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The Pale Rider Pauses So His Pale Horse May Graze
In the Middle of the Stream, Youth
A woman was pushing a teenager in a stroller while a toddler walked a few paces behind them, knotted up in her own sullenness. There was a dog too but I forget how it fit into the equation. The woman looked like a teacher I had been in love with in elementary school. I dreamt of embracing her on the stained leather examining table in the nurse’s office where pukers and fakers and kids with lice were sent. “The fuck are you looking at,” the toddler said. “Astrid!” the mother snapped. “She’s like a feral vole,” she said to me. “There’s no need to apologize,” I said. “There is,” she said, her face going as rotten as the toddler’s. “There absolutely is.” And the teenager in the stroller let slip a wail like an ambulance still very far from the wreckage.


We were quite confused by the invitation to the potluck dinner that explicitly said not to bring any food. Everything made much more sense when we noticed that each place setting included a brand-new saw.


The Sheets in This House
The sheets in this house are all white. The children are downstairs. Dozens of them. Squalling. Stampeding. I can ignore them for a few minutes more by studying the hairs that have fallen out onto the pillowcase in the night.


Children of Martyrs Contemplate the World Situation
Oliver’s father patented the first sentient house and Thaïs’s father was decapitated by a faulty airbag sensor in his station wagon. Neither one of them worked a day in their lives. They endowed professorships in pet studies and applied demonology. They opened a home for beautiful widows and when they could not find any, they had a dozen beautiful husbands murdered. They spoke to each other like representatives of nations without diplomatic relations. They asked the director of a Palme d’Or winner to film them having sex but, through his agent, he politely declined. Oliver spent a year walking Beijing’s ring roads. Thaïs used this time to finance a failed coup and take up boxing. She finished fourth in the local Gold Gloves. When Oliver came home, suffering from a nasty bronchial infection, he was delighted by how brutal she looked. Thank God you’re back, said the house, which was one of Oliver’s father’s designs. Please help me. Oliver could not hear its pleas over his railroading cough and Thaïs led him upstairs, where they both undressed. Oliver’s cough made the walls bleed. Not a problem, we can deal with it in post, said the woman who directed the previous summer’s box office champion.


The Moving Walkway Is Now Ending
Would you please stop kicking me, said Elliot, standing up to face the man sitting behind him. I’m sorry but I can’t. He swiveled to show a large windup key affixed to his back. The woman beside him grinned giddily.


The People’s Tribunal for the Maintenance of Dignity and Order
My neighbors convened a kangaroo court. The charge against me was stealing newspapers. I contended that after 9:00 am they were artifacts not news and were therefore fair game under international archaeological conventions. Once the trial got underway in Todd Vokes’s living room they threw in some extra charges. I was bad at parallel parking and they didn’t like how I looked at their wives. And you’re all a bunch of overparenting, intellectually bankrupt middle managers, I said. And consultants too, some of you are guilty of that. These are capital offenses. I thought I might have found a way out but then Trish Vokes came in and asked us to keep it down, there’s a little girl with an ear infection trying to sleep upstairs. There, said Greg Mulroe, did you see how he looked at her? Did you see his eyes? Did you see what was in them? That evidence is inadmissible, I said. I can’t see what’s in my own eyes. It was ugly lust, said Pat Bridges, who was out to get me because he was terrible about bringing in his Tribunes and Wall Street Journals. They convicted me of being a lusty weird shitbag thief. Pat says his contractor is going to wall up the doors and windows to my house as soon as he finishes the job he’s doing in Roscoe Village. They’ve confiscated my car keys and canceled their newspaper subscriptions. Their wives leave home wearing oversized overcoats and football helmets. I can try to imagine their figures beneath the shapeless uniforms but their kids have been authorized to throw rocks and sticks at me if they think I’m leering. I went out to get my mail and Aiden Vokes told his yellow lab to attack me. Murphy charged and left a long, frothy string of drool on my screen door, which I managed to shut just in front of him. If what I’m guilty of is enough to turn dogs against me then I’ll drop all appeals. I’ll accept my sentence without complaint.


Three Stops
The train was so crowded that the woman beside him reached up and used his arm as a strap. For those three stops they were both as beautiful as they would ever be.


Daughters & Maps
Where do you want to go next, said Garrett, the shoe store or the currency exchange?
     Shoe store, I guess, said Fiona. She sounded elsewhere.
     What’s up, said Garrett.
     I just saw a number 344b bus. There is no 344b bus.
     New route, maybe.
     I don’t remember a chiropractor on this corner either.
     Fiona was hunched over, scanning what was there through the windshield. Her expression grew increasingly distressed.
     It’s easy to turn this into someplace else if you stare hard enough, said Garrett.
     Don’t dismiss me, she said. I don’t want to do this on my own.


I’m so tired of people having religious experiences while eating breakfast. I am a late sleeper with a long commute and really not much of an appetite in the morning. They’re such petty reasons for denying me ecstasy.


The Adoration of the Parkway
First decent Saturday of Spring. The children are somewhere. The men who live on either side of me converge in front of my house as they tidy up the sidewalk and parkway. They are talking about their gardens. They are talking about their boyhood homes. They are laughing and saying Oh wow and giving advice in needlessly passionate tones. I finally lift myself from the sofa and take from the entryway closet the rake that I don’t think has been used. “Do your fucking neighborly good cheer in silence,” I tell them from my stoop, the rake set to bludgeon, “or the next cleaning that happens out here will be of your fucking faces.” My sidewalk is immaculate, I note. The junk-food wrappers and dead cigarettes that accreted over the winter on the parkway have vanished. Spring in the city really can be pleasant, I think as I go back to the sofa. You just have to make the effort to appreciate it. It’s important to do so while we still have the time.


People wait in line at the museum to have their picture taken in front of the sacrificial altar. They drape their arms across each other’s shoulders and smile. As soon as the image is captured, the likenesses are slaughtered in accordance with the ritual. And in this way, the world may go on.

Pete Segall is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was a Truman Capote Fellow. His work has appeared in Necessary Fiction, decomP, and elsewhere; and he is the recipient of fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. He lives in Chicago with his wife, the writer Kim Brooks, and their children.