The Angelfish of Giza (Excerpt 6)

Sitting in the dry dirt above the desert floor, with legs crossed, the founder of the Church of Everlasting Super Freshness and self-proclaimed living patron saint of Albuquerque, was looking down upon Giza, New Mexico sprawled out there like a neon hothouse whore. It was a Buddha belly bowl of steaming and colorful madness, a space wizard-centric place in the broken heart of the arid Southwest unlike any ordinary civilization had ever known. And here high up and over it was like he was home in Hip Heaven, and he was some beat-up angel spreading his tattered wings and seeding the place with wishes and delicious desires for The Duke City, a ministry in fact.

For now, he was the holy man on a mission to spread the gospel of Albuquerque and all the sacred intricacies woven throughout. He had devolved himself to the man and byline simply known as Chuck Placitas and took employment at the Giza Revealer as a government reporter. For it was as he desired — to work among ordinary men in order to create an extraordinary place in paradise, to spread the word of New Albuquerque, to attain the pinnacle of hipness. For as Reverend Chuck says: “To be without hipness, is to be without a soul.”

Reverend Chuck Placitas lived in a baby blue Astro love van down by the Pinto River that ran through the salty desert flats on the edges of Giza. He bathed in the silty, brown waters there. When not wandering about town, he kept the van parked on a flat plot of hard soil as near to the shore of the gentle waters as he could without it sinking. His camp was deep out of sight, mostly shrouded by salt cedar brush and low bluffs of red earth. The area was desolate and solitary except for the occasional hiker or two wandering through on a trail several hundred yards away. The camp was comfortable enough for him and he did not want for much. He had a place to sleep, utensils to cook with and eat with. He had things to read and paper to write on. It was overall a peaceful place for him, a place to meditate in front of a night fire as coyotes prowled nearby. The sky there was expansive and bustling with bright stars smeared across the pitch of space at night as the aliens rode on their ships. During the day, the sun was a hot eye from hell weighing down on him. But mostly he was at work during these times, or inside the van with a portable fan blowing on him as he read colorful brochures, travel guides, and historical anecdotes about Albuquerque and its surrounding environs. He was beginning to take a great liking to places like Rio Rancho and Bosque Farms.

He enjoyed bathing in the river. He enjoyed being naked in the wild. He would wash his thinning and wispy hair and his large, unfit, pear-shaped body with cheap shampoo and soap from the Buddha-Mart in town, some 10 miles away by highway. He would also wash the few clothes he had in the river. There he would stand in the middle of the Pinto, at a shallow part, nude, pale and bulbous, scrubbing at his laundry with environmentally considerate detergent, then dunking it down in the waters to rinse. The clothes dried quickly in the desert heat on a wash line he suspended between the van and a thick branch amongst the brush.

On his weekends, he would often use the time to drive the baby blue Astro love van north to Albuquerque, a three-hour trip, to recharge and “refresh” at the small apartment above a garage he rented in the Nob Hill neighborhood.

He was a part-time musician as well as a hip prophet and played bass guitar in a poppy rock band called Albuquerque Motion. The band was mostly unpopular, and the gigs were becoming fewer and far between. Other members were often flighty and unreliable, and Reverend Chuck questioned their allegiances to Albuquerque. He often thought about striking out on his own and being a solo artist.

He enjoyed going down to his favorite pub around the corner, The Regal Raven, and having a few brews with his bros and sometimes performing a song or two for the crowd before returning to the apartment to strum on his bass some more and to write lyrics to songs that he was eager to try out the next time he was at the pub — songs like “Smells Like South Valley” or “Bernalillo Babes.”

His weekends faded fast and before dawn on Mondays, he would get back into his van and once again drive 200 miles back to Giza for his job at the paper and the work of his ministry.

People often questioned Chuck Placitas on why he didn’t just reside in Albuquerque all the time. “If you love it so much, why don’t you just live there?” they would ask.

Reverend Chuck would gently smile, his eyes sort of hypnotically spinning in his weird head, and he had a way of speaking where he would often begin a sentence with “Well, uh,” before he got into the true matter of what he wanted to say. So, his answer to those questioning his choice of where he lived was always “Well, uh, does one preach of the glory of Heaven solely from within the confines of Heaven?”

The Puppets of Kudzu (END)

Karl from the city went to work cleaning the mess he made in the kitchen as Franco and Cheise Karn Mouise looked on. When he finished, he rinsed out the towel and washed his hands in the kitchen sink. “Well, I suppose I should get going now before they wonder if I went AWOL,” he said to them.

“Can I have a hug before you go Karl?” Franco asked with open arms.

The man eyed him, confused, and wondering. He looked around to make sure no one was watching but then again nobody could have been.

“All right,” he said. “Bring it in.”

“Oh yippy!” Franco squealed, and he wrapped his arms tight around Karl’s body and snuggled him lovingly.

“All right, all right, that will do, mister. Thanks for saving my life. You both take care now. And be sure to clean up your yard before they send someone else a lot less understanding.”

Karl limply smiled at them, went to the door, opened it, and walked out into the mean world.

“Well,” Franco said to Cheise Karn Mouise. “Now that that’s over with. Let me ask you one last time. Are you still planning on staying here to watch your stupid football while I go have a sparkly good time shopping?”

Cheise Karn Mouise looked up at him with little expression. “Yes.” Then he turned and disappeared into the other room.

Franco yelled after him. “Fine! I’m going now. You may choose not to be happy, but don’t rain on my parade. I’m going to be so gay they’re going to have to wipe the smile right off my dead body!”

The front door eventually slammed and Cheise Karn Mouise was all alone in the house, nice and snug in a comfortable chair, and he was glad for the peace and quiet.

After a while, Cheise Karn Mouise fixed himself some microwave popcorn and an iced grape soda before getting back to his football. He watched one game, then another, and was then into his third when he realized Franco had not returned home yet. He clicked off the watching devices and the house was eerily silent except for a lonely low hum of electricity throughout. The light of day was beginning to crisp over. He was oddly worried and went to a window and looked at the street. Franco’s car was still gone. Cheise Karn Mouise tried calling him on his cell phone but there was no answer. He began to think something bad had happened, but he decided to just go ahead and take a nap on the living room couch. So what if he wasn’t home yet? he thought to himself. Franco’s a grown man who can take of himself. Besides, they had gotten into a fight, and he was mad, and he had to play the little game of acting like he didn’t care even though he did care. It was a lot of emotions for a small puppet to juggle. Being really alive, he decided, was tough sometimes.

And that’s when he started to cry before he fell into a deep sleep and he dreamt about how he was first created, how he had once been nothing but pieces of a puppet that had to be assembled. He dreamt about how it took the thoughts of some human being in a wood shop down in the snug of Lyon, France to come up with the idea, the design, and to finally carve, shape and birth him into the living world before shipping him off simply for the entertainment of others. He truly was a puppet in a world with countless opinionated hands.

It was later when his phone rang, and it startled him awake. He fumbled in the darkness for his puppet cell phone. “Hello?” he sleepily mumbled.

Franco Dellaronti was crying on the other end.

Cheise Karn Mouise sat up. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“They beat me up!” Franco said, whimpering.

“What!? Who beat you up?”

“Just come get me. I’m at the First Church of Loving Goodness on 37th Avenue. I’ll be the one bleeding on the steps out front.”

“I should call an ambulance for you.”

“Just come get me!”

Cheise Karn Mouise went to the garage and jumped in his dream car — a Kia Soul specially made for puppets with souls. He activated the garage door with a press of a button on a remote, fired up the car, and tore out of the driveway like a puppet with purpose. “Don’t worry my human friend,” he said aloud to the kaleidoscopic dash. “I’m coming to get you!” and he cranked the volume of his favorite song — Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People — and he drove along to the beat like a ferocious dancing wind to get to Franco before he possibly died.

When his GPS had finally guided him to the church, he saw Franco Dellaronti slumped on the stairs out front, leaning against a silver rail. He worked himself out of the Soul and ran over to him. His master was a bruised and bloody mess, and he carefully shook him a little bit. “Hey man. I’m here. Jesus… What happened?”

Franco looked at him with a dazed expression. “I wanted to say a prayer for you. I wanted to pray that you find true contentment in your puppet life and be gay all the time.” He turned his head and looked at the doorway of the church. “I was in there, giving my prayer and they were going to start a night service and then they told me I had to leave.”

“What on earth for?”

“They said I was a sinner and that I was destined for hell. They said Jesus hates people who are gay. And I wondered, how could Jesus possibly be against someone being happy? Anyways, I didn’t want to leave. I told them I wasn’t finished praying yet. That’s when a group of the church men grabbed me and threw me to the floor. They started punching me in the face, and then the women there and even some of the children started kicking me and spitting on me. I think someone threw a Bible at me. They looked right at me and told me God hated me and that they hated me, too. Then they hustled me outside and dumped me, and I’ve been sitting here all wumbly bumbly and half bleeding to death ever since. Why did they beat me up for just wanting to pray for my beloved puppet friend to be happy?”

Cheise Karn Mouise sadly sighed and then said, “Because they’re hypocritical assholes.”

“I just don’t understand, Cheise Karn Mouise. I just don’t understand.”

“I know. Neither do I, but don’t worry about that now… Let’s get you home. Where’s your car?”

“They set it on fire.”


“Yes. They wanted me to witness the burning. They told me it was a preview to my own personal hell.”

“What horrible people.”

“Yes. I’m going to see a lawyer about all this,” Franco said.

“Good. Can you walk?”

“I’ll manage. Thanks for coming to get me.”

“I should have come with you in the first place. I’m sorry for acting like a dick.”

“Oooooh,” Franco managed to happily squeak through his pain.

“Zip it,” Cheise Karn Mouise said, then he laughed. “Let’s just get out of here.”

They rode in silence for a while until Cheise Karn Mouise suggested they get a late-night treat. He thought it would help cheer Franco up a bit. “How about some ice cream? And not that yogurt crap. I mean real ice cream. Are you in the mood for some 24-hour Cream King goodness?”

Franco Dellaronti brightened through the pain. “Cream King? Absolutely. I want to get something super swirly.”

Cheise Karn Mouise shook his head. “God that’s gay.”

Then the puppet with soul gripped the steering wheel of his ultra-cool Kia Soul as he plowed the night streets, and he was glad to be in a fairly decent mood, his good friend and master at his side, badly beaten, but still alive. Then something in the sky caught both their eyes, and they saw magical electric Jesus riding a bicycle, and he gave them a friendly wave and smile before rising and flying off across the face of the blue-white moon — like an E.T. kid — on his way to space Heaven.


The Doll Salon (End)

The Wedding

When Feldon awoke, he found himself inside a very old and large church, Catholic style, luminous and grand, full of soft light and scents of heaven, high arched ceilings and massive chandeliers dangling down from the rafters, the stations of the cross played out in intricate detail, gold chalices with beams of godly sun shimmering at the altar. He was in one of the back pews, long and sweetly polished, and there was a great stained-glass window at his side, Jesus all gleaming and blessed, green and gold, his arms were outstretched, and he was surrounded by sheep of white and gas eons of blue. There were angels in the clouds playing trumpets and the sun shot forth long bands of golden light across him as if he was God or savior or some important man.

At the front of the church there was a ceremony going on. It was a wedding, Feldon deduced, from the looks of the white gown and black tux and preacher standing there with the great guidebook of life and love. Then the crowd turned around in unison to look at him, and they were all mannequins — soulless, plastic mannequins. Even the preacher wasn’t skin and blood, and then Feldon saw that it was Carl and Eve as groom and bride up front and there was a plume of death incense percolating in a thurible and then a bloodless pall fell over the entire gathering and the crowd turned back around and the preacher said in a loud, monotone voice: “If there is anyone here who objects to this sacred union of love, let him speak now or forever swallow down his peace.”

“Yes!” Feldon cried out from the back, his voice cracking. “Yes! Oh, mighty God I object!”

The crowd hummed and murmured. The preacher craned his neck to see as Feldon marched forward down the center aisle. “Who are you?” the holy man asked. “And what case do you have to present against this couple, right here, under the witness of God.”

“I’m Feldon Fairtz and I strongly object to this union. Carl is unfit to be a husband to her. He is evil and shifty. Eve! I love you! Please don’t do this!”

Eve robotically lifted the veil from her face and looked out at him.

“Can’t you see I don’t love you?” she said, exasperated. “I’ve never loved you. It’s all been a lie. The whole time I’ve loved someone else. That’s right, Feldon. It’s Carl. It’s always been Carl. We’ve been doing it behind your back for weeks now… And in your bed. You’re a creep, Feldon. Now, can you please stop ruining our special day and get out of here before you get thrown out.”

“But Eve, you can’t do this to me. It was I that rescued you from the stuffy back room of Saharah’s Department Store and gave you a home. I gave you freedom and life and this is how you repay me? You’re going to marry this jackass?”

“I don’t care, Feldon. That’s just life. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. And yes, I’m marrying Carl, right here, right now, and there is nothing you can do about it.”

Feldon’s mind and heart sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

“Very well then,” he said, trying to lift himself back up again. “I hope you have a miserable life together. And fuck you just the same, Eve. I’ve come to the conclusion that you are nothing but a heartless bitch anyways… And hell if I need that in my life.”

Someone quickly grabbed Feldon’s arm to escort him out, but he tore away.

“Let go of me! I’m leaving.”

And as he walked down the long aisle toward the large doors, he heard the preacher’s voice rise from behind him: “And by the power granted to me by God, the church, and the state of this land… I now pronounce you man and mannequin.”

There was some soft, plastic clapping and then great and triumphant music rose to the top of the cathedral and Feldon pushed through the giant doorway and out into the bright light of another day and never looked back.

It was three months later when there was a knock at the door of Feldon’s smelly apartment.

“Who’s there?” he yelled from the couch.

“Feldon?” came a meek voice from the hall.

“Who is it and what do you want?”

“It’s Eve. Could you please open the door?”

Feldon was stunned. “Is that fag Carl with you?”


“I think it would be better if you just went away, Eve. I don’t want to talk to you.”

“Please, Feldon. It’s important. It will just take a minute.”

Feldon knew he would regret getting up off the couch and opening the door, but he did it anyway.

“What do you want?”

“Can I come in?”

Feldon held the door open wide and she drifted in.

“What’s this all about, Eve? I thought you never wanted to see me again.”

She suddenly realized how different he looked. He had gained some weight and his hair was scraggly and he had grown out a beard. “Are you okay?” she asked him.

“What does it matter to you?”

“Don’t be like that, Feldon.”

“Be like what? Crushed?”

“Feldon, Carl and I split up.”

Feldon snickered with a sick delight. “Really? So soon? What a shame. And what does this have to do with me?”

Eve’s head tilted slightly toward the floor.

“I’ve got nowhere to go. Carl is being a real jerk about the money and the house. He got himself some hotshot lawyer, too. I was somehow hoping you could find it in your heart to let me stay here for a while until I can right my own ship, so to speak. He left me with nothing.”

Feldon popped a cap off a beer and sucked the entire bottle down. “You’ve got some fucking nerve coming here asking me for such a favor. That’s some real fucking nerve, Eve.”

She looked away, hurt and somewhat ashamed. “You’re right. I should have never come here. I’m sorry. I’ll just go now.”

She made her way toward the door and Feldon suddenly softened. “Do you really have nowhere to go?”

She turned to look at him with sad, fake eyes. “Yes, but I’ll manage. See you around.”

“Wait,” Feldon said.

She turned again, her fabricated heart beating with hope. “What?”

“As long as you’re heading out, could you take my trash down for me?”

Feldon went into the kitchen, lifted a bag out of the can and tied it.

He went back to her. “Here you go,” he said as he handed the strained bag of garbage to Eve. She took it with a puzzled look of disgust on her face.

“Hopefully it won’t break on your walk down. I would hate for you to have to clean up such a mess,” Feldon said, laughing. He moved toward her, forcing Eve to back out into the hallway.

 “Please Feldon, won’t you reconsider?” Eve tearfully pleaded. “Don’t you have a heart?”

“Not today,” he said, and he slammed the door shut and never saw her again and rarely did he care.


How Our Axis Quakes (2nd Part)

Author’s Note: The first part of this story can be found here.

After the service, Ed stood outside the church, fidgeted in his clothes, and waited for Lewis and his lady friend. When they finally emerged, the happy couple looked as if they had just been wed. Ed grunted at that. He didn’t think Sontag was Lewis’ type at all. She was wound too tight, he thought, like a nightstand cuckoo set to blow her guts. She was an older woman, 60s like Ed and Lewis, and Ed believed she was the type that just couldn’t come to terms with the fact she was getting older by the day. She was too perky within the growing wrinkles, too sparkly within the fading of her soul. She painted herself in too much makeup and dyed her wayward locks blonde. She had fake intelligent breasts and a caboose shaped like a misguided pear. Lipstick on a piggie, Ed thought. Lipstick on a piggie. And when they came up to him, it was all fake. Her smile was fake, her kindness was fake, and he worried her affection for Lewis might be fake as well.

Sontag lightly touched him on the arm. “Did you enjoy the service today, Ed?”

“It was fine.”

“I thought it was a very inspiring message — very hopeful,” she said.

“Indeed, it was,” Ed said, feeling sick inside his guts.

“I do hope you decide to attend regularly,” she said, glancing at him with a look that really said: I hope you don’t.

Ed looked at Lewis. He was beaming to the point of bursting. “Well, I don’t get to town very often, but I’ll consider it,” Ed said.

“Fine. That’s just fine,” Sontag replied with an air of pretentiousness. “So, I suppose we can just meet over at my house. I hope you’re hungry, Ed. I’m quite the kitchen witch.”

“You’re a witch?” Ed wondered aloud.

Sontag chuckled in a very fake way. “No, silly. I’m not a real witch. It’s just an expression I came up with. Like, well,” she attempted to explain, tapping her overly ruby lips with the tip of a finger. “How I can really whip up a good pot of stew, if need be, you know, in a pinch. Almost like magic.”

Ed looked at her in disbelief and confusion.

“Okay,” was all he could manage to say, and he tossed an awkward glance in Lewis’ direction.

“Ed is always hungry,” Lewis said, trying to steer the conversation in a less odd direction. “Just look at the size of him.”

“That’s right. I have a huge appetite, mostly,” Ed said. “Take right now, for example. I could eat a big bowl of dog food and keep on going.”

Sontag chuckled and put her hand in front of her red mouth. “Oh my, I hope I’m a better cook than that.”

Lewis laughed along with her, but Ed was just like stone, and he felt like crumbling.

Sontag’s house was in the nicest part of town and when Ed Blackrose stepped inside it smelled like Thanksgiving and he liked that. The home was very neat and clean and organized. It almost looked as if no one even really lived in the place. It looked like something straight out of a television advertisement from another time, Ed thought. Perfect and pretentious and fake, yet oddly charming at the same time.

He grinned at her, moving his head around. “You have a beautiful home,” Ed said. “Very nice. Cozy.”

“It certainly is,” Lewis chimed in. “Sontag takes great pride in her home.”

Sontag slightly blushed in embarrassment. “Oh, come on you two. It’s easy to take care of a house when you’re the only one in it,” she responded. “Well, go ahead and have a seat wherever you like, Ed. Would you like something to drink?”

Ed backed up to a pinkish couch and carefully sat down.  “I’ll have a beer if you have it.”

Sontag’s expression suddenly changed. “No. I’m sorry, Ed. There’s no alcohol in this house. I don’t allow devil juice within these walls.”

“Oh, well, how about a lemonade then?” Ed said, scratching at his head. “Got anything against lemons?”

Lewis glared at him from a paisley chair.

“I’ll see what I can find,” she said, and she twirled and disappeared toward the kitchen.

“Damn it, Ed. That was rude,” Lewis scolded. “I think you really hurt her feelings.”

“Does she have any feelings?” Ed wondered.

“I think you should go in there and apologize.”

“Oh, come on. This is ridiculous. I was just joking around.”

Lewis leaned in and whispered. “She’s a very sensitive gal, Ed. I really think you should go in there and apologize.”

“All right. All right. Jesus Christ this is silly,” Ed complained.

He huffed, stood up, and made his way into the kitchen where he saw her stirring a pitcher of lemonade. He scratched at his head and felt uneasy. “Hello,” he said.

“Hi. Do you want ice? I just put it together so it will probably be better with ice.”


She filled a tall glass with ice, poured in the lemonade, and turned to him. She was being snobby.

“Here you go. Hope it’s to your liking.”

“Hey, I’m sorry about that. I was just joking around, trying to lighten things up a bit.”

She turned away for a second and then looked back up at him over her shoulder.

“I thought it was mean,” she said as she turned back around. “And disrespectful.”

Her eyes were sea green, and he thought he saw a flicker of hellfire in them as she gazed up at him. Then she suddenly reached out her hand and groped his crotch. Ed froze. Lewis was humming some happy tune to himself in the other room as he ate nuts from an ornate glass bowl.

“Hey guys,” he called out. “I’m in the mood for some music. How about we play some records?”

Sontag didn’t move her hand away but instead massaged him even deeper. “Sure thing, honey,” she called out. “We’re on our way.”

She released her grip, said nothing, and walked into the other room. Ed was stunned, but at the same time excited. It had been years since a woman had touched him in any sort of way. His hand shook as he raised the glass of lemonade to his mouth. He closed his eyes and gulped it down until his brain froze.

“Are you feeling better?” she asked.

“I am. Thank you.”

When Ed came into the other room, Lewis and Sontag were sitting across from each other, her on one end of the couch and Lewis still in the paisley chair, and they were looking through her record albums atop a coffee table. Ed took a seat on the opposite end of the couch and watched them. Sontag glanced over at him and smiled.

“What kind of music do you like, Ed?” Sontag asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. I really don’t get into that sort of thing.”

“He likes Johnny Cash,” Lewis said.

Sontag bit at her bottom lip as she carefully looked through the albums until she found one by Johnny Cash. “Here’s one. I like him, too.”

She stood up and set the record on the player. She gently set the needle down on the revolving vinyl and Ring of Fire hauntingly began to play, and it filled the room with an eerie, crazy feeling. Ed suddenly stood up and they looked at him.

“Is everything okay, Ed?” Lewis asked.

“I’m fine,” Ed answered. “But I’m afraid I’m having some… Digestive issues.” He looked at Sontag. “Could I use your bathroom?”

She was turned off by his remark, but what could she say? “Of course. It’s down the hall on the left.”

Cash’s gritty, dark voice followed Ed all the way to the bathroom, and even when he shut himself inside, the music made its way in. He quickly tore his pants down and sat on the seat. He violently went and grimaced from the pain in his guts. “My god, she’s poisoned me,” he groaned to himself. He flushed, and then flushed again. Then there was a light tapping on the door.


“Who’s there?”

“It’s Sontag. Are you okay in there?”

“Yes, I’m fine. I’m just going to the bathroom, Jesus!”


“Yes! What?”

“I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t take the Lord’s name in vain,” Sontag said.  “Especially when you are in the bathroom doing, well, whatever you are doing. Not in my house.”

He didn’t respond. She jiggled the knob and put her face close to the door. “Ed. Do you need me to come in and help you?”

“No. Please. Let me just finish.”

“Are you sure?”


“I wouldn’t mind,” she said in a sultry voice.

“Please, lady. This is personal stuff going on in here,” Ed said. “I’ll be out in a little while.”

She sighed. “Okay. I’m going to go put dinner on the table now. Make sure you wash your patties.”

“My patties?” Ed wondered aloud.

Ed cleaned himself, washed his hands, and splashed cold water on his face. He dried his face with a plush towel and looked at himself in the mirror.

“This is really weird,” he mumbled. “Why did I ever agree to such a nightmare?”

Then he looked to the side where there were high cabinets with crawling vines of blue roses painted on the doors. He opened them and looked inside. There was a sweet aroma amongst the towels and the soaps and the lotions and the sprays. He started fumbling through her things. He slid his hands underneath the stacks of towels to see if there was anything hidden. He found an envelope and pulled it out. Inside there was money. He counted it — $1,690. He pulled out three twenties and stuck them in his pocket before returning the envelope to where he found it. She’ll never miss it, he thought.

He searched some more and found an adult magazine. The cover had a photo of two naked guys showing off their ding-a-lings. Ed made a face and quickly stuffed it away. He grew more curious and opened the doors to the lower cabinets. It was full of bathroom tissue. Rolls upon rolls of bathroom tissue. Ed counted and multiplied in his head. There were nearly 300 rolls. My god, she must have problems, he thought. Then there was another knock on the door. It was Lewis this time.

“Ed? What the hell are you doing in there? Dinner is on the table. We’re waiting for you.”

“All right,” he said, closing the cabinet doors. “I’m on my way out now.”

He opened the door and Lewis stepped back as Ed stepped out.

“Damn it, Ed. Could you at least use some spray? You’re really embarrassing me.”

Ed grew cold and pressed Lewis against the opposite wall and stared down at him.

“I told you I didn’t want to come. You pressured me and suddenly you’re all pissed off because I’m supposedly embarrassing you. To hell with that! You and your lady friend can fake it, but I won’t.”

Ed gave Lewis another shove for good measure, pushed his hair back with his fingers, and walked to the dining room. Sontag was waiting there, looking sad. The table was covered with food and dishes and glasses. She even had a couple of tall, white candles burning. Gospel music was playing on the stereo in the other room now. Ed straightened himself out and sat down.

“Sorry about that. I wasn’t feeling too good.”

“Better now?” she asked.


Lewis appeared and sat down without saying a word.

“Ed, would you like to say grace?” Sontag asked.

“Oh. I don’t think I’d be very comfortable with that if it’s all the same to you.”

“Just say what you feel, Ed,” she said. “That’s all praying really is, saying what you feel.”

Ed cleared his throat, folded his hands, and closed his eyes. “Dear Lord, up there, thank you for this wonderful meal our dear Sontag here has prepared for us. Your bountiful blessings amaze us, and we are ever so grateful for your everlasting love and mercy.”

Ed opened one eye and looked at Sontag. “Is that enough?”

“Yes, Ed. God doesn’t count the words, he just hears them.”

“Okay then. Amen!”