 

“It’s funny, I still want to call you Elder.” 

I stayed with the Houdins for about a week. Two of those days she took off work, and three Augustin skipped school to stay with me. I felt that they felt obligated to spend time with me , and I was never entirely comfortable with that. Mathilde had worked hard to acquire what she could, to provide a place, things, and room for her children. We talked often about the “Celebration of Music” holiday when my companion would show up as well, and we would all leave for Montpellier to watch different groups perform in cramped cobblestone streets, playing music with instruments, hands, and voices. But my stay there wasn’t summed up in anticipatory events—it was the reality of being a stranger in a strange country among people who claimed to be family to me. I realized that even though we both claimed this bond openly, I was still being looked at, questioned, watched. 

That weekend, the Houdins invited the missionaries over for dinner. We didn’t have soupe de poisson like when I was on my mission, but an easier hamburger and pasta dish. I asked Sister Houdin why, to which she replied,”Je n’ai plus le temps.” With her job and church responsibilities she didn’t have time to make it anymore, In fact, she hadn’t made soupe de poisson since we left over a year ago. It was also the first time in a year that the Houdins had invited the missionaries over. I knew one of the missionaries fairly well—he was in my zone before I finished my mission and was always a good missionary: hardworking, jovial, and open. While they were there, I felt different than I had during the past week. I was comfortable, relaxed. The house and the family were again a part of me, flowing through me. The summer table on the patio where we sat was white and sturdy, nicked on the edges from being so long folded up in the corner of an apartment. It had been left out the same way the missionaries had—put aside for the right occasion, We talked. One of the elders asked me what it was like to come back and visit people in areas where I had served. 

“It’s great,” I replied.

“l’m hoping to do the same thing next summer,” one said. 

“It’s worth it,” I said. 

I looked at Mathilde. She was smiling. If she had been wearing a hat, it would have been white, broad-brimmed.

“It’s hard to see people leave,” she said.

“That’s why I came back.”

“Sometimes I wonder, though, if it’s really good to get close to people. I mean really close. Because then when they leave you start playing like they’re still there, and then when they’re not . . . well, it’s just confusing.” 

“What do you mean?” I said. Getting close to people seemed to me to be exactly what life was about.Wasn’t that why I was here, why I was dipping my straw in my glass of ice water on this white table on the patio? Now, today, with these people? 

“l don’t know, I mean, when you two left, it was hard. Too hard. Maybe if we hadn’t got so close, it wouldn’t be so difficult. If I had distanced myself a bit, or if we had distanced ourselves a bit, then maybe none of that anxiety would’ve really had to happen—whether or not I would ever see you again, or if you would come back, whether or not it would be the same.” 

She was still smiling, but not coyly or without looking at me. The missionaries were also looking at me. They had heard the story before: how when we left, she was depressed and wanted her “children” back. She always said we were like her children. To me that was endearing, meaningful: belonging to someone else in another country like I had been born there, crawled on their furniture and sat at their table, put my clothes neatly in an armoir on grey wire hangers in my room down the hall. She said that we were like that to her, and I felt it. I had reached a point where I felt our lives were completely in common, where we had become family. Now I couldn’t see how someone would rather it hadn’t happened. 

“Do you really think it would’ve been better if . . .”

“If what?”

“Well, if we hadn’t ever met each other, helped your grandparents and everything.”

“No, it just would’ve been easier.”

At this point, one of the missionaries broke in, talking quickly.

“I think that’s why many of the missionary rules are there—so separation is easier. I know in my last area, since the members knew that we couldn’t write after we left, and since we weren’t allowed to call or anything, it made it easier to get to know other missionaries.” 

“We didn’t break mission rules, though,” I said.

“Well, I guess separation is always difficult,” he said.

My hands were cold. I had been playing with my glass of ice water, not thinking. The patio was still white with the sun, and we had finished our meal. I wiped my plate clean with a snub of bread, then carried it over to the sink inside where I washed it and my solitary fork and knife, then left them gleaming to dry. That night, I decided that I needed to see some of my other friends. 

I left the following afternoon, and promised to return before next week for the “Celebration of Music.” My old companion had not yet called or told anyone anything, but we knew he was still planning on coming. It didn’t take me long to gather my things—most of them stayed deep in my backpack. As a guest, I had tried to be meticulous, not leaving anything out for fear I would infringe on their hospitality. That morning, I cleaned the kitchen and bathroom. 

When I left, I didn’t expect the trip to be as long as it was. I took the bus to the train station, then waited for my train, only to find out that the trains were on strike. I was rerouted on a regional train leaving in a couple hours. When I eventually got to Marseille, I was tired, bought a box of french pattiseries at a station bakery, and ate all three of them sitting in a corner between a magazine store and some restrooms. 

I saw three good friends in Marseille—one of whom I had helped teach. Every one of them was happy and flattered I would see them. 

I called, dropped in, and left feeling good, like I had reminded them of something. But I wasn’t as close to any of them as I had been with the Houdin family. 

I returned to see the Houdins the following week. I admit I hadn’t called ahead of time—I mean, I did say when I would be there, but I didn’t give them a day’s notice—just called them before I got on my train. I had used up my phone card the day before trying to figure out how to call home to Canada to let my parents know I was O.K., and I didn’t immediately have any other money. I wasn’t at all prepared for what I heard. 

“Well, I’m not really sure we have any room for you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Roman and Valerie are coming tonight, and I think they’ll be staying in the room you were in. Plus Augustin might have some friends over. Sorry.” 

“O,K.,” I said, “l’ll try to work something else out.” 

This initial rejection started a long series of phone calls and curt, very polite conversations—all refusing my company. Mathilde never gave any explanation for her rejections—to her, there just wasn’t any room for me: not on a bed, or the floor, or even outside. 

I was on a bench the next day, eating. I bought a baguette and cheese from a small corner store that wrapped everything in brown paper, then found a bench near a fountain and took off my boots. There was a market that day—a weekly event which always generated crowds of interesting people. I watched the yellow stands of fruit, dark nuts, and olives, and the man selling mushrooms who always wore a brown cardigan, even when it was warm enough that most other people were in shorts. All of the scents and scenes reminded me so much of my mission: the way we would go whizzing by on our mountain bikes, having just enough time to catch a whiff of garlic or chestnuts roasted by a street vendor. 

Through the surging marketplace, a man walked up to me. He carried a boxy tape recorder with myriads of black, white-lined knobs along the side. 

“Could you tell us about the first time you fell in love?” he asked. My green hiking boots were also set up against the bench, and my feet were naked, ready to jump into my open-toed sandals I had retrieved from the depths of my pack. 

“The first time I fell in love?” 

“Yes,” he said. “What was it like? Where was it? Were you immediately attracted to her?” 

The man’s tie dangled near my face, and he held the mike up under my chin. I wondered why his top button was undone. He had hairy arms and his shirt was tucked ruthlessly into his pants, making his tweed slacks seem bigger than they really were, He wore them high, over a modest belly.

“l don’t know what to tell,” I said, “I mean, I have been in love before.” 

The man started recording. I suddenly wanted to slam my feet into my sandals, and walk somewhere-just do something. But it was sunny, and in the park there was a fountain, and I had found an unoccupied bench. I was alone under a tree in the sun which sat like a bright Buddha on a cloud. The man nodded at me to keep talking. 

“Well, I met her during school in the United States,” I said. “It was a private school, and I met her during a Hula exposition from the Polynesian club. I remember her because she didn’t like pizza. They had pizza at the Hula thing, and she wouldn’t eat any of it,.I didn’t ask her out until the second semester, because I didn’t feel that we knew each other well enough.” 

“So it wasn’t love at first sight?” 

“Not exactly. I think I was immediately attracted to her, but I don’t remember actually thinking I was in love. No, I suppose it wasn’t.” 

“So what did it feel like being in love? Were you instantly filled with passion? Did you do anything drastically romantic for her? Did you ever write her a love poem or sing to her?” He was staring at me now, and he talked fast.

“l don’t know,” I said. “We were really good friends. I felt more of a comfort than any passionate fire sort of feeling. I suppose I did romantic things for her, but I don’t think that they were really outlandish. I wanted to write her a poem once, but she was too much of a friend, and I don’t think I’ve ever sung anything that didn’t scare anyone. It wasn’t very mushy, does that make sense?” 

“Yes,” he said, then lowered the microphone and adjusted a knob on the recorder. “Thanks for you time.” 

When he left, I was expecting to feel relief, but instead I felt cheated. The man had not wanted a description of platonic love, but something more deeply passionate, drastic. I began to question whether or not I had been in love, or whether or not I even really knew what the concept of real caring, real basic love for a neighbor or for a good friend would entail. My behavior made it apparent that my perception of the whole relationship with the Houdins had been inherently one-sided; I would only care for people as I wanted to be cared for. I didn’t want outlandish displays of affection because they made me feel uncomfortable—probably because I wasn’t willing to do the same for others. I didn’t think I needed to love with everything that I had, regardless of whether or not it was reciprocated, regardless of hatred, scorn, or negative feelings.

The marketplace was now vibrant. People were bright slashes of reds and oranges, surrounding stands of fruit, bending down like they were bowing, praying. They existed to me only as I existed to them—watching them watching me. I had come to the marketplace and found a bench and sat so it was all mine—so no one could sit next to me, bother me. My father told me once that life was an exercise in empathy. What he said now made sense—love people completely, the way they would be loved, a way they understood. I reworked the conversation that I had had with Mathilde and the missionaries. “Would it had been better if . . .” I heard myself saying, “No, it just would’ve been easier.” Mathilde thought it would’ve been easier because I wouldn’t love her and her family back in the same unconditional way she cared about me. She was experiencing sorrow—I was only willing to do as much as I would require from someone who I thought cared about me. It would’ve been easier—not because she didn’t care, or thought that people shouldn’t get to know each other, but because people don’t always love back unconditionally. People leave, forget, stop sending letters because they think those left behind will understand. “Love one another, as I have loved you.” I stuffed my feet in my sandals, strapped on my backpack and headed to a telephone. 

The next week was interesting. Mathilde eventually accepted my apologies and invited me over for dinner. I called well in advance to let her know when I was coming, and reevaluated my criticisms, my feelings I had the first time. 

When I got there, the table was already set, and it was sunny, reflecting from silverware like wind chimes. We had soupe de poisson— made fresh.
The next day we sat again on the patio, this time near a small fountain in the yard. Augustin and Gisèle had gone shopping and Mathilde had been complaining about the branch, how she wanted to meet someone, remarry, but how it was so hard to find a good member of the Church like her husband. 

“l know you’ll find someone,” I teased.

“But when? I’m already fifty, I don’t like being alone.”

“What do your kids feel about you getting remarried?”

“Well, I know it would be hard for some of them. Gisèle—well, she was always attached to her father. She takes more after him than me, you know.” 

“Why, what was he like?” 

“Oh–he was a good man. Sporty, hardworking, and caring when he wanted to be. But I never really felt that he was the right person for me. I don’t know why, but after I married him, I felt I might’ve made a mistake. Does that bother you?” 

“Not really, but I guess it seems strange.You have a wonderful family.” 

“I know. Yes, I know.” She paused and looked at the fountain and threw a franc she had kept in hidden in her lap. She tossed one to me. “Don’t ever tell my children, though. It’s not like I didn’t love him. I mean—I really did love him—I still do. Sometimes I wonder if he was right, though, I do love him,” 

“Of course you do,” I said, then threw my franc into the fountain. It was hard for me to understand the amount of sorrow this woman was willing to experience, and how she could be the way she was—loving, but wondering always if others shared that love as completely as she was willing to share it. I watched my franc sink like a bright Star of David to the bottom of the fountain. I remember wishing only one thing: that she would be happy. 

My Father, Keeping the Backyard

by Shannon Castleton

With the lump in his back there’s more
to think about. My father, still
in a wicker lawn chair, scans his aspens
and thinks of morning—of the smooth blade
opening his new scar for the second time in May.

When I visit like this, he corners me
with endings, says he's ten years
past the age his father reached
when a '62 Chevy split him wide
against a blunt curb. Two days later
the town mortician, tonic-haired
and grey-suited, shook my sixteen-
year-old father's hand. He said,
"We almost couldn't view your dad
he was torn so bad, But I wrapped
his side with the same stuff
the ladies save Sunday dinner in.
Some days all you can do is keep
these bodies together."

Of course my father has become
the mortician, Each time he performs him
the last words change. Tonight
it was blood, the thin wrap seeping,
and, "The inside always wants out."

Later, viewing my father
from the sliding glass door,
I know the mortician is who he believes.
Even with my mother, brown-legged
and deep in her tomatoes, fuchsia nodding
from their pots on the deck, promising
love in each round flower, he dreams

his way out. Lips straight, a long finger
circling the chilled rim of a juice glass,
he eyes this yard till dar., When he creeps
to the house I can't tell his arms
from the warm, rich black.

A Farmer at Confession

by Jim Richards

Well, what would you do, Father,
if sinking your shovel into a potato field
you struck metal, and bending down
you uncovered a sword, crumbling with rust?
And you've got sweat burning your eyes
when you see this man, and somehow
you know he's left-handed
and he's got a scar under his eye
real shiny pink, like a pig's snout.
I'm thinking "does he want this sword or what?"
so I drop it and go back to digging—
I've got kids, you know, two sons
and a daughter, Kate. Anyway,
I turn a few more piles of earth
and the heat is coming down real hard
when I find another sword, so heavy
I can't lift it. And "what time is it?"
I'm thinking as I squint at the sun
and see some giant-sized man
with hair like fur and real small ears.
So small, I know he can't hear the screams,
Thousands of them , buried so long
they're black from reflecting the earth.
What would you do, press a blade
to your ear and listen for the roar?
Would you look up to see who
was watching? No Sir. When everything
has gone to dust except lingering blades
that can't resurrect, like spirits stuck
somewhere between hell-fire and the sun,
you bury them, Father, beneath the mounds
of the quiet earth and walk away.

The Man Who Murdered Himself

by Nancy Owens

“Right in here,” the nurse said.

“Doctor Sorenson will be with you soon,” And she left. 

Kyle would not usually have examined the small office as he entered it. Twelve doctors, thirty-seven surgeries, and sixty-three consultations had long ago convinced him that one professional’s abode was more or less like another’s. 

When Kyle was four years old, doctors terrified him. He remembered the bushy eyebrows and deep-set eyes of Dr. Rells, his first surgeon. When Dr. Rells delivered the anesthetic before the first operation, Kyle had felt like the victim of a mad scientist about to perform an experimental surgery. He was afraid he would wake up and find that his brain had been removed by accident, 

By age nine Kyle had changed surgeons five times. Names and introductions slipped past him unnoticed, and his emotional response to surgery changed from trepidations to disinterest to annoyance. H is scars multiplied more quickly than the candles on his birthday cakes. 

Kyle’s friends soon lost interest in the story behind each new bandage and suture. His enemies made fun of them. The school bully liked to knock him down and poke at the fleshy lumps growing on his back. Kyle’s private vision of hell looked like a middle school locker room. 

Once he had been proud of his deformities, now he despised them. The malformed right hand that the most expensive surgeries could not repair, the ever-so-slight limp when he walked because bone surgery left one leg slightly shorter than the other, the fleshy purplish bag of flesh on his left side that the doctors had not yet removed—these were the devils that tormented him night after night. Sometimes the tumors on his nerves pinched so tightly he could not walk, but it was not the pain that kept him from sleeping on hot summer evenings. It was the specter he saw in the mirror.

The night before his twelfth birthday he got out of bed at 2 A.M. He stood in front of the full length mirror on his bedroom door for three hours, staring at the discolored landscape that should have been a human chest. Hundreds of spongy, cauliflower-shaped tumors poked from beneath his flesh. Most of the lumps were the size of a marble, but some were as large as golf balls. Scattered on the skin between the tumors were dark brown patches on his flesh. They were called “cafe au lait” spots: the trademark symptom of neurofibromatosis. 

That night Kyle did not consider suicide. But he smashed the mirror and went to bed with his fists still bloody. 

His condition grew worse with the passing years. The doctors burned off the tumors, but like warts, they grew back in greater numbers. Scoliosis set in, hunching Kyle’s back despite the body brace he wore for three years. The correction of bone deformities in his skull created permanently bald areas on his head—hair regrowth was barred by scar tissue. Surgery decreased the bulbous size of his right hand but left it twisted and only slightly usable. 

When he was seventeen, he dug through his mother’s drawers until he found all of his baby pictures. He burned them. 

Kyle wore corrective shoes for his limp and a hairpiece to cover the bald spots. Monthly visits to the dermatologist made his face look, if not beautiful, at least nearly normal. He carefully selected clothing to conceal the worst of his tumors, and he kept his hands in his pockets most of the time. 

He plowed his way through college by sheer willpower and a sizable loan from his parents, landed a job in an accounting firm, and built up some semblance of a normal life. But he often caught clients watching him from the corners of their eyes, as though they were trying to figure out what was odd about his gait or the shape of his face. Or why he always seemed reluctant to shake hands.

No, on a usual day, for a usual consultation, Kyle would not have stopped to examine Dr. Sorenson’s office. But this was not his annual medical evaluation or even one of his frequent pre-surgery consultations. For the first time in his life, Kyle would meet a doctor who could talk to him, not about a treatment, but about a cure. 

So he studied the tiny room intently. 

The desk was small and completely bare. Kyle suspected its drawers had never been opened. Beside the desk was a small garbage can, empty except for a single gum wrapper. Apparently Dr, Sorenson used this office only for formal meetings. 

Right then, a small, balding man trundled through the door. He carried a briefcase in one hand and a stack of papers in the other. Pens and pencils jabbed from all available pockets of his blue scrubs, and a pair of glasses dangled by a cord around his neck. He maneuvered his way around to the back of the desk, plopped the papers on it, and began shuffling through them. 

“You must be Mr,Waterby,” the man said without looking at Kyle, “I’m Dr. Sorenson. Do sit down.” Kyle eased into the chair and winced as his right leg gave a stab of pain. He tried to shift the leg to a more comfortable position as the doctor arranged his papers.

“Well,” Dr, Sorenson said at last, “you are certainly the most dramatic case of neurofibromatosis I have ever seen.” 

Kyle frowned. He’d heard that from at least eleven experts. They ought to put that in a medical textbook somewhere: Kyle Ameus Waterby, the most dramatic case of neurofibromatosis since the Elephant Man. 

“Quite frankly, it’s amazing you’re still alive,” the doctor continued. “According to your file, you’ve had three neurofibromas removed from your cranial nerves, and there are two more growing on your spine. Your last tissue sample indicates that they have become malignant—“ 

“If you are trying to tell me I’m dying, I’ve known that since I was ten.” 

“No, not at all. As I said in my letter, I think I have developed a method that can cure you—no more tumors, no more scoliosis, no more scars . . .” 

Kyle leaned forward, “How?”

“What do you know about molecular replication?”

“Nothing specific—the scanner dissects an object molecule by molecule, and the replicator reproduces the item from the scanned data.” 

“That’s right,” Dr. Sorenson said, nodding, “but did you also know that the scanned data can be altered—modified before the replication takes place? | can take an apple, for example, and remove the seeds. I can take a rat, infect it with cancer, then scan it and remove the cancer before replicating it. I’ve taken rodents with leukemia, heart disease, and broken bones and made healthy replicas from them, I’ve changed the color of their fur and performed optical surgery-all with replication.” 

“Are you saying you can scan me, and then rebuild me without the disease?” 

Dr, Sorenson nodded.

“Why haven’t I heard of this before?”

“Well, it’s extremely risky, My success rate with rats has been only twenty-two percent. And until now, replication has been a one-shot deal: The scanning process used to completely destroy the original subject. Plus, even a minute error could cause the replication to be unstable, even if no modifications were made to the scanned data.” 

“You said ‘until now.’ What changed?” 

“A new technique has just been developed: a way to scan the subject non-destructively. Do you see what this means? Now, if there is an error in the first scan, we can simply make a second, or a third-whatever is required.” 

Kyle’s face remained expressionless, but his fingers tapped excitedly on hrs knee. “How much will it cost?” 

“Well . . .” Dr. Sorenson started to reach for his notebook but changed his mind and scratched the bridge of his nose instead, “You should know that what I’m proposing is . . . well, it’s entirely illegal.” 

“If it can cure diseases in rats, why couldn’t it be used on humans, too?” 

“Replication frightens people, and because, well it can be messy. The failures were . . . drastically unpleasant. Missing neurons, chemical imbalances—a single mistake in the scanning process can be incapacitation or even fatal to the subject. The new non-destructive scanning minimizes the risks, but the ethics of the entire procedure are still debatable. And human replication has been illegal since the technology’s development.” 

Kyle folded his arms across his chest, and cringed as they jostled a tender tumor, “I’ll risk what’s left of my body if I want to!” 

“l assure you, I am quite willing to perform the procedure,” Dr, Sorenson said calmingly,  “I have access to a research replicator in Connecticut, but it’s expensive to operate, and there’s no way to apply for a research grant under these circumstances. If you could pay the expenses, I would gladly donate my services in the interest of, ah, scientific research.” 

Kyle thought of his parent’s summer home in California, the last remnant of his once substantial inheritance. He had sunk the rest of his parents’ money into operations and medication, but the summer home he had kept tucked away. He’d always meant to visit it . . .

“I can give you two hundred thousand dollars,” he said. 

Dr. Sorenson spent almost a year preparing to perform the replication, The summer house had to be sold, and Dr. Sorenson had to find an expert on neurofibromatosis who was willing to work on the quasi-legal project. Together they pored over Kyle’s x-rays, MRIs, tissue samples, and other medical records. They plotted, graphed, planned, and ran data through computer simulations of the replication process. Dr. Sorenson grew more and more excited as the day of replication grew nearer.

Kyle, or the other hand, became increasingly withdrawn. He looked at his lumpy body in the mirror every morning and hated it. He stared at his hands folded in his lap, the nearly-normal digits of the left hand eclipsed by the overgrown distorted flesh of his right appendage, and he hated them. Like a convalescent loathes his wheel-chair or an athlete resents his leg brace, Kyle despised his body. He imagined it was a cast, a repulsive outer shell waiting to be shucked off at the earliest convenience.

He brooded over the approaching replication date. Each morning meant nothing to him except that there was one less night separating him from his liberation. He grew inefficient at work. His supervisor threatened to fire him, so he quit. He had already made plans to move anyway. He would rent a condo in Florida or in New Mexico, somewhere far away from everyone who ever knew him, ever knew he was disfigured. His friends would never know how he had changed; the government would never know. He would shuck off his name as he would shuck off his skin, and he would emerge as . . . someone else. 

And there it was—the heart of Kyle’s anxiety. Without his shell, without the bags and the tumors and the scars criss-crossing him like some perverted rendition of Frankenstein, who was he? He did not like to think about it. So he brooded and listened as the wall clock ticked off the seconds, the hours, the days. 

And then, the day arrived. As he stared at the replicator’s scanning machine, Kyle thought it looked like nothing more than a blank wall with a person-sized hole in it. He climbed onto the sliding bed and looked sideways at the wall’s maw. Kyle tried to tell himself that this was nothing new, that it was like taking a CAT scan . . . except that he would stay there for at least three days. Kyle’s heart began to pound as Dr. Sorenson hooked him up to several machines. He flinched as the IV poked into his arm, even though he had grown used to such accoutrements long ago. 

“Everything feel alright?” Dr. Sorenson asked, “Ok then, lie down.” 

Kyle did, and the doctor released a clamp on the IV. “Remember,” he said, “the medication will inhibit your motor control. Don’t let it worry you—you’ll only be conscious for a few seconds after your full body functions stop. Just relax, feel the medicine seep in, and let it go . . .” 

Dr, Sorenson was still talking, but Kyle stopped paying attention. He felt the fluid from the IV running up his arm, half-tickling and half-burning as it passed. A few moments later he felt detached from his body. He could still feel, could still hear and see, but he had no control of his muscles. Like those lucid moments halfway between sleep and waking, he could sense the waking world but could not interact with it. 

The feeling of disembodiment was frightening. Kyle began to panic, but forced himself to remember Dr. Sorenson’s patient explanation that the medicine was necessary, that his body must remain absolutely still during the scanning process. Only his brain would remain active, trapped in a state of semi-sleep that had no memory of time, so the machine could scan his brain patterns and replicate them along with the rest of his body. 

He felt his breathing stop, and heard a slight buzz as a nearby machine took over the task of oxygenating his blood. Another machine began to pump his blood through his body as his heartbeat slowed to a stop. He felt himself drop into darkness. 

Kyle could not say how long he drifted like a man on the edge of sleep, sometimes floating to the top of his dream world but never quite escaping it. Eventually, the blank gray of the replicator’s scanning chamber was replaced by the white walls of a recovery room, Kyle’s eyes were half open, and he could just see the door from the corner of his eye. Sometimes Dr. Sorenson would enter through the door, and check the status of the machines humming all around him. When that happened, Kyle tried to move. Most of the time he could not make his body obey, but occasionally he found he could twitch his fingers, of swallow, or track Dr. Sorenson’s blue-clad form with his eyes. 

But one of these times, Dr. Sorenson entered the room followed by another person.

“. . . not sure this is a good idea,” Dr. Sorenson was saying, his voice ringing clear in Kyle’s ears. Into the room came-Kyle, Kyle stared at the tall figure as if he were watching his reflection in some divine mirror. The hair was full, the face fully shaped, the right hand was small with the fingers separated. The man-who-was-not-him strutted into the room like a god, and stared in revulsion at Kyle, misshapen and motionless on the bed. 

The stranger with Kyle’s face looked at Kyle for a long time. Kyle tried to speak, but he could not make his lungs and vocal chord work. He felt his lips open and close limply. The man-who-was-not-Kyle swallowed and turned pale. 

“Get rid of it,” he whispered. His voice sounded strangled. 

“Wait-are you sure?” Dr, Sorenson asked. “l want to keep it for at least a few more days, until we’re sure you won’t develop unexpected complications. Besides, the research value—” 

“Just get rid of it,” the stranger interrupted as he left the room.

Furious, Kyle tried to speak, to move, to ask what that impostor was doing parading around in the perfect body meant for him. His eyes squinted. His fingers twitched, but Dr. Sorenson either did not see or did not wish to see.The doctor looked at the door and gave a sigh. Then, he reached over and shut down the life support machines and disconnected the IV. As he left the room, he turned off the light. 

Rebirth

by Melody McGrath

The fire on the mountain spreads faster each day.
Each day sharpened fingers of flame
catch hold in the wrinkles of
the mountain face
and grow like hair,
sprouting thick above the eyes now.
Within minutes, a vagabond blaze
blackens the tall, thin spires
of a pine tree,
and the pine humbles,
bows its head low.
By Sunday, everything
will be seared and crumpled;
we will walk amid
the vapors,
rubbing our hands and
preparing to work a miracle.