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Table of Contents

Groaning the Shape – Tête-à-tête – “Your reason for leaving?” – Marking the Spot –

Groaning the shape on the futon rolls and twists and hunches up suddenly. A head appears shrugging off a rumple in the covers, tousled hair thin and wispy, a man on all fours somewhere under the crazed tangle of quilts and blankets and sheets, reds and oranges and greens and pinks and blues, midnight blues, patches of iridescent blue like feathers, like eyes, a ripple of blue like a warm clear tropical sea, stripes of cloudless sky blue. He’s crawling toward the edge dragging the whole mass of color with him, and he stops, tries kicking himself free. A foot shakes loose, a bare leg, falling over on his side wrestling free of the striped comforter his hip his chest his shoulder and arm. Tugging a stretch of sheet back over his nakedness he reaches up over his head feeling about the floor to one side coming up with a pair of blue jeans belt still looped and green plaid boxers still tucked inside. Kicking, squirming, he gets both feet free and up in the air and into the legs of the jeans and rolling over on his belly gets the jeans up about his hips. He tugs a corner of a sheet from his waistband before buttoning and zipping and buckling. Up on his knees now reaching back over the edge of the futon for a thick soft shirt in a sunset plaid. “Wallet,” he says, patting his pockets, “wallet, good, keys. Keys. Shit.” Looking about the long narrow room, running a hand through what little of his hair is left. “Shoes. Shoes.” Futon’s at one end. A long table runs the length of it, stacks of binders and loose paper atop it lit up from behind by fluorescent lights through greenish louvered windows. The floor of broad wood planks chipped and scratched but clean, uncluttered. He snaps his fingers, leans down, reaches under the futon and comes up with an old brown shoe. Shakes it. It jingles. He smiles. The door opens.

The man there’s big, broad, a loose yellow slicker draped over him shining with rain. Long grey mustaches droop to either side of his mouth. A white paper bag and a cardboard tray with a couple of paper coffee cups. “I was going to wake you with burritos,” he says.

“Yeah,” says the man on the futon. He buttons up his shirt. “Breakfast, that’s – thanks.”

“Brunch,” says the man in the slicker.

“Shit,” says the man on the futon.

“You said you wanted to stay awake as late as – ”

“Yeah, I’m sorry, what time is – ”

“ – as late as you could – ”

“ – what time is it?”

The man in the slicker sets the bag and the coffee on the table. “After lunch,” he says.

“Shit,” says the man on the futon, stuffing his feet in his shoes. “I’ve got to call the office – ”

“You called them. You called them already.”

The man on the futon runs his hand through his hair again. “I don’t,” he says. “I don’t remember doing that.”

“About sunrise,” says the man in the slicker. “You left a message.”

The man on the futon pushes himself to his feet. “I don’t remember doing that. I don’t remember – anything. I must’ve, had something fierce to drink last night – ”

“Not really, no,” says the man in the slicker. “Coffee?” He tugs a cup free from the tray.

“No, sorry, it’s just – I don’t remember. A thing. About last night. I don’t remember meeting – ”

“It’s all right, Arnold,” says the man in the slicker.

The other man stoops, picks up a blue rainshell from the end of the futon. “What, did you get that from my driver’s license?” He pulls it on.

“You’re right,” says the man in the slicker. “Becker. I’m sorry.”

“I should, ah, go,” says Becker, sidling toward the door. “Make sure everything’s okay, that is. I don’t usually call out, I mean – ”

“Pyrocles,” says the man in the slicker, stepping out of his way.

“Pyrocles,” says Becker, standing beside him a moment. Looking out the open door down a narrow metal staircase bolted to a concrete wall, a dark cave of a garage opening below, racked drawers of tools and parts standing here and there. “Where,” says Becker, zipping up his jacket, “I’m sorry, where am I?”

“Fourteenth and Everett,” says Pyrocles. “Northwest.”

“Okay,” says Becker, nodding. Looking away. Stepping abruptly past Pyrocles and heading down the stairs, one hand on the rail, not looking back.

“Perry comma Yizzabel,” says Mr. Charlock. “Age unknown.”

“Okay,” says Bottle John. “Looks early, mid-twenties to me.”

“Does she,” says Mr. Charlock. “Daughter of Perry comma Duenna, age ditto. Father died some time ago, don’t know when. Name unknown. There was a brother but he ran away some time ago, ditto ditto ditto.”

“So you been following this girl for four months, five months, and you don’t know a goddamn thing.”

“No, no, no,” says Mr. Charlock, and then he sighs. “Well yes. But.” He hitches forward, leans closer, wriggles a bit, unbuckles the seatbelt. “It’s like,” he says, “I think it’s like, well, a story.”

Bottle John drums his fingers on the steering wheel. “A story,” he says.

“Well okay like it’s always been there, waiting,” says Mr. Charlock. “And then when the right person comes along, it begins, okay? And when it begins,” tapping his finger against his palm, “she’s always already just past twenty, twenty-one, okay? Her mother’s always already wealthy and, and spending all her time doing whatever it is she does all day, and her father’s always already been dead for however long, and her brother’s always already long since run off, and then when it’s done, whatever it is – ”

“She always making out with hot blond chicks in the front seats of muscle cars?” says Bottle John.

“What?” says Mr. Charlock, leaning forward, rubbing at the condensation fogging the windshield before him. “Shit.”

“Other two ain’t even gone five minutes,” says Bottle John.

“Hope this isn’t offending your new-found Bible-thumping sensibilities.”

“Man, fuck you,” says Bottle John with sudden heat. “Do not lump us in with that ignorant cracker bullshit. You could be singing show tunes in the shower with your Dr. Kilo and I wouldn’t give a good God damn. Me and my brother, we are serious. We are here to do His will and to fight evil on this earth, you hear me? And whatever the hell else that might be,” pointing out the windshield at the reddish-brown car parked half a block away along the cross street, “it ain’t evil.”

“Don’t be so sure about that,” mutters Mr. Charlock.


“Your brother,” says Mr. Charlock, slumping back in his seat. “How come you never talked about him?”

“I told you about Ezra,” says Bottle John.

“You never mentioned a brother, John,” says Mr. Charlock.

“Man I got five other brothers and three sisters and with the nieces and nephews all told I figure they make up about half of Judson by now. I got razzed so hard, remember, hauling their pictures out all the damn time?” Leaning forward pressing against the dashboard. “Mom and pops coming up on their fiftieth in a couple years oh come on baby, don’t lie her down, don’t lie down.” He slaps the steering wheel. “Shit. Can’t see a fucking thing now.”

“Put it our of your head,” says Mr. Charlock. “Just, stop. Stop thinking about it. Seriously.”

“Well there she is out here where anybody can see. Like this guy, the jogger? He’s about to get an eyeful.”

“That’s no jogger,” says Mr. Charlock.

“What?” says Bottle John.

Outside the man in the green track suit’s slowing as he comes up to the reddish-brown car, calling something out. Two heads appear, blond, brunette, two figures sitting up in the front seat of that car. “She is dangerous,” Mr. Charlock’s saying. “This is why. I told you not to engage but if God forbid you talk to her, if you bump into her on the sidewalk and you catch her eye and you let slip the slightest hint, the least little clue that you, want her, that’s it. It’s over.” The man in the green track suit’s leaning both hands against the roof of the reddish-brown car saying something very earnestly through the half-open passenger-side window. “She’ll have you on all fours baying at the goddamn moon if she thinks she can get a laugh out of it.”

“Make her sound like every woman I ever went out with,” says Bottle John.

“Grow up,” says Mr. Charlock.

“Your reason for leaving?”

Thin black hair hanging down about his face black-nailed hands one over the other glittering with silver rings, ankhs and snakeheads and dice. “They, uh,” he says, “ran out of work.” His voice deep and silky around that catch.

“What sort of work?”

“I, uh, called people. On the phone? And asked them questions.”


“Oh no, no.” Rearing back, looking up now at the woman behind the counter. His black T-shirt says Kurtzberg Krackle in white letters. “Surveys. Stuff like that. No sales. But. But I do have sales experience. Retail. It was a grocery store.”

She chuckles. “You’ve had experience with a mop.” He frowns. “Clean-up on aisle seven?” He’s still frowning. “Because you have to be okay with cleaning up the private booths from time to time.”

“That’s okay,” he says, “I mean it’s,” and then he stops and says “Oh. Um.”

“Yeah,” she says. “Um. That a problem?” She has a silvery ring in one nostril and a silvery ring through her lip and she’s wearing a red-and-blue striped polo shirt that’s a size or two too small. A roll of belly lops out from under the hem of it over her big black belt.

“They actually,” he says, “do, in there, and – ”

“Private viewing booths,” she says. “What do you expect? You’re gonna get jerkers in the aisles, too. Guys who don’t wanna pay for a private booth. Maybe the library’s too public for ’em. They find a case they like and take it off to a corner somewhere out of the way.” She pats the computer monitor on the counter beside her. “They never think about the security cameras. Or maybe they do.”

He says “So you have to go and – ”

“Oh, there’s no go,” she says. She grabs the microphone on the swivel stand next to the monitor and thumbs it on and says “We put the fear of God in them” in a voice that booms out over speakers throughout the store. “Hilarious,” she says, letting go of the mike, “the way they spook and run. You sure you want this job?”

He says, “There’s a paycheck, right?”

She shrugs. “How’d you hear we were hiring?”

“She told me,” he says, pointing. Over across the store past the black wire racks filled with DVD cases in greens and oranges and magentas and lots and lots of tans and beiges and pinks with signs here and there that say Anal and Anime and Asian and New Releases there’s a row of thin white mannequins in teddies and merry widows and spangled pasties and absurdly short schoolgirl kilts. In front of them a woman in a yellow raincoat and a brick-colored poodle skirt over patched jeans and a bulky sweater dotted with knitted sheep. On her head a confetti-colored patchwork cap. She’s leaning close, almost but not quite touching a glittery tassel.

“Your girlfriend told you to get a job in a porn store,” says the woman behind the counter.

“I, uh, I guess so,” he says. He’s looking down at his hands again. One fingertip wrapped in a dingy wad of bandaid.

“You guess she told you?” She’s leaning her elbows on the counter, her chin in her hand. “Or you guess she’s your girlfriend?”

“It’s,” he says, “complicated.” He sighs and shrugs, skinny shoulders up about his ears. He shivers and rolls his head from side to side, settling his neck. “She told me I get the job, which is good, because it’s important. Is what she told me.”

“Did she now,” says the woman behind the counter.

Mr. Keightlinger gives the chain one last jerk and winds it off, then steps off the elevator. The floor beyond unfinished, open, steel beams and white-patched drywall, plastic sheeting hanging limply gently pattering with rain. “Wonder who Joe is,” he says. He heads over toward the nearest plastic sheet, brushes it with one hairy-knuckled finger. “Really,” he says. He reaches into his jacket, pulls out a pair of sunglasses. The left lens is covered with spidery words painted in white ink. He puts them on and lifts the plastic aside.

Twenty or thirty floors below the river unruffled by the rain the bridges over it marching out ahead of him one by one into the deepening afternoon gloom until far-off the great arch of the northern freeway bridge winking with red and white lights. To his left the cluster of buildings downtown, the brick tower, the high white tower with narrow dark windows, the grey and white tower topped by a sweeping wing-shape, a rooftop garden in its shadow. Past them away and beyond a lone tower of ruddy amber glass framed by dull pink stone all of it smeared against the dark and rainy hills beyond.

“Wrong side,” says Mr. Keightlinger, letting the plastic fall. “Should have said something.”

He heads across the open empty floor toward the other side of the building where the plastic sheeting soaked in soft grey light glows against the shadows. The sound of the rain louder here and under it the hissing rushing of freeway traffic. “Armenians?” he says. “That doesn’t matter.” And then, “Under his collar. On his back?” He looks over his shoulder, still wearing the sunglasses. “You’re not making any sense.” Mr. Keightlinger lifts the plastic aside. “He’s on his own,” he says, then pushes under it and steps out to the very edge of the floor.

The river below, hills to his right dark with trees and studded with houses, the freeway sweeping past and around a dark shoulder lit up with headlights and taillights, to his left low bluffs and trees, a busy street along the river’s edge, more houses. A curl of island like a claw ahead of him, like an arrow pointing at him scrimmed with black-green trees and dotted with the battered yellows and oranges of construction equipment, gantries, cranes. Past it the left bank rising a bit and there in the trees the sky-blue wall of some long flat building an eagle painted spreads it wings over a long and rickety staircase that tumbles down to the water.

Mr. Keightlinger lets the plastic fall behind him, lowers his sunglasses, tilts his head, taking in that far-off blue wall, the bluff, the dark trees, the houses about. Just past the island a sudden confusion of lights, a ferris wheel, a snaking curl of roller coaster but he’s looking above it, past it. Lifting the sunglasses back into place. “Okay,” he says. Shifting the toes of his black shoes hanging over the long fall to the unfinished street below he licks a finger and then throws his arm out, pointing. A rush and a sodden bang, far-off, a smudge of pink light blooming in the air out there over the houses past that sky-blue wall. It smolders there, flickering, dying as pink-white sparks pop from it cooling to yellow and orange and red and nothing at all as they fall.

“Sonofabitch was right,” says Mr. Keightlinger, and his bushy beard shifts to one side in a small smile.

“The strong wind blew,” says Ezra, and his big hands locked about the edge of the table he lifts it just with a grunt and lets it fall shaking the letters scattered across the map. “And when Peter began to sink he called out and the Lord held out His hand.” Again, and the letters tumble and fall away, all but the pink X stubbornly fixed there by the river at the bottom of the map, where the street grid curls around a lakelet just south of a skinny, claw-shaped island. “And I say glory to You O God,” his voice rising, “who created the angels, O ruler of æons, the heavenly chorus of æons sings praises to you.” The pink X lightening now, lines and streaks of white slashing across it as he shakes the table a third time. “I call to my hand now all those made righteous by their struggles, and in memory of St. Cosmas and St. Damian,” and then he staggers back from the table as a thin wisp of smoke begins to curl from under the X and the map beneath it darkens. “The cherubim,” he says, hushed now, breathless, “praise God, and the chorus of angels praises the thrice-blessed church, and the brotherhood of saints blesses the King Christ, our Lord…” The X softening, sagging, shining white-hot as a lick of flame ruffles the air above it. He rubs his jaw with his big hand smiling now, sagging, a sharp-edged bundle in his grey suit. “Oh my brother,” he says. “Oh, we have them.”

He pushes himself back up until he is sitting again on the edge of the bed his hands folded in his lap his head bowed his eyes closed and he takes a deep breath. The only sound in the room the crackle of the dying fire eating a hole in the map. “Hear me my Father,” he says, his voice a whisper now, a breath just barely falling from his barely parted lips. “Father of all fatherhoods, of infinite light, make them all worthy to receive Your baptism of fire, and release them from their sins, and purify them from their transgressions, yea, hear me my Father as I invoke your imperishable names, the names that are in the treasury of light,” and he stops a moment, licks his lips, eyes still closed, and he says “Azarakaza A,” and then he says “Amathkratitath,” and then, his voice catching, growing louder, stronger, he says “Yo” and “Yo” and “Yo” and “Amen, amen” and shouting now he says “Yaoth Yaoth Yaoth Phaoph Phaoph Chioephozpe, Chenobinuth, Zarlai Lazarlai Laizai – ”

Table of Contents

Berlin 11858, translated by Marvin Meyer, “A Gnostic Fire Baptism,” translated by Richard Smith, ©1994 the Coptic Magical Texts Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity.

M.E.Traylor    31 August 2010    #

These were all really tight. I am mystified by the contrast between Becker who remembers nothing (poor Pyrocles) and Guthrie who remembers it all, for reasons unknown. Charlock’s description of events was really neat.

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