How to Stop Smoking in Nineteen-thousand-two-hundred-and-eighty-seven Seconds, Usama

I asked no questions about anything. i just wanted to smoke cigarettes. Lots and lots of cigarettes.

I come back once a year to visit. I only stay a few days. I try not to ask too many questions. There’s nothing I can do about the answers anyway. I’m only here five days a year. What can I do? I smoke a ton of cigarettes. I give some to my brothers. They can’t always afford them. I can do that. I can almost always afford cigarettes and I can smoke cigarettes with my brothers.

I can also drink beer with them, and I can usually afford to buy them one dinner or one new outfit, depending on the mood of things. This visit, I bought them dinner at a Mexican restaurant in a strip mall: El Rancherito. Even though it was in a strip mall across the street from the Super WalMart, and even though El Rancherito is to Mexican what Green Day is to punk rock (people who don’t know better think it is the real thing), it was owned and run by real Mexicans, and the food was very good. The restaurant provided endless chips, which my brothers liked, as well as ninety-nine-cent beer pitchers, also a big plus. My little-little and I polished off these ninety-nine-cent pitchers with no help from my big-little.

I have two little brothers. My little-little brother is smaller than my older little brother. My older little brother is big. He is my big-little brother. It was six o’clock. We’d just finished the authentic Mexican strip-mall food and two ninety-nine-cent beer pitchers, and I was getting ready to head to the car and to take them back to Big-little’s place, when Big-little got a phone call from his cousin. My big-little brother has a cousin who’s related neither to me nor to my little-little brother. His cousin is somewhere in between their two sizes. Big-little’s mid-sized cousin is only related to Big-little and not related to me or Little-little on account of us all three having different fathers. I don’t know who is the father of this midsized not-cousin of mine, but he sure looked like a kid who could use a dad when I met him.

The phone call consisted of Big-little looking ponderous and saying uh-huh three times, after which he hung up and informed Little-little that he wasn’t going back to his own place because this cousin of his was there. Big-little was going to get his average-sized girlfriend to come take him somewhere else for the night.

My little-little brother had been planning on staying at my big-little brother’s place that night, since he had no place else to stay, so he said he was going to need to get dropped off there anyway, Not-cousin or no Not-cousin. Little-little’s stuff was at Big-little’s and he had nowhere else to stay. What could he do?

We stood on the sidewalk of the strip mall waiting for Big-little’s girlfriend. I took out three cigarettes. We smoked them. I didn’t ask any questions. It was raining. We smoked under the awning until Big-little’s girlfriend pulled up. He got in her midsized car. Little-little and I finished our cigarettes. We got into the car I was driving. Little-little took off his shirt and tossed it in the back seat with his other shirt. We drove on to Big-little’s house where his, not our, cousin apparently was going to be, which made Big-little not want to be there, and I didn’t know why. Not that I had asked.


Aristocrat, photograph by Jeff Spirer
Aristocrat, photograph by Jeff Spirer

It was dark. Dark in the country is really very dark. The stars are bright. Big-little’s house is not really a house but a long, skinny trailer resting lopsided off a dirt road that comes off an old highway out on the edge of the woods. On the way there, Little-little told me that behind the trailer, through the woods, was a cornfield where this whacked-out kid is living in an abandoned shack, cooking meth. He knows this because he and his friend were riding bikes through the field the week before and the kid came out and started shooting at them. Little-little said he could smell the meth chemicals cooking even from several yards away. He knows what it smells like because he used to cook meth years ago before he realized just how bad of an idea that was.

He was riding bikes out there because he goes around the woods and all the surrounding areas tearing apart abandoned houses for scrap metal he sells at junkyards. He makes between fifty and two hundred dollars a week this way, depending. But he hurts himself a lot. As we pulled in alongside the muddy drive of the dark, now nearly invisible trailer, he was showing me a wound on his finger he had all wrapped up with duct tape from where he cut himself scrapping a few days before. I flipped the key off. He flipped the interior car light on and displayed for me a long, jagged scar than ran along the inside of his forearm. This happened two months ago when a copper pipe he was prying out of a wall sprung the wrong way and tore him open from just above his wrist to the inside of his elbow. Little-little, now twenty-three and still peachy keen, showed me this scar with his emblematic wiry enthusiasm, scrappy, scrapping his life away. When it happened, he told me proudly, he just stapled it together with Super Glue then wrapped it tight with duct tape and kept on scrapping. He’s a scrapper. The wound had done something that sort of resembled healing, so he figured it was alright. He turned the light off, rolled up a pair of shoes inside his two shirts and asked if I wanted to come in for a second. I did want to come in. I wanted to smoke and I couldn’t smoke in the car I was driving and it was raining outside.

We clopped up the wilting porch of the trailer where rotting furniture was rotting in the rain on the drooping, decaying wood. The porch was threatening to metamorphose into an organic life form, or perhaps just mold itself back into the wet ground. Maybe the porch would liquefy and become a moat around the trailer and you’d have to float on the couch to get across. Maybe even the couch would become an organic life form and give you a guided speaking tour of the trailer moat as it floated you up to the door.

For months, my brothers had been telling me about these green, floating, gaseous orbs they see coming out of the woods that they think are coming from UFOs landing out there. But I think it’s more of a combination of mold, the meth kid cooking out in the field and also, last year the EPA cleaned off about fifteen miles’ worth of toxic topsoil from this area. This was a prime county for asbestos factories in the seventies. The land is flat. It rains a lot. The toxic water seeps and sits. Oh well. Green, glowing orbs are a lot more fun to think of as alien life forms than all that other crap, especially if you’re living with them. Especially if there’s nothing you can do about them. What are you going to do? Try and communicate?

Little-little opened the door. Inside, the trailer was pitch-black and smelled of mold. I stepped into the wettish blackness. During the five-second count before the light was switched on, I painfully noted that we were not alone. In the not-so-distant darkness, I made out a small red light and something breathing uncomfortably next to it. From the red light, sounds were coming out, static broken by broken voices announcing numbers and positions.

Little-little turned on a lamp. A few feet away, sitting next to the TV was someone who I assumed was Big-little’s cousin. He was a doughy boy, about twenty-one, dressed in a stretched-out white T-shirt and blue jeans. His face was as white as his shirt and his eyes glowed almost as red as the red light on the police scanner he held in his left hand. His right hand was holding on to the handle of a silver pistol, which he had pulled halfway out of his side pocket. “You guys scared the fuck out of me.”

Little-little shook his head and hissed, then tossed his shirt-shoes bundle across the room like a Frisbee. “This is my sister,” he said, pointing me out. I sat down on the damp couch, not the one on the porch but the one inside the trailer, and lit a cigarette. I asked my midsized not-cousin if he wanted one. He didn’t want one. He shoved the pistol all the way back into his pocket and went over to the window, peeking through the slitted plastic blinds out into the total darkness of the muddy road and surrounding woods. He kept flipping the blinds open and closed. They made a clinking sound like plastic change, worthless and desperate to accomplish some impossible purchase, his freedom.

“No one’s out there,” Little-little told him as he rummaged through a pile of clothing on the floor and tried out about five different shirts, a couple of T-shirts and two long johns, one green-and-brown-cammo-patterned. I smoked my cigarette.

Not-cousin held the scanner up to his ear and listened to the sound of static and clicking. “It was you guys sitting out there with your lights on?” he asked, his red eyes dancing. I nodded and puffed. Little-little wanted a cigarette. I gave him a cigarette. He started smoking it. None of those shirts had worked, I guess. He was still shirtless. Those shirts were back on the floor, utter failures.

Little-little perched beside me on the arm of the damp couch, shirtless, barefooted and puffing. Not-cousin started pacing slowly. “Whatcha got?” Little-little asked him. He pulled the pistol out of his pocket and handed it over. Little-little flipped it around and made inspecting noises. The police scanner crackled. We all looked at it. Not-cousin waited and listened, then shook his head no. Little-little tossed the gun spinning in the air, then caught it. “I had one better than this just three weeks ago, a semiautomatic handgun,” he told me. “It was an amazing weapon, but I had to bury it. Put ’er down!” he boomed. I smoked. Not-cousin paced.

“You buried it,” I said, trying to make it more of an affirmation than a question. Questions wouldn’t be a good thing. I’ve learned this over the years.

He handed the silver pistol back to Not-cousin. “Yeah, had to bury it back there.”

“Ah, the gun’s buried in the back yard here,” I said, as a statement.

Not-cousin took his seat by the TV again. He was struggling very hard not to cry, so his face, instead of twitching or doing stuff people’s faces do when they’re upset, was unnaturally unmoving, pale around his glowing red eyes. He watched us talk, his head tilted sideways, swallowing hard between every few breaths, cupping the police scanner like a sick bird in his left hand.

“Yep, had to bury it. No good now, I’ll bet. Probably full of mud.” My cigarette was done. There was no arguing with it. It was gone. I put it out in an ashy soda can on the coffee table. “Sucks too, cause it was expensive.”

“Well, yeah, semi-automatic,” I said as if knowingly.

Little-little hopped off the couch and began boxing the air. “When I bought it, I knew it was stolen, but I didn’t know how stolen.”

How stolen,” I repeated, not as a question.

“I guess it was evidence for some shit that went down up in Chicago, and that’s why those dudes that sold it to me were getting rid of it,” he told me as he KO’d the invisible man. Number two came up to fight.

Not-cousin finally did something besides look desperate. He let out a moan and said, “That was dumb of you to buy that. They almost got you for that. They knew you had it. Came up here looking for it. It’s a good thing they didn’t have a warrant.”

Little-little let his head go yessing. Fuck it. I lit another cigarette. Little-little put his out. Not-cousin had his own hidden away, menthols. He took one out and started smoking it, his fleshy lips quivering all around the butt. “I gotta get out of here. They’ve been here too many times.”

“It’s hot here,” Little-little agreed. “But they never found nothing, and now I got my legal gun card, anyway.” He magically produced a tan laminated card from his back pocket. He waved it around proudly while shadowboxing, and lo and behold, I saw the truth in the light. My scrappy, peachy-keen Little-little was now indeed the proud owner of a certified license stamped with approval by the very civilized government of the US of A and the great state of Illinois, attesting his god-given right to bear lethal firearms. Hallefallujah.

He shoved the card back in his pocket and hopped over to the other side of the room where a small hatchet lay next to the armchair. He picked up the hatchet and started hacking at the arm of the armchair. This obviously wasn’t the first time he’d hacked at the arm of the armchair. It had some notches already hacked out of it. “Damn thing’s falling apart,” he hollered as a joke. “I picked up Uncle Tiny’s axe the other day. I swear to god, sis, I just barely touched it. Damn thing fell apart. And that’s what Tiny said, ‘Put that down, boy,’ as soon as I touched it, but it was already too late. He said that thing’s been out there on that block for ten years, withstood wind and rain and storms—blood sweat and tears, I laid my little pinky on it and the wood handle crumbled right away.” He took one last satisfying hack at the arm of the armchair, then dropped the hatchet to the floor. My second cigarette was nearing the end, but I was already thinking about the third. Little-little’s eyes twinkled pain like a bad joke at me from across the room. “I guess I got the opposite of the golden touch. Everything I put my hands on crumbles to crap.”

“Maybe if you didn’t come at stuff with axes in your hand, it wouldn’t do that,” I said, dryly. He grinned big at this and flopped into the lap of the armchair.

All this was making Not-cousin more nervous. I put out my second cigarette and could already taste the infection beginning to form in the back of my throat. My glands were swollen, and my mouth had that metallic-taste skin it gets when it’s sore. It made me cringe. I decided to wait a few minutes before I lit up a third smoke. But I didn’t know what to do in the time between. There was nothing in my hands. My mouth was empty. I had no reason to be there anymore. I started seriously wondering what Not-cousin was doing there with a police scanner and a gun. I mean, I knew he was hiding out from the police. But in the absence of smoking, I couldn’t help but think about things like why. Before I knew it, a question was coming out of my mouth. “What are you charged with?”

You know that look young boys get when they are being punished severely for something, and they think it’s very unfair? You might see them, about nine years old and yay-high, hiccupping on a playground, nose running, slobber all over, Wiffle bat at their feet, the teacher asking, “Did you hit Georgy with the bat?” Then they let out a too-loud, quivering, “Yes! I did it. But! But! But!”

Well, that’s pretty much what happened when I asked this question. He finally let his face go quivering and his eyes teared up and he blurted out his answer in that high, desperately pinched voice that one would expect to hear a kid use when he was admitting to hitting Georgy with a Wiffle bat. But what he said was, “Manslaughter two,” in that voice, so it all had a different feel than the playground scene.

“Mhmm. Second-degree manslaughter,” I repeated, trying to get back to statements.

“It’s a bunch of bullshit,” Little-little hollered from the lap of the hacked-up armchair. “They can’t prove anything. They don’t got proof of those texts. You threw your phone away, didn’t you?”

“Yep.”

“Where?”

“In the pond back there.” Not-cousin pointed behind himself. He was referring to the small pond on the edge of Big-little’s property. I started adding things up in my head. At the least, we had one very stolen semiautomatic handgun wanted as evidence in connection with “some shit that went down in Chicago,” buried in the backyard, and one cell phone wanted as evidence for a manslaughter-two case sunk in the pond. The ground I was sitting on was fertile with evidence of crime. Crime Garden, I thought, and wondered what else one might be able to find beneath the toxic topsoil. I racked my brain for any incriminating paraphernalia I might have on my person, thinking this would be the best place ever to chuck it. I wanted to add something to the plot.

“They don’t got shit,” Little-little went on. “Sis, it’s dumb. You got a cigarette?” I took one out. He held his hands up. I tossed it across the room. The cigarette flipped through the air like a slow-motion kung-fu ninja. Little-little leapt up like a spry cat and caught it, then sat back down in the lap of the hacked-up armchair. “Naw, they don’t got nothing. Listen to this shit, Sis, and you tell me if you think it’s right.” Little-little lit up. My pack was already out, so what the hell, I lit up another one, too.

“Alright.”

Little-little tilted his head back and blew smoke rings into the air. They hung around looking like flying saucers above him. “He was dating this girl for a while,” Little-little told me, pointing at Not-cousin. “Then he met this other girl he liked better, and he started getting with her.”

“I cheated on her,” Not-cousin let out in a whimper, his neck already crooked for an execution.

“Right, but then he told his girlfriend the truth and broke up with her,” Little-little continued. “She freaked out. She was only like, seventeen, and she had problems anyway. Really dude. She had problems.”

Not-cousin’s red eyes were sparkling in his doughy head. “I know,” he cracked out in a whisper.

“Last week, his ex-girlfriend sent him all these text messages saying she was going to kill herself if he didn’t come back to her. She said if he didn’t come over right then, she was going to do it. And he didn’t answer them or come back to her, and she killed herself.”

“She killed herself,” I said. “Wait a minute. You’re saying she killed herself?”

“Hung herself,” Little-little told me, acting out the noose-snapping motion with his hand in the air and his neck falling sideways.

“I never saw the texts before it happened,” Not-cousin blurted out, his whole body becoming a pale quivering mess. “I swear I didn’t see them.” The police scanner crackled. He twitched, then fidgeted with the dial. We all got quiet, listening. It was hard to make out what they were saying. It was mostly numbers. I guess he was listening for his name.

I was becoming even more confused. “What does it matter if you saw them or not?” They didn’t respond, but stared intently at the scanner. I kept on with my questions. “How are they charging you when they know she hung herself? They don’t think you helped her hang herself, do they?” Now everything was a big question. Fuck. I sucked on my smoke.

Little-little jumped up and went to the window that looked over the backyard and the woods. “Shit, I think I see one. There it is. Come here.” I got up and went to the window. I didn’t see anything. “It was there for a second,” Little-little told me.

I turned back to Not-cousin and repeated my question. “Do they think you helped her hang herself?”

Not-cousin was a young man who was trying too hard not to cry. He remained silent. Little-little spoke for him, keeping one eye out the window, watching for green, glowing alien orbs. “Sis, don’t you get it? She hung herself because of him, and they’re charging him with second-degree manslaughter.” He sucked his cigarette and looked at me like I was stupid.

My cigarette was done, so I just lit up the next one on the end of that one. “That’s not how manslaughter-two works,” I said, my voice all jumpy, becoming exasperated.

Little-little let out a frustrated sigh. “There’s some law that says if you get a message like that, or a phone call, where someone is threatening to kill themselves or someone else, or bomb something or shit, that you got to report it or you’re responsible. It’s like, ‘If you see something, say something,’ you know?”

I rolled my eyes. “Is it like a good Samaritan law?” I asked. “Ah.” Little-little shrugged, pinched his cigarette out between his finger and thumb and went back to staring intently out the window. “Or maybe it’s because of the Patriot Act?” Not-cousin turned the police scanner dial. Either way, it’s bullshit,” I told him. “They can’t get you for that. There’s no fucking way they have any real legal ground to stand on. No one is going to want you to go to jail for that, because that would set this crazy precedent that would make everyone around here liable for every crazy fuck who threatened anything.”

For a moment a glimmer of hope sprinted across Not-cousin’s red eyes. I even saw a hint of a smile light on his lips. “Ya think so?” he asked just above a whisper. But then everything went shitty again. He looked to the ground and shook his head no, answering his own question. “It don’t matter anyway. I broke my probation now, so they’re coming to put me up either way.”

“Probation. You were on probation?” He nodded. “For what?”

“Rape,” Little-little answered for him.

“Oh. Rape.” I put a period at the end of those words. I was still smoking my cigarette, but I wanted another one. I wanted ten another-ones. I wanted to line up all the cigarettes I could fit between my lips like overgrown teeth and set them on fire.

Statutory,” Not-cousin added, chewing his cheek. “Damn man, statutory, always say statutory first, okay?”

“Whatever.” Little-

little gave up his disappeared-green-orb watch for a minute to go to the kitchen and get a glass of water. “That was dumb, too. You want a drink Sis?” The dishes in and around the sink were piled up an extra foot above the cabinet level and looked like they hadn’t been washed in years, literally. They could accompany the talking couch in giving guided tours across the trailer moat. Put some suspenders on those dishes, they could have passed for tour guides.

“Nah. I’m good,” I replied.

“She was his girlfriend,” Little-little told me from the kitchen. “She was sixteen and he was nineteen. Her mom’s a Christian and all and didn’t like him. When she found out they’d been having sex, she called the cops on him.”

“What’s the age of consent in Illinois?”

“Seventeen.”

“Well at least this girl who killed herself wasn’t a statutory thing, too,” I said. Not-cousin nodded. Little-little came back with his glass of water and sat down next to me. “Still, you can beat this.” It felt weird telling him this, because I’m not the kind of lady who usually sides with convicted rapists wanted for manslaughter. “The longer you break your parole, the longer you have to serve,” I went on. “Your best bet is to turn yourself in and fight this. Have some people write letters to the paper outlining your case. Hell, call the ACLU. They might provide a free lawyer or at least get you some publicity. There’s no way people are going to support prosecution. No one wants to be liable for what their ex or what someone else threatens to do. I’ll bet he DA won’t touch it.”

They were both looking at me, very confused. They were looking at me like I was a floating green alien gas orb. Not-cousin shivered as if shaking off my incomprehensible statements. “I been to jail once already. Seven months was too long.” He swallowed hard and tensed his quivering jaw. “I ain’t going back. It don’t fuckin’ matter. One way or another, I ain’t going back.”

“Don’t you start talking like that! I swear to god, man. Don’t you fucking talk like that!” Little-little was on his feet suddenly, shouting. “Give me the gun! Dude, give me the gun!” Not-cousin swatted him away as he reached for it.

I watched them argue over the gun, continuing on with my cigarette chaingang. I knew why he was reacting this way. I knew what, “I’m not going to jail one way or another” meant, too. When Little-little was nineteen, he and some of his friends had a little meth lab set up for themselves, also out in the woods, but in a different woods. Four of them got busted. But not Little-little. He was lucky enough not to be around that day. That’s all. His best friend, who was also nineteen, got slammed with some serious time, several years in prison. Instead of going to prison though, that kid shot himself in the head.

Little-little still talks about him and how grateful he was for the short time he was blessed to have known him. He hasn’t gone near the dragon since, no matter how broke he was.

I felt really dumb for everything I’d just said to them. What was I thinking? They kept arguing, like in a ballet in front of me. I tried to blow smoke rings, but failed. I thought about what a stupid little faggot I was; about my stupid little-art-fag clothes, and how I was talking at them with my faggoty, self-educated voice, telling them my faggoty New York ideas. I’m such a queer faggot, I was even thinking about Michel Foucault. I was thinking about how he said,

“The guilty person is only one of the targets of punishment. Punishment is directed, above all, at others, at all the potentially guilty.”
 I was thinking that, here and now, where I was, Michel couldn’t have been wronger. There’s always this faggoty debate about the three possible purposes of prisons being reform, punishment and/or dissuasion. I stared laughing, thinking about it. What do academics know?

Little-little hasn’t been off probation for more than a few months at a time since he was thirteen. Every time he breaks any part of his probation, whether it’s a ticket, a missed phone call, or a failure to report a change in address, he goes to jail. Every time he goes back to jail, he accumulates more fines and goes in longer than the time before. He’s in his early twenties, and pretty soon, they’re going to get him. He has a snake wrapped around his ankle, its tail is tied to an anvil, and he’s hanging off a cliff. He spent the last five years of his childhood being illegal. He’s spent the majority of his adult life being illegal. He’s an illegal person. He’s been marked as such, and as soon as they can, they will remove him. They will find whatever trumped-up reason to remove him for as long as possible. They will remove him.

And people will be glad. People will not be dissuaded. People will be relieved. He will not be reformed or punished, simply removed.

Keep America Clean. Please use provided containers.

Sometimes things are extremely simple.

I could tell Not-cousin was the same kind of case. He generally just seemed illegal. They both did. You could look at them and tell. They were illegal people. Eventually they would be removed.

Little-little finally had possession of the gun and was walking it down the hallway that led to the bedroom. He was putting the gun to bed. The gun was real sleepy and had started fussing. But when he got it in there, it went down easy as cold, hard steel.

I tried another smoke ring. It failed. Not-cousin went back to flipping the switch on the police scanner. Finally, some words came out of me that didn’t sound like stupid, gay New York words. “You need a plan. You got a plan?” He shrugged. Little-little came back in, then went through to the kitchen and searched around the fridge for a beer. “Maybe,” I tried, “you should leave Lebanon. There are only three thousand people here. If you just drive for fifteen minutes, you’ll be two towns away. They have different cops, cops who might not be looking for you so hard, cops who might not even know you.”

“You think so?” he croaked out.

Not-cousin isn’t the brightest bulb. “They just want to get rid of you,” I told him. “If you can, leave the state. But at least, you have to leave the town. If you don’t want them to find you, at least get out of town.”

Little-little went back to the window and sipped his beer. “Yeah, dude. They did find you here the last time.”

“Ummmm” came out of my mouth like a long frog. I should really leave soon, before the swat team bursts in, I thought.

But it’s hard to leave, sometimes. I know that. This is the kind of place where people just stay, and stay, and stay. This place has staying power. The staying power had installed itself in Not-cousin’s mind like an invisible electric shock line around a chicken coop. He hadn’t received the shocks in quite a while, because he didn’t even remember to try to cross the line. It was not an option. If I hadn’t been such a weird faggot, I might not have ever tried too hard, either. I was shoved repeatedly over the shock line at a young age. I was a chick that got shoved. At the time, it seemed like an awful happening, being ostracized for my strange plumage. Sitting there though, I knew my feathers of faggotry were my privilege.

I shook my fancy feathers and extinguished a cigarette. Not-cousin’s eyes met mine, glimmering. “Your brother said you live in New York. Is that true?”

I nodded. My feathers were too big. They were going to knock things over. They were going to put someone’s eye out if I wasn’t careful.

“New York City?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh.” Something was trying like hell to get out of his throat, but it was banging into something else down there, and making all kinds of weird noises. “How are you . . . well, I mean, how are you going back?”

Goddamnit. My fancy feathers drooped. My fancy feathers got all wet with shame and sorrow. My fancy feathers were impotent. They couldn’t let me take anyone. They didn’t really fly. They just looked nice. I wanted to fold them up and hide them beneath my ridiculous sequined vest. “A plane. I’m sorry.

“Right, right.” He nodded. “How much does that cost?”

I just shook my head, no, solemnly. The words, A plane. I’m sorry, bounced around my skull. Two clean sentences. Complete sentences. Heavy, cold sculpted sentences. A plane. I’m sorry. Four words, two periods making up a real pair.

“It don’t matter. It’s a extradition state anyway,” he told me, letting me off the hook.

“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Look Sis. There they are! Fuck! Quick, come here.” Little-little was losing it by the window. Not-cousin and I both hopped up and took a place beside him. He pointed. “There they are. See them?” I didn’t see anything. “Wait.” Little-little flipped the light off. The three of us stood in the total darkness of the trailer listening to the mixed static of the police scanner, staring out the window. It was really very dark out there. The stars were trying to peek out through the mist leftover from the rain. One could vaguely make out the silhouette of the forest line. “See? Right there,” Little-little pressed. I scanned the trees’ edge. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, something became startlingly clear. Little-little might be crazy like a fox, but he wasn’t bat-shit crazy. Or maybe we all were.

There, bouncing along the forest’s edge, radiant as extracted souls, were two glowing, green balls of gaseous light. But they didn’t move like gas. They were balls that bounced, as if moving of their own internal agency. They bounced up and down like Gummi Bears. They bounced into and off of each other. They bounced back and forth and around and around like a children’s song. They did all of this very slowly and unself-consciously, as if they were absolutely real and would have been surprised if you told them that their existence was serious problem for humanity, for logic, science and all that.

They bounced around for a good minute and a half, then they bounced back into the forest, totally out of sight. “What’d I tell ya? What’d I tell ya? That’s what we saw the other day, isn’t it?”

“Yep.” Not-cousin nodded yes.

Little-little turned the light back on. “Hot damn Sis! You saw ’em?”

I nodded yes.

“Come on.” He started going through the pile of shirts again. “Let’s go out there and find ’em.”

“Ummmmmmmmm.” Another long frog. “Yeah. I gotta get going.” I picked up my bag, threw it over my shoulder, and headed to the door. Little-little followed skipping behind me.

“You can’t go. Not after what you just saw,” he said, insistently.

“Yeahhhh. I gotta get going.” I nodded and made an unfortunate face. “I’ll call you tomorrow.” He was totally stunned. But what could I do? I wasn’t going out into the crime garden to hunt semi-intelligent glowing green orbs, with the possibility hanging over my head of a SWAT team breaking in any minute. I could deal with one of those things individually. Not all of them. Something in me had absolutely shut down. I wasn’t cut out for that. That just wasn’t my idea of a good night. I was supposed to meet an old high-school friend at a bar at ten, anyway. I searched for some way to make things normal, to make things right. “Here. Take this. Keep it.” I reached into my bag, retrieved an unopened pack of cigarettes, and pressed it, like a talisman, into Little-little’s hand. “Call you tomorrow,” I told him. “Good luck,” I told Not-cousin. “Be careful,” I told them both.

I sped down the pitch-dark, winding country roads. These roads were burned into my head like a map of crisscrossing scars. My mind was racing over several thoughts. I was thinking about how I probably look rich to my brother. I was thinking how broke I was in Brooklyn. I was thinking that if I changed my plane ticket and stayed a few months, I could probably help keep Not-cousin out of serving outrageous amounts of jail time over an outrageous charge. I was thinking that, even if was I was pretty broke, I had language and they didn’t. I was thinking about Pygmalion. I was thinking this would be madness on my part to stay and try to help them, because eventually, they both would do something else to land themselves in the slammer no matter how many marbles I shoved into their mouths, no matter how many times they repeated The rain in Spain. I moved away for a reason, I reminded myself. This place kills people, I reminded myself. I slowed at an unlighted railroad track and remembered that those same tracks had taken two of my uncles. One of them was a suicide. He just laid his head down there on the cold steel one night and let an iron giant take care of the rest. The other uncle was working on the tracks and fell over from a heart attack and hit his head on a spike. He was a few months away from retirement, but was already too old for that kind of work. I was thinking about how much sad death, murder and suicide I had seen there in the southern border of the rural Midwest, and how little I had seen since moving to a big city. I was thinking how ironic that seemed. But amid all these thoughts was one glaring thought that kept screaming at me that I was trying not to pay attention to. What the fucking hell were those green, glowing orbs that bounced around like Gummi Bears, seeming to move of their own agency? This was not a good thought for driving down an empty country road at night. I flipped the doors to lock and turned on the radio, then pressed the pedal to sixty.

It took a moment for the news to register. It was repeating for a while before I really heard it. I was turning onto the lit road of an actual town and could see my destination, “Chubby’s Bar–Serving Spirits for More than Forty Years,” just beyond the stop sign, when the news knocked five times, hard, on the cognizant part of my brain and I let it step inside.

Hello, nice to meet you, Osama Bin Laden is dead. Come in. Have a seat. Or not. Shuffle around a while. You seem a bit unsettled.

I pulled into Chubby’s parking lot and turned off the car along with the repeating news.

The bar was permanently stuck in late seventies, in the best way. Everything was black leather and red paint. A mirror made up the wall behind the bar, reflecting bottles of spirits. Smoke hung in the air, although it’s no longer legal to smoke inside in Illinois. Chubby’s owner was a real rebel. The three people sitting inside hushed and turned as I entered. They stared at me blankly. Not quite like I was a green gaseous alien orb, but as if watching to see if I might turn into one. I guess they weren’t used to seeing chicks in ties and vests with psychobilly faux-hawks around there. Weird little faggot, I was. The staring lasted and lasted, even as I perched myself on a bar stool and tried to act casual, just a person wanting a drink in a bar. The staring went on. “Can I get a whiskey, neat with a seltzer back?”

The female bartender, who was now standing in front of me, stared even harder. “Huh? What did you say?”

“A whiskey with nothing in it and a soda water, a seltzer, separate,” I tried again.

“You just want me to pour you whisky in a cup?” she said, angrily.

“Just like if you would do it on the rocks, but without the ice,” I said timidly, almost as a question. This wasn’t helping at all. I thought it was the simplest thing I could have ordered. Apparently, it was an alien libation. An old man in ball cap and overalls nursed a Budweiser in the far corner. At a table near him, an old woman sat twirling a straw in a Coca-Cola can with what appeared to be the Bible open beside it. They were both still staring at me too. “However you usually do it, is fine,” I kept on.

“I don’t never do nothing like any of that. You want soda (pause) water? You want that alone in a different glass? I don’t have any of that. I might have some tonic in the back. You want that?”

I didn’t give a shit about any of this. I just wanted to know if Osama Bin Laden was really dead. But I had totally pissed off this bartender, and I didn’t know how to un-piss her off. She looked like everybody’s aunt. She was in her late thirties with clean, short blonde hair, and generally appeared to be a legal, sane, normal person. But boy had my drink selection pissed her off.

“It’s fine. I’ll just take a whiskey and a regular water.” She filled up a glass of water and sat it in front of me, clangingly. Then she got a pint glass and headed for the whiskey. “Oh that’s, yeah. Um. That’s too big. I mean,” I tried to make it a joke, “I can’t hold my liquor that good. Ha! Not that I’m a drunk, but. . . . ”

She paused, holding the whiskey and pint glass, glaring at me. “How big a cup do you want?” I pointed to a regular tumbler. If it’s possible to point with embarrassment, that’s what I did. She grabbed the tumbler and slammed it down in front of me. “Why don’t you just tell me when.” She started pouring. I told her when. She stopped. I got out my wallet. She stepped back and chewed her bottom lip, staring at the glass, then shook her head. “I don’t know how much to charge for that,” she said aggressively, as if for asking me for an answer. I heard the old man hmph loudly in my direction. Then, thank god, the door opened behind me, and my old buddy from my teenage years, Janey, stepped in.

“Hey there,” she squealed, smiling the bright, perpetual smile of the kind of optimistic lady who can bounce into any bar in the southern, rural Midwest without everyone turning to stare at her. She hugged me and sat her pleasantly plump self down next to me. “Hey there. How you doing in here?” she asked the bartender.

“Just fine. What can I get you to drink?” the bartender asked, still suspicious, but seeming to thaw.

“I’ll have a hot cherry bomb, if it’s not too much trouble,” Janey chirped.

“Coming right up,” the bartender chirped back, very happy about knowing what someone meant again. She then proceeded to mix cayenne pepper, lime, bitters, vodka and Red Bull in a pint glass, topping off the concoction with two cherries and a straw. Easy as pie. Hot cherry bomb. Sure. Why not? “That’ll be four dollars.”

Really? I thought. Are these people fucking with me?

She eyed my drink, friendlier now. It was like magic. I had a translator. “I guess yours’ll be three-fifty. That sound fair?”

“Fine by me.” I laid my money on the bar and took out my cigarettes. “You can smoke in here,” I told Janey. She smiled and nodded. I lit up and sipped my whiskey. I wasn’t being stared down anymore and could finally pay attention to something besides my drink order. The television above the bar showed what appeared to be hundreds of frat boys waving American flags. The bartender noticed me watching.

“They got him. Can you believe it?”

“I just heard. Just before I came in.”

“Where’ve you been?” Janey asked. “It happened hours ago.”

“I’ll turn it up.” The bartender went to the TV and turned the volume up. The news anchors just kept repeating, “Osama Bin Laden is dead,” in slightly different ways each time. Sometimes they said, “Osama Bin Laden has been taken out.” Sometimes they said, “Osama Bin Laden was successfully killed by Seal Team Six,” and sometimes they said, “Barak Obama is dead, I’m sorry I mean . . . Osama. . . . ” It was Fox News they were watching. Everyone in the bar was staring intently at the screen but no one seemed very happy about it. They looked much happier in New York City, where the world’s largest and most morbid tailgate party had suddenly erupted at Ground Zero. I read the words scrolling across the bottom of the screen. Usama Bin Laden is Dead.

I hmphed. “Jesus, they’re spelling it wrong.”

Bin Laden’s face popped up like a Hungry Hungry Hippo. Then the thin, wrinkled old lady with the Coke popped up like a Hungry Hungry Hippo as well, right up off her bar stool and growled, “Yer dead now, motherfucker. We gotcha, motherfuckerrrrrrr!”

“Calm down, Iris,” The bartender smacked the bar counter. Iris went back into the pond.

“I really like this place,” Janey chirped. “It’s weird.” She smiled big and giggled. “I’ll have to come back.” She looked around herself. “It’s like another world in here.” Janey grew up two towns away in a slightly bigger town. Chubby’s was my hometown bar.

“Barak Obama has successfully killed Usama Bin Laden,” the news anchor said.

“Obama didn’t kill him,” the old man at the bar muttered at no one and everyone. “The Seals killed him.” He looked disgusted, like he’d just vomited a bit in his mouth. “Obama,” he sneered. “Hmph.”

“I’m glad he’s dead, anyway. We can all rest a little easier now,” the bartender told us.

“What’s your name?” Janey asked sweetly.

“Donna.”

Janey introduced herself and me to Donna the bartender.

“Where are you from?” Donna asked.

“She lives in New York City now,” Janey told her proudly. I guess that question was mostly directed at me.

“New York City? Well then, you must be more excited about this than anyone,” Donna told me.

I kept watching the TV. “They’re spelling it wrong,” I repeated. “Look.”

Donna turned and looked. “Well, how bout that? They’re spelling Osama with a U. Is that an alternate way or something?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Usama Bin Laden is dead,” the news anchor repeated. And I couldn’t help but notice, she was pronouncing it by the new spelling. I extinguished my cigarette in the black ashtray.

“I don’t think it’s a mistake,” I told them. Janey smiled big at me. “It’s on purpose, see, it’s USA-m-a. They’re doing it on purpose. They’re renaming him as if he’s now property of the USA. Get it? USA-m-a.”

“I’m not really a political person,” Janey said, shrugging and smiling. But Donna was listening and looking incredulously at the screen.

“That is weird,” she concurred.

“I haven’t seen you in years. Tell me everything,” Janey said, changing the subject.

“I’ve had about enough of that myself.” Donna muted the TV and headed over to the jukebox. In a minute, Travis Tritt was serenading us.

“Tell me all about New York City.” Janey smiled big, and her perfect eye makeup sparkled. “I want to know everything. I want to live vicariously through you.” She leaned toward me excitedly. Her elbow bumped a cup that was sitting next to the ashtray. It fell over, spilling out a wad of cash and some change. I thought it was a tip jar, but as I replaced it to its original position, I read the words scrawled on the side in black marker; “Donation’s for Chastity’s funeral.”

Janey and I stared at it. Her smile fell down so hard it scraped its knees and looked like it might not be skipping around again for a while. I grimaced. “Oh. That’s depressing.” I slid the funeral donation jar far away, out of sight and mind. I lit up another cigarette. When I exhaled, a noise came from my chest that sounded like Satan’s dog with a throat infection. I started coughing.

Janey recoiled. “That sounds really bad. Are you okay?” I banged on my chest with my fist. It felt like I had an alien gestating in there. It was doing somersaults, practicing for the Alien Olympics, or maybe for the moment it might decide to burst through my chest. And I didn’t have Sigourney Weaver around or anything. I gasped for breath, hunched over and grabbed Janey’s wrist. She jumped.

“Listen Janey, forget about New York City. I don’t even remember New York City. There’s something weird happening around here,” I whispered, and took up my desperate coughing again.

Janey stiffened. I held tighter. “What do you mean?” she asked, her voice shaking with confusion.

“I saw these things. These green things. I was out in the woods tonight, with this kid who’s wanted for manslaughter,” I whispered. Janey’s eyes got big and her eyebrows got all twisty. “It’s only second-degree. It’s nothing. Forget it. Like I was saying, I saw these things . . .” Janey was looking at me like I was crazy. I tried to figure how to proceed. Someone touched my shoulder, softly tapping.

I turned to find Iris staring at me, nearly nose to nose. The wrinkles around her eyes looked like a dried-up beach. “Can we help you?” Janey asked, trying to keep it cool.

Iris’s thin lips moved. “The time is coming.”

“I’m sorry?” Janey came back. I let go of her wrist and swiveled around on my stool. My chest growled. Iris took a pamphlet out of her Bible and handed it to me. On the front was a picture of the sky and what seemed to be silhouettes of people floating up into the clouds. There were words printed in a very kitschy font across the blue sky: “But What if It IS True?”

“Iris! I told ya.” Donna was coming out of the ladies’ room. “I told ya, Iris,” she hollered. “You can sit in here, but you gotta leave people alone.”

“It’s coming,” Iris informed us, nodding ominously and sidestepping toward the door as Donna made her way toward her. “It’s coming. Prepare yourself.”

“You gotta get now,” Donna said, taking her by the arm. They walked out together.

I gasped and something in me growled louder. “Weird shit has been happening all night. I’m telling you. There’s something going on.” My level of paranoid desperation startled even me. I began to worry I might be losing my mind.

Janey patted me on the shoulder and shook her head. “Calm down, hon. She’s just a crazy old woman. Every bar has one.”

She picked up my cigarette from the ashtray and started to put it out, but I snatched it from her and nearly shouted, “I’m not done smoking that!” The beast in me growled too. It was an unearthly double growl. Janey laid her hands squarely on the bar and stiffened defensively, eyeing me from the side.

Donna came back in, “Sorry about that, girls. She does that all the time.”

“It’s fine,” Janey assured her, trying to get her smile back up off the sidewalk, but it was all wobbly. Donna went and sat at a booth far away from us and read the paper. The old man in the ball cap was still there at the other end of the bar, smoking and drinking, occasionally muttering at the screen. Silently, ten-hundred million frat boys waved American flags, their bulbous lips chanting USA like a birth cry as they held their glittering girlfriends up on their broad, white shoulders, above the streaming words, “Usama Bin Laden Is Dead.”

“I hear you’ve been doing really good in New York. You just had a book published. How’s that going?” She was trying so hard, poor thing.

The beast and me sucked down my cigarette loudly. “Yeah. I had a book published. It’s going great. I got an award. Listen, Janey, have you ever seen any, like, green orbs in the woods around here?”

Her face did a little dance. I realized, as I watched her face go from the twist to the two-step, that she was scared of me. She hadn’t seen me in three years. How was she to know I wasn’t totally bonkers? Luckily, she’d known me as a kid, so she was also concerned for me. She inhaled deeply and straightened herself. “Okay.” That word was like a reset button. “You saw something? Okay.” Still resetting.

I nodded. “Yeah. I definitely saw something. Have you heard of anyone seeing—I know it sounds weird—but green floating balls?”

“Can I have one?” I nodded and handed her a cigarette. “People have said they’ve seen things around here.” She put the cigarette to her lips. I lit it. She sucked on it lightly, then picked up her drink and took a big sip from the straw. That thing could have been a chocolate milkshake the way she drank it right then. “I’ve only heard about silver saucers. Not green balls. Who knows. I’ve never seen anything like that. But I hear a lot of things. Farmers have always seen things. You know that.” She shrugged. “We made fun of them. You made fun of them. I think they’re a little crazy. Maybe it’s sun stroke. But I don’t know.” She looked up at the light, pondering. The alien beast in my chest gnawed at the end of my cigarette. “I did used to see this dead Indian in the field behind my house when I was little. My dad saw him a few times too. I’ve told you about that. You remember? The Indian ghost?”

I nodded. “That’s right. I remember those stories. I thought you might just be trying to scare us though. It was real?”

She sat her drink down. “I think so. I know what I saw.” We silently contemplated the existence of other worlds. “It’s hard to tell though.” Her hand shook slightly as she ashed the cherry. “Some things are a little fuzzy since the electro-shock therapy.”

“The what?”

“Oh I didn’t tell you about that?” Her blonde hair was perfectly cut in a bob. Her makeup was clean and shining. Her mouth always held a slight smile, even as she said those awful words. “It was nothing,” she said, shaking her head, shrugging it off. “I just had a bad few months a couple of years ago. They did the electro-shock therapy, and it really helped. It’s just that now, some of my memories are a little fuzzy.” I was looking worried at her now. Where the hell was I? What alternate universe had I fallen into? Apparently you can go home again, but maybe you just shouldn’t. “No, it’s fine,” she told me, reassuringly. “I got my degree. I have a great job, a nice house, a new boyfriend. I’m really happy.”

She did look fine. She looked better than me. It all sounded just great except for the electro-shock therapy part. “I didn’t even know they still did that.” I said.

“Sometimes they do,” she chirped, and smiled, lifting her glass to toast. Toast what? I had no idea. But I toasted back.

The old man at the end of the bar muttered something and raised his beer bottle. Donna came over to get him another. She asked me if I wanted another one of the same. I told her I did. She poured it easy as pie.

“Fuck the country, and fuck this country too,” I said, lifting my glass for my own toast. Donna was already at the other end of the bar getting the old man a beer, but I didn’t give a damn if she could hear me. Janey shuddered though. She didn’t toast back. “Sorry, it’s just been a really intense night. I’m an asshole.” Her drink was almost gone and she wasn’t ordering another. She had a look on her face like she wanted to get out.

“It’s okay,” she said, patting my hand. “I know you always hated it here. What the hell happened tonight? Did you say something about manslaughter?”

I shook my head no. “Yeah. It doesn’t make any sense. This kid is hiding out from the police. He’s wanted for second-degree manslaughter. He’s staying at my brother’s place. My big-little brother. He’s my brother’s cousin. He’s not my cousin. He’s my not-cousin.” I laughed out loud.

“You know what, I’ll have another one too.” She held up her glass. She was intrigued. Donna came over and started mixing the weird concoction. “What did you mean, it doesn’t make any sense?”

I gulped down the top third of my new whiskey and lit up another smoke. I like to smoke when I tell stories. “I don’t see how anyone could call it manslaughter of any degree. He had this girlfriend, and he cheated on her, broke up with her, whatever. She was like, seventeen. She started sending him messages saying that if he didn’t come over, she was going to kill herself. And he didn’t and she—” The story was broken off by the sound of glass breaking on the old cracked floor, like a broken heart breaking over something long-before broken.

Donna’s hands were cupped in midair like they were still holding cups and mixers, but they weren’t. Her face was as pale as yesterday’s ghost, her eyes intense, watery and her lips barely parted.

She looked at me like she wanted to kill me, but more than before. She wanted to spit on me, and tar-and-feather me, and ride me out on a rail. “You talking about Chastity?”

“God, I hope not.” My cigarette fell out of my fingers onto the bar. I felt very sorry. Sorry was writing itself all over me, but I don’t think Donna saw it. She stepped back slowly. The glass made broken glass noises as she did so.

She leaned back on the counter and looked from me to Janey. “I’m the one who found that girl’s body. You think it’s a joke, a funny story?”

My alien started screaming.

Janey watched us, frozen. She eyed me eyeing Donna.

Donna walked over and picked up Chastity’s funeral donation cup like it was a sick baby. She sat it between us. “Why’d you move this? Didn’t want to look at it?”

“I had no idea” came out of my mouth in a croaking whisper. “I didn’t mean to . . .” How the hell was I supposed to know? I was twenty miles away from where it happened. There were only two other people in the bar. What were the fucking chances?

Donna tapped the cup.” I helped raise that girl. She my best friend’s baby. Then she got in with that no-good, lowlife bum.” She shoved the cup forward. “Feel like making a donation, New York?”

“Wait a minute,” Janey laid her hands flat on the table. “How do you know she’s even talking about the same person? Let’s calm down. She didn’t know her. She just met this guy who told her . . .”

“Shhhh,” I hissed.

Donna did not like this. “Who told her what?” she demanded, stepping closer. “Where’d she meet this guy? You know where that bum is?”

Everything was like a bad train coming off a bad track right at my head. I started hacking up a storm. I couldn’t breath suddenly. It sounded like a herd of alien hell-puppies. Without moving from where she stood, Donna grabbed the cayenne pepper next to Janey’s drink and dumped some in my whiskey. Then she took my cigarette that was burning up her bar and dropped it in my water.

“Drink that,” she told me, referring to the newly cayenned whiskey. “It’ll loosen up your chest.” Was she trying to kill me? “Go ahead. You’re getting a little green around the edges,” she pressed.

What the hell. I picked it up and gulped it down. It burned everything. I gasped and sputtered. My chest rattled then settled. My beast did feel freer, but I didn’t know if that was a good thing. I smacked my lips and rubbed my eyes. “Damn!”

“You want some water?” Donna asked. I nodded yes. She nodded yes back. She didn’t get me any water.

“I found her body and those texting messages. I showed them to the cops, ’cause I felt like they were like, her suicide note, you know?” Donna didn’t look like she was going to cry. Her jaw was stiff and square. She was a toughie. My eyes were tearing up though, bright red, I’m sure, and my throat and mouth burned like hell. I kept swallowing. Donna tapped the funeral donation jar. I took out my wallet, produced a twenty and dropped it in. She nodded, turned around and swiveled back with a glass of water for me. I drank the entire glass in five gulps. “What’d you say your name was, again?” I just shook my head no. She looked to Janey. “You have any ideer where he’s hiding?”

Janey picked up her purse and took me by the shoulder. Childhood friends can almost always be counted on in a pinch. “I’m sorry. I think we’d better get going now.” I felt half alive. Janey helped me along my way. The old man at the bar was just staring at us trying to figure out what was going on. Donna’s pursed lips quivered a bit, like Not-cousin’s earlier that night. “It ain’t right what happened. They’re gonna find him with or without you,” Donna kept on as we backed out the door. “We just want some answers,” she hollered. The door shut behind us.

I wheezed all the way to the car. “I see what you mean about having a weird night,” Janey said, propping me against the hood as she unlocked the passenger door. “I’m driving you to where you’re staying. You’re not in good shape.”

My throat felt like an atomic bomb went off in a sandpaper factory. “What are the fucking chances?” I bellowed out. “That was weird. Don’t you think that was weird?” She nodded and half smiled at how horribly obvious the answer to my question was. I bent over and hacked. Something big moved in me. “Yes,” she told me, searching for her keys. “That was one of the weirdest nights I’ve ever had. I just want us to get out of here. That was awful.”

“It’s too much of a coincidence,” I kept on. “What the fuck is happening? It’s like they planted her in there.”

“They?”

I pounded on my chest, then balanced with my hands on my knees, groaning and beginning to convulse. “I don’t know what I mean,” I coughed out. “It just feels like someone is engineering everything.”

“This is a small county, that’s all.”

“No. This is just too much. If I wrote this, no one would believe it.” I let myself go into a coughing fit for a second and regained my breath. “I can’t even believe it. Can you?”

The passenger door was open. Janey was standing next to it, staring at me with the most awful look on her face, her keys held tightly in her hands. “You look really bad. You look . . . green.”

“What?” I hung my head over the black tar and coughed again. A little piece of mucus flew out of my mouth, landing on the ground in front of me. Janey stepped back.Something rattled inside of me. I felt like I was going to explode. The mucus was green and slimy, reflecting the light from the bar sign. My chest heaved. I covered my mouth with my hand and took off running, doubled over, thinking I was going to vomit. That fucking cayenne whiskey bitch did me in. I made it around to the back of the building. Holding onto the brick wall with one hand, the other on the dumpster, I let myself go with the reverent acquiescence of a drunken vomiter who has no choice but to let the void grab hold of her and show her how to make something out of nothing.

But what was coming out wasn’t coming from my stomach. That thing in my chest, it was shaking itself free. It rumbled and screeched and pushed forward. My mouth wrenched itself open as wide as it could go. I felt a giant ball of slimy gum, slug like, birthing itself through my facial orifice. It wiggled, elongated and squeezed, reducing itself like a rodent sliding through an impossible opening. It just kept coming out. I moaned loudly. I pounded the wall and heaved. It finally landed on the ground in front of me with a horrible plop.

I fell back on my ass and stared at it. It did not stare back. It didn’t have eyes. It wiggled up against the wall and squealed. The thing was green, like a miniature version of the Blob, green and slimy. I moaned again. It started having some kind of seizure. Green slime and mucus, and I guess my infected snot, was flying off of it. As it shook itself free of my infected bronchitis placenta, it became visibly lighter and its glowing grew brighter. It began to become beautiful, and it began to ascend.

It was a little wobbly at first, like a baby bird trying out its first feathers, but soon enough, it was going up, above the roof of the bar, my very own green glowing orb floating up there above the trees in that beautiful dark and twinkling country sky. I heard Janey scream. A few counts later, I heard the sound of her engine revving and the screeching of tires against pavement.

I watched my orb for a good while. It was just hovering there, about forty feet directly above me. Then, over the trees and the little houses, I saw another green form rising. It was faint at first, but it quickly grew clearer. The green light was a very familiar shape. I squinted. It kept approaching at about the same height as my glowing green orb. I cocked my head. It was that goddamned moldy couch. I heard voices. That goddamned couch was glowing green and flying around above the town. On either side of the couch were two more green glowing orbs. That couch and its two green orbs flew up right next to my green orb and parked. The muffled voices revealed their faces. Little-little poked his head over the side of the glowing couch, his feet dangling off the end. “Aw hell,” he shouted. “Lookie there. It’s my sister.”

Not-cousin poked his head over the other side. “Hey there. You got one too!” he hollered, not as a question. “How do we lower this thing?” I heard him ask Little-little.

“Going down,” I heard a heard voice say. The voice was deep and goofy like a children’s-cartoon character.

The couch and the orbs descended. I rose to my feet. Little-little sat on the glowing green couch hovering a few feet above the ground. The three glowing orbs bounced off each other sweetly, as a greeting. Little-little smiled his peachy-keen smile at me. He still hadn’t found a shirt he liked, I guess. “Hey Sis. We went into the woods and we found these fucking things. They’re great. I think maybe they were ours already.”

I nodded, understanding

“You coming?”

I looked around myself. “Where are you going?”

“We’re heading to a non-extradition state,” Not-cousin told me proudly.

“Nah, I’m voting for Mexico,” Little-little came back.

The couch shivered. “All aboard that’s coming aboard,” the couch said.

The green orbs started circling. Not-cousin and Little-little held out their hands. I put my hands in theirs. They pulled me up, seating me in between them. Little-little looked so happy. “I sure am stoked you’re coming with us, Sis. I miss ya, you know?” I put my arm around him. He laid his head on my shoulder, like he always used to do when he was a kid. The green orbs spun faster around the couch, beginning the ascension once more.

We hit about seventy feet and started flying like condors, the towns streaking past far below. The clouds were clearing. The stars were coming out, twinkling brighter. There’s nothing like a country sky. “To your left, notice Central Point, home of the Redhawks. In the 1930s Central Point was a booming mecca for traveling businessmen and tradespeople, as the railroad provided the perfect midpoint for those traveling from Chicago to the southern states. The town to your right is Little Egypt, and we will be coming upon Cairo soon, home of the Fighting Pharaohs, known for the largest man-made lake in the country.” That couch had turned out to be a world-class tour guide after all.

I laid my head on top of Little-little. Not-cousin watched the green orbs circling us, with amazement.

“East or west?” Little-little asked.

“I don’t care.”

“We can drop you off in New York first, if you want,” Little-little told me. “Did you hear they got Osama? We heard it on the scanner.”

I nodded. “Yep. I heard.”

“Maybe we should go to Ground Zero,” Not-cousin suggested. “There’s a huge fucking party there.”

“In this thing? They’d shoot us down. Forget about New York. New York doesn’t exist. It doesn’t even have a sky.”

Little-little took a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. “I’m glad you said that. Still, I’d like to see it sometime. Big Apple.” He offered me one.

“Give me the pack,” I said. He gave me the pack. I chucked it over the side and watched it spiral down to the cornfields of Central Point. “I think we’ve had enough.” Little-little nodded and chucked his last smoke over the side, too.

“West it is,” he said.

“West it is,” the couch answered. The three spinning green orbs twisted around, heading west.

-Chavisa Woods


Stories Writing

One thought on “How to Stop Smoking in Nineteen-thousand-two-hundred-and-eighty-seven Seconds, Usama

  1. VERY odd but well written and easy to read. Had my attention immediately and forced me to finish. I’ve had nights like this…minus the green orbs and flying couches. Okay, not even a dead girl but weird, coincidental nights.

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