1998. It’s August. There’s hardly anyone on the beach. The morning sky hangs low in an overcast, creating coins of light flipping on the ocean’s surface. The sun seems further away than usual. Under it all, there are two fishermen sitting beside their rods that are being held up by two pieces of PVC dug into the sand with a red cooler box between them. Their lines disappear out over the greenish water. A sharp gust whips off the dunes. One of the fishmen has a fat lip of chewing tobacco. Both are drinking light beers. They stare straight ahead. A stone’s throw away from where they are watching their lines, a woman holds an infant close to her chest. It doesn’t make a sound. The other fisherman lights a smoke. The blanket in which the infant is wrapped waves like a flag. There is a light mist in the air. It’s hard to tell if the woman is crying or not; she swipes at her cheeks. Her blistered feet dig into the sand as she walks toward the shoreline. Sandy Hook is known for its rocky and shell-filled foreshore. From where they are sitting, the fishermen can make out the edges of New York City’s skyline through the distant fog. The woman is now near the break. The fisherman who’s smoking says to the other fisherman that he’s been having a rough time, a crisis, feeling like lately he’s having a real lack of faith. The other fisherman stays quiet and spits tobacco out onto the grey sand. The other takes a long, serious drag from his cigarette and while blowing out smoke, tells the other that it’s been like he’s been walking around with quicksand in his gut; that it’s been this nonstop sinking feeling there ever since the clock hit midnight on January One. The other spits again. This time the tail-end of a loogie blows and hangs off the seam of his jeans and he asks if the other believes in omens. The other draws from his cigarette and says nope. Well, The Spitter says, once I woke up from a nasty dream where my mother had cut her own eyes out with a dull, two-inch long Santoku, right in front of me as if I were a mirror, and when I woke up I had this real weird feeling in my stomach where it felt like acid just sloshing around in there, and I thought nothing of it other than maybe I drank too much the night before or something, until the phone rang sometime later and it was Dad breathing heavy and talking all slow trying to tell me that Mom has been diagnosed with stage five glaucoma. He spits again, then says, after that I’ve always been real mindful about feelings in my stomach; that somehow, maybe, the stomach was connected to a world we can’t see, as if intuition, he points to his gut, and insight, pointing to his head, are tools to two different realities. They both continue to stare straight into the choppy tide. Seagulls loom overhead. The woman lightly tiptoes back toward the cove she came from. She is visibly weeping. The blanket hangs freely over her shoulder. The wind blows. The fisherman who’s smoking notices a heavy tug on his line. Clouds completely engulf the sun, as if it’s being stubbed out. None of them will ever forget this day.
A woman is feeling nauseous on an airplane. It’s 1995. Curls of cigarette smoke hang above the cabin. Outside, the plane passes through dense clouds that remind her of mountains. For a moment, she forgets that she is off the ground. Below, the ocean reflects the sky and vice versa, giving her a feeling that she could only think of to call revuelto, or Topsy-Turvey. Her child blinks at her from the window seat. The man next to her is looking at her lips. He is not her husband. The captain mumbles something in English over the intercom. Her knees begin to shake. The man next to her shuffles in his seat. A stewardess passes by with a short skirt also the color of the sky, just like her little hat; she is taking drink orders. The air onboard is stale and hot. Somewhere a baby cries out. The cabin jolts as if on skis. Her child blinks and taps his little hand on the armrest between them. The cabin shakes again and starts its descent. The woman in her seat now begins to pray. The man next her reaches over and caresses her thigh. Her eyes tighten. The child stares at the spotted puzzle of the man’s hairy hand. The captain announces, Bienvenido a America.
Marlon Reed, of Justice & Reed Restoration, fixes his tie in the vanity mirror in the crammed back bathroom of the shop located on the corner of Vesey and Church. His eyes feel dusted shut. He’s just returned from a meeting with a Bank of America loan officer on the eleventh floor of Tower One that was interrupted by loud alarms and frantic directives to exit the building immediately. He found it strange that upon pushing through the front entrance doors into blinding light of the end of summer sun, he was met with plumes of dust and what felt like buckets of water being thrown in his face. The air was thick with chalk, so it was kind of refreshing and welcomed. At the sink, after persistent splashing of water in his face, he finally clears away the crud that seeped in his eyes as he was walking back to the shop. When he looks again at himself in the mirror, he realizes that he is covered in blood not of his own. He hears what sound like explosions in the street. The television says, we’ve been attacked. Marlon can make out tiny specks flailing down beside Tower One and raises a tentative finger to the dried blood at his temple. He has no idea where Daron is.
On a winter night in Charlotte, a man is dragging a Christmas tree down the block, creating a wake of brine in his path. He is wearing a speaker strapped around his neck that is blaring rap music up to the second-floor apartment window where Julian Cruz and James Reed look out and watch their breath blur out their faces. The man with the speaker walks up and down their street daily, sometimes up to four times back and forth to the liquor store on the corner. They call him “Beat-Bop.” City lights dot the black veil of sky in the distance. It’s their last night in town before Winter Break ‘09 and they are passing a joint back and forth.
“So, you think you’ll take the bus?” Julian says.
“I think I’ll think about it,” Reed says.
“Wait it out, yeah.”
“It hasn’t even started snowing, yet.”
“And yet, we have plows.”
“I can’t believe I have to drop out,” Reed says.
Julian lets his statement hang there.
A motorcade of four trucks roll by; their plows scrape the pavement. Julian notices a film strip of orange boxes sputtering along the window. He is thinking that he wants nothing more than the sky to open up and bury the town in snow.
They are roommates, often confused for lovers. After the joint burns too low to hit they shut the window and turn on a movie. It’s a war comedy and extremely violent. After the movie, Reed tells Julian that he thinks the film industry is dead.
They light another joint and bicker over Reed’s use of the word “dead.”
“Like no signs of life,” Reed says. He has low, thick eyebrows that move up and down when he talks.
Julian tells him he’s being an inexorable douche, that every day there is something good being put out into the world.
“You’re so overzealous.”
“Purist,” says Julian.
“Look, I get it. Joe Schmo’s across the globe now make cool art films on their iPhones and put it up on their YouTube page for 7 views or whatever, and they’re actually probably pretty good, like better shit than a young Kubrik. But all I’m saying is that they aren’t industry.”
“So, they have to be ‘industry’ to be relevant is what you’re saying.” He doesn’t even burn him on saying “Joe Schmo’s.”
“I’m saying hitting a hundred homers in a minor league season doesn’t count.”
Julian walks away into the kitchen and puts on a pot of coffee. He looks at his reflection in the frost-bitten window. He is wearing a hoodie that somehow makes his nose look longer. Through the pane, he spots heavy clumps of snow falling in spirals and sticking to the street. Everything seems to be going as planned.
The scene at the beach on June 17, 2002 is picturesque. The humidity of morning has burned off, leaving a smooth plane of blue out over the water that bears resemblance to the visage of an iris as far out as one can see. A red flag flaps idly next to the lifeguard post where an overly tan young man stretches his back, flexing his greased muscles. A pack of three young women nod in unison to a boombox nearby and pretend not to notice him under big, dark sunglasses. The shelly foreshore is mildly crowded with groups, some families, and some couples laying out on towels, some in chairs under striped umbrellas, and others mingling about throwing frisbees and footballs, etc. etc. Off to the side, near a low, grassy dune, a young boy of about ten sits by himself and begins to dig into the sand with a small orange shovel. His face is contorted with a pout. No one around seem to notice. There is a determinism in the way he digs, like he wants out, like he is digging as some sort of revenge to his family, who also don’t see him from where they are sitting on a beach blanket, looking out to the glassy ocean, unwrapping homemade turkey and swiss sandwiches. He digs and digs until his plastic shovel clunks on something hard. The ice cream man swings his bell at the planked entrance of the alcove. Kids run right by where the boy is digging. He reaches down and pulls out a wooden box, then drops his shovel and runs over to his family. His stepfather is shooing away a flock of six or seven seagulls that are plotting to steal his French fries. The boy hands his mother the box. The sun is directly overhead. Jesus Christo nice find, she says, dangling wooden rosary beads over the box in front of her face.
Yo, yo, yo, my mans, my mans, stop, yo, for real, just, yo, yo, stop, says Beat-Bop in the street being patted down by a police officer. Julian Cruz looks on from the storefront window of Kindle and Burns’ Puzzle Emporium. In his hand, he is shifting around the Perplexus, a 3‑D marble maze inside of a glass dome. He can hear the sleet falling off the shingles and plopping on the sidewalk. The shop is empty. His shift ends at three. As the police officer takes the man with the speaker down to the pavement, the phone rings. It’s Reed, he had to wait out the storm for a later bus.
“I’m thinking of how many ways there are to die again.”
“Would you care to list them out?”
“Let’s see… just getting out of bed this morning,” Reed says. “Cerebral aneurysm, ST segment elevation myocardial infarction, faulty dry wall screw anchors in the ceiling fan, cryptogenic stroke, carbon monoxide poisoning, burglary, black widow spider bite.”
“Okay, too far. Are there even black widow’s in North Carolina?”
“Do you think you can feel an aneurysm coming on?”
“You’re stressed. It’s Midterms.”
“I’d love to see the statistics in how many accidental deaths of college students there are during testing weeks.”
“Are you implying that stress can manifest itself in obscure, and by the way, extremely rare ways for a young person to die? Hang on.”
“Is that a suicide pun?”
The bell over the door rings and the police officer is standing there scanning the store. The windows are blurry and foggy from the cold rising off the wet ground. Julian asks if he can help him with anything, and realizes he is still holding the Perplexus.
“What’s that?” The officer says.
“It’s a marble maze, essentially.”
The cop’s nametag says K. Markson. He asks if he can see it and Julian hands it over, then goes back to the phone behind the desk.
“My stomach feels like lead,” Reed says.
“Have you called Shainey?”
Dr. Shainey O’Rourke, LCSW offers college kids free therapy in exchange for weed.
“No, but I talked to my dad. He called, saying all the plans are in order for me to take over the shop. He said I hav-”
“Hey, is this thing even possible?” Markson shouts, shaking the Perplexus.
“Yeah,” Julian says. “Just try to think ahead. Get creative a little. Think outside the box.”
“That’s your advice to me having to drop out of college? To you never seeing me again? Think outside the box? Maybe you’re having the stroke.”
“Not you, Reed,” says. Julian.
The cop is getting more hostile with the Perplexus.
“And so,” Reed says on the phone. “I was like but how could I possibly come live in New York. I feel so crammed there.”
“Yeah,” Julian says. “At least we have some real mountains here. Escape.”
“Then he said he needs help in the shop, that they are struggling, blah blah guilt guilt guilt.”
“Hey,” Markson says, now at the counter, standing across from Julian. “I need to get a statement from you, what you saw happen in the street.”
Julian says to Reed he has to go and will be home soon and notices the smashed Perplexus ball sitting on the counter; the cylindrical orange finishing cup had been removed and has the marble resting in it.
Markson shrugs. “I thought outside the box.”
James Reed hates his father for being cold and dismissive his entire life but still couldn’t say no to help him with a new flyer for the restoration shop. It’s the end of summer, nearing the first-year anniversary of the day his father started to drink. He is sitting at the kitchen table in the Bayonne apartment. He is twelve. A breeze passes through every five to eight minutes or so. Pills of light stripe the river. The skyline still looks void of something, the way an amputee must feel. James wonders how long that feeling lasts as he colors in the block lettering of the words, “Restoration Sale: Families of Victims Only. Starting September 1st.”
“I, Julian Cruz, am nothing but a collection of cells that change completely every seven years.”
“I, Julian Cruz, am nothing but—this is stupid.”
“Say it,” Reed says.
“I, Julian Cruz, am nothing but a collection of cells that change completely every seven years.”
“Again,” says Reed.
Julian repeats himself.
“And I, Julian Cruz,” Reed says. “Will not judge myself based on the actions of those old cells, because I have compassion for those old cells, that know not what my new cells know.”
“Oh, for fucks sake, dude.”
The street outside of the Charlotte apartment is bustling with speeding cars and the distant whirring of air condition units. It is muggy hot. Griddle hot, Reed’s mother, Jalisa says. They just brought up the last of his boxes and furniture. Outside, the distant echo of rap music comes and goes.
“Still don’t know why you chose Queen’s College,” Marlon Reed says, dabbing his forehead with a wet paper towel. “There’s only two seasons here. Hot as fuck and cold as fuck.”
“Marlon,” Jalisa says.
Reed ignores it and hears a knock at the door. In walks Julian, a tall brown-skinned kid with both of his ears pierced with fat rhinestones and a funny haircut that’s shaved on the sides and floppy up-top. His t‑shirt can’t hide the fading colored lines of a cheap tattoo on the inside of his bicep. He shakes Reed’s mother’s hand first then his father’s, finally Reed’s and says, call me Jules.
“Where you from?” Asks Marlon.
“Jus’ bout a stone’s throw away up yonder past Gastonia.”
Later, on their first night as roommates, where they rigged an apple into a one-hitter and got so stoned in Julian’s car Reed thought of the Carolina stars as a low-hanging canopy collapsing on him, Julian laughs about not being able to keep up with the fake southern accent anymore.
“Wait, what?” Reed asks.
“I’m not from here,” he says, in no accent that Reed can place at all. “I just live here. I was born in Colombia. Moved around a bit since. Boston. Jersey. Virginia.”
Not even the wind could wipe off Reed’s smile.
“What’s up with him?” Says Carly from next door.
Reed is hugging himself and shivering, pale white, and rocking back and forth on the floor of the common room of Oak Hall.
“Midterms,” Julian says.
After the third day of the visitors, his mother says the house is cursed. Julian is ten. He calls them the visitors because they come at night and wake him up, three tiny goblin-like spirits dressed as Mariachi men marching around his bedroom. When they come, he feels hot and tense and breathless. They are so vivid, like made of green fire, and so intense, their laughter makes him cry. After night one, he tells his mother, I figured it was just a bad dream, and after the second time, I figured it was because I was thinking about them all day long, but three nights in a row… Julian’s mom, Esmerelda, twists her lips and gives him a quizzical look. She tells him that for the past three nights she has had intense nightmares about an old man spirit who stands over her bed, waits for her to wake up, and tries to strangle her. Julian cries in his mother’s lap.
The next day Esmeralda goes to the market with her acquaintance Elaine, whose family has been in the neighborhood for four generations.
“You’re in the blue shuttered Victorian over on Forest, right? The three-family?”
“Oh, well, you know with any of these old homes. Could have been a murder, a suicide. That stuff lingers.”
Esmeralda swallows a heavy lump in her throat and adds two more tomatoes to the hanging scale. The cold mist of the produce section feels good on her newly sunburned neck from the beach the other day.
“Car accident, stray bullet, crushed by bails of telephone poles off an eighteen-wheeler, hit by falling scaffolding, grand theft. Rabid dog. Lightning strike. Trip on uneven pavement and crack skull.”
“This is just something he does?” Leo, from 905, asks Julian.
“And that’s just walking down the street?” Julian asks. “What about snorkeling?”
The relationship between Julian and Reed is one of luster and confusion. The kind of suppressed masculine love that expresses itself through witty banter, red-faced argument, and the occasional drop-everything-wrestling-match to prove who is better when words begin fail them. It’s childish, but it’s real. It’s the kind of relationship that is founded in control. One that could last a lifetime or explode any day now. There’s a certain codependence, especially for Reed, who needs Julian around in the morning to start his day, make his coffee, and slowly transition into function with some back-and-forth, sports replays, shooting the shit. Without it, Reed is a wreck, irritable, moody, down.
Julian is seventeen.
Reed is nineteen.
Julian is the son of a Colombian immigrant, his mother. His father, in his mother’s words, was, “the Holy Ghost.” Julian was born in Pereira – a modular city planted right smacked-down in the middle of the Andes mountains – and moved to the U.S. when he was about three. It was just him and his mom in a tiny, slightly haunted Somerville apartment, north of Boston, until he was almost ten, and she got a job in a plastics factory outside of Plainfield, New Jersey. His stepfather, Frank, was her shift manager. Soon after, they moved into a three-family home that had a flower-woven arbor over the front entryway and ghosts in the attic.
Reed is the youngest of four brothers, from American-born parents. Born and raised in Bayonne, New Jersey. When asked about his ethnicity he says, in a sort of dance, “A little bit of Chek, a little bit of Pol, a dash of Italian, some Irish, a little bit of this, a little bit of that. I’m a mutt.” Being the youngest, Reed never got the attention that a first or second-born son would normally get. There is such a thing as too many trophies. “Probably out of sheer exhaustion,” Reed once told Julian. “My parents let me get away with anything.”
They fell into friendship extremely fast, seemed bonded by the second semester of their first year, spending late nights in the library or dorms, taking shots of cheap Russian vodka, talking or sometimes simply staring at each other in thought. Their relationship has a tinge of homosexuality, a hint of attraction, the kind that playfully encourages the other to be at their best, but never to the part of sexual curiosity; they both unabashedly straight, maybe deeply deeply closeted.
They challenge each other intellectually. Reed is more of a realist; Julian, an idealist. Reed’s arguments grounded in facts and statistics; Julian’s in intuition, art, and sometimes spirituality.
Julian’s dependency on Reed lies in his need for a male role model, someone to fill the father-shaped void inside of him, even if he is only two years older. He thrives on Reed’s encouragement, his attention. He depends on Reed’s weakness to make him feel strong. Where Reed looks to Julian for emotional support, his mirror of reminding him that he still exists.
All of this is completely unknown to the two of them, of course.
They are men.
“What’s the worst thing you ever done?” Reed asks.
They are in their usual place near the window. It’s September of their second year. Reed’s head is shaved. He keeps running a clammy hand over the scalp, as if he can’t believe it’s gone. Julian is lying back on the floor, resting up against a yarned pouffe. It’s still summer hot.
“Um. Hm,” Julian says. “When I was kid, I would pee in the corner of my room.”
Some seltzer dribbles out of Reed’s mouth.
“What the fa—why?”
The both laugh and then Reed relights the end of his joint that had gone out.
“But come on,” he says. “That’s like not even that horrible.”
Julian says okay what’s yours and tries to think more. Reed tells him that one time at a party in high school, this kid Steez that everyone picked on was wasted out of his mind and at first it was pretty cool cause he was just dancing like an idiot and making them laugh, but then it got pretty bleak and Steez confessed to the group of guys that he wished they were dead, that if he could buy a gun, he would blow them all away.
“I mean now I can understand,” Reed says. “We picked on him kind of a lot.”
And so, Reed continues, the guys had just laughed it off almost, like okay psycho, and the party went on, but later, on the way back from the bathroom Reed had found Steez passed out in a room, just all alone, face first on the floor with his ass in the air.
“I shouldn’t have said anything,” he says.
Next thing, Reed says, the guys were huddled around Steez and handing Reed this empty beer bottle and chanting.
“You didn’t,” Julian says.
Reed slides both of his hands over his shaved head and leaves them there for a second. When his face emerges, it is beet-red.
“I did,” says Reed.
“You shoved a beer bottle up some guys ass?”
“What made it worse,” Reed says. “It shattered when he jolted up and fell on his back.”
The TV says, “Aren’t you DYING for a new television? You’ll DROP DEAD at these low prices.” It’s ten o’clock. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Dense clouds are breaking up. A handful of stars collectively popping. There is no music coming from the street. Reed is still visibly shaking and hasn’t said a word since lying down in the common room a few hours ago. Julian sits above him on the sofa and pats a cool, wet washcloth around his face. He notices his lips are bluish with white cracks. When Julian looks deeply into Reed’s irises, he sees a murky green tide receding into black. He clicks off the TV. Outside a car passes and the sound of its tires passing through the flooded street sound like glass breaking over and over and over. Julian feels as though he is losing control of the situation.
It’s the Thursday before Fall Break ‘09. The sun is a white pool in the center of their living room. The songs of birds are being pushed out by Beat-Bop’s music from the street. Reed just confided in Julian what his father said to him before starting their second year. They are sharing a cigarette in the window.
“He said that?” Julian asks. “That if you don’t get a 4.0 this semester, he’s pulling you out?”
“The shop is really struggling,” Reed says. He ashes out onto the garden box.
Julian notices tension in Reed’s forearm, notices the grip he has on the cigarette.
“So, what does that have to do with you?”
Reed tells Julian that he wouldn’t understand, that he wouldn’t understand trying to please a man to no avail, to want someone to look at your life and say you did it, say they are unbelievably proud. That Julian is lucky to never have to know what it feels like to never be good enough to a person who is biologically conditioned to love you.
“Do you know what that feels like?” Reed asks. “Like never ending cardiopulmonary arrest.”
“I do,” says Julian.
In a reoccurring dream, Julian is perched atop his mother’s house in Plainfield and has large, dirty white angel wings. He is watching someone in the street. Sometimes it is his mother, sometimes it is Frank, but mostly it is Reed. Julian watches as Reed walks down the sloped driveway and into the street, around to the driver’s side of a tan sedan parked at the curb. Always, before Reed opens the car door, Julian swoops down to the street and kneels before Reed and lets him rip out his wings feather by feather until he is bleeding out from two gashes in his back. Julian has noticed that he never cries or screams, and that he awakes with a strange notion that he deserved it.
Outside the hospital on Christmas Eve, from the view from the tenth floor, Julian notices the way the sun splashes right up against the heavy grey clouds and disperses shards of light around to the thinner, papery clouds and across the windows of nearby buildings. It’s probably going to snow again. He can’t stand the constant beeping of Reed’s heart monitor; it’s like each one pricks his chest. When Reed wakes, Julian gives him some lukewarm chicken noodle soup from the cafeteria. Julian points out how he looks like a baby bird.
“I feel chewed up and spit out,” Reed says.
“I’m sorry,” Julian says.
“It’s not your fault I got so stressed out that I had some sort of episode, some cytokine storm of bodily responses. That’s another one, by the way.”
Julian lifts the pillow behind Reed’s head and pours him some more water. Reed says he doesn’t remember much since missing his bus home for winter break and his dad calling him, that it’s all pretty much a blur since the night they got snowed in together. Pellets of precipitation fleck against the window.
“Thought of one. Anesthesia overdose.”
“How do you live with yourself after doing something horrible?” Julian asks.
“Unethical. Immoral. Sinful. Shameful.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about this story my dad once told me,” Reed says. “He once told me when I was real young how he used to get premonitions or something, and that one day, while fishing with his old business partner Daron, a woman had dropped her baby in the ocean.”
“Holy shit. Like on purpose?”
“Yeah. And that, before that, he had this nasty stomach pain that whole day, that whole year basically, and all of sudden, while explaining his stomach to Daron, his line got hooked on it, the baby, and they had to untangle the line from its neck and—”
“No, but they saved him. My dad and Daron saved that baby. And so, I’ve been thinking a lot about how that morning affected them and like rippled through their lives in so many ways. It was after that my dad and Daron went into business with each other, and they both looked at restoration as some sort deed for society. That it was an honor to uphold antiques and memorabilia for people trying to hold onto the past. So, a good came from that bad morning.”
“So, you’re saying that you don’t believe in horrible acts?”
“I’m saying, I don’t know. That I wouldn’t be so sure to call one out right away.”
“What about Steez?”
“He moved away after that. His parents sued the shit out of Rodney’s parents, whose house it was, and made near seven figures in compensation. I think he ended up at M.I.T.”
“What about how when Daron died, your Dad started drinking heavily and converted the shop to only restore objects of only 9/11 victims’ families and then he became so entrapped in this want/need to help these people by restoring their memorabilia, that he realized that by making changes to their stuff, it is no longer their stuff, that a fireman’s ax with a newly sanded handle and replaced head is no longer that same fireman’s axe, driving him to near suicide, to the point of ripping his son out of college just to propel his delusion?
“Or what about if you were around the age of three and can vividly remember the saliva hanging off a stranger’s lips as he fingers your mother on an airplane, and you did nothing except pretend not to see?
“Or what about if you were ten and you were at the beach with your mother and your stepdad and you couldn’t take hearing your non-father’s laugh and seeing his ugly yellow teeth, so you went off and just started digging and digging until your shovel hit something that made you stop digging. It was like a treasure, but a curse—”
“So, what does that mean? What does it mean when something appears to be a treasure but ends up a curse? Those rosary beads I found at Sandy Hook that day caused these hauntings, inexplicable coincidences. My stepfather got ill; my mother had these vivid nightmares; I saw these little green spirits. I can’t remember what they looked like but it was like a terrifying parade, they grinned and laughed at me while I hid under my blankets, and all this went on for three or four days, up until my mother brought the beads to a priest and had them rinsed in holy water. So, what does this all mean?
“What does it mean that you would put grinds of poisonous mushroom in your roommate’s coffee on a night where you thought the snow would take care of cancelling his trip, and you watched over a two day period as the poison flowed through his blood stream until attacking his nervous system, causing him to have a nervous breakdown, all so he will stay. All so he will stay here with you and stay in school and far from his crazy, abusive father?”
Reed just blinks.
“So, are you saying you believe in curses?”
Dr. Shainey O’Rourke, LCSW folds the little plastic baggie and stuffs it into the inner coat pocket of her scarlet blazer. She is without shoes, dangling her right barefoot over her left knee. Reed notices dim slits in the cloth in her undershirt where, if he tried, could probably see through. He’s not trying. The carpet has a dense pile height and a faded medallion print. There are two acrylic lamps on both sides of the accent chair where she is sitting, dimly spewing light through round cream-colored drum shades. Even though he is actively not trying, he still takes account for how freckled she is. The sun is being muted by heavy lavender curtains behind her. Dr. O’Rourke tells him they have an hour. It’s the first day of the spring semester.
Nick Farriella lives in Montclair, New Jersey. His fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s, Joyland Magazine, Hobart, Barrelhouse, and elsewhere. He is currently at work on a story collection and a novel.