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Because she is seven days gone and he is so obviously heart-busted, I know it is not a good idea to talk to Tommy right now about Rosa or anything else. About how pointless this is. If it was a good time, then yes, I’d have things to say; we’ve been driving around for a long time. I’d say, “Tommy, I want to go home,” or “Dressing like a cowboy doesn’t make you one.” I’d say, “She is with Danny Lee now. She is probably gone for good, man.”

Phil is sitting in his office staring at his computer when his cellphone rings. It is his wife, Helen. He picks it up, punches a button. The call goes straight to voicemail.

“Tell it to your mother,” says Phil.

Then it’s the phone on his desk, melodic and eager. Phil watches the blue digits scroll across the caller ID display. It’s Helen. Phil turns back to work on his spreadsheet. He knows an email will appear on his screen within minutes, an apology from Helen. Her contrition will be touching, the way a green fly is touching.

Before Phil married Helen, his older brother pulled him aside at a family cookout and said, “Marriage is really hard. You have to work at it. It’s a lot of work.”

Firstly, the Earth itself spins on an axis. In fact, everything in the universe spins, unless you’re at the very center of the sun. In that way, the wheel itself is a microcosm of us all. And that’s just one aspect. Making the wheel so small, and with handles, illustrates man’s attempt to manipulate the world, while the randomness of his success proves our existential nature, how we really have so little control. Further, doesn’t everything, no matter how far away it goes or how fast it travels, always come back to us? It could be trouble. It could be a bad penny. If we’re lucky? Love. Moving right along, ff you’ll recall, man’s first invention—before fire, by some accounts—is the wheel, what we associate as the birth of engineering, man’s conquest over nature, our attempt to control the universe. Speaking of which, “Spinning your wheels” is also one of our more popular adages, one that evokes the image of gears moving throughout the head (in place of the brain), thought itself the bi-product of a semi-complex machine, moving parts rolling about each other, perpetuating motion, i.e., ideas. Time, which we are all slaves to, is controlled by clocks, run by the same inner workings of gears. Sometimes I take things further and project myself into the clockmaker’s role, one theory of the creator of the universe. In this version, God merely sets the game into motion and watches as the players fulfill their own destiny, using the tools they’ve been given, following a distinct set of rules. Sure, once in a while, I step in to move things along, but for the most part, the wheel dictates all. The wheel decides who lives and who dies, gives us choices, indiscriminately takes them away. The wheel simultaneously guides us along, encourages us, and destroys us, but never gives us the answers, hoping that we keep asking, keep searching, confidant that one day, on our own, we’ll fill in the blanks.

The two of them sit on the curb across the street from the Fun Church listening to the Christian rock jamming out the stained-glass windows. It’s that day: the perfect one between spring and summer that everyone in Chicago waits for. No humidity. No clouds. The grass has reached its greenest. The rehearsal of music that they’d both normally hate sounds pleasant. And the potential for that afternoon in the sun is overwhelming infinite. So they sit on the curb with their backs to Wicker Park scattered with other single people sunbathing and playing chess and softball and Frisbee. But they are not happy.

At some point this stopped being about food.

“Tell me, what can people expect from Artisan?” The digital tape recorder rests between New York culinarian, Chef Tairy Livingston, and myself on black sheepskin acting as tablecloth. According to the editor-and-chief of Neo Gourmet Magazine, it’s now standard practice to do interviews with the emotionally unstable and eccentric of the culinary world. “Rock star hash slingers,” they’re called—guys that attend an anger management meeting before outsourcing their pent-up aggression on a filet of veal.

The black mountain goat.

The black mountain goat with white-trimmed ears.

The black mountain goat with white-trimmed ears rose vertically.

1. Good Girl

Paz has been dead a month but he is still here.  Abby, his dog, snuffles in her sleep and moans, sounding much like Paz when he wore his oxygen mask in the last few weeks of his life. A psychic had told Paz that she saw him alive at seventy-four so he wasn’t convinced he was dying at fifty, even when the doctors suggested it was time for hospice.  Paz put little stock in medicine, holding the doctors responsible for misdiagnosing a case of rheumatic fever as a child.  He had told me this on the first date we ever had, but I was too giddy with lust and youth and was convinced his heart was strong enough for both of us.  He was a devout Buddhist, raised a Jew, and had read the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, as many times as the twenty years I had known him. Still, he refused to consider the possibility of his own death, even when he was down to one hundred and twenty pounds on his six foot two inch frame, too weak to roll over or even get out of bed and piss on his own. We did without hospice.  I cared for Paz, wiped his ass, adjusted the oxygen tubing, administered the meds, made the holistic tea he requested and then let grow cold on his bedside table, read to him from his library book, The History of Baseball, because he was too weak to hold the plastic coated binding, and made him blended meals he could not eat before finally surrendering to the little cans of ensure.  I was afraid every time I left the room, afraid to close the door when I went to the bathroom for fear he would need me and I wouldn’t hear him call, his voice reduced by fluid and congestion that was filling the cavities of his heart and squeezing me out.

Janice Bane cranked it up.  Neil Diamond.  The Solitary Man.  Anybody who had a problem with that could go fuck themselves.

“I’ve had it to here, being where love’s a small word.”  Janice gripped the steering wheel and belted out the lyrics. “Part time thing.” She hit the gas and passed the Range Rover. “Paper ring.”   L.A. traffic was getting to be unbearable.

“I know it’s been done having one girl who loves you.”  She swerved around a man puttering along on a powder blue Vespa Scooter.   “Right or wrong.”   HONKKKK.  What kind of man would chose to drive a Vespa?  “Weak or strong.”

She picked up some speed on the straightaway.

“You’re different, today,” Alice said.

There was no way for her to know that. Robert had just gotten home, hadn’t even spoken to her yet.

“I had an affair. That’s why.”

He loosened his tie, took off his shoes.

“Wow. Just today? That was short.”

“Well, it’s been going on for a while. But today was especially good.”

“Hey!” someone behind me screams.

“Jesus Walks, God show me the way…”

I am lost in the newspaper, headphones in place and walking along the platform at the Damen Blue line stop in Wicker Park.

“Jesus Walks with me, with me, with me…”

“Hey!” they scream again, followed by a playful shove to the back.

Tom stepped out of the bar into a pool of yellow-ochre light from the streetlamp.  Yellow-ochre is the color of this country, he thought, and terracotta.  His brain, bathed in a loose veil of red wine and whatever the Italian football players made him drink, seemed to drift along behind him like an awkward, dumb animal.  “Catch up,” he said out loud.  “Put your hand in your pocket and find your keys,” he said, to the cracked sidewalk, to the slice of sinking moon, to anything listening.  “Why is everybody so goddamn nice around here?”

Broken

By Rob Roberge

Original Fiction

The band was supposed to be on the road for two weeks, so I spent the last few days before we left Florida trying to get enough drugs to last the tour. We were booked up the East coast in some great clubs, the record had just come out on a good, albeit small, indie label, we were getting some press and it had the look of a good time on the road. At the time, at least before things turned bad, the band was getting along and the tour seemed like it would be one party after another in a new town every night.

My sister Caroline stood at my front door, wintry pale with her brown hair piled in a wild bun, her chin high. She’d been crying—the ballerina in distress. Her divorce was just final and her dance company had disbanded. Beyond her, the airport shuttle was already disappearing around the corner. I may have suggested Caroline come to California, but I knew better than to let my guard down.

Uncle Otto plays chess late afternoons on Wednesdays and Fridays till almost midnight and sometimes even after.  His chess partner, his neighbor Gyuri, speaks Romanian with a thick Hungarian accent that seems to come out of his even thicker mustache.  Uncle Otto knows only several Hungarian words, but maybe out of deference for his guest insists on using them with a frequency that makes Aunt Rajssa roll her eyes and give me conspiratorial glances.  “Nem szabad! (Don’t!)…Piros tojás (Red egg)…Te vagy (You are) a dangerous fellow.”