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Oct/Nov 2008 Fiction

Priapus

by Gary Moshimer


Feeling wild and decadent, curiously young again, Dale has a big bowl of ice cream for lunch. He swallows the pill with chocolate syrup, straight from the bottle, sweet stuff he might smear over Deb's thighs later, because this is the weekend the kids are away—Kyle at his grandmother's, Angie somewhere. He wishes there was a pill for his memory.

It's memory that plays the cruel joke. Angie appears and pushes the calendar into his face. "Why are you grinning like a cat?" she says. "Remember, the concert. We have to leave soon."

The syrup turns bittersweet on his tongue.

He finds Deb in the bathroom, locks them in. "I took the pill," he whispers. "I forgot Angie's plans included me."

She's on the john, squeezing her head between her knees, laughing at him. "It works for thirty-six hours, they say. So I'll see you after midnight, big boy." She jumps up to bite his neck.

"Don't do that. I might get one, then what?" He paces a tight circle. "What if I get one there?"

Dale leaves her to her glee and rummages through his drawers to find his biggest, loosest pair of sweatpants. An awful shade of puke but they'll do. Now for the longest shirt. The tee's won't do. It'll have to be a dress shirt with good long tails.

 

"You won't be seen with us, right?"

Angie's standing outside the van when they're ready to leave, looking him up and down, the clownish puke pants, the soft cream shirt that's his favorite for the office, the cream he uses to butter up his clients.

"I wouldn't dream of it, sweetness."

He's doing his own study of her: schoolgirl outfit of plaid skirt and matching suspenders, white blouse and knee socks, saddle shoes. He understands it's the fashion, but he's bothered by something Leonard, the sleaze bachelor at work, showed him on his laptop, some Japanese porn where all the girls wore these uniforms. He quickly turns to thoughts of Leonard having his nuts cut off by samurai. Leonard bad, schoolgirls good.

Deb gives him quite the shit-eating grin from the front door. "You're a brave dad, honey. Keep it up!" He loves her so much, he could smack her.

He thinks he might be okay, until he pulls up to Eddie's house and Angie's two friends fly out, wearing the same uniforms. This is not fair. It seems just yesterday they were the hard and flat-bodied girls he drove to soccer and swimming. Samantha and Edie. He called them Sam and Eddie. Now suddenly they are made of dangerous swells and curves. Leonard's leer appears in a sun-flash across the windshield, blinding Dale momentarily. He says a quick prayer in the white light, to the gods that protect young girls.

And thank god they are still the same girls, all chit-chattering and cell phone flipping and picture snapping and text messaging. They don't acknowledge him at all, and this is good. He is invisible, and hopefully his little secret will stay invisible.

They want coffees. Angie breaks the invisibility shield and pokes her head between the seats. "Starbucks ahead," she announces. Dale remembers the newsletter from school, how these drinks were the new addictions of the middle-schoolers, possibly stunting growth.

"White Chocolate Mochas! Venti!"

"No, no." Dale shakes his head. "I refuse to say 'Venti.'"

"Dad."

"No. Three talls."

"But tall is small."

"That's what I can afford, princesses."

The girls seem to know the male voice on the speaker. They squirm and coo and tangle their coltish legs. Sam purrs seductively in Italian. "Oooh... venti... amore..."

Dale sees a page from Lolita adhere to the windshield like a flyer, the one describing the qualities of a nymphet, and behind it Humbert Humbert joins Leonard, both shaking their heads at Dale. Dale's voice splits as he orders, leaving a whisper. He senses a tingle in a bad place. Reaching into his loose pocket for his wallet, he grasps the size of his problem. He fumbles for cash, fluffs up the shirt over his lap. When Angie pokes through again he jerks and accidentally guns the gas and has to back up. "Stay back there," he warns, tilting the wheel for more room.

"Jeez, no caffeine for you," she says.

The new helper in his lap balances the tray as he collects the change. He hands the tray back without turning. He can't turn. He smiles at the kid in the window, a big fake smile, like that Bob guy in the male enhancement commercial. He even does that wooden wave as he drives off. In the rearview the girls are licking whipped cream. He tilts the mirror up and away.

The thing between his legs doesn't feel right. It's showing off. It's more than he deserves. No, that's not his complaint exactly. It's a matter of sensation. It doesn't seem to be a part of him. It is but it isn't. It belongs to someone else. It's like an accessory, a driving prosthesis for a handless man. Big driving stick, just sensitive enough to judge the position of the wheel. Woody the chauffer. The autopilot. As Woody steers for the tollbooth, Dale thinks of that other porno he saw, of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, Tommy driving the boat with his giant wang. He almost allows himself to laugh, but this isn't funny. He glances at his watch.

On the turnpike he tries mental pictures to make it go away. He sees Leonard's bloody testicles on golf tees. But who shows up to drive them? Smiling Bob again. His smiling wife hands him a five wood. Dale wonders if there's such a thing as a five wood. He thinks he sees one of the testicles sail past the windshield.

He tries to picture wrinkly old lady butts, but he's never seen one.

In the back Sam continues to toss out Italian words like erotic candies—she spent a summer there with her parents—and Dale wishes he had a window barrier like a real chauffer. There are straw gurgles and girl giggles.

Not helping matters is a new vibration in the van, humming up from the road through his seat. Dale speeds up, slows down, experimenting. Something flashes in the side mirror. A state trooper blips his siren once, like the mating call of some strange, lonely creature.

"Dad!"

"I'm not speeding." Dale pulls off, a distinct thump from one of the wheels.

The trooper comes to the window, glancing in at the quiet girls now sitting erect with matching angelic smiles. He does a quick sweep of the interior, of Dale's hand on what could easily have been a concealed night-stick or sawed-off. "You're a little deflated," he says finally. He nods towards the back of the van. "Left rear."

Dale swallows. "Oh. Okay. Yes, I see." Hoping that the officer doesn't want him to get out and look.

"There's a service area a half mile up. I suggest you get some air." He studies the girls for a few more seconds before tapping the door and going back to his car.

"Thank you, officer. Thank you," Dale sounds too relieved, and the girls break into a little "Oh my god!" drama of hand-flapping and face-fanning.

Every part of Dale trembles but you-know-who: Woody seems oblivious to the outside world. Fear should cause the turtle to pull its head in, but Woody leans and twitches in the direction of the air hose: Bring it on.

At the air machine Dale disembarks slowly and paces in small test circles with hands protectively in pockets. The girls tumble out to cavort in the little picnic area, dancing across table tops. He recalls the time as a kid he shoplifted a baseball bat, the handle halfway down his pant leg, the head held between his hands in his coat pockets.

A car pulls up to the trash can nearby. The woman is a real plumper, and may be his answer, leaning far into her back seat and tossing empty cans and fast food bags. Her dress rides up and Dale carefully studies the morbidly fat and hairy creases of her legs. But even this has no effect on Woody. Finally the girls hoot at him from where they stand on a table with linked arms. Dale's face flushes, and he returns to the problem of inflation.

The air compressor sounds like an automatic weapon. The girls scream. Dale drops quickly to his knees instead of bending, and a pain tears from between his legs into his abdomen. He holds himself as if shot while bravely filling his tire.

Then he moves like a hunchback past the girls, turning his grimace into a smile. He wonders if this cramp is like a menstrual one. Is this how they feel? "Just have to hit the men's room. Be right back."

"Hurry up!" Angie calls.

In the last stall he pulls down his pants and examines the beast, which to his relief does not look blue or weird. He sits and goes to work, but now all he can picture is the fat lady's ass and Leonard's balls rolling toward the flag. He tries to conjure Deb in her Victoria's Secret, but she morphs into Sam in the uniform and he has to let go of himself. While he's waiting for any kind of legal inspiration, a man enters grunting and farting and talking to himself. Out of all the stalls, he takes the one next to Dale. A belt buckle clangs and the man whispers to his turds, "Oh yeah, you get on out of there. Bitches. You're free." After a couple splashes there's a final blast which rocks the metal wall between them.

The turd-whisperer has his relief, but Dale still suffers with Woody, who is numb. Dale's mind is numb, too, and he wonders if this is how the pill works, letting a guy go on forever because there is no feeling. He thinks of the time he took that anti-depressant. He didn't feel sad because he didn't feel anything at all.

After turdman leaves, Angie is outside the men's room door, or maybe inside. "Dad? God!" She must think he's the appalling stinky one. If she only knew what he was up to.

"We have to go!!" she shrieks, her words like little poltergeists spinning along the tile walls to find and turn him inside out. The wrath of a thirteen-year-old girl shrinks Woody towards the bowl, head bowing in shame. Dale lets out a long breath, hissing like a dying balloon. "Thank you, thank you," he says inside this breath. "I'll be right out," he calls to her in a froggy voice.

 

The girls have the van rocking. Dale cranks it up even more, so he can't hear Sam's voice. He has to admit he likes this band, this PuffyAmiUmi. The two Japanese girl singers are good, but the back-up band is killer, real hard-driving rock and roll. He has his own ticket, but now he worries about the crowd, the jostling.

The girls are singing the theme song for the PuffyAmiUmi Show, a cartoon starring the adventurous girl singers. Yes! Let them watch cartoons! Dale conjures an image of his girls, dressed in conservative cartoon-character pajamas, cross-legged in front of the TV, frozen in time and forever protected from boys and men with penises. He wraps this image around him like a shield. A sudden joy makes him want to sing along, too, but he knows what kind of reception that would get.

On the expressway, traffic slows to a crawl. The girls' faces cluster next to Dale, flushed with impatience. Their breath comes quickly, smelling of coffee. "What is wrong with these people?" Angie complains. "We have to be on line." Pink and red nails tap the console. Dale blinks his eyes. Everything suddenly seems blurry, and he thinks of one of the warnings on the box: Notify your doctor immediately with any changes in vision. When traffic stops he closes his eyes. His face goes ice cold and then hot. When he opens his eyes everything looks clear. He takes a huge breath, and Eddie pats his shoulder, "It's okay, Mr. B. Relax. We'll get there."

They finally make South Street, and another traffic jam. The girls distract themselves by watching the weirdos on the sidewalk, while Dale frets about parking. Eventually the old theater comes up on the right. "There's already a line!" Angie yelps into Dale's ear. "Dad, just let us out here!" Dale is hesitant, but the line looks safe, so far made up of even younger children with parents.

They are flying out the door before he can even say okay, not even looking for traffic. "Call me!" he shouts after them.

He finds a parking lot, where nine bucks seems reasonable to get out of the car. He places the little ticket on his dash. Stepping out he feels lightheaded, needs to hold the door for several minutes. He sneaks his keys into his deep pocket, careful not to disturb you-know-who.

Maybe his blood sugar is messed up, so across from the theater he buys a hot dog and soda from a street vendor, and while he's standing there two dark-haired girls giggle up next to him. He glances at them, surprised. He's pretty sure these are the singers, dressed in Yankee windbreakers with hoods up and dark glasses. To the vendor they say very cutely and politely, with very careful pronunciation, "Hot...dog." Dale thinks of whipping a napkin out for autographs. Wouldn't that freak Angie and her friends out, make him something special in their eyes? But he can't move. He watches them cross the street and go around the other side of the theater. No one else seems to notice, so maybe they're just plain Japanese girls.

He wanders over and gets in the back of the line. He figures what the heck, if something happens, at least he'll have the additional cloak of anonymity, and he can duck out any time. He sees his girls far ahead near the front of the building, where the line turns the corner, talking on their phones. In front of Dale are two annoying teenage boys, twisting the arm of a girl Angie's age. She half-heartedly resists. Dale sends death rays from his eyes into the boys' brains.

In taking a step back to give them room, Dale lands on the foot of the person behind him. He feels inept at this line business, and turns to apologize. The girl wears a black turtleneck with long sleeves, strange in this weather. But then she's probably wondering about his sweat pant-dress shirt combo. Below the turtleneck flows an iridescent purple skirt, below that black high-tops. Kind of a punk look, which goes with her short, chopped hair and stud in her nose. Her grey eyes look dazed, like he could stand on her foot all day and she wouldn't care. She's also so pale it's scary. To Dale she looks sick. He says, "Sorry," and then turns back around, not wanting to take a risk.

After a minute she taps his shoulder. When he faces her again he realizes she's not a girl at all, but a woman close to his age. "You have kids here?" she says.

"Yes. Thirteen year olds. You know." He nods.

"I'm by myself." She looks up at him shyly, with just her eyes. "I go to all these shows. Keeps me young."

"Yes. I can see that." He nods some more, feeling stupid. She's looking at the front of his pants, where Dale feels a slight twitch. "Well," he says, pocketing his hands and turning around. "Have fun." It feels cruel, but he has to do it, like the impotent man meeting a girl at a party. To his relief the line starts to move, and he steps aside to let her go ahead. "I have to get something," he says. She doesn't turn to watch him go to the end of the line.

He funnels in with the crowd, thankful there's no frisking. This old theater has had the seats removed, and Dale finds a place against a wall, blending in with the ornate, cream-colored woodwork. He's safe until the opening act begins, an insane little Japanese man, a frenetic one-man band strapped with electric guitar, dancing around a keyboard. A canned bass beat throbs into Dale's bones and changes his heartbeat. The sheer volume stuns the crowd closest to the stage and sends a wave of bodies in Dale's direction, most of them little kids with hands over their ears and O's for mouths, reminding Dale of that Munch print he has on his desk at work. They seem headed for his spot, and he squeezes against a buttress. Two of the bodies before him may have been sent by Leonard -- blonde twins old enough to know better. They take one look at Dale's petrified expression and twitch their butts with the beat, taunting him. He just wants to stay invisible, but something is stirring. He slides along the wall away from them, but it's too late. Woody is up and ready like a microphone.

He considers hiding in the van, but then, during his retreat along the wall, his body slides into a niche that seems made for him. Hands pocketed, he stands there like a statue, like a part of this historic wall.

Thankfully the wild man plays for just ten minutes, long enough for the sound adjustments. During the break Dale spots Angie and Sam and Eddie milling near the stage. He's alarmed to see some dudes with spiked and painted hair talking to them, but there's nothing he can do. He has to be the statue, his sentence for being in public with a concealed weapon. Or maybe he should go over so she can shriek and cure him again. But he's truly unable to move, and he thinks back to the list of side effects.

The crowd grows, stealing his comfort zone. Bodies hustle for position as the lights dim. When PuffyAmiUmi takes the stage (the girls no longer in their Yankee jackets, now in their schoolgirl outfits) there's a rush forward by the masses, followed by another equal and opposite wave breaking on Dale. He covers himself and cringes. When he opens his eyes the woman from the line is there, like something left by the tide, her back to him.

She seems to be swaying with the music, but then Dale realizes it's more like staggering. She's under the influence or just plain dizzy. She reminds him of a secretary in his office, a brittle diabetic who often swooned. She has that same sickly look. He should reach out and help her, but he's back to statue mode. Her small body is battered by the beat, and she reaches back without looking, grabs Woody like he's a piece of the ornamental molding, and steadies herself.

Dale tries concentrating on the music. It's great, but his attention returns to the woman, who's like a desperate train rider clinging to the pole. She wavers like they've just taken a high-speed curve. She never looks back. He's pretty sure she doesn't know what she's clinging to. Once, between songs, Dale hears some girls giggle and flicks his eyes to see them pointing.

When the show ends, she's taken back by the crowd. Woody is still going strong, and now the ache returns. Dale looks for his girls so they can get out of there, finds them in a line for tee-shirts. He speaks into Angie's ear, "I saw the singers getting hot dogs before the show. They were standing right next to me." Angie turns and says, "No way!" and smacks him playfully in the gut. He folds and clenches his teeth.

Sam and Eddie grab his shirt, a mock effort to hurt him as well, and the pain sears his belly. In the next instant they are holding him up. "I... I think I have to go to the hospital."

He stands like a question mark, sweating, and the girls pass diagnoses. "I bet it's that hot dog," says Eddie. "Smells like appendicitis," Sam says. "I had that in Italy. Molto male."

When they reach the parking lot, Sam steers him to the passenger side. "No sweat, Mr. B. I'll drive. I drive my father's car all the time." She works the tiny keyboard on her phone and shows him a grid on the screen. "Look, the nearest emergency room is just five blocks from here. A straight shot. My dad used to work there." There's one terrible moment when she plunges into his pants pocket for the keys and makes eye contact, but nothing is said.

She's like an old pro, swinging ticket and money to the man in the booth, steering easily with one hand, no hesitation or nerves, nothing to suggest she's only fourteen. Dale admires her, this girl-woman, his little superhero in schoolgirl clothes, her expensive haircut blonde-streaked in the streetlight, her straight beautiful nose gold-dusted with freckles and glitter. He wants to cry not from pain, but for his lost youth.

At the hospital there's a parking garage, and although there are plenty of spaces, Sam zooms up and down ramps a few times as the girls squeal. Then she shows off her prowess by backing into a slot, one perfect arc.

"I don't want you to call your mother," Dale warns Angie, as they move through the softly hissing automatic doors. "I'll be okay." But he wonders if he can keep this secret from any of them.

A greeter hands him a clipboard to fill out, directs him to sit if he can. There are a hundred people waiting, half of them talking to themselves, leaning sideways in chairs or shuffling back and forth in tongue-less shoes. Saturday night in the city. Dale holds the nubby pencil and stares at the first line: Nature of complaint. The girls are standing over him, supervising. He tells them to find a soda machine. When they're gone he writes: Pain in groin area and abdomen, side effect of pill taken earlier. That sounds good. Then he worries it's not urgent enough. He might sit here all night. He looks at his watch. It's only been an hour and a half, but he writes, in smaller letters: erection of four hours, feels like damage is occurring. That may get the ball moving. When the girls return he fills the rest of the stuff out with his hand over the top part.

Finally an aide leads him to an exam room. The girls cluster along behind, like his harem, and he tells them to go back and wait. In the cubicle, where the curtain refuses to close completely, he removes his pants and puts on the gown, sits and waits on the gurney. He watches lab coats pass by. Everyone seems young, their skins various shades of Starbucks coffee.

A male nurse comes in, glancing at the clipboard and at Dale. "This is the first time I've seen this," he says, sounding a little too gay.

"So you don't know what they do about it?"

He shrugs, checking Dale's blood pressure. "I think they stick a needle in." He slips through the curtain, replaced immediately by a young Indian doctor, like a magic act.

The doctor holds his hand out to Dale. "Gupta," he says, and Dale says, "Likewise," before realizing it's his name and not a greeting.

The doctor studies the clipboard, a slightly amused look on his face. "What time did you take the pill?"

"At lunchtime."

"Did you have sex today?"

"No."

"This is this first erection since taking the pill?" He's scribbling like crazy.

"Second."

"That went away by itself?"

"Yes."

"After how long?"

"Like, an hour."

"And this one is over four hours?"

"An hour and a half."

"Here you wrote four."

"I lost track of time. Plus I couldn't move. And I have this pain with it." Dale runs the outside of his hand diagonally across his abdomen.

The doctor squints at him suspiciously, then speaks slowly, like Dale's stupid. "Yes, everything becomes engorged. Very uncomfortable."

The curtain rings rattle; the girls are back, flushed and breathless. "Dad, sorry, but we are not going back out there. There are some serious wackos. One tried feeling us up."

Dr. Gupta takes the girls in with his brown doe eyes. A corner of his mouth twitches, and Dale watches it carefully.

The girls huddle next to Dale, looking genuinely frightened, but the doctor requests they step behind the curtain while he does an exam. They back out cautiously as one unit. The doctor puts on gloves and lifts Dale's gown, presses his abdomen here and there, palpates his testicles. "Well," he says finally, "since it's not blue, and it's not really four hours, I think pills will take care of you, some vasoconstrictors. Your erection will be gone and your sinuses clear!" He snaps off his gloves definitively and Dale jumps and yanks the gown back down.

Before the girls come back, Dale puts the pillow on his lap, which to Sam is a giveaway. She puts her hands on her hips and slowly shakes her head. "Mr. B, did you take one of those love pills?"

"What do you mean?" Heat flashes across his face.

"My father took one once and ended up at the hospital, just like this. Priapism. That's what they call it. The warnings are all over the TV. Plus we learned about it in health class. Nothing to be ashamed of. Stuff happens."

"They teach you about that in school?" Dale can't believe it. What is the world coming to? He hugs his pillow. "It's supposed to be rare."

"Of course they tell you that. Those billion-dollar pharmaceutical bastards."

Dale has to look up then, with grateful tears in his eyes, to see the girl-face that has uttered these words. All their faces are serious and concerned, brows slightly puckered, as cool and unembarrassed as medical students on rounds. When did they become so mature? From Angie the Oh my god, how could you? doesn't come. Instead it's We understand. Miraculously, they all hug him, a circle of arms just as the nurse returns.

"This is my daughter and her friends," Dale says quickly.

The nurse just nods, avoiding them as they open the protective circle. He hands Dale the tiny paper cup of pills and scurries out.

The girls sit on the edge of the gurney, crossing legs, taking care not to move too quickly. Sam says, "So, Mr. B, ever hear the story of Priapus?"

Dale tosses the pills back, like he's at the bar bracing for a long life-story. "I don't think so."

"My Dad has all those Greek mythology books."

It suddenly occurs to Dale that Sam's father hasn't been around for a while, and he wonders if the bastard, playboy that he is, has left them.

"So this Priapus dude," she continues, "a son of Aphrodite, was cursed by this Hera bitch while still in the womb, because Hera was jealous of Aphrodite, who was more beautiful. Poor Priapus was to be ugly and impotent, and was thrown off of Mount Olympus down to earth, where he got with Pan and started partying with the satyrs. At one of those parties he tried raping this nymph, Lotis, but he pretty much sucked at it and was caught before he could get it up. After that he was cursed to have this giant, permanent erection and could barely move."

Dale guards his pillow. All he can say is, "Huh."

Eddie sighs and shakes her head. "Those crazy Greeks."

Sam tells some more, about Priapus becoming a statue in the garden, a scarecrow to ward off evil. Dale remembers being that statue. The healing comes as he listens to her voice. Woody eases away, melting into the softness of the pillow.

Someone being wheeled by lifts a hand and waves weakly to Dale. It's the woman from the concert. Dale waves back, and again she's swept away.

"Who was that?" Angie asks, standing up.

"I have no idea. She was at the show."

Angie folds her arms. "Did she do this to you?"

"Girl, grow up," Sam says. "It just happens."

 

 

Sam wants to drive home and looks put out when Dale reminds her she's just fourteen, and it's dark.

The other girls are asleep in no time, but Sam remains watchful, and after a while Dale feels her hand on his leg. He looks and sees her glistening eyes, takes her hand and gives it back. "Sam, I don't want you growing up already. Do you understand?"

He's amazed to see a tear on her cheek, lit by the expressway lights. "I'm not Sam anymore," she says, her voice breaking, and Dale senses something that scares the hell out of him, that she's no longer a virgin, that someone has taken away Sam the girl and left behind Samantha the young woman who is not ready, who no longer fits in the category of her friends, who is alone and afraid. He reaches to take her hand back. "But, you always will be to me," he says, and she falls, relieved, into his shoulder, and cries herself to sleep.

 

Back at Eddie's house, Dale has trouble waking them up. He calls names and pokes and shakes. He feels like he's pulling them on warm strings of taffy, up from the safe, cartoon world of PuffyAmiUmi into the real world that's not so safe. They don't want to come but finally sit up and blink at him as if to say, "What has just happened? Where have you taken us?"

They're spending the night here, so Dale will have his time with Deb after all. "Bye, Dad," says Angie, pecking his cheek. Then they all say, with slow, solemn nods, "Be careful tonight," and run off towards the house. Dale sits with the engine off and the window open and waits, rewarded finally with the breakout of squeals and laughter. Ah, he thinks, picturing them at the age of ten, covering a vast expanse of green, their only worry the soccer ball between them. Girls.

He trudges into his house, bone-tired. It's not easy being Priapus, staying solid for so many people, holding up the weak and scaring off the rapists coming for your daughters.

"Deb?"

He opens the bedroom door and finds her on the bed in a schoolgirl outfit of her own. He groans.

"You're so late."

"Traffic was hell, and there was this accident."

"Well?" She runs a finger up the inside of her thigh, under the plaid skirt where he knows there are no panties. "I've been a bad girl."

"Honey, I'm just beat. Can we wait until the morning? We have thirty-six hours, right?"

Woody is nowhere to be found.

"Fine." She sighs and throws her arms and legs out like a spoiled brat, falling back dramatically to form an X on the bed. It looks like she's going to stay that way, that he might have to sleep on the sofa, but when he gets back from the bathroom he sees her outfit on the floor and her small, tightly curled body far on her side of the bed.

He's instantly asleep, making love to her in his dreams. It is her but it isn't. He's taking her from behind. She's still curled up, and he's trying to uncurl her, to roll her over and see whose face it is. Doctor Gupta speaks into one ear, "Easy does it." In his other ear Sam purrs in Italian, or Greek -- instructions or encouragement or secrets of love. Dale wakes up from this, heart pounding, and wants to remember the words, but even if he does, how can he possibly write them?

He can't get back to sleep. He sheds his boxers and walks outside, Woody pointing the way. He goes to the garden and watches the sky, searching for Mount Olympus. He pictures Sam curled up, crying over something, reading the cumbersome books, and in his shame he's paralyzed once more, doomed to stand guard over the heavens, the stars as fine as glitter.

 

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