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For the first few days, I ignored the dark form sleeping in the hammock in the back
corner of my garden.

During the day, I could see it from my studio window, suspended without motion like a human-size cocoon under the fig tree. At night, I could hear it stir every so often. The smallest kind of insect rustling, ticking, shifting.

Mostly I forgot about it, but during long nights when the entire world seemed to have gone to sleep without me, I briefly stepped out on the deck leading out to the garden. I watched the shrouded form on the hammock from a distance, listened to its nocturnal murmurings.

One night I heard distinct words, uttered from restless dreams, something in between a moan and a hoarse whisper: …again…

The first autumn storm came. Rough winds brought down small branches and fruit from the fig tree. The hammock cocoon was covered with damp, bruised fruit and glossy leaves. I glanced up from my writing, using the excuse of a stubborn paragraph to put off cleaning up the storm debris until later in the day. Then it rained for another day, providing more excuses to stay at my desk.

The rain ended and the following morning sparkled through layers of voluminous pewter clouds. I couldn’t put off cleaning up the garden any longer. I picked up a broom and approached the hammock, which was now laden with leaves and decaying fruit. The scent of figs in varying stages of rot in the warming sun wasn’t entirely unpleasant but gave me a mild sense of nausea. Or maybe it was something about the dark form on the hammock, which seemed to stir more the closer I approached. It began to writhe, setting the hammock in motion a little, back and forth.

Holding the broom up in front of me like a sword, bristle end up, I slowly came closer to
the hammock. With one quick sweeping motion I quickly brushed off most of the fruit. A muffled groan came from the cocoon and I clamped a hand over my mouth to suppress a startled shriek.

I clutched the broom tightly, then prodded the cocoon once. It looked like it was wrapped in black burlap. The cocoon squirmed and jerked for some moments, making the hammock swing, then started ripping apart.

Two large, battered hands tore their way out, violently parting the fabric down the middle to reveal the livid face of a man. Once he’d torn away enough of the fabric enshrouding him to sit halfway up, he stopped and gasped, mouth gulping in air.

His fierce eyes fixed on mine. When he caught his breath his face darkened in a furious scowl. He coughed once before speaking in a hoarse voice. “What the hell took you so long?”

I was speechless for some moments. Then I said, “I’m sorry.”

The man shook his head in disgust, briefly overcome by more coughing. A small leaf
clung to his black hair and I watched it quiver, then fall with his coughing fit. He glared up at me. “Could I get a drink?”

“Of course.” I turned and went back to the house, keeping my gait casual and unhurried. I heard the man sigh and mutter as he tore away the remainder of the burlap restraints and stepped down from the hammock, feet heavy and slow on the gravel beneath him. I heard him brushing
himself off.

When I reach my door, I turned to glance back. He was standing up to his full
height, watching me retreat with a faint smirk and a penetrating stare, straightening his suit and pulling on his cuffs.

My hands shook a little when I went inside and opened the bar cabinet. Whiskey, neat.
When was the last time I served one? It wasn’t my drink of choice. I retrieved the half-full bottle pushed to the back of the cabinet.

When I returned to the door with drink in hand, I stopped short. He stood just outside the open deck door, his tall form in silhouette against the light outside, creating a gloom within the house like a sudden looming raincloud. He had his hands in his trouser pockets. His suit was crumpled but crafted from quality fabric. It fit well, made to measure. The first hint of a smile appeared on his lips, making his formerly seething face handsome again. I stopped and regarded him, glass in my hand.

“So do I need to drink it out here, or what?” His laugh came easily, an amicable no-hard-
feelings laugh.

I closed my eyes, reopened them, and spoke. “Okay. But you’re not going to cause
trouble, are you? I need to write.”

He laughed again, shaking his head a little. “Come on. Let me in.”

I moved aside a little and made a gesture of invitation. “Come in.”

His face took on a smug expression, and a brief flash of terror passed through me. But
there was no going back. He walked through the door, first one foot and then the other, then took the glass from me. He raised it a little in my direction in a silent toast, his eyes shining with dark triumph, then he took a gulp from the glass.

I turned to leave the room and he followed me inside the house. His scent shadowed us
like a ghost, an amalgam of dark earth and decaying blossoms, moonlit moss and morning rain, gardens and graveyards. Jarring, alarming, strange, familiar and intoxicating all at once.

We passed my studio, then I stopped at the end of the corridor at the guest room. “You can stay here if you want.”

“Thanks.” He drained his glass, handed it to me and entered the room while loosening his tie. The door closed behind him, engulfing him in silence.

He didn’t emerge from the room for the rest of the afternoon and evening. I experienced a rush of ideas and spent the rest of the day
typing as quickly as I could to get them all down, pausing occasionally to listen for noise in the guest room but hearing nothing.

Night fell. I didn’t notice the gradual darkening outside my windows as I sat at my desk, staring without energy at the screen in front of me. Lost in the middle of another misguided story.

The door to my room gently creaked open. I looked up from the insistent glow of my
laptop into the shadowy form of the man at the threshold to my room.

He looked at my face and grinned. “Why don’t you stop staring at your failures and join me for a drink. Give the old noggin a diversion.”

I shut my laptop with a sigh. “Yeah. Maybe you’re right. But just one, I need to get back
to work in an hour.”


I shrugged. He made an exaggerated sweep of the arm indicating that I lead the way.
We headed to the living room. In contrast to the darkness encroaching on the house, it
was a cozy scene. As if someone had already been here, putting on lights and Stan Getz on the stereo.

I glanced over at him curiously. He was already sipping from his glass. “You beat me to it. I didn’t hear you leave the room.”

He didn’t reply, just put down his glass to fix me a drink. He’d cleaned himself up, hair
combed, suit crisp. His movements were relaxed and at ease, those of a man at home in his surroundings. My small bar was low, the proper height for me, but he needed to stoop to comfortably use the surface for prepping my martini.

I studied the grey fabric of his jacket taut on his wide shoulders, his large, rough hands moving with surprising delicacy while making a perfect twist of lemon.

He dropped the twist into my glass and handed it to me, then retrieved his own glass to raise it in a toast. “Cin cin.”

We clinked our glasses together lightly. His dark eyes burrowed into me as we drank. I
looked away, then cleared my throat. “Look, this is kind of awkward, but…what do I call you?”

He snorted and put a hand on his hip. “I just can’t believe you.”

A first draft of shit, and you know it.”
“Look, if this is how it’s going to be, I’d rather just go back to my desk.”

I laughed in embarrassment. “Yeah, I know. This brain. Sam…?”

“Not even close. Jay.”

“Jay. Right.”

“So. What took you so long this time?”

I shrugged and laughed. “You know. You get wrapped up in your routine. Life. Before
you know it, months go by.”

“Months? Try years.”

“I know, I know. But it’s really coming together now. I’ve made some real headway.”

“Oh, really? You mean the two paragraphs you’ve been agonizing over all weekend?”

“Page and a half, you mean.”

“It’s shit.”

“It’s a first draft.”

“A first draft of shit, and you know it.”

“Look, if this is how it’s going to be, I’d rather just go back to my desk.”

Jay held up his hands. “Fine. Go back to that mess of a sentence you’ve rewritten eight
times already. I don’t need to stick around at all.” As if overtaken by disgust, Jay huffed and turned to leave the room, bottle in hand.

I returned to my studio and closed the door. My focus was broken, so I lay on the sofa
and stared at the moon shining through my window, drinking and dozing.

In that space between waking and sleeping I heard Jay’s voice on a phone call, getting louder as he walked nearer, then receding as he walked away. He was pacing the corridor outside my room, up and down.

“Yeah. So it seems.” He laughed. “Who knows? Some people are stubborn enough to kill themselves. Why am I even here.”

Or was it a phone call? Who was he talking to? His voice lowered, making his words
unintelligible. I stopped straining my ears. A wave of rage washed over me, then passed just as quickly. I was too tired to care.

I was jolted awake by music. Miles Davis blaring from the living room. Voices and
laughter, as if a party was going on. I groped for my glasses in the darkness of my room, no longer glowing in the warmth of the moon. I slowly approached the living room, bracing myself for the presence of drunk strangers. Jay was in front of the stereo, cigarette between his lips, rifling through my LPs.

He looked up when I entered. His face was flushed and his eyes lazy with drink. “Quite a jazz buff’s collection you got here.”

“I’d appreciate if you didn’t smoke in here. And I’d appreciate if you asked me before you have people over.”

“People? What people?” Jay’s eyes glinted while he crushed out his cigarette in a dirty
glass. He smiled and gestured around the empty room. The voices stopped. “I wouldn’t disrespect your wishes. You made it clear. You want to do this on your own. Alrighty then.”

We were alone in the living room. Trumpet wailed its story, then hung there in the air
between us. Jay shook his head in appreciation, eyes growing distant. “Listen to that. All that anguish and passion. How can we ever match that with words.”

My eyes burned and I clenched my teeth to reign in a surge of emotion that rose up in me. I stood in the middle of the living room, watching untranslatable scenes unfold like phantom cityscapes before me.

Jay looked at me. His voice softened, though his eyes remained sharp. He took my arm. “Here. Sit down. Let’s talk.”

I let Jay lead me to the sofa. His scent enveloped me, a little different this time. More green, spicy, boozy, smoky. A night filled with music, beautiful faces in the dark. I closed my eyes. So tempting to lose myself.

He shook me roughly. His voice was in my ear. “Wake up. We’ve got work to do.”

I nodded. This seemed to inject Jay with fresh energy. He began pacing in front me while I watched, bleary-eyed. “The way I see it, your main problem is that your protagonist is a writer. That already screws you from the get-go.”

“Why? Some of the best stories are about writers.”

“Yeah, and some of the worst. Writers are too much in their heads, they watch the world and make their private observations and don’t do much of anything. BORING.”

I started negating this criticism, but Jay quickly moved on, talking over me. “Your
character needs to be something else, for chrissakes. A lifeguard, a surgeon, a bartender, a butcher.”

“So a butcher is more interesting than a writer? Thanks a lot.”

“Butchering is a completely respectable line of work.”

“I didn’t say it wasn’t respectable.”

“I knew a butcher who had stories you wouldn’t believe.”

“I bet.”

Jay drained his glass and went to the bar, becoming more excited, his speech ramping up.

I observed his mannerisms, the little tics that were all at once familiar to me, delivering the entirety of him into the here and now. The scratching of his chin with a thumb as he spoke, the way half his mouth twisted up in a quick smile. He diverted from one tangent to the next, quickly losing me in a labyrinthine story within a story about a nightclub owner he knew and the
criminal underworld in New York, which led to a road trip down south, a tormented California romance, some kind of segue into the music scene that led to Tokyo, a manufactured identity and
back down into the underworld.
“So that’s how he lost his eye,” Jay said in conclusion.

He stopped pacing and stood in
front of me, one hand in his pocket, the other raised in a half-glass salute. The music ended, he drained his glass. His form looked distant, blurry.

I blinked and rubbed my eyes. “I need to get some sleep.”

“Go for it. I think we covered enough for tonight.”

I dragged myself to bed. When my head reached the pillow, sleep pulled me under

I woke to a boom of laughter and a banging hangover. In my studio, at my desk, Jay sat
in front of my laptop, scrolling through a document and laughing.

“What the fuck?” I slammed my laptop closed. Jay yanked his hands away just in time.

He swiveled in the chair to face me.
“Hello sunshine. Don’t mind me, just doing a little housecleaning over here while you’re
getting your beauty rest.”

“What exactly do you mean by housecleaning?” I demanded.

“Well—do you mind?” Jay gestured to the closed laptop, and when I glared without
reply, he proceeded to open it. “Just taking a quick look here: chapter two. We need to cut to the chase.” He chuckled as he directed the cursor down the page. “To be honest, I fell asleep slogging through this monotonous little jaunt through San Francisco! Holy shit.”

I stared at the document on the screen, blood rushing to my face. “What did you do?”

“Snipped a little here, a little there. Less is more. Remember, like Hemingway said—”

“I’m not fucking Hemingway. This isn’t my voice!” I couldn’t make sense of the words
on the screen. The choppy sentences were beyond recognition. I shook my head. “Please tell me this isn’t the original manuscript.”

“Yep. Reads sooo much better now.”

I walked out of the room. It was too much.
Jay followed me out, saying with exaggerated cheer, “You’re welcome!”
I went back to bed. Jay started singing in the kitchen while noisily working the espresso
machine. “I got the world on a string…”
He had a good voice. Just like someone I knew once. I put the pillow over my head and groaned.

I wasn’t sure how long I’d been staring at ceiling in bed, but my body was leaden and my mind refused to take in another thing. I couldn’t look at the manuscript. I couldn’t tell what was good or bad anymore.

Jay crept into my bedroom with contrite, quiet movements. He placed a cup of coffee on the nightstand beside me. “Here, you’ll feel better after this.”

I stared at the coffee, then at Jay. He looked too big for my bedroom, perched on the edge
of my bed, wine bottle in hand.

The sight of the bottle woke me up. “What are you drinking?” I asked.

Jay held up the bottle. “This ’66 Domaine something-or-other. Good stuff.”

I collapsed back in bed. “I was saving that. For my birthday.”

“Who says any of us are going to make it through another year?”

I shrugged. “Good point. Who knows. Maybe I won’t.”

Jay passed the bottle to me with a knowing smile, and I took a gulp. The wine slipped
down my throat like warm, ancient sunlight, like biting kisses on a golden autumn day. Immortal love in a decaying vessel, blooming then dying in a burst of ecstasy.

“That was a good day,” he sighed, taking the bottle back from me.

“Yes. A very good day.” I nodded, then became choked with memories. Sunburned skin and bottomless eyes that told me everything, dreams filled with forever. Droplets of wine had spilled on the lapel of my white robe, a little blood red corsage. I ran my fingertips over the garnet spots. I accepted the bottle from Jay, who was wiping his mouth with the back of his
hand. Our eyes connected while I drank. His dark eyes were fixed on my face. A current ran through me, an electric jolt down to my fingertips.

I looked at him. “Why you?”

He shrugged. “Thanks a lot. Why not me? You could do worse.”

“No, I mean, really—why you? Why not someone more like me? Female, similar
background. Someone I could really connect with on every level.”

“We don’t get to choose who we need to help us. Or destroy us.”

A shudder ran through me. I wiped my eyes.

“Ha. Maybe it’s just karma,” he joked. “Who knows.”

“You know,” I said, passing the bottle back to him, “I feel like I’ll never get it right. The
story. But I have to keep trying or I can’t move on. I don’t know why. So I’m stuck here, clinging to this little piece of driftwood, this manuscript, not going anywhere.”

“It’s just an excuse to keep doing what we do when we can’t let go. We all need one.”

“I suppose.”

“We could try something else,” Jay said, watching me finish the last of the wine. He took the empty bottle from me. “You know, to get the juices flowing.”

“What? Haven’t we tried it all?”

“We could, you know, really get to know each other. In every way.” His grin turned
mischievous as he stretched out on my bed. “This bed is so much nicer than that tiny little guest bed. Certainly big enough for both of us.”

I laughed. “Right, Jay.”

His face became livid. “What’s so funny?”

“You know that’s impossible.”

“What’s impossible?”

“This. Us.”

Even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I regretted them.

I watched Jay’s face darken, destroyed. His entire presence seemed to shrink, his body
pulling inward like a wilting plant, his essence receding back to its dark, unfathomable source.

He closed his eyes and sighed deeply, shoulders heaving. “You just had to. You just had to say it.”

“Yeah. I’m sorry.” I collapsed back again. I couldn’t look at him anymore.

Jay rose from the bed and turned to go. He smashed the bottle against the wall. I closed
my eyes and turned away, curling up into myself, away from everything else.

I heard him leave the bedroom, walk down the corridor, back to my studio. I heard the sounds of a world coming apart, things being thrown and broken. And then silence.

When I got out of bed some time later, the house felt empty, and I knew he was gone again.

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