A old man rode out across the plane. A wiz­ard. His horse gal­loped as if it gal­loped for life and the man wore a long beard, a gray pointed hat, his face rapt on green moun­tains long in the dis­tance and past the prairie. He came from what could only be con­sid­ered a clan. His fam­ily, the whole lin­eage, was a sin­gle file line of drinkers. He couldn’t help it. He be­lieved him­self doomed from the start.

He trod across the grass­land, where he was amongst stone, amongst cin­der. All at once there came the sky and the snake-wound high­way that wrapped along the prairie and the dullard cat­tle that grazed along­side, at every cor­ner. He spat and toed his boot through the road glass. She would have liked this, he thought.

He crossed rivers. Foxes stirred from sleep. Sky. Snow on cre­osote. He rode for the brunt of a day be­fore stop­ping to rest. He had reached a cabin where in­side its room two women curled to­gether in a small bed. A ket­tle swung over the fire as he shut the door. The old man kicked mud off of his boots. He cast his leather gloves on a long table. Knives lay out on the coun­ters. A plucked pheas­ant cooked into stock.

Now, the old man said, stay very close to­gether. The old man took off his hat and left it on the floor where mice were sure to find it. He left his long coat draped on the table. The two girls did keep close—both in short hair, very young, their lips cochineal and pink. Now draw down the blan­ket, he said and they did. The old man un­fas­tened his belt. Buck­led with a signet, he dropped it to to the floor. Pretty, he said. They were hushed and empty-eyed. As he bent down­ward, he smiled to them. His teeth, like his clothes, were very gray.

The wiz­ard found him­self under Earth and amass­ing heat near a dark fi­brous shaft run with the pro­bosces of sick things on the out­side of this place that had forced through the clay their thin bony mouth­parts like ma­ligned arms, look­ing in the warmth for es­trus. He touched his beard, feel­ing the old hairs to­ward the bot­tom that he ex­pected one day would crack like glass tines. The old man took off his hat and let his long brown nails trace the wrin­kled top of his head where, like the shaft, few wiry strands stood out and twitched against a slow pass­ing air. A sense field from even fur­ther un­der­neath him. At some­place down the tun­nel, the wiz­ard feared, was Nyarlathotep who danced, hoves in soot, and jan­gled his fork to his horns, his stiff cock like a root from his groin. This was a place to which the wiz­ard had been in his dreams and for all time he had sim­ply woken but now he would go, un­dressed and hat­less, beard shorn to his chin, down the tun­nel, where he would be rived at mouth and rear until he felt sorry, and that he would not do.

 

I have to say that I have a cer­tain prob­lem when dri­ving down any given sub­ur­ban street in Amer­ica. I have dri­ven down a few. It is a sim­ple prob­lem, and its na­ture is that there are girls on the side­walks or in their dri­ve­ways, and they are all young, very sup­ple, very taut at the places where they curve. I know it is right for me to keep a dis­tance, and I am not typ­i­cally very ide­al­is­tic. I be­lieve I see things with some hon­esty, and at work and home I do trum­pet a good amount of re­al­ism. But like him, I am who I am and it is what it is. It’s like the Rolling Stones song, right? I have to turn my head until my dark­ness goes.

At the house I mow the lawn, feel­ing sub­lime. I count six dogs in the neigh­bor­hood and that’s while look­ing from my yard only. As I rake the clipped grass, I wave to my wife who was in­side ig­nor­ing the food I brought home for her. The large boughs that arch over my yard leave dim places on the lawn where I feel the sun pass over me and work twice as hard against on the as­phalt. In the drainage ditch, I find a torn copy of a bill I was sup­posed to have re­ceived dur­ing the pre­vi­ous week.

It’s in placid mo­ments like this when I can feel the Earth and taste it, where noth­ing re­ally seems to mat­ter at all. I tend to fan­ta­size about lives I’ve al­ways wanted but will never have. Since I was thir­teen or four­teen, I’ve had a good clear vi­sion of adult­hood that has stuck with me and spanned across all other vi­sions that at­tempt to pen­e­trate this golden con­cept which, to me, is the clear­est of goals and the most “sav­ior” kind of thing I can think of while my mind is beg­ging to rest. When I wash dishes or drive in traf­fic or lie awake un­able to sleep at night, squint­ing in the cold blue dark.

This vi­sion is clear: Ver­mont, maybe. Some­place with pines but out of the Pa­cific North­west where I have al­ways as­sumed there is rain and there is Jew­ish pussy and more rain. So, Ver­mont. I still imag­ine a house with a woody ex­te­rior, some­thing maybe like a large cabin. It has big pic­ture win­dows, plate glass that brings in the sun and gleam from the leaves of ferns that gild the forested yard and the stone path dri­ve­way that winds long away from the house. At the rear there is a sim­ple deck from which one can see from the clean black mar­ble coun­ter­top kitchen. And there are birds—oh, there are birds.

It is this vi­sion that I have as­sumed will some­day be my life, after what­ever hard­ship, my fa­ther’s fu­neral, my mother’s filthy apart­ment, the weeks I spend with­out phone calls from old friends. Some­how this non­real place and this home have al­ways had the en­tropy to be de­liv­ered to me. They are pre­des­tined.

But I’ve been in this town for­ever. Long enough to know all of the wildlife. Let’s just put it that way. A lot of bull­shit hap­pens in a lit­tle town. A lot of stuff to make your days seem pretty full. That’s every­where, you say. Right? Big cities have it too. Out in the real coun­try they prob­a­bly just have a whole lot of work. Here in the small towns we have a whole lot of work to get us out of work­ing. Back to com­plain­ing, you know? Hell, when I was a kid my fa­ther would spy on guys’ houses be­cause he knew they were skip­ping out on work with bogus bro­ken wrists and an­kles. Here in these towns we do a lot of shit that keeps us from re­ally doing what we’re sup­posed to do. What are we sup­posed to do? Build big­ger towns, I think. In­stead we get drunk every Fri­day night until Sun­day morn­ing. We float around on drugs, pills we get from the same short-neck doc­tors that have the guts to stay in places like this. Be­fore I talk about this one time, let me talk about where I am right now, and then you tell me what you see.

 

You know, I can’t de­scribe every­thing I see very well. I do not want to seem florid about what I do or how I do things. I’m a sim­ple per­son, and I like to walk and meet peo­ple and talk to them. I some­times do that in the park. There are dogs on leashes, drag­ging their own­ers who are al­most al­ways a white cou­ple. There are some kids, and I have no in­ter­est in them. The trees are aplenty. You can imag­ine it too. The trails and bike paths are trav­eled by peo­ple who tell you on which side they are about to pass. I see bri­dle trail­heads and I never see horses, so I take the bri­dle trails and bear the muck that some­times come with them.

I can see above my­self a cir­cle of com­mon buz­zards wait­ing not to de­scend on me but on some other body slumped in the far field ahead of this stream. There are real buz­zards doing this. I’m not giv­ing you a bull­shit metaphor. Re­mem­ber this about us: there are only the shal­low thoughts we have and the ways that we think them. It is five miles home from this park to my house where I live with my gen­tle wife.

It was the ar­chi­tects of mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion who said that we can find God in a church and that the great Satan’s church is not a tem­ple but the world in which we live. This is the sort of axiom that I use daily and when I am won­der­ing what to do next to a per­son in my head or a per­son in real life or a per­son that I have yet to meet. I love girls, and that is the last of it. I do not love shov­els or axes or any of the tools that we as­so­ci­ate with man­ual labor. And when I got to this park and saw all of the se­cret and small places I could be wait­ing or hid­ing and watch­ing every­one there was a quick and self­ish mo­ment that told me all the great­est times I will have had been had and that ma­tu­rity is a time when we all begin to gain aware­ness of our deaths and how at one point we when we were young we were lied to by our par­ents and the world out­side us. The thing is. No mat­ter what hap­pens, tragedy, peo­ple dying, breakups, di­vorce, death, death, death, I’m still going to be here on the belly of Ohio. On the warm god­damn grass and out in the sun when it’s been ninety de­grees all week and when the heat dips down to sev­enty-eight just for a day.

But, today, I drive my sedan home and smell the leather on the steer­ing wheel. Ear­lier today I let a woman at work use my car to drive to the post of­fice. I smell cu­cum­ber lo­tion and olive sweat from her hands. The truth is I once thought I would mur­der some­one, but I never have had the guts to think long about that again. Sick shit. I’m not stu­pid. I used to know a guy who got off to other guys jerk­ing off. I like to re­ally get close to the edge too. I work at a li­brary. I picked my job be­cause it’s the sort of job you would think a man like me might have, and I never want peo­ple to think any­thing more of me than they think that they should. Al­most every Fri­day night I go to the yards of other peo­ple’s houses and I watch the fam­i­lies in­side. I get as close as I can. I don’t ever go in. I don’t have a fam­ily be­cause my wife is bar­ren. Our home only has six win­dows and three of those win­dows are on the sec­ond floor, fac­ing the high­way.

Who I think of most often is a teenage girl I saw at the gro­cery store. When I walk on these trails like I’m walk­ing on them now, I think about tak­ing her here as my boon com­pan­ion and show­ing her the lit­tle daddy lon­glegs that step across flower petals and go in their spindly and frag­ile form across the leaf-lit­ter mud. You see: the daddy lon­glegs is not a spi­der, I’ll tell her. Fuck, she isn’t going to care. She’ll be upset, kick­ing and throw­ing her arms like a goner calf leav­ing a veal farm.

 

I stand at the self-check­out and watch her. She never looks to­ward me. The ceil­ing at the gro­cery store is ex­posed, con­duit and pipe work all bare.

A man who was just stand­ing two spots back taps me on the shoul­der, ask­ing to take the place ahead of me in line. He is old. His hair is like a doll’s. I let him skip ahead, and I ask him about his son or daugh­ter and he tells me that he has none. This comes as a shock to me be­cause since get­ting mar­ried I have as­sumed that all peo­ple older than me have chil­dren to whom they ded­i­cate their lives. It is un­clear to me why an old per­son con­tin­ues to go on liv­ing in his sit­u­a­tion at all.

On the way out I study my help desk girl closely. She’s tan like most teenagers around here in the sum­mer, and be­cause of this her teeth seem so white. I want to stop and ask her a made up ques­tion, but the doll man is gain­ing be­hind me and every­thing sad I feel for him is weigh­ing me down again. In the park­ing lot there are sev­eral boys push­ing shop­ping carts in and out of cor­rals, and while pass­ing all of the cars I image se­cret sto­ries wherein there are peo­ple hav­ing lust­ful af­fairs and I enjoy every sec­ond of it.

The road that leads out of the gro­cery store runs around a mini-mall and along a high­way and to­ward an­other mini-mall where, for me, there are so many mem­o­ries of being a care­free teenager like the girl at the store, walk­ing around with my friends and not hav­ing to do much of any­thing at all. Past the mini-mall, I drive to a small stor­age unit where the things I can­not not fit into my house are stored. I told my wife about the unit when I first rented it, and she has al­ways paid the bill on time, and be­cause I bought a key­less lock, I know she has never been here.

From where I parked my car I can still see the crushed beer cans I threw on the roof of an ad­ja­cent run of units at least two months ago. I walk in­side and lis­ten to the fans cool­ing the build­ing, and I un­lock my unit and see all of my things. My old couch and my old card table and a milk crate of fatty mag­a­zines that I keep around. Be­neath the couch and atop the per­fect and smooth and cool ce­ment is a pill bot­tle of dif­fer­ent drugs that I bought from a black drug dealer from Michi­gan who came here once to buy a stack of rare Blue Note Records 45s I had on craigslist.

I take two opi­ates from the bot­tle and tuck it back under the couch, and I sit down and begin to read.

The truly per­fect thing, I think, is to stand in line at a good Star­bucks or a re­ally good Tar­get. I find my­self at these kinds of places, some­times at the ab­solutely per­fect hour, wait­ing to pay. There’s al­ways, al­most every time, a small cluck of girls in line. Usu­ally with newly minted dri­ver’s li­censes wedged into nice wal­lets my wife doesn’t even have.

On slow days at the stores, when I come too soon after school, I just watch from the park­ing lot a good group to all pile out of a sin­gle car and stomp in­side with their cute leather girl boots, sweat pants, some­times furry jack­ets. I watch them laugh and toss back their long hair. Were it each and every time that it would be enough just to wait and watch, then I would feel much more as­sured of my­self as a per­son—one of re­pute, one ca­pa­ble of some­thing less an­i­mal, if not out­right hor­ri­ble and preda­tory. Fuck, I’m just say­ing. But there is al­ways a sec­ond step. I go in. I get in that line. I stand be­hind them and smell hair­spray and chew­ing gum and, rarely on week­nights, the stinks of what­ever their moth­ers are cook­ing.

It’s not so much what they look like. They have to be pretty, of course. But it’s more what they’re doing. They’re true Amer­i­can girls. I check their bust lines, dye jobs, eye makeup. And for sin­gle mo­ments, they’re be­side me. Some­times I just go to a burger joint, and they sit there nearly along­side me, pil­ing in this sick­en­ing food. It’s beau­ti­ful. Hours and hours of labor’s worth of calo­ries mus­cle-pushed deep down into their young bod­ies where it will no doubt be ex­pended, me­tab­o­lized in time, and turned out as girl-scat. Sick shit, that I have never seen. Don’t worry. But it’s this whole process—the fat­ten­ing of teen girls, that de­lights me. I’m far past the sim­ple stalk­ing. Each day at home, if I’m ever alone, I take in mem­o­ries of smells of the good ones I’ve been near, and that’s a per­fect, star­less, glo­ri­ously sweet mo­ment. You wouldn’t think it. You’d bet­ter be re­pulsed just lis­ten­ing. But God can this be liv­ing.

 

But that isn’t my life. It isn’t now. At this point I’m a sort of miser in the same realm. You might be won­der­ing how or why I know that per­son I just told you about—the sick fucker. He’s a friend. I know a lot of these peo­ple. I know drunks, reg­u­lar lowlives, bad moms, hoods, and dead­beat dry-bone pieces of shit. I know a slew of good peo­ple, writ­ers, read­ers, cow­boys. I have the good sense to stay in touch with my fam­ily. I don’t keep that many friends from high school or col­lege. When I work, I do what I have to do, and I come home. But I do know a lot of those types. I, my­self, well I’m what you’d call a bet­ter kind of se­cret con­nois­seur. I can keep a safe dis­tance.


 

I speak into the recorder: It’s easy. You’ve got to know their music. How they talk. A few nu­ances. The right girl should speak slowly in long Cal­i­for­nia purrs un­less ex­cited. These girls—teens—it’s all pretty rel­a­tive. Do some re­search. Track them. That’s it. Gotta look good, still. Then you have every one at Hello, pretty much.

The first I had was ripe, rot­ting be­fore I even began. She was six­teen. Per­fect in every phys­i­cal as­pect of a six­teen year old girl, I swear. I re­mem­ber think­ing to my­self that I could start a re­li­gion over her nip­ple color alone. They lay per­fectly pert and aroused, even at rest. For her nip­ples, I took over twenty pho­tos. This was back when you had to de­velop photo shit on your own. But she re­ally did rot. I wasn’t sure what to ex­pect be­yond what I’d seen in movies. Her pussy had a stench, some­thing an­ciently yeasty. Every­thing I owned had to be cleaned I got rid of her. Rea­son­ably so, though. You would too. A tem­ple, has to be washed, swept reg­u­larly. Some are good big, de­pend­ing on the pro­por­tions. Some are good small, de­pend­ing on their po­si­tion in ado­les­cence.

He cleared his throat, con­tin­ued: I ac­tu­ally asked my­self, what would I feed a live one? Lots of milk and ice cream. Red meat. Wild rice. Melted but­ter in a glass. A skinny one would have to fill out. Not too much. There’s a wall they can reach around the upper end of sev­en­teen or eigh­teen, es­pe­cially after they go to col­lege—they start to sour. They’re un­latched from the fam­ily din­ner, and gone is the home­grown good sus­te­nance that a mother pro­vides for her lit­tle girl. Where, at six­teen, it’s okay to be a kind of portly but cou­pled with mus­cle, later on it’s a ques­tion of flab and un­bri­dled belly fat that ul­ti­mately makes for a true fat girl—the kind no one but a sick fetishist would like. A girl at six­teen with rounded but mus­cled edges is a tro­phy and the sort of trea­sure that every boy, every rocket-hard ath­lete or hood, es­teems a per­fect lit­tle rest­ing place for his cock. So, I ended up think­ing that I’d grow one if I find the right thin one. As long as I have time.

 

We park under a pavil­ion roof and be­side a knotty picinic table, pass­ing be­tween us the kind of look that you only think you see be­cause you do it in the dark, and I know she can see me smil­ing, and I can hear her breath­ing.

Should we be here? she says.

Why not? I say.

It’s after dusk.

It’s sum­mer, I say. Sum­mer­time is dif­fer­ent.

We stay there a long while. I run my fin­ger­tips in cir­cles over her thumb­nails. Her palms sweat in the hu­mid­ity.

From what I can see around the al­lu­vium on which we stand, no one has come near the river­bank in some time, and the for­est seems at each end to have qui­eted it­self just to the sound of evening birds and in­sects and the heat which is silent but ra­di­ant and feels like far­away camp­fire. I rub her back nearly a ten min­utes be­fore I let her rest her feet on the cool on the rocks that run to the edges of the riverbed.

I put my­self back into his pants and she stands and but­tons her jeans, tuck­ing away heavy breasts. She checks her watch. The sound be­yond the for­est wall is per­fect high­way backscat­ter, and it is at here where the water flows and the midges cloud her face.

This is nice, I say, stoned but glar­ing.

We should do this some­where else now. I can get us a room.

She looks back, de­fin­i­tively for­lorn.

It’s per­fect here in the woods, you know. This is a chapel, you see. This is the house of God and na­ture and you and me and my seed in­side you. Do you know what Gaia means?

No.

Gaia is the liv­ing earth. We are atop the liv­ing earth and in love.

I’m not in love.

You’re not but here you are.

You’re sick.

You’d have felt all of this soon enough on your own any­way.

 

From the hotel park­ing lot, I can still see God’s bill­board il­lu­mi­nated over the high­way, be­spo­ken as the town’s di­vin­ity. It stands as law to even the sole pa­trolling po­lice­man slumped in his car, half asleep and stir­ring. I watch his jaw fall slack, pool­ing at the cor­ners with white spit­tle and shadow. Cars pass with sin­gle head­lights, roar­ing along the side­walk and blear­ing. I walk for nearly a mile from the room, stop­ping to loosen the col­lar of my shirt and roll up my sleeves, ap­pear­ing in the dark below the sign.

I climb up white rusted bars, rub­bing rust off each rung. I sit in the light from the sign, a small shape against the scrip­ture. I look out into the fir­ma­ment, not watch­ing for face or what it looked like, which I can’t stop feel­ing that I should go back and see once more, but the con­stel­la­tions or some god­ward star. I watch with my back to the board, look­ing out at my shak­ing hands be­fore me. My legs feel slack as I lean, let­ting my­self slide down to the boarded floor, lying flat and rep­til­ian. On the small plat­form are tacks and chipped pieces of wood and dead-blown leaves. I breathe the cool­ing air and flick a tack off of the plat­form, wait­ing to hear it drop onto the road. I curl into the fetal po­si­tion, think­ing the ef­fort must seem some­thing like grief. I look out past a trailer park—all its small homes dark and bound to­gether with strung up yel­low Christ­mas lights, and I tear off a small cor­ner of paper that was once a gro­cery list, let­ting pieces fall and spi­ral down­ward. Blue and red lights whorl down the road, fil­tered through dust. The pieces lift back up and into the air, re­vers­ing, and I stop tear­ing and watch them drift. In place of stars, I see ahead of me the bur­den of fam­ily.

The tall corn is alive in the sum­mer, and big-eared bats are slung up­side down in all the trees. The sirens pass like ships through the high­way, and per­haps an­other girl has died. This bleeds out on a dirty rug worn down and tram­pled with soot.

 

The latch on the door is a flat-head bolt. The faucet, a burst of white noise. I can re­call only this: her black tank-top and ripped light jeans, the green flip-flops she wore, her heavy black eye­liner, the chipped blue pol­ish on her fin­ger­nails. What set me off were her black bra straps, which she did not have to ex­pose. I knew that it wasn’t what she wore that let me think she wanted me, but it was of my own curved and sweat­ing spine of vi­o­lence that got what it wanted just like an id.

On the floor of her room, I shift my body and feel none of my limbs com­ply. The tex­ture of her car­pet is etched into the back of my head, my el­bows, my bare heels. Where are my socks. I shift again and feel one of my wrists bend, then the other. Mo­bil­ity as tem­po­ral trans­gres­sion. Up above me is her ceil­ing where plas­tic stars are fixed to the plas­ter and they don’t shine down, and, oh, the smell. I’m de­lighted to at least have the smell. Smell, I think, more than sight, more than touch, is the most car­nal thing. There are smells I can re­call from only hours ago that will for­ever be branded into my nos­trils if he’s not as keen on end­ing me as I think. But he’s ca­pa­ble, chis­eled like pa­le­o­glyphs of bet­ter, if simian, men. He knows I’ve smelled the great­est things, holies: her sweet spit—Hell, I think, just enough was the salt from her runny nose.

I wish some­one would have told me when I was a lit­tle younger that all we do when we’re six­teen or when we’re twenty will be what mat­ters to us most and for the rest of our lives. I take that back though. I bet every­one who knew me did tell me, and I bet every chance I got, I for­got what they said or ig­nored it. I didn’t give a shit, and I still don’t. There’s noth­ing out there but an end or an­other ender—a way out or a slow way to wait. When we’re that young we just can’t quite see that. That’s what makes it okay. That’s what makes fuck­ing up and doing the shit we want seem okay. That’s what that youth is, re­ally.

On the walls are mag­a­zine cutouts of pop stars and ac­tors and what­ever hip-hop rap shit these girls loved. A white mos­quito canopy draped above her bed. There’s a wicker dresser, a wicker night­stand, a pair of white and pink banded socks on the floor.

Let me die here in this place, a church. Let me go here. There’s not a bet­ter way. Both win­dows are open. No wind. No sound. No peo­ple out there to hear him. Who would save an old wiz­ard caught dead in this palace. Who would come for a cretin gone too dry and scabbed off its rock.

Bitch, he thought. No. No, not a bitch. A per­fect shape.

I just want what I want. I can’t help that. No man can. The man who can help that is a liar and a dis­grace. Bet­ter to be a man who’s hon­est than a cheat. Bet­ter to be out with it, eh? These girls are no dif­fer­ent than these boys on the wall. These shirt­less fags who flex their stom­achs and arms. Who sim­u­late cocks with the other parts of their body. That’s okay? For a young girl to have on her wall? And to like a young girl is not? Greeks, they cared for their boys. I can care for these girls. I’m a friend. I’m guid­ance. I have an­swers. An­swers at a cost. At no cost. At a price. At a fair and hon­est price.

A man such as you is not a man but an evil.

I am not an evil.

You are noth­ing.

I am some­thing. I am in love. I am tri­umphant. I can be this way for­ever. Men go their whole lives not lov­ing the women they mar­ried, and you tell he me these are hon­est men?

These are men who have grown and ac­cepted death at the point that they began to grow old.

So I’m a man un­able to grow old?

You’re a man who’s not will­ing to go.

I’m not will­ing. No. I’ll stand for it. Arms bound, I’ll lie here and die. Have my jaw kicked off. My cock cut out at the base. I’ll stand for the fact that these men who will come and cut me apart are liars who’ve looked at their neigh­bor’s daugh­ters in earnest, and they’ve lied.

Star high in the desert. I have touched in­side of my­self—seen all of my life, my mother and fa­ther, their pain and in­dif­fer­ence. I feel a tight knot in my chest. I know this knot is safety.

Death ex­ists.

I am the star in that sky, of the desert, not God. I am alive. I have un­en­cum­bered my­self from all dreams. I know now that death ex­ists. That there is a worth­while cen­ter.

I have a wife. We will have a child. I am un­en­cum­bered by all things I have dreamt since being a boy.

Death ex­ists.

I walk into the liv­ing room, and I look out through the shades, which I see as great ve­neers, and out­side the world a pink pale fire. I feel the pink fire come to a slow iron smol­der.