Page 16

   Does he say anything?
   We watch the kid’s father from the front door.
   He’s my father, says the kid.
   Well yeah, but so that means he doesn’t?
   The kid at some point has tied the older man to a chair. And left him in the corner of the store. There wasn’t much to do for him now.
   He’s kinda messed up.
   So is yours, the kid says. You said.
   I can’t make out this kid. He’s deferential to the point of characterlessness. He could be a cardboard cut of some teen pop sensation.
   Yeah, I did, I say. She talks though. Your guy, he’s like you. Not very many words.
   We watch the old man make his slow movements. The kid didn’t really tie him up well, just wrapped a sheet around his body and the chair back, and secured it with a knot. The man rolls his hands and shifts his feet.
   I love him very much, says the boy.
   And who wouldn’t, right? A mottled old man starting to stink, eyes full of catarrh, and sallow skin hanging in folds from his face. Messed up.
   Would you say he’s dead? I ask. Because mine, she’s young and she doesn’t move at all. If you couldn’t hear her, you’d say she’s dead.
   Young? he says.
   Yeah, like twenty or something, I say.
   Then I have to duck.

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Page 11

  “Hi, hello,” I say. “Anyone home?”
   The small space is crowded with crowded shelves. Plucking bottled water from one puts my back against another. No one squeezes in behind the counter to take my money.
   I gasp to a halt drinking off half the bottle of tangy neon water to wipe my lips and call out hello again.
   Then I drink again.
  “Yo ren ma?”
   Biologically speaking, a large drink of water doesn’t spread out from your stomach that fast, but that’s exactly what it feels like. I blink more easily, my shoulders loosen. It was goddamned cold and made me cough, but I do feel better. I recap the empty bottle and consider my options.
   The large front windows are obscured by posters on the glass outside and shelving against the walls inside. This leaves most of the store in darkness.
  “I’d like to pay now.”
   How to choose with this wide a range of nearly nothing – oily snacks, spongy potato chips, desiccated noodles, ranks of sauces in jars, bags of salt, varieties of snacks little different from cubes of sticky sugar. There has to be something. Maybe I can find a light switch.
  “Holy crap!”
  “Hello,” says the boy. “Where are you come from?”
  “Me?” I square up to this silhouette in the door. “Back that way.” I points.
  “Oh,” he says.
   A young man, taller than me. Like a reed. Wide across the shoulders but not deep. Plenty of sports at college.
  “We can go now,” he says.
  “How’s that?” I say.
  “Don’t worry about it,” he says.
  “Okay. I just need a few things.”
   And this is entirely weird because people don’t touch me around here, but that’s when he steps forward and takes my arm.