Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Multiverse and Consequences

The thought hummed insistently in my head, demanding a place in my already over-dense, convoluted sermon.

It was a thought about the multiverse, which continues to fascinate me over all these years, but which I endeavor not to shoehorn into every other Sunday because, well, c'mon.   Specifically, it was a thought about the impact of multiversal cosmology on consequentialist ethical frameworks, which is exactly why people show up to a little country church on Sunday.

Golly, I sure do hope pastor's talking about multiversality and consequentialist ethical frameworks again this Sunday!  I just feel so blessed by the love of Jesus every time he mentions Everettian quantum branching.


But the the idea came to me nonetheless, as I considered how we make moral decisions.  There are two primary schools of ethical thinking, two ways of approaching our moral choices.

The first is what they call "deontological ethics."  That means you always act in a particular way, because it is your duty.  That duty is the same, no matter what.   Tell the truth, always.  Care for others, always.  Love your neighbor, always and no matter what.  "This I do, though the heavens may fall," or so my fierce, brilliant ethics professor used to put it.

The second, and the more common these days, are "consequentialist ethics."  Consequentialism takes context into consideration, and impact.  Our duty is to the truth, we might say.  But consequentialism responds.  Would you speak truth, it asks, if Nazis were at the door asking about the Jews you were hiding in the basement?

Or to use a non-Nazi analogy, would you speak truth, consequentialism queries, if your wife asks you if she looks fat in those pants?

One must think about the consequences.  Lie if you must, rather than cause harm.

Consequentialist ethics seem wiser, more grounded in reality, more in keeping with the flexibility of our ethically malleable age.

But the idea that reality might be fundamentally unpredictable messes with that.  It isn't just that you might be wrong about the outcome.  It's that you cannot meaningfully say there is a single outcome.

Because a multiverse is non-linear.  Our choices have not one possible outcome, but a functional infinity of all possible outcomes.  Some are more probable than others, but in a multiverse, all are made manifest.

And if my choices have a near-infinity of possible consequences, how and why would a consequentialist ethic be meaningful?  Sure, my actions might have a particular outcome.  Those Nazis could go away because I lie.  But they are equally likely to stay anyway, rendering my lie moot.  Or my confronting them might stir a moral argument that resonates outward, bringing in trusted neighbors, the genesis of a local counter-movement.  Or the moment after I lie, a large asteroid comes barreling in, causing the extinction of the human race.  My lie means nothing to the race of sentient cockroaches that ultimately inherit the earth.

That is not to say we should not consider likely outcomes of our actions.

But if creation is a multiverse, and there is no one linear sequence of outcomes, consequentialism seems to find less purchase as a moral framework.

That's not quite how Jesus put it.  But it's close enough.  

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Jesusy Parts

One of the challenges I faced as I wrote my novel was this: How to write what one reviewer described as "the Jesusy parts?"

I am a Christian, in nontrivial ways.  The protagonist of my story, whose particular point of view is the palette from which the tale is painted?  He is also a Christian, an Amish man, one who has set himself to living within an Order that is as rigorous as any monastic community discipline.  Faith is, by necessity, an integral part of the narrative.

But I did not write my novel for other Christians only.  There is a place for such literature, sure.  I've written books like that myself.

But what I want to do is tell a story, and present a human being who is a Christian in such a way that it is both organic and non-didactic.  There's a tendency, in all our forms of modern storytelling, for Christian characters to inhabit the realm of caricature.   This is true particularly when there is an agenda.  

Too often in popular narratives, Christians are hypocrites, nasty balls of barely suppressed perversion, warped and manipulative and brutal.   Christians are cold and judgmental and unforgiving, the dark-eyed Church Lady Pharisees who glare down on all who do not meet their standard.  Christians are charlatans, flagrant con-men whose "faith" exists only to line their own pockets.  Christians are dumb as stumps, gullible fools who'll follow any silver-tongued devil who tells them what they want to believe.

If you've never actually met any Christians, and have instead spent your whole life sitting in a darkened basement while reworking your manifesto on an r/atheism subreddit, this might seem valid.  Otherwise, not so much.

On the other end of the spectrum, there's the Christian media marketplace.  There, Christians are the saved, the pure-hearted righteous who glow with the certainty that Jesus loves them.  They are the ones making it all right, showing the love of Jesus in ways that are comfortably predictable and familiar.  They speak exclusively in the in-group language of the faith, uttering earnest pastel truisms in evangelicalese while suffused in the warm glow of their own rightness with God. 

There is an assumption among Christians who live entirely within the AmeriChrist, Inc. media ecology that these stories effectively convey the message to "non-believers."  These poor lost sinners will watch Left Behind, and the tears will flow, and they will call on the name of Jesus and be saved.

Tears are flowing, yes.  And the name of Jesus is likely being invoked.  But not necessarily for the best of reasons.

What I hunger for, and strive for in my own writing...when I write characters who happen to share my to create Christian characters who reflect the rich and complex humanity of the actual Christians I actually know.   Characters for whom striving to follow Jesus matters, who nonetheless and at the same time inhabit places of challenge, struggle, and grey-scale.

As I seem to recall, that was how he constructed his own storytelling, those pungent little tales of farmhands and siblings and Samaritans.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Hair of the Dog

Ten forty two.  It was ten forty two.

Terri watched the clock digits flicker, dimming and sputtering in time to the throbbing behind her eyes.  Her hand sought her face, pressing against her eyes, pressing against the ache that was rising behind her temples.

The bedroom, dim and cool, the light of late morning faint against the back of the shades.  On the sill, a patch of brightness, white and bright and golden. 

A faint surge of nausea blossomed, her gorge rising.


She heaved herself upright, and stared for a moment at the floor.  A deep breath, then another, lungs filling with stale air. The apartment, heavy with the smell of sweat and the old faint sharpness of cat litter.

The smell stirred, for a moment, a memory. The cat. Brie, the cat. Brie, ice pale fur, bright blue eyes, practiced and innate disinterest.  Terri’s mind fished for a sense of time, how long?  A year?  No. Two.  Maybe more. Since the leukemia had taken it.  Since that long, expensive afternoon at the vets.  Terri had cried no tears.  She had felt nothing.  Brie did not care for her.  

Had not cared for Brad, either, before that day when he simply did not come home.  

Brie the cat had simply existed, of no more consequence than an unused, uncomfortable chair stacked with faded magazines in an over-cluttered room.  But Brie had expectations of feeding and cleaning, expectations that exceeded her worth.  Brie gave no joy, did not seek touch, did not purr, was ready with claw or hiss if her space was violated.  Her absence meant as little to Terri as the emptying of that last overflowing litterbox.

Two years, since that cat had finally found the common decency to die.

The apartment still smelled of it.

Terri’s feet touched the cool hardwood floor, fishing around awkwardly for the threadbare Hello Kitty slippers that they knew must be there.  They slid finally, triumphantly, into the smooth warm stick of them. Terri rose to her feet, swaying slightly.

“Oh.  Dear.”

She shuffled forward, small steps and groans.  The heavy flesh amassed over her fifty six years pressed down, her knees aching as she moved towards the bathroom.

The bathroom was dark and grey. The sink, cluttered with half-used product, baby blue wallpaper faded and stained and peeling.  Terri didn’t bother with the light.  Didn’t work anyway, the last of the bare bulbs hissing and fading into nothing a week ago.  She hiked up her nightgown and squatted down, knees popping.

The toilet seat creaked and shifted slightly under the pressing mass of her as she settled.  When she was done, she sat still for a moment in the darkness.  Her hand fumbled for the towel bar, and her arm and her legs strained her halfway upright.

She walked through the half-light of the bedroom, her shuffling faster as she approached the small galley kitchen.  Her hand sought the lightswitch, and the fluorescent struggled on.

The cans still sat from last night and the night before, Boyardee, Dinty Moore, a small gathering of tiny flies busy on their surface, drosophila melanogasters bustling hungrily across the arc of the sharp-edged tin.

There’d been a unit she taught, once far back in the haze, on genetics.  A unit with flies.  A memory of glassy eyed freshmen, utterly disinterested as she talked, furtively texting and chatting on half-hidden phones.  And still she would talk, her voice an echo, the flies crawling and circling in their jar.  

She would stop talking, sometimes, for a moment, for a minute, and not an eye would shift.

Like not an eye shifted when she entered the staff room, not a voice raised in welcome.  The days, filled with empty people and disinterest, full of decay and flies.

Back before her back went out, before the operation on her knee, before the flask and the pills were found in her desk, before that meeting with the administrative team and the “honorable” application for disability.  Really, you're just retiring, they said not unkindly, and she was indeed ready to retire, ready for a life of quiet celebration at her own pace.

She fumbled at the cabinet door, her hand reaching in for the last liter bottle of Sir Edward’s Finest Blended. Half empty.  She opened it, poured a tall one into last night’s unwashed tumbler.

Terri raised it to her mouth, the familiar astringence touching her sinuses, promising, comforting, then to her lips, the warm cleansing honey fire cascading down into her.

“Mmmh,” she exhaled, as she took another taste.  Then another.  She took the bottle and the glass, and moved towards the half-light of the living room, where the television and her day of leisure awaited.


The crowd howled and hooted as the young man entered, his body coiled in anger at the sight of his estranged mother.  His mother, now his second father, the faint chinstrap of a hormone-induced beard beneath her/his face, her/his chest flat beneath her/his t-shirt where her/his breasts had been cut away.

The young man slowed as he approached the chair where the man who had been his mother sat, his lips tight and his eyes flaring, as the host, his own eyes bright and hungry beneath his colored hair, saw how easy this was going to be.  The audience, just as hungry, eager for the large suited men to hold the man back, eager for shouted profanity and the sweet synthetic circus tension of familial dysfunction.

Terri raised the empty bottle to her lips as she watched the spectacle with flat and jaded eyes, the last taste of the scotch a tantalus touch against her tongue.

From upstairs, noise intruded.  

Not the usual boomchick boomboomchick of Spanish language radio, not the shouted futbol enthusiasms of Univision.  Not the fighting, or the laughter.

But like last night, and the night before, a barking, small and shallow and repetitive.  

Bark bark bark.  Bark bark bark.  It was more insistent now than it had been, loud enough to intrude on the cries of the audience.   A small dog, pug or french bulldog, a snubly littlefaced babychild dog, bark bark bark.

When did they get a dog?

Then a woman’s voice, raised and anxious, in the muffled cadences of a language Terri had never bothered to understand.

The woman’s voice, then the barking, again.  Waughwaughwaugh.  Waughwaughwaugh.  Three kids already in that one bedroom, and they got a dog?  

Terri felt a faint shudder of primal revulsion push its way through Sir Edward’s embrace, and turned the volume up.  The sound faded away into the haze, smothered by the rising voice of the crowd and the omnipresent hiss of her tinnitus.

Terri peered intently at the spent bottle, the mid-day light dull against its surface.  

Sir Edward required her presence.  Today she would have to go out.  Have to get dressed.  Have to be in the light.

But she was celebrating, and sometimes one just had to go out for supplies.


One push, yielding movement, barely, the scrape of metal on metal.  Then another, the sliding glass door balking in its track as she pushed it closed with the mass of her arm.  She didn’t bother to lock it.  There was no point.

From the squat blandness of her garden apartment, it was one block to the Piggly Wiggly, two blocks to the package store, one block back, four long blocks in the relentlessness of the late summer heat.  She could feel the sweat starting, on her back, a budding prickle on her scalp under the cover of her sprawling, floppy, broad-brimmed hat.  

She turned to face the glower of the sun, her eyes squinting even behind the thick dark wraparounds.  Her hand went to the handle of her little wire cart.  She pushed open the gate, leaving the ten by ten rectangle of cracked concrete that was her very own garden.  Her body felt loose, at ease, and she moved slowly but purposefully out towards the sidewalk.

There, her car, the old grey Cobalt, the windshield thick with summer dust.  The state inspection sticker, barely visible beneath the dust, twenty months out of date.  She could not remember the last time she started it, or the last time she sat in it and stared uselessly at the ignition interlock.  The tires, half deflated.

She wasn’t even sure she knew where the key was any more.  

But the Spent Hill Woods lot was private property, and the police didn’t have the right to go checking without permission, and management didn’t care.  It was her spot, and her car.  One day she would drive again, one day feel the wind in her face.  

Behind Terri, from inside the apartment above her, the little dog barked and barked and barked, the staccato sound mingling with the sound of a woman’s anxious voice, both fading as she trudged purposefully away into the heat.


Two dozen cans rattled at the bottom of the little wire cart, the dull chatter of weeks of processed calories.  Terri felt that random yank on her arm at each pavement crack, felt the cheap wheeled basket as it skated, heavy and aimless behind her, tugging left, tugging right.

In the cool of the Piggly Wiggly, she’d drifted from aisle to aisle, a slow habitual shuffle that served no purpose.  Every time, just cans, just cans in the summer, of wan overcooked stews and thick lifeless oversweet pastas.  They lasted.  You opened them.  You ate.  You threw the can away.

And they were cheap, so well priced for the practically minded, cheap enough that the monthly disability check dropped into her account left her plenty for what mattered.  Plenty for every day, if she bought inexpensively enough.

The heat of the day had intensified, hitting her hard as she shuffled from the store, deepening the dark sweat stains that blossomed across her back and seeped into the pits of her loose floral dress.  Across the lot of the strip mall, through air that shimmered and danced with heat, the bright simple sign of the state-run store.

The air was thick and radiant with heat, the blacktop an open oven door, searing the soles of her feet through rubber sandals, driving into her lungs, a rapacious, violating, feral heat.

Terri breathed it in, the smell of oil and asphalt, and felt light as a balloon, felt so light, blissed with it, giddy with it.  Her eyes danced with sparkles, a cascade of faeries summoning the coming night.  Her vision darkened, and she weaved and lurched forward, almost losing her grip on the cart as the handle twisted in her hand.

She blinked, and caught herself, and stood rocking back and forth heel to toe, regaining her composure as the faeries turned to dark whorls.

A sound, loud, a horn from far away, no, from right there, dual tones blaring from the grille of a big pickup.  Words shouted, not nice words, rude words about parking lots and walking and moving your fat ass, just disrespectful noise.  

Terri was above it, would not acknowledge such rudeness, and took her own time, just as much as she needed, as the horn and the rasping voice poured out their insipid, shallow cruelty.  She would have none of it.

Because she was nearly there, at her own pace, yes, because that was what mattered, her own pace.  She would not be hurried.

The man’s voice raised again, terrible terrible words, do you kiss your mother with that mouth words, then suddenly it was hitching, his rudeness choking into a strangled cough, an angry doberman’s bark.  She caught a glimpse of his beet-red meat-slab face, red with effort and anger and frustration.

Probably a smoker, such a filthy, filthy habit.

An engine roared, and tires screamed their impatience at the hot pavement as they passed.

Everyone always in such a hurry.  Terri would never be hurried.  Never again.  She was not at that time of life.

And then, the coolness of processed air again, the eyes of the salesclerk again, dark and knowing eyes set into a round face, a faint nod of recognition as she entered, one of their best customers she was, and she knew it, perhaps their best, she could see it in his face, that he knew her as a woman who had earned this time of rest, this time to enjoy life as she saw fit.

He did not challenge her about her cart, as that young clerk once did, a young clerk who no doubt had been reprimanded for his rudeness, yes, his cruel ignorance of proper manners in dealing with such an important customer.

She made her way with patient purpose to where Sir Edward awaited, dear Sir Edward gleaming in neat rows of warm dark honey.

The sales clerk coughed, and then coughed again.  Ragweed must be coming on early this season.


Terri sat in the darkness and listened to the hissing tone as it rose and fell in her ears.  Another empty can of Dinty Moore on the counter, and a full glass of Sir Edward on the rocks in her hand, just a quarter of the way through the first of those five liters, and there was and would be no pain for a while. Not in her back, so far away. Not in her knee.

Upstairs, there were two, no three little dogs now.  Waughwaughwaugh, little French dogs, Tintin snowy dogs with smart shiny pebble eyes.  They would bark, and the children would cry a weak cry, and they would bark again, and a woman’s voice would rise and fall.  Three little dogs, three little crying children, and the neighbor a young woman all alone.  What was she thinking?  Of course it was too much.

But it was all so far away.

Outside, an ambulance, another ambulance, so many tonight.  And a police helicopter, more than one.  Good to be safe inside, and off the roads.  It was so dangerous out there.

The television beckoned her, and she found the remote, and on it went, a comforting chatter of color in the darkness.

“...the director of the CDC now reports that the infection likely started in…”

This was not what she wanted to see. The faintest pressure on the rubberized button, such a refined softness in the detente.

“...cancelled indefinitely.  Travelers stranded by the quarantine are…”

Again she pressed so gently, and the stern woman whisked away with but the most womanly touch.

“..appears to be fungal, and airborne, spores likely carried by…”

“ long latency period coupled with rapid onset, and what appears to be a nearly 100 percent…”

“...sources indicate it may have been weaponized.  The administration denies…”

So much negativity.  She didn’t want that tonight. She was celebrating!  She felt the remote in her hand, so well weighted, so right. Whoever designed this remote knew the gentleness of a woman’s hand, respected it.

“ natural resistance, and no way to know if you’ve been…”

“...cough cough cough...oh god...cough cough cough…”

“..advised to remain in your homes.  The National Guard has been ordered to…”

Perhaps it was Sir Edward who designed it.  There must be a Sir Edward, surely, and he must be a man of many gifts.  Terri took another sip, and another.

“...from London, Tokyo, Moscow, and Buenos Aires, the reports are all the…”

“...tibiotics appear to be ineffective.  Local hospitals report at least seven hundred…”

“...dear blessed Lord Father God, we in this hour of need turn to you in…”

What a gentleman he must be, that Sir Edward, to make such a lovely affordable drink for women of modest means and to design such a pleasing remote.

“...pearls.  They’re set perfectly with these beautiful tarzanite stones, and if you call now…”

Such a pretty necklace.  She admired it, but she was a practical woman, and would not waste her money on unnecessary things.  Still.  She could appreciate it.  Her glass empty, Terri decided to pour herself another.


Her eyes opened, slowly.  The old television, still on, told her it had “NO SIGNAL” in big blocky pixelated letters.  

Terri blinked, her eyes sandstone marbles set crudely into their sockets.  She must have fallen asleep on the sofa, of course, it had been a hard day, and so hot, and she had walked almost a whole mile.  

On the coffee table, two empty one liter bottles of Sir Edward, and one that had hmmm, perhaps, maybe, two or three full glasses left.  There were four empty cans of Spaghetti-Os.  The room smelled faintly of vomit.  She could not remember throwing up, but sometimes she did when she was celebrating.  Or perhaps it was the food.   One of those cans must have gone bad, she must complain, such things were unacceptable, simply unacceptable.

What time was it?  It seemed to be late afternoon, because her little concrete slab was in shadow.

What day was it?  A thought came to her, check the newspaper, but that was silly.  She hadn’t gotten the paper for years, who got the paper any more?

She tried one channel after another, but cable was out.  So was the streambox, so there was no internet.  Surely, surely the bill had been paid.  It was all automated, everything automated, she had seen to it.  Could people do nothing right?

Craning her neck, she tried to see into the bedroom, to catch a glimpse of the date on her clock.  But all she saw was a blur.  Oh dear.  

She went to stand, felt the sharpness in her knee, so intense it brought tears to her eyes, and sat back heavily.  That knee, it had just never healed right.

Sir Edward glistened like an amber jewel in the dullness.  Just a little snip, to take the edge off.

It poured so prettily.

After she had a second, she felt a little better, and her knee was nice and far away, so she rose and moved slowly towards the bedroom.  The clock glowed red, and it told her that the date was the fifteenth.  So she knew what day it was.  What day it had been?  The tenth?  Maybe the eleventh.  She was getting so forgetful.

That was to be expected.  Retiring so early in life does that to a person.  It could be Monday, or it could be Saturday, and what was the difference?

The bathroom was not as much of a mess as she had feared.  One, two, three flushes, and most of the reddish congealed mess of half-digested pasta was washed away.  She sprayed a little air freshener, and the acrid stink of vomit was replaced with the smell of lavender and vomit.

A little better.  She didn’t mind.  She’d open a window, and it would be better, only it was so terribly hot.  But she wasn’t expecting company, so it really didn’t matter now, did it?

What did matter was that only two bottles remained, and that simply wouldn’t do.  She would have to go out.  Not to the Piggly Wiggly, she had plenty of food still left, weeks and weeks, surely.  But just straight there and back, one or two more bottles, to be sure she had enough.  

A little powder, really, that was all she needed to freshen up, and she felt well enough to take that walk.


As she slid open the door, Terri realized it was not nearly as hot as it had been the other day.  It was really rather nice, a nice day for a woman of a certain age to take a short walk.  Especially with the power out.  It had sputtered, off, then on, then off again, and it had stayed off.  Someone would call, surely, to get it back on.  Good, in such a time, that she did not bother with her fridge for food.  But ice?  That might be a problem.  

From above her, such a strange noise.  Those little dogs were quiet now, no more barking, finally.  But from the balcony above, a rattling, thick sound, bubbles in a heating stew.   Almost a voice, almost, whatever it was, a gurgling, straining, barely audible whimper.

Terri stepped out into the late afternoon shadows, glancing curiously up at the balcony as she reached the sidewalk, basket in tow.  There was a pile of clothes, a large pile just about the shape of a person.  It was not moving, so obviously, it must be a pile of clothes.

From the sidewalk, she could not hear the sound, and anyway, that wasn’t why she’d gone out.


The man was not breathing.  Clearly, he was dead.

There he lay, sprawled out indecorously on the ground in his bright yellow rubber suit.  He had gotten out of the truck after it had crashed, a great big military truck, crashed right there in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly.    And then he had fallen down, and he had not risen.  His yellow suit had a big soft yellow space helmet, and Terri could see his face pressed roughly against the plastic, his nose and mouth all smushed against it.  He looked rather silly, a big dead yellow Gumby.  Only his eyes were wide open, dark red with congealing blood, unseeing.  That was not quite so silly.

On the inside of the visor, a little blue fuzz was growing, like lichen or moss.  When she first bent down to look, Terri had seen the blue fuzz in his nose and mouth.  

There was another man in the driver’s seat of the truck, in the same suit.  He was just as dead.

They were the twenty first and twenty second bodies she had seen that morning, in just the half a mile to the store.  There was the police officer, flat on his face in the middle of the road.  Two soldiers, crumpled by a barricade.

Crashed cars, one in a ditch and upside down.

And other bodies.  Children.  Women.  Men.  Maybe it was more than twenty.  Terri couldn’t really remember.

She couldn’t remember, in fact, seeing anyone out and moving and alive.  Just her.

She remembered, faintly, the stern faces on the television.  And the panicked faces of the presenters.

This could be a problem.  It was very possible that the package store might not be open, what with so many dead. That would be most inconvenient.  And terribly unfair.

Terri felt a faint stirring of alarm.  If the manager of the package store took a sick day, that would mean that Sir Edward would be there, but imprisoned behind locked doors, away from her.  That was an unacceptable turn of events, a really rather terrible prospect.

She looked up, away from the fallen Gumby, her eyes fixing on the package store.  Surely, surely it must be open.

But when she got there, it was not.  The doors, closed and locked.  The lights, out.  A note, scribbled in Sharpie on a piece of eight and a half by eleven copier paper, announced that the store would be Closd until furthr notice becase of emergensy.

She pulled at the door.  It did not budge.  Surely, surely there must be a way in.  

“Locked.  Ain’t no way in.  Sons of bitches locked up before they went home to die.”  The voice, that of one of the others, gathered there by the front of the store.  

There were three of them.  A woman, bent and muttering and leathery, her possessions piled into a rusted grocery cart.  A short older man, Asian, wearing a jacket far too heavy for the weather, pacing back and forth, eyes to the ground.  And the speaker.  The three had been standing there, staring at the door, when she arrived.  The speaker was a tall man, or he had been tall when he was younger and healthy, though such a thing was hard to imagine.  His skin was an ashen grey, the grey of death, the grey of poisoned organs.  His face, slack and expressionless.  He looked more or less at Terri, rheumy eyes half focused.

“Figure they could at least have left the damn thing open.  Who the hell cares.  If ever there’s been a time I needed a damn drink.  Jesus.  Never going to bust that open.”

Terri looked at the door again.  Heavy steel frames, a heavy lockset, and thick security glass.  He was probably right. The door, so important to keep thieves and miscreants from making off with the precious Sir Edward, now stood as a terrible impediment.  

“It’s very inconsiderate,” Terri said, her voice a slurred croak.  So unused to talking, she supposed.  She tried to think of something that might be of assistance, and the four of them stared hungrily, helplessly, at the solid and unforgiving front.

From behind them, a siren bleated, once, and then again, as a police cruiser passed.  It slowed, lighting up, getting ready to turn.  

The tall grey man startled at the sound, stumbled backwards, and seeing the approaching cop, uttered a curse and began clumsily running across the parking lot, a loping stumble.  He did not look back.

The cruiser turned towards the store in a wide arc, lights a brilliant syncopation.  It stopped halfway through the turn, jerked forward, then came awkwardly to rest on the curb.  The driver’s door flung open, banging against the stops, and a tall lean man with wild grey hair unfolded himself from within.  His face was the color of black strap molasses, he regal cheekbones of his earthen flesh pocked with acne scars half a century old.  

“Not...OPEN?”  His voice, a deep dramatic overloud basso, bright as tarnished brass.  “All...closed UP?”

Terri saw that neither of her new companions had the wherewithal to answer.  “Yes.  They have very inconsiderately closed the store, and we have no way to get in.  It is most rude.”

He reached into the cruiser, fumbled past the limp deployed airbag to the radio mic, dropping it, then pulled it again to his lips, the coiled cord stretched taut.

“I need me some BACKUP!  They’ve done closed the liquor store!  Send some BACKUP!”  He roared with laughter, releasing the microphone, which snapped back violently into the cruiser.

“Ma’am, you are so right!  So!  Right!” he said, flashing her a smile filled with incongruously perfect teeth from the long lean ruin of his face.  “It is so rude!  So inconsiderable!  IN con…”  His eyes went wide and blank for a moment, and then their brightness returned.  “ But don’t you be worrying!  I’m the man with the plan!  Just get on out of the way!  Just get on out of the way!”

He sat back down heavily in the driver’s seat of the cruiser, slamming the door, and Terri began to shuffle away.

The cruiser’s motor roared, and the car skittered backwards on spinning tires.  The little Asian man scampered after Terri, eyes down, muttering quietly to himself.  Then, a wild forward fishtailing, a shower of sparks from the undercarriage as it crashed up over the curb.

The woman with the cart had not moved, standing staring blankly at her reflection in the store window, her mouth churning silently.  She did not move at the sound of the motor, or the metallic gong of impact with the curb.  She did not move until the left front bumper moved her, tossing her and her cart and her belongings up and away in a cascade.  She and the cart hit the front wall of the store, an audible crack as her head hit the brick, minor league softball, a solid base hit.

Her body fell, and stayed where it lay among the scattered mass of rags and plastic.

The cruiser’s front bars hit the glass door square, driving the door inward, torn from its hinges in a spray of glass.  There was a moment’s pause, and then the cop car pulled backwards violently and juddered to a stop.

He was out in an instant, bleeding from a cut to the forehead, his eyes flaring with triumph.  “I have ALWAYS wanted to do THAT!  We are OPEN for Business!  Open!  For!  Business!”

The little Asian man was already inside, pushing through the glass and debris, eyes down, beelining for the vodka.  

Terri moved towards the ruin of the door, her eyes averted from the woman’s body.  She thought she saw it twitching, but she might have imagined it, and she was not about to look more closely.  So unpleasant.  So very unfortunate.  But what could be done?  It was an emergency, and the kind gentleman had clearly said to move.  She had every chance.

She picked her way carefully into the store, trying to keep her balance as she negotiated the glass and steel in her worn plastic crocs.  

A large hand suddenly proffered, and a broad wide smile.  “Some help?”  She took the hand with hers, felt it great and knobby and calloused, and attempted a smile in return.


The cruiser’s passenger seat was vinyl, but the car was blissfully cool, the air pouring in in a wild swirling through the windows.  Next to Terri, the gentleman was talking, talking, talking, never for a moment stopping.

He had been so helpful.  Not just a hand in and out of the store, which any kind soul might have offered.  But without even her asking politely, he had offered a ride in the police car he had commandeered.  And he had gone into the back for her, and gotten two cases, two whole cases of Sir Edward, because he saw that she liked it, and two more cases of very expensive blended, and two cases of gin, and bottles of tonic.  He had tossed them in the back seat of the cruiser.  She saw he had already been to another store, bottles and bottles and bottles worth.

Where you live, he’d said, and she’d pointed to the entrance to Spent Hill Woods, just a hundred yards away.

He’d laughed, again, and said, nah, that wouldn’t be a problem.

Mind if we go for a ride first, he had asked, and Terri had said, well, no, in point of fact she didn’t.  It had been a long while since she’d been for a ride.  And she’d asked if he was fine to drive, and he’d said you damn right I’m fine, I’m better than fine.  He asked if she would like one for the road, and she said she didn’t mind if she did.

And so they drove, and he talked as he drove, talked and talked in an endless fountain of words, for the joy of hearing his own deep rich voice in his own ears over the roar of the summer air through the windows.  He talked about fortunes gained and lost, of his travels with the famous and his flirtations with the rich, of wild adventures, about how no-one understood, just no-one.

The engine of the police car roared, and Terri felt the thrill of speed, as the gentleman raised a nearly full bottle of Pappy Van Winkle to his lips, really the finest and most expensive, only the very best for him, what he had always deserved.

“And my sister, she always says, why DO you drink that poison?  Why do you POISON yourself that way?  And I say, well, now I know!  Now! I! Know!  ‘Cause tell you what I see?  What do I see!  Ain’t nobody left.  She dead.  My damn fool brother in law dead.  Their kids dead.  All of them dead.  Cops all gone. Politicians all gone. Preachers all gone. You know who still alive?  You...whoah…”

The car veered wildly, barely missing an abandoned pickup thoughtlessly left right there in the center of the road where it didn’t belong.

Terri took a drink from the lovely silver flask he had given her, and smiled as he roared out the window.  “ FOOL!  I’m goin’ GIVE you a TICKET!”  

“So anyway, you know who still alive?  You an me.  I drove half a day, and all I seen still stumbling about this busted up fallen down world is us folks who can HANDLE our LIQUOR.  I figure whatever the hell that was, it ain’t got no chance ‘gainst a couple good tall shots of fiine Kentucky bourbon.  Poison!  Hah! Medicinal purposes!  Thas what I always say!  Medicinal purposes!  Lord have mercy.  So now it’s just us damn drunks.”

Terri tasted the warmth on her palate, felt the rising warmth in her, and shook her head.  “I am certainly not an alcoholic, sir.  I’m just celebrating.  Just celebrating my retirement.”

He glanced at her for a moment, suddenly serious.  “Of course you ain’t.  And neither am I.  I am SO sorry.  You a lady.  Lady?  Hell, I been so busy gabbing and carrying on all this time I ain’t even asked your name.”

Terri told him.  “And you?”

He had looked at her, eyes alighting on her flask, on the bottle at her side.  Then he turned his gaze out to the road, and a sly ease came over his face as he flashed his sun-bright smile.  The car accelerated wild and hard up the on ramp, towards the open, silent highway, headed west.  

“Edward. I’m Edward.”

The warmth in her deepened, and the faeries woke and danced, blissful before Terri’s eyes, their bright sparks rising on dark spreading wings.  

Dear Sir Edward, she thought.  Such a gentleman.