“O Avocado, Avocado” by Richard Wirick


It is the most Californian and thus the most American of fruits. Coastal Indians called it the winter pear, pear of the ocean or of the Western Sea. Put its pit in a glass of water and it does twine westward, the stem lusting for the sun, following it around the house in the course of the long Pacific afternoon.

Settlers on the wagon trains were astonished at its mystic smoothness. But it also had a surface of gritty nubbins, a stubble that made it easy to grab. Heart-shaped, tenacious as a sunflower, it too was a tough, immodest flora-emblem of God’s promise. It told them of the golden time they wished for.

Cutting it open produced something even richer, stranger: a greenish meat that could
be hard as a board or smooth as butter when the vessel was ripe. The Mexicans
smashed it up into guacamole. Could there have ever been a more adaptable New
World culinary invention? It could be spread on anything or dipped into with impatient
fingers. A sort of nutritionally correct ice cream; a guiltless first course of dessert.

(There is a forbiddenness about it, a toy-like luxuriance. My daughter has a sweet
tooth but with a tang of lemon guacamole is like candy to her. She rat-holes her Jolly
Ranchers and hard tack, but in the blonde hair I brush back from her face as she
sleeps there are streaks of it sometimes, strange clots of yellow and green.)

“A” is the fruit of informality and relaxation. You can’t be underdressed. No one would
have written the “You-Say-Tomato” song about it. To be plausibly served it needs air
and open space and laughter and chatter. Woe to the stiff-suiters and strait jackets
of avocado: theirs is not the kingdom of heaven.

Which is to say it has a built-in sense of humour about itself, like the land it comes
from. A little more evolution and it will profess self-consciousness. It is the fruit that
most approximates to dudeness. It could get away with wearing a thong.

It has an affinity with opposites, or as a Californian would say, it goes with anything.
There is a Czech vodka bar on the bluffs of Santa Monica that serves an avocado
martini. Talk about the varieties of religious experience.

I once hear (I swear) Gary Snyder, that hippest and most Western of poets, read a
poem about the avocado. It was called “Avocado.” This was nearly thirty years ago
but I remember the very first lines. “The Dharma,” he said, “is like an avocado.” The
more you peel back the more is there. The more you take away the more you see.

That was the idea, at least, though I’m not certain I have the ending right. Although I
had only been in California a day or two, a precious undergraduate newly arrived from
the Midwest, I knew exactly what he was talking about. I had never seen one in my
life, but I could picture the thing.

I have never doubted that the Garden of Eden was in California. Or the Garden of
Earthly Delights. (Is there a difference?) Avocados have to have hung heavy in both,
what with their testicular, mammorial suppleness. Something like a giant half of one
lies split open in one panel of Bosch’s triptych, pouring out maggoty gos of the wicked
and blessed, the satiated and hungry, the drowned and the saved.

Which is why I imagine their tiny trees holding the turf together in heaven’s meadows,
the pastures of Elysium, the fields of Wherever. Most writers drape flowers in their
imagined places of death, the air of it plastered with a fragrance thick as rub-ons from
a leafed through fashion magazine. But give me the odorless, the heavy and green. Give me the knotty little maracas of pure possibility.

Slather me, bury me if you really want to, in the paste of the Zapotecs. It is God’s
sweet cold pudding, the very butter of Paradise. The place where the sun sets is
where we all—all earth’s creatures—are constantly moving, and this fruit is the thing
in which its lights and its warmth are most lovingly held and are waiting.



Richard Wirick‘s fiction, essays and journalism have appeared in Fiction, Quarterly West,
Northwest Review, Playboy, Another Chicago Magazine, Indiana Review and elsewhere. He is completing a collection of short stories, Fables of Rescue, and is co-founder and editor of the journal Transformation. His new book, One Hundred Siberian Postcards grew out of his assignments in Ukraine and Siberia in 2003 – 2005, and his adoption of a Siberian daughter. He practices law in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and three children.


“To My Patients” by Dan Masterson


stock photo1

Please do not call me at home
or expect me to drive to yours
at any time of day or night.

When you sit here in my office,
please do not smoke or tear
items from my magazines.

Neither talk to my receptionist
nor whistle, hum, stomp or tap
to the piped-in music.

When your name is called, move
quickly to the appointed room;
do just as you are told.

When I enter, be prompt about
any complaint you may have; do
not attempt to amuse me.

Listen to what I have to say
so I need not repeat myself;
then dress, taking all belongings.

Please stop at the desk and pay
your total bill in cash; checks
are not welcome here;

But you are.
I hope you are feeling better;
come again when you are not.



Dan Masterson was elected, in 1986, to membership in Pen International in recognition of his first two volumes of verse: ON EARTH AS IT IS, and THOSE WHO TRESPASS. WORLD WITHOUT END was published in 1991 by The University of Arkansas Press. ALL THINGS, SEEN AND UNSEEN, the poet’s volume of new and selected poems, was also published by The University of Arkansas Press, in 1997.

“The Wanton Life” by Luis J. Rodríguez

For my son Ramiro, sentenced to 28 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections

The long fingers of a wanton life,
from the ends of a twisted highway,
pull at us with the perfume of the streets
and its myriad romances,
all intoxicating, gripping at our skins;
as blasts of late-night shoot-outs,
the taste of a woman’s wet neck in a dark alley,
and the explosion of liquor bottles
against a cinder-block wall
free us from the normal world,
while chaining us to the warped cement walks
of our diminished existence.

I run with you inside of me
entering layers of darkness,
into the swaddling of night,
with accelerating thoughts,
in the velocity of the city’s demands,
constantly moving, but inside standing still,
searching for words to cut through the drivel,
the screams around my ears,
the pain of neglect and addictions,
running with your voice in my throat,
you, calling out my name,
searching for father while I searched for mine,
on your earth of many souls,
craving the moon,
the lunacy and warmth
of these rocks covered in mud.

I dreamt I had a son.
His name was Ramiro.
He was a beautiful boy.
He loved his father.
He laughed and played and smiled.
I dreamt such a great boy.
I woke up.
And the nightmare of the reality told me,
I should be there.

The outlaw life, idealized, symbolized,
even kids who’ve never truly lived are “killas;”
it’s in the rhymes, in the bass, in the rhythms
from inside bouncing cars or yawning windowpanes.
Tattoos on faces — they’re saying, you can’t change this;
you can’t change me.
Permanent pathology.
But that’s only the body.
Inside, somewhere, there’s a different song
Who will listen to that song?
Who will know these cries because they’ve languished here, too.
The truth is we’re all broken.

What regrets and longings must we bear?
What clutch of inner fears forces our hand?
What frenzy knocks on our door
and then when we open it,
darkness is swept in?
Do we need more laws but less humanity?
More punishment and less redemption?
As Common asks, “High expectations but low patience?”
Fear drives policy and then drives us from being human.
It’s time to understand, go open-eyed into ourselves,
into our deepest fears, among our underground youth,
into the futureless future, and then rise up.
The time of sleeping is over.

The falling is so forceful,
a gravity of soul to the bottom.
The motion downward takes in reams of unwritten poetry,
paintings with no canvases,
notes without melodies.
As a young man, I wanted somebody to stop me,
to stop me from crumpling into the death surrounding me,
the death that gives one life.
I didn’t seem to be able.
Sometimes prison can work this way
— most of the time it keeps you falling, further, deeper.
The key to life is to have the words,
the /images and the songs as the barriers to all the great falls.

Collapse into yourself;
fold into the pages of your journals,
into the chords in your head,
into what your heart sees.
Every other choice has death in it,
so choosing your death seems empowering.
Art is about creativity,
new breath, new birth.
The only empowering course that echoes,
that ripples, that takes on new shapes as it goes outward.
Not down — lateral to the rest of us.
It took me a while, but I learned to fall sideways.



Luis J. Rodríguez — of Mexika-Raramuri descent — is founder-director of Tia Chucha Press and a cofounder of Tia Chucha’s Cafe Cultural and its not-for-profit arm, Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural — a bookstore, café, art gallery, performance space, workshop space, and computer center in Sylmar, California. He’s also co-founder and editor of the Xicano online magazine, Xispas.com.


“Forty-Six” by Kris McHaddad

See how it stands
so stubbornly
on only one leg,
a delicately poised
flamingo of the palest pink,
a square having just now
climbed out of itself,
balancing its body
of straight lines
and sharp angles
an open container:
a wide-mouthed candy jar,
open hands,
an open heart.
And then, at its side,
the line beginning at no particular point,
moving down and around, circling in on itself,
one smooth continuous curve,
a frame for a mirror
of self-reflection,
a womb,
a fertile garden
bright with peonies.



Kris McHaddad lives in Leona Valley, California where she teaches the first grade. Her poetry has been widely published.


“She Asks for Conversation” by Kris McHaddad

She asks for conversation
as she whispers insistently
along the length of me.
Her hands flower between my thighs,
dance a rain dance
that pulls a bright and shining river
from the swollen sky of my stomach.
My mouth drinks
and puts quick breaths
back into the dark night air,
little silver o’s,
shiny and round like mirror
or a not-too-quiet echo
of the breathless prayer we recite.

Even in the absence of her,
my skin flushes cherry and damp
at the memory of her kiss.



Kris McHaddad lives in Leona Valley, California where she teaches the first grade. Her poetry has been widely published.


“For Grogan” by Geordie Williams Flantz

Neckties were invented to cut off circulation to the brain. Silk squeezes the carotid artery. Your mind goes slack and numb.

Work didn’t have a dress code. She did. She packed my lunch and cinched my tie.

“How’s that?”


I was choking.

Every morning. Get up, shower, here’s your lunch, how’s that, fine. Every day.

Here is how to turn your basement into a fiery vision of hell:

1. Knock out all dividing walls. Save the better lumber and wear a mask to smash through plaster. Shatter her pictures and the blue vase she got from the Kyrgyz Republic. On a budget, save and straighten nails.

Tuesday, after finding out my wife was a whore, I took off my patterned tie.

My scalp hummed like a reattached limb, the blood pumping through fallen veins, a blizzard of whiteout pricks. Then I could see it, my life stretching out from flat feet to the smog and rat choked coast. It was a lot like that elementary school where the boiler exploded: splintered brick and childhood dreams scattered all around.

2. Dig a lot of pits. Rent a jackhammer to rip out the concrete floor. Start digging. Make a series of excavations around the room, leaving walkways between. Build the ground up higher at one end. The rest of the dirt can go in the backyard. Do some landscaping, or throw it on the garden.

I pulled all my ties out of the closet. I put them in a box and wrote LATER on it with a black marker. I set it on the table and left to get a sledge.

The first guy I didn’t know. He was an art student at the college. She was flattered someone so young and beautiful could still lust for her.

Of course he lusts for you, I said.

The guy could do an amazing pectoral dance, had a segmented snake tattooed down the length of his torso, one link for each of his lost loves. A snake, he said, because love was eating him alive.

He’s twenty one, I said.

It must have been an earth worm. If I had that tattoo, it wouldn’t fit. I’d have to paint a mural on a barn and then drag that around with me. I’d put it on wheels or something.

3. Make sure to cover exposed wood beams near the floor. Insulate the ceiling so your upstairs carpet doesn’t melt. Consider ventilation. A simple air exchange system can be built with ductwork and cheap fans, but results will vary. To guard more fully against asphyxiation, consult a professional. However, a proper solution will cost thousands of dollars, so remember — the more noxious the fumes, the more realistic your design.

To get the jackhammer into the car I smashed a window. Shards of glass on the blacktop caught the piled sky as a plane leapt past in a scatter of disjoined reflections. My knuckles bled and I wrapped them in a shirt. The shirt was hers and halfway home I couldn’t take  the smell. My lungs squeezed themselves limp. I threw it out. My clenched fist dripped blood down the face of the steering wheel.

4. You’ll have to buy a goat. This is for sacrifice and blood drinking. Start shopping early -check the papers and for-sale ads online – but if you can, hold off buying until you need it. Keep in mind, the longer you own a goat, the longer you’ll have to feed it and the more of your shit it will destroy.

At home the room filled with dust and I couldn’t see. Things went gray and throbbed. My skeleton ran in a confluence of hair-line fractures, I was sweat and clacking teeth. The muscles of my back and neck wound tight, hunching me, as my brain slammed back and forth inside my cracking skull.

Later, I stopped to eat salami and a jar of pickles, dripping over the kitchen sink. The doorbell rang. A cop. A neighbor had complained of the noise. It was four in the morning. I explained I was remodeling my home.

“In wingtips?” he asked.

I turned to the hall mirror and found an ashen face. My office-suit was gray with dust, fine flakes of it clung to my hair, balanced on my lashes. I looked down and saw a hand caked in blood, a thick trail running to my elbow.

“My wife slept with a sherpa,” I said.

The officer gave me a look. He had this bushy mustache, like someone carved him out of hedges with a pair of shears. He was thinking I’d murdered my wife.

“Would you like to see?” I asked. “Come and see for yourself.”

Hand dropped closer to holster. “You lead the way,” he said.

We went down, the stairs creaking under our weight, and I showed him.

“What are all these holes for?” he asked.

I’d meant to diffuse the situation, but this wasn’t helping. “Not for burying people,” I said.

The officer gave me that look again, his arms out like he wanted something heavy to lift.

“Look,” I said, “she’s staying with a friend in the city.” I pulled a post-it note from my billfold and handed it to him. “This is her number,” I said. “Check it out if you want.”

He stood there, looking. It felt like being thrown down hard on a block of ice. Finally, he sighed and took the paper from my hand, his shoulders falling, posture relaxed. He grabbed my jaw, firmly but without violence. He looked me in the eyes, turned my head, studied the curve of my face.

“You know,” he said, his voice soft, “there’s something romantic in a broken man.” He dropped his hand. “I’ve seen it and seen it,” he said, “but it strikes me every time.”  He turned and showed himself out. When he was gone, I crawled down a pit and fell asleep.

5. Build or buy a throne. Furniture makers may take a lifetime perfecting their craft, but a table saw and sander will set you on your way. Use lumber saved from the walls or start browsing rummage sales and antique stores. Modify a rocker or recliner. Just make sure it looks imposing. Let your imagination roam free on the design, but here are some ideas to start with:

Dye it dark red and let the varnish run so it looks like dripping blood. Buy a pair of animal skulls from a taxidermist and attach them to the armrests. Inscribe something evil  sounding on the chair back. Translate it into Latin, or, for the less schooled among us, Pig Latin.

When finished, place it where you piled up the dirt. My wife had very dexterous toes. When the phone rang because her mom was dead, I watched them contract and grip the blue shag carpet. Between jobs last autumn, she would sit on the couch watching daytime TV, working on a dreary watercolor with one foot reaching out from beneath the blanket, holding the brush deftly between two slender toes, the nails unpainted, black from working barefoot in the garden.

6. Fill the pits with charcoal. Buy out grocers and hardware stores and steal it from your neighbors. Dress in black and crouch down low. If a dog barks, run away.

The goat’s name was Grogan and I tied him in the corner. A tattered ear and hair all matted with shit. I talked and worked, shoveling pressed black bricks of coal.

“Shut up, goat, you’ll wake up all the neighbors.” He was bleating dull, falling cries that bounced through the darkened halls.

“I’ll be glad to slit your throat and drink your blood,” I said. “I’ll grin at the stink of you cooking on the fire.”

Grogan flashed me square eyes and ate some hay. My hands were cramped tight around the shovel, blisters torn and bleeding. I worked my fingers loose and went upstairs to get an apple and some warm milk. He liked it best with a swirl of honey.

With the fridge door open, cool light bleached my naked gut.

She said she’d always had this thing for Henry. Henry, my best friend since fourth grade Beaver Camp. Henry, who’d had a million things for her. In high school he stole her t-shirt to sleep in, spied through windows, swore he saw her breasts hanging pale and firm. I giggled and almost believed him when he told me. Late nights with my father’s Penthouse magazines, he rolled in agony. He’d never feel the smooth curves of her thighs, so softy they could have vanished into mist. But Henry felt them, caressed them when he fucked my wife. And she left for three months to sleep her way through Asia, came home to say she’d made herself a whore.

7. Open the box that says LATER. Take the ties from the box. Begin sewing. Stitch up their backs and stuff them with dried beans. Attach plastic eyes and a sliver of dark red felt.

My hands shook as I set them free among the rafters, slung them over the high back of Satan’s throne. I could only find googly eyes at the hobby shop, so now they leered at me with cross-eyed hate. I’ve made you what you were, I thought, constrictors. They writhed above me, taut flesh covered in dots, or little bats and gloves.

8. The details sell it. Bolt a pair of shackles to a wall. Cover everything in blood, clear away the tools and knock out all the lights. Let the coals soak a day in lighter fluid. Strip naked and rub yourself with gore. When you are sure you’re ready, when the mood is right, when night comes and you feel hollow as a leather drum, strike a long-stemmed match.

Heat rose, darkness and jet-red glow and the waved-black curve of heat. Fields of combustion dried out flesh, red towns of burning rock sent up sable plumes of smoke and ash. Space squeezed, closed-in with the clear-eyed demons that flew between ripples in the stifling air. A hazy black form descended, sat there smoldering where I bid him. I dug my toes into the dirt to get away. I coughed and spit up ash. Snakes hissed from the rafters and something snapped in my chest. I fell to my side in the dry earth, grinding my forehead black, chest rising up and falling down. There are moments of heat that can kill you. Not open flame, but dead, unflagging heat. It will dry you out and leave a calcium shell.

My cell phone rang.

I sat up, slipped from a shackle, rubbed my eyes.


There was a moment before her voice came, small and tinny through the line. “Hi,” she said.

I sat still and held my breath.

“Where are you right now?” she asked.




“In the basement.”

“Have you been crying?” Her voice was soft. No corners at all.

“My goat died today,” I said.

“Oh,” she said.

“I didn’t kill it. He got loose and chewed through a wire.”

She exhaled softly. “That sounds awful,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said. I drew a circle in the dirt with my toe.

“I’m sorry, Honey,” she said.

“I know.”

“I love you,” she said.

“I know.”

I got my face down close to the dirt, keeping away from the fumes.

“The police thought you might be in trouble,” she said. “They called here.”

Lying down in the great heat, with the red coals and the black smoke, I twirled my cowlick between two fingers.

“Yeah,” I said. “The neighbors heard Grogan.” I stopped a moment, wiping at my cheeks. And I stole their charcoal,” I said.

“Honey?” she asked.


“I love you.”

“I know,” I said.

“I want to come home now,” she said.

I hesitated. There was something swimming in my guts.

My head pulsed and I needed air.

“No more ties,” I said.

“Ok,” she said, as I began to break and cry. “Ok, ok, ok…”



Geordie Williams Flantz was born and raised in southern Minnesota. He currently attends Oberlin College in Ohio where he majors in English and Creative Writing.


“Dead Animal Man” by Kathleen Wakefield

The Dead Animal Man comes in the morning as the mist is rising, comes in a truck like a square thing rolling, the truck’s eyes dead looking as the eyes of the animals it comes after, comes silent and bleary like it was something melting.  Ricky’s mother said they couldn’t take Slip with them, said the damned dog would eat them out of house and home, the mangy son-of-a-bitch anyway, she said.  Said he had so many ticks on him he look pearled.

This was when we didn’t have any water and neither did they and both our families carried it from the house across the street, threw bucketsful down the toilets to flush them, Ricky’s father going off about the same time as mine, his to I don’t know where, mine to Adak, Alaska on the Bering Sea where you could see the lights of Russia across, he wrote back. This was when we lived by an alley I thought was the alley by the Alamo, across from where there lived a pinto pony and a Navajo, like in the song.

The Dead Animal Man wakes me up. I can hear the gears of his truck a mile away; swear it floats onto earth like an angel from a shadowy side of heaven. I can hear it when it touches down.

“Are they Okies?” I had asked my mother when they first moved in, when I had seen them out the window, Ricky, his mother, sister and father before his father went away somewhere, his father tall and thin looking, his mother a red head, collar-and-cuffs red head Ricky said, his sister the way I pictured an Okie to appear, hair messed, body all knees and elbows, and lacking in vitamins C and D.  My cousin Boyd Lee in Utah had had his head grow too big from lack of vitamins C and D and I had looked out the window again at the girl, but her head had seemed normal.

The Dead Animal Man comes because of the fog that presses in at night so that birds fall from the sky and walk into things, seagulls and ducks standing in the yard looking bewildered, dogs and cats wandering into the street and under the tires of cars trying to get somewhere, too, the fog pushing in like a wave from the ocean and then leaving behind it everything confused and slow moving, sometimes dead.

“Why wouldn’t she take him?”  I asked Ricky.  “You can’t just leave a dog behind,” I said.

My father had gone off north and had said he’d send for us or come back to get us, or send money, but other than the letters about the lights of Russia, we hadn’t heard anything for a long time.  We were going to try and find him in some way and be reunited, but I imagined the dumb animal standing there when Ricky and his mother and sister had gone, and not having any idea what to do or how to find them, and then the fog pressing in and what would always follow one way or the other.

I remembered one time when I had gone to school and come back home, my mother had
changed all the furniture around, and all I could do was stand and be uncertain, there being
phantom chairs and a sofa where I wanted to sit, I thought, the chairs and sofa in their new
places, the coffee tables and end tables and bookcases having a particular bewilderment too, it seemed, the same confusion I had had when coming out of the store one day and heading in the wrong direction and suddenly it was like something had shifted and only I had not changed and I wasn’t completely sure about that.  If the fog had come in that day I think I might have just laid down and waited for some white-winged angel to find me, lift me above to where I could see, outthink the Dead Animal Man.

“She just won’t and that’s all there is to it, she said.”  Ricky and I were in love, and he protected me in the fog, when it came, held his hand out in it when his body had disappeared into its thick and dripping otherworld.

He had learned the dimensions of the sidewalk, knew where the curb was leading to the street. If I held his hand and watched the outline of his feet I wasn’t afraid.  It was like being led through a cloud, it rushing past and against and through me, cool and circling.  We walked the block of where our houses were, the streetlights above us wide, faint halos, sounds and cries from animals weak and boxed-in sounding, the cries of the birds as if sliding down long drizzles of dampness, Ricky’s hand and feet sometimes disappearing from me, my own hand disappearing.

“What if your father comes back?”  I had said to him in the conversation about leaving the dog.

“He’ll know we’re gone is what,” he said.  “What did he think we were supposed to eat, anyway? How long did he think we were supposed to wait?”

My mother and Ricky’s had become friendly since having to borrow water, their house on the other side of the Martinez’, who said they were Spanish, my mother saying they spoke Mexican as far as she was concerned.  She said Ricky’s mother, Jean, had said they were going back to Missouri, the “Show Me”  state, it having it all over lying and cheating California, there being another woman involved in the mess of the whole thing and they were going back to Jean’s parent’s.  She said the other woman’s name was Hazel Dubois, of all things, like something someone would make up for that kind of California woman, and she, Hazel Dubois had followed Ricky’s father off to somewhere south, leaving everything she owned, including two children.  I had had dinner at their house, before Ricky’s father had gone away and Jean seemed nervous and flighty to me, directing everyone to walk around the table to get what they wanted on their plate, and it was a turmoil of motion.  I wondered about Jean in the fog, if she were ever out in it,  would she know which way to turn.

I’d wondered if the Dead Animal Man took things when sometimes their hearts are were beating, when they were exhausted from blindness and soundlessness, from trying to determine measure and familiarity, from seeing their wings, or their bodies and feet disappear before their eyes, not knowing how far down was, where there were buildings and steeples of bridges.

All day long the dog watches the house and I’m trying to think of how and when it is that
something dawns on you, something you can’t see or hear or doesn’t come with any particular pattern of thought.  My father being gone, or AWOL, Away Without Leaving, my mother calls it because he is usually going to some next town to look for a job, or clear something or other up;  there is always a point when I’ve looked up and said to myself, “He isn’t coming back.”  My mother might be at the kitchen table or someplace when it hits her, but it always does, and it has never been from any clear passage of time or anything else as observable.  It seems more from something on the air, something beyond normal feeling, or something sour smelling as old hamburger cooking.  The dog can smell or feel whatever it is and all day long he watches Ricky’s house as if it would get up and rush away, and he wants to be ready, his eyes, ears and nose twitching to every sound.  He seems embarrassed for the way he looks, ticks all over him rough as gravel, embarrassed that he got them there, it looks, that maybe they are why he has to keep his eyes on the house, that that’s why they are leaving. My father is a machinist and he has made the language of cars familiar to me.  I can easily drop the words piston, ball-bearing, manifold, transmission into thoughts and sentences, can detect what might be going wrong with what is coming down a street, fog or no fog, what might be proceeding in its denseness if it’s there, vaguely how much horsepower it has.  The Dead Animal Man’s truck is fined tuned and in decent working order except for a little roughness in the gear shift.  It has a kind of hum to it as if it is keeping a low bass sound to the rest of the sounds of the morning, other engines and apparatus providing higher notes and rhythm.  It seems as if its mission is important and it needs a good machine to do its work.  I have looked out when it passes and it is sleek and sectioned, having drawer space and doors, brooms,  shovels and hoses.  I have never seen the Dead Animal Man.  His section of truck has either just gone by when I’ve looked out, or the glare of early daylight has caught his window in such a way as to make him invisible.

“Why couldn’t we take him?”  I say to my mother, because she is noticing the way the dog has been lying on the sidewalk watching the house where there is more crossing back and forth in front of windows than is usual, as far as we can see, lights on in more rooms, things being left outside in back.

“I guess we’d take him on the bus,” she says, knowing she has set up a tiresome, impossible picture in my mind of it.

“What do they do with dead animals?”  I had asked Ricky.

“Jell-O,” he had said.  “They boil everything and skim off the top where the Jell-O is.”

There is a sound to the fog coming in, or an absence of it, as though you are where there is sound and a wall of something with almost no sound is moving toward you, miles of it, birds trying to hurry before it.  My mother and I just tuck in after a while, she lighting up a cigarette, wetness streaking against the window.  Ricky will show up at the door in the midst of it, usually, a heaven-boy, the edges of him erased.

“Where’s your boyfriend?” she says to me, at some point, looking out like if she stepped off the doorstep she’d drop and spin in watery space “It’s late.  You don’t think they’d try to go in this?” she says.

“I think I would have heard them,” I say.  “Their fan belt is loose.”

My father had had a machine shop for a while across the bay in San Francisco, where
sometimes, when we still had the car, we went over to take him something or deliver a
crankshaft he had worked on to someone, the smell of the bay, as we drove, putrid smelling, the steel loops of the Bay Bridge penmanship evaporating into the sky.  Something had gone wrong, although I never did know what, and my father had lost the shop and most of everything else, sending him into a downward, free falling spiral like the birds that pitch from the sky when the fog comes in.  I know there was a woman who worked for him in the shop, a building close to the waterfront and the bay clouds, the lights inside never bright enough to really see her where she worked, she always seeming busy when we came in the back way for what my father needed delivered.  I think she was tall and brunette, but I never thought about her until Jean mentioned Hazel Dubois.

“It’s Thomas,” my mother had begun saying since then, “losing Thomas in the war.  He just couldn’t take it.  Jack’s never been able to forget it.”

She went on, now, with us waiting in the stillness, our house a slow moving ship, the horns
from the bay warning us to caution, or warning the fog, steering it past us, around us, a long, mournful vessel.

“It liked to kill him,” she was saying,  “him and his mother.  Liked to put knives through their

I always tried to remember Thomas, when she began, remembered him as the one who went off to the war, who went somewhere far away and did not come back, Jimma, my grandmother, saying Thomas had come to her in a dream and told her he would not be coming back.

“I think it did kill Jack,” she says, “he never was the same.”

I clear the window to see if I can see anything of Ricky or his house, listen for their car, try to see if I can see the dog, but can not see past our steps for the lifelessness of the night.  I think I hear the car, think I hear one of the doors slam, the Pontiac’s engine start up and then die and then start up again in the way Jean has of trying to get it going, not able to pump the gas peddle enough when the engine first turns over.  I listen for the slip-whirring sound of their loose fan belt, know they will not make it out of the Bay Area, listen and think I hear, like something distant and small, finally, them starting off, imagine Jean telling them all to get the hell in while she has the damned thing started, imagine the Pontiac rolling down the street past the warehouses at the end, the turn signal bleating red inside the curtain of dampness, and them coasting off in the direction of the bridge, Jean not having any idea where it or Missouri is.

“I think they left,” I say.

My mother looks at me from her reverie within the blank screen of window.  “Well, that’s love for you,” she says.

“I think I ought to check on the dog,” I say.

“I think you ought to leave things the hell alone,” she says.  “Who made you God?” she says.

I know we are leaving soon, too, although my mother doesn’t have any of the details worked out; know we don’t have any money.  I think of us when things started going wrong, when we were driving back from San Francisco with it glowing behind us beautiful and as though something risen and separating from its drab bay side, a spirit leaving a tired body, beauty casting off awkwardness.  I think of us stopping in San Leandro at the outdoor Laundromat, my mother putting my father’s dirty work clothes slick and bulky through wringers, the smell of detergent and the bay air blowing over us, San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge backdrops against a misty, setting California sun, my father no doubt already part of the city’s lifted and shining essence, the liberation of new horizons.

She starts packing, gets up and begins putting things in paper bags, pillow cases, anything she can find, whether she is going to put it outside or try to take it with us I don’t know, how we are going, I don’t know.

“Throw all of his goddamned things away,” she says, and starts pulling food out of the
refrigerator, although I’m sure there is nothing there of his, breaking things so that there is
ketchup and salad dressing all over the floor.  “They’ve gone, too,” she says after a while,
leaning heavily against the sink, her fingers red with food coloring whose bottle has broken, or she has cut herself.  “Goddamned if they haven’t gone, too.  Goddamn all of them,” she says and sinks, crying, to the floor.  “I hate this fog,” she says, not looking up.  “It feels the same as my goddamned heart.  I don’t know where to go, or what to do.  I told him I would die if he ever did this.  I feel like I’m dead,” she says, and then cries again.

She sits there like that, not moving.  I try to comfort her but don’t know what do, myself, my
own spirit void and hurting, the breadth and scope of the grayness outside too much for me now without Ricky to assure me there is an end to it.  It swipes against the windows as if wanting in, as if trying to work its way through wood and glass, melt me away with it for my own spiritlessness, my own drabness and nothingness.  My mother eventually gets up and continues putting things into bags, not bothering to clean the floor, walking back and forth over it, tracking up the house.  Then she falls asleep, her head on the arm of the couch, her hands and feet still stained and soiled.

I had listened more intently for the cars at night since my father had left, not sleeping well since, diagnosed their smallest failures for something to do.  That night they went by as usual, and as usual I didn’t know how they could see, pictured the rays of their headlights blunted and useless, thought of what they must be rolling over in their blindness, hoped the dog and everything else had got out of their way.  I counted the pings, the slapping of rubber, the rasping of  joints, waiting for the morning to break through, waiting for the landing of the Dead Animal Man, knowing he was being ferried with the light.

There was a boy who lived down the street at the other end, when we lived in that house, an albino boy, eyes red as a rabbit’s.  His father drove a Chrysler with one of those big V8 engines, the Chrysler’s taillights the same color as the red of his son’s eyes.

I hear the Chrysler at about four in the morning, hear it brake and then surge forward.  I look out and see nothing but a vague glow from what seems the top of the sky, a layer of
grapefruitish matter that will filter, heavy and sweet, through gray.  Sometimes the light comes from somewhere else, pushing the fog away as if it is a crowd of forms; each one hurrying for its own fears and worries.  Sometimes it lifts from the street as though from inside the earth, pulsating a tan radiance.

I feel the Dead Animal Man more than see him this morning, know approximately how far away he is.  The other sounds start up, warehouse and shipping yard toward the bay with their morning sounds, the shortcut Jean would have taken the Pontiac; Ricky and them sitting somewhere, I feel sure, the light of day pushing in all around them in more ways than one, the Pontiac dead in its tracks.  The mist is disappearing from the street, a sheet of light underneath, when he appears, his truck moving square and liquidy.

I see the dog before the truck gets to him, know the Chrysler has hit him.  I can see him in the thin line of light; see that he is lying close to where he had waited, probably not able to have understood the street from the sidewalk.  The Chrysler has run over him as if he was a rag in the street, something blown from the rear-end of a pickup.  It looks from where I am as if he is grinning, as if he had tried to bark, then decided to listen instead, hoping it was Jean, returned, the Chrysler’s V8 thundering from out of nowhere.

The Dead Animal Man rolls to a stop and gets out.  He is large and seems slower than he
should, the mist keeping his movements half visible, the end and not the beginning of a motion, and vice versa, as though you are running your fingers through an image of him on a blackboard.  He breathes heavily, I can hear, and groans, or it is his truck.  He climbs onto something, taking down a broom and shovel, opening a drawer when he has stepped back onto the street.  I hear the dog’s body hit the metal of the drawer, and know it is useless to think how it is cold and wet and what else is in there.  I wonder, too, if the ticks go on living, what happens to them.

The Dead Animal Man finishes what he is doing, and pulls himself into his truck.  I see his face for the first time.  It is round and blank; ungiving as the fog at night.  He starts the engine again, and shifts into gear, the truck in motion, again, toward our house, in the darkness-emerging-from-darkness way it has, flatness from a flat-seeming dimension.  I know there are other things on the street; ducks, seagulls, see him taking his time, the truck’s lights orange for fog-sight, sweeping down with half-closed yet careful eyes, looking for what has been left behind.

When he gets to our house, he stops, the motor of the truck idling smoothly.  I think he has
taken time to drink something, has undone something and is drinking from a cup.  But I see him looking at our house, looking it over as the water-department representative looked my mother over when he had come to turn off the water.  As if she needed something and he was the man to do the job.  I’m thinking about the house, the truck’s idle outside in the dampness, silky as the ticking of a clock.  The house is not ours and not well kept even if we had tried to keep it up; there is no grass, and weeds have begun to grow over the sidewalk, the house, I know, tired appearing as its inhabitants, my mother inside, dead looking as the dog, dirtied with what she has pulled from the refrigerator, as if she, herself, has been hit by something out of a terrible dark and is bleeding life away, too.  We are a dead house.  We are hardened and fluidless, and I don’t want the Dead Animal Man to take us.

I go outside, down the steps and walkway that are overgrown, the mist rushing from me like I am something strange to behold, something come to motion before it has all the way risen and departed, Ricky’s house and the Martinez’ house visible, now, the Martinez’ house its mustardy yellow, bright this morning as a sun coming up.

The Dead Animal Man stops his cup in mid-movement, looks at me walking toward him.  His face seems rounder, closer up, his eyes unable for mine to connect with; the eyes of someone who takes dead things.  He looks at the house and back at me as though he has seen through the walls of the house, as he sees through fog, to where my mother lies.

I know we don’t have any money, but I’m thinking we have enough to get us back to Utah.  I
think my mother could find work there, and I could too, with my knowledge of cars.  I’m thinking about how you can see forever there, how the air is so dry that the only impediments to vision are waves that rise vertical and sheer and snakelike from the heat of the ground, separating like grass when you walk through them; or they dance horizontal across streets, tapering off into shimmering visions at the feet of high, beautifully visible mountains.  At night the desert air flows, clear, over you, and no matter where you stand you can see what seems to be all the stars in the sky.  I’m thinking there’s no point in going north to find my father, what would amount to trying to find the end of a street in the fog; it is never where you imagine it to be. And in Utah, at least, if something were coming, you’d know what hit you.

I walk up to the Dead Animal Man.  He rests his cup on his leg and looks at me.

“We’re moving,” I say, and walk back into the house.



Kathleen Wakefield’s stories have appeared in Salmagundi, The Alaska Quarterly, Willow Review, West Branch, Tabula Rasa, Westworld, Black River Review, Ascent, Imago, and others. She began her songwriting career at Motown Records, working with Diana Ross, The Temptations, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, and The Supremes. Her songs have been recorded by James Ingram, Quincy Jones, Barbra Streisand, Roberta Flack, Frank Sinatra, Brenda Russell, Oleta Adams, and many more. She lives in Los Angeles and keeps a retreat in the Northwest where she has just finished a novel.