Clarice Laments From the Fire Escape

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(photo: davy carren)
(an audio recording of this story read by the author)

The Nazis wore red; you wore black. And everyone was saving their first drink to have with you. Somewhere a girl named Frank was harping on the small stuff, that certain flinch of details that gives pause to people standing on platforms waiting for trains. You had eyes like the sound a player piano makes when it’s left out on the porch in the rain. Too many one-sided conversations. Too many black-market shoes. Nobody was reasonably sober. The whole town reeked of gutter water and sewer gases, with a hint of honeysuckle. You whispered, “Excuse me. I’ll be moping at the bar.” You had a soup bowl for a hat. Gracious, the rats responded to neglect in all corners. Soused duck was served. I brought up a few underappreciated subjects: the odes and epodes of Humphrey Bogart, prevailing moods of scrabble champions, the diets of bantam-weight contenders, how to properly prepare steamed lilacs over boiled caterpillars. Something locked in her heart, left at a craps table maybe, never bet on, or spun with a roulette wheel in some seedy underground lair, never cashed in. Not the two-couch-apartment sort, her office was a far corner booth in a Chinatown bar. You know how people sometimes crumble and break with too much time spent alone. Tears came and went with the postcards she never sent: one for every month since he left. She flipped you off with her right hand while she wrote with her left, “Baby, you’re still taking up the most valuable real estate in my head. I tried to sell my soul to the devil, but he wouldn’t take it.” Stiffed by sycophants, she swelled, all full with herself: “Important causes like me. Well, this, this is a good place for dying. Might as well just do it. Now put that damn cigarette out and let’s get this unpleasant business over with. Perhaps I will repose calmly in grotesque bier, my falling body punched into the top of a parked Buick.”

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