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Fiction

Summer Story

by Cynthia Mitchell

That first morning in his apartment, when she opened the tiny refrigerator to look for something to drink, maggots fell out of the egg tray.

Three nights later she went back and at the end of the week she brought over her stuff. It was nothing really, just a few bags of thrift store clothes and books, a purple rabbit fur jacket, a dress she bought in Paris, shorts, and slips. It wasn’t lust that brought her back to his place. She barely remembered the sex and nothing about the way it felt, just the dim image of bodies moving in the mirror across the room.

They had met in the street on an especially hot day. She was strolling slowly, turning over the feel of the heat rising up her dress, wishing she had somewhere to go. He’d rattled up to her on his skateboard, “Do you want a ride?” A plastic cup of water floated precariously from hand to hand as he shifted his weight back and forth, the board clattering against the sidewalk. He was young, twenty three, but seemed younger, one of those people whose personalities grow so huge in childhood that there’s no room left to become an adult. He spoke quickly, leaping from one thing to the next.

“I’d take you out but I’m not allowed to go anywhere in this town, The Wolf Den, Barley’s, T.J.’s, Eclectica, what else? The Baron, I’m not allowed to go to any of those places, they spread a rumor that I’m the devil, that’s why I shaved these horns on my head, like the scarlet letter. I can still go to Willy’s. I would take you to Willy’s, he doesn’t care what anyone says, Willy’s his own man. He likes me because one day Mike, do you know Mike?, I’m surprised you don’t know Mike, he knows all the women, one day we were in there and Mike called me a Jesus Freak so I picked him up by his neck and I held him like that until he turned purple. Willy hates Mike, thinks he’s a fag so ever since then he likes me so when these little punks come to Willy’s place to tell him that I’m the devil- I’m David by the way- like the giant slayer, what’s your name? Oh. Sybil -like the movie? I saw it on TV when I was little, it’s with Sissy Fields and she’s crying under a tree and all these ghosts are standing around- anyway so when people tell ole Willy to keep me out he tells them to get the hell out cause it’s his place and no one’s gonna tell him what to do with it. I would take you there but I owe him money so let’s just go to my place and drink some wine.

She didn’t answer.

“Come over to my house, I have kittens, five of em, all black, we’ll drink some wine. I’ll get us a ride.” David said all this as if it were an irresistible proposition.

He started trying to flag cars by darting out in front of them on his skateboard. Finally, a couple he knew pulled up in a truck.

“This is Bill and Dana,” David said. “They’re going to take us to my house- this is Sybil.” He took a long time to say her name, drawing out the syllables as if there were some meaning hidden in the sound of her name.

Sybil knew the man in the truck, but they both acted like it was the first time. The day they’d met she’d been in a café, Eclectica, recounting a dream to her friend. In the dream, she’d been doing morphine made from dolphin skin. Five feet away, obviously trying to listen, Bill had heard her. “Are you looking for morphine?” He’d said. She’d gone to that little town with the intention of not looking, but this seemed predestined so she said, without hesitation, “Yeah, we are, actually” He had some morphine pills to sell and the three of them went to the empty apartment she shared with her friend. She had taken her little piece and retreated to her room, leaving Jane and Bill alone together.

“Dana’s my girlfriend,” Bill said, giving her a look.

“Hey,” she said, climbing in the truck, “Nice to meet you guys.”

When they got to David’s apartment, they discovered the girl who lived across the hall had stolen the kittens. Bill really wanted to see them and he insisted that David go and get them back.

“I’m not giving them back. They’ll die if you keep them.” came the muffled voice of the girl who refused to open her door.

David didn’t seem to care much but he still kicked the girl’s door and threatened to cut her throat.

“She likes that.” He said. “It makes her feel like she’s in one of those shows she watches.”

He went next door to borrow electricity. They could hear him arguing with his neighbor.

“Look, don’t worry about it I’ll help you pay the bill, come on. I have company. You should come over too, drink some wine with us…”

David ran a long extension cord into a small lamp in the bedroom. Dusk was falling in the two rooms and the borrowed light couldn’t keep the mood from flagging. David went across the street to get wine at a gas station and the party dwindled to a grim quiet. While he was gone Sybil and Dana talked about San Francisco where Sybil was from and where Dana wanted to go. Sybil said she would never go back. Bill looked out the window and sulked. When David came back he had a jug of white wine, a bag of ice and plastic cups. He filled the first cup standing in front of Sybil’s chair.

“Listen, the wine tastes really bad so you have to drink it fast. I’m going to show you how.”

He held her head and tilted it back, pouring the wine down her throat, over her chin and down the front of her dress.

The evening twirled slowly away. Bill and Dana went, changing places with other people who passed through, but Sybil stayed. The next morning he walked her back to her apartment.

She told Jane, “This is David, and we’re in love.” She wasn’t sure if she was joking. That morning she was bruised. Her dress was ruined. He had hurt her, twisting her body about like a rag. At one point, on the roof, he had held her out over the edge as if to drop her. She went limp in his hands. Who’s to say what self-preservation is? That was the question of the first night.

On the third day he came to the restaurant where she worked.

“Last night I hated you,” He said. “I was thinking that you’re a slut. You think I’m just some stupid kid that you can fuck and then forget about. I’m not like you. I don’t sleep with lots of girls. Every time you have sex with someone your soul is locked with theirs for all eternity. Did you know that? Girls like you, you think that nothing matters that you can just fuck and it doesn’t mean anything but now you and me are connected forever. I was gonna tell you I hated you, that you made me dirty, but then I realized you were different. You said you loved me and you didn’t think you really did but I know you do. You’re gonna be my Queen.”

That afternoon they took acid. It was a beautiful hot day and the sky was a blue so deep it seeped into violet. They got the acid from Larry, a scorched looking man with an arrowhead around his neck. Larry took her aside.

“You know”, he said, “You should be careful. David’s crazy.”

She laughed.

“We’re in love.” She said.

They left Larry standing at a gas station with no car, waiting for his girlfriend. Sybil bought whiskey and they walked around the borders of the town where freeways sliced open the lush green landscape. He took her to an elaborate parking garage made up of domes and turrets.

“Look at this! We call it the Garage Mahal.”

She agreed that it was splendid and they held hands, looking on in silence.

They wandered on, eventually coming out of the bushes into the town square where old men were standing in circles playing fiddles, mandolins, banjos, and guitars and singing in thin, piercing voices. Sybil was resonating from the acid and the music pierced her. The songs she heard seemed to come to her from another life, her true life that she had missed through a wrong turn, or a curse, or a lack of sensitivity. She sat down on the ground near the feet of one of the little groups and sobbed. The old men ignored her.

When night fell they were still in the town square but all the music was gone. They sat together on the grass her eyes lit up wide, looking into David as he wept and said with amazement, the way men do, “I never cry, never…” She saw rushing water, twigs floating, caught in an eddy just in that moment before they go under and are swept away.

Sybil wasn’t the kind to save a lover. She knew that. She was, rather, the kind to drown with. Is self -preservation preservation of the body? Of a waitressing job? A plan? Of the self that works or the self that is broken? Which is more pure? She walked away from him, toward the fountain in the center of the town square and stepped in. She felt the silt beneath her toes, turned her face up into the torrent of filthy recycled water, and listened to the sound of the whiskey rushing to take her out.

During the day, David went to work cutting windshields. She had quit her job by not going in one night. She became a prayer candle left there to flicker all day in the dim light of his apartment. She would read and daydream, occasionally trying to write down what had happened to her before she forgot everything. In her new life, she was hope, not for herself, but for him. She was his Queen.

Sometimes though, memories of her past were so vivid she could smell them and it was enough to begin a sweat under her skin: images rising like vapors to fill the air, the odor of sour bedding, matches, dirty hair… It all had one smell to her, the hot, horrible smell of refusal, the body realigning instincts away from survival.

“You’re in me now,” he said. “I smell you when I’m at work. It’s like meat. When I eat lunch I taste you.”

He said it was as if her blood were in his. She was inoculating him for a new life, sick enough not to shock his blood, well enough to bring it a fresh flush. He had started doing drugs working as an orderly in a hospital when he was a teenager. He had done drugs instead of sex, instead of school, instead of everything, even Jesus.

He said, ”Since I met you, I don’t want to do drugs anymore.”

But she wanted to.

The first time it was Dilauded they shot in the bathroom stall of a video arcade.

He showed her the permanent hole in his vein.

“It’s always open.” he said, “It’s like a pussy.”

On drugs he was hyper. He gnashed his teeth, winding himself up tighter and tighter. He would speak in several different voices, all the different sounds and patterns of his mind rising to the surface. Racked with insignificant details, every thought in relief, he would get tangled up in his words. She would put her hand over his mouth and say, “I can feel what it’s like inside you right now and I can’t stand it. You have to calm down.” For a few minutes he would be quiet.

One morning he told her, ”Last night when you were sleeping I went to find you. I could see you falling in this black space, but you seemed not to know, like you were in a trance, and when I went up to you to say, ‘Hey’, you came out of the trance, really pissed off, and you started clawing at me like a cat.”

He would tell her all kinds of things. Witches were after him because he had refused to join them. He had seen the devil at the end of a labyrinth, looking like a dragon sitting on a pillow, smoking a cigarette. He showed her tiny pencil drawings he had done on his door, frail lines, thousands of them swiveling all over. There were changes in the lines that showed the different levels of reality he had traveled in: a perilous journey. And the stolen mirrors propped up in the corner were a time machine. She chose to believe him. She tried to put the belief into what she thought of as a dried pool- her heart.

It was about God really, he had God and she didn’t.

“Listen Baby, you don’t have God and that’s why you’re the way you are. You’re cursed. God wants to help you but you won’t let Him.”

“Don’t talk to me about stupid things.”

“Why is it stupid?”

“I don’t know why. It’s crazy.”

She didn’t know why it was stupid. Maybe because she had been raised to think God was for stupid people. She wondered if she wanted to believe, because, after all, there she was. Instead of going back to New York at the end of summer as she and Jane had planned, she’d decided to stay. The day Jane came to get her she had felt as if she were glued to the bed.

“I’m gonna stay here for awhile longer.” She hadn’t known she would stay until she said it.

“Really? Are you sure?” Jane said, looking doubtfully around the apartment.

Jane already seemed far away and gone, her air of purpose opening a huge distance between her and Sybil. Maybe Sybil wanted to go home but she couldn’t. She couldn’t even get up off the bed to say goodbye. That was how she made the decision to give up her previous life in the city, her boyfriend, who had gone to France for the summer, her books, her clothes, her plans for some kind of future (because really, did any of those things belong to her? Could anything belong to someone like her?). All to hide out in a dark apartment with no phone and no electricity.

“You need to accept Jesus Christ. There’s something black in you. I can see it because there’s black in me too, but we don’t have to worry anymore baby, God will take care of us now because He wants us to be together.”

She had heard things like that from men before, but not since she was practically a child. Was she trying to go back? Some people spend their lives looking over their shoulder with the feeling they have betrayed themselves. Sybil was one of those. Drugs could change a person for good, like becoming a vampire. You start and you can’t stop wanting to feel what it’s like to fall; the fall is never quick enough, never slow enough either.

In the mornings he went to work before she woke up. As punishment for not working herself, she dreamed about it, someone shouting at her, ”Can’t you remember anything?” — a dark tunnel of different restaurant jobs. The sheets she lay on were darkened with sweat. On the wall above the bed were black handprints and streaks of dried blood, things that happened when they were drunk, traces. These were traces she could not follow backwards, they were of another animal, not herself, who lived in a substance so black she could not see through it.

“What did you do to me?”

“Nothing, I came in here and your face was covered with blood. You put your hands over your face and then you smeared blood all over the wall. You kept telling me you hated me.”

“I know you did something to me.”

“Maybe.” And he would laugh and lift her up and spin her around and she would laugh too because it felt good not to care about being hurt. One morning, when she was still in bed, he came home. He had left his job. “I couldn’t be away from you,” he said but he didn’t have to say it. She knew as soon as she saw him in the doorway.

From a payphone down the street she called an old boyfriend, the one who’d first given her heroin so she would let him slip his hand into her underwear. She leaned into the phone as if it were a body, making her voice as soft and cajoling as she could. The sun was high and bright and the black phone was hot in her hand yet she could almost imagine herself in his dark apartment, almost see the streets where she had walked late at night in the dead winter.

“Hi.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m still in North Carolina, staying with some crazy guy. I need to leave but I don’t have any money. Can you do me a huge favor and get me some dope to sell? You can send it to the address I wrote you from.”

“I don’t know… It’s dangerous.”

“I know, I know, you’re right. It’s ok…”

“How are you going to get back?”

“I don’t know.”

“Will you pay me back?”

“Of course.”

“Will you come see me?”

“Yes, I’ll come see you.”

“When?”

“Two weeks?”

“O.K.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

As she said it she believed it, and she believed she would go and that he would save her.

Her horoscope that week said, “You will turn something traumatic in your life to good.” It had to be money. They sold half of what had been sent to her and did the rest. With that she had enough money to send to a friend in California to get more. Before the first package had even arrived, she got on the phone to ask for another. She added up what she thought the profits would be based on the amount she thought they might do, and how much they could sell it for, which was triple what it cost. She thought she could leave for New York with a couple thousand dollars. It was the only time she’d ever felt like an entrepreneur, closer to freedom than she’d ever been before.

On the roof, she would watch for the Fedex truck. Her friend in California sent her packages of chocolate cookies stuffed with pieces of black tar heroin. With the money from the drugs she planned to take care of both of them. She would get David’s phone turned back on, pay his electricity bill so he would have light and then she would leave, maybe go to San Francisco for awhile and then back to New York.

Women are supposed to take care. She thought of her women friends and their careful rituals, the order of their surroundings, the little ways they fed and bathed themselves, and they way they knew how to take care of men. Sybil had fallen in love with her best friend in high school for those reasons. She would go to her house every day to be near the way she did her nails, hung her clothes, washed her face every night before bed and put on a clean nightgown. She would watch her do those things with longing and hopelessness. What could it be that filled her with so much care, made her gleam like a polished shell?

Tired of watching the cars drive by, she rolled onto her back and searched for the center of the sky. She sensed the life she could still return to being erased.

The drugs arrived like a flood, sweeping her off on a fragile raft. First the gentle popping of scar tissue, mild resistance, constant vomiting. Hers was never a body that dealt easily with the poison she put in it. She vomited water, ice cubes, vomited at the smell, at the sight of the drugs. She vomited from the sound of voices and from upsetting thoughts. But she wasn’t one to try to stop an illness, she wanted to see where it would take her. With David she did quantities she had always thought impossible. He would come to her in the morning and kneel at the side of the bed, slipping a needle into her arm with a smoothness he exhibited at no other time. Eventually she subsided into a kind of equilibrium, vomiting a little less often and less violently. She was pared down to a vague form, like a strange, drooping flower, growing into something exotic, sort of a humid shadow.

Most of the time they stayed in his apartment waiting for the people who bought drugs, nodded out awhile and left. David would play guitar making up songs about the cat and all of her little black kittens, which he had stolen back from the girl across the hall. He taught her how to look at a kitten’s face to see if it was a boy or girl.

“Look, the boys have boy faces and the girls have girl faces.”

One afternoon Larry’s girlfriend Vixen came over to the apartment. She needed help looking for Larry. David and Sybil had not been out for days and they were eager to go. The cops were looking for Larry too. The rumor was that they had found his tent in the woods. Because of his animal skins and porno magazines they’d added him to a list of murder suspects, though that wasn’t why they were looking for him. Vixen was pissed. He had been staying with her at her house but hadn’t shown up there for a couple of days.

The inside of her van was covered with stickers: hearts, musical notes, ice cream cones, stars, butterflies, smiling lips, everything that was ever thought nice, really. On the glove compartment was a bumper sticker that said, ”It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

In the back, strapped tightly to the seat, was Vixen’s daughter Lindsey, who was retarded and exquisitely pretty. Two little dogs careened around the back, running repeatedly over the little girl who cringed every time.

“Wanna rub noses?” Lindsey asked the air, and Sybil obliged her, looking into her enormous aqua colored eyes. Lindsey tossed her head back in delight. A minute later she asked again. And again.

“I can’t rub noses with you every two minutes,” Sybil said.

“Yes you can.” Vixen snapped, “I do.”

In between rubbing noses with Lindsey Sybil watched the enormous roll of fat on Vixen’s neck that jumped and quivered each time they went over a bump. It looked like a leech.

Vixen was furious and desperate.

”I’m so fucking pissed at him. I deserve someone who has his shit together. I’ve done a lot of work on myself and the last fucking thing I need is to be held back by some asshole guy. I’m an independent woman. I don’t need some man doing everything for me. Not that that’s the problem with Larry. He doesn’t do shit for me. I pay the rent and feed him and he doesn’t lift a fucking finger. I’m always worrying about him. He doesn’t deserve it but I love him. He’s fucking lucky to have me. There are so many other guys I could be with if I weren’t with him. I’m too loyal. That guy Mike with the green eyes. He‘s totally hot for me and he’s fine too. I would go for it if it weren’t for Larry. I’m too loyal. This disappearing bullshit better not be drug related, that would be the last straw. He knows I’m in recovery now- from hard stuff anyway. I still smoke weed and drink beer and maybe take acid like once a year or something but that’s no big deal, I know you’d know if there’s drugs involved and you better fucking tell me.”

A couple of days earlier, Sybil had shoved a bag of ice down Larry’s pants and dragged his hefty body into the shower. He’d come out purple, his black shorts dripping down his legs, and dropped himself back on the same spot on the floor. He wasn’t used to stuff from the West coast. In the Southeast, it was mostly morphine pills they got, stolen from hospitals. That was not the story Vixen wanted to hear so she didn’t tell it. Finally, they pulled over by the side of the road. Vixen was too big to get out of the car and walk around so they hopped out and stomped off into the woods. It felt wrong to be in the woods high, as if the drugs reached out of her and froze everything, stopping the plants from breathing, keeping the trees from sending out their tender message. She felt like they were in an aquarium filled with fake plants. Even the sound of their voices calling sounded remote and artificial. Back in the car, Vixen yelled for Larry as loud as she could. They knew this was all a pretense, for Sybil and David, a way to pass the time, a way for Vixen to stave off being shattered.

Back in the van David said, ”You know, you help yourself by helping other people.”

“I know” Vixen snapped as if it were the most obvious thing.

Sybil wondered about that, whether it were true.

“You help yourself by helping other people.”

She began trying to clean David’s apartment, slowly at first, and too inefficiently to be noticed, and then one day while he was out she decided to throw some things away. There were dusty piles everywhere. She thought she recognized the elements of abandoned art projects: a stack of gold foil coffee bags, a box filled with shards of glass, a broken Christmas ornament; the kinds of things a crow would collect.

When he got home he missed it all. Frantically, he went through the trash. The things she had thrown away were like the little pieces of metal he’d affixed to his shoelaces and the symbols he traced in the dust. They were magic spells to insure that the drugs would come. Some of those things had been sitting there, quietly conspiring, for years.

“You told me you’re not like that anymore. You’ve bewitched yourself”. She tried using his logic.

“I know. I’m not…”, he said, “I don’t need this stuff”, but he looked scared as he replaced as much as he could, even putting bits of broken glass back into a box.

As the weeks wore on Sybil dissolved herself until all that was left were her muted senses, incubating in the heat of her body. August ended and the southern air was like a damp silk scarf stretched across her skin. She poured sweat. She became more and more remote, until all that could bring her back were small acts of violence, They stopped trying to have sex, but they would hold each other and kiss for hours.

Rarely spoke to the people who came for drugs, mostly the same small, elect group of young people who knew about cool music and went to great lengths to stay addicted. David took care of everything while she stared into the pages of Frankenstein watching the words bob and circle above the page.

One evening a frail girl crept up to her on the bed. It was Jenny who David had said was anorexic. She reminded Sybil of a gentle spider crawling in the sheets. Sybil had always loved spiders and would let them live in her bed biting her night after night rather than killing them.

“What are you reading”

“Frankenstein, but I’m not really reading it. I just can’t come out there to talk to people.”

“You mean Jason don’t you? He’s an ass.”

“Yeah- he’s awful.”

Jason was Jenny’s boyfriend. He was as loud and consuming as Jenny was fragile.

“I hate him but I can’t get away from him. I can’t get drugs myself. I can’t do anything myself. Every time I try to break up with him he comes and gets me. I moved to Wilmington once but I was broke and so when he came and got me I went back.”

“Does he have money?”

“No, but he’s not scared like I am.”

“What do you like to do? Do you like to read?”

“I love reading. Have you ever read, “The Mists of Avalon?”

“No, I’ve heard of it though. Is it good?”

“It’s so beautiful. It made me feel that I could almost be there, like if I do something different I could be in that world, I don’t know…Do I sound stupid to you?”

“No, not at all. I know exactly what you mean. Can you get us some booze from those guys? I don’t want to go out there.”

Jenny came back with a half empty pint of whiskey.

“Come here.”

Sybil lifted up the dingy sheet and Jenny slipped in under her arm. Holding Jenny made Sybil think of a songbird that had crashed into her window that summer and died. She had held it in her hands for a long while trying to think of a way to keep the body before laying it in the crotch of a tree.

Jenny lay at her side completely docile, shivering while Sybil stroked her.

“How old are you.”

“Twenty. How old are you?”

“Twenty six.”

“I’ve always wanted to be friends with someone like you.”

“Like what.”

“An older woman who’s, you know, lived a lot and is smart and I don’t know,” she turned her face away,”sexy.”

“Sexy?” Sybil laughed.

She took Jenny’s bony little face in her hands and brought it to her lips. Jenny seemed to expire on her shoulder, a tissue melting in the rain.

The night ended when two men burst into the apartment and beat David on the skull with the butts of their handguns. They said he had ripped them off for some acid a year ago and they demanded that he give them all the drugs. It happened quickly. The neighbors had called the police so they all left in Jason’s car. Sybil tried to react with horror and shock but looking at David’s bleeding head she felt secretly detached as if she were watching a late night tv movie in which the acting is so amateurish you can’t help but smile.

Why shouldn’t she be submerged in another? Suspended? She decided to find out. She floated, but near to the bottom where it was dark, where everything moves the way shadows move. She lost consciousness with his lips in her mouth, folded around her teeth like soft candy. Why shouldn’t he too, drown in her? Languid, she wrapped her legs around him, making her mouth as open as water. It was in that state that she said, “Yes I will marry you, I promise.”

She admired his purplish lips, like brandied cherries, immobilized on her nipple as he passed away and slowly returned, the tide to the shore. Their caresses were so weighted that they could not sustain them. They talked of love but their efforts were quickly subsumed, sunk beneath the weight of their blood.

From the place to which they had descended it was easy to imagine the happy home they would have, the garden, the baby. Such dreams leap vividly from a dissolute imagination. They appear intact, as heaven does from hell.

David called his grandmother in Florida to tell her that he was getting married.

“She’s the only one who believes in me. I was always her favorite. When we were little she would always give me bigger bowls of ice cream than my brother and sister. My Mom thinks she ruined me by doing that.”

David’s parents had their own church that they ran from their home. The way he told it, Sybil gathered that they had left North Carolina to get away from him. One Sunday morning they picked up Sybil and David and drove them to a prayer breakfast. Sybil wore a pastel colored sundress, innocent looking, she thought, with a yellow cardigan to cover her arms even though it was a sticky ninety degrees outside. In the car she fought waves of nausea and watched David whose eyes would close for a moment before he let out a meaningless stream of words, like a person talking in their sleep. She watched to catch him before he started. Sybil couldn’t tell if his parents were just pretending not to notice the state he was in, but they seemed calm and friendly. At the house, they stayed on the porch and smoked while inside people stood in a circle and prayed. After, David’s Mom and Sybil talked. Although it took a terrible effort to do it, Sybil felt happy and almost normal talking with her. They had the same birthday.

“I feel that I am prettier now that I am older.” she told Sybil, who found the idea soothing.

David stood nearby, swaying with his eyes closed while his Mom told Sybil about his grandmother.

“She didn’t want me. She was a beautiful party girl but very depressed. I was always afraid of her. She used to sometimes stay in her room for days listening to ‘Surfin’ Bird’ over and over and over, just moving her head back and forth on the pillow.”

The rain came signaling September, more wetness, more heat. They were increasingly enclosed in his apartment, still without lights or a phone. When Sybil could focus her eyes, she wrote letters to her past, to people she had loved but could no longer feel.

“I’m still here in North Carolina. The air is silky and the sky is so blue it makes you want to cry. I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I’ll probably show up there soon. Being here makes me feel like I’m falling off the Earth. I like it.”

A day came when the past appeared to be sealed shut and she stopped sending the letters she wrote. She had forgotten about the outside of his apartment except for one evening that stretched itself like a cloak across all the others.

On that evening they had only white wine from a screw top bottle that they bought from the gas station across the street. She loved getting bad wine and twenty five cent snacks for dinner at the gas station. It made her giddy not to want more, to forget about nice wine and nice dinners and men who could drive her about so she could wear high heels. The wine from the gas station tasted so bad that they had to put ice in it to freeze the flavor. They drank it as fast as they could, as he had showed her, laughing.

There was an itch and pull beneath their skin that night, a buried, whimpering cry that they pretended to ignore. They sat on the roof watching the bats take over the sky.

“Have you ever noticed that when the bats come out all the birds disappear?”

Sybil scanned the sky, usually full of birds, and saw only the dark darting shapes of bats. Behind the bats the sky looked like a painting of heaven in which God was unfurling all the colors of the world in sweeping gestures. The bats were the angels.

David threw pebbles up into the air.

“They can feel these. They’re signals.”