the destroyer > text > Jace Brittain


Act 1

She appears and disappears at my will.

Dimly lit living room. A not totally cubular tube television (TV) not on. In the dark curved reflector I see myself younger and then I don't. She's not far behind, some wrinkles but fewer than me maybe. And the great comfy chair on which I sit. There. Reflected darkly. Red leather (beside it, yellow leather). And my TV tray. And my white bowl which sits on my TV tray. I don't see my affogato which is in the bowl. But there when I look down. White ice cream brown espresso. Below the rim. Light brightens.

She appeared and disappeared at my will. The edges of the frame are the edges of what I know of her universe, a darkly curved reflection which contains and renders my dimly lit living room as it was just a little earlier, sublimating parts of my universe (great chair, TV tray, white bowl, me), okaying them for a world I could erase simply by shifting my focus from her encompassed mise en scene to the sheen of reflection, the object that is the not totally cubular television (TV) which disappeared as I watched the dim ochreous splashed light of her world spread as another silhouette appeared stage left so to speak. The new silhouette moves her lips for to speak.

What did you say? The silhouette speaks with Zizi's thrown voice.

It's always the same I had said, and she, my darker, younger self had moved her lips in obscuring shadow and I had thought, I don’t know what cathodes are but I suspect it's the cathodes what do the sublimating at the edges even when the thing is off.

It's always the same I said, I say. The silhouette moves closer, moves her lips.


I don't know, I say.

What's always the same? She asks. I'm still looking at my reflection and her lack of wrinkles. I bet she'd have them up close! I got crow's feet younger than anyone I know. We were all underage and we all got fakes and they all got carded and waved through and I just got waved through. I said, how come you didn't check my ID and the big bouncer pointed to the corners of his eyes. If a club was reflected instead of the living room, she would be carded, I think.

I don't know, I say. Maybe I meant television.

What are we watching, Bey? Zizi asks.

Oh, the detective show, I say. Zizi likes the detective show more than I do. I think it is a crocka and she likes it. Even though she cannot keep the plotlines straight. Sometimes she hollers from her room to my room late at night after we've watched the detective show or another program.

Things like: Who was it killed the victim this one? I could tell she didn't remember the victim either, as if for her they ceased to exist as soon as they exited the screen.

Who was the performer who played the from out of town cop? Things like this she asks.

I still cannot believe the killer was the maid's mother, she asked once. Since this was not true and an inessential plot point, I just pulled my covers tight and turned over, a silly gesture but a natural one for friends who had lived with one another since college.

Dear Zizi. She frequently nixed up the words BEAN and STAGE. I don't know.

Her shadow moves toward the center of the scene, escapes from the abysmal distortion of the obliterative edge of the television (TV). She sits in the yellowish chair which abuts directly the chair of my shadow. Her shadow's chair is yellowish. Her great chair is yellow. It's actually my chair. She sets down an identical white bowl on an identical TV tray. She looks down into her own affogato, I assume I see.

If they make a movie of you, who would be you?

I don't know, maybe a character performer whose name you don't know but you recognize them.

I think I'd be played by that yogurt hermaphrodite.


Yeah. She's bats-out real.

What did they call them in those slashers?

I don't know.

Scream queens they called them.





What time does the program start?

I don't know.

I don't know either.

Well, last week was the one with the pig parts.

Where the pig parts was the victim?

Well, there was no victim.

Right. Yeah.

So what time does it start?

Oh I don't know. Was you that said.



I don't know. It wasn't that there was no victim. The pig parts were a red herring. Human and pig physiognomy are similar maybe the most similar but for dolphins or something.


Right. And Detective Walser obviously—


The detective! Oh, you're joking. I see.

A pause. She has been looking at her affogato all along. She asks whether I meant the dinner. I say I don't know. She asks, you don't want to eat it. You're not answering, so you must not want to eat it. Of course it's the same old thing, it's espresso and ice cream, there's only so many ways, I don't know.

I ask whether we should start the program. She says fine.

Would you turn off the light, I ask. No, I'll do it, I say. Would you turn on the television. No I'll do it. Sitting back down, I press a button on the remote control and the screen fuzz buzzes distantly and our shadow universe is effaced in a flash. It's in the middle of the program. It's already started.

Act 2, Scene 1

I'm thinking I've got cathode tube rays all wrong.

Tora is telling me all about cathode tube rays. Tora and me are walking a catastrophically cracked sidewalk up and down toward town. You have to be nimble, I think. And we both are, stepping over cracks and juts as she tells me I've got cathode tube rays all wrong.

And that's where you were all wrong, she says.

I see, I say. She trips on a crut in the walk. Hehehe.

Dang, a jack in the walk, she says toeing the offending concrete shard softlier. These sidewalks are mess, she says. Tora is our neighbor. I do not want to be walking with her or talking with her. No matter how much I learn.

Being forced to realize I've got cathode tube rays all wrong is the direct result of Zizi being mad about two things, one, the program having already started, and two, thinking I didn't like or want her homemade affogato. The second allegation was not true. Still, I remember thinking, anyways if she doesn't throw that in my face, I might fall asleep face down in it since television (TV) in even small amounts makes me sleepy. She threw it in my face and now I was wearing affogato as makeup. She does put a lot of work into her treats, but does it even matter to her melted brain where the program starts?

We are walking to not a nice part of town up and down these jagged sidewalks. I am walking to the neon meat. I don't care where Tora is walking, though she has told me and is telling me.

And that's where I'll be for the next several hours. Isn't that divine, she says. Neon meat, she asks, what is that? I tell her it's what I call the meat store.

The one with the neon sign that says meat? Oh that's clever, she says.

I click my tongue like yeah.

That's certainly a more substantial meal, but I say you never know where those types get their wares. I say you never know and they could tell you one thing and show you the forms but you just never know.

I've heard this before. When Tora had poked her head nosefirst in our open window and said, who doesn't want to eat your affogato and Zizi had indicated me.

Zizi said, she says it's always the same. Tora said something like well there's only so many ways with espresso and ice cream.

But it isn't very substantial, Tora added. I did not want Tora on my team, something that became more obvious as time wore on.

When I said, I'd go get neon meat, Tora said great, that she had an appointment in that part of town. Great, I said, as she began to tell me for the first time how you just never know.

I don't eat meat, she's saying. I'm afraid I have avoirdupois. They say there's no cure.

I've stopped walking, I'm standing in front of the glowing sign MEAT in soft red neon. I remind her that her destination is further up the road.

Tempes fugit, she says, but I'm tracing the twists of glowing meat through my own abyme, my dark reflection. For a second or less, she, my shadow, spells the word with her large intestines, calling wolves to the door. There seems to be more of her, reveling and refracting in the thrown light, she wears affogato as makeup like mine. I blink. She blinks. She tilts her head, I don't. And she steps right of the sign into the doorway. It's the butcher. She speaks loudly.

One to zero. Staring contest victory in my favor. Come in, come in, she says.

She is an ugly Hungarian woman who wears a tall traditional soldier's plumed fur hat called a busby, and I think it's a shame that stereotypes are occasionally true.

I sit down in a small stool before a small table because she motions to do so.

Finish that capocollo, she points to the small sliced cured meat on the table before disappearing behind the counter which is made of glass and filled with meats raw, cured, and et cetera in shapes and sizes and et cetera. The whole room is like that counter a messy setup splashed on a sterile one, and I'm glad Tora isn't here to talk about the stained aprons, walls and floors also stained in spots, machines dripping with meats partially ground, and sausage casings torn open spilling their guts so to speak.

The capocollo is pretty fine. And spicy!

The capocollo's pretty spicy, yeah, her voice asks from behind the counter to confirm what I've just said. Her voice asks, no Zizi today? Her voice asks, coming in pretty late? Her voice asks, have you ever played HooggerMoogger? All I can see is the bobbing red plume of her busby until she appears from behind the counter carrying a boardgame box.

Yeah, pretty spicy, I say.

Have you ever played HooggerMoogger, she repeats. I inspect the box like I don't know maybe even though I know there's no way. There's an old portrait of a Hungarian-looking soldier on the face of the box and a clock with no hands or digits which is really just a framed circle with a dot in the middle and four hashes around the outer edge. The soldier is riding a small horse toward a hut which is bombed out and on fire and there are storks flying over it. The sun has a big smile. The soldier has a busby.

Are you finished, she asks. The tray on the table is cleared of everything but some grease and I am chewing the last of the cappocola. I nod and food mutter, fine spicy. My affogato as makeup is drying and it cracks when I speak. She sets the tray aside and begins to set up the board game.

Double or nothing, she says while placing plastic horses in brightly colored squares beside cards and pencils and spinning wheels. A chance to redeem, she says.

What was the score, I say. Could I catch up, I say. Could I learn this on the fly, I say and look at my watchless wrist like I'm in a hurry.

Oh well, yes, she says. I'm thinking that you very well could, that you very well could.

We're part way through the game which has progressed by dice rolls and donking the plastic horses along a rainbow road and reading strange phrases backwards for points which are tabulated separately and guessing that showtune (“Dames!” is the name). We haven't used the spinning wheels yet. I roll a seven on six sided die. It isn't numbered sequentially, seven isn't even that high. The butcher picks up a card.

Foul! A bummer card, she says. She reads: chance is annulled by a roll of the die. I ask to see the card and I read it differently. Well, she says, what a sour gurken we've found ourself in. Suppose you could use your unroll token?

I use my unroll token.

Fess up, flesh hacker!

The fashionable gray trenchcoated woman who has shouted this phrase leaps into the room and hurls a water balloon which zings over the table and splashes against the wall, leaving an inkblotted firetruck-colored stain on the wall. I see an image of a whale dripping in the splatter. The fashionable gray trenchcoated woman flees.

The butcher does rise while she squints angrily at the fleeing woman. She looks at the dripping red offense beginning to puddle below its original point of impact. Looks like a weasel, she says.

Indeed, I say and laugh. All the world's a bean, I say and cover my mouth in surprise. She nixes up STAGE and BEAN. Not me.

Or at very least bean-shaped, yknow?

Could be, I say.

Could be.

I don't know, I say. I really don't know. I haven't been many places.

I don't know, she says. She says she's only been to Hungary and here. I suddenly get the joke about someone from Hungary owning a meat store, but I don't know how to phrase it.

What say we make this game a little more interesting, she says. I will do anything to make this more interesting, I think.

I'm not sure I'm terribly sanguine about the prospects of that, I say. I searched for her intention in her face. Her buzz fuzz upper lip and her deep canyon wrinkles reveal nothing, but she smiles, revels in her mystique.

Everything in the store is yours, if you win, she says. All neon meat. Lightin out for the territories, she says. Don't know where she got that. I say okay.

A wispy haired meter maid whose curly short wispy hair is so thin you can see the shape of skindraped skull stands in the doorway and says, they're on to you.

Buzz off, says the butcher.

You have to go back a space, I say and place a black hood on her plastic horse. She hoots and says:

That's why we play the game!

The fashionable woman in the gray trenchcoat stands outside the window, returning with seven or eight trenchcoated compadras. Various colors. Left to right each points at her eyes and then at the butcher, except for the one to the right of the original fashionable woman. She points at me. A mistake, I think. They hunch real low and kind of sway in unison and the front one is singing:

NOT LOOOONGGG LONNNGGG LONNNNNG FOR THIS WOOOOORRRRRRLD. The others echo her in stage whispers: Not long for this world hey! Not long for this world!

The butcher is holding the direction booklet. I think you have to start guessing the identity of the HooggerMoogger, she says.

The trenchcoat gang right to left each snaps twice overlapping slightly and slicklike like snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap

and back accelerating quicker like

pans pans pans pans pans panspanspanspanspanspans and then they snap slink away humming their tune.

Is it Polish war hero and namesake of countless American culdesac streets Tadeusz Kosciuszko, I phrase carefully. The butcher tears open the HooggerMoogger envelope and gasps. I guess I win.

I guess you win, she says flipping the card over and again. I think so.

I don't know, I say.

Yes, yes, a victory she says and darts behind the counter. Her busby plume bounces back and forth accompanied by zipping rips and clumsy packing. Much time will pass as I pack your neon meat in the truck, her voice says. I'll leave it parked across the street.

I stand and stare at the glass of the counter. At this angle, I can see the vertical MEAT in this mirror and I see her ad infinitum growing smaller and younger in reflecting reflections. My shadow disappears minutely in some thick cut bacon. So out of this meat mirror comes my insides as neon light as strips of pig flesh as a silent radio advertisement for wolves. Come. Eat. Say please. Pitte pet. Beg.

The butcher rises from beneath her busby plume.

Pig physiognomy and people you know, I say. She says to watch out for the trenchcoat gang.

They are american detectives, she says, they are hot on heel. They know I killed the health inspector. I'm lightin out for Reno, she says.

Why don't you fill some time while I prepare your truck real discrete, she says.

I don't know, I say.

Outside neon meat, I sense the blinking playhouse lights of the Mission Theater from across the street and down. The premiere of a musical called EN MEDIĀS ABYME.

Act 2, Scene 2

I cross the street slowly as it suits me.

Act 3

The play has already started when I come in and settle into an aisle seat beside a patron holding an ornate adorned pair of spectacles on a stick up to her eyes watching rapt, glee apparent on her heavily powdered face. She stifles a squeaky laugh.

Without turning her attention she whispers sideways, we're coming up on the grand finale. She voices finale fin-ah-lay.

The theater is large and old fashioned. Banisters and armrests curl elaborately at terminal ends.

Small engraved gold plates reveal who paid for the seat in front of mine. The beehive hairdoo in front of me rests in a chair existing but by the generosity of Baroness Wilhelmina Berkeley of Starton. The engraver went right up to the edge. The orchestra pit is empty but for a piano and its player and a dwarf with an oboe. The piano player is playing the piano, a slow but bouncy tune. A slicked slim tuxedoclad giantess whose cuffs fall short of ankles and wrists is singing to a back-and-forth bombing cadre of fur draped shortskirted and longlimbed flappers.

                         The thing, love

                         Is that love is blind, love

                         And it's hard to find, love

                         That love that makes the whole world disappear!

The piano player loses his rhythm for a second and the tuxedo scowled his way. Specs-on-a-stic scoffs beside me. Is that not part of it, I say.

Part of it, she laughs. Part of it? Someone down our row shushes.

                         And ironyyyyyy is the last thing that's freeeee or new-uh

                         In a world with one god or fewer

                         And I only got eyes for you

                         Anyway I can't tell if it's night or it's day

                         Sha bop sha boo

                         Because all I can see is dear youuu

                         Are there stars in the sky

                         or throngs of people walking byyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

                         They don't exist, it's true

                         Because I only got eyes for you

Again, without turning her attention, specs-on-a-stic tosses comments out the side of her crooked mouth. This director is a weak intruder on the scene, he treats culture like a buffet of identity, like any disguise will do, his tension is imunnnavigable (I don't know), he can't be somebody if he isn't anybody.

But don't you think, I say. But I'm shushed and rapped on the shoulder by a decorative fan.

The beehive in the Baroness' chair spins and whispers, do pipe down, creamface. Another shush from a downrow. Specs-on-a-stic shushes me. I touch my affogato mask.

His dedication to not making mistakes, specs is saying, is incommensurable with his lust for pushing boundaries of inquiry. Oh look at this dancing! Augustine's will weeps in its grave. Beehive shushes me without turning.

I think you mean turns over, I say.

Hmmmmmm? Specs wonders loudly.

The shoulder rapper whispers to the seat behind him, two rows behind me, it's the dingbat machine in creamface again.

At this point in the show, almost one hundred dancers have filled the stage.

Something to say about telos, chuckles specs-on-a-stic.

Something to say about bildung, guffaws beehive.

The dancing pitches spastically skyward to a degree which affects the pianist to key maniacally and hem hot just so on the dancers' heels, a spiritual proximity which ignites in the dancers: primal energies so that when their kicking line rolls, their legged wave moves by sheer momentum in a kinetically spiraling funnel which leaves them ultimately facing the audience in an obviating single file. Their softly soled feet snap together and loud so it sounds like one sonic crack. It appears that one undulating dancer is standing there seething and blurring double exposed and maybe toeing a slivered tear in reality's fabric. Little bound and solf feet jump up and down together solfly, and sound completely discordant with vision is thunderous and sharp. She parts her ankles jumping and spreads her feet hips distance and when her arms jolt akimbo, I can tell for an immeasurably small moment that she is just one thin dancer distinct from the others, but when the line's indecipherable parts copy her akimbomotion in sequence the rolling thunder overpowers the sound of mounting piano chaos and stuns my ears so that when the last legs position to allow unobstructed black peering into the black of the rear black screen, it seems that my eyes are in a relative silence echoing with susurrous unintelligibility exhausting my vision by tracing the thickest dark lines on the white socks of the frontest dancer back and forever inward to the thinnest line on the socks of the further dancers until it disappears inexactly into the black of the screen. At that infinitely distant point appeared: me.

Me, I thought, though I had to strain to think I saw anything, which I did in fact, to wit: me unmasked, my two great chairs and cubular television, Zizi entering with white bowls like specks of sand seen through the wrong end of a telescope. Tiny scenes unfold, or fold inward, between those telescoping legs, the import of which I only impart for having lived them in real size. Then, a fight in fast-forward.

No! Backward! In and out of rooms, in and out of beds. I question her. She pinches microscopic flowers.

As the piano man delightedly pecked at the highest keys, a tiny red curtain falls in the fatal legged triangle void. A crash of keys deeply signifies a return to dancing among the horde. They assemble into an enmeshed geometric cluster of rhythmic rocking, hypnotic legs, arms and bodies pulsate hypnotically until they appear inhuman, kaleidoscopically departing from scrutability. I lean over to specs-on-a-stic and whisper loud enough I hoped to be heard over the bujumbuda thumping of their display.

Did you see that tiny show and its tiny me and the tiny scenes which took place? I ask.

If you're going to obsess over the tiny, consider investing in a pair of these, she taps her pointer where it was resting on her specs, talking awkwardly sideways. A shush from behind. In front of that, shushing back is shushed.

The concept of a triangle has never evolved, I think. Our ability to impart the import is historically contingent. Human and pig physiognomy, yknow?

I feel distraught, I say to specs-on-a-stic. I should explain the scene ysee I stood near the nook window staring out that little window ysaw and I was looking at the flower bed in the communal area for our culdesac. Ysaw that too I'm sure, interrupt me if you didn't and I was looking at the flower bed because I could see clearly Zizi, the other one, hovering over the snapdragons, agapanthus, and I don't mean any sort of metaphorical tending. I mean levitating above the flowers. Measurable feet and inches above! So I rushed out to catch her, but she was walking out as I was walking in. Ysaw her holding two plucked snapdragons? She pinched them between her pointers and her thumbs, making their mouth muscles move and chitchatting with them. She pinched the orange one in her left hand, right? And voiced with only slightest lip movement ysaw. Where yrushin, Bey, she made it say. The right one which was pink echoed its kinsmen, Yeh, where yrushin, and did you see her lips move? Me neither. And when I put my hands on my hips and looked her in the eye, not at the flowers(!) who were eyeless, could you see in her face whether she took me seriously when I asked her if she had been levitating? Well, what would you know about it. Orange pinch, it said, Take me to your leader, could yhear and could yhear when the three of them laughed their three distinct laughs together? Had you ever seen such an act of ventriloquism? She denies to this day, levitating above the garden. That's where she wants to be buried, she jokes sometimes.

I say all that, and a contagious shushing grips much of the audience.

It was like overtone chanting, I think. Like throat singing, resonance manipulation and they say with them they sometimes sing as close as kissing to use another's mouth as a resonator. That's what Zizi's puppetry was like.

The show drags on. The dancers' sweat is pooling. They have become defined by their lethargy, moving to every other beat then every other other and it's a marathon now. I know the feeling like the play is gaining on me. The oboe player is sleeping. The shushing has stopped. I'm getting hungry.

The dancers are in two or four rows perpendicular to my line of sight shuffling ostensibly to and fro so slow I think they might never get fro, and they don't. When one dancer collapses in the center of the fourth or second row, the others kneel and bow in a reverberant circle with a center collapsed dancer.

The heads of the ringed horde scoop arrhythmically harumscarum every which way but—, and I can see everything.

Each arm is locked and hyperextended at each elbow backwards so that each hand rests palmdown beside an upturned foot.

Each leg bends at the knee.

Each knee digs hard into the stage.

Each torso follows the rippling wave of a whipping spine and

each neck fed by corporeal oscillation draws a skull and unhinged jaw up and down and up again.

It happens in such a way that from front I can't predict which dancer will rise next and I can't manage to discern the faces of the dancers on the farside of the circle and from above I see a dissected diagram of a locking mechanism in which the wafers will never align properly.

And when my stomach starts to complain for consumption, I know putting my arms around it won't stop the sound just like shifting my position won't stop it, but these are things I do anyways. The sounds which range in description from yelps to grumbles to chirps increase in frequency and volume until my neighbors segue from noticing politely to discretely expressing their annoyance and specs-on-a-stic looks away from her specs and at me in disgust. Her irises are purple. Contacts. She's about to say something foul it seems, but her stomach emits a hrrrrrrrrulpp. She draws her hand to her mouth. Before long the mezzanine is a horrendous chorus of audible bodily churning. It has been a long show. Everyone's hungry. People, like pigs, got to eat. And I'm the gal with the meat truck parked outside! I begin to slide out of my chair and into the aisle.

You don't perchance have snack in your pocket, do you? Specs asks.

A snack? Beehive turns, primal urges piqued.

I don't know, I say. No, I say.

You do! Specs and Beehive chime together. You do, you do!


Patrons in this section begin to rise and stretch their rubber necks, thinking the item of interest must be a food source. It's that distasteful creamface, again, dear, a craning neck announces.


A taste? A taste? Creamface, oh, creamface, but won't you give us a taste?


Give us.


Give us, your hungry masses. Give us, your masses, a taste. Creamface, oh creamface.

Beehives and ornate fans and lace huddle as one creeping salivating jelly flowing over seat and back and seat toward me sliding through their amassing drool which some stagger to drink up on their way and although I am confident they will dissolve before they ever, I allow flight mechanismus control over my being. I'm not ycreamface, I holler slurredly. The door is sprinted for. Before they ever.

For the door and while I'm moving I sweat to think the thought: the butcher wouldn't put the body or bits of the body of the health inspector in the truck. What's the connection in the thought mechanism which produces thinking sweat? Do pigs get it too? I run and think I might split into a million and that my guts might escape and go hunting on their own. Up the aisle, through the lobby, out the door! Across the street, I see my shadow in the mirror beside the neon meat sign. Through the glass, wearing my affogato makeup, the butcher waves. I wave back and the three of us align. There's the truck down a bit on this side! And dang it all anyways, there's Tora in the driver's seat. No time to be choosey, I think. I jump in the passenger seat and look in the rear view at the theater exit.

Punch it, Tora! I am pulsing, my hands and feet swelling and unfamiliar with adrenaline. The asphalt of Tadeusz Kosciuszko Parkway is wide and clear, we're facing straight west, the direction of the conquistadors, the pioneers, the Donner Party. A truck full of meat and possibly of evidence. The commotion of the hungry theatergoers is sure to arouse the attention and suspicions of the trenchcoat crew. It's dark now, still hot, the freezer carriage is humming, the engine is idling, and time is short. Punch it, Tora!

Tora doesn't move.

I didn't bring my driver's license, Bey. Besides, I shouldn't be driving with my anastomosis anyways.

I slide across the seat, Tora jumblingly shifts over me and settles in the passenger seat.

I hope you don't mind giving me a ride, that hideous butcher said—

I punch it. Tora's head snaps against the seat rest and she shuts her trap.

In the rearview mirror, the closed doors of the theater grow smaller.

We're roaring toward home, bringing home the bacon.

Doctor Shimerda wasn't even there, Tora says. Disappeared they say! I had to have a P.A.—a P.A., believe that!—check on my amanuensis, that bump on my neck. I don't know whether to trust him, he said and I thought he was joking, Oh, that's a word for a literary assistant. Like it's growing sentient, I said. No, he said. It's a bad pimple, he says. Amanuensis is a writer's assistant, he said. Believe that!

I heard about Doctor Shimerda, I say. Did you know you can skip a bullet, if you hit the angle right and shallow enough? Well, she had a patient who was just walking along the reservoir hit by a skipping bullet for they don't know how long—and how long could it have kept going, I think—and get this, the patient says the doctor disappeared into the bulletwound, got sucked in like a blackhole. This sounds suspicious, so they arrest the patient and look at the hole. It's deep and dark and woefully stitched. And this patient can all of a sudden speak in two pitches at once, low and high! Like a throat singer, a hybrid mimic and mime, the patient says. I say all this.

Tora asks, well, what happened?

I don't know, I say.

She asks, do you know about acatalexis?

I say it sounds like some disease. Really, I don't know. And she laughs histrionically, hysterically, in fits.

She says, it's this very western idea, really, that things ought to end in a certain way. At a certain time. You're so chic, Bey. Are we almost there, she asks.

I say close enough.

Do my eyes look jonkered? She says, I'm afraid that jolt might have caused them to misalign.

I don't think that happens, but I say I don't know.

I punch it. I'm sweatin bullets of sweat. The espresso and ice cream drip off my face onto my lap, my hands, and the steering wheel I'm clutched over.