I called you up and I said How were you and could I please speak to the Idea of You? You said Excuse Me? I said I didn't call to talk to you, I called to talk to the Idea of You. I said I had been doing some thinking. I had realized that all the time I had been seeing you, it was really the idea of you that I wanted to go out with. You asked me how I had come to this astonishing conclusion. I said Oh, little things had tipped me off; the way you knocked over your water glass last Wednesday, when the idea of you was grace and ease. The way you fumbled for words on Sunday, but the idea of you always knew what to say. I said I always understood the idea of you, but lately you were beginning to confuse me. There was a momentary pause as you handed over the receiver, and then a voice came on the line that reminded me of you but without those annoying glitches and halts. We talked for a few minutes in what felt like a carefree, ideal way; and then the Idea of You asked to speak to the Idea of Me. I asked for clarification of this bizarre suggestion--and it asserted that the Idea of Me was too sensitive and intelligent to reject the human imperfections of someone I loved. Sensing that I had somehow dropped the ball, I nobly stepped aside so that the Idea of Us could live happily ever after.
Down through the ceiling comes a fire siren and people screaming that we're supposed to ignore. Then gunshots and tires squealing, sounds we have to pretend are okay. They don't mean anything. It's just television. An explosion vibrates down from the upstairs. A woman begs someone not to rape her. He's not real. It's just a movie. We're the culture that cried wolf.
Looking at the book, open in her hands, Mona leafs back and forth. She says, "If I just knew what they used as ink, I'd know how to read it."
If it's ammonia or vinegar, she says, you'd boil a red cabbage and daub on some of the broth to turn the ink purple.
If it's semen, you could read it under fluorescent light.
I say, people wrote spells in peter tracks?
"And Mona says, "Only the most powerful type of spells."
If it's written in a clear solution of cornstarch, she could daub on iodine to make the letters stand out.
If it was lemon juice, she says, you'd heat the pages to make the ink turn brown.
"Try tasting it," Helen says, "to see if it's sour."
And Mona slams the book shut. "It's a thousand-year-old witch book bound in mummified skin and probably written in ancient cum." She says to Helen, "You lick it."
There are worse things than finding your wife and child dead. You can watch the world do it. You can watch your wife get old and bored. You can watch your kids discover everything in the world you've tried to save them from. Drugs, divorce, conformity, disease. All the nice clean books, music, television. Distraction.
These people with a dead child, you want to tell them, go ahead. Blame yourself.
There are worse things you can do to the people you love than kill them. The regular way is just to watch the world do it. Just read the newspaper.
"Why don't you just call him and say you want the damn shirt back?" Harriet had asked reasonably.
"He knows I want it back," I said savagely. "I have nothing to say. I don't want to talk to him. Maybe never again. But I want that shirt back."
More time passed - days, another week, and another. By now it was clear that our dissolution had entered the dangerous stage. He continued to call, once a week now. I continued to not return his calls. I was smarting, I was bitter. But I wanted that shirt back. Like most material possessions caught in the breakup crossfire, it had taken on talismanic properties.
"Could he be wearing it?" I asked Marco. "Is that why he hasn't sent it back?" I thought of its stretchy silk fabric, the way it exposed my collarbone, its beautiful russet color, like ripe plums. It seemed a little feminine for Sean.
"Jesus, the shirt, the shirt!" Marco groaned. "Just forget about it! Is that so impossible?"
"Maybe that new girlfriend is wearing it," I mused. "I want my shirt back. It is my Calvin Klein shirt and I paid a lot of money for it and I want it back. Why is he holding it hostage?"
But I knew why, and I had a feeling so did Sean. He and I didn't have any mutual friends, so there was no chance of getting information about the other through that channel. And we didn't work near each other, or live in the same neighborhood. The shirt was the last link. Once it was back in my hands, that was...well, it.



July 2008

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