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Dying In the Golden West

ISSUE:  Summer 1986

for Carlos Domínguez

A woman was pecked to death down at Balboa Pier by frenzied gulls while jogging,” Bobby Lu said, reading from the newspaper spread on the picnic table before her. “A man was playing chicken with the widebodies at LAX and was mutilated. They found his legs 200 yards down the runway. At Zuma a youth hit his head on a surf board and drowned. Here’s where they found some woman’s severed hand. The right hand,” she said and pointed to a haywire line-drawing of where the Artesia and Cypress Grove freeways joined at Hawaiian Gardens. “Such peaceful names, too,” she murmured. “What’s going on?” She riffled the pages of the newspaper. “The word “grisly” has been used five times already. Doesn’t some old lady somewhere out weeding her pansies stand up, suddenly clutch at her heart, and then keel over? Won’t that ever happen? Or do I have to go back home to get the soft-core news?” She bent over the paper, stabbing her finger at a small column with a large block headline. “An adolescent was fished from the San Gabriel River, his wrists chained to his ankles, cigarette burns on his nipples. Jesus, are there only public deaths out here?”

Emily was sitting neck-deep in the hot tub, her head resting back on a wadded-up towel. Steeping, she thought, watching the water churn and swirl, as if boiling, around her. She glanced across the patio. Bobby Lu had black newsprint shadows on either elbow; she’d been making her study most the morning. “That’s just the Santa Ana Register,” she said. Sweat rolled down the sides of her face. “It reports sensationalistic news items.”

Bobby Lu snorted. “You’re saying maybe some other paper suppresses them? That someone’s keeping them from us?”

Emily shrugged her shoulders to ease the tightness there. “Oh, no,” she said. “Never from us. We’ll know all, by God.” And she popped her fist up out of the water for emphasis. Plumes of steam rose from her skin and then faded off into the air. Bobby Lu had arrived yesterday with Nick’s older brother C.A., in the new car he’d bought her for quitting smoking. They’d driven throughout most of the Southwest—the odometer already registered more than 2000 miles—and then parked the car in Santa Ana, in Emily and Nick’s driveway, deciding to drop in and spend a few days with them. C.A. had walked in bearing gifts: he set a 10-pound sack of black popcorn down on the kitchen counter, a half-case of barbecued mutton from the On-Time Bar-B-Q in their old neighborhood next to it, and then stacked up two six-packs of Stroh’s—all things you couldn’t buy in California. “I feel like a smuggler,” he had said, rolling his pants leg up and pulling from inside his boot a clear glass flask full of ugly, teeming water. “Lake Michican,” he’d said, suspending the flask between two fingers as if it were a bell. A wadded gum wrapper floated in it, for authenticity—but Emily recognized it as the fruity brand C.A. always chewed. He’d held the flask close to her ear and swished it. “Mag Mile,” he whispered. “The Gold Coast,” he said.

Later, Bobby Lu had helped her with dinner. Emily was at the butcher block, chopping apples for a Waldorf salad. “C.A. says I should carry this around with me. Like a good-luck charm,” Bobby Lu had said. She’d pulled a crumpled, filthy cigarette butt from her shirt pocket. “I’m supposed to take it out and smell it every time I feel like smoking. And I do,” she said. She pressed it to her nose. “It smells so good.”

Emily’s own cigarette lay burning on the rim of the sink, and she wondered if, as a courtesy, she should stub it out. C.A.’s cackle sounded from the living room; he laughed high-pitched, like a woman crying out in danger. “You need a hobby,” Emily had said, after she took a long drag and exhaled slowly. “And you shouldn’t carry that nasty thing around with you either.”

“It’s my will power,” Bobby Lu said, handling it. “Or C. A. thinks it is. I had to quit, Emily. You don’t know what it’s like. I was killing myself. And him, too. He got nodes. On his larynx.” She ate an apple chunk and said, “Diversions, though—you’re absolutely right on that point, you know it? I need some diversion. A friend of mine said she relied on Amanda York novels and Irish Mist when she quit smoking. Later, when she went on the wagon, she turned to Ross McDonald and Hostess Ho-Ho’s. She said she felt guilty but that it worked. Of course, now she weighs 190 pounds, but the thing is,” Bobby Lu said, “the thing is, I don’t read bodice-rippers or whodunits. And I don’t want to paint by numbers either, or attend ceramics classes in the afternoon. I don’t have any pleasures I can feel guilty about. But I need one. I can see that clearly. I need just one,” she said. She tapped her fingers on the chopping block. “Maybe you’ll give me one of yours.”

Emily scraped apple seeds from her hands. “Mine?” she said.

“Oh, don’t be coy,” she said. “Now, which would you give up?”

“I’m not aware of having any.”

Bobby Lu chuckled. “Well, Nick seems to think you do. I talk to Nick sometimes,” she said. “Really talk. He shares his life with me.”

Emily wiped her hands on a towel. “If I have any sinful pleasures, I haven’t noticed they’ve helped any.” She picked her cigarette up from the edge of the sink and took a drag, a case in point.

Bobby Lu folded her arms across her chest and leaned back. “She doesn’t say yes, she doesn’t say no. Interesting. Emily’s evasive these days. See, Nick tells me that, too.”

“Since when is my life any of your business?”

But Bobby Lu was eyeing her cigarette, entranced. “You know, some people quit and find out they aren’t really smokers. Not born smokers. But I am. I found myself standing before a cigarette machine as if it were an altar.” She looked up. “At Gilbert Ortega’s in Flagstaff, Arizona. Let me take a puff,” she said. She tucked the smelly cigarette butt back in her shirt pocket and smiled. “I can’t resist,” she said. “Come on.”

“What about that new car in the driveway? C. A. thinks you’ve quit,” Emily said, cigarette poised between them. “What about his larynx?”

“Shhhhhhhhh,” Bobby Lu said. She slid her fingers among Emily’s and extracted the cigarette from them. She puffed and swayed back, as if giddy on the smoke. “I’ve quit,” she said. “Oh, I have. But I just need one. Just this one.” She sneaked another tiny one and left a smear of lipstick on the filter.

“What a mess you are!” Emily said.

Bobby Lu shrugged. “C. A. won’t notice, so he needn’t know.” She took out a Binaca and aimed the nozzle at the back of her mouth. There was a hiss. “One spray and it’s like it never happened. Oh, there are easier things to cover up. But not everything is this easy.” She sprayed the nozzle again.

“Being married to him has finally robbed you of all subtlety. What is it here? What does Bobby Lu think she knows?”

“Only that I talk to Nick, Emily. He tells me he worries sometimes.”

It was as if those words had invaded her body, and then even the salad she was making. At dinner it tasted off. Later that night, when she reached far back in her dresser drawer for her carton of cigarettes, she noticed a couple packs missing. She stared at the drawer. It was her private place. She kept her underwear there!

Now heat rose from the water in shimmering coils; sweat dripped from Emily’s hairline. Nothing had faded, had passed on since then; though Bobby Lu’s curiosity had waned and then gone altogether, none of the discomfort it had aroused, that which she still felt, had died. “Don’t be overly familiar,” was how she’d ended their chat yesterday in the kitchen. But the sense of having been invaded smoldered within her. Emily stared across the patio. Bobby Lu still sat puzzling over the news. “When people die back home,” she was saying, “it’s soft and quiet. Death isn’t gruesome. It’s like it sounds! Easeful. Homey. It’s what’s going to happen to all of us.”

Emily blinked down at the water, her skin golden just beneath; the color seemed to undulate in voluptuous waves. Gacy’s asphalt-covered backyard immediately sprang to mind, as did the image of a woman hanging from her heels, decapitated, gutted like a deer, in a barn in Wisconsin. What happens discreetly Back East is enough to shame the devil, she thought, and smashed her arm out across the water, as if to clear her sight.

“Yeah, a lot of people say they’ll never come to California. The land of fruits and nuts,” Bobby Lu added in a low voice.

What about dates, little mess? Are they fruits? They grow on trees. Okay—they grow on palm trees, but are they fruits or are they not? And Emily’s heart began to pound as she saw herself making her point, ramming dates sideways down Bobby Lu’s throat, and then coconuts, because coconuts grow on trees, too, and they might also be fruits.

“In Leisure World, at Laguna Niguel, a spinster was run-down by a golf cart driven by an. . . .” Bobby Lu began, but the front door banged and after a moment C.A. filled the patio doorway, Nick lagging behind. He spread a broad hand before him and began counting on his fingers. “I love my computer. I love my dog. I share the road with runners. I’ve hugged my kids today and even my horse. I know that if I can read this I’m either too close or I should thank some teacher. I think the U.S. should get out of El Salvador.” He rolled his eyes elaborately. “Jesus, driving the freeways,” he said.

“You mean you heart your computer,” Emily said.

He glanced down at her. “I mean I’m sick of reading the ass-end of everybody’s car. I’m sure I sound like the ugly American, here in California, but this is ersatz. There’s too much self-promotion. It’s a fool’s paradise,” he said.

Nick laughed. “Well, that’s the cliche. We’ll show you the romantic side—how it really is. The state’s nickname in Spanish is El Estado del Oro, for instance. You know, for all the sunshine and oranges and blonde-folk and the prospecting.”

“Gold?” C. A. said. “Goldbrick, you mean.” He had a Knott’s Berry Farm T-shirt draped over his shoulder and a souvenir pamphlet from the Movieland Wax Museum tucked under his arm. “Yeah, I’m not having any. It shan’t suck me in,” he said. “No.” Just then Nick snatched the T-shirt and shook it out before him.

“Oh, you’re six feet above contradiction, aren’t you?”

C. A. blushed a deep wine and, cackling, opened his arms, as if throwing off all disguise. The pamphlet dropped like a felled bird to the concrete.

He always wore a sock hat because he was going bald.

When she set the snapper down on the dinner table, Emily looked at C.A.’s hat—the upturned cuff and ribbed knit, the wooly ball like a motionless explosion at his crown. It was only a hat, and it made him look goddamn silly, but something lay concealed just beneath, a process mysterious and irrevocable that worked in secret, in silence. Without intending to, Emily edged around him. And as she passed behind his chair, the urge to yank the hat up off his head shook her hand. Nick caught her eye from across the table, and he blinked twice, as if wondering about her attention to the hat. He had olive-colored eyes and the most beautifully-shaped mouth she’d ever seen—a fair, bronze-haired man, 31, going soft at the waist and hips, yet boyishly so. Emily looked from him to C.A.’s hat and then away.

As she passed the salad to Bobby Lu, the phone rang, and she ran to the kitchen to answer it.

Roy’s voice startled her.

“I’ve got a bucket, and I’ve got a plastic shovel. I’m going to take you pismoing!”

She laughed. “I almost bought pismos yesterday, at the market.”

“Oh, don’t do that,” he said. “Don’t ever do that. They probably sit there all the livelong day. Listen,” he said, “we can sneak down to the beach at midnight—no, we’ll steal down to the beach—and dig up a hundred clams.’Tis the season, babe. They’ll only be good a few days.”

She said, “Oh, God Almighty, this is cruel,” and told him about her house-guests. “I can’t get away—not today, not even tomorrow!”

Roy’s sigh made a tinny sound over the line, like a child’s wind-up toy. She heard Nick in the hall and said into the receiver, “Well, Roy, he’s right here. Let me get him for you.”

Roy chuckled. “Nick!” he said, “Ma’am, I don’t want Nick. I want you.

Exhilarated, Emily handed the phone to Nick, who said, “C.A. needs the tartar sauce” and then, turning, “What the hell’s up?” into the mouthpiece.

She rummaged around among shadowy containers in the refrigerator and listened to him explain something about an upcoming project; both he and Roy worked for Western Digital. After he had hung up, he looked at her, worry-creases around his eyes. “What’s wrong?” he said.

She shook her head. “How do you mean?”

“Are they driving you crazy?”

She nodded. “But no worse than usual.”

Nick exhaled slowly, as if clearing his lungs. He stared at the tartar sauce, then the phone. As Emily headed toward the doorway, she saw him reach over and unclip the phone from its jack.

“The Volkswagens travel alongside the Alfa Romeos here, and everyone’s got something to advertise,” C.A. said when she came back in the room. “I want to scream, “Look, I’ve got to drive the stretch of road behind you—I don’t want to get intimately involved!”” His gaze rested on her. “Can you go any place here for a quiet moment? I feel crowded in my own skin!”

Emily slipped her napkin on her lap. “California’s really a bucket of feathers to you, isn’t it?”

“Well, it’s pretty and so forth—but I’m not impressed by all the self-advertisement, and stuff.”

“And stuff?” Nick said, taking his seat.

“I don’t need any of that.”

Bobby Lu speared some snapper. “Only a hat,” she said.

He turned to her. “Yes, my dear. And what about my hat?”

“Folks, just to set the record straight, he doesn’t sleep in the hat.”

“I’m embarrassed,” C. A. said, glancing down at his plate. “Is that what you want, Lu?” He broke into a big smile. “Now I’m embarrassed.”

Nick winked at Bobby Lu. “It’s a Charles Anthony original.”

C. A. eyed him. “Don’t laugh too hard, bro, because it’s going to happen to you. And you can take that to the bank,” he said. “Right? Pop’s mother was bald, or something like that. Am I right?” He gazed dazedly out the window. “The women, partner. If they don’t get you here”—he cupped his crotch—”they get you here.” He pointed to his head.

Nick sipped a Stroh’s. “Well, when it happens, I’m not going to camouflage it.” As C.A. looked up, puzzled, Nick nodded at the hat. “Camouflage it.”

C. A. said, “This isn’t camouflage. It’s too obvious to be camouflage. If I painted my scalp turquoise it couldn’t be more obvious.”

“So, then, what’s the point, is, I think, what Nick means,” Bobby Lu said.

“Point?” C. A. said. “There is no point!”

He plucked it off his head and flung his arms back, the sock hat flying across the dining area to the living room. What hair he had was reddish-gold, like Nick’s, and stood on end. The hat snagged the corner of an old framed photo of Emily and Nick taken just before their wedding, and it hung there.

Emily stared into the living room.

The photo had stood in its sleek, ultra-modern frame on the formica end table for four years—she had picked it up and dusted it off a hundred times—but that hat now made all the difference; she stared as if anew. Not at it, but at the boy and girl in the picture. They stood before the Frank Lloyd Wright house which looks like a boat, back at the U of C, their pre-California skin pasty-looking, winter having leached all color from it. She had changed since then in small yet astoundingly visible ways. And he had changed. That grinning, long-haired boy who stood staring confidently over his shoulder at the camera conveyed a cellular change, an aural one. The difference between that boy and Nick—both lovely, handsome men—but that palpable difference. . . . His hair color was a shade lighter now, more like hers, and it had the curl hers did. It was as if the planes of his face had smoothed out, since Chicago, become angular, like hers. Could that happen, the constancy of matrimony gradually filing away his features, like wind sculpting sand? The floor seemed to tilt under her.

Then C. A. snatched his sock hat from the picture frame.

He stared at her and at the photo. “You’ll never look that good again,” he said. “Either of you.” He slapped his hand once on the table, laughing.

That night as she showered, Nick came in the bathroom, and she watched through the half-clear, half-frosted pattern in the vinyl shower curtain as he unbuttoned his shirt, hung it on the doorknob, getting ready for bed. He shimmied out of his jeans, and over the hiss of water said, “I was hoping we could buy some pismo clams while C.A. and Bobby Lu were visiting.”

Emily stood breathless.

Nick wiped away a little smear of steam from the shower curtain. “Hello?” he said. He poked his head in, and Emily peered up from under the ragged fringe of her bangs. He said, “An underground pipe burst and is spilling raw sewage into Emerald Bay. They’ve quarantined the beach for a week.”

Her heart seemed to flip. She imagined it flipping visibly, bulging between her breasts.

“Well, don’t look so worried,” he told her. “We’ll think of something else.” He leaned back out of the shower, and she watched through the vinyl as he peeled his briefs down and kicked out of them. He was pretty, anyone could see, just as he always had been. Any changes about him had to do with her: with smothering in ease and privity. Being laid open by-love. Dead of promiscuity. She did not regard this last in the usual sexual sense, not a promiscuous abandoning of the self to many, but solo, each to the other: that Emily and Nick be one, not two—slaughtering their solitude in order to join whatever parts lay dismembered in its wake. Married people begin to resemble each other for good reason, she thought, remembering the photo: life lived in so abject a commutuality left hardly any membrane between her cells and his. She needed a private place, in vitro, a roped off spot in her heart that only she could jealously possess. And some way to hide it.

C. A.’s sock hat came to mind. If she were him, and it were her secret, she’d never take the goddamn thing off, not to make love or go to the bathroom or swim to save her life. Thought of it made her smile.

Nick slid the curtain on its hooks and stepped in next to her. He rubbed his hands along her ribs, his grin a white slice. Sometimes she thought he knew, sometimes not—and she wondered if it mattered, what it did to him, what he suffered. Did he act differently toward her, did he, for instance, move his hand up the slope of her breast now, tug at the nipple, to keep the pressure there?

Water sparkled silver in his hair.

She was surviving the mystery of love’s dying.

“I like it when you smile,” he said.

Sunlight rippled on the surface of San Joaquin Bay like a path of hammered gold you could walk right across into another world. Roy’s bungalow lay just beyond the harbor bridge, just as far west as she could go without driving into the Pacific; her tires hummed on the bridge as she crossed over.

Bobby Lu, C. A. , Nick, and Emily had all planned to sail out to Catalina this morning and spend the day there—take a picnic lunch, lots of film, make a day of it. But she had begged off, claiming she’d lost a contact lens and would have to make a trip to the optometrist’s. Bobby Lu now smoked Emily’s cigarettes openly, and C.A. had developed a hacking cough— but the two had decided to go to Catalina anyway. They bumped around the kitchen, hardly speaking, smearing bread with mayonnaise and slapping down cold cuts for sandwiches. Nick had stared wordlessly after Emily as she went to the door, as she paused there, the color high in her cheeks, trying to remember everything—checkbook, contact lens case—too excited to care if he did suspect anything, to care about his silent attention. He followed her out to the drive, stopping next to his car as she got into hers. In her last glimpse of him as she pulled away, he was still standing there, his hand resting on one fender.

At Roy’s, she waited on the porch several moments for him to answer the door. There seemed a dead calm throughout the upper bay, scarcely breeze enough to stir the eucalyptus leaves. All the sunfish and starfish and catamarans and sloops in the harbor seemed fixed to the water, as if glued, their shrouds hanging noiseless. His bungalow was old and tiny; yellow paint peeled away from the wood in long curls. Squat marigolds grew among the encroaching dandelions, the sun full on them now, making them unusually golden. The porch and the banister on the porch were painted a thick, industrial-strength maize. The banister was chipped in places, revealing long, rusty scabs. Roy’s place was in disarray, falling apart—shutters hanging, floorboards which creaked; it seemed any slight wind could dismantle it.

He opened the door in his shorts, his hair flat on one side from sleep. His blue eyes widened; he appeared keyed-up, she thought, or surprised. Surprised to see her. Emily liked to surprise him, she liked to be silly with him. Once, for his birthday she’d filled his bathroom with balloons. He’d been delighted, had bounded into the room—balloons flying up and shrieking as their taut skins rubbed—as if he were smashing through surf. And the sun streaming through that roomful of color had thrown such a peculiar light on his face. He’d not had the heart to pop any of them—”I can’t murder them,” he’d said. Even a week later a dozen slowly-shriveled balloons still lay about, occasionally bumping at her ankles. That was last February; things had been right at Roy’s.

Now Emily pushed past him, laughing, and went down the hall, teasing her dress from her shoulders and hips as she did, letting it fall in a heap of blue. His windows were covered with foil and heavily shaded, in order to keep the house cool, and from inside she always misguessed, thought it was raining or dark outside when it was not. It seemed a place of the utmost privacy. When people talked about digging a hole and crawling into it in order to elude the world, she knew this was what they meant; Roy offered her refreshment and escape. Today, it looked like night inside his house; when she yanked the curtain cord, sunlight sliced golden across the floor. She got into his bed like she’d done it for years and would all the rest of her days. Could she give up the ghost here, remnants of that old life dying away as she pulled back the quilt and slipped under the covers—the last of it gone with her cries? She’d heard that the eyes of a dead woman can live again, can open fresh on a world that is young. Could Emily, in rising, begin anew? Roy normally slept with both pillows on his side of the bed; now, they lay side by side. It seemed he’d been expecting her. Her heart beat faster.

“Hey,” he said, from the hallway.

“Come quick,” she said. She passed her hands over her body, as if to feel skin for the first time. “I know what I want. I’ve made up my mind.” Roy’s rabbit—Bill—hopped into the bedroom and regarded her with his flashy yellow eyes. His toenails clicked on the bare wood floor. The rabbit thumped down in the corner and sighed. He looked up at her as if to say, “I am glad you are here.”

Roy said, “Jesus, I didn’t know you were coming.”

She waited for more, his hesitation so unusual.

“Kill me,” he said, “Good Christ, take me now. Oh, this is bad.”

Emily leapt up off the mattress as if it’d burned her. She listened into the cool dark of his house. The stillness of her own neighborhood was familiar—and natural since she lived at the apex of a quiet cul-de-sac—but she had no precedent for it here, not amid memories of his breath at her ear, the wet sounds their bodies made, and what they’d moaned. That had always muted the world, and whatever life, for her, might exist outside, full of its complexities and sadness. Now the quiet was mystery itself, hard to focus on for more than a few seconds. Instead, she listened to her blood pulsing along, the real sounds of her body working, living.

When she got to the kitchen, she saw Roy and a young blonde woman who sat at the kitchen table in one of his button-down shirts. He had his hands up around his face, transfixed, as if before a disaster. The woman stared down at the table, not looking up. Her hair feathered back in full, wispy layers—like yellow smoke. She was stunning and younger than Emily.

“Tell me she’s your sister,” Emily heard herself saying. The kitchen curtains billowed out on what seemed the first breeze of the day, and street noises filtered in: the chirr of a kid’s Big Wheel on the pavement, a lawn mower somewhere. Sounds of people going about life. And gulls—1 she heard them as if for the first time. The humming sound of a car drawing closer also wafted in from the street, mixing with a radio in the distance and the few shrouds that clanked in the harbor below. At first she thought the car had pulled into a neighbor’s drive, but then she heard the crunch of gravel, the engine noise near.

Roy slumped heavily on the stepladder. “Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine you’d stop by today.” He looked around. Neither looked at the woman. Emily listened to the steady engine throb outside his house, the gulls and other sounds of harbor life all muffled by it. Then the car peeled out. The winding of gears faded down the street, and after several moments an acrid, rubber smell came in through the window, dying away under her nose.

“Is she your wife? Or who?” the woman asked, the questions so deliberate she held her hand over the table, thrusting first one finger out, then another.

Roy was still shaken. “Oh, this is bad,” he said.

Emily began backing toward the door. “I didn’t call before coming over,” she mumbled. Her dress lay in the hall like cast off skin. She stooped and lifted it. Standing just out of view of the kitchen, she slid into it, smoothed it down over her hips.

“Wait, Emily,” Roy said as she went to the door.

He followed her outside where the sun dazzled, seemed to bleach all color from the sky. She shielded her eyes against the light, blinded for the moment, his house such a sanctuary of shade. She would’ve expected thunderheads, or night-time, anything dark, not sharp tree shadows etched across his lawn and the lawns of neighboring houses. Even the squat marigolds threw shadows that were clean at the edges. After only a moment, though, it all began to shimmer before her eyes.

“Now, come on,” Roy said. “None of that.” He reached forward to wipe her cheek.

Emily jerked her arms up over her head, then slammed them hard against his chest. “Bastard!” she cried.

Roy held her fists, even after she no longer struggled. He said, “Emily, what is it you expect here? You barge in. Unannounced! This is my life,” he said. “It’s mine.” And he tightened his hands around hers with all the fervor of possession. “I’m glad you’re in it, don’t get me wrong, and I don’t mean this to sound unkind—but you’re not all of it. Come on, Emily, you know what I’m saying. You still sleep with Nick.”

Her eyes darted from him to the street, the pavement lying silver in the uncompromising sun, its skid marks like a newly blazed trail that would take her back where Nick knew. The breath rattled in her throat. “Yeah,” she said.

Roy slid his arms around her with the care one takes in handling too-hot objects. She felt his lips against her hair. “Oh,” he moaned. “”Tis airy nothing, my dear.” What you see here. All of it.” His hands rubbed along her back.

“Everything?” she asked after a bit.

Without pulling away, Roy said, “Honey, you have Nick. And it’s good”—he shifted against her—”that you do.”

Heat spread, as if animate, across her body. She’d read of spontaneous human combustion and public self-immolation and innocent children doused with gasoline and set afire by thugs—this wasn’t like any of it. A wildfire roared beneath her skin, reaming the veins with a white-hot blaze, leaping from one vein to another as brushfires leap freeways. She began to collapse under the sensation. Land was not land—it all passed away beneath her. Life seemed to give up its gold. The color of Roy’s place was like something she’d dreamed, and it began to fade.

A man mowing grass had stopped to look her way. Two boys, skateboards in tow, leaned against a tall palm, watching. Even the young blonde woman stood, Emily imagined in her torment, at the kitchen window, the better to see.

She clung to Roy, as to life, and, mouth open, gasped the air. Hard breaths carved that passageway—her respiratory tract—as if for the first time.


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