Monday, June 29, 2009

Family Circle

From Todd Brendan Fahey's Dogshit Park & other atrocities:

Family Circle
by Todd Brendan Fahey

When the ball falls earthward and the sinews of the wrist snap forward and the scream far across the net sounds more like the last blood-cry of Grendel than anything one should need to be subjected to over a friendly game on the public courts, there is not much a rusty amateur can do but stick out the oversized Prince and hope to make contact on the sweet spot--or even get a lucky one off the frame. Winning one game in a set, two games in such a match--legitimate games, 40-15, then a quick little net-shot down the line to finish it off and leave the blond bastard cursing...losing this way to such a monster, plus avoiding a first-service to the nuts, had always felt like victory to me.

I was faring even better than this against my wife's older brother that afternoon--so well, in fact, that I had begun to get cocky, at one point, tossing up an eleven-story volley as he tapped his feet at the net, knees bent just right, bearing a grin that had made him a famous poster-child for the Orthodontics Association of America. It was nearly one-hundred degrees on the asphalt that afternoon, and even from twenty feet away I could see the color in his face go in seconds from that of an early gamay beaujolais to Hanes t-shirt.

"!" he stuttered, spinning like a top on the reinforced balls of his expensive new court shoes, before running flat-out for the baseline.

"Clay!?" his wife yelled. "It's only a game."

"Shutthefuckup!" I heard him coughing as he sprinted to the backcourt. He gave the ball a good racquetball swat before colliding shoulder-first into the green chain fence, but it was out by a mile.

"So, what's that now?" I wondered, watching as he collected his racquet from where he had collapsed in a heap.

"I think it's three serving four," his wife answered, reflexively, from a slight rise on the adjacent lawn.

"Goddamnit, Brittany," he pleaded in a tremulous falsetto, bringing the racquet up at an angle over his head. And if it weren't for those thin diamonds of steel, I do believe he would have beaten the shit out of her. "Why can't you support me? Just once, I'd like to hear you say 'Hit it, Clay! Get it, darling!' Something!"

"Yeah, yeah," she said, in a tone that hovered somewhere beneath condescension but above boredom; as if she wasn't quite tired of ridiculing her husband in public, but was sick to hell of tennis. I didn't know how many times she had been through this, but I could guess--and the numbers ran high in my mind.

Brittany Chambers was nothing less than the stuff of every adolescent's wet dream. And though I had never fantasized about her, I saw exactly why my brother-in-law had knocked her up four years back: all five-foot nothing, ninety-two pounds of twenty-year old prime loin, spun gold down to a cruel bubble-butt. She was a number, from swimsuit to miniskirt, but she wasn't my type--much as that will probably sound like sour grapes. I had had my fill of blondes by the time I stepped across the stage to grab my Bachelor's degree; by my Master's, I would date nothing but Orientals...which was a weird switch to some of my friends, but to none who really knew me...

Trina had made it clear even before we left our apartment that she wouldn't be watching the Big Game: that it would be too painful. And so, from a covered picnic area, where her adoptive family split time between preparing lunch and tending to the two whining grandchildren, I had settled for a goodbye smooch before heading off to the courts. I wished she could have been there to see her brother bounce violently off the fence, then onto the cement, following my skyward volley, but I trusted Brittany to tell her all about it later.

"I'm...stuffthisdownyourthroat," Clay grumbled from across the court, and by the embittered look on his face, I had every good reason to believe him. It was a blistering fastball, smack into the middle of the playing field, and how I managed to dink it over the net, I'll never know; but I did, and in his smugness he forgot to even run--just stood at the baseline and watched the ball drop safely by three or so inches.

"OHMYGOD!" he sputtered. "You pussy! Goddamnit, that's not tennis!"

And so it went, for the next three games, until I found myself serving for match-point. Trina appeared suddenly at the fence, like a shark circling the crippled.

"Better make this one, Clay," his wife chirped from the lawn, "or it's all over: Humiliation Time."

"You fucking bitch," he whispered over his shoulder, stamping both feet to some maniacal rhythm.

I sliced the ball along the inside corner, and, poised for absolutely anything, he delivered it back with a brutal forehand that barely grazed the doubles-line, and which he instantly exclaimed was: "Fuckin' IN! YEAH!!!! Alright!!!"

Trina blew me a kiss, but I tossed up a double-fault anyway--my first of the match. And when Clay ran to the net after returning my next service, I was driven by surging bile to cram the fuzzy green cue-ball down deep into his larynx.

A tap of his pan-faced Yonnex was all it took to return everything on this day to its rightful order. "Did you see that, Brit?!" he yelled, the ball still skittering down the inseam. "I gotta get you out of Mammoth," he hissed through the fence. "You're gonna get as fat as mom and Claris."

"You mom's had six kids. Give her a break."

"What's the other bitch's excuse?"

"What does it matter?" she wondered. "You're not married to her. And she's probably nicer than me, anyway. I know she's a better cook."

"Obviously," he giggled. Then he swiped his racquet against the court, abrading the protective strip. "Goddamnit, I love to win!"

Clay was far gone from the court--mauling Brittany on the lawn, and, as it appeared, fairly against her will--by the time I chased down the last new orange Penn and collected my racquet and walked out the gate, kissing Trina on a sleepy Eastern eyelid. One thing about Asian girls: when they wear make-up, it comes as a bonus, not a necessity.

On our second date, she had taken me to the sushi house under Lift 13--at which I had spent unholy sums on at least a half-dozen occasions (though I never told her this, her wanting the experience to be a "first-time," and all), and which could be counted on to be, on Friday nights after six, Kirin and sake hell. It was an early November, and the ski slopes had yet to see a flake of snow, and, warm-blooded as she is, the evening found her enveloped in a long sweater that dropped a good two inches past her ass, and not much else. I don't know if it was the heavy-black braid swinging down and around the top of that amazing derriere, or her bare, tanned legs, or those eyes: but every man and woman sucked silent sushi for a full ninety seconds, until we were seated at the bar.

I fell in love somewhere through the Funky Charley, a potentially nauseating thing to the uninitiated: freshwater eel wrapped in rice and seaweed, then quickly deep-fried and drizzled in a hot mustard sauce, whereupon the sushi-master wraps it in raw halibut and covers the long tube in tiny orange fish eggs. The bean-sprout antennae, which makes the whole slimy cylinder look like a banana slug, usually separates the men from the boys, as it were, but Trina tackled her three chunks with a set of porcelain chopsticks she kept hidden in her purse, and then came begging for some of mine.

"Go away," I told her, placing a hand on a crossed thigh, just north of the cuff of her sweater-dress. When she let it lie, I knew we would someday be married.

We had been living together almost a year when we received, by mail, an invitation to the family picnic. As it was I who had taken delivery of the batch of letters that afternoon, my first inclination was to pitch it out with the overflowing trash, but something held me back. That night, almost as an afterthought, half-way out the door to a fundraiser for a Libertarian candidate to the California State Assembly, I showed it to her.

"God," she said. "I was hoping they'd forgotten about me."

We both laughed, and said nothing else about the summons for the rest of the evening. After the keynote speech, as the mingling began in earnest, I handed to the candidate a finely-honed brochure--a professionally designed, three-color thing--along with a check for five-hundred dollars (a last-ditch effort of insane risk, given that Trina and I were cold-stone broke and in arrears by two months on our lease at a Mammoth Slopes Condo), and told him simply that whomever was running his campaign, I could do it better.

I was prepared to stop payment on that check the following morning if he had told me to bugger off, which I fully expected he would, but when he looked into my eyes and nearly cried, and told me that not even his million-dollar townhouse nor the thirty-some hydroponically-raised plants maturing nicely in his basement grow-room had been able to buy him the kind of happiness he knew he had always deserved, I let the check pass through, and he hired me the next morning at two-thousand a month, plus expenses and a clothing allowance, which I spent on Grateful Dead t-shirts and Guatemalan prints dresses for Trina, and we cultivated the votes of every brain-stunted eighteen-year old in every high school, ski outlet and hippie-trash bagel/coffee shop in Mono County, and won the election, further alienating Trina from her family.

To see them together was like watching a nest of birds, wherein one chick has tumbled out and been returned by human hands. To be around it, to witness the neglect, was too much for me to handle. I resisted valiantly most interaction with her parents and their six natural siblings, though Trina infrequently felt the need to make an appearance just to maintain some semblance of peace in the family.

As she told it, her parents had met and fallen in love at college in the early sixties, somewhere in San Francisco--had turned in, turned on, and dropped out, as was the fashion; had become early disciples of Leary, and, later, Baba Ram Dass, and, when they realized the latter was plainly on the money-make, fell in with another Family, whom they saw as attuned to waves of a higher, holier tenor, and who convinced the young couple to move with them: to Katmandhu.

Only it gets worse.

Once in India, starving for lack of money and delirious from a cleansing moonlight dip in the Ganges, the wretched, huddling party--white people!--were reduced to begging on the cold November streets of Calcutta, and not even the Untouchables would share their blankets, such was the group's odious presence. (They never made it near Katmandhu.)

It was then that Marvin and Ellen Weinswelter gave their lives over to Jesus Christ.

I shivered in my summer clothes the first time I heard the story, and resolved that if I were ever to marry Trina, we would have to move somewhere far, far away.

"It was so beautiful," Marvin Weinswelter had said, upon my first meeting with the clan, a meeting which took place at the slightly unkempt three bedroom house they rented on the outskirts of Mammoth. "Ellen was covered over with impetigo," he recalled, "and I felt like I might have been coming down with T.B., and here we were all hallucinating, even though we had given up drugs before leaving San Francisco. We were really on our last legs...and that's when we found Jesus."

"In the flesh?" I remember saying at the time, and not with any intentional antagonism, but with honest incredulity.

Her father than stared at me. "Son, have you been saved?"

"From what?" I asked.

"From...what? From your sins!" he screeched in a reedy voice. "I've been a sinner--"

"Hallelujia," his wife answered, quietly and automatically.

"I'm still a sinner. We're all unclean before God, son. Me, Ellen, Trina...right down to our youngest grandchild, though she won't know it for a few more years," he made sure to add. "That's how children are," he nodded. "It'd be too much for them: to know how vile they really are in the eyes of Yahweh, King of Kings, our Creator; and our Redeemer, His son, Jesus, the Christ."

I nodded righteously, but he wasn't ready to let it rest. I remember that first Meeting With The Folks as taking place on a clear, sunny Sunday afternoon in the high Sierras--the 49ers were away and on cable against Cincinnati--, and I remember having cultivated a fair resentment toward Trina for dragging me out of bed just before my second orgasm, so that we would be on time for the barbeque. I honestly didn't know if I'd ever be able to forgive her after the intense grilling I came under during those few minutes, Marvin Weinswelter suddenly falling to his knees, hands outstretched, jabbering in an unnerving dialect I assumed he had picked up on the streets of Calcutta: "Onglalala, ob ja-la-la, ka babawawa."

There is a nasty symmetry operative in the human psyche, in that the clearest memories we own are those which we most desperately desire to shake: The collective Weinswelter family: Marvin's wife Ellen; second son Jared, a first-year attorney in Mammoth, and his wife Claris; the two middle boys, quiet fraternal twins; and the two accidents: a gangling boy about fifteen, and a youngish girl I gauged as being around twelve, as she was just sprouting breasts, though it appeared Mrs. Weinswelter had been negligent in providing her with a training bra...every blessed one of them, collapsing on the floor and slabbering wildly the same rhetoric of gibberish. Trina was the last to fall in, and I was headed out the front door, and would have been safely into our condo-on-the-slopes, watching Jerry Rice catch one of Steve Young's five touchdown passes of the day, had Trina's hand not hooked mine by the knuckles, jerking me down into the family circle.

"Just babble," she whispered into my ear: "Blablablabla."

And so I did--treated it as some kind of boot-camp Army drill (though I have never served My Country directly; only grasping what I had seen of it on TV, and from Oliver Stone movies)--ran off at the mouth until my tongue was dry, and sweat covered my neck, and Marvin Weinswelter appeared satisfied.

"I knew you were spirit-filled from the minute I saw you," he croaked, exhausted. "God is love: Don't ever forget that."

I shook my head furiously, such were the rhythms of fear and anger still reverberating through my system, and we had no more talk of the "healing power of Jesus Christ" that afternoon, aside from a rote prayer before the eleven of us proceeded to scarf down half a dozen fat chickens I had basted and cooked on the barbeque in the backyard, just to achieve some momentary solace. I think I could have blocked the spectacle from whatever portion of the grey matter governs memory, had Trina's father not taken me aside again, as I attempted to extract the last shards of meat from a wing.

At fifty-one, he had just begun to forget things--little things, which would scarcely have been noticeable, were it not also for the persistent tremors that afflicted his neck and head, so that he appeared to dodder slightly, like a farm-raised turkey. I felt terrible for the man all the way around. He and Ellen, after being rescued from the doomed hippie-cult by a pair of wandering Christian missionaries, had traveled all over southeast Asia on the generosity of the Holy Spirit and not much else: unpaid proselytizers for the Lord, who seemed to always see them a hot meal and at least a creaky cot at the end of the day. As Marvin told it, He had also secured their passage back to California, though I had to take this one on faith. Ellen, somewhere in the couple's travails, had given birth to their first child, Clay (whose conspicuous absence during that first afternoon caused some significant grumbling), and, broke again, the child crying constantly, stranded in a suburb of Bangkok, nourished, it seemed, by little else than the powerful glow that is Belief, they made a pact of some metaphysical sort.

"We were led to an orphanage," Marvin continued. "And the Lord told us that if we were to adopt a small child, a girl, we would be provided safe passage back to California, where He said we were now needed." Trina's father was nodding, to confirm the story and also from the unfortunate onset of Parkinsons; and, reflexively, I nodded with him.

"You understand why we did it," Marvin asked in earnest.

"Oh, completely," I heard myself saying.

"We were commanded to bring her home," he said.

At this, I could think only of Abraham and the "knife-that-should-have-plunged," and I was consumed by heebie-jeebies.

"It's been a trial," he said, "there's no way around it. She tries, but she's just never really taken to The Faith. God designed all His creatures differently--and her kind have been slow to recognize Him, the Holy One." Then he gripped my by the forearms. "You'll see her through to the Kingdom. Won't you, son?"

A shudder ran from my the base of my coccyx to the top of the skull, and apparently he took this as affirmation, for in a moment he was gone and sitting a short distance from his wife, who was seated at a reinforced bench and half-way through her second whole chicken, her hands slick with the drippings of God knows how many buttered rolls.

Those were my recollections of my first meeting with Trina's family. And those sequences were to be roughly replicted on the four or five other occasions in which she and I made token appearances. The one common denominator, aside from the requisite Pentecostal gibbering and her father's pleas to me to "see that Trina gets saved," was the absence of her older brother Clay, who I understood to be some kind of genetically-perfected asshole. His ranking as Mammoth Lakes' Realtor-of-the-Year, and his three-year reign as top dog on the "Millionaire's Circle" was further proof of his mania. But as I backed up and surveyed as best I could this Daliesque Family Portrait, I saw that his personality defects might simply be a matter of overcompensation: there was something confusing about a family bearing distinctly Semitic features, but who evangelized like Jehovah's Witnesses (though they were not), and particularly for Trina--this small Asian girl, who had gone through twelve years of Christian Sunday school as "little Trina Weinswelter."

So when I finally met Clay on the other side of the net on a hot asphalt tennis court, I was not in the least surprised to see that he had married a knockout goy, and that he obviously spent great amounts of time and money thinning what would otherwise have been a coarse Jewish mane (he achieved that blanched-blond look, Brittany confided in Trina some time ago, through a powerful lemon-peroxide combo, and spent forty pops a week to keep it thinned and slightly over the eyelashes in a diagonal drop, a la Bryan Ferry. The rhinoplasty--which he had paid for himself, at eighteen, with his earnings from construction work through blistering high Sierra summers--gave him that Roman-god snout that he had always idolized from the movies). Yes, altogether he was a handsome sonofabitch, there was no getting around it (though Brittany also confided in Trina that the gene pool had not been particularly kind to him in the shorts, and that oft-times, in The Act, she thought she could stare up at Lyle Lovett, if only he were "hung like a real man").

Following the match I had no interest whatever in talking to Clay Chambers (ne Weinswelter: at eighteen, he had also changed his name through the power of the State of California); and, as it looked, he none in me.

Brushing the hair from his eyes occasionally, in that irritatingly stylish way, he ignored pleas from his wife and parents to aid in the preparation of lunch, preferring instead to chatter with his closest brother, Jared, two years younger and burning down the same road of success that had always eluded their father, who was now employed as a janitor at the only junior high school in the greater Mammoth area. Jared had graduated second in his law-school class at UC Berkeley, was no more religious than Clay, but was blessed with a natural compliance--came to church with his parents regularly, and, as I could tell, was just basically a hell of a guy: friendly, a good listener, a forgiving doubles partner; besides, he was married to Claris, who had been, on their wedding night, as striking a brunette as he was liable to see in his cramped little neck of the woods. (But were I friends with him at the time, close friends--and even then, these things can cut both ways--I would have told him to "look at the cheeks. And then under the chin." Chubby cheeks will give it away almost every time; a layer under the chin, at twenty-three, is death. And Claris owned both.) So I, for one, was nonplussed when she gained sixty pounds during her first pregnancy, dropping ten when the load was delivered stillborn, then gaining fifteen more while recovering from the trauma. That she and Ellen Weinswelter could now pass as twins--were it not for the matriarch's considerable hound-dog wrinkles, becoming the best of friends in the recovery period--was also predictable.

All this was suddenly weighing on me, and I turned to Trina under the covered barbeque pits. "Let's get out of here: I think I'm gonna explode."

"Have I done something wrong?"

"No. God, no." I kissed her forehead, and it tasted salty from the heat. "I've been a trooper; but I've hit the wall. I just hate these people," I blurted, before correcting myself. "Well, not all of them. Jared's a prince. Come on: let's go home and take a shower and smoke a fat one on the balcony. Whaddya say?"

"Oh, I'd love to, sweetheart, but I'm starving. And Dad just put the hamburgers on. Can you wait half an hour? Please?"

I sat heavily at one of the picnic tables, and forced myself into a kind of malnourished dream-coma, through which I meditated on the oasian squiggles rising from the blistering asphalt of the city park. In a little over an hour, I would be home in our condo on those dry, bare and slightly brown, but still beautiful, slopes, where in a lusty THC haze I would rewrite my own campaign speech for the billionth time. In four years it would be my turn to represent the Good People of the Republic of California. Maybe not represent exactly, more like herd them along with some kind of high-voltage animal prod, the sheep that are 99.44/100% of all registered voters. I would start with the Assembly. My boss, after two terms, would have handed over the proverbial reigns (this revelation coming a few weeks after his election, as he passed me a bomber in the basement grow-room of his wood-frame palace--indica I think it was, by the way I fell into a paralyzed state of admiration and unreality that rarely accompanies conventional herb). Then fuck the State Senate, which is for losers and the hidebound: I'd stomp straight into Congress, following roughly the same Freak-Power tactics that almost saw Hunter Thompson become Sheriff of Aspen, Colorado in '71.

(Here I made a mental note to reread that particular segment of The Great Shark Hunt.)

And after that, well, I would probably be assassinated. But so what? Life is like that. Like sex, it's the getting there that makes the struggle sweet. These and other equally crazed fixations had gripped my brain, sweat tumbling from my forehead, throat, chest, the fine hairs on my lower back, when suddenly I noticed flames fairly erupting from the barbeque.

"Marvin!" Ellen Weinswelter cried, dropping a half-empty bag of potato chips onto the picnic table: "Look what you've done!"

"O Merciful God," he cried from the playground, where he had been regulating the flow of the teeter-totter, acquiescing to the demands of Clay's and Brittany's two rotten little parasites. In running for the barbeque, he dropped the playground contraption, such that his four-year old grandson, Clay, Jr., hit bottom, with Stephanie, barely three, stuck up in the air in good-natured confusion. When little Clay decided to follow his granddad toward a blast furnace that was once the barbeque, the grease off the hamburgers nicely augmenting the power of the coals, Stephanie dropped nearly five feet and onto her tiny, unpadded bum.


But there was no one within earshot to hear her, except me in my state of hyperattention, and I heard it as something extremely annoying, before blocking it out altogether.

Clay and Jared, upon seeing the meat briquettes that once promised to be their afternoon nourishment, fled to the tennis courts, not with any intention of actually playing (the temperature had soared to 103), but because both recognized it as neutral and distant ground. Brittany was gabbing conspiratorially with Claris about the possibilities of a new, easier (read: shorter) hair-style, which she knew Clay would be dead against. Marvin Weinswelter came under tremendous assault from his wife for ruining the burgers on their limited budget (though she had contributed less than $1,500 per annum over the past twenty years, usually from piano lessons and sundry stitchery-work). Trina, as usual, was trying to calm the cacophony, and her two youngest siblings were far across the soccer field, knocking some sort of sponge-ball around with a set of wooden paddles. (The fraternal twins had been spared this afternoon by a week-long church camp.)

I think I was the only one who noticed the cream-colored Ford panel van pull into the parking lot. And even I though nothing of it--until two men piled out and headed for the restroom.

"Fags!" I thought silently.

But as a registered Libertarian, I was required to be tolerant of such "lifestyle" decisions, and so I said nothing, to anyone, not even to Trina, for fear that she would accuse me of hypocrisy during some midnight argument (though we had not yet argued--but the occasion, I had been assured by my married friends, was not far off). I probably recoiled in disgust, though I don't recall the exact sequence, except that next I found myself tamping, with the heel of my rubber tennis shoe, a pile of bouncing-orange coals that had fallen from the barbeque and onto the concrete by the hand of Marvin Weinswelter, who had bravely but lamely tried to rearrange the molten mass with a steel poker.

When his wife said, casually, but with perfect clarity, "You can't even have an affair right; why did I ever think I could trust you to cook?", the few of us nearby became rigid, except for the accused, who, stalling momentarily, began stomping the remaining coals to extinction. Trina--who knew of her adoptive father's indiscretions with a church secretary several years earlier (the night she had told me this, I dreamed obscenely, all night long, of Jessica Hahn, whose surgically-enhanced hogans I had drooled over a few years earlier in that infamous Playboy spread)--lowered her head and muttered something nearly inaudible, but which I recognized as a prayer.

The unyeilding ugliness was enough to send Claris and Brittany skulking over the hump-in-the-field, to where their husbands would be playing tennis. What came back was something unexpected.

Scarcely three minutes from the time Marvin Weinswelter had been exposed for his infidelities, Jared and Claris came screeching across the lawn, reciting the various sundry statutes that pertain to couples separating in a childless-but-contested way, in accordance to the State of California.

"No fault??" Claris huffed. "What the hell is that? You're making it up!"

"I swear to God, I'm not," Jared yelled to her, his wife trudging across the grass toward the picnic area. "As long as there's no violence, they can't care. Think of how many cases they get every goddamned day. It's a huge state," he said breathlessly, but admirably without pleading.

The long and short of it (though from Jared's vantage-point, I couldn't see the short of it), was that a certain slim, perky red-headed paralegal had offered, during his first five weeks as associate partner in a prestigious Mammoth-area law firm, to, as she put it, "fill the vacancy underneath your desk." And since Claris routinely refused, how could he resist?

How, indeed? (And although Trina routinely obliged, I found myself weighing the hypothetical dilemma, the fetid rain pouring down.)

"If you'd've been more of a wife," he said, "maybe this would have never happened."

"Oh bullshit!" she retorted, and by this time the whole family had gathered and was entering into a right proper uproar. "You've said it, yourself: 'Fat girls give better head.'"

Jared retreated momentarily. "Well, theoretically," he stammered. "I don't know if it's a fixed thing. You know, first there's got to be the interest."

"Fuck you," she breathed.

I was just beginning to enjoy myself, when I heard a voice waver high and above the others.

"Plleease!" it said, shook in the air and hung like a tattered sheet on a line; and for the first few seconds I didn't recognize it as Trina's. When I did, I went numb.

"God, please! Stop it! Stop it!!"

And they did--I think to everyone's great shock. Couldn't help it. Her screams came on like a load of antioxidant from high overhead, a last, desperate salvo on a grass-fire threatening to rage overhill. For a full minute, the only sound, aside from the still-crackling hamburgers, was a burbling from Clay jr., who was busy moving a big plastic firetruck around the mashed coals and between our collective legs.

Gradually, each member of the Weinswelter family composed themselves and migrated, slowly, but fairly en masse, to the barbeque, to begin anew, a battalion damaged but not destroyed. Marvin began slicing onions; Jared patted down what was left of the ground round--meager lumps barely capable of feeding even the little ones.

"Clay, where's Stephie?"

Clay shrugged absently, silently, sullenly from where he sat alone on a bench, plucking at the strings of his racquet.

"Clay?" she said again, the voice quavering sickeningly. "Dad? Ellen?!"

It took me less than ten seconds to scan that small city park, all three and three-quarter acres of it, and to see that neither Stephanie nor the blond van were any longer in attendance. This I would find myself relaying over and over to a dozen officers from the Mammoth Lakes police department, along with a physical description of the van, of its driver and passenger--of their gait, distinguishing features, tattoos, moles ("brown or black? with or without hair?"), and again, hours later, to the FBI, Mammoth being barely an hour from the Nevada state line. But in those early minutes of desperation--as Clay walked to the playground and fell to his knees and shouted: "I'll fucking kill 'em! I'll fucking kill those...god damn...Fuck!", the rest of the Weinswelter family joining hands and kneeling as well, babbling unintelligibly, Trina being the quietest and also the most fervent--I thought I caught a glimpse of the Kingdom:

A shallow depression in a grove of pines holding all that is not sullied, and covered over with everything that is.


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