Jul/Aug 2009  •   Fiction

being chased by the CIA on a warm summer night

by Allan Richard Shapiro

Tonight I am too impotent to fall sleep. Tonight I listen to my neighbors argue and throw things at the walls while I watch The Terminator with the sound off. It is 2:00 AM before it is 3:00 AM, and no matter how hard I pull and prod, I can not find the release I so desire. I stare at Linda Hamilton's little breasts and imagine it is I she is gyrating upon, me running my hands through her permed hair, massaging her cute little breasts, but nothing can overcome my inability to cum. Perhaps it is the pressure of knowing I am producing a future messiah, perhaps it is because I know in the next scene I will be running in terror from a Republican governor, perhaps it is my neighbors yelling and screaming and crying and apologizing, perhaps it is knowing it is already too late.

It is 3:00 AM before it is 4:00 AM, and the only thing left is to fall asleep and dream of having sex with my cousin during the reception after my Bar Mitzvah. We were on the couch in the house where I grew up, and we were watching The Terminator with the sound off. The rest of the family was present in the room with us, and she was straddling me, facing me while I faced the television. My erection was big and bold with obvious attention to the task at hand, and yet, I kept telling her to move because she kept blocking the television. She did not seem to mind, nor did the rest of the family, and we all watched the television like that, except for my cousin, of course, who only continued to watch me, a curious expression of desire and complacency on her face. Then I wake up, and though I can still feel her upon me and my erection still stands attentive and big and bold, no release is imminent, no matter how much I continue to pull and prod.

It is 7:00 AM before it is 8:00 AM, and Forrest Gump is on, which luckily contains no actionable masturbatory material. Then I am getting dressed for work, trying desperately to force my erection to recede. It is intractable. It is unstoppable. And I walk to the bus through the stares and snickers of everybody I pass. I wonder how I will ever be able to make it through a day of work with an everlasting boner in my pants, but by the time I decide to go home and call in sick, I am on the bus, scratching awkwardly at the impression of my erection, and the Food For All is in sight, and I can see Nicole standing outside, pacing and smoking a cigarette.

I love Nicole because I hate Nicole, and I am smoking a cigarette of my own as I approach, walking a bit like John Wayne, at the same time realizing why he probably walked that way. Then I am standing in front of Nicole, and she does not say I am late and she does not ask if I'm drunk.

I am smiling when I ask if I'm late, but I am not smiling after I notice the tears in her eyes.

"What's wrong?" I ask. Instead of answering me, she's put her arms around me and holds me harder than she's ever held me before.

I hate Nicole because I love Nicole, and she cries harder and breathes harder and I can feel her warmth against the side of my neck.

"My mom's sick," she says.

"She's dying," she says.

Nicole has lived with her mom her whole life. Her father left when she was young, and then died when she was a little older, and ever since then her mother has lived off his life insurance, drinking gin and smoking menthol cigarettes. Twenty years passed like that, and Nicole loves her mother because she has no choice in the matter, and by the time she mustered the courage to tell her mother she's killing herself by drinking so much and smoking so much, the only response her mother could come up with was: "Why else do you think I drink and smoke so much?"

It was not the answer Nicole had hoped for, and I remember holding onto Nicole that day, too. I didn't know what to say that day, either. I only remember wondering how I could hate somebody whom I loved so much. This time I just tell her I'm sorry, and I hold onto her as long as she wants me to. Then she lets go of me and wipes her eyes and says, "God!" before sitting down on the curb and lighting another cigarette with trembling hands.

I sit down next to her and help steady her hands so she can light her cigarette. Then I light one of my own.

"I knew this would happen," she says.

"I'm not stupid," she says.

"No, you're not stupid," I say.

Nicole continues to wipe tears from her eyes as she continues to cry. Nicole has short, shiny black hair and a small, pale face, and normally I love the contrast of the two and will often tell her she's too black and white to only be black and white, and normally she'll smile when I say such a thing, but now I wish her hair was a different color because of how dark her eyes are. Her cheeks are streaked with red from the coarseness of her sleeve when she wipes her eyes, and I know there is nothing I can do, so I do nothing. I watch Nicole cry. I listen to her tell me about what happened the night before when she came home from a date with a man she had started seeing. He is a construction worker and he always pays for dinner, but he prefers anal sex over vaginal, but at least he always pays for dinner. So she came home from a night of Italian food and anal sex to find her mother on the floor of the living room with her eyes rolled back and her head in a pool of foam and vomit. She was pale and cold, and she did not seem to be breathing. She did not seem to have a pulse, and no matter how many times Nicole yelled, "Mom, wake up," she did not wake up. Then Nicole called for an ambulance and spent the night with her in the hospital.

"They say it's her kidneys, or her heart, or her heart and her kidneys," she says.

"They say it may have been a stroke," she says.

"I knew this would happen," she says.

"How come you're not still there?" I ask.

"How come you came to work?" I ask.

Nicole shrugs her slender shoulders. Nicole wipes the tears from her eyes.

"It's hard watching someone slowly die," she says without looking at me.

"Yes, it is," I say.

"I've been doing it for 20 years," she says before she looks at me.

"I know," I say.

"I watch it happen every morning when I look at myself in the mirror," I say.

I'm not sure if I am making a joke or not, nor am I sure if it will be taken that way, but Nicole smiles nonetheless and nudges me with her elbow.

"Shut up," she says.

"You're not funny," she says.

"No, I'm not," I say. Then I put my arm around her waist and pull her closer so I can hold onto her. Then I kiss her on the cheek and tell her everything will be okay. It is a meaningless thing to say, but it is the only thing left to say, and we sit there for a time with no meaning left for each other. My inconsolable erection but a faded spot from all the awkward scratching on my crotch, the promise of being all alone in the world but a wet spot of salt water on my shirt. Then she suddenly lifts her head up as if she was Lazarus just awoken from the dead, and she takes a deep breath and blinks her eyes.

I smile at her. Then I wipe her nose with my sleeve, and she laughs.

"I'm a mess," she says.

"We're all a mess," I say, and she laughs again before we both stand. Then one more meaningless moment for each other before we both walk shoulder-to-shoulder back into the Food For All as if it was the only thing left for us to do.

Nicole recovers quickly in the routine of a day's work. It is easy to lose yourself when you're wearing an orange vest with your name on a nametag. It's easy to not know who you are when everyone knows who you are. I watch Nicole interact with women buying groceries, and I suddenly lose all will to live. Perhaps it's how the world reduces a person to the application of a service; perhaps it's the fact that one day it will be Nicole who will be buying the cheap bottles of gin, the "buy one get one free" boxes of Cheerios, the frozen packages of Salisbury Steaks; perhaps it's because Nicole's mother is going to die and the only place she'll have to go is a grocery store called the Food For All. Perhaps it's all these things or none of these things. Perhaps it's everything.

Then a woman who looks like my sister is buying 24 one-liter bottles of pure, mountain spring water, and I say, "Soon the only potable water left in the world will be contained in one-liter plastic bottles."

"What will poor people do?" I say.

"What will Bolivia do?" I say.

She says, "I don't know what Bolivia will do," and I count out the wrong change for her and begin ringing up the next woman who looks like my sister who is also buying bottles water but is also buying eggs and butter and flour and canola oil, and I tell her about the water in Puget Sound and how the water in Puget Sound is killing all the killer whales, and Nicole is holding a finger over her mouth and indicating with her eyes something or someone directly behind me, and I realize Mr. Binky is standing behind me.

He apologizes to the woman who looks like my sister and tells me nobody wants to hear about the water in Puget Sound.

"That's the problem," I say.

Mr. Binky is the store manager of this Food For All. Mr. Binky is a fat man with an inferiority complex who I suspect is also working for the CIA. It seems like whenever I bring up things like PCB's in the water of Puget Sound or how the American government was responsible for the introduction of Crack Cocaine into the inner cities as a way to further demonize and degrade African-American communities, Mr. Binky will magically appear behind me, apologizing to whichever kind of woman I may currently be serving, whether it be my sister, my cousin, or my mother.

Mr. Binky apologizes to the woman who looks like my sister again and tells her just to ignore me.

I tell her Mr. Binky is secretly working for the CIA and she should just ignore him.

"For the last time, I do not work for the CIA," Binky says.

"How would you know?" I say.

Then I hear Nicole laugh, and I immediately feel better about the way the world is, and I don't really care if my register is bugged or not.

"Sorry about that," I say to my sister as I count out the wrong change for her.

"It's been a rough day," I say.

"What's wrong with the water in Puget Sound?" she says.

Mr. Binky is still standing behind me, and I can tell he is holding his breath, trying to decide how to properly deal with such a situation.

I lean forward towards the woman. I act like I am saying something I don't want Mr. Binky to hear. I whisper, "Too many grocery stores." Then I nod my head and stand straight up and realize my erection has returned. Then I hand the woman her bags and tell her to have a great day.

The woman smiles. She looks like my mother when she smiles. Then she takes her bags and leaves.

Nicole is staring at me. Then she's staring at my erection. Then she's staring at me again.

I shrug my shoulders and point with my thumb at Mr. Binky standing behind me. Then I begin humping the air as if I was humping Mr. Binky, and she laughs again, this time with her hand over her mouth.

Binky, meanwhile, is telling me to stop telling people he works for the CIA, and I turn so I am facing him and tell him he should ditch the bowtie cause it's a dead giveaway. Then he notices my rather obvious erection and quickly makes his exit with a huff lifting the hairs of his moustache.

Nicole is still staring at me. She mouths the words "What the fuck" and my only response is to shrug my shoulders again.

"You haven't been watching The Terminator again, have you?" she says. Then she motions with her head towards the back of the store where the bathroom is, and I say, "I know," and quickly redirect all the sisters and cousins and mothers to her aisle.

I am John Wayne again as I impotently make my way to the back of the store. I choose the Frozen Food aisle in the hope the lower temperature will cool the blood running hot through my loins. I'm shivering by the time I make it to the bathroom.

I am sitting on the toilet with my pants around my ankles. My eyes have rolled back into my head. One hand is devoted to the interrogation. The other stands ready with a catcher's mitt made of toilet paper. First it's Jessica Alba, not Fantastic Four Jessica Alba but Idle Hands Jessica Alba. Next it's Jane Fonda, not Klute Jane Fonda but Barbarella Jane Fonda. Then it's Body Heat Kathleen Turner. Then it's Jennifer Connelly, any Jennifer Connelly except Labyrinth and Requiem for a Dream. Then it's the woman in the Subway commercial. Then it's the crazy version of Kathleen Quinlan in The Doors. I even make it all the way to Audrey Tautou, Amelie Audrey Tautou not Dirty Pretty Things Audrey Tautou, but still nothing.

I open my eyes and consider what's become of myself, pants around my ankles, wad of toilet paper in one hand, wad of penis in the other, an erection as unstoppable as a robotic Republican governor. Then a knock comes to the door, and the butcher asks if I'm done yet.

"Not even close," I say.

Then he laughs and asks if I need his help.

The idea of masturbating in the Food For All bathroom with the butcher standing in the corner and cheering me on is enough to reduce the magnitude of my erection, and I stand up from the toilet and pull up my pants and flush the wad of toilet paper away. Then I stare at myself in the bathroom mirror while I wash my hands. Then I shake my head and say to my reflection, "Not even Amelie, huh?" And then I'm opening the door for the bald and bloody butcher.

The butcher is smiling at me. Then he's smiling at my crotch.

"Is that a .44 or a 9-millimeter?" he says.

"Snub nose," I say.

The butcher laughs and puts a bloody hand on my shoulder. I have never been so close to another man while having an erection and am quite uncomfortable with the proximity.

"Don't move," the butcher says, and I close my eyes, expecting him to do something terribly inappropriate. Instead he lets go of my shoulder, and I open my eyes while the butcher begins to pee.

"I can see you're having some… issues," he says.

The sound of urination serves to stifle my engorgement, and I scratch awkwardly at its impression. "That's one way of putting it," I say.

The butcher laughs, and I hear some urine hit the floor. "Love, my friend, is like a box of chocolates," the butcher says with one last spurt and then a zip.

"I thought life was like a box of chocolates," I say.

The butcher goes to the sink. He does not wash his hands and instead, checks his face for streaks of blood.

"Love is like a box of chocolates," he begins again.

"It's trite, it's expensive, and half of it is absolutely awful," he says before turning around with a bloody smile on his face. The butcher is a bastard when he has a bloody smile on his face.

"Love isn't my problem," I say.

The butcher looks down at my boner again and says, "It's not?"

"No, it's not," I say.

"Then what is?" the butcher says.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger," I say.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger," he says.

"I knew there was a reason why I liked you," he says.

Then he pats me on the shoulder as he passes me, leaving a bloody streak of red on my orange vest, and says, "Kindergarten Cop always gets me, too." Then he's gone, and I wonder if I should drop my pants and try again. Instead, I readjust my boner and limp back to my register.

Nicole is still looking at me funny as I make my way towards her. I can tell it's the first thing she's going to say once I'm close enough to hear, so I shake my head, indicating I'd rather not talk about it. Then I say, "I want to have a cigarette."

"So go have a cigarette," she says.

"I meant with you," I say.

She's already walking outside when she says without looking at me, "I know what you meant."

I watch the way she walks as I walk behind her and am surprised to find my penis declare a ceasefire, especially considering how much I enjoy watching the way Nicole walks while I walk behind her.

Nicole is not herself as she sits on the curb and smokes. It is a windy day, and it is dark even though it is still early, and I say something about how it's supposed to rain. Nicole does not care if it's going to rain, so I tell Nicole that counter-intuitively it's the rain s destroying our water supply. I tell Nicole humans tend to over-populate regions next to large bodies of water, and how all the urban sprawl creates an unnatural amount of run-off water when it rains, and how this water carries all our urban residue into the large bodies of water, thus creating an unstoppable cycle of pollution and degradation, turning the food chain into a circle of lowered sperm counts and increased levels of infant mortality.

"That doesn't mean it's the rain's fault," she says.

"I like it when it rains," she says.

Since I am no longer pacing and ranting, I sit down next to her on the curb and light another cigarette.

"So do I," I say.

We are as close as we always are, and I have to resist the urge to put my arm around her. I have to remind myself how much I hate Nicole because of how much I love Nicole because of how much I hate myself. I have to remind myself how inappropriate it is to love somebody under such conditions.

We are closer than we've ever been, and I can hear her breathing heavily between drags of her cigarette. I can tell she wants to say something she's not sure if she should say. Then I hear her stop breathing and I feel her turn to me, and I know if I were to turn to her, too, we would be close enough to kiss. Then she breathes again and it's warm on my neck, and I hear her say, "Will you come with me later to see her?"

I realize she must think I would say no to such a request, thus the reluctance and the apprehension. Then I feel bad for making her feel that way before I remind myself how much I hate Nicole no matter how much I love Nicole. Then I turn to her and we're close enough to kiss, and I say, "Of course, I will."

She smiles, and I watch her smile. I love to watch her smile.

Then she says, "Thanks," and I don't know what to say so I say nothing and feel something like tears come to my eyes. When I look away from her, she stands up, and I pretend to cough so I can wipe my eyes. Then I stand, too.

"We'll go after work," she says.

"We don't have to stay long," she says.

"She probably won't even know I'm there," she says.

"Of course, she will," I say.

Then she smiles again and makes sure to check my crotch before she hugs me. The way she holds me makes me feel like crying again, and I hold tight before I let go. She is still smiling as I let go, and I say, "Let's go back in before Binky calls in a hit on me," and she laughs and says, "It's already too late for that," and then we walk shoulder-to-shoulder back into the Food For All just like we always seem to do.

We return to our positions, and sisters and mothers come at us in droves. Mr. Binky returns, massaging his moustache and looking sideways at us. My erection returns, pressing persistently on my pants while I awkwardly scratch at it. Occasionally the butcher makes an appearance, looking slyly at me, saying things like, "It's not a tumor!" or, "Is that a Schwarzenegger in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" I pretend to find it amusing. I pretend it's just all in day's work.

It is the first time I've had to spend so much time with an erection since before I was bar mitzvah'ed, and it is the longest, most difficult thing I've ever had to do. My only relief is when I stare at Nicole. Somehow it seems to calm my restless impotence. At some point, she receives a phone call and is informed her mother has gone into a coma. It is inappropriate to cry in a grocery store as customers expect a certain amount of gratitude for the apathetic way in which they buy groceries, and Mr. Binky tells her to collect herself in the break room in the back. Then he asks me what's wrong with her, and I tell him her mother is sick.

"She should leave her personal problems at home," he says.

"She tried to, but they sent them to the hospital instead," I say.

I can tell Binky doesn't believe me. I can tell the fact that Nicole has a mother would probably ruin his masturbatory fantasies about her. Unless, of course, he imagines her mother to be the crazy version of Kathleen Quinlan in The Doors or maybe Raquel Welch, any Raquel Welch, thus enabling the possibly of a mother-daughter threesome. There is no telling what the sick mind of a man like Mr. Binky could come up with.

He is still standing behind me, trying to think of something else to say. He smells like tuna fish and aspirin. He is trying desperately to justify his existence. So I say, "You know it's documented the CIA was responsible for smuggling crack cocaine into the inner-cities."

Mr. Binky hates it when I blow his cover, and he says, "No, it's not."

"Yes, it is," I say.

"Google it," I say.

Mr. Binky furiously massages his moustache and tells me to get back to work, which I was doing anyway, before he huffs and puffs his way back to his office.

A woman who looks like my sister had been listening while I was ringing her up, and now that Mr. Binky is gone, she leans forward and whispers, "Did the CIA really do that?"

I sadly nod my head. "It's documented," I say.

"Really?" the woman who looks like my sister says.

"Really," I say.

"It was their way of further marginalizing low-income communities, specifically African-American ones," I say.

"Not to mention creating an entire industry devoted to the supposed war on drugs, which they helped to manufacture," I say.

"Not to mention the absolutely devastating effect it had on disco, which the CIA considered to be the single greatest threat to national security, besides the Black Panther Party, of course," I say.

"I loved disco!" my sister says.

"So did I," I say. Then I wait to hear Nicole laugh before I remember Nicole is crying in the break room in the back. I hand the woman, who looks like my sister, the wrong change and say, "Beware of anybody who wears a bowtie." Then I wish her a good day and wait for the end to come, with only my boner to keep me company.

The day drags, and the only thing I want is a cigarette. The only thing I want is to be slurping from a stolen bottle of booze. But I am alone. I am engorged. By the time I see Nicole again, it is the end of the day. She looks tired. She looks like she has just woken up. I have never seen her look like that before, and I am staring at her as she walks towards me. She is sadder and more beautiful than she's ever looked before, and I wish I hadn't seen her like that. She is smiling at me, and when she's close enough, she says, "Stop staring at me."

"I know I look like shit," she says.

"You're beautiful when you look like shit," I say, and she laughs and says, "Cut it out."

Then I look down to watch my hard-on soften, and I wonder why I react that way every time I see her. Then I look back up to see the butcher smiling at me.

He is as bald and as bloody as ever, and when our eyes meet, he puckers his lips like he was giving me a kiss. "This is for you, Sweetie," he says. Then he hands me a box of chocolates. "So you won't forget," he says.

"Forget what?" I say.

The butcher laughs and puckers his lips again. "I knew there was a reason why I loved you," he says.

"Open it," he says.

It's too heavy to just be a box of chocolates, and I already know what I will find in it, but I open it anyway.

"Really," I say.

"Really," he says.

I quickly put it in my pocket and almost immediately, my erection returns.

"So I guess the answer to the question of 'Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?' would be both," I say.

"I guess so," he says.

Then he looks back over his shoulder at Nicole and says, "Do anything I would do." Then he smiles one last big, bright, bloody smile and is gone.

Nicole appears in his wake and has a flat expression on her face like staring at the comet that will render us all extinct once it collides with the Earth.

"You ready?" she says.

"Sure," I say, flattening my own expression in anticipation of the inevitability of what's to come.

"Where's Binky?" I say.

Nicole closes her register and begins walking out the door with me in tow.

"I don't know," she says without turning around. Then she does turn to find me watching the way she walks. "Since when do you care about Binky?" she says.

I look up as I feel my penis compress and say, "I don't."

"It's just not like him to not appear before we leave," I say.

"Whatever," she says.

"He's a toad," she says.

Then we're outside, and a rainy day has turned into a warm night, empty air above impermeable cement and a full moon in the distance directing us towards the fall, a lazy way to leave life at the Food For All. Nicole is moving slower than she normally moves, and I can tell she would rather not be moving at all. I can tell she is trying to adjust to the idea of being all alone.

Nicole lives in a small house with her mom and her cat. Nicole will come home to find her mother drunk upon the couch. Sometimes there is enough time before her mother passes out for Nicole to make her eat something. Sometimes there is enough time to sit on the couch with her mother and watch reruns of Seinfeld while her mother tries to remember what it's like to be a mother and ask Nicole about her day. Sometimes Nicole will give in and tell her mom about her day, like she was a child recalling what had happened that day at school. Sometimes Nicole will give up and act like a mother to her mother, and she will tell her she can't keep doing this, that she can't keep living like this. Sometimes Nicole won't say anything at all and wait for her mother to pass out drunk on the couch and then cover her with a blanket and go to the kitchen to make herself something for dinner before she goes to her room and closes the door and sits on her bed with her cat in her lap and pets her cat while reading a book until she's too tired to resist and falls asleep and wakes up the next morning not being able to remember if she dreamt or not. Then she'll greet the day to the stale stink of cigarette smoke, and sometimes her mom will be making breakfast, and sometimes her mom will still be asleep, and sometimes her mom will be crying in the bathroom. Then she'll go to work and do it all again.

Nicole drives an old Mercedes station wagon, and she only uses bio-diesel. Nicole throws her keys at me, which hit me in the chest before landing on the cement, and asks if I wouldn't mind driving. She doesn't feel like it, she says. She wishes she could just go home, she says.

I pick up the keys and tell her I don't mind even though I can't remember the last time I've driven a car, and I unlock the doors, hers first, and we're both in the car, and I put the key in the ignition and turn on the car, and she puts her hand on mine and tells me I need to let it warm up first.

"It's an old car," she says.

"You can't teach an old car new tricks," she says as she leans her head back on the headrest and lazily smiles.

"I need a drink first anyway," she says.

"I'm not that bad of a driver," I say, and she laughs and says, "It's not you," as she removes a bottle of bourbon she stole from the Food For All.

"That's the spirit!" I say, and she laughs again and tells me to light her a cigarette, which I do after I open my window, handing one to her before lighting one of my own. Then we sit in the car with both our heads back on the headrest, smoking cigarettes and sipping stolen bourbon.

It is a lazy way to warm ourselves, and we grow warm from the core, a fuzzy feeling born from the booze, finding its way into the blood, permeating slowly to our hands and our feet. Nicole breathes heavy between drags, and I can tell there is something she wants to say. I can tell there is something about to happen, and I close my eyes to the sound and listen to how heavy she breathes, and I forget my impetus and I remember my impotence, and slowly and drunkenly my erection returns. Then I hear Nicole say, "No matter how much we know what's going to happen next, we never seem ready for it once it happens." Then it sounds like she might be crying. Then it sounds like she might be laughing. Then she says, "Even if you can't wait for it to happen." Then I open my eyes to see her wipe her eyes before she throws her cigarette out the window and says, "Let's go."

I throw my cigarette out the window and immediately light another one. Then I take another swig of stolen bourbon. Then I say, "Let's go."

Nicole seems revitalized once I start driving. Perhaps it's because I put the car in drive instead of reverse and nearly ram into the car parked in front of us. Luckily I'm not drunk enough to forget where the brake is, and I brake and say, Rainman style, "I'm an excellent driver," and she laughs, and I pull out of the parking spot and speed away from the Food For All just like we're newlyweds leaving the parking lot of an all-night Wedding Chapel in Vegas. Nicole takes one last swig of booze before she puts the bottle in the glove compartment. Then she turns to me to ask me for my cigarettes, and as I search my jacket pockets for them, we pass beneath a streetlight and she sees the thing trying to burrow its way out of my pants.

"God!" she says.

"What's with you today!" she says.

She is smiling as I hand her my pack of cigarettes, and another passing streetlight reveals a blush to her cheeks.

"Oh, that," I say.

"Yeah that," she says with a laugh and a puff of smoke.

I blink my eyes of tears caused by oncoming headlights and say, "Don't worry about that."

"The butcher gave me his gun again," I say.

"Is that what you call it?" she says.

"No, seriously," I say.

"Seriously," she says.

"Really?" she says.

I act like I'm going to unbutton my pants and say, "You want to see it?"

Nicole laughs harder and says, "No, I do not!" even though she doesn't stop looking.

I look back down at my erection and wonder how to explain such a thing.

"I've been having some difficulty," I say.

"I blame the water in Puget Sound," I say.

"We don't live in Seattle," she says.

"It's all the same water," I say.

Nicole lights another cigarette with a laugh and a "Yeah right!" It's easy to love Nicole when she's laughing at me, no matter how much I hate how much I love her. Then she says while pointing her cigarette at my protrusion, "I thought that was your favorite pastime."

"Truth is, it's my only one," I say.

"Think I'm having some kind of schizo-psycho-social malfunction," I say.

"I blame the CIA," I say.

"The CIA?" she says.

"You know, you really have to stop filling your head with all this nonsense," she says.

"Nonsense?" I say as I peer into the rearview mirror and see someone who looks like Mr. Binky in the car behind us.

"Yeah, nonsense!" she says.

I am still trying to make out the man with the moustache and the Jackie O-style glasses behind us when I nearly rear-end the car in front of us who was stopped for a red light. The brakes squeal, and then I turn to Nicole whose eyes are wide in terror and I say, "It's not nonsense."

"The KKK has been around for nearly 150 years, while the Black Panther Party lasted for barely 10," I say.

"The World Trade Center just happens to fall as if it was a controlled demolition, even though every structural engineer in the world says it was completely impossible for it to do so," I say.

"Not to mention the other, smaller World Trade Center buildings around it, which also somehow miraculously fell, even though there were other buildings between them and the towers that didn't, as if the terrorists somehow had voodoo suicide-bomber powers only affecting buildings with the name World Trade Center," I say.

"Not to mention NAFTA and Free-Trade Zones turning the world's poor into the world's slaves," I say.

"Not to mention what happened in East Timor," I say.

"And the privatization of water in Latin America," I say.

"And the environmental impact of coal mining in Virginia," I say.

"And God forbid Al Gore should mention anything about the affects of factory farming on global warming," I say.

"Al Gore?" she says.

"Yes, Al Gore," I say.

"What does Al Gore have to do with your penis?" she says.

The mention of my penis reminds me of the pain from the pressure of the engorgement within my pants. Then the man who looks like Mr. Binky honks his horn, and I realize we've been sitting in front of a green light.

"Everything," I say. Then I accelerate. Then I ask for a cigarette. Then I ask where the hospital is.

Nicole is laughing as she hands me a cigarette. Then she tells me where to turn. Then she tells me I need a girlfriend.

"Maybe I'll order myself a nice, twelve year-old sex slave from Calcutta," I say.

"Have you seen Born Into Brothels?" I say.

It's easy to hate Nicole when she's looking at me like she loves me. It's easy to hate myself. She is smiling, and when she is smiling, she has dimples, and when she has dimples, I want to put my hand on the side of her face, and I want to move towards her while she is moving towards me, and when we arrive at the same place at the same time, I never want to go anywhere else. Then she says, "You really should look where you're going."

"Why is that?" I say while still looking half at her and half at where we are going.

"Cause we're here," she says.

And then I turn to what's in front of us and realize she's right.

We come to rest in the hospital parking lot. Now that we're stopped, Nicole seems to be shivering. She seems to be all alone. She leans her head against the headrest and turns towards me and says, "I don't want to go in."

"I just want to stay here," she says.

I don't turn the car off and instead turn up the heat even though it's a warm summer's night. Then I lean my head back, too, and say, "Then let's just stay here."

"Let's just wait in the car until your mom wakes up again," I say.

"That could take forever," she says.

"Then let's wait here forever," I say.

Nicole's dimples return, and she cuddles against the seat with her hands together in her lap between her legs. I can feel warm, fuzzy things happening within my own lap, and I reach across her to get the bottle from the glove compartment, making sure to touch the side of my arm to the side of her leg. Then I lean back and smile like a child and take a swig of booze.

"You wouldn't get bored waiting here with me forever?" she says.

"We'd probably die of starvation before that happened," I say, leaning back again, turning so I am facing her again.

She is smiling again, and I love it when she's smiling again. I am looking her in the eyes, and when I realize what I'm doing and I remember how much I hate hating what I love, I look away. I say, "Sometimes even forever isn't long enough," and when I look back up, a blush has replaced her smile, and when our eyes meet again, we are both already moving towards each other.

I have never kissed a girl like Nicole before. I have never kissed a girl who loves me as much as I love her. It is easier than I thought it would be. It requires less thought than I thought it would. It feels like how I thought it would feel.

Her hand is on the side of my face, and our lips never break the embrace no matter how heavy our breathing gets, and there is no pressure to do anything else but this, and we continue to kiss while I continue to come forward until we're sitting in the same seat and our arms are struggling to hold onto each other. Then she bumps her head on the window and says "Ow," while laughing and holding the back of her head, and I'm laughing, too, while saying, "Sorry," and she says, "You don't have to say sorry," and she's lifted herself up so she can reposition herself sideways in my lap, making it easier to get both my arms around her, and we continue for a time like that with our eyes closed until she says, "Wait," and I open my eyes and watch as she awkwardly lifts one leg so she can turn and straddle me this time.

"That's better," she says, and I say, "It sure is," and we both laugh again until we're kissing again, and I put my arms around her hips, my hands on her back and then under her shirt, lifting it so I can run my hands up her back and then along her sides, and she leans back to lift herself up, and she breathes heavy and hard while I lift the front of her shirt to reveal her breasts from her bra. Then she's moaning, and I can hear how hard her heart is beating, and she comes back down with her hands on my head, and I can feel how hard it is to wait forever for something, and she lifts herself up again to let her hands continue down my back, along my sides and then into my lap, and I can feel her fingers searching for the button, so I lift myself up to give her more room, and I press myself against her hard and heavy while my tongue searches for what's beneath my thumbs. I can feel something definite and firm between us. I can feel something struggling to come out. Then I can feel her fingers stop, and I hear her say hot and heavy in my ear, "Is that a gun in your pocket?"

"Or am I just glad to see you?" I say into hers.

Then she stops altogether and leans back.

"No, really," she says.

"Is that a gun in your pocket?" she says.

I am still working on her breasts. I am still too close to stop.

"Yeah, it's the butcher's," I say to her breasts.

"I told you I had it," I say.

"I thought you were kidding!" she says as leans away from me so I fall back against the seat.

"Why is the butcher's gun in your pocket?" she says.

"He gave it to me," I say.

I am still staring at her. I am still so close to something that seemed so impossibly far away.

"Yeah, but why did he give it to you?" she says.

I turn away from her so I am looking out the car window. I wish the butcher was here so he could make some sense of a world that does not make any sense.

"I don't know," I say turning back to her.

"He told me love was like a box of chocolates," I say.

"I thought life was like a box of chocolates," she says.

"That's what I said!" I say. My hands are still on her hips, and I am still desperately trying to reactivate the humping.

"He said love was like a box of chocolates," I begin again with a sigh.

"Then before I was leaving, he gave me a box of chocolates, and instead of chocolate there was a gun in it," I say.

"I think it was his idea of a joke," I say.

"A joke?" she says.

I'm not sure if she doesn't trust me or if she doesn't trust the butcher. Her small face folds until she's suspiciously squinting at me.

"You're not going to try and kill me again, are you?" she says.

"No, of course not!" I say.

"I would never do that... again," I say.

She's still squinting. She's still stubbornly not humping.

"Are you sure?" she says.

"Positive!" I say.

She takes another moment to squint and stare at me, and I smile in the hopes she'll smile, too. Then I try one more time to activate her hips again.

"Nice try," she says as she fixes her shirt.

"So, no more?" I say with a sad face.

Her lips go flat and allow just the hint of dimples. "Carrying a concealed weapon kind of kills the mood, no pun intended," she says as she fixes her hair.

"I said I'd show it to you, if that helps," I say, trying another smile.

She leans in for one last, quick kiss. Then she says, "Maybe later," as she opens the door and unstraddles me.

"Whatever," I mumble as I also get out of the car, again surprised at the ebb and flow of my erection, which is currently ebbing its way back to normal.

"Bring the bottle," she says before I close the door.

"And leave the gun," I hear when I'm back in the car.

I put the gun in the glove compartment. I grab the half-empty bottle of bourbon from the floor. Then I hurry to Nicole's side, not even bothering to check for any Binky-esque covert CIA agents in the parking lot, not even bothering to worry what may or may not become of my impotence, not even bothering to concern myself with what I love to hate or what I hate to love. All I can think about at the moment is being next to Nicole. All I can think about is the inevitability of what will happen next.

Then I'm standing next to Nicole, and I love standing next to Nicole, and she's smiling again as she checks my crotch and says, "That's better." Then she hands me my pack of cigarettes, and I light one, and we take turns smoking it as we walk shoulder-to-shoulder into the hospital to see her comatose mother, just like we were always meant to do.

It feels like an important thing to walk through a hospital on the way to see Nicole's comatose mother. It feels like something I would choose to do. Nicole is quiet. Nicole is nervous. When she's not biting her nails, I hold her hand. When she is, I put my arm around her waist.

The smell of sterility and sickness also has me uneasy. It's hard to trust men with bandaged faces sitting in wheelchairs throughout the hallways. It's hard to know what a man is thinking when you can't see the expression on his face. As we pass one after another, I make sure to stare at the bandages for any evidence of moustache. But the men are bandaged well, and I hold Nicole tighter and feel the blood rush back to my boner.

We make it to her mother's room, and Nicole stops by the door. She stands with her back against the wall. She crosses her arms over her chest and bites her nails. Her chin is trembling, and there are tears in her eyes.

I don't want to have to see her cry, so I stand in front of her and rub her arm. I wait to see if she wants me to hold her. I try not to disturb her. I try to push my boner further down into my pants.

"God, what's with you!" she says.

"We're in a hospital!" she says.

"I can't help it," I say.

Nicole rolls her eyes. Then she grabs me by the arm and says, "Come on."

The last time I was in a hospital room, my mother had just given birth to my sister. I remember nothing of that experience except it was the last time I was in a hospital room. There are two beds in the room. One bed contains an old man staring blankly at the ceiling. If the machines connected to him did not indicate he was alive, there would be no indication of life. The television is on, and Vanna White is touching her T's. Since I was raised on TV, I can not help watching it as we pass, nor can I help saying, "I'd like to solve the puzzle, Pat."

"Shut up!" Nicole whispers, pulling me harder by the elbow.

I'm still staring at the television while I mumble, "It's 'The Fly in the Ointment'." Then we're standing by her mother's bed, and I find something else to stare at.

I have never met Nicole's mother, and I guess I still haven't since the version I am meeting is completely non-responsive. She looks like an older, yellower, more swollen version of Nicole, and even with the tubes and wires connected throughout her body, I can tell how beautiful she must have been when she was young and in love, and I can imagine how devastating it must have been to lose all hope of becoming the woman she always imagined she would become.

Nicole is crying softly next to me. She is holding her mother's hand with both of her own. She is holding her mother's hand in the palm of one while rubbing the back of it with the other. She is following each finger with the fingertips of her own. She is saying, "This is my mother."

Her name is Madison, but everyone called her Maddie. There are tubes and wires connected to her. There are machines that indicate heart rate and brain activity and blood pressure. There are televisions broadcasting Wheel of Fortune and reruns of Seinfeld. There are catheters and injections. There is the enduring nature of life. There is a vegetative state of existence.

Nicole is whispering, "I told you this would happen," and she lets go of her mother's hand, and she turns to me so I can hold her, and I hold her harder than I've ever held her before. Nicole is crying against my neck, and her tears accumulate in a pool until there are streams of salt water running down my chest. I am rubbing the back of her head. I am telling her everything is going to be okay. I am telling her I'll never let her go. Then she lifts her head up so we are looking at each other, and her eyes are small and swell with tears, and she is crying so hard she's smiling, and I never want to let her go.

I love Nicole because of how much I love Nicole, and when I kiss Nicole, it's because she loves me, too, regardless of what the world would want to make of us. And I do not tell her Nixon is responsible for our current Health Care crises. And I do not tell her how more people die each year from cigarettes, tobacco, and legal pharmaceuticals than from illegal ones. And I do not tell her Mr. Binky might be watching from the windowsill. Instead I just kiss Nicole. And then I hug Nicole. And while she cries in my arms, I tell her I love her. And when she tells me she loves me, too, I finally find the thing I have been searching for for so long. And my body convulses. And my eyes close. And I cum in my pants.

I can feel Nicole can feel it, too, and I hear her laugh before she whispers into my ear, "What took you so long?" and I whisper back, "Let's hope it lasts that long the next time."

And then we say goodbye to her mother. And that night I spend with Nicole in her small house with her cat. And we watch The Terminator with the sound off while we make love to each other on her bed. And the next day we go to work. And I let her go first so she can wait outside for me as if I was late. And when she sees me, she says with a smile, "Why are you late?" And we smoke cigarettes. And we hate each other so we can love each other. And the only thing protruding from my pants is the butcher's gun. And when we hug each other before we go in, Nicole says, "Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" And I let her go, and I smile and say, "Both." And we take our positions of employment in the Food For All. And when nobody's looking we steal loving glances at each other and quick kisses in the break room and heavy petting in the hallways. And when we leave each other that day, we pretend we'll never see each other again. And I go home. And I remind myself what it's like to be alone. And then I remove the butcher's gun from my pocket. And I know exactly what I have to do. And I aim the gun. And I close my eyes. And I shoot my television. I shoot it twice, just to make sure it's really dead.

And then I call Nicole and ask if I can come over to watch some TV.