Jul/Aug 2012  •   Fiction

Sasha, That Night

by G. K. Wuori

1. Sasha and the Intimacy of the Teat

Sasha came out to her mother at the age of two weeks, Sasha with beautiful baby black hair and beautiful baby blue eyes that would remain blue.

Of course "coming out" can be a mixed expression, though most often it suggests the revelation of a secret long-held. Certainly, in the case of a baby, it has nothing to do with sexuality, nor do babies know much about secrets. A revelation, though, it was indeed that.

Sasha's mother, Dagmar, produced a fine flow of milk quite quickly following Sasha's birth. Her breasts were full and comforting, her nipples like handles one could grasp for solace during uncertain moments. When Sasha was brought to Dagmar the first time, her breasts were wet with milk before Sasha was even settled in her arms.

So it wasn't Dagmar's fault Sasha would have none of it.

Carefully and gently Dagmar squeezed a few drops of milk onto Sasha's lips. Sasha grimaced and cried.

Playfully, Dagmar bounced a nipple across Sasha's cheeks and lips. Sasha's eyes opened wide as though wondering what such nonsense meant.

Sasha, the nurses told Dagmar, was still full of the vitamins and nutrients she'd received during gestation.

On the third day, just before Dagmar was released from the hospital, the nurses pumped some milk from her. Everyone smiled as Sasha sucked the bottle with great eagerness.

"Your milk is fine," they said. "The intimacy of the teat will come."

Dagmar, at home, found little joy in the milking. She wanted baby Sasha pressed against her, their warmth shared, their hearts beating in unison, a few songs the glue to melt their souls together in the much-praised mother-daughter bond.

Sasha, however, and unknown to Dagmar, was protecting her mother. Sasha, as Dagmar would soon find out, had an odd power.

Dagmar kept trying the nuzzling and nipple-flicking several times a day, the end result generally a feeling of guilt in Dagmar over being angry with her baby—a calm baby, a baby who quickly began to sleep the night through, a baby with laughing eyes and a fetching smile who shouldn't have had anybody at all angry with her, certainly not her mother.

One afternoon Dagmar, shirtless, braless, and leaking, looked down at Sasha in her crib and said, "This is it."

With that, she picked Sasha up, sat down in the big cushioned rocking chair in her bedroom, and stuffed a nipple into Sasha's mouth. Gently, Dagmar placed her hand against the back of Sasha's head. There would be no options.

Sasha began to suck. Dagmar began to feel a great warmth, the heated hush of the sort of intimacy she'd felt after lovemaking with her husband, a man so set on being childless he'd left Dagmar the very night she'd told him she was pregnant.

Like the radiance of the sun through the window on a winter's morning, the heat of an old woodstove in a vacation cabin—images floated around and through Dagmar as Sasha nursed, the baby's lips cool against Dagmar's warm breast. Very warm, really, Dagmar thought, almost feverish, and starting to look a bit pink as well.

Dagmar hoped she wasn't coming down with something, not now. Heartburn—she'd experienced that during the pregnancy, the syndrome easily controlled by watching what she ate. This wasn't heartburn.

"Honey?" Dagmar whispered. "What are you doing?"

Quickly, and not at all gently, Dagmar pulled Sasha away from her breast. She wasn't sure, couldn't actually believe it, but it felt as though the milk in her breast had started to boil.


2. Sasha and the Boorish Cardiologist

Of course Sasha knew you didn't mention such things as your hyperactive thyroid or feminine itch the first night you went out with a man, not even if the man was a cardiologist and it was the first time you'd gone out with anyone since your husband, Boomer, had died—a terrible misadventure involving Ringer's Lactate.

Still, the moment the cardiologist smiled at her over a nice table with good silver, china, and a linen tablecloth and said, "In all honesty, most people are stupid," she'd almost cried because it was the sort of thing Boomer said all the time. But Boomer was a carpenter, a finishing man, with a G.E.D. and a fondness for hunting partridge with a .410 shotgun, so she'd never quite expected exegeses on oil imports or the North Atlantic island nation of Metral Pendawi from Boomer. A cardiologist, though, not yet 30 and sitting across the table from her and purporting to woo her into eternal, if temporary, pleasures—well, a woman had expectations.

"So am I included in that group?" Sasha asked with the sort of smile most people save for the priest who says, "I don't think He'd mind if you did that."

"Let's just say the game is yours to lose," he said.

The cardiologist, this early in the relationship, would not have known about Sasha's unique ability to influence liquids. In truth, not many people ever think about influencing liquids except maybe plumbers and dam builders and certain scientists. Certainly not the average person who just sweats and pees and cries and spits and feels themselves in harmony with all manner of geographic stabilities. Still, from Sasha's point of view, it was simply a small gift like being double-jointed or able to curl your tongue or wiggle your ears. What had always made it interesting, though, was the way it was tied into her emotions, that pit of quicksand deep inside we're always falling into, she liked to say, and only occasionally out of. A quicksand, too, we only rarely control.

Sasha, that is, right there in the restaurant and toying with a calamari appetizer, felt the cardiologist's ego in front of her in about the same way a car wreck victim sees an airbag.

What happened next, she couldn't control, though she didn't think it was any worse than coming up with some snippy quip to counter his misogyny.

As the cardiologist tipped his water glass up to take a sip, the surface of the water kept moving away from his lips, the cardiologist needing then to tip the glass higher and higher until he finally put the water glass down and called the waiter over—calling out, "Server, you, boy!" He told the waiter his water wouldn't move.

The waiter, of course, politely gave him directions to the men's room. The cardiologist, however, mumbling something about impertinence (a word Sasha didn't think she'd ever used), said to the waiter, "Watch this."

He tilted the glass really high then, as if to take a drink he knew wouldn't happen, and promptly spilled water onto his tie. Looking at the waiter, he finally said, "This will impact your tip."

Sasha, as she usually did when her liquid gig made itself apparent, tried quickly to grab hold of whatever feeling might have given rise to the incident. Not being fond of too-detailed analyses, she simply told herself she'd done it because she'd never been very fond of pomposity, and because she'd known the moment he'd taken the beautiful buttercups from the vase on the table and thrown them to the floor, he'd never get his fingers tangled up in either her emotional heart or her surgical heart.

Feeling both giddy and successful, Sasha smiled as the soup was served because she knew the imp inside her was awake. That wasn't always a good thing, but sometimes, if life serves you vinegar, it's good to pickle something.

She let him have a spoonful or two just to see the puzzled look as the liquid vacated the spoon as quickly as he scooped it up. The soup, however, contained solids, so he worked on those for a time and managed at least a bit of nourishment. He'd all but given up on his Belvedere martini on the rocks. Sasha felt somewhat sorry over that since everyone who orders a drink does so with the soft anticipation of sudden pleasure.

No doubt none of these things had ever happened to him before, so Sasha damn well knew he was wondering if he'd taken on the courtship of a harpy of the mauve arts (as Sasha thought of it), a mischief-maker who, however, might be damn good in bed, one of those gymnasticettes able to tuck her heels behind her head and present fetchingly without farting, or who perhaps could situate herself in a pose of inverted sexuality, an experience (she'd been told) much like fucking a parking meter.

Sasha wanted to tell him about the time she left the playhouse where she'd been a stage manager for nine years, left it late at night and alone and before she could even get her car keys out two men took her by each arm and walked her into a narrow alleyway, stripped her, and told her to bend over with her legs spread apart.

"Not tonight, boys," she said. "It's been a long day, and I have a headache."

From Sasha's point of view, that was similar to the warning police gave before they shot someone, since she had never been raped and had no desire to be raped and didn't think it would add to her character or be a positive enrichment to her catalogue of experiences. Plus, she was not at the time chemically altering her hormones, so there was every chance she could end up pregnant even though she did hear each of them tearing open a packet of condoms and muttering to each other something about not leaving DNA at the scene of a crime.

"Okay," was all Sasha said.

The next morning there would be a small item in the paper about two men being found dead, the circumstances suspicious since each was found with an opened packet of condoms in one hand. The cause of death would be reported as pneumonia with neither the officials nor the reporter venturing an explanation of that.

Just for fun she asked the cardiologist (yes, of course Sasha knew we are all more than our functions, but even as they sat at the table with their smiley courtship faces on, Sasha couldn't remember his name and was pretty quickly losing any desire to do so), "Have you ever been a bed-wetter?"

She'd asked that because, as she was nuzzling his leg with her bare foot, she'd felt a warm liquid coming down his leg.

Mentally, she chided her imp. A little over the top, buddy.

"Dear God," he said in what Sasha thought was probably the universal reaction of anyone discovering they'd just peed themselves. As he uttered it, he also stood up, his napkin covering the front of his trousers. He said he just didn't think this would work out, not for tonight, not for eternity.

With that, he left, not bothering with the dessert Sasha had been looking forward to (a chilled pear and lemon soup), and not bothering to pay the bill, which came to $187.50, an amount Sasha did not have on her, nor did she have any credit cards since she believed you should receive credit only for contributory accomplishments such as pulling your company back from a precipice of despair, or parking your elderly parents in a senior center where even the guests of the seniors found the food edible.

Sasha told the waiter, then, her friend might be sick and could he please check on him in the men's room. Showing great concern, she followed the waiter to the door of the men's room, and after he'd gone in, she simply walked out the front door and onto the busy street. She was thankful for the warm and thoroughly pleasant weather, especially after realizing she'd left her shoes under the table in the restaurant. She was also thankful for her naturally upbeat attitude since she was now emerging from a kind of relationship purgatory and out onto a busy street with no shoes, no purse, no money, and facing a walk back to her apartment of 17 blocks.


3. Sasha Finds Getting Hit By A Truck Is Not So Bad

It was hardly the sort of situation to warrant the smile she had on her face, a smile dimming just slightly when she remembered his one soft question offered in the same way he might have said to a patient. "Have you ever shot heroin directly into one of your arteries?" The question being, "Sasha, are you a witch?"

That's not, Sasha knew, the sort of kinky if endearing question a date ought to ask like, "Would you mind if I licked the bottom of your breasts?" Nor was there any proper response like, "You can suck the wax out of my ears if you want, you stentorian hunk of protein," to be made to such a question.

Witches, as Sasha knew, did not shave the hair from their bodies, nor were they allowed to bathe, although applications of deodorant sticks the size of baseball bats were permitted, the understanding being, first and foremost, witches are chemists, their talents natural and not fuzzed up out of mist-filled moors or the smelly pages of crumbling medieval texts.

Sasha had never seen a moor, and she didn't much like to read anything beyond the plays involved in her work as a stage manager, although she did read the flashing Do Not Walk light on the stoplight pole, read it and for some reason ignored it, the street busy but the traffic slow, so the truck hitting her did not do so with any great force. It merely launched her into an elevated, gentle roll ending in a sitting position on the truck's hood. All traffic then, human and mechanical, for a radius of about 50 feet, stopped. Silence descended, mouths hung open, and here and there a cellphone digitized the moment. Finally, someone applauded, with the applause quickly going viral. Apparently, the random crowd had a great need to feel good about something, so for the moment at least they felt good about Sasha, especially when she slowly raised her arms up in the air and gave her instant fans the warmest of smiles.

As the applause faded, Sasha noticed the driver of the small truck standing by her side with the sort of apology she might have expected from the cardiologist, although she wasn't sure exactly what she might have expected him to apologize for beyond I know I'm brilliant and easily the smartest man you'll ever sleep with, which obviously wasn't going to happen.

But this truck driver, a plumber named John (it was embroidered on his shirt), who'd just cleaned a two-pound hairball out of the drain of a fancy hotel room, looked distraught as he helped Sasha off the hood of the truck. He felt a jolt of hope, though, as Sasha said, "I am perfectly all right. I am fine, uninjured, unbruised."

Then she promptly fell into his arms as she realized her one ankle hurt like the dickens. She said that, and when John the plumber asked, "What is a dickens?" she didn't know what to say other than—Sasha a quick study in nearly all situations—perhaps he could give her a ride.

John thought that was a far better option than handling a mess of insurance claims. Sasha thought that was a far better option than having to renegotiate certain terms with the waiter who apparently had been pursuing Sasha and had spotted her in her congratulatory limelight. He was not close, but his pursuit was peppy and led Sasha to wonder if he'd be coming after her if she were a six-foot five Boomer (which Boomer had been) escaping both the tally and the tip.

Gender equality thoughts like that were boringly present during so many moments in a day, Sasha had at one time wondered about embarking on a sex change regimen. But with only one choice available (not that she hadn't considered, been intrigued by, the possibility of neutral) and being not at all thrilled by the thought of a wiener made out of breast tissue and a nipple, she'd decided to stay firmly within her geoanatomy and work hard on controlling those annoying thoughts.

John asked her where she wanted to go. He told her he'd take her anywhere so long as she didn't sue or have him arrested for reckless driving, something worth a chuckle to Sasha since she knew the more appropriate charge would have been reckless walking.

When she said she wasn't sure, he suggested a nearby emergency room where she could get her dickens checked out.

"I don't think that will be necessary," she said.

She brought the one foot up over her knee then so they could both notice there was no swelling, no contusions. While that brief exam should have brought out an expression of great relief from John, all he could manage to say was, "I have never seen a dirtier foot on a woman."

That was nearly identical to something the late Boomer had said to Sasha on their wedding night at a Motel 6 up in Wisconsin. As they'd traveled north from O'Hare, Boomer had said, what with getting dressed and the wedding and the reception and the airport and the flight, he hadn't had sex in nearly 12 hours, so he'd stopped the car on a quiet country road with trees and a creek and a few deer and laid his beloved wife right out there on the creekside grass, a conjunction not at all unwelcome to Sasha even if, later at the Motel 6, she'd pulled a dead leaf out of her vagina.

Nature back then, even in its itchier forms, appealed to Sasha. She'd come to believe deeply in the primacy and dominion of all the earthly forces, including the intimate role of the corpus humanum (she liked that phrase though, admittedly, it sounded like the name of a health insurance company). So the feel that day of dirt on her buttocks, the smell of both fresh and moldering vegetation, the sound of birds and badgers cavorting even as her own fluids slicked up Boomer's man wand and led to a noisy fruition—that had all felt pretty good.

Neither of them, however, being honeymooners, had paid attention to the exact parking of their rental car; neither had noticed the wetness beneath the wheels from a week of showers, a wetness making the car wiggle its rear end like some dancing sow in a pole barn while delivering very little forward progress.

"You need to push a little," Boomer told her as he got behind the wheel, "but mostly just keep it from sliding around. I think the wheels will catch then."

Sasha, as a new bride not yet fully immersed in the dictates of modern times, obeyed her new husband. Sensibly, following the love making, she put on her leopard-print bra and panties while putting the honeymoon dress she'd been wearing on the back seat of the car. She went around to the back of the car then as she'd been told, one of the last times she would ever do that (she told John the plumber), feeling empowered by Boomer's trust, by his implicit faith in her strength. That strength was enough. She held that car on the straight and narrow even as the wheels spun gallon after gallon of muddy sludge all over her.

When it was all over and the car was back on the road, Boomer took one look at her and said, "I don't advise bathing in the creek since it's probably full of every chemical known to modern farming, so you'll just have to ride in the trunk until we get to the motel."

It was when they got to the motel that Boomer made his remark about her feet and how dirty they were, which led Sasha to believe their marriage would most likely last the night (after a shower), but anything much beyond that was highly open to question.

Sasha thought John the plumber might be feeling a little overwhelmed by all this history, so she told him he was a good man and her dirty feet didn't bother her since she wasn't one of those women who had to shower four times a day in order to feel worthy of continued residence on the planet. That notion reminded her she had yet to give John a destination even though he was driving by then quite calmly and carefully, the traffic lightening up greatly as the city squeezed out behind them.

"This is a much better date than the one I had going earlier," she finally said.

"I'm generally much more careful when I pick up my dates," he said, giving them both a good laugh.

"Did you know hardly anyone old enough to vote even uses the term 'date' anymore?" Sasha said. "It's like any sort of planned assignation just exists in a haze of universal flux, as though we were all just occasionally glued together for drinks or a concert."

"Do you want to get a drink?" John said, picking up on the word drink because he hadn't actually understood anything else Sasha had said.

"I would love a drink," she said, "but you have to understand we are not conjoining on an equal basis here since I have no money and would have to depend upon magic if required to participate in a fiduciary give-and-take."

"God," John said, "you talk like a website for horny academics. It would be my intent, you see, to buy drinks for both of us. That's how it works for me. I'm only 23, but of an old-fashioned social bent."

Sasha didn't think a 12-year age difference meant very much, especially since they hadn't even talked about marriage yet, nor had she expanded upon that quick comment about magic, something she didn't actually practice since her work with liquids involved no legerdemain, no pigeons in top hats or endless silk scarves pulled out of pockets.

She thought it might have been her Aunt Fiona who told her, if Sasha was good with liquid in all its forms, if liquid had meaning and pliability and structure for her, then she should just work that the same way some people could make good cupcakes while others might design a bridge spanning two oceans. Aunt Fiona didn't think it was funny, didn't think Sasha was taking things seriously enough when she requested further information about the bridge made out of cupcakes spanning two oceans.

Anyway, Sasha knew it didn't take a scholar's brain to conclude someone like herself—tall at just under six feet, short black hair, olive skin as smooth as a good cake batter—who had artistic powers over water and other harmonious liquids, might be a good match for a plumber, especially a young plumber willing to drive her from Nome to Key West should such a thing occur to Sasha.

However, this drink business gave her qualms since she had to admit she didn't always have control over the manner in which her essence could reach right into the molecules of various fluids. In the case of the cardiologist, it hadn't mattered since he'd proved to be an effulgent beacon of pomposity, but this plumber, this kid, wouldn't understand the ways in which a woman could launch herself right into a man's weaknesses, chop them up, rearrange them, and convince him he wasn't at all what he thought he was.

Soft-serve ice cream came to mind, so Sasha said, "Maybe we could get some ice cream."

Her suggestion, she knew, should also be taking the edge off the dreamed-about and secret, if embarrassing, notion John no doubt had that he'd gotten himself a whore, something she knew all men dream about since they have an endless need to find new places where they can deposit their fluids (she'd been spat on once, all in good fun, and nearly bit her friend's nose off; another had drizzled his paternitizing ichor on her face, taken a picture of it, and then posted it on an internet site—although he wasn't, as Sasha liked to say, very adept at anything since the site had been devoted to pointers for Christian women doing household chores, the photo quickly deleted), or explore the notion of dominion as it relates to labial discoloration, podiatric anomalies, anal fissures, dirty hair, body odor, academic credentials, and even clavicular alignment: fed, bedded, and spread, as they liked to say.

Mostly, she didn't think the typical whore required ice cream, so when she made the suggestion, she was surprised when John said, "I think that is a treasured idea. Drinks, you know—being a vegetarian and all, I am not that fond of drinks."


4. Sasha Sees Ice Cream as the Catalyst for Things Most Foul

Sasha knew how satisfying it would be at some later date to report the genesis, over black cows and sprinkles, of a marriage lasting 72 years, but as they were slurping into their ice cream and root beer, two men walked into Jolly's Creamery and held a gun to the face of the clerk, a young girl no more than 17, Sasha thought.

Predictably, they demanded the day's receipts. Everything became very quiet then, especially since Sasha and John were the only customers at the time, quiet enough for fear to overwhelm the gentle dairy ambience in the form of the young clerk's urine sizzling down onto the floor and her skin to turn the shade of soy vanilla custard.

John said, "We do not have to put up with this, you know."

It was a brave notion. He got up then and walked over to the miscreants and grabbed each by the back of the shirt collars and practically lifted them up off the floor (plumbing, as Sasha later learned, requiring a great deal of physical acumen and conditioning). Survival instincts, however, are not necessarily restricted to the virtuous, since the thug with the gun simply brought his weapon up over his shoulder, pulled the trigger, and removed a substantial portion of John the plumber's head, what would be called a heroic tragedy in the news reports and commentaries to follow.

The gunman's accomplice apparently thought things had gone too far, way too far, since he was out the door and most likely not far from the Cayman Islands or even the South Pole while there was still gunshot smoke drifting around Jolly's Creamery.

While the young clerk had clearly fainted into an easier evening, Sasha had not. She knew full well John should not have approached the miscreants, knew nothing good would come of it, knew robbers these days care about human life about as much as a child cares about a grasshopper's legs. She also knew she had it within her to bring justice into the world without all the messy nonsense of lawyers and courts and judges and stenographers and juries and writs and indictments and pleadings and marble floors and bail bondsmen, and while she might, as anyone would, have said to someone, "that just holy shit makes my goddamn blood boil" to see a good young man whom she barely knew cut down so atrociously, she didn't, of course, say it.

She did it. She made the gunman's blood boil, took his hemoglobic essence well past one-hundred degrees Celsius to where she could actually see a bit of subcutaneous flutter afflicting the man just moments before the predictable façade of horror crossed his face and he fled the premises.

"Fled the heat," she said to the clerk metaphorically, though Sasha knew it was no metaphor. The clerk by then was back on her feet and tapping in 911 on the phone and looking as though she might pee again until Sasha said, "It's all over. The good guy is dead and the bad guys have fled."

Neither of them said anything about the rhyme, and of course the woozy clerk had not noticed the percolating gunman, Sasha by then lamenting how some of her finest achievements—like those in any art—often went, if not unnoticed, at least uncredited, which was just as well since, even in a politically turbulent time, where honesty was equated with not being quite as dishonest as the next guy, it would not be good to find herself suddenly You Tube'd as the hydraulic vigilante. People might come calling—mayors in drought-stricken areas for one.

Much to her relief, Sasha didn't have to give a description of the shooter to the police since he was found in a parking lot about 100 feet from Jolly's Creamery. They did, however, want to know if he'd said anything about having a bomb since it was pretty clear he'd exploded (as they interpreted it, the police, Sasha knew, among the most pragmatic and least mystical of beings). Both Sasha and the clerk said, no, his gun seemed to be all he needed, certainly it was enough of a keyboard for writing the last chapter of John the plumber's life.

Still, Sasha was questioned and got the raised eyebrow and wry eye when she said she only knew the poor man as John, a nice young fellow who might have thought he was picking up a whore which, Sasha emphasized by raising her own eyebrows, she most assuredly was not. They'd met when he hit her with his truck as she was escaping from a very bad, if very brief, relationship (the police assuming a man, of course, though Sasha was actually thinking about her relationship with the restaurant), and then he offered to buy her ice cream.

Finally, Sasha said, "That is so unbelievable, all of it."

"But miss," one of the cops said, "it's your story."

"Do you believe everything that happens in your life?" Sasha said.

When Sasha said she had no ID because she had no purse, didn't even have shoes, one of the cops said she ought to remedy that—the ID—because you never knew when you might actually forget the basics. He'd seen it happen, and it didn't always involve either drugs or aging.

"Even a small tattoo of your name," he said, "right there on your graciously firm breast, perhaps near the nipple, or even on your foot there where it wouldn't be very visible since you obviously like to keep your shapely feet pretty dirty…"

"I had to flee a cardiologist without my shoes," Sasha interrupted, regretting it for a moment since it wasn't quite true, the cardiologist having fled her and dooming her to a lifetime incidence of minor crime.

Speaking of feet, however, both she and the cop happened to look down and saw Sasha's footprints in the blood on the floor from the plumber's injury, a carpeted floor so there was a certain cachet to it.

The 17-year-old clerk noticed the footprints, too, and said, "Ish. I'm in big trouble now."

"Miss," the cop said to the clerk, "have you called the owner of this place yet? He or she does need to know when a crime has been committed on his or her premises."

"I have no idea who the owner is," the clerk said.

All of this investigatory banter was curtailed when the ambulance arrived and the paramedics set about their transport of the plumber's remains, some of which were on several tables and the wall. Sasha didn't know how much of that they'd take with the plumber in the body bag and how much they'd leave behind for a cleaning service, nor would she learn since she took those moments to pick up the remains of her black cow and quickly slip out the door and back onto the street.


5. Sasha, Hot Dogs, a Train, a Bicycle

It was then she noticed she was in a back door part of the city, not wealth but work apparent in the architecture: shops, factories, toolsheds, a rail yard, workmen's taverns, piles of metal scrap and industrial detritus.

Sasha wondered what it was about this night that had her continually slipping secretively out of business establishments, since it wasn't as though she had some sort of anti-capitalist bent to her making her nauseous to be a willing participant in that game, afraid of it, loathing the exchange of debt for service or something like that.

She still remembered the day she and Boomer had paid the hospital bill in full even though they'd been told their baby had—"This is so very odd," they'd been told, "so very rare"—drowned inside her tummy, neither an inner tube nor life jacket within reach. Paid it in full as an honest capitalist debt with Boomer whipping out some hundreds of dollars to cover the co-pay (sadness and economics, she knew, were never a good mix, and sweet peaches were they ever sad).

But, anyway, the night had certainly turned out to be interesting, you had to say that, though worrisome, too, since her hydraulic vigilante had definitely been active, its control always questionable. Still, liquid it was and liquid it had always been, turning lethal only when necessary and remaining merely mischievous at other times, like the time when Sasha was 13 and had a terrible fight with her mother over Sasha's wanting to start using tampons instead of the pads she'd been using since she was nine.

Her mother had brought out the virginity litany and how girls lost that with tampon use. Sasha countered with, "Really, mother, virginity is far more a moral and emotional state than a physical one. I mean, did I lose my virginity to my doctor when he checked my cervix for cancer?"

Her mother countered, as she often did, by going into the bathroom with a bottle of wine, locking the door, filling the tub with bubble soap, and sliding down into a cocoon of strifeless peace, the door locked—childless for a time.

When Sasha, however, from the hallway, turned those bubbles into about a hundred penis shapes, her deed was met by a quick opening of the door and the tossing out of a half-dozen tampons onto the floor.

Funny, yes, Sasha knew that, but only when told to the right people, like the hot dog vendor just down the street there. Would she know anything about the hidden powers of a normal person? Might she (the vendor) have hidden powers—perhaps wisdom or the sort of insight you convey with the wink of an eye?

Hot dog vendors were not common in that part of town—a little rough, lean on civility—but the woman had a special deal with a nearby workmen's Lutheran Church: a donation, as it were, a bit of a pious kickback, kept her as safe as a swaddled baby.

Going up to the woman, Sasha said, "I mean, I'm growing older. I have belly wrinkles and bad breath sometimes. I also think unkind thoughts. How can you control urges you're not even sure you're feeling?"

"Sometimes I eat a wiener," the woman said.

"Yes?" said Sasha.

"They're not actually very good for you," the woman said, "so it's just my way of showing I can do whatever I want, that I have some control."

Sasha, too late, and not at all irritated by the woman's cryptic reply, knew she needed to leave the woman's presence since the wiener tank was filled with very hot water—but, too late as they both watched the ice crystals skittering across the surface of the water and both heard the tank's metallic groan as the water turned to a solid block of ice.

"See what I mean?" said Sasha.

"You did that?" said the woman.

"I believe so," said Sasha. "I honestly do."

"That reminds me," the woman began, "I have a faucet back at my house I can never get to stop dripping. Do you suppose you could look at that?"

Sasha then, finally over the top with a world that would not, could not understand, screamed, "I am not a plumber! The plumber's dead!"

Sasha's scream startled the vendor, muffled though it was by the Union Pacific train creeping slowly through town, the tracks across the street and about 100 feet from where the women stood.

"No," Sasha whispered, "no, no, no."

Often did those trains come through town, as often as 30 or 40 a day, and just as often either rumbling through at a crawl or even stopping entirely as track conditions or other trains far ahead warranted.

The train stopped as Sasha's scream faded away, all 32 tanker cars filled with agricultural ammonium nitrate, highly explosive, at rest—more or less, one of them beginning to develop an odd gurgling sound as Sasha kept murmuring, "No, no, no, no."

Instantly desperate for some distraction, Sasha turned to the hot dog vendor and said, "I hate hot dogs. I detest them. They're filled with floor wax and shoe scrapings and boogers from the noses of sickly pigs. Give me five of them. No buns."

"I have some in my chiller here," the woman said, "but the hot ones in the tub are still frozen. Why do you want to eat wienies if you don't like wienies?"

"Please," Sasha said, "just wienies. Give me the wienies and no more conversation."

"Yes, dearie," the woman said, "but I don't see no purse, and I don't take panty money."

With the gurgling growing ever louder, Sasha decided minor crime (again!) was her only answer—the distraction of it, crime and wienies, the turning of her deepest heart, her hope, her spirit away from matters of transport, of railroads and trains and tanker cars and a gurgling sound not unlike that which had percolated inside the plumber's killer.

Was virtue out of control? Did she really give a liquid fuck about liquid fertilizer and its poisonous creep up the food chain? Did she really see herself as salvator of all the world's mistakes, even here on the back street of a city so bland she couldn't even remember its name though she'd lived there for nine years? Was she Quixote to this Sancho selling hot dogs (from whom she was about to steal) whose bunions hurt so much she'd cut the front off of her discount sneakers?

Of course, Sasha knew, self-preservation had its advocates, too. Clearly, if she couldn't stop herself from boiling up that ammonium nitrate, she would be, in a very short time, something twinkling merrily in the early morning sunlight and hanging around in the atmosphere long enough to be inhaled into someone's lungs and cause no end of misery.

That latter point reminded Sasha of something her mother had said long ago during one of their many discussions over Sasha's catalytic nature, her ability to be both a necessary and sufficient condition for liquid change in the world: Don't make anyone miserable with it unless that's the only answer.

Sasha, now, much more mature, wished her mother had laid out some of the questions with misery as their only answer, but parents, she knew, made so many mistakes, it was obvious why they were never listed on any of the major stock exchanges.

Hot dogs in hand (seven, not five), Sasha walked away from the lady vendor knowing the bunionized woman was in no shape to give chase. She'd thought about telling the woman she'd find her tomorrow and pay her, but she needed confusion jumbling up her emotions and guilt was a good stick to use in stirring that pot.

She took one of the hot dogs and began sliding it into her mouth, the thought not lost on her that a good many men would pay to watch her, their own views as to safety and salvation pretty much centered on seeing a wienie enter a woman's mouth, preferably their own wienie, but Sasha, just then, was seeking (through distraction, as in evil-ignored) the salvation of a small city she thought, was sure, was in the Midwest, a place that could not survive the explosion of 32 tank cars filled with ammonium nitrate. One hot dog down. Ghastly.

Trying to speed up the process, she put two in her mouth, an oily saliva starting to leak down her chin as she began to walk ever faster, the sooty factory area fading behind her as she approached a busy street. Wieners four and five were visibly swelling her belly, giving her thoughts of pregnancy, mostly of morning sickness and vomiting, and the curious notion that morning sickness was actually the body's attempt at an early birth, the prospect of nine months of bodily indignity overwhelming any thoughts of maternal beauty.

An oleaginous firestorm. It could be rendered into something workable in a car's gas tank.

Sasha sat on a street corner then and leaned against a traffic light. She held numbers six and seven in each hand, wiggling them, a sense of triumph slowly emerging as she heard the gentle rumbles of the train beginning to move, beginning to leap past the radius of Sasha's quirky mind and unfathomable powers.

Shortly after finishing six and seven, Sasha leaned over and upchucked her heroism, the city safe at last.

Time now, she decided, to go home—a dry transport needed, definitely that, something that wouldn't bubble up and rumble itself into iniquity. Like, yes, right there, next to that convenience store, unlocked and unchained, it appeared (foolish person), but, yes, a bicycle. That ought to do just fine.