TWILIGHT IN PARIS

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TWILIGHT IN PARIS

          By the April of this year Anno Domini 937 it has already been a long season of drought unpromising to the village of Paris.  The Seine River has disavowed the Island of the Village, which is the archaic appellation of the Île de la Cité, and now it travels furtively past in veins of sandy banks.

          Twilight has come for this day ending.  Sister Alyssa emerges from the Couvent du Vaisseau Saint convent, crossing from that tomb of angels on toward the tumult of men.  The nascent evening cooking fires are redeeming the pungent exhale of the village.  Sister Alyssa walks carefully and gently as if balancing herself traversing that village of Paris and then she passes on down toward the desolation of the Seine River.

          She touches the crucifix of lead suspended upon the hide strip around her neck.  Sister Alyssa wears the habit of un-dyed lamb’s wool.  She carries a small sack woven of rough cloth.  Turning in the twilight she looks back toward the convent.  Seeing no one, Sister Alyssa removes her coif to free her roughly shorn hair and then turns her face away from the convent once again.  She now steps with intent toward the block of marble uncovered by the receding Seine near the edge of one small channel.

          This block of marble is the remains of a Roman altar, as she has deduced during the previous evening pursuant the few archaic Latin figures exposed and eroding, “Romulus et Remus.”  She seats herself upon those pagan remains and gazes upstream toward the forests of the Langres plateau, the dark womb of the Seine River.

          Sister Alyssa is petite but her mind is grande.  Flowing back to her youthful decision to become a nun, she remembers the suppliant men.  She could never have given her mind in slavery to any such rough husband.  But by that inability she was then left with only one other destiny in her humble and poor life: she married the Church to have protection and some solace.  But the Church has proven to be a rough husband.  Within the convent is the hierarchy ruled by women from the wealthy families.  And the knowledge provided is carefully sieved by the Church hierarchy.  It has become a distasteful diet to Sister Alyssa.

          She places the rough cloth sack upon her lap and unfolds it.  Thereupon are a small loaf of bread and a portion of roasted lamb tongue.  It is because of the drought that the villagers are sacrificing their starving livestock in an ongoing pyrrhic festival and donating portions to the convent.

          Sister Alyssa pinches a piece of the bread and purses her mouth and thinks without thinking, “Take, eat; this is My body.”  She peals a strip of lamb tongue, “For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue.”

          Chewing the lamb tongue, Sister Alyssa finally thinks, “I thirst”.  She arises, turning to set her repast upon the ruined altar.  She then approaches the water.  She lowers herself to both knees and bows onto her hands, closing her eyes for to sip, thinking, “The living water,” as her dangling crucifix dips unnoticed into the gentle vortex.

          Still on her hands and knees she slowly opens her eyes and contentedly raises her head, when suddenly she utters, “But what is that?”, having spied a four-legged silhouette far up the sandy shore.  She thinks without thinking, “A dog joins me.”

          Out of the approaching silhouette now emerge two liquid yellow eyes that fix upon her.  Sister Alyssa sits back stricken by a bolt of fear and clutches her damp dangling crucifix.

          It is a black wolf.

          Sister Alyssa’s mind observes through a frost of fear that the black wolf is thin and its coat is disheveled with hunger and thirst.  It has followed the river down from the forest in desperation.

          The relentless stare of those yellow eyes is suddenly averted and the wolf turns toward the water and bows to lap greedily at the water.  His long fangs gleam under his curling lip.  Sister Alyssa thaws her fear enough to rise cautiously and she steps backwards toward the exposed ruins of the pagan altar.  She realizes now that she is clutching her dangling crucifix with one hand and a river stone with the other and her lips are fluttering in prayer.

          The wolf has slaked the thirst but not the hunger and he lifts his head back toward Sister Alyssa.  His lutescent gaze presses into her eyes as he approaches.  She believes that she actually can feel his animal desires.  With another jolt of fear she has the sensation of, of…surrender!  Her mind is crying out for panic but she stands.  She releases the river stone and then feels behind herself for the roasted lamb tongue.  Touching upon the lamb’s tongue her fingers embrace it and her arm casts it toward the black wolf.

          The wolf reacts with a frighteningly sanguinary skill and captures the lamb’s tongue in its jaws.  With three chomps he has swallowed the offering.  Sister Alyssa imagines that she can feel that carnivorous lust, hot, wet and like a dagger penetrating her own flesh.  She wanes faint.

          But the wolf abruptly turns back to the darkness up the river and departs.  Sister Alyssa cannot see the motion of his silhouette any longer when suddenly the candles of those two yellow eyes alight back toward her one last time.  After that she can no longer feel his presence at all.  She closes her eyes as her fear shudders away.

          Sister Alyssa replaces her coif and returns through the living darkness, proceeding up the bank toward her convent.  A man’s voice calls to her and she turns.  It is the young Reynard, on sentry duty for the Paris marshalcy.  Sister Alyssa sees him as lofty and sinewy for a moment before she sacrifices forbidden perceptions.

          Reynard speaks, “Sister, it is not safe to be down at the river in darkness.”

          Alyssa answers, “Yes.  You have told me before, jeune homme,” and she smiles.

          Reynard smiles briefly and then puts back his professional façade of gravity, sternly saying, “Even a nun is not safe, Alyssa… Sister Alyssa.”

          Alyssa juts her chin in mock defiance, “Sinner, do you not believe that the Lord will protect me?”

          Reynard responds, “Sister Alyssa, I believe that we must carry Providence upon our own shoulders.  But I am not much of a theologian…”

          Sister Alyssa laughs involuntarily and touches Reynard’s elbow, “God’s Witness, Ma Dame Berthildis says the same of me.”

          Reynard nods, “I shall accompany you to the parvis of Couvent du Vaisseau Saint.”

          They walk slower than necessary together and Sister Alyssa thinks of the suppliant young men she once deflected.  Arriving at the convent Reynard bows to her and then he continues jauntily on his patrol of the village.

          Entering the candlelit parvis Sister Alyssa is startled to encounter Sister Superior Ma Dame Berthildis. Sister Alyssa bows and then trembles with an unrealized guilt.

          Ma Dame Berthildis narrows her eyes, “Where have you been this evening, Sister Alyssa?  And why are you blushing?”

          Sister Alyssa speaks quickly, “Ma Dame Berthildis, I took my supper near the river so that I might pray for an end to this terrible drought.  And a walk in the evening air can be invigorating.”

          Ma Dame Berthildis says ominously, “Many things out in that sinful world can be invigorating, Sister Alyssa.  Do not be concerned with appeasing your flesh.  As for this drought, it is certainly God’s judgment upon Paris.  Therefore be certain that you pray instead for your Compréhension, my dear, dear Sister Alyssa.  And in so doing, ma novice impudent, leave to me and the other Sister Superiors the salvation of Paris.  Sister Alyssa, know this also: I have been watching you.”

          Sister Alyssa asks defensively, “Ma Dame Berthildis, what do you mean?”

          Ma Dame Berthildis replies, “Why should you fear my watching you?”

          Sister Alyssa qualifies, “Ma Dame Berthildis, no, it is not that I fear… I mean…”

          Ma Dame Berthildis says with finality, “Sister Alyssa, you will not be the first wayward young nun I have cast back to her true desires.  Compréhension, my dear, dear Sister Alyssa, Compréhension, yes?”

          Sister Alyssa bows very deeply, saying, “Ma Dame Berthildis, I assure you it shall be as you wish, I mean as God wishes … but of course as you wish as well…”

          Ma Dame Berthildis says with exasperation, “Good night, Sister Alyssa.”

          And yet that same night upon her hard bed Sister Alyssa helplessly makes a vow to go to the pagan altar again upon the very next evening twilight.

          And so it comes to be that she does this as if enchanted, retracing her steps and manners, assuring herself that she is unobserved in this profane rendezvous, telling herself again and again that only a fool wishing to dance with death would fain conjure a resurrection of the evening before, you foolish relapsing nun, and yet she does carry her communion of bread and meat.

          Sister Alyssa seats herself again upon the ruined pagan altar.  She listens for any sound above the furtive river, she impales the darkness with her eyes, and with her fingers shaking she uncovers her bread and roasted tongue of lamb.  Thus she begins her twilight communion.

          After a while Sister Alyssa whispers to herself, “Nothing good will come of this,” and at that moment she thinks she sees a ripple in the far darkness.

          At the crepuscular threshold suddenly two yellow eyes ignite and Sister Alyssa gasps unintentionally.  The black wolf is approaching her.  She becomes fearful and flushed at the same time with vertiginous bewilderment, moaning softly, “What have I done?” then calling out in the face of the approaching beast, “What have I done!?”

          But the black wolf halts instead and sits on his haunches merely a matter of steps away, his gaze unbroken into Sister Alyssa’s eyes.  With trembling hands Sister Alyssa tosses the lamb’s tongue toward the beast and again the offering appears drawn into the agile jaws of the black wolf.  He chomps three times with clashing teeth and he swallows.  Yet the black wolf remains near as he was, with untamed patience.

          Sister Alyssa is exhaling rapidly as she breaks the loaf of bread in half and tosses one ragged fragment to the black wolf.  He receives it mid-air and gnashes it repeatedly until he takes a final swallow.

          Sister Alyssa then holds her breath as she holds out the other half of the bread toward the black wolf.  The black wolf slowly arises and takes a few steps, stops, and then stretches out his muzzle to gently grasp the remaining offering from the upheld palm of Sister Alyssa.

          Sister Alyssa exhales, feeling close to tears of relief, when abruptly the black wolf bares his terrible fangs and rumbles his chest with a chilling growl.  Sister Alyssa cries out at once, almost tumbling backwards, and then realizes that the black wolf is staring over her shoulder toward the slope of the Island of the Village.  She quickly stands, snaps her head around in that direction, sees nothing, and then turns her face back to the black wolf.  Sister Alyssa now realizes that she is breathing rapidly through her mouth.

          The black wolf blinks several times and licks his fangs but he is calmly returning to his haunches.

          Sister Alyssa sits down again upon the ruined altar and dares to extend her bare hand toward the black wolf.  The black wolf hesitates, turns his head to one side, and then leans toward Sister Alyssa and miraculously merely licks her hand with a gentle intensity as if she is his pup.  Sister Alyssa is suddenly giddy.  She gently touches his muzzle and strokes it slowly.  It is not unpleasant.  The black wolf closes his eyes but there is a soft growl from his belly.  Sister Alyssa closes her eyes.

          With a shock Sister Alyssa opens her eyes and the black wolf is not to be seen though she scours the darkness.  She hurriedly replaces her coif and bustles up the slope back toward the night fires of Paris.  Those lights have never seemed so harmonious with the stars above.  Yet Sister Alyssa herself burns with a peculiar shame.

          Arriving at the top of the slope Sister Alyssa looks up and is startled by the sudden confrontation by Ma Dame Berthildis.  Behind Ma Dame Berthildis is a menacing regiment of the Paris marshalcy.

          Ma Dame Berthildis cries unto the sudden inability of Sister Alyssa to act, “Capture her!  She is a witch!  I swear and attest that I have witnessed her sorcery!”

          Sister Alyssa is roughly seized and cries, “Ma Dame Berthildis, you have misconstrued me!”

          Ma Dame Berthildis cries, “She confesses!  So, you damned witch, we have caught you in a perverse consortium with that demon!  So much is explained!  I knew you were vexing but I did not know that you are evil!  So evil!  Know this, you foul witch: I shall open the mouth of Hell for you!  You are going to burn!”

          The deputy leader of the Paris marshalcy says, “Ma Dame Berthildis, I doubted you and would not believe your words and so you must forgive me!  I am horrified at what my eyes have seen this night!”

          Ma Dame Berthildis cries, “We must put an end to this demonic bargain immediately!”

          The surrounding members of the marshalcy shout acquiescence.  But Sister Alyssa then descries young Reynard, his eyes wide and his teeth clenched, and she cries, “Help me!”

          Ma Dame Berthildis contorts at Sister Alyssa with vicious hatred chanting, “Burn!  Burn!  BURN!”

          Sister Alyssa cries, “I have done nothing but befriend a wild animal!  He was weak and starving!  Is he too not one of God’s creatures!?”

          Ma Dame Berthildis asks in reply, “Witch, do you offer your veiled bestiality as a venal acquittal for blasphemy?!”

          Sister Alyssa now hears her Reynard’s voice cry out along with all the surrounding members of the marshalcy, “Burn!  Burn!  Burn!”

          She plunges into despair.

          Sister Alyssa’s wrists are then roughly bound together with a hide leash and she is yanked forward by the assigned deputy Reynard himself, who holds the leash over his shoulder, himself sickened by her alleged betrayal and newly fearful for his own alleged soul.  Sister Alyssa begins to plead, over and over, louder and louder as this godlessly cruel fate inundates her mind with Compréhension.

          Then like a stroke of lightning from dark heavens above the terrifying black wolf pounces upon Reynard, landing onto his shoulders, toppling Reynard forward while tearing out his throat in one mass of gore.  The black wolf then leaps backwards in a snarling rage, dancing in a deadly perimeter around Sister Alyssa.  The distress sends the marshalcy stumbling hindward, leaving Ma Dame Berthildis exposed, alone and in the grip of the most unholy horror, unable to command her fleeing mind, unable to summon a scream!

          The black wolf astonishingly arises onto his hind legs and balances unsteadily, his slavering jaws holding inches from the face of Ma Dame Berthildis.  Her mind has gone.  The black wolf lunges, taking her entire neck into his mouth and with a violent series of shakes severs her head from her collapsing body.  That severed head spews blood and rolls with opened eyes toward the rallying marshalcy.  And so the regiment finally collapses as they all whirl about and hurtle away shrieking into the streets of the village of Paris.

          The black wolf subsides to four legs and now turns slowly to Sister Alyssa.  Blood still drips from his fangs.  She has no will.  She has only eyes with which to witness.

          But the black wolf bows to take the loose end of her hide leash into his mouth tenderly and then he leads Sister Alyssa down the slope of the Island of the Village, into the sandy banks, toward the pagan altar and beyond into the darkness along the river, upstream into the unseen forest.

          Comes the sound of distant thunder as the wind swiftly smells of rain.

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THE END OF YEARS

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THE END OF YEARS

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        It was Monday night, New Year’s Eve. Arlen was at the mini-mall Lavanderia Laundromat loading a washing machine. He was alone under the fluorescent glare. He shut the washer lid and pushed the slotted tray of coins into the machine. The washer began to throb.

        Arlen shuffled outside into the icy-cold evening. There was a lot of moonlight. He looked up at the great asteroid now looming brightly behind the full moon. The great asteroid made the moon look like the iris in a cosmic eyeball. It peered through the shimmering auroras in the upper atmosphere and it blinked behind the gauze of smoke from volcanoes far away.

        “It’s actually beautiful,” said a voice behind Arlen.

        “Aesthetics is dead,” replied Arlen curtly to the stranger. Arlen went back inside the Lavanderia Laundromat to watch the TV on the wall.

        The stranger followed him inside and said, “Funny how the European Space Agency nick-named the asteroid Godot.”

        Arlen muttered, “What’s a GUH-DOH, anyway?”

        “Waiting for Godot?”

        “Huh?”

        “The famous play: Waiting for Godot? Oh, Godot’s the pivotal character that you wait and wait for and never hear and never see,” replied the stranger.

        “That’s probably why I never heard of it and never saw it.”

        “It’s about waiting in faith, about the meaning of day to day existence, about God.”

        Arlen looked over at the stranger and furrowed his brow, “What are you?”

        “Oh, I was a Performing Arts major. Now there are no students left. It was a private school and they closed.”

        On the TV a team of NASA administrators addressed the army of glaring cameras. “The prognosis remains the same: Godot will likely miss the earth but there is a slight chance that it could strike the moon and send it careening into… toward us… the earth.”

        A reporter asked, “What does ‘a slight chance’ mean?”

        A NASA administrator consulted with his colleagues and then answered, “We are working on an exact answer. Parameters are shifting as Godot approaches.”

        Another NASA administrator said, “Even if it misses the moon, we know that the effects of Godot’s gravity will be…severe.”

        The TV flickered and lost the satellite signal.

        Arlen turned around to see if the wash was done. The washer rocked rhythmically with the spin dry cycle.

        “Almost done,” observed the stranger behind him. That irritated Arlen for some reason.

        Arlen said to the stranger, “The last wash allowed was at 9PM. What are you doing here?”

        “Oh, I just wanted to share this with somebody,” said the stranger as he reached into his oversized coat and withdrew a big squared bottle of Devil’s Cut, “Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey,” he smacked, “Happy New Year!”

        Arlen licked his lips involuntarily. “What’s your name?”

        “Name’s Asher. And yours is…?”

        “Arlen.” He instinctively put on his salesman’s smile.

        “Can you believe that the Iranian guy in the liquor store next door just gave this to me?”

        “What? Why?”

        “Actually, he’s giving everything away. He’s leaving for Las Vegas.”

        The TV reignited. A pale news anchor was blinking, “The migrations are continuing. This is the stream of vehicles going to Las Vegas, Nevada, as seen from SkyWatch-6.”

        “And this is a scene of the Holy Repentance Tent City in the Canadian wilderness. It was taken by a viewer in a private plane crossing to Colorado.”

        “Please remember to forward your pictures and videos to us at Channel Six…”

        The picture became a dancing jig-saw puzzle rainbow. Then the TV lost signal completely.

        “Arlen, let’s drink to the end of your spin cycle!” and Asher took a hot gulp. He winced and handed the bottle to Arlen.

        “It was a flawless cycle, wasn’t it?” asked Arlen rhetorically as he dug out his damp compressed clothes and plopped them in the wheeled basket with the one hand and received the Devil’s Cut with the other hand. He halted and took a quick series of gulps. He sighed, “Flawless.” Arlen then bent over and wheeled the basket around the washers, “I only hope the dryer is half as good.”

        Asher laid his palm on the round glass door of a dryer, “This one is still warm.”

        Arlen loaded the dryer, “The owner of the Lavanderia Laundromat came in a while ago to collect coins and to refill the bill-changer. He is thinking about staying open around-the-clock now. He won’t leave his business. He doesn’t approve of Vegas, and he is not religious. He will stay open until the electricity and gas are gone. He told me that this business is all he has.”

        “It is good to have something,” said Asher wisely.

        Arlen shut the dryer door and nudged the coins into the slot. The dryer began to labor. The damp clothing leapt up and collapsed down, again and again.

        The TV signal revived briefly, “Already there have been recurrent tidal inundations along all seaboards.”

        Asher recalled thoughtfully, “There was an army truck up at the Food-4-Less. They told me that most of the military has deserted to be with their families. They said it’s the same in most other countries.”

        “At least, at last, we have ‘peace in our time’,” observed Arlen reverently.

        “Except the Middle East, of course,” amended Asher.

        “War is all they have.” said Arlen.

        The Devil’s Cut was shared between them like a gentleman’s game of tennis. Their understanding grew more and more incisive. Their minds became one.

        “I am sure that the government has created a giant underground computer to back-up all our knowledge and understanding.”

        “What will it run on when the power grid is gone?”

        “Nuclear power. They have dozens of nuclear reactors underground that are cooled by underground streams. They will provide power for hundreds of years even if no one touches them again.”

        “Well, by then the streams will have changed course. The reactors will have overheated and melted and fallen into the center of the earth.”

        “Whoa! Then, when the computers are found by our descendants, or by the aliens, they’ll wonder why we carved those tiny silicone tablets, chips, and wonder what the strange patterns mean, and ask why we enshrined them in a catacomb of metal. There won’t be any Internet to search for understanding and meaning and truth.”

        “So we will not even be a memory. We will not have existed in any way that can be proven except by God.”

        “Except…by…God… thus proving the existence of God!!”

        “You see? You understand.”

        “I like to understand.”

        “What else is there to strive for but to understand?”

        “What about faith?”

        “We must have the faith that we will be able to understand.”

        “But.. when you understand then there is no longer faith.”

        “I don’t understand.”

        “Take this dryer here. I pretty much understand how it works and so do you. It doesn’t take faith, it takes money.”

        “So, money is faith understood?”

        “That’s a good way to think of it.”

        “So that is why the money says ‘In God We Trust’.”

        “Yes, the government understands God.”

        “And we have faith in our government.”

        “Your logic is like clockwork.”

        “I’m not sure. I heard that even the atomic clock is undependable in Godot’s gravity field.”

        Asher looked toward the large plate glass window of the harshly lit Lavanderia Laundromat. There was a ghostly Asher and a ghostly Arlen that seemed to be standing out in the empty parking lot.

        “Is it the New Year yet?”

        Arlen made a sour face, “What does it matter?”

        “I have resolved to be more understanding. Won’t you join me?”

        Arlen raised the diminished bottle of Devil’s Cut, “We still have a little Sweet Abandon left before our New Year’s Resolutions are in effect.”

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VAN DIEMEN’S LAND

13_van dieman's land 2, CROWD LOWER crop1

VAN DIEMEN’S LAND

 

     

     The first day of the year was cold and rainy. I awakened onboard Marten’s yacht, confused. New Year’s Eve had been the usual balmy night in the middle of Melbourne’s summer.

      I know I am alone now. I sit on the edge of the bed, naked. I light a clove cigarette, the nastiest habit I could conceive until last night. My eyes chase the edge of the storm inland. I see the illumination of distant lightning. All the moored boats are rolling with the thunder and the storm-swell in the bay.

     Last night begins to creep back to me.

     I had gone to The Spice Trade bar. I was joking with the voluptuous blonde bartendress. She was wearing a bronze name tag that said Real Sheila.

     “Why ‘Real Sheila’?” I asked before I gulped my gin and tonic.

     “Because all of the tourists used to ask me ‘Is your name really Sheila?’ and so my co-workers began to call me ‘Real Sheila’”.

     She looked past me and smiled. I turned to look over my shoulder. Approaching was a lovely young woman with a dark complexion and wavy raven hair. She was wearing a short silk skirt. My first thought was about lifting that skirt over her head.

     She sat down right next to me, so I was either sexy or insignificant. I gave her the most sang froid “Hello” I could restrain. “My name is…“

     “Where is your wife?” she asked without looking at me.

     That was like a kick in the coconuts. Without thinking I answered, “Fucking my best friend in California.”

     I had picked the farthest point of civilization away from that previous life yet here was this stranger sticking it back to me.

     She glanced at me and said, “I’m sorry. You still have that married look.”

     I shriveled in bitter acquiescence. She glanced at me again, “I’m Dyanne.”

     I said lifelessly, “I’m Allen”. Real Sheila put an elegant glass of champagne down in front of Dyanne without being asked.

     Onstage, ContraBand began to blow a typhoon of music. I was actually relieved when this big swinging dick came up to Dyanne and spoke beside her cheek, over the music. She stood up to go with him to the dance floor. She turned back to me and spoke into my ear, under the music, “Will you watch my stuff for a minute, please?” Her breath validated my testosterone at least.

     I looked at her purse and her glass of champagne and I soon felt like kicking my pride right out of there. I looked up. Real Sheila was setting down a tall dark iced drink in front of me. “I ordered gin and tonic,” I said with frustration. “What’s this?”

     “This is a Taser. This is where you want to be, trust me. First one is free.” Real Sheila looked out onto the dance floor. I followed her eyes to Dyanne undulating in that short silk dress. Real Sheila’s eyes were reflecting my own animal cortex. I suddenly wondered which of us was more turned-on. How could I compete with that?

     I sucked the Taser like it was a Coke. Where the ice displaced the liquid it was the color of blood. The surrounding liquid was black. I felt piquant flashes in my throat that were carried away by a savory effervescence. That Taser went down far too easily. I leaned toward Real Sheila and shouted through the music, “You’re right. Give me another one, ok?”

     Finally, half-way through the second Taser, I was sure I heard a “click” and then everything about that night became cozy. I had a vision from Cat On A Hot Tin Roof where the tormented character Brick had waited for that same “click”. I never understood what it meant until that moment.

     Dyanne returned, shining, “Thanks for watching my stuff.” Smiling, “What do I owe you?”

     My mind gridlocked. I tried a sly grin.

     “Oh, God, Sheila. You’re feeding him Tasers?” She sipped her champagne.

     Real Sheila shrugged, “He was threatening to put a stick up his ass.”

     I cringed but I was laughing. I didn’t care.

     “What do you do, Allen?” asked Dyanne. I was enthralled by the logic of her inquiry.

     “I work sales for an American company that sells veterinary medicines here. I just moved here, actually. May I ask what you do?”

     Dyanne ignored my question and asked me, “Do you like it here?”

     “I like visiting the ranches, I mean the ‘cattle stations’, in the countryside.”

     Dyanne chuckled, “A real California jackeroo, eh?”

     The thought of California was suddenly like being flushed down a toilet. It must have showed in my face. Real Sheila was there saying, “Here, I’ll trade you for that stick,” and she handed me another Taser.

     After that, I just remember our conversations being so wrenchingly profound that I wanted to cry but I don’t think I did.

     “She was everything to me. I was so devoted to her. Was it wrong? Is it unnatural?”

     “Maybe you bored her by being such a slave.”

     “My momma always used to say ‘Too thick don’t stick’”.

     Around 10PM Real Sheila leaned toward Dyanne, saying, “I’m off. Let’s go to your place and watch the fireworks.” She winked at me, “You too, jackeroo.”

     We navigated out of The Spice Trade. By then I had become a pair of eyes floating between them. I think they both had their arms around me. I was sure I was holding both of them around the hips.

     We came to Dyanne’s car. It was a sporty little orange Tesla. There were only two tight seats inside. “Cool!” I said after considering the implications carefully. But instead they helped me to lie back upon the sculpted trunk, resting my head against the roof of the rear window.

     We drove slowly down the crowded street. Faces passed steadily above me as if they were viewing an open casket. Why were they laughing? I was the Martyr of Love. I remembered being rocked side to side and trying to anchor my stomach to the unmoving stars above. I could hear Dyanne and Real Sheila laughing behind me inside the car. I must have dozed off. Eventually, I realized that we had arrived at the bay.

     They helped me onto a long dock. “Why are we at the docks?” We stopped in front of a moored boat. As my eyes focused, it became a small yacht! On the stern was written the name VAN DIEMEN’S LAND.

     Real Sheila giggled, “Permission to come onboard?”

     “I will insist.” Dyanne then said to me, “This is where I live.”

     I stammered, “On a boat? Why a boat? This must be really expensive. Dyanne, please, may I ask you what you do?”

     She replied, “A rich Dutch bloke I know, Marten, is letting me stay here.”

     Real Sheila asked Dyanne, “Where is Marten tonight, anyway?”

     “Some-fucking-where in India.”

     Once onboard, they sat me in a chair and they went below. I swiveled to look over the side. My mind bounced out into the bay with all the lights and commotion.

     I heard Real Sheila and Dyanne returning and they giggled as they swiveled my chair back around. I swear they were now wearing only bra and panties. OK, why not? I found myself standing swiftly erect and undressing myself down to my shorts.

     We embraced as a trio. Our kisses met at a point between the three of us. Real Sheila disengaged just enough to remove Dyanne’s bra. Then she let her own bra fall. My hands drifted down between their panties and their smooth cool bottoms. I knelt slowly, pulling the panties down with me. When the panties dropped below their knees and fell to the deck, Real Sheila and Dyanne both stepped out of them. The two of them embraced tightly and kissed.

     Still crouching between them, I sipped nectar from one and then the other of them as they slowly gyrated. It was Dyanne who began to twirl her fingers into my hair. I slowly rose back up. Dyanne turned to face me and pulled down my shorts, taking hold of me. Real Sheila moved behind Dyanne, kissing her neck and helping to lift her onto me. I held Dyanne’s bottom while Real Sheila pressed against my hands. I began to caress Real Sheila with my knuckles.

     And so we divided ourselves and shared everything.

     I became aware of the New Year’s midnight by the thunderous crackling of the skies and the canopy of colorful fire that blossomed above us and reflected in the bay.

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     Last night has crept away again. That’s all I can remember right now.

     The storm-swell is becoming stronger and VAN DIEMEN’S LAND is starting to roll so much that I must get out of here before my hangover reaches my stomach. I find my clothes and pull them on and step overboard to the dock, leaving VAN DIEMEN’S LAND.

     In the smattering rainfall I start the long walk back to wherever I live now.

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