lease try, I’ll be with you the entire time, remember that. A small man out in to the room. —How hard can it be to get batteries. That nose at his neck sloppily knotted bulging crooked and bulbous and seeded with porous yellow spots. Silver filament eyes catch glimpses of the light, the lampshade-shaped orientation of the room he’s crossed till the carpet has yielded to his tracks. At least he has that, the downtrodden comfort of routine. Loose shoelaces traipse (held hands swinging in disregard) frayed so badly their braids are unraveling. She tries to be patient but oh look there, powdery mildew at his lip, neck and in inkblot patches at his cheeks. Cotton balls there, missed for several days hanging in his jowls like fuzzy foreign fruit. His flesh hanging loose, the skin of a frozen peach. —Tuck in your shirt, you’ve only done it half of it, there look see, in the back? You—these tails! look like a lumberjack maître d’ for the love of. But she is too busy to finish, fumbling through her heavy purse for the keys which have a knack of burrowing down under the tent of cosmetics or address books, loose sheets of paper she means to one day transfer the coded messages of to her notebooks and journals, their mysterious Sum sun atomic delusions and Clio Friday even lost to her after this much time. And she is rustling there, rifling, metal and plastic and paper all clacking into each other with aural signatures each their own pitch of annoyance, their own individual note of fractured nerve. Like this every time, slowly making haste to the door, stretching errands to eons. Dressing him now, dressing him up like some puppet, like that yarn haired grotesquerie he’d given her must be 30 years ago, coming home from Boston was it? Business with some string of ampersands of a law firm with nothing to show for it but that rag of doll she’d clung to and well at least he had the look on her face, at least now he could remember that and yes there was some comfort there, but him now? Here? He was as frail as that doll, difference here being that doll was boneless, wagging like a flag in his daughter’s arm, smiling eternally but him? Now? Now he could feel every cracking creaking splinter of bone depleted of all range of motion, cracking like ice and creaking floorboard voice splintering the air with his rasp that used to honey contracts from clients up and down the eastern coast. But he now he like this, like this, unable to fumble a sentence out and just trembling everywhere he goes bent over answering the riddle, well its last third at least. Yes the last, how terrifying and terrifyingly comforting. First he couldn’t even remember and how, how did he spend the middle? Weekends in hotels, cuntful of youth and swagger and the sense that it was going to carry on that way forever. Then the hair started to turn brittle and fall out and what’s left was soft and white, like someone splashed your pate with milk that ran off the head into your ears and down your back, and then you got soft, so very soft and you felt that blood surge, that urgency, but you couldn’t do a damned thing, could you? No just sat there puttering with your apologies and they all acted quite nice about it, bed sheets up to their clavicle, shuffling through channels on the hotel TV, can we watch this here, this one about the doctor? or have you seen it? Shall we go out today? Shall we go out! As if you had come all this way to see the sights. There was only one sight you had in mind, but she had that shut tight, wired shut jaw of a, why had Timmy had that operation? His teeth crooked and his jaw malformed so they broke it, yes they broke his jaw to put it back the way they liked and ever since he’d always looked not quite right, poor boy. Everyone assembled that way though, inchoate and assembled like that, to suffer, to lose their loves or their sight or their limbs until finally, finally you lose your life but not before you have to run all these petty errands, getting batteries for your hearing aid or your camera or your vibrator, whatever you needed to make go because you couldn’t. You can’t get your eyes to do any more than swirl light and you can’t get your memory to do anything more than remember where you keep the photo album with all the things you’re supposed to be remembering instead of these petty details, these double and triple A’s, as if that means something to you, the code of some product, the jingle of language, of passwords and symbols. The status of it all, the ridiculous aping of understanding when you say yes yes give me the LS series while the titty pink Cadillac you drove around is now named after some Grecian goddess, and that’s its own sort of code isn’t it? It’s just as mysterious as anagrams, as diagnostic and totally selective. Only admen read Aeschylus. —About ready. Just, just give me, these alarms I never remember if I’ve armed it or not, those horn honks are so embarrassing, such a status I don’t want. Sunglasses wrapped around your head, walking away from your car and that button, that button hidden in your palm under your bracelet shimmying wrist, pressed like it’s nothing until that horn beeps at you and then, then you know everyone sees it, everyone turns. We’re all watching those shoes click on the asphalt and you, but she starts at the blaring, mumbles shit under her breath though he can’t hear her so why does she bother? And it double-beeps an apologetic disarming, says come inside now I forgive you, and now like it’s a date she has to open his door, has to hold his hand as he bends in, slowly at first but then finally just letting it all down, letting all his weight sag and fall the last few inches until he huffs and lowers his head in some sort of tired defeat, the way you do when you know you’re being watched and you want sympathy, that’s what he wants all the time, to be mourned while he’s still alive, so much so that when he finally does go she’ll probably just feel guilty relief, there now that’s finally over, and like the prince she’ll concoct her own guilty purge, knife her own tapestries, that’s all it takes when you’ve got that guilt eating away at you that says now it’s just me, now I’m not half of them, I’m not their little trophy, I’m all that’s left. I make the past and only I can say where we went on vacation when I was eight or who did best in school, because I’m at last the one left. It’s a load off your shoulders, but then there’s the guilt, as always, to replace it, to say shouldn’t you be unable to work? Shouldn’t your shoulders be sore from shuddering? But they’re always sore. Everything’s so sore when you’re like him, stretched out to biblical age by pills, ten-fifteen vials a day to be fingered at, their chalky little teardrops fished out or their plastic lozenges, their bottles of wax and crumbs swallowed one sip at a time, stinging as they dissolve, the aftertaste of apple juice all the time, dry and acidic, coating your teeth with a film that turns hard in a few hours. Brush again. At the dash there is so much dust, so much skin and hair that rolls and floats and comes around, bristling your possessions with decay, with the reminder of the one thing you don’t need reminding and they’re both thinking it, they’re both wondering whose it is and where theirs will end up. Which is a way of saying worrying when they’ll end up. Clinging so tightly to their misery. Like that teddy bear, its molting fur, the way shapes degrade into lumps of abused space—city streets arranged to wend everyone to the same place the same store, intestines gulping shimmering glass and plastic and chrome, bobble-heads nodding with amorous suggestiveness, the kind of brazen libido of newlyweds and divorcées with something to prove, just like him all those years ago. She could smell the infidelity on him, pickle spices and sweat, so there he was shirt open again, smiling to displace the wrinkles, keeping himself clean again, relearning how to do everything for himself after he’d become so accustomed to her pampering, her primping tendency to collect and wash everything, prepare everything, make new good things out of the old waste, hopeful as a new broom. Maîtresse de la maison in her pearls. All he ever missed were those minor glances, the way pearls swayed on her as she vacuumed or her post coital heavy lidded languid looks to him from across the bed, the debutante in her resurfacing, pumped back up enough to keep him coming back for years, but then there were the others of course and when she found out about those well there he was yes of course back at it again but without the bravado, without the assured husband air. Another possum in the road fumbling with its own feet. —Watch out for the love of, as she swerves to avoid it, —stop fiddling mirror and, lipstick, watch the road! her hands returning to their instinctive position on the wheel, eyes straight, not answering, what sort of answer could one come up with for that kind of talk? Sorries are only sweat and she’d stopped being afraid of him after that stroke, when he was laid up there like a premonition of his wake, the tubes all flaccid there, his skin the gray-blue color of bathwater, sky receding in its equinox, everything coming to an end. Then they put him back up, stopped his mouth from lolling at the words there, though he still can’t get them out right, still doesn’t have the wherewithal to arrange the words sensibly. Just adjectival summaries of what you’d want him to say: Wittgenstein under glass, Nietzsche with a speech impediment. The dun misery of catheters roping around the bed still, the way the human body is reduced to a waste factory, and his mouth was just another center of production, another place where the garbage came out. But the sun also as he said, —Hot? Do you want to take off your jacket at the next light, buttons your buttons do you want help with, but he’s just mute there for now. Flow of traffic hiccupping. Light off the windshield blinding like a divine message, time uncertain in its eternal reflection. And here he could feel the drifting of the car, she was at it again, having one of those catoptric communions she was so fond of, admiring the eyebrows whose arch was really just about totally natural, a few stragglers plucked here and there but the shape was all hers as broad and rounded as those lips pouted red and full like lips ought be. Teeth tiny gems, arranged perfectly like fine china at table shining in the soft light overhead, how many times had he sat through one of those? Had his lap rag resting there for what seemed like ever as the seagull chatter of the dinner party brushed at decorum, the succession of small plates each dipped in some damned green or red sauce of tiny oily significance, a hank of meat for the entire table, little prunings each of them, until the middle plate from which they were served was just a puddle of shit-colored broth its beads of fat lulling there while glasses clinked and silverware glinted, smiles all between bites, retirement watches brought out each by 10:30 and then off they went, and going home felt like a trip to a hotel, an alien place with all things you’d expect of home—the bed turned down, wife kissing cheek like a chocolate on pillow, the clumsy necessity of the alarm clock lost and now it was just red dye in the blackness of night, the constant blight on sleep what seemed only to signal the blinking colons leading to death. He’d knocked it, that one night after she’d left, knocked it off the table and the little head of the cord, the prongs tethering it to the wall came right out like nothing, the plug just fell right out and when he woke it was quiet and everything was awash with the glimmer of Sunday morning gold, the light cleaning the room with its glow, and it felt like maybe the clock was his life and now that it was on the floor he’d passed through, was laying there dead and calm and everything was done with as easily as a plug falling out the wall. —Here your jacket let me help you, damn thing’s thick as insulation. The buckle released, buttons unsnapped, pushed aside off the shoulder like a bag of flour in the cabinet to get to the back where you hide the scotch. How that caramel color used to mean something, its mere sight triggered receptors pulse, slowing the pulse, the hands would go soft and light at his sides, all the coils of thought in his head would end and it would just be calm. The scotch was in its glass, what else mattered? Timmy with those math quizzes, always showing the red slashes of his A like it merited something, the fridge humming electric as she magneted it there with doughty pride. And then there were toys of course, all wires and plastic and little hideaways for the power, had to learn how to have child fingers to unlatch them and put them in, bent so many of the springs in those what a waste and now look at him, at the aisle, he could hear it could hear the light all around him squeaking his shoes and drying his back, where were the batteries? those little pea ones that would give him a fourth sense though the other three were enough in a place like this and thank god it was dark except the vermilion wash of light, like close-lidded inspections of the sun, just heat and color, everything skin-veiled monochrome, undifferentiated color, just that one color that as far as he knew only he could see. And now you’ve got to fumble with the one in your pocket, coated in lint, the always blue lint of your pocket lining and you’ve got this battery, those stupid old things that even in your youth you couldn’t possibly have read the numbers letters on, the DNA sequence of some metal case for acid and what, circuits? wires? Life practically depends on it, certainly revolves around it, and now you can’t even for the life of you remember what’s in there, and that’s what it all really is about isn’t it? That you know you need it, you can say the alien sounding name of it, can simulate connection in that process with the man who works there, who has built his life around these product codes, you can say the name, you can verify it, but then when you get it well just what is it? What’s in there and how does it work, what is in your hand. What is it you want so much and then —There, yes, that’s it, she says with her wallet already out. He gives it to you, hands it to her because you don’t know what you’re doing and she thanks him says, —Here it is dad, and —now let’s go let’s get oh but first let me pick up a drink, are you thirsty, it’s so hot, and she opens it right there before paying even and the coke is as sticky and sweet in your throat as the sweat on your back and it reminds you of the taste of her, that one whose name you never learned, the one who had her legs around you the entire night and no matter how much you got your mouth to hers no matter how much of you you put inside her she still always tasted new always tasted like herself always fresh and exotic and nothing could ever replace it, and then you’re at the line afraid to poke your head up, looking down so they know you’re invalid and she’s the one who knows how to deal with the things, knows what you’re doing here you’re just the garbage and you see their red line in your mind invisible now until it finds its code finds,-780619-821981- and now it is over.