Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 8 • Winter 2003 • Fiction

For Your Own Good

Marshall Moore

May 5

I can't tear my gaze away from my building manager's missing tooth. It's the second incisor on the top left and it isn't completely gone. A plain black gap would be more attractive. Instead, the front layer of enamel and the inner pulpy material seem to have rotted away, leaving a yellow-black shell in the back. This reminds me of a vacant locust husk. And Henry tends to grin widely at the slightest provocation. Has he no shame? No mirror? Doesn't he know his breath smells like swamp gas?

He means well. I know he means well. He's a gin-swilling relic from San Francisco's pre-epidemic heyday, he survived for some reason, and he's got the morbid joie de vivre of the Londoners who lit their cigarettes off burning chunks of rubble after World War II air raids. Every couple of weeks he finds some pretext to knock on my door, and he always wants to talk. And talk. And talk.

What I told him when I moved in: I work from home. I don't like to go out much. I prefer my peace and quiet.

The unspoken message: Leave me alone.

"It's a beautiful day, isn't it?" he asks. He slurs just enough for me to notice. His slushy sibilants tell me he hasn't fully sobered up after last night's binge. His lopsided grin unnerves me. Light from the overhead fixture reflects off his yellow incisors, the fetor of boozy sweat pours off him, and inhaling makes me feel ill. He sways. I want to chew a dozen Rolaids. How many bottles did you drink last night, Henry? Nineteen? Twenty? In the six months I've lived in this building, he has ballooned out by at least ten pounds, and I'm convinced it's all liver.

"I haven't been outside in three months," I reply.

He shakes his head and clucks his tongue, a typical California reaction to my lack of interest in the outdoors. Sure the weather is lovely here, and we have the Sierras and the Pacific and the redwoods and the Wine Country and Lake Tahoe all within driving distance; great, good, so shut the fuck up and get in your car and drive there and leave me alone.

"Matthew, a nice young man like you should be out with friends on a day like this."

"I ate them," I said.

"You hate them?" Henry frowns. "You hate your friends?"

"No, I ate them," I said. "With fava beans and a nice Chianti. May I get back to work now? It's been nice talking with you."

The company of other people isn't for everyone. Nature abhors a vacuum, but not as intensely as I abhor the vacuous.

I smile at him and close the door, in hopes he won't see the sweat that beads my forehead. I'd worry about him smelling the anxious reek of my armpits but I doubt anything less pungent than raw sewage could penetrate the cirrhotic miasma around him. Poor soul. Why doesn't he find other tenants to bludgeon with kindness? I must worry him. I'm recently 35, reasonably handsome, and compulsively reclusive. An old Mercedes roadster would be gathering dust in my parking bay if there weren't a tarpaulin over it. I never drive the thing because that would require going outside. I order books and groceries online. How hard does it have to be, Henry? If I want to go somewhere, then I will. If I want you to drag me out of my apartment, then you'll be the first person to know.

After I bought this place, I added three extra deadbolts to the front door and reinforced the hinges. All my windows are barred. Two HEPA air purifiers the size of end tables whirr all day and night. I'm not one of those obsessive Howard Hughes types who washes his hands 300 times a day; this isn't about germs. I just don't want to go out, don't want to be bothered, and don't want to explain myself whenever someone's curiosity is aroused.

Why is that so hard to understand?

Just as entertainment industry types down south in Silicone Valley understand facelifts and boob jobs, here in Greater Silicon Valley, real estate types understand nontraditional work-from-home jobs: plenty of people telecommute and earn six figures. Even after the dotcom implosion, there are still lots of virtual Volvos on the information superhighway. For all Henry knows, I'm one of those young bazillionaires who sold off his start-up stock before the market collapsed, or I'm a junior executive hanging on at one of the few companies that still has a pulse. I've hinted that I'm a day trader. Other times, I've hinted that I'm a writer with a connection to Hollywood. I've dropped vague references about moneyed family in Europe. If Henry's sense of smell weren't so pickled he'd detect the scent of red herring. Maybe in time, I'll feel like sharing my story with him, but on the other hand, it's been six months, and those urges haven't hit me yet.

I can't say I expect them to.

May 21

There's a knock at the door. I'm not expecting anyone.

How ominous, I think as I cross the room to see who it is. Maybe Henry's come back to belch swamp gas in my face.

Through the peephole: a black man. A handsome one.

This is an improvement. At least it's not Henry.

I open the door a crack to say Hi and find out what he wants. Whoever this guy is, he hasn't caught me on my most sociable day, but then, I never have sociable days, so that's to be expected. I haven't seen him before -- he's about my height and his skin is the color of an expensive creamy Starbucks beverage; his hair is buzzed neatly down to his scalp and his nose is pierced. Inasmuch as I have a type (Diego was my type, but he's gone now isn't he, Matthew?), he's it.

Maybe he's an axe murderer. That would be about my luck.

I open the door wider to get a better look.

He extends a hand to shake.

"My name's Keith," he says. "I just moved in downstairs. Do you have any vodka?"

"Gallons of it," I reply. "Finlandia. It's a great preservative. Want to see my collection of human eyeballs?"

"Some other time." Keith doesn't miss a beat. Good for him. "I'm expecting my sister any minute and if I don't have a vodka martini waiting when she gets here, she'll kill me. Sorry about the vodka. Umm -- she doesn't like olives, so I kind of doubt she'll want to see an eyeball in her glass."

"I doubt the eyeball would want to see her, either," I offer.

"Right. This is the strangest conversation I've ever had," Keith says. "I'll catch you later. Guess I have to go to Safeway after all."

He leaves without offering to shake hands again, and he backs away. I imagine he's worried about turning his back to me. But there's a half-smile on his face, as if in the middle of an excruciating conference call, he's just reminded himself he doesn't have underwear on. I don't understand why he should be amused. I want him to suspect I might chuck an ice pick down the hall after him. I want him to conclude I'm not the guy whose door he wants to knock on the next time he runs out of something. That's why we make shopping lists.

Only I'm not sure how much I want these things, am I?

I lied to Henry about having work to do. These days I mostly lie on the sofa under a couple of blankets, reading. I have enough throw-pillows to pad the floors of three whorehouses and enough tea to give the population of Japan caffeine jitters. One of the great lies of our culture is that the major works of literature are interesting, so I've given up on Dickens, Tolstoy, Austen, and Toni Morrison. I want to turn off my brain. Since alcohol does awful things to my stomach and procuring drugs would require me to leave my apartment and talk to the sort of people I'd rather run over in my car, I read Dean Koontz's interchangeable thrillers and Danielle Steel's bodice-rippers instead. Give me Grisham or give me death. I read the weightless gay-boy books with cartoon cover art depicting muscular clones smiling at each other; these are like taking deep breaths of pink air. I've devoured at least a dozen old John D. MacDonald paperback mysteries, the ones with colors in the titles and big-breasted women on the jackets. The alternative to suicide is to consume immense volumes of trash. Or perhaps it's just a slower means to the same end.

For intellectual protein, I sometimes read the BBC and the Financial Times online. Just a few articles. Afterward, invariably, I check out a few porno websites, have a wank, and fix myself a sandwich and more Earl Grey. Then it's back to my literary Rice Krispie treats. I'm cultivating mental flab and that's OK.

I know: It's not a life, it's the imitation of one. But it's mine.

June 1

Henry's eyes cross slightly today. They're bloodshot. It's Saturday, late morning, and from the fumes, I suspect he drank a few gallons of jet fuel last night. I'd think twice before striking a match in his presence. The only safe thing to do is to take a step backward. God forbid he should ever decide to hug me.

I could just tell him to drop off my packages and leave, but I'm not that assertive. I know this about myself and admit it freely. The reason behind ordering essentials online is to avoid human contact and he's defeating the purpose. On the other hand, I've noticed a passive-aggressive streak in Henry. Not so long ago, he dispatched a yowling tomcat with a bowl of poisoned Friskies. He keeps D-Con around to deal with rats, which he calls urban bunnies, and I have to admit, I appreciated the quiet afterward. The homeless guy who persisted in rummaging through our dumpster stopped coming around after Henry dropped a few urine-filled condoms on his head. It's not that I'm afraid of Henry himself, but if I were to say the wrong thing, how do I know he wouldn't forget to bring me my groceries when the delivery guy drops them off downstairs?

Why didn't I choose a building without a front desk?

"Keith told me he met you," Henry says.

Why doesn't he just hand me the box -- a couple of sweaters from the Gap's online store, if I'm not mistaken -- and go back to his copy of the Weekly World News? Two-headed monsters from Mars that abduct and rape Topeka trailer trash are far more interesting than I am, honest.

Henry jabbers on: "He seemed like a nice guy, somehow I thought you might like him. Did you get to check out his backside? He may be a doctor but he looks like a go-go boy. I'd put a dollar in his G-string. Hell, I'd slip him a five. That day, when I sent him up to knock on your door, I was fresh out of vodka myself, you know, one or two extra martinis that night, and I stopped him on the way out and asked him to pick up an extra bottle for me. It's a lovely day, isn't it? No fog, not a cloud in the sky. There's a kite festival over in the city; maybe you should go."

"I'm in the middle of a huge project right now," I say. "I've got a deadline."

"Deadline schmedline," Henry says.

"Can I have my sweaters now?"

"I should hold them hostage," Henry says. "You have to go to the kite festival and talk to at least three handsome strangers today. Then you can have your sweaters."

"This is real life, not a Britney Spears video." I grab the box. "Thanks for the thought, but I have a ton of work to do."

I shut the door in his face and turn my back to it, sliding/sinking to the floor with the box cradled in my arms like an awkward cardboard baby. Sweat pours off me. There's an ugly heaviness in my gut, portending an emergency dash to the bathroom. The kite festival? Conversations with handsome strangers? Those things are about as likely to happen as the Vatican selling fluorescent Christ-shaped vibrators in its souvenir shops. When I can stand up again, and when the nausea passes, I close all the curtains. I wouldn't be surprised if he watches me from the sidewalk across the street; he must be dying to know what I get up to all day.

Will the condo association give me crap if I have the windows tinted and bars installed over them?

June 6

When I hear the knock, I hurry to open it. I've ordered in -- chow fun and potstickers from my favorite Chinese place, as well as groceries. At the door is a schoolmarmish woman of a certain age, narrow eyeglasses on a gold chain around her neck. She bears an unsettling resemblance to my seventh-grade French teacher, Madame Lebeaupin. I doubt she lives in this building. I'd remember. Mme. Lebeaupin was never satisfied with my pronunciation, and gave me lower marks than any other instructor of French before or since. I always thought she looked like a Tonka truck in pumps. In any case, the woman smiling (in a tight-lipped, businesslike way) on my welcome mat (which actually reads GO AWAY) is not Zhe-Yuan, the Chinese delivery guy. Nor is she the uniformed grocery guy sweating with the three or four paper not plastic bags of junk food and toilet paper I ordered.

"Matthew Jaraschow?" She breaks into my amazement.

My first impulse is to respond with, "Oui, Madame... qu'est-ce que c'est?"

"My name is Betty Royalton, and I live in the brown shingle house down the block, on the corner. I'm sure you've seen it? The one with the jasmine vines and the lemon tree in the front yard?"

I shook my head no. "I don't get out much."

"Well, I'm here with the perfect opportunity." She consults a little notebook she has produced from a voluminous brown shoulder bag. "I'm on the committee to organize this year's Fourth of July block party. It's an annual tradition here in the neighborhood, and we're looking for volunteers to help coordinate the food and entertainment. Your building manager Henry gave us your name and suggested you might be available and interested..."

My thoughts gum up with horror. Entertainment?

"Henry thought you might be able to help write skits for the children..."

"Children?"

"Why yes, of course! I was thinking, perhaps you know someone who can get in touch with some clowns on fairly short notice?"

"Henry seems to know how."

"Shall I put you down as a definite for the committee?" Without stopping long enough to breathe -- or let me get a word in edgewise -- she steamrollers on: "So which shall it be, food or entertainment? If you want to do food, don't worry about the clean-up job, we have a separate committee for that. How do you feel about making a couple hundred pigs-in-a-blanket? Of course we'd supply you with the veggie hot dogs and organic tofu cheese." She giggles. Her eyeglasses bounce. "This is Berkeley, you know."

"I'm sorry, but I'm allergic to sunlight," I tell her.

Her eyes widen.

"It's a terrible problem. Indirect illumination is OK, like through the curtains, but if I were to go outside for that long, I'd be covered with gigantic bloody red welts within 20 minutes."

"Oh." She takes a half-step back. Then: "Is it contagious?"

I shake my head no again, wondering what she's going to ask me next. Perhaps if one is easily turned away, one does not tend to serve on neighborhood organizing committees. One would not last long, knocking on doors. I should have said Very. Or Airborne.

"Is there some problem? I have a little trouble believing your story about your ... condition."

Oh God it's Madame Lebeaupin all over again.

"I'm going to France," I tell her. "Sorry about the welts story. I like to be provocative. I'm working on that in therapy. I'm going to be in Paris for a couple of weeks. I'm afraid there's really nothing I can do. In fact, you caught me right in the middle of packing --"

Zhe-Yuan saves me by appearing with a bag of fragrant food, and his usual handsome smile. I like Zhe-Yuan because he is the only person who ever comes to my door and has almost nothing to say. It's possible he doesn't speak much English, and that's just fine. It's refreshing. It's just dandy. In a heavy accent, he says Here's your food; I say Thanks Zhe-Yuan; and he says Enjoy your meal, see you next time. I always tip him well.

"Hm. Well, enjoy Paris then."

Madame Royalton flounces away, and I tip Zhe-Yuan twice as much as usual this time.

"You make a mistake, maybe?" he asks.

"No, please. Keep the change. You just did me a big favor."

After I shut the door, I revive myself by taking deep breaths of delicious garlicky noodles and dumplings.

July 4

As much as possible, I ignore holidays.

July 6

I haven't ordered anything, so when there's a knock at the door, the spasm of panic stuns me for a second or two. Maybe I shouldn't answer the door. I haven't taken a shower this morning, nor shaved. For that matter, I haven't shaved in five days. My beard has grown out enough that it no longer itches. Whoever it is, let them knock until their knuckles bleed. On the other hand, I can't get away with pretending not to be home. Where else would I be?

What the hell, I'm not paying attention to the book I'm reading, anyway. Plus, it's dinnertime and I have to pee. I've been ignoring both needs as long as possible, and the weight presses me deeper into my sofa cushions.

Maybe it's Keith again. That wouldn't be so bad, would it? Maybe he'll come inside and take off his clothes.

The thought sneaks across my mind as if someone were whispering in my ear. I can picture Keith stretched out on my sofa, unbuttoning his shirt. When was the last time I got laid? Not since Diego, and even then...

Don't think about it.

But I'm standing in front of the door. The knocking continues, and my knees are wobbly. The weight of my bladder intensifies. I flash back on the last night I spent with Diego, before the commitment ceremony that never happened: Diego falling asleep in his seat at the cinema during the newest Star Wars installment, then waking up in the final action sequence and resting a hand in my lap. I was hard when the film ended and had to wait through half of the credits until I could stand up and walk outside. At home, we undressed and fell asleep straight away, both of us having had a long day. We didn't live together, but we planned for him to move in after the ceremony. Sometime later -- I never looked at the clock -- Diego woke me. "I want you inside me," he whispered. "Wake up, Matthew. Wake up." He had wrapped his hand around my cock and massaged it awake before the rest of me could catch up. Then he took me in his mouth and, finally, straddled me. I never spoke. I hadn't been sure I was awake, and still wonder. Afterward, he whispered to me again, "You will never know how much I love you." I drifted off to sleep again, and when I woke the next morning, he was gone.

Through the peephole: someone I don't recognize, but he's young and male and hot. He's tan and blond, and he has that annoying Castro rat's nest hairstyle, but I wouldn't hold that against him. This can't be another neighbor wanting to borrow a cup of vodka.

"Yes?" I ask.

"Is your last name Jaraschow?" He doesn't mangle my name too badly.

"Yes, how did you know?"

"It's on the list by the door. Look, I came to visit my friend down the hall, but his door buzzer didn't work. Can I use your phone?"

I'm going to hyperventilate. This is how helium balloons must feel.

"I'm sorry..." There's no air in my lungs to form words. This isn't speech, it's deflation.

He cuts me off: "It'll only take a minute."

The door has hardly swung shut behind him, and he's already unbuttoning his shirt.

"You're hot," he says, spearing me with a porn-star leer.

"No, I'm frigid."

"I don't believe you."

We stand there eyeing each other.

I ask, "You didn't really come here to visit your friend down the hall, did you?"

The shirt falls to the floor. His abdomen is cobbled like the streets of old Amsterdam. I'm intrigued: he is neither tattooed nor pierced. He has retained his body hair. That makes him unique, as far as I know. Hell, I'll admit I trim my chest hair, and I have a little om tattooed on my left deltoid.

"Of course I did," he says. "Well, to be honest, the friend lives downstairs."

He doesn't meet my eyes. I suspect someone is up to something and when he unbuttons his jeans I find that I don't care.

"Bedroom's through there, right?"

I can only follow. I stop off at the bathroom and when I enter the bedroom I find him sprawled across the comforter in a lewd pose. Normally I am not passive in bed, but in this case, shock overtakes me. I go where I'm led. I do what he wants, because the fact that it's happening at all is enough to content me. I had forgotten: flesh is a drug, and sex is amnesia. I forget myself for a couple of sweaty, straining hours, and afterward, he showers, returns to the bedroom, and helps himself to a pair of my clean underwear.

I ask him, "Who's the friend?"

"Henry. Your building manager. I owed him a favor."

He finishes dressing. He never tells me his name, and I don't ask. I can't get the words out.

July 7

In a daze, I'm deleting e-mail from friends. When I lift my cup to sip Earl Grey, I'm surprised to find it empty; I don't remember making tea, or drinking it. I haven't checked my mail in weeks because I don't want to hear from anyone. No-one has anything new to say: Where are you? (Right where I want to be.) We're worried. (There's no reason to be.) Why did you drop off the face of the earth like that? (I think you already know the answer.) You have to move on with your life. (Who said I'm not doing just that?) Please call / e-mail / send a smoke signal! (Don't hold your breath because blue's not your color.)

Whenever I shift in my chair, little morning-after pains lance my guts. But the pain has a pleasurable component. It's been a while, and my nameless visitor didn't want to waste time on preliminaries.

Nothing is so urgent as to require a response. I read through a few messages from friends, just to get an idea of what's going on in their lives, but... that's for later. They don't know about this apartment. The new phone number is unlisted. I'm so disconnected, in fact, that a few months ago I unplugged the phone from the jack. There's neither voice mail nor an answering machine to take messages. I cut off my mobile phone service. My e-mail address hasn't changed, but I rarely bother to check it. I've disappeared as thoroughly as possible without moving out of the country.

The encounter last night disturbs me: I didn't mean to let him in (in either sense). I didn't mean to give myself away so quickly. Human interaction is the thing I'm trying hardest to avoid, after all.

(Or is it?)

OK, there can always be exceptions that prove the rules.

Bright darts of pain pierce my gut when I stand and return to the kitchen for more tea. Penetration: better in theory than practice. What would it have been like with Keith? Hell, what would it have been like if Diego hadn't left me standing in front of a crowd of our friends with a scared but hopeful look on my face, praying he'd change his mind and show up?

He didn't even leave a note.

I decide I need to do two things: take a shower and talk to Henry.

This interference has to stop.

July 8 (late in the day)

First thing I do is plug in the phone. This requires a game of hide-and-seek. I have a new phone, almost new, but I'm not the most organized guy in the world and I have to sift through heaps and stacks of apartment detritus to find it. The dial tone shocks me a little; although I've paid the bill every month, I expect dry clicks when I hold the handset to my ear, like when a dead battery keeps the car engine from turning over. I listen until the dial tone expires, giving way to that horrible loud hang up the phone, dipshit beep.

This is how computers sound when they're angry. The thought floats through my mind like a dead goldfish in a pet store aquarium. I hang up the phone and dial Henry's number.

Naturally no one answers it. The answering machine picks up: Thank you for calling Liberal Arms. You have reached the office of Henry Jessup, the building manager. I am presently unavailable to take your call at this time. Please leave a message and I will return your call at my earliest convenience.

"Hi Henry, this is Matthew Jaraschow, from upstairs. Look, I was hoping we could talk about these little favors --"

With an electronic shriek, the recording is interrupted: Henry has answered.

"Matthew! I didn't think you used your telephone except in the most... the direst emergencies. Extenuating circumstances and all that. To what do I owe this great privilege?"

"It's about the guy who came to my apartment yesterday evening --"

"Oh, right. Kurt. Wasn't he a dish? I thought you might like him."

"You went too far, Henry. I really don't need --"

"To get laid? You didn't need to get laid? Matthew, you're blowing this way out of proportion. Kurt owed me a favor, none of your business why, and I said he should stop by your place and see if you needed a little company."

"What, are you trying to say I needed to get laid? What the fuck is that about?"

"Did you turn him away? I happen to know that you didn't, young man, because I saw him leave. You look me in the eye and tell me you didn't enjoy it. I bet you can't."

By this point I am ready to choke him until his head falls off.

"Henry, if I wanted Anna Madrigal I could either reread Tales of the City or watch it on DVD --"

"It's for your own good, Matthew. You'll thank me for it someday."

Hands trembling, I press the OFF button on the handset and return the phone to its recharging cradle.

The decision to leave my apartment is not something I think about consciously; the need to coat Henry's face with spittle as I scream in his face overcomes the need to stay behind a locked door. I figure I've read enough crappy fiction in the last six months to have absorbed a few satisfying lines. Hell, Diego ruined my life when he dumped me; if I actually do succumb to my capering id and choke Henry with my bare hands, I can still read in San Quentin, right? And I'll probably get laid more often.

I never stop to lock my front door behind me.

Henry opens his door before I'm finished pounding on it, and I almost sock him in the nose by accident. Not that I'd mind giving him a shiner.

"I've been expecting you," he says.

"What the hell is this, Henry? You look like you just laid an egg, you're so smug. I hate being manipulated. I wanted to be left alone. How hard is that to understand? I wanted to be left alone."

"Have a drink."

He turns his back to me and pours one. Something amber. I can't see the label, just the base of the bottle. There's a forest-for-the-trees issue operating here, only in reverse: Henry has too much booze in his liquor cabinet for me to tell which libation he's picked out. In this state of mind, I'd happily accept two fingers of sheep urine, neat, if I thought it would calm me down a bit.

"So you were just about to tell me how much you resent my intrusions into your precious privacy." Henry gestures to offer me a seat on an overstuffed sofa.

The upholstery is the same color as a circle of red wine on a countertop, and velvet; his coffee table has this black lacquered Shanghai brothel look about it. Garish silk flowers overflow from chunky crystal vases on every flat surface, and the room reeks of cigarette smoke and alcohol sweat. Instant sensory overload. He refills my glass as soon as I set it on the table. I swallow the bourbon (that must have been it), and he refills my glass a third time. I drink that too.

"What the hell were you thinking, sending that neighborhood block party woman to knock on my door?"

"You need to get out more," Henry says mildly. He seats himself in a rattan fan chair opposite me and crosses his legs.

"Henry, I want to be left alone. It's that simple."

"Matthew, I've been around the block a time or two. There's a time to stay in, feeling sorry for yourself, and then you just have to get out and do something and be around people. I'm sorry, but that's just what I believe."

"It isn't mutual."

"You may own the condo but it's my building. Have another drink."

"Oh for fuck's sake." The alcohol is taking the edge off, though. I knock back my fourth shot and, when Henry hands me the bottle, I accept it without a word.

"If you were really so hell-bent on staying put, you wouldn't have come down here to yell at me, now would you?"

"I..." I stopped. He has a point. I take another swallow.

Don't ask me how, but the whole story comes cascading out of me at that point. The alcohol has finally kicked in. I spill my guts to Henry about Diego decamping just before the ceremony. How I couldn't get him on his land line or his mobile phone. How several of my closest friends admitted that same day, while I was catatonic on my sofa, that they'd never liked him in the first place, and anyway, Latinos are notorious for being unfaithful, so who had I been kidding? Had I really thought it would last? In the immediate aftermath of Diego's Disappearance, his e-mail address stopped working, and his phone numbers were cut off. His roommate said he'd packed up and left in a hurry. I hate what happened to you guys, he'd asked. That sucks. I totally didn't see it coming. Man. I'm sorry. So, hey, do you want to, you know, like, smoke a bowl and fool around a little? I always thought you were kind of hot. The same postmortem proposition had come in from a couple of other inappropriate people, and that was when I decided to hibernate until I could be around my fellow man without wanting to take a shotgun to the nearest shopping mall.

And then, with the whole thing out and on the table, raw and bleeding like a pile of entrails after human sacrifice, I slump over and, according to Henry, fall asleep for a while.

Why I don't throw up, I have no idea. Perhaps because I've already done enough puking.

Henry, being Henry, calls Keith the handsome doctor for help getting me upstairs. Take him to your own place so you can keep an eye on him, Henry must have said, because I wake up in bed next to Keith at 8.00 this morning, strangely clear-headed.

"Good morning, sleepyhead," Keith says.

"Sorry about the eyeballs thing," I tell him.

"Henry told me you were kind of prickly but worth getting to know."

"He's so full of shit he smells like a --" But Keith puts two fingers in my mouth to shut me up.

Marshall Moore is author of the novel The Concrete Sky and the forthcoming short story collection Black Shapes in a Darkened Room. He lives in Seattle, Washington. For more information, visit www.marshallmoore.com.

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