Excerpt from Paul Cohen’s THE GLAMSHACK

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How Wars Escalate

BY PAUL COHEN

April 25, 1999

General George Armstrong Custer separates from his regiment and rides a hundred miles through hostile Indian territory in order to pay a surprise visit to his beloved wife, Bess, a move for which he is court-martialed. Crazy Horse, dressed only in moccasins and breechcloth, his bare body painted with hailstones and lightning bolts, ignores his medicine and takes enemy scalps, a bold gesture for which he receives his only battle wound — a bullet in the foot. Sitting Bull rides into battle trailing a long wool sash. In the thick of it, he dismounts, pins the sash to the ground with a lance (the other end is knotted around his neck), and thus commits to fighting off all comers or dying where he stands, though according to our author, Evan S. Connell, the Slightly Recumbent Gentleman Cow, as S.B. was called by some whites, does have one out: a compatriot who is permitted to withdraw the stake if, at the same time, he ceremonially whips the warrior with a quirt. “Which is to say,” writes Connell, “the warrior was so brave that he would not retreat unless whipped like a dog.”

Enter Henry. He’s sitting on Her couch. She’s facing him, straddling him.

He says, “I want to say, I love you.”

She says, “I know what it feels like, to want to say that.”

He lays his head back, sideways against the cushion. He feels Her studying him.

“My boy toy,” She says.

His cheek twitches. He wonders if “boy toy” is good or bad and whether it’s an odd thing to say to a man who’s just said ‘I love you’ for the first time but he does not question whether ‘I love you’ is an odd thing to say on such a serrated morning.

Back up to wake up.

A babydoll rap version of “Killing Me Softly.” The Indonesian bed enfolds them, the penis sheaths of bone hang from above. There’s a letter on the wall, which by now he’s read — some sort of expert mimicry filled with y’alls and we’s about the nature of Halloween in New Orleans. For the “she wolf” from “yo Daddyo.” The photos too he’s seen by now, photos of the fiancé, a willowy youth with a fine Roman nose and teeth that inspire, in Henry, for no apparent reason, thoughts of werewolves. It’s been two months since She placed that flower on Henry’s table in the cafe. Except for Her voyages to New Orleans, they’ve spent nearly every night of these two months together and nine nights out of ten are passed at Her house and nine mornings out of ten Henry wakes to the visage of the fiancé.

The enemy.

The phone rings.

She leaps from sleep.

Henry keeps his eyes closed. It’s a childish gesture, but effective. It shuts down contemplation of the fact that she chose to answer the phone at such a tender moment: sweet sleep flesh and first alarm song and sun.

“Hello?” She says into the phone.

Henry opens his eyes.

“Hey baby.”

Henry rolls toward the window.

“How are you?”

Henry watches the neighbor’s son and daughter squirt each other with the hose and shriek.

“Oh, baby, I’m so sorry.”

Henry tries closing his eyes again. Bad idea. He props the pillows behind his back, sits up, looks at the penis sheaths. Bad idea. He dresses, pees, climbs out a window onto a tar and gravel ledge. Her voice, on the phone, he can barely hear now. He watches the children play on the sidewalk. How he hates Her faux-ghetto use of the word “baby.” How he loves it when She uses it on him. The children’s soaked clothing clings to their frail, heartbreaking bodies. He looks away, so as not to cry.

The window fills with mane.

“You can come in now.”

Henry stays where he is.

“Please come in Henry?” Smiling in mock supplication.

Henry, so as not to exacerbate the situation, climbs inside. He sits on the couch beneath the window and She straddles him again.

“He went to the hospital last night,” She says.

“Bummer.”

“He’s got herpes of the eye. Inside the lid.”

“Huh.”

“He has to carry this cream around with him for the rest of his life. When he gets an attack, if he doesn’t have the cream with him he could go blind.”

A shriek from the street; She doesn’t flinch. Does She really expect a response from him?

“He’s been through so much pain these last few months, I never knew.”

Henry clasps his hands behind his head.

“He didn’t tell me. He didn’t want to make it harder for me while I’m in grad school so far away.”

“Did he tell you that?”

“He was kind of mad.”

“Why?”

“Like I haven’t been very attentive.”

“He knows.”

Fire in Her eyes. She cocks Her jaw at Henry, as if to slit his throat with it.

“No, he doesn’t.”

“How could he not?”

“How could he?”

“He knows, and he pretends he doesn’t. To you and to himself. Anybody with half a fucking brain would know.”

She turns Her life-giving face away. Immediately, his anger turns to the burn of Her absence. He grasps Her jaw and angles it back toward him.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

“You could be more compassionate.”

“It would be unnatural.”

“You’re so rigid. Nothing’s unnatural.”

“I’ll tell you what’s unnatural. Not kissing you right now.”

And he does. And his mouth goes all saucy. And then comes the ‘I love you’ business. And though it would be nice if She said, ‘I love you’ back, for Henry that’s not crucial. Crucial is the smoochsauce, the scalp swim, the chest burn, the absolute inability, any longer, to choke back the words. Crucial is the fact that even under the most adverse of circumstances — and these are mild compared to what’s careening down the pike — Her jaw pore tit and only Her jaw pore tit does the poor boy in. This time and every time. Which is why he’s willing to upend the universe. To prove Raynard wrong. To prove love is real. To rightend the universe.

The treaty ceding the Black Hills to the Indians in perpetuity is rendered worthless by the discovery of gold; prospectors swarm in. Families soon follow. Custer’s Seventh Cavalry rides through on a surveying expedition. The Indians’ response is simple. “The women were ravished,” a man by the name of Bemis writes in the Faribault Republican, “then filled with arrows and bullets, their brains beaten out.” The whites’ response is efficient. “It is absurd,” remarks a general by the name of Little Phil, “to talk of keeping faith with Indians.” Henry’s response is. . .

Dogged?

Long walk on a long pier, into the windy belly of the grand mystère. They share a beer with an old man fishing, ask him what he’s fishing for, ask him what he’s fishing with. Watch tankers pass through the Golden Gate and sigh into the Pacific. Bound for gems and spice. Across the bay, the city raises its skyscrapers like Mongol sabers. Late sun on the white-roofed neighborhoods renders them Greek or even East African, ancient city of seafarers and traders. A green island in the blue water, dolloped, like a fairy-tale feature. That heeling sailboats do not capsize is nothing short of breathtaking.

It’s cold. He’s wearing his big brown leather coat. Without taking it off, he wraps Her in it, and they talk about what they see and kiss. Little, closed mouth kisses that act as periods, commas, dashes, then big open-mouthed kisses that are the words themselves. He mentions Mexico. She watches a sailboat that has drifted dangerously close to the pier. He talks of going way down, to a village he heard about from a friend, scuba diving and sleeping on the beach. Next week, or the one after that. You don’t need a dive certificate in Mexico. He expects them to kiss now but She’s watching the sailboat so he does too.

It is coming about. If the turn is too wide, the hull will hit the pier. A father in yellow foul-weather gear mans the tiller and cleats the sheets and his prepubescent son stands on the bow doing absolutely nothing but yelling, “We’re gonna hit. We’re gonna hit.”

She says She’s going back to New Orleans in two weeks. For the summer.

“It will take a month or so to get you out of my heart,” She says. “But once you’re out, you’ll never get back in.”

“We’re gonna hit,” yells the little shit in the bow.

“You could do something about this,” She says.

“What?”

“Walk away. Maybe I’ll come to you.”

“I can’t. I don’t want to walk away.

“This situation belittles you.”

“I know what I’m doing.”

“After you take me home tonight, I’m not going to think about you.”

“I want you.”

“I don’t understand you at all.”

“What about now? Here?”

“We’ve had a lot of enchanted moments. That’s all they are.”

“I don’t—”

“We’re gonna hit!”

That’s all they are. He thought they were everything. He thought She knew about moments, that they can be made sacred. He thought that in a war like this all you need to do is log enough enchanted moments and She’s yours. He thought of these moments as flames that, once ignited, never went out, and that over time could bring a city, or a sea, to light. And now She says that once the moment is over, it’s gone. That it’s not a flame, but a cheesy flash from a disco ball. That there’ll never be room, much less a city or sea, brought to light. Which means the moments were never enchanted. Not in the way he thinks of enchantment. Or rather, not in the way he experiences it — far beyond the physical.

That’s all they are.

Henry staggers, as if struck by shrapnel, and then he does what a man in a war must — he gets back into the fight. He allows himself to think only in terms of losing and winning. Or rather, only in terms of survival. Which means, only in terms of winning.

The boat doesn’t hit, the shit shuts up and moments later father and son are hurtling westward, bound for gems and spice.

She calls him at the Lighthouse later that night to tell him She’s thinking about him, and it makes him think he’s winning and She doesn’t know it.

The Secretary of the Interior dispatches couriers to inform the angry Indians they must report to the reservation by the end of the month. The Indians, under the leadership of Sitting Bull, refuse. But the Gentleman Cow doesn’t waste this time with carefree wandering or wanton scalping. He knows the whites are sticklers for a schedule, and that come the end of the month the cavalry will come a’hunting. He uses this time wisely. He joins forces with Crazy Horse and another chief and all repair to the Little Bighorn. And each passing day brings more warriors into their camp. And each day they strengthen. For time is their ally. Or so they believe. And so Henry believes. Time, Henry believes, would say he’s winning.

Who could blame him for believing this? The amount of time he and She spend together these days would choke a horse. Urgent murderous gorgeous time. Time that arcs a backward circle and finishes in the same position worlds away. Like a giddy diver turning somersaults in a deep-ocean surge. A diver on the edge of narcosis. Time that arranges the best of days as a series of mornings — three mornings in a day.

The first the one the world allows. The alarm clicks onto babydoll rap, which Henry has grown to like. Usually he’s already awake. Watching the sun blush Her cheeks, listening to the neighbor children squirt and shriek, waiting for Her to wake so that they may make love. Sometimes She sleeps in and Henry has to employ surreptitious moves to hasten Her along — a fake snore, a kick, a messy climb out of the bed to pee and an equally uncouth reentry. He gazes upon Her like a farmer at sunset, surveying his field of bountiful alfalfa. He gazes upon Her like a 15-year-old at a strip club. It takes all his strength to lie still. Eventually, She does wake and eventually they do make love and all consideration of who was awake first, who coaxed who, fades away. Always, She bounces out of bed too fast.

In sunlight, they walk to a coffee shop and they sit outside eating their pastries and sipping, black coffee for him and green tea for Her. So often they talk of themselves, their situation. “I’m a book,” he says to Her. “Not a story. Remember that.” A reference to the need for time, and he thinks it’s so well put. Sometimes She talks about the difficulties associated with being an exceptional person. How She doesn’t just want to classify states of torture, for instance; She wants to tell stories that evoke the reality of the experience, arrive in an unscholarly manner at a place of originality. Henry believes he understands Her dilemma, he a misunderstood visionary himself. He tells Her She needs to believe in Herself, that no one else will until She does, that She shouldn’t even try to tailor Herself to the world’s desires because “the fuckers are no friends of yours.”

Long looks into the eyes. The air around them, the blood within, warm sap. Now and then, when She mentions the enemy’s name — and She does it often — a nugget hardens, restricting flow. At these times, he watches thin, midmorning, midweek traffic and feels slothful and afraid. At these times, She watches him watching traffic and sees he’s slothful and afraid and either leans back in Her chair with just a nudge of smile on Her lips (the better to revel) or leans forward and touches the bone of Henry’s wrist with two of Her no-nonsense fingertips, a subtle gesture of profound consequence.

The walk back is fraught with tension: will they capitulate to world time or settle back into their own, moving, as a child moves, like a rocket through deep space, trusting that Houston equipped them with a never-ending train of thrusters? The neighborhood is one of many, single family homes with yards, decidedly middle-class and racially integrated and proud. Hence the flora. House fronts seeping viney growth. The sidewalk graced with vivid, disassembled features — a petal marking resembling a pink and green human eye, a leaf like an elegant arm, a black man’s muscular back. Which She’ll bend to. When She does this, Henry waits anxiously for Her to complete the Solitary Moment and move to the next — the Moment of Including Henry in the Act. Sometimes She moves to the next moment, sometimes She doesn’t.

By the time they arrive back at Her house, the second morning has begun. They make love again. And again. It’s incomparable, this lovemaking. It’s pornographic and sentimental. He has learned, by now, to let it build, not to compensate for lulls with emphatic behavior. He has learned also to allow Her to worship him, a thing that still makes him queasy but not nearly so much now. In fact, he’s beginning to enjoy it, being the object. In these moments, She tells him how beautiful he is and it strikes him like a tickling that feels good. Always, She has Her time to be worshipped. He is the mover up to a point, then gradually title transfers to Her and She fucks him with great egg-shaped thrusts from below. Never a rhythm like this. Never before. Never, even, in fantasy, has he dreamed the power of this event. This worship of flesh.

Afterward, they lie together. Thrust from the world’s orbit, these two, and enjoined with a brutish force. When it’s time to rise from morning two, they are pressed together. Another thruster engages.

Nigh on impossible to confront worldly acts in such a state, so they go for walks, or he drives Her around on silly practical errands. Or they go clothes shopping. Shopping is a joy in the aftermath of morning two. In a department store, She tries on bikini after bikini, beckoning Henry into the changing rooms for approval. A groundbreaker, She mixes tops and bottoms — solid top, striped bottom, red top, green bottom. A Joe at heart, he likes the red top, the one that shows optimal cleavage. He tries to be cool when handing out advice in the kinetic quarters of the changing stall, but it’s clear She could puddle him in a Muumuu and She knows this. For these moments, though, power is a shared gift. Or rather, the sharing of it is Her gift to him. When he walks out of the changing room, he encounters the salesgirl.

“She’s worried about her figure,” the salesgirl says, “with that six-pack stomach. Oh my God.”

“Some of the bottoms fit better with some of the other tops,” Henry says coolly.

Around five o’clock, the heroin addict neighbor returns from his construction job — or rather, he returns at four, but needs an hour to prepare himself for the world and that does not include taking a shower.

Henry loves this time. The neighborhood resounds with Big Wheels, plastic tires scraping against pavement, little cries. Mothers cluster nearby. Cars nestle against curbs and nap. The aroma of outdoor grills. And the light. The later it gets the tighter the light’s tiny fist clutches at Henry’s heart and he wonders: what is it about dusk that does me in so? What is it about the color of yellow wine? Flowers and bushes respond like lovers to this light; they blush and swell. And so does our boy.

He sits on the stoop with the heroin addict, drinking the guy’s beer. She sits on the sidewalk with the heroin addict’s wife, talking in a tone inaudible to the men. The baby boy, wearing the ever-present Batman cape — stained with red juice — clambers over the white fence and topples on to the concrete beside his mother and Her. He pauses, raises a wail. The little girl rushes to him and gathers him in her arms though she cannot raise him off the ground. She coos to him as if he were one of her dolls. The mother watches in mild annoyance. She watches with envy and desire. Henry watches with bursting breast — this could be you you you you you.

“I get paid the first of the month,” says the heroin addict. “If you got, like two hundred to tide us over I’ll get it to you on the first of the month.”

Henry lifts out his wallet. Loads of cash in there because you never know when a romantic road trip will demand its due. He’s slacking off at work these days, keeping up with the bare minimum so as not to get fired, but right now The Conquistador, the fiancé — the World — they inhabit some other universe. Incompatible with this one. And that’s O.K. Because nothing is incompatible. Everything is possible. For Henry in this moment of unparalleled well-being. Of unassailable hope. Does he have two hundred dollars to tide them over? Does a buzzard eat meat?

He peels off the bills, hands them over covertly, so as not to embarrass the man in front of the women.

“Thanks man.”

“No problem.”

And it isn’t. Henry, in this moment, feels he’s getting the better end of the deal. The heroin addict is getting a finger in a dike. Henry is making a mystical investment in his future, a future being previewed at this moment.

He sips his beer. The heroin addict gets talkative. The mother finally decides it’s time for the family to retire for dinner. Women and children join the men on the stoop, exchange the easy farewells of people whose lives are intertwined. Henry and Her go upstairs. He picks Her up, carries Her to the bedroom and throws Her on the bed.

Morning three is order-in pizza, rented movie, wine.

On the morning of May 17, 1876, upon the parade ground of Fort Abraham Lincoln, in the Dakota Territory, wives and children gather to bid farewell to Custer and his Seventh Cavalry. The caravan — soldiers, artillery and white-hooded wagons — extends for nearly two miles. A thick ground fog lifts slightly, and the entire assemblage is reflected overhead: troops, children, women and guns and mules. Sitting Bull should see this. Sitting Bull should take note of this symbolism. Though he may lay waste to the whites today, to those right now on the ground, the enemy is so numerous, so hell-bent, they fill the sky like phantoms. The question is not: will they be back? The question is not: how soon? The question is: how strong? And the answer is: too strong. The phantoms in the sky are like soldiers-in-wait and once the Seventh is rubbed out, the phantoms will take its place. Only there’ll be more soldiers this time. With each passing day: more. And the Indians weaken. Because time may be their ally in this battle, but it’s their enemy in the war.

And so with Henry.

Time would say he’s winning. Then again, time would say he’s not.

For no matter how much time they spend together, no matter how many horses go to the ground choking on the sheer mass of their togetherness, one fact remains: time passes. Or rather, time has passed. More specifically, three weeks have passed since he first said “I love you” and now he’s only got ten days left. Ten days within which to vanquish the fiancé. Ten days before She heads back to New Orleans for the summer and so She tells him, makes Her decision. This deadline, lurking hunched, hairy and fanged, like a werewolf, turns each of their brief and minor partings into frightful severances. An until-tomorrow kiss goodbye and a hand on the doorknob are followed by a swivel back and a hard embrace. A solo drive across the bridge is accompanied by a vision of this metallic city by the bay as oblivious to the impending apocalypse. And when he walks into his apartment it’s like entering an afterworld. A hectic lethargy infects his limbs. A heaviness of bone but a quickening of the nerve tissue. Far too alive, he is being mummified. For at most an hour he will endure this and then (a) go down the street for a drink, (b) call a friend to meet him for a drink, (c) call Her to arrange the next meeting, preferably immediately or, if a, b and c fail, pace and crackle.

He realizes, finally, that something must be done, so he scours his sparse arsenal for a bludgeon, finds one with the word “Mexico” imprinted on its business end, and sets about bludgeoning Her.

By the crimson light of his libido, he describes for Her his cut-and-pasted vision: “Way down on the Sea of Cortez there’s a tiny ancient village where they bring fish onto the beach and toss them in a big cast-iron pot, all kinds of fish — bonito, octopus, shark — and the fish stew while you sit there with the locals, not talking but communicating just the same, and the stew is ready at sundown and you’re given a wooden bowl and a spoon like a ladle and later we’ll make love in a thatch-roofed bungalow without walls.”

“Without walls,” She says. “Mmm.”

He nods. He’s almost there. He refines the concept. Mexico becomes Baja. “Baja,” he says, over and over. Way down in Baja. C’mon, let’s go.

Baja.

But they don’t. She can’t (damn those duties!). Though they do go to Big Sur, and they do make love in the cabin and She is startled by how swiftly She comes and his semen, like an emblem, does seep from Her pussy and stain the tight orange dress She wears to dinner that night in an expensive restaurant with bad food perched on a cliff’s edge thousands of feet above the moonchalked ocean, where they are given the finest table on account, so he reckons, of being the finest couple in the pretentious, cheeseball joint. After dinner, they sit on the restaurant’s deck and watch raccoon eyes in the tall grass below them and watch them climb onto the railing with their black, burglar’s paws. Raccoons, fierce fighters, carriers of disease, converge on their lover’s perch as She kisses Henry. She keeps kissing him until the sauce rises in his mouth and She says maybe he will be Her “Boo” after all, providing he learns to dress to kill, and in this moment, it seems She truly loves our boy, and in this light, the raccoons look like adorable children.

The next day on the beach they walk past families and a pack of skaterats without skateboards diving down a dune, and as She and Henry pass them, She doffs the red bikini top, and the skaterats hoot. 50 yards later, they lay in the sand, Her breasts go sunblushed, their desire edges into the red zone and eventually so does his need to pee.

She follows him into the woods, a small canyon with a smooth dirt floor and red trees of sumo girth. The beach is still visible, a white-blue gauze, the texture of imagination. He stands near a redwood and pees. And pees. She approaches him from behind, gently takes hold of his dick and holds it and he hardens and pees and She watches the flow like the passionate student She is. He pees for so long he has to laugh. She’s focused, humorless, on his dick. When he’s done, he doesn’t shake and neither does She; as if She’d been waiting for this moment to become possible, She squats and the veins in Her wide, powerful feet throb. She pushes his dick into Her mouth and he’s going to come right away so he takes a step back, up the hill, draws Her upright by the underarms and pivots Her away from him with his hands on her hips and She knows what to do. She stiff-arms the redwood while he slides down Her yellow bottoms, disengages them from Her raised ankles, lifts them free of Her upturned feet. Released, She assumes a wide stance. The downy blond hairs on the backs of Her thighs bristle. In the imaginary distance, the skaterats hurl themselves off the hill.

Custer refuses to drag a battery of Gatling guns to his Last Stand because he wants to get quickly to the Greasy Grass, as the Indians refer to the Little Bighorn region. He wants to get there quickly so he can score his rout and be back in Philadelphia for the Centennial celebration, and more importantly, the nominating convention for President. So he ignores the warnings from his Indian scouts, one by the name of White Man Runs Him, that the valley in question contains the largest convergence of Indians ever to grace the plains. Custer attacks. He and his elite Seventh are massacred to a man. The Indians, on the other hand, have the time of their lives. A man by the name of Iron Hawk shoots an arrow through a soldier on horseback, rides alongside and whacks him in the neck with the bow. The soldier falls off his horse, Iron Hawk dismounts and proceeds to beat the unfortunate to death. “I kept on beating him awhile after he was dead,” Connell quotes Iron Hawk as saying, “and every time I hit him I said ‘Hownh!’ I was mad, because I was thinking of the women and little children. . .” Imagine the fury of the man, and of the squaws too, who walked amongst the dead mutilating corpses and near-corpses, hacking off penises and hauling out bowels. Imagine the sweetness of their vengeance upon this horde of voracious bugs. Imagine the abandon of the scalp dance that evening, the joy in feeling that maybe, just maybe, this victory means the grasses will remain jeweled, the buffalo will continue to drift like seas and the Indians will never cease their magical wandering.

Now imagine Henry. Time may be running out, as with the Sioux, but with the pier, the three-morning days, the raccoons and the woods, he thinks — and increasingly, it seems, She thinks it too — he’s truly winning.

No more than four days before D-Day, she beckons him into the shed beside Her house where Her Indonesian teak dresser is stored as well as a love seat. It’s a hot sunny day, and the shed, which he has never entered, never seen opened, has the air of an Egyptian vault. Through the ten-foot high doorway, he walks with head bowed.

She bids him to sit, and with the air of ritual She conjures so well, She draws a heavy black photo album from a drawer. She nestles beside him and begins. Mother (he thinks: cracker), sister (cow), me at ten before I smashed my face and had my nose reconstructed (stroke of fortune). Fiancé (motherfucker). Dad.

He bids Her pause, bends for a closer look. So this is the madman who made Her. Same big-rig jaw. A mane of thick black hair. Eyes that spell out nothing. He waits to feel hate.

“He left when I was five,” She says. “I remember telling him he couldn’t go, that he wasn’t allowed to. I remember screaming at him and hitting him, my father, with my little fists. And then he left, went to Europe, traveled around for years and blew the inheritance my grandfather — he was French — had given him. He blew our inheritance too. My mom made eight thousand dollars a year. I didn’t have the right clothes and I stole things, and my dad came back and he just started getting worse.”

“How worse?”

And She tells him, how he tried to hang himself in the family’s basement. How he slept in his car in their driveway because Her mother wouldn’t let him into the house. He thought people in town were talking about him. He started looking homeless. He climbed through their bedroom windows, Her and Her brothers’ windows — climbed into their beds. Sang. Annie, Oklahoma. Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. And he stroked them. “Fondled, I guess, is the accepted term.” She sneaks Her thigh over his, does a mane-dip and looks toward the open door. “Actually, molested.” Though She didn’t see it that way then, She says, and She doesn’t now. “Fuck the shrinks, fuck everyone — everyone who wasn’t there.” They didn’t hear him in the skin of their new breasts singing; his tears never wet their bellies; their tragedy, their love, no one deserves to touch them. And She gives Henry a look: Judge this and I’ll kill you. Her look softens. She smiles. The smile that occurs not on Her face but in the air around. “I used to love fishing with him. He sang to me.” She rests Her hand on Her thigh. “He’s why I love plants.”

Henry rests his hand on Her hand. Ancient wood creaks. A spade of darkness crosses Her face. Hands unrest. Wind shoulders one of the lateral doors shut. Dad’s face fades. Henry disengages from Her entwining thighs and opens the door. Light. Once again. He stands and breathes the outside air. Our tragedy, our love. He’s why I love plants. The purity in those statements, and their apparent truth, and sickness, make him want to protect Her forever. And yet it is so incompatible with other things that he knows: the inky madness of the father, the daughter’s soft, inflectionless betrayals — these things make him want to step through the door and escape. And so caught, he sits. His thigh touches Hers but lightly and with no entwining. Stiffly they sit and look down upon the photographs. Upon the old mad bastard’s huge face. Made, Henry thinks, for staring down fish.

Henry checks on the sun.

He says, “I mean why.”

“Why did he go crazy?”

“Dumb question, I guess.”

“Not an unusual one.”

Henry picks at the damp couch fabric. “Call me usual,” he says.

“Usual.”

“Say it without the Y sound at the beginning.”

“Oosual.”

“Oozeooall. Ooze o’er all. Means to ooze over everything. Old Irish.”

“Gaelic.”

“I’m fluent.”

“Only in the language of love.”

“Only?” Said with a mock frown. Responded to with a smile.

And a kiss. She kisses him. They kiss. Their bodies come together like claythings. The risk in this is that they form themselves into something else altogether. The risk and the bounty. It’s what he wants. Has always wanted. To be something greater than himself. He is a noble commander at the center of a great battle, fighting for his life — for their life — amidst this dry light and moldy floorboards and shadows of pharaohs held at bay by fiery dust-angels, and in this brutally exposed position, he says, “I love you.”

The victorious Indian army packs up camp and along the trail the people slowly splinter. Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, Red Cloud and Gall, Rain in the Face and the rest of the Last Stand chiefs all go their own way. One band goes south, another east. Some return to reservations and keep their mouths shut. Not Sitting Bull. Sitting Bull leads his people north to Canada, to the safety of Grandmother’s Land. Is he waiting for the next battle? Does he know the way things must go? Good Lord let’s hope not. Let’s hope he’s like Henry — unable to peer beyond the last victory. Let’s hope, in the leave-taking of the great man’s fellows, in the emptying of the war chief’s lodge, in the face of a terrible exile, he’s unable to envision the withering.

A day after the Egyptian shed they make love in the morning in the Lighthouse with their heads at the foot of the fold-out bed and She comes with a sweet, high exclamation, the sound of a child peering through a rain-railed window when the sun comes out. Afterward She sits in his big black chair wearing unmatched bra and panties, emblazoned in yellow light. The white, wax-studded table, where they sat down to magic the night before, stands in the center of the room. On it, stale baguette hunks and yellow flowers in a vase, petals hanging heavy. Standing on opposite sides of the table, they dress, tracking one another’s slow, clumsy progress like exhausted enemies readying for a showdown. A yellow petal releases its grip, falls to the waxed-white table. Now the table holds three petals. Seven. They find themselves on the same side of the table. Shuddering. Embracing. Consumed in yellow light.

The drive to the airport is bleak and nauseated.

Back at the Lighthouse, he puts yellow petals in an envelope and mails it to New Orleans. He can’t sleep. Goes to a buddy’s house. Stands on the outdoor patio, elbows on windowsill, head within living room. On the couch, his buddy reclines, doped up on painkillers, four teeth leaner. “Focus on the demon,” his buddy slurs with slitted eyes, “not the woman.” Demonlike himself. But Henry barely sees or hears. He is devising strategies. One goes like this: move very, very slowly. There is a moment, arms straight and stiff, head bowed, that he senses. . .desert pavement. Razor heat. Grasshopper shudders up a dust devil. Hiss of oncoming car.


Paul Cohen’s debut novel, The Glamshack, will be published this June by 7.13 Books, a Brooklyn press dedicated to publishing the best in literary debuts. The Glamshack has been nominated for a Pushcart Press Editor’s Book Award by Little Brown editor Josh Kendall, and was just included in the “Most Anticipated Small Press Books of 2017” list by John Madera at Big Other. His short fiction has been published in Tin House, Five Chapters and Eleven Eleven. He was a finalist in a Black Warrior Review Fiction Contest, and his new novel, The Sleeping Indian, was recently named a finalist for the 2016 Big Moose Prize from Black Lawrence Press. His nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Village Voice, Details, the Christian Science Monitor and others.  He earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was awarded a teaching scholarship as well as the Prairie Lights Prize for Fiction (judged by Ethan Canin). He has taught writing at UC Berkeley Extension, the University of San Francisco MFA program and the University of Iowa, and has guest lectured at California College of the Arts. He lives in Boulder, Colorado. You can find even more about him at www.paulcohenfiction.com.

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