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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
mob
Apple iPhone 6s
  More like fifteen or twenty, I whisper.
   "No," the mouth says. "You're turning out just like every guy I've ever trusted," she says. "You're greedy."
   I just want to save people.
   "You're a greedy pig."
   I want to save people from disasters.
   "You're just a dog doing a trick."
   This is only so I can kill myself.
   "I don't want you dead."
   Why?
   "Why what?"
   Why does she want me alive? Is it because she likes me?
   "No," the mouth says. "I don't hate you, but I need you."
   But she doesn't not like me?
   The mouth says, "Do you have any idea how boring it is to be me? To know everything? To see everything coming from a million miles away? It's getting unbearable. And it's not just me."
   The mouth says, "We're all bored."
   The wall says, I fucked Sandy Moore.
   All around that, ten others have scratched, Me too.
   Someone else has scratched, Has anybody here not fucked Sandy Moore?
   Next to that is scratched, I haven't.
   Next to that is scratched, Faggot.
   "We all watch the same television programs," the mouth says. "We all hear the same things on the radio, we all repeat the same talk to each other. There are no surprises left. There's just more of the same. Reruns."
   Inside the hole, the red lips say, "We all grew up with the same television shows. It's like we all have the same artificial memory implants. We remember almost none of our real childhoods, but we remember everything that happened to sitcom families. We have the same basic goals. We all have the same fears."
   The lips say, "The future is not bright."
   "Pretty soon, we'll all have the same thoughts at the same time. We'll be in perfect unison. Synchronized. United. Equal. Exact. The way ants are. Insectile. Sheep."
   Everything is so derivative.
   A reference to a reference to a reference.
   "The big question people ask isn't 'What's the nature of existence?'" the mouth says. "The big question people ask is 'What's that from?'"
   I listened at the hole the way I listened to people confess over the telephone, the way I listened at crypts for signs of life. I asked, so why does she need me?
   "Because you grew up in a different world," the mouth says.
   "Because if anybody is going to surprise me, it's going to be you. You're not part of the mass culture, not yet. You're my only hope of seeing anything new. You're the magic prince that can break this spell of boredom. This trance of day-after-day sameness. Even there. Done that. You're a control group of one."
   But no, I whisper, I'm not all that different.
   "Yes, you are," the mouth says. "And your staying different is my only hope."
   So give me some predictions.
   "No."
   Why not?
   "Because I'll never see you again. The world of people will eat you up, and I'll lose you. From now on, I'll give you one prediction each week."
   How?
   "This way," the mouth says. "Just like right now. And don't worry. I'll find you."
   According to my itinerary, I'm in a dark television studio on a brown sofa, a 60/40 poly-wool blend by the feel of it, a broadloom weave, treated to resist stains and fading at the center of a dozen stage lights. My hair styled by. My clothes designed by. My jewelry provided by.
   My autobiography says I've never been more joyful and fulfilled in my joy of living life every day to its fullest. The press releases say I'm taping a new television program, a half hour every late night when I'll take calls from people needing advice. I'll offer new perspectives. According to the press releases, every so often the show will include a new prediction. A disaster, an earthquake, tidal wave, rain of locusts could be headed your way, so you'd better tune in, just in case.
   It's sort of the evening news before the fact. The press release calls the new show Peace of Mind. If you could call it that.
   It's Fertility who said I'd be famous someday. She said I'd be telling the whole world about her so I'd better get my facts straight.
   Fertility said, after I was famous to describe her eyes as catlike.
   Her hair, she said, was storm-tossed. Those were her exact words.
   Yeah, and her lips were bee-stung.
   She said her arms are as smooth as a skinless chicken breast. According to Fertility, the way she walked was fun-loving. "After you're famous," she told me, "don't make me look like a monster or a victim or anything." Fertility said, "You're going to sell out your entire religion and everything you believe in, just don't lie about me. Okay? Please."
   So part of my being famous is I do this weekly sit-down program with a famous television journalist to introduce me. She segues to commercial break. She feeds me the people calling in with questions. The Teleprompter feeds me the answers. People call in on the toll-free line. Help me. Heal me. Feed me. Hear me. It's what I used to do in my dodgy apartment at night only broadcast nationwide. Messiah. Savior. Deliver us. Save us.
   The confessions to me in my apartment, the confessions to me on national television, they're all just the same as my story right now into the cockpit flight recorder. My confessional.
   With the kinds of drugs I was taking at that point in my career, if you want to sleep at night, you don't want to read the package insert. The side effects include nothing you'd do on national television. Vomiting, flatulence, diarrhea.
   The side effects include: headache, fever, dizziness, rashes, sweating.
   I could tick them all off:
   Dyspepsia.
   Constipation.
   Malaise.
   Somnolence.
   Taste perversions.
   According to my personal trainer, it's the Primabolin that's making my head buzz. My hands shake. Sweat stands on the back of my neck. It could be a drug interaction.
   According to my personal trainer, this is a good thing. Just sitting here, I'm losing weight.
   According to my personal trainer, the best way to get illegal steroids is you find a cat sick with leukemia and take it around to veterinarians who will prescribe preloaded syringes of animal steroids equivalent to the best steroids for human use. He said if the I lives long enough, you can stockpile a year's worth.
   When I asked him what happens to the cat, he asked, why should he care?
   The journalist sits across from me. How her legs look with the rest of her body is not too long. She shows just enough ear for earrings. All her problems are hidden inside. All her flaws are underneath. The only smell she gives off, even her breath, is hair spray. How she's folded into her chair, her legs crossed at the knee, her hands folded in her lap, is less good posture than it is some flesh-and-blood origami.
   According to the storyboards, I'm on a sofa in the island of hot light surrounded by television cameras and cables and silent technicians doing their jobs around me in the dark. The agent is there in the shadows with his arms crossed and looking at his watch. The agent turns to where some writers are marking last-minute revisions to the copy before it appears on the Teleprompter.
   On a little table next to the sofa is a glass of ice water, and if I pick it up my hand shakes so much the ice cubes ring until the agent shakes his head at me, his mouth making a silent no.
   We're taping.
   According to the journalist, she feels my pain. She's read my autobiography. She knows all about my humiliation. She's read all about the humiliating ordeal it must've been to be naked and sold as a slave, naked. Me being just seventeen or eighteen years old and all those people, everyone in the cult, being there to see me, naked. A naked slave, she says, in slavery. Naked.
   The agent is in my line of sight just over the journalist's shoulder, with the writers crowded around him in the dark, clothed.
   Next to the agent, the Teleprompter screen tells me: I FELT VIOLATED BY BEING AUCTIONED NAKED AS A SLAVE.
   According to the Teleprompter: I FELT DEEPLY HUMILIATED. According to the Teleprompter: I FELT USED AND DEFILED ... MOLESTED.
   The staff writers bunch up around the Teleprompter and mouth the words as I read them aloud.
   While I read all this out loud with the cameras watching me, the journalist looks off into the darkness at the director and touches her wrist. The director holds up two fingers, then eight fingers. A technician steps into the light and pats a curl back over the journalist's ear.
   The Teleprompter tells me: I WAS SEXUALLY ABUSED. SEXUAL ABUSE WAS COMMONPLACE AMONG THE CREEDISH CULT MEMBERS. INCEST WAS AN EVERYDAY PART OF FAMILY LIFE. SO WAS SEX WITH ALL SORTS OF ANIMALS. SATAN WORSHIP WAS POPULAR. THE CREEDISH SACRIFICED CHILDREN TO SATAN ALL THE TIME, BUT NOT BEFORE ABUSING THEM LIKE CRAZY. THEN THE CREEDISH CHURCH ELDERS KILLED THEM. DRANK THEIR BLOOD. THESE WERE KIDS I SAT NEXT TO IN SCHOOL EVERY DAY. THE CHURCH ELDERS ATE THEM. WHEN THERE WAS A FULL MOON, CHURCH ELDERS DANCED NAKED, WEARING JUST THE SKINS OF DEAD CREEDISH CHILDREN. Yeah, I say, it was all really, really stressful. The Teleprompter says: YOU CAN FIND ALL THE VIVID ACCOUNTS OF THE CREEDISH SEX CRIMES IN MY BOOK. IT'S CALLED SAVED FROM SALVATION AND IT'S IN BOOKSTORES EVERYWHERE.
   In the shadows, the agent and the writers give each other silent high fives. The agent gives me a big thumbs-up.
   My hands are numb. I can't feel my face. My tongue belongs to somebody else. My lips are dead with circumoral paresthesia.
   Side effects.
   Peripheral paresthesia kills any feeling in my feet. My whole body feels as far away and detached as the picture of me wearing a black suit and sitting on a brown sofa on the studio monitor, the way it's supposed to feel as your soul goes up to Heaven and watches the rest of you, the flesh and blood of you, die.
   The director is waving his fingers at me, two fingers on his one hand and four on his other. What he's trying to tell me I don't know.
   Most of what's on the Teleprompter is from my autobiography I didn't write. The terrible childhood I didn't have. According to the Teleprompter, the Creedish are all burning in Hell.
   The Teleprompter tells me: I'll NEVER GET OVER THE PAINFUL HUMILIATING PAIN NO MATTER HOW RICH I GET WHEN I INHERIT THE CREEDISH CHURCH DISTRICT LAND.
   According to the Teleprompter: MY NEWEST BOOK, THE BOOK OF VERY COMMON PRAYER, IS AN IMPORTANT TOOL FOR COPING WITH STRESSES WE ALL EXPERIENCE. IT*S CALLED THE BOOK OF VERY COMMON PRAYER AND IT'S IN BOOKSTORES EVERYWHERE.
   According to the journalist watching the director watch the agent watch me watch the Teleprompter, according to her I'm very happy and fulfilled now that I'm free of the Creedish Death Cult. When we come back, she tells the cameras, we'll take calls from viewers at home.
   The journalist breaks to commercial.
   During the commercial, she asks me if my growing up was really all that terrible. The agent steps up and says, yes. It was. It was terrifying. A technician trailing wires from his belt and from around his head steps up and asks, do I need some water? The agent says, no. The director asks if I need to use the bathroom, and the agent says I'm fine. He says I don't like dealing with a crowd of strangers asking me questions. I've evolved beyond physical needs. Then the camera techs roll their eyes, and the director and journalist look at each other and shrug as if I'm the one who sends them away.
   Then the director says we're taping, and the journalist says that caller number one is on the air.
   "If I'm in a crowded restaurant," the caller is a woman's voice coming over the studio speakers, "this is a very expensive restaurant, and someone eating next to me passes gas, not just once but over and over, and it's horrible, what should I do?"
   The journalist cups one hand over her face. The director turns his back. The agent looks at the writers writing my response for the Teleprompter.
   To stall for time, the journalist asks what the caller was eating.
   "Something with pork," the caller says. "It doesn't matter. The smell was so bad I couldn't taste anything else."
   The Teleprompter says: THE LORD GOD HAS GIVEN US MANY SENSES.
   The Teleprompter is stalling for time, too.
   AMONG THESE IS THE SENSE OF SMELL AND THE SENSE OF TASTE.
   As the lines of copy appear on the Teleprompter, I just read them aloud.
   BUT ONLY MAN JUDGES WHICH GIFTS ARE GOOD AND BAD. TO GOD THE SMELL OF OFFAL IS EQUAL TO THE SMELL OF FINE PORK OR WINE.
   I have no idea where they're going with this.
   DO NOT SUFFER AND DO NOT REJOICE. BE NOT COMPLIMENTED OR OFFENDED BY SUCH GIFTS. JUDGE NOT, LEST YE BE JUDGED.
   The director mouths the words Burma Shave. The journalist says caller number two, you're on the air.
   Caller number two asks what I think of thong swimwear.
   The Teleprompter says: ABOMINATION.
   I say, After years of presoaking for rich people, I think the people who make thong swimwear and underwear should just make the thong part black to begin with.
   The journalist says caller number three, you're on the air.
   "There's a guy I like, but he's avoiding me."
   It's Fertility, it's her voice, on loudspeakers, talking to me, talking about me all over North America. Is she going to force a spat here on television? My thoughts branch into a flow chart of the lies I've told and my possible responses to what she might start.
   Is she going to expose me and my disaster predictions?
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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
mob
Apple iPhone 6s
   Has she put two and two together and guessed that I coached her brother to commit suicide? Or has she known that all along? And if she knows I killed her brother, then what?
   "This guy who won't call me, I told him about what I do," she says. "My job. And he disapproves, but he pretends he's okay with it."
   The journalist asks, what exactly is Fertility's job?
   The Teleprompter is blank.
   Then all of America is about to know a big secret about either Fertility or me. Her evil job. My murderous suicide hotline. Her disaster dreams. My borrowed predictions.
   "I have an agent named Dr. Ambrose," Fertility says, "except he's not a real doctor."
   Fertility told me one time that everyone in the world, even garbage haulers and dishwashers, will be signed by an agent someday. Her Dr. Ambrose would find couples with money looking for someone to have their baby. A surrogate mother. Dr. Ambrose calls it the procedure. It's conducted in utero with the birth father in bed with Fertility and his wife waiting outside the door.
   "The wife will be in the hallway, knitting or listing baby names," Fertility says, "and the husband will be carefully emptying the teeny-weeny contents of his testicles into me."
   The first time she told me about her job, back when I was a nobody doing crisis intervention at home, she told me Fertility Hollis is a stage name. She said her real name was Gwen, but she hated that.
   "My being with the birth father is more naturopathic, says Dr. Ambrose. That's his pitch to desperate couples. It isn't adultery. It's holistic."
   It wasn't fraud or prostitution, she told me.
   "It's in the Bible," Fertility says.
   It costs five thousand dollars.
   "You know, Genesis Chapter Thirty, Rachel and Bilhah, Leah and Zilpah."
   Bilhah didn't use birth control, I want to tell her. Zilpah didn't make five grand, tax-free. They were real slaves. They didn't travel all over the nation getting plugged by would-be fathers hungry for an heir.
   Fertility will live with a couple for up to one full week, but every time they conduct the procedure it's another five grand. With some men, this can mean fifteen grand in one night. Plus the couple has to pay her airfare.
   "Dr. Ambrose is just a voice on the telephone that arranges the arrangement," Fertility says. "It's not as if he's a real person. The couple pays him and he sends me half the money in cash. There's never a return address. He's such a coward."
   I know that feeling.
   The Teleprompter says: SLUT.
   "All I have to do is not conceive, and I'm a big success."
   It's her vocation, she told me, being barren.
   The Teleprompter says: HARLOT.
   Over the speakers she says it, "I'm sterile."
   The Teleprompter says: WHORE.
   It's her one marketable job skill. It's her calling.
   Here's the job she was born to do.
   She pays no taxes. She loves to travel. She lives on the road in rich places, and the hours are flexible. She told me, some nights, she falls asleep during the procedure. With some birth fathers, she dreams of arson, of falling bridges and landslides.
   "I don't think I'm doing anything wrong," she says. "I think I'm making lemons into lemonade."
   The Teleprompter says: BURN IN THE HOT ETERNAL FIRES OF HELL YOU HEATHEN DEVIL SLATTERN.
   Fertility says, "So what do you think?"
   The journalist is staring at me so hard she hasn't noticed some hair that's slipped down over her forehead. The director is staring at me. The agent is staring. The journalist gulps. The writers are feeding copy into the Teleprompter.
   PRAY TO DIE ADULTEROUS DEVIL WHORE.
   All of America is tuned in.
   YOU ARE BEYOND FORGIVENESS EVIL DEVIL GIRL.
   The agent shakes his head, no.
   The Teleprompter screen goes blank for a moment. The writers write. The copy reappears.
   YOU ARE BEYOND FORGIVENESS EVIL DEVIL WOMAN.
   Says Fertility's voice, "So what do you think?"
   HARLOT
   The agent points at me, points at the Teleprompter screen, points at me, over and over, fast.
   TROLLOP
   "You're not going to pass some big judgment on me, are you?"
   JEZEBEL
   There's just dead air going out to the satellite. Somebody has to say something.
   With my numb mouth I read the words on the Teleprompter. With no feeling in my lips, I just say what they tell me to say.
   The journalist asks, "Caller number three? Are you still there?"
   The director is flashing his fingers at us, five, four, three, two, one. Then he pulls his index finger across his throat.
   What else I want people to know before my plane crash is I didn't dream up the idea for the PornFill.
   The agent is always pushing paper in front of me and saying, sign this.
   He tells me, sign here.
   And here.
   Here.
   And here.
   The agent tells me to just initial next to each paragraph. He tells me, don't bother reading this bit, I won't understand.
   That's how the PornFill happened.
   It was not my idea to take all twenty thousand acres of the Creedish church district and turn it into the repository for this nation's outdated pornography. Magazines. Playing cards. Videocassettes. Compact disks. Worn-out dildos. Punctured blowup dolls. Artificial vaginas. The bulldozers are out there twenty-four hours a day pushing mountains of that around. This is twenty thousand acres. Two-zero-zero-zero-zero acres. Every square foot of Creedish property. Wildlife is displaced. The groundwater is contaminated.
   It's being compared to Love Canal, and it's not my fault.
   Before the flight recorder tape runs out, people need to know who to blame. It's the agent. The Book of Very Common Prayer. The Peace of Mind television show. The American PornFill Corporation. The Genesis Campaign. The Tender Branson Dashboard Statuette. Even my botched Super Bowl halftime special, the agent brain-stormed them all.
   And they all made tons of money.
   But what's important is none of them was my idea.
   With the PornFill, the agent pitches it to me one day in Dallas or Memphis. My whole life at that point was stadiums and hotel rooms separated by time on airplanes instead of real distance. The whole world was just carpet patterns rushing by under my feet. Low-pile poly-nylon florals or corporate logos on a field of dark blue or gray that won't show cigarette burns or dirt.
   The whole world was just public toilets with Fertility in the stall next to mine, whispering:
   "There's a cruise ship hitting an iceberg tomorrow night."
   Whispering, "At two o'clock p.m., eastern standard time, next Wednesday, the Bolivian gray panther will become extinct."
   The agent is saying, a major problem for most Americans is disposing of pornographic material in a safe, private manner. Throughout America, he says, are vast collections of Playboy magazines or Screw magazines that don't excite anybody anymore. There are warehouses and shelves full of videotaped nobodies with long sideburns or blue eye shadow humping away to bad pirated music. What America needs, he says, is a place to ship this stale smut where it can decompose out of the sight of children and prudes.
   His pitch to me comes after the agent's already run a feasibility study on landfilling paper, plastic, elastic, latex, rubber, leather, steel fasteners, zippers, chrome rings, Velcro, vinyl, petroleum– and water-based lubricants, and nylon.
   His idea is to set up collection sites where people can drop off porno, no questions asked. From there, local franchises will ship the porno in the same type of specialized biohazard containers used for sharps and dressings contaminated with infectious disease. The porno will be hauled to the former Creedish church district colony in central Nebraska where it'll be sorted. The three categories will include:
   Soft Core.
   Hard Core.
   And Child.
   The first category will be allowed to rot on the surface of the ground. The second category will be bulldozed into the ground. The third will be handled only by uninterested people wearing full-body disposable rip-stop coveralls including 50-mil rubber gloves and boots and breathing through masks, who'll seal the kiddie porn in underground vaults where it can sit out its bazillion-year half-life.
   According to the agent, we need to get people panicking about the porno threat.
   We're going to push for government action that makes it mandatory to dispose of porno in safe, clean ways. Our ways. The same as used motor oil or asbestos, if people want to get rid of it, they'll have to pay.
   We'll show people discarded porno filling the streets, corrupting children, inspiring sex crimes.
   We'll charge by the ton to accept the stuff. The local collection franchises will pass the cost on to their customers, plus an extra margin for profit. We make money. The local franchises make money. Joe Blow is free to shop for fresh porno. The porno industry gets rich.
   Okay, the agent told me. Richer.
   According to the agent, it was all going to be a win, win, win, win situation.
   Then it wasn't.
   The agent was already drafting the federal law that now requires you to pay a deposit on all pornographic material. The deposit funnels back through the government to pay for the interment of pornographic materials found abandoned. Money from this special porno tax was earmarked for a porno super-fund to clean up illegal dump sites. Some special user tax dollars were going to rehabilitate sex addicts, but not very much.
   Before I ever heard word one about the PornFill, the environmental impact statement was already dummied up.
   The perc*** tests were faked.
   The publicist had faxes going out to church groups day and night, testing the waters. The lobbyists were making a discreet push.
   There was the twenty thousand acres of the Creedish church district with its ghosts nobody wanted to buy. And there were the millions of personal stockpiles of pornography that no one wanted. It made sense to everybody except me.
   It wasn't a decision I made. I explored some alternatives. I said The Prayer to Create Extra Storage Space. I swallowed 4000 milligrams of chocolate Gamacease prototypes. I thought that might solve the problem for America. I said The Prayer to Recycle Accumulated Newspapers, but this wasn't the same. I said The Prayer to Procrastinate, but the agent just would not let the issue drop.
   According to the newspaper one morning, the Sensitive Materials Interment Bill had passed the House and the Senate and the president was signing it into law.
   The agent just kept telling me, sign this.
   Initial here. And here. And here.
   I said the Prayer for Signing Important Documents You Don't Read.
   According to Fertility, it was the PornFill that drove my brother Adam out of hiding.
   My only part in the project was I signed some papers.
   Since then, everybody in America thinks it's my fault they have to pay an extra two-dollar deposit when they buy a skin magazine.
   After that, Adam Branson came out of hiding and put a gun to Fertility's bored head to force her to track me down.
   As if Fertility couldn't see that coming.
   Fertility knew everything.
   Fertility said to describe my brother's threat to kill her as well-intentioned.
   Later on, when it was my turn to hold the same gun to the pilot's head on this airplane, then I understood how fast these things happen.
   Still. I'm the one people hate.
   Me, I'm the brother with the Tender Branson National Sensitive Materials Sanitary Landfill named after me.
   The last time Fertility saw the new buffed, bulked, tanned, and shaved me in person, she said I was improved beyond recognition. She said, "You need a disaster?"
   She said, "Look in a mirror."
   Adam was still out hunting me for sport. Adam is the brother Fertility told me to describe as "a saint."
   Before this plane goes down or before the flight recorder tape runs out, some other mistakes I want to clean up
   include the following:
   The Peace of Mind television show
   The Tender Branson Dashboard Statuette
   The board game Bible Trivia. As if anything God says is trivial.
   The secret the agent told me was to have a lot of things in the pipeline. That way, when one failed you always have hope.
   So there was:
   The Bible Diet
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Underpromise; overdeliver.

Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
mob
Apple iPhone 6s
  The book Money-Making Secrets of the Bible
   The book Sex Secrets of the Bible
   The Bible Book of Remodeling Kitchens and Bathrooms
   There was the Tender Branson Room Freshener.
   There was the Genesis Campaign.
   There was the Book of Very Common Prayer, Volume II, but the prayers were getting a little witchy:
   For example, The Prayer to Make Someone Love You.
   Or, The Prayer to Strike Your Enemy Blind.
   All of these are brought to you by the good people of Tender Branson Enterprises. None of them was my idea.
   The Genesis Campaign was the most not my idea. I fought the Genesis Campaign tooth and nail. The problem was, there were people asking if I was a virgin. Intelligent people were asking if it wasn't a little demented, my still being a virgin at my age.
   People were asking, what was my problem with sex?
   What was wrong with me?
   The Genesis Campaign was the agent's quick fix. More and more everything in my life was a fix for an earlier fix for an earlier fix until I forget what the original problem was. The problem in this case was you just can't be a middle-aged virgin in America without something being wrong with you. People can't conceive of a virtue in someone else that they can't conceive in themselves. Instead of believing you're stronger, it's so much easier to imagine you're weaker. You're addicted to self-abuse. You're a liar. People are always ready to believe the opposite of what you tell them.
   You're not just self-controlled.
   You were castrated as a child.
   The Genesis Campaign was a very iffy media event.
   The quick fix was the agent decided to get me married.
   The agent tells me this, riding in the limo one day.
   Riding with us, the personal trainer tells me that tiny insulin needles are best because they don't snag against the inside of the vein. The publicist is there too, and she and the agent look out the tinted windows while the trainer sharpens a needle against the scratch pad of a matchbook and shoots me up with 50 milligrams of Laurabolin.
   This doesn't not hurt, using insulin needles.
   The thing about sex, the agent tells me, is no matter how much you crave it, you can forget. Back when he was a teenager, the agent developed an allergy to milk. He used to love milk, but he couldn't drink it. Years later, they developed lactose-free milk he can drink, but now he hates the taste of milk.
   When he quit drinking alcohol because of a kidney problem, he thought he'd go crazy. Now he never thinks about having a drink.
   To keep me from wrinkling the skin on my face, the team dermatologist has injected most of the muscles around my mouth and eyes with Botox, the botulinum toxin, to paralyze these muscles for the next six months.
   With the peripheral paresthesia side effects of all my drug interactions, I can hardly feel my hands and feet. With the Botox injections, I can barely move my face. I can talk and smile, but only in a very limited way.
   This is in the limo going to the plane going to the next stadium, God knows where. According to the agent, Seattle is just the general geographic area around the Kingdome. Detroit is the people who live around the Silverdome. We're never going to Houston, we're going to the Astrodome. The Superdome. The Mile High Stadium. RFK Stadium. Jack Murphy Stadium. Jacobs Field. Shea Stadium. Wrigley Field. All of these places have towns, but that doesn't matter.
   The events coordinator is riding with us also, and gives me a list of names, applicants, women who want to marry me, and the agent gives me a list of questions to memorize. At the top of the page, the first question is:
   "What woman in the Old Testament did God turn into a condiment?"
   The events coordinator is planning a big romantic wedding on the fifty-yard line during Super Bowl halftime. The wedding colors will depend on which teams make it to the Super Bowl. The religion will depend on the bidding war, a very hush-hush bidding war going on for me to convert to Catholic or Jewish or Protestant now that the Creedish church is belly-up.
   The second question on the list is:
   "What woman in the Old Testament was eaten by dogs?"
   The other option the agent is considering is that we avoid the middle man and found our own major religion. Establish our own brand recognition. Sell direct to the customer.
   The third question on the list is:
   "Did perpetual happiness in the Garden of Eden maybe get so boring that eating the apple was justified?"
   In the limo, the six or seven of us sit facing each other on two bench seats with our knees mixed together between us.
   According to the publicist, the wedding is set. A committee has already chosen a good nondenominational bride so my asking the questions will be a fake. The committee is in the limo with us. People are mixing drinks at the wet bar and passing them to each other. The bride is going to be the woman just hired as assistant .events coordinator. She's in the limo with us, sitting in the seat across from me, and she leans forward.
   Hi, she says. And she's sure we'll be very happy together.
   The agent says, we need a big miracle to do at the wedding.
   The publicist says, the biggest.
   The agent says I need to come up with the biggest miracle of my career.
   With Fertility pissed at me, with my brother still at large, with the Laurabolin needled into my bloodstream, the dating game scheme for choosing a sacred vessel, the Genesis Project, the complete stranger here to marry and deflower me, and the pressure for me to commit suicide, I don't know what.
   The undersecretary to the media coordinator says we're out of vodka. He's in the limo with us. We're out of white wine, too. We have loads of tonic water.
   Everybody looks at me.
   No matter how much I do, they still want more, better, faster, different, newer, bigger. Fertility was right.
   And now the agent's telling me I need the biggest miracle of my career. He says, "You need to get to completion on this."
   Amen, I tell him. No kidding.
   People are always asking me if I can operate a toaster. Do I know what a lawn mower does?
   Do I know what hair conditioner is for?
   People don't want for me to act too worldly. They're looking for me to have a kind of Garden of Eden, pre-apple innocence. A kind of baby Jesus naivete. People ask, do I know how a television works?
   No, I don't, but most people don't.
   The truth is I wasn't a rocket scientist to begin with, and every day I'm losing ground. I'm not stupid, but I'm getting there. You can't live in the outside world all your adult life and not get the hang of things. I know how to work a can opener.
   The hardest part of my being a famous celebrated celebrity religious leader is having to live down to people's expectations.
   People ask, do I know what a hair dryer is for?
   According to the agent, the secret to staying on top is to be non-threatening. Be nothing. Be a blank space people can fill in. Be a mirror. I'm the religious version of a lottery winner. America is full of rich and famous people, but I'm supposed to be that rare combination: celebrated and stupid, famous and humble, innocent and rich. You just live your humble life, people think, your Joan of Arc everyday life, your Virgin Mary life washing dishes, and one day your number will come up.
   People ask, do I know what a chiropractor is?
   People think sainthood is just something that happens to you. The whole process should be that easy. As if you can be Lana Turner at Schwab's drugstore when you're discovered. Maybe in the eleventh century you could be that passive. Nowadays there's laser resurfacing to remove those fine lines around your mouth before you tape your Christmas television special. Now we have chemical peels. Dermabrasion. Joan of Arc had it easy.
   Nowadays, people are asking, do I know about checking accounts?
   People ask all the time why I'm not married. Do I have impure thoughts? Do I believe in God? Do I touch myself?
   Do I know what a paper shredder does?
   I don't know. I don't know. I have my doubts. I won't tell. And I have the agent to tell me all about paper shredders.
   Around this part of the story, a copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders shows up in the mail. Some clerk on the incoming mail team directs it to an assistant media interface director who hands it off to a low-level publicist who routes it to the daytime scheduler who slips it onto my breakfast tray in the hotel suite. Alongside my morning's 430 grams of complex carbohydrates and 600 grams of egg albumin protein, here's the dead caseworker's missing DSM.
   The mail comes in ten sacks at a time. I have my own zip code.
   Help me. Heal me. Save me. Feed me, the letters say.
   Messiah. Savior. Leader, they call me.
   Heretic. Blasphemer. Antichrist. Devil, they call me.
   So I'm sitting up in bed with my breakfast tray across my lap, and I'm reading the manual. There's no return address on the package it came in, but inside the cover is the signature of the caseworker. It's weird how the name outlives the person, the signifier outlasts the signified, the symbol the symbolized. The same as the name carved into stone on each crypt at the Columbia Memorial Mausoleum, only the caseworker's name is left.
   We feel so superior to the dead.
   For example, if Michelangelo was so damn smart, why'd he die?
   How I feel reading the DSM is, I may be a fat stupid dummy, but I'm still alive.
   The caseworker's still dead, and here's proof that everything she studied and believed in all her life is already wrong. In the back of this edition of the DSM are the revisions from the last edition. Already, the rules have changed.
   Here are the new definitions of what's acceptable, what's normal, what's sane.
   Inhibited Male Orgasm is now Male Orgasmic Disorder.
   What was Psychogenic Amnesia is now Dissociative Amnesia.
   Dream Anxiety Disorder is now Nightmare Disorder.
   Edition to edition, the symptoms change. Sane people are insane by a new standard. People who used to be called insane are the picture of mental health.
   Without even knocking, the agent comes in with the morning newspapers and catches me in bed, reading. I tell him, Look what came in the mail, and he yanks the book out of my hands and asks me if I know what incriminating evidence is. The agent reads the caseworker's name inside the cover and asks, "Do you know what first-degree murder is?" The agent is holding the book with his one hand and smacking it with his other. "Do you know how it's going to feel to sit in the electric chair?"
   Smack.
   "Do you realize what a murder conviction will do to ticket sales at your upcoming events?"
   Smack.
   "Have you ever heard the phrase People's Exhibit A?"
   I don't know what he's talking about.
   The sound of vacuum cleaners in the hallway makes me feel lazy. It's almost noon, and I'm still in bed.
   "I'm talking about this," the agent says and holds the book gripped in his two hands and pushed in my face. "This book," he says, "it's what the police would call a souvenir of the kill."
   The agent says the police detectives are every day asking to talk to me about the caseworker's being found dead. The FBI is every day asking the agent what happened to the DSM that disappeared with her case history records the week before she choked to death on chlorine gas. The government isn't happy I fled the scene. The agent asks me, "Do you know how close you are to having a warrant out for your arrest?"
   Do I know what a prime murder suspect is?
   Do I know how me having this book will look?
   I'm still sitting in bed eating toast, no butter, and oatmeal, no brown sugar. I'm stretching my arms and saying, Forget it. Relax. The book came in the mail.
   The agent asks me if that seems more than a little convenient.
   His point is it's possible I sent the book to myself. The DSM makes a good reminder of my old life. As rough as being me can feel, what with the drugs and schedule and zero personal integrity, it feels better than me cleaning toilets over and over. And it's not as if I've never stolen anything before. Another good way to shoplift is you find an item and cut off the price tag. This works best in really big stores with too many departments and clerks for any one person to know everything. Find a hat or gloves or an umbrella, cut off the price tag, and turn it in at the Lost and Found department. You don't even have to leave the store with it.
   If the store finds out the item is stock, it just goes back on the sales floor.
   Most times, the item just goes into a lost and found bin or a rack, and if no one claims it in thirty days, it's yours.
   And since nobody lost it, nobody will come looking.
   No big department store puts a genius in charge of the Lost and Found department.
   The agent asks, "Do you know what money laundering is?"
   This could be the same scam. As if I killed the caseworker and then mailed the book to myself. Laundered it, so to speak. As if I sent it to myself so I could act innocent about sitting here propped on my 200-thread-count Egyptian cotton pillows, gloating over my kill, eating breakfast until noon.
   The idea of laundering anything makes me homesick for the sound of clothes with zippers going around and around in a clothes dryer.
   Here in my hotel suite, you don't have to look very far to find a motive. The caseworker's file on me had all the records of how she cured me, me the exhibitionist, me the pedophile, me the shoplifter.
   The agent asks, do I know what an FBI interrogation is like?
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   He asks, do I really think the police are that stupid?
   "Assuming you're not the murderer," the agent asks, "do you know who sent the book? Who might try and set you up to take this fall?"
   Maybe. Probably, yes, I do.
   The agent's thinking it's someone from an enemy religion, a Catholic, Baptist, Taoist, Jewish, Anglican jealous rival.
   It's my brother, I tell him. I have an older brother who might still be alive, and it's easy to picture Adam Branson out murdering survivors in ways the police would think was suicide. The caseworker was doing my job for me. It's easy to imagine her falling into a trap meant to kill me, a bottle of ammonia mked*** with bleach and just waiting under the sink for me to unscrew the cap and drop dead from the smell.
   The book drops out of the agent's one hand and lands open on the rug. The agent's other hand goes up to claw through his hair. "Mother of God," he says. He says, "You'd better not be telling me you have a brother still alive."
   Maybe, I say. Probably, maybe, yes, I do. I saw him on a bus one time. This was maybe two weeks before the caseworker died.
   The agent pins his eyes on me in bed covered with toast crumbs and says, "No, you didn't. You never saw anybody."
   His name is Adam Branson.
   The agent shakes his head, "No, it isn't."
   Adam called me at home and threatened to kill me.
   The agent says, "Nobody threatened to kill you."
   Yes he did. Adam Branson is roaming the country, killing survivors, to take us all to Heaven, or to show the world Creedish unity, or to seek revenge on whoever blew the whistle on the labor missionary movement, I don't know.
   The agent asks, "Do you understand the phrase public backlash?"
   The agent asks, "Do you know what your career will be worth if people find out you're not the sole survivor of the legendary evil Creedish Death Cult?"
   The agent asks, "What if this brother of yours is arrested and tells the truth about the cult? He'll blast everything the team of writers has been telling the world about your life growing up."
   The agent asks, "What then?"
   I don't know.
   "Then you're nothing," he says.
   "Then you're just another famous liar," he says.
   "The whole world will hate you," he says.
   He's yelling, "Do you know what the prison sentencing guidelines are for conducting a public hoax? For misrepresentation? For false advertising? For libel?"
   Then he comes in close enough to whisper, "Do I need to tell you that prison makes Sodom and Gomorrah look like Minneapolis and St. Paul by comparison?"
   He'll tell me what I know, the agent says. He picks up the DSM off the floor and wraps it in today's newspaper. He says I don't have a brother. He says I never saw the DSM. I never saw any brother. I regret the death of the caseworker. I miss my all-dead family. I deeply loved the caseworker. I'm forever grateful for her help and guidance, and I pray every minute my dead family isn't burning in Hell. He says I resent the police always attacking me because they're too lazy to go out and find the caseworker's real killer. He says I just want closure on all this tragic sad death stuff. He says I just want to get on with my life.
   He says I trust and cherish the guidance I get every day from my wonderful agent. He tells me I'm deeply grateful.
   Quick before the maid comes in to clean the room, the agent says, he's taking the DSM straight to the paper shredder.
   He says, "Now get your ass out of bed, you lazy sack of shit, and remember what I just told you because someday soon you'll be telling it all to the police."
   From the toilet stalls on either side of my stall come moans and breathing. Sex or bowel movements, I can't tell the difference. The stall I'm in has a hole in the partitions on each side of me, but I can't look.
   If Fertility is here yet, I don't know.
   If Fertility is here and sitting next to me, quiet until we're alone, I'll beg for my big miracle.
   Next to the hole on my right is written, Here I sit all downhearted, tried to shit and only farted.
   Next to that is written, Story of my life.
   Next to the hole on my left is written, Show hard for hand job.
   Next to that is written, Kiss my ass.
   Next to that is written, With pleasure.
   This is in the New Orleans airport, which is the airport closest to the Superdome, where tomorrow there's the Super Bowl, where at halftime I'm getting married.
   And time is running out.
   Outside in the hallway, my entourage and my new bride have been waiting more than two hours for me, while I've been sitting here so long my insides are ready to drop out of my ass. My pants are crushed around my ankles. The paper toilet seat liner is wick-ing water up from the toilet bowl to wet my bare skin. The smell of people's business is thick in every breath I take.
   Toilet after toilet flushes, but every time the last man leaves another arrives.
   On the wall is scratched, You know how both life and porno movies end. The only difference is life starts with the orgasm.
   Next to that is scratched, It's getting to the end that's the exciting part.
   Next to that is scratched, How tantric.
   Next to that is scratched, It smells like shit in here.
   The last toilet flushes. The last man washes his hands. The last footsteps go out the door.
   Into the hole on my left, I whisper, Fertility? Are you there?
   Into the hole on my right, I whisper, Fertility? Is that you?
   There's nothing but my fear another man will walk in to read his newspaper and let loose with another spectacular six-course bowel movement.
   Then from the hole on my right comes, "I hate that you called me a harlot on television."
   I whisper back, I'm sorry. I was only reading the script they gave me.
   "I know that."
   I know she knows that.
   The red mouth inside the hole says, "I called knowing you'd betray me. Free will had nothing to do with it. It was a Jesus/Judas thing. You're pretty much just my pawn."
   Thanks, I say.
   Footsteps come into the men's room and whoever it is, he settles in the stall on my left.
   To the hole on my right, I whisper, We can't talk now. Someone's come in.
   "It's okay," the red mouth says. "It's just big brother."
   Big brother?
   The mouth says, "Your brother, Adam Branson."
   And through the hole on my left comes the barrel of a gun.
   And a voice, a man's voice, says, "Hello, little brother."
   The gun stuck through the hole aims around, blind, pointing at my feet, pointing at my chest, my head, the stall door, the toilet bowl.
   Next to the barrel of the gun is scratched, Suck this.
   "Don't freak," Fertility says. "He's not going to kill you. I know that much."
   "I can't see you," Adam says, "but I have six bullets, and one of them is bound to find you."
   "You're not going to kill anybody," the red mouth tells the black gun, the two of them talking back and forth across my bare white lap. "He was at my apartment all last night putting that gun against my head, and all he did was mess up my hair."
   "Shut up," the gun says.
   The mouth says, "He doesn't have any bullets in it."
   The gun says, "Shut up!"
   The mouth says, "I had another dream about you last night. I know what they did to you as a child. I know what happened to you was terrible. I understand why you're terrified of having sex."
   I whisper, Nothing happened to me.
   The gun says, "I tried to stop it, but just the idea of what the elders were doing to you kids made me sick."
   I whisper, It wasn't that bad.
   "In my dream," the mouth says, "you were crying. You were just a little boy the first time, and you had no idea what was about to happen."
   I whisper, I've put all that behind me. I'm a famous celebrated religious celebrity.
   The gun says, "No, you haven't."
   Yes, I have.
   "Then why are you still a virgin?" the mouth says.
   I'm getting married tomorrow.
   The mouth says, "But you won't have sex with her."
   I say, She's a very lovely and charming girl.
   The mouth says, "But you won't have sex with her. You won't consummate the marriage."
   The gun says to the mouth, "That's how the church worked it with all the tenders and biddies so they'd never want sex in the outside world."
   The mouth says to the gun, "Well, the whole practice was just sadistic."
   Speaking of marriages, I say, I could use the biggest miracle you've got.
   "You need more than that," the mouth says. "Tomorrow morning while you're getting married, your agent is going to drop dead. You're going to need a good miracle and a good lawyer."
   The idea of my agent being dead isn't so bad.
   "The police," the mouth says, "are going to suspect you."
   But why?
   "There's a bottle of that new cologne of yours, Truth, The Fragrance," the mouth says, "and he chokes to death breathing it."
   "It's really bleach mixed with ammonia," the gun says.
   I ask, Just like the caseworker?
   "That's why the police will come after you," the mouth says.
   But my brother killed the caseworker, I say.
   "Guilty as charged," the gun says. "And I stole the DSM and your case history files."
   The mouth says, "And he's the one who set things up for your agent to choke to death."
   "Tell him the best part," the gun says to the mouth.
   "More and more in my dreams," the mouth says, "the police have been suspecting you of murdering all the Creedish survivors whose suicides looked fake."
   All the Creedish that Adam killed.
   "Those are the ones," the gun says.
   The mouth says, "The police think maybe you did all the killings to make yourself famous. Overnight, you went from being a fat ugly housecleaner to being a religious leader, and tomorrow you'll be accused of being the country's most successful serial killer."
   The gun says, "Successful probably isn't the right word."
   I say, I wasn't all that fat.
   "What did you weigh?" the gun says, "And be honest."
   On the wall it says, Today Is the Worst Day of the Rest of Your Life.
   The mouth says, "You were fat. You are fat."
   I ask, So why don't you just kill me now? Why don't you put some bullets in your gun and just shoot me?
   "I have bullets loaded," the gun says, and the barrel swivels around to point at my face, my knees, my feet, Fertility's mouth.
   The mouth says, "No, you don't have any bullets."
   "Yes, I do," the gun says.
   "Then prove it," the mouth says. "Shoot him. Right now. Shoot him. Shoot."
   I say, Don't shoot me.
   The gun says, "I don't feel like it."
   The mouth says, "Liar."
   "Well, maybe I wanted to shoot him a long time ago," the gun says, "but now the more famous he gets, the better. That's why I killed the caseworker and destroyed his mental health records. That's why I've set up the stupid phony bottle of chlorine gas for the agent to sniff."
   I was only a pretend insane pervert with the caseworker, I say.
   Scratched on the wall it says, Shit or get off the pot.
   "It doesn't matter who kills the agent," the mouth says. "The police will be right on the fifty-yard line to arrest you for mass murder the second you step off camera."
   "But don't worry," the gun says. "We'll be there to rescue you."
   Rescue me?
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   "Just give them this miracle," the mouth says, "and there should be a few minutes of chaos so you can get out of the stadium."
   I ask, Chaos?
   The gun says, "Look for us in a car."
   The mouth says, "A red car."
   The gun says, "How do you know? We haven't stolen it yet."
   "I know everything," the mouth says. "We'll steal a red car with an automatic transmission because I can't drive a stick."
   "Okay," the gun says. "A red car."
   "Okay," the mouth says.
   I couldn't be more not excited. I say, Just give me the miracle.
   And Fertility gives me the miracle. The biggest miracle of my career.
   And she's right.
   And there will be chaos.
   There will be complete pandemonium.
   At eleven o'clock the next morning, the agent is still alive.
   The agent's alive at eleven-ten and at eleven-fifteen.
   The agent's alive at eleven-thirty and eleven forty-five.
   At eleven-fifty, the events coordinator chauffeurs me from the hotel to the stadium.
   With everyone always around us, the coordinators and reps and managers, I can't ask the agent if he's brought a bottle of Truth, The Fragrance, and when he plans to sniff it next. I can't just tell him not to sniff any cologne today. That it's poison. That the brother I don't have and that I've never seen has got into the agent's luggage and set a trap. Every time I see the agent, every time he disappears into the bathroom or I have to turn my back for a minute, it could be the last time I see him.
   It's not that I love the agent that much. I can easily enough picture myself at his funeral, what I'd wear, what I'd say in eulogy. Giggling. Then I see Fertility and me doing the Argentine Tango on his grave.
   I just don't want to be on trial for mass murder.
   It's what the caseworker would call an approach/avoidance situation.
   Whatever I say about cologne, the entourage will repeat to the police if he turns up choked to death.
   At four-thirty, we're backstage at the stadium with the folding tables and catered food and the rented wardrobe, the tuxes and the wedding dress hanging on racks, and the agent is still alive and asking me what I plan to proclaim as my big half time miracle.
   I'm not telling.
   "But is it big?" the agent wants to know.
   It's big.
   It's big enough to make every man in this stadium want to kick my ass.
   The agent looks at me, one eyebrow raised, frowning.
   The miracle I have is so big it will take every policeman in this city to keep the crowds from killing me. I don't tell the agent that. I don't say how that's the idea. The police will have their hands so full keeping me alive, they won't be able to arrest me for murder. I don't tell the agent that part.
   At five o'clock, the agent is still alive, and I'm getting strapped into a white tuxedo with a white bow tie. The justice of the peace comes up and tells me everything is under control. All I have to do is breathe in and out.
   The bride comes over in her wedding dress, rubbing petroleum jelly up and down her ring finger, and says, "My name is Laura."
   This isn't the girl who was in the limo from the day before.
   "That was Trisha," the bride says. Trisha got sick so Laura is being her understudy. It's okay. I'll still be married to Trisha even though she's not here. Trisha is the one the agent still wants.
   Laura says, "The cameras won't know." She's wearing a veil.
   People are eating the food brought in by the caterer. Near the steel doors that open onto the sidelines, people from the florist are ready to hustle the altar out onto the football field. The candelabras. The bowers covered with white silk flowers. Roses and peonies and white sweet peas and stock, all of them brittle and sticky with hair spray to keep them stiff. The armload of silk bouquet for the bride to carry is silk gladioli and white poly-silk dahlias and tulips trailing yards of white silk honeysuckle.
   All of it looks beautiful and real if you're far enough away.
   The field lights are bright, the makeup artist says, and gives me a huge red mouth.
   At six o'clock, the Super Bowl begins. It's football. It's the Cardinals against the Colts.
   Five minutes into the first quarter, it's Colts six, Cardinals zero, and the agent is still alive.
   Near the steel doors that open into the stadium are the altar boys and bridesmaids dressed as angels, flirting and smoking cigarettes.
   With the Colts on their forty-yard line, it's their second down and six, and the post-event scheduler is briefing me how I'll spend my honeymoon on a seventeen-city tour to promote the books, the games, the dashboard statuette. Founding my own major world religion isn't out of the picture. A world tour is in the works now that the pesky question about my having sex is covered. The plan includes goodwill tours to Europe, Japan, China, Australia, Singapore, South Africa, Argentina, the British Virgin Islands, and New Guinea, with me getting back to the United States in time to see my first child born.
   Just so there's nothing left to guesswork, the coordinator tells me the agent has taken certain liberties to make sure my wife will have our first child at the end of my nine-month tour.
   Long-range planning calls for my wife to have six, maybe seven children, a model Creedish family.
   The events coordinator says I won't have to lift a finger.
   This will be immaculate conception, as far as I'm involved.
   The field lights are way too bright, the makeup artist says, and smears my cheeks with red.
   At the end of the first quarter, the agent comes by to make me sign some papers. Profit-sharing documents, the agent tells me. The party known as Tender Branson, to be hereafter known as The Victim, grants the party hereafter known as The Agent the power to receive and distribute all monies payable to the Tender Branson Media and Merchandising Syndicate, including but not limited to book sales, broadcast programming, artwork, live performances, and cosmetics, namely men's cologne.
   "Sign here," the agent says.
   And here.
   Here.
   And here.
   Someone is pinning a white rose to my lapel. Someone is on his knees shining my shoes. The makeup artist is still blending.
   The agent now owns the copyright to my image. And my name.
   It's the end of the first quarter with the game tied seven to seven, and the agent's still alive.
   The personal fitness trainer needles me with 10 cc's of adrenaline to put some sparkle in my eyes.
   The senior events coordinator says all I have to do is walk the fifty-yard line out to where the wedding party is standing in the center of the stadium. The bride will walk in from the opposing side. We'll all of us be standing on a platform of wooden boxes with five thousand white doves hidden underneath. The audio for the ceremony was all prerecorded in a studio, so that's what the audience will hear. I don't have to say a word until my prediction.
   When I step on a switch hidden by my foot, that will release the doves. Walk. Talk. Doves. It's a cinch.
   The wardrobe supervisor announces that we need to use the corset to get the silhouette we're after and tells me to hurry and strip in front of everybody. The angels, the staff, the caterers, the florist people. The agent. Now. Everything except my shorts and socks. Now. The wardrobe supervisor stands with the rubber-and-wire torture of the corset ready for me to step into, and says here's my last chance to take a leak for the next three hours.
   "You wouldn't have to wear that monster," the agent tells me, "if you could keep the weight off."
   It's four minutes into the second quarter and nobody can find the wedding ring.
   The agent blames the events coordinator blames the wardrobe supervisor blames the properties manager blames the jeweler who was supposed to donate a ring in return for advertising time on the blimp circling the stadium. Outside, the blimp is going around the sky flashing the jeweler's name. Inside the agent is threatening to sue for breach of contract and trying to radio the blimp.
   The events coordinator is telling me, "Fake the ring."
   They'll have the cameras do a head-and-shoulders on me and the bride. Just fake putting a ring on Trisha's finger.
   The bride says she's not Trisha.
   "And remember," the coordinator says, "just mouth the words, it's all prerecorded."
   It's nine minutes into the second quarter and the agent is still alive and yelling into his phone.
   "Shoot it down," he's yelling. "Pull the plug. Give me a gun and I'll do it," he's yelling. "Just get that damn blimp out of the air."
   "No can do," the events coordinator says. The minute the wedding party comes out of the stadium, the crew in the blimp will dump fifteen thousand pounds of rice over the parking lot.
   "If you'll come with me," the senior scheduler says. It's time for us to take our places.
   The Colts and Cardinals go chugging off the field, the score twenty to seventeen.
   The crowd is screaming for more football.
   The angels and property staff rush out with the altar and silk flowers, the candelabras flaming and the platform full of doves.
   The corset is squeezing all my internal organs up into my throat.
   The clock is ticking down to the start of the second half, and the agent is still alive. I can only inhale in little half breaths.
   The personal fitness trainer sidesteps up next to me and says, "Here, this will put some color in your cheeks."
   He puts a little bottle under my nose and says for me to sniff hard.
   The crowd is stomping their feet, the clock ticks, the score is so close, and I sniff.
   "Now the other nostril," the trainer says.
   And I sniff.
   And everything's disappeared. Except for the hum of my blood chugging through veins in my ears and my heart pumping against the squeeze of my corset, I'm not aware of anything.
   Feel no evil. See no evil. Hear no evil. Fear no evil.
   In the distance, the coordinator is waving me out onto the artificial grass. He's pointing down at the line chalked into the field, then pointing out at a group of people standing on the wedding platform covered with white flowers in the center of the field.
   The hum of my blood is fading until I hear music. I'm walking past the coordinator, out into the stadium with the thousands screaming in their seats. The music blares out of nowhere. The blimp circles outside, flashing:
   Congratulations from the Many Fine Products of the Philip Morris Family of Products.
   The bride, Laura, Trisha, whoever, arrives from the opposing side.
   Without opening his mouth, the justice of the peace says:
   DO YOU, TENDER BRANSON, TAKE TRISHA CONNERS TO BE YOURS TO HAVE AND TO HOLD AND BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY WITH AS MANY TIMES AS POSSIBLE AS LONG AS YOU BOTH SHALL LIVE?
   You can feel the reverb from a hundred speakers.
   Without opening my mouth, I say:
   I DO.
   Without opening his mouth, the justice of the peace says:
   WILL YOU, TRISHA CONNERS, TAKE TENDER BRANSON AS LONG AS YOU BOTH SHALL LIVE?
   And Laura lip-synchs:
   I DO.
   With the television cameras zooming in, we fake the rings.
   We fake the kiss.
   The veil stays pretty much in place. Laura stays Trisha. From a distance everything looks perfect.
   Outside the shot, the police are starting out onto the field. The agent must be dead. The cologne. Chlorine gas.
   The police are at the ten-yard line.
   I ask the justice of the peace for a microphone, to make my big prediction, my miracle.
   The police are at the twenty-yard line.
   I get the microphone, but it's dead.
   The police are at the twenty-five-yard line.
   I saying, Testing, testing, one, two, three.
   Testing, one, two, three.
   The police are at the thirty-yard line, their handcuffs open and ready to snap on me.
   The microphone comes to life and my voice blares from the sound system.
   The police are at the forty-yard line saying, You have the right to remain silent.
   If you choose to give up that right, anything you say can and will be used against you ...
   And I give up my right.
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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
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Apple iPhone 6s
   I give my prediction.
   The police are at the forty-five-yard line.
   My voice blaring throughout the stadium, I say:
   THE FINAL SCORE OF TODAY'S GAME WILL BE COLTS TWENTY-SEVEN, CARDINALS TWENTY-FOUR. THE COLTS WILL WIN TODAYS SUPER BOWL BY THREE POINTS.
   And all hell breaks loose.
   What's worse than that, engine number two has just flamed out. Up here alone in Flight 2039, I only have two engines left.
   To do the job right, you take one sheet of the goldenrod paper and fold it around a sheet of the white paper. Slip a coupon inside the folded papers. Hold a sheet of merchandise stamps alongside the folded papers. Then fold a sheet of the letterhead paper around all of it, and stuff this into an envelope.
   Stick the corresponding address label on the envelope, and you've earned three cents.
   Do this thirty-three times, and you've earned almost a dollar.
   Where we're at tonight is Adam Branson's idea.
   The letter I'm folding starts:
   Is the water that comes into the WILSON house bringing with it dangerous parasites?
   Where we're at is supposed to be safe.
   The goldenrod around the white, the coupon inside, the sheet of stamps, the letterhead paper, it all goes inside the envelope, and I'm three cents closer to escaped.
   Is the water that comes into the CAMERON house bringing with it dangerous parasites?
   The three of us sit around the dining-room table, Adam and Fertility and me, stuffing these envelopes. At ten o'clock, the housemother locks the front door of the house and stops on her walk back to the kitchen to ask if our daughter is doing any better. Have the doctors upgraded her condition? Will she live?
   Fertility with rice still in her hair says, "We're not out of the woods, not yet."
   Of course, we don't have a daughter.
   Us having a daughter was Adam Branson's idea.
   Around us is the combination of three or four families, kids and parents talking about cancer and chemotherapy, burns and skin grafts. Staph infections. The housemother asks what we call our little girl.
   Adam and Fertility and I look at each other, Fertility with her tongue stuck out to lick an envelope flap. Me looking at Adam is the same as looking at a picture of who I used to be.
   All together, we say three different names.
   Fertility says, "Amanda."
   Adam says, "Patty."
   I say, Laura. Only the three names all overlap.
   Our daughter.
   The housemother looks at me in the burned-up remains of my white tuxedo and asks, why is our little daughter in the hospital for treatment?
   All together, we say three different problems.
   Fertility says, "Scoliosis."
   Adam says, "Polio."
   I say, Tuberculosis.
   The housemother watches us folding, the yellow in the white, the coupon, the stamps, the letterhead, her eyes coming back to the handcuffs snapped around one of my wrists.
   Is the water that comes into the DIXON house bringing with it dangerous parasites?
   It was Adam who brought us here. Just for one night, he says. It's safe here. Now that I'm a mass murderer, Adam knows how we can start north in the morning, north until we get to Canada, but for tonight we needed a place to hide. We needed food. We needed to earn a little cash, so he brought us here.
   This is after the stadium and after the crowds were tearing to shreds the line of police crowd control. This is right after my sham marriage, when the agent was dead and the police were fighting to keep me alive so they could execute me for murder. The contents of the entire Superdome emptied down onto the field the minute I announced the Colts would win. One half of the handcuffs already clicked around my one wrist, the police were nothing against the running tide of drunks that rolled toward us from the sidelines.
   The band was somewhere playing the national anthem.
   Out of every direction, people are dropping onto the field from the bottom of the stands. People are running with their hands in fists out across the grass toward us. There are the Arizona Cardinals in their uniforms. There are the Indianapolis Colts still at their bench, slapping ass and giving each other high fives.
   The moment the police get to the edge of the wedding platform, I kick the switch and five thousand white doves fly up in a solid wall around me.
   The doves drive the police back long enough for the football mob to reach center field.
   The police fight back the mob, and I grab the bride's bouquet.
   Sitting here stuffing envelopes, I want to tell everybody how I made my great escape. How the crowd control cylinders of tear gas jet-trailed back and forth overhead. How the crowd roar echoed under the dome. How I grabbed the poly-silk white armload of silk flowers from the bride, tears streaming down her face. How I just touched the hair-sprayed bouquet to a burning candle and I had a torch to hold back any attacker.
   Holding the torch of gladioli and whipping hot wires of fake honeysuckle out in front of me, I jumped off the wedding platform and fought my way down the football field. The fifty-yard line. The forty-yard line. The thirty. Me in my white tuxedo, I dodged and quarterbacked my way, sprinting and pivoting. The twenty-yard line. To keep from being tackled, I whipped the burning dahlias side-to-side in front of me. The ten-yard line.
   Ten thousand tackles are out to sack me.
   Some of them drunk, some of them professionals, none of them are jacked on the quality chemicals I'm riding.
   Hands grab at my white tails.
   Men dive for my legs.
   It's the steroids that saved my life.
   Then, touchdown.
   I cross under the goalpost, still headed for the steel doors that will get me off the field.
   My torch is burned down to just some tiny silk trilliums when I toss it back over my shoulder. I jam through the steel double doors and turn the deadbolt from the other side.
   With the Super Bowl crowd pounding the locked doors, I'm safe here for a few minutes alone with the catered food and the makeup artist. The agent's dead body is under a white sheet on a gurney next to the buffet. The buffet is mostly just turkey sandwiches and bottled water, fresh fruit. Pasta salad. Wedding cake.
   The makeup artist is eating a sandwich. She cocks her head sideways at the dead agent and says, "Good job." She says she always hated him too.
   She's wearing the agent's heavy gold Rolex.
   The makeup artist says, "You want a sandwich?"
   I ask, Is it just turkey or do they have another kind?
   The makeup artist hands me a bottle of mineral water and says my tuxedo is on fire in the back.
   I ask, Where's the outside?
   Take that door over there, the makeup artist says.
   The steel doors behind me are buckling in their frame.
   Go down the long hall, the makeup artist says.
   Turn right at the end.
   Go out the door marked Exit.
   I say thanks.
   She says there's a meat loaf sandwich left if I want it.
   The sandwich in my one hand, I go out the door she said, go down the hall, go out the exit.
   Outside in the parking lot is a red car, a red car with an automatic transmission, Fertility behind the wheel and Adam sitting next to her.
   I get in the backseat and lock the door. To Fertility in the front seat, I tell her to roll up her window. Fertility fiddles with the controls for the radio.
   Behind me, the crowd is pouring out the exits, running to surround us.
   Their faces are getting close enough for me to feel spit on.
   Then out of the sky comes the biggest miracle.
   It starts raining.
   A rain of white.
   Manna from Heaven. I swear.
   A rain comes down so slick and heavy the mob is falling, slipping and falling, fallen and sprawled. White bits of rain bounce in the car windows, into the carpet, into our hair.
   Adam looks out in wonder at the miracle of this white rain that's helping us get away.
   Adam says, "It's a miracle."
   The back wheels spin, skid sideways, and then leave black as we escape.
   "No," Fertility says and hits the gas, "it's rice."
   The blimp circling the stadium says CONGRATULATIONS and HAPPY HONEYMOON.
   "I wish they wouldn't do that," Fertility says. "That rice kills birds."
   I tell her that rice that kills birds saved our lives.
   We were on the street. Then we were on a freeway.
   Adam twisted around in the front seat to ask me, "Are you going to eat all that sandwich?"
   I say, It's meat loaf.
   We needed a ride north, Adam said. He knew about a ride, but it wasn't leaving New Orleans until the next morning. He had almost ten years of doing this, traveling back and forth across the country with no money in secret.
   Killing people, I say.
   "Delivering people to God," he says.
   Fertility says, "Shut up."
   We need some cash, Adam tells us. We need some sleep. Food. And he knew where we could find some. He knew a place where people would have bigger problems than we did.
   We only had to lie a little.
   "From now on," Adam tells us, "you two have a child."
   We do not.
   "Your child is deathly ill," Adam says.
   Our child is not.
   "You're in New Orleans so your child can go to a hospital," Adam says. "That's all you need to say."
   Adam says he'll handle the rest. Adam tells Fertility, "Turn here."
   He says, "Now turn right here." He says, "Go up two more blocks and turn left." Where he's taking us, we can stay overnight for free. We can get food donated for us to eat. We can do some piecework, collating documents or stuffing envelopes, to earn a little cash. We can get showered. Watch ourselves on television, making our escape on the evening news. Adam tells me I'm too much of a mess to be recognized as an escaped mass murderer who ruined the Super Bowl. Where we're going, he says, people will have their own big problems to worry about.
   Fertility says, "Like, how many people do you have to kill to make the jump from serial killer to mass murderer?"
   Adam tells us, "Sit tight in the car, and I'll go inside to grease the skids. Just remember, your child is very sick." Then he says, "We're here."
   Fertility looks at the house and at Adam and says, "You're the one who's very sick."
   Adams says, "I'm your poor child's godfather."
   The sign in the front yard says, Ronald McDonald House.
   Imagine you live in a house only every day your house is in a different town.
   We had three ways out of New Orleans Adam knew about. Adam took Fertility and me to a truck stop on the edge of the city and said to take our pick. The airports were being watched. The train and bus stations were staked out. We couldn't all three of us hitchhike, and Fertility refused to drive all the way to Canada.
   "I flat out don't like driving," Fertility says. "Besides, your brother's way to travel is just a lot more fun."
   The day after the Ronald McDonald House, we're the three of us standing in the acres of gravel parking lot outside a truck stop cafe when Adam pulls a linoleum knife out of his back pocket and slips the blade open.
   "What will it be, people?" he says.
   Nothing here is going due north. Adam's been inside talking up all the truck drivers. What we have to choose from is the following, Adam says, pointing at each.
   There's a Westbury Estate going west out Highway 10 to Houston.
   There's a Plantation Manor headed northeast on Highway 55 to Jackson.
   There's a Springhill Castle going northwest to Bossier City on Highway 49, with stops at Alexandria and Pineville, then headed west on Highway 20 to Dallas.
   Parked around us on the gravel are prefabricated houses, manufactured houses, trailer houses. These are broken into halves or thirds and hooked to the back of semi trucks. The open side of each modular piece is sealed with a sheet of translucent plastic and inside are the murky shapes of sofas, beds, rolls of rolled-up carpet. Major appliances. Dining-room sets. Easy chairs.
   While Adam was chatting with the drivers, finding out where each is headed, Fertility was in the truck stop bathroom dyeing my blond hair black in the sink and washing the tanning bronzer off my face and hands. We stuffed enough envelopes to buy me thrift-store clothes and get a paper bag of fried chicken with paper napkins and coleslaw.
   The three of us standing in the parking lot, Adam waves his knife in a circle and says, "Choose. The men who deliver these lovely homes won't be eating their dinner all night."
   Most long-haul truck drivers drive at night, Adam tells us. There's less traffic. It's cooler. During the hot, busy day, the drivers pull off the highway and sleep in the sleeper boxes attached to the back of each truck cab.
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Underpromise; overdeliver.

Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
mob
Apple iPhone 6s
  Fertility asks, "What's the difference what we choose?"
   "The difference," Adam says, "is your comfort level."
   This is how Adam's been crossing and crisscrossing the country for the past ten years.
   A Westbury Estate has a formal dining room and a built-in fireplace in the living room.
   The Plantation Manor has walk-in closets and a breakfast nook.
   The Springhill Castle has a whirlpool bathtub in the glamour bath. A glamour bath has two sinks and a wall of mirror. The living room and the master bedroom have skylights. The dining nook has a built-in china hutch with leaded-glass doors.
   This is depending on which half you get. Again, these are just parts of homes. Broken homes.
   Dysfunctional homes.
   The half you get might be all bedrooms or just a kitchen and living room and no bedrooms. There might be three bathrooms and nothing else, or you might get no bathroom at all.
   None of the lights work. All the plumbing is dry.
   No matter how many luxuries you get, something will be missing. No matter how carefully you choose, you'll never be totally happy.
   We choose the Springhill Castle, and Adam slices the knife along the bottom edge of the plastic sealing its open side. Adam slices only about two feet, only far enough for his head and shoulders to slip inside.
   Stale air from inside the house comes out the slice hot and dry.
   With Adam slid inside as far as his waist, his butt and his legs still outside with us, Adam says, "This one has the cornflower-blue interior." His voice coming from inside the wall of translucent plastic, he says, "Here we have the premium furniture package. A modular living room pit group. Built-in microwave in the kitchen. Plexiglas dining-room chandelier."
   Adam boosts all of himself inside, then his blond head sticks out the slice in the plastic and grins at us. "California-king-sized beds.
   Faux wood-grain countertops. Low-line Euro-style commode and vertical-blind window treatments," he says. "You've made an excellent choice for your starter home."
   First Fertility and then me slide through the plastic.
   The way the inside of the house, the furniture shapes and the colors, looked blurred and vague from outside, that's how the outside world, the real world, looks out of focus and unreal from inside the plastic. The neon lights of the truck stop are just coming on, dim and smeared outside the plastic. The noise of the highway sounds soft and muffled from inside.
   Adam kneels down with a roll of clear strapping tape and seals the slice he made from the inside.
   "We won't need this anymore," he says. "When we get where we're going, we'll walk out the front or the back door just like real people."
   The wall-to-wall carpet is rolled up against one wall, awaiting the rest of the house before it's installed. The furniture and mattresses stand around covered with dry-cleaning-plastic-thin dust covers. The kitchen cabinets are each taped shut.
   Fertility tries the light switch for the dining-room chandelier. Nothing happens.
   "Don't use the toilet either," Adam says, "or we'll be living with your business until we move out."
   Neon from the truck stop and headlights from the highway flicker through the dining-room French doors while we sit around the maple-veneer table eating our fried chicken.
   This part of our broken home has one bedroom, the living room, kitchen, and dining room, and half a bath.
   If we get all the way to Dallas, Adam tells us, we can move into a house headed up Interstate 35 to Oklahoma. Then we can catch houses up Interstate 35 to Kansas. Then north on Interstate 135 in Kansas to westbound Interstate 70 to Denver. In Colorado, we'll catch a house going northeast on Interstate 76 until it turns into Interstate 80 in Nebraska.
   Nebraska?
   Adam looks at me and says, "Yeah. Our old stomping grounds, yours and mine," he says with his mouth full of chewed-up fried chicken.
   Why Nebraska?
   "To get to Canada," Adam says and looks at Fertility who looks at her food. "We'll follow Interstate 80 to Interstate 29 across the state line in Iowa. Then we just cruise north up 29 through South Dakota and North Dakota, all the way to Canada."
   "Right straight to Canada," Fertility says and gives me a smile that looks fake because Fertility never smiles.
   When we say good night, Fertility takes the mattress in the bedroom. Adam falls asleep on one length of the blue velvet sectional pit group.
   Pillowed in the blue velvet he looks dead in a casket.
   For a long time, I lie awake on the other length of the sectional and wonder about the lives I left behind. Fertility's brother, Trevor. The caseworker. The agent. My all-dead family. Almost all dead.
   Adam snores, and nearby a diesel truck engine rumbles to life.
   I wonder about Canada, if running is going to resolve anything. Lying here in the cornflower-blue darkness, I wonder if running is just another fix to a fix to a fix to a fix to a fix to a problem I can't remember.
   The whole house shudders. The chandelier swings. The leaves of the silk ferns in their wicker baskets vibrate. The window treatments sway. Quiet.
   Outside the plastic, the world starts moving, sliding by, faster and faster until it's erased.
   Until I fall asleep.
   Our second day on the road, my teeth feel dull and yellow. My muscles feel less toned. I can't live my life as a brunette. I need some time, just a minute, just thirty seconds, under a spotlight.
   No matter how much I try and hide this, bit by bit, I start to fall apart.
   We're in Dallas, Texas, considering half a Wilmington Villa with faux tile countertops and a bidet in the master bath. It has no master bedroom, but it has a laundry room with washer/dryer hookups. Of course, it has no water or power or phone. It has almond-colored appliances in the kitchen. There isn't a fireplace, but the dining room has floor-length drapes.
   This is after we look at more houses than I can remember. Houses with gas fireplaces. Houses with French Provincial furniture, vast glass-topped coffee tables, and track lighting.
   This is with the sunset red and gold on the flat Texas horizon, in a truck stop parking lot outside Dallas proper. I wanted to go with a house that had separate bedrooms for each of us, but no kitchen. Adam wanted the house that had only two bedrooms, a kitchen, but no bathroom.
   Our time was almost up. The sun was almost down and the drivers were about to start their all-night drives.
   My skin felt cold and rolling with sweat. All of me, even the blond roots of my hair, ached. Right there in the gravel, I just started doing push-ups in the middle of the parking lot. I rolled onto my back and started doing stomach crunches with the intensity of convulsions.
   The subcutaneous fat was already building up. My abdominal muscles were disappearing. My pecs were starting to sag. I needed bronzer. I needed to log some time in a sun bed.
   Just five minutes, I beg Adam and Fertility. Before we hit the road again, just give me ten minutes in a Wolff tanning bed.
   "No can do, little brother," Adam says. "The FBI will be watching every gym and every tanning salon and health food store in the Midwest."
   After just two days, I was sick of the crap deep-fried food they serve at truck stops. I wanted celery. I wanted mung beans. I wanted fiber and oat bran and brown rice and diuretics.
   "What I told you about," Fertility says, looking at Adam, "it's starting. We need to get him locked up someplace, stat. He's going into Attention Withdrawal Syndrome."
   The two of them hustled me into a Maison d'Elegance just as the driver was putting his truck in gear. They pushed me into a back bedroom with just a bare mattress and a giant Mediterranean dresser with a big mirror above it. Outside the bedroom door, I could hear them piling Mediterranean furniture, sofa groups and end tables, lamps made to look like old wine bottles, entertainment centers and bar stools against the outside of the bedroom door.
   Texas is speeding past the bedroom window outside. In the twilight, a sign goes by the window saying, Oklahoma City 250 Miles. The whole room shakes. The walls are papered with tiny yellow flowers vibrating so fast they make me travel-sick. Anywhere I go in this bedroom, I can still see myself in the mirror.
   My skin is going regular white without the ultraviolet light I need. Maybe it's just my imagination, but one of my caps feels loose. I try not to panic.
   I tear off my shirt and study myself for damage. I stand sideways and suck in my stomach. I could really use a preloaded syringe of Durateston right about now. Or Anavar. Or Deca-Durabolin. My new hair color makes me look washed-out. My last eyelid surgery didn't take, and already my eye bags show. My hair plugs feel loose. I turn to study myself in the mirror for any hair growing on my back.
   A sign goes by the window saying, Soft Shoulders.
   The last of my bronzer is caked in the corners of my eyes and the wrinkles around my mouth and across my forehead.
   I try and nap. I pick apart the mattress ticking with my fingernails.
   A sign goes by the window saying, Slower Traffic Keep Right.
   There's a knock at the door.
   "I have a cheeseburger if you want it," Fertility says through the door and all the piled-up furniture.
   I don't want a greasy damn fatty damn cheeseburger, I yell back.
   "You need to eat sugar and fat and salt until you get back to normal," Fertility says. "This is for your own good."
   I need a full body wax, I yell. I need hair mousse.
   I'm pounding on the door.
   I need two hours in a good weight room. I need to go three hundred stories on a stair climbing machine.
   Fertility says, "You just need an intervention. You're going to be fine."
   She's killing me.
   "We're saving your life."
   I'm retaining water. I'm losing definition in my shoulders. My eye bags need concealer. My teeth are shifting. I need my wires tightened. I need my dietitian. Call my orthodontist. My calves are wasting away. I'll give you anything you want. I'll give you money.
   Fertility says, "You don't have money."
   I'm famous.
   'You're wanted for mass murder."
   Her and Adam have to get me some diuretics.
   "Next time we stop," Fertility says, "I'll get you a skinny double americano."
   That's not enough.
   "It's more than you'd get in prison."
   Let's rethink this, I say. In prison, I'd have weight equipment. I'd have time in the sun. They must have sit-up boards in prison. I could maybe get black-market Winstrol. I say, Just let me out. Just unblock this door.
   "Not until you're making sense."
   I WANT TO GO TO PRISON!
   "In prison, they have the electric chair."
   I'll take that risk.
   "But they might kill you."
   Good enough. I just need to be the center of a lot of attention. Just one more time.
   "Oh, you go to prison, and you'll be the center of attention."
   I need moisturizer. I need to be photographed. I'm not like regular people, to survive I need to be constantly interviewed. I need to be in my natural habitat, on television. I need to run free, signing books.
   "I'm leaving you alone for a while," Fertility says through the door. "You need a time out."
   I hate being mortal.
   "Think of this as My Fair Lady or Pygmalion, only backward."
   The next time I wake up, I'm delirious and Fertility is sitting on the edge of my bed, massaging cheap petroleum-based moisturizer into my chest and arms.
   "Welcome back," she says. "We almost thought you weren't going to make it."
   Where am I?
   Fertility looks around. "You're in a Maplewood Chateau with the midrange interior package," she says. "Seamless linoleum in the kitchen, no-wax vinyl floor covering in the two bathrooms. It's got easy-clean patterned vinyl wallboard instead of Sheetrock, and this one is decorated in the blue-and-green Seaside theme."
   No, I whisper, where in the world?
   Fertility says, "I knew that's what you meant."
   A sign goes by the window saying, Detour Ahead.
   The room around us is different than I remember. A wallpaper border of dancing elephants goes around next to the ceiling. The bed I'm in has a canopy and white machine-made lace curtains hanging around it and tied back with pink satin ribbons. White louvered shutters flank the windows. The reflection of Fertility and me is framed in a heart-shaped mirror on the wall.
   I ask, What happened to the Maison?
   "That was two houses ago," Fertility says. "We're in Kansas now. In half a four-bedroom Maplewood Chateau. It's the top of the line in manufactured houses."
   So it's really nice?
   "Adam says it's the best," she says, smoothing the covers over me. "It comes with color-coordinated bed linens, and there are dishes in the dining-room cabinets that match the mauve of the velvet sofa and love seat in the living room. There's even color-coordinated mauve towels in the bathroom. There's no kitchen though, at least not in this half. But I'm sure wherever it's at, the kitchen is mauve."
   I ask, Where's Adam?
   "Sleeping."
   He wasn't worried about me?
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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
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Apple iPhone 6s
   "I told him how this was all going to work out," Fertility says. "Actually, he's very happy."
   The bed curtains dance and swing with the movement of the house.
   A sign goes by the window saying, Caution.
   I hate that Fertility knows everything.
   Fertility says, "I know that you hate that I know everything."
   I ask if she knows I killed her brother.
   As easy as that, the truth comes out. My whole deathbed confession.
   "I know you talked to him the night he died," she says, "but Trevor killed himself."
   And I wasn't his homosexual lover.
   "I knew that, too."
   And I was the voice on the crisis hotline she talked dirty to.
   "I know."
   She rubs a handful of moisturizer between her palms and then smooths it into my shoulders. "Trevor called your fake crisis hotline because he was looking for a surprise. I've been after you for the same thing."
   With my eyes closed, I ask if she knows how this will all turn out.
   "Long-term or short-term?" she asks.
   Both.
   "Long-term," she says, "we're all going to die. Then our bodies will rot. No surprise there. Short-term, we're going to live happily ever after."
   Really?
   "Really," she says. "So don't sweat it."
   I look at myself getting older in the heart-shaped mirror.
   A sign goes by the window saying, Drive to Stay Alive.
   A sign goes by the window saying, Speed Checked by Radar.
   A sign goes by the window saying, Lights On for Safety.
   Fertility says, "Can you just relax and let things happen?"
   I ask, does she mean, like disasters, like pain, like misery? Can I just let all that happen?
   "And Joy," she says, "and Serenity, and Happiness, and Contentment." She says all the wings of the Columbia Memorial Mausoleum. "You don't have to control everything," she says. "You can't control everything."
   But you can be ready for disaster.
   A sign goes by saying, Buckle Up.
   "If you worry about disaster all the time, that's what you're going to get," Fertility says.
   A sign goes by saying, Watch Out for Falling Rocks.
   A sign goes by saying, Dangerous Curves Ahead.
   A sign goes by saying, Slippery When Wet.
   Outside the window, Nebraska is getting closer by the minute.
   The whole world is a disaster waiting to happen.
   "I want you to know I won't always be here," Fertility says, "but I'll always find you."
   A sign goes by the window saying, Oklahoma 25 Miles.
   "No matter what happens," Fertility says, "no matter what you do or your brother does, it's the right thing."
   She says, "You have to trust me."
   I ask, Can I just have some Chap Stick? For my lips. They're chapped.
   A sign goes by saying, Yield.
   "Okay," she says. "I've forgiven your sins. If it helps you relax a little, I guess I can get you some Chap Stick."
   Of course, we lose Fertility at a truck stop outside Denver, Colorado. Even I could see that coming. She sneaks off to get me some Chap Stick while the truck driver is out taking a leak. Adam and me are both asleep until we hear her screaming.
   And of course she planned it this way.
   In the dark, in the moonlight through the windows, I stumble through the furniture to where Adam has thrown open the two front doors.
   We're pulling away from the truck stop, gaining speed as the driver upshifts with Fertility running after us. Her one hand outstretched with the little tube of Chap Stick. Her red hair is flagging out behind her. Her shoes slap the pavement.
   Adam is stretching his one hand out to save her. His other hand is gripping the doorframe.
   With the shaking of the house, a marble-topped little occasional table falls over and rolls past Adam out the doors. Fertility dodges as the table smashes in the street.
   Adam is saying, "Take my hand. You can reach it."
   A dining-room chair shakes out of the house and smashes, almost hitting Fertility, and she says, "No."
   Her words almost lost in the roar of the truck engine, she says, "Take the Chap Stick."
   Adam says, "No. If I can't reach you, we'll jump. We have to stay together."
   "No," Fertility says. "Take the Chap Stick, he needs it."
   Adam says, "He needs you more."
   The windows we left open suck air inside, and the easy-living open floor plan channels this airstream out through the front doors. Embroidered throw pillows blow off the sofa and bounce out the front doors around Adam. They fly at Fertility, hitting her in the face and almost tripping her. Framed decorative art, botanical print reproductions mostly and tasteful racehorse prints, flap off the walls and sail out to explode into shards of glass and wood slivers and art.
   The way I feel, I want to help, but I'm weak. I've lost too much attention in the last few days. I can hardly stand. My blood sugar levels are all over the map. I can only watch as Fertility falls behind and Adam risks leaning out farther and farther.
   The silk flower arrangements topple and red silk roses, red silk geraniums, and blue iris sail out the door and flutter around Fertility. The symbols of forgetfulness, poppies, land in the road, and she sprints over them. The wind throws mock orange and sweet peas, white and pink, baby's breath and orchids, white and purple, at Fertility's feet.
   "Don't jump," Fertility is saying.
   She's saying, "I'll find you. I know where you're going."
   For one instant, she almost makes it. Fertility almost reaches Adam's hand, but when he makes his grab to pull her inside, their hands miss.
   Almost miss. Adam opens his hand, and inside is the tube of Chap Stick.
   And Fertility has fallen back into the dark and the past behind us.
   Fertility is gone. We must be going sixty miles an hour by now, and Adam turns and throws the tube at me so hard it ricochets off two walls. Adam snarls, "I hope you're happy now. I hope your lips recover."
   The dining-room china cabinet comes open and dishes, salad plates, soup tureens, dinner plates, stemware, and cups bounce and roll out the front doors. All this smashes in the street. All this leaves a wide trail behind us sparkling in the moonlight.
   Nobody is running behind us, and Adam wrestles a console color television with surround sound and near-digital picture quality toward the door. With a shout he shoves it off the front porch. Then he shoves a velvet love seat off the porch. Then the spinet piano. Everything explodes when it hits the road.
   Then he looks at me.
   Stupid, weak, desperate me, I'm groveling on the floor trying to find the Chap Stick.
   His teeth bared, his hair hanging in his face, Adam says, "I should throw you out that door."
   Then a sign goes by saying, Nebraska 98 miles.
   And a smile, slow and creepy, cuts across Adam's face. He staggers to the open front doors, and with the night wind howling around him he shouts.
   "Fertility Hollis!" he shouts.
   "Thank you!" he shouts.
   Into the darkness behind us, all the darkness and scraps and glass and wreckage behind us, Adam shouts, "I won't forget everything you told me must happen!"
   The night before we get home, I tell my big brother everything I can remember about the Creedish church district.
   In the church district, we raised everything we ate. The wheat and eggs and the sheep and cattle. I remember we tended perfect orchards and caught sparkling rainbow trout in the river.
   We're on the back porch of a Casa Castile going sixty miles an hour through the Nebraska night down Interstate 80. A Casa Castile has cut-glass sconces on every wall and gold-plated fixtures in the bathroom, but no power or water. Everything is beautiful but none of it works.
   "No electricity and no running water," Adam says. "It's just like when we were kids."
   We're sitting on the back porch with our legs hanging over the edge and the pavement rushing under. The stinking diesel exhaust from the truck eddies around us.
   In the Creedish church district, I tell Adam, people lived simple, fulfilling lives. We were a steadfast and proud people. Our air and water were clean. Our days were useful. Our nights were absolute. That's what I remember.
   That's why I don't want to go back.
   Nothing will be there except the Tender Branson Sensitive Materials Sanitary Landfill. How it will look, the stored-up years of pornography from all over the country sent here to rot, I don't want to see firsthand. The agent showed me the receipts. Tons of smut, dump trucks and hoppers full, garbage trucks and boxcars full of smut, were arriving there every month, where bulldozers spread it three feet deep across all twenty thousand acres.
   I don't want to see that. I don't want Adam to see that, but Adam still has his gun, and I don't have Fertility here to tell me if it's loaded or not. Besides, I'm pretty used to getting told what to do. Where to go. How to act.
   My new job is to follow Adam.
   So we're going back to the church district. In Grand Island, we'll steal a car, Adam says. We'll get to the valley just around sunrise, Adam predicts. It's just a matter of hours. We'll be getting home on a Sunday morning.
   Both of us looking out into the dark behind us and everything we've lost so far, Adam says, "What else do you remember?"
   Everything in the church district was always clean. The roads were always in good repair. The summers were long and mild with rain every ten days. I remember the winters were peaceful and serene. I remember sorting seed we picked from marigolds and sunflowers. I remember splitting wood.
   Adam asks, "Do you remember my wife?"
   Not really.
   "She wasn't much to remember," Adam says. The gun's in his hands on his lap or I wouldn't be sitting here. "She was a Biddy Gleason. We should've been very happy together."
   Until someone called the government and started the investigation.
   "We should've bred a dozen children and made money hand over fist," Adam said.
   Until the county sheriff was there asking about documentation for every child.
   "We should've gotten old on that farm with every year just like the year before it."
   Until the FBI launched its investigation.
   "We should both have been church elders some day," Adam says.
   Until the Deliverance.
   "Until the Deliverance."
   I remember life was calm and peaceful in the district valley. The cows and chickens all running free. The laundry hanging outside to dry. The smell of hay in the barn. Apple pies cooling on every windowsill. I remember it was a perfect way of life.
   Adam looks at me and shakes his head.
   He says, "That's how stupid you are."
   How Adam looks in the dark is how I'd look if none of this chaos had ever happened to me. Adam is what Fertility would call a control group of me. If I'd never been baptized and sent into the outside world, if I'd never been famous and blown out of proportion, that would be me with Adam's simple blue eyes and clean blond hair. My shoulders would be squared and regular-sized. My manicured hands with clear polish on the nails would be his strong hands. My chapped lips would be like his. My back would be straight. My heart would be his heart.
   Adam looks out into the dark and says, "I destroyed them."
   The Creedish survivors.
   "No," Adam says. "All of them. The entire district colony. I called the police. I left the valley one night and walked until I found a telephone."
   There were birds in every Creedish tree, I remember. And we caught crawdads by tying a lump of bacon fat to a string and dropping it into the creek. When we pulled it out, the fat would be covered with crawdads.
   "I must have pressed zero on the telephone," Adam says, "but I asked for the sheriff. I told someone who answered that only one out of every twenty Creedish children had a valid birth certificate. I told him the Creedish hid their children from the government."
   The horses, I remember. We had teams of horses to plow with and pull buggies. And we called them by their color because it was a sin to give an animal a name.
   "I told them the Creedish abused their children and didn't pay taxes on most of their income," Adam says. "I told them the Creedish were lazy and shiftless. I told them, to Creedish parents, their children were their income. Their children were chattel."
   The icicles hanging on houses, I remember. The pumpkins. The harvest bonfires.
   "I started the investigation," Adam says.
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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
mob
Apple iPhone 6s
   The singing in church, I remember. The quilting. The barn raisings.
   "I left the colony that night and never went back," Adam says.
   Being cherished and cared for, I remember.
   "We never had any horses. The couple chickens and pigs we had were just for show," Adam says. "You were always in school. You just remember what they taught you Creedish life was like a hundred years ago. Hell, a century ago everybody had horses."
   Being happy and belonging, I remember.
   Adam says, "There were no black Creedish. The Creedish elders were a pack of racist, sexist white slavers."
   I remember feeling safe.
   Adam says, "Everything you remember is wrong."
   Being valued and loved, I remember.
   "You remember a lie," Adam says. "You were bred and trained and sold."
   And he wasn't.
   No, Adam Branson was a firstborn son. Three minutes, that made all the difference. He would own everything. The barns and chickens and lambs. The peace and security. He would inherit the future, and I would be a labor missionary, mowing the lawn and mowing the lawn, work without end.
   The dark Nebraska night and the road slipping by fast and warm around us. With one good push, I say to myself, I could put Adam Branson out of my life for good.
   "There was hardly anything we ate that we didn't buy from the outside world," Adam says. "I inherited a farm for raising and selling my children."
   Adam says, "We didn't even recycle."
   So that's why he called the sheriff?
   "I don't expect you to understand," Adam says. "You're still the eight-year-old sitting in school, sitting in church, believing everything you're told. You remember pictures in books. They planned how you'd live your whole life. You're still asleep."
   And Adam Branson is awake?
   "I woke up the night I made that telephone call. That night I did something that couldn't be undone," Adam says.
   And now everybody's dead.
   "Everybody except you and me."
   And the only thing left for me to do is kill myself.
   "That's just what you've been trained to do," Adam says. "That would be the ultimate act of a slave."
   So what's left I can do to make my life any different?
   "The only way you'll ever find your own identity is to do the one thing the Creedish elders trained you most not to do," Adam says. "Commit the one biggest transgression. The ultimate sin. Turn your back on church doctrine," Adam says.
   "Even the garden of Eden was just a big fancy cage," Adam says. 'You'll be a slave the rest of your life unless you bite the apple."
   I've eaten the entire apple. I've done everything. I've gone on television and denounced the church. I've blasphemed in front of millions of people. I've lied and shoplifted and killed, if you count Trevor Hollis. I've defiled my body with drugs. I've destroyed the Creedish church district valley. I've labored every Sunday for the past ten years.
   Adam says, "You're still a virgin."
   With one good jump, I tell myself, I could solve all my problems forever.
   "You know, the horizontal bop. Hide the salami. The hot thing. The big O. Getting lucky. Going all the way. Hitting a home run. Scoring big-time. Laying pipe. Plowing a field. Stuffing the muff. Doing the big dirty," Adam says.
   "Quit trying to fix your life. Deal with your one big issue," Adam says.
   "Little brother," Adam says, "we need to get you laid."
   The Creedish church district is twenty thousand, five hundred and sixty acres, almost the entire valley at the headlands of the Flemming River, west-northwest of Grand Island, Nebraska. From Grand Island, it's a four-hour car trip. Driving south from Sioux Falls, it's a nine-hour trip.
   That much of what I know is true.
   The way Adam explained everything else, I still wonder about. Adam said the first step most cultures take to making you a slave is to castrate you. Eunuchs, they're called. Just short of that, some cultures make it so you don't enjoy sex so much. They cut off parts. Parts of the clitoris, Adam calls it. Or the foreskin. Then the sensitive parts of you, the parts that you'd enjoy the most, you feel less and less with those parts.
   That's the whole idea, Adam says.
   We drive west the rest of the night, away from where the sun will come up, trying to outrace it, trying not to see what it's going to show us when we get home.
   On the dashboard of the car is glued a six-inch plastic statue of a man in Creedish church costume, the baggy pants, the wool coat, the hat. His eyes are glow-in-the-dark plastic. His hands are together in prayer, raised so high and out so far in front he looks about to take a swan dive off the passenger side of the dashboard.
   Fertility told Adam to look for a green late-model Chevy somewhere within two blocks of the truck stop outside Grand Island. She said the keys would be left in it, and the tank would be full of gas. After we left the Casa Castile, it took us about five minutes to find the car.
   Looking at the dashboard statuette in front of him, Adam says, "What the hell is that supposed to be?"
   It's supposed to be me.
   "It doesn't look a thing like you."
   It's supposed to look really pious.
   "It looks like a devil," Adam says.
   I drive.
   Adam talks.
   Adam says, the cultures that don't castrate you to make you a slave, they castrate your mind. They make sex so filthy and evil and dangerous that no matter how good you know it would feel to have sexual relations, you won't.
   That's how most religions in the outside world do, Adam says. That's how the Creedish did it.
   This isn't anything I want to hear, but when I go to turn on the radio, all the tuning buttons are preset to religious stations. Choir music. Gospel preachers telling me I'm bad and wrong. One station I come across is a familiar voice, the Tender Branson Radio Ministry. Here's one of a thousand canned radio shows I taped in a studio I don't remember where.
   The abuse of the Creedish elders was unspeakable, I'm saying on the radio.
   Adam says, "Do you remember what they did to you?"
   From the radio I'm saying, The abuse was never-ending.
   "When you were a kid, I mean," Adam says.
   Outside, the sun was catching up, making shapes out of the total darkness.
   On the radio, I'm saying, The complete way our minds were controlled we never had a chance. None of us in the outside world would ever want sex. We'd never betray the church. We'd spend our entire lives at work.
   "And if you never have sex," Adam's saying, "you never gain a sense of power. You never gain a voice or an identity of your own. Sex is the act that separates us from our parents. Children from adults. It's by having sex that adolescents first rebel."
   And if you never have sex, Adam tells me, you never grow beyond everything else your parents taught you. If you never break the rule against sex, you won't break any other rule.
   On the radio, I say, It's hard for someone in the outside world to imagine how completely trained we were.
   "The Vietnam War didn't cause the mess of the 1960s," Adam says. "Drugs didn't cause it. Well, only one drug did. It was the birth control pill. For the first time in history, everybody could have all the sex they wanted. Everybody could have that kind of power."
   Throughout history the most powerful rulers have been sex maniacs. And he asks, does their sex appetite come from having power, or does their will for power come from their sex appetite? "And if you don't crave sex," he says, "will you crave power?" No, he says.
   "And instead of electing decent, boring, sexually repressed officials," he says, "maybe we should find the horniest candidates and maybe they can get some good work done."
   A sign goes by saying, Tender Branson Sensitive Materials Sanitary Landfill, 10 miles.
   Adam says, "Do you see what I'm getting at?"
   Home is just ten minutes away.
   Adam says, "You must remember what happened."
   Nothing happened.
   On the radio, I say, It's impossible to describe how terrible the abuse was.
   More and more along the sides of the road are bits of smut magazines blown off uncovered trucks. Fading full-frontal nude shots of beautiful women wrap themselves around each tree trunk. Rain-soaked men with long purple erections hang limp in the branches. The black boxes of video movies lie in the gravel along the road. A punctured woman made of pink vinyl lies in the weeds with the wind waving her hair and hands after us as we drive past.
   "Sex is not a fearsome and terrible thing," Adam says.
   On the radio I say, It's best if I just put the past behind me and move on with my life.
   Up ahead, there's a point where the trees lining the road stop, and there's nothing beyond them. The sun is up and overtaking us, and ahead in the distance is nothing but a wasteland.
   A sign goes by saying, Welcome to the Tender Branson Sensitive Materials Sanitary Landfill.
   And we're home.
   Beyond the sign, the valley stretches out to the horizon, bare, littered, and gray except for the bright yellow of a few bulldozers parked and silent because it's Sunday.
   There's not a tree.
   There's not a bird.
   The only landmark is at the center of the valley, a towering concrete pylon, just a square gray column of concrete rises from the spot where the Creedish meeting house stood with everyone dead inside. Ten years ago. Spreading out on the ground all around us are pictures of men with women, women with women, men with men, men and women with animals and appliances.
   Adam doesn't say a word.
   From the radio I say, My life is full of joy and love now.
   From the radio I say, I look forward to marrying the woman chosen for me as part of the Genesis Campaign.
   From the radio I say, With the help of my followers I will stem the sex craving that has taken control of the world.
   The road is long and rutted from the rim of the valley toward the concrete pylon at the center. Along both sides as we drive, dildos and magazines and latex vaginas and French ticklers cling together in smoldering heaps, and the smoke from those heaps drifts in a choking haze of dirty white across the road.
   Up ahead, the pylon is larger and larger, sometimes lost behind the smoke of burning pornography, only to reappear, looming.
   From the radio I say, My whole life is for sale at a bookstore near you.
   From the radio I say, With God's help, I will turn the world away from ever wanting sex.
   Adam turns off the radio.
   Adam says, "I left the valley the night I found out what the elders did to you, to tenders and biddies."
   The smoke settles over the road. It comes into the car and our lungs, acrid and burning our eyes.
   With tears running down each cheek I say, They didn't do anything.
   Adam coughs, "Admit it."
   The pylon reappears, closer.
   There's nothing to admit.
   The smoke obscures everything.
   Then Adam says it. Adam says, "They made you watch."
   I can't see anything, but I just keep driving.
   "The night my wife had our first child," Adam says with the smoke leaving his tears traced down his face in black, "the elders took all the tenders and biddies in the district and made them watch. My wife screamed just the way they told her. She screamed, and the elders preached and wailed how the wages of sex was death. She screamed, and they made childbirth as painful as they could. She screamed, and the baby died. Our child. She screamed and then she died."
   The first two victims of the Deliverance.
   It was that night Adam walked out of the Creedish church district and made his phone call.
   "The elders made you watch every time anyone in the church district had a child," Adam says.
   We're only going twenty or thirty miles an hour, but somewhere lost in the smoke just ahead is the giant concrete pylon of the church memorial.
   I can't say anything, but I just keep breathing.
   "So of course you'd never want sex. You'd never want sex because every time our mother had another child," Adam says, "they made you sit there and watch. Because sex to you is just pain and sin and your mother stretched out there screaming."
   And then he's said it.
   The smoke is so thick I can't even see Adam.
   He says, "By now, sex must look like nothing but torture to you."
   He just spits it out that way.
   Truth, The Fragrance.
   And at that instant the smoke clears.
   And we crash head-on into the concrete wall.
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Underpromise; overdeliver.

Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
mob
Apple iPhone 6s
  In the beginning there's nothing but dust. A fine white talcum powder hangs in the car, mixed with smoke.
   The dust and smoke swirl in the air.
   The only sound is the car engine dripping something, oil, antifreeze, gasoline.
   Until Adam starts screaming.
   The dust is from the air bags protecting us at our moment of impact. The air bags are collapsed slack and empty back onto the dashboard now, and as the dust settles, Adam is screaming and clutching his face. The blood coming from between his fingers is black against the talcum white coat.
   In one hand, Adam holds the statuette smeared with blood, more of a devil now than ever.
   With his other hand, Adam grabs at the ground beside him and drags an open magazine across his mutilated face. The magazine shows a man and woman copulating, and from under it Adam says, "When you find a rock. Bring it down on my face when I tell you."
   I can't.
   "I won't let you kill me," Adam says.
   I don't trust him.
   "You'll be giving me a better life. It's in your power," Adam says from under the magazine. "If you want to save my life, do this for me first."
   Adam says, "If you don't, the minute you go for help, I'll crawl away and hide, and I'll die out here."
   I weigh the rock in my hand.
   I ask, will he tell me when to stop?
   "I'll tell you when I've had enough."
   Does he promise?
   "I promise."
   I lift the rock so its shadow falls across the people having sex on Adam's face.
   And I bring it down.
   The rock sinks in so far.
   "Again!" Adam says. "Harder."
   And I bring the rock down.
   And the rock sinks in farther.
   "Again!"
   And I bring it down.
   "Again!"
   And I bring the rock down.
   Blood soaks up through the pages, up to turn the fucking couple red and then purple.
   "Again!" Adam says, his words distorted, his mouth and nose not the same shape anymore.
   And I bring the rock down on the couple's arms and their legs and their faces.
   "Again."
   And I bring the rock down until the rock is sticky red with blood, until the magazine is collapsed in the center. Until my hands are sticky red.
   Then I stop.
   I ask, Adam?
   I go to lift the magazine, but it tears. It's so sodden.
   Adam's hand holding the statuette goes slack and the bloody statuette rolls into the grave I dug to find something solid.
   I ask, Adam?
   The wind carries smoke over us both.
   A huge shadow is spreading toward us from the base of the pylon. One minute it's just touching Adam. The next minute, the shadow has him covered.
   Ladies and gentlemen, here on Flight 2039, our third engine has just flamed out.
   We have just one engine left before we begin our terminal descent.
   The cold shadow of the Creedish church monument falls over me all morning as I bury Adam Branson. Under the layers of obscenity, under the Hungry Butt Holes, under the Ravishing She-Males, I dig with my hands into the churchyard dirt. Bigger stones carved with willows and skulls are buried all around me. The epitaphs on them are about what you'd imagine.
   Gone but Not Forgotten.
   In Heaven with their mistakes may they dwell.
   Beloved Father.
   Cherished Mother.
   Confused Family.
   May whatever God they find grant them forgiveness and peace.
   Ineffectual Caseworker.
   Obnoxious Agent.
   Misguided Brother.
   Maybe it's the Botox botulinum toxin injected into me or the drug interactions or the lack of sleep or the long-term effects of Attention Withdrawal Syndrome, but I don't feel a thing. The insides of my mouth taste bitter. I press my lymph nodes in my neck, but I only feel contempt.
   Maybe after everybody dying around me, I've just developed a skill for losing people. A natural talent. A blessing.
   The same as Fertility's being barren is the perfect job skill for her being a surrogate mother, maybe I've developed a useful lack of feeling.
   The same way you might look at your leg cut off at the knee and not feel anything at first, maybe this is just shock.
   But I hope not.
   I don't want it to wear off.
   I pray not to feel anything ever again.
   Because if it wears off, this is all going to hurt so much. This is going to hurt for the rest of my life.
   You won't learn this in any charm school, but to keep dogs from digging up something you've buried, sprinkle the grave with ammonia. To keep away ants, sprinkle borax.
   For roaches, use alum.
   Peppermint oil will keep away rats.
   To bleach away bloodstains from under your fingernails, sink your fingertips into half a lemon and wiggle them around. Rinse them under warm water.
   The wreck of the car is burned down to just the seats smoldering. Just this ribbon of black smoke flutters out across the valley.
   When I go to lift Adam's body, the gun falls out of his jacket pocket. The only sound comes from a few flies buzzing around the rock still clutched with a print of my hand in blood.
   What's left of Adam's face is still wrapped in the sticky red magazine, and as I lower first his feet and then his shoulders into the hole I've dug, a yellow taxi is bumping and crawling toward me from the horizon.
   The hole is only big enough for Adam to fit curled on his side, and kneeling on the brim, I start pushing in the dirt.
   When the clean dirt runs out, I push in faded pornography, obscene books with their spines broken, Traci Lords and John Holmes, Kayla Kleevage and Dick Rambone, vibrators with dead batteries, dog-eared playing cards, expired condoms, brittle and fragile but never used.
   I know the feeling.
   Condoms ribbed for extra sensitivity.
   The last thing I need is sensitivity.
   Here are condoms lined with a topical anesthetic for prolonged action. What a paradox. You don't feel a thing, but you can fuck for hours.
   This seems to really miss the point.
   I want my whole life lined with a topical anesthetic.
   The yellow taxi humps across the potholes, getting closer. One person is driving. One person is in the backseat.
   Who this is, I don't know, but I can imagine.
   I pick up the gun and try to wedge it into my jacket pocket. The barrel tears the pocket lining, and then the whole thing is hidden. If there are bullets inside, I don't know.
   The taxi rushes to a stop about shouting distance away.
   Fertility gets out and waves. She leans down by the driver's window and the breeze carries her words to me, "Wait, please. This is going to take a minute."
   Then she comes over with her arms raised out at her sides for balance and her face looking down at every step across the sliding, glossy layers of used magazines. Orgy Boys. Cum Gravers.
   "I thought you could use some company about now," she calls over to me.
   I look around for a tissue or a crotchless underwear to wipe the blood off my hands.
   Looking up, Fertility says, "Wow, the way the shadow of that Creedish death monument thing is falling across Adam's grave is so symbolic."
   The three hours I've been burying Adam is the longest I've ever been out of a job. Now Fertility Hollis is here to tell me what to do. My new job is following her.
   Fertility turns to gaze around the horizon and says, "This is so totally The Valley of the Shadow of Death here." She says, "You sure picked the right place to smash in your brother's skull. It's so totally Cain and Abel I can't stand it."
   I killed my brother.
   I killed her brother.
   Adam Branson.
   Trevor Hollis.
   You can't trust me around anybody's brother with a telephone or a rock.
   Fertility puts a hand in her shoulder bag and says, "You want some Red Ropes licorice?"
   I hold out my hands covered with dried blood.
   She says, "I guess not."
   She looks back over her shoulder at the taxi, idling, and she waves. An arm comes out the driver's window and waves back.
   To me she says, "Let me put this in a nutshell. Adam and Trevor both pretty much killed themselves."
   She tells me, Trevor killed himself because his life had no more surprises, no more adventure. He was terminally ill. He was dying of boredom. The only mystery left was death.
   Adam wanted to die because he knew the way he'd been trained, he could never be anything but a Creedish. Adam killed off the surviving Creedish because he knew that an old culture of slaves couldn't found a new culture of free men. Like Moses leading the tribes of Israel around in the desert for a generation, Adam wanted me to survive, but not my slave mind-set.
   Fertility says, "You didn't kill my brother."
   Fertility says, "And you didn't kill your brother, either. What you did was more like what they call assisted suicide."
   Out of her shoulder bag, she takes some flowers, real flowers, a little bunch of fresh roses and carnations. Red roses and white carnations all tied together. "Check it out," she says and crouches down to put them on the magazines where Adam is buried.
   "Here's another big symbol," she says, still crouched and looking up at me. "These flowers will be rotten in a couple hours. Birds will crap on them. The smoke here will make them stink, and tomorrow a bulldozer will probably run over them, but for right now they are so beautiful."
   She's such a thoughtful and endearing character.
   "Yeah," she says, "I know."
   Fertility gets to her feet and grabs me on a clean part of my arm, a part not crusted with dried blood, and she starts walking me toward the cab.
   "We can be jaded and heartless later, when it's not costing me so much money," she says.
   On our way back to the taxi, she says the whole nation is in an uproar over how I wrecked the Super Bowl. No way can we take a plane or bus anywhere. The newspapers are calling me the Antichrist. The Creedish mass murderer. The value of Tender Branson merchandise is through the roof, but for all the wrong reasons. All the world's major religions, the Catholics and Jews and Baptists and whatall, are saying, We told you so.
   Before we get to the taxi, I hide my bloody hands in my pockets. The gun sticks to my trigger finger.
   Fertility opens a back door of the taxi and gets me inside. Then she goes around and gets in the other side.
   She smiles at the driver in the rearview mirror and says, "Back to Grand Island, I guess."
   The taxi meter says seven hundred eighty dollars.
   The driver looks at me in the rearview mirror and says, "Your mama throw out your favorite jerk-off magazine?" He says, "This place goes on forever. If you lose something, no way are you going to find it here."
   Fertility whispers, "Don't let him get to you."
   The driver is a chronic drunk, she whispers. She plans to pay with her charge card because he'll be dead two days from now in an accident. He'll never get the chance to send in the charge.
   As the sun comes up to noon, the shadow of the concrete pylon is getting smaller by the minute.
   I ask, How is my fish doing?
   "Oh, geez," she says. "Your fish."
   The taxi is bumping and rolling back toward the outside world.
   Nothing should hurt by now, but I don't want to hear this.
   "Your fish, I'm really sorry," Fertility says. "It just died."
   Fish number six hundred and forty-one.
   I ask, Did it feel any pain?
   Fertility says, "I don't think so."
   I ask, Did you forget to feed it?
   "No."
   I ask, Then what happened?
   Fertility says, "I don't know. One day it was just dead."
   There was no reason.
   It didn't mean anything.
   This wasn't any big political gesture.
   It just died.
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