Conjunctions:71 A Cabinet of Curiosity

Days of Heaven
A grown-up man not unlike me is trying to coax a struggling child into a box. That’s badly phrased and only a single sentence in we are in need of starting over. The man is trying to make the child—a slender boy no older than seven—take a few steps inside a bunker half submerged in sand somewhere; it’s on a lonely beach somewhere, possibly Spain. The bunker is concrete and squat and dark and full of cobwebs—it’s presumably full of cobwebs, but this is a very safe presumption and if it isn’t full of cobwebs, it’s full of crabs. Also the bunker has no windows and no ventilation and must be stuffy, and why is this grown-up man who’s presumably well educated and friendly and knows right from wrong intent on doing this curious thing? We assume he has his reasons. The child resists and he too has his reasons; humans are rational, after all. The child is shaking his head and trying to free his left arm from the grown-up’s grip, which is holding him very tightly, being secured by grown-up muscles, and it’s doubtful the boy will succeed. And so he’s writhing and crying and being an all-around pest; you know how kids are. The bunker’s heavy door is wide open but it is heavy and made of steel and no doubt after the child enters, if he enters, if he’s foolish enough to enter, the man will swing the heavy door shut and that will be that. The man has promised not to do this, but the child suspects he’s lying, and we suspect the man is lying, and I happen to know for a fact that the man is lying, and this comes as no surprise. All grown-ups lie. All children know this and yet they must rely on grown-ups, who are stronger than them, and meaner, and fickle, and come and go as they please, and do as they please, and are not subject to higher powers. And if they are, those higher powers are other grown-ups, and fickle and abstract and mysterious and absent. The child digs his heels in the sand and twists and turns and tries again to free his arm to no effect; he is merely chafing the skin that encloses his wrist, and he cries and shouts but there is no one else who can hear and no one who’d come to his aid if they did. And he will weaken or relent, or else the man will lose his patience and grow more violent, and grab the child with both hands, or strike his face, or grab his legs, and thereby shove him into the bunker, or drag him in. Although if the grown-up enters the bunker there’s always the chance that the child will manage to wriggle free, and knock the grown-up on his behind, and dart outside and with the very last of his strength swing the heavy door shut. But the grown-up isn’t in any hurry; he seems to be toying with the child, enjoying the struggle, because he’s much stronger. Even the weakest grown-up is stronger than a child; it’s no fair contest. The grown-up could shove the child inside at any moment, so he must be after a different sort of pleasure, a different pleasure altogether. The child’s afraid; the child is terribly afraid; the child is terrified, the way only children can be, because they are weak, and can’t assume life is theirs to keep. And the pleasure that grown-ups take in inspiring fear like that strikes me as very cheap, because it’s an easy fear to arouse; I rarely go days without scaring children, either intentionally or on accident. I find it more rewarding to scare adults, whose fear is more pleasant. But at the same time I understand what the grown-up’s after.

          Life’s a bitch. For instance, once upon a time there were two lovers and they were happy being in love. They did almost everything together, they shopped and ate and bathed together, they went to the rodeo together, and one day they perished. Except that perished isn’t the right word; custom dictates that I use another word, but perished’s the word I want to use and so I’ll use it. From their remains grew a crooked tree, and on that tree grew a crooked fruit, and when it ripened thirteen years later, that fruit became a little boy. He is our neighbor now and he mows our lawn in the summer, and in the winter he shovels our drive. And he is as green as green can be; each time I see him, I do believe he’s gotten greener. “Have you gotten greener?” I always ask him, and he buries his face in his hands and weeps with such force that the windows rattle, and the windows and walls of the garden shed buckle and shake. But I take a lot of pleasure in the asking, so I ask. I’m curious as to what he does on weekends, but not so curious that I come right out and ask him. I prefer to imagine that like most children he disappears, that he goes off to the land of the interesting lizards—have you visited that land? Of course you have, but let me tell you all about it, because the pleasure is in the telling, and your memory isn’t the best. It is a land of ideal lizards, each one more interesting than the last. Some of the lizards know how to fly, and some repair cars, and some can do complex sums in their heads. Others belch blood that leaves dark stains and smells like Coca-Cola used to, back in the day. And there are other lizards besides that, better and worse, but if I describe them in rigorous detail then we’ll be at it all day, because there are more of them every second; they’re constantly hatching out of eggs. Suffice to say, there are a lot of them and they’re attractive. And children are always chasing after them, pulling their tails or tossing them back and forth like footballs, or batting at their bulging reptile eyes with sticks, or painting their toenails and scales different colors, and stuffing bubblegum down their throats. You must remember doing this. I saw you doing this, or doing something like this, back in the day. Your hair was billowing in the warm summer breeze—the sirocco, I think people call it—and you were muttering to yourself, arcane recipes you read in your grandmother’s cookbook—elaborate dishes you’d never cook, because you could tell at a glance the results would be disgusting: meat loaf in aspic, minced veal in aspic, tuna noodle casserole in aspic. And you were wrong, or you were right, but let’s not get into that at present because I happen to know for a fact that you’re a good cook, although you can only make three dishes. But you are good at those three dishes, which I like. Either way, you once were a child and you disappeared every Friday evening into the land of ideal lizards, where you saw a lot of lizards, and you did things with the lizards, and now you’ve forgotten what you did, but I remember, and this is why you’re so frightened of lizards. You think they despise you and that they are dreaming of taking revenge. Which they probably are.

          But none of this gets at what I really want to tell you, which is what happened to our good friends Thomas and Janice. Remember them? It’s quite all right if you do not. We knew them a century ago, when we were still living in Bloomington-Normal and yes, all right, it wasn’t a century ago, but that’s what it feels like. I swear I’m much older than you think and you have to admit that when I first met you I let slip—I didn’t mean to, but out it drooled—that I’m not human, that I am something other than human, something primordial and perturbed, something inhuman and nonhuman and inhumane—there isn’t a word that really captures what I am, that nails down my essence. So when I say that I feel older than you, or that time doesn’t pass for me at the same rate it does for a mortal like you, you have to know that there is something behind my words, some truth to my statement. But let’s quit talking about that because I’m getting distracted, and you know how I get whenever I get distracted; it never goes well for the neighbors’ children or their Chihuahua or the goldfish I keep in the sink. Or our wedding album. Janice and Thomas, have you recalled them? Can you perform the incantation that causes their faces to swim to mind, can you picture their faces? Maybe you can, and maybe you can’t. After all it was centuries ago in Blormal, a place that I hope will be wiped from the globe by time and disease and financial crises and Republicans and an asteroid and the sterile fire of God, should that malignancy ever return. But at the moment Blormal’s still present; its people still shuffling back and forth along on Jefferson Boulevard, where we lived in our little house, or else in the downtown of Normal proper, reading the Pantagraph at the Coffeehouse and lining up for films at the refurbished movie theater, and riding banged-up bikes on the nature trail, the Constitution Trail, looking out of control but still managing not to hit you. I’ve set the scene and now it’s all coming flooding back, recollection trickling into your brain like cottage cheese that’s being pressed through a sieve, a milky white substance with air bubbles calmly rising in it, and those air bubbles are the fragile things we call memories. And two of those bubbles are Janice and Thomas, working late in the State Farm office that stands in downtown Bloomington proper like the priapus of a giant elder god who died in his sleep while he was sleeping on his back in the midst of a cornfield, eons ago. Janice and Thomas were working one evening as the sun set, the radioactivity of that star painting the western side of the State Farm Insurance building crimson orange, as is so common in the evening in the heartland. Janice and Thomas were the only two left in the office and as many as forty-five minutes had passed in silence when Thomas asked Janice a fateful question. And here you have to imagine the voice of a middle-aged man destroyed by decades of Marlboro Lights and shots of bourbon chased by cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, treats that Thomas permitted himself every night and sometimes during the daytime, during work, Thomas believing them his due:

          “Say!” (This is Thomas speaking to Janice; make sure you’re doing the raspy voice!) “Would you like to come over Thursday evening? Missy and I”—that’s Missy O’Mally, Thomas’s girlfriend of seventeen months—I hope you didn’t think Janice and Thomas were an item; they’re coworkers and we used to work with them, do you really not remember this? But I apologize for giving the wrong impression; I should be more precautious with you, really handle you with kid gloves as they say, that’s gloves that were made out of baby goats, dead baby goats, slaughtered baby goats, their skin is perfect for making gloves, and they’re the right kind of gloves for you. Thomas who never so much as kissed Janice was saying to Janice: “Missy and I are having some college friends over for dinner Thursday night, and as sure as you’re born, it would delight us to introduce you to the whole lot. I’ve already told them a lot about you.”

          “Really?” asked Janice.

          “As sure as you’re born,” repeated Thomas, who tended to overuse any phrase that he thought clever. “Tim and Bridget and Francis and Carol. And they’ve decided that they hate you, absolutely loathe your guts. They’d love to meet you, and humiliate you, and mock you, and spit in your face until your face is covered with spit, can’t hold more spit, then spit some more, and then some more. And then I was thinking that we could run you through with a poker, and disembowel you, and dismember you, chop you up into little bits, and grind those bits up in a blender, or else our brand-new garbage disposal, except for your organs, which we’ll barbecue and eat with dipping sauces for our meal.”

          Janice was tempted by Thomas’s offer. She was tempted to accept. She didn’t have very many friends, and those she had never asked her to dinner. So this was a banner day for Janice. You must remember what she was like, constantly sniveling and blowing her nose and making excuses for herself and crying profusely. We used to laugh at her whenever she left the room, and we sure as hell never invited her over for dinner at our place. “Well, I will see if I am free,” is what our darling good friend Janice sweetly said. She knew she’d be hungry come Thursday evening, that she’d be trapped fast in hunger’s jaw, that she’d be pinned by the bleached teeth of hunger, and that there’d be no food in the fridge. “I have to warn you,though,” she continued—and this is so typical of Janice, always continuing just when you thought she’d finished speaking—“that I’ve been busy as of late, thanks to the coming holiday season.” And here she was totally telling the truth, also typical of Janice: it was in fact the holiday season. Arbor Day was in three more weeks, and she was working her tight little tush off on a project for State Farm, seeing if she couldn’t invent an odorless gel that she could slip in a person’s coffee to make them anxious and want to pay more for their insurance premiums, like a thousand times more. I’d tell you the science if I happened to understand it, but I don’t, and I never will; I didn’t study math in college. It’s more important to describe what Janice was wearing, what bits of fabric she’d adorned herself with that day. How else can you properly picture this scene? Make notes if you need to: Janice was wearing a white-and-blue polka-dot cotton dress that did her body no real favors, as well as tights with sparkles in them, which was definitely a mistake. She’d swept her strawberry-blonde hair back with bobby pins that she had scavenged in the street. And of course she was wearing evening gloves to hide all the scars on her hands and forearms, but I don’t have to tell you that, because that’s her defining characteristic. (Have I mentioned that I hate her?)

          “Of course,” said Thomas, who for his part was wearing a tracksuit. I’ve never met anyone who loved tracksuits more than Thomas. He wore nothing but, even when cruising down the highway, pushing his candy-apple red Lamborghini to and past the limit, rocketing off to DeKalb and Peoria and Decatur to sell life insurance. He wore tracksuits even when going to church, even when representing himself in divorce court against his ghoul of a wife, even when working out at the gym (well, that makes sense), even when singing karaoke, even when huddled in the corner, alone and despondent, drunk and depressed, covered with cobwebs and downing his seventh Pabst Blue Ribbon for the evening. And even when laboring after hours at the office; his fondness for tracksuits was one of his many eccentricities that cannot be explained by modern science, no matter how many expensive lasers they aim at our brains. “I get what you’re saying. But if you cannot attend this Thursday, then perhaps some other time.” (Don’t forget to do the voice! You’re not doing the voice!)

          “I’ll certainly see what I can do,” Janice assured him, and you’ll remember how she was always assuring people, though they rarely were assured. “Your friends sound cool and really worth meeting—smarter than you, and far less boring.” Janice was thinking—here we are privy to her thoughts, a special privilege that we should treasure—“You most divine heavenly cow of a man, how can it be that until now I never thought of trying to slip my hand inside your sweatpants’ elastic waistband? For you are glittering in the sunset like a silver loving cup.” This you will doubtless find perplexing until I remind you that Janice always had a thing for abusive men, men who threatened to chop her up into little bits, men who preyed upon her fervent love of hockey, instilled by a father who drank Jim Beam and beat his daughters if his favorite team, the Flyers, didn’t win the Stanley Cup, which they so often didn’t. Poor desperate Janice, poor delirious and pathetically lonesome Janice. I never liked her—I always hated her, tell the truth—but even still I’m not so unhuman that I can’t be moved by the grim pathos of her delusions. I may be an ancient malicious demon, but I still weep when confronted by persons such as that.

          In fact I was so moved on her behalf, let me tell you what I did. And here you’re getting an extra-special bonus insight because this is not yet public knowledge. Our old friend Thomas, he who wore nothing but tracksuits no matter what he was doing, our old friend Thomas no longer counts among the living. I strangled the arrogant bastard last week, I got so offended on poor frumpy Janice’s behalf. Because Lord knows she wasn’t ever going to do it, she’d never do anything with him, neither kiss him nor screw him nor kill him, despite his very real threat of bringing about her demise with his college friends (whom I’ll decline to describe in detail; suffice to say they are no more than leeks). What happened was I crept up from behind while he was drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon, his sixth of the evening, and I positioned my callused hands around his neck, and then I squeezed, then squeezed some more, then squeezed some more, until he had no more breath left inside him, and breathed his last. Then he expired and toppled over and he expired on the floor, the floor of the bar, a sticky surface that nobody looked at because they were drunk, which is what people are in bars, that’s why they go to bars in the first place, they go to drink alcohol and not have to look at floors, which is why bars are sordid places. Then I dragged Thomas out by his ankles and nobody noticed because again they were totally drunk, they had no idea what was going on, and that is why many consider drunkenness a sin. And I weighted Thomas’s tracksuited body down with copies of books that I’d been given by author friends that I had little interest in reading. The worst thing by far about being a writer is that people send you their books, and not even real books, but galley copies, uncorrected proofs that they want you to read and review, and that you can’t even sell for credit at your neighborhood used bookstore, because the galleys say right on their covers, “Not for resale.” And of course you don’t want to read these books because your friends don’t know how to write. Maybe one of them does for each dozen writer friends. It’s the pits. So I am always looking for things to do with these galleys, like seeing how tall a stack I can make with them, or throwing them hard as I can at passing cars, or weighting down the bodies of people whom I’ve strangled and want to dump in the nearest river. And so it was that Thomas drifted to the bottom of Bloomington’s shallow Sugar Creek accompanied by a bumper crop of small press offerings I’ll discreetly decline to name. The water was low that time of year and I have to admit that I’m surprised that no one has stumbled across his body—I mean, his corpse was barely submerged. But nobody seems to have missed the fellow, not even Missy, his so-called girlfriend of seventeen months, or the folks at the bar he was keeping in business. And just a few days ago the thin blue line of Bloomington discovered a rotting body, but it was somebody else’s corpse and they don’t know who it was, on account of its missing a face.

          But as I was saying, here and now—that boring evening in the priapus that is State Farm—Janice was lusting after Thomas, and considering his offer. A familiar face filled her vision, the familiar face of hunger. She’d eaten that day—she ate every day; she was exceedingly clever that way—but from her experience she knew that, come Thursday evening, she would have to eat again. So she was tempted. But something about the way Thomas was acting deeply upset her, it mixed her up, and not knowing how else to respond, she struck his honey-colored mug with the fat of her hand, and it proved a doozy of a blow. Janice had been working out after work, the tricky gosling. Indeed, she didn’t know her own strength. The strike caught Thomas by surprise, knocking him backward onto the floor, the linoleum floor, the unswept and unmopped linoleum floor, where he at once started getting filthy. You can imagine the bacteria that started crawling on him and reproducing. As for her own part, crying, Janice clumsily fled to the nearest custodial closet, where she consoled herself by reading the complex ingredients in the many cleaning solutions that were stored there. We should show some respect for her feelings and permit her to take a breather.

          OK, that’s more than enough time for Janice. But she still hasn’t emerged from the closet. Maybe she’s getting OSHA-compliant, scrubbing her forehead with foaming hand soaps, or squirting Windex into her hair, or trying on overalls and galoshes and vinyl gloves. That might be a good look for Janice; it might make her look very nice. Or maybe she’s taking out her frustrations on her fingers, bending her pinkies back until they snap in half, like the medieval jailers did. I never followed the lady home and couldn’t tell you what she was into, but she was obviously into something, poor old Janice, poor old unhappy, impoverished Janice. I never liked her as I’ve mentioned more than once; she was a mess but it wasn’t her fault, not entirely her fault. Her bones fit together much too snugly and her joints grated when she walked, producing a high-pitched shriek you heard without knowing what it was, a whine tucked away in the back of your mind that you barely realized was there and that you sure as hell couldn’t drown out with other sounds. Which was very aggravating.

          Speaking of which, did I tell you about the play I watched? Last Saturday afternoon, in one of the underground theaters for which the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago is justly famed. The first half was boring and I didn’t like that half. I got so bored that I got up to poke around backstage, inspecting the ropes and pulleys and bridges everywhere. There was more stuff than I thought any theater needed, but it was a secret professional theater and they must know what they’re doing. I did some theater as a child but that was a thousand years ago and I’ve mostly forgotten my training and can’t claim expertise.

          In the second half of the play, a person, Garoo, was beating his friend. This intrigued me. Garoo was wearing a ratty bathrobe that kept coming loose. The sash, I mean, kept coming untied. And the bathrobe was covered in eucalyptus and menthol stains. Garoo had a thing about eucalyptus, kept smearing his face and hands with this gel that came in unlabeled sample bottles. In the first half of the play, he had a monologue where he swore—but only half jokingly, I think—that he’d been a koala in a past life. And in the second half he kept hitting and kicking his friend, Aaron Alexander, who just went by Alexander, and the beating looked so real that I worried for Alexander’s sake. I thought his skull might split in half, and that his brain might come flying out, and plop on the stage, and no longer work. I don’t know how they made the violence look so convincing.

          I’ll back up and tell you about Garoo, who looked like cheese. He looked a hell of a lot like cheese, an awful lot like some strange Swiss-cheddar-Colby blend. He had yellow-orange skin and an overall mushy look, as though if you squeezed him, grabbed his forearm and really gave it a squeeze, his flesh would come apart in clumps in your hands. Plus he emitted a cheesy aroma. It was difficult to distinguish in his case the regular pungent human odor from, say, a Camembert or a Brie or a Vieux Boulogne. Garoo was sensitive about this, quick to freak out if you asked him if his mother had been a cheese, or if you simply mentioned cheese, or simply said anything that sounded too much like a cheese pun. He’d push his cheesy face up in your face and scream till white spittle flew out of his mouth, spit like shredded mozzarella, while thick sweat oozed down his puffy cheeks like melting Velveeta. And then he’d threaten to punch your face and kick your shins. And you might wonder whether this soft cheese of a man would follow through on either threat, or cause any damage if he did; that’s fair enough. I don’t know for certain but I wouldn’t press my luck: some parts of his body had a rind, and I imagine those parts could scratch you, or give you a rash.

          Alexander was close friends with Garoo and chose his words extremely carefully and never mentioned cheese. He was a vegan and a gentleman. So why did Garoo flip out and attack him? Well, our coagulated friend accused Alexander of “licing his socks”—that’s dumping handfuls of lice in his socks—right before the intermission. He leaped on a table and pointed his finger, which looked like a cheese curd, right in Alexander’s direction, and screamed in a voice like queso fundido, “You put tons of lice in my Smartwool socks, the pricey ones from REI!” Then the curtain tumbled down and I did my snooping around backstage, which took me a while and by the time I got back to my seat, Act II had started, and Garoo was busy whaling away at Alexander. I asked my neighbors what I’d missed, and they said nothing so far but fighting. The tussle went on for a good long while, looking disturbingly real, as I’ve mentioned. Meanwhile people appeared onstage behind the fight, background extras, lithe men and women in blue-gray leotards and tights and papier-mâché masks that looked like fish. These dancers bobbed up and down and looked back and forth very quickly, producing a singular effect, as though the stage were slowly flooding, the fight occurring underwater. And all of those pulleys I’d seen went to work, lowering oversized starfish and clams, and oysters and lobsters, as well as a mermaid combing her hair and actual jellyfish, en masse onto the stage, until the undersea illusion was complete. Then all the lights dimmed and the curtain came down very slowly, extremely slowly, and that was the end of Act II and the play for all I cared. I’d lost any interest.

          I ripped up my ticket and went for a walk down Logan Boulevard, the knife that runs through the heart of Logan Square. I heard the drunken owls hooting and the moonlight scream my name but I didn’t stop; I already knew what nature wanted. Every window in every building on Logan B. was shot out or broken, long lethal shards of glass coating the sidewalk. I made a mental note about that; someone would have to sweep them up. What gets done with all those broken shards of glass is beyond me. I’ve heard that truly desperate Chicagoans grind them up and try to snort the powder like cocaine, and you can imagine how that goes—it’s why the gutter is full of blood. Others melt them down in order to make new glass, a complex process they call fornication.

          My mind was beating a mile a minute, as restless as a rhino getting Tasered. The earth felt alive beneath my feet, which might have had something to do with the earthworms. All my life, I’ve had the suspicion that earthworms will mutate and enlarge and grow poisoned fangs, then smash through the pavement, thick as forearms, and start chasing us, like giant killer elongated boogers. Or else the trees will take their revenge for all they’ve suffered. I’ve recently learned that when people climb trees, they’re trying to reach an ornate gem that nonetheless manages to elude them, but that’s not my point: the trees don’t care for such behavior, and they want to harm us, all of us people, which is why they’re planning to strike us with their branches, and stuff their needles and pine cones and fruits (if they produce fruits) and nuts and seeds up everyone’s nostrils. But if you die in your sleep before August 17, 2019, you won’t have to deal with any of this, and in the meantime I’m still considering what to do with this explosive information.

          I got to thinking about a cartoon I used to watch, starring a man named Saul the Gaul. In this one episode that’s always haunted me, Saul befriends an imp that wore a gargoyle mask and proudly displayed its mangled sex to half the nation. This was how that imp caught people, overly curious civilians that it stored in plastic boxes. It serenaded the people it trapped with delicate songs about skunks in love while its captives slowly starved. The imp insisted those deaths weren’t its fault. Saul meanwhile was determined to strangle a bear, believing that feat well within his cartoon capacity.

          All this and more was on my mind while I trudged along Logan Boulevard, past New Wave Coffee, past the Starbucks, en route to the overpass at Western, and then the Target and the Lathrop Homes beyond that. It’s odd where one’s mind disappears to at dusk, oozing out of the skull through the grotesque eye in the back of one’s head, and alighting on northerly winds like a flaming crystal eagle. It flies to the forces beyond our control, the gods who can play with our minds as they wish, give our brains sponge baths or massage them with their feet. We couldn’t stop them if we tried, even if we knew this was going on, which of course we do not. It’s like this is happening in our sleep and all our memories are like boogers—long, stringy earthworms dangling freely from a random stranger’s nose. You try to hand the stranger your handkerchief but he or she ignores you, more concerned with questions you don’t know how to answer, like “When a celebrity signs a baseball surely it raises that baseball’s value, but by how much?” And then your Amazonian boss strides up to your cubicle and demands a finished report on which of the cardinal numbers are “the squiggliest” and you open your mouth to respond, but find you’ve forgotten what numbers are, and you can’t say.

          Soppy, sweet Janice is still barricaded inside that janitorial closet, doing who knows what amidst the mops and the mousetraps and the sponges, and I think we have to conclude that she’s not coming out. She’s disappeared, just like a child escaped to the land of ideal lizards. Janice is still young enough to go there if she wants, if she tries with all her heart and if the lizards are feeling gracious. So let’s imagine that they are because that’s a very pleasant thought. Janice has nothing to live for on this side of the divide, so she might as well spend the remainder of her days among the lizards, learning their language and helping them lay their eggs and reboot their routers and modems—they have their own internet and it’s blisteringly fast, much faster than any network we’ve built. Janice could study to be an information technician, and barring that, she could scoot around patting all the lizards on their heads, if they happen to like that. It’s not the career I’d choose for myself but I’ve had better options, opportunities both educational and financial, while Janice has always been handed squat. Fortune avoided her like a biker on a trail, so maybe she’s better off turned green and eating quiche—if you live on that side, your skin turns green, and there is nothing to eat but quiche. But why am I telling you any of this? You’ve been there yourself, and you know more about the lizards than I ever could. We won’t be seeing Janice again so I hope you imagined her very clearly, got an eyeful.

          And as for the child, the one on the beach, I’d nearly forgotten all about him. And now I’ve forgotten all about him. I hope he got free, that things went well for him and badly for the man who was trying to trap him. Fiction should always follow the law and bring its evildoers to justice. So let’s agree that’s exactly what happened: the child escaped and the grown-up got stuck inside his own trap, got locked inside that dark concrete bunker. He’s now sitting quietly on the sand, reflecting on how the thing he did was exceedingly wrong. He has nothing to eat and as the day comes to an end, he’s growing chilly. He might have to spend a few more days all on his lonesome, as well as a few more days after that, as much as a week. Maybe in seven days’ time he’ll have learned a significant lesson and vowed to turn over a new leaf. And if not, well, who really cares? The world is full of losers and fools and if he wants to join their ranks, he’s welcome to do so. We can ignore him for years, for centuries if need be. We have so many others to think about and inspect. Like Margaret and Sheila: Margaret was showing Sheila her new mask, a lightweight object made of yarn. She could attach it to her face by means of small silver hooks she’d inserted into her bones. “My old mask was pinching too much,” she explained, “but this new one, being sateen, is looser.” Gaily she modeled the delicate good and wouldn’t you know it, Margaret wasn’t lying to Sheila. There was a certain truth to that.

A. D. Jameson is the author of five books, most recently I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing: Star Wars and the Triumph of Geek Culture (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and, with artist Andrew DeGraff, Cinemaps: An Atlas of 35 Great Movies (Quirk Books). He received his Ph.D. in Creative Writing (Fiction) from the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.