After sanding every appositive and polishing each comma, you will send it to the finest English-language literary publisher in the world, a man of profound understanding and exquisite tastes who funds the press out of his rear pocket, stuffed with a staggering fortune in steel. He will be the only man capable of seeing your work for what it is on the first pass. While reading your manuscript one long summer afternoon, “Here it is! Here it is!” will be heard coming, at approximately half-hour intervals, from his second story office, the “At last” unnecessary, implied in his exclamations’ very torque. 1
He enters the mosque compound before going to the rectangular bathroom to perform wudu — ablution, where he robotically drenches and systemically cleanses the face, beard, ears, fingers and palms, wrists and elbows, and toes and ankles. Sandals, initially left outside, are then reworn — and immediately taken off — to enter the main wide mosque doors, where carpet arabesques paint the floor and equal amounts of Arabic calligraphy surreally encapsulate the walls, spiritually caving out a tightly woven meditation. 2
The biggest cat she ever saw, white and black, made its way across the deep red tiles of the patio flexing its shoulder muscles and looking up. Esteban pointed to the birdcages it fixed on, out of reach.
“Here’s the question,” he said.
“All those exquisite feathered creatures, an orgy of killing and eating just waiting to happen, and the cat will never catch a single one of them. I make sure of that.”
“So what’s the question?”
“The cat’s existence.”
“Is it Heaven, or Hell, or someplace in between.”
“Purgatory, you mean.”
He shrugged. There was no faking that indifference. She was stalling for time. The answer she came up with would seal her Paraguayan fate.
“In the morning it’s Heaven,” she told him. “In the afternoon it’s Hell. In the evening it’s Purgatory, to the extent that a cat can remember disappointment.” 3
Once he seized in the middle of a performance and no one knew. Sometimes his seizures were like that, so far deep in the head that it barely located itself in the body. No one knew, of course, except for her, watching from the front row, like she always did. Before, she used to watch for pleasure. Now she anticipated pain. She recognized it in the back of his neck—his head inched down slowly, like he was trying to withdraw into his chest, and his shoulders narrowed. In his hands, the batons continued their movement, but the world between them was smaller now, and the orchestra hastened to keep abreast of this new changing world. The back of his head, so bare and pale, folded over so that all she saw was neck, a headless man swinging his hands whichever way they’d go. 4
Hello, you have reached the Toddler Feelings Helpline. Please choose from the following options: 5
Gabriel and Eric walked halfway down the block in silence. Though it was hardly observable, Gabriel noticed that Eric walked a step further from him than he had all day, or the day before when they strolled along the Santa Monica Promenade.
“Why do you think she asked us?” Eric said, a jagged edge in his voice. “Do you think we look gay to her?” 6
“Are you ready for a new version of you?”
“Yes, honey,” I say. “I’m ready for it. Who is the new me going to be?”
“Oh, it all depends! You have to give me some input! Do you want to be cool, but accessible? Or do you want to be greedy, right under the surface, mixed with an insouciance that’s irresistible?”
“I just want to be normal. Just kidding. I don’t know, I want it all, darling, give me the full package!”
The plastic woman, who has not been deterred in the slightest by my removal of her right arm, is a little overwhelming, to be honest. I think about removing her head but I know this would be rude, and that it wouldn’t shut her up, either. Across the sales floor in other artfully lit alcoves, other customers gab away with their plastic attendants. 7
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