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Womb

By Cat Weaver

women, measuring their envy in eyelashes
back when women hated each other enough to say so
the pain the beauties caused with a humble arsenal of cheek bones and laughter
far away now
a privilege —sexual competition

Ingrid sat cross-legged on her bed with Eve in her lap. She was thinking about her days in graduate school again. Sex. How it fueled so much of their social life back then.

bodies
trying to trick us
wombs and all those useless men
Bill who lectured Lisa — seemed like hours
I sat on my mattress— just like this —in my room and listened to his droning —awful
when she had tired of him
complained he had holes in his tighty whities
as though that sort of thing that made a difference
shabby when a new interest…

Eve purred louder, interrupting Ingrid’s disgust, ribs hinging up and down: pure joy.

memories, like a finger down the throat
Oh —that too
no one thin enough Dylana watching me make a sandwich, suggesting a slice of apple
watched me eat it
for love of her tiny arms
my god her tiny arms
jealous hungry Rob
throwing up ‘round back behind the club with its booming music and lines of coke in the bathroom
Rob in so much pain that he shed it like a virus

Ingrid looked out the window which faced the courtyard. Someone had pissed near the garbage cans, so she couldn’t open it to let the summer air inside. Reluctant to move, she cast her eyes around the small room she rented in a tiny apartment half-buried underground.

this
what a MA will get you
half a headache half an apartment half paid bills
half a fucking bed

“A roommate who smells like chips,” she said aloud, picking Eve off her lap, laying her back down on the bed.

what in hell were we all so goddam giddy about?
bodies young bodies doing body things
flailing
failing to replicate

In the kitchen, where Ingrid put on some tea, cockroaches skitteled away from the packages.

Something About Ghosts

By David Kaplan

When it comes down to it, you have to embrace the mystery. That’s what Kassiday says. It’s not quite a knee-jerk reaction to a question without a clear solution. Sometimes it is the only answer. Sometimes she opts to change the subject. She has no tolerance for dead-ends. She otherwise hates repeating herself. But there’s only one answer to “2+2.” She said that once.

At the moment, she’s standing at the second-story living room window. She crosses her navy leggings and hugs a large ceramic coffee mug to her muted fuscia short-sleeve shirt. She’s staring at something. She’s been silent for several minutes. Maybe it’s the artist across the backyard. Maybe she spies the cautious squirrel that has no tail. She lifts her left leg to her right knee and takes a sip. It’s her minimalist Sunday morning ballet.

There’s a rising humming sound. It could be next door — the apartment walls are thin. It could be a construction site several blocks away. The heater clangs and shushes. The sounds push away the gathering wind and the other ambient noise.

My orange coffee cup is empty. I might as well do some work and open my computer. I ask her what she’s looking at. She ignores the question.

“You can’t write when someone is talking to you,” she says, still looking out the window.

“It’s not a problem, really—”

“No — you shouldn’t.”

It’s too cold to work. I need 77 degrees to relax. Anything more or less gets in the way.

“It’s comfortable. You’re just looking for an excuse to procrastinate.” I’m not sure if she just said that or if I just imagined it. Either way, it was more tender than a reprimand.

Maybe it was a ghost.

“You don’t believe in ghosts — or anything, really — but you do like to blame them for everything.” I’m pretty sure she said that just now. She stamps a foot after balancing on one leg for 6 minutes.

I like sitting in my old t-shirt and plaid boxers.

“Here’s a thought: It’s the middle of winter. Maybe if you didn’t dress like you were at Coney Island, you wouldn’t be cold. Just a thought.” She smiles. Then she winces. Almost imperceptibly. But I caught it. She’s had to say that before.

Watch how I change the subject.

“What kind of an idiom is, ‘’Colder than a witch’s tit?’ Who came up with that? How did it gain currency? Did anyone ever say, ‘Hotter’n a warlock’s testicles?’ I have no idea about the temperature of occult figures’ private parts. But it seems like maybe I should popularize that.”

“I guess if you are a witch, your tits are long neglected,” she says. “And no one cares about warlocks. No one ever says anything ‘warlock-related.’ There’s no reference. Except for Harry Potter fans. Or Hobbit people. There’s no image to conjure. So give it up. If you don’t want to be productive, fine. It’s a Sunday. You might as well keep thinking about ghosts.”

Featured Image: by Cat Weaver

Touch

By Cat Weaver

Alan was electric— Renee had touched him. Renee who touched no one —was reputed to be, herself, untouchable for reasons which only the bounds of speculation could limit. 

Renee had touched Alan at the party last night. She was showing him where her chiropractor had put pressure on her neck. The room had fairly gasped in unison— or so it seemed to Alan.  

Maryanne was on fire because Renee had touched Alan. All day she would contemplate how unworthy he was. Alan who studied comparative lit, of all useless things. Speaking in goddam Cantonese just to show off. 

In  the morning, Crawly curled his skinny fingers around Renee’s left pinky.  “Mommy’s up! mommy’s up!”

Renee followed him with one eye as he stalked haughtily across the bedsheets. 

Sartorial Coma

By Cat Weaver


April stared angrily at the look book copy she’d struggled with all morning. It was impossible to say anything about these dresses. They were the sorts one imagined a first lady might wear: the colors, analogous, cheery, optimistic — the silhouettes, careful, tidy, and classic with below the knee hemlines. Peplums, three quarter sleeves, pearl-friendly necklines.

At noon, she had left off for a quick float at the SOMA center, a spa club that offered a variety of bodily solutions, of which, the floatation therapy was her favorite. No longer called “sensory deprivation” floatation therapy involved climbing into a shallow salt bath and floating for an hour, lights on or off, music should you like it.

The experience usually gave April just the right sort of reboot needed to continue her work as a content writer for websites. But this time she’d fallen into a deep sleep.

Her dream was dark and violent. Worse, April half-knew she was dreaming and felt as though she were watching a movie, and participating in it, all at once. She’d left the SOMA center feeling agitated and a little bit angry.

In the dream, she gets lost in a dystopian city divided into tribes of some sort. She wanders into a dangerous part of city where the poorest, most desperate people live. She finds she’s lost her ID and her phone and cannot even recall where she was going or where she lives.

With her at her desk now, even now as she stared at the featureless faces of the models in the jellybean colored look book, was the feeling that she hadn’t really escaped the dream.

Because  in the dream she falls down in an alley and gets covered in the juices and filth from a restaurant’s garbage cans. And then she finds that they’ve closed the gates and she is now a part of this world where everyone wants whatever anyone has.

The fear of rape, pervasive in the dream, seemed, still, to vibrate through her fingers as they shook over the keyboard.

In the dream she knows she must find a clan to ally herself with, to obtain protection. She notices one woman keeps telling all the men she loves them and sleeping with them; it’s her way to avoid rape. April doesn’t want to do this. She casts about for a way to wake up.

Instead the dream becomes April watching the movie of her dream. In the movie of the dream we all notice the sex trader is all cleaned up and wearing a new dress. She tells the tribe that there’s a volunteer service; you give them sex; they clean you up and give you food.

In the dream that’s not a movie April agrees with her clan that this  can be a means of escape. They all volunteer to get cleaned up and to service their patrons.

Once out in the clean part of the city, they will blend in and escape. When they find themselves out of the filth and in a vast spa, they discuss what to do next and many of them realize they have no options.

Now, watching the movie that is the dream that she is in, April watches as her friends back out in fear of life on the outside of the hellish corners they know so well. In a final scene, watched by April as she awoke, the sex trader is rubbing garbage on her new clothes and returning to the colony.

Now, staring once again at the bland offerings in the galling look book, April typed: You can smell the appropriateness.

A Good Rye Is Hard To Find

By David Kaplan

My mother pulled the wax paper bag out of the coarse brown paper bag, which she was carrying in a gossamer thin plastic bag, its handles fraying scant minutes after we walked outside the bakery on the crowded avenue.

A bus roared slowly as it pulled away from its stop. Honking cars. The rusty, repetitive screech of precariously full shopping carts made their way around us. From my carriage, I saw a blur of knees whisk by as I looked straight ahead. I looked down at the shoes dodging other shoes on the pavement.

Large garbage bags dumped on the curb with a thud. In the opposite direction, frustrated men with handtrucks impatiently pushed past narrow shop doors to make their deliveries. A mix of shouting at the produce stand cashiers.

But it was all background. All I focused on was the sound of crumpling paper and plastic bags being extracted from each other. The tangle was pulled apart like nesting dolls that had been haphazardly jammed together.

I could smell the dough as my mother stopped in the middle of the street and handed me a thick slice from the exact center of the loaf. I stared at the slice’s holes and granules. Then I tore the soft, spongey middle with my left hand and gripped the empty ring of crust in the other. I could feel the pillow of rye and sharp caraway seeds swirl around my tongue, teeth, and the right side of my inner cheek.

“Too much! Small bites! You have to learn to take small bites!” my mother yelled way too loudly.

But I was too overjoyed to pay her any mind. I bit into a caraway seed and could smell its herbal, electric scent.

And then, in a moment, it was 40 years later. Schussel’s Bakery was long closed. I was standing at the counter of the Café Donelle, a funky pastry shop not far from where I grew up. About two dozen baguettes were stacked on top of each other in the shop window. They were initially arranged in a pyramid formation at 8am. But by 3:14pm, the pile resembled a chunky trapezoid.

“So, I asked the manager,” said the young woman racing back to the counter. She was holding a digital tablet, so “cashier” didn’t seem like the right description. “We don’t sell rye bread. Yeah. Sorry. ”

Okay.

“Um, so are you going to order something else? There’s always doughnuts.”

Accusing Paramecium

By David Kaplan

Two paramecium walk into a bar. Well, they were actually near a bar. Amid the phosphoresce swirling in a puddle outside The Shifty Politico Public House on 12th Street NW in Washington DC, they could sense that there was a change in the air. The usual DC miasma hung heavier.

The dust mites and detritus associated with the inconsistent thrum of the district, as its populace ebbs and flows with the coming and going of representatives, was at a height the paramecium had seldom experienced.

They sensed opportunity.

The noises of the upper world were ceaselessly thunderous for hours. The repeated splashes in their puddle brought and removed countless sense data that sent their cilia tingling. This would be no relaxing swim. This was a moment of electric, heated activity.

New organisms split. Old organisms conjugated and within moments too small for a human to calculate, new gametes emerged, conjugated on their own, and expired. The two paramecium viewed the pinball birthing, living, mating, and dying with the avidity of a pair of moviegoers absently and fitfully stuffing popcorn in their mouths as their widening eyes reflected the brightness of a cinema screen.

The paramecium didn’t know of movies and popcorn. But the analogy stands. They were as riveted as they could be.

Another splash. To the paramecium, it appeared as another major tsunami. But they were well-positioned in their pool when a choice yeast cell emerged. They craved yeast even more than humans. In all the excitement, they forgot to feed. Their respective oral grooves and food vacuoles vibrated with what could be considered a molecular form of delight.

They each swam to conquer the yeast cell. But in their rush, their cilia became tangled. A rival paramecium quickly swept in and swiped their morsel.

Perhaps it was the intensity of the wider world’s moment. Perhaps it was the asexual tension that had always been there between them, building and growing within. But the two paramecium fought. They divided into two armies of thousands and fought. The small puddle became a murky battle site. The popping of paramecium was everywhere. The conflagration was exhilarating as it was ultimately destructive.

The fighting continued for what in the life of a paramecium felt like centuries. There seemed to be no end.

It was 4:30am on January 7. Albert Grossfield showed up to open his bar, which had closed the night before at 6pm, when the district curfew was imposed in the face of an insurrection on Capitol Hill.

Grossfield hauled himself on a stool at his dark tavern. He took a breath and stared at his reflection in the faded, scratched mirror behind the bar. The to-go paper coffee cup was empty as he tried to take a last sip. Maybe he’d make a fresh batch himself. Maybe there was some leftover from yesterday afternoon. No, better to just get started on the cleanup outside.

He slid off the stool and grabbed the old garage broom from the storeroom and walked outside. There was so much trash strewn around. As the sunrise approached, he looked down at the dull, oily rainbow in the small puddle in front. With one shove of the broom, he sent the milky, black pool into the curb, where it ran down into the sewage drain on the corner.

In the cascading slurry, the two paramecium were once again cell mouth to cell mouth. Their armies dispersed in the sudden upheaval. For now, the rage was over as they moved on to new sensations.

The Murdering Sort

By Cat Weaver

Maeve had noticed a crowbar leaning against the wall near the door that led from the garage to Andy’s kitchen and she wasn’t having it. That one’s sneaky, she’d taken to saying, and this is just more evidence.

“Nothing good ever comes of a crowbar,” she informs me. “Crowbars are for two things only: One, breaking into trailers, and two, beaning people who break into trailers. I say, if you see a crowbar, run. He’s got one in his trunk, ditch him before you wind up in it. One in the garage means he’s afraid of someone or on the prowl at night.”

I’ve no idea what crowbars are really for, so I don’t argue. Maeve thinks she’s “field wise” – her upstate version of streetwise. She says I don’t know anything about how things work up here. I do a lot of eye-rolling when she gets like this. Big sisterly.

“Andy seems okay,” I say. “Anyway, where else would we stay? We have no budget.”

We’re both Teaching Assistants at SUNY Binghamton. She in engineering and I, in philosophy. Our stipends were tiny.

So when I received notice that my Uncle had “been defeated by the alcohol,” I scraped up money from my nighttime bar gig to buy a suitable black dress and rent a car. Maeve, whom I’d met in an AI seminar asked to come along. She was like a clingy pet these days, but I didn’t mind, thought I could use the company.

My uncle lived and died in a trailer in the woods 20 miles or so outside of the tiny town of Decatour, NY. He was a mechanic. His wife —I’d call her my aunt, but I hate her too much to claim her as family— had passed a few years ago, also from drink (they said). My uncle had  laughed about it, thought that drinking was a brilliant personality trait that others mistook for a short-coming. He’s probably still laughing in his freezer where he waits for the funeral that my mother insists on and paid — a LOT — for.

Maeve, who grew up in these parts —well, a few towns away — has taken it upon herself to take care of me. She had disapproved of the  Air BnB  straight off.

“You don’t stay with strangers in the fucking woods,” she sniffed. “For god sakes, Asha. What the hell were you thinking? Who’s going to hear you when he takes out the chainsaw?”

This Andy hardly looked like a chainsaw murderer. From what I could tell, there wasn’t a hint of murder in his genes. Such a friendly bespectacled face and a pleasant lanky body. Even if he were the murdering sort, I’d suppose him to be a poisoner; I made a note to avoid complicated looking dishes or anything with mushrooms.

Now, Maeve, I thought, would be a smother by pillow sort of murderer. Or a pusher down the stairser, maybe.  I told her about my thoughts and she replied that I’d be a shooter for sure.

“Why am I a shooter, for fuck sake?”

“Because,” said Maeve as though this were obvious, “You’re an overachiever. Duh.”

Andy had placed us in a “guest house” at the back of the property. It was, essentially, a bedroom, and a kitchenette. You had to go into the main house to shower.

“Of course you do,” whispered Maeve. “That’s where he does you. Easy clean ups!”

We laugh, but Maeve assures me she’s not even kidding and has no plans to shower.

“What about poops?” I ask her, and she motions to the woods all around us.

“Suit yourself,” I shrug, “I’m gonna be clean when they find our bodies. I’ll leave a note saying I’m the clean one, just in case they get our bits mixed up.”

Andy appeared in the back door to the house and motioned to us with some beers. Maeve looked at me and said, “We shouldn’t say no.” I wanted to ask why but she gave me the goose-hiss that meant ‘can it’ so I followed her into the house where Andy had a fire going in the kitchen.

“What’s for din-din, Andy?” I ask.

“Couple of possums and a cat I found roadside,” says Andy, casually tasting some soup from a pot he had boiling.

Maeve turns white, shoots me a look. But I’m laughing. And so’s Andy. He’s laughing hysterically. His face is beet red. He chokes on his beer, wipes his chin, points at Maeve. “Sheee-IT! You shoulda seen your face!”

When he’s finished coughing he tells us it’s a venison stew.

It was good. I slept with him.

In the morning I found Maeve in the guest house, pacing.

“Christ, Asha,” she wept, “I kept thinking I heard a chainsaw during the night. What the hell are you thinking???”

“I think you snore, Maeve,” I joked.

Lucky Strike

By David Kaplan

The sound a match made when it was struck is what got him.  Shhhhhhhhhhwhhhhooshhaaaah! Then it was the smell. The sulfur shot up his nose. It stung his nostrils, but he mostly felt it in the corners of his eyes. His mother told him that sulfur is what hell smelled like.

Maybe it was because the sensation of the colors that came so quickly.

First bright red. Then orange. Then blue. Such quick bursts. His eye could barely record the tiny flame. Then the heat. He didn’t like that at all. He wanted to touch that red, crumpled dot at the head of the match. He did touch it. And he burned himself every time. The feeling wasn’t entirely painful. He anticipated the sharp scratch of tiny needles piercing the tips of his fingers.  

The urge for the sound, the smell, the colors needed to be satisfied. So when his mother’s friend Frida walked through the door on that bright spring morning, he grabbed as many  matchbooks as he could and stuffed them in his pocket.

“Go play outside,” his mother said wanly. She was sitting down at the kitchen table, her back to the window. The faded white and yellow curtains faintly blowing, almost reaching her bare shoulders.

She lit two cigarettes. Frida walked over, grabbed one of the Lucky Strikes and turned and tousled Gerry’s hair. He caught a sight of her black bra strap when she bent down to greet him. “The big people need to talk. Okay?”

Frida always showed up at 11am. He couldn’t tell time yet. But he knew “around 11, Frida will be here” and he had to be dressed. Years later, he speculated about what his mother and her friend talked about. He speculated why he always had to leave the house when she arrived. He would blame his mother for so many things. He blamed her for his father leaving on his third birthday.

That would be almost a month ago to this incident. He would mix up the dates when he was older. Maybe he was four-years-old when this happened? He was sure he was three.  

Whenever it was, he blamed Frida and his mother.

He sat down on the curb. Gerry’s feet barely touched the ground. He hated living up here in “the country,” as his mother called it. There didn’t seem to be any people around besides his mother, Frida, and his baby brother. There certainly weren’t any other kids.

But at least he had fire.

Gerry had stuffed eight books of matches in his right pants pocket. He could count and he checked twice like he was a robber counting the loot from a successful haul.

One matchbook advertised Eddie’s Restaurant. The name was written in bright orange bubble letters against a black background. It made him think of juice.

Another matchbook advertised the Glockenspiel Tavern. It was written in green script on white. Gerry couldn’t read yet. But he traced the raised letters that spelled out the Glockenspiel Tavern slowly with his finger. Gerry pulled another bunch out of his pocket. He gazed at the collection of shiny silver and bright red matchbooks and chose the cobalt blue one with yellow letters that said Moonday Drive-In.

He lit a match. It went out too quickly. He stared forlornly at the fading ember and the thin lines of black smoke. He lit match after match and tossed them up, his eyes wide as he watched them fall like failed missiles. Then, his struck two matches. Then he struck three at once. He held the three together like it was a single candle. He then lit the whole book on fire. A stray ember floated gently on his right pocket. He fixed his gaze on it as the glowing dot burned through his pants.

Then he felt the heat and the burst. Excitement! Then a flash of pain. His reedy thigh felt like was melting. He must have cried out, because he saw his mother and Frida through blobs of tears.

As he was loaded into the ambulance, the pain increased. Maybe it would feel like this forever. Mainly, he was sad because he wanted to light more matches. The lingering scent of sulfur and his burning flesh soothed him for a second.     

Chasing Insomnia

By Cat Weaver

Trason stood in bare feet on the chill kitchen tiles holding a glass of water. He thought, you should have had a plan. When you went to college. You could at least have had a plan. You never took anything seriously. He noticed the silvery winter sky, the clouds etched in black along the edges, center-lit by the moon tonight.

He went out to the living room to see it better. The doors to the deck were cold to the touch. Crossing his arms and staring out at the bold flat metallic face of the moon, Trason began again an experiment he’d been repeating a lot of late. He thought, where would I go back, how far, to correct my path, to make myself into someone I could rest with? Someone who could sleep at least.

You’d have to have been different somehow, he told himself. Just as he had many times in the past months.

Precocious, if you went back to childhood, guiding your mother away from the alcohol and the reckless friends. Supremely confident despite your poverty and your family shame— if you went back to those agonizing high school years. Unaffected by all that — undamaged, mature, and sensible, if you went back to your early 20s.

In any case you were never any of that.

Some one small thing would need to change. You couldn’t just go back in time;  you’d have to find yourself in some altered circumstances — someone else would have to have done something: a mentor, perhaps. But there are no mentors in this story.

So, there you have it. Stop rolling the tape. You are who you are. You were where you were. They were who they were. You made the decisions you made and now you hate them. But moving forward is the only way to go. Because backward, no matter how far back doesn’t work out any differently.

Trason imagined a top spinning wildly on the tip of a needle.

If I weren’t a materialist. If I didn’t know that it’s all a matter of causes and effects, I could imagine a different outcome. But who would that be, then, in that story with the different outcome? Not a top spinning anyway?

Trason went back to bed, leaving his meditation spot, in front of the glass doors.

The virtual trace of his being lingers, in this story, facing the full moon in the icy winter light.

Help me, I’m Smart

By David Kaplan

Brooks Awadji was lost. While he carried himself with a certain peevishness generally, he sighed with a little more heft as his seventh — or was it his 17th? — call in less than three minutes to Carrie O’Neill went straight to voicemail.

“Carrie! Hello? Helllloooooo?” he bellowed with a rasp into the phone. Brooks knew full well that voicemail wasn’t an answering machine. Carrie wasn’t lounging out on her sofa staring blankly at the TV ignoring his desperate and loud pleas. “Why don’t you pick up? HEEEEELLLLLLLLOOOOOO? I hate these god awful devices! Do you know that? I loathe these execrable electronic toys!”

At the moment Brooks was standing on a dark Woodside street, Carrie was setting up for the small New Year’s Eve party she and her roommates Jill and Marty were hosting. Brooks would usually arrive an hour before an invitation. He would proceed to make a nuisance of himself as the trio attempted to do the last minute set up.

As Carrie set up the drinks table, Brooks would pour himself two bourbons and ask for ice. Then he would eat half a brick of cheese and the charcuterie. He would break one of their good glasses, even though the plastic cups were strategically placed around the narrow kitchen and tiny living room.

Brooks was a pole. He was about five-eleven and one-hundred-and-fifty-nine pounds. His arms seemed to be able to stretch the length of the living room walls no matter where he happened to be standing. He invariably knocked over a lamp or some not-too-precariously perched nick-knack before the second guest arrived. Every action, every tipping over, every break seemed to designed to appear as if it were the universe conspiring against him.

“Well, you shouldn’t have put it there if you didn’t want someone to accidentally knock it over,” he would say with the innocent dismissiveness of a bystander describing a three-car pile-up to an acquaintance, even though the collision was caused because he absently stopped in the middle of the street to check his phone.

To give them all some breathing room, and allow time for guests to settle in without attention being stolen by a Brooks misshap, Carrie created a special invite telling him the party would start at 10pm.

So it was 8:45 when Brooks called one more time and Carrie, seeing 22 voicemails and 36 missed calls, broke down and picked up.

“Hey, Brooks, we’ll see you at 10, okay?”

“Well, I think I’m nearby and so I thought I would come early, but—”

 “Brooks! I’m in the middle of setting up—”

“I can’t find your address. Where do you live?”
Carrie had lived at the four-story, three bedroom Woodside apartment for 3 years. Brooks had been there dozens of times. And every time, it was the same thing.

“It’s on the invite. It’s on your phone.”

“I delete all messages not from my agent.” Brooks was a fairly successful author of spy novels. When he was first starting out, he convinced Carrie to come with him and furtively take over tables in Manhattan bookshops. He even had her include an eight-by-10 author photo by the books and would stand near the table trying to be recognized. As a result, photos of Carrie were placed at seven bookshops’ checkout counter warning that she was banned for life because of placing copies of Brooks spy novels on tables in the store. She resented the fact that she would have to sneak in to buy books in so many of her preferred spots.

Why did she let herself get talked into his shenanigans so often? And why did he never pay a price? And why was Brooks always invited back to do book signings? She was his consequence-eater.

She gave him the address.

“Oh, I think I’m around the block. Do I go right or left?”

“Jesus Chris, Brooks, you’ll figure it out!”

Brooks stuffed his phone back in his pocket. She was never any assistance. “You had to pull assistance out of her like getting a mule to do whatever mules do,” Brooks said. “Plowing! Mules plow. I’ll have to use that line in the next novel!”

He waited an interminable two minutes for someone to walk by that he could ask for directions. “Why should I waste a minute of my time walking around in search of a party? That makes no sense at all!” Brooks said to himself, marveling at the heap of indignity Carrie always placed on him.

A couple in long beige, wool coats carrying black plastic bags with wine bottles passed him.

“Hey, do you know which way—” he looked at his phone, the invitation was there all along — “946 39th Avenue is?” The couple shook their heads and walked briskly away as if Brooks were some vagabond about to follow them home. He was taken aback by what he thought was a misunderstanding of his harriedness. He tried to catch up to them. “Help me! I’m smart!”