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rv branham

New Fiction


(Los Angeles, Very Recently, or Tomorrow)

by R.V. Branham

      Being winter, the Northern Hemisphere is daily at a slightly oblique angle to the sun. It is, thus, a cold and smoggy February day in the Los Angeles basin.
      Julia walks past Tommy Trojan, past a longagofaded yellowribbon-wrapped tree, past a fountain which doubled for a Harvard fountain in that ancient Paper Chase series, past the squirrely Larouchians with their card table and their typo-ridden pamphlets (and a sense of premonition about one of them which quickens her pace), turning to say a curt "Do Zvida'niya," and then on and past a payphone. A payphone.
      Phone him, a voice suggests. (Her cell phone died right before the interview, and she forgot both recharging chords.)
      Julia keeps walking: To a parking structure. To the elevator (declared "OTT OFF ORDER"). Then to slabs of stairwells running up the southeast wall, with wattle and daub steps, which would no doubt snap off in a really good earthquake. Past two payphones, perhaps the last two pay phones in El-Lay. The tensile stress points hum into her hands as she grips the rails ... Up the steps she goes ... Julia catches her heel halfway up the second flight. The heel, of course, breaks off. Julia summons forth the word shit in as many languages as possible as she takes off the shoes and tosses them over the rail. If they hit someone, well: Too Bad. At the top of the structure, the sixth floor, Julia finds another phone. A Xeroxed poster catches her eye, something about Salvadoran Death Squads in El-Lay as far as she can make out, but the sun in its daily itinerary has faded the notice to ineffectual illegibility.
      Julia picks up the receiver. Her fingers do the walking. She dials. Her fingers remember.
      At the other end a woman answers. His mother. Julia coughs.
      "Hello." Julia can hear a radio blare away and away. "Hello," says the voice of His Mother.
      The words come, Julia speaks. The process never ceases to amaze her. "Is — is Gordon there?"
      "Junior or Senior," the voice of His Mother demands.
      "Junior. Gordon John Sentry, Jr."
      "Good. I'd be worried if you'd called for his pop." Then, "He — Gordo Jr. — he's got a final this afternoon."
      "Didn't he graduate?"
      "Oh. So you're an old Long Beach State sweetheart. He's doing postgrad at USC."
      Julia notes the way His Mother says each initial with pride.
      "I'm impressed," Julia replies.
      "And he's an E.O. — that's Executive Officer — with Parable's Cryo-Life subsidiary."
      Julia remembers hearing on NPR that Cryo-Life had narrowly avoided indictment for two counts of Second Degree Murder when there was considerable controversy over a founder of the company having his parents heads severed before they'd been brain-dead more than a minute and cryogenically frozen for eventual revival with some presumed donor neck and body. The whole series of events had occured over a weekend, as Julia remembers it; one or the other was critically injured in an accident and the other had a massive coronary in response. She didn't remember Gordon's name mentioned in the news report, so she'd have to ask him about that.
      Then His Mother adds, "You're actually lucky you caught him here; he's doing renovations on his place, he's been spending a lot of time at Eagle Rock —"
      "His aunt's place?" Julia remembers the eighty-one steps up the hill, rotted kitchen floorboards, pong of kitty litter from a far bathroom, the accumulated decades of dust. Julia recalls Gordon saying that when his aunt finally croaked and left him her property, as she'd already announced she would to one and all, that he would sell the hilltop property and leave the Los Angeles toilet basin and move to Portland, Santa Fe, Benington, or even Lisbon, one of those places.
      "Oh." His Mother is curious. "You know about his aunt."
      "Yes. I know about his aunt." Julia finds herself now wondering what else there might be to know.
      "Let me get him, Gordo's in the potty."
      Julia can hear a traffic report as she goes to get Gordon. Goes to the potty.

                                                                                          * * *

      Julia stands in front of the Museum of Science and Industry, just south of the USC campus — an academic isle in South Central. She stands before an enormous propellor, from a ship, drydocked and mounted in concrete.
      Each blade is six or eight feet long. Each blade is four or five feet wide. As she examines further, Julia notes the ghosts of barnacles past.
      Julia reaches into her knapsack (which she'd gotten from her car, after consigning the Gucci briefcase to the trunk) and finds a sack of dates. (She'd also retrieved a ratty pair of Reeboks — she couldn't very well go around barefoot.)
      She checks her nondigital watch.
      Either Gordon should have been here half an hour ago, or he won't be here for another hour ... depending on traffic conditions on the Harbor Freeway.
      She never once suffered a pang ounce bit of remorse guilt regret, agenbite inwit, not over deciding to Move North, to leave Nuestra Ciudad De La Reina De Los Angeles; no Dedalus she. (When drunk she trots out a pet theory that Stephen Dedalus was a woman in drag, and actually Molly Bloom's mother.) But things have been strange lately, in Aptos, and in Santa Cruz, even before the Quake. Rumors of more layoffs (or worse, campus closures in the Cal State University system). And those murders. And the pregnant Borzoi and Great Dane bitches found in swimming pools, drowned. Julia hasn't talked to Diane about it, the murdered joggers, and drowned pedigreed bitches; but if Diane knew, she'd tell her. Julia thinks Diane would tell her. (Diane, unlike Julia, gets her clues from air, from ghosts ... but Julia's never detected anything that way.) Another thing Julia hasn't spoken to Diane about is how Diane accidentally ran over her puppy, killed it, shortly before her trip down to El-Lay. Julia's already had a good cry over it; she hadn't owned the pup very long, anyway. Julia reassured Diane that she didn't hold her morally responsible, that it was an accident. Like everything else, it is a portent, a warning to leave Aptos. She eats dates. Spits out the pits.
      Julia checks the time, remembering the old saw about it being only five minutes later than the last time you checked.
      The only thing Julia really pines for about El-Lay is Trader Joes wine and cheese bargains, and the quirky Z Channel movies. Z became a sports channel (way before she left, even, back in 85), so it is now just down to wine and cheese bargains. (There is a Trader Joes two hours away from her now, so she doesn't have to move back to El-Lay for wine and cheese bargains — but in El-Lay you're never more than a few blocks from a Trader Joes) Julia does miss her grandparents, but they're in Japan now. She can make it work here, if she has to. If she got onto the tenure track, she could afford something at the beach. Forget it, she thinks, no point in torturing yourself about it. She decides to torture herself with Gordon's tardiness.
      Gordon has always been a late son-of-a-bitch. Why, she wonders, has she called him?
      Just. To see. Him again. To talk. Because she had wanted to because the phone was there because she was in El-Lay because she kept walking past pay phones because she had struck out on the job interview. Becausebecausebecause.
      Because. She looks at the blades Calder would have killed to mold, to mount, to exhibit.
      She eats another date. Spits out another pit. Well, interview this, Dean of Humanities. Another date pops into her mouth, another pit plops out.
      Those propellor blades.
      "Nearer my God to thee."
      The pit falls, on the dean's neat teak desk, and bounces against his rose-tinted glasses and into his pocket. The ship's wireless operator, Phillips, instructed by Captain Smith, sent out the first SOS. SOS ... SOS ... TITANIC SINKING HARD BY THE BOW ... SOS.... SOS. Women. And a fuck you very much to the Department Chair....
      SOS. Women and. SOS.
      That wasn't an interview, it was an Inquisition, six tenured fuckwits forgetting who was supposed to play Good Cop and Bad Cop.
      Women and children into the lifeboats.
      We're still interviewing candidates. SOS. Another date from the bag. "Nearer my God to thee." Another pit.
      That was what they'd sung as the Titanic began to go down. "Everything was against us, everything," was what an officer said in a book she'd read. At O'Hare Airport. And Heathrow. A book about disasters. Darkest Hours —? Those blades, that song.
      Maybe Gordon had gotten a flat; he'd always driven around with four bald tires and a flat spare. A flat, on the freeway: Ambulance, hospital, morgue, mortuary, church, cemetery. Maybe. She cannot take her eyes off the blades.
      A bag lady walks past her, stops and asks for a buck.
      Julia hands her a couple of dates, absently. "...Wha's this?" The bag lady becomes angry. "Thi's'not the Middle Ages, we don't do no barter, y'know."
      Julia, eating another date, spits a pit out. She waves the bag lady away, hardly allowing her to register.
      Those propellor blades. They are slicing the passengers into shark bait. "Nearer my God to thee."
      "Hey!" The bag lady has some shout. "Don't spit those seeds like that. Think you're some Johnny Appleseed?"
      Julia, astonished, turns to face this farblondjet woman: "No, I'm not. Besides, they're pits, not seeds."
      "Same thing, pits, seeds. Quit spitting!"
      Julia notices a guard, smiling, on the steps, watching them.
      The bag lady, who reminds Julia of her third grade teacher, is about to say something else to her.
      Julia takes a crumpled five dollar note from the left front pocket of her jeans, and gives it to the bag lady. "Here! Go away! Leave me alone, 'kay?"
      "Just quit spilling your seeds," the lady says. "Quit spitting or the police will have to pull you from your car and beat the crap out of you."
      The bag lady then lunges off, swinging a brightly colored plastic bag from each gnarled hand. Julia laughs, and the blades go chopchop. The Dean is sucked in, as is the Chair. And the blades go —

                                                                                          * * *

      She sees Gordon. My oh my; he's even more of a hunk than before. He must be working out. Primping iron. Where before he looked like something she wanted to handcuff and cage in her basement, now he wears banker's drag ... and his incipient beer belly is gone. He must be twenty-nine by now ... he should be getting a belly, not losing it. This, she thinks is not going to go well — He's got glasses, he's wearing glasses. Before, it was only contacts. "Julia!"
      He'd have to be blind as a bat to be reduced to glasses. And a box. He's got a box. Of books. Same old Gordon. The very first day he'd signed up for her Mod. Lit class, the first day of class, he showed up with a large bag of books. Book shops, library sales, garage sales. Even Salvation Army thrift shops.
      She feels a sense of panic. Which should she do: Handshake, kiss, or pat on the back?
      He decides for her; even holding what must be a forty pound box of books, even with a box between them, he manages to slip her a marvelously probing tongue. Julia tastes Gordon test her and enters a net of synesthesia and simultaneity, another dolphin caught in nets intended for tuna (the penumbra), another party hearty greedy-guts who drinks, smokes, and speedballs himself into an overdose (the shadow), another tourist in a vast eternal parking lot of a Las Vegas hotel who has the slipshod inopportune timing to stumble past an open Ford van door when a murder has taken place (the event), and feels Gordon's death gleam bright, sees peristaltic pains coil and uncoil, hears odors of blood and smells dying gasps. Royal flush, three cherries, and snake-eyes. But no sign of penumbra, of shadow, or of event. She looks at him: "Been to Las Vegas?"
      "No —" He laughs. "We did a trade show in Vancouver —" He looks at her (and she detects an attempt to reignite old flames or spark new ones). "Epiphanies again, Julia?"
      Julia is relieved he doesn't do Vegas, also relieved with his old flaming fuck leer. Still, she saw something (and she's right half the time): "Just promise me you'll never go to Vegas. Or Reno, Atlantic City. Or Monte Carlo, for that matter. And no Lotto tickets."
      "No problem, but as for Lotto, puh-leeze!"
      "Good." She looks back at the books; same old Gordon.
      "Booksale; quarter a pound for trade, dime for paperbacks." Then: "These are for you. I got a Kindle now."
      "A Kindle?" She has to smile.
      "And a Nook. But the books, they’re for you."
      "...That's why you were late." She smiles and laughs, but she is angry ... and Gordon knows.
      "Pulling my covers already."
      "About this restaurant," she comments. "I'm hungry, Gordo."
      Gordon is angry for an instant. "Don't call me that."
      "...'Kay. I'm sorry, Gordon." She looks at the box: Penance. "Let me carry it for you."
      "You're sure?"
      "Sure." So he hands the box over; Julia regrets it. She can feel her spine compress with the weight, feels out of shape.
      "This way." He points east and walks ahead of her, as if to lead the way. She hurries, she resents it when he walks ahead of her, always has. A lamp post in front of them bears yet another warning about Salvadoran Death Squads. Julia can read this one, which had been posted in the shade, away from the wintering sun. She catches a bit about a Maryknoll nun who taught Anthro at USC, who'd been raped and murdered in a university parking structure. Julia is outraged; she's asked about campus violence and no one said word one or zip, shit or shinola.
      "What's this poster about?"
      Gordon turns. "That. Oh. Yeah. It happens."
      "It happens?"
      "Shit. Sometimes it's good shit, sometimes bad."
      "Look, Gordo, she's not one of your customers with their Semi-Dead Head in a liquid nitrogen vat, waiting for a new body, a new lease on serial immortality. She was killed." Drop it, Julia thinks; not even five minutes and I'm on his case.
      "So you've heard about Cryo-Life?"
      "Your company was on NPR, and your mom told me you're some sort of Executive Officer. How'd that happen?"
      "It's a short story that becomes a long one whenever I try to explain it."
      "Shit." She sees those pseudo golden arches, more the color of generic mustard than of any gold bauble. "Even in a museum."
      "There's one in Paris, near the Sorbonne —"
      "Does it show Jerry Lewis movies?"
      "Only the early funny ones. They serve wine instead of milk shakes. 'S one in Moscow."
      "If they serve vodka and fried beets, it's still fast-food shite; it's a semantic crime to use the word 'restaurant'."
      "Still the elitest snob, eh?"
      "...Where's this real restaurant?" She suspects the worst, but is not going to let this go by without comment. No. She will not.
      "This is it. Up those rounded brick steps — what's that architectural style?"
      "Post-Modernist Pretentious. Isn't this dangerous, Gordon, what with the fast-food murders down in Orange County? — aren't you afraid some psycho sickfuck will come in, mow everyone down?"
      "One, Julia, this is South Central, not Orange County. Two, a temp of ours was one of those victim. Cuban, nice kid, a pre-op freak who knew more about our mainframe than the fuckwad programmers. Shared his — her? — lunches with me sometimes; showed me postcards from a brother with the Cuban Peace Corps in Brazil; last week cops found blood all over his hatchback, but no trace of him."
      I am sorry," she says, says to Gordon.
      "...'Sides, Julia —" He opens the door for her. "Manager's the son of dad's partner — and don't say anything about rainforests. 'Sides, it's free!"
      "Herpes is free, Gordon."
      "...So are cooties."
      She drops the box onto a table. "Figlio di zoccola. Sraka."
      Gordon touches her shoulder. "Cheap shot. Sorry."
      She sets her knapsack down on a chair, molded, white. It can only be swiveled, as it is bolted to the table. She sits at the chair next to it ... avoids Gordon's glance for the moment. Looks, instead, at the tiles. Dull red. Duller burgundy. And the deadest grey since she spent a miserable undergraduate year at Reed College in Portland sharing precognitive dreams and poltergeists with Diane. Architecturally, the "restaurant" looks like a Lego greenhouse, with geodesic struts acting as a scaffolding of sorts. Maybe it's a biosphere franchise. She looks up.
      "I apologize, Julia." Gordon has taken a seat facing her. "You asked how I was hired."
      "So, make your short story long, drag it out."
      "Chairman's son was my room-mate, my senior year. They interviewed me, asked what my long-term goals were. I told them I wanted to live forever. Salary's so-so, but I have stock. Now that Parable's bought us I'm hanging on to those shares. Lot of capital's invested in research, medical and lab facilities. You should see it, Julia, it's trippy the way the nitrogen vapor rises from the cryo units. The heads, they don't even look dead, just asleep, waiting for a wake-up call."
      "Serial Immortality with borrowed bodies, Gordon. Right."
      "I suppose you're going to lay some sort of Eco-Feminist Bullshit on me."
      "In response to your techno-fetishist bullshit, yeah. But tell me, in the far future, will you be chowing down on soya burgers and cricket fries and talking to Uncle Walt? You want to be with Uncle Walt, eating fast-food, forever?"
      She can see Gordon fight the urge to laugh. "...'S not my Utopia." Gordon gives in, laughing, despite or because of Julia's sarcasm.
      "Forget it."
      "What?" Gordon smiles. Oh, yes, the Gleem smile.
      "Your mom told me you're renovating the Eagle Rock place."
      "I figured I'd fix it, move in, and maybe sell it ten years down the road."
      "What happened to Portland, to Santa Fe, to Lisbon? The gallery?"
      "Portuguese. I tried conjugating the 9 billion verbs of Portugal." Gordon shrugged and laughed, then: "Almost forgot. These." Points at the books. "For you."
      Oh, yes. Gifts. From the third week of the term, presents. She would try to return them and he would point out to her that since he was taking her class for Credit/No Credit, that he'd done all assignments, done them well, bribery was no issue. She had said no when he asked her for a date, not with students. So he'd dropped her class and reentered on an Audit basis.
      "Thank you," she finally tells him.
      "I couldn't find flowers. Besides, they were on sale —"
      "Ten cents a pound. I heard you." Julia looks at Gordon. "Why the constant shell game. With one hand give a gift, a generous gift, and with the other hand devaluate it, shit on anything it might stand for —"
      "Sorry, didn't mean that — but please, no Freud. Don't interpret."
      "What am I supposed to do then?"
      "Enjoy the EXHIBIT & RESTAURANT! There're video games, Julia, and science and industry exhibits. Lighten up."
      "...What?!" She doesn't know whether, as the French say, it is to laugh or cry. "This from the same guy who dragged me to Frisco to see Survival Research Lab dynamite the shit out of cars in parking lots? Stacked monitors playing live feeds? Mannequin robots, cow skulls, and dildos bolted to remote-control go-carts with flamethrowers? And me the designated chickenshit for being afraid my car'd get stolen?"
      "Your hair!" Gordon has noticed it for the first time.
      "What about it?" Then, "Don't change the subject ... Those 'shrooms were the worst."
      "It's blue."
      "...You like it?"
      "Not the same blue as your eyes, but. Yeah. It's nice. In a Nuevo Neo Retro way. It's You." Gordon laughs. "It's you all right. No wonder the interview went ker-plowie!"
      "I think it was prefering Lit itself to Lit Theory —"
      "They'd've tolerated that, Julia, if your hair wasn't blue. It's the clothes, really. We are talking USC; you can do anything with accesories as long as you wear the Basic Academic Uniform."
      She shakes her head. "Give me some credit; I took the Job Interview Uniform off before I came here to meet you."
      "Did you mention that Ambrose Bierce is your great great great uncle."
      "No, because he was my uncle's ex-wive's great great uncle."
      "They still would have loved it."
      She looks at him looking at her, sending mixed signals with his smiling mouth and greedy eyes.
      Then, "I'd've loved to have seen your Interview Uniform...."
      "Fat fucking chance. And when did you become the clothes horse?" Gordon wears a double-breasted jacket. Italian wool.
      "When I changed Majors."
      "What's the new Major, Gordon?" (Feared as much.)
      "Don't be so god damn Northern California Big Sur condescending."
      "You want to be the last Angelino out, Gordon, you want to turn out the lights?"
      "Who came looking for work here?"
      "This is just a leg-up. Three, maybe four years. A better station on the academic cross. So that's besides the —"
      They both laugh, at each other, at themselves.
      "Don't sneer, Julia, you've sold out, job hunting here?"
      "I am job hunting here because I hate teaching at an Aggie-U; I want to be at a good school. Or a better one. And I've got to leave Santa Cruz, things are getting too strange."
      "It's pretty Helter Skelter down here."
      "You expect fast-food killers down here, Gordon. I'd rather be paranoid in the big city than on some isolated country road."
      "What was that about horses and sheep drowned in the Aptos State swimming pool?"
      She waves his query aside. "I mean school funding, layoffs." She sighs, looks up at the rococonated struts, so many lopsided lysergic spiderwebs. "Look, Gordon, you wouldn't understand."
      "I'm going to get some food, Julia." He stands. "Want some McNuggets?"
      "Just a large coffee. Black."
      After he goes, Julia examines the books. Novels by Mishima, Berryman, Brautigan, Tiptree, Kozinski, and Plath: Suicide Wing. Julio Cortazar, Kathy Acker, Angela Carter, and John Cheever: Cancer Ward. Works by Flaubert and Nietzsche: Syphilis. Two boring Trollopes, anthologies of Japanese, Jewish and Brazilian fiction; volumes on Byzantine architecture, Kabuki theatre, tracts by V.I. Lenin in Arabic and German (she recalls Gordon buying Nabokov's Russian Alice in Wonderland) (Gordon doesn't know Russian, but knows she does), and Kroeber's Ishi. This box: Books of the dead. He, who will live forever in the smoggy El-Lay soup, is leaving her with books of the dead, by the dead, about the dead. After A Manual of Modern Greek, Elementary to Intermediate, her brain hurts. Throbs.
      She reaches into her knapsack, finds paté and crackers. And a bota bag of wine, a Hunter Valley Merlot.
      And aspirin. Generic. Five hundred little white familiars. She takes three and chases them with a gulp of wine.
      A trio of children, wearing the parochial blue and white of Catholic school dresses, sits across the aisle from her. They are saying something about the King trial, but they become quiet when they notice her. They watch her drink the wine from the pouch and whisper to each other. Watching them watching her, Julia can tell that one of them is really concerned. The others find her as droll as all fucking hell. They find everything as droll as all hell. A line from a movie, "Kids today are scum."
      "Those Computerades bikes are always broken," a Brazilian looking girl with light chocolate skin declares. Try as she does, she can't hide her light under a bushel. "'Measure Your Caloric Output,' my butt!"
      The two others giggle.
      Where has Gordon gone for her coffee, to Colombia? She spreads paté on a few crackers and begins to eat. Which works perfectly in summoning him.
      "Where the fucking hell have you been, Gordon?"
      The three girls giggle until she glares at them. There is secret acknowledgement with the Brazilian-looking girl, a recognition of shared capabilities, psychic reprobate resonances, rings around rims, lips of singing glass, rising by thirds, by octaves. But who's the rubbing finger, who the glass? The trio makes eye-signals to each other, goes out to the patio. The Brazilian looking girl is last; she looks at Julia one last time. A bicycle spoke, broken fingers, a dead man on a bus. No time for processing, sorting shadow from penumbra from event. File.
      "You spooked those kids away." Gordon laughs. "Always so intense, so serious, about everything."
      Julia looks at the patio door. Sips the coffee, grimaces. "Sorry if I spooked anyone. I wanted to see you before leaving." Sets the cup down, stares at the swirl of dark yet bright oils.
      "Speaking of spooky, how's Diane doing?"
      Julia's pissed off at Diane; the accident wasn't Diane's fault, she knows that. "Gordon, leave Diane out of it." Julia toys with the coffee stirrer with its logo of arches on it. "I forgot to call her earlier, I have to before I leave."
      "I thought you said you had to see me."
      Games. Julia smiles. "They are not mutually exclusive activities."
      Gordon leans forward. "They are." He leans closer, half out of the chair. "You didn't answer, Julia, when do you leave?"
      "There's a train tonight."
      "I thought you came by car."
      "Rent-a-car. My heap would never survive the trek down."
      Gordon smiles, reaches for her hand before she can withdraw it from the field of play. "So. You have a class tomorrow?"
      "No." She sighs.
      "Sometimes," he confesses, "I don't understand you."
      She wants to cry. "You knew me five years, up until a few years ago. We dated for three months, lived together for six months, then broke up and became pals for four years. I never even met your mother — not that I'm accusing, it was my decision. You don't know me now."
      "We made love a hundred and ninety-nine times."
      She laughs. "Why do men obsess with numbers?"
      "But it was good."
      "It was nice, Gordon." She half smiles, half frowns.
      "Better than sleeping alone, at the time."
      "Want to try for that two-hundredth?"
      "That's almost," she admonishes him, "as bad as your first pick-up line —"
      "I don't remember —"
      "— You said, 'Hey baby doll, want to come up to my room and watch me have a multiple orgasm?'"
      "It worked, didn't it?"
      Julia has to smile. "It worked. But barely."
      "But it worked."

                                                                                          * * *

      They walk back past yellowribboned trees. "Really scary."
       "What's scary," Gordon enquires.
       Julia points at the faded ribbons. "CNN War happened years ago, and still this mindless kneejerk crap strangling trees with ribbons...."
      Gordon shrugs. "Who cares, Julia? So they bomb Baghdad again?"
      "I forgot, you're going to live forever." Julia looks at him. They come to the parking structure (Gordon's car is on the second floor, her car on the sixth) (she warns Gordon not to park in the structure, but to use the one across the street, which seems safe, and he humors her), and she agrees to follow him in her car to the University Hilton on Figueroa. She follows. NPR reports about killings the in Orange County, about a civil war breaking out again, but she loses the signal, and it is less than a mile to the hotel, at any rate. The canopy and the tiles of the hotel's entrance are the color of bruises and exit wounds.
      He checks in, under the names "Mr. & Mrs. Duchamp." While they lie on a queensize bed in a pastel room, while they drink two botas of chardonnay, Gordon brags to her about how he'd made a killing on the AIDS panic by buying stock in condoms. Julia says nothing, turns away and Gordon changes the subject. Gordon excuses himself. "Gotta untie the Gordian knot." Julia frowns when he grabs a knapsack before entering the bathroom, and wonders why he has suddenly turned on the shower. She is curious and grabs a hotel glass from the table, tears the paper off it. Julia places the glass against the door, hears a pumping sound. Goes back to the queensize bed. Sits. Hears the door to the bathroom open. Looks up just in time to see an inflated Godzilla. "Exterminate!" Gordon cries. Julia shrieks. Gordon gives chase. "Destroy!" He gooses her with the bouncy Godzilla.
      Julia grabs her keychain, bunches the keys between her fingers and jabs at the Godzilla. "Destroy all monsters!"
      "Hey!" He pulls back, too late. The made-in-Japan monster skin is punctured and Godzilla hisses and jerks and then crumples. "I'm going to have to take this out in trade."
      "Here's your trade." Julia still brandishes her keys. She sees herself and her manic Gordon and the decompressing monster in a mirror above the desk and has to laugh. She does.

                                                                                          * * *

      They decide to use the Jacuzzi. Gordon takes a quaalude; Julia declines. They go. Back. To the pastel room. He bends his key card, so they have to use Julia's. Later, on the queensize bed again, Gordon ejaculates, prematurely, while trying to put on his floral-printed, reservoir-tipped, ribbed condom. He shoots all over her thighs, then falls asleep.
      She showers, using both bars of soap and both tiny shampoo bottles on her thighs, dries herself and then gets dressed.
      Julia looks at Gordon, asleep, and wonders if she should cut his head off and freeze it, put it in one of his cryo-vats. He did say he wants to live forever. Julia takes a red fine point marker from her purse and draws oblong dashes across Gordon's neck, like a photograph she saw once of a hospital patient being prepped for surgery. Back at the museum, at the EXHIBIT & RESTAURANT, the three girls fight over the box of books.
      The Brazilian looking one chips a tooth in the struggle, but gains the most books. Julia leaves her hotel key card in the ashtray, by the bed. She almost trips over the detumescing Godzilla, kicks it.
      Gordon breathes irregularly, due to the wine and quaalude; the dashes stretch with each intake of breath; she turns his head to the side, just in case he gets sick. The Brazilian looking girl takes a shortcut home through USC and passes the parking structure Julia had warned Gordon about. The Brazilian looking girl trembles, her box of books falls, dust jackets and flyleafs flapping, spines breaking, barely bound pages flying out.
      The Brazilian looking girl runs home, with a profuse nose bleed. A neighbor (who has a husband in the LAPD) calls her husband at the police station, tells him what the girl told her: they know this Brazilian looking girl, and half the time she is right.
      An hour later a squad car discovers a severed head and hand on the second level of the structure Julia warned Gordon about, a severed head and hand belonging to a missing Guatemalan foreign exchange student, a post-grad Economics major. Julia drives away to catch the Amtrak Coast Starlight north to Oakland, where she can visit old pals before reporting back to the Aptos State University grindstone; she drives north to Union Station.

                                                                                          * * *

NOTES: Films refered to, specifically, are Godard's FIRST NAME: CARMEN ("Kids today are scum"), & Forsythe's GREGORY'S GIRL (comments made by girls about guys being obsessed with measurements).

R.V. Branham, when not co-hosting a floating æther-den, attended USC, El Camino College, Cal State Dominguez Hills, & Michigan State University. Day jobs have included: technical typist, photo-researcher, x-ray tech. intern, interpreter, social worker, & Treasury Dept. terrorist. His short fiction has been published in magazines such as 2 Gyrls Quarterly, Back Brain Recluse (UK), Téma (Croatia), Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Midnight Graffiti, & Red Lemonade (online), & have been collected in such anthologies as Red Lemonade’s Hybrid beasts (available as an e-book), Full Spectrum 3, Drawn to Words, Mother Sun, & several Gardner Dozois anthologies; many of his short stories have been translated into Croatian, German, Japanese, & Spanish; his plays, Bad Teeth, and Matt & Geof Go Flying, have been performed in staged readings in Los Angeles & Portland; he attended writing workshops run by Beyond Baroque, John Rechy, Sheila Finch, John Hill, & A.J. Budrys. He has translated Laura Esquivel into English & several of Croatian poet Tomica Bajsic’s poems into Spanish. He is the founder & editor of Gobshite Quarterly—a Portland, Oregon-based multilingual en-face magazine of prose, poems, essays, reasoned rants, & etc.; & author of a 90-language dictionary of insult & invective, obscenity & blasphemy, Curse + Berate in 69+ Languages (published by Soft Skull); & edited & published a bilingual edition of Luisa Valenzuela’s Deathcats/El gato eficaz.

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