The Death Of More

THE PRISONER

Shadows danced around the sparsely furnished cell as his candle guttered in a draft. It was a large room, and thankfully above the worst stink and grime of the lower tower, but a cell nonetheless. The tattered, threadbare robe he had worn for the past fourteen months fluttered about his legs as he shuffled across to the bed.

He lowered himself down onto the straw pallet pushed up against the wall. For most of his life he had lived in palatial homes, and slept on massive four-poster beds with feather mattresses swathed in silk sheets. Servants lit fires to drive away the slightest chill, and the kitchen was always ready to accommodate him. My goodness, he thought, how things have changed. At least it was summertime, and the brutal heat of the day had surrendered to a warm, humid night.

This cell had been the abode of some of the most famous and wealthy prisoners ever to find themselves confined in the tower. The conditions of their stays largely depended upon their ability to curry favor or mercy from the Crown. Many were allowed to furnish the cell as if it were their own home. The most privileged prisoners could walk about the tower grounds, and even host guests with dinners of roasted capons, puddings and wines. Thomas had no illusions about his standing with the King. He had been allowed only the most rudimentary comforts, those which his family could beg, buy or smuggle in to him. A short, three-legged stool, a chest for his small possessions and provisions, and the straw mattress for which he was immensely thankful; it was the only soft thing in the stone chamber.

In the end though, we are all prisoners here, he mused. Fine furnishings did nothing to change that, evidenced by the hundreds of scratched pleadings in the stone walls. They were perhaps the only lasting memorials to the poor souls who had languished out their last days here. Thomas had read them all. Some were simple protestations of innocence, some were whimsical poetry, and still others were fervent pleas for succor or salvation. The sheer desperation of the etchings was enough to destroy the morale of any man. He was not just any man though; Sir Thomas More was a knight of the realm, and until his conviction of high treason, had held the post of Lord Chancellor. One of the most powerful men in England and a favorite of the King himself, and yet now he was sleeping on straw in the Tower of London. That was not the worst of it though. Today was July 5th, the year of our Lord one-thousand-five-hundred-and-thirty-five. On the morrow, he would lose his head.

The Homeless Man of Greater Zimbabwe

The fish were made of silver. So were the terns. The fish swam in the clear blue sky, leaving little ripples as they weaved a course through the heavens. Beside the school of fish, the gleaming birds flapped in formation. All of them moved with singular purpose to a silver half moon that was bright despite the day, a moon that matched the creatures’ ethereal gleam.

Smack! The fish, the terns, the moon, it all unraveled.

Mums was in the shop, rubbing the back of his woolly head, his daydream supplanted by dull pain. Fat Man was giving him that stern look, pointing at him with a long ebony finger.

“You’ll be sixteen in a week, a man by any nation’s measure. You must stop these flights of fancy; those things are for boys and liars.”

Stupid Fat Man, Mums thought. He nodded.

“Keep your eyes about the shop. If someone as much as steals a sausage, you’ll find food missing from your plate tonight.”

There was no one even in the shop. He could argue that but it would likely earn him another smack to the head and a stern lecture about due diligence. So he nodded again.

This was the worst time for diligence and the best time for his mind to wander. It was right after midday, so very few shoppers came into the store looking for dinner meats until later.

Fat Man’s shop was a typical zimba, larger than most but still built of the mortarless granite stones that gave the city of Dzimba-dza-mabwe its name. And while Fat Man had painted the granite walls and ceiling of his zimba with festive blues, yellows and greens “to pull the customer’s eye,” as he put it, it did little to make Mums feel festive. He was not a customer; and any joy he had once gotten from the design was long gone after spending most of his childhood in here looking after rows of various meats.

Mums put his elbows on the counter and propped his face into his brown fists, getting comfortable while he watched over the gazelle steaks that were advertised on sale.

“No no no, boy,” Fat Man said. “That’s how I found you when you earned that smack. Now earn your board and daily bread. Check the temperatures.”

Mums grumbled but did as he was told.

The Nightmare Eater

The dim overhead light intensifies the shadows beneath my eyes until they become like bruises. Little pockets of darkness I carry my nightmares in.

I want to sleep, but I cannot. The few hours a night when my eyes are closed bring me visions of Japan and my last days there. The face of my patron twisted in pain haunts me. The feeling of his blood seeping over my fingers will not leave.

I yearn for rest—for peace.

The war between my country and the United States is over. The war inside me rages on.


Storm of Change by Karim Heatherington

There are two men at table three, with dates. They are the only customers in the Good Luck Bar, and I am the only waitress. The girls look at me with narrowed eyes, suspicious. The men have the cocky bearing of sailors, but only one of them seems to undress me as I set down their beers.

“Hey there, Miss Saigon,” the one with the roving eyes says. “My buddy here just got back from the far East. Hey, Jerry, how do you say hello in Nip-speak? Coneychee? That right?”

“You sound like an idiot,” Jerry says.

Baka no hito.

“Konnichiwa,” I say. The first man guffaws, slaps his thigh. His other arm slips around the girl’s shoulders.

“Did you hear that? Say something nice for my girl.” He looks at the girl. “How about it, honey? What do you want her to say?”

“Come on, Pete,” Jerry says, fingering his bottle. “My beers getting warm and my foods getting cold.”

“I’m a paying customer,” Pete says. “Go on, hon. Tell her what to say.”

The girl chews on her lip, leaving flecks of red lipstick on her teeth. “Tell me how pretty I am.”

Pete pulls her closer, laughing. “That’s my babe. Always fishing for compliments.”

“Uma ni niteimasu. Kamiga kusso mitai ni kusai desu.” Sugar drips from my words as I describe the girl’s horsey features and dung scented hair. She giggles. Jerry covers his mouth to hide his own laughter, and my stomach twists. He understood me.

His eyes catch mine; his smile softens and then turns dark. I turn away and hurry back to the bar, feeling exposed.

I tuck my tips into my bra: two dollars and ten cents—half my weekly rent. It still feels strange, paying for my own living. In Japan, when I was young, the geisha house took care of me. Then, my patron—but I do not think of him.

George grunts a goodbye as I walk out of the bar and into the cool night air. I pause for a moment to take a deep breath. Car exhaust, cigarette smoke; it is nothing like home. My heels click on the pavement as I walk.

The cigarette smoke comes from a man leaning against the wall, a few feet from the bar entrance. My heels click faster; my heart begins to flutter. His cigarette glows red as I approach.

“Hey,” he says.

“Bar is still open.” I say, not stopping.

“I’m not looking for the bar.” His fingers brush my sweater. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

I turn, and recognize him: Jerry, without his friend or his girl. My heart flutters again, but not in fear.

I realize I’d been hoping to find him, too. He drops his hand away from me, and I follow him down the street.

The Songs of Eridani – Part 2

Read The Songs of Eridani – Part 1 by clicking here.

Chapter 8

We pushed into the jungle above S’uval the next morning, my mind focusing on that special inner spot that had always centered me: I’m nothing but a man who tracks other men for pay; that is what I am, it’s what I do, and nothing else. I seek men who don’t want to be found–whether for reasons of crime, sin, personal disgrace, or some sort of queer, unknown psychological imbalance. Men who have slipped off the net, and have to be netted again so as to answer to others. That is all I am, that is all I need to be.

And I’d dealt with all those types, all those reasons. Yet never had I engaged in a commission as flaky or as suspicious as the one I now pursued. And why did I accept it? I certainly didn’t need the money,
not at this point in my career. For all I cared, Dr. Kline could have fallen down a rat-hole and been eaten by Eridani maggot-analogs.

And yet, I pictured those maggots as wearing the faces of the Directors of the Church of the Holy Psychological Redemption. There was something else going on here, and I was determined to wrench it to the surface.

I removed my field cap and swiped the sweat off my scalp with my hand, turned and waited for Laura and Pete to catch up.

"Hold up a minute, T’aylang! You hanging in there, Pete?"

Pete was panting, trying to catch his breath in the steamy air. "Is the . . . pope . . . a bear?"

"Time for a break, folks," I said.

I was suddenly aware of T’aylang by my side, studying Pete. "This man is not well-adapted to the environment or to the task at hand," he said. "Will we be required to carry him for the balance of the journey?"

"No, just give us a few minutes to rest here, Big Guy. Pete’ll be all right."

I looked sternly at Pete when I said that, hoping to drive that veiled admonition into him.

The Eridani raised his head to an erect vertical position. "This is not a safe place to stop. We are traversing a pyloc’s game trail. Similar to what you refer to in your language as a ‘big cat.’"

"So, are you seeing any?" I unclipped the holster of my firearm.

T’aylang pointed to one of the porters and barked a short command. The other Eridani began to sing, a strange polyphonous song whose ultrasonic overtones made me wince in pain.

"We will persuade any nearby ones to take an afternoon nap. But only a short one. It would be best if your colleague gets his breath back soon, so that we may continue on our way."

Pete gasped and nodded, apparently agreeing in principle with T’aylang.

Daryl Parker: An Exclusive Interview with the Author of Sacrifice of the Season

Daniel: I appreciate the time you’re taking to talk with us about your new book today. Tell us a bit about yourself. You haven’t been an author for very long, have you?

Daryl: Yeah, but you know, growing up I had a lot of interest in books. I read all the time. The fantasy-fiction genre was what I mainly read. Tolkein was one of the very first fantasy trilogies that I read. It was just my kind of thing. I’ve always been interested in being a writer.

Daniel: Sacrifice of the Season is your first novel?

Daryl: It’s the first book that I’ve written, yes. It’s actually the first in a planned series of four.

Daniel: If you had to categorize it, what genre would you say Sacrifice of the Season falls into? To me, it seems to be a bit of a mix of Slipstream and Fantasy.

Daryl: Yeah, I think that’s the best fit for it. It’s a period novel set in the 1880s, but it’s a little bit Harry Potter meets Tom Sawyer.

Daniel: So maybe just a little bit of Alternative History thrown in there, just for good measure.

Daryl: Just slightly.

Daniel: Give us an overview of the main characters in your story, without giving too much away to our readers who haven’t had the chance to pick it up and take a look at it yet. We’ve got Jack, who is one of the main characters, and we’ve got these vague, shadowy figures, the Ba’ath.

Daryl: Jack is, of course, the hero of the book. He’s about twelve years old, but he has a lot of help in, what I call a co-hero, his friend Lucius. Lucius is an old former slave who helps Jack through his difficulties in the book.

Basically it’s about a rich family who moves from Philadelphia to this mining town in West Virginia, but this mining town has a problem with children disappearing. This generally seems to happen during a certain season, hence the title of the book, “Sacrifice of the Season.”

Daniel: Without giving too much away, what are these creatures? We know they’ve been around since pretty much the beginning of mankind. They at times seem goblin or fey-like, and at others they appear almost demonic.

Daryl: What I really tried to show, what they really are, is all of our fantasies and mythologies kind of wrapped up all in one.

You know, everything starts with a seed of truth. In our mythology, in a Christian mythology, we have angels and demons. In other mythologies you have other creatures and mythical beings, and maybe they’re all one thing. Maybe there is one kind of being and all of these myths and creations from different societies and different civilizations are all based on the same beings.

Really, the magical characters in my book are all of those.

Daniel: Interesting. They are then an archetype of our boogey-men and gods all wrapped up into one.

Daryl: Exactly.

Daniel: Did you have any background in sociology or anthropology that you drew upon when creating this mythos? Your book really does incorporate many of these items from popular mythos into it, and makes this world that you’ve created quite engaging.

Daryl: No, I don’t have an educational background in any of those subjects, but I was in the US Marines for 21 years and during my time in the Marines I traveled to a lot of different areas and was exposed to many different cultures. I have a lot of experience with the way different cultures see things, their folk tales and that sort of thing, so I put some of that into the book.

Daniel: You’ve mentioned that this is a four-part series. What kind of adventures and story lines can we look forward to seeing in the upcoming books?

Daryl: First, you can expect to see the story from “Sacrifice of the Season.” Where we left off we’ll pick it right back up. There’s more work for Jack to do, and you can expect Jack to do some traveling in the future.

Daniel: So we’re not going to be stuck in the back woods of West Virginia for very long then.

Daryl: No. Cobbs, West Virginia, the scene where all of this takes place in book one, is just a starting point. That is where Jack as a young boy is introduced to these characters. The other three books are his journey in discovering what they are, where they came from, what they want, and what he can do about it.

Daniel: Moving on to a slightly different topic: a lot of our readers are aspiring authors themselves. Many of them are looking for ways to get started in writing in general, and speculative fiction including sci-fi and fantasy in particular. Do you have any advice for budding writers, for someone who is seeking to just jump right in and write their first novel?

Daryl: Yeah. I guess my advice would be: Don’t do that.

[Laughter]

Daniel: Don’t follow your example then.

Daryl: No, don’t do that. The reason I say that is, you know, the thing that I had in my corner was that I had appeared on the show Top Shot, which is very popular and all of a sudden there were three million people who knew my name.

I had the forum to be able to do that. I could throw it out there and see what happened. Luckily the quality of my writing has passed the litmus test of the public, and people like the book.

What I would say to a new writer, or someone who wants to get into it, is don’t rush into it. Really really make sure that your writing is good writing, because there is so much bad writing out there, and there is so much marginal writing, that the publishers, the traditional publishing model, are very skeptical of new writers.

You really have to make your work quality stuff.

Daniel: What’s a good way that authors can do that?

Daryl: Well, what makes quality is often subjective. There are a couple of things you can do. For one, get your work professionally edited. I’m pretty good with grammar and punctuation and all that, but you still need a person who does it for a living to professionally edit your work.

Second, get your material, not all of it but pieces of it, into as many hands as you can. Join some book clubs. What they do is they meet once a month or so and they exchange pieces of work.

Daniel: Did you join any writing or critiquing circles?

Daryl: Yes, I did. I actually belong to a couple of them in the Dallas area, and you know it wasn’t so much, “Hey, help me with my writing.” I go there to get feedback on my work. The other side of that is that you’ve got to give other people feedback on their work. It’s a bit of a learning process too. You write something, and then you get someone else’s work and read it too and go, “Wow, this writing is really good. They’ve got a certain way with words,” or, “I really like that phrase they used,” and so you can kind of judge where you are in the pack of writers.

Daniel: At The Colored Lens, we focus on the short story. In some ways, the short story is considered more difficult because you have to take and distill the story down to less than 10,000 words, for example, while still having full characters and a well developed plot. At the same time, we’ve found that it can be easier for new authors to take the smaller bite that is the short story, rather than tackling an entire 150,000 word novel all at once.

Daryl: The benefit, in my mind, to a shorter story, is that you can focus all of your attention on that one project for a short period of time. You can turn out a really high quality piece of work, and you can do that a number of times. If you write enough of those quality short stories, people are going to notice.

The other thing about writing a full length novel is writer’s block. It actually happens, and when you are halfway through your novel and all of the sudden you’ve reached a point where you’re not sure how to go further, it causes problems. Shorter stories eliminate much of that.

I also want to add one thing about self-publishing. There are a lot of authors, established authors, who are now taking the self-publishing route because the traditional publishing model, unless your book is just a runaway success, is not a great way to make a living. It’s just so hard to get your foot in the door with the publishers. You have to have an agent and that sort of thing. It’s just really hard.

Before you go the self-publishing route, you have to be prepared to do a lot of promotion by yourself. You have to be ready and able to go around to book signings, and without that level of promotion, you are giving yourself the kiss of death. After you self-publish, the publishers will not touch your work.

There are few exceptions, but once you self-publish it’s all on you to make that piece of work a success.

Daniel: Well we wish you all the success because you’ve got a fine novel and I can’t wait to see what happens in the upcoming three sequels.

For any of our readers who would like to get their own copy of Sacrifice of the Season, it’s available in paperback and Kindle format from Amazon.com, or you can get your own signed copy of course from Daryl’s website DarylParker.com.

Daryl: Thank you very much. I’m working on book two right now, Journey of Fear, and I hope to have that one finished by the end of February, so look for the release probably in June.

Daniel: Great, we’ll definitely be looking forward to that book. Thanks again for talking with us.

Daryl: It’s been a pleasure.

Read Daryl Parker’s newest short story The Death Of More, a companion piece to Sacrifice of the Season, which is available in the Winter 2012 issue of The Colored Lens.

The Songs of Eridani – Part 1

Chapter 1

Things grew large on epsilon Eridani III, but it was the smallest of creatures that brought us down. We were barely two days into the unexplored jungle that lay to the north of S’uval, the riverside port
village that marked the farthest reach of human colonization on the planet.

I lay prostrate and sweating on the bedroll inside my tent,
hallucinating in the throes of my fever. I was dimly aware of T’aylang,
our native guide, bending over me; his massive, cylindrical head filled
my blurry vision. In my delirium, the rainbow of colors refracting off
his eye-hoop mutated into a medieval painting, one that depicted a
terrifying, insane vision of damned souls in hell.

“I’m dying,” I said weakly.

“Death without redemption is a terrible thing to contemplate, Mr.
Bishop,” T’aylang replied.

“The databulb. Make sure it gets to Kline.” I struggled to withdraw
the bulb from underneath my sweat-drenched shirt, where it hung on a
lanyard around my neck. Somehow it seemed imperative that I not take it
into hell with me. Perhaps my own redemption depended on it.

T’aylang reached down and stilled my fumbling hand. “Best to take
it to him yourself. You will survive, as will your colleagues. Eridani
insinuates herself into your flesh as we speak. She is harsh, but not
always deadly. It is only the first step of your true journey.”

You’ve Got To Tell Your Own Tale

I only remember bits and pieces of my first night at Whitestone Wall, looking over into Lios Iridion. The crinkling fires. Tussocks of grass and hard earth underfoot. Hot dogs from a briny tin: plump and pale marshmallows on sticks. My father lifted me up to look over, and I braced myself by putting my feet against the blanched stones of the ancient wall.

On the other side it wasn’t night.

On the other side it’s never night.

Other men from the town had brought their sons, too. They sat in communal circles on foldout chairs around their own campfires, or stood at the wall themselves, holding up their boys: each and every one of them hopeful that his son was special somehow; each and every one of them hopeful that, tonight, there might be a sign.

On our side the night was a glassy black, the tree-lined ridge between us and town obscuring the stars. The shafts of many-coloured light that make up Lios Iridion took up the whole of the other horizon, tinting all faces with garish hues.

My father put his lips to my ear:

“I think I see something in there!” He whispered, his moustache scratching against my earlobe. Then, after glancing along the lines of arrayed men and boys either side of us:

“Shhhh… ”

Martha in the Manuscript

Saugerties is a pleasant place; beyond the coffee shops and fruit markets are rows of tall, colorful houses lined along endless concave streets like stretches of rainbows. But it also has the river—the same river. So even though I’m sitting on a bench that’s more than a hundred miles away from the city, except for the lighthouse, the water across from me is no different.

The lighthouse is tall with a rounded black terrace and a point on top. I watch the people linger around it. Some are inside, their backs against the windows. Others walk across a wooden dock. No one steps onto the terrace.

The bench also has me in perfect firing range of a breeze that I imagine tumbling down the mountain like little rocks, blowing against the lighthouse so the chimes hanging on the wooden dock whistle along with the rippling water. It hits often, not like the breeze in the city, which only found me between the spread of buildings.

Suddenly there’s a sound to my left. I turn and see something else that usually doesn’t find me: a tall, attractive woman, brown hair splitting at her forehead. I don’t think she’ll stop, but she does.

“You got a smoke?”

I dig my hand into my pocket, nod, and move over so she can sit.

“I gotta run,” she says, and looks at the space I made. “But I could really use a smoke.”

“Don’t you have a minute?”

She considers me carefully. “You’re new in town, right?”

I nod.

“You’re not crazy are you?”

“Depends.”

She takes the cigarette and sits, leaning in for me to light it. She smells like wine. “Depends?” she repeats, “what’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s not Tuesday,” I say. “So you’re in luck. I’m only crazy on Tuesday.”

She takes a drag of the cigarette. “That so? All right then, crazy man, what’s a guy like you doing out here alone?”

“I’d tell you, but I don’t want to give the secret away.”

“Makes sense,” she says. “Crazy people keep secrets.”

“How about this,” I begin. I realize I’m still holding the lighter so I put it away. “You tell me why you’re in such a rush, and then I’ll tell you something about me.”

She looks at her watch. I think about what I should start with. “It sounds like a fair deal, and I’d like to, but I really don’t have the time right now.”

“Probably because you’ve got secrets too.”

She seems taller the second time she stands. I want to stand too, to see if I’m taller than she is, but I decide to stay sitting. “I’ll leave that up to you, crazy man,” she says. “Thanks for the smoke. I’m sure I’ll see you again.”

Considering five minutes ago I was thinking of leaving, I’m satisfied being quiet and watching her body shrink into the distance. I take a deep breath and turn to the river. I knew there was something about this place—that proved it. A boat stops at the lighthouse. It’s the fourth of the day. Then I see someone looking at me from the terrace. I know who it is, but I can’t believe it. I stand to get a better view, but she turns and walks back into the building, and I know I won’t be able to see her again.

The Bringing Moon

Margot fiddled with the eyepieces of the binoculars. If she squinted, she could see the moon, round and white and far away in the darkening sky. She turned the knob backwards, and the moon grew until it filled the lenses. She imagined astronauts in puffy white spacesuits and bubble helmets, driving a flagpole with the United States flag into the spotted moon rock. There had been pictures like that in her history book.

“The moon doesn’t have a face, Lilly.”

“Over here.” Her sister Lilly’s hand blurred through the lens, guiding Margot’s head to the left. “Do you see it now?”

A bright yellow spot appeared in Margot’s vision. She blinked several times until her eyes focused on a grinning face, thick red lips smiling over a wide mouth of white teeth. A black line curved upwards in a swirling motion for its nose, with two crooked angles fixed for eyebrows. She turned the adjusting knob, moving the face farther away until it took the shape of a large yellow blimp floating above the stadium.

“Arturo’s Tacos,” she read. “That’s tacos. Not the moon’s face.” She set the binoculars down on the table.

“Then who brought me the bike?” Lilly puckered her lips and pressed Berry Blast lip gloss kisses on the glass.

“You don’t have a bike.”

“I asked the moon for a bike like Sarah’s, and when I woke up this morning, it’d brought me one with pink streamers. Go look.”

Margot jumped up and ran down the hallway, making sure to tiptoe when she passed Momma’s door. She pulled on her snowboots and threw open the front door of the trailer to see a small pink bike leaning against the railing. Pink and gold streamers flowed from the bike’s handlebars, and lightning bolts curved along the middle and front bars.

“Isn’t it pretty?” Lilly’s teeth chattered together.

Cinema Verite

Kara slowed her pace through the east hall of the nursing home, checking to make sure Nurse Dearn wasn’t around before rolling her book cart into Mister Jackson’s room. “We don’t have much time, Jackie. Dearn’s on my case.”

“In my day, we’d have called her a harpy.”

“I’d say what my generation calls her, but I don’t want to make you blush.”

Jackie laughed, then waved her closer. “How much did we make this time?”

She handed over a deposit slip. “You’re set for the next five months.”

“It’s strange,” he said, as he pushed the slip into his bedside drawer. “I know I sold something, but I can’t remember what it was.” Biting his lip, he looked up at her. “What was it?”

“I can’t tell you. Those are the rules.”

“I know–I remember that. But…there are holes. It’s disturbing.”

“We can stop whenever you want.”

He shook his head, his lips tightening as he said, “My son was in to see me today. He lost another job. Can’t afford this place anymore. After all I’ve done for him…”

“I’m sorry.”

“I don’t like living here, but it beats sharing a urine-scented double with some drooling idiot down at the county assisted-living center–assisted dying is more like it.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to sell your memories. You’re under no obligation to do this.”

“And my boy is apparently under no obligation to me. Hook me up. See what you find. Tell me what it’s worth.”

“How much of it?”

“Whatever you want to take, hon’. My Alice left me after fifty years of marriage. I’m stuck with this lowlife son while my stockbroker daughter who could buy this place, much less pay my rent, writes me off. Why the hell do I want to remember any of it?”

“Okay. Calm down.” She dug out a pair of small goggles and slipped them over his eyes, fastening the strap, then attaching the wires that linked them to another pair of goggles that she put on.

Jackie moaned as the goggles started to hum. “I hate this part–why can’t you make me forget this, too?”

“I don’t know.” She didn’t understand the tech that went into the goggles. But then, she didn’t have to. Her role was creative–Boris said she made the best memflicks he’d ever seen.

Up to now, she’d been selective, just taking little pieces of Jackie’s memory, but chunks–big, meaty ones–sold so much better. If she did it right, he could be set for life.

She sat down in the chair next to him, immersed in his memories, tapping on the goggles when she wanted to tag a part, using her eyes to set the crop area.

“I’ll love you forever, Alice. I can wait for the wedding night if you’re not ready.”

“I’m coming home, darlin’! We can get married.”

“We’re pregnant? Oh my God, we’re pregnant?”

“We can try again. Sweetheart, we can try again.”

“It’s a boy. I have a son!”

“Take a cigar–pink this time, my friend.”

“What do you mean you’re dropping out of college? Did you get kicked out of this one, too?”

“Why doesn’t she ever call? It’s like I embarrass her.”

“Who is he? Who is he, damn it? No one just leaves. There’s always someone else!”

“Well?” Jackie asked, and he sounded like he was crying.

“It’s good. It’s very good.” There was a big market for this kind of “slice of everyday American life,” a yearning for what was–even if it turned ugly at the end. “I can make you rich, Jackie.” She reached out, found his hand, and squeezed it. “But I’ve told you before: who we are–our personality–it’s a sum of our memories. Once they’re gone, your life will be gone. too.”

“What life? Being an old man, lying here all day?”

“Lying here all day knowing who you are.”

“Not sure that makes it any easier, Kara. Just do it.”

“You’re certain?”

“Leave everything before Alice.” He squeezed her hand. “I had a nice childhood. I had great parents, fun times. And Alice wasn’t my first–I can remember sex before her without any guilt.” He winked at her. “And I’ll still have you, right?”

“Well, if I take it all, you won’t remember me the next time you see me, but we’ll get reacquainted. And I’ll make sure you’re okay.”

“You always have, sweetheart. I’d have been out on my keister a long time ago if you hadn’t come along. You might like the younger me a whole lot better.”

“I doubt that.” She leaned down and kissed his cheek, then whispered in his ear, “I can still just take bits.”

“No. I don’t want to know I’m forgetting things. Just take it all and let me remember my life when it was simpler.” He laid his hand against her cheek. “Did I ever tell you that you look like my first girlfriend?”

“No, you never did.”

“Well, you do.” He let go of her. “Now. Let’s get started. We’re burning daylight–isn’t that what filmmakers used to say?”

“Yeah. Only I think moonlight’s more fitting in our case.”

“Well, we’re burning something. Get to it, kiddo.”

She got to it.