Written (far too quickly) for Paul J. McCauley’s & Kim Newman’s In Dreams anthology, this was my first fiction publication & a hot mess if ever I smelt one. My monstrous premie did at least plop into distinguished company, including stories by Nicholas Royle, Greg Egan, Alastair Reynolds, Lewis Shiner, Jonathan Lethem, Lisa Tuttle, Barrington J. Bayley, Marc Laidlaw, & Gwyneth Jones. By far the pick of the litter, & reason enough to buy his solo collection, was “Snodgrass” by Ian R. MacLeod.

The Man Who Shot Anarchy Gordon

by Ray Davis

To live outside the law, you must be harmless.
Old folk song

‘I’d rather die; I’m going to die,’ Lindie chanted in a Reedy voice thinking about something else as he lathered again under his arms and between his buttocks. ‘Too good to waste on bleeders, specially a scag like that,’ he’d overheard in the locker room right before David and Jonathan Prep closed for the summer. He tilted his face into the shower full force, imagining the spray aurating his glow like a commercial. Cleanliness is next to gaudiness; he rubbed behind his earlobes, their healing still a positive pleasure.

He fell back to ‘We’re coming out. Out of our closets’ (his write-in candidate for class song) as he straddled the tub wall and scrubbed himself down with a new black towel. It left fuzz on his skin which had to be brushed off after the air had completely dried him. He tried tracing a pentagram in the fuzz but it wasn’t thick enough to be visible.

The other side of town, across the tracks (seriously, though no one on St Orville Elder Blvd even slowed down for them any more), Anarchy was tossing Chucks and Doc Martens at a moth which had woken her up. The sneakers and boots ricocheted off her sparkly black ceiling back on to her mattress, where she dodged them and whirled them off again like a joke juggling act.

If I tear any of the posters, even the Ferry, you’re going to wish you were never laid, she promised it. But a collector’s copy of Fusion was the only casualty, kneed in the spine before Mrs Gordon’s ‘What is going on in there?’ stopped her. Anarchy couldn’t see the moth any more anyway.

About forty miles east, Saltine was driving west through a squiggly joint between two rods of road, tracing the invisible Sage Creek. His brother’s car had no FM and the 8-track was broken, so Saltine had to twist the dial every few minutes when a commercial came on.

‘Iiiiiii. . . want to bay-ayyy . . . NRK,’ Saltine sang over a Crystal Gayle song. ‘I am the NRA, and I am the PTA, and I am the TDK . . .’ He swung the Dart back and forth across the road’s white abdominal scar, evening out when he encountered another driver. Once someone honked and waved at his brother’s Walt Brown University ‘Honk For Sanctity’ bumper sticker. ‘Injun Jeezus,’ twanged Saltine moronically. No one noticeably reacted to his brother’s ‘Beaver Patrol Merit Badge’ or ‘Where The Heck Is Utopia Canaan’ bumper stickers.

‘Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?’ whined Lindie in a not-bad Joan Baez imitating Bob Dylan imitation which was supposed to be Johnny Thunders. His sister laughed.

Just an old-fashioned love song, coming down in three-part harmony.

‘Annie! It’s for you!’ Mrs Gordon took rhetorical steps toward the hall and yelled the same thing in the same way. Anarchy extended like a thick frog tongue from the bedroom door, grabbed the receiver, and was back with it, cord down through the crack. Mrs Gordon checked the phone’s torso on her way to the couch to make sure it wasn’t breaking free of the wall.

Now you’d think Mrs Gordon would be considerably more hard-line than Mr and Mrs Fraser, the latter being an academic family (at an officially Neodeshan university, true, but ‘it has a fine reputation’) and owning a complete set of Faulkner, but here she was passing Lindie’s phone call right along like a high church altar boy’s answering service. Mrs Gordon, however, lacked the training for absolutism, and any companions of her stepdaughter were welcome, if only as hostages. Lindie’s parents had more to lose; also they’d picked up the locals’ distrust of young women, maybe Mr Fraser had it already and that’s why he moved here, or Mrs Fraser got it from missionaries, they probably go to Taiwan. There’s an answer for everything.

When Saltine showed up, Anarchy was looking at the back of ‘Transformer’. ‘What happens to the people on record jackets? They look applied, don’t they? Like they were born inside the shrinkwrap. Like, what happened to the women on the Roxy Music records?’

‘Didn’t one of them marry Rod Stewart?’ Saltine guessed. Saltine never lacked for straight lines.

It was a skill she hadn’t appreciated at first. When Lindie took her to the Cheap Trick/Billy Zoom Band show, she’d been on one of those edges which can saw through this brick and still slice a tomato paper-thin. Adrift in too-wide too-short clothes, this cracker across the aisle looked the perfect model of a modern Neodeshan (said Lindie), and when Anarchy got bored after ‘He’s a Whore’ she tore into him as if he was a paper bag she had to fight her way out of. He was trying to joke but looked scared and impressed, like the other students looked when she bit through Penny’s skin at gym.

Strangely, her victim somewhat agreed with her negative assessment of him, kind of liked it even, and in his Flannery O’Connory way tried to live up to the challenge. A couple of weeks later he was early in line for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, spotted the bullish girl passing with a pretty (half-, he learned) Chinese boy in (what he learned was) a Frank outfit, and invited them in.

Although dubbing Saltine rudely, Anarchy went so far as to defend him from a particularly vile Meat Loaf that night, and Lindie found him as soft, dim, and reassuring as a nightlight. Saltine felt redeemed, like the Queen from Snow White had taken over Disneyland and was showing him the sights.

Lord knows the Queen could use some help. The week before, Lindie’s sister had walked in on him and Anarchy, inappropriately yelled ‘Christ!’, and dropped her Coke-and-milk. Proving the gods’ indifference to Jesus of Cool, the glass didn’t break. The jig is up, thought Anarchy prematurely, and, always prepared for a quick collapse, collapsed on to her haunches.

In one long complicated curve, Lindie yelled ‘Knock first!’, swooped up the glass, and, heedless of his necklace and open robe, handed it back to the girl, directing her into the hail. ‘Later,’ he said. For goodness’ sake.’ He turned on the light as Anarchy set to mopping up and Nick Lowe expressed his love for the Bay City Rollers.

Lindie bared his back, squatted beside her, and apologised about his sister.

‘No, she’s all right. I like her.’

(This was true enough that, once, an embarrassed silence had settled over the three of them while Patti Smith sang ‘dig your baby sister, want your baby sister’ on Horses.)

On ensuing weekend and weeklong sleepovers at Lindie’s house, Saltine’s horizons were expanded as only flat infinitely retreating lines can be. In return, his stone-faced bounce made a fine Max’s Kansas City men’s room to hide the details of the Lindie-Anarchy connection. And when it came to Lindie’s dark university-stacks-fed hobbyhorse, Saltine quickly outstripped the stable boy role, advancing first to stand in for Anarchy, then replace her.

Very ‘All About Evil’ but ‘the kid’s a natural’ said Lindie, and anyway Anarchy’s visions had never delighted her the way they did him. About a third of the time she made up plausible replacements to avoid going through them again; the rest she deliberately adjusted, as if to tag the originals. At first she worried what these flaws might turn into magnified by Lindie’s multimedia elaborations but it looked like they didn’t make any difference. Well, they all come from the same place in the end. And as far as practical applications went, if you wanted to inflict your power on someone, why not just slap her?

Or, as Lindie sang, coming in looking, in his white jumpsuit, like one of Mrs Fraser’s tall rum-topped coconut drinks, ‘My girlfriend’s back and she’s gonna break your lay-eggs.’

Unresplendent in ‘Everyone’s In Show Biz’ T-shirt and lumpen jeans, Anarchy defensively picked an album off the floor. ‘What’s this mess? Ah, the Masters of Folk Rock, Stilton Spam.’ (Once, she’d put the poor Brits on immediately after ‘Raw Power’, and it’d been weeks before even Lindie could stand to listen to them again.) ‘She’s got a cute little fat foot. Hope she keeps it out the chicken.’

Saltine took the jacket from her and looked at it.

Lindie said, ‘Just ’cause they wear tan leather. Cut the fringe and paint it black, you’d call ’em punks.’

‘Punks and elves, punks and elves,’ Anarchy intoned like Uncle Jack’s Tales of the Ozarks. ‘I can see that. I’m a troll—’ ‘A werewolf,’ corrected Lindie —‘Lucky Lindie’s got to be a faery, and Saltine’ with his dank black hair born to be combed in a widow’s peak and his thin greenish flesh, the exact colour of an ancient Volkswagen that Anarchy had once been in ‘is a vampire.’

On the other side of Crowley’s Book 4 and Fitzcollin’s Secret History of the Golden Dawn Lindie softly warbled, ‘Jet Boy stole, Jet Boy stole, Jet Boy stole my baby,’ with the stereo as he toiled into his draughtsman’s notebook. Each sheet was first packed with precise-looking print rubbing bellies with physics-class circles and annotated arrows. Then he would overlay new facets or just doodle, never making clean copies. Lindie thought this the most valid format for a record of meditative self-discovery, due to its illegibility.

Anarchy described their fantasy ABC series ‘Great Big Beautiful Dolls’ to Saltine; Lindie interrupted, ‘Too bad it can only last one season: Johnny’s going to die soon.’

‘Fine! I bet the Monkees wish they’d gotten to do a funeral show,’ Anarchy answered, aware she’d said it before, like everything else. It was a pleasure to have an audience but it made life more abstract, like rehearsals of an autobiographical Neil Simon play.

The audience, meanwhile, reflected pleasurably on vampirish sophistication. He considered buying a cape, then a guitar. He couldn’t help feeling his life was connected with music somehow.

‘Do you believe in the magick which rhythmically moves the virgin soul wherever it will?’ Lindie said. He was a good reader, you couldn’t tell if he was reading it or asking it.

‘What about fucked souls?’ asked Anarchy.

‘No such thing. I think it’s like, talking about music. Music is the means of control, but it controls the soul of the user as well as the object.’

‘Oh! a spoonful of sugar helps the heroin melt down,’ Anarchy sang in her cracked voice. Like what she didn’t know about heroin wouldn’t fill three No New York compilations and a critically acclaimed Bantam Book original.

But that was Anarchy. Whereas Saltine would think about it and say, ‘Sort of,’ and explain at length why a conclusion was impossible.

For example, Lindie put an aphid in his ear about some Theosophical parallel with the faith of our fathers holy faith, and a week later Saltine was still milking it. It appeared that orthodox asceticism, where you stripped off flesh and nerves while still hidden by a bathrobe or something and only exposed yourself when you were down to bones and spirit, apparently so much wussier than the I AM A BULLET bit, ‘actually isn’t, maybe’. Given the Native American influences on Neodeshan ceremony even some of the methods ‘aren’t that far apart, in some details’. Typical hedgelian dialectic.

But Lindie liked it, and over the summer the point of meeting at Anarchy’s became double-imaged, one red one green before the 3-D specs settle. It was partly to hide Lindie’s and Anarchy’s thing, partly to hide Lindie’s and Saltine’s.

Lindie’s sister sometimes stopped by, and when Anarchy wasn’t needed and wasn’t too tense and bored she’d talk to the girl and even got so she’d tuck away some distractions.

Once it was a remaindered Diane Arbus coffee table book for people who like pictures of sweaty transvestite junkies with their coffee. Lindie’s sister really got into it, pointing out all kinds of compositions and exposures. She was already good for a kid, even put a couple of ain’t-nature-dreamy? shots into Lindie’s portfolio that he hadn’t gotten rid of yet. (Neodeshan fashions being of limited appeal in the then decadent mood of the advertising mainstream, most of Lindie’s income came from local modelling jobs.)

Anarchy was inspired. ‘You can show college lowlife and sign yourself EeGee!’

‘Huh? You mean EeYeff, right?’

‘Shit!’ said Anarchy. ‘I hate when I do that.’

The upshot was they decided, despite the evidence of Rolling Stone, photography could still be a sincere art form if the contrast was high enough, and posited Anarchy as a subject ’til Lindie’s sister could work her way up to dwarfs and whores.

Other times, Anarchy was in the thick of things and Lindie’s sister had to make do; sometimes she’d just leave, sometimes she’d split a Coke with Mrs Gordon first.

‘As big a fuss as she kicks up over Sears, I don’t know how you get her to sit still for it.’ (For the last ten years, the family portraits had been crafted by the North Filart Spirit of Liberty Mall Sears Photo Center. Anarchy always came out very pink.)

‘Well, the idea is to not have her sit still,’ said Lindie’s sister.

Mrs Gordon nodded, wondering whether to offer her milk and whether they had any milk but not deciding in time.

In Anarchy’s locked bedroom, Saltine went over the Sekhmel ritual, almost whispering under ‘Metal Machine Music’ (on cassette so Lindie didn’t have to flip sides as often).

‘One thing. Um,’ ventured Saltine, ready to topple under the bobbing weightiness of his thought, ‘it’s supposed to go better if there’s at least three’ (which made sense, it was actually a Ptah-Sekhmel-Nefertum ritual, just that ‘Ptah’ sounded silly and Sekhmel was the cool one) ‘but it’s also supposed to go better if there’s intimacy.’ Anarchy’s ears pricked up. Intimacy? ‘Which is weird, because that should imply two.’ What the fuck?

Lindie was very excited to hear that. ‘Three is perfect!’ he said, grabbing one by the elbow, one at the knee.

‘You mean, like, the Jefferson Airplane song?’ Saltine asked. Then they started laughing as though it was the last shot of the sitcom. Since it wasn’t, they had to fade into something else, tender looks, all that. But it was like they wanted to stay in the water without going too deep, not to the point of being moved instead of having to apply themselves.

Well, sure, no one wants to drown, and how else are you going to come to an understanding with it?

Afterwards, they all felt relaxed but vaguely put upon. Saltine (whose disconcerting curve gave Anarchy a new angle on ‘horny’) said it was just a natural response to the high male-female ratio in frontier America, which non-Neodeshan Lindie didn’t get and Anarchy didn’t think was funny. She was already starting to get that pre-tantrum glow, those rogue elephant eyes, so Lindie suggested going to Burger King.

If it had just been Lindie and Saltine they would’ve biked there. But Anarchy always preferred to walk, feeling too easy a target on the spindly wheels. Even the range disturbed her; she imagined giddy miles of rushing toward lower elevations (unlikely in Canaan!), then being stranded too far to walk back, too steep to ride back, a milder strain of her panic at the first damper of fatigue when swimming. Lindie tried to explain that she would get a second wind but it seemed such an ephemeral concept to stake one’s life on. Then again so did the first wind.

Once your eyes got over being slapped in the face by the sun, it was a nice day. Lindie and Saltine kept yakking. Anarchy phased out. A polluted leaf from last fall propped on a branch looking like a black oyster shell with a lolling tongue. Suddenly Saltine was jumping and yelling and spitting, Lindie was shaking him and profaning like mad. On the way to the hospital (not far from Planned Parenthood on Goshen, so everyone knew how to get there), she worked out that a bumblebee had funneled into his mouth. Saltine was in too much pain to notice the fit of giggles this gave her. That bee gave his life that Saltine might shut up, she thought in a Jimmy Swaggart voice.

Lindie noticed, though. Honestly, when Anarchy wasn’t wishing she was dead, she was acting like her corpse wouldn’t stink. Saltine was a lot smarter than she thought, he had a sting he didn’t show around her, and he knew how to keep it out of the way.

After that Anarchy didn’t see the boys for a while. Sometimes she thought of this Army brat she met last summer, a giraffey blonde girl, plain, blotchy, who was homesick for the Philippines where she’d danced for all of ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ with a handsome guy half a foot shorter who spoke odd English and necked with her for hours. As the blonde reminisced, Anarchy’d imagined a corresponding Filipina left somewhere alone trying to figure out what to charge sailors if you were a virgin.

Still Anarchy was confident of a special link to Lindie; she felt she even had a feeling for his artificiality. They’d stayed up late to see Monterey Pop on the wrestling-and-Godzilla channel, Hendrix politely jerking off the guitar he was about to piss on and burn; she read that he’d made it up to upstage the Who, I mean, he just made it up, and that was sort of like Lindie.

With Saltine, she hadn’t a clue. He stopped by one day while Lindie was out on a shoot.

‘Sometimes I think I’m not up to you guys,’ Saltine reflected. ‘Almost all the time.’ Anarchy tried to think of something encouraging. ‘I get so much from you both and I can’t see what I give back.’

Anarchy came up with it. ‘That’s sweet.’

Saltine had cast his wadded balls of Wonder Bread on the water looking for a bigger catfish than that. Clearly he hadn’t proven himself.

Remembering something she could be sincere about, Anarchy showed him her latest Glitter Storybook. A stack of these, including fragments, took up a third of her scuffed bestickered portfolio. They were mostly scurrilous libels on British rock stars, each page containing a faux-Steadman doodle and a paragraph of Basic English in Anarchy’s big shaky hand. She’d sent one to Creem but all they did was print the text as a letter which didn’t make sense. Lindie’s favourite was the David Bowie’s Sex Life alphabet; he could recite the whole thing.

This one was just sick. Three lesbian vampires infiltrated a bunch of groupies plus a female photographer backstage with the Babys (a frequent target of Anarchy’s because they looked so much like a rock band), dismembered them, and sold them as veal.

Anarchy fidgeted while Saltine read it silently and wondered if all girls were this savage when you got to know them. Before he finished, she stumped out the door. Waiting outside was Lindie’s sister’s camera, which snapped at her twice before being chased off.

The results were not among the prints which arrived a few days later. ‘“A triumph!” trumpets Julia Scully!’ read a headline on the envelope. The photos were monotonously hideous: assorted croppings, blow-ups, saturations, of each of five shots, each oafish as a yearbook senior trip page. Anarchy looked about wildly for an efficient disposal site, thrust them into her ever more disorderly portfolio, and set out for Shea Fraser (as Lindie called it for unknown reasons) to eliminate the negatives.

There, Saltine was, speak of the devil, worried about Anarchy collapsing like a cartoon jalopy before they could get the ceremony together. Lindie hadn’t exactly been in a rush to get in touch lately, but he still felt obliged to defend her; no blip could break up signals which had coincided so long.

A surge of noise from downstairs leached through the music: his sister’s plaintive ‘Liinnn!’ and his mother precise and brittle as scissors, ‘Give those back!’ and oh Jesus Anarchy no doubt. ‘Should I come?’ asked Saltine. ‘God no, save yourself,’ Lindie hopped, pulling on his slippers, ‘someone’s got to tell the coroner what happened. Let’s hope she doesn’t scar me anywhere visible; I have an audition.’

His sister was at the bottom of the stairs, looking up for him teary eyed. His mother was stiff and small, just out of Anarchy’s arms’ reach, glaring her owly glasses off her nose. ‘They’re mine! They’re me!’ Anarchy said, tossing wildly.

‘I don’t know what you are “on”, young miss, but unless you immediately return my daughter’s property and leave these premises I will be forced to call the police.’

Did she rehearse that? thought Lindie as he rushed to say ‘No! It’ll be okay!’ and his sister rushed to say ‘No! It’s not that important!’

Anarchy looked at him like a raccoon caught in headlights, turned away, and trotted out the door. His mother shut and locked it. ‘That girl is never to come here again! Do you understand me, Lin Duane Fraser? I want nothing to do with that girl.’ She reassuringly gripped his sister before her like a shield.

‘I don’t even know what happened.’ He tried to ignore his mother’s explanation while his sister tried to explain. Anarchy must not have liked her pictures. She not only made his sister give her the originals, she took the film right out of the camera, an almost full roll. His mother started in again; his heart spun. ‘All right, but now I have to help her, you can see that!’

He went upstairs to put on real shoes and to tell Saltine, and then left.

‘I don’t know what’s ailing that girl,’ Mrs Gordon said as he passed her. Anarchy tucked her X-Acto knife into the blanket as he joined her on the bed.

‘Hey,’ he said. ‘Why’d you take the pictures?’

She tried to think of an answer. ‘I want to be erased.’

‘I feel like that sometimes. It’s your body fucking around with your head. You just need to give it something else to deal with, like an hour in the pool.’

Pools reminded her of a swimming class two years ago when some girl backed up by a mob smirk made a crack about wet hair, and she looked down and sure enough, some was poking out garish against her skin. Anyway, she didn’t like to swim. Anyway, this had nothing to do with swimming anyway, why was he talking about it?

Dinnertime came. Anarchy refused to eat or even to leave the room. Lindie grabbed a plateful for himself; to Mrs Gordon’s ramblings he promised to ‘take care of it’. ‘You’re a good friend,’ she told him.

It was amazing how much self-destruction one person could hold. It was like the colourful silk worm drawn from a magician’s mouth, or the oatmeal in the Eraserhead baby. Afterwards he wondered, very un-Lindie-like, why he hadn’t left her to her fucking impulses if they were so fucking unanswerable, but at the time (3 to 6 a.m.) it seemed important, like toting up shifting columns of six-digit numbers does when insomniac with fever.

Anarchy sleazed out in the morning while Lindie was in the bathroom. No makeup was up to the job of making him fresh-faced. He didn’t get the assignment, and had to perform acrobatic sucking-up even to get put on the callback list for the Prince Ascot line (which it was true he’d be perfect for, but he could’ve easily handled On The Mississippi as well). There was still Gilbey’s clothing later in the week.

All this while, Saltine had been left behind to comfort Lindie’s sister, doing quite a creditable job for which he was never thanked I might add, and mull:

Lindie’s Occult-o-rama mostly relied on alchemists and other scam artists, but random pokes into The Golden Bough and The Hero with a Thousand Faces and Man and His Symbols indicated you could get the same stuff anywhere if you weren’t a snob. So wouldn’t it make sense to plug into the nearest outlet instead of dragging an extension cord umpteen million miles?

Although Saltine had started mocking the church around the same time he started masturbating, Walt Brown’s corned beef hash of primitivism and Christianity beat the other Protestants hollow. Like his grandpa’s facsimile Towel of Turin smelling of old motor oil from working on the Galaxy 500 wrapping some lucky condor feathers; now you can’t get much more shamanistic than that. The New World Testament even kind of mentioned UFOs!

But no matter how cynically he put it, Anarchy wouldn’t listen. She was ideologically claustrophobic. If anarchists had founded Canaan, she’d’ve called herself Federalism.

It wasn’t that he had anything against her; he was mostly worried about Lindie. Applying to out-of-state schools, working as many jobs as possible, his parents at him to stay where tuition was free and he could pay cheap rent at home, and now all this hysteria.

But the last thing Saltine wanted was to put more pressure on Lindie. That was the last thing he wanted to do.

Lindie was taken aback by his concern. Altruism dissipates; desire concentrates, the universe compact in a bit of flesh. Bad enough that Anarchy was so reactive, without Saltine being so binding.

(It’s true that Lindie’s own motives remain even more obscure, but what can you expect of the love interest? He was unsure himself, letting the need to focus direct him. Besides, why appeal to outside forces if you know everything already?)

‘This is your big opportunity to be selfish. Otherwise it doesn’t seem, I don’t know, private enough . . .’

‘Well, you can’t go on like this. Or if you can, I don’t want to watch it.’

‘Oh please, I’m too tired.’ Then, ‘We really have to have a third?’

‘I think so, probably.’

Might as well let everything fall apart at once. ‘Well, all right, let’s get it over with.’ Maybe a structured activity where she felt needed would distract her.

They waited for Lindie’s mother to leave for Tuesday night quilting class. His father usually worked late (or whatever he did Tuesday nights). With any luck, his sister wouldn’t feel like hanging around.

Anarchy, meanwhile, after some c-sticks and skittish runs at traffic on the walk home, was improvising her own purification ritual. She aimed a butt at her upper arm; it might look like vaccination scars (though she kept picturing a blue stamp on a leg-of-lamb’s yellow fat). The first time hurt so much she kept dropping the butt, and it was too humiliating trying to pick it up, so she decided to burn the portfolio’s contents instead. But she couldn’t figure out where to lay the bundle so it wouldn’t set the house on fire, so, trembling with frustration, she sloppily tore the pages.

Her ingenuity was feeling wiped by the time they called. She had them pick her up. She wrapped herself in her hooded black wool cape but still shivered.

For lack of decent incense, Lindie burnt some potpourri in spare ashtrays and some pinched into candles. Then he went deep into his closet, where a muffled scrabbling became a terrible racket. ‘It’s good we’re doing this tonight. The ’rents would’ve called an exterminator soon.’ He lugged out a cage containing newspaper and a frantic squirrel. ‘Gracious, look at that boy bounce.’ Nervous for his fingers, he dropped the cage and manoeuvred it with his foot.

‘I thought . . .’ said Anarchy, a bit stunned, and waved towards the squirrel.

‘Yeah, a hamster or something would’ve been easier, but it turns out domesticated isn’t as good. Anyway, it’s a spirit sacrifice, not a blood sacrifice,’ he reassured the other two as he set things up. ‘It probably won’t have time to suffer.’ They positioned themselves and began.

The squirrel stopped its pogoing and headbanging and stood upright like an A&R man in the centre of the cage. It appeared to clutch at its heart, as the cute little fellows are prone to. After a minute or so it stiffly toppled on to its side. Wow, they all thought briefly.

Anarchy’s throat was dry from the cigs. She swallowed hard, like a cannibal trying to incorporate metaphysical enemies. The meditation wasn’t focusing, or rather it was focusing wildly back and forth like when they watched the giblet-poke scene in Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein (which had netted the hippie owners of the Weld Theatre a bankrupting obscenity prosecution despite Mr Warhol’s mural of Mayor Rev. Abraham). Were the other two faking? She couldn’t even tell when Lindie was really sleeping.

After enough leaning over and jerking back, she started to realise they weren’t, it’s just that Saltine was driving and it took a lot longer for Saltine to get over the hump and to figure out what to do when he got there.

Slowly slathered over their triangle as if it was a mystic piece of toast was a pure shimmering blue the shade of a black and white TV. Even down to the humming scan lines, half of which seemed to show a draped Californian, half of which seemed an overlapping closer shot of a snaggletooth-grinding draped hunchback. One point of the triangle was being bitten off, the point towards Anarchy. No sign of Sekhmel.

Blue is for boys, Saltine thought, as the figures raised their garment in a gesture both embracing and exclusive, and raised their common noggin up past the normal limits of Lindie’s ceiling. As the buzz became an amplified breath, then a roar, their satin robe spread and crested and fell on to poor Anarchy without splashing, like a twenty-foot-thick blanket, and then gently troughed Saltine up, raising him towards the sun, which had features like the cover of ‘Mott’ only sterner. He felt pressure build behind him, more than his weight, and realised he must be accelerating. He turned to face Lindie.

The push emphasised Saltine’s already prominent veins. Even the tiniest vessels were visibly rippling like highlights on a stream, and the larger ones were beginning to, how disquieting, surface. Immediately after popping through the skin like so many bathtub toys, they flopped open down their dotted-line middles, spilling red or blue blood.

With trembling furrowed hands, Saltine tried to scoop the liquid (now the consistency of unset plum jelly) back in.

‘No!’ warned Lindie, trying to remember how carbon dioxide worked. ‘You don’t want to mix them!’

God, where was Anarchy, she’d had to deal with enough cuts, bruises, madness, broken nails . . . Saltine’s flesh was drying out translucent as a lemon-lime gummy bear (Lindie could even taste a dusty sweetness in the air) and a light was behind him.

It’s true, Lindie thought. The light was naturally cross-shaped, with a corporeal bulge along the vertical axis, as depicted in Pinocchio and the cover of Western Dawn magazine. It webbed into a mandala no, a shield, a mirrored shield, a half-mirrored shield, half-behind Saltine and superimposing Lindie. There was a sense of relief. A sense of lifting after a plunge. Put your hand in the hand . . .

The room was dark but clear. Anarchy was gone. Saltine seemed to still have all his blood. The squirrel was still dead. Lindie pitched it underhand out the window towards the unkempt honey-locust for a cat to drag away.

Saltine asked Lindie how he felt.

Lindie felt as if trapdoors in the callus on his soles had flipped open and all his innards had poured out. If he exhaled, his eyes would drop into the vacuum, dangling from their stalks like Luke and Princess Leia waiting to be rescued. ‘I’m fine,’ he smiled. ‘Never better. I just need some sleep.’Lindie shook his head. ‘Jesus. How did you do that?’ Saltine was modest. ‘I just went towards the light.’ Like a bug.

The next day, talking to his sister, Lindie learned that three pictures which he’d hoped to send to Gilbey’s were on the roll of film Anarchy took.

* * *

Anarchy left Filart before summer was over. After a year on the bum, she called on the insurance money put away for her schooling and got into NYCAI; with a scholarship, she even had a little left over for speed.

She started out as a film major but switched, first to history then to painting, when her first-year-both-semesters prof insisted on pronouncing Liberty Valence as if he was a pre-med. She did so-so scholastically, but helped some performance artists (one of whom became a sitcom star), and interned on sets at the City Opera.

On Music School equipment she learned wobbly piano and guitar. A friend into postmodern cabaret asked her to write some songs. It was much easier than trying to figure out other people’s.

Twice early in the next decade Lindie tried to call her. Once she didn’t answer (drunk, she taped over the message trying to replay it, who was it? Nickie? Ray? oh shit. . .). On his second attempt (to make sure it was God’s will), it had already become a wrong number. For her part, she only contacted him in nightmares where dead friendships rose like zombies and she felt draggy the rest of the day.

Early in ’90 she got a CD out under the name A.G. Gordon. Kramer had her draw the cover. She got fan mail from Lindie’s sister, and since she was bracing herself to visit her stepmother’s for Thanksgiving anyway, she wrote back.

Nostalgia flabbed up to replace atrophied memory, or, as A.G. said with the lazy generosity of a monarch commuting a burning-at-the-stake to a beheading, ‘It’s natural to get over being mad eventually.’

‘I guess,’ doubted Lindie’s sister.

They put L7’s first album on while chatting about the business.

A.G. hulked close to the speaker and, crazed by the beat, slowly moved her head from side to side like the victimized triceratops in Fantasia. Brokenly she elaborated, ‘The biggest problem is when there’s no one to tell you the truth. It’s not that they’re all lying but none of them are far away enough and smart enough to figure out the truth.’

‘Mm.’ A.G. waited for her to say what was on her mind. ‘You shouldn’t have left Lin. I mean, it’s great that you left, but Lin just died. He just fucking died,’ she said solemnly.

A.G. felt a nervous laugh stir like a burp. ‘I didn’t kill him. I didn’t even keep him from coming with me. Besides I heard he was pretty happy.’

‘It’s an act.’

‘That’s still better than most of us manage. I mean, not only am I fucking miserable but I look it too.’

A.G. felt duty bound to ask after Saltine, though it was embarrassing to not remember his real name. ‘Oh, Phil’s still hanging around,’ the girl answered vaguely and A.G. let it drop and waited again for her to finish her thought.

‘It just seems like, reading and talking to people, it never works out.’ She continued staring into the wall.

A.G. watched her pensiveness make her look even younger, and considered. ‘No, it does. Lots of times, believe me.’ She rubbed haphazardly at the tense back, a sheath of bone.

‘I guess it must’ve been something else then,’ Lindie’s sister said.