James Robison

The Late Style

Our Competition: Build a mon­u­ment to the Cold War. You get four hun­dred grand. The Cold War being so imper­a­tive to our lives, grow­ing up. (Not that we have in any sense grown or evolved or flow­ered or matured, but we have active­ly decayed.) Condition: Monument must be in Death Valley, some­where near China Lake, where you should achieve a pro­found plas­tic immen­si­ty, and we’ve raised a mint for your use-McKinley funds, Governor’s Council on National Parks Grant, Assurance Associates funds, oth­er munif­i­cent donors.

The win­ner: P. Ronsard.

Ronsard won with his mod­el and sketch-dossier, and because colos­sal things are his stock-in-trade and that’s the kind of fear­less sculp­tor he is-one who knows no ver­ti­go. He pro­posed an erec­tion of daz­zling ver­ti­cal­i­ty. The Work is well under­way like this: a twen­ty-five-sto­ry silo of eye-blast­ing white. “Silo” refer­ring to both rock­ets, the arrows of the Cold War, and the under­ground quiv­ers that con­tain them. Out there in the unlim­it­ed ocean of noth­ing it’ll stand. The whole kind of Assyrian since Ronsard had the idea of stick­ing thir­ty black aspara­gus-stalk palms in two files lead­ing to the silo. Like The Wall, this thing is guile­less and defin­i­tive. Where it is, nobody will see it. From the near­est high­way it’ll look like a slen­der, dis­tant cig­a­rette, stubbed down into an ash­tray of desert sand.

__________

Saltflat lagoon. A full moon night. Ronsard’s dri­ving a Ford 4WD, drag­ging a long cloud home from the site. He dis­em­barks in dusty white fatigues and blue hard hat and goes inside the trail­er that is his workshop/studio/sleeper on the cracked shoals of the Mojave. There’s butane-fed kitch­enette stuff where Ronsard cranks a can open­er, but it’s old, its bite ten­u­ous, it can­not make a con­tin­u­ous wound. He would like some roast beef hash to go with his choco­late cola. He fetch­es from his thigh pock­et a Swiss Army knife and splin­ters a thumb­nail goug­ing out the right blade and attacks. The can hic­coughs. Ronsard punch­es a cir­cuit. Cylinders, cir­cles, entry.

Christy, a sort of pros­ti­tute from an escort ser­vice, comes through a slid­ing glass wall, let­ting in her­self and a heat­ed gust of desert air. Shank is an Irish set­ter who unscram­bles from sleep and pogos on her hind legs and stretch­es her long body full out, as if try­ing to embrace and kiss Christy.

Just push her down,” Ronsard says.

Never, she’s an angel.”

I was talk­ing to Shank.”

Pretty girl,” Christy says and sits on her knees and roughs up the dog’s spine fur.

He pours cof­fee from a chug­ging per­co­la­tor. Christy costs him two hun­dred bucks a vis­it. She’s thir­ty-three years younger than he is. In life, he’s ahead, fifty-six to twen­ty-three.

Why would you pay me to vis­it you?”

He goes, “Just peo­ple who live alone become die-cast in their opin­ions and need a counter bal­ance. And you, I don’t know, have ears.”

Yeah, when I argue with me I always win,” she says. She’s sprawled on her stom­ach, shins swing­ing like wind­screen wipers in time to the advanced and dif­fi­cult music off his CD box; a con­cer­to for mouth organ and mal­lets.

In this jum­bo trail­er it is like a com­mer­cial air­lin­er with every­thing com­pact­ed and round­ed to tiny-ness and func­tion.

He says, “I just need a leav­en­ing influ­ence.”

You need to wake up.”

The music con­tributes a phrase of break­age and vio­lence.

__________

She goes, “You need a wake-up call. You’re rich and semi-famous. I mean, you know, I mean, fuckin’ A, I found a book on you in the library. But you got Ell Ess See. Low self-con­cept.”

His old set­ter, Shank, trails Ronsard every­where, lop­ing like an exhaust­ed pony, as she is so creaky. Shank crum­ples on the trail­er floors and watch­es Ronsard do junk. Sketch out his solu­tions in wor­ried line and leap­ing col­or. But Shank is bungling into things of late, bump­ing into walls, into Ronsard’s legs. She was so kinet­i­cal­ly flu­id, her moves so spon­ta­neous and all unfet­tered inspi­ra­tion, but now she is clum­sy enough to ter­ri­fy and sad­den Ronsard. There are deep­er shad­ows every­where. He’s blocked. A per­fid­i­ous impeti­go has put thin red marks on half his face, cat-scratch welts and stripes.

The music clunks to a stop. He’s also a trace deaf.

So Christy uses a raised voice to ask if she might use Ronsard’s lit­tle machines for laun­dry tomor­row.

Fine by me!” he bel­lows.

Make fun, but you do miss a lot of what I say.”

Ya ya ya. Four eyes,” Ronsard says.

She looks back at him through a big pair of glass­es and through big gray eyes. He wants her to be the tor­men­tor of his desire and this isn’t hap­pen­ing.

He pays her to vis­it him and does not ask her to dis­robe or any of the oth­er stuff with the vibra­tor or any­thing. He hopes she’ll leave the escort busi­ness and get work as a bak­er or night shift astronomer at an obser­va­to­ry no one knows about. He would make her an assis­tant on the project but can’t afford her.

He’s parked on his tech­ni­cal chair, which is com­pli­cat­ed by hydraulic levers and a chrome ring footrest. On the draw­ing board are pen­cil sketch­ings of build­ing-sized flow­ers. It looks as if he’s doing a field guide to Jupiter flo­ra. White blos­soms burst off pho­to-gray ground­ing. It’s a pro­posed mon­u­ment for Dole Pineapple on Maui.

That one’s like Meadow Foam,” Christy says and scrapes a sheet of acetate out of its tablet and breathes a mist shape on the sheet. “Sometimes I think how I get paid to havethrust­ing breasts. Right? I used to get paid to sta­ple box­es. It makes you want to bomb the mall,” she says.

There are jobs between breast stuff and sta­ple stuff,” Ronsard says.

Oh, look, I’ve read all the books. I’m sor­ry, but O.K.? Don’t get know­ing on me.” Christy mash­es the acetate.

Ronsard nods. “I’m not know­ing. Sorry.”

His respon­si­bil­i­ty with her is a plus/negative: Don’t touch her ever, of course, but learn again to want to.

He is moss and loss of mass and mus­cle make his clothes drape in slack fur­rows. He has real­ly itchy jaws and neck.

Christy holds up the hash can. “Paul, did you eat this or did Shank? Because one of you’s going to die of sodi­um and poor judge­ment.”

__________

As I shaved I saw through my stock­ade-style win­dow an empire of dust and clouds. Fifty-five thou­sand dol­lars in all and I have half-tracks, a crane, a video team, site orga­niz­ers, a dozen kids from L.A. Modern School of Design, but I’m the one who buys the paint. The silo’s whole fris­son depends upon its eye-blast­ing white­ness which depends upon a par­tic­u­lar recipe of a poly­mer-strand-paint in com­bi­na­tion with an acrylic emul­sion per­ma­nent enam­el (all over sand­able primer), the stew bat­tered togeth­er with mic­ah scin­til­las so it’ll win­kle like an igloo in the high dry heat, and the purl­ing must be ground so fine it doesn’t clog the com­pres­sors and runs free through the hoses and noz­zles and this UV resis­tant lotion they mix for me over at the Glurex paint fac­to­ry in Bauxite City and these skills I learned work­ing at a West Hollywood paint and body shop where I was a car artist to sup­port myself between the time I was an instal­la­tion artist, before, and lat­er when I start­ed throw­ing up colos­sal things in Chicago, Albany, Hamburg, and Dayton, Ohio, and Lyons, France. Outside lon­gi­tu­di­nal dunes flow away, away, huge ribs, with the wind scrap­ing off dust. I drove the flat-bed Mack over the state line and two hun­dred miles on, to the fac­to­ry, a cin­der block ware­house with kegs and kegs of my white Glurex-Pro out on the load­ing dock. Hector went with me, and he chews Skoal, and oth­er guys there chew tobac­co, so we all stood around after I’d test­ed the paint and we’d loaded the paint, big wads and folds of tobac­co in jaws. Hector set­tled and re-set­tled his white paper hat, going, “Well, I don’t know.”

No, I don’t know either,” the fac­to­ry guys said. They spit.

I’ll tell you the truth,” we all said. “I don’t know.”

__________

Ronsard’s week-end­ing at home, in Palm Springs. Asleep at nine at night. Shank’s roar­ing bark brings him right up. He limps to the sun porch door where his grown kids, Christian and Anita, gaze bright gazes at his inte­ri­or.

We’ll go away,” Christian says.

Ronsard runs a hand over his face and says, “What?”

Didn’t want to wake you. We’ll just slink off.”

It’s fine, just slink in,” Ronsard says, swing­ing the door. He hugs them light­ly and then his kids do a lot of pas­sion­ate scrub­bing of Shank; her ears, back, tail.

He brews cof­fee in the emp­tied-out kitchen with their audi­ence.

Mom took the stove and refrig­er­a­tor?” Christian asks.

She took the pli­ers. She tried to take the track light­ing. She took the cur­tains.”

Well, it’s a great view,” Christian says.

If it had fit in her van, that’d be gone.”

The view is of dull yuc­cas and moon shade, of bendy shape and edgy rock.

It’s real­ly sad,” Anita says.

Ronsard’s kids look not con­crete, black and white neg­a­tives come to being. They’re per­verse­ly pale and in tight black clothes with tight black hair. His daugh­ter, at thir­ty, is get­ting crow’s feet.

__________

The inter­view­er comes. “12.8.94–21:02,” she writes in her log book and snips on a micro-corder that’s like an elec­tric shaver. She’s a pop-eyed girl in wrin­kled linen. This is the name­less room of his house, white, with brick floors and giant-eared plants and Spanish tiles. There’s a con­ver­sa­tion pit big as a lifeboat, and they plunk down in, on the sofa, down inside.

We should start with jazz,” she says. “Did you like jazz?”

Back when I was alive?”

You know how I meant, jazz and drip paint­ings?”

Oh, yeah, yes. We played the bon­gos all night long.”

And did you see a bunch of films in the­aters? In the­aters ?” she asks.

It so hap­pens,” Ronsard says.

Every film, like we watch TV, now?”

Every film that came to town, so, you know, yes, I saw the com­plete Eddie Bracken, for exam­ple, now that I con­sid­er.”

You’re teas­ing. I know it. I don’t care,” she says.

I’m not actu­al­ly. My girl­friend for a month liked West Coast jazz. I don’t know exact­ly what that is, but it was her big case. She played the sax­o­phone her­self. That’s true.”

Aha.”

She did.” And she was weird in bed, he remem­bers. “I believe she favored sort of breezy music, drowsy, with syn­co­pa­tion.”

O.K., yeah,” the inter­view­er says.

A bug, fly­ing clum­si­ly, nav­i­gates over to bump her tem­ple. She wipes her palms on her upper arms. She fas­tens her boot buck­le.

Ronsard is say­ing, “I liked drum­mers where the drums went free­wheel­ing­ly, if that’s a word. I got a lift from that. Not swing drum­mers, but weird guys.”

You know who, for instance?”

More how Tony Williams plays,” Ronsard says.

Who is he?”

This drum guy. Or who­ev­er used to play with Theolonius Monk. I got a lift from that. Kenny Clarke.”

She extracts a pen­cil from behind her ear. She logs in: “The Loneliest Monk.”

No,” Ronsard says.

What are you laugh­ing? Am I being an idiot or some­thing?”

It’s me. I talk too fast. Where is this going?”

She says, “Isn’t it true that the deploy­ment by this coun­try, on a civil­ian pop­u­la­tion, of a weapon so bar­bar­ic and ter­mi­nal that its own cre­ator named him­self death, isn’t it true that this act brought about a mass col­lec­tive anx­i­ety which man­i­fest­ed itself in per­son­al neu­roses so debil­i­tat­ing that fear, guilt, and igno­rance have blight­ed our cul­tur­al men­tal-scape ever since?”

Absolutely,” Ronsard says.

That’s where I’m going with this.”

__________

Returned, he steps back into the trail­er for lunch and a nap and in the laun­dry sec­tion he sees Christy with linen, with a white load of wash cra­dled in her arms like a para­chute gath­ered. The linen has a cut­ting scent; bleach and soap. She push­es the arm­load of whites at her face, nuz­zles. He looks at her a long time, hold­ing the whites just so. He pitch­es in, fold­ing down a half iron­ing board.

He’s iron­ing a Christy shirt so things smell of spritzed starch, hot cot­ton, colognes in her blouse fab­ric. He props the iron on end. “Oh, boy,” he says and sighs with the desire for desire, the end to this fuck­ing objec­tiv­i­ty.

She says: “Don’t look at me, I just got up.”

She does look dry around the eyes. He feels stir­rings.

__________

The silo is one thou­sand feet of mesh lat­ticery, half frost­ed with primer so far. The site is flat­ness and off over there, a jaggedy blow-up of moun­tains.

__________

For his fifty-sev­enth birth­day, Ronsard buys him­self a Tool-Master set of ratch­et-dri­ve screw­drivers.

__________

Ronsard miss­es Hector’s last sen­tence and Ronsard says, “Let’s go look at your rock­et,” as if the idea had occurred to him inde­pen­dent­ly.

They go to Hector’s rental house to the open garage, where the tem­per­a­ture is dizzy­ing: one hun­dred ten and going up.

I think it’s the dis­trib­u­tor, but I don’t know beans,” Hector says. He kneels to untie the knots on a sil­ver motor­cy­cle cov­er and unpack­ages the bike with a sweep­ing pull.

Fan-tas­tic,” Ronsard says. Hector hurls spit fif­teen yards and nods while Ronsard cir­cles the bike.

Sixty-five Competition Model Triumph Bonneville? Twin carbs.”

Reet,” Hector says.

With a cus­tomized BSA frame?”

Thirty pounds lighter than fac­to­ry.”

Ronsard toss­es over a leg and set­tles into the sad­dle.

The machine has an alu­minum gas tank and raked han­dle­bars and no front fend­er. Its exhaust pipes wind in a snake-like crossover.

You can get so quick­ly deceased,” Hector says and Ronsard uses his calf to fold out a rub­ber ped­al, then notch­es it under the right heel of his san­dal.

You know the com­pres­sion ratio’s eleven to one? You real­ly want to be kick­ing it over in thongs? The recoil could break your femur.” Hector snaps fin­gers for punc­tu­a­tion.

I’ve start­ed ‘em bare­foot,” Ronsard says. He switch­es the igni­tion key and ducks low to tick­le some gas into the car­bu­re­tors.

Foreplay. Makin’ her wet,” Hector says. Ronsard sits up straight. He frowns. A sav­age blush is burn­ing his neck. His welts stand out.

You all right? I embar­rass you?”

Ronsard ignores the ques­tions, jumps high off the bike, keep­ing his hands on grips, dri­ves his weight down through his right leg, jams the kick-start shaft. The engine explodes and fills the garage with close thun­der. He twists the throt­tle and revs up angry snarls.

You can hear that it’s fast,” Hector shouts, “but do you hear a prob­lem? That jan­gle?”

Ronsard tips his head and mimes bewil­der­ment.

He says, “Only prob­lem is, this is yours and not mine!”

__________

Christy’s sit­ting on her knees in short-grass sod and plung­ing her hands through Shank’s soaped and foamy coat. Beside her is a chunk of sponge and a plas­tic pail. As she’s knead­ing the sopped pelt she’s singing “You Can’t Hurry Love.”

Ronsard comes down the slope and hears this and sees her with her hair six ways to Sunday, in her torn T-shirt, torn bathing suit, cow­boy boots. Rocking back, Christy has gloves of bub­bles and she squints bar­ing her front teeth and wrin­kling her nose, very near­sight­ed with­out glass­es. She rec­og­nizes him final­ly and stands and noos­es him in a moist hug. He thinks she’s noth­ing to hold at all, with bal­loon-ish breasts but a lit­tle almost pre­tend rib cage and a small tired heart in there, tired already.

My dog have fleas?”

Not any­more.”

Christy has a tow­el and twists it to dry her wrists. “You help with my laun­dry, I do Shank.”

Being sham­pooed and sung to, Shank has a shocked look on her pointy face, eyes as on a polar bear rug’s, head slung low, drip­ping like a mop.

Sort of taxi­der­mied,” Ronsard says.

Why is she stand­ing so still?”

You know?” Ronsard says. “She’s sev­en­teen and doesn’t have many moves left.”

Of a sud­den, Shank shakes her loose coat so hard her gums and ears flap and she toss­es up a bliz­zard. Ronsard gazes up at some pow­er lines which stripe the blue sky. Christy pinch­es the bridge of her nose, cal­cu­lat­ing. There’s a soap bub­ble on his cheek. Trailers sit around on pie-crust earth.

He says, “See, I’ve been inac­tive, or dys­func­tion­al I guess, now for a while, I don’t want to count, you know what I’m talk­ing about?”

No. Speak English.”

I get hard only when I’m dream­ing-”

Oh, that.”

-and when I’m awake, noth­ing works how I need it to.”

There’s a pause and then she goes, “So, Paul? What makes you hard in your dreams?”

Last night’s dream was where Ronsard was at a Sea World place on bleach­ers throw­ing fish to a great pool of dol­phins which turned into women-or mer­maids by day-wake log­ic-and he jumped in with them, equipped for engage­ment.

__________

He uses his key to let him­self into his mother’s Pasadena house. Shank fal­ters along behind him. Mom’s mam­moth in her bed and per­fect­ly hand­some, her hair in notched curls, her jaw firmed. She draws her­self up to brace her wide shoul­ders against the dia­mond quilt­ed head­board; satin with but­tons.

Mom, I’m home,” he says. He gives her from a gro­cery sack a bag of Hershey’s Kisses, and she paws out one, and one for him. She crack­les the wrap­per, and growls for a while, just putting out a chesty threat, old and low.

I’m sor­ry I missed your birth­day,” she says in the dark room.

Fifty-sev­en,” he says.

You’re not allowed to get any old­er. Anyway where’s the pup­py?”

Shank pokes aside the door, her extend­ed face split like scis­sors’ blades by her toy. Tee-ed between canines and incisors is a Rawlings base­ball with popped stitch­es.

She’s so clean! Are you see­ing some­body, Pauly?”

Seeing is the extent and lim­it of what I’m doing.”

Mom goes, “Well good, hand me the dog, hon­ey.”

__________

Ronsard’s ex-wife, Beth, is in the hos­pi­tal-for ten­nis knee rebuild­ing-in Thousand Palms, and this hos­pi­tal has a dec­o­ra­tive theme of rain­for­est and the wall­pa­per in her room sug­gests vine and flower, palm and par­rot.

Hey, kid,” she says.

Beth,” he says and slides in beside her. While they’re talk­ing the nurse comes and chas­es Ronsard off the bed and into a visitor’s chair and announces lunch.

Cobb sal­ad and a Gibson,” Beth says.

Paul explores the pock­ets of his den­im jack­et and comes up with a chis­el-tip mark­er and sets to doo­dling on the bed linen. The cloth soaks and soft­ens his bor­der.

I’ve reached a place where I want more of a sense of agency in my life,” she says.

He draws Beth’s jaw­line first, a tipped-over shal­low “U,” then flat­tens the pen-tip for the shad­ow part, where her jaw is sub­sumed by a plume of curls.

You moved us out here, and I got trapped and just wan­dered off the page. Sort of a mean­ing leak. And you know why?”

He shakes his head as he scrubs in more curls.

There is no sequence here. No sequence, no con­se­quence. I think I need four sea­sons and with­out them, I just stray.”

He marks in her cheek­bone, strokes down an eye­brow, work­ing quick­ly, think­ing how fres­co artists, Giotto, had to get it down while the plas­ter was still wet, mak­ing two short stripes for her nose. She’s an even fifty.

The Food Services deliv­er­er arrives and Beth straight­ens her place in bed, and Ronsard draws the stub­born, near­ly straight line of her lips.

He has the bar­rel of the pen in his mouth, like a cig­ar, and is scowl­ing at his sketch. The food guy looks as well.

You ough­ta be an artist,” he says and rests down Beth’s tray of chick­en and rice and juice.

Anyway,” Beth says, “the desert just makes bed­lam of the soul.”

I agree.”

So I want you to sell that house and give me the dough, which is all I’ll ask, and I’m mov­ing home to the East some­where.”

Ronsard had designed the house over a decade before. He meant it to be sim­ple and straight­for­ward and to have ref­er­ence to no oth­er time or any influ­ence. But to Beth and oth­ers the place had turned out look­ing needy and under-financed, insti­tu­tion­al; “… like the annex of a motor vehi­cle bureau,” Beth had said.

For Ronsard, the home’s white­ness and flat­ness were right, as was its mod­esty.

Sorry to hit you with this now, but Gray insist­ed.”

Paul says, “Maybe we could talk about this lat­er.”

I want every­thing straight. You’re a big boy and play rough when I’m hurt­ing, and I’m just giv­ing it back to you.”

He’s come to think of the house, the way you do, as “Home.” Its alone­ness, its clar­i­ty, its qual­i­ty of mirage.

__________

Hector on the phone says, “She was just sleep­ing in the sun. That was how she went, god bless her.”

Back at the trail­er, Hector’s there with dog leash and col­lar. Ronsard’s gum­my and dazed from all the dri­ving. He asks, “Have you seen Christy?”

No. I’m just back from the site,” Hector says. “But I think Christy’s off with a cus­tomer.”

I hope not.”

Love has many faces,” Hector says. He’s pok­ing a fin­ger into his face, get­ting a cud set­tled. Ronsard peels off his sun­glass­es.

Thank you for doing all-the every­thing.”

Shank was a cool dog. I mean I hat­ed it.” He doesn’t spit.

Ronsard says, “I was tak­ing her with me every­where but the one time, you know?”

Call me,” says Hector. He hands Ronsard the leash and fum­bles off. Ronsard envies him his motor­cy­cle and is ter­ri­fied for him. He takes the leash and col­lar inside and fills Shank’s water bowl and a big tum­bler of ice water for him­self, and then he remem­bers, and he cries a while for his dog, twist­ing a fist in his eye sock­et, snif­fling, nose run­ning.

__________

The silo’s near­ly fin­ished but win­ter comes. A star­tled morn­ing, cold, with all new col­ors: fresh and tem­po­rary tints, north­ern ones, desert win­ter. From the trail­er porch deck, Ronsard sees how some­thing cold and strong is feed­ing the creek, which is nor­mal­ly a dry bed. Its water is iron col­ored. White flecks. Shooting like mad through rock banks. He sees these red grouse tee­ter­ing along in file. The sky is clay.

He asks Christy to go for a truck ride. Slung from the seat of his 4WD is an elab­o­rate bwana jack­et with shell loops and car­tridge pock­ets, point­ed flaps and dan­gling C-clips. Thunder rum­bles.

She frisks the pock­ets for his match­es and cig­a­rettes.

Well, but see it’s a work­ing day,” she says and pops a match.

I’ll pay you. I under­stand pro­fes­sion­al­ism.”

On the road, he can’t stop dri­ving and talk­ing.

When I worked in a Street/FX Graphics shop as an artist, guys would come in with their mus­cle cars. Nineteen six­ty-sev­en Impala SS 427’s, or ’62 Mustangs, say, and they’d want a pin stripe or murals. But nobody want­ed flames. I tried to talk them into flames. Red and yel­low. I was deft with quar­ter-inch mask­ing tape or two-inch brush­es and I shot paint. But I was best with those sort of scim­i­tar red and yel­low flames.”

She asks, “What did your car look like?”

I drove a pig cart.”

He can’t stop dri­ving and talk­ing. “These guys would have thir­ty coats of cured enam­el in gar­net, maybe, or indi­go, and pearled or flaked. These guys would keep their cars locked in their garages.”

Distant moun­tains. All day. Stars now. Power lines. A squat build­ing of ceram­ic brick, sur­round­ed by a razor wire fence. An Indian office. Christy needs a restroom. Inside, strip light­ing, green linoleum, Formica tables. Coffee, can­dy, cig­a­rette machines. Three Indians, skin­ny kids in their twen­ties, sit at a table. Lucky, Yellow Horse, Don Eagle.

He checks into a Travel-Lodge in Hillcrest. Two rooms.

You know what I’m cost­ing you?” Christy asks. “For this amount, I should be triplets. I feel guilty.”

It’s all right.”

Also, Paul, you’re get­ting a lit­tle fright­en­ing. Older guys go nuts fast.”

After dawn, he dri­ves east some more.

The sun’s putting dawn glare on her glass­es; two moons. Her face in the scrib­ble-line glass­es of wire is dark with fear, but a small won­der­ful face with two moons on it.

She asks if she’s being kid­napped, and No, he says, It’s just a long long dri­ve.

He says, “Change of sea­sons, that’s all. Hasn’t hap­pened to me for a while. S’pretty.”

It is not pret­ty, every­thing is scream­ing. It’s say­ing ‘I’m dying, help me, help me.’ ”

It’s sad but good, I think,” he says.

I’d rather be a rock on a snake in the hot sun–or I mean, you know, the oth­er way round. I’m freez­ing already.”

There’s a time for snakes on rocks and a time for rocks on snakes.”

Knock it fuckin’ off. I’m freaked.”

__________

Paul says, “Just be calm and look around at stuff. Like look, a lot of dead air­planes on the ground.”

But Christy is pan­icky. “Don’t say it, please, and ruin it all. We’re both pros. Don’t be a jerk.”

He says, “The big bang is, all I want to talk about or think about is you. Freckles all the time. It’s hap­pened before. I’ve nev­er won, I can’t, but I can’t stop, it is a land­slide on me.”

Where are we?”

Oklahoma, I think,” he says and sends the car down an exit ramp.

Ash flakes drift from the incin­er­a­tor plant like tree blos­soms, and steam shapes are down over the tan riv­er, and all the tall fields flow in warm wind like long drowned hair in cur­rents. Those rows of blow­ing sheets swell, white on a back­yard clothes­line. Today in the sky, plat­inum clouds and criss­cross­ing skid marks left by Tomcat jet­fight­ers.