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Sean Ziebarth


Greg and Stin

Greg and Stin never invite us to their parties. We stop by, anyway.

Megan says, "Why donít we put up flower boxes?"

"Greg is good with wood," I say. Holly is in my arms, wrapped tight in a blanket. Sheís working on a pacifier. There is a purple animal face on it, a generic animal, with beady eyes, and a fat, happy, grin.

Weíre not bad people.

"Iím jealous of Stin," Megan says.

"She canít take pictures," I say.

"Everybody can take pictures," she says.

The front door has windows in it, and weíre standing there, on the porch, looking in. We see several couples around the kitchen table. Kids with toys.

Megan rings the bell. I knock. She looks at me. Stin comes around the corner, up a small flight of stairs, and towards the door. Sheís in her socks, and when she sees itís us, exposes all her teeth.

"Hey," Stin says, opening the door.

"Are we interrupting anything?" I say.

"Come in," Stin says. "Come in."



His eyesight is shot. His eyes are big bulbs behind the thick lenses of his glasses. Terence is a potter.

"Heís done a piece for us," Stin says. She lifts a vase above her head and shows us his initials. T.A. She rubs them with her thumb. Terence keeps pushing his glasses up with his index finger as if heís got an itch.

"Thatís great," Megan says.

Speaking of his eyesight, Terence says, "The only real cure I can think of is the millenium."

No one has an answer to this.


Gene and Christabel

Christabel is the first to admit she doesnít know when to stop. She comes in close to me when we talk. Our legs touch. We both have drinks in our hands and Christabel is calculating the distance between them, sloshing her drink around in the glass. Her drink clips mine.

Gene is out back gazing into a telescope. He canít keep his mouth shut. Heís got the Big Dipper in sight.

"Seven principal stars make up the constellation of Ursa Major," Greg says. He is leaning up against the railing of his redwood deck. Itís rough enough to give splinters.

Gene says, "How will I handle my parentsí death?"


Steve and Shelby

Steve walks around the place with a video camera tight against his face, the black rubber plunger sucking at his eye. He makes films. Documentaries. Like the one with old men in purple satin jackets that have "Royal Order of Jesters" embroidered on back. They all have on bowling hats and every year they get on this bus that takes them down to New Orleans. You see them busting off chunks of bagels, the loud talker always saying "Itís about what I think is beautiful."

"Every film should be shot at a 7-11 in Nebraska," Steve says.

"How come there werenít bagels in Minneapolis when I was growing up?" I say.

Shelby is at the open barbeque. Sheís in cut-offs and a T-shirt. The T-shirtís got the letter "L" in black on it. The "L" is inside a red circle with a diagonal red line cutting across it. Itís a sign. It means no "L."

She peels the tin foil from the slab of salmon and squeezes half an orange over the meat.

"Close?" Greg says.

"Nice piece of fish," she says.

We end up downstairs, sitting on the couch or the floor. Weíve formed sort of a circle, everyone but Megan and Greg. Theyíre at the kitchen counter working at a computer, and weíre playing some word game. Someone holds a card, asking questions, and all the answers start with the same letter. I say "spaghetti," and "swing" and I win. We joke about swinging. Steve tells a story about three friends: Bob, Eric, and Karman.

Eric and Karman marry. Eric dies in a car wreck. Bob and Karman marry. "Imagine marrying your friendís wife, or husband," he says.

We imagine it, looking around at each other, then start the game up again. Christabel hands me the cards.

"Your turn," she says. She moves her fingertips across the top of my hand.

I read off clues from the card, and Eve gets jazzy on us. Sheís pitching her answers at me before I can finish the clues. She says, "liquid," "lizard," and "lackey." Her tongue is coming off her top teeth, very soft, as if sheís about to receive a sacrament. I pass Eve the cards and look her in the eye. If she were to speak right now, she might say something like, "Come on, Ryan. Come on."

Stin is resting back, propped up by her hands. She has a foot pulled in close, the other leg extended, toes tucked beneath Terenceís knee.

I think Greg has his hand on Meganís thigh. Iím not sure.

Iíll be frank. Itís tense. Youíre always hearing about sexual tension, and I wonder if this is it.

Christabel puts her hand underneath my shirt and touches the skin of my back. She ups the ante. Upstairs, kids are pressing buttons on books that make noises: splashes, chirps, creaking doors, and lightning.


Terence shouts, "Tiny!" gets up, and runs through the circle. Heís still got the gameís buzzer in his hand and itís blasting off quick buzzes. Sure enough, Greg and Stinís Great Dane is walking out the back door, a small child clamped between its jaws. The kidís just hanging there by the back of the neck. We canít see the face because its ass is at us. Itís not Holly because Iíve got her in my arms, but Megan does a double take, homing in on our child, taking inventory.

Tinyís paws pat out a little rhythm across the wood floor. All his feet accounted foróone, two, three, four, one, two, three, four.


Eve is up, running pell-mell for her baby.

The older kids are after Tiny. Greg drops the computerís keyboard to the floor, letters and numbers pop off. Steve gets his camera going and runs out the door, yelling, "I need light, I need light!" and Christabel ends up in the kitchen, pouring herself a cup of coffee.

Thereís blood. No oneís surprised by this. The baby, for the most part, seems okay. A bit shaken. Eveís got the jiggers, rocking the baby, repeating his name, telling him everythingís all right. Terence plays doctor. One of his homemade bowls is filled with dish soap and water. Terence dips a paper towel in the bowl and dabs at the puncture wounds. There are four of them on the back of the boyís neck.

Everyone is okay with this, but I suggest rubbing alcohol. At least some kind of ointment.

"Should we call someone?" Megan says.



Matt wiggles a gun in Greg and Stinís faces.

"Heís tasted blood," Matt says. "Heíll kill again."

"Nobodyís dead," Stin says.

"This is my point-of-view," Matt says, "the dogís got to go."

Matt points the revolver at Tiny, who is lying in the grass with his face resting between jumbo paws, each toe a big, smooth garlic clove.

From the kitchen Eve says, "Matthew, do something here."

"Heís fine," Stin says.

Greg parrots her, "Heís fine."

Matt grips the gun tight. One eye is squished closed and the other eye is bulging out of its socket.

If I had to guess Iíd say the revolver is a .38. But Iím no patriot. I weigh everything in my mind.

"Matthew," Eve says.

"Itís all right, dear," Matt says.

Matt looks good holding a gun. At first I took him for decent, no-nonsense, regular people. But no, this guyís seen the Angel of Death sitting at a picnic table throwing doggy bones to Tiny. Greg and Stin belt out "We have a friend in Jesus," harmonizing and everything. Iím thinking someoneís going to die. Hoping it isnít me, I take a step back, not thinking that this might light Mattís fuse.

He pulls hard on the trigger, making a clicking noise like a playing card stuck in the spokes of a bike. Thatís not to mention the thick blasts of bullets being fired at the dog.

Tufts of grass take flight, bolt into the air in sure bursts, sailing over all our heads. Six rounds shoot off and not one even come close to Tiny.

The dog jumps him.


SwingsóA Film

Actually it wasnít anything like that. After everyone has seen it, I stand at the television, remote in hand, watching it over and over. All I see is a guy shooting bullets at a dog and missing.

"I donít understand all this," I say.

Steveís in a shirt and tie. "We survived," he says. He is drinking a cup of coffee in loud sips.

Holly and Megan are with her mother. Terence is here. His glasses have fingerprints on them. And Gene. Christabel is baking cookies with Shelby. Greg and Stin, obviously. Itís their house, although it was Steve who invited me over. Christabel asks me to bake with her. Sheís sitting on the counter, back against the fridge, one foot on the counter, the other foot on an open drawer. She has an elbow on a knee, the fingers of her hand swirling her hair around. Christabelís other arm is cocked at an angle, the hand resting just below her stomach. She is one of those puzzles. Her body is triangles overlapping each other. Maybe there are more than the ones I see.

Eve is here too.

She heads upstairs, says, "Weíre not bad people."

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