31 The Circus Is Coming

       “Honk, honk,” Steve McSwain taps his horn, but like the other vehicles around him, it doesn’t help. The traffic is not letting up and the GPS can’t find the satellite. He looks ahead, and although he is sitting taller than most of the vehicles around him, he cannot see what is causing the hold up. If he takes the next exist, he should be able to find a neighborhood route to get to the train depot. His phone rings.

       “How are we doing? Where are you?” the Vanilla Shed dispatcher, Selene asks.

       McSwain hits the speaker button on his phone. “I’m stuck in traffic. It must be a wreck. I’ve not moved in 10 minutes.” He answers.

       “I’ve checked with Amtrak and their ETA is still the same.” She says.

       “I don’t know if I am going to make it. If this traffic doesn’t break up?”

       “Hum?”She sighs.

       Here it comes, Steve thinks to himself. I am so not fucking driving to Sacramento.

       “If you don’t make the train, do you think you could…” Selena starts, but is cut off.

       “I can’t. I’ve got plans. This rush delivery wasn’t supposed to take this long.” He answers her.

       “I know, I know, I’ve already been here for 12-hours and will have to wait with you.” She empathizes. “Mr. Boss is not going to like the overtime, but he said what ever it takes.”

       Steve blows air loudly through his lips. He doesn’t respond.

       “I wonder why it is so important?” Selena says in a low voice.

       “I don’t know.” Steve answers.

       “Sorry, I was thinking out loud. I missed a dinner with my boyfriend and I can’t imagine why the remaining shipment has to be in Sacramento tonight.”

       “I don’t know.” Steve repeats.

       “I’ll make it worth your while.” She adds. “My manager really needs it there tonight, and although this wasn’t suppose to be this difficult, shit happens.”

       “You’ve got that right.” McSwain still doesn’t’ agree to go any further. He knows he’ll probably have to or move down the list of appreciative contractors. Vanilla Shed is a good customer. I can’t just give away my time. My life, such as it is, is important too.

       “I’ll be really, really appreciative. You’ll be my personal hero.” She adds in a desperate and submissive tone.

       He sighs again, loudly, “I don’t know,” Damn, he thinks to himself. He knows he will have to have to capitulate, but he just doesn’t want to. Vanilla Shed is a good customer. The truck inches forward and he signs again.

        “Please?” Selene is watching the train time tables on her smart phone, and “hey, some good news.”

       “What is it?” McSwain asks.

       “Fifteen more minutes,” she laughs into the phone. “The departure time changed.”

        “I didn’t now if it was that accurate?” He puzzles. “If I can exit soon, I may just make it, but remember, I’ve still got to unload.”

        “You can do it.” She cheers.

        “It shouldn’t take long to unload; it’s not but a few large crates.” The jam begins to move slowly, but consistently. “ Were moving again,” he shouts at the phone. “Maybe we can.” He looks in his side view mirror and can just make out the Ford with the Samoan brothers in it.


       Phoebe returns to the table carrying a pitcher of beer and a large insulated plastic mug with a lid, something you would buy at a truck stop. Sinclair 77 is printed under the illustration of a green brontosaur. It’s at least half the size of the pitcher. She sits next to Ethan her back is almost to the stage.

       ”That’s a serious beer mug,” Seven says.

        “It’s wine.” She replies and smiles. Phoebe picks up her kitchen knife and jabs the last chunk of cold steak on her plate.

        “A meat-sickle,” Seven says and laughs at the joke. No one else does. He takes a deep breath and sighs; relax, he thinks to himself. You just got here. He chomps another bite of the hot dog. Cochran keeps her head down in her plate. She’s feeling out of place, and wants to be in the office when the final photo of the subway killer comes in focus.

        “Let’s welcome back to the stage on the circus piano, Veronica of the Argonauts.” Bixxter announces. “She’ll be playing a little backup music for the acrobat team of Phineas and the Fogettes.” Bixxter claps his hands and points and claps as he steps off sideways.

       The audience joins in, and two women enter from opposite sides of the stage area with standing aerial somersaults into full split landings. Their arms are full outstretched to their sides, parallel to the ground. A man enters just off of the right of center to between the two with a standing aerial somersault to a stand position with both arms raised in a “V.” It is the three people who where putting on makeup as Seven and Emily came through Comma and Phoebe’s house.

       “I should have told Com to rig some lights,” Phoebe says to Seven.

       “I wouldn’t worry; I don’t think anyone will even notice.” Seven replies.

       The audience claps a little louder.

        “I’m Phineas,” the middle acrobat bellows and bows, “and these two beautiful woman, the Fogettes, are Diana,” she lowers her arms and bows, “and Camilla.” She follows suit.

       Veronica plays an old circus song on the calliaphone; it’s Barnum and Bailey’s Favorite, The Circus is Coming.

       Phineas drops down into a standing sitting position as Diana and Camilla stand and climb onto his thighs as counter balances into a forward flag. Their torsos are facing outwards, one leg on Phineas’ thigh and the other foot behind his neck both arms in the air as a “V” on its side.

       The crowd claps and Veronica punctuates the stance with an additional whistle fanfare, “TA-DA” on the organ. She inserts it perfectly into the song she is already playing.

       The women turn towards each other, grab the other’s forearm, and facing each other, lower the other foot on to his thighs. In perfect synchronization, releasing their grip, the two place their hands on Phineas’ respective shoulders and side of neck, lean in, lift up themselves into a handstand, as Phineas slowly stands upright. The women split their legs to combine a “W.”

       Veronica punctuates the move with another flourish, “TA-DA,” in a higher key.

       Phineas takes a deep breath, exhales slowly, repeats, and calls out, “the flying W.” He then proceeds to slowly, slightly step through a full 360-degree circle, and on conclusion, he shouts out. “The Flying W from any angle.”

       Veronica ends her current song with a foghorn-key “TA-DA,” on the calliaphone and the audience stands to clap with catcalls and whistles.

       The applause settles, and Veronica plays a second circus song. She plays, The Sidewalks of New York.

       The women reverse their ascension and lower themselves onto Phineas’ thighs, in synchronization. He reprieves the sitting-standing counter balance. The women reverse somersault to a dismount, and as soon as they off his legs, he jumps up quickly into a standing backflip. Phineas lands just as the two women somersault back at his side; all raise their hands and bow. The crowd claps politely, and Veronica doesn’t vary the song.

       Phineas turns his back to the crowd and lays down on the ground, flat. Diana runs forward and cartwheels into a handstand on his raised hand, elbows still resting on the ground. She splits her legs and Camilla somersaults through them. The partygoers clap.

       Phineas lowers his hands then thrusts them up at the same time Diana tumbles straight up and lands on her feet in his hands. The crowd gasps as Phineas bobbles his left arm, but Diana counter balances and the trick is saved. Camilla discretely circles them as a spotter, and steps forward at the bobble then back at his recovery.

       Phineas raises his legs straight up at his waist and Diana does a slow rising handstand onto the soles of his feet. The crowd claps. Diana spreads her legs and Camilla flies through forward through them and lands with a rolling tumble.

       Diana tightens her legs together and drops down out of the handstand back onto Phineas’ hands. Before anyone can breathe, he throws her forward and she lands sitting on his feet. The crowd gasps, but Diana smiles and raises her arms in a flourish like a letter turner on a television game show. She pantomimes nonchalantly like she is calmly smoking a cigarette or drinking a beer.

       She lays back into a back angel, stiffening her body as a board. Veronica punctuates the move with a whistle flourish from the calliaphone, and starts a more frenetic, classic circus song. It is Be A Clown. The partygoers clap more loudly, in unison with the song.

       Phineas spins her to her stomach, to her back, faster and faster, till she is a blur. Her arms outstretched become a solid disk. The audience gasps, as he stops abruptly, Diana on her back and then spins her laterally, like a helicopter wing. He stops and rolls her on to her stomach and spins her laterally again. He stops abruptly and shifts her to his right foot, as Camilla lands, stomach first on his left foot. The shift in motion is so subtle that it appears Camilla has landed from out of nowhere. The audience claps and cheers wildly. The two women lock their inner arms and Phineas spins them together latterly. He stops and Camilla rolls over the top of Diana on to her back, as Diana rolls under her in the opposite direction on to her back. The two lock arms and he spins the double reverse angel.

       Veronica wipes her brow as she plays the calliaphone as fast as she can. The tumult stops as quickly as it begin followed with a moment of silence. The acrobats dismount and again stand together in front of the crowd. Cheers, whistles, and all manner of calls accompany their bows.

       “We’ve one more for tonight, but we’re still learning it.” Phineas bellows. “It’s called the Inverted Totem.” The audience quiets down. He sits into a standing squat and both Camilla and Diana step up onto his thighs.

       Veronica starts a new song, The Man on the Flying Trapeze.

       Diana climbs onto his shoulders and Camilla steps out onto the front both his thighs and leans out as a counter balance. Diana bends down and slowly inverts to a full handstand on his shoulders. He exchanges his shoulders with each of his hands, and lifts her up.

       Camilla climbs up onto his shoulders, facing Diana’s backside. Phineas rights himself slowly, stepping backward and forward to offset the dynamic weight shift. Camilla climbs Diana’s inverted torso. She has inverted pockets sewn into her jumpsuit, and they are just loose enough as toe holds.

       Diana’s arms begin to tremble as Camilla climbs onto her feet. She sits for a moment to steady the wobble and then stands. Phineas continues to step to counterbalance, but Diana is just not strong enough. She is only able to hold Camilla in a full stand for a few seconds, just long enough for her to get her arms out straight to her side. Diana’s biceps give way, first the left, and she releases the right. The audience gasps and goes silent.

       Camilla jumps gingerly from her right foot and tumbles as she hits the ground. As if by magic, Phineas moves his head out of the way of hers as it drops to between his shoulder blades, and releases both arms. Diana has the presence of mind to push off of Phineas neck with hers and tumbles down his back into a perfect landing.

       The crowd roars to life with cheers, whoops, and whistles. Chairs fly back as everyone jumps to their feet. No one can believe what he or she has just seen. Even Veronica tips her stool back. The Inverted Totem was not a total success, but the acrobats were able to dismount in such mythical style as to question the foundations of physics.

       Veronica regains her seat and plays song from Star Wars, John Williams, the Throne Room and Final, Episode IV: A New Hope. Phineas, Diana, and Camilla stand next to each other with arms up in “V’s,” with one foot forward, and then all three bow as the cheering continues. Once, twice, three bows, and Bixxter returns to the stage.

        “Phineas and the Flying Fogettes.” He shouts into the microphone and gestures toward the trio as they bow again and again and again.

       The tumult quiets down, “Thank you, what a show.” Bixxter says and continues to clap lightly. “We’re going to take a short break, so fill your glasses and stomachs,” he raises his glass and rubs his belly respectively. “Then, will be back with The Argonauts, and later, don’t miss the magical styling’s of Mr. Magisto.” He claps lightly, “finally, see the terrifying accuracy of axe juggling on fire, The Crucible: Spark and Flame.” He laughs across the microphone. “The axes, not the jugglers will be on fire folks, I think.” He looks for guidance from back of the crowd.


       Steve McSwain approaches the last exit for Albany, but the exit ramp is queued onto 80. He should be able to take some back roads. As he approaches and looks down it from the Freeway, McSwain sees several Albany police cruisers in the intersection. They are blocking all right turns and forcing vehicles to stay on the access road or turn left at the light.

        “Shit,” he says out loud. I wonder what is going on down there? He thinks to himself. I’ll have to wait till University Street. Slowly, he waits and pulls the International into the middle lane. Traffic begins to flow a little, but stops abruptly after a tenth of a mile. “I’ll never make it.” McSwain says to himself.

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Electric Sloth

Black eyes see all in flutters feint
on a forgone pitch of wind create
filters, valleys, myth, and solitude;
render to fragments (folly) disjunct,
disrupt beyond a wretch and weep.

Tread dry crackles and brown sod as
orange, red, and yellow-green leaves
puddle where the sidewalk (whispers)
with alloy plastic bags and paper whit.

Porcelain dragons (tigers) stand guard,
discards in the season of last chances
before sleep endures the dreams of all
as all in the all a zephyr whirls round
the near hollow with gawks and caws,
raw instincts null and shallow entropy.

Escalate the downward stroke of lift
and howl at all the other’s collections
of recollections in and out of context.
harvest maps and epitome anomalies
tarry intact between spines of books,
pens, stitches, script, and electric sloth,
mumble parables bombast, and scoff.

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30 Not What You Think

       “Damn it. Fuck.” Steve McSwain curses and bangs his hands, now fists, on the steering wheel of the International Harvester. Traffic is at a crawl on I-80. He turns on his portable sat-nav. It can route him around the traffic. It is slow booting up as well and can’t find the satellite. He cycles the power button, and pulls it down onto the trucks floor. “Shit,” I’ve got to calm down, he thinks. McSwain reaches down to pick up the device and the car behind him lays on the horn. Fuck you, he thinks to himself. He grabs hold of the GPS and holds it up to the top of the windshield. It still cannot find a satellite. The car behind him is still laying on the horn. A large gap opens in front of his truck. He crawls forward, and the person who was honking zooms around on the shoulder and into the opening. They are driving a small Fiat and the one finger salute appears out of the sunroof. McSwain taps his horn and shakes his head.

       “I don’t have any fucks to give, pal.” He says to the inside of the front windshield. The GPS still cannot find a satellite, so he carefully turns it off and back on again. Of all the days for it fail on me, I am totally out of sync with the world or something. He sighs.


       Bixxter steps up to the PA. Tap, tap, he taps on the microphone. “Quick update folks, the kegs,” he pauses, “yes that is what I said, kegs are parking out front and will be available in few.”

       A loud hoorah penetrates the general rumble followed with loud clapping and somersaults.

       “Thank you, thank you, but I can’t take credit.” Bixxter bows while blushing. “Could I get a yes,” he shouts into the microphone. “I just want to add my thanks,” he claps, and then points to the grill, “to our hosts, Phoebe and Comma.”

       Everyone turns to look and Comma ducks behind the grill. Phoebe waves. “Stop it guys,” she says and blushes. The adulation continues for a few more seconds.

       Chili recruits several of the acrobats and clowns to help wheel in the kegs, and their setups. He borrowed a two-wheeler from inside and maneuvers the first keg next to the dead one. A queue begins forming as several of the clowns load ice into its plastic garbage can.

       “I’ll set this one up, go back and get the other one,” Chili tells Jaeble.

       She smiles back, grabs the two-wheeler and an arm of one of the acrobats, Alex.

       Seven and Emily make their way through the front room. A couple of troupers are putting on makeup at one of the desks. They apply colors liberally, but with the precision of a sculptor. They have a makeup kit and mirror in an old leather salesman’s case. The open side has a mirror attached to it and three clowns are using it at once. They don’t notice the two behind them watching.

       “The party is out back,” says one of the troupers.

       “I don’t know how you do that,” Seven replies and Emily looks toward the kitchen.

       The clown looks up at Seven as Emily pulls his arm.

       “I can tell you later, sweetheart.” The deep voce looks up and down and back to his butt. He goes back to his work. “I wonder if they are a couple?” All three laugh together.

       Seven opens the back door and sees Comma leaning over the grill. “There he is.”

       “Who?” They step through and Emily follows him. No one notices his or her entrance. It’s been at least 24 hours, but Emily’s outfit is more formal than anyone at the party.

       Comma flips another round of patties and twirls the hot dogs. He has a few chicken quarters left and adds them to the fire. He looks up, “Hey, Seven, you made it.”

       “Finally, long day.” He says and they shake hands and then bump fists.

        “Hello, Lieutenant Cochran,” he offers his hand.

       She looks him up and down and shakes his hand, “I believe we’ve met before.” She smiles.

       “I know. I’m flattered you remember.” He turns the burgers. “That was an unfortunate case as I recall. What ever happened?”

       Seven interrupts, “we solved it and got reamed.”

       Comma laughs, uncomfortably, “that’s an ab-end.”

       Cochran remains silent.

       “In fact, Com, we’re working another with similar results.” Seven says. “I’m a suspect for the mad M.”

       “Nix it,” Emily nudges him hard with her elbow, “ we’re not talking about that to civilians.”

       “OWWIE,” Seven reports. “I didn’t use any facts.”

       “Just keep cool about it.” She repeats.

       Comma snickers uncomfortably to him self, “okay, okay, old-married-couple we don’t want any fights, no one is going to the moon.”

       “We’re not a couple.” Emily shakes her head, no.

       “Quite a party, you’ve out done yourself,” Seven changes the subject.

       “It’s mostly Phoebe’s friends. I am glad you two could join me. I’m almost out of food though. I’ll need someone to back me up when this tangerine mob realizes it.”

       “I can’t stay long,” Emily begins.

       “She still on duty, and it is not a pretty duty.” Seven interrupts her again. “I drug her along to eat. I’m staying, buddy.”

       “Great,” Comma says. “I’ve got some burgers, meat and not, and some dogs in the same condition. I don’t know how anyone eats that. What are they made of, do they grow on trees?”

       The three of them laugh and a milk bottle goes flying over their heads. It crashes onto the deck with a thud.

       “Sorry, sorry guys, it got away from us,” a scraggly juggler with dirty harlequin tights comes running after it. “It’s only foam with a little weight.” He accidentally bumps into Emily. “Sorry.”

       She exhales, “it’s okay.” She can’t help not stare at his crouch. The orange, green, and dirty white pattern creates a perfect codpiece, but is worn and almost opaque.

       “I’m Carl,” he says and holds out his hand.

       She blushes and takes his hand to shake it.

       Carl turns it over, bows and kisses the back of her hand. His other arm swishes the air.

       Emily swoons, her eyes open wide with her mouth. “Uh, how sweet.” She says. “A gentleman… I think?”

       “My lady,” as he rises and walks off, he begins twirling the prop on one finger.

       Emily stares at his butt as he walks away. Carl’s tights are even more threadbare in the rear, and she can make out tiny holes with a firm white cheek slightly poking through. Does he have underwear on? She thinks to herself. He turns again catching her and winks; his smile is as wide as his costume is bright.

       Seven watches the spectacle, “HEY,” he punches Comma in the arm. “What the hell does that guy think he is doing flirting with my lady friend?”

       “Augh.” Comma drops the spatula onto the grill, “damn it, Seven.”

       Emily punches Seven in the arm, “idiot,” she says.

       “I’m hungry.” Seven says.

        “Grab a plate on the picnic table, some cheese, lettuce or whatever, and I’ll have a few meat burgers ready in a moment.” He says. “I’ll have some chicken in about 30 or so minutes. Chili. You’ve probably not met Chili, but he’s working the keg. We’ve already made a beer run.”

        “How many kegs is this party?” Seven asks. “What are you guys doing, beer pong?”

        “It’s crazy. I never realized how many people Phoebe knows?” He answers.

       Tap; tap, Bixxter looks out at the party. “Clowns, jugglers, acrobats, musicians, and folk of the creative busker, BEER, the illicit hop and malt, the gateway of enlightenment and foundation of civilization, BEER is available.” He begins clapping and the crowd joins in. “A queue of quenching is forming, so be early, be late, be sure and say thank you, again, to our wonder hosts and producers of such a fine tangerine experience this night.” He begins clapping again, and a second round of cheers, louder than the first, interspersed with “thank youse” and “huzzah.”

       Long queues form at both kegs, and Phoebe is filling all the pitchers she could find to redistribute the mead. Chili pumps the 2nd keg up and begins filling glasses. Jaeble is on the first keg, and after Phoebe fills several pitchers, she starts down the line filling glasses as quickly as thirst can be quenched.

       Bridget drinks from her beer and pulls another card off of the deck. Ethan drinks all but the reaming foam; he burps.

        “Sorry,” he says. He burps again and purses his lips and eyebrows, “oops.”

       Bridget laughs at him and shakes her head. She lays the card down to the right of the crossed cards and above the previous card. It is Death.



       “Whoa, that burp was serious,” Ethan, says. His eyes and mouth form an “O” of disbelief and stares blankly at the card. He holds his stare as long as he can as Bridget stares at him, until he bursts out laughing, and tips over his foam beer cup onto the reading.

       “Watch out,” she grabs it and dumps the foam on the grass.

       “Sorry.” Ethan adds. “I was being droll.”

       “Is that what they call it now? How droll, troll,” shakes her head and then repeats. “It doesn’t mean what you think it means.”

       “Good,” he replies. “I thought the curse of the foam was the end.” He giggles, and she continues to shake her head.

       “Well, that beer is dead,” she makes the sign of the cross over the plastic glass.

       “Good riddance.” He burps, “to bad rub…”

       “Like another beer?” Phoebe interrupts him. She is carrying two pitchers.

       “Saint Pauli Girl?” Ethan asks.

       “Ha, ha.” She replies, “I may be a little light on the top for that spokes-logo.” She curtseys.

       “Too much foam upstairs,” Bridget says and the two of them laugh.

       “I’ve got more than foam where it counts,” he retorts, and offers his glass.

       Bridget looks straight into Ethan’s eyes and places her fist on her hip, “Have you and Joel changed skins?”

       Phoebe rolls her eyes as she fills his glass. She fills Bridget’s, pulls an empty cup out of her apron, and fills it for herself. “I’ll be back in few for a break.”

       Ethan sighs and smiles, “the long black rider.” He taps his finger on the card.

       “It doesn’t mean what you think it means.” She repeats. “The Death card is in the eighth position. It is the impact, influence you have on the reading as whole and on other people.”

       “What, death on other people?” Ethan goes quiet. His thoughts return to the BART station and that blonde, what was her name?

       “Not literally, silly. Your not a killer,” she giggles.

       Ethan does not respond.

       “Ethan?” She reaches across the table and grabs his arm.

       “Huh,” he says, “ha ha, gotcha.” He blurts out. Ethan smiles,

       Bridget exhales, slowly and audibly forced.

       “Sorry, sorry. I don’t know what has come over me. I hunted birds with my grandfather once, but I never shot anything.” He explains. “I did have to help clean the kill, and if the bird was just wounded, Grandy had to break their necks and pull off their heads. Their blood would spurt out in time with their heart.”

       “Gross Ethan,” she recoils. “What a horrible memory. That’s too much information.”

       “Circle of life,” he defends it. “They were very tasty pan fired with eggs and hash browns.”

       “I’ve had game birds before, but I just don’t want to know how.” She shudders and takes a long drought of her beer.

       “I’m sorry. I don’t know what is wrong with me tonight.” He closes his eyes and shakes his head; the blonde’s brown eyes flash in his memory, she doesn’t understand what is happening; and then she is replaced with the bulk of the light rail car.

       “The Death card simply means change.” Bridget begins. “It can be painful change with resistance from all facets of your personality.”

       “Like changing into worm food?” Ethan takes a long drink off of his beer.

       “Are you a mean drunk, Ethan?” Bridget asks.

       He drinks again, “no, no, sorry. I’ll be nice. I don’t know what’s gotten into me.” He replies.

       “The Death card simply means a difficult change”

       “Into bones,” he smiles at here.

       “Look, if you’re not really interested, I can stop.” Bridget rebuffs him. She begins picking the cards up.

       “No, I am sorry. It was the last time. I promise.” He grabs her hand and looks into her eyes. “I’m not normally a jerk. I was just thinking about a bad incident at work. Please, don’t stop.”

       She sighs and lays a card back down. “Are you going to listen with an open mind?” She asks in a serious tone.

       “Yes. I promise I will focus,” he answers. “I promise,” he shakes his head up and down. Ethan takes another sip.

       She exhales deeply, again, “okay. The rose on the night’s flag represents the love of God. He is own a white steed determined to get through it. His skeleton is death in a since, the death of your own will to not change. You ego must die, so you can cross the river to the other side where there is a sun and light.” She explains, “the four people in your path are aspects of your personality. The king is you ego and he suffers the most. The bishop is reason and it begrudgingly knows he must change; the maiden is you regret. You regret having to go through this, and you morn the change. The child is you innocent future. He is the part of you that looks forward to it.”

       “This card has a lot on it?” Ethan says.

       “Difficult change can be an extremely hard thing. You just have to accept it and gallop full forward. Embrace it.” She says. “In this position, the change you are going through has an impact on everyone around you.” She says.

       “So,” he sips and swallows, “I’m going through a change and it has an impact on everyone I know or everyone in this moment?”

       “Both, but everyone in the short term.” She answers. “This moment and in the near future.”

       Phoebe rejoins them. She is carrying a single pitcher. “Can I sit this on top of your cards?”

       “I’ll move them out of the center.” Bridget says and scoots the reading closer to the edge between her and Ethan. She straightens them.

       “Finally, a break,” Phoebe sighs. She takes a long drink out of her cup. “Not much flavor” she says, “it must be a cheap American beer. I wonder what Chili bought?” She takes another long drink and refills her glass from the pitcher. She offers it to the others.

       Ethan offers his glass, and Phoebe fills it.

       “That was quick,” Bridget says.

       “Got to go when offered otherwise I would be uncivilized.” He says.

       Phoebe offers some to Bridget.

       “No. I am good.” She replies.

       “Is that for everyone?” Joel walks over with two cups. His cheeks are painted green, his eyes blue, his nose and lips are painted red.

       “You look like a tarot card, two cups,” Ethan says.

       “Two of Cups,” Bridget corrects him.

       Phoebe smiles and refills her glass first, “shortcut,” she says to Joel and empties the pitcher into his two glasses. “That was quicker than I thought,” she announces.

       “Thanks, Phoebe. You are the hostess with the mostest.” Joel encourages. “He lifts one of the glasses, “to our favorite hostess, may your spigot always run free.”

       The others at the table raise their glasses and toast to Phoebe.

       “I need larger pitchers,” Phoebe says.

       “TO PHOEBE,” Joel calls out and looks around him. Everyone in earshot lifts his or her cup, and toast spreads all over the yard with everyone joining in and drinking in toast.

       “To my love,” Comma bends down and kisses her on the neck and whispers in her ear. “What a wonderful party.

       Blushing, Phoebe closes her eyes, stands with her glass above her head; toasts back at everyone then bows. She repeats the gesture in all four directions and sits. Her cheeks are warm and flushed, “okay, okay, that’s enough guys,” she says to the table.

       Comma taps her on the shoulder, “Phoebe I want you to meet some friends of mine from The City.” Seven and Emily are standing next to him.

       “Hello.” She shakes her pinky with Lieutenant Inspector Emily Cochran’s pinky. Cochran is holding a can of coke and plate of food, and her pinky motion is all she can juggle.

       “It’s nice to meet you, and thanks for letting us join your party,” Emily says.


       She turns to Seven and hugs him. “I already know you, Seven.”

       “Great party.” He says in her ear.

       “I’ve gotta go back to the fire.” Comma announces. “You two got here just in time; we’ll be out of food before you know it. Out of meat anyway, but plenty of snacks.” He adds.

       “We’ll make room for you at this spool,” Phoebe suggests. She lifts her plate and the two empty pitchers. “I’ll be back in a few. Go ahead and take my seat.

       Ethan and Bridget move closer together, keeping the reading between them. Seven moves around the table next to Ethan and sits his plate and cup down. Emily follows suit and sits.

       “I think we’ve room for one more.” Seven says. “We’ll need another chair. I’ll see if I can find one.”

       “I’m not staying that long,” Lieutenant Cochran reminds him, and tugs at his shirt.

       “I know, but if we need it, I want to be sure our hostess has a seat.”

       Cochran is sitting opposite of Ethan. She stares at him for a moment and Ethan squirms a little. Something about her is familiar, but he can’t quiet remember. Ethan takes another drink.

       “I’m Bridget,” she reaches her hand across to Emily. “Phoebe is really busy, I’m sure she would have introduced us.”

       “A party this large, she must have a lot on her mind,” Cochran responds and smiles. “It’s nice to meet you.”

       “This is Ethan,” Bridget says. “I’m reading the cards for him.”

       “Oh,” Seven interrupts, “I wondered what they were for. I’m Seven.” He reaches across the table and shakes their hand as well.

       Ethan smiles at them both, but doesn’t say anything. Something, something, he knows her from somewhere, TV, perhaps? He see’s Suzy on the platform again, and tenses up.

       “Seven? That’s an unusual name?” Bridget asks.

       Seven similes wide, but holds the blush, “My parents were mathematicians, and…”

       “Don’t ask,” Emily interrupts and cordially laughs.

       “I’m really interested?” Bridget counters.

       “I’ll explain it later.” Seven says.

       Bridget senses the increase in tension at the table, “are you two okay? You both seem jittery?”

       Emily eats her meal, a grilled chicken breast and a salad. She drinks from her coke and Seven takes a long draught form his beer.

       “In short,” he begins, “Em is still on the clock and has to go back to headquarters. Her case is going poorly, again.”

       “Shhh.” She looks at him sternly and points her fork at his face.


        “Case?” Ethan asks.

       “I can’t talk about it.” Seven says as Cochran lifts her fork again.

       Ethan frowns and looks Lieutenant Inspector Cochran up and down more closely. She doesn’t notice. She is dressed a little too professionally, he thinks to himself. She could be a city employee? Ethan takes a drink.

       “Work in the city?” Ethan asks.

       Emily nods her head yes, but doesn’t look up.

       “The Death Card?” Seven changes the subject.

       “IT DOESN’T MEAN,” Bridget and Ethan say in unison, then look at each other,” what you think it means.” They finish the same statement then laugh. Ethan groans and relaxes.

       “Everyone makes that mistake,” Bridget instructs. Cochran looks up. Seven grasps the meaning of the outburst with his open mouth and then grins at them. “It just means drastic change.” Emily says. “If ever, it rarely means death.”

       She points at the card, “See the King laying under the horses front hooves? He is not dead. He’s exhausted fighting against the change.”

       Cochran continues to eat and doesn’t look up. Seven eats slowly and shakes his head as Bridget explains the reading.

       “The holy man next to the King is submitting to the change as there is no other choice.” Bridget trades eye contact with both. Ethan glances back at Cochran. He knows her from somewhere, He thinks of that moment, in that blonde’s eyes as she realizes what is happening. Her surprise at the touch passes to shock and absolute terror. He maintains eye contact with Bridget, but his thoughts are not in the present.

       “Did she see the train,” Ethan whispers.

       “What?” Bridget asks, “What Ethan? I couldn’t hear you.”

       He looks at Seven, then Bridget, and doesn’t answer. He looks at Cochran; she must work for the city. He thinks as he stars at the Death Card.

       “Ethan? Do you have a question?” Bridget is stern. “Ethan?”

       “No. No, I just can’t seem to focus. I was thinking of my grandfather again.” He explains.

       Seven rolls his eyes, takes a bite of a hot dog, then a drink of his beer.

       “I am so sorry Bridget, please, please go ahead.” Ethan refocuses.

       “Okay. The knight, a skeleton or the bones of an old idea or way, is facing across the river to a castle in light.” She adds. “He carries a banner and its staff is like a graduated ruler. Change comes gradually sometimes inches at a time, but the white rose on the flag signals a positive outcome.”

       Seven and Ethan shake their heads up and down. The reading is not for Seven, but the interpretation of the images on the cards is fascinating. He’s always been curious about how the tarot works. He thinks if he could create an app associated with a random number generator, perhaps he could interpret his feeling about a case, a mystery that doesn’t quiet come directly to mind. If the generator were accurate, would he need life tables in the BART case? How could he apply context to other events like a person’s death? Seven thinks, I don’t know if an app could replace the context that the reader provides in real time for all circumstances? The diviner is extremely important to the reading to provide all contexts for every current circumstance. Hum?

       Bridget drinks from her beer, “okay. The child next to the holy man accepts the change with full resolve, hope, and excited expectation. It’s just like when we have to change a habit or something in our life, but don’t want to. We fight, but we know we have to and eventually after exhaustive resistance, we ware down our conception and rationalize with the future in mind, like the holy man; and then we are as excited as a child for something new.”

        “That makes sense,” Seven says, “like our case, we got kicked off of and no matter what we wanted we had to move on. The murder at the BART station last night, we were on the right track but extraneous circumstance, politics that are totally out of our control, forced us off, and…”

        “DAMNIT, SEVEN.” Cochran pops straight up. “Shut the FUCK up.” She pokes his arm with her fork.


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29 Saved Our Drinks

       Tap, tap, the band is in position on the stage and Bixxter leans down over the microphone. Tap, tap, “is this thing on?” He asks.

       The crowd at the party has grown to about 60. It is an amazing turnout. Some are decked out in full classic and alternate circus regalia. There are clowns and jugglers wire acts and tumblers, stilt walkers and animal lovers, and the rest make up an interactive audience, a cacophony of anti-matter. Some are full juiced in full laughter, and others have their heads down plowing through a plate of food. Comma is manning the grill, Chili mans the keg, and Phoebe flitters about as a butterfly happy on milkweed. She moves from table to table, clique-to-clique, dirty plate to empty glass; she is the penultimate Martha Stewart of the churrascos world. She is polite and curses on queue to guest expectations, remembering all of their names while carrying a pitcher of beer and a carafe for wine.

        “Hello.” Tap, tap, “can you hear me.” Bixxter calls out and Jaeble ducks down around the power cables and jiggles a few connections. The PA squeaks and squawks, and everyone at the party squirms. They turn and look towards the improvised stage. A quiet comes over the audience.

        “Sorry folks,” Bixxter says. He looks back to Jaeble who rattles more cables and looks up with a thumb in the air. “Hello,” the PA comes to life. “Welcome to The Fillmore,” he laughs. “Just kidding, welcome to our wonderful hosts, Phoebe and Comma’s Cirque du Fete.”

       The crowd revels with claps and cheers, finger snaps, whistles, and cowboy whoops.

        “If you need a bite, Comma’s on the grill; if you need a beverage, draftee Chili’s on the suds, thank you Chili; and our hostess with the most legs and smiles roams at your leisure. Don’t forget your manners, say thank you.” Bixxter instructs.

       The crowd cheers again and roars to life with a loud salute “thank you.” New arrivals are entering every few minutes through the house into the backyard; neighbors and late carneys join the cacophony.

        “Fresh off their tour of the subcontinent, inter-verse, and outer Oakland, where they’ve sung for Medusa herself and ruffled the wings of harpies; the mysterious and ever fascinating sounds of memory and marshmallow circus peanuts, we present to you this evening; give it up for, THE ARGONAUTS.” Bister turns and points with both hands at the band.

       The party rises to its feet. They clap and cheer as the band bows, and then, Veronica pumps the pedals and fingers the keys of the calliaphone. She plays a medley of circus songs.

       The machine hisses steam and pops, Veronica smiles. The rest of the band hold their instruments and bob or bounce in rhythm to the up, up and down notes; the brass squeaks and low tin rumbles. In the left front of the stage or ring, several of the amateur jugglers face each other’s and trick toss plates, glasses, silverware, hats, anything heavy enough to float. Tennis balls and sand-filled plastic bowling pins appear from nowhere and are added to the air traffic. Beer bottles, wine bottles, and soda cans are integrated into the up and over, under and around. Acrobats join in flip and tumble between and in time to the magic balance.

       Chili hands the keg spout over to Joel, the in next line, “I’ll be right back.” He walks over to the grill. Comma is flips burgers and hot dogs as fast as he can. “I don’t think the beer is going to last?”

       The Argonauts trip back in time with a short song by Django Reinhardt, Three Little Words.

        “Shit.” Comma flips all the hamburger patties on the grill. “The food too,” he shakes his head, puts his spatula down, wipes his brow, and looks at Chill. “Go tell Phoebe. The current round of burgers, beef and soy, sizzle their final gasp. “I don’t think she realized how many people were going to show?”

        “It’s a great party, man.” He says and walks off.

       Everyone else watches the performers and as the traditional Paris Swing ends, Veronica stands and inhales deep to catch her breath. She bows. Nathan fingers a high C. The band follows with a song by Tom Waits A Good Man is Hard to Find. Veronica sings. Partygoers release the moment with claps and hurrahs. The juggling, tumbling ballet continues and the clowns form a dysfunctional conga train.

       Just as Phoebe returns to her table, Ethan sits down across from Bridget and knocks the industrial spool with his legs. Bridget grabs their drinks and leans down on the spool to stabilize it. Phoebe’s knife falls over the edge of the spool and sticks in the ground at her feet.

        “Whoa,” she looks up at Ethan. His eyes are as big as tambourines.

        “Sorry, Phoebe,” Bridget says as she sits in her chair. “At least, I saved our drinks.”

       Phoebe and Bridget laugh out loud at each other. Ethan giggles and sits, uncomfortable.

       Phoebe sits down and sets the empty pitchers on the table. She bends down and pulls her knife out of the ground. She wipes it in on her apron. She cuts another piece off of her steak and eats it.


        “I hate this fucking traffic,” Lieutenant Inspector Emily Cochran exhales. Interstate 80 is a slow crawl, but steady.

       “I only leave the city out of absolute necessity.” Seven replies. “Exit here and take neighborhood roads.

       “You know your way around Emeryville?”

       “Well enough,” he replies.

       Her phone loudly rings once. She reaches in her pocket to retrieve it and scans the screen.

       “HEY.” Seven yells.

       She looks up taps the brakes hard. The cruiser lurches forward and Seven puts out his hands to stop his forward motion. The car in front of them has suddenly stopped. Seven puts out his hands to keep from banging his head on the dashboard.

        “What the hell are you doing?” He grabs the phone out of her hands. “I can answer it for you.”

        “It’s a text. It’s from Sergeant Ed Rice [ Special Operations with BART].” She answers and turns to grab it back.

       “Drive,” he says and points at the two empty car links in front. The Mercedes behind them honks as a Civic cuts into the open space.

       “Fuck you,” she looks in the rearview mirror.

       “Use your lights and go around them all.” Seven suggests.

       “I can’t do that. I am not in the city.” She looks to her left to move over to the exit lane.

       “Who’s gonna care?”

       “I care.” She turns on her blinker and a car lets her in.

       “What does the text say?” Emily asks.

       “Recog works. Face fills. Txt photo ASAP.” Seven reads. “I thought you were off the case?”

       “Sergeant Rice is not stupid. C Y A. He has my number, remember?”

       “Oh, yeah, but what can you do?” Seven is puzzled.

       “Time stamp.” She answers.


       “Rice is using me as a back up, so Chief Fire N Pants can’t deny it was sent in a timely fashion.” Emily explains.

       “But, doesn’t that keep you on the hook?” Seven inquires.

       “No. Not really. It’s just a precaution. I’m one name in a distribution, a simi- independent name.”

       “Ah. Unless, the Chief blows it, he’ll try to blame you?” Seven suggests.

       “He can’t. Too many witnesses.” She replies, “Right, witness?”

       “Shit.” Seven realizes he is in the chain of responsibility too.

       Thirty cars from a queue at the exit ramp, “fuck it.” Emily switches on the cherry toper.


       Chile steps up to Phoebe and bends down to speak in her ear, “Comma said to tell you, we’re at the end of the keg.”

       “Already. Wow. Well, tell you what, grab my car keys next to the front door above Comma’s monitors and go to the BevMore in Emeryville for another.” She tells Chili. “Ask Bixxter or someone else to go with you.”

       “Uh, okay, what kind? Do you want me to pay?” He asks.

       “Get a card from Com.”

       “Okay. One? What kind of beer?” Chili inquires.

       “Maybe two? Ask Com. I don’t think it matters, Chili; cheap and your choice.” She replies. “Oh, and thank you.” She turns and kisses him on the cheek. “I owe you, so come by the Church Key in North Beach.”

       Chili smiles and walks off.

       “Excuse me,” Phoebe stands and returns to the kitchen to check her wine supply. It’s good, and so she hauls two more boxes to the food table.


       “This is it.” Seven says.

       Lt. Inspector Cochran stops in the street in front of the warehouse. “Where should we park?” She looks to her rearview then side mirrors.

       “You’re in a police cruiser; anywhere you want.” He shrugs.

       “I don’t want to block anyone.” Cochran says.

       “How about over there?” He points to the apex of a corner, next to a stop sign.”

       “That’s, illegal?” She replies.

       “Who’s gonna care? You’re The Man, you can park anywhere you want.”

       “Seriously?” Cochran shakes her head.

       “Yes. Leave the flashers on. You’re just stopping for a bite to eat, and it shouldn’t take longer, than half an hour or hour at the most?” Seven reassures her.

       Cochran awkwardly parks the SFPD black and white in the corner space. She turns the hazard lights on and exits. Seven is already standing outside her door.


       “Remember where we’re at?” Bridget asks Ethan.

        “Sure, but you’re going to sum at the end, right, when you cast my future?”

       “Of course, that’s the most important.” Bridget slyly winks. She straightens the reading and the deck; both spread a little on the bump.

       She pulls the top card off of the deck and lays it in the 5th position, to the left of the crossed cards. It is The Lovers. The tip of her tongue touches the corner of her mouth; she giggles and blushes.

The Lovers

The Lovers

       “The Lovers in the position of future influences,” Bridget explains. “Future influences are emotions, events, personalities that will influence you in the near future. They may be subtle or not.”

       “The Lovers? Really? Are you hitting on me?” Ethan asks. He smiles and laughs at the joke.

       “No, silly. You saw me shuffle, and I didn’t stack the deck. Besides, it wouldn’t be professional.” Bridget replies. She snickers with him.

       Ethan looks serious for a moment. He flashes his eyes left and right as if looking around for a shill. “Professional?” He laughs out loud and Bridget shakes her head.

       He finishes his beer. “Do you want another?” He tips his glass towards her.

       “I think they’re out,” she answers. “But, they’re going after another keg. I heard Phoebe and Chili talking.”

       “It’s out already?” Ethan looks around and realizes the party has swollen to around 75 people.

       Joel comes stumbling over. He’s carrying three glasses. “I think I got the last.” He sits them down on the table. “You might want to let them sit a moment. Foamy.”

       “Thanks, Joel,” Ethan says. He places the fresh cup inside the old one. “That’s an ugly head.”

       Bixxter walks across the front of the stage as the band continues to play. He flashes a handmade sign, revolving it from side to the next. It says, “Sorry, Out of Beer,” on one side; and on the the other, “Goin’ 4 More Beer.” It generates a mournful sigh, and then an upbeat gasp in his immediate vicinity as he flips it between the two sides. After crossing the band, he head off into the audience on a random path.

       “They’re going after more.” Bridget admonishes. “Be patient.”

       “That’s good.” Joel responds. “After hanging with these amazing clowns and acrobats, I wouldn’t want to them to fall off the wire.”

       “The Lovers are not exactly what they appear to be.” Bridget says and points at the card.

       “The Lovers? My boy works fast,” Joel adds and laughs.

       Ethan frowns, “really man?” He picks it up and turns it over in his hands. “Hum?” He suspiciously, but not seriously shakes his head. “Was this your plan all along, Bro?”

       She takes the card from him and places it left of the two-stacked cards. “It’s more about you and your choices.” She explains and looks sternly at Joel.

       “I am going back to the clowns. There’s a cute acrobat who’s flirting with me.” Joel responds.

       Are you sure she’s flirting with you, Joel? Ethan asks. “What about your date?”

       “She not coming.” He says haughtily and walks off. “I’m going to learn to tumble,” he drunkenly shouts over his shoulder.

       Veronica and the Argonauts strike up a calliaphone version of A Tap Dancer’s Dilemma, Diablo Swing Orchestra. Jaeble joins in on the vocals through an auto tune microphone. She sings the male part through a tin echo chamber.

       “You’re going to have to make a decision between two parts of you life.” Bridget stares in his eyes to evaluate his reaction, and get him to focus. “It could be between a new lover and old lover, a new lifestyle and new one.”

       “So, this isn’t me and you?” He squirms in his seat.

       “No, no. Well, it could be?” She smirks. “It’s more about the choice between two people, places, emotions, whatever is troubling you in the immediate future. It could actually be now to 30 minutes from now.”

       “Half an hour, why half an hour?” Ethan stiffens and sits up right.

       “No. It’s not that exact.” Bridget reiterates. “It’s just a point of reference.”

       His mood slackens, but his back is still rigid. He sees Suzy’s eyes for a moment, her confusion. He thinks about yesterday and the BART station? Did it really happen? It couldn’t have. I’m not killer, he thinks to himself. No one’s talking about it?

       “This is not science Ethan; it’s really about you helping you answer your own question.”

       “Sorry. My mind went elsewhere for a moment.” He answers.

       “Is there something you want to tell me?” Bridget asks.

       “No. No. I just spaced out. I think I just need more beer.” He swigs through the foam.

       Bridget sips too, and then sits her glass down. She points to the card, “the nude man and woman face each other, behind the man is a tree of flowers; he attracts her with blooms of manhood. She stands in front of the fruit-bearing tree with a snake. The snake represents the hard truths of the natural world. The fruit is her potential. Behind them both is an angel; it represents all things, actions, and emotions. It is smiling and will do so no matter what the consequence. The mountain apex under the angel indicates a pivotal moment in life.”

       “So, this is about us?” Ethan repeats with a quiver on the last word.

       “It could be, but it’s more likely a metaphor for the commitment humanity makes to itself and to life. Making decisions may change things, but all life is change; and in deciding, one commits to it. You decide and fate follows. The act of deciding is the root of all human experience.”

       “I’m not sure that I understand what you are talking about?” He points at the card “it’s a naked man and woman with a giant angel behind them. It seems obvious and terrifying.”

       “Yes. I suppose, but the angel is smiling. What ever you commit to in life usually works out exactly as it is suppose to.” She explains

       “Okay?” He is still unsure.

       “What ever you are worried about, you will figure it out, and decide what’s best for yourself.” She reassures.

       Ethan shrugs, half in agreement. So far his desperate decisions have had no consequence. Will there be a consequence or can he avoid them?

       “You’re still uncertain? It’s only one card in one position of the entire reading. It should all become clear at the end.” Bridget smiles.


       Steve McSwain inches the International Harvester forward as he merges onto I-80. He looks into his side mirror and can see a red Ford pick up about 10 cars behind him. “Shit,” he exclaims to himself and pounds a fist on the steering wheel. How will I ever make Amtrak? This delivery is going to turn into a two-day or all-nighter. “Fuck,” I don’t want to drive to Sacto; I don’t give a shit how much they’ll pay me.


       Seven and Emily walk up to Comma and Phoebe’s front door. They read the sign on the door in silence. Cochran looks up at the surveillance cameras.

       “It seems a little informal,” Cochran says.

       “It must be busy back there.” Seven answers. He looks inside then at her as she adjusts her holster further behind her back. “Do you have to carry that now?”

       She sighs, “you know the answer to that.”


       Phoebe returns to the table, and while still standing, eats the last bite of her steak.

       “Busy,” Bridget asks, “do you need any help?”

       “No, I am fine. I love this. I’ll be back.” She picks up her glass and heads for the stage.

       Bridget pulls another card off the deck and lays it to the right of and aligned with the bottom of four-card cross. It is the Knight of Wands, upside down. She looks up at Ethan, but his reaction is still stiff. I wonder what he is thinking? She says in her mind.

Cards 1 - 6

Cards 1 – 6

        “I’m upside down,” Ethan says and smiles; he takes a long draft off the beer. Foam covers the tip of his nose.

       “Let me,” Bridget says. She reaches up with a napkin and wipes the end of his nose.

       Ethan sighs, “gee, thanks, smooth move?”

       Bridget blushes.“Are you projecting, Ethan?”

       “Uh, no,” he thinks for a moment, “yes, I mean no; I mean, I enjoy hanging out with you.”

       “The Knight of Wands implies travel, determination, unpredictability, and challenges.” She begins. “The 6th position means attitude and circumstance in your current time, right now.”

Knight of Wands

Knight of Wands

       “Tally ho! I’m galloping on my head.” Ethan gallops in his seat with his hands about his head holding invisible reigns.

       “Foam is going to your head.” She answers. “The Knight is holding a staff with sprouting leaves while riding a horse. Both are expressions of energy and movement. The Knight is galloping through a dessert, if he stops, his horses hooves will burn. His armor is covered in a yellow coat of arms and red feathers, the color of flames. Flames are change. The horse is galloping left of the path which is sometimes associated with left thinking or alternative choices.”

       “And galloping on my head?” Ethan asks. He gallops in his seat again.

       The Argonauts cover Tangled up in Plaid, Queens of the Stone Age.

        “Reversed, you are feeling overwhelmed with restrictions of your forward movement, indecisive and even apathetic about your progress. You are confused about your self and this is creating disruption in your life.”

       “Bummer. Galloping is getting me nowhere. I should stop.” Ethan replies.

       “No, no, no, don’t let the confusion hold you up. Embrace it and let it happen, as it should. If you continue to block it or reverse it, or stop, it will be much worse.” Bridget encourages him.

       “I hope the keg comes soon.”

       Phoebe laughs, “Yes, it’ll cool your hooves.”

       The Argonauts finish their first set with another Tom Waits song, Dead and Lovely.

       After the song, Bixxter returns to the microphone, “let’s give a big HELL YES and hallelujah for the band, THE ARGONAUTS.” He puts his fingers together and in his mouth and whistles through the p.a. Everyone, who isn’t already, stands, claps, cheers, summersaults; whatever is handy to the imagination.

       As the remittance dies down, Bixxter returns to the microphone “the band will take a short break for meat snacks and suds, then another set with the juggling team of Mike, Mike, Mike, and Harold.” He claps and exits.

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In the dark amongst the trees and fallen leaves,
fireflies find their leisure caught in memory,
and river stones sleep not far from the flame
as fluttering lichen sunder to psychosis,
skeletal splinters on wires run rampant
big brass and base and shadows,
coywolves dance with the pallid moon.

Allegoric archivist of centipedes, carrion beetles,
spider sighs, eyes, and dusk webs set repast;
willowy antenna caper the early time of rain;
Lazarus wanes to sparks and atoms puddle.

Pale porcelain cold peeps to a cynic’s underbrush
as perspiration precipitates (past tense) condense
In a vinyl car seat wrap cocoon, last lament of lips,
not human, it smiles too much; it’s grinning now
as forgotten torpor stems like stained curtains,
and dirty mannequin hands, legs, nose, plasticine.
only sandpaper grit can embrace and renew
and sing a rasp of distant wheels, desires, dreams
the most common alms to sins and consequence.

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28 Chicago Dog

       The Argonauts finish setting the stage with the calliaphone in the center. Veronica sits at a stool behind it and powers it up. Like an electric kettle, bubble and hiss, it comes to life after five or so minutes. She reapplies her lipstick as waits. Veronica pumps the pedals a few times to fill all the boiler pipes that vent to the whistles. It will take a more time to get up enough lasting pressure to play a song. Veronica is playing an intro for the band, and then she’ll fade behind Valerie as a backup singer.

       Jaebal attaches a light fixture to its front. It is shaped like a snowflake inside of a star. She unwinds cables to the sound mixer and the outlet strips. It’s a small venue so most of the instruments will be acoustic. Two microphones are set equidistant apart along the center of the concrete block.

       “Test, test, one, two,” Bixxter has been recruited to officiate. Mike turns a few knobs on the mixer and Nathan is at the back door of the house. “Test, test,” booms Bixxter, “one, two, test.” Nathan raises the roof to signal a little more volume. “One, two, buckles my shoe. One, two, the clowns must not boo who, who.” Nathan gives the all good. He returns to his position on the stage and picks up his horn.

       The activity and Bixxter have drawn a crowd of clowns as guests move towards the stage. Comma returns to the grill, removes the grate and dumps some more coals onto the ashes. The band will play a couple songs, and then, eat. He picks up a tray near the picnic table and sets out 3 x 4, 12 cups on it and carries it over to the beer. Chili is stationed to serve. He pumps the keg and looks up.

       “This is for the band,” Comma says.

       “The host who will be the toast.” Chili sighs and fills the cups one after the other as Comma holds the tray.

       “You sir, are a man of much honor. Thanks for helping out.” Comma says. “Later, we’ll sample some tequila, and maybe some tincture.”

       “Tincture, what is that?” Chili puzzles, “I’ve never heard of it.”

       “I’ve a friend who has a startup, a Mary Jane business, and he’s experimenting with the perfect edible oil product.” Comma adds.

       “Oh. Is it safe?”

       “Well, no FDA, USDA approvals yet, but he claims it is all organic.” Comma reassures.

       ”I don’t know, man.” Chili shakes his head, and continues to fill the cups. “It sounds kind of skivvy.”

       “No, not at all. He’s forthright and makes it with vegetable glycerin. He’s looking for the perfect mix of potency and palatability.” Comma says. “Totally organic.”


       “Yes. You shake it with tequila, ice, and lime. It’s like a cross between a mojito and margarita.” Comma encourages. “It is good.”

       “Well, I’ll definitely participate in tequila shots.” Chile finishes the last cup.

       “We’ll save it for later. Invitation only, Dude.” Comma finishes, turns, and heads toward the band.


       Steve McSwain walks up the driveway at 1313 Devonshire and rings the doorbell. There is no answer. He knocks loudly on the white oak door; still no answer. He shakes his head and smells his breath. McSwain doesn’t detect any hint of the Mary Jane cookie, but he can feel it in his eyelids. He walks back to his truck, and Sefa is watching him for signal. He looks at the Ford and shakes his head, no. Sefa rolls his eyes and brow skyward, raises his arms, hands up, shoulders scrunch. His brother, Scooter, is fast asleep, his head against the corner or the cab; his mouth is wide open, and although Steve can’t hear him, Scooter appears to be snoring.

       McSwain climbs back into his truck and takes out his phone. He calls the dispatcher at the Vanilla Shed. “This is Selene, Mr. McSwain, I just got a call from Ms. Andreessen, and she said they would be there in 15 or so.”

       “Good, but it’s getting late.” He answers. “I don’t know if I am going to make the drop at Caltrans in Berkeley?”

       “Sure, you can. They’re running late too.” She assures him. “Are you feeling alright; your voice sounds different?”

       “I’m fine; just a little tired. Traffic is going to be hell, and.”

       “Don’t worry,” she interrupts, “it’ll work out.”

       “I am worried and this job is cutting into my personal life as well as my contract price.” McSwain explains his frustration in hushed tones.

       “I’ll make it worth your while, Mr. McSwain. I’ve already noted overtime for this delivery.”

       “Thanks for that, but if I can’t make the train…” he is interrupted again.

       “You’ll make it. I spoke with the client and they’re aware of the situation. Ms. Andreessen said she’s been stuck at the dentist with her daughters, but she’ll be there in 15 minutes or less.” Selene declares with friendly confidence.

       “Okay,” Steve submits, “it’s in your hands.”

       “Good. Just let me know when you leave for the train.” She adds.

       “Will do.” He answers.


       Bridget pulls a card off the deck and lays it above the other two on the spool. “This card, the Queen of Wands, is your destiny or goal.” She looks up at Ethan and he meets her eyes.

Queen of Wands

Queen of Wands

       “The Queen of Wands represents nurturing introspection with a vivacious and warm personality. She is like the Greek goddess Hera; she represents our basic instincts and home. Her thrown is solid, but unending at the top, meaning infinite possibilities. She wields a long strong staff as the controller of her fate, and the two lions at her side are her authority. The black cat implies that the Queen has nature at her command. The sunflower, a golden orb, attests to her fiery passion as well as successful in the fields.” Bridget describes.

       Ethan nodes his head, his eyes are wide open following her lips.

       ”If you can figure out who you are, something you are spending time doing at this moment, your confidence will increase immensely giving you great power.” Bridget forecasts.”

       “Whoa,” Ethan replies. “If only.”

       Bridget smiles, “or, this could be a women already in your life whose strength and nurturing compassion will boost your confidence and life.”

       Ethan blushes.


       Lieutenant Inspector Emily Cochran pulls up behind a 70’s Chevy van that is bellowing bright white smoke. It has a mural of horses’ tails and their Asses painted on the back doors, but most of the detail is lost in the nauseous cloud. Are you sure this is the exit,” she points ahead and turns her head to Seven for a second.

       Seven coughs, instinctually, since no smoke is getting into the cab. “Yes.” He lowers his head to the right and covers his mouth. “Doesn’t this cruiser have a GPS?”

       “Really Seven? Nothing is coming in,” she laughs, “I’ve got the vents closed.”

       “I can still smell it,” he gasps again, “I think it’s brake fluid.”


       “You know, the old myth that you can clean out your carburetor with brake fluid, but it smokes like hell till it burns off.”

       “No. I can’t say I ever heard that one.” She answers. Cochran exists off the freeway at University Avenue. “The GPS works both ways,” she says. “It’s turned off. I don’t want the company to know about this side-trip.”


       Bridget sips from her cup and looks up at Ethan. He follows suit and giggles.

       “Bridget, do you really believe in this?” He asks.

       “That’s a tough question to answer.” She takes another and then a slow, deliberate breath.

       Comma sets the tray of beer onto a spool table next to the band as they watch him. He unloads it and looks up. “I got you all some beers. We have wine too at the lunch table.”

       “Thanks man,” Nathan says, walks over, and picks up one of the plastic cups. He takes a healthy swig. “Taste great,” he nods at comma. The rest of the band joins him.

       Comma smiles back and he caries the tray over to the power outlets. He checks the connections and removes the kink out of a power cable. Jaebal looks over his shoulder, frowning. He stands and turns to her. “It looks good.”

       “Do you think I could get a burger later?” She asks.

       “Sure. I’ll go cook some fresh. Come on over when you can.” He smiles and turns to walk away, but stops and turns back. “Let me know, if you or the band need anything, okay?”

       She smiles back at him and motions with her head. Comma looks at the other band members, but they are busy tuning their instruments. As the host, he announces again, “If anyone needs anything, just let know.”

       “Right on boss.” Nathan tips his beer.

       “You’re the man.”

       “Rodger dodger.”

       “Suds man,” all the band members laugh and tip their beer to him.

       Comma blushes and returns to the BBQ grill. He sits one burger each for all of them and few more hot dogs on the grill. His meat tray is empty, so he reaches down to a cooler and pulls out several chicken breasts and another large porterhouse.

       The smell of roasting meat wafts over the crowd and Bridget draws another card off the stack. She places it to the right of the two crossed cards. It is the Ace of Swords. Ethan studies it from his side of the reading.

       “I do and I don’t.” Bridget answers. “I know that’s a strange answer, but I can’t imagine that a few colored images on bit of paper could possibly predict anything about the future.”

       “Really?” Ethan is stumped.

       “Yeah, but after lots of readings, I’ve noticed a strange effect.” She pauses and takes a drink. “The images are like common clichÄ events, and yet, as historic or whatever type of cards the teller is using, they’re open to so much interpretation that the client opens their life to the possibility and links it together to the everyday.”

       “Whoa, like a Rorschach test?” Phoebe chimes in.

       “Yes, yeah I never thought of it that way, but it’s all about the interpretation in the moment of the act of reading.” She is excited. “I’ve encounter some strange consequences that I can’t explain, and yet, the act of telling a fortune creates this opportunity for the questioner to pause and analyze themselves through the images on the cards.”

       “So, you’re like a spiritual shrink,” Ethan says, “a paranormal psychiatrist?”

       Bridget laughs, “I don’t think I would go that far. I’m not certified. I don’t have a medical degree. I can’t write you a prescription or note from the doctor.”

       “A supernatural psychotherapist, a spirit therapist…” Ethan continues.

        “Not really, I just provide a language and an opportunity for the client to figure it out through abstraction of the problem and with a little style.” Bridget explains.

       “This is fascinating,” Phoebe adds. “You two are in sync or something.” She takes a swig of her wine, and sits her knife on the table. “I’ve got to go,” she points both fingers at herself “hostess. “I’ll be back in a minute. I want to see how this turns out. Do you two want anything?”

       “I’ll take another hot dog.” Ethan says.

       “Okay. Bridget?”

       “I’m fine.” She answers.

       “And drag it through the garden,” Ethan adds.

       “Chicago dog!” Phoebe cries out.

       The clowns turn and chant, “Chee ca goo, chee ca goo, doggie, doggie.” The acrobats join in, “chee ca goo, chee ca goo,” and the clowns answer doggie, doggie.”

       Bixxter stands and adds in his deep base voice, “growin’ in the garden with gnomes.”

       The band joins in with a little jazz improvisation. “Chee ca goo, chee ca goo, goo, goo,” sing the clowns followed with “doggie, doggie, doo,” chant the acrobats, and finally, Bixxter in basso profondo, “growin’ in the garden with the gnomies.”

       The chant continues for several musical bars, until Nathan calls everyone to the races with his horn. Loud laughter and whoops fill the afterglow with a run on the keg. Chili is still pumping and pouring.

       “Wow. I’m having a great time.” Ethan says.

       Bridget takes another card off of the stack without looking and places it to the right of the crossed cards. She points at it, “this position is you’re past foundation, or events and influences in the recent distant past that are influencing current moods.” Bridget glances down for a moment. “The Ace of Swords is a strong card with resolute positive action.”

Ace of Swords

Ace of Swords

       “No way.” Ethan says.

       “The hand emerges from a dark cloud and grips the sword with resolve to achieve the best result of your question.”


       “Although you may have had trouble in the past, you’ve solve them in a successful manner. You are determined to win the laurel and prosper.” Bridget finishes.

       Ethan thinks back to the pearl pin on his coat that his favorite aunt gave him. His hand drops back and feels the pearl. It warms to his touch. He remembers that moment on the train when he smote his enemy with conviction and without any negative consequence.

       “I’m an instrument of karma,” he whispers to himself.

       “What?” Bridget asks.

       “Oh, nothing. I’ll tell you later.” He says.


       A black Prius pulls up to the garage at 1313 Devonshire. Steve McSwain sits up straight in his vinyl seat, and short-toots his truck horn. The two brothers in the Ford are both asleep. A woman gets out of the car and looks back at the truck. She brushes her hair, smiles as big as she can, and enters the house.

       Steve McSwain gets out of the truck with his paper work and walks up the driveway to the house. He knocks on the front she points both fingers at herself door and a comely woman answers. She is wearing a white linen skirt and aquamarine peasant top.

        “Hello,” her voice is pleasant and level.

        “Hi, Ms. Andreessen. I have a delivery for you from Vanilla Shed” McSwain says. He hands her a form to initial next to the current time filled in. “Initial here, please.” He adds emotionlessly.

        “I’m sorry I am so late. I ran into some problems at the stylist and the Pri (short for Prius) is acting up.” Ms. Andreessen answers.

        “No problem, Madame. I glad you got home safely.”

       She smiles and hands the clipboard back to him.

        “I’ll back the truck closer to the door and then unload.” Steve accepts the paperwork and smiles back. He turns around, but before he can leave.

        “I’ll leave the door unlocked. Just come and go, as you need. I’ll show you where to sit my furniture.” She says as he turns around

       McSwain smiles again and nods his head. The outer door is a glass door. She turns and disappears inside. He walks out to the truck and pushes up the rear-rolling door. It slams into the ceiling. He looks around the corner of the cargo bay and the brothers are still asleep. Duh. I should back into the driveway before lowering the dock, he thinks to himself. No more pot at work.

       Steve walks over to the Ford, the driver’s side, and leans in the window. He pushes down on the horn.

        “Wha╔what the╔where am╔” Sefa bolts straight up and bangs his head on the roof. He looks toward the window while rubbing his head, and Steve is red-faced, holding back a laugh. Sefa’s mind clicks in gear and he says, “not funny, man. Not funny.” He stretches his arms out in front of him and turns to Scooter who is snoring heavily. “Damn.”

       Steve raps his knuckles on the doorframe; “I need one of you to back me into the driveway.”

       Sefa shakes scooter as hard as he can to no effect. “Okay.” He steps out of the Ford and stretches again. Sefa shuffles quickly to catch up to McSwain who is already climbing into his cab and starting the Harvester at the same time. His shuffle turns to a jog, as McSwain puts the truck in gear and begins backing.

       Sefa directs the truck to about 10-feet from the door. The Harvester’s cab is still in the street, so McSwain turns on the hazards and hops down from the cab. He lowers the power ramp at the back half way and steps up into the cargo bay. Sefa returns to the passenger side of the Ford and opens the door. Scooter’s arm drops out, and nothing else moves but his rising/lowering chest. Sefa shakes him again, but nothing; he tugs his hair, but nothing; he pulls on his arm to no avail.

       ”Damn it, Scooter!” he says out loud. Only one thing to do he thinks to himself and opens the glove box. Sefa takes out one of the Mary Jane cookies and moves it back and forth under Scooter’s nose. His mouth closes and he stops snoring. He sniffs through his nose deeper and deeper; Scooter’s eyes open half way and his arms slowly reach towards the smell. Sefa slugs him hard in the arm with his empty hand and pulls the cookie away. Scooter’s eyes open wide and he turns to Sefa and smiles.

        “I was having this amazing dream about green cup cakes floating around my head, singing a Bob Marley song.”

        “Scooter,” Sefa sighs.

       ”Yes. They were smiling at me and encouraging me to eat.”

       ”It’s time to unload, brother.” Sefa pulls on Scooters arm and he slowly stands up out of the truck.

       ”Guess what song?” He says as they walk toward the delivery truck.

       ”I don’t care brother. It’s late, lets go.” He walks faster pulling his brother along faster.

        “Come on, man,” he whines. “It was a cool song.”

       McSwain tosses crumpled, plastic sheeting and some cardboard corners out of the cargo bay.

       ”Green.” Scooter slurs and points at the cardboard. “The singing cup cakes where that color green.”

       Sefa shakes his head. Hearing Scooter’s statement, Steve pokes his out of the cargo bay. “What?” he puzzles

       ”Nothing, Steve.” Sefa shakes his head, side to side. “ Don’t listen to my brother when he wakes up from a pot dream.” He hops up onto the loading ramp, and gestures to Scooter to follow. They both step up to the cargo bay.

       McSwain operates the lift to even with the bay floor. “Let’s move the couch onto the ramp, then we’ll carry it in.”


       ”Here’s your,” Phoebe lowers her voice and looks around, “Chicago dog.” She sets it on the spindle table and pauses for another round of the chant. No one notices and she sighs.

       Ethan and Bridget laugh, but not too loud. Ethan picks up the dog and takes a bite, “perfect.” He swoons at Phoebe, “thanks.”

       Phoebe reaches down and cuts another piece of her steak, and sticks it in her mouth. “Gotta,” she chews, “go.” She winks at Ethan, and heads back to the grill.

       Ethan swallows his bite and goes for another; a pepper falls on the ground. “Oops,” he shrugs and smiles.

       Bridge pulls another card off of the stack and lays it face down below the two crossed cards. “This card is the immediate past. Actions and influences that pass in this moment.”

       ”Like,” he chews, “like,” and realizes he’s speaking with his mouth open. His shoulders scrunch down, and he bends a little at the waist, “sorry.” He blushes.

       Bridget smiles at him, “It’s good you feel as comfortable as possible. The reading goes better.”

       The heat fades from his face, but as he takes a third bite and hiccups, “shit.” He sits the dog down and hiccups in earnest.

       Bridget giggles. “Try holding your breath,” she suggests.

       He obliges her, but hiccups, again. Ethan takes another drink of his beer and holds his breath again; he hiccups. “Damn it.” He chugs the beer and hiccups in the middle. Beer covers his chin, his shirt, and onto his pants. He stands up. Bridget is laughing out loud and the red has returned to his cheeks. He stand up to brushes the foam off of his jeans and “burp.” Bridget face is red with laughter, and across the party, burps spread like the bark of dogs. Ethan turns, looks round the yard, and wonders, was it intentional? He frowns for a moment and looks down at Bridget laughing. A light or the setting sun catches on the Phoebe’s Santoku knife and he squints. All is quiet.

       Bridget stands and dabs his jeans with a towel Phoebe left on the table. She’s breathing hard as her laughs fade to a jaw wide smile. “Are you Okay?”

       ”Yes.” Ethan exhales, but continues to blush.

       ”You’ve got to admit that was funny.” She exclaims.

       ”Yeah,” he exhales and exclaims. “Clowns.”

       The both sit, and she regains her concentration. She points at the cards, “See the Fool, even when he is upside down, can not play enough tricks.”

       Ethan sighs and smiles at her again.

       ”Okay.” Bridget pauses, where was I.” She looks down flips over the card below the two crossed cards. It is The Chariot, upside down.Partial Celtic Cross

       Breathing normal now, Ethan asks, “a chariot?”

       ”Your plans in the past have been upturned and you’re having a hard time facing it.” Bridget says, “but that is in the past you’re facing a new phase of personal growth.” She turns the card right side up and shows its details to Ethan. “See the driver’s expression, how it looks unsure and his posture is nonchalant?”

       ”Yeah.” Ethan answers

       ”He holds a strong staff, but doesn’t seem to direct its purpose. He’s acting without thinking.” She adds. “ Even the horses appear indirect, like they have free reign.”

       ”And reversed?” Ethan wonders.

       ”Yes. In combination with the other cards, your troubled actions are ending, maybe in failure or they’re just over. Ethan, you will start a new path in life; perhaps with help.” Bridget smiles at him.

       He blushes, “thank God,” Ethan sighs loudly; and then looks around to see if the clowns are listening again.


       Steve McSwain lowers the lift with the couch on it to the ground. The two brothers are sitting on it. The couch is still wrapped in a plastic sheet. Sefa takes one end and Scooter the other; they squat at the knees and lift it up off the lift and head towards the door. Steve repositions the lift to halfway and hops down out of the cargo bay. He catches up and passes them. He knocks on the door, and Ms. Andreessen, who is sitting in her formal living room, goes to the door and opens it.

       ”It goes in our family room at the back of the house,” she says. She leads them to a hallway. “Be careful of the paintings, they’ll scratch you.” There are several large classic portraits on both sides of the hallway. One depicts a older gentleman in 18th century dress, standing next to a carriage; and the other, is a woman, dressed similarly, sitting on bench in a garden. Their expressions are sour and detached. They do not fit the dÄcor or the proportion of the space.

       ”They’ve been in our family forever,” she says, nonchalant. The three follow past the formal living room, past another hallway to the left, and into a high ceiling great room. The kitchen and dinning space is off to the left. “I have the perfect place picked out,” she points, to a sideboard turn toward the dining table, “in front of the Kinsey, please, facing the television.”

       ”Kinsey Mam?” McSwain is not sure what she is talking about.

       ”Sorry,” she points to sideboard, “my father made that sideboard for us. My maiden name is Kinsey.”

       ”Okay,” McSwain says. Sefa and Scooter carry the couch to its place and sit it down.

       ”Center it with the sideboard,” Andreessen says.

       They oblige and move it a foot to the left. McSwain watches.

       ”Hum,” she says, “let’s see how it fits with the other pieces.”

       ”Good. I’ll wait to remove the plastic till we have all of them in place.” McSwain says.

       ”Great.” She says.

       The three turn and walk back to the truck.

       ”Let’s get the love-seat next,” McSwain says. All three climb to the back of the truck and McSwain un-boxes the love seat. He leaves the plastic wrap on. “Take it inside and I’ll unbox the chairs.” The brothers ride the settee down as Steve operates the lift. Just like before, each takes an end and they are off.

       Steve turns attention to the chairs. He unboxes them, but they don’t match the cover of the other two pieces. “Shit.” He says out loud. Steve takes out his camera and takes a picture of the chairs. He jumps down form cargo bay and jogs back indoors. He catches the brothers just as they sit the settee at a right angle to the couch at the back wall.

       ”The two chairs go opposite,” Ms. Andreessen points to the space across from the settee.

       ”Ms. Andreessen,” McSwain queries her. He hold the picture of one of the chairs in front her.

       ”Yes.” She looks down at the phone.

       ”Are the covers on your chairs supposed to be different from the one on the couches?”

       ”Uh,” she studies the picture on the small screen of the smart phone. McSwain begins to sweat as she studies it for a long time.

       ”Yes,” she says. “Those are my chairs. I ordered something complementary as not to be to monochromatic. They may eventually go in another room.” She explains. “They’ll match in there.”

       McSwain lets out a gasp of relief. “But, you still want us to place them here across from the settee?”

       ”Yes, yes. We’re having a family event next weekend and I’m guessing the husbands will be in here watching some sport or another on the TV.” Ms. Andreessen describes her plans.

       McSwain and the two brothers head back to the truck. Sefa is smiling ear to ear. “I heard your relief, Boki.” He says and continues smiling. (Boki is Hawaiian for chief.)

       McSwain looks at his watch. “I think I am just going to make the train in Berkeley,” he says.

       ”Yeah, man, it’s getting late. I’m going to have to feed scooter again.” Sefa says.

       McSwain pauses at the truck, his mouth is hanging open in disbelief, and then the two laugh as all three men climb up.

       Steve unboxes the second chair as Sefa and Scooter position the first on the lift. Sefa activates the lift, and then turns to Steve. “I hope you don’t mind?”

       ”No, no. You seem to know what you are doing.” He answers.

       Scooter unloads the first chair, still and rides the lift back up. The brothers position the 2nd on the lift and ride it down. Steve returns it to its stowed position,

       hands Sefa the clipboard, and climbs halfway down out of the cargo pay. Steve grabs the handle on the ribbed door and pulls it down as he jumps down. It slams shut. He replaces the lock.

       ”Go ahead take that one in, and I’ll sit here and finish my paper work.” He instructs.

       The brothers carry the chair up to the door, but must turn it on its side to get it through. It must be deeper than the other pieces. They return quickly and haul the 2nd chair in. Turning it on its side as before. McSwain follows them.

       Ms. Andreessen is sitting on the couch. “Right beside the other.” She calls out. “Okay.” She stands and walks toward the television. She studies the configuration for a moment.

       ”Do you guys mind if we switch the chairs and the loveseat?” She looks at McSwain.

       ”No. What ever you like, Ms.” Steve McSwain answers.

       The brothers switch the two chairs with the settee as Ms. Andreessen watches.

       ”That separates the room better, but it doesn’t work as well with the two chairs in here,” She explains. She pauses studies it again for a few moments. “I think it works better the other way,” she says.

       The brothers are watching McSwain and he nodes his head yes. The two switch furniture back.

       Ms. Andreessen steps up to the two chairs and angles them into each other. “I’m going to need a table to go here,” she says. “I think I have something in back.”

       McSwain looks to her instruction to go for a table that is not in the order. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll get one of my sons to bring it up.” She finishes.

       Steve tells the brothers to take the plastic sheets off. He turns toward Ms. Andreessen. “Here, I’m going to need your initials, here,” he points to a line on the contract.

       She does as asked.

       ”And, your signature here,” McSwain points to a line on the last document. He tears off yellow copies for her and keeps the rest.

       The brothers gather up the plastic sheets and head for the truck.

       ”Wait, wait,” She says and reaches for her purse on the dining table. She opens a pocket on its face and pulls out several bills. She hands each of them a twenty.

       ”Thank you so much for your help,” she says.

       McSwain takes the twenty in one hand and lightly shakes her hand with the other. Her hands are on top of his; it’s very old school. The brothers smile, bow their head two her, and each pockets the twenty.

       At the truck, “I didn’t expect that,” McSwain says.

       ”Forty should cover Scooters snack.” Both men laugh

       ”I hope so,” Scooter shakes his head.

       ”Are you guys unloading at the next stop?” McSwain asks Sefa.


       ”Do you know where we are going?” McSwain wants to be sure. There won’t be time to get lost.

       ”Yes. No problem, boss.” Sefa says.

       ”We’ll need to get their fast, so I don’t think we can stop for a snack.” Steve adds.

       ”What?” Scooter chimes in.

       ”Don’t worry, he’ll manage.” Sefa smiles and the two had for their truck.

       McSwain climbs into his cab and calls the Vanilla Shed to report his progress.

        “Good,” Selene says. “It’s going to be close, but I think you can make it and unload in time.”

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27 Recent Influences, First 2 Cards

       The front door klaxon goes off. Phoebe swallows and looks around for Comma. “COM,” but no answer. She stands, “COME ON, COM. COMMA, WHERE ARE YOU?”

       Clowns sitting at the other spools hear her and chant after her, “Comma, Comma, Comma, Commilion, where are you? Comma, Comma, Comma, Commilion, come on and go, where are you?”

        Phoebe sighs and Comma taps her on the shoulder. The front door klaxon goes off again. “Oh,” he exclaims. He turns, “I’ll get that,” and runs for the door.

       “Put up a sign or something,” she yells after him. “COM,” louder and Comma turns to look. “Put up a sign, okay?”

       “I heard you dearest. I will.” Comma turns back toward the house. At the door, several people are waiting. Comma doesn’t even look up at the monitor, and flings the door open.

       A trumpet breaks the silence with horse racing’s, First Call to Race. The others follow in unison, “ta da.” It’s three men and one woman carrying instruments: one is trumpet, one is a base fiddle, one is a guitar and the woman carries a fiddle, a five-string violin.

       “Hi,” the fiddler speaks up, “are you Comma?”

       He smiles and shakes his head yes.

       Valerie hugs Comma, “we’re here for Phoebe’s party.”

       “Yes, I thought so,” Comma blushes.

       “This is Mike, David, and Nathan.” She says. Comma smiles and holds out his hand.” Mike carries the guitar and shakes hands; David blows a C on the trumpet with his left and bumps fists with his right; Nathan’s left arm is around the center of the base, and he bumps his right fist with Comma.

       “I’m Valerie,” the fiddler adds.

       Comma smiles.

       A van pulls up at the curb. Valerie turns to the white, beat-up, Mercedes delivery van. A large, round, “Old Sea-Hag Ale,” sticker is pealing off its side. “That’s our crew and our calliaphone.” She turns back to Comma, “where do we set up?”

       He glances at the vehicle.

       “HEY,” a woman shouts as she leaps out of the passenger side of the van. Her knee-high, purple, platform, working boots thud on the ground; and the group at the door stops to look back. Her pink country square-dance dress (shortened) blows up even with the bottom of her baby blue, leather motorcycle jacket, revealing blue polka-dot pink short leggings. “Can we double park to unload?”

       Comma pauses, and looks up and down the street. “Yes. You should be okay, but I wouldn’t leave it on it’s own. Parking patrol is ruthless here, and open doors attract thieves.”

       “We’ll come back and help as soon as we find out where to go.” Valerie yells back to the woman. She turns to Comma, “and, that is Veronica.”

       Jaeble turns on the hazard blinkers on the van and before she can hop out, a 3-axle delivery truck goes speeding by. The Mercedes shakes in the turbulence. Jaeble checks her mirror, opens the door and hops out of the driver’s side. She is tall, stout and dressed all in black; black hi-top sneakers, black pleated kilt, black V-neck tank top, black bra, black hoody, and a black SF Giants hat, old school, with a black logo. She opens the doors on the back of the van and unloads several pieces of equipment while Veronica reapplies her lipstick. Jaeble stacks four amplifiers, a sound mixer, and a turntable. She struggles with a 2 x 2 x 1 foot toolbox. It slips her grip and she drops the corner to a clang.

       “CAREful, Jaeb.” Veronica barks.

       “Sorry. You could help, ya know.” She answers.

       “I don’t want to ding my nails. The guys ’ill be back in a moment.” Veronica sighs blasé.

       Jaeble shakes her head. “I’m going to need help with the calliope.” It is a four-foot tall studio piano painted bright with green and blue elephants. Forty-three brass tubes stick out of its top. It sits on a cart that has two pull handles with brakes and 10-inch pneumatic tires.

       She pulls out a ramp off of the floor of the van, drags one end to the asphalt, and hooks the other to locking tabs at the back of the cargo bay. Jaeble unclasps looking mechanisms on the brakes, and pulls the instrument parallel to the bay. The van has a boat winch attached behind its cab wall, and she hooks it to the calliope. She slowly pulls the heavy instrument to the doors of the Mercedes and re-locks the brakes. At the winch, Jaeble lets out a foot or so slack in the cable and locks the winch. She pushes the instrument through the doors onto the ramp and as it rolls on it’s own, the slack pops the cable. Jaeble returns to the winch and releases the lock.

       “VERONICA,” she shouts out of the door.

       ‘Yes?” Veronica pops her head into the back of the van. She has silver plated compact in her hands.

       “Watch the wheels and let me know when they are off the ramp, okay?” Jaebel commands her.

       “Okay, sweetie.”

       Jaeble slowly winches the instrument out of the back of the van. After it is level on the asphalt, she looks the brakes on the cart, and rewinds the cable on the winch. She replaces the ramp on the floor of the van, secures it, and closes the door.

       Jaeble wipes the sweat of her brow and throws a reel of power cables on to the ground next Veronica, “wait here with the gear, and I’ll go find parking.”

       “Okay love, I’ll be right here.” Veronica responds and returns her compact to a pocket on her dress. She sighs again, bored, and sits on top of the amplifiers.

       Comma leads the band, through his home to the back of his lot, to a 10 x 10-foot concrete platform. “I use to have a shed out here,” he says. “You can use this as your stage.” He bends down at the back of the slab, turns the knob on a green plastic box, ran reveals several electrical outlets. “You should have plenty of volts here.”

       “This is perfect.” Valerie says.

       “I’ve got some lights in the workshop; I’ll be right back.” He turns and walks back to the house.

       “Okay, guys,” She sits her fiddle on a nearby spool. “Let’s go help the princess.”

       Laughing with her, the band stacks their instruments on or next to the table, and walks back to the curb to get the rest of the equipment.

       “Comma, did you put up a sign?” Phoebe grabs his arm as he walks by to get the lights.

       “No. I will after I get the lights up.” He answers.

       “You want me to do it?” She asks.

       “Finish your meal; I’ll get to it in a second; don’t worry.”

       “I’m not, but someone may come up while your working?” She suggests.

       “Okay. I’ll do it first. The band’s to get the rest of their gear.” He shrugs and changes tact.

       “COM,” Phoebe shouts again as he gets to the back door.

       He returns to Phoebe’s table. “Yes, Mon ’Amie?”

       “After the lights,” she smiles big and raises her brow. “You may need to cook some more meat.”

       “Ah,” he says, “will do, pumpkin.” He forces a smile and turns back to the house.”

       “I LOVE YOU, GOURD-HEAD.” She shouts after him.

       From several directions, laughing and, “loves you gourd-head, kisses gourd head,” and loud, smacking, smooching sounds can be heard.

       Comma shakes his head, waves the back of his hand at her as he enters the kitchen.

       Phoebe uses her knife and fingers to cut off a piece of steak, when Chili wanders up to the table. “Phoeb’s, do those guys need any help.”

       She chews for a moment and smiles. “No,” her mouth still full, “I think they’ll be fine.

       “HEY PHOEBE,” booms across the small yard. “The kegs not working.” Bixxter will make an excellent ringmaster. He is standing next to a couple of the clowns, one of which is pumping the keg.

       Chill turns to look and Phoebe grabs his arm. “Could you see what you can do?”

       “Oh, sure.” Chili is a bartender as well as a juggler of fire. He walks over to the keg of Trumer. “Bix, let me take a look. The clown offers the pump. Chili leans down and wiggles the tap connection. It’s a little loose, but shouldn’t stop the flow. He tightens it. He takes the spigot, and actuates it. It is jammed. “AH HAH,” he grabs its hose, whirls the spigot around in the air, and taps it on the keg.

       “Me first, one of the clowns,” thrust his glass forward.

       Chili looks up. “Okay. Give me your glass.” He actuates the spigot, but it is still jammed. He taps harder on the keg rim. Chili pushes the button and strong stream of beer flows out of the spigot.

       “HOORAH.” The clowns are almost in unison. As Chili fills the first glass, the others are do-si-do-ing.

       Beer over runs the cup’s lip, “next,” Chili says. Several glasses are thrust forward to him at once.

       “Hi ya,” Veronica says as a group of five people approach her from the street. They are dressed in shiny black unitards with bright green, skull and crossed-gloves across the back.

       “Is this Phoebe’s circus party?” The tallest is wearing a bright yellow cape.

       “Uh, yeah-ya,” Veronica answers. “I’m wit tha bayand.”

       “We’re a wire act,” he says, “the Wiggling Deadsdamonas.” He holds out his hand, and as he walks up, David takes it.

       “We’re the Argonauts,” he says, “mostly acoustic and our sound woman is an excellent DJ. She’s known as the Hydra.” He smiles.

       Jaeble returns and each of the band members picks up a piece of equipment. Jaeble is carrying a laptop bag around her shoulder, and she picks up the soundboard. “Do we have juice?” She asks.

       “Yes. Hopefully, a colon full.” Nathan says as the walk to the door and meets Comma hanging a sign on it.

       In bold, black permanent marker letters on a torn piece of cardboard, Comma writes,

       “Circus Party In Back
Come In Straight to Kitchen
Thru Back Door.”

       He holds the door for the equipment porter and introduces himself to the Wiggling Deadsdamonas. He unlocks the front door, and before returning to the party to hang some lights, he stops at a terminal near the entrance and checks his video recorder. It has plenty of hard drive space and should catch everyone coming and going. He checks the rest of the cameras in his household surveillance net: the nodes are in the bedroom, living space, kitchen, and three in the backyard. Phoebe enters the kitchen, grabs a box of wine, and is out. There is no eye in the bathroom; Phoebe said, no way. All the cameras are up and the record streams are set. Everyone seems to be having fun. Phoebe returns to her table and Comma notes that he can’t see the face of one of the persons sitting there. The camera must have a smudge on the lens.

       Bridget lays two cards on the table. One crosses the other at 90 degrees. “These are the base cards of the Celtic Cross.” She looks up into Ethan’s eyes.

       He smiles, “what do they mean?”

       “Here’s your beer,” Joel returns and sits. He places three beers on the table. “Those clowns are insane.” He chugs a drink, “except that cute one.” He points to one of the clowns who are attempting to out silly-walk each other. “Her name is Cuddles.” He stands and the both look up at him. “Cuddles. I like how that sounds. I’ll be back.” Joel joins the clowns in their pursuit.

       “Joel, Joel, Joel,” is the chant coming from across the yard. Joel is blushing, but bites the lip of his beer cup and holds it in his mouth. The object is to follow all the steps in the previous walks, and add something at the end, without spilling the beer all over you. Once a beer is spilt, the walk starts afresh.

       Bridget taps three times on the two cards, and Ethan looks down at them. The cards are The Fool(reversed) and The Four of Cups. She looks deep into Ethan’s eyes.

       He stares back at her.

       “These two cards represent the influences that are acting on you.” She says. “The one on the bottom is influences and the atmosphere at his exact minute as I read the cards. The one on top and at a right angle represents influences and obstacles around this time either in the immediate future or past.”

       Ethan looks down at the cards and then up at Bridget. He shakes his head up and down.

       “The bottom card,” she lifts it from its berth and shows it to him more closely. “The Fool is upside down which just means it is kind of the opposite of its original meaning.”

       Ethan reaches out to grab the card.

       “No. No.” You shouldn’t touch them again. “If you do, it changes the whole dynamics of the reading.” Bridget places it back on the table underneath the 2nd card. She looks up, “I just wanted you to the see the image more closely since it is covered with the other.”

       “Oh, sorry.” Ethan reacts and instead swigs some beer.

First 2 Cards

       “The upside down Fool card is in the present,” she continues. “ It is an intense atmosphere in the moment, but not necessarily a bad one. You were an affable beggar, a fun-loving rogue with an easy-going personality, headed away from a precipice or an unpleasant major life change.”

       “Yeah?” Ethan is unsure. The image of train-girl’s last expression flashes across his mind, as Suzy disappears under the BART.

       “Since you averted the precipice, opportunity abounds, but you are hesitant. You’re unsure, not confident of success.” She looks down and taps the top card.

       “The card on top is the Four of Cups. See,” she points to the character sitting under the tree, “the position of the card represents recent events that are influencing you.”

       Ethan bends down to study the card more closely.

       “See,” she taps the card, “you’ve been thinking a lot lately. The character is sitting under a tree and grasping at the fourth cup to add to his three, but he can’t reach it. It’s probably something that happened recently. Something that has made you doubt and maybe a little bitter.” She tells Ethan.

       “Hum?” Ethan thinks about the customer who was a total ass towards him. “Stale bread.” he says under his breath.

       “What?” Bridget asks.

       “Oh, it’s nothing.” Ethan says.

       “No. No, go ahead, Ethan.” Phoebe interrupts for a moment. “Get it off you chest.”

       “Well,” he looks at Phoebe first than at Bridget. “I had a run in with a customer at my job.”

       “Your, a waiter right?” Bridget asks.

       “Yes. Anyway, this douchebag–he was younger than me–goes on and on, complains to my boss that the bread, the free bread, is stale. I got my ass chewed from both ends, and I have nothing to do with the fucking free bread.”

       “That’s ridiculous,” Phoebe says. “Some people feel so fucking entitled these days.”

       “And, you know what else,” Ethan continues, “I ran in to him on BART. That asshole bitched at me, because I had my backpack on. Then, when I took it off, some other ass stepped on it and almost fell down.”

       “That would’ve been Karma,” Phoebe comments.

       “The night we were first supposed to meet?” Bridget asks.


       “Joel said you were feeling really bad that night.” She adds.

       “I got violently ill in the Shattuck station. I’m lucky that an old lady gave me one of her drugstore bags to…sorry, you don’t want to hear those details.”

       “Eew.” Phoebe says, and Bridget just smiles.

       “And,” Ethan begins.

       “That wasn’t enough?” Phoebe shakes her head and shrugs.

       “No, of course not, I got rousted by the BART Police.”

       “Did, you get in trouble?” Bridget inquires; her brow furrows, her eyes widen, and her blue lipstick forms an “O.”

       “No. Thank God,” he sighs. “They were actually quite nice.”

       “How many/” Phoebe asks.

       “It was two, then a supervisor, I think.” Ethan replies. “They were looking for someone, and I fit the description.”

       “I wonder who they were looking for?” Phoebe ponders.

       “I don’t know, but they convinced me to head home.”

       “That explains a lot,” Bridget sighs. “I’m sorry you had such a rough night.”

       “Thanks,” Ethan smiles. He takes a drink from his beer to hide the red heat on his cheeks.

       “It’s eerily like what the cards are saying.” Phoebe adds and cuts off a piece of cold steak with her knife.


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