With a pinch of Lavender

I Tree Safely Down | April 1, 2009

My turtle was Polish. His name was Magnar Stanislaw; it said so in blue glitter on a sign over his tank. Magnar Stanislaw was a red eared turtle and on a Wednesday I left work early to get to Pet Planet before five thirty. I put the Turtle Bites canister into the eco-friendly mesh bag offered at the door, and stepped, probably very suspiciously, to the tank ornaments. I tried to look like I was not looking at tank accessories, or specifically the ceramic mermaid breasts. By facing the other way, I was staring into the face of an angry parakeet. The sign hanging below his swing said his name was Sturge. Of the decidedly aquatic themed knickknacks, the maritime selection was under stocked. I did not want to be the pet owner with a treasure chest in his turtle tank, so I picked a submarine that promised to float and sink depending on how much air was in the sub. The cashier was a high schooler, the kind that would say that animals were his friends. I walked the five blocks to my apartment with the submarine in my hand and the turtle food in my pocket. I wondered if passersby noticed the bulge.

Magnar Stanislaw paddled water when I closed the door. I took off my pants because it was hot, and walked over to Magnar Stanislaw’s tank to drop turtle food pellets in the water. I felt like saying something witty to him, like Rocky, but decided that talking to my pet turtle was too weird. Instead I pointed at him with both hands like old-timey cowboys. Magnar Stanislaw stared at me. The submarine was grey without any markings. I put it in the tank and Magnar Stanislaw pushed his neck out and tried to bite it. He kicked up the bottom of the tank scum, brushing the plastic propeller with where I imagined his nose to be. The sub bounced off the side of the tank, poking Magnar Stanislaw in the mouth. He blinked a few times and then involved his front feet in the fight against the ornament. I decided that the sub was German. I pictured the tank as the Atlantic, or the Baltic, whichever one was closer to Poland, with a fleet of subs coming to attack the country of Poland, represented by Magnar Stanislaw. I could see it perfectly; the u-boats surfacing off the coast of Magnar Stanislaw, preparing their torpedoes, the sailors running to their positions. I wondered what it would be like to man a torpedo, put it into place, alert others that it was ready to fire, receive the command, push the big red button, hear the whoosh of an object propelled through water, and the inevitable explosion that followed. Magnar Stanislaw’s red ears made me think of the ignition of the Polish fleet, the fire and smoke covering the beaches of the Baltic.

Thursday, Lane came over to watch NBC programming; I had the advantage of basic cable over her local news channels. I had found my model car paint in the shoebox at the bottom of my closet, and set them out on my desk. Lane walked into the living room holding the submarine.

“Why was this in your dish rack?” she grinned with one eyebrow raised.

“I’m going to paint it.” I gestured towards the paints.

“What are you going to paint on me?” She said in a high voice, bobbing the sub in front of her face. She taught first grade, and her energy level matched that of her students.

“It’s going to be German.”

“Ja, I am German! Vhat’s going to be painted on me?” She asked in a German accent, wiggling the sub.

“I’m going to do the Luftwaffe, because a swastika would be— bad.” I plucked the sub out of her fingers, and leaned over to kiss behind her ear.

“Do I have a captain?” Lane asked, still in accent.

“Ja, Kapitän Arnulf Schtockheimer.” I put the sub on my desk.

“Ja, dat’s goot.”

I painted the sub after she went home. Magnar Stanislaw was chewing his freeze dried shrimp and spitting them back into the water, only to chew them again. I figured that’s what cows would do, had they the opportunity to survive in water. I made a black cross with the widened ends on the grey sub, and outlined that with the white. I felt like a lonely fifteen year old– painting insignias with model paints at my desk for my turtle.

After I washed my hands, I turned on my new X box for some ‘Stripes of Glory’ WWI hand to hand combat. After dusting a few krauts, I felt a little bad for shooting at what were technically digital versions of my Great-Grandad Edsel’s countrymen. I wondered if there were any pro-German video games. Maybe in Germany, but they would possibly feel bad about promoting Nazism, so it would probably be Viking themed. It would be cool to play a Viking game, but, in my experience, games with shooting were a bit more satisfying. Lane was Swedish and English by ancestry, so only half of her would be offended if I were to play a pro-German game. I wanted to play that game, but no one had invented it yet. I decided to make it myself. I had no experience with programming, but I knew a lot of people who did. That was the advantage of working at Crunch Board Entertainment. I would ask on Monday or Tuesday how to go about making a proposal.  It could be bigger than ‘Stripes of Glory’ or ‘Liberty Trenches’ or even ‘Patches of Honor: Pacific Theatre.’  I looked at the sub in the tank, gently dipping with the waves made by Magnar Stanislaw tapping the glass with his front legs, his unsteady feet shaking the water.

The marshmallows were stale, the kind that suck the moisture out of your mouth and foam on your tongue. The pink ones looked like lumpy cavalry boots.  Lane asked how old they were two weeks ago, so they were at least two weeks old. The silver elevator doors opened, the only objects in the lobby that weren’t a shade of pastel. Lane stepped in ahead of me, unzipping her bag to replace her chap stick. I stood next to her, crinkling the marshmallow bag. I held up a pink one. “What do you think this is supposed to be? I think it’s a boot.”

“Isn’t it supposed to be a giraffe? Those are circus themed, right?” Lane asked. The elevator doors started to close, and changed their minds. I saw a little puddle of water in the corner, probably brought in from the rain that morning. The submarine was in my pocket. I don’t know why.

“What happens if an elevator on a submarine starts leaking?” I asked.

“Why would they have elevators on submarines?” Lane said, pressing the four button.

“Why wouldn’t they? It’s a submarine; the guys there are breathing fake air, might as well have an elevator. They would exert less oxygen by not running upstairs.  Unless they had a fire pole.”  I licked the marshmallow dust off my finger and pressed the ‘close door’ button.

“I think they have spiral stairs. In the movies, they’re always running really fast down spiral steps.” Lane smoothed her pale ponytail.

“But with spiral stairs, you could fall down and die or something.” I said. She was probably right. I tucked the empty marshmallow bag into my pocket. The door opened revealing The Linens and Things framed pictures and the soothing yellow sponge painted walls.

“They probably have spiral stairs training before they start.” Lane pulled keys out of her bag, putting her shoulder into the door, which opened with a loud crack. The paint was built up around the frame and frequently jammed.

Lane put her bag on a chair and sat on her couch in the living room. I walked into the kitchen, the warmish air sifted through the kitchen window. I threw out the marshmallow bag instead of keeping it in my pocket. Lane’s kitchen smelled like pine needles from a gift candle she’d never burned. I heard the television turn on, and Lane sigh in the living room. I rearranged her word magnets on her fridge, ‘I Tree Safely Down.’ I grinned at her mishmashed eastern and western philosophy quotes taped to the right corner of her freezer. They looked the way my dentist said my teeth were like; crowded.

“I see it still smells like pine needles around here.” I peeled a ‘Going’ from between ‘Paint’ and ‘Banana.’

“Yeah, that was my from that French fry place I worked at. Apparently a candle is a nice going-away-present” Lane turned the volume up.

I smelled the evergreen, mixing with the other apartment smells: old incense, coffee grounds, and crayons. The pine was stronger when I removed the protective glass candle lid. It smelled like her kitchen had trees growing in it.  I took off my shoes and socks to crunch the needles between my toes. The webbing of my feet pricked and itched. I crackled from the kitchen to the couch.

“So I’m thinking about proposing a game to Crunch Board.” I said, sitting down in the surprisingly low couch.

“Really? What’s it about?” Lane looked up at me and folded her legs under her.

“Submarines in World War Two.”

“Wow, that’s so cool!” She grabbed my hand and bounced a little. The couch springs made the noise that meant I needed to bring the WD40 back over. “So, it’s a game about subs, and what else?”

“I haven’t thought it out entirely, but basically, it’s a German sub in the Atlantic. There are guns and torpedoes.” The trees in the kitchen didn’t have lichen on them. I must have been facing south.

“Archie! That’s so awesome! I bet they’ll start making it right away!” She was still bouncing, her ponytail swinging back and forth.

“Heh, maybe.” I picked up the remote and switched between the news story about parents who intended to stamp out heavy petting once and for all, and the show about the brides who wanted ethical treatment for carriage horses. I glazed out, staring at the trees in her kitchen. A chickadee placed pieces of dry grass and old Christmas tinsel in the branch over Lane’s coffee maker. The bird looked at me twice before coasting out the window coasting like a balsa plane. Lane rested her head into the spot between my shoulder socket and chest, her light blonde hair sticking to my sweater.

A pinecone rolled by the couch, and I kicked it to the kitchen. I couldn’t see the table anymore. The trees were getting dark, their cold needles reflecting the streetlamps outside. The news had a story about a whale watching tour whose engines failed and left tourists floating for five hours. In the kitchen the microwave blinked 12:00 even though I reset it monthly. I pulled the elastic out of Lane’s hair. I couldn’t smell the pine over her conditioner. A squirrel disappeared into the outside trees with two crackers in its mouth.

“Hey, Archie, so you’re an administrative assistant?”

“Yeah.”

“Like AA? You should come to our meetings!” Chip‘s arms were stretched open into a bear hug with someone obese and invisible. I smiled. Chip was a dick. He went to meetings on Wednesdays, so this joke generally came on either Tuesday or Thursday. It was Friday, so I hoped Chip had forgotten to tell the joke punctually, and not the meeting. “Don’t get a drinking problem!” Chip’s stance was wide, his legs bent at the knees. I squinched my eyes so my smile looked deeper. Chip tapped on the corner of my desk, bringing his legs back from large-tree-shimmying width. “Now, Archie,” He said, standing up straight to show that yes, he could joke around, but now was business time. “I know how you’ve settled in pretty well, it’s been a year plus right?”

“A year and two months.” I swiveled my chair so Chip was no longer talking to my side.

“I see you…submitted some ideas a few weeks ago.” Chip looked at me over the top of his wire frame glasses, the ones that cost a lot to look vintage. I breathed in quickly and crossed my arms low over my belly. I missed with my left and kept the arm moving to look like I had an itch on the back of my calf.

“Yeah.” my stapler fell off the desk.

“So it’s a game about…submarines?” Chip opened a manila folder that didn’t have my ideas in it. It was his local take-out-menu-folder.  The stapler lurched against the carpet. I covered it with my leather work shoe.

“Yeah, you know, U-boats in the second world war.” My hole punch bumped me in the shoulder. It landed behind my chair.

“Huh. I see…” Chip was looking at a Thai menu. My outbox spat letters and papers over him. Chip pointed at the menu, somewhere between lap kai, and panang curry.

“I wrote it all up, I talked to Geoff, you know, programmer, and he said it’d work. See, it’s this first person shooter,” I put my elbows on the desk, the stapler scooching underfoot.  “And you get to be one of the guys on a U-Boat, and take over other ships, and conquer islands, and even help invade Poland… ” I recrossed my arms lower, folding a little forward. Paperclips and thumbtacks shot towards the ceiling. “It’s all in my proposal.” The paper clips fell on us, the thumbtacks stuck to the industrial foam tiles.

“Great, well, just making sure I got the right proposal. You know, keeping up with the maul, four and sixes and everything.” He said a lot of sports terms, most likely recommended by the business symposiums he went to. He usually got the sports confused because he tried to use European ones that he saw a few times in passing. Chip creased the back of the folder under, and tapped pad thai. The lamp broke its cord leaping off the desk.

“See, Chip, I know I’m just a…an AA, but I really do have ideas about games.” I re-recrossed my arms. The keyboard bunny-hopped in place.

“I see…you know, Crunch Board Entertainment wouldn’t work without input from everybody. So…keep up the good work.” Chip lifted his glasses to get a better look at the mushy noodle picture. The stapler freed itself, biting Chip’s pant leg hems. I watched the stapler. “Is that all?” Chip put his glasses back on his nose.

“I guess so.” I tightened my arms around my ribcage.

Chip slapped the corner of the desk with the now empty folder. “Great, can you call Pattaya Garden for me? Gotta get my noodle fix”

“How many this evening?” The hostess had her hands on the rim of the podium, and bent over a fake candle under lighting her cleavage. I held up bunny ears. The hostess’s brow creased, and then she smiled, mouthing the word two. She picked up menus from the pouch on the side of her podium. “Follow me please.” She walked ahead of Lane and I, who had to trot to keep up. The hostess’s hair was pulled tight so both of her ears were visible from behind her. She brought us to a table next to the window, the lightbulbed tea light reflecting with the not-candles from the other tables against the blackened glass. “Can I start you out with some drinks?”

“Water?”  I sat quickly. Lane threw off her scarf in a fluid motion. It briefly haloed around her head.

“Water please.” She said. The hostess was already turning. Lane raised her eyebrows and tilted forward in her seat. The cars outside the window shone halogens into the dimly lit restaurant. Lane reached her arms across the table for my hands. Her straight hair was coming out of the elastic that held it back. I was glad the candle wasn’t real, because her head would be on fire. She smiled. “Did you finally talk to Chip about your game ideas?” Outside, one of the cars broke out of the traffic line and took a hard left into the restaurant wall. The bricks crunched the metal, sending dust into the kitchen behind me.

“Yeah.” The rearview mirror hit me in the ankle.

“And?” Vertical lines appeared above the bridge of her nose when her gray eyes opened further. A Second crash pushed the Ford Falcon further into the dining room, nudging a table with three septuagenarians. The roof of the car crinkled, collecting brick silt in the creases.

“We’ll see.” I watched a scrawny high schooler poke a salad, her fork pushing around the lettuce tomatoes and sparkplugs. I didn’t feel like telling her ‘yeah, we talked about it while he pretended to look at my proposal,  but was actually ordering lunch, because I am nothing but a shit employee.’ A Hyundai came in to the right of the Ford, punching a new hole in the wall. A waiter in a tight black tee shirt brought their waters.
“Are you ready to order?” He smiled, his pecks flexing as he crossed his hands behind his back. I hated seeing guys like that. He was staring at Lane’s breasts, which, granted, were gorgeous, but I was right there. Holding her hands.  I didn’t want to mispronounce the dish in front of the muscley waiter, so I pointed to what I wanted. Lane mispronounced. The waiter smiled, checked Lane out again, winked, and stepped by the car seat that landed next to our table.

“How was your day?” I handed the menus over, touching Lane’s thumbnails with my palm.

“The class computer broke again, and we had to make a new lesson plan on the spot. We ended up attempting to teach how to read an analogue clock and failed miserably.” She smiled, looking into the votive, her nose and cheeks glowing orange. The Hyundai engine turned off. Her nails were scuffed where she bit them.

“So how’d you keep the kids entertained or at least busy if you’re as terrible with clocks there as you are at home?” I grinned, my crowded teeth shining back at me from a chrome bumper on the floor.

“Hah, I’m not that terrible. We drew a giant clock on the board and made the hands with different names and faces.”

“You named the hands? Like ‘Mr. Jameson is at five, but Barbara is on twelve, what time is it?’”

“No,” she smiled at me, tucking her escaped hair behind an ear. “Like ‘big hand’ and ‘little hand’ and ‘baby hand.’”

“’Baby hand’?”

“The one for counting seconds.”  She pulled her elastic off as it slid off her fine hair. “Archie?”

“Yeah?”

“Was Chip doing the arm thing while he was talking about your game?” Her brows went up and in.

“Yeah, yeah he was.” I snorted, pulling a piece of seatbelt off my shoulder.

“Ouch.” Lane crinkled her nose. “I saw him do it once, when I visited – that time you got take-out on your shirt and had to wear a sweater even though it was really hot – it’s kinda like he’s scaling a redwood, right?” She sipped her water. The Ford pulled back into the street, pieces of wall and ceiling landing on the maroon carpet. I kissed her knuckles. The Hyundai did a K turn, heading down the wrong part of the sidewalk.

I sat at my desk and look at the staples imbedded in the tan Berber. Chip was on a phone conference in the glassed in office next to the cave where the programming engineers worked. The glassed room was not soundproof. Chip did hand motions when talking on the phone. His motions came very close to the conference call microphone. The people on the other line probably thought he worked in a windy office. Geoff walked through from the break room with his pizza day pizza, going back to the cave with no windows to keep the team of frat guys from dissolving into their Magic the Gathering games while the servers were down. Chip’s tie was twisted. Geoff stopped in the middle of the room and looked at me.

“Archie?”

“Yeah?”

“Whatcha doing?”

“Chip’s on a conference call.” I sorted my sticky note pads while watching Chip windmill. Geoff sat on the corner of my desk.

“How often does this happen?”

“About every three weeks to a month.” I stacked the ‘while you were out’ notes of phone numbers. Chip was business smiling. Geoff held the paper plate under his chin while he bit off cheese, pepperoni, broccoli. Some of the sun-dried tomato stuck to the goatee of his Fu Manchu.

“Who’s he talking to?” Geoff asked through a mouthful of green peppers.

“One of the agents for the voice talent. Apparently ‘Arson: Third Degree’ has some semi-racist language in it.” Chip mimed a punt. I caught words like “ninth inning” and “scrum” through the glass. Chip was sweating.

“Oh yeah, we’ve had to do some redesigns on that. Actually, Chip and Kevin, the Programming boss, they’re having us drop most of what we’re doing to focus on it.” Geoff rolled up his plate.

“Watch this, this is where he’s sure he nailed it.” I turned my lamp slightly towards the glass office for a mild spotlight. Chip patted his face with his purple tie. “Wait for it…” And Chip’s arms flew up like a 90 pound gymnast, his face solid and serious.

“Oh, and he lands it.” Geoff glanced at the cave. “They’ve got the cards out. Now I get to hear about manna until the server reboots.”

“Have you had a minute to look at my game proposal?” I pulled some of the inbox papers out and heaped them back according to date received.

“Naw, man, I haven’t had five minutes to do anything. I missed my brother’s bachelor party last week. It sucks.”

“That’s fine. Whenever you get a chance.” I reorganized the inbox by date received and author’s last name alphabetically.

“I gotta keep those nerds under control. Later.” Geoff ducked under the ‘Byte me’ sign to get back to the cave. I wanted to say ‘thanks for not looking at my game, jerkoff.’ But I didn’t. Chip had his hands on his hips and panted. I reached the bottom of the pile on my desk, and found an old good luck troll Lane had put there. The troll was dressed as a magician with blue hair. I rubbed the belly button jewel and put the magician in the bottom drawer with my ‘IT IS YOUR BIRTHDAY’ mug.

It was sunny enough to wear sunglasses. The walk from my apartment to the subway was short, not long enough to unzip my messenger bag, look for my sunglasses, and put them on. I would wear them for a block, and then redeposit them. I squinted until I was down the steps.

On the train, I sat with a courtesy space between myself and an older man. Most of the seats were empty, and a twenty-something held onto the pole next to me, a duet with his ipod, “Ooh giiiiiiiiirl. Oooooooooooh. Yeahhhhhhhhh.” A grandmother type sat across from me with a paper bag of groceries. There were seven empty seats. The twenty-something soloist did a spin and sat in the buffer seat between me and the older man. The doors closed. Employing subway etiquette, there were still five empty ones. The older man tucked his chin down.

Giiiiiiiiiirl you knooooooow.” The soloist probably took chorus in high school. He seat-danced, his hands doing the worm. “Giiiiiiiiirl I tooooooooooole you sooooooooooooooo.” His elbows tapped my ribs. The older man looked sideways at the bobbing soloist and back to the ad that said in yellow letters “Learn English at Voomers! 1-800-LEARNOW!” a smiling girl giving the thumbs up, her eyebrows penciled on.

A snake came out of the soloist’s leather jacket sleeve. He hand-danced while it circled its tail around his middle, hooking the tip into his waistband. “Giiiiiiirl oooooooooh.” The loudspeaker announced that there were delays on the track, the upstate nasal a intruding on the diction focused voice. “I doooooo you riiiiiiiiiiiight.” The asp tongue-flicked my khakis. The soloist closed his eyes, rocking against me and the older man, head tipped towards the ceiling. The snake leveled with his chin, closed its lips, and pushed its way into his mouth. “You knoooooooow so riiiiiight.” Clear in spite of the obstruction, the asp filling his windpipe, pushing his vocal chords against the skin of his neck, Adam’s apple like a marble on a long balloon.

The tail anchored into his armpit, twisting. A hollow rip came from his abdomen, the tail pressing into the dark hairs sticking out of the white tee sleeve. The speckled snake started to pull itself out of the soloist. Blood spread from the body onto the white tee. “I doooooooooooo yoooooou.” The blood ran from the sides of the soloist’s mouth

The soloist opened his eyes, leveling his head, and giving the snake momentum. “Giiiiiiiiiiiiirl.” The snake pulled out, its mouth dragging tissue and organ tubes down the front of the soloist, blood waterfalling down his chin, and gathered in a puddle on his lap. His teeth were ringed red, “Foooooooor yooooou,” bending the stream towards the middle of his mouth. The doors opened at my stop, the snake twisting back into his jacket, the ends of the intestines leaving a trail of blood and bile on the soloist’s wrist. I stood on the platform watching the doors close in front of me, the soloist leaking onto the seats on either side of him.

I put my sunglasses on when I reached the outside. Lane’s school was six blocks from the stop. I was early with the fifteen minute in-case-of-emergency cushion I allowed myself. Since I didn’t want to be the “Caucasian male, short auburn hair, approximately 6 feet tall, reported in the area” in front of an elementary school, I walked to the bodega half a block over. A window showed a plaster bust of King Tut and three tall crystals with the word ‘Psychic’ in gold lettering across the top. A knocking came from the window. The psychic in a black shirt and leopard print scarf was at the window, her long red acrylics snapping against the glass, gesturing for me to come inside. She mouthed the words ‘yes, you.’ I shook my head and she shrugged. A mother with a stroller walked by the window, the psychic tapped on the window again. Stroller lady walked by pretending she didn’t hear. With thirteen minutes left, I decided to see what the psychic wanted.

The room was bright from the street side window, displaying for pedestrians the eight dollar lunch special. She sat on a plastic whicker chair with a high back, shuffling a tarot deck on the matching coffee table. I handed her a ten and she didn’t give me change. She pointed to the chair across from her which was low to the ground. I sat, my bag clunking onto the thin carpet.

“We have many options to find spiritual awakening this afternoon,” the psychic said in a flat voice. She sounded like a waitress at the end of a double shift. “For cleansing, why not try our aura polishing service? Or if it’s answers you’re looking for, possibly a palm reading. Or leave your questions in the hands of the stars with tarot?” She said all this while looking at the wall behind my head. I stared at her blue eyeshadow until she looked at me. I shrugged. She grabbed my hand, marking my palm with pencil rubbed on the edges of her red nails.

“What do you see?” I tightened my jaw so I couldn’t make a face.

“You will find love in your twenty seventh year.”

“I’m twenty-eight.”

“Congratulations, sweetheart.” Her menthol scent redistributed itself when the psychic tugged at her scarf with her free hand. “You will live for a very long time, far into old age, like your father and your grandfather before you.”

“Thanks.” My grandfather died when my dad was two and my grandfather was twenty three.

“Shhh. I see a wish to join culinary school?” She arched an eyebrow at me. I kept my clenched face on. I probably looked inappropriately intense. “That is all I see,” my hands were dropped on the table. “Come back again for untold transatlantic wonder inspired by me, Madam Janelle.” She stared at the back wall again.

“How are you transatlantic?” I picked my bag up. Nobody said transatlantic very often.

“I’m Polish. Madame Kreigskruger” Which was not Polish.

“That’s German. For god’s sake, I’m German, Archibald Edsel: German.”
“Sure, why not.” She looked up at me with her arms crossed on the table, mouth pursed with the lower lip pushed out. I wanted to smack her transatlantically.

“Great lunch special. I’ll recommend it.” Which I did. To Chip.

“Please do, all I get are divorcees out shopping.” She lit a menthol and blew it into a window fan, circulating it in the very small room. I went outside, the metal chimes smashing into the door very un-Zen like. I walked back towards the school. Madame full-of-shit had a cool name though. I wondered if her family was in the German navy, Kreigskruger, Kreigsmarine, pretty close.

School let out, and I walked against the tide of kids streaming towards sunlight. Lane’s classroom was on the second floor. I knocked on the door.

“Hey! I’ve gotta hang up some of these pictures, and then we can go.” Lane held a painting of a tree with a giant bird covered in purple glitter.

“Great.” I leaned next to the door against the poster of the new and improved food pyramid.

“Little boys and glitter.” Lane smiled and pinned the tree and bird next to a painting of a monochromatic rainbow.

“Glitter is cool, all sparkly and stuff.”

“So boys are crows? It’s just the shiny part?”

“Yes.”  I smiled with my snaggled teeth. I crossed to the big windows that had military green shades pulled halfway down. I tugged at a chord until it snapped up to the top. The sun was warm, even through the glass. Lane shook the pictures out while she hung them up, the glitter drifting in the light. “So I figured out the name.”

“The name of what?” She pinched a globby family portrait.

“My game. I figured it out.” The glitter gobbets dripped off and swirled with the light breeze.

“Oh my god! What is it?” Lane wiped her hands on her slacks, adding to the washable paint smears.

“Battle of the Atlantic: Kriegsmarine.” The painted glitter beaded together and grew wings, gliding upwards. Lane’s hair twinkled in the light, the ornithological craft supplies circling her head.

“That’s…Amazing!” Lane was very smart, but her face was saying ‘I don’t get it, but I’m trying to because I love you.’

“Kriegsmarine is the German navy.” The glitter bird was joined by two others; forming a flock, rotating aorund the classroom.

“Archie!” She shook her hands at her sides, adding two more birds, whirling. “That’s so cool!” Lane bounced a little.

“Thanks.” I pulled the chord down from being wrapped around the shade at the top of the window. The largest sparkling bird landed on the sill, preening. Lane crossed the room, holding her paint smudged hands out like Jesus. I opened the window a little, rustling the paintings on the wall.

“We have to celebrate!” Lane said, putting her arms around my neck with her wrists at forty-five degree angles.

“Ok.”

“Archie! Get excited!    This was the last thing you had to add to your proposal! You’re done! And it’s a really awesome name!” Lane squirmed.

“I am excited!”

“No you’re not! You’re staring out the window.” She looked out the glass too. I put my arms around her paint-y waist.

“Do you want to go to that place where we had the fried squid things?”

“Yeah let’s commemorate your game being finished!” Lane stood on her tiptoes, kissed my cheek, and then went across the room to wash her hands. The glitter flock rotated the room once more and flew out the window, swooping their gleaming bodies between buildings.

Chip pushed his glasses to the end of his nose. “Archie, did you finish that report on ‘Surge Choppers?’”

“Yesterday. I gave it to you.” I flipped through the papers on my desk, knocking over my cup of pens.

“I can’t find it.”

“It’s under your coffee mug, next to the plant and the stapler shaped like a shark.” It was still there, I saw it when I brought him a muffin. He called it a mufflin. I don’t know why.

“Can you print me a new one? I think I got coffee on it.” Chip closed his black leather binder, tucking it into the space between his arm and his waist.

“Sure.”

“Gotta stay on the ball, you know! Gotta have my point guard working with the rest of the outfielders.”  He hit his hand like a baseball catcher.

“I’ll print you a new one.”

“Great.” Chip slapped my back with his folder and walked over to the new girl’s workstation, he planted his glasses in his shirt pocket. It made his shirt look smarter.

I dropped the report on his desk in front of his chair as he stared at his computer. “Thanks AA!”

“You’re welcome.” I walked back out the glass doors.

“Hey Archie, what’s this?”

“The report you asked me to print for you.”

“No, I got that, what’s ‘Battle of the Atlantic: Kriegsmarine?”

“That’s my finished game proposal. I worked out some of the kinks and reformatted a couple of things.” He was not supposed to find that until I left. He was then supposed to call me back into his office, blown away by my genius.

“It’s a game…from the German’s side?”

“Yeah.”

“We’re not doing war games right now.” Chip kept looking at his computer.

“What?” Clouds outside clotted over the sun.

“We’re not doing war games. ‘Arson: Third Degree’ is way behind schedule, and the next one is due out this summer.” Chip pushed his glasses down his nose.

“And?” I fucking hated ‘Arson: Third Degree.’

“And our image at Crunch Board is becoming younger, more urban, more modern.” Chip wove his fingers together over his chest and leaned back in his swivel chair. His paunch pulled the buttons tight near his belt.

“Ok.” Black smoke started to break through the manhole covers outside.

“Plus, no one wants to have a game that’s Nazi sympathetic. That’s just not conducive to our family-tolerant audiences.” The pipes in the ceiling burst with steam.

“Ok.” I wiped my palms on my khakis.

“Oh, Archie?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m out of toner, can you order some more?” The steamed tiles folded under the weight of the boiling pipes.

“Sure.” The water cooler simmered, shoving vapor and bubbles out the spigots.

“Thanks, AA.” Chip clicked on one of his emails, the text reflected in his fake-vintage lenses. Fucking Chip.

I walked down the block, ash thick in the wind. The subway platform was full of people, the rats running on the rails heading uptown. The floor busted, metal shearing, the bolts popping off the tracks. The red glow hovered beneath, arcing like sun storms. The lava had hardened a little on top, turning black, it oozed up through the tracks, turning them orange. The train ran on the heated rails, covering the gaping magma pool. I stepped on, going downtown. The flooring melted from the heat, leaving an open hole next to the end of the car. I stood holding the pole between two amorous college students. The liquefying floor spread, showing the crusty lava flow underneath, the slowly dissolving bolts and washers. My hand was above the boyfriend’s hand, below the girlfriend’s. Their fingers slipped towards each other. The steam rose around the outside of the car, fogging the windows to grey, sticky with ash. The girlfriend’s hand slipped downwards, and the boyfriend’s slipped a little upwards. I repositioned my hand above both. The pole was hot, steaming their sweat off, their hands sizzling like friend eggs on melted butter. We were sautéing. The Boyfriend’s hand moved above mine, having reached the bottom of the pole. It slipped towards hers. I was in a hand sandwich; they were slipping, slipping towards each other. Their flesh was pressing against mine. Touching me. My skin was browning, cracking. The lava slurped out of the hole towards my shoe. My hand was in their vice. I could feel the heat lick my loafers.

“If you want to hold her fucking hand just do it!”  A subway car of eyes looked at me. “Just stop touching me! If you want to be with your girlfriend, stand with her; don’t put me in the fucking middle! Or, since you’re being so rude, maybe you’d like to sit on either side of that old guy, and lick each other over his lap. I’m sure he’ll pretend he doesn’t notice you’re there, because he’s fucking polite.” The old guy looked at the Voomer’s ad. “See?! Why don’t you come back to this same car when you two procreate and bring the demon child into the train where we can’t get away from its screaming “MOM! I DON’T WANT TO BE ON THE TRAIN! GET ME OFF THE TRAIN MOM!” While it writhes in the seat given up by someone else’s mother so your little spawn can roll around and invade other people’s seats, which you don’t notice because you’re too busy yelling at each other, you’re not even bothering to respond to the horrible creature because you just don’t give a fuck about anyone else’s personal space or -”

The boyfriend wiped his nose and then hit mine. It hurt. I held my face until the next stop, where I got off and sat on the wooden bench next to the platform.  I sat for a while, watching the tracks. I swallowed blood. When the next train came, I sat down with two courtesy seats on either side of me. No one looked at the blood running down my wrist and into my rolled up blue shirtsleeve. I got off when I was far enough downtown, and bought a bag of frozen peas at the grocery store under the scaffolding. I held the bag to my face while I walked, blood caking on my cuff buttons. The sun was bright as I watched the clouds sift behind the trees of the park.

I got to Lane’s school before it closed. It was 11 in the morning. I forgot it was morning. I stopped at the receptionist desk. Mrs. Leahy had short hennaed hair, it was obviously permed, but still had that purplish tint that meant she didn’t use chemicals in her dye. She finished a phone call and smiled at me.

“Is that Mr. Edsel under there?” She pointed her ring finger at me crooked.

“Yes Mrs. Leahy.” I squinted to look like I was smiling under the frozen pea bag.

“Are you here to see Miss Haldis?”

“Yeah. She doesn’t know I’m here.” I squinted further.

“It’s a surprise! And you brought her – peas.”  She renewed her smile.

“Yup.”

“Mr. Edsel, if you don’t mind me asking, why are the peas on your face?” Mrs. Leahy squinched her eyes and cocked her head sideways, pointing. I took the bag off my face. From her expression I guessed I had started to bruise.

“So – room 104?” I walked down the hall, Mrs. Leahy was watching me, but I was busy checking the glass halves of the classroom doors, peering into naptimes, show and tells, and kids tracing each other on pieces of paper.  Lane’s classroom was on the left. The class stopped and the kids turned towards me. My nose had started bleeding again; I could feel it on my lip. I wiped my face, the red layering on the sticky brown where my hand became my wrist. Lane’s expression was in mid-smile. She was holding a book up, showing the pictures to the class. I crossed the room in six steps, over the heads of two seven year olds. I stood at the front of the classroom. She looked up at me, her eyebrows raised high. I held her face, bloody thumbprints indenting her pale cheeks. I kissed her with my eyes open, the grey irises blending.

My blood streaked from her upper lip to the crease in her cheek like a brushstroke. The bag of peas was melting on her hip. I put my hand in her hair, pushing my mouth into her collarbone. The white blonde strands were slick with noseblood, running down her back. I felt her hands on me, light fingertip circles arching towards my shoulders. I watched her hair drip into her cotton periwinkle button up, the area below her ribcage spotting, and spreading. Her hair was sucking the blood out of me. The chalkboard had pictures of the student’s favorite imaginary pets. I stared at a blue unicorn with the name Sprinkles next to it.  My noseblood tasted like fabric softener.

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