Thursday, February 28, 2013


He didn't come back that night, and Sam sat in total concentration while he worked on the poster. Working on the poster was keeping him from going crazy. Going crazy was the only option that sounded appealing if Hank didn't come back.

Hank was a mutt of dubious lineage. Seemed people always saw their favorite breed in him, and Sam never really got the mind to correct them. His folks called Hank a chameleon, which is a lizard that changes colors. Sam had seen one at the county fair.

Hank had gotten out before, but he'd always make a few charges at the squirrels that lived up in the big pines and then tire out. Then he'd come home and get scolded. Then he'd get a treat. Sam never got mad at Hank, and that was because there was nothing about the dog that he didn't love.

They'd been together since before either or them remembered it. The dog followed Sam everywhere. When he was inside, his eyes followed Sam's every movement. The boy belonged to him. You could see that. Folks said it was strange, but it was the truth. Sam didn't own that dog. That dog owned Sam.

Sam was brushing his teeth when he heard a long, low whine from outside. He knew the sound. He'd only heard it once before when Hank had surprised a porcupine. Now, his heart stopped.

Hank was sitting at the backdoor and, if you didn't know him, you might just think he was hungry. Tired. He was hungry and tired, but that wasn't the problem. The problem was the crushed hind legs that had carved a smooth swath through the fall leaves. Sam fell to his knees and hugged the dog, whose tongue wiped away the thick tears. Sam knew his dad was behind him, and his head sank. He could smell gun oil and, turning, he saw the face of a man whose heart was broken.

"No, Dad...we can take town..."

Sam's Dad swallowed hard and wondered how you explain to a young boy that his best friend isn't going to be around anymore.

"Son, you know I hate to do anything to hurt you. This is going to break your heart and don't think I don't know it. Hell, I loved that dog, too. Not like you, but he was a good goddamn dog. Excuse my French...son, we can't let him suffer like this..."

Sam stared at the ground until he could slow down the tears.


"Yes, Son."

"I don't want to shoot him, Dad."

"Son, you don't have to."

"He's my damn dog."

Sam took the revolver from his father's hand. He pressed his forehead against Hanks strong brow and hoped that dogs could read minds. Hank had always seemed like a mind-reader. Buddy, I know you understand. And I know you know I hate to do this more than anything. But the doc can't fix your legs, and we both know it. I love you. I won't ever forget you. I promise.

Slowly, he stood and led the dog by its collar, hind legs limp dragging. When they reached the trash pile at the edge of the ridge, Sam stopped.

From the back steps, the old man could see it all. Silhouettes in the moonlight. A broken dog, thumping his tail and whimpering each time it hit the hard-pack dirt. The boy got on his knees and pulled the dog to his chest. He was crying so hard it looked like he was vibrating, and the old man let the tears come.

The dog sat still. He faced the boy and nosed the barrel of the gun. He licked the boy's hand and then there was an explosion in the night. The dog crumpled and Sam dropped the gun. He was still for a good minute, chin on his chest. He looked up into the sky and the old man was glad he couldn't see his face. He walked away from the house into the dense, green woods.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


The girl in the black fishnets is crying. She is swatting her hands around her body as if she has been caught in a swarm of bees, not a swarm of mind. You try not to look at her. Her was just a second, but they saw. You know she knows. You know you can't help her.

The guy with the glow-sticks is such a canker-sore of a fucking cliche, you want to hit him. But you are too busy watching the glow. You wish you had something that looked so pretty.

You close your eyes tight and realize that the world inside is even more terrifying. Blood drips off sodden statues, monuments to the moments you repressed, saving them for just the right moment. I guess this is the right moment.

You rub your jaw and your skin feels slick and cold. You can't tell where the sensation leaves your face and transfers to your fingers. In a second, you become aware that you are in a roomful of people and they all look like fucking lunatics. They are in clusters giggling, staring stupefied into the lights, clutching something tight to their chests. They hate you, but you can't figure out why. You wrack your brain to find something. It has to be. They know. Somehow, in this warehouse, the truth was plucked without your knowing.

A girl grabs your hand and you snatch it away from her like she is fire. She smiles at you gently. She passes you the joint she's smoking and says something, grinning. You can't fucking hear and you don't trust the girl, but she grabs your arm and resistance proves too confusing.

Outside, the black sky morning is falling over the dreams of the civilian masses. Outside, the strobe light can't hurt you. Outside, you can hear the girl, and she has a lovely voice that speaks in emotion, words lost to the drone of reassurance. You lean your head on her shoulder and let the voice wash over you.

The cigarette is your connection to everything. You can't explain it, you just know. It is an anchor, a talisman, it is your life's breath painted white for your amusement. In a few hours, your lower back will ache. You will try to remember where you got the little locket in your pocket. You open it and there is a small square of paper inside. There is a picture of a flower on the paper. Alice never questioned it and you don't either.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Game

She had been gone for months, and he still found her shit everywhere. A brush behind the sofa, a jacket wedged into the trunk of his car, a letter - he burned it all. Fuck it. He was in a state of suspended animation. His mind was lost in a labyrinth of whys and whatifs. And the big questions. When had she decided? How many times had he told her he loved her? How many times had she said it back without meaning it?

The emptiness of the apartment was crushing. Silence and solitude pressed down upon him. Old memories crept along his spine, plucking the vertebrae like harp strings. His phone rang sometimes, but he never answered it. He knew it wouldn't be her. He didn't want to talk to anyone.

He played albums he didn't hear. He watched movies he didn't see. He swam in half-memory and coerced confusion. Somewhere, he knew, people were smiling. Children played on slides and sent cries of happiness into the liquid sky. He did not belong anymore. He was no longer playing the game.

Friday, February 22, 2013


It felt like an overwhelming warmth, suffocating. It cut like a torn pop can. You tinkered with it and it got worse. They told you to leave it alone, but you didn't listen. That was always the problem, wasn't it? You don't fucking listen.

There is regret coursing through your veins, opalescent spheres that taint the blood. You clench and unclench your hand and, all these years later, you can still feel it. The bones that didn't knit right. Take it back farther. You can feel the impact of the punch. Even further look for anger and find a frightened confusion that makes you feel peeled open.

You hit the fucking guy because he deserved it. That's what you tell yourself. It's not true. At least not completely. It is falser than most everything else, which is half-truth anyway.

There are times in everyones' lives when they have to choose. Often, they choose wrong. More often, there is no way of knowing. You buy your ticket, you take your chance.

From the top of a tall pine, a blue jay sits squawking. He is so far above you. You pick up a pine cone and start tearing it apart. You don't realize you are doing it. You are drowning in the sanguine mind. You don't know what's going to happen. The jay may squall forever. You may never be brave enough to talk to Becky down the street, and that might not even mean anything anyway.

None of it matters. You have told yourself this so many times that you now believe it. It's all slight of hand and bullshit. You groan and your friend is looking down at you, curled on the old thrift store couch. You want him to punch you. You want a hug. You're fucking mixed up. It's like the way that bark strips off a tree. Layers gone, you are down to the meat and there is nothing to do but keep cutting.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The First Day of School

          Owen sits on the steps of the old brick apartment building and lights one match after another, letting them burn down to his fingertips before dropping them to spiral down into the sparse grass his mother calls a yard. He calls it dirt. He is right. This is the latest in a series of moves that Owen accepts because there is nothing to do but accept them. He has been crying. Mostly out of boredom. Willing the tears out. Wringing them, as if from a damp wash cloth. He has been sitting on the steps for what seems like hours, absorbing the symphonic impact of his new lot in life. It sounds like taxi cabs and crying babies and cow farts. His old house had sounded like freeways and trumpets and zoo animals. He is not sure which is worse.
          The smells are different, too. The last house had smelled like paper mills. This one smells like chocolate…which seems preferable, but somehow is not. Owen’s mother is calling him, but he knows she will stop eventually and he does not feel the need to respond. They have done this drill many times. She will know that he is learning the noises. Adding sulphur from the matches to the smells assaulting his senses. 
          So, here sits Owen. You might as well meet him. This story is about him. Or perhaps it is about the way the world reflects Owen back at himself. Either way, you will be hearing a lot about Owen, so you should know what he looks like. He is a small boy. Twelve years old. His hair is cut short (he hates it that way) and is the color of a closet when you stand inside with the door closed. Not black. Beyond black. His eyes are also black. His skin is fair and pink. He does not approve of any of this. He wants nothing more than to have unruly, straw colored hair and green eyes. He is a bright boy, but he is “lazy”. This is what the teachers say. They have no idea what they are talking about. He is not lazy. He is merely still. Inside his head, he is constantly working, constantly thinking, smelling, feeling, tasting the world. And he is constantly noticing the way the world reacts to him as well. Owen is very particular about his clothes. He wears only corduroy pants because they make a pleasant sound when he walks. He wears only sweaters because he gets cold easily. And he wears only black Chuck Taylors because they are the only shoes cheap enough for his mother that may not get him beat up at school. 
          The street Owen lives on now is like many streets. There are houses. They look very much the same. Inside the houses are TV sets and beds and couches and old issues of National Geographic. It is all quite boring and we won’t get into it. You see, it is getting dark. And, with the dark, comes the cold. And Owen is hungry, although he does not want to admit it. 
          As Owen steps inside the house he smells cabbage. He smells corned beef. He likes and dislikes the smell. But he does like the taste. He smiles slightly. So slightly that his mother cannot see.
          “Owen, come sit down and eat.”           
          Owen sighs. He washes his hands without being asked and sits at the table across from his mother. Let’s meet her too, shall we? Owen’s mother is very pretty. She has the same black hair and black eyes as her son, but her eyes have laughter in their corners. There are fine lines around her mouth as well. She is always happy. It is partly because of this that Owen feels the need to be serious. There must be balance. 
          “Thank you for dinner, Mother.”
          “Owen, for goodness sakes, call me Mom.”
          “Thank you for dinner, Mom.”
          “Owen, you know we live in America, right? You know that you are an American. You are not in a Rudyard Kipling novel. I am not Mother. I suppose I should be happy you stopped calling me Mum, but really…”
          “I’m sorry Mother, I shan’t call you Mother if…”
          “Shan’t? Owen…it is beginning to concern me.”
          “I am sorry, Mother. I don’t mean to make you cross.”
          “You don’t make me cross, Owen. You don’t even make me mad.  You make me wonder why you think you’re British.”
          “I know I am not British, Mother. One would think you would be pleased to have a son with some sense of dignity and propriety.”
          Owen’s mother gives him a strange look. A queer look, Owen would say.
          “Owen…I never thought I would say this, but I think you might read too much…no wait, I think you are reading the wrong things.”
          “How so, Mother…I quite enjoy the books Aunt Abigail sends.”
          Owen’s mother frowns.
          “Yes, Aunt Abigail, the duchess of fraud. I will speak with her. In the mean time, eat your dinner or you won’t get any figgy pudding.”
          “It isn’t nice to poke fun at the British, Mother.”
          “I’m not making fun of the British. I am making fun of Pink Floyd. And a little fun of Aunt Abigail.”
          Owen shrugs his shoulders and picks at his food. His mother watches him with a curious smile. To an outside observer, they might seem like complete strangers. They are actually best friends. 
          The alarm clock blips and bleeps Owen awake, but he does not heed the call. It is his mother who does the actual wake up. You see, Owen does not want to get out of bed.  There are two reasons for this. One, Owen is not a fan of early wake ups. In fact, he would be a very happy boy if he never woke up before ten. Instead, he finds himself awake when the sun is still asleep…and this is completely unacceptable. Rotten, purely rotten. The second reason that Owen does not want to get out of bed is that it is the first day of school. And not just the first day of school, but the first day of school at a new school. Another new school. Owen knows what will happen. He will sort the people in his class. They are always the same. There are the bullies, the mean girls, the shy kids, the smart kids, the kids who try to be invisible. Owen also knows that the teacher will mispronounce his name. You see, Owen has an unusual last name. His last name is Capitulo. It is pronounced ka-pi-choo-low. It is usually pronounced ka-pi-too-low. Owen may or may not correct the teacher. It depends on whether it seems like the teacher will actually care whether or not they pronounce his name correctly. They usually don’t. So, he usually accepts that his name will be mangled by the toothy mouth of his teacher. It bothers him. It is not the worst thing in the world, but it is annoying. Every once in a while, someone gets the name right, but not as often as you would think.
          Owen decides that he will wear his green corduroys and a tan sweater. His socks are red. He looks in the mirror and wishes his hair was longer. He tries to do things slowly, but his mother keeps things moving. Since it is the first day of school, he will not eat cereal. Owen’s mother will make him French toast. Owen hates French toast, but his mother thinks it is a treat and Owen does not have the heart to tell her that he would rather have Cheerios.            
          “Owen, hurry up or your French toast will be cold!”      
          Owen takes a deep breath and tries to be happy. He knows that his mother is nervous, too. This will be her first day of work. Owen’s mother, you see, is a school nurse. This means several things. It means they will drive to the school together and drive home together. It also means that Owen will never, ever go to the school nurse. Not for a stomach ache. Not for a headache. Not if one of his legs falls off at recess.    
          Owen tries to smile as he sits down in front of the plate of soggy yellow bread.
          “Cheerio, Mother. Did you sleep well?”
          “Yes, Big Ben. I did. You?”
          “I slept rather fitfully to be honest, Mother. My dreams were a tad dodgy.”
          Owen’s mother sighs and takes a sip of her coffee.
          “May I have a cup of tea, Mother?”
          “No, you may not. And no scones either. Or stewed tomatoes. You may have orange juice.”
          Owen chuckles in spite of himself. He takes a bite of the French toast and shudders. The taste of the French toast…cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar…creates an explosion of memories in Owen’s mind. It churns in his stomach, but it makes him feel loved. It is a very confusing taste. It tastes like the first day of school, which is to say it tastes, not like fear, but resignation. Owen notices the orange juice that has materialized beside his plate. He takes a sip. The combination of flavors is surprisingly pleasant. It does not taste good, but it does taste. It is tart and invigorating. It makes him feel more alert. And alertness is something he will need today. 
          School. The idea makes him feel slightly woozy. There have been so many schools, and they are always different and the same. They have the same sterile smell.  The tater tots taste the same. The desks are the same. The people are different, but even they are the same depending on how you look at it. It makes Owen tired to think about. It makes him tired because there are so many schools swirling around in his mind. It is difficult to separate them and so he lets them blend together into one massive mega-school. But this, the blending of times and places, does something to his sense of being anchored in the universe. It makes him forget things. Simple things…say, his backpack. Or what day of the week it is. But sometimes it is more than that. Sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night and thinks he is taking an afternoon nap. Or he asks his mother when they will be going to the zoo when they went three days ago. This distresses Owen. It makes him wonder if he is losing his mind. But he doesn’t have time to wonder for long because somehow, without realizing how it happened, he is now in the car and fast approaching the faculty parking lot. His mother is saying the things she always says. Give it a chance. Smile at people. Be friendly. Aren't you excited? Today will be a great day. For some reason these pep talks, instead of making him feel prepared and excited, make him want to close his eyes, plug his ears, and sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic as loud as he can. 

          Owen is sitting at his desk and watching the other kids when the teacher calls roll.  She mispronounces his last name. Owen smiles and does not correct her. He feels the eyes of the other students drill into his skull. He knows what they are thinking. Some of them are genuinely curious. Some of them want to make him feel small. There is at least one girl who wonders if he has ever been to Paris. Some of the boys will wonder if he is good at sports. They will all wonder if he is strange. Some of them are already planning how to approach him. Or how to ignore him. 
          Owen tries to pay attention to what the teacher is telling him, but he is easily distracted. He does not hear the bell ring, but realizes that everyone is getting up to go to lunch. This will be the first test. Owen is not looking forward to it.
          Walking down the hallway toward the cafeteria is much like running the gauntlet. Running the gauntlet means running between two rows of people while they throw spears at you. And that is how it feels. Everyone stares. Owen tries to remind himself that most of them are probably perfectly nice. Unfortunately, the nice ones usually mind their own business. It is the bullies who smell fresh blood. And this is exactly what happens. Owen is picking up his tray full of food when he is pushed from behind. He falls forward and time moves very slowly. He is not angry. He is not upset. He is bored. And tired. He knows what is about to happen. His food will fly everywhere and somehow, although the cafeteria is an extremely loud place, everyone will hear his tray fall and stop what they are doing. Owen will stand up and there will be a boy standing in front of him. The boy will be big. His mouth will be hanging open slightly. His eyes will glint like the eyes of a child using a magnifying glass to fry ants. Owen will not say anything. Or he will say something that will confuse the big boy. It won’t matter. A teacher may stop things, drag the big boy off. This may not happen…it won’t matter. 
          Crash. The tray hits the floor and the items go flying. Pizza slides under a nearby table. A dish of peaches explodes into nectary spray. His milk is not opened, but the impact makes it explode. Much of the milk sprays onto Owen. He gets to his hands and knees and smiles. Of all the exploding lunch trays over all the years, this may have been the best. Then he stands up and turns. And there he is. Big. Open mouth. Glinting eyes. His hair is red and curly. There are two smaller boys behind him laughing. They are his ‘friends’. Bullying is only fun if you have an audience.
          Owen looks into the big boy's eyes. He is not afraid. He is curious as to what will happen next. The big boy's mouth opens a bit wider.
          “You should be more careful, new kid.”
          Owen smiles.
          “You’re right, it was rather careless of me to allow myself to be pushed from behind…a rather brave act I might add, pushing someone from behind. And it was rather careless of me to get in line without realizing that the Zoo had allowed one of it’s apes to go free for the day. I would like to offer my apologies. And a banana. Would you fancy a banana?”
          The two boys behind the bully stop laughing. The bully’s eyes go dull. Owen knows what he is thinking. He is thinking: ‘that was an awful lot of words’.  He is trying to sort them out. He will give up soon.
          “Are you trying to be funny?”
          “One does not try to be funny…at least I don’t think so.  One is either funny by nature or not funny at all.  It is something we have little control over. Like the fact that your parents are cousins and your eyebrows meet in the middle. You had no say in that.  It would be wrong for me to fault you for your simple-minded fun. You see…”
          Owen sees the punch coming. He does not move. The big fist hits him in the mouth and he can taste a bit of blood. It doesn’t hurt. The big boy laughs and his friends laugh. They are surrounded by a crowd now.
          “See, that’s what I mean. I should be angry that you hit me. But I’m not. It is your nature. Using words is difficult for you. Physical violence is much simpler. You are very big, but you feel very small. You don’t much care for yourself. Because of feeling small, you see. But when you pick on smaller people it makes you feel big. Just like the two chimps behind you make you feel big. They don’t really like you. They realize that they are safe in your shadow. Really, it’s quite like…”
         The second punch is to Owen’s stomach and he doubles over for a second. There is absolute silence in the cafeteria. Even the bully is quiet. After a few moments, Owen straightens up.
          “Perhaps you think I am being presumptuous. You see, I have known quite a few bullies, and you are all remarkably similar. Most of them hit harder than you, though, I must say. It is interesting that you have such red hair and so many freckles. Is that part of what makes you feel different?  Does feeling different make you feel alone? Quite natural that…”

          Another punch to the mouth, but this one kind of glances off. And then Owen feels hands on his shoulders. He is being pulled backwards. There are hands pulling the bully backwards, too. Owen allows the hands to guide him and soon he is in a quiet room. He knows what is coming now, too.  It is his mother.
          “Oh, God! Owen, what happened?”        
          Owen considers the absurdity of this question. There are so many answers. The same thing that happens almost every time they move. The inevitable. Human nature happened. Life happened. 
          “Well, tell me.”
          “I got hit with a ball, Mother.”
          She glares at him and fetches a brown bottle of Hydrogen Peroxide and some cotton.
          “Owen, I'm not a fool.”
          “OK, then you know what happened, Mother. Why even ask?”
          “Who was it?”
          “You also know I won’t tell you that. And you know why.”
          “Owen, you need to be honest…”
          “No, Mother, I don’t. I need to survive. And I am already the victim of fisticuffs on the first day of school. There will already be retaliation because that is how small minds work. Now, you know as well as I do that if I tell on the small-minded one, I will suffer all the more.”
          “There’s really nothing to discuss, Mother. We’ve been through this. I try to be honest with you about everything, but honesty is not the best policy when it comes to nitwit bullies.”
          Owen’s Mother dabs at the cut on his lips. She makes clucking sounds and sighs. Owen stares out the grimy window and wishes he was anyplace else. He wonders what will happen now. He knows that he should have kept his mouth shut. He made the bully look foolish, and that will come back to haunt him.  In the past, Owen was able to remain quiet, but he can't do it anymore. He does not respect himself when he does not speak up for himself. So be it. 
          Owen picks a spot on the wall and stares at it. His mother is filling out forms. The principal will be in soon. Owen wonders what the principal will be like. They fit a mold, too. There is the principal who wants to be everyone’s friend. There is the principal who wants absolute military discipline. There is the principal who hates his job and tries to do it as little as possible. They are usually equally ineffectual. There are good principals, but they are rare. Like albino alligators. 
          Closing his eyes, Owen can see the bully’s face clearly. He feels sorry for him. He can imagine the boy’s life laid out in front of him like a book he has read ahead in (the teachers hate that, Owen doesn't know why). He will be a big shot for much of school, but adulthood will be a slap in the face. The skills he has learned: intimidation, mockery, violence – they will not be respected in the real world. Not that they are respected per se in the present. But they will not be feared in the real world. Since he spent his years in school harassing people and thinking up new and elaborate tortures, he will not be well educated. He will take a job that capitalizes on his size most likely. He will not enjoy it. He may marry, but he will bully his wife because it is what he knows how to do. And if he has children, he will bully them, too. It will be a self-perpetuating cycle. And it will make him and everyone around him unhappy. This makes Owen sad. 
          The sadness is a presence. It grows on him like mildew. It has been growing for years and he is thick with it. His skin is tainted with it. He can’t escape the smell. Owen closes his eyes and listens to the chattering around him. It is all so trivial and meaningless. He knows it all. He can’t explain it. Of course, he knows that his mother means well. Of course, he knows he is not British. But reality is not Owen’s friend. He has one friend and it is apathy. It is his foundation. He has to try and get a laugh out of it, doesn't he? Something...
          “Honey…I can take the rest of the day off if you want to go home?”
          “I don’t want to go home, Mother.”
          He does not mention the fact that he does not really have a home.
          The warm arms around him feel good, but they also set the match to an intense sadness, a slow-burning agony. The only sadness he really feels. He can take it...them, but he can’t stand the look in his mother’s eyes. Like she is the one hurting him. He knows she wants to talk about it, but he can’t. He can pretend like it doesn’t matter. He can twist those feelings up, save the wringing out of tears for the dark and night. In this one moment, he can do only so much. And the only thing he cares about are the tears lingering in his mother’s eyes.
          “Owen…it will get better…”
          They will move again soon. It won’t get better. Owen knows it, and his mother knows it too. It is a shared misery, you can almost see the tendrils of love and grief…they shimmer between the two.
          “Of course it will, Mother.”
          Owen forces a smile that feels ugly.
          “Owen, are you going to be OK?”
          It is a question she will ask him a thousand more times. Until the answer is irrelevant. Until it is some kind of mantra. Some secular guilt.
          “Of course I’ll be alright, Mother. Stiff upper lip and all that.”

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


John held the small, yellow flower in his hand, clutching it for all he was worth. The rest of the gang sat around him, speaking in low voices, offering cigarettes that he took, lit, forgot about. John's world was full of color and bemused confusion. He was close to the edge. He knew it. He wished everyone would stop talking to him like he was holding a grenade. If his mind blew, there would be little collateral damage. The flower. The flower was everything.

The flower had been given to John hours before. A lovely girl with black hair had handed it to him, and a maelstrom of chaos had erupted inside him. Who was she? She was pretty. Then she was gone. But he had the flower. His need for the flower had nothing to do with the girl, who seemed more like an apparition in hindsight - no, the flower was an anchor. Safety.

The girl had given John the flower because he looked scared. He always looked scared. He wasn't scared, but you couldn't convince some people. John ran his fingers lightly over the bark of the tree holding him up. The tree held John up. John would hold the flower.

The mushrooms were the cause of it all, of course. All the day-glo wonderment and uncertainty. Sky bulging and leaves dripping off trees. Hilarity that blossomed into gasping laughter. Soft voices. Cold beer.

Sen took the flower because that was his trip. It was fucking hilarious. John's face crumpled like an old love letter. The flower hurtled through the air. John couldn't process it. If the flower was gone, then everything was gone. Without it, he was nothing.

The others were angry.

"Why'd you do that, man?"

"That was fucked."

"What? It's just a stupid flower?"

John hugged his knees and rocked slowly. He shut his eyes and plasma blasts of neon exploded behind his eyelids. He was thinking about the time he'd lost the big game. Ten years ago, but he could still remember it. The bat in his hand. The knowledge that he would fail. The grumbling from the bleachers. They'd had the same kind of flowers in that field. John picked one once and the coach called him a faggot. The other boys laughed. John didn't know what it meant.

He could hear the laughter around him, but John was going to a very small place inside his mind. A cool, dark place. The place he used when his Dad was drunk. In the blackness, everything was nothing. John stretched his mind to fill the blackness and barely noticed when the stub of a cigarette burned his hand.