The Garzas call Becca to tell her there’s a kid dancing on our front lawn. Through the blinds we watch Isaac sway in the streetlamp’s glow. “I thought you broke things off with him,” Becca says to me. “He can’t just show up like this, Carter.”
Isaac stops swaying as I approach. He’s shivering. No jacket, and his shirt is speckled by the persistent drizzle. Droplets hit the back of my neck. The mist has condensed in the hollows under his eyes and I want to kiss them dry. He’s twenty-two, half my age, and it’s his boyishness that attracts me, not just in appearance but in his enthusiasms. On our first date, at a Cuban cafe in the Ironbound, he spent twenty minutes expounding on Jimmy Guiffre’s contributions to the jazz world. He’s become an obsession, and though obsession is not love, they’re at least in the same ballpark.
“I knew you’d come see me,” he says.
“What makes you think you can just show up here like this?” I say, speaking quietly, scanning our East Orange cul-de-sac. Middle class split levels and ranch houses, vinyl siding in a variety of pastels, lawns more or less manicured. The Garzas, Emilio and Louisa, are on their front porch drinking Coronas in the cold rain, watching intently, pretending not to.
“I read this article that made me think of you,” he says. “About neuroscientists studying the brain when it’s in love. Oxytocin levels, that kind of thing. This one neuroscientist had a farm with a dog and a goat. They’d run around for hours, roughhousing. At some point, the neuroscientists decided to test their oxytocin levels. The dog’s was what you’d expect, but the goat’s was off the charts. That goat was in love.”
My cheeks have gone numb, either from the cold or what Isaac is saying or both. “So who’s the goat?” I ask, pressing my fingertips first against one cheek then the other.
“I don’t know. Maybe both of us?”
I catch Emilio and Louisa staring. She looks away, he salutes me with his beer bottle. “Isaac,” I say, “you should go.” He steps toward me, raising his arms, and I’m struck by the hurt that flashes across his face when I shrink away.
“Carter,” Becca says behind me. “Invite your nephew inside, let him warm up for a bit.”
Becca, leaning against the doorframe, has changed clothes. She’s wearing that green blouse I like, top button undone, and a pair of black leggings. She has aged far better than me, and in the misty glow of the front porch light, she’s stunning.
Gesturing toward the front door, I say, “Come inside, nephew.”
Inside, he takes a seat on our white leather couch, sleek and modern like everything in our house, and I sit at the opposite end. Starting toward the kitchen, Becca asks if he wants a drink. “Are you old enough?” she says. After a pause, she adds, “I kid, of course.”
While we wait for drinks, Isaac surveys the living room. The couch and matching recliner; a glass coffee table shaped like a guitar pick; the bookcase, a Modani, an awkward jumble of unexpected angles; a framed copy of the Vignelli subway map hanging on one wall. Becca works at a Manhattan design firm, and her job informs her aesthetics, her devotion to order, tidiness, simplicity. I own a furniture renovation and repair shop in Hoboken, but nothing in this house is mine. My tastes veer toward the antique: Shaker, American Empire, Hepplewhite. For this reason, my aesthetics have been relegated to the garage.
Becca reappears with two rum and cokes, her favorite drink, and hands one to Isaac. He sniffs it and places it on the guitar pick.
“Where’s mine?” I ask.
“You have to drive later,” she says. “You’re taking young Isaac and me out for dinner.” She falls into the recliner, which looks like a dentist’s chair. “So, how’d you get here?” she asks him.
“Bus,” Isaac says. “Buses, actually. Plural. The 79 then the 94, then I walked from there.”
“You must’ve been very determined,” she says. She holds out her drink for a toast and Isaac picks his up. “To Carter,” she says. “The one thing we have in common.” At this, Isaac tries to retract his glass, but she catches it. The glasses clink, splashing rum and coke on the coffee table. Becca tries to ignore the dark spatter, but it’s surely driving her mad. “In any case, it’s lovely to meet you,” she says. “Carter has told me very little about you. Which is fine, of course. One of our rules.” She leans forward in her dentist’s chair and places her drink on the table. “But I hope you can understand my dismay when you show up like this, especially since I was under the impression my husband had put on the brakes.”
“Put on the brakes,” Isaac repeats, glancing at me.
I could remind her it wasn’t entirely my decision, that it was she who’d gotten antsy about how much time I was spending with him. I could also remind her how much time she’d spent with Louis, who’d been her first in this arrangement, then with Archimedes, who went by Archie, and of late with Murphy, the Irish bartender with the pop punk band. But in return she’d remind me that this was all my idea in the first place. “We need variety,” she’d say, quoting me.
“Well, you’re here,” she says, “so let’s engage in the necessary small talk.” She sips her drink, makes a sour face and looks into the glass. “There’s a system I use at parties for small talk, FORD: family, occupation, recreation, dreams. Though I think dreams is a little personal for the fourth question you ask somebody. I know we just met, but what are your hopes and dreams?”
“I don’t think that’s out of bounds,” Isaac says. “It’s probably the most important thing to know about a person. It’s how you know if they’re worth your time.”
Turning to me, she says, “Wise beyond his years, this one.”
“Part of the appeal,” I say.
The small talk begins with Isaac telling how his family moved from Biloxi to Parsippany when he was nine for his dad’s new job. Becca asks what he does and Isaac says, “Engineer of death. Designs navigation systems for drones. Real innovator on the war crimes front.”
“Well, that’s a major karmic debt to offset,” Becca says. “What do you do?”
“He’s getting a BM in jazz studies,” I say.
She looks from me to him. “Really? What instrument?”
“Clarinet,” he says, mimicking the movements of his fingers over the holes and keys.
She takes a sip of her drink, swallows audibly. “I’m in design myself.”
“She designed that logo on the side of my truck. Hodges Furniture Reno and Repair.” I pronounce “Reno” like the city, the way Isaac said it the first time we met. He appeared one overcast Sunday afternoon in my booth at an arts and crafts festival on Washington Street, pretending to be in the market for a mahogany barstool. I pretended not to know he was pretending, and soon his pretenses evolved into a meek flirtation, which I found endearing. He was a novelty, and opportunities for novelty have become rarer these days. I handed him a business card with my cell phone number written on the back. He read the name on the card aloud, and his mispronunciation became one of our inside jokes.
“Futura bold,” she says. “A nice, basic sans-serif. More readability from a distance.”
“Is that how you two met?” he asks. “Business/client relations?”
“Nope, jury duty,” I say. “This big old dude tripped over a subway door lip, busted his ankle, sued New Jersey Transit. We were in the jury room joking about all the lies we should’ve used to get ourselves out of it, but we were the ones too chicken shit to go through with the lies. The less scrupulous got away. Darwinism in action, I guess.” I glance at Becca and she’s giving me a look I can’t read. Could be treacherous, could be sweet. It’s hard to tell with her, which over a span of years has become part of the appeal. “There was this Mexican/sushi/Italian restaurant around the corner, and that was where I asked her out, on our lunch break.”
“Speaking of which, anyone else starving?” Becca says. “I drank this on an empty stomach and I’m starting to feel it. Carter has always held his liquor better than me.”
Becca directs us to this burger and beer joint she knows named Nero’s, on the Newport waterfront. Circling the block in her Camry looking for a parking spot, we pass the storefront of the crepe place we went to on our third date, its windows now plastered over with brown paper.
We’d taken a table on the back patio, near sunset on a breezy day, and the mirrored buildings of the Financial District across the river glowed silvery-orange in the waning light, the tallest ones fading to lead farther up. I recall the Freedom Tower looming over the other buildings, though this was ten years ago and construction had barely started. But the brain remembers what it wants, I guess. We finished our food and walked down the waterfront as dusk drained the sunlight from the buildings, leaving them dull and gray. There was a dewy sort of mysticism in the air, and we’d clung to each other, kissing in the fluorescent light from a Duane Reade storefront. The cold metal of the waterfront railing bit into the small of my back, and her body pressing against mine was a welcome warmth against the autumn night. Arm in arm we continued until we came to a set of round plastic patio tables. Someone had taken a black Sharpie and written cryptic messages across all the slats. “Earth’s Fate,” one of them read. “Homo Sapiens Sapiens,” said another. “USA = United Satans.” Running a finger across the Sharpie ink, Becca said, “Toynbee Tables.” I asked what that meant, and she’d told me about the Toynbee Tiles, mysterious messages that had been popping up embedded in the asphalt of city streets throughout the Western Hemisphere since the 1980s. I asked her where she learned about these kinds of things. “History Channel,” she’d said.
Nero’s decor has nothing to do with Rome or the Roman emperor. It’s bar and grill 101: faux candlelight, vintage sports and pinup posters on the walls, Jim Thorpe in a leather helmet, Betty Grable in a one- piece. The hostess, a lithe black woman with some kind of accent, leads us to a window booth. Isaac sits next to me, Becca across from us. We have a view of the Manhattan skyline, windows lit in patterns like Tetris pieces. A yacht drifts by on the Hudson. People in outfits too skimpy for this kind of night dance on its decks.
Becca asks our waiter, a skinny kid with spiked hair, if Murph is around. “Working the bar tonight,” the kid says. Then his face brightens with recognition. “Oh, you’re the infamous Becca.” She blushes and says infamous is a little strong. He smiles, revealing a mouthful of slightly crooked teeth, slips his pad back into his apron and says he’ll send Murph right over.
“Any particular reason you brought me to where Murphy works?” I ask.
“Because the food’s good here.” She smiles thinly and taps her fingers on her menu.
Murphy turns out to be someone who doesn’t look as young as he is, with patchy mutton chops and a bit of a gut. “Isn’t this a nice surprise,” he says to Becca. “Who are your friends?”
“This is my husband, Carter, and his young squire, Isaac.”
Murphy wipes his hand on his pants both before and after shaking mine. “So, we’re cool, right? This is all good? Not gonna be any fistfights breaking out?”
“As of now, I have no intentions of fist fighting you,” I say.
“Good. I used to be a boxer.” He waves his fists in front of his face. “But you look like you could put up a fight. Look at those arms.”
“I work with my hands.”
“He works with his hands,” Murphy says, looking at Becca. He fishes his pad and pen from his apron and says, “Well, we got that in common. What’re you having?”
We order our food and he collects our menus, says he’ll be back in a bit with our drinks, beers for me and Isaac, a Moscow Mule for Becca. “In honor of our forty-fifth president,” Murphy says while scrawling it on the pad.
The place is getting louder. There are a couple of dudes in business attire at the bar, probably Wall Streeters, one with a woman who looks maybe Korean or at least part Korean, the other with a blonde who’s college age at best. The tables are mostly occupied by groups of young people, some already wearing their nightclub getups. Tight dresses, skinny jeans and ties, flashy shoes. At the booths are families, the older men and women hunched over their food trying to pretend the scene around them isn’t happening. At the table next to us is a man who looks vaguely like William H. Macy cutting his son’s burger into bite- sized squares. The kid, maybe five or six, flies a balsawood airplane around his head, making airplane sounds.
One of the Wall Street guys bumps into William H. Macy and son’s table, knocking over the kid’s glass of fizzy orange drink, spilling it into his lap. The kid starts crying and William H. Macy says, “Nice work, asshole.” The man stops and looks at him, and William H. Macy stands up. He points at his kid and says something to Wall Street I don’t catch over the noise. Wall Street says something back and then they’re face to face. Murphy appears carrying a tray with our drinks. He slides the tray into the center of our table and glides over to the confrontation, positioning himself between the two men. He says something to William H. Macy, then something to Wall Street. Both of them slacken their shoulders but continue to scowl at each other. The kid, fascinated, has stopped crying. He seems mesmerized by Murphy. Finally, the two men shake hands. It’s a tense parting of ways, but Wall Street and his crew head out the door. William H. Macy cleans off his boy as best he can and sits back down.
Murphy comes over and says, “Sorry about that. Happens more often than you’d like.”
“What’d you say to them?” Isaac asks.
“I was persuasive.”
“He can be very persuasive,” Becca says, giving me this smile full of implications.
Murphy leaves us to our drinks, and it’s the spiky-haired kid who shows back up to bring us our food and, later, our check. Outside, Isaac and I are halfway across the street when Murphy steps out and shouts to Becca. She turns around and waves, then tells us to go on to the car as she heads back toward him. The two of them disappear inside, and I hesitate in the middle of the street while the walk signal counts down. At three, Isaac nudges me.
Inside the Camry, I imagine them in some cramped back room that smells of ammonia, cleaning supplies on metal shelves, Murphy’s hands sliding over all the parts of my wife. They’ve no doubt already done every sensual thing to each other one can imagine, which was fine when it was happening in the abstract, but now Murphy is no longer just a word Becca says sometimes, and that makes the situation considerably less endurable. Eventually she comes out of the bar, crosses the street, climbs inside and says, “Okay, let’s go.”
I drop Becca off at the house before taking Isaac home. “I’ll probably be asleep when you get back,” she says.
Parsippany is about twenty minutes away down I-78, and I take it slow, relishing the night drive. Isaac watches the silhouettes of trees roll by in the dark. I try to remember myself at his age, but that person is a stranger now. Even Isaac is a mystery. What I know about him, what I truly know, amounts to superficial factoids. Stats on a baseball card. And even after ten years, I’m beginning to think this may be true of Becca as well. Probably it’s true of all people. The first few years after we got married, we lived in this cheap one-bedroom in the Heights, and on weekends we’d explore the middle class townships, Parsippany and Montclair and other places like them, places with artisanal coffee shops, upscale grocery stores, more sushi, Korean, and Thai places than any small town needs. Given our politics, we were probably supposed to hate this sort of homogenization, but we couldn’t help but find it comforting, like anyplace was a place you could be equally happy. We speculated on which home we might someday raise a family in. This was before Becca found out she couldn’t have kids and decided she’d never wanted them anyway. At night we’d cruise back home across the Pulaski Skyway, the industrial blight of Kearney Point stretching out beneath us. Off to the south, at the ports, the container cranes stood like a brontosaurus herd. The factory stacks billowed fumes that hung paler than the sky behind them. The lights of the warehouses and chemical facilities reflected off the neighboring meadowland marshes. On those nights, the world had seemed endearingly clumsy, the lights particularly beautiful, the way they shimmered on the water so awkward and nervous. “It’s a Springsteen song,” Becca once said while peering out her foggy car window.
The houses in Isaac’s neighborhood are mostly Greek and Colonial Revival, wooden rectangles in varying shades of white. Some with picket fences or low stone walls or hedgerows. He has me park down the street, in front of a house with a mailbox shaped like a smaller version of the house itself, and we walk to his place, a beige two-story Colonial with the front porch light on. He unlocks the front door, then puts a hand on my chest and a finger to his lips, the key ring hooked around his thumb dangling at chin level. A standing lamp lights the entryway, but the rest of the house is dark. What I can see through the doorways is all beiges and mahoganies. He leads me upstairs to his bedroom, where the walls are covered with posters. Miles Davis, The Misfits, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, with Michael in the white suit.
Isaac opens his laptop and launches a playlist of his recordings. “This one’s my middle school band,” he says of the first, an orchestral performance of some real American song, something that could be the theme of one of those old-timey cowboy shows, Gunsmoke or The Virginian. It’s hard to pinpoint Isaac or the woodwind section in there at all. From there the playlist moves into a collection of solos and small ensemble pieces. They’re in chronological order, and I can hear how he’s improving through the years. He skips through them, playing me thirty-second snippets of each. Moving away from the computer, he starts to take off his shirt and I tell him to do a strip tease for me. The computer’s playing a Dixieland number now, and he says, “You can’t strip to Dixieland.” He gets down to his boxer-briefs and crawls into bed and pats the spot next to him. I lie down, fully clothed, and he drapes the covers over me, presses his chest and stomach against my back and we lie there listening to him on shuffle.
He reaches a hand under my shirt and touches my appendix scar. The first time he saw it, in a room in the Skyway Motel, he said it looked like a semicolon. The skin is taut and delicate and he presses his fingers too roughly into it. I shove his hand away. “You’re hurting me,” I say a little too loudly over the music.
“Shhh,” he says. Then, a moment later, “You know what? I wish you’d evolve a backbone.”
I turn to face him. “Oh, is this the route we’re going?”
“You remind me of my mom,” he says. “She let my dad bulldoze her for years.” He props himself up on an elbow so he’s looking down at me. I can sense he’s waiting for me to ask about her, but I don’t. “She used to be all high-minded and stuff,” he says. “Used to tell me about protesting nuke plants back in the eighties. She was one of those Clamshell people. Then she ends up married to my dad.” He shakes his head and laughs. “Talk about some fucking irony there, right? Anyway, he drove her nuts, I believe. After we moved here, she lost it completely. Outside at five in the morning mowing the lawn in her bikini, that sort of thing. Then she ran off with a poet to work on a syrup farm or something. I get letters from her sometimes. All this flowery language about the trees in autumn and motherhood and shit. I think she must be taking pointers from her little Kerouac wannabe.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I say.
“I’m not. She’s happier now. They were terrible for each other. Trust me, I know terrible for each other when I see it.”
He leans down and kisses me and tries to press me into the bed, but I roll him over and get his boxer briefs down to mid-thigh. I’m kissing him on the back of his neck, kissing a ring around the single black hair growing out of his right shoulder blade. We make love, and I’m rougher than usual and he’s quiet and still and I’m afraid I’m hurting him. I ask if he’s okay and he says, “I just don’t want to wake up my dad.” I roll off him onto my back. He turns around and lays his head on my chest, draping an arm over me. He tells me it’s okay, but I wonder how he really feels.
The fog is already settling into my brain. I tell myself I’ll close my eyes for no more than five minutes, but I’m out almost immediately and when I wake up the sky outside is steel blue. The clock radio reads 6:34. Isaac has rolled off me, turned his back to me. I slide out of bed and pull on my pants and shoes as quickly and quietly as I can and slip downstairs, hoping his dad isn’t awake yet, but already the smell of something cooking, something cinnamon, is wafting up from the kitchen. I try to slip out the front door, but Isaac’s father says, “Morning. Want coffee? French toast?”
He’s standing in the kitchen doorway, hands on hips, spatula poking out at an angle. He’s wearing baggy sweatpants and a Flying Burrito Brothers t-shirt, appropriate since he looks like an aged Burrito Brother. “No trouble at all,” he says. I tell him I should get going but he stands there until his invitation begins to feel less like a request.
The kitchen is big and ultra-modern. Stainless steel appliances and black marble and dark woods. Cooking implements hang from hooks over an island with a huge six-burner range with bright orange knobs. The fridge has a television screen in it.
“Nice kitchen,” I say.
“Was my wife’s,” he says. “I don’t make much in here but this—” he motions at the French toast sizzling in a cast-iron skillet—“and sandwiches.” He prods the French toast and says, “Go sit.” The surface of the dining table is scratched and gouged. Someone tried to fix it with a Blend-Fil pencil, but the damage is too deep. He brings over the French toast and a couple of plates, pours a mug of coffee for each of us, and sits down across from me. He takes a piece of French toast for himself, pinching it up at the corner.
“You’re Isaac’s latest paramour, I reckon?”
“That’s a good word, paramour. Don’t hear it much these days. Yeah, I guess I am.”
He tears his French toast in half, bites into it. “Got any kids?” he asks, still chewing. I tell him I don’t, and he says, “Good for you. They cause problems, begin to develop their own agendas. Far as I can tell, those agendas pretty much never coincide with your own.”
“Thanks for the advice,” I say.
“Summer after Marlene left, this was six years ago, me and Isaac flew off to Hawaii. We’d planned to go as a family, and he’d seemed pretty excited about it, so I didn’t want to disappoint him. But my heart wasn’t in it at first, and I guess he recognized that. Anyway, on Oahu there’s this rickety old metal staircase takes you up a mountainside. Dangerous and totally illegal, used to lead to a Coast Guard monitoring station, but it’s shut down now. You have to sneak in, and if you get caught they fine you or arrest you or both. But once you get up to the top, that god-dang view, man. You got the city beneath you, all those high rises out near the ocean, clusters of houses with all these different colored roofs, got the forest on one side, the ocean on the other. That fucking blue, man. It’s impossible. I asked him what he thought and all he said was, it’s a view, all right. It’s a view, all right? What am I supposed to do with that?”
I tell him I honestly don’t know, and the way he looks at me I feel like I’ve failed some kind of test. “Me neither,” he says.
“He told me about what happened with his mom. The running away with the beatnik.”
“Beatnik?” he says. “That fella is just some old redneck on a maple farm in Vermont, fancies himself Bob Dylan or something. He’s an all right guy. Isaac spends a month in the summer with them there.”
We’re quiet for a while, munching on our toast and sipping our coffee. There are some notches dug into the edge of the table, equidistant from each other, like someone was using them as a ruler. I run my finger over them. “This damage right here? I could fix this for you. Here, let me give you my card.”
I fish a business card out of my wallet and hand it to him. He looks at it, moving his lips as he reads the name silently before placing it face down on the table and sliding it back. “I’m hoping you won’t be offended if I decline,” he says. “I’ll take it somewhere here in town, assuming I ever decide to get it fixed.” Then he takes my plate, half a piece of French toast still on it, carries it over to the sink and motions toward the entryway. “Either way, I’m guessing you probably haven’t had much sleep, so be careful driving home.”
By the time I get home, the sun is almost too bright, making the world seem exaggerated. I pull the Camry in behind my work truck and step out into the chill of a neighborhood alive with the sounds of morning. Cars idling, children’s voices, somewhere the hiss of a city bus’s airbrakes. Inside, the house has the stillness of an empty space. I move from room to room calling Becca’s name, but she’s not there.
Thinking about it on the way home, I’d decided that what I’d prefer is a life that’s safer, less cluttered, more uncomplicated. When the time came to tell all this to Becca, I might use some or all of those words. “All these rules!” I’d say. “Why do we need them? Let’s work on what we’ve already got. Make it a real beauty, a masterpiece.” On the way home, these are the kinds of things I’d imagined saying, but, as the interstate and the trees rolled by, they began to strike me as ridiculous and simplistic. Easy answers to complex problems. A State of the Union Address. But maybe I’d say them anyway. Maybe I’d go through with it, and then she’d open her mouth to reply, and that was where my capacity for imagination failed me.
Through the front window blinds, I see Becca and Mr. Gentry standing at the end of his driveway. She’s dressed for work and he’s wearing an eggshell blue bathrobe and holding his cup of coffee. His ring of white hair wisps in all directions. He wipes at his eyes and leans toward her, and she wraps her arms around him, patting him on the back. It’s surreal, seeing her hold this elderly man like he’s a child, but she looks saintly standing there in that peculiar too-bright sunlight. Together, they’re almost like a biblical scene. Eventually she lets him go and starts toward the house, sees me peeking at her through the blinds and waves on her way inside.
“Spent the night at Isaac’s?” she asks. “Thanks for bringing the car home. I’m running late.” I follow her into the kitchen, where she fetches a travel mug from a cabinet and moves over to the coffee pot. “Old man Gentry’s ferret got out of the house last night. A Siamese ferret. Ever heard of Siamese ferrets? Apparently, Siamese refers to the coloration, so you can have Siamese anythings. Siamese cats, Siamese ferrets, Siamese rats.”
“Well, not anymore,” she says. “They’re called conjoined now.” She presses the travel mug into my chest, pushing me out of the way. “I won’t be home tonight, Carter. I’m going to a hockey game after work with Murphy.”
“Look, can we just be normal people for a while?” The words pour out more clumsily than I’d hoped. “Is that a thing that’s possible?”
She glances at her watch as if the reply might be found there. “What’s normal these days?” she says, and I’m not sure if it’s a real question. She looks at me expectantly, and she must see something written on my face because her expression softens. She steps closer to me. “Carter,” she says. “Breathe, relax. Everything is okay. We’re all happy here, right? We’re all happy here.”
Time stops for a moment. I slump against the dining table and run my hand through my hair, realizing it’s still unwashed and uncombed. What must I look like to her? She steps away and resumes her morning routine. I watch her flit about, collecting the things she needs for her workday. Her keys, some quarters for the vending machine, a couple of Halls Vitamin C lozenges which she drops into her purse. When she’s done, she steps toward the door to the garage, smiling that lovely, inscrutable smile of hers. “Listen, spoil yourself for dinner. Get something expensive. Speaking of Siamese, maybe that Thai place you like? I’ll have the leftovers tomorrow if you don’t want them.” She kisses me, then turns and glides out of the house. I can still feel the ghosts of her lips. A moment later the car starts and pulls away.
I linger in the kitchen for a while before drifting back into the living room, where I can hear Mr. Gentry outside calling for his Siamese ferret, desperation in his voice. “Fraaances,” he says. “Frances!” I consider what a nice thing it might be for me to go help him, but through the blinds, the pale bathrobe disappears between two bushes.
Billy Middleton currently teaches composition, creative writing, and film studies at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. His work has been listed among the notables in Best American Essays and has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Valley Voices, Santa Monica Review, Water~Stone Review, River Styx, and others.