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Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
   It was just a damn fucking fish is all but it's everything I had. Beloved fish.
   And after everything that's happened, this should be easy to hear. Cherished fish.
   But sitting there in the back of the cab, the gun in my hand, my hands in my pockets, I start to cry.
   In Grand Island, we had a little son crippled with lupus so we could stay a couple days in the Ronald McDonald House there.
   After that, we caught a ride in half a Parkwood Mansion headed west. This was nothing but four bedrooms, and we slept apart with two of them empty between us.
   In Denver, we had a little girl with polio so we could stay at another Ronald McDonald House and eat and not feel the world going by underneath us while we slept at night. In Ronald McDonald's House, we had to share a room, but it would have two beds.
   Out of Denver, we caught a Topsail Estate Manor headed for Cheyenne. We were just drifting. This wasn't costing us any money.
   We caught half a Sutton Place Townhome headed for we didn't know where, and we ended up in Billings, Montana.
   We started playing house roulette.
   We didn't wander into the truck stop diners to ask around about which house was headed where. Fertility and me, we just cut our way inside and sealed the way shut behind us.
   We rode three days and nights sealed in half a Flamingo Lodge and only woke up when they were setting it on a foundation in Hamilton, Montana. We stepped out the back door just as the happy family who bought it was coming in the front.
   All we had with us was Fertility's tote bag and Adam's gun.
   We were lost in the desert.
   Out of Missoula, Montana, we caught one-third of a Craftsman Manor going west on Interstate 90.
   A sign went by saying, Spokane 300 miles.
   Past Spokane, a sign went by saying, Seattle 200 miles.
   In Seattle, we had a little boy with a hole in his heart.
   In Tacoma, we had a little girl with no feeling in her arms and legs.
   We told people the doctors didn't know what was wrong.
   People told us to expect a miracle.
   People with their real kids dead or dying of cancer told us God was good and kind.
   We lived together as if we were married, but we almost never talked.
   Headed south on Interstate 5 through Portland, Oregon, we rode inside half a Holly Hills Estate.
   Before we feel ready, we're home home, back in the city where we met, standing on a curb. Our last house is just pulling away and we let it.
   I still haven't told Fertility that Adam's last wish was she and I would have sex together.
   As if she doesn't already know.
   She knows. All those night I was passed out, it was all Adam talked to Fertility about. She and I have to have sex. To set me free and give me power. To prove to Fertility that sex could be more than just a wealthy middle-aged marketing consultant squirting his DNA into her.
   But now there isn't any place either of us live here, not anymore. Her apartment and my apartment have both been rented out to other people, Fertility knows that.
   "I have a place we can stay tonight," she says, "but I have to call ahead."
   In the pay phone booth is one of my stickers from a million years before.
   Give Yourself, Your Life, Just One More Chance. Call Me for Help. Then my old phone number.
   I call, and a recording tells me my number has been disconnected.
   Right back at the recording, I say, No kidding.
   Fertility calls the place she thinks we can crash. Into the phone she says, "My name is Fertility Hollis, and I was referred to you by Dr. Webster Ambrose."
   It's her evil job.
   It's the agent's closed loop of history. Fertility's being omniscient is looking pretty easy. Nothing new ever does happen.
   "Yes, I have the address," she says. "I'm sorry about the short notice, but this is my first opening I've had. No," she says, "this is not tax-deductible. No," she says, "this is for all night, but there's a separate charge for each attempt. No," she says, "there's no cash discount."
   She says, "We can work out the details in person."
   Into the phone she says, "No, you don't have to tip me."
   She snaps her fingers at me and mouths the word "pen." Then on the sticker for my crisis hotline she writes an address, repeating the number and street into the phone.
   "Fine," she says. "Seven o'clock then. Goodbye." In the sky overhead, it's the same sun watching us make the same mistakes over and over. It's the same blue sky after everything we've been through. Nothing new. No surprises here.
   The place she's taking me is the house I used to clean. The couple she's breeding for tonight are my speakerphone employers.
   The trip to Fertility's bed is lined with streaked windows and peeling paint. Mildewed tile and rust stains. Everywhere along the way are clogged drains and scuff marks. Sagging curtains and snagged upholstery. All the stations of the cross.
   This is after the man and woman I worked for were upstairs with Fertility doing God knows what.
   This is after I've crawled in through the basement window Fertility knew would be unlocked. This is after I hid out among the fake flowers in the backyard, each of them stolen from a grave, and after Fertility rang the doorbell at seven sharp.
   Dust coats everything in the kitchen. China coated with microwave leftovers fills the sink. The inside of the microwave is crusted with exploded food.
   Bred and trained and sold little slave that I am, I go right to work cleaning. Just ask me how to get baked crud out of a microwave.
   No, really, go ahead.
   Ask me.
   The secret is boiling a cup of water in the microwave for a few minutes. This loosens the crud so you can wipe it off.
   Ask me how to get bloodstains off your hands.
   The trick is to forget how fast these things can happen. Suicides. Accidents. Crimes of passion.
   Fertility upstairs doing her job.
   Just concentrate on the stain until your memory is completely erased. Practice really does make perfect. If you could call it that.
   Ignore how it feels when the only real talent you have is for hiding the truth. You have a God-given knack for committing a terrible sin. You have a natural gift for denial. A blessing.
   If you could call it that.
   All evening I clean, and still I feel dirty.
   Fertility told me the procedure would be over before midnight. They'd leave her in the green bedroom with her feet propped up on pillows. After the couple were asleep in their own room it would be safe for me to sneak upstairs.
   The microwave clock says eleven-thirty.
   I take my chances, and the trip to Fertility's bed is lined with wilted houseplants and tarnished doorknobs, fly specks and fingerprint smudges of newspaper ink. Drink rings and cigarette burns mar all the furniture. Cobwebs drift in every corner.
   It's dark inside the green bedroom and out of the shadows Fertility says, "Shouldn't we be having sex now."
   I say, I guess.
   She says, "I hope you don't mind sloppy seconds."
   I don't. I mean, it's what Adam would've wanted.
   She says, "Do you have any rubbers?"
   I say, I thought she was barren.
   "Sure, I'm sterile," she says, "but I've had unprotected sex with a million guys. I could have some terrible fatal disease."
   I say that would only be a problem if I wanted to live a lot longer.
   Fertility says, "That's how I feel about my giant credit card debt."
   So we have sex.
   If you could call it that.
   After waiting all my life, I get myself in her just half an inch and it's all over.
   "Well," Fertility says, and pushes me away, "I hope that was really empowering for you."
   She doesn't give me a second shot at making love.
   If you could call it that.
   A long time after she falls asleep, I watch her and wonder about her dreaming, if she's dreaming up some terrible new murder or suicide or disaster. And if she's dreaming it about me.
   The next morning, Fertility is whispering on the telephone to someone. I wake up, and she's dressed and out of bed asking, "Do you have an eight a.m. flight to Sydney?"
   She's saying, "One-way, please. A window seat if you have it. Do you take Visa?"
   By the time she notices me watching her, she's hung up and putting on her shoes. She starts to put her daily planner into her tote bag but puts it back down on the dresser.
   I ask, where is she going?
   But why?
   "No reason."
   I say, Tell me.
   By now she's started lugging the tote bag toward the bedroom door. "Because I got my surprise," she says. "I got the damn surprise I wanted, and damn it, I don't want it. I don't want this!"
   "I'm pregnant."
   But how does she know?
   "I know everything!" she screams at me. "Well, I knew everything. I didn't know this. I didn't know I was going to have to bring a child into this miserable, boring, terrible world. A child who would inherit my gift for seeing the future and living a life of crushing ennui. A child who would never be surprised. I didn't see this coming."
   So now what?
   "So I'm going to Sydney, Australia."
   But why?
   "My mother killed herself. My brother killed himself. You figure it out."
   But why Australia?
   She's out the bedroom door now and dragging her tote toward the top of the stairs. I'd follow her, but I'm naked.
   "Think of this," she yells back at me, "as a very radical abortion procedure."
   A man steps out of the master-bedroom doorway dressed in a blue suit I've pressed a thousand times. In a voice I've heard on a thousand speakerphone calls, he asks me, "Are you Dr. Ambrose?"
   By the time I've jumped into my clothes, Fertility is down the stairs and out the front door. Through the bedroom window, I watch her cross the lawn to a taxi.
   Back out in the hallway, a woman wearing a silk blouse I've hand-washed a thousand times steps up to the man in the blue suit. The two of them frozen in the doorway of the master bedroom, the woman I used to work for shouts, "That's him! Remember? He used to work for us! That's the Antichrist!"
   I tuck Fertility's daily planner under my arm and make a run for it. Still running, out the front door, down the street toward the bus stop, it takes me another minute to find today's date in the book, and there's the answer.
   At 1:25 this afternoon, Flight 2039, nonstop from here to Sydney, will be hijacked by a maniac and crash somewhere in the Australian outback.
   Ladies and gentlemen, as the last person aboard Flight 2039, out here above the huge Australian outback, it's my duty to inform you that our last engine has just flamed out.
   Please fasten your seat belts as we begin our terminal descent into oblivion.
   The airport is full of FBI agents looking for Tender Branson, Mass Murderer. Tender Branson, False Prophet. Tender Branson, Super Bowl Despoiler. Tender Branson, who abandoned his lovely bride at the altar.
   Tender Branson, Antichrist.
   I catch up with Fertility at the airline ticket counter.
   She's saying, "One, please. I have a reservation."
   The black dye we used was weeks ago, and my blond roots are showing. The greasy road-trip food has me fat again. It's just a matter of the right armed security guard looking at me and pointing his gun.
   My jacket pocket is empty when I check. Adam's gun is gone.
   "If you're looking for your brother's gun, I've got it," Fertility ducks her head and tells me. "This plane is going to be hijacked even if I have to do it myself."
   No bullets, I say. She knows that.
   "Yes, there are," she says. "I was lying to you so you wouldn't worry."
   So Adam could've shot me dead at any time.
   Out of her tote bag, Fertility hefts a shining brass urn. To the ticket agent, Fertility says, "I'll be taking my brother's remains in the flight. Will that be a problem?"
   The ticket agent says, no, it's no problem. The urn can't be x-rayed at security, but they'll let her take it on board.
   Fertility pays for the tickets and we start toward the gates. She hands me the tote bag and says, "I've been schlepping this for the last half hour. Make yourself useful."
   Security is too worried about the urn to give me a second look. It's metal, and nobody wants to open it, much less put a hand inside.
   Here and there along the way, the security people all seem to be in pairs, looking at us and talking into walkie-talkies. The urn rubs against my leg through the tote bag. Fertility looks at her ticket and at the signs for each gate we pass.
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Underpromise; overdeliver.

Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
   "Here," she says when we get to the gate. "Give me my bag and scoot out of here." Around us are people getting in line as the airline makes the first boarding call.
   People holding tickets for rows fifty through seventy-five, please board now.
   Which one of these people is a crazed terrorist hijacker, I don't know.
   Down the concourse behind us, the pairs of security guards have come together into foursomes and sixsomes.
   "Give me the bag," Fertility says. She grabs the handle next to my hand and tugs hard.
   Her taking Trevor with her doesn't make any sense.
   "I need my bag."
   People holding tickets for rows thirty through forty-nine, please board now.
   The security guards are moving in, trotting down the concourse, coming our way with every holster unsnapped, every gun with a hand on it.
   And it hits me. Where Adam's gun is.
   It's in the urn, I say, and try twisting the tote bag away from Fertility.
   People holding tickets for rows ten through twenty-nine, please board now.
   One handle of the tote bag breaks and the urn clunks to the carpeted floor with Fertility and me chasing it.
   Fertility plans to hijack the plane.
   "Someone has to," she's saying. "It's fate."
   The urn's in both our hands.
   People holding tickets for rows one through nine, please board now.
   I say, Nobody has to die here.
   This is the final boarding call for Flight 2039.
   "That plane has to crash into Australia," Fertility says. "I'm never wrong."
   A security guard shouts, "Freeze."
   We repeat, this is the last boarding call for Flight 2039 to Sydney.
   Security has us surrounded when the urn comes open. The mortal remains of Trevor Hollis going everywhere. Ashes to ashes. Into everybody's eyes. Dust to dust. Into their lungs. Trevor's ashes spread in a cloud around us. Adam's gun thuds on the carpet.
   Before Fertility, before the security team, before the plane can leave the jetway, I grab the gun. I grab Fertility. Okay, okay, okay, okay, we'll do this her way, I say with the gun against her head.
   I walk us backward toward the gate.
   I yell, Nobody make a move.
   I stop to let the ticket agent tear her ticket, then I nod toward the open urn and the mess of Trevor all over the carpet.
   Could somebody maybe scoop that stuff up and hand it to this woman here, I say. It's her brother.
   The security team is all crouched with their guns aimed at my forehead while a ticket agent gets most of Trevor back into the urn and hands it to Fertility.
   "Thanks," Fertility says. "This is so embarrassing."
   We're getting on this plane, I say, and we're taking off.
   I walk us backward down the jetway, wondering who on board will be the real crazed hijacker.
   When I ask Fertility, she laughs.
   When I ask why, she says, "This is just too ironic. You'll guess soon enough who the hijacker is."
   I say, Tell me.
   People on the plane are all crowded into the back half of the plane, cowering with their heads down. Sobbing. In the aisle near the cockpit is a pile of everybody's wallets and watches and personal laptop computers, cellular phones, minicassette recorders, personal compact disc stereos, and wedding rings.
   People are really trained.
   As if this has anything to with them.
   As if this has anything to do with money.
   I tell the flight crew to secure the cabin doors. It's not as if I haven't been on a lot of planes going stadium to stadium. I say, Prepare the cabin for takeoff.
   In the seats closest to us are a fat Pakistani-looking business-suit guy. A couple white college-looking guys. A Chinese-looking guy.
   I ask Fertility, Which one? Who's the real hijacker?
   She's kneeling next to the pile of offerings and picks through it, pocketing a nice woman's watch and a pearl necklace. "Figure it out yourself, Sherlock," she says.
   She says, "I'm just an innocent hostage here," and she snaps a diamond tennis bracelet around her wrist.
   I shout, Everybody, you should please stay calm, but you need to know that a dangerous killer terrorist is on board this flight and plans to crash it.
   Somebody screams.
   I say, Shut up. Please.
   I tell everybody, Until I find out who's the terrorist, everybody just stay down.
   Fertility takes a diamond solitaire out of the offerings and slips it on her finger.
   I say, One of you is a hijacker. I don't know which one, but someone here is planning to crash this plane.
   Fertility just keeps giggling.
   There's the terrible feeling I'm missing some huge joke.
   I say, Everybody just stay relaxed.
   I tell the steward to go up front and talk to the captain. I don't want to hurt anybody, but I really need to get out of this country. We need to take off and then land somewhere safe, someplace between here and Australia. Then everybody is going to disembark.
   To Fertility laughing next to me, I say even she's getting off.
   We're going to complete this trip, I say, but just me and a single pilot. And as soon as we're airborne the second time, I say, I'll let that pilot parachute.
   I ask, Is that clear?
   And the steward with the gun pointed in his face says, Yes.
   This plane is going to crash in Australia, I say, and only one person is going to die.
   And it starts to dawn on me.
   Maybe there is no other real hijacker.
   Maybe I'm the hijacker.
   Around us, people have started to whisper. They've recognized me. I'm the mass murderer on television. I'm the Antichrist.
   I'm the hijacker.
   And I start to laugh.
   I ask Fertility, You set me up, didn't you?
   And still laughing she says, "A little."
   And still laughing I ask if she's really pregnant.
   And still laughing she says," 'Fraid so, but for honest I didn't see it coming. It's still a bona fide miracle."
   The cabin doors whump shut, and the plane starts creeping backward from the terminal.
   "Here," she says. "All your life, you've needed other people to tell you what to do, your family, your church, your bosses, your caseworker, the agent, your brother ... "
   She says, "Well, nobody can help you with this situation."
   She says, "All I know is that you will find a way out of this mess. You'll find a way to leave your whole screwed-up life story behind. You'll be dead to the whole world."
   The jet engines start their whine, and Fertility hands me a man's gold wedding band.
   "And after you can tell your life story and walk away from it," Fertility says, "after that we'll start a new life together and live happily ever after."
   Somewhere en route to Port Vila in the New Hebrides, for my last meal I serve dinner the way I've always dreamed.
   Anybody caught buttering their bread before breaking it, I promise to shoot them.
   Anybody who drinks their beverage with food still in their mouth will also be shot.
   Anybody caught spooning toward themself will be shot.
   Anybody caught without a napkin in their lap—
   Anybody caught using their fingers to move their food—
   Anybody who begins eating before everybody is served—
   Anybody who blows on food to cool it—
   Anybody who talks with food in their mouth—
   Anybody who drinks white wine holding their glass by the bowl or drinks red wine holding their glass by the stem—
   You will each of you get a bullet in the head.
   We are 30,000 feet above the earth, going 455 miles per hour. We're at a pinnacle of human achievement, and we are going to eat this meal as civilized human beings.
   And so here is my confession. Testing, testing, one, two, three.
   And according to Fertility, if I could only figure out how I could escape. I could escape being up here. I could escape the crash. I could escape being Tender Branson. I could escape the police. I could escape my past, my whole twisted, burning, miserable, snarled story of my life so far.
   Fertility said, the trick was to just tell people the story of how I got to this point, and I'd figure a way out.
   If I could just walk away and leave my old life story behind.
   If I survived, she said, we could work on having better sex.
   We could work on making a new life together.
   We could take dance lessons.
   She said to tell my life story right up to the moment the plane hit the ground. Then the world would think I was dead. She said to start from the end.
   Testing, testing. One, two, three.
   Testing, testing. One, two, three.
   Maybe this is working. I don't know. If you can even hear me, I don't know.
   But if you can hear me, listen. And if you're listening, then what you've found is the story of everything that went wrong. This is what you'd call the flight recorder of Flight 2039. The black box, people call it, even though it's orange, and on the inside is a loop of wire that's the permanent record of all that's left. What you've found is the story of what happened.
   And go ahead.
   You can heat this wire to white-hot, and it will still tell you the exact same story.
   Testing, testing, one, two, three.
   And if you're listening, you should know the passengers were put off the plane in Port Vila, in the Republic of Vanuatu, in exchange for a half-dozen parachutes and more tiny bottles of gin.
   And after we were back in the air and headed for Australia, then the pilot parachuted to his freedom.
   I'm going to keep saying it, but it's true. I'm not a murderer.
   And I'm alone up here.
   All four engines have flamed out, and I'm into my controlled descent, my nosedive into the ground. This is the terminal phase of my descent, where I'm going thirty-two feet per second straight at Australia, my terminal velocity.
   Testing, testing, one, two, three.
   One more time, you're listening to the flight recorder of Flight 2039.
   And at this altitude, listen, and at this speed, with the plane empty, this is my story. And my story won't get bashed into a zillion bloody shreds and then burned with a thousand tons of burning jet. And after the plane wrecks, people will hunt down the flight recorder. And my story will survive.
   And I will live on, forever.
   And if I could figure out what Fertility meant, I could save myself, but I can't. I'm stupid.
   Testing, testing, one, two, three.
   So here is my confession.
   Here is my prayer.
   My story. My incantation.
   Hear me. See me. Remember me.
   Beloved Fuck-up.
   Botched Messiah.
   Would-be Lover. Delivered to God.
   I'm trapped here, in a nosedive, in my life, in the cockpit of a jetliner with the flat yellow of the Australian outback coming up fast.
   And there's so many things I want to change but can't.
   It's all done. It's all just a story now.
   Here's the life and death of Tender Branson, and I can just walk away from it.
   And the sky is blue and righteous in every direction.
   The sun is total and burning and just right there, and today is a beautiful day.
   Testing, testing, one, two–
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