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Issue 18

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Bad Sleeper Awake

Horns duel on 23rd Street. A truck with spent shocks pounds its fists against the canyon walls. I float back to college, a Saturday, the fraternity house, me on Quaaludes. A sixteen year old townie comes to my room. I can’t make her out whole, a fragmented movie, arm here, leg there, we have fun. Next weekend, more Quaaludes, same townie, same movie, fun. Next weekend, no Quaaludes. Drug drought. The townie shows up, and there is nothing about her I’m attracted to. I can’t even stand her perfume. She clings to my chest as if I’m a life preserver and sobriety a dark, cold sea. I lie on my back, arms by my side, breathing as quietly as I possibly can.

Everyone Is a Little Too Special

I

I’m dancing with a woman at the Baby Boomer Dance, clutching tightly, melting into her curves, when she whispers into my ear, “You can kiss it.” “Great,” I say, not knowing what “it” is. “Don’t worry,” she continues, “it only looks like a snake.” “Great,” I say, not wanting to know what “it” is. But I push away some of her hair with my nose, and realize, oh, that’s “it”: her long-stemmed neck: pale, scented, with the word NECK tattooed on one side, and the name KEN tattooed on the other. “Who’s Ken?” I ask. Sounding half asleep, she murmurs, “That was supposed to be NECK spelled backwards, but the tattooer forgot the ‘C.’” I travel over the letters with small, soft kisses. Such a smooth highway. The fog of perfume rolls in. She settles into my arms as if born there. Later, I’ll do something I’ve never done for any woman before: change my name to Ken.

II

I’ve been Ken now for five years. The Neck is still herself. Today, she is not happy. Her grown daughter, Neck Junior, has made a decision. Neck Senior complains. “That girl swivels her neck and sends men into a stupor.” “I can’t imagine who she gets that from,” I mutter. She goes on. “She could have bagged a doctor, a Wall Streeter, but, oh, no. She settles for an Entenmann’s cake truck driver.” “He is the top scorer for the Entenmann’s bowling team,” I point out. She glares at me. “I’m trying to look at the bright side,” I say. “They’re getting married in a bowling alley,” she says. “There is no bright side.”

The blessed day arrives. Guests show up, rent shoes, and bowl some frames. The priest waits at the foul line. Instead of walking down the aisle, the bride makes a spectacular entrance when she rises up majestically out of a ball return. “Boy,” I say, eyes filling with tears, “the dieting really paid off.” Vows are exchanged. Groom and bride begin a long kiss. As if released from time into a purer place, the groom keeps his eyes shut tight, but the bride gazes at the priest, her neck a creamy beacon. He lurches forward and starts kissing it. I’m thinking, “I don’t remember this at the rehearsal.” The groom opens his eyes, sees an extra body in the huddle, yells, “Pervert!” and takes a swing at the priest. The priest ducks, knocks the groom to the floor, yells, “Entenmann’s cakes aren’t what they used to be!” and starts kicking the groom. The bride’s neck slithers up a wall, dragging her whole body behind it. Pandemonium reigns supreme. Neck Senior smiles, kisses my cheek, and whispers into my ear, “Divine intervention. How refreshing!”