Camp Lake

You are like the farmer. You can plant the seed. You can till the soil. It is up to the sun and the wind and the rain to do the rest—Sony Shimizu (1910–2010)

Maddy

IN RETROSPECT, WE SHOULD HAVE BEEN A CULT.

We would have killed ourselves in some standoff with the government, probably, or just all died from jealousy. We were too young, though, so we were a church youth group instead. If we had been our parents’ age, we would have made the second Jonestown, we’d’ve been having mass babies and rewriting the Bible like David Koresh.

I think we were more religious than our parents were. They were more sane. They were more restrained. I used to think—at the time—that they would be quite surprised if they found out what was going on on our weekend sleepovers, weekend retreats, week-long mission trips. I was pretty sure at the time they wouldn’t be happy about it. With about a decade of reflection, I am now sure that if they had known what we were doing, or if they ever find out, they would be horrified.


My memories of Beth are magical, they’re trumped up, they’re nothing short of glorious. In my mind, she was the best one of us. Even Maddy was a runt compared to her. Beth’s attitude trumped us all. Everything she did is a postcard, everything she said a line of movie dialogue.

I guess I romanticize the crash with Beth. It really wasn’t funny. We still had drinks from Zen, I mean when we talked to the cops the spills on our clothes were from long islands. Beth liked to drink the occasional long island ice tea on the boardwalk at a certain establishment. We just threw the cups in the grass on the side of the road. The cops didn’t even ask. It’s fucked up when you’re such a regular that when you ask for a to-go cup at a bar..they give you one.

No one was hurt. Beth just dipped across the line, we hit this Jeep head on. We hit them on the corner, though, we just barely hit them, so it wasn’t that bad. We slammed back into this Chrysler Sebring with these supersize office bitches in it. They were really mad. The Jeep ran off the road. When we hit the Chrysler it slammed back into the car behind them. Those office bitches were really mad.

Somebody could have died. I know that. It’s not that I don’t care, but it’s just that it’s the first car accident I was in, and it wasn’t anything like I expected. When everything stopped, and people were looking at Beth and me through the windshield, they were looking at us like we were dead, or they were trying to figure out if we were. Everything did stop there for a minute.

Nothing means anything. That’s the unfortunate truth. Meaning happens later. At the time, there is no meaning.

Beth was great. Beth was like having a big sister for someone who didn’t have a big sister, or a brother. When she talked to me, she would talk about things that I’d never done. It’s nice having someone older; they go out and try things, and report back. Then the mistakes they made, you don’t have to.

I could say Maddy killed her sister. I could say that. But that wouldn’t be exactly true. And I could say that if Maddy and Beth had never met me that Beth never would have died. And that might be true. I could even say that Beth killed herself. But that wouldn’t be right of me to say. It took three people to kill Beth. It took me. It took Maddy. And it took Beth herself. The three of us have this in common: each of us, by doing things differently, could have saved Beth’s life. That’s a grim fraternity, but that’s the one we have.

That wasn’t our only fraternity. Our first fraternity was as the children of two families that were friends. Beth and Maddy’s parents, and my parents, were friends. We went on vacations together. Beth and Maddy, and me and Suzette, played together as kids. We went camping in the Poconos. We rented a house in Sea Isle City, in New Jersey. And we saw each other every Sunday at church.

My earliest memory of Beth and Maddy and Suzette and I is all of us playing on the beach, our parents out of focus in the background. And, later, showering under a faucet outside the house before we went inside.
And the other thing, I guess, is that we sat in church together. Our parents sat up front. But we sat in the very last row of the sanctuary. That was our pew. We wrote notes to each other on the bulletin and right before the sermon we’d sneak out the back doors, cross the street, and go hang out in the Rite Aid.

We weren’t the most pious set of kids.

I mean we used to steal horoscopes from the Rite Aid. The girls would try on makeup. I would steal lipstick for Maddy (one of the only times I’ve ever stolen anything). Beth would steal horoscopes—the long rolly kind. Then we’d lean around in the parking lot behind the church and smoke and the girls would put on makeup and Beth would read our horoscopes. She was an Aquarius, which makes sense; most people who are really really into astrology are Aquarians.

Sea Isle City was the good days. Just me and her at the bar, we’d get whole crab—it wasn’t about the crab, Beth and Maddy and Suzette and I used to catch our own crab. Depending on the geography, we’d catch crayfish, crab, hunt mushrooms, Beth and I used to eat cicadas together, and certain types of grasshoppers. That’s the kind of fun we had; we were real hands-on. But we’d have crab at Zen’s, too, plain, in a bowl, with butter. It was the same stuff we caught on the beach. Then Beth would take her mirror out of her purse, and she’d take this plastic canister that looked like something from a chemistry lab, and she’d go to the bathroom. Her mirror folded. It was white and pink plastic with Hello Kitty on it. When she came back from the bathroom she always seemed refreshed.

Being in the car with Beth was a dangerous thing. The only really bad car accident I’ve been in was when Beth was driving.

Beth would do things like floor it in a Walmart parking lot. If old ladies were crossing with their groceries, Beth would whisper, “Let’s gun,” and she’d hit the gas, weaving between them. This combination of nihilism and exuberance can only exist in a sixteen-year-old. You can’t be that excited about death unless you’ve never experienced it. On our drives from Sea Isle City to Ocean City to get crab and drink at Zen, Beth would drive really fast. Hella fast, she would say. It was like our fires when we went camping: they were pyro hot. You just knew we were going to kill somebody.

If I could have kissed Beth while she was driving I would have. I would have stopped the car on Highway 619, moved into the driver’s seat with her, pushed her hair out of her face, and then..I don’t know..I always imagine this like it’s in a movie. I’d probably have a camera moving across the highway, on a crane, and Beth’s hair would be blowing not because of natural sea breezes, but from gas-powered fans sitting right outside the frame. We’d shoot it in slow motion. It would be incredibly hot. Right before things went too far, someone would yell “cut.” I wouldn’t have to figure out what to do after that. We’d just have the first six seconds of our kiss, as many times as it took to get it right.

My first kiss was directed by Roman Polanski. If I had it to do over, my first kiss would be directed by Michael Bay.

I wish Beth was still here. If she was, I’d get in the car with her and she could drive as fast as she wanted. I wouldn’t say a thing.


Past the arcade was the rollercoaster, cheap seafood places, an alcove for the symphony, and Beth and Blake are holding hands, which is kindof weird because Beth and Blake don’t even like each other, at least Beth doesn’t like Blake, though Blake may like Beth. And years later we’d all become office bitches, at least some of us would. But this is before that happened. This is when we were still interesting. This is when we still had life. Way back then. Way before college. Way before jobs. This is Ocean City, New Jersey, 2000.

There’s an arcade named Gilly’s. That’s where we go to use Beth’s quarters and play Mario even though it’s better at home. And even there we cheat the arcade manager out of games, say the game ate our quarters, even though these days we’re flush with quarters. Of all things we need, we don’t need quarters.

This is all of us past the arcade on our way to the rollercoaster, and Beth holding Blake’s hand, and Blake holding it back, and his roach, that nugget of black curly hair on the back of his neck that we always tell him to cut off, threaten to cut off while he’s sleeping, grab a plastic razor, some shaving cream..

This is us past the arcade. It’s Beth, Blake, me, Maddy, Brian, Sarah, Hannigan, who else? Marcy’s back in the room. Suzette is back in the room. Peter is back in the room. Pastor Steve is back in the room. Carol is back in the room. Who else is back there? Abigail. I think that’s it.

Later we’ll have prayer service. Later we’ll make dinner together. The adults will drink Sprite and the rest of us will drink Sprite too. The rooms’ mini-fridges will be miraculously stocked, every one packed with 8oz cans. We have some Coke. There’s a couple Diet Cokes. There’s a lot of Cherry Coke in the one in Maddy’s room. Mostly it’s Sprite, though, lots and lots of Sprite.

Brian is walking way to the side of the rest of us. He’s wearing blue And1s. He kicks the sign in front of Zen, the nice seafood restaurant, where the symphony plays. The metal A-frame falls over, helped by a sea breeze. Tonight. $12 shrimp. Brian is wiping off his forearms, freeing himself of any sand. “Anybody want some skriiiimps?

“Hey. Brian. What the fuck.” That’s Blake.

Then Beth: “Are they still working on it?”

Brian looks away from us when he talks. “Working on what.”

“Artificial—” Beth gets that much out and then covers her mouth and laughs, cowering over.

Blake’s arm automatically goes for Beth’s shoulders.

On the way up, it was me and Beth and Blake and Brian and Maddy in the car. Carol was diving. Brian was in the front. Me and Beth and Blake and Maddy were all in the back seat. Maddy was supposed to be sitting beside me but she was sitting on my lap. Beth and Blake had a similar arrangement. I swear Beth leads Blake on. Brian was in the front, and he’s slamming around the controls on this digital radio and Carol’s got both hands on the wheel, elbows locked, trying to keep the car on the road. It’s raining. I can hardly hear anything, the radio is up so loud. And Maddy is touching my purple-and-black plaid shorts, right on the edge where it stops and it becomes my skin, and I’m trying not to get a hard-on.

Then Brian turns around and in his skinny-face, hyper-nappy, prepubescent-rocker sort of way, says: “Did you know that right now scientists are working on artificial pussy?”

To which Beth cracks up and socks Brian in the side of the head. Blake pulls Beth’s hand back into his. Maddy takes her hand off my plaid shorts and my leg. I stare out the window, and Brian goes on to tell us all the various properties that scientists have managed, so far, to incorporate into artificial pussy.

Now we’re on the boardwalk and Maddy is beside me, she’s on the sea side, and she’s wearing a white jumpsuit which is tight around her butt. I’m thinking of when Beth and Maddy and Suzette and I used to play on this beach when we were kids and our parents would get together here for vacation and Maddy and Beth would get sand in their suits and Beth was the oldest so she didn’t have any shame when she talked about sand getting everywhere, getting into all of her cracks, and I assumed that when Maddy agreed, that that meant that sand was in her cracks too.

There was a shower head outside the house. We’d come back from the beach, sand everywhere and skin burned, go through the tall dry grass where I’d always walk barefoot and look so I wouldn’t step on glass, and back at the house we would shower, one-by-one, with our clothes on, before we went inside. Then inside I’d use the downstairs bathroom while Beth and Maddy used the upstairs bathroom and it was always clean, clean like a hotel bathroom, with unused soap and stiff towels. The bathtub looked like it had just been installed, never used. I think it was only us and like two other families that used that house. A warm/cool breeze came in through the high window while I was drying myself. It smelled like salt. That was Sea Isle City. That’s just down the way.

Every year our youth group comes here, to Ocean City. Last year we stayed in the Days Inn. This year Pastor Steve hooked up a deal with the Westin, so we’re staying there this time. But it’s the same, except the rooms are nicer. We spend most of our time on the boardwalk. But we do spend time in the rooms. And the Westin has a pool. The Days Inn had a pool. But this pool is nicer. And this place has a jacuzzi.

Every year we would take a vacation with Beth and Maddy and their parents. Sometimes we’d go to Sea Isle City. Sometimes we’d go to the cabin in Pennsylvania.

Obviously we stopped going to Ocean City after Beth died. Although Pastor Steve and the adults never knew exactly why. There are some things you never tell your parents.

“I bet, Brian, that if you had an artificial pussy you wouldn’t know what to do with it.”

“If I had yours I would know what to do with it.”

“Talk about my pussy one more time I’ll fucking kill you.”

“That’s real Christian of you.”

“Jesus got murdered.”

“Case in point. Anyway, I take it back about your pussy. Could you please not talk about murder?”

“Brian, I’m gonna get you a piece of artificial ass for your birthday. No. Make that Christmas.”

“Beth, why don’t you shut the fuck up.”

Beth breaks away from Blake and goes to Brian. “Why don’t you make me.”

“Kids,” Blake says, “Kids.” And he takes Beth back under his arm.

Blake packs nunchucks when he comes away for a youth retreat. This is a very tight crew. We might fight with each other a little bit but when it comes to outsiders we don’t let anyone fuck with us. We’re like a family of coyotes. A litter of them. Someone messes with one of us, you’re messing with the worst of us. Usually that’s Blake. Blake sleeps with a sword under his pillow. That’s the kind of family we are. Blake is a ninja.


At Camp Lake, when me and Blake and Beth snuck out spotlighting there was always a thing about who would sit next to Beth in the boat. We had sort of a like triangle. Of course Blake was very aggressive and he positioned himself next to Beth on the wider of two benches. Or else he would pat the aluminum next to him to invite her over. He would become annoying if you didn’t oblige him. But sometimes I would get to feel her, feel the warmth of her arm through her black t-shirt or our arm hairs would touch, or our black sweatpants would be next to each other and one of our knees would touch when one of us braced ourself to turn around in the boat.

We were experts at fishing. Even though spotlighting is illegal. And if you get caught they fine you. But who’s gonna see us in the middle of the night? There aren’t any park rangers in this lake. Blake has this tackle box. The top drawer has artificial lures. The bottom drawer has knives. Usually we just fish with Combos, Skittles, or a flashlight. I won the fishing contest at Camp Lake the first year I ever went..on a piece of deodorant. All you have to do is put, like a Skittle, or a piece of a Combo, on a hook. Fish come to anything that gives off a trail in the water. When I won that fishing contest, this older kid, his name was Schmelkin. That asshole put rocks in his fish to try to beat me. He’s on the dock feeding pebbles to this fish hung off a tow line, trying to fuck with the weigh-in. When they put it on the scales to judge him, pebbles were falling out of the fish’s mouth. You should have seen the look on the judge’s face. They disqualified the kid. They should have thrown that kid out of camp. He was always doing stuff like when we were at archery lessons he would lie and tell me that my target was the one on the left, then next time I shot he would tell me my target was on the right. That way it would look like I had missed half of my shots, and he had somehow gotten more on target than he even had arrows. I hate kids like that.

But that was Camp Lake. At Ocean City when we snuck out we did different things.


Sarah’s hand is in Hannigan’s back pocket and Hannigan’s hand is in Sarah’s back pocket. Hannigan’s an engineering genius and the two of them are always doing poetic wordplay. It’s a bunch of lovey-dovey bullshit. I like Sarah. I don’t like it that she and Hannigan share a sleeping bag. I don’t know why. I like him. I like him by himself. I like talking to him. I like the things he says. I just don’t like it when he and Sarah share a sleeping bag. He and Sarah are on the right. Brian is on the left. Beth and Blake are in the middle. Me and Maddy are in the back.

Maddy is crazy. You’re going to learn more about that.

Beth makes us ride the Ferris wheel at Fun Fair. She makes us ride it every year. It’s traditional. We go all the way to the end of the boardwalk and there is this dorky amusement park, with a kiddie rollercoaster (which we ride) and skee ball (which I actually enjoy) and the Ferris wheel. The Ferris wheel scares me to death. I have to distract myself by just imagining that I’m going to die, and imagining my funeral, while we’re at the top.

If it kept moving I would be okay. It’s when it stops that it bothers me.

Maddy and I ride in a car, Beth and Blake ride in a car. Sarah and Hannigan ride in a car. Brian rides in a car by himself. That’s not always the case. It’s not like we exclude him or anything. He chose to ride in the car by himself. Maddy and I invited him to ride with us.

Maddy and I have kindof a crazy relationship. We started out making out at Camp Lake. Well, I guess if you’re going to take it back, then we started out in Sunday school class together, and before that we started out in some nursery playroom together, at church. Actually now that I think about it, I remember a time when Maddy and I were playing doctor in some playgroup, while our parents were off having lunch, and Maddy was putting these little plastic beads in my belly button. And then she laid on the table and I put the plastic beads in hers. That’s my earliest memory of Maddy. I think.

But I knew her for a long time before that. Her mom was the Sunday school teacher. They had a house in the suburbs. We had a house in the suburbs, too, but their house was really in the suburbs. It was nice. When our parents would drop us off at Maddy and Beth’s, Suzette would play Bratz dolls and unicorns with Maddy and I would go downstairs with Beth and play Nintendo in their basement. I don’t know why our parents dropped us off and I don’t remember Beth and Maddy’s mother watching us. I do remember that Maddy had pink carpet in her room. The rest of the house had white carpet, and beige. But Maddy’s room had pink carpet and a daybed with motherfucking unicorns and so many pillows the only person who would ever sleep on it was a small child.

I remember Maddy and me being in the back seat of my parents’ station wagon and Maddy laying her head in my lap and my parents telling her to sit up.

“No heads in laps. I want to be able to see all heads at all times.” That was my mom.

So Maddy’s head wasn’t in my lap for very long. But for a moment it was. And it was innocent. At least for me it was. I think it was for Maddy, too. Looking back, I can see that from my mom’s point of view, a head in a lap was specifically suggestive of certain acts. But to me, and I think to Maddy at the time, even though it was an affectionate act, there wasn’t anything so very specific about it. We just liked each other.

At the top of the Ferris wheel, when they invariably stopped us, Maddy would touch my legs and I would touch hers.

“Brian,” Beth would say, “I’m serious. I’m gonna get you that artificial piece of ass.”

We would watch the sunset at the top of the Ferris wheel. Then it would be dark and the seven of us would go home to the Westin, along the boardwalk, and we’d go back to our rooms so we could get Sprites out of the mini-fridges, and we’d pull warm cans from the closet behind Beth’s suitcase and re-stock the fridges in all the rooms. Then we’d eat dinner, and play Mao (a card game). Then we’d put on some crazy play in which we did Bible study and we’d hang out at the pool and watch TV and go out on the balcony and sneak into Beth and Sarah’s room to play truth or dare. This would all be in intricate coordination so as far as the adults were concerned we were being reasonably good.

We had a crew back then. That’s where I had my first kiss. We looked out for each other. We all liked each other—in every way. I liked every girl in that group. At one time or another, I hooked up with most of them. Sarah was the oldest. Blake was her age. Then it was Beth. Then it was me and Maddy, then it was Brian, and my sister, Suzette. Suzette was into academics, so she wasn’t always with us. There was a core, though, and we were always together. We had special rules for each other, and we had a pact of total secrecy. Like if someone did something slightly immoral, or told us something they shouldn’t have told us, we strictly kept our mouths shut about it. Even if we were asked point blank. Like if we broke something in the church. Or if one of us stole something. It didn’t matter who was asking, it could be Pastor Steve or a youth leader or our own parents. We didn’t say a thing. I mean we grew up together.

We also watched each other’s backs. Like if we were on vacation and somebody messed with one of the girls, me and Blake would go get them. Usually we’d just talk to them. Almost always that’s what we did. But not always. Don’t let the fact we’re church kids fool you. Blake is a ninja with a minor in ADHD. He works out every day. He carries weapons on all parts of his body. He’s mad. He’s a mad guy. He’s gentle, but he’s mad all the time. I don’t know why. But if anyone ever threatens Beth, Blake enters attack mode.

And it’s not just the guys that’ll kick your ass. Once Maddy ripped some guy’s hair out cause he spat on the boardwalk next to me.


When I see Maddy get out of her car, this is the first time I’ve seen her in ten years. The last time I saw her she was sixteen. She pulls up in this red car. I don’t know cars very well but it looks like a race car. It’s got gills cut into the hood.

Maddy steps out. She’s wearing a skirt the bottom of which is pulled up and tucked inside its own waist. You can see everything. And here she is, this girl I haven’t seen since we were sixteen, and the first thing she says to me is:

“Don’t worry, I won’t wear this when the campers show up. This is just my driving dress.”

I hug her. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Oh yeah? Did you guys start?”

“It’s dork-fest-central in there. Everybody’s talking about their favorite Bible verse and shit. What’s your favorite Psalm? Etc.”

“Holy fuck. I guess you are glad I’m here.” Maddy untucks the dress from her waistband. She smooths back her hair. It doesn’t take. Maddy’s hair is wild. Brown, untameable; it’s like a horse’s mane.

The top to Maddy’s car is still down. “Do you want to put that up?”

“Not really,” she says.

And we go inside.


Everybody’s in a circle.

It might have been Hannigan. It might have been Sarah. It might have even been Beth, if we hadn’t fucked up. Instead, in this circle, it was Megan (who we called Piglet), it was Blake (Pastor Steve’s son, and now a pastor himself), it was Brian (Blake’s younger brother), Marcy (who I’m pretty sure is a lesbian), Oscar (who we called Junkyard Dog), and the Indelible Julie Jane.

“Julie Jane, Oscar, Piglet, this is Maddy.”

“Hi, everybody.”

“Welcome.” “Hi.” “This is Megan.” “Call me Piglet.” “Hi, welcome.” “Hey Marcy.” “Hey Maddy.” “Hey, call me Junkyard.” “Junkyard?” “This is Junkyard Dog!!!” “And I’m Julie Jane. You can sit next to me if you want.”

“Thanks, you’re too sweet.” Maddy is eying Julie Jane suspiciously, but Maddy is also smiling.

I don’t recall her ever being so free-spirited, or as friendly. I guess we were just awkward then. You haven’t really become yourself, yet, at sixteen. Maybe if I had continued to know her for the years inbetween, it wouldn’t seem such a break, such a jump, in personality. She looks like a woman now. Do I look like a man?

“Here’s your curriculum.” Blake hands Maddy a 3-ring binder.

“I hope I didn’t miss much. Sorry I’m late.”

“Not at all,” Blake says, “We’re picking the scripture for day two.”

When Blake and Maddy greet each other it’s with a reserved hug—reserved on Blake’s side by Stoicism and reserved by Maddy through noncommittal arms. I think Blake wants to respect her. We always give Beth and her family a reverence, even if it’s just in mention. We don’t talk about them a lot. If they come up, we get quiet. Someone says something vague and deferential, then we move on as if the subject had never been touched. Blake’s hug of Maddy is like that. I think I’m being more welcoming of her. Maybe because we’ve spoken on the phone. I hope I’m being warm with her. She deserves a little comfort, even the comfort of us not bringing up the past. And treating her like a leper or a hot potato or a fragile infant is one way of bringing up the past. She’s a person. She’s alive. She’s not going to break when you hug her.

“So we’re working on day two.”

“Alright. What do you have so far?”

“Day two is easy stuff. Day one is getting-to-know-you stuff. I mean the first night they get here we have classic mixer stuff.”

“Like what?”

“Where they throw a beach ball around in a circle and you say the name of the person who threw it to you—or wait—you say your own name..”

“Are we gonna do the ropes course?”

“I don’t know. Somebody fell last year?”

“Little Maggie Flynn.”

“Where was she?”

“She didn’t get hurt. She was on the first wall. Well..she broke her arm.”

“No. She wasn’t on the first wall..”

“Did she break it?”

Blake nods.

“I thought it was just a sprain.”

Blake shakes his head.

“Wasn’t somebody on belay?”

“Her belayer was..not paying attention.”

“Was it a camper or a counsellor?” Maddy asks.

“It was a counsellor.”

“Oh,” Maddy says.

That’s why we have an extra spot this year. That’s why Maddy’s here.

“Any suggestions?”

“Me?”

“Yeah. Any scriptures you want to make sure we get in?”

Maddy sets her curriculum binder on the floor of the meeting hall. “What ones do you have so far?”

Oscar (Junkyard Dog) says, “We have the woman at the well.”

Marcy says, “We have Psalm 23.”

Julie Jane says, “I have a song for that. I mean I have the music. We can use it. If you want.”

“I like that,” Piglet says, “I think we should sing.”

“Like sing it for them?”

“We can sing it first. Then they can sing it with us.”

“Okay. Are you guys okay with that?”

Blake says, “That sounds great.”

And Junkyard Dog says, in his deep voice and thick Latino accent, “Righteous.”


“How was your drive?”

“It was..long.”

“You drove all the way from Florida?”

Maddy nods. She looks around the circle. She looks skeptical.

“Where in Florida do you live?”

“Miami Beach.”

Marcy says, “I hear it’s violent there.”

Maddy says, “I guess it depends.”

“Like different areas and stuff?”

“I guess..like what you’re into. Certain areas, the cops tell you to get out of your car, the smart choice is to stay in.”

Marcy says, “I always assume if the police are telling me to do something that it’s right.”

Maddy says, “Well. You shouldn’t.”

“So,” Julie Jane says, “what kind of stuff are you into?”

“The beach.”

Marcy says, “Going out with friends and stuff?”

Maddy says, “I guess. What kind of stuff are you into?”

“Mainly work.”

“Do you still go to FBC?”

“Yeah. I lead the youth group. With Julie Jane and Brian. Do you have a church?”

“Uh. Not really.”

“Still looking?”

“I’m not looking.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll run across the right one eventually.”

Julie says, “We need to tune up this piano.”

Blake says, “Sony can do it.”

Julie Jane puts her hands on her hips. “Blake. Hello. I can tune a piano.” She flips the lid on the upright.

Julie Jane could probably build a piano. She does all the music for Camp Lake. Girl was playing Mozart at probably about the ages he wrote that shit. You don’t get the name Indelible Julie Jane for nothing. She’s a girl’s girl, yes, but she’s also something of a badass. If something needs doing, Julie Jane can do it. I’d love to see her during sex. She takes matters into her own hands. She can tie knots. She can change her own oil. She likes to dig, and she likes dirt. She likes math. She can calculate. When we go to lunch together, it’s Julie Jane who figures the tip. Then she tells each of us, to the penny, what we need to put on the table. She’s not crude, but she’s matter-of-fact. “Hello, Blake. I can tune a piano.” I love that shit.

Julie Jane knows what she wants. When we were younger, it was my job to sneak people into and out of cabins at Camp Lake. Julie Jane was the one who needed the sneaking. I remember this blond-haired kid, when we came here between 10th and 11th grade, Julie Jane wanted to be with him. She picked the night, I architected the plan, and we snuck her all the way from Buttercup cabin to PeeWee cabin, and back, in the middle of the goddamn night. At Camp Lake that sort of tryst involves the cooperation of at least eight campers. You have to have the cooperation of everyone in both the boy’s and the girl’s cabin. Depending on how efficient your plan is, you might need a couple other people. And everybody talks about it, all the kids. So by the time a Julie Jane is leaving a PeeWee cabin to go back to a Buttercup cabin (through briars, wearing all black sweatclothes, with black ski masks if it’s me doing the planning..anyway by that time) essentially the whole camp knows about it, except some of the adults.

Julie Jane and I were always tight. She had the need for sneaking into PeeWee cabins and I had the logistical nuts to get it done. I thought she was hot but she wasn’t into me. She was more into sex, and me more into sneaking. To her it was about cock. To me it was about planning, logistics, deception.

“See?” Julie Jane presses the E flat just below middle C. “All better.” She plays a chord, then a progression of chords. Then the first few notes of the line of Rondo in K, K"o*chel 331, the Turkish March. Fuck me. I love it when that girl plays Mozart.


“So what happened to..Little Maggie Flynn?”

Rain is falling behind Maddy. She leans against the rail in front of the meeting hall. Blake is beside her, and Brian. Marcy and I are leaning on the front of the meeting hall.

Marcy says, “She’s okay.”

Blake says, “Is she?”

“Oh yeah. I don’t even think she broke her arm.”

Blake says, “Her arm was broken.”

Marcy says, “It was just a fracture. Trust me. I saw the X-rays. It wasn’t even broken.”

Maddy says, “So she fell?”

Blake and Brian nod.

“Where did she fall from?” Maddy taps out a cigarette.

Blake says, “Can I have one of those?”

Maddy gives him one.

“She fell from..you know the part with two wires, a stand wire and a guide wire?”

“Yeah.”

“She fell from that.”

“Wasn’t she clipped in?”

“We were doing belay.”

“And who was on belay?”

“Sarah.”

“Oh yeah, whatever happened to Sarah?” Maddy says.

Blake says, “Well..,”

“I mean how far did she fall?”

“She fell all the way.”

“No she didn’t,” Marcy says. “Sarah kindof caught her.”

“What was Sarah doing while she was supposed to be belaying?”

“She was..” Blake exhales.

I interrupt. “She was flirting with a camper.”

Maddy says, “What?!”

Blake says, “Yeah. She was flirting with this kid.”

“They were making out,” I say.

Maddy looks to me for confirmation. I look at Blake, who shrugs.

Blake says, “I wasn’t there. I was in the shed, filling thermoses. Kids were passing out.”

“They were. They were making out,” I say. “And Sarah’s figure-eight was done wrong.”

“Nobody checked it?”

“I did,” Blake says, “I had checked it earlier.”

“She undid it while she was messing around with this kid,” I say.

Maddy says, “How is that even possible? I mean, how much rope was coming out of the figure-eight?”

I shake my head. “I don’t know. We checked her. We double-checked her.”

“I think,” Brian says, “she unclipped the ring.”

“She may have,” I say. “That’s actually what it looked like. She denies that of course.”

Maddy says, “So where is Sarah now?”

Blake laughs. “Doing something else.”

“What does she do in general?”

“Fuck small children,” I say.

Blake laughs, a snort. “That’s about right,” he says.

“She’s got—she’s obsessed with—”

And Marcy says, “She works in a middle school.”

We all look at each other.

Maddy says, “So..is she a teacher?”

“No,” I say.

And Blake says, “She’s a nurse.”

I hear piano from inside. I soak in a last view of everyone standing on the porch, the rain and the forest behind them, and I go in.


Julie at the piano. I sit beside her, on the bench. She reaches across me to hit the high notes.

When we were little I used to lie underneath the baby grand in the sanctuary and she would play Enya, Mozart. My favorite was the Turkish March. I would look at her legs while she played. I don’t play an instrument so Julie Jane playing the Turkish March amazed me. I’m not good at things that require you to practice every day.

Julie sits so straight. When she walks, when she’s not playing, she leans, she slouches. But when she’s at a piano bench she sits straight, whether there’s anyone looking or not.

I look at Julie’s profile. She grins, but doesn’t miss a note.

“I think this is going to be a fun week,” I say.

Julie says, “I’m glad to be back with my friends.”

I am also glad to be back with my friends. I have so many memories of Camp Lake. And these people are like my brothers and sisters, even though some of us have split apart. I see Blake on Sundays and sometimes I see Brian in Center City. If I go to Unos on a Sunday around lunchtime I’ll sometimes see them both. Marcy does youth group but never comes to church, so I never see her. Piglet lives in Philly but doesn’t go to our church. She’s a marine biologist. Oscar just moved back from Cincinnati. Julie Jane I see in church, but since she got married, all we get is quick hellos.

Maddy’s the farthest away. The last time I saw her was at her high school graduation. My family came. It was both of our parents, me, Suzette, and Maddy.

Since then it’s been Facebook with Maddy.

The rest of them, no matter what, I see every year, once a year, at Camp Lake.

Every year Julie Jane hooks up with Junkyard. They’re insanely discreet about it. I didn’t even know until Marcy told me, and then it took me until the next year, when I could start my observation of them at the beginning of the week, to really believe it.

Every year Piglet cries about something.

Every year I like Marcy more.

I don’t like her as a girl—I mean I would, except she’s gay. Maybe that frees something up around us, simplifies the air. Every year we go on a walk to the lake. We walk to the farmer’s fields. We go in the middle of the fields. Marcy points out the corn snakes. We always see at least one. Then we walk on the road. We go almost to town, then we walk across the dam at the top of the lake. It’s a shallow spillway, we go right across the top. Then we go through the woods. We come to the pine forest, we go by where you can see the slopes of the reservoir. Then we go through deep deep woods and we come to the boys cabins. Then we go back to camp. We talk about spiritual things.

Marcy’s deep. She works in an office. She’s like their office administrator. She orders ink for the printer. She makes sure new people have a stapler. I don’t see how she does it. She goes to school online for psychology. She says the people at her work drive her batty. She doesn’t seem batty, though. She seems calm.

Sometime this week Marcy and I will take our walk.


They’re coming in from their smoke when Maddy sees it.

“What is that?” Maddy’s facing the corner of the meeting hall.

Blake says, “What is what?”

Maddy points to the flag. “Is this a sanctuary or a Boy Scout post?”

Blake says, “That’s always been there.”

Maddy turns and stares at Blake.

“That’s been here,” Blake continues, “since we were coming here as kids.”

“That’s not what I asked,” Maddy says. The whole room is quiet. “What is it doing here?”

Blake says, “I don’t understand what you’re asking—”

“I’m asking you what you’re doing. Are you on a secular mission or a spiritual mission?”

Everyone is looking at either Maddy or Blake.

“I’m asking you a question. Right now. This isn’t theoretical. Are you, Blake Ramsey, on a secular mission or a spiritual one.”

Blake clears his throat. “I don’t see them as a conflict.”

“Matthew chapter 6, verse 24,” Maddy says. She’s shaking her head and mumbling as she walks out.

Marcy says, “What’s Matthew 6:24?”

I say, “You cannot serve two masters,” and I follow Maddy out.


“I can’t do this.” Maddy’s head is in her hands. She’s rocking back and forth. “I can’t do this shit for an entire week.”

I sit with her. “It’s two weeks,” I say.

She looks at me. Her eyes are wild. “Once the kids get here here it’ll be fine. I’m not gonna do..fucking..amateur hour Sunday school with Pastor Blake all week.” She smirks. “He’s a fucking joke. I’m sorry but he is.”

“What do you think I’ve been putting up with all day?” I say. “Wait ‘till you see this curriculum. I’ve been going back and forth with him all morning on this shit. I’m glad you’re here. You can back me up. I’ll back you up. We need you. This can be made better.”

Maddy stands. “I’m not like you. I don’t have infinite patience to do minutiae-sifting.”

“I hear you.”

“What are you gonna do, though? How much of it have you gone through?”

“About a day.”

“And are you happy with it?”

“I’m happier with what we have now than what we had in the beginning.”

“Yeah, but how compromised is it?”

“You don’t have to use the curriculum. It’s a guide.”

“I’m just asking you,” she says, “Are you gonna follow it?”

“I’m gonna follow the parts that work for me.”

Maddy lets up a chuckle. “Is Blake being a complete asshole? I mean, as a percentage. Are we at fifteen percent? Twenty-five?”

I stand. “We’re more at thirty-five.”

Maddy flips her hair. “Well. Walk me. If it’s at thirty-five I have to get some supplies.”

“Supplies” was a word that I came to fear. Maddy used it to mean cigarettes, alcohol, Band-Aids, a tire iron, Kool-Aid. She used it to mean whatever she was in need of. And some of the supplies Maddy utilized were not items that the average citizen even needs access to. When she said the word I cringed.

I follow Maddy to the mess hall. We go back in the kitchen. It’s dark except for the light of the Coke machine and some random fluorescents. Maddy uses a dollar, hits the Sprite button.

“Jesus,” I say. “You still drink Sprite?”

“Why not? It reminds me of her. I never used to drink it. I drink it a lot now. Want one?” Maddy’s fishing for another dollar.

“I got it.”

“Who cares,” she says, “I got you.”

I press the button for Dr. Pepper.

Looking back, I think I basically had a crush on Beth, but Beth was too old for me, so I defaulted to her sister. Maddy and I dated for a while. Then we broke up and I settled for hanging out with Beth. Of course back then dating consisted of—essentially—saying that you’re dating. I liked hearing about Beth’s exploits and she liked talking about them. It’s fucked up how when someone kills themself, or dies too soon in general, that you always think about the things you want to say to them, or hear them say, because when someone dies too soon you always have unfinished business, even if it’s just the business of saying goodbye.

Maddy’s sipping her Sprite. “Do you remember when we were in the church attic?”

“Yeah,” I say.

It was above the sanctuary. Beth brought me and Maddy there. There’s a catwalk above the arched ceiling. That church is like a cathedral. We were in the space above the dome. All it is up there is a wooden catwalk. I doubt the janitor even goes up there. There are no rails and it’s this skinny catwalk running the length of the dome. Above the ceiling it’s all fiberglass and framing. If you fell off that catwalk, you’d fall though the ceiling. That’s a height of about four stories. We did this during service on Sunday morning. If one of us had fallen, we would have broke right through that ceiling—the actual arch part of it is paper-thin. We’d have made a hole in the ceiling, and everyone would know we were up there. And one of us would be dead.

Beth brought a Williams New Testament with her. She grabbed that from the chapel. We went to a very progressive church.

It was me, then Beth, then Maddy. We went to the middle of the catwalk. I had no idea what Beth was doing. She laid out the Williams New Testament, book open, pages down, and brought out a plastic vial of cocaine. The Williams New Testament had a shiny cover. Beth tapped out a little pyramid of the powder. I didn’t know it was cocaine at the time. I didn’t. I had never even heard of cocaine. Beth told me to sniff it. She didn’t make lines. She made me a little pyramid. She pushed the book at me, carefully. My hands were on the sides of the catwalk. I was as low as possible. I didn’t want to lose my balance.

“Take a bump.”

Sometimes I get dizzy when I’m in a high place and I look down.

“Sniff it. Breathe in. Like this. Breathe in real hard.” She showed me.

And I did it. Then Beth gave Maddy a bump and then she took a bump herself.

Then Beth closed the Williams New Testament and we went, all in a row, off the catwalk. My hands kept gripping the sides. On the stairs, I really felt it. It was like someone put a SweeTart in my nose.

“That was the first and last time I ever did a line of coke,” I say.

Maddy’s looking at me. I’m not sure she believes me.

“Well,” she says, “Beth being my sister, that was not the first and last time I ever did a line of coke.”


Beth in her black swimsuit, lounging back on a chair like she’s getting sun, even though it’s an indoor pool.

“All you have is classical.”

“Go downstairs. There’s more CDs on the bed.”

“K.”

Wild screams from Maddy. “Stop! Stop!!”

Blake has a Super Soaker on her, spraying her in the face.

“Stop!!!”

“Take it you cunt.”

“Don’t call me a cunt.”

Pastor Steve throws a Nerf football at Maddy. “Watch the language.”

“What? He called me it.”

“Blake.”

“Yeah, done.” Blake sprays his dad with the Super Soaker.

Pastor Steve runs on the wooden planks and jumps in the pool on top of Blake. Wild splashing. Gurgling. Deep men groans. Blake and his dad splashing each other.

I’m getting out of the pool, my purple-pink trunks clinging to me and showing my dick. I pull the nylon away from my skin.

Abigail comes out. She’s in her swimsuit. She and Sarah are the ones in bikinis. Maddy is still young enough that she doesn’t wear a bikini. Abigail is new. Her family just joined the church. She’s wearing a black bikini. She has black hair. She has very pale skin. And she seems sweet. I’m trying to be nice to her since she’s new to our group and our group is tight. I don’t want her to feel left out.

“Put on A Tribe Called Quest.”

“What’s a tribe called Quest?”

“You’ve never heard of A Tribe Called Quest?”

“Is that rap?”

“Put on Low End Theory.”

“Yeah! Put on Low End Theory. How have you never heard of A Tribe Called Quest?”

I’m in the jacuzzi. Sarah and Hannigan are in the jacuzzi, their hands all over each other, and it’s making me sick. I guess Beth could tell; she comes over and kneels at the edge of the jacuzzi.

“I’m thirsty,” she says.

I exhale. I guess I’m just pissed because I always liked Sarah, and if she’s making out with Hannigan that means there is less chance of her making out with me.

Beth is still waiting. “Wanna come?”

I stand up and step out of the jacuzzi.

“You guys want something?”

But they’re too busy making out. They don’t even respond.

Beth and I go to the elevator. She presses the down arrow. When we get to the first floor and the doors open, there’s this geriatric couple standing next to their baggage cart, and the old man, I swear, looks at Beth’s body and then totally scratches his head before we even get out of the elevator. Then we give the elevator to the old people and, both dripping wet, no towels, we roll past the check-in counter.

“That guy was totally checking you out.”

“Fuck you. Do you have money?”

“No,” I say, “do you??”

We go to the check-in.

I let Beth ask, since she’s the eye-candy.

“Can I borrow a dollar?”

The clerk says, “For the Coke machine? It takes quarters.” He’s dropping fifty cents into Beth’s hand and he asks me, “Do you want one?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“No thanks.”

Beth puts her borrowed quarters into this machine. “Do you think he wants us to pay him back?”

“He seemed like he’s used to this.”

“Well yeah. If their fucking machine doesn’t take dollars.” Beth presses the Sprite button.

A Sprite comes out.

Then Beth presses the coin return button. And out come her quarters.

So I pick up the quarters.

“Are you gonna give those back?” Beth asks.

I put the quarters in the machine and press the Sprite button. No need to mess with tradition.

Another Sprite comes out.

Beth presses the coin-return button. And out come the quarters.

Eight minutes later we’re back downstairs with one of Beth’s suitcases and a luggage cart. This is in full view of people coming in and out of the lobby. Beth is putting in quarters. I’m picking the type of soda. We’re alternating slamming the coin return button.

“This is great,” Beth says, “This is like we’ve discovered a black hole or something.”

I press Dr. Pepper.

“This is like we’ve struck gold. This is like we’ve discovered a spring in the desert.”

I press Sprite.

“Yeah. Get more of those. We need as many of those as possible.”

“Too bad they don’t have Mountain Dew.”

“That shrinks your penis.”

“No it doesn’t. That’s an urban legend.”

Beth and I are close. You can tell because she says the word “penis” around me. If we weren’t, she would have said “dick.”

Ninety-thousand cans of Sprite later, we’re upstairs stocking each of the mini-fridges in our row of rooms. Going through the lobby was ridiculous. A bunch of Sprite cans fell out of Beth’s suitcase while we were rolling the luggage cart inside. They have those automatic doors. One of them hit the luggage cart. The suitcase wasn’t even all the way zipped. About five Sprite cans fall out of the suitcase. They roll across the floor and hit the base of the check-in counter. While we were in the elevator waiting for the doors to close, the check-in clerk was going outside the Westin toward the parking lot.

“Just don’t tell anybody where we got them. I mean even if that guy comes by. Just say we brought them in from the car.”

“They probably have counters on the machines. They have counters on slot machines. Like in Vegas.”

“Are you going to knock over a casino or something? Listen to you!”

“Put more Cokes in here. I don’t need a fridge with all Sprite in it. Are we out of Coke? That other fridge had like ten Cokes in it!”

“Sorry.”

“We have to go back and even it out. This fridge has all Sprites in it! We have to go back.”

“Don’t go back,” Beth says, “You can come to my room if you want a Coke.”

We go to 336.

“You guys want something to drink? Here. Peter, have a Sprite.”

“That’s very nice of you.”

Peter looks inside the fridge. “Where did all these come from? Beth?”

Beth sits on the side of the couch, her legs hanging over. She says, “Let’s watch a movie.”


“These people aren’t even listening to me. They’re in a trance, Matt. Marcy’s giving me canned answers and—these bitches know I don’t go to church right? That’s no reason I can’t lead a goddamn small group. It’s just some Bible verses, some guided reflections..who can’t do this? Don’t answer that. ‘Cause you know what the answer is? The answer is that most of those people—” Maddy’s right in my face, pointing at the meeting hall. “—they can’t lead a small group to save their soul, if that’s what it depended on. I’m glad I’m not a camper in one of their groups. Talk about a boring week. Motherfuck. Our camp counsellors were never as dumb as those mother—”

“Yes they were. They were. But we had fun anyway. It doesn’t matter. Let them do what they’re going to do, which—look—I agree, is stupid some of the time. Who cares? That’s their thing. Just do your part. Make sure your campers have a good week, get the most out of their week, enjoy the woods, we sing some songs, and that’s it. I mean—it’s no big deal.”

“Why isn’t it? To you. Why isn’t it a bigger deal? You know what I’m asking you? Why don’t you get angry? I think you’re missing out on a really great part of life.”

“Being angry.”

“Yes. Being angry.”

“I get angry about some things.”

Maddy says, “What.”

“I get angry when people hurt other people.”

Maddy looks away. She takes a long time before she turns back.

I’m thinking I shouldn’t have said that. I inadvertently brought it up.

Maddy finally says, “Don’t you think it hurts people when their leaders don’t do the best job they can?”

“I don’t think it hurts them. I think it’s lost potential.”

“You’re splitting hairs,” she says. “It’s the same thing.”


“It’s not about knowing the Bible.”

“Blake, don’t worry.”

“It’s about more than that.”

“I know! This is Maddy. What, do you think she’s not spiritual enough to be a counsellor here?”

“What was that in there?”

I laugh. “Maybe she’s not the smoothest socially. Give her a break. We’ve been bumming around all this time. She’s..been..”

Blake is staring at me, not in a happy way.

“We’ve at least been in each other’s worlds,” I say. “You’re not a foreign quantity to me. I mean good grief, Blake.”

Blake is looking at me doubtfully.

I say, “What do you think is going to happen?”

Blake rolls his eyes.

“It’s not like we’re doing surgery,” I say. “If she messes up..if you mess up, if I mess up on something..it’s not life and death. It’s just..camp.”

“Except someone did get hurt last year.”

“Because someone wasn’t on belay who should have been. That’s different. We’re talking about leading a small group. The ropes course..trust me..I’m leading the ropes course this year and nothing’s going to happen. Okay? I’ve got that. Has anyone ever gotten hurt when I was leading the ropes course? No. And no one’s ever going to get hurt.”

Blake says, “Marcy should never have been leading—”

“No,” I say. “No offense, but she shouldn’t. And she won’t be, this year.”

“I know. That’s fine. I trust you on the ropes. That’s not what I’m worried about.”

“Don’t worry about Maddy. Just give her a fricking break.”

“It’s not just Maddy. It’s you.”

“What about me.”

“I don’t know where your head’s at. Spiritually.”

“You don’t know where my head’s at?

I didn’t wait for Blake to answer. I just went back inside the meeting hall. Blake was still on the porch. I closed the door behind me.

“Where’s Blake?”

“He’s having a little heart-to-heart. With himself.”

Maddy looks at me.

Blake comes in. He has to open both the screen door and the regular door to do it.

Maddy says, “I have an announcement to make. It’s nothing major. But just so none of the rest of you have to ask. I don’t go to church. I’m not looking for a church. I know the Bible at least as well as the rest of you, so I don’t think my lack of church attendance is going to interfere with my facilitating a small group, being a lifeguard, doing the ropes course, or anything else that we do here. If you have a problem with that—” (here she looks at Blake) “—say something now. I’m not going to have this discussion all week.”


Blake comes into the bathroom while I’m taking a piss.

“What is she trying to pull?”

“Hi, Blake.”

“No, this needs to be dealt with. Are you..in on whatever this is?”

I shake off the drip, zip, flush. “Don’t be so easily shaken.”

Blake hits the towel dispenser. “I’m not shaken! Remind me again why the fuck she’s here?”

“Um. Because we’re short a counsellor?”

“But why did you call her? I was never quite clear on that.”

“Blake, what are you implying? I called her because we know her.”

“Do we?”

“You’re being a little paranoid.”

“Am I?”

“She’s just ruffling your feathers. Don’t let her.”

Then Blake says, “Do you still have a thing for her?”

“For Maddy?”

“That’s what I said.”

“I mean who wouldn’t? She looks good, don’t you think?”

But Blake takes a long look at me. He says, “‘All warfare is based on deception.”’ And he goes into the hallway.

I’m headed back to the meeting room when the girls’ bathroom opens and out pops Maddy. She pulls me inside and locks the door. She couldn’t have been in here long but she’s got supplies laid out everywhere. It’s like a nest. Her phone is out. She’s got a notebook. There’s the barrel of a Bic pen with no insides, just a hollow tube. Her ChapStick is out, some other stuff.

“Thank you,” she says.

“What for.”

“For bringing me into this hellhole.” Her words must be sarcastic but there is absolutely no hint of that in her delivery. She’s collecting her ChapStick from the back of the toilet. She closes her notebook, stashes it. She stands so that our chests are an inch apart. “Why do you come here. What do you get out of this. Have you—I mean since childhood—what have you been doing? Are you mentally ill?”

“I—”

“That person..” Maddy points behind me. “Needs therapy. This is narcissism. This is delusion. This is..the type of thing that when it happens to healthy people, they go to the doctor. How you are not seeing this I can only think is a result of having spent the last consecutive how many? years in the same cesspool. You didn’t used to be like this.”

Maddy’s shifting back and forth, peering into my eye from various angles.

“You need rescuing. I’m not up to the task. I’m the person least probably suitable for doing any rescuing but..wait..isn’t that supposed to be what religion is about? Aren’t you..?” Maddy is spinning; she faces the wall, she turns back to me. “Isn’t this..? I mean.. Wow. I’m—I.. Huh. What day is this?”

“Tuesday,” I say.

And Maddy says, “Well, that’s fantastic. I drove all night. I slept in my car at an Arco station in fucking..North Carolina. Okay? I’m tired. I’m achy. I feel like dancing.”

“I’ll dance with you.”

“You will?”

“Come on, Maddy, remember me? Nothing’s changed.”

“Must be me.”

“It’s just time. No one cares. No one cares. Here.” I hold Maddy’s head. She’s the same size. It’s funny. I haven’t seen her in years, but, really, she’s the same size as she was when she was fifteen. “Where did you stay?”

“Benson, North Carolina. You’re a good dancer.”

“Are you kidding?”

“No, I’m not kidding. It’s nice to dance. It helps me relax. Yeah, I stayed in my car, in the parking lot of an Arco station in fucking Benson. There were all these semi trucks. I kept the car running in case I needed to make a quick getaway.”

“Were you safe?”

“Yeah. Nothing happened. Why did you call me? You know, why am I here? In some ways I wish you had never called me. But I like talking to you.”

“I like talking with you, too. I need to talk to you. It does something for me.”

“It does for me too. What can I do about this, though?” She’s indicating the bathroom door, and what lies beyond it.

“You can’t do anything about it.”

“But—”

“No,” I say, “Some things..can’t be fixed..no matter what you do.”

And that’s true. Some things are like quicksand—and like quicksand, they don’t mean to hurt you, but—the more you move around in them the stucker you get.

Maddy says, “Some demons need to be exorcised.”

“Yes,” I say, “And some demons aren’t really there. And you’re neurotically fighting them. And you just need to stop.”

“And they go away.”

“No,” I say. “Then, in the quiet, you just know they’re not there. But then you have to stay quiet. Because that’s the whole thing. You’re just used to hearing the noise of yourself fighting with yourself. And so..you have to teach yourself to enjoy the quiet of yourself not fighting with yourself. It’s like no matter what you try, fails..with some types of situations..but if you never do anything, it’s fine. It’s like an erasure of the self.”

“Yeah,” Maddy says, “I think in some cases..it is. You should be an exorcist. I mean..you’re very calm.”

I say, “I don’t want to be an exorcist. I’d rather be a halcyon.”

“A halcyon? What’s that?”

“It’s the person who’s there with the exorcist. You don’t confront the evil. But you bring peace to the situation. The halcyon is actually neutral with respect to the demon. You have to be neutral in order to be undefeatable. That’s the role of the halcyon. You bring peace. You don’t have anyone’s particular interests at heart.”

Maddy says, “I never heard that word used that way before. Halcyon.”

“Well,” I say, “That’s not traditional exorcist terminology. That’s..emerging..exorcist..best practice.”

“For realz. Bro. Sounds like you have some interesting hobbies.”


While we’re working, Maddy pulls out her PSP.

At blinking lights and pixelation.

She’s playing some technical rock-climbing game. It’s like a game where your point of view is what a rock climber would see: rocks, up close, filling the screen.

Maddy at LCD. Maddy at backlight. Maddy at thumbs.

A claustrophobic view of eddies and fingerholds. You can look up, but still the rock face fills most of the screen; you can only get a sliver of sky. The buttons have to do with letting rope out, locking off rope, shifting body weight, grabbing rocks, and pulling yourself up. If you miss a hold, your character breathes roughly, like you might if you were about to fall.

Maddy, at rectilinear. Maddy at noise. Giant Sennheiser earpieces.

I stretch out her headphones and put one over my ear.

Wavelength screening.

“What is this?”

“Basshunter?”

“Why would you want to listen to this?”

“No,” she says, taking back her headphone. “I don’t want Basshunter. I need Basshunter. Give me that.”

Maddy, at 1-up. Maddy at high score. Connectors, carrying case, Maddy at rubber skins, fingerprints, Maddy at human gunk buildup. Maddy working the controls. Navigating her figure through the weeds. Jungle game. Jumping game. Jungle running. Desert running. Game about smugglers. Drug dealers. Maddy under the glass, glass at her back, Maddy in the thick of it.

Watch out for those jungle scorpions. Desert scorpions are the worst. One nip from a desert scorpion and your game’s through, you’re through.

Jungle scorpions are not as bad, she can take three or four of those in a row before she dies. Still, you want to stay away from scorpions.

Holy shit! What the fuck was that? Some kind of sludge-lurking Komodo dragon? Those don’t live in the jungle. The makers of this game are taking some liberties. I wish I could change this avatar.

“Do you ever fall?”

“No. Not unless you really mess up.” Maddy looks up at me. “You can fall.” She goes back to the game. “But not really. If you don’t mess up too bad you just lose your place.”

“What’s the point?”

“You just climb in different places. There’s like desert, jungle, forest, ice.”

“When you fall do you die?”

“You just lose your place.” Then she says, “You’re into falling, huh. Do you dream of falling?”

“I had this dream fairly recently I was in an elevator. It was on the outside of my apartment building. It was going sideways..like it was moving sideways. There was a button, but..the main thing was there was this other guy in there with me, and I was like, this guy is going to die because I’m having a falling dream.”

“You knew you were dreaming?”

“Eventually I did.”

“So did you fall?”

“I woke myself up before I did.”

Maddy doesn’t take her eyes off the PSP. “Do you know what that means?”

“That I’m afraid of death or something. Right?”

“Maybe. Did you tell me the whole dream?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like was there anyone else there with you, was the guy just some guy or was he someone you recognized, was it really your apartment building, did anything happen before, etc.”

“Are you a dream..analysis..provider?”

Maddy chuckles. She pauses her game. “Yes.” She shakes her hair. “I am. A dream analysis provider.”

“What music is this?”

“KRS-One.”

“It’s bouncy.”

“Give me my headphones back. You’re not ready for that.”

Blake and everyone is staring at us.

“Um? We’re trying to develop this thing?”

“Oh. Sorry.” Maddy turns off the PSP and sets it in her lap.

“Thank you. So. The group-building exercise. For the first day.”

“This is before or after dinner?”

“This is after dinner. Check-in, dinner, this.”

Marcy says, “What about the ball thing?”

“The beach ball thing? Sure,” Blake says.

Julie Jane says, “I think that’s kindof dorky.”

Maddy says, “I agree.”

“Okay. Suggestions then.”

“How bout something musical?” Julie Jane is flipping through a book called We Play.

“How ‘bout something funny. Like Honey I Love You But I Just Can’t Smile.”

“I agree.”

“I agree too but that’s a little much for the first time you meet someone.”

“Right.”

“Okay. Something with no touching. Since some of them don’t know each other.”

“How about Psychiatrist?” Maddy suggests.

Blake says, “What’s that?”

“That’s where—actually this would take too long—but that’s where you have one person leave the room and—nevermind—that would take too long.”

“I know Psychiatrist,” I say. “That’s a good one. Let’s do it for something later on in the week if it fits.”

“Yeah.”

“You know what’s similar?” I say. “Two Truths, One Lie.”

“How do you play?”

“One person goes. They say two things that are true about themselves, and one lie. Everyone else guesses which one is the lie.”

“Oooh.”

“I like that.”

“That’s good,” Blake says.

And Julie Jane says, “We need to add some name stuff to it, though, so they can learn each other’s names.”

“That’s true,” I say, “let’s do a straight-up name game first. Do you have one?”

“Well,” Julie says, and she reaches for her book.


Maddy’s rummaging through her trunk. “Time to break out the level-two supplies.” She’s throwing clothing onto the gravel.

I sit on her bumper. “Why don’t you just..take a minute.”

She says, “Why don’t you just have a drink with me. And before you say it—don’t tell me you don’t drink, you bunch of pussy-ass church kids. How I ever survived growing up with you, I have no idea. And..and..that I survived..is a miracle.”

“I do drink.”

“Then have a fucking drink with me.”

“Okay. If you want to go into town, there’s a restaurant/bar/hotel place.”

“You want to go into town?”

“If you want to have a drink.”

“Oh,” Maddy says, “Oh. We can have a drink right here.” She pulls forward a cardboard box by one of its handles. “What do you want.”

I look over. I can’t help but laugh. “Jesus. What the fuck. I’ll have..oh my god you’re insane.”

“Bar’s closing in sixty seconds. So. Whatcha havin’?”

Blake comes out.

“What’s in the box?”

“Supplies. Some of which is for you.”

“We usually don’t drink here.”

“Good to know. Do you ever drink, Blake.”

“Since you ask, yes I do. I drink with my father.”

“That’s nice. What can I supply you with?”

“That smells horrible.”

Maddy thrusts a clear bottle into Blake’s hands. “The smell’s just the half of it.” She sticks out her tongue. “Wanna taste?”

Blake says, “I guess I’m not ideologically pure enough to kind of get you.”

“Blake. I never said you were impure.”

“If you prefer the flag not be in there, I’ll take the flag out.”

“It just surprised me to see it. I may have overreacted. I do that.”

“Do you think it will lessen our worship experience?” Blake says, “Or the worship experience of the campers?”

“I just think..” Maddy looks Blake in the eye as she says this. “I think you’re confused.”

“You think I’m confused.”

“Yes. I do. I think some basic issues confuse you.”

“Maddy. You want to unconfuse me?”

“I’m trying.”

Blake sets the bottle on the gravel and walks away. Julie Jane passes him. Blake says something to her, but I can’t hear it.

Julie Jane says, “Sweet car.”

“Thanks,” Maddy spits. “Thirsty?”

“Um, yeah,” Julie Jane smiles. “I am.”

Maddy opens a Red Bull and pours a third of it on the gravel. She fills the rest with Stoli.

“Is that good? That should fuck you up.”

Julie Jane says, “That’s all I need for it to do..just take me where I need to go.”

I ask, “Is Blake mad?”

Julie Jane shluffs it off. “Oh, he’s fine.”

Maddy says, “What the fuck happened to him?”

“Don’t worry. He still gets cool.”

Maddy swigs the Stoli. “Looks like the stiff took over.”

“Yeah,” I say, “but..do you have any Jägermeister in there? Offer him some of that.”

“Fuck,” Maddy says, “is that all it takes?” And she’s digging through her bottles.


“What’s going on out there?”

“They’re drinking.”

“They are?”

“Yeah. Maddy’s got it in her trunk.”

“Well,” Marcy says, “that’s okay, it’s not like there’s any campers here.”

“We need to get this curriculum hammered out.”

“We’ll get it done,” Junkyard says. “Maybe they need to catch up.”

“There’s a history there,” says Blake.

And Marcy gets up and leaves the room.

Junkyard says, “Are they lovers? Did they used to be?”

“They weren’t lovers,” Blake says. “They’re old friends.”

“So they need to catch up.”

“I guess.”

“Let’s go have a drink with them,” Oscar says. “It will be good for the group.”

Blake says, “As long as they’re done before Sunday.”

And they go outside.

“You’re not going to be doing this while campers are here.”

“Blake, I heard you like Jägermeister.”

“This shit’s all going to be gone before Sunday.”

“If you help us drink it, it’ll be gone sooner.”

“Okay. But after that. We need to hammer out this curriculum.”

“We will,” Maddy says, “This won’t hurt. Welcome your old pal back.”

“Welcome back.” Blake holds the bottle at an angle. “Do you have a shot glass?”

Maddy smiles. “No.” She pushes the bottle toward Blake’s mouth.

He takes a swig. It’s the eight of us, Maddy with her trunk open, clothes falling out on the gravel, she and I sipping Stoli, Marcy and Julie Jane with vodka Red Bulls, Brian not drinking, Piglet and Oscar passing back and forth a bottle of Aftershock, and there’s Blake, wearing a black sweater, his formal-looking jeans and Sunday shoes, knocking back a liter of Jägermeister.

Blake really can drink. He’s just stiff about getting started.


When we sat down that night it was to dinner Sony made us. Sony is Pastor Steve’s friend. He works at the church in Philadelphia. In the summer he works here. At Camp Lake, Sony is cook, night watchman, first aid consultant, part-time pool man, maintenance, secretary, and volleyball champion reigning almost supreme. Only the Indelible Julie Jane can stomp him. Sony’s a simple cook. First night’s dinner was salmon, spicy peppers, and water.

Blake prayed. “We have come here to spread Your glory. Guide us this week as we prepare a curriculum for these campers, Your children God, as their parents trust their young minds to our preparations. Help us plan for them a week that will further them in Your path. Help us plan a week for them that will be safe. Guide us in all of this.”

Sony sat with us, but did not speak. He ate his salmon and spicy peppers and water and he looked around the table, at each of us. He had a sparkle in his eye with every one he looked at. And whenever any of us would look at him, he was always magically looking at someone else, so that what each of us saw when we looked at him was him looking brightly on someone else.

I don’t like when Blake prays. I don’t like it because it sounds canned—nay, it is canned. It’s the prayer of someone who has prayed a thousand times publicly, and rarely on his own. It’s a show prayer, and I hate that kind of Christianity. But sitting there with Sony and Piglet and Blake and the rest of us, and seeing Maddy, who had conscientiously chosen to sit several seats away from me, I was happy. I was happy to see Maddy with us, and I thought of Beth’s face. I wished she was eating with us. I wondered where she was..and I don’t believe in heaven..but I thought she must be somewhere, in some way, maybe as a bird, or a deer..or maybe just in our thoughts..but she was somewhere, at least a little bit.

And after dinner we did more curriculum, and Sony cleaned up, and then Sony was gone, as he usually goes, without comment. We smoked together on the porch of the meeting hall, then we all walked together to The Turn in the Road. I walked with Piglet, and Maddy walked with Julie Jane. Then we all said goodnight with hugs, and I swear Maddy gave me a look, even that first night, and then the boys went our way and the girls went their way and all there was was the streetlamp, shining on an empty dirt road in the Pennsylvania woods.

The Counsellors

What do you want to know? Beth was a maniac. I’ll never forget that girl. She’d have Maddy under one arm putting her hair in a ponytail saying, “Don’t you ever let me find you pregnant. Don’t be fucking around with those boys. I’m serious. You let me find you pregnant I’ll fucking go inside your uterus and rip that baby out.” She’d smack Maddy in the face.

Maddy’s feet would fly up. “Beth. Get the fuck off me.”

“Fuck you.”

If you own Q-tips, you know this is how people talk. We usually jazz it up in the movies, or in books, but this is how they really talk.

“Fuck!”

“I’ll fuck your ass up if I find you pregnant.”

“Get the fuck off me. Fuck!”

Rip that shit right out. I’ll rip your ovaries out while I’m in there. Do a little post-operative, spontaneous—fuck!!”

Maddy bit Beth’s wrist. Left marks.

“Get your ass back down here. Your hair’s not done. Oww. Do you see this??”

“That’s what you get for spanking me.”

“I wasn’t spanking you. I hit your ass with my elbow. If I need surgery for this you’re paying for it. Sit your ass down.”

“Don’t pull so hard. You’re hurting me.”

Beth rakes the brush through Maddy’s hair. “I’ll pull as hard as I want. That’s my perogative.”

“Your what, Beth?”

“Sit the fuck down.”

“It’s not perogative, Beth. It’s prerogative.”

“Same diff.”

“No it’s not.”

“Whatever. You don’t even know what perogative means.”

“Fuck you. Beth. You’re hurting me.”

“You better get used to it. Hold still.”

“Why? Why should I get used to it?”

“’Cause life is pain, my little deary.”

That was back in the early days, the old days, when things were still fun.

We used to be crazy, but we’re not crazy anymore. We used to look at crazy as an entertainment. Now we look at crazy as a liability.

If you go back before Ocean City, you’ll find crazier antics. Ocean City wasn’t even all that crazy. Ocean City is just where we got burned. It’s amazing we didn’t get burned before. We could’ve got burned at the cabin big time. That we didn’t is just chance.

We’re walking back from the rollercoaster and this guy yells, “Beth!”

We all stop.

“Beth!! Is that you? Holy fuck you look like you’re all grown up!”

Beth recognizes him. She says, “Shut up you creeper.”

And this guy comes over to us. He’s wearing black jeans and a M"otley Cr"{ue t-shirt. He is. He’s a total creeper. I’ve seen this guy before. I know this guy.

Sean is like, “What’s up?” and he slaps my shoulder.

Beth has extracted herself from underneath Blake’s arm and is hugging Sean.

Blake is literally flexing his fists and cracking his knuckles. “Hi,” he says.

“O-ho!! Ninja dude. Right?” Sean dodges back and forth, avoiding nonexistent punches.

Blake says, “What are you doing here?”

“I live here man. Remember? This is my spot.” Sean makes this ridiculous hand motion. “Here I roam. So how are you, baby?”

And Beth is looking up into Sean’s face with her brown eyes.

Maddy is nipping at Sean’s heels. Beth is calling her sister off.

“He’s too old for you.”

But Maddy puts her arms around Sean as well. Sean seems okay with that. Beth does not. She pushes her little sister off.

“Get off! He’s mine.”

And Blake scowls. Blake’s neck is sweating. The veins are flexing. It looks like his neck just got bigger. “Can we wrap this up?” he says. The guy is about to go nuclear.

Sean keeps Blake’s gaze. He counts to four. “Yeah. I’m meeting some friends. Lemme get your number.”

Beth has her phone out. “Give me yours.”

There was no reason for us to get into the trouble that we did. We were just stupid.

“Something you need to learn,” Beth says, “is that you’re not ready to get your ass reamed out by townie assholes like that.”

Blake says, “He is an asshole.”

Beth, walking ahead of us with Maddy at her side, turns around and addresses Blake. “I know he is. That’s what I said.”

We’re at this t-shirt shop that we’ve been in before. We come here every year. This is the t-shirt shop that has that poster of the Red Hot Chili Peppers with socks over their dongs. Beth goes inside. Maddy follows.

Blake’s hand goes inside his jacket. That’s where he keeps his nunchucks. His hand is on them, I know. “If he does anything to Beth,” Blake says to me, “you know I would die. I love that girl like a sister.”

“I know,” I say, “I know.” And we go inside the shop.

Beth says, “Why do you have nunchucks with you anyway?”

Blake quotes, “ ‘Supplies of war from home.’ ”

Beth says, “There’s something wrong with you.”

“ ‘And therefore,’ ” Blake continues, “ ‘the good fighter will be terrible in his onset, and prompt in his decision.’ ”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“If he lays a hand on you I’m going to kill him.”

“Shut up Blake. Don’t kill him.”

“No. But I’m going to fuck him up.”

“Shut up.” Beth rubs Blake’s stomach. “We’re trying to have a nice night.”


Pete Harold always had his hands on Sarah. This was a guy who’s married. And he’s supposed to be one of our adult leaders. I guess Sarah likes him back. But there’s something wrong in the way he touches her. It’s never quite fondling, but it seems to go too far. I don’t want to pin on him something he’s not doing. I can’t see his intention. I can’t objectively describe his thoughts. But the way he touches her, it doesn’t seem like the way an adult leader should be touching a member of the youth group.

Part of the problem with Pete Harold touching Sarah is that she doesn’t stop him. She never says anything about it. She seems to like the attention. But whether she’s fully free to choose, given their age difference, I don’t know. And if she wants him to, even if she likes it, I’m still not sure it’s right from Pete’s point of view. Or maybe just from a general point of view. Aren’t we supposed to have rules about this sort of thing? I mean, in a church, you’d think there would be.

Pete Harold’s hand is on Sarah’s arm. The top of her arm. Her bra shows through the arm hole if you’re at a certain angle. Where I am, I can see Sarah’s arm, her shirt, the side of her bra, and Pete Harold’s hand. All of those together. That’s not what I want to look at.

Sarah’s laughing. And she hugs Pete around the waist with her head in his armpit. That’s part of what bothers me about this. Sarah encourages him. She seems to like him back. In fact, if I can evaluate this objectively, Sarah does like him back. He’s the damn youth leader. He’s old enough to be her father. It’s sick that he hits on her, that he touches her the way he does. But she likes him back. She does. That’s the part of this that gets under my skin.

We’re on the balcony outside the Westin’s room 336. Sarah’s wearing cutoff jean shorts. Pete’s hand is on her leg. Pete has this 1990s Michael Bolton haircut, except Pete’s hair is black. Wavy black, too long. He should cut that shit off. Maybe it’s just jealousy. Because my hand has been on Sarah’s leg, right there, when we went to Dorney Park and I first rode the rollercoaster. The one called the Thunderhawk. It’s a wooden rollercoaster, very bumpy, and my first thought when riding it was how much it knocked my head from side to side. It seemed like a bad thing to do to your brain. But people’s heads get knocked around all the time. I guess they survive. I can’t separate the thing with Pete Harold. Maybe it’s just jealousy. And I’m not a jealous type. I don’t want to say something about it if Sarah wants his hand there. Isn’t he supposed to be an adult leader, though? There’s something wrong about that part, something that doesn’t have anything to do with Sarah or me.

“Pastor Steve. I need to talk to you about something.”

“Shoot.”

“Pete’s all over Sarah.”

Steve gives me a blank look.

“What’s up with that?” I say.

Steve pats me on the knee. He says, “I’ll take care of it.”

But he never does.

I think the only reason Pete Harold wanted to be a youth leader is that he had lost touch with his youth. He’s one of these guys who’s thirty-five and growing his hair long because he knows that pretty soon he’s not going to have any hair. He shows up late to events. When we went canoeing, he wanted to sit in a canoe with Sarah. It ended up being him and Sarah and Hannigan all together, because Hannigan wouldn’t take his eye off Peter. I think he’s right not too. We’re halfway through the trip and Peter’s trying to trick Hannigan into standing up, then Peter tries to tip the canoe over. He wants to embarrass Hannigan in front of Sarah. Peter is supposed to be one of our youth leaders. To me that doesn’t seem like appropriate behavior for a youth leader. When we went camping Peter was like sneaking into the girls’ tent while we all knew Sarah was changing in there. This is the middle of the day. He does it like it’s a joke but me and Brian and Beth are looking at each other like: what the fuck. Blake wanted to kill the guy. He didn’t think it was funny at all. None of us know why Pastor Steve lets Peter continue to be a youth leader. Maybe he owes him a favor. Or he thinks he has potential. I hate it when people think that others have potential when all the evidence points the other way.

Peter doesn’t have potential. Maybe as a child molester.


When Beth told me, it was right when you two had gotten back. She said she took you for protection. She’s so melodramatic. I really wish she could have gotten a hold on some type of reasonable emotionality while she was still alive. She pulls me into the girls’ room. She locks the door. She checks the closet. I mean..if that gives you some idea of her mental state at the time.

I think you two were all about having fun, but you forget..there’s a substructure..of sorts..that other people are creating around you..and they’re doing hard work to create that structure. You guys are just off having fun..but people are working..and struggling..and some of it’s ultimately beneficial to you.

Where was I? Oh right.

She checks the closet. She’s making sure nobody’s in there. You know she was doing coke in Ocean City, right? Well, she’d gotten rather paranoid. What she tells me is that..basically..Sean is dead. She says she walked you to his house and made you wait outside and she went inside and killed him.

I was..what?..fourteen? This is my big sister talking. And she’s freaking out.

You..I don’t know..you two hung out together..your little mystery trips without me, when she would take the car? Yeah. That hurt my feelings by the way. You could have invited me once in a while.

But I’m sure you’re familiar with her freak-outs. You would have to be. That girl couldn’t make it three days. So she’s freaking out. She locks us in the room at the Westin. And..basically..she tells me about your little errand. In which you..I don’t know..stand outside holding your dick while Beth goes in there and beats Sean to death. I never forgave you for that. You let her go in there alone? What if something had happened to her? You know? All these years, we’re all always like, holy fuck, Beth killed that guy. Ooooh. He never should have messed with her. What if something had happened to her? That’s what we should be thinking.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m not really upset with you about this..I hope you know that. My track record isn’t exactly perfect in this area, either. Maybe that can serve as some consolation to you.

I still have her baby blanket. That raggedy yellow thing? She tugged it with her everywhere. She took it to the pool. On the beach, she’d sit on it instead of on the towels with the rest of us. That’s the story my mom tells. I don’t remember that. I was too little. She’d use that blanket like a cape and Mom had to sneak it out of her bed at night so she could wash it. Beth coming screaming down the hallway when she woke and it was missing. She’s standing at the washer, pointing up, stamping her foot. Mom fell asleep, she forgot to dry it and sneak it back into bed with Beth. Mom pulls it out of the washer. It was soaking. Beth had never seen it wet before. It was shriveled and the yellow was dark. It looked like an evil spirit to her.

There’s nothing more traumatic to a three-year-old than having her blanky turned into an evil spirit. By her mom, no less.


“Are you going to call that guy?”

“Chill. I was just being polite.”

“Did he ever call you last year?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“I know that faggot was texting you.”

“Don’t worry. I changed my number.”

Beth is fishing around the sheets. “Have you seen my phone? Blake, did you take my motherfucking phone? Tell the truth.”

“I didn’t take your fucking phone.”

“Sure, okay, yeah.”

“Beth.” Blake turns Beth’s head by its chin. “Look at me.”

Beth’s hands go into Blake’s jacket. One comes out empty. The other fumbles out a pair of nunchucks.

Beth sets them on the bed. “Blake, you have mental issues you need to deal with.” She’s fishing around in the sheets. “What the fuck is this?” Beth pulls a ninja sword from underneath Blake’s pillow.

“Please. Don’t touch that.”

“Be careful,” Beth says, “or you’ll cut yourself while you sleep.”

Blake takes the sword. “So he doesn’t have your number anymore?”

“No.”

“Good. And you haven’t texted him?”

“Last year!”

“I mean tonight. You haven’t texted him tonight?”

“No.”

“Good.”

“You’re so possessive.”

“I know.”

“It’s not a good thing.”

“I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

“I’m not going to get hurt!”

“Then what is this?” Blake magically has Beth’s phone in his hand. He’s scrolling through the texts. “Huh?”

“Will you give me that back?”

Blake flips the phone closed. He breathes in through his nose, breathes out loudly. He gives the phone back.

“Thank you.”

Beth faces one way on the bed.

Blake faces the other.

I go into the bathroom, close the door. I push down my swim trunks, touching my dick.

Outside I hear Beth and Blake. Then it’s quiet.

Then the door opens and Beth comes in. She’s wearing a black one-piece. She closes the door and sits on the sink. “I’ve gotta go when you’re done.”

“Did anyone see you come in here?”

“No, they’re all outside.” Beth fishes around the bags on the counter. It’s a two-sink setup. Beth’s purse is in here. She finds a cigarette. Beth smokes Parliament Lights.

I’m peeing. “You can’t smoke that in here. They’ll smell it.”

“Then come outside with me. When you’re done. Come out front.”

Beth and I are close. We pee in front of each other. We have several times. You’d be surprised what goes on at church retreats. When everyone else is gone from the building, and it’s just the youth, we play all sorts of games. In the daytime, in a church bathroom, you have to act normal because anyone could come in at any time. At night, when there’s only a few people around, the rules are different. We use each other’s bathrooms, boys and girls, sometimes just because we want to talk to each other.

“Did you lock that?”

Beth bites her cigarette. “Yeah. Hurry up I want to smoke.”

“Go ahead. I’ll meet you outside.” I’m done peeing. I reach for the handle.

Beth is behind me. She touches my hand. “Don’t.”

I turn around.

She says, “it wastes water,” and she unstraps the top of her suit and pushes it down, past her chest, past her belly, past her waist, past her cunt, all the way down.

Beth and I are close. She’s had sex. I never have. She told me about it after church one day. Our parents are the kind of people who stay until the janitor turns off the lights. They stay past then, talking. Beth told me about the first time she did it. She was kindof warning me off from it, even though we play that sleeping bag game with Maddy. That’s when we’re in Sea Isle City. All the kids sleep upstairs in the same room—me and three girls. Beth and Maddy, and me and my sister. Our parents sleep downstairs. They let us close the door. I mean what are we gonna do? But when Maddy gets up to go to the bathroom, Beth says, “get in her sleeping bag.” And I’m like, “yeah.” And I do. And when Maddy comes back from the bathroom I’m in her sleeping bag and it’s because Beth told me to. Everyone is quiet. Maddy gets one leg in her sleeping bag and feels me and says, “What the—Beth!?” and Beth is like, “shhh” and eventually I get back into my sleeping bag, but not right away. There’s a little pinching first, some grabbing, a little touching, some caressing, some pulling, a little pushing, hands everywhere.

Beth is peeing, chewing on her Parliament Light.


I’m cooking. Me and Beth are making dinner. Peter and Sarah are playing cards. Hannigan and Pastor Steve are watching Iron Chef. Blake comes up.

“Let’s get that motherfucker.”

“Blake..”

“We’ll just scare him a little bit.”

“He’s not worth it. Can’t you see I’m cooking?”

Blake’s hand is on my arm. “Come on.”

“Dude. Chill. Help me cut this.”

“You doin’ stir-fry?”

“Grab the cumin.”

Maddy leans over my shoulder. “Don’t make it too spicy though.”

And Beth says, “Don’t be a wimp.”

Blake’s putting on the cumin.

“Don’t make it too hot.”

“No,” I say, “make it too hot.”

Maddy stamps her foot. “I want to be able to eat it.”

“Take a bite now. Before we put it on. I want this fucker hot.”

“Hey,” Steve says from the other room. He doesn’t look away from Iron Chef.

“Sorry,” I say to the stir-fry, “but I want this thing hot.”

Blake slams the cumin down on the countertop. “You don’t be hittin’ my Beth.”


“I’m scared Blake’s gonna do something.”

“Like what?”

“He had my phone earlier. I think he memorized Sean’s number.”

Sean is the kind of guy who probably keeps a list of all the girls he’s fucked—and there’s nothing wrong with that, but—the thing about Sean is he seems like one of these guys who jerks off to the list. Like he’s one of these guys when he’s macking on a girl he doesn’t even hide it. I think that’s a primary difference between Sean and, say, my friends. With my friends, there’s a certain civility to the mating rituals. With Sean, it’s like he’s at a caveman barbecue. With my friends, we’ll look you in the eye and sincerely discuss polite topics while we’re working toward fucking the shit out of you. With Sean, it’s like he’s going through the motions, and there’s nothing underneath.

This guy is a frat boy. I don’t know if he was actually in a fraternity but, nonetheless, Sean is a frat boy through and through. He’s got a giant high bed—a girl bed, super-high off the ground—and a big white comforter that’s crumpled from being stepped on. He has posters of bodybuilders on his wall. It would be better if he had pictures of wrestlers, but no, his are giant posters of, like, the people that sell supplements on late-night infomercials. Sean is always working out his biceps, and his wrists, and his knuckles. That’s the most annoying thing I can think of..guys working out their hands. I think all that shit is basically an extension of ADHD. It’s people who unfortunately can’t sit still for any length of time. All the frenetic behavior that goes with it is just a side effect.

These will be guys who are one of a set of all brothers, or guys whose families suppress the femininity within. All that supposedly straight behavior (what I would call the hyper-straight, or: extreme, affected straight behavior) is actually code for homosexuality. These are guys who hate women, who hate to talk to them, who hate to fuck them actually; who, when they have sex, are essentially masturbating with a despised object. The real straight guys are the ones with feminine faces and skinny stomachs and sparkly eyes—or else artists in any form, the passionate ones, who love everything: work, god, man, woman, and love itself.


One of the things we do when we first get to Camp Lake is wash the cabins. They’ve got spiders in them, and spider webs. We take buckets and rags and wash down the insides. The guys wash the guys’ cabins and the girls wash the girls’ cabins. Washing cabins is the first day.

Junkyard, Blake and Brian and I are washing Deerfoot cabin. The cabins are disgusting so we all work on one together, then move on to the next one. Blake and Brian work together. Blake holds the bucket and tells Brian what to scrub. Blake refills the bucket when the water’s brown. Junkyard and I have a less formal methodology, but it works.

“There’s a fucking—there’s a sticker up there. What is that?”

“Adidas. Fuck.” Oscar works it with his fingernail.

We cuss when the kids aren’t around. Even Blake and Brian. For us there’s two kinds of cussing, and the same words are used for both kinds. There’s cussing someone out—or cussing at someone—and that we do not do. That’s regardless of whether kids are around. We just don’t do it. But then there’s general cussing—cussing about nothing, or cussing about a sticker on a cabin rafter. That we do all the time.

“I’m’onna get some more water.” Blake goes out.

Brian has his elbow into some scrubbing now. “You know where to find me.” And then, when Blake is twenty feet away, “Why don’t you clean out the fucking bucket this time. Then you can make fewer trips.” Brian is a theology student; he uses words like “fewer.” Brian is actually a really simple guy. I like him.

“Who wears Adidas anyway?” Oscar’s saying, “It’s all about New Balance.”

“For who?”

“For you white folk.” Oscar is smiling.

“I bet you wear New Balance when you’re at home,” I say.

“No I don’t, I only wear these.” Oscar shows off his sneaks. Black-on-black Nikes. “I’ll take your ass to the court in these shoes.”

“Oscar.” I stop scrubbing. “You must have an older brother I don’t know about ‘cause I know your momma didn’t teach you to talk shit like that.”

“Oh yes she did.” Oscar steps down off the bunkbed with a fragment of the Adidas sticker in his hand. He flicks the sticker at my mop bucket and misses. “You don’t know my momma.”

“That may be true but I’ll tell you what.” I’m eyeing the mop bucket. “Based on your performance here, my Chucks will take on your Nikes anyday.”


119 points later I’m panting. “Just—” I hold up a finger. “Just one more round.”

“The game is over.” Oscar dribbles the ball, his arms limber.

“Fuck you the game’s over. Where you going? You got something better to do?”

“The game is over.” Oscar’s arm is around me.

We’re both wet.

I slap Oscar’s side. The hoop is blurry. I wipe my eye with the back of a sweaty hand—it helps a little. “Fuck me.”

“You need to lift,” Oscar says.

“Fuck that, I’m never gonna lift.” I kick the side of Oscar’s shoes. “I need to get me a pair of those, is what I need to do.”

“Nah,” Oscar grins, “then you’ll be like Samson, except with all your power in your shoes.”


Everyone’s at the pool. I can hear them. It’s one of those bright days, green days, summer warm, summer sun, but with the slightest cool breeze. I can hear Julie Jane’s voice, a shout, and the thwack of a hand hitting a volleyball. Then shrill shouts.

Something about a summer day like this reminds me of coming here when I was younger, playing ostrich wars..which was where, as guys, we would let the girls ride on our shoulders (the combination was an ostrich) and the girls would try to knock each other off while we ran toward each other in chest-deep water. This is when we were very young. I don’t usually think of very young kids as having crushes, or that kind of energy, but when I remember ostrich wars, when I remember what it felt like from inside, it was definitely already there.

In three days this pool will be filled with kids. For now it’s just us. Normally Pastor Steve would be here. But with Blake’s mom sick, and Blake’s dad with her, the oldest person here is twenty-six.

There’s Julie Jane. She has a classically hot body but she’s not the one I’m looking at. Julie Jane will be pretty from the day she’s born to the day she dies. She’s got that kind of beauty. She’s..ideal. If Plato thought of a woman, it would be Julie Jane. Today she’s wearing a bikini. It’s red polka dots, and accents that strawberry-blond hair.

“Hi Matt!” That’s Julie Jane. Her breasts are precisely the right size. B cup.

I say, “Hey.”

“Get in!! Be on my side!” That girl will go from Pennsylvania pale to California bronze in like three days. She’ll be tanning this afternoon.

Thwack! Julie Jane serves the volleyball.

“Ah!” Junkyard dives for it. He hits it but not soon enough. Gurgles from his mouth as he goes underwater.

Blake says, “Get over here!”

“No,” Marcy says, “it’ll be four on three!”

“We need you on our side. Nice trunks.”

Thanks. These are board shorts, actually. I get in. “Maddy! Wanna even this up?”

Maddy is sitting cross-legged on a deck chair, smoking a Parliament. She’s the one I’m looking at. She’s writing in a purple notebook, wearing sunglasses. Her dark hair flowers over her shoulders. “No,” she says. She goes back to writing.

“Alright.” Julie Jane holds the ball high and extends her other arm behind her. “You ready?”

Piglet sits on the side with Maddy. Maddy asks her what she went to school for.

“Marine biology.”

“And you do what again?”

“Make web sites.”

“Are you a programmer? Or a graphic designer?”

“No. I do HTML. CSS. It’s for losers.”

“No, I’m sure it’s fine..I mean—”

“No,” Piglet nods, “It’s for losers.”

“Okay. Well it must pay well.”

“No,” Piglet says, “Not really.”

“What got you into marine biology?”

“I like whales.”

Maddy smiles. She likes finding out about people, I’ve noticed. She seems genuinely interested in other people. Maddy actually listens when you talk. That’s unusual.

After volleyball she’s interviewing Julie Jane. They’re sitting cross-legged on the deck chairs. Maddy has her chin in her hands, and she looks totally engrossed with what Julie Jane is saying.

“Do you know what an intervener is?”

“What is it?”

Julie Jane says, “You teach blind or deaf people. You’re like a nanny or a teacher’s assistant for a deafblind child. I was doing that for schools. And this one family. So now I’m like a freelance intervener but I only do music.”

“So you teach deafblind people music.”

“They’re either deaf or blind. I have one girl who’s partially deaf—and completely blind. But yeah.”

“That’s badass. You’re like Annie Sullivan.”

“Well. Annie Sullivan..in training.”

“Do you play music outside of that? For yourself?” Maddy asks.

“Not really,” Julie Jane says. “I used to.”

“What happened?”

“I got married.”

“You should never do that,” Maddy says.

“I know,” says Julie Jane. “That’s where I went wrong. Are you married?”

“No.”

“Boyfriend?”

“Not currently. But it has been known to happen. On occasion. So,” Maddy says, “What’s up with you and Oscar?”

“Oh,” Julie Jane says, blushing. “I just like his cock.”

“Didn’t you say you were married?”

“Shhh,” Julie Jane covers her lips with a finger.

“Is it a secret?”

“No. Everyone knows. But. You know. Everyone needs a camp crush.”

Marcy leans over. “Check out this text. From my friend Leslie.” She shows Julie Jane the screen on her phone.

“Awww. That’s awesome.”

Julie Jane hands the phone to Maddy. The text says, “Tell yourself a new story about life.”

Maddy hands the phone back.

I sit on the chair next to Maddy. “Whatcha writing?”

Maddy says, “I think Julie Jane likes you.”

Julie Jane nods.

“You don’t know about me and Julie Jane,” I say. “I’ve been coming here three years with Julie Jane. If she liked me, I would know.”

Maddy gives me a look.

“Julie Jane and I cut each other’s hair. That’s how we’re like.”

“It’s true,” Julie says. “He cuts it.”

“What does that mean, you cut her hair?”

Julie Jane makes a cutting motion across her bangs.

“Anyway,” I say, “she likes Oskey. What are you writing?”

“I’m writing about my senses.”

“How so?”

“Touch, taste, smell, sight, sound. In that order.”

“In order of importance?”

Maddy says, to us all, “If you had to be without one, which would you be without: sight or sound?”

“Sight,” Julie Jane says.

I say, “I’ll have to get back to you on that one.”

“You can get back to me now. Take your time.”

“I guess sound.”

“Me too.”

“Hopefully we’ll never have to choose.”

“It’s a horrible choice,” Maddy says, “but it’s something you should know about yourself.”

“Okay, what’s next?” I say.

Maddy shifts in her deck chair. “What do I look like, a fucking quiz show host?”

Sony and Julie Jane play this version of beach volleyball where it’s just Sony on one side, and Julie Jane on the other, and they can use their feet. But you get a half a point deduction for hitting the ball with your foot. So if you can’t get to the ball with your hands, you can kick the ball—either over the net or to yourself—but for every time you kick, you lose a half a point. This way they can play with just the two of them. Because none of the rest of us are good enough to add enough value to either of their teams to incentivize either of them to play with us. They’ll play a game or two in the pool with us. Then they go to the sand court and Julie strips down to her swimsuit and Sony takes off his shirt, and it’s just this 24-year-old hardbody and this ancient Japanese man drilling the fuck out of a volleyball. They even set aside a special ball that they’ll only use when the two of them play. It would be annoying if they weren’t having so much fun. The rest of us sit on the sides and watch. Sony’s as interesting to watch as Julie Jane in a swimsuit.

“And that’s saying something.”

“Yes it is.”

“I mean, on the one hand,” Oscar says, presenting Julie Jane, “you have this.”

“Right.”

“And on the other hand,” he says..

(You have an ancient Japanese man.) But Sony’s ridiculous. He hits the ball without looking. He seems to be constructing multi-point plays, building up his half-points and then loosing them..or using several foot-kicks in a row, then switching back to hand-hits. Pastor Steve says Sony used to have long hair. I would have liked to see it. Sony at 30. He’s got that wry physicality that doesn’t look like anything, with or without clothes on. If you were walking by him on the street you wouldn’t think a thing of him, based on his body. But Sony could probably kick any of our asses. I imagine him as Eddie Murphy’s character in Coming To America, busting out a mop handle as a bo staff. If Sony was on Survivor, he would be a villain. If you were actually stuck on an island with him, he’d probably just cook and tell stories.

Sony is one of the most strongly spiritual people I know. I’m spiritual, but I think I think too much to be spiritual in the way that Sony has become. Maybe he thought more in his youth. But he seems to avoid it now. It’s not that he doesn’t think. I even consider him wise. But it’s like he considers thought a detriment, an impediment. I think he thinks of thought the way Jesus or the Zen masters do of possessions. Jesus said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Part of what I glean from Sony is that thought is one type of richness. When it comes to strong spirituality—strong spiritual practice—thought is probably a hindrance. When I ask Sony things, I don’t think he’s thinking. I think he already knows. I find it slightly off-putting. I worry that I’ll get to a point where I think I know the answers and I will have stopped thinking. I want to continue figuring things out. I want to remain open. Sony’s open, but he’s also quick. I’ll sit in a corner mulling something for hours. Sony just knows.

I’ve got to ask Sony how old he is. He holds his own, but no amount of enlightenment can offset the beach volleyball skills of that particular 24-year-old woman.

Sony drinks a shake made of tea leaves, spirulina, glutamine-l, tryptophan, vitamin C, and some other stuff I can’t pronounce. He drinks this constantly. He also eats spinach. His drink is so black it looks like liquefied dirt. Also he puts some sticks in there. It’s tree bark. I don’t know.

Sony doesn’t drink the tree bark. But its essence seeps into the dirt-drink, and at the end, he takes the bark out and gnaws it. He’ll do this while he’s talking to you. His teeth are perfectly white, even though he’s over ninety years old.

“Sony. How old are you?”

“Old enough for you to know better.” Sony laughs. He never answers this question seriously.

“No really, Sony, how old are you, old man?”

“I’m old enough to be your great great great great great great grandfather,” he says. “But only if they had babies when they were twelve.”

Maddy has the kite up. Maddy has it flying high. It’s Blake’s kite, a box kite. Julie Jane and Junkyard are sitting cross-legged looking at some scripture. The Bible is in Julie Jane’s hands, and Oscar is looking intently. Marcy is at the edge of the field, at the treeline, to help Maddy launch the kite. But it’s flying now. It’s going up.

All I hear is the silence of the wind. I’m on a cliff, diving. I’ll never hit the bottom.

Maddy runs, then looks back. She pulls the string and the wind is pulling against her. Then the kite goes up.

It goes up and up more. Marcy shouts. She jumps. “Woo-hoo!!”

And Maddy’s running. She lets out string. She pulls. The kite goes up, and up, and up.

The wind sometimes tells me things. When it blows, sometimes, it confirms what I feel is true. I don’t test it. I don’t demand a response. But the wind just happens, sometimes, when I’m thinking, and sometimes it confirms what I’m thinking.

I talk to it, kind of. I ask it questions like you’d ask questions of God. Will you be my friend? The wind blows. Will I find the companion of a woman? Where are you, God? Are you the voice within myself? I can’t tell what the wind is saying. Maybe I shouldn’t look for you, God, but I should enjoy your company wherever I find it.

The wind blows.

I’m not really asking the wind questions. It’s not like a Magic 8-Ball. What it is, it’s that the wind is doing something, and I am doing something, and sometimes they agree.

I am the kite, and I see us from the air.

It’s eight of us. Sony is gone. It’s Piglet, darling, and she’s with Blake and Brian. They’re throwing Frisbee. Marcy at the edge of the field, running back to the rest of us. There’s Julie Jane and Oscar doing scripture. Maddy’s holding the kite. And there’s me, looking up at the sky.

I could fall from here, like I fall in my dreams. And I would wake up before I hit the bottom. But lately when I fall or fly in my dreams, I’m in control. I don’t fall with gravity, I glide, I soar with some control. But what I have to do, to control it, is let go. I can’t fly it like a plane, I don’t have controls, it’s not like I’m in a car, I don’t have a steering wheel. I have to let go, and let direction come upon me. It’s like there are certain ways I can go, and I have to relax into one of those. But I’m not falling in these dreams, not falling like I’ll hit the ground.

I’m soaring..down, but soaring. If I lean into it, it’ll take me where I want to go.

If I’m a kite, I want to rise and rise and rise. If I’m a kite, I want to fly. I want to go to the sky. I want to be in air. I want to be close to the sun. I want nothing around me, I want no clutter, not even weather. I want emptiness, blue at my back and nothing but clear ahead. I wonder if “clarity” is clear. I think it is.

Happiness may be blue. But clarity is clear.

Could I rise forever, could I rise in a world with no outer space, but only infinite blue? Could I be a sail in the sky..could I fly?

Could I go on a kite tour of the world? Could I be so light that falling would be grace?

Could I be so empty that no spear could stab me?

Could I be so full that no temptation would tempt me?

Could I be so found that no catastrophe could ever lose me?

Could I be so still that chaos could not stir me?

Could I lock myself to the present such that even time could not take me?

It starts to rain. Maddy drops the kite. I see her and Marcy at the edge of the forest. The kite is in the trees. Oscar and Julie Jane disappear. Piglet stands soaking, holding the Frisbee. When Piglet’s hair is wet she looks like a sick rat. I’m running to her. Maddy and Marcy are gone, in the trees, getting the kite. Piglet’s lips turn blue. She has her towel wrapped around her shoulders and she’s barefoot, standing in a puddle.

“Pig, get out of that.” I pull her inside the pool shed. It’s still damp but it’s not a puddle. Piglet is shivering, skinny little self.

“My mom says I need to gain weight.”

I pinch Piglet’s side.

She blushes.

“You do need to gain weight,” I say. I put my arms around her and pull her toward me. Her skin is cold. “Grief, girl, come’ere, get warm.” I hug her all the way, I hug her as close as if we were in bed together, but it’s just to get her warm, and just because we’re friends, I figure I can hug her like this and it be okay.

Her little arms come out from under her towel and lock around my waist.

I rub her head and her back, through the towel. “We’ll get you warm.”


All Maddy has to say is “Come hunting with me,” and I’m asking her what kind of clothes I need to wear and what kind of shoes to bring, and then we’re marching up a hill, way off the path, and the sky is getting dark and we’re heading down a ravine into what I happen to know is some farmer’s land before I get up the guts—or maybe just before I remember—to ask, “What are we hunting exactly?”

Maddy, dressed like Huckleberry Finn. Maddy, dressed for Mississippi rafting. Bare feet, rolled-up jeans. Hair in a ponytail. Looks like we’re gonna catch craw-dads in creek water, ambush them pulling up rocks, extract them, maybe do some fishing. And yet, she also looks classy, like some preppy girl who got those jeans out of a Lands’ End catalog, some girl whose initials are factory-embroidered on the back of her bookbag. How does she do that?

That’s the look I’m going for. That’s the impression I tried to give. Actually my hair just has that slight sheen because I haven’t washed it. And I ain’t no Huckleberry Finn, or Lands’ End girl. I’m a surgery expert. And I operate on myself. I operate carefully. I’ll operate later today. When I’m done you’ll see no difference. The shifting will be a slight one. When I come out of the woods, you’ll just think I’m happy. And I will be. I will be happy. Watch me.

“We’re hunting mushrooms,” she says. “And we have to be very careful to get the exact kind we’re looking for because any other kind would likely kill us.”

“How do you know what kind won’t kill us?”

“It’s in my book.”

“What book.”

“My mushroom book. It’s back at the cabin.”

Her mushroom book was called “What Mushrooms Eat.” It had a hard cover. It had pictures. The binding and paper was designed to be used in a kitchen. The pages could be wiped off with a sponge.

“If that’s how we’ll know what ones are poisonous, don’t you think we should have brought it?”

“You don’t want to carry around a big book while you’re hiking, do you?”

“I could have carried it.”

“Don’t worry. The kind we’re looking for doesn’t have a look-alike.”

“What kind are we looking for?”

“Chicken of the woods. It’s delicious. Trust me. We’ll have Sony cook ‘em up.”

“I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.”

Maddy stops. “Matthew. What’s your damage. You don’t sound enthusiastic.”

“I don’t know, Heather.” I scratch my leg. “I’m getting bit.”

“I’m not allergic to bug bites,” Maddy says.

“Well I am,” I say.

She says, “I think it’s something in my blood. They don’t think I’m tasty. I checked with Sony about it. He’s cooked it before. This isn’t like some classist/racist thing where the young white youth leader stands on the back of the Asian cook and whips him while he sautées mushrooms. He was gonna come with me, but I told him I wanted some alone time with you. Anyway. I’m not a Heather. I’m a Veronica.”

“So what should I be looking for?”

“A big fat yellow mushroom. Look on the side of trees. Low. Or fallen trees.”

“Do they grow in rain?”

“Awww. Poor Matthew. Got your feet wet.”

“I don’t remember any yellow mushrooms growing here.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll find some.”

“And it tastes like chicken?”

“Exactly like. Chicken of the woods is awesome. You’re gonna love this stuff. I made some for a vegetarian once and he was freaking out. Put some garlic on there..mmm.” Maddy goes ahead, bouncing on top of logs, peering behind tree trunks. She’s like Huck Finn crossed with a wood sprite. “Every variety has a look-alike. Almost every variety. It looks just like the edible one but it’s poisonous, because..they adapt..”

“No. I get it. Evolution.”

“Exactly. But chicken of the woods has no look-alike, so we don’t have to worry about dying when we eat it.”

I laugh. I’m starting to get the idea that Maddy isn’t afraid of dying anyway.

“Plus,” she says, “you’re going to die soon. When I smote you.”

“It’s so romantic when a girl says she wants to smote me. Smote. Isn’t it smite?”

“I prefer smote.”

“Well then.”

“Have you never been smote before?”

“Yeah. By your fucking..” I stop.

“Were you going to say my sister?”

“I would never say that. I was going to say your mom.”

“I don’t give a fuck, by the way.”

“If what.”

“If you smote my mom.”

I laugh.

Maddy walks ahead.

“Watch out,” I mutter, “I’ll smote you if you’re not careful.”

We’re at the bottom of this ravine, totally on this farmer’s land..so much so that I can see his house from where we’re standing. It’s marshy underfoot, with tree cover, and almost dark. I can’t see what we’re standing on very clearly, and I really don’t like hiking like that. I always think of snakes.

Maddy peers over a fallen trunk. Doesn’t see anything. Steps over it. Turns and examines it from the other side. I step over the tree trunk and accidentally brush against her. Her body feels tight. The flesh under the jeans compact, muscular. She bends at a tree, touching the bark. Her butt is all I can look at.

“This is it,” she says. “See?”

I look at what she’s got.

She’s pulling it off the tree trunk, handing it to me. Yellow, orange, foamy-looking mushrooms, clung with dirt. They’re not individual mushrooms. They’re like a shelf of orange foam. Did I mention dirt?

Maddy hands me another shelf.

“You’re gonna cook this?”

“Yeah. You have the disadvantage of—you know—being in the kitchen. Once the dirt’s off ‘em and they’re in a little oil they’ll look a lot different.”

“And they taste good?”

Maddy laughs. “They taste exactly like chicken.”

I take off my shirt and tie the sleeves so it’s a bag. I’m willing to go along with something new. The taste of these mushrooms might have some similarity to chicken, but there is no way that what I’m holding is going to taste like chicken.

Maddy sits on a log. She has a huge shelf of the mushrooms in her hand. The whole thing clings together like if you sprayed shaving cream and the resulting clumps somehow hardened. She tears off a piece and puts it in her mouth.

“Want one?” She says that with her mouth full. There was dirt on that piece she put in her mouth. Probably bugs, bacteria, etc.

Maddy licks her thumb.

“Yep,” she says, “That’s the stuff. Have you ever read Silent Spring?” She stands and we start walking back.

“What’s Silent Spring?”

Maddy shakes her head. “It would never work out between us.”

I stop walking.

She stops a few steps ahead and turns to me. “It’s okay. It’s a book. It’s about pollution? There’s certain things I like to know about someone before I get into a relationship with them.”

“And Have I read Silent Spring? is one of them? What else do you like to know?”

“Don’t you have things you like to know before you hook up with someone?”

“If we didn’t have to medevac this chicken back to camp we could hook up right now.”

“Have you ever had sex in the woods?”

“No,” I say.

“Have you ever had sex at all?” she says.

“A few times,” I say. “What are the other things you like to know?”

“Well. For one, Have You Ever Read Silent Spring? And, usually I like to find out if they’re a vegetarian.”

“I’m not.”

“I wasn’t asking you.”

“Okay. What else do you like to know?”

“The only other thing is if they can add.”

If they can add?

“You ask ’em some simple math question or try to observe them counting change or something. It’s the same skill as basic logic. You want to make sure they can think—”

“Why is it so important to you to know if they’ve read Silent Spring?”

“Well. Since you’ve never read it this will be hard to explain to you. But it’s one of those books. You’ve either read it or you haven’t. It’s one of those books..it changes you. People who’ve read Silent Spring are qualitatively different than people that haven’t. In my observation. Once you read it you’re changed. You never look at the world the same way again. And. So. When someone who has read Silent Spring gets together with someone who hasn’t, it’s hard for them to communicate—”

I can’t listen to any more of this bullshit. This isn’t like me at all, but I step right up to Maddy and grab her face and kiss her. And I don’t just kiss her a little. I kiss her all the way. I kiss her on her tongue. I kiss her on her lips. I kiss her teeth. I kiss her neck. I kiss her hair.

I push her face back and she looks perfectly peaceful.

Her eyes are bliss.

I’m burning into her with this terrible look. Don’t you ever speak to me about Silent Spring again. Don’t you ever.


Sony is frying the mushrooms. He slices the foam shelf into strips, puts the strips into the pan.

Maddy grabs a spatula and pushes on the mushrooms.

“No no no,” Sony says. “You go socialize with your friends. I have this.”

Maddy sets the spatula down. “You sure?”

“Oh yes. You want garlic?”

“Yes.”

“And,” Sony says, “I have a special spice for you. Sit, sit. I’ll bring it to you.”

We go into the dining area.

“Blake,” I say, “Do you know what smote means?”

Blake nods. “Sounds like an Old Testament word.”

Yeah. That’s right. Exactly. Very Old Testament.

What Sony brings out does not look like chicken of the woods. It does not look like what Maddy was sucking on in the ravine. It’s seasoned, it’s browned. It looks like chicken.

I put my fork into it.

Julie Jane says, “So what’s this?”

Oscar wags his finger at Julie Jane: not for you.

“Maddy took me mushroom hunting this afternoon,” I say. “This is chicken of the woods.”

Piglet says, “Is it safe?”

“Yes,” Maddy says, sliding some of it onto her plate. “Thank you Sony. Oh. What’s my special spice?”

“Taste it and see.”

Maddy does. She smiles. “What is it?”

“It’s mustard.”

Brian says, “Mustard’s not a spice. Is it?”

“Yeah,” Piglet says. “It’s a seed.”

“Huh. And these are safe to eat?”

“Totally safe. See?” Maddy eats some.

“Sony,” Blake says, “do you certify that these are safe to eat.”

“I certify it. They sell these in the grocery store.”

“Really? Wow. What are they called again?”

“Chicken of the woods.”

“Maddy. Whoa. This is fantastic. What is this again?”

“It’s mushrooms.”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. This tastes just like chicken.”

Maddy looks at me. “Told ya.”


I kept my letters from camp for a long time. My counsellors wrote us letters, generally. We took each other’s addresses on the last day of camp and for a while, we wrote. For a while we still felt close. On the last day of camp we felt immensely close, like brothers and sisters. We promised we’d continue writing. We did for a while. After a while real life took over, regular life, and school happened, and letters were hard to write. You didn’t want to be the one to stop writing, you didn’t want to leave a letter unreturned. But you didn’t want your last letter to be the first one unreturned. Truth told, it was easier if the other person stopped writing you.

I kept those letters for a long time. I didn’t specifically throw them away. They must have gotten lost in a move.

I can’t say that I’m never the first person to stop writing when it comes to campers. I write them for a while. I wish them well. But once your shared context grows stale, there’s no point.

Piglet walks by, in the hallway. I’m in my meeting room. I’m on all fours, the front half of me in the closet, the back half of me out. Piglet comes back.

“And what is this?”

“This,” I say, sitting back on my knees, “is the Chair of Shimmering Velvet.”

“I see,” says Piglet, and she does. The chair is wrapped in blue shimmering fabric—not velvet—which I have crudely stapled to the back of the chair. From the legs dangle silver ribbon, made to curl with a pair of scissors. “Can I sit in it?”

“You’ll be the first.”

“It’s beautiful.”

“Thank you. I made it for a..kindof a confessional. It’s a chair to sit in when you need encouragement.”

Piglet smiles.

I put my hand on her knee. “The rule is: when you’re sitting in this chair people can only say nice things to you.”

Piglet takes my hand in hers and says, “Oh, I love it. Can my group use your chair—what did you call it—shimmering—?”

“It’s the Chair of Shimmering Velvet. And anyone can use it.”


“Who is the devil?”

“The devil’s addiction.”

“The devil’s hate.”

“Who is the devil to you?”

“Loneliness.”

“Who is the devil to you?”

“The fact that I can’t connect.”

“Who is the devil to you?”

“Revenge.”

“Who is the devil to you?”

Maddy says, “I don’t have a devil. The devil’s me.”

Blake looks at her like are you serious?

Blake is one of these characters who comes off with this amazing ego, but if you peel back a paper-thin layer there’s this histrionic mess. If he cried more often, in the open, he would be more palatable. But that’s not what you see. Instead of seeing more of his complete person, with Blake, you get a narrow little slice, which is just all his self-hatred packaged into a front. What annoys me about listening to Blake is that the stuff he’s egotistical about..he’s wrong about. His pride is built on his ideas of piousness about himself—that’s what he needs to be true—but it’s not like those ideas are even kindof true..they’re totally false. It’s weird. I would think that someone who yearned to be something beyond what they were..or even yearned to be something other that what they were..would contain, in their real, present self, some kernel of that which, embellished, is the self they want to be. Not the case with Blake, though. It’s like a carpenter fancied himself a fashion designer, and then acted out the most extreme fashion designer narcissism you could imagine.

“What is God to you?”

“It’s a voice.”

“What is God to you?”

“She’s a blanket.”

“What is God to you?”

“He’s the sky.”

“What is God to you?” Blake addresses this question directly to Maddy.

“What is he to you, you fucking freak?”

Maddy stands up. She almost leaves.

Then she comes back.

“Does he speak back to you, when you pray? I didn’t think so. How do you know that God exists? And don’t just say you just know, because you don’t. I know you think you do. But what do you know? You know what you want.”

Maddy’s shaking her Bible.

“None of this stuff does anybody know, except the love parts. Love your neighbor. Love your god. Love your self. That’s the only part anyone knows anything about. And you don’t need God to exist for that part to be true. Not even love your god.’ You can do that without there ever being a god, without there ever being the kind of god you talk about.”

Marcy is staring at the floor. Oscar and Piglet are trying to keep from laughing. Me and Julie Jane are looking at each other like what the fuck. I hand Julie Jane my Bible.

“Start reading. At the rubric.”

“What’s a rubric?”

Maddy says, “The red text.”

Marcy adds, “What Jesus says.”

Julie Jane’s jaw drops when she opens my Bible. “You must really love highlighters.”

“My mom,” I say, “gave me a twenty-four pack for Christmas. It has..every shade you can imagine.”

“I bet you loved that.”

I nod. “Best gift ever.”

At the end of our session Blake prays. “This journey isn’t just for the kids. Let’s remember that. We’re all here on a journey. We’ve come to this spiritual place. We have quiet. We’re isolated. We’ve agreed to set aside our distractions and focus on what is present..”

I stopped listening. I was looking inside Blake’s satchel. Inside Blake’s satchel was a red-covered Bible with gold-edged pages, and two cloth bookmarks. Also inside Blake’s satchel was a pick-axe. It wasn’t really a pick-axe. It’s hard for me to describe because it’s the only one I’ve ever seen. It was like a pick-axe crossed with a scythe, and the handle was tied in black cord, and the top of it was a weapon that looked like diverging ears, or horns, and the handle was flat metal that said “PAKISTAN.”

The only other thing in Blake’s satchel was a purple stole.


It was raining Saturday night. Tomorrow the campers get here. We’re holed up in the meeting hall. Everyone’s shoes are outside because we got so muddy on the way over here.

“You see this? You see this?” Julie’s pointing at the wall. “This better stop by tomorrow. It better.”

“It will.”

“No. It better. I’m not doing check-in in the rain. Check-in in the rain would suck.”

“Do an anti-rain dance.”

“I am. Can’t you tell I’m dancing?” Julie does some faux Michael Jackson moves.

I’m sorry but when she moves her pelvis like that it drives me crazy. I can’t help but think of Junkyard and dumptruck metaphors.

When she sits down she rolls into Oscar’s lap. Then she sits beside him; slightly less scandal.

The incidental lock-in is getting to people. Piglet jumps up. She takes my hands.

“Let’s play our getting-to-know-you games.”

She pulls me up.

Marcy stands. She’s into it. “Let’s be campers!”

“Okay.” Julie Jane is moving at the shoulders, beating with some inner rhythm. “Let’s. Play.” She picks up a volleyball. “What’s.” She throws the volleyball at me. “Your. Name.”

“Matthew,” I say. I throw the ball at Oscar.

“Junkyard,” he says. His voice booms.

“Marcy!” She throws the ball at Blake.

“Blake.” He says it like he’s bored.

“Piglet!” Piglet shouts. She’s like a miniature explosive device.

“Julie!” Julie says. She’s gyrating, MJ-style.

“Maddy,” Maddy says. She throws the ball to Brian.

“Brian.” He turns around and tosses the ball backward, over his head.

Oscar catches it. “Now let’s play indoor!” He drop-kicks the volleyball and it strikes Brian in the shoulder as he’s turning back around.

The ball bounces off Brian’s shoulder and Julie dives to return the serve. She does it, but Oscar has to help her up, the fall rocks her so.

“You alright?”

Blake kicks the ball.

I kick it to Maddy.

Maddy slams it toward Marcy.

Marcy goes for it. Her bare foot slides across the floorboards. She hits the ball. It flies up and Piglet is scrambling for it in a corner when I see that Marcy is looking at her foot. We can’t see the bottom of it but she’s holding it. And the look on her face turns from a smile to a blank look of shock to slightly worried in the eyes.

“You okay?”

Marcy doesn’t speak. Her eyes start to water.

“Let me see.” I’m kneeling beside her.

“What happened?” That’s Julie.

Marcy never takes her eyes off mine. She says, “I’m gonna take my hand away. And I want you to tell me what you see.”

I nod.

She uncurls the fingers from the bottom of her foot.

I cover my mouth.

“Is it bad?”

I feel like I’m going to throw up.

“OH MY GOD!!” Julie screams. And she grabs Marcy’s shoulders. “Are you okay?”

“I’m not sure I feel it yet.”

“Well,” I say. “That’s—”

Marcy bites her lip. “I want you to take it out,” she says to me.

Blake is beside me. Brian is beside me. We’re all looking at it. Marcy is the only one who hasn’t seen it.

“That’s going to require surgery.” I try to say it as flatly as I can.

It takes all of us working together to get Marcy out the front door. Piglet holds the door. Blake and Oscar have both of Marcy’s arms. Julie Jane is holding Marcy’s leg up at the knee. That cannot touch the ground until we get Marcy to a hospital.

I’m at my car. I have the passenger door open. Blake and Oscar get her into the car.

Blake rolls down the window and closes the door. Marcy has her foot on the dash and she’s reclined the seat.

“Don’t let that touch the glass.”

“Is it really that bad?”

Piglet’s face is bleak.

“Do you want ice?”

I say, “I don’t think we can put ice on that.”

“Oh baby, can I get you anything?”

Marcy says, “Where’s my purse?”

Maddy runs inside and gets it.

Marcy fiddles in it. She gets out her menthols. “You got a lighter in this car?”

Maddy lights Marcy’s cigarette. Maddy’s lighter is this four-inch butane torch.

Marcy takes a deep drag. “What? Guys, I can hardly feel it.”

There’s a chorus of six outside her window, peering in, concerned.

“You got your cell phone?” Maddy says. She puts the lighter in Marcy’s lap.

“Yes,” I say. And I pull out slowly.

Headlights showing dirt road, I pop open my glove compartment and tap out a hand-rolled clove.

“How’s your stash holding out?”

“That’s all that’s left.”

“I love those things.”

“Trade me,” I say.

Marcy is smoking my clove and I’m smoking her menthol, driving slowly out of camp, for the main road. I’m tense. My arms are tight. I’m worried about deer, I’m worried that I won’t be able to find the hospital.

Marcy says, “Don’t worry. I’m faking. I just wanted to get you alone for a while.”


Her foot is wrapped in white and Marcy is on crutches when we come out the hospital. I didn’t know where hicksville hospitals would be so we just drove to Philadelphia. Now we’re on Race street. The car’s down a block.

“Actually,” Marcy says, “You wanna hang out?”

“Yeah.” I’d love a little time in the city before we’re stuck at Camp Lake for another week. “Where?”

“There’s an Unos down this way.”

“The one on South Street?”

“No, there’s one right over this way.”

“Do you want me to drive?”

“We can totally walk,” she says. “It’s like two blocks.”

“Actually.” I step into the street. “Let’s go to this place I love. We’ll get a cab.” I’m looking up Broad. There’s no fucking cabs out.

We walk down Broad and get a cab at City Hall. The guy lets Marcy sit in the front.

“We’re going down South Street,” I say, “Bridget Foy’s.”

Our cab driver is from Kenya. “What happened,” he says, “to your foot.”

He takes Pine, as is the custom, then turns on 8th Street.

Marcy tells him about her foot. We’re explaining that we’re camp counsellors and he’s telling us that he’s Christian when we pull around on 2 Street.

“Hey,” Marcy says, “I’m hungry. Do they have food here?”

I smile.

“Kitchen’s open ‘till 3am.” Our bartender, Chelsea, cups my hands in hers. “For you, 3:30.”

“This is my friend Marcy,” I say.

“Whatcha havin’?”

“Food,” Marcy says.

“And you?”

“What do you think.”

“Chelseadrink?” she says.

Now Chelsea. There’s a girl I want to fuck.


Marcy’s eating a beef shish kabob and sipping a gin martini and I’m drinking my Chelseadrink. Marcy’s crutches lean against the bar. It’s raining.

“This is gonna be awesome. Crutches. Mud. Camp Lake.”

“Yeah,” I say, “you’ve got excellent timing.”

“Whose idea was it to play soccer on a wood floor anyway?”

“Oscar.”

“Remind me to spank him when we get back.”

Chelsea puts her elbows on the bar. “This guy you’re gonna spank. Is he cute?” Chelsea waits for the response.

I look to Marcy. I’m not gonna respond to whether Oscar is cute.

“Do you want his number?” Marcy says.

“When you spank him,” Chelsea asks, “are you gonna use your crutch?” Then Chelsea goes back to working.

Chelsea has red hair. Size B breasts. When she mops, she skates with rags on her feet. I doubt her boss likes that but I love it.

I drink my drink. I open up around Marcy. Partially it’s because she’s not a love interest. I have a murky look about me.

“What’s wrong?”

I’m drinking more lately. I’ll have another Chelseadrink before we drive back. My fantasies are increasingly antisocial, like right now I’m imagining getting in my car and not going back to Camp Lake. I don’t care if people write me off. It doesn’t have anything to do with me.

“Matt.”

I inhale, exhale. “Yeah.”

“Where you at?”

“Can we have a What-Happens-At-Bridget-Foy’s-Stays-At-Bridget-Foy’s moment?”

Marcy says, “Of course.”

I push my drink toward the back of the bar. Chelsea takes the glass.

“It’s..being around Maddy again..”

And Marcy says, “You mean Ocean City?”

I’m looking Marcy straight in the eye. “It’s just..Beth..with Sean..”

Marcy says, “You don’t have to say it.”

“..there’s..more..to that story.”

Marcy gives me a look: don’t discuss this here.

I’m tapping my fingers on the bar. There’s no one around us. I’m just gonna say it. I lean in to Marcy, open my mouth, but she stops me.

“Look,” she says, “I’ve thought this through. For years. As I’m sure you have too. And look. I wasn’t buddy-buddy with Beth. And I know you were. Okay? I know you guys were always off on little errands and I know Beth told you things that she didn’t tell anybody else. And now you and Maddy are the same way. Maybe it’s just genetics, you know, maybe you can’t control it. Whatever you’re about to say, though, think of this: what good is it gonna do? Sean..” Marcy shoots a look at Chelsea. “Sean is dead. Been dead for ten years. His family—” Marcy hisses “—his family has dealt with it. And nothing you’re gonna say—nothing—is going to bring Beth back. So think about that. Is what you’re gonna say—and I know you know something, don’t think that I don’t, but—is what you’re gonna say going to help Maddy and the rest of us, or is it going to hurt Maddy and the rest of us. Honestly. What other basis are you making your decision on?” Marcy looks over.

Chelsea is standing there. “Chelseadrink?” she says.

She pushes the pink liquid across the bar.

I put the glass to my lips and drink.

It’s a lot stronger than it looks.


When Marcy gets back there’s a lot of hmmm-ing and ha-ing over her foot and then we’re back where we started. In the rain.

“What do you guys wanna do?”

“Let’s play indoor! I’m kidding.”

“Thanks.”

“Let’s play cards. You want to?”

“I’ll go for some Mao.”

“No, please, I can’t remember the rules.”

“We’ll show you.”

“You can’t show her.”

“You’ll pick it up.”

“I can never get it. You guys play. I’ll watch.”

“That’s no fun. I want to do something where we’re all together.”

“How bout a game of truth or dare?”

“Mmm,” Julie Jane says, “that sounds good.”

“You remember truth or dare, don’t you Matt?”

I squint at Maddy.

“Don’t you?”

“Of course.”

“Matt here went inside a closet with my sister once for some truth or dare action. As some of you may recall. What was it? Was it more truth that happened in that closet? Or was it dare?”


“Are we gonna have a problem?”

“I don’t know,” Maddy says, “Are we?” She lights her cigarette. It’s a Parliament. Maddy shoves the lighter back in her pocket. She leans on the porch railing.

Behind her is that deep black forest, so black it’s almost green again. And behind that is a lightning sky.

“What did my sister tell you inside that closet?”

“Why are you asking me that?”

“Do you ever think about that? About what she told you?”

“Of course I do.”

“Then what did she say?” Maddy is dragging deep on her cig. Her fingers shaking. I think I see goosebumps on her forearms.

I’m looking at her trying to make the connection between her as a sixteen-year-old and her now.

She’s looking at me like she’s angry. And she should be.

Maddy puts her cigarette at her side. Balances it on the curved top of the railing.

From inside the meeting hall, I hear Piglet say, “Well that’s lovely.”

And Oscar: “Holy Toledo.”

I can’t go in there yet. I’m not up for truth or dare. I can’t be happy-go-lucky with Maddy here. I’m not that happy-go-lucky in general. What do I want to say to this girl? Maybe nothing. Maybe there isn’t a way forward. That’s some dumb trait I have in common with my dad: we both think that, by ourselves, without the other’s participation, we can make things go well. Like in a relationship. Maddy might always hate me. She should. I want her to. She should hate me. And if she wants to have it out here, fine. Better now than later in the week. Or maybe we can settle, now, on not talking to each other. Except I don’t think she wants that. And I don’t want that. And maybe things can never be okay between us.

Some things, once they happen, they really don’t go away. You can’t outlive your own ability to hold onto them. So they’re always with you.

The ash on Maddy’s Parliament is about an inch long and it’s threatening to upset the cigarette’s balance.

I sit on the railing beside Maddy and pick up her cigarette. The ash falls off and I drag on what’s left of the cig.

Maddy laughs. “Here. Let me get you another one.” She fishes out her pack.

“That’s okay,” I say, “I’m’onna smoke these.”

I get my cloves out.

“You still have some of those?”

“You want one?”

“If you don’t mind,” Maddy says.

But it’s Beth’s voice that’s in my head.

I dare you. To come into that closet with me. For five minutes.


We’re all in Beth’s room at the Westin, room 332. This is where Beth and Maddy and Sarah and Suzette are sleeping. It’s me and Beth and Maddy and Sarah and Suzette, and Hannigan’s there, and Brian, and Blake. We’re playing truth or dare. This was Beth’s idea. She was the one pushing it. If we were at the church we would play sardines and that would be cover enough to make out, but sardines at the Westin would suck because we couldn’t turn out the lights.

It was Maddy’s turn. “I don’t know. Tell Hannigan. Sarah tell Hannigan—or..I don’t know. Make Hannigan—do you want a truth or a dare?”

Sarah says, “Dare.”

“How come everyone’s picking dare??”

Everyone always picks dare. Veteran truth or dare players know that this is the least dangerous option.

“It’s her choice! She picked dare! Hurry up!”

“I dare you to..kiss Hannigan—”

“That’s not a dare! She kisses him all the time.”

“Shut up! I dare you to kiss Hannigan on..the..I dare you to lift up Hannigan’s shirt and kiss him on the..”

“Say it you fucking puss. Kiss him on the nipple? Grow up.” Beth knocks Maddy in the back of the head. A friendly sister-slap.

“Ow! Fuck you! Kiss him on the nipple. Both nipples. With us watching.”

“And don’t let your dick get hard!!”

“Just kiss him quick.”

“Who’s next?”

“I’ll go.”

“Truth or dare.”

“Dare.”

“Okay. You. Have to come into the closet. With me. For five minutes.”

And then everyone says, “Oooooooohhhhhhhh!”


“And what did she tell you when you were in there?”

“She told me about that guy we met on the boardwalk.”

“Sean.”

“Yeah. Why are you asking this?”

“I wanna know what she told you.”

“She told me that Sean raped her.”

“But she and Sean were hookups!! They hooked up every year!”

“I know!”

“What else did she tell you?”

“She said she went to his condo and he raped her.”

“And then what?”

“You know.”

“What did you and Blake do?”

“We went to his house.”

“And?”

The lightning cracks. I duck involuntarily.

Rain is pouring onto the deck, and us.

“Let’s go to my car,” I say.

Maddy says, “Let’s go to mine.”

We’re in there for hours. At some point Megan comes out, stands on the porch of the meeting hall, shields her eyes with her hand, peers into the rain. Maddy has her radio on, deep bass vibrating the gravel of the parking lot. We smoke. And when I say we smoke, I mean we smoke until the backs of our throats are dry. I’m alternating Parliaments and cloves to slow this process.

“Maybe you think,” Maddy says, “based on that suggestion, that I don’t understand your spirituality, since your spirituality would never have the need for drugs. But I’m not suggesting that your spirituality needs drugs, or that you would need drugs to be spiritual. I’m not saying your spirituality is incomplete without drugs. I just happen to know that there is spirituality that includes some drugs. Anyway you’re on drugs right now.”

“I like this one.” I’m on a Parliament.

“Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.” Maddy takes a drag.

“I’m here on a journey,” I say. “I don’t know what all spirituality entails for you, or for me—”

“I know,” she says, “That’s cause you’re still trying to figure out whether you believe in god.”

“And you have this figured out?”

“Yes.”

“Then what are you doing here?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “But that’s the difference between me and you. Neither of us knows why we’re here. You just think you do.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m not asking you to understand me. And I’m not looking for a connection. This is more than I talk to my own mother. I don’t connect with people. That’s why I live where I live. That’s why you’re not welcome to come for a visit. It’s because..you and I can talk..but there’s no real connection between us. I’m sorry if you find that offensive but it’s the truth.”

Maddy’s hand is on the car key.

“You get to a point..” she says, “..where you lose so much..that there’s nothing left to fear. Beth was just the beginning of that for me.”

I’m looking at this girl. This beautiful girl.

“Losing someone is just the first part of your education on loss. You know that saying about being loneliest in a crowded room? You don’t have to experience death to know real loss. It helps. But real loss is when people don’t live up to your expectations, when your illusions are shattered. That’s the real loss..when what you hope..and what the world is..are disconnected. Do you feel connected?”

“What do you mean by that?”

Maddy taps my chest. “Do you feel connected? I can never get connected. But I have to honor the fact that I’m not connected by not being around people I’m not connected to. In my case that’s my mom. Which may seem savage to you but she and I have never gotten along. She doesn’t understand me. She doesn’t care to understand me—”

“She must at least want to understand you.”

“She may want to but she doesn’t have the skills.”

“What do you do these days?”

“What do I do?”

“Yeah.”

“Sit at home,” she says. “Drink. Watch Traffic.”

“I can’t tell if you’re joking.”

“That’s what makes this fun.”

Maddy takes her hand off the key. She’s looking distant.

“We kill people to hide the truth,” she says. “We’re a people who have forgotten what we used to know. We have these texts. The Bible. Within the context of our culture, we think a thing is true. We kill say, a Galileo because he presents an idea that’s controversial. But it’s not controversial. It’s only controversial within that culture. We say it’s revolutionary, but Galileo wasn’t the first person to say the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe.”

“Who was it?”

“There were people way before him who knew that.”

“Sometimes we kill to maintain the truth.”

“No,” she says. “We kill to hide the truth. That is why there are books missing from the Bible. That is why wars are fought.”

“Maddy.”

“It is not to maintain the truth. It is to bury it. The native Americans knew things that we don’t know now. Is that progress? The Egyptians knew things that we don’t know now. That’s not the progression of truth. That’s a systematic hiding of the truth. That is what culture is doing. That is what cultural dominance gives you. An erasure of the truth. Except it’s not erased completely. It’s erased enough that we can’t get at it. But there’s evidence left behind..enough that we know another truth was here.”

“And you think that’s aliens.”

“Not necessarily. But why do we assume that if the Egyptians could move rocks that they must have had the same type of technology as ours..in the sense that we’re surprised that more evidence of the tools isn’t left behind. It’s because we’re investigating them from within the context of our culture, in which there is a local truth that says that tools for moving and cutting stone must look like blah blah blah. But that’s not some universal truth. That’s just a cultural truth. So we’re looking at something from outside our culture, with our very narrow cultural filters, and we’re saying, this must be aliens. They could have been singing to cut those stones. Sound cuts things! They had clay pots, right? They could have had chemistry. They might have cut those stones with sulphuric acid!”

“What did you say your degree was in again?”

“I don’t have one. Well. Environmental science. I’m five credits short of graduation.”

“Why don’t you graduate?”

“You know, Matthew, I really don’t have time for that.”

“Yeah, that one class is gonna kill your year.”

“Yeah, it really is. You wanna do a line of coke with me?”

“What?”

“You wanna do a line of coke with me.”

I look at her.

“No, I don’t want to do a line of coke with you. I did a line of coke with you once before.”

“I remember. Well? You wanna do it in the bathroom? Walk me.”

She opens her door.

“Come on. Keep me company.”

“While you do a line of coke.”

She closes her door.

“Yes. We’ll talk. We’ll do a line of coke. And I can educate you..maybe we’ll do two lines of coke..on whatever subject..you want to know about.”

“Gee. Maddy. That sounds fabulous.”

“Great. What subject should we start with?”

“How ‘bout let’s start with why you’re doing coke in the first place. Is that a subject you can educate me on?”

“I guess ‘cause I’m bored.”

“Don’t you think you can find something better to entertain you?”

“Better in what way?”

“How about something that doesn’t kill you.”

“Like what?”

“Like most things. Why don’t you get another degree. Or..what did you say you did for work again?”

Maddy rolls her eyes.

“If you don’t believe in God,” I say, “then why are you here?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re here as a counsellor. We’re supposed to be getting ready to help these kids. So when they get here we can guide them.”

“Do you see me doing anything that I shouldn’t? With them do you think I will. With them, do you think I’ll do anything that’s inappropriate? I don’t have to have your exact beliefs to do this. Okay? Are you okay with that or do you plan to make this an issue?”

“There’s no issue. I’m not making an issue. I just want to know what your overarching goal is.”

“In life?”

“For this week, in being here, in your life. As part of your life, what is this week doing for you? Or..what does it mean to you?”

“I can’t state it in a sentence, Matt.”

“Okay.”

“And if you did, it would be a corny sentence. It would be. No offense to you but don’t talk to me right now. Just. I’m busy. Can you go away?”

She turns up the volume and looks out her door. The lights on the EQ dance.

“What music is this?”

Maddy changes it. “That’s not suitable for you.”

“No?”

“No. You’re not ready. I doubt you know why you’re here.”

“You don’t think I know why I’m here?”

“No. I don’t think you do.”

“I’m here because I’m trying—”

“You’re wrong already. Don’t try. You’re talking about difficulty. I’m talking about ease. I’m talking about the opposite of difficulty. Ease..comes upon you. It’s like waves. You don’t have to work at it. Working at it doesn’t work. The only thing that works with ease is to let it come upon you. Like you’re lying on the shore. Things don’t happen for a reason. Reason happens later.”

“Your kindof skip-around subject-style is psychopathic.”

“I’m not a psychopath,” Maddy insists. “I have,” she says, “psychopathic tendencies.”

“That’s so good,” I say, “I’ll tell the campers that when they get here tomorrow. You have psychopathic tendencies?! I’m sure they’ll be very relieved.”

“Don’t be sarcastic. Or I’ll smote you.”

I’m shaking my head. “You’re going to smote me?”

“Yeah. Or don’t you know what that means?”

“I have some idea,” I say. It means she’s going to wipe me from the face of the earth.

Maddy starts talking. I think she’s praying. “We’ve forgotten what happened.” She’s looking straight ahead. “We need reminding. Remind us.” She starts rocking. “Remind me. Show me what I’ve forgotten. There is evidence, here, of what we were before.”

Maybe she’s not praying. Maybe she’s just ranting.

“But,” she looks at me, “the evidence doesn’t add up. That could mean we’re missing clues. It could mean we’re investigating the wrong way.”

I put my hand on Maddy’s neck.

“Stop! Don’t.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Just keep your fingers together. If you don’t it feels like snakes.”

Maddy puts my hand back on her neck. I keep my fingers together.

She’s gripping the steering wheel, looking ahead, like she’s in a trance.

Sometimes I’m washing my hair and the soap breeds snakes. I dream that. Or sometimes I think it when I’m in the shower. I always think of Head & Shoulders commercials from when I was a kid and my dad saying the word “lather” and then when I have my fingertips on my scalp and my hair is all soapy, I think of little snakes coming out from the folds of hair, like friendly worms, who’ve found an appropriate place to live.

Maddy’s looking at me. I think she’s trying to tell me something. I’m trying to listen.

I cum like a house on fire. I cum like a kittyn. I’ll come on your face if you touch me right. But mostly I come alone. Mostly I come in the woods. With dirt. I’m a dendrophile. I like leaves. Plants. Dirt. Bark if I’m wearing jeans. I like to rub against them, like to hug and kiss them. Like to run between them and run them between me. Like to ride them like a pony. Like to feed them to myself. Like to put them between my teeth. Mash them, chew them, spit them out. I like to swallow them, then shit them, then leave shit behind. Dendrophilia has puppy-love forms as well. Dendrophiles are not all pornographically-hardcore. I’m making a distinction there. I hope you see it. It’s like the difference between sticking a piece of bark up your ass and carrying around a forsythia petal in the top of your shorts because you like it. The former is pornographic dendrophilia. The latter is puppy-love dendrophilia. The two are not mutually exclusive. I wonder if there’s a DSM for the phelias. I would like to see the entry for what I have. I doubt it’s been written yet. Has your entry been written yet? For your sake, let’s hope not. I would hate to live my life in such a way that my entry had been written yet. That would be horrible. I recommend living such that some dull motherfucker in an office someday will have to write your entry, rather than him meeting you and reaching for the DSM and finding you on page 1073. When I turn to page 1073, I find instructions for how to make me cum. It says: lick forsythia root, steal forsythia petals, rub soft fuzzy African violet leaves against my lips, rub soft fuzzy African violet leaves on the tendrils just inside my ear, rub fuzzy African violet leaves on the soft part of the soles of my feet, between the ball and the heel, under the arch, break twigs in my fingers every time I sit in the grass, pull them up between my fingers and the padding of my thumb, snap them, and send them on their way. Find another one. Roll it in my hand. Snap it. Flick it. Wish it well. And goodbye.

“I gotta get Blake a new kite,” she’s saying.

She puts the car in reverse.

“Right now? Where you gonna get it?”

“Fuck fuck fuck. I fucked up his kite. Of course the guy’s gonna hate me—”

“He doesn’t. Let’s get some sleep.”

“Okay. Sleep. That is a good idea.”

“Maddy. Come sleep with me in my cabin.”

“I’m not allowed past The Turn in the Road.”

“We’ll go the back way. We’ll be quiet. No one cares.”

“No,” she says. “I can’t. I mean I can’t sleep in a cabin. It’s too claustrophobic. Thank you though. I’m going into the city. I’ve gotta get Blake a new kite. And I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She gives me a blank stare.

“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yep,” she says.

I get out of the car.

Maddy backs out, and she’s gone.

The meeting hall is dark.

It’s just me.

Someday I’m going to die.

And when I die I want it to be with someone I like.

I wouldn’t have minded if I had died in that crash with Beth.

If I had died with her, it would have been okay. The last thing I would remember would be crunching sounds and Beth saying, “Oh fuck” in this really muted way. Then I would have the assurance of having been with her when I died..or maybe when she died. When I think about death I hope it’s with someone I love, like my mom. I think of her standing over me, and me viewing everything through a tunnel, and me dying. But she would be holding me in her arms, and that would make it okay.

And Beth..I don’t know..we’re lucky she didn’t kill us in that accident.

But I kinda wish she had.

Small Group

One day Beth woke up in a bed in room 332 at the Westin, Ocean City. She woke up with her sister next to her. She woke up looking at the sky.

Was she thinking, today will be the day I die?

No, she wasn’t. She was thinking about brushing her teeth because her breath stank and how Maddy farted and that she could get into the shower before Suzette or Sarah woke up. That’s what she was thinking—that or something like it. Just stupid stuff. Normal stuff. That’s what makes it so unbearable.

No one was there to hold Beth’s hand. She did that all by herself. I read this story about a mountain climber who killed himself. The article said that from where he jumped, he would have had to get a running start. Beth died like that. I can see her in 332 with that box of razors, peeling them out of the safety dispenser, cutting the shit out of herself. It’s so fucking stupid. I wish she’d never done that.


Sony sits in the Chair of Shimmering Velvet. He’s spry, like a teenager. His skinny legs are propped on the arm of the chair, his ankles higher than his heart.

He asks me what I’m doing here.

“Organizing my curriculum.”

“How old are you?” he says.

“How old are you, you freak? You never tell me..”

Sony says, “You tell me first.”

I say, “Twenty-four.”

He says, “You should be outside. Go outside and play.” And he gets up from the Chair and leaves my meeting room.

“I just want to make sure I get this right,” I say.

Sony shouts back at me, as he goes down the hall, “You are like the farmer. You can plant the seed. You can till the soil. It is up to the sun and the wind and the rain to do the rest..”

Piglet comes in. She says, “How old is that guy?”

“He’s old enough to be my great great great great..”

But Piglet loses interest before I can tell her. She sits in the Chair and I shuffle over.

“What seems to be the problem?”

But she won’t say anything.

“Do you want some time alone?”

Piglet shakes her head. She ties something around my wrist. It’s wire, wrapped in a tight spiral. Alternating colors lay against each other.

“Did you make that? That’s awesome.”

“It’s a friendship bracelet. We’re friends.”

”I remember when we did friendship bracelets. That was a big deal when your girlfriend gave you a friendship bracelet.”

“You guys did ‘em too, though.”

“Yeah, we did ‘em, it wasn’t just for lovers. Me and my friend Aaron had friendship bracelets we traded, and this wasn’t even at camp. I think we had matching rings.”

“That’s kindof gay.”

“No, it wasn’t. We were best friends!”

“Rings is like something you do when you get married.”

“It’s also something ten-year-old boys do when they’re bestest friends.”

“Matthew, I want to ask you something. Will you wear my bracelet?”

I give Piglet a look.

She’s got the bracelet off her wrist and is putting it on mine.

I brush the bangs out of her eyes, which I shouldn’t have done.

She fastens the end of the wire through the loop and twists it several times. She says, “Now we’re hitched.”

And I look away. “I’ve never seen one like that before.”

“Yeah, it’s just telephone wire. It’s a twist on the original. I thought people could use a break from the same-ole same-ole.”

“Thanks Piglet. I’m glad we’re friends.”

“If you want to stop by my activity booth, this’s what we’ll be doing! Making these.”

“Thanks Pig.”


“Welcome to Camp Lake. What’s your name?”

“Marcus.”

“Hey Marcus. I’m Matt. Welcome.”

I love this part. These are the greatest kids you’ll ever meet.

This is why I do this shit.

They show up with their parents and their little brothers and sisters and they’ve overpacked and they’re looking around nervously. Even the ones who think they’re acting cool, I remember that, I remember how that used to feel. If you knew people from the year before, if you got here in a group, then you had your peeps, and you felt cool, and you said hi to the people you know. But they don’t look cool, none of them. They look like a bunch of acne-ridden aliens, and I love them all the more for that.

Here’s one, a girl with a pink sports shirt that says “12” on it.

Here’s one, a guy with a paperback in his hand. What is that? Is that Asimov? It is. The kid is reading Foundation and Earth. Stop the presses. We’ve got a classic sci-fi reader. This is going to be a great year.

I’ve got Julie Jane under my arm. “Look at these kids.”

“I know.”

“This is fantastic.”

“Check-in is this way!” Julie Jane is beaming. I love that girl.

“Welcome to Camp Lake. What’s your name?”

The guy looks annoyed. “Jamison,” he says. That guy is dressed in army gear, boots, fatigues, an ammo strap.

“‘D’you bring your foot powder?” Sony asks Jamison.

Jamison crosses his eyes. “What?”

“Foot powder,” Sony says. “What kind of socks are those?”

“I don’t know,” Jamison says.

“Well you need to know,” Sony says. “You never know when a ten-minute walk will turn into a two-week survival hike.”

Julie Jane is at the check-in desk. Short blond kid in front of her. I see Julie Jane turn over the kid’s name tag, as if she’s going to find some additional information on the back. She hands the kid his name tag. “Your name is Nixon?”

“Yeah, well, don’t worry about that,” he says. He’s got this kindof mock-depression. It’s very cute.

“Welcome. You’re in Deerfoot cabin with Oscar.” She points at me. “That guy will tell you where to go.

“Okay,” Nixon says.

And Julie says, “Have a good week!”

Then this kid says, literally, “Don’t worry about my life.” But—and it’s hard to explain this, but—it was very endearing the way he said it.

“Why did your parents name you Nixon?” Julie asks.

“Because they hate me.”

“No, seriously.”

“Worry about your own life, okay?”

Julie Jane didn’t mind that he said that. Nixon cracked her up. He’s like a little deadpan Eeyore comedian. We all came to like Nixon.

Piglet is beside me in the dinner line. Sony serves the food.

“Ohhhh, potatoes. Sony, thank you.”

Sony dishes potato cubes onto Piglet’s tray. “Potatoes for Piglet.”

“Your food is so good. Where did you learn cooking?”

“Ha! I was a chef in one of my lifetimes. For you, I put an extra spice. Paprika.”

“Just for me?”

“Just for you. Tell me if you can taste it.”

“I will. Thank you Sony!” Piglet’s arm touches mine as we move down the aisle. “Can I sit next to you?” she asks.

“Of course you can.”

But I didn’t eat much. And neither did Piglet. Something from our last meal together as counsellors had gotten us all sick. Piglet and I sat in a group of mixed campers and counsellors. I sucked Jello through my straw and Piglet joined me. After dinner, on empty stomachs, we go outside to demonstrate our Jello trick, which is where Piglet puts Jello in her mouth, then she leans backwards and I put my mouth around her nose and blow. The Jello shoots out. There’s a crowd around us, people laughing. Then I put Jello in my mouth and lean over backwards and Piglet blows in my nose. We get a six-foot arc.

Then campers try it.

And Julie Jane and Oscar try it.

And people are getting to know each other.

This girl Liz steps to this kid Edwards after he says something to her. Edwards backs down. Liz yells at him: “What is it? What is it Edwards? Are you scared of my height?”

This girl Mai, at dinner, was sitting with her legs open and stuff showing. Outside, I see her lift her skirt at Jamison, the guy who brought an ammo strap to Christian camp. I look at Maddy: are you seeing this?

“Yeah,” Maddy says, “That’s called anasyrma. That girl’s gonna have problems when she grows up.”

Then we break into small groups and I’m doing my first group-building exercise. My group-building exercise involves using the entire six foot length of multiple packages of Bubble Tape, trying to get said Bubble Tape from the roof of the meeting hall into your partner’s mouth, who is standing one story below you.

“I assume this is your mixer?” Blake says.

I look at my kids. They’re mixing.

“You could have mentioned this to the group,” Blake says. “I think we could have all benefited from your suggestions.”

“I did mention it,” I say.

Blake slinks off, shaking his head. “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes.”

I turn around. “I assume you’re quoting Isaiah?”

“Yes.”

“Well you’re misquoting it.”

I think he was better off when he carried around The Art of War.


Maxwell’s cabin is the PeeWee cabin. There are four boys cabins and four girls cabins. The boys section of the camp is way away from the girls. The girls cabins are right by the canteen, the amphitheatre, the mess hall. To get to the boys cabins you have to walk about a mile along the side of a ravine. The cabins were named before I ever started going to Camp Lake. Each cabin’s name is engraved in wood above the door. The girls cabins are named Rainbow, Buttercup, April, and Star. The boys cabins are Lamborghini, Screwdriver, Deerfoot, and PeeWee.

That was the cabin Maxwell got put in. The PeeWee cabin.

The PeeWee cabin has two bunks and two single beds. In one of the single beds is Edwards, this bleach-blond guy from Norristown. Edwards is a world class fiddler. He gets to sleep in a single bed because he got to camp early. The other single bed has a name taped on the side of the frame. It says “Matt.” I’m Maxwell’s cabin counsellor, but Maxwell hasn’t seen me yet. In one of the bunkbeds, on the bottom, is this guy named Tislam. That top bunk is empty. Maxwell is in the bunk across from Tislam. Maxwell is on the bottom. On the top is this guy named Pierce.

When Maxwell gets there it’s just Edwards and Pierce. Edwards has already staked out his single bunk, and Pierce has already staked out his place on one of the top bunks. When Maxwell goes in they’re talking.

“So this chick was like pulling on it. And she was pulling real hard.”

“No she wasn’t.”

“Yes she was, bro, I’m serious, bro.”

That’s when Maxwell comes in. Edwards and Pierce stop talking. They both stare at Maxwell’s shorts. Maxwell knows he doesn’t have the most classic shorts in the western hemisphere. These are his shorts he wears when he’s going to be in a church van for 10 hours to get to this place.

Maxwell holds out his hand and says his name.

Edwards doesn’t shake Maxwell’s hand. He looks at his hand, like it’s got something on it, and he says, “You know you’re a real shit, Maxwell. I knew that from the moment I met you.” Edwards laughs. “Where did you get those shorts?”

Maxwell puts his duffel bag on the floor. Apparently it’s a little closer to the bunk that Pierce is on than it is to the bunk that’s still empty, because Pierce says, “Are you gay or something?”

That bunk is Pierce’s bunk. If Maxwell sleeps on the bottom bunk when Pierce is on the top bunk, then Maxwell’s gay. If Maxwell doesn’t place his bag as far as possible from Pierce’s bag, and from the bunk Pierce already occupies, then Maxwell’s gay. If Maxwell doesn’t sleep in the bunk that is still empty, but rather chooses to sleep on the bottom bunk where Pierce is already on the top, then Maxwell is gay. But Maxwell’s not moving his stuff because Pierce says so. That would violate a much greater principle of his. So he leaves it. He sits down on the bunk below Pierce, where Pierce does not stop dangling his legs, and Maxwell looks from the door, to Edwards, to the door.

Edwards says, “I’m sorry man. What’s your name again?”

“Maxwell.”

Edwards says, “Max. Man. Where did you get those shorts?”

Max is unpacking his stuff, setting out his cap and his flashlight and his hiking boots. Maybe he should have got here earlier.

There’s a violin case on Edwards’ bed. Edwards gingerly picks it up and opens it. He takes out the bow and a cake of rosin and runs the rosin up and down the strings.

“Play something. This guy claims to be a prize-winning violist.”

“I’m a champion fiddler. A world-class fiddler. This isn’t a viola.”

“Violin, whatever.”

“This isn’t a violin. It’s a fiddle.” Edwards is listening to the strings as he applies the rosin.

Maxwell can’t hear a thing.

But Edwards seems to hear something.

Pierce jumps off the top bunk. “Play something, if you’re so world-class.”

“I think you’re a virgin, Pierce.”

“Whatever. I told you I’m not.”

“I think you are. It’s a feeling I have.”

“So the fact I already told you about that girl in the treehouse pulling on my dick, when I was like six, that doesn’t mean anything to you.”

“No. No.” Edwards sets down his rosin. “I don’t think she was pulling on your dick.”

“It doesn’t matter what you think,” Pierce says, “because she was pulling on it.”

“Why,” Maxwell says, shaking his head, “was she pulling on it.”

“Why the fuck do you think, bro?”

Edwards laughs, like he’s trying to outdo melodramatic villains everywhere. If he had long hair he would shake it, but he doesn’t, so he’ll just have to deal with that peach fuzz.

“That’s not what I mean. I mean why was she pulling it. What do you mean exactly, pulling?”

“She was trying to get my jizz to come out.”

“Right. Nevermind.”

“Except this guy doesn’t believe me.”

“I don’t. I don’t believe you. I don’t even know if you’ve throat-kissed a girl.”

“Of course I’ve throat-kissed a girl. I throat-kissed that one. The one in the treehouse.”

“What was her name?”

“She’s our next door neighbor, you don’t think I know her name?”

“What is her name?”

“I’m not telling you.”

“I knew it.”

“No, I’m not telling you because I don’t have to tell you. Play us a song if you’re such a world-class fiddler, then. I don’t have to prove to you her name. You’re never going to meet that girl. You wouldn’t know if I’m lying, so I’m not telling you her name. Are you gonna stop messing with that and play a song??” Pierce goes up on Edwards and grabs the fiddle out of its case.

Edwards looks like you just stole an infant child, or a nuclear detonator, from him. He stands. “You give that back.”

Pierce holds the instrument away from Edwards, high in the air. Pierce is taller than Edwards. Pierce says, “How many girls have you kissed?”

“If you’ve kissed more than twelve girls, then you’ve got hepatitis C,” Edwards says. “And I’ve got hepatitis C.” He reaches for his fiddle.

Pierce reels back.

Edwards is very still. He says, “If you don’t hand that over I’m going to cut your head off and skullfuck you with nine inches of limpdick.”

“What the fuck?!!”

“Give it back. That’s very delicate.”

“What the fuck is ’nine inches of limpdick’?!! You’re going to skullfuck me with it? Here, here.”

“Just. Set it down gently. Don’t hand it to me. You might drop it. Set it on the bed. You’ve never been skullfucked before?”

Pierce is laughing so hard he can barely hold onto the violin. He sets it on the bed.

Edwards positions himself between Pierce and the instrument. He picks it up with both hands and lays it inside the case. “This is very rare. Do you know how much this is worth? Do you even know anything about fiddling?”

“What the fuck is nine inches of limpdick??”

“This is a very expensive violin. That’s how long my dick is, you fucktard.”

“No it isn’t.”

“Yes it is. This violin is worth..probably more than your dad makes in a year.”

“I mean your dick. And what did you say to me? You’re going to skullfuck me with it??! Holy shit. What does your dad do?”

“Don’t worry about my dad. Worry about your skull after the lights go out tonight. That’s what you should worry about. Don’t ever touch this violin again. I’m serious. Don’t touch it. I’ll cut off your head and skullfuck you you dickweed. How much does your dad make in a year? Where did you say you’re from again? You’ve probably never seen a car that’s worth as much as this instrument.”

“I thought you said it was called a fiddle.”

“It is you fuckweed. This fiddle is worth more than your life.”

Edwards sets the case lengthwise on his bed, his back to Pierce.

Pierce looks at Maxwell and shakes his head.

“If it’s so expensive,” Maxwell says, “why did you bring it to camp?”

When Maxwell hears Edwards say the word “skullfucking,” Maxwell thinks of someone’s head being cut off at the neck, and then someone else sticking their dick through the wide cavern where the neck now opens into the skull of the beheaded person. Even though he doesn’t want to think this, Maxwell also is aware of the symmetry of the upper half and lower half of the severed neck, and he is unable to help from realizing that if you could skullfuck a person through the neck, upward into the skull, that you could also skullfuck them through the neck, downward into the torso. That’s what Maxwell thinks of when he hears Edwards say the word “skullfuck.”

He doesn’t think of it as an adult might. We might imagine a scenario of violent oral sex, or of stabbing someone in the head with a knife. Repeatedly stabbing someone in the head with a Special Forces murder knife. A serrated knife with an unnecessarily large blade. A knife designed more to attract the attention of pubescent boys peering into display cases than for any other purpose. Except possibly skullfucking.

No. What Maxwell sees, in his mind’s eye, when Edwards talks of skullfucking, is a severed head and torso—the result of bizarre and inexact beheading—and a dick—his dick—going inside the neck and up into the empty skull. He doesn’t think of the muscles and ligaments and brains that you or I might imagine given this initial scenario for skullfucking. He imagines the head as empty.

You or I, having had normal adult sexual experiences, if we think of fucking anything, do not imagine that the thing we are fucking is empty. If we are forced to imagine skullfucking, we bring with it our ideas of fucking, and add to that the idea of a skull.

Maxwell does not have this luxury.

Maxwell is stuck imagining skullfucking without having much of an idea of what any kind of fucking is like, so when Maxwell pictures skullfucking he pictures the skull being more or less empty. It has bloody flesh around the outsides, of course, and he imagines the tendrils and veins hanging down from the neck. Not as spinal cord exactly, but as a stringy collection of tendrils and veins.

It reminds Maxwell of this time when he was young and he was in the playroom at church and he had picked his nose. And out had come—at least in Maxwell’s memory of this event, which happened when he was probably two..out had come—a twisted strand of two blood vessels, one red, one blue, coiled together like telephone wire. And Maxwell had eaten it. He had eaten it, so that no one else would see it, mostly. And he had eaten it so that he would never have to look at it again, because seeing that once was enough. Enough for a whole lifetime to have seen that booger, or whatever it was. Maybe, as a child, Maxwell’s brain hadn’t been well-formed yet and so it really was two blood vessels, one red, carrying oxygenated blood from the heart into his body, and one blue, carrying oxygen-depleted blood from his extremities back to his heart. And he had plucked it out and eaten it. Eaten his own blood, in equal parts oxygen-fed and oxygen-starved. And what had that made him, to eat that at a young age? To eat part of his own heart, part of his own cardiovascular system? That’s the kind of thing Maxwell imagines would protrude from the neck of a skull that is suitable for skullfucking.

When he thinks of skullfucking, it isn’t his skull Maxwell imagines. It’s someone else’s. Someone else’s skull cut from its body, and hanging there, just by the concept of skullfucking having been introduced to him, and he, by this concept’s existence, is required to fuck it.

“And how can you measure the expense of someone’s life anyway?”

“What in the fuck of fuck’s fuck are you talking about?”

“Your fiddle. That’s more expensive that Pierce’s life. How expensive is it?”

Kids are mean. They’re meaner than adults. Kids are still severe, because they haven’t experienced enough severity themselves. Adults lose their freshness, go stale, and are useful for very little. The exceptions to that trend are so rare as to be statistically unimportant. Kids are still mean because they don’t know the connection between what they’re doing and others’ pain. Adults are stale because they’ve forgotten the same. There must be some brief period when a person is aware of this ecology of things. But by brief, I mean about a day.


My small group is Maxwell, Kristen, David, Manny, and Katherine.

The first time I see them in that configuration is after our first dinner (where everyone sticks to the groups that they arrived in) and before our getting-to-know-you games (in which we thoroughly mix everyone up). Blake and Piglet walk around the room with a bread basket, each, of slips of paper with counsellors’ names on them. If your slip says “Matthew” on it, then I’m your counsellor. This is for small group. Cabin assignments are done before they arrive.

My group is motley. I like them already. Maxwell’s name I remember from my cabin list; he’s staying in the cabin I stay in. Kristen is pretty, tall, and her dress is slightly formal for camp. David’s hair is in front of his face. Manny’s hair is greasy; a mullet. Katherine wears jeans and long sleeves and has a book with her, even at dinner. While we play our games she sets her book at her feet. Between games she picks the book up and reads.

After our games, and once we have our groups, we show them to our meeting rooms. The meeting hall has small rooms, all in a row, and these are where our small groups meet. Each group has a room. On the door is the name of the counsellor who leads that small group. Each of us has decorated our door. Decorating the inside of the room is the first small group task. The purpose of these groups is to provide a more intimate family-type setting in which to explore the Bible. That’s why we’re here. It’s a Christian camp. It’s a spiritual journey. The small groups exist to facilitate that journey.

I lead my group to our room. By arranging the space, by setting out pillows to sit on or lean against, by setting the camper binders in a circle, I have already established ownership of the space, so I let them go in first, while I stand at the door and watch them go in.

The Chair of Shimmering Velvet catches their attention.

“What is this?” Kristen sits in it.

“That,” I say, “is the Chair of Shimmering Velvet.”

Kristen stays in the chair until the others have passed her. I wait for her to get up. She goes into the room and I follow.

“You can have a seat.”

Katherine says, “The other rooms have chairs.”

“I decided I wanted us to sit on the floor,” I say.

“What if I have a back problem,” Katherine says, “Couldn’t I sue you?”

“Do you have a back problem?” I ask.

“I’m just saying,” she says.

“I’m serious,” I say, “If you absolutely have to have a chair for some reason I will get you one.”

“No,” she says, and sits.

“I won’t ask you to do something that will hurt you.” I speak directly to Katherine. “I have a fractured vertebrae, and I can’t do overhead lifting. So, if you ask me to do any overhead lifting I will have to say no.”

I have Katherine’s attention now. “What happens if you do overhead lifting?” she asks.

“My back hurts,” I say. “Now. I have name tags in front of each of you. I’m going to wear one, too. I know we just did name games, but I want to make it very easy for us all to speak to each other, so please draw or write your name on the sticker and wear it where I can see it when I look at you. There are crayons, and there are markers, and I have a ton of highlighters here if you’d prefer to use those.”

“Do you really have a fractured vertebrae or were you just making that up?”

“I really do. I also have a broken toe. Want to see?”

“Why is your toe broken?”

“From playing soccer.”

“Oh, so you’re like so good you broke your toe playing soccer.”

“No,” I say, “I suck.”

Manny laughs.

“But I like playing, so I do it anyway. For my own enjoyment. Take a strip of paper. You can write down any question on that slip of paper. A question about the Bible, or God, or Christianity, and I will try to answer it. I’m not an expert on the Bible, but I’ve read it a few times. I’m not going to try to give the right answer to your question, I’m just going to give my perspective on it. If it’s a question with an objective answer, and I know it, I’ll say it. If it’s something subjective, we’ll use it as the start of our discussion. If it’s something objective and I don’t know, I’ll ask around and see if any of the other counsellors know. Either way, I’ll get you an answer by the end of the week.”

Maxwell, Manny, David, Kristen: they’re all writing, or at least (in Kristen’s case) looking out the window while she holds a green highlighter an inch above the paper. Katherine has set her paper beside her and is making no indications that she plans on writing anything on it.

“Your questions are anonymous. I’m not going to show them when I read them, so be honest. If you have a question, or a spirituality-oriented discussion topic, write it down.”

Manny says, “Can we do more than one?”

“Sure.”

I lean back against the wall and close my eyes. This is an exercise they did here when I was a kid. Most people put trite questions about scripture, details like whether you could believe in dinosaurs and Jesus at the same time. And when Pastor Steve would pass over a question without reading it, I assumed that was because someone just wrote “FUCK” on their paper.

I took those exercises as an opportunity to test Pastor Steve. I wrote questions that I didn’t think were lewd enough to be passed over, but that were hard to answer, and that I didn’t think Pastor Steve would find it easy to discuss in public. The whole exercise annoyed me..this guy is claiming to be able to “answer our questions” about something spiritual, or something in the Bible?? Even at that age, I knew enough about spirituality to know this was a stupid exercise.

And yet, I benefited from it. I liked the anonymous nature of the questions. I wasn’t asking questions that I thought I needed the answers to, and I certainly didn’t think this man could answer my questions, or answer any question I posed. But I liked being able to introduce some of what I thought was important, into the discourse.

The questions I wrote were unanswerable. I didn’t, even at the time, think that anyone could answer them. They were questions like: were the “days” in Genesis really 24-hour days, and were the years when they say some guy lived to be 600 really years? Or: would I go to hell if I did this thing or that thing? Or: have you read the Old Testament in the original Hebrew (and if not, doesn’t that mitigate your ability to understand the text you profess to have mastered)? Pastor Steve impressed me, I have to say. I always thought he was corny but he never once passed over a question I wrote. And he would say when he didn’t know the answer. That’s usually what he said to mine.

So why do I do this exercise? I do it because it creates ownership of the group situation right away. We do that with decorations (because we decorate the inside of the room together). That helps create a feeling of shared ownership of the small group space. But this question-on-a-slip-of-paper thing, which I do on the first night, helps create shared ownership of the discussive space. Your question is going to be what we discuss together. Your topic is important here.

This exercise isn’t in the curriculum. I suggest it every year in our brainstorming week and every year Blake votes it down. Maybe it’s because the first place Blake or I ever heard of this idea was from Blake’s dad. I tend to think that’s why.

But I do it anyway. I don’t care about the curriculum. It’s a guide. If it helps you get to where you’re going, great. If not, shed it. Anyway I don’t buy into the idea that all the small groups need to be doing the same thing in parallel to create some kind of all-camp cohesion. It’s bullshit. There’s no cohesion here. We all eat the same thing for dinner. We all swim in the same lake. There’s your cohesion.

“Put your slips in the hat there. Fold ‘em a couple of times so they’re secret.”

Kristen puts her slip in the hat and says, “Maddy says you’re a dendrophile.”

I smirk. “A what?”

“A dendrophile. She said to ask you what it means.”

I can’t help but laugh. “She told you to ask me that?”

Kristen nods.

“She’s just messing with me. She’s trying to get you to throw me off. Tell her she’s a dendrophile.”

“What’s a dendrophile?” Manny asks.

Looks from around the room suggest that no one knows.

I shake my head. “It’s someone..who..loves trees.”

Manny says, “What’s wrong with that?”

“Well, I mean, it’s someone,” I say, “who really loves trees.”

Kristen says. “Like. Who is in love with trees?”

“Like. Exactly,” I say.

David says, “Does that really exist?”

And Maxwell’s face is red.

“I don’t know,” I say, “That’s a really good question. Probably a question you should ask Maddy.”

“Why, is she like an expert on tree-love or something?”

“She might be.”

“Do you like Maddy?”

“What is this? Oprah? Ask Maddy about dendrophelia and any other related subjects. We’re doing our little Bible-question game here, remember? Are all your slips in the hat? Katherine? Are you doing this?”

“Only if you’ll let me ask a question about dendrophelia.” She scribbles something on a slip of paper and puts it in the hat.

I shake up the papers and pull one out. It’s a scribbled drawing of a tree and a person, stick-figure-style. I’m not sure which one is doing the fucking but it’s clear that one stick figure is compromising the other. I smile and set the drawing face-down beside me.

“Whose is it?” David asks.

“They’re anonymous,” I say.

I pull out the next slip of paper. This is why I do this exercise. It’s mainly because I want to see which kid in the room is most like me, in that he’ll use this exercise as an opportunity to fuck with the leader, as I did with Pastor Steve. In this room, that kid is Maxwell. This is his slip of paper. On it is written the question, “Is premarital sex a sin?”


After group I lean into Maddy’s meeting room. The lights are off. The chairs are in a circle. The camper binders are neatly placed on the chairs. Maddy’s curriculum binder is on the floor at the edge of the room.

Maxwell is behind me.

“What did you think of my answer to your question?”

“Very..slippery,” Maxwell says.

“I’m borrowing from the greats,” I say.

“Like who?”

“Like Jesus. As in, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s..?”

“I think I’m in your cabin,” Max says.

“I know you are,” I say.

“Do you know this guy Edwards that’s in it?”

“Why?”

“Edwards is always talking about nine inches of limpdick.”

“What?! What the—dude,” I say, “What are you talking about.”

“He’s just a jackass,” Maxwell says, “but it bothers me.”

“What exactly about that bothers you?”

“I’m worried. We did this thing..”

“What did you do?”

“We showed our dicks.”

“That’s a hell of a cabin-mixing exercise.”

“I know everyone’s are different sizes but—”

“Listen—”

“I mean—what if some girl doesn’t want to be with me—”

“Are we talking about a particular girl?”

“Does it matter?” Maxwell says. “Maybe. Yeah I guess I am.”

“Guy is on his honeymoon—” I say.

Maxwell keeps on. “What if this girl isn’t happy—what if—”

“Guy is on his honeymoon,” I say. “First night they’ve ever had sex. Guy unzips his pants and his new wife is standing there laughing.”

Maxwell is looking at me like I’m crazy.

I continue. “The wife says, Who do you think you’re gonna please with that?’ The guy says, Me.’ ” I put my arm around Maxwell’s shoulder. “Forget about Edmunds—”

“Edwards.”

“Whatever. Forget about Edmunds too. Edmunds is a fag.”

Maxwell is looking at me, shocked.

“Don’t let Edmunds write the script for you.”

“Edwards. Do you really think he’s a fag?”

“I don’t know Edmunds from Adam, never met him, don’t care. Edmunds isn’t here. You are. Now. This girl. Which one is it.”


“This girl is silly—she cracks me up. She’s got this obsession with hairbands. She packed leg warmers. She reminds me of me when I was in high school.”

“Leg warmers?”

“Well not exactly leg warmers.”

“Is there even such a thing as leg warmers, still?”

“They’re not leg warmers. But they’re today’s equivalent. And she has these bands she puts on her wrists, they’re like—I don’t know—they’re like a rockstar.”

“Did the other girls bring similar things?”

“I hope she wears them out so you can see them. I really hope she does. No, she’s the only one with stuff that weird—well—they’re all foreign matter, in my view.”

“We were just as weird at that age.”

“I wasn’t. I love them. I love them. They’re my girls. They’re very cute. And they’re so sweet to each other. But I wasn’t weird at that age. I was extremely boring.”

“You’re a late bloomer.”

“They’re darlings. They’re looking out for each other. I don’t know if it’ll last all week but for now, they’re doing very well. Especially Kristen.”

“She’s in my small group.”

“There’s something special about her. Did you notice it? They’re all special. But she’s a nerd. I like nerds, I don’t know why.”

“Do you like them even when they’re guys?”

“Why, are you gonna tell me you’re a nerd?”

Maddy and I are sitting in the front row of the amphitheatre. Kristen walks up to us.

“Speak of the devil. Hey Kristen.”

“People call me K. For short.”

“‘Cause Kristen’s that hard to say.”

“What should I call you, for short?”

“Maddy is already short.”

“For Madeline?”

“What do you think.”

“I think I’m gonna call you counse. Short for counsellor.”

Kristen is holding The Art of War.

“Is that Blake’s copy?”

“Who’s Blake?”

“You remember the guy who prayed at dinner.”

“Yeah. It’s his.”

Kristen reads from the book. “‘One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.”’

“Kristen—K—why does everything have to be short?”

“It’s easier to say.”

“When it’s longer, though, it’s beautiful. Not everything’s about convenience.”

Max comes up. “Are there poisonous snakes in Pennsylvania?”

Maddy defers to me.

“Well, technically, yes,” I say, “but you’re not going to find any poisonous snakes around here. Why?”

“Nothing. I just wondered.”

“Maxwell.” Kristen gives him a look. “I think I’ll call you Max.”

Three guys who were hanging back from Maxwell now come up to us.

Edwards is one of them. He goes for Kristen. “I’m Edwards. I’m a world-class fi—”

Kristen stops him. “I think I’ll call you Vitchell.”

“And this is Pierce.” Edwards presents his cabin-mate.

Kristen eyes him. “I think I’ll call you Harry.”

“And I’m Tislam.”

“That’s a nice name.”

Kristen flips through the pages of Blake’s book. “What does smote mean?”

Maddy says, “Why are you asking me?”

“Because. You’re very good at giving concise definitions of words.”

“Thank you. Smote means you want to kill someone.”

“Tell her the right way,” I say. “These kids aren’t gonna know how to talk.”

“What’s a dendrophile?”

Maddy says, “What?! Who told you that word?”

I look at Maddy.

Maddy’s smiling. She’s got this evil look about her, and it’s this kind of evil I really, really like.

“Tell him,” Maxwell says.

“Tell him what?”

“Tell him there aren’t any poisonous snakes in Pennsylvania.”

“Did you see a snake hiking?”

“I found where they sleep,” Maxwell tells me. “I told him it wasn’t poisonous. It had a head like this.”

“No it didn’t. It had a head like this.”

“I know it wasn’t poisonous,” Maxwell says, “I’m just making sure. So? It was black. It was about this long. The head wasn’t pointy—”

“A black snake you see here isn’t poisonous,” I say, “Don’t worry.”

“What happens if they bite you?”

“It hurts. So stay away from them!”

“Would you have to go to the hospital?”

“It’s doubtful. Unless you got bit in the face. But, the chances of that are extremely slim unless you’re trying to, say, bite the snake. So I wouldn’t worry about it.”

“Okay. Thanks.” And they walk away.

Maxwell comes back. “Why would you bite the snake?”

“My uncle.. This is in Tennessee. Guy’s raking his yard and he sees a rattlesnake. Pokes it with the rake. My uncle—he’s not very smart—he picks up the snake. This is a rattlesnake. Snake bites him on the arm. My uncle gets mad. He tries to bite the snake. Takes the snake like this. Tries to bite it. Like for revenge.”

“And? What happened?”

“He got bit in the face! Right here. On the cheek. He did have to go to the hospital.”

“Is he alright?”

“Yeah, he’s got a little residual puffiness in that side of the face, that’s it.”

Maddy says, “He’s lucky he didn’t die.”

“Dumb fucker. That’s who I’m related to.”

“Still,” Maddy says, “that does have a certain symmetry, a certain art. Is he an artist?”

“No. He’s a salesman.”

“There’s a certain..” Maddy says. “A certain..je ne sais quoi..to that.”

“It’s called stupidity.”

Kristen says, “What’s gen-uh-say-kwa?”

“It’s like QWAN.”

“Kwan?”

“It just means..that something..you can’t put your finger on it.”

“Oh.”

“Who were the ancients, Maddy?”

“I don’t know..people who spoke Sanskrit.”

“But who were they? What were they like?”

“I don’t know. Ask Blake.”

“What’s a pantheist?”

“Have you kissed that boy yet?” Maddy asks. “What’s his name?”

And Max turns bright red.

“I’d just like to hear your concise definition of the word.”

“Kristen. Scat. You have better things to do.”

I grab Maddy’s headphones. “What’s this?”

“That’s The Prodigy. You’re definitely not ready for that.”

Max is still paralyzed.

“Do you want to help with service?” I ask.

“Okay,” he says, “What do I have to do?”

“Will you read a scripture?”

“Sure. Will you give it to me before so I can look at it?”

“It’s right here.” I hand him my Bible.

“Will you tell me when to go?”

“Yes. It’s right after we sing. Sit here, or nearby. I’ll tell you when.”

“Where do I stop?”

“It’s the part that’s green.”

Maxwell grins. “So..the part that’s highlighted in yellow and blue.”

“Right,” I say.

And Maxwell says, “You must really love highlighters.”

Our first evening service is when I feel like camp is started. You’ve got your getting-to-know-you-games over with, you’ve had your first meal. Then it’s Julie Jane playing the keyboard and everybody singing. Blake does the service. He and Brian lead it. Sony doesn’t usually attend the services, but if he does he stands at the back. Tonight he’s here. I don’t know if that’s a bad omen or a good one.

My small group is here. They’re mostly in the row next to me. David and Manny and Katherine are with me, but Maxwell and Kristen have wrapped around into the row behind us. They’re sharing a hymnal, and they’re standing close while they do it. Singing is my favorite part about church.

Tonight we do a refrain where we sing—and shout—the words, “Be bold!”

And the response is “Be strong!”

Be bold. Be strong. For the Lord thy God is with Thee.

I feel like Julie Jane is playing funkier this year. She’s got the piano bench equivalent of a swing in her step. Blake seems at home, holding his Bible and reading to everyone. He has a good voice for it. To see everyone with their groups in the amphitheatre is wonderful..Piglet with her foursome, Nixon among them..Oscar leading in a group of kids. We’re little families. Gelling happens right away.

And these kids have been to church. They come from Christian families. They do this every Sunday so when you put them in an amphitheatre and someone plays the piano and you pass out hymnals, they know what to do. They may not look forward to the worship part of camp—or they may—but it’s nothing new to them. At the very least we provide a different set of heads to look at the back of while they sing.

And maybe someone does come to God. Maybe, in the woods, away from their families, one of these kids finds their way to faith in a way they wouldn’t have at home. And if not, at least they spent some time away from home, got to eat something different than what Mom cooks, got to have the experience of sleeping in a different bed. The worst, we hope, is that everyone has fun.


“There once was an ancient kingdom,” I say, “and in this kingdom their was a princess. Something unusual about this particular princess, though: she was purple.”

Firelight on the faces of campers, counsellors. There’s Piglet, with her arm through Oscar’s. There’s Julie Jane, lounging on Oscar’s other side. Sparks of the fire behind me, crackles—we’ve built it high.

I’m pacing. “This princess had a problem. Previously to the preposterously purple tale of which I’m about to preach, this purple princess, whose father, the king, was also purple, had been pursued by a purple dragon who was interested in purveying this princess’s pearls.”

Nixon is walking outside the group, poking a stick into the dirt. Kristen is wearing Maxwell’s sweatshirt. They’re sitting next to each other but Maxwell’s hands are at his sides and Kristen’s hands are in her lap.

“The purple pearls of this purple princess were so perrrrfectly pristine and polished in their purpleness that their purpleness was..palpable. Prior to the preponderance of the story I’m about to tell you this princess had been taken prisoner by a purple dragon..for everything in this kingdom was purple. And this purple dragon had taken the purple princess prisoner in his purple cave, which had only one entrance..a purple gate of purple iron which was impenetrable by anyone who did not have the purple key. The purple key to the purple gate was worn on a purple chain around the neck of this purple dragon, whose name was..Purples.”

Marcy’s crutches are laid on the dirt beside her. Her one leg is stretched in front of her, white wrapping at the end. She has her other leg pulled up underneath her arms. Blake is next to Marcy reading his Bible.

“Purples wasn’t mean. He just wanted to start a business. His business, which would be incorporated purply, would be called Purple Purveyors of Pearls of Palpable and Priceless Provenance. His plan was that 5P—as he called it—would be the principle provider of purple pearls throughout the purple kingdom. Even the purple king himself would be forced to purchase his pearls through the purple dragon’s purple business, which he would run from his purple cave, through the purple gate, by passing purple coins in one direction and pushing purple pearls in the other.”

My cabin is seated next to each other, next to Maxwell. Tislam is beside Max. Tislam wears a turtleneck and glasses. Pierce is next to him, then Edwards. Edwards is glancing around, looking at the backs of people’s heads, looking at the stars, holding on them for a fractional second, then looking at the back of his hands, turning his hands, examining their front.

“The king wanted nothing to do with this purpleness. When he thought of his daughter in the cave with the purple dragon—Purples—the king’s forehead became purple with rage. The red and blue of his veins and arteries mixed together to form one huge purple aneurystic clot in the middle of his purple forehead.”

Maddy is not here—at least I don’t see her. She was here at the lighting of the fire—she had brought her small group—but now she’s gone. I hope she’s just gone to the bathroom. Maybe she needs a minute alone. Maybe I should leave her alone.

“So the king laid out a decree..he pronounced it. He proclaimed, in a purple voice, at a volume purple enough to be heard across the purple land, that the man who released his purple princess from the purple cave of the purple dragon, and returned her priceless purple pearls to the purple palace of the king, would be prince. Whoever did this task would be married to the princess in a powerful progression of purple..a purple promenade..with purple flower petals and a purple wedding dress with a purple train and purple veil and this purple prince would receive the purple patronage of the kingdom’s purple patriarch, and they would all live together in perpetuity, prosperously, powerfully, and above all purply.”

I see Maxwell go for the stretch. He wants to put his arm around her. He wants to hold her hand. Kristen sees the attempt—this is clear from my perspective. The stretch doesn’t quite work though, and Maxwell’s hands are back at his sides.

“Many prospective princes crossed the purple desert and faced the purple dragon in purple battle, and all returned—still purple, but hardly so. The dragon nearly de-purpled every prospective prince who pursued the purple princess’s hand. There was, however, in this purple land..a purple pauper.”

“What’s a pauper?”

Katherine is in the front row. Without looking up from her book, she says, “It’s a poor person.”

“Yeah,” I say, “It’s someone who’s very poor. This purple pauper heard of the purple king’s proclamation, and the pauper had heard of this princess. He had even seen her purple perfection once in the town square—which of course was completely purple. It had purple trees and purple fountains and purple stone and purple prideful passionate progressions of pretentious, even sometimes preternatural, profundity—”

Katherine looks up from Le Morte Darthur to interrupt me. “How long is this going to take?” she says. She tries to read her watch but she can’t in the firelight.

“What’s your hurry?”

“This is boring,” someone says.

“Are you anxious to get back to your purple cabins where you will slip into purple sleeping bags and dream of purple princes and princesses of your own?”

“Let him finish!”

“I will if he’ll hurry up.”

“Are you anxious to proceed into an unknown week of purple small groups and purple worship services, with purple piano music played by people with purple hair and purple fingernails—”

“What is the point of this story?”

“The point—the purple point, to be precise—”

“Ohhh..” (groans)

“The purple point is the way in which our prince precludes the permanent imprisonment of the purple princess in the purple cave behind a gate of purple iron with a purple combination lock whose very combination was purple—”

“Does this story have an end?”

“If it does,” I say, “it’s bound to be purple.”

Nixon throws his stick into the air. “Oh my gosh.”

“Anyway. Kristen I think you’re looking a little purple there. Piglet. Perhaps you as well. Anyway. This purple pauper of poor provenance purpled his way across the purple desert in which their was only purple sand and purple sun and even the heat was purple and even his sweat was purple..he had to survive purple snakes with purple venom and he had brought his purple puppy with him and when the puppy had to go to the bathroom it was..”

“Purple poop,” Nixon says.

“Exactly!” I say.

Nixon slaps himself in the head and falls over.

“It was,” I say, “Unfortunately, it was purple when the dog had to relieve himself. They traveled over purple nights and purple days. When they arrived at the purple cave the pauper recognized it by its purple gate of purple iron and its purple combination lock.”

Katherine says, “Then he rescues the princess.” But she closes her book.

“Maybe,” I say directly to Katherine. “A purple maybe. First the purple pauper and his purple puppy slept through the purple night and waited for the first purple rays of dawn to cross the purple horizon.”

Katherine is still listening.

“During the purple night, the pauper listened—with purple ears—to the purple sounds coming from deep within the purple cave. And while the pauper listened, the purple puppy sniffed the purple air and caught the purple scents protruding from the purple darkness of the deep purple of the cave. When the pauper asked the puppy whether the purple princess was indeed within the purple cave, in the care of the purple dragon, the purple puppy proceeded to purply ‘arf!’ Purple arf! Purple arf! So the purple pauper knew his purple princess was inside this purple darkness beyond the purple gate.”

Now here’s Maddy, walking from the gazebo down to the campfire. She’s walking like a basketball player—looks taller—she’s got a jaunt in her step. I see her stop, look up at the sky, turn all the way around, and keep walking toward us. I try to stay focused.

“When the purple dragon awoke the purple pauper spoke to him through the gate. ‘Purple. Purple purple purple,” he said. And the dragon said back, ‘PURPLE PURPLE!’ which meant ‘Provide the princess presently, you purple preener,’ and ‘PURPLE NEVER!’ respectively. In this land purple never was like our equivalent of infinity when we speak of quantities. So it didn’t mean I will never do that, exactly, it more meant, I will do that in such a long amount of time after now that you will never be able to wait that long. So they were at a purple impasse.”

Maddy goes to Nixon.

“The pauper was patient, however.”

Maddy guides Nixon to a bench and they sit and listen.

“The pauper waited throughout the morning and listened to the purple dragon drone on about his purple plans to purvey pristine pearls of perfectly purple purpleness and to profit in purple perpetuity. The purple puppy ran in the purple sand. The pauper sat in the purple shade of the purple rocks forming the purple entrance to this purple dragon’s purple lair. Then, when the purple dragon took his afternoon nap, in the purple darkness and purple dampness of his purple cave, the purple princess ventured from the depths of the purple and peered, purply, through the bars of the purple iron gate.”

Now Kristen is executing the move. Not the stretch, but the yawn. She yawns, then turns her head and looks directly at Maxwell. Maxwell turns his head and looks at her. Then Kristen lays her head on Maxwell’s shoulder.

“When the purple pauper saw her, she had grown older and come more into her purpleness since the time he had seen her in the purple town square those many purple moons ago. She was..she was purple..he had never seen such purpleness before. He wanted that purpleness. He was filled with purple longing. His speechlessness and dumbfoundedness was almost purple. He ran to the purple bars of the purple gate and his fingers and the fingers of the purple princess touched around the purple iron bars.”

Maxwell has his courage up now. If he holds Kristen’s hand tonight, then I’ve definitely got to keep an eye on them for the rest of the week.

“‘How do I get you out of here?’ the purple pauper said. ‘Your purpleness is so purple that I no longer care about the purple king’s—your purple father’s—decree. My purpleness simply wants to roam the purple desert with your purpleness beside me. I will do anything—any proper, purple thing—to release you from this purple hell.”

Maxwell takes Kristen’s hand. I see Kristen inhale.

“So the purple princess says, ‘That’s easy. This purple dragon is a pushover. He’s my purple pet. These purple bars and this purple gate and this purple combination lock: they are my purple plan for finding the perfect prince, and for guaranteeing that I never have to purply marry in some pompous proceeding some purple person who lacks the prowess for crossing purple deserts and facing purple dragons simply to procure the perfect purple princess of their dreams.”’

Maxwell and Kristen are golden now. Their ankles have sought each other out and are now crossed.

“ ‘But,’ the purple pauper said, ‘I have heard stories from purple princes who crossed the purple desert and faced the purple dragon and were purply defeated.”’ I step toward the campers. “ ‘Purple lies,’ the purple princess said. And she spun the dial on the purple lock—the combination was purple. She let herself out, and the purple dragon followed her. And the purple puppy cowered before the purple dragon. The princess said, ‘Now we will wander the purple desert and return to the purple kingdom and purpleness will be ours forever.’ ”

The beauty of the purple joke is that you go through phases when you hear it, and even though you hate hearing it the first time—that is one of the phases—you actually like hearing it more, the second time, when you know the ending. It’s like Mao, where one of the rules is that you’re not allowed to tell anyone the rules. Part of the fun is being there with someone who’s playing it—or hearing it—for the first time.

“The prince,” I say, “for now his purpleness elevated him to the status of a prince without the proclamation of any king, purple or not—the prince had only one worry. ‘If we return with the purple dragon,’ he said, ‘who will believe in their purple hearts that I am purple enough to be your prince?’ ” I clear my throat.

“ ‘Oh, him?’ the princess said (purply). ‘He’s not coming with us. This is his home. He would be absolutely un-purple with anti-purpleness if we took him with us.’

“ Then the purple princess looked up at the purple dragon, who stood as tall as a purple house next to the purple princess and her purple prince and his purple dog.

“ ‘He looks mean,’ the purple prince said.

“The purple princess said, ‘Him? He’s a purple pushover. He does whatever I purply say.’ “

“Then the purple princess pointed at the purple mouth of the purple cave and stamped her purple foot and in a resoundingly purple voice she shouted: ‘Indigo!’ “

At which point everyone groans, and mumbles, and tells me how stupid I am, while secretly planning the day when they will be the one telling the purple joke. It’s a camp tradition. If you want to have anything to do with camps, then you need to know the purple joke.


“Edwards. Is that a violin?”

“It’s a fiddle.”

“Well I’d like to hear you play sometime. Tislam, right? Pierce. Maxwell. There’s not much to say about the cabins. I’m not here to tell you what to do. We wake up at seven. We’re in bed by 11. We clean the cabin together on Wednesday morning, the showers are over there. That’s about it. Oh yeah, no girls in here. No girls past The Turn in the Road. However I’m not stupid. However yet again if I find girls in here unfortunately somebody has to go home, so please don’t make me do that. Welcome to PeeWee Cabin. The name sucks. I’ve gotta take a shit and when I come back I’m doing a devotional/Bible-reading sort of thing. Which is optional. You’ve got enough God stuffed down your throats while you’re here that I don’t require participation in devotional, but I do like to read the Bible before I go to bed and if you don’t want to read along with me all I ask is that you be quiet during that time. Tonight we’re reading psalms, because they’re pretty. Oh yeah, one last thing. No one mentioned it at meeting tonight but if you want to do polar bear, we do that at six. Before you ask—”

“What is polar bear?”

“Polar bear is where we go to the lake at six a.m. and jump in while it’s still wery wery cold. You get a t-shirt if you do polar bear every day of camp.”

“Why would we want to do that?”

“Didn’t I just say you get a t-shirt?” I grab my bar soap. I always take my own bar soap. “You do it because it’s a badass thing to do.”

“And if we don’t do it?”

“Then you’re not a badass.” I stare down Edwards. “There’s no penalty for not doing polar bear. It’s completely optional.”

“Do we have to sign up in advance?” Maxwell says.

“No. I just scream at you at six a.m. and if you want to go polar-bearing, then you get your ass out of bed and throw on some flip-flops and we run down to the lake.”

“We run?”

“Yeah. I mean if you’re up at six a.m. to jump into ice-cold water for no reason, then..I mean..you might as well run.”

“Do we run all the way?”

“Yeah. We run all the way. Then when we’re at the lake, we run off the end of the dock. And then we’re in freezing cold water. If you do it right you should be running from the moment your feet hit the floor of PeeWee cabin until the moment they hit the surface of the lake.”

“Should we sleep in our swimming trunks?”

“Yes. You should sleep in your flip-flops too. Or at least put them beside the bed.”

“And what if we don’t want to do polar bear?” Edwards says.

I laugh. Then I get my composure back. “You don’t have to do it. Seriously.”

“Are you still gonna yell at us at six in the morning if we don’t do it?”

I laugh again. “Yeah, Edmunds—”

“Edwards.”

“Edwards. That’s the sucky thing. If you don’t do polar bear, you’ll still be hearing my lovely voice scream at you at six in the morning, waking your ass up, and then while the rest of us are doing polar bear you’ll go back to sleep for..at the most..thirty, thirty-five minutes, during which time you’ll have some weird dream about Sally Sue Johnson except in your dream she won’t be nice and pretty and she won’t have on that pretty little dress..and she won’t be kissing you..she’ll be like Queen Mab from Hamlet and that’s some scary fucking shit—”

“I thought you weren’t supposed to cuss at us.”

“I’m not cussing at you.”

“I thought you weren’t supposed to cuss.”

“Why? Because this is a Christian camp?”

“Right.”

“You were misinformed.” I smile. “What’s the matter. None of you ever saw Casablanca? This is gonna be a long week. Look. This isn’t small group, okay? If your small group leader is cussing at you in small group, that’s one thing. This is PeeWee cabin. We’re past The Turn in the Road. Ain’t no girls up here. Ain’t no rules either. Except that there’s no girls up here. Edwards. Edwards. Come on. You look like a guy who knows how to cuss.”

“He can,” Pierce says.

“You should have heard—” Maxwell starts.

“That’s okay,” I say, “I suspect I’ve heard it before.”

“I doubt that,” Pierce says, “in this case.”

“What? Did he call you a—no, I shouldn’t.”

“What, tell us.”

“No, I mean, there are limits to the levels of insanity to which it would be appropriate for me to expose you.”

“Edwards said he was going to—”

“Really,” I say, “I couldn’t listen to another word. You know when you have to take a shit that’s like the eject button on one of those old tape recorders? That’s probably too anachronistic for you. You know when you have to take a shit like a shuttle launch, at Cape Canaveral, except the booster rocket is this brown column of last night’s deer burgers? It’s like baby Bambi, chopped and screwed, coming out your ass and splashing back up under the bottom of the seat, and you’re looking down there like Run Forest, Run!’ ” I grab my hand towel and throw it over my shoulder. “That’s pretty much what this is like.”

Max is in the bathroom when I finish taking my shit.

“Did you tell Edmunds I called him a fag?”

“No. I wouldn’t.”

“Thanks. I shouldn’t have said that. I was not speaking about Edmunds specifically, but trying to illustrate to you my perspective that Edmunds’ dick commentary doesn’t need to affect you.”

“It’s Edwards.”

“Right, Edwards. That’s actually good for me because that means I never actually called Edwards a fag.”

Maxwell smiles.

While I’m reading before bed a bit from John jumps out at me. If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.

Goodnight.


I’m in the closet with Beth. You can hear everyone else outside. Clearly. The closet door is thin. There’s suitcases in here, and dresses hanging from above. We’re sitting on the carpet floor.

It smells like Febreze.

Beth puts her hands on my arms, pulls me close. She’s talking in my ear. “I need your help. Matt. I have to tell you something.” Her breath is hot on my face. “You can’t tell anyone. You can’t tell anyone.”

“What is it?”

“I’m in trouble. I’m telling you, I’m serious, I need a favor from you.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Do you think they can hear us?”

“No. Not if you whisper.”

From outside the closet: “Heeeyyy!! You two gettin’ it on in there?” “If you fuck my sister, be nice to her.” That was Maddy. “You’ve got five minutes left!!”

Beth puts her head on my chest. “I’m in real trouble.”

I put my arms around her. “Beth. Tell me.”

“I need you and Blake to go get my phone. I left it at Sean’s place.”

“That’s not a problem.”

“No, but—you don’t understand. When we went there today..”

“What happened?”

“He raped me.”

“What??”

“Yeah. It’s no big deal.”

“Beth. What the fuck??”

“Just listen okay? I need you to get my phone. You and Blake.”

“If Blake goes with me over there he’s gonna kill the motherfucker.”

“Well. That’s the thing.”

“What Beth?”

“He’s already dead.”

“Beth.”

“He was all over me.”

“Beth. What happened?”

“He got rough.”

“And?”

“I hit him.”

“Wait. Are you sure he’s dead?”

“He fell back on his bookshelf. He hit his head on a cinderblock.”

“Jesus fuck, Beth.”

“So can you and Blake go over there?”

“Why don’t I just go alone?”

“What if someone’s there?”

“Like the police?”

“Like his friends or something. I don’t think anyone knows he’s dead. I trust Blake.”

“Well I don’t,” I say. “I mean. No offense. But not with this. You can’t tell anybody about this. Did you tell Maddy?”

“No.”

“Is your phone all you left?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. It’s on the couch.”

Voices from outside the closet. Blake screaming, “How’s it gooooooiiing in there?” And Sarah: “Thirty seconds left, lovers!!!” And Brian saying something about pussy, I don’t know.

Beth is clammy, sweating. I run my hand through her hair. It’s damp.

“Don’t worry about this.”

“Okay.”

“Listen to me. Don’t worry about it. Don’t think about it. Go sit in there and play truth or dare—”

“I can’t play truth or dare.”

“Go sit in there and watch TV. Go in the other room. Watch TV. Do something normal. Don’t think about it. Okay? Listen. I love you.”

“I don’t know what to do,” she says.

“We’ll talk about this when I get back. We’ll deal with it. You’re okay.”

“TIME’S UP IN THERE!!!”

“Beth.”

“Yeah.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong. Okay? We’ll deal with this.”


The whole time Cheryl Harris was singing, I was trying to read Beth’s face. And she was trying to read mine. We were shooting each other these looks. Cheryl was singing a song about how we were “lovable, acceptable, changeable, and capable of all.” Those were the lyrics. It was a self-esteem mantra. I was only singing half the time.

We’re still singing when the cops come to the door. We’re in 336. We all assumed it was someone from the hotel. But Brian opens the door, and it’s the cops. We’re all singing about how we’re “lovable, acceptable, changeable, and capable of all.” Yeah, and now we’re under arrest.

Everyone’s quiet. Two cops walk in. They’re like, “We’re looking for Ms. Wade. Beth?”

And Beth turns white.

I’m full of adrenaline.

Beth stands up.

“Are you Ms. Wade?”

She doesn’t say a thing.

“Ms. Wade. Do you have time to answer a few questions?”

Beth is in the hall with the policemen. Cheryl tries to get us singing again but it doesn’t work.

Blake is gritting his teeth, glaring at the carpet.

Maddy looks nervous.

Pastor Steve looks at his son and says, “Do you know anything about this?”

Eventually both cops come back in the room. Beth isn’t with them. The one cop says, “Does anyone else want to come out in the hall and talk with us?”

I hate when they do that. Ocean City was before I could drive, but later in life I’ve come to dread the first question cops ask you when they stop you for speeding. I roll down my window. Look the guy in the face. He peers inside my vehicle. “Do you know why I’m stopping you today?” Or: “Is there anything in your car that I should know about?” As I get older, and as the cops get younger, these questions seem sillier and sillier. But when I was young, they were scary.

“Does anyone else want to come into the hall and talk with us?”

And I guess I look suspicious, ’cause I’m staring right at the cop. I can’t tell, but it seems like he’s kindof nodding at me. Ever so slightly, his eyes are asking me a question. I might just be imagining this. But now he really is looking at me, and he won’t take his eyes away, and he’s raising his eyebrows. If I refuse, he’ll be suspicious. If I look away, he’ll be suspicious. And now he kindof touches his radio and he says, “You want to talk?”

I say, “Sure,” and I never take my eyes off him.

“An accident happened today,” the one cop says.

The other one says, “Do you know the name Sean Haines?”

I’m looking down the hallway. I look behind me. Beth is not here.

“Have you heard that name? Sean Haines?”

“I know a guy named Sean. I know of him.”

“This guy?” The one cop holds out a graduation photo.

It’s Sean, that fucking asshole. “Yeah.” I nod. That’s the guy.

“How do you know him?”

“I saw him on the boardwalk today.”

“Had you seen him before?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

The cops look at each other. “So what happened today? You just saw him?”

“We saw him on the boardwalk.”

“Who saw him?”

“A bunch of us.”

“And what happened? Did you talk to him? Did you get in a fight?”

“We didn’t get in a fight. We saw him. We talked to him. He’s a townie, I guess. He was flirting with us.”

“With who?”

“With our girls.”

“Sounds about right. So you didn’t fight with him?”

“No, we just saw him, stopped for a second. We talked. He left, we left. We just saw him on the way back from the Fun Fair.”

“Did you see him fight with anybody?”

“No. But he is a jackass.”

“Is he?”

“Yeah.”

“Why do you say that?”

“‘Cause he was flirting with Beth. And he was saying dumb-ass shit.”

“Well,” says the one cop, “he’s dead. So you don’t have to worry about that.”

“He’s dead?”

“Yeah.”

“How?”

“Don’t worry about how. How long are you guys in town?”

“We’re leaving Sunday.”

“When?”

“Morning.”

“Can I take down your name and some information.”

“Sure,” I say.

“Is Beth your girlfriend?”

“Where is Beth, by the way?”

“She went to her room.”

“Is she your girlfriend?” The guy has Sean’s phone; he’s scrolling through the numbers.

“No, she’s just—we’re friends.”

“What have you guys been doing this afternoon?”

“Walking on the boardwalk. We came back here. Just fucking around singing some songs. They’re trying to build our self-esteem.”

“This is your church group?”

“Yeah.”

“Beth said.”

“Yeah.”

“Has Beth been here at the hotel all afternoon?”

“Well, mostly, I guess. We’ve been at the pool and all over, so I don’t know exactly where she’s been.”

“But mostly.”

“Sometimes the girls, you know, go to their room and change clothes, so I wouldn’t technically have seen her all afternoon but, yeah, pretty much, she’s been here.”

“So you’ve been here all afternoon.”

“Around the hotel, yes.”

“When did you go out last?”

“Out of the hotel..the walk we took to Fun Fair and back.”

“When you saw Sean.”

“Right.”

“And..Sean..has he ever hung out with you guys?”

“No, I mean we see him on the boardwalk.”

“Did he come back here with you guys?”

“To the Westin? No. We left him on the boardwalk.”

“You ’left him’?”

“We parted ways.”

“So he didn’t come back here.”

“Not that I saw. I mean, if he did, he came by himself.”

“Did you guys tell him where you were staying?”

“Not that I know of. But Beth did take his number.”

“Yeah, we know.”

“Did she call him?”

The one cop smiles. “Let me ask the questions.” He smiles again.


In real life when you find someone in the bathtub the blood is really red.

It really is. Beth was naked. It was weird to see her naked, all naked. I had only seen her naked before in sections. I mean she was completely naked. And she was white. And nothing looked right about her. Her hair was floating beside her face.

Her eyes were open.

How many days have had at least a moment in which I thought about that? Just these moments here and there when I think about Beth dying with her eyes open, and I wonder why, and I am forced to think about the process by which she died, which was cutting herself, cutting her legs and her arms with razor blades. The dispenser was on the edge of the tub. Several used blades were at the bottom of the water. Did they get dull? Did she cut herself so deeply that they got dull? She cut herself a lot. It was mostly on her legs.

I mention the part about Beth dying with her eyes open because that’s the last way I saw her, with her face half-below the water and her hair floating on its surface, and her eyes open as if in mock-surprise, as if in shock. Except it wasn’t mock-surprise. Her mouth didn’t look surprised. Her mouth looked normal. It just looked like Beth’s mouth.

Then Maddy was halfway in the tub, trying to lift her sister out of the water, and she knocked the razor blade safety dispenser on the bathroom floor, and I sat down.

When blood first comes out of you, it’s really really red. In horror movies, blood is red. In real life, when blood comes out of you, it dries, it turns brown. But when someone cuts themself in the bathtub, and you find them, the blood really is red.

We banged on the door but she wouldn’t come out. The cops just let her in there ‘cause she said she had to pee. She was in there for as long as it took the cops to talk to all of us. Me and Maddy went in but the bathroom door was locked. And the door to the mini-fridge was open.

Tell me something. When you’re going to kill yourself, why do you drink a Sprite first? Why do you do that?

She had a Sprite can on the edge of the tub when we finally went in.

“Beth, it’s me. I’m coming in, okay?” Maddy tried the handle.

Beth didn’t answer. We found a paperclip and let ourselves in.

I don’t remember finding her. I can never remember that part. It’s inaffordable. Its cost is too high. Do you remember being born? No you don’t. That’s maybe because it was a traumatic experience. I’m an expert at trauma. I’m kindof a trauma junkie actually. Like, sleeping in graveyards and shit. I slept where Beth is buried. You don’t know anything about that, do you? I know she was your friend. I know that. But she was my sister.

We played in the mud together. We came to this beach long before you ever met her. We built teepees and spaceships and played cooking when Mom and Dad were gone—that’s the game where you mix together all the spices and see what you can make. We made sharks. Which were basically dried chili peppers. We found a dead body together by the railroad tracks. Well. It wasn’t a dead body but that’s what it looked like from a distance.

I’m not trying to exclude your grief. I’m just trying to get you to remember..she was a piece of me.

If Beth had died in our car crash the last memory I had of her would be some amped-up music video of her and me on Highway 619. Beth releases the wheel. The Nissan slides into the oncoming lane. The driver of the Jeep lays on his horn, but the sound is muted. All we can hear is the wind.

And that would be the last thing I knew of Beth. It would be glorious, but false. I need Beth to die in glorious ways. I need those inventions. But no quantity of them can erase the truth of a sixteen-year-old bleeding to death in a bathtub while I was in the hallway, right outside, talking with the cops.


The next morning I’m trying to remember Sony’s advice, the thing about being the farmer and the sun and the wind and the rain doing the rest. I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a small group leader.

“Does that say ‘dragon?”’

“Yeah. Bel and the Dragon.”

“There’s no dragons in the Bible.”

“Sure there are. Your Bible doesn’t have this?”

“‘Bel and the Dragon?!’ I’ve never heard of that! What kind of Bible is this?”

“It has the apocryphal texts.”

“What’s apocrypha?”

“It’s some books in the Bible they didn’t originally put in the Bible.”

Katherine, with her book, doesn’t look at me. We’re at some kind of war. She is defending. All I have to do is wait long enough, and show her that I will never attack. Her book is Malory, Le Morte Darthur. That shows she’s a serious reader. But I can tell that by her glasses, and her hair. Both are out of style. Katherine criticizes me. In group when I say, “We’re going to do a writing exercise. The prompt is on page five,” she says, “Don’t you think that’s kindof basic?” And I say, “The wording of the prompt is a little silly.” And she looks away and does not open her binder. She reads her book instead. And I don’t try to make her. She’s not disrupting the group, she’s participating the way she can. I want to engage her, but forcing her would backfire; she has to join us on her own terms.

Maxwell sits in the chair and Kristen sits on top of him. Kristen’s giggles, to me, are almost unbearable. I like them in totally the wrong way.

“Hey, I didn’t say the Chair was double-occupancy.”

“You didn’t say it wasn’t.” More giggles from Kristen.

Katherine speaks to me over the top of her book. “You said. There’s only one rule for the chair. People have to talk nice to you when you’re on it.” Katherine waits for my response.

“You’re right,” I say. “That is the only rule for the chair. You two better be talking nice to each other.”

And Katherine brings her book back to her face.

The Turn in the Road

It was a road even though no one drove on it. It ran from the opening of camp, at the drop-off, down through the hills to the meeting hall. Then it went up by the girls cabins. Then there was a streetlamp, and the road changed directions and went up the hills in a different way. We called that point with the streetlamp The Turn in the Road.

The Turn in the Road was a proper name at Camp Lake. You could say those words in an invitation, and everyone would come to the same place. There were many turns in that road, actually, but there was only one Turn in the Road.

That was where we said goodnight. That was the best place to meet for just about any subsequent adventure. After the Turn in the Road, where the road changed directions and went up the hills in a different way, the road became a path, then a trail, then it snaked along the side of a ravine and took you to the boys cabins. If boys wanted to meet girls, The Turn in the Road was the place to do it. If girls wanted goodnight kisses, the Turn in the Road was ideal. The girls cabins were right beside The Turn in the Road. After their kisses the girls could practically jump into their sleeping bags. And the boys would have a long walk along which they could brag and exaggerate and variously recall these goodnight kisses.

From The Turn in the Road to the boys cabins was a twenty minute walk, along a narrow path on the side of a steep ravine. The boys, once they left their cabins in the morning, didn’t want to make more than a trip back home in the middle of the day, before the day was done. For the girls, everything (meeting hall, swimming pool, cafeteria) was situated near their cabins. For the boys, it was their cabins..and then everything else. Designers of summer camps tend to be veterans of summer camps themselves; to walk from central camp to the boys cabins, or from the boys cabins to central camp, at night, at Camp Lake, was a dangerous thing. Even on a full moon, you wouldn’t do it without a flashlight. If you happened to be going from the boys’ end to the girls’ end of that path, you would come out at The Turn in the Road; if you were going the other way, you had to first pass through The Turn in the Road. And the streetlamp there, lighting a section of road bordered on one side by a steep hill going up and bordered on the other side by a steep hill going down, didn’t allow any secrets to pass.


Kristen unzipped her suitcase. She was sweaty. Inside were dresses, the foldable ones. And she had brought this pair of overalls. What was she thinking? She couldn’t wear those here. They were incredibly preppy. In her neighborhood at home they were fine, but the people here looked at the way she was raised as something bad. As if it was bad to live on a nice street and go to a school where there wasn’t crime everyday. They weren’t rich. Does having a swimming pool make you rich? Everyone in her neighborhood had a pool. Pools aren’t that expensive. They come with the house. Besides, when it’s warm, you need a swimming pool.

Kristen wanted to get in the pool now. She wanted to take a shower. But the pool was closed and showers weren’t until later. Most people here were only showering once a day. Kristen was showering twice. People had noticed but no one had said anything yet. Maddy gave her an extra look when she went for her evening shower, but Maddy didn’t seem judgemental. You were allowed to take a shower anytime you wanted. This wasn’t prison.

Kristen closed her suitcase. She sat on the bed.

Mai was telling everyone her dreams again.

Maddy was interpreting.

“They say when you dream about a car, that the car represents what you control. If you’re driving the car, you’re in control. If you’re in the back seat, and say your mom is driving, then your mom is in control. You feel out of control. If you drive wild, if you’re in a crash, that tells you how you feel about your life.”

As she talks, Maddy is sifting through an armful of thin bark. Scrolls of it fall onto her bed, the thinnest of them as thick as a sheet of paperboard. Maddy selects the widest and longest of them and carefully lifts the corner of her mattress.

Maddy’s entire cabin is there: Kristen, Liz, Mai, Jennifer, and Erica.

“What is that stuff?”

“Birch bark,” said Maddy.

“Why do you have it.”

“To write letters,” Maddy says. “There’s nothing more romantic than getting a letter written on birch bark.”

“What about my dream?” Mai says.

“What about it.”

“It was really scary.”

“Where there is no terror, there is no chance of encountering the truth,” Maddy says, not even looking at Mai.

Kristen goes for Maddy’s mattress. She starts to lift it.

“Das verboten.”

“What’s das verboten?”

“Means don’t do it. Get away from there.”

Kristen picks up one of the scraps that Maddy let fall.

“How do you write on it?”

“With a pen. Pencil. You just write on it like normal.”

“You put that in an envelope?”

“Yeah. Look. You flatten it under a book. Or under your mattress. You need to peel it very slowly from the tree. It’s best when damp. Right after it rains, you go out. You know those tall white-looking trees—really bright, no branches..tall bright-looking trees—those are the ones. You can sometimes get really big sheets and cut it with scissors. I like the natural edges. But it’s a nice anachronism to have bark cut at a straight edge, don’t you think?”

That’s when I come in. I open the door to Rainbow cabin. Jennifer is bending over. She blushes. The cabin smells like patchouli.

“Sorry. I thought—”

“Everyone out,” Maddy says. “Cafeteria. Eat plenty of milk.”

Patchouli makes me think of dirt, and twigs, and bark. And camping. And a little bit it makes me think of cinnamon, and bourbon. And leaves, it makes me think of decomposing leaves. It makes me think of a girl who played me records, once, in the bedroom of my parents’ house. Mainly it makes me think of dirt, and minerals, and tiny little valuable elements in the soil.

It’s all over Rainbow cabin. I imagine Maddy’s room, her apartment, wherever she lives. She probably doesn’t even smell it anymore. It’s probably in her washing machine and in her tub and when I look at her hair I feel like I can see patchouli there. When patchouli is in the clothes I feel like that means the clothes are a little wet, all the time.

“Stop,” Maddy says.

The girls stop.

“Jennifer. You can’t wear your hair like that. You have to take it down.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s dangerous. It’s very dangerous. Get a hat. They’ll wait.”

Also, patchouli smells like pine, and turpentine. It’s dense, it’s pointy, it’s hard to breathe. It’s like a gray neighborhood after it rains. It’s like a room with no lights on. It’s like a forgotten bag, or an old book, or the basement of a library. It’s almost like a subway, when it rains on the tracks underground, or damp paper, or a crate with forgotten things in it.

And Maddy wears it.

I sit on the single bed across from hers.

Maddy’s half-dressed. We’re the only ones in the cabin. She’s putting on a pair of shorts over her swim suit.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” she says.

I look at her suitcase, open, things strewn on the floor, bags with mushrooms in them, bark, sticks. “What’s that?” I point to a bag with sticks in it.

“For making tea,” she says. She pulls up her shorts, zips, and buttons them. “Are you enjoying watching this?”


“The guy’s a fucking asshole.”

“He’s okay.”

“No. Look. He’s making fun of the size of your dick. He’s showing us his dick. I don’t care if that guy has fifteen inches of fucking limp dick. He’s a fucking asshole.”

“Hey guys.”

“That faggot goes too far. I’m sick of listening to that shit. I just wanna go to sleep, you know what I’m saying? We should do something to him.”

“He’s just—he’s probably an only child or something.”

“He is an only child.”

“For real?”

“He said so. He was bragging about how he has his own riding lawnmower.”

“He’s lying. Anyway why would you brag about having your own lawnmower.”

“He was talking about how his dad lets him drive it in the street.”

“He’s just showing off. He’s insecure. He said he was an only child?”

“Hey. Guys.”

“Yeah. He said that when he was born, his dad bought him the lawnmower, so that some day he could drive it, and when he comes home from school his mom is there—like—waiting to serve him a snack and shit.”

“Hey. Guys.”

“Smacktard. What the fuck is it? Speak up.”

Tislam is standing in the middle of the room. He says, “Guys. Have you ever seen a brown-eye?”

“Smacktard. What the fuck. What do you think..you think the thing about the lawnmower is true?”

“Have you ever seen a brown-eye?”

“You guys have to stop using words I don’t know.”

“A brown-eye. A fucking asshole. Have you ever seen one? I mean really seen one? Like with cheeks spread and everything. Have you ever seen that?”

“Whoa-hoa..we were having a conversation here. Listen, Tislam, we’re gonna get that asshole. Nothing too bad. We’re just gonna take him down a notch. He needs to learn that he’s not the only goddamn—”

But Tislam was taking off his shorts. He was wearing tighty-whities underneath. And then he was pushing down his tighty-whities.

“Whoah!!” Pierce is covering his face. “What the fuck, man?”

“We already showed our dicks.”

“Yeah? I don’t need to see it again.”

Tislam is totally calm. “Go in Edwards’ bag. Get his camera.”

“What?”

“He keeps his camera in that bag hung on the—yeah—see it?”

Pierce is looking at Maxwell. “Fuck me you guys are random.”

“No.” Maxwell’s hand is is Edwards’ bag. Maxwell is smiling. “This is good.” Maxwell has Edwards’ camera. It’s disposable. If those fucks are so rich why do they send their son to camp with a disposable camera.

Pierce sits on the bed. “Oh.” He now has no problem with the fact that Tislam is standing naked in the middle of the cabin. “Tislam,” he says. Pierce stands and does this next part Forrest-Gump-style. He’s screaming in Tislam’s face. “Tislam! Did anybody ever tell you you’re a GODDAMN GENIUS!!?”

What they do next is:

  1. Tislam bends over.
  2. Pierce moves so he’s not in the frame.
  3. Tislam spreads his ass cheeks apart—wide—with his hands.
  4. Maxwell and Pierce stare in horror at Tislam’s brown-eye.
  5. Maxwell takes the rest of the pictures left on Edwards’ camera.

When Maxwell returned from camp, he would be standing by the washing machine with his mother, relating tales from the week away from home, when his mother—who was putting clothes from Max’s duffel bag into the wash—would come across a pair of girls’ panties. She would hold them up, and she would look to Max, and Max would tell his mother, solemnly, that he had no idea how those got in there. And Max’s mother would believe him, and it would be no big deal.

Max imagined that when Edwards’ parents developed his pictures, that the conversation hadn’t gone as smoothly.


Maddy and I are sitting outside the mess hall. We’re lounged on wooden chairs. The kids are at breakfast. Blake has my kids and Marcy has Maddy’s. Maddy has her camera bag open. I’m staring at the sky.

Maddy says, “Hey. I wanna ask you something.”

I look over and she snaps a picture.

I run my hand through my hair. “I’m sure that was a fabulous pose.”

She adjusts focus and takes another.

I’m seeing one of her eyes to the side of the camera. Her other eye is hidden.

“Do you take pictures in Florida?”

“Yeah. My best pictures I take around the apartment. Like..of the cat, of the washing machine. Didn’t you used to take pictures?”

“I used to do video.”

Maddy snaps another picture. “Do you still do it?”

“No.”

“What do you do?”

“Work,” I say.

“And FBC,” she says.

“What do you do,” I say, “for work.”

She takes the camera from her face. “I do nothing.” She raises her eyebrows; there’s a clear look in her eyes. “I sing. I mix music. I’m making a record.”

“That sounds nice,” I say.

Maddy says, “It is. Take off your shirt.” And she changes her lens.

Max comes out.

“Matt. Let me see that King Arthur Bible again.”

King Arthur Bible?”

“The one with the dragon.”

I laugh. “Maddy. Hand me my Bible. He wants to see Daniel.”

Max says, “What’s your favorite gospel?”

I say, “The Gospel of Thomas.”

“That’s not in the Bible.”

“No, it isn’t.”

My shirt is off. Kristen comes out of the mess hall. She sits on the arm of Maddy’s chair. Maddy keeps taking pictures.

“What are you doing?” Kristen says.

Maddy says, “You know what we’re doing.”

And Kristen looks at me. She’s cute. She is. For her age.

“Is Maddy a decent counsellor for you, or..?”

Kristen nods.

Maddy, still looking through the lens, says, “Better had.”

Kristen smiles. She asks me, “Do we do swimming every day?”

Maxwell is flipping through the pages of my Bible.

“We do some kind of swimming every day. But it’s not always in the lake.”

“Oh,” she says.

Maxwell sits on the arm of my chair. I slide over so we’re both comfortable.

“If you want to swim, why don’t you come with us to the polar bear tomorrow morning? Maxwell, was it dohpe or was it dohpe?”

“Well, given the choices..” Maxwell is shying away from Kristen’s gaze.

“Come with us. Get your counsellor to take you.”

“If anybody in my cabin wants to go,” Maddy says, “then I’ll go. Kristen, it’s totally up to you. If you want to go, I’m here to take you.”

“It’s so early.”

Maddy says, “I know.”

Maxwell says, “That’s the whole point.”

And I back him up. “That is the whole point.”

Kristen gently puts her foot on Maxwell’s leg. “Want to play tetherball?”

Max gets up.

Maddy says, “I’ve got winner.”

Kristen wails, “Oh really?”

And I say, “I’ve got winner of that.”

Maddy gives me a look.

I give her the same look back. I’m gonna kick her ass.


“Is this—are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” I put my hand on Maddy’s.

Hers is on top of an ice pack.

The ice pack is on top of my nose.

“I’m soooo sorry. Oh my gosh.”

Maxwell and Kristen are standing at the foot of the table. My feet are sticking off the edge of the table. The mess hall is empty except the four of us.

“Do you want me to get more ice?”

“No..this is..plenty. I’m not even sure I need this—” I sit up.

Blood drips down my face onto my chin and shirt.

“Oh!!!!” Maxwell yells. “Good one!”

I’m lying back down.

Maddy says, “Why don’t you lie down for another minute.”

And Kristen adds, “Nurse Maddy will take care of you.”

Maddy’s leaning over me, wiping the blood off my face with about twelve napkins. Her breasts are in my face. I can smell her. She’s not wearing a bra.

Out of the bottom of my eye I can see Maxwell and Kristen. Young lovers. Kristen’s got her fingers tucked inside the side of Maxwell’s shorts. Those were the days.

“Will you please hold still?”

“I’m totally still. What is it about me that’s moving that you want me to stop?”

“Just—K, will you get me more napkins?”

Kristen reluctantly starts for the kitchen. Maxwell is standing there watching her go.

“Max,” I say, half-sitting-up, “give her a hand. This isn’t Boy Scout camp. This is Camp Lake. We’re here on a spiritual journey. We’re here to help our fellow man—” I’m laughing as I say it and blood is coming out of my nose but Maxwell goes, he follows Kristen into the kitchen.

Maddy’s saying, “Please. I’m serious,” through her snorts and laughs. “You gotta hold still for a second and let this dry.”


I’m still holding tissue on my nose when Blake lectures me.

“You gotta do something about this. She’s totally out of control.”

“Blake. What is out of control?”

“You have to see what she’s doing with her small group,” he says.

“Her small group is her small group,” I say.

Blake shakes his head. “She seems to listen to you. You two seem close.”

“What exactly do you want her to change?”

“That whole thing with the cow, and God. She called God small.”

“Are you sure that’s what she said?”

“She’s out of control.”

“Be precise. You have a theological difference—”

“No. I saw her group yesterday. That’s not theology.”

“You went to her group. Listen to yourself. You’re spying on her group.”

“What she’s doing there isn’t good theology.”

“Well if Maddy’s doing it I can guarantee you it’s good..and that it’s -ology of some sort. The two of you have a difference in thinking—”

“This is beyond a difference in thinking. She’s undermining my leadership with respect to the curriculum that we all helped to develop.”

“And which we’re using. How is your small group going?”

“Are you gonna back me up on this, or..?”

“I’m backing you up, but..what do you want me to do?”

“Talk with her.”

“You talk with her.”

“I am. It isn’t working. This isn’t working.”

“Blake. I know you’re having a problem with her, but all I see here is a difference in your approach—not even that—it’s just a difference in the use of language. That’s not a show-stopper. That’s just..discussion.”

“You don’t think it’s a show-stopper.”

“No.”

“You don’t think that..that..is a dangerous situation with campers here.”

“No, I do not.”

Blake walks past me. “Then you’re part of the problem.” And he goes inside.

I open the door with my free hand and step inside the meeting hall.

Everyone’s there.

Maddy says, “Do you ever notice how you stop making sense when you start talking about religion?”

Blake says, “I’m not talking about religion. I’m talking about spirituality.”

“You’re rational about everything else, and then, when we get to this, you stop making sense.” Maddy speaks to me: “Can you fault someone for trying..but failing..because they don’t have the skills? I think you can.”

Julie Jane, Oscar, Brian, Marcy, Piglet, they’re all watching this argument now.

I ask Blake, “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“What did you say?”

“‘I’m part of the problem?’ What the fuck.”

“Do you mind not cussing—”

“Yes I do mind. What the fuck did you mean by that, Blake?”

“If you want to step outside—”

“I’m not stepping outside with you. And don’t leave. Why don’t you face the consequences of what you just said.”

“Guys,” Julie says, “Matt. Calm down.”

“Yes,” Marcy says, “please.”

“Blake, you hide behind this facade of ‘calmness’..you pretend that as long as you don’t get excited about anything that whatever you do is okay. But you saying ‘I’m part of the problem?!’ just now..what—and I’m being very calm here—but what the fuck is your problem telling me I’m part of the problem. There’s no problem here except that you can’t discuss ideas with adults—”

“Ideas that could damage a camper.”

“No. Bullshit. ‘I worship the devil’ is an idea that might damage a camper. This is name-of-God stuff. No camper is going to be damaged because we call God Yahweh or Jesus or Tree—”

“Tree?”

“Whatever.”

“Do you call God ‘Tree’?”

“I don’t personally but the point is—”

“Uh. Tree is different than Yahweh or Jesus.”

“Is it different enough that you need to make an issue out of it?”

“Clearly,” Blake says.

I say, “Clearly. How ‘bout a camper being damaged because they use a name for God and you tell them it’s wrong? ‘Cause if I see you do that shit—”

“Then what.”

“Guys—”

“No. What? What are you gonna do?”

“Blake. And I say this with all respect. And I say it with acknowledgement that your dad owns this camp. But I wouldn’t recommend you finding out—”

“Okay. Guys. Please now—”

“What?” Blake says. “We’re fine. Right Matt?”

“When you refer to me you need to call me Matthew.”

“And why is that?”

Marcy pleads, “You guys want to take a break?”

I look right past her.

“Because I fucking said so, Blake, that’s why.”


They were wearing wreathes of flowers. They had woven together ivy and wild blue flowers. There was moss in their hair. As I sat, Arianne put a wreath on my head.

“You look like a divine master.”

“Yes,” Maddy says. “That’s how I see him too.”

We’re passing flower petals. In the circle. It’s like this game we’re playing, this lackadaisical game meant for touch and with no rules or score and hardly any pace. We pass flowers to each other’s palms, in both directions, setting petals gently on the palm of the person next to you, and pressing the petal in a little with your finger. You might have three petals on one hand, or one, and the person next to you picks up the petals and places them on the hand of the person on their other side. You do the same. There is no order, or hurry, or reason. We move petals.

“Yes, you’re a divine master. I see that now.”

“And what are you?”

“What do you think I am?”

“A messenger.”

“Yes. This is—tell him.”

“I am The Transformation.”

“I’m the Spinning One.”

“We call her that because she spins.”

“You can call me Graceful Grace.”

I laugh. “I like that. Graceful Grace.”

“And you are Divine Master God.”

“I’m not God,” I say.

“You are here. Here you are Divine Master.” Maddy places a petal on my hand. This is how we spent the afternoon.

Nixon picks a white flower. He will give it away. He will find someone in the circle, give the person the flower. And there will be bliss. This is what Maddy decided.

I’m looking at Jennifer’s hair and it reminds me of my hair when I was young. It’s ribbons, the way she has it ironed. A thousand flat ribbons with shiny spray and dark caves and little holes of light here and there.

The necklace falls apart when they put it on Morgan, so they make it into a crown.

And that’s it. This is what Blake wanted me to see. Maddy doing birth-memory exercises where you hold each other as if in the womb, as if you were Mary and Jesus, mother and child, seeing themselves in those roles, boys and girls in each. They have spirit names they only call each other in this group, and in this group they don’t use their worldly names. Maddy says it’s a reminder. A reminder that, here, we’re connecting as spirit, as light. That here we don’t see each other the way the world sees us, or even the way the rest of Camp Lake sees us.

Maddy decided her group would be pure bliss. And this is exactly what happened.


“You are a piece of God. So it is okay for me to call you God.”

“Maybe around Blake you could just use smaller words.”

“I think,” Maddy says, “that God isn’t small. So why do I need to use small words to describe him? Would it be offensive to the cow to call the cow’s leg ‘Cow?’ Would that be blasphemous?”

“Yeah well, I get it, I’ll tell Blake to give you a break.”

“Tell him to stay the fuck out of my group.”

“I already told him.”

“These bitches are unable to have discussions without making it personal. They think I’m taking it personally? I’m the only one who isn’t taking it personally. I’m discussing an issue. He’s getting his feelings hurt during a dispassionate interchange. Who’s taking things personally? We’re just talking.”

“Well you know, he’s more conservative now—”

“He’s a simpleton. Call it by its name.”


Lights. Under.

Maddy in the lights under.

When I was twelve I went to this rave at the edge of a cornfield.

Maddy spinning. She’s on a dancefloor. She’s making her own world.

I don’t have to be here, at this camp. I can be anywhere. I’m exactly where I want to be. I can be in the middle of the woods, in the middle of Buttfuck, Pennsylvania and still I’m exactly where I want to be. I can be looking straight in your face and you not even be there. I can be carrying on a conversation with you, motherfucker, and you not even be there. We could be making love. We could be driving, with me at the wheel, and I not even be here.

With me it’s lime and gin, with me it’s grime under my fingernails, grime in my hair.

I’ll throw my snakes at you. You’ll be running up the hill.

Snakes upon snakes upon snakes upon snakes, gin and swill. I’ll be there behind you. I’ll carry your train.

Dancing children are silly. I can show them some moves.

Maxwell goes into the meeting hall. It’s packed. How you’re supposed to dress up for a dance at camp, Maxwell doesn’t know. But he’s chosen his nicest shorts: some khaki ones with buttons on the pockets. And he’s wearing a blue-and-white striped polo shirt. The colors look horrible, but the shirt has a collar.

Piglet recognizes him. “Max, nice shirt.”

Max is taller than Piglet, even though Piglet is a counsellor. Max wonders why they call her Piglet. “Is it really okay?”

Piglet fusses with Max’s collar. “Here—yeah. Are you kidding? It’s great.”

“I didn’t know to bring formal things. It wasn’t on the list.”

“You’re fine. Have fun.”

And Max goes further in. David is there. He’s dancing with a girl. Maxwell doesn’t know her name. Katherine is standing on the side, but she’s wearing a dress. She had known to bring formal things. Maxwell wanted to talk with Katherine but he didn’t want to give her—or Kristen—the wrong idea. Katherine wasn’t who he was looking for.

They’ve put a disco ball in here, or maybe it’s been here the whole time and Maxwell hadn’t noticed. But the meeting hall is a fine dance hall if you turn out the lights and play music and stuff a bunch of people in it. The counsellors are here, but out of sight. They’re on the edges. Except—there’s Julie Jane, dancing with Brian.

And there’s Maddy. Maddy is dancing by herself. Her hair is down. Maxwell likes Maddy. Her hair looks like vines.

Toss my hair at you, little boy. Catch it. Catch me. Let me throw myself in your grip, see if you snap. Come up on me little boy. Come up on, this way. See if we can do an ostrich fight, like in the pool. See if your twig legs can hold me.

Maddy’s wearing a one-piece swimsuit with jean shorts over her bottom. Her feet are bare. There is dirt on her toes. Maxwell likes that. There’s something..natural about her.

Stick-thin scarecrow, dusty hair flats, tuck that shirt in Opie. Put you in handcuffs, lead you off the dance floor.

Maddy has her eyes closed, her hands above her head. You have to be cool if you can dance by yourself in a room full of couples. But Maddy is a counsellor, and counsellors are like that. What kind of person becomes a camp counsellor? It’s someone like Maddy, who talks philosophy and takes pictures, or someone like Matthew, who has a backpack full of decks of cards and ropes and army rations, who can live out of his backpack for days. It’s people who start fires in rain, who sleep in the woods alone, who read arcane books and really know the Bible. Maxwell wants to be one. Is he that type?

Clean this place up, by the end it’s just me and the people who are actually capable of going ape-shit once in their motherfucking lives. Fuck you people. Get your backs into it. Stop being so squeamish, I’m not going to hurt you. Hold your arm out. We’re just going to have a little fun, that’s all.

Fun like you’ve never had.

Take you up in me, tie you up, untie you, cut you in half, recalibrate you, make a carbon copy, throw you away. That’s how we play this game.

Kristen isn’t in the meeting hall. There’s Edwards, standing with Pierce, both holding paper cups. There’s Manny; he’s actually dancing, with his greasy ponytail and glasses. Maybe when they’re young, camp counsellors are like Manny and Katherine, and when they grow up they turn into Matthew and Maddy types. What happens in the middle would be some kind of fermentation or distillation or freezing or some process that does—Maxwell doesn’t know what. Kristen’s friends are here..Liz and Mai dancing together. That girl Erica’s dancing with Nixon, which is a strange sight: Nixon, short and portly, with Erica, who could be beautiful but acts like a biker chick (like she’s always about to beat you up). Maxwell isn’t into aggressive girls. Spunk, yes; aggressive, no. Nixon seems perfectly oblivious.

“This is pretty dohpe,” Edwards shouts.

“Yeah,” Maxwell says. “Dohpe.”

“We’re about to get us some of that Elizabeth—”

But Maxwell steps out the back.

There’s Kristen. She and three others, sitting on overturned paint buckets. It’s Marcus and Jamison, and this girl Karen. Each of them has a paint bucket. Maxwell leans against the meeting hall. Jamison has something behind his back. When he sees it’s Maxwell, and when the meeting hall door closes, Jamison brings the cigarette around and hands it to Kristen. Kristen takes a pull and holds it out to Maxwell.

Maxwell, even now, isn’t one for peer pressure. He doesn’t extend his hand. Kristen hands the cigarette to Marcus. Marcus takes it, pushes back his stringy forelocks with both hands, and smokes with the thing between his teeth.

Karen is staring at Maxwell. She has bags under her eyes.

“I’m going for a walk,” Maxwell says.

Kristen gets up. “I’m coming with you.”


“I don’t smoke,” she says.

“That’s okay. I don’t smoke either.”

“I was just smoking with them. It was just..dumb.”

“I don’t care about that,” Maxwell says.

Kristen stops walking. “You wanna go to the lake?”

“Yeah?”

“I mean. You wanna go to the lake..with me?”

“Yes. Yes. I do.”

Kristen wants to change her clothes. She wants to brush her teeth.

“Can we swing by my cabin first?” she asks.

“I can’t go in there.”

“I don’t think anyone’s over there.”

“We’d have to pass The Turn in the Road.”

“Well. If someone sees us, then you wait for me at The Turn in the Road.”

“Okay.”

When they get to The Turn in The Road they both stand under the lamplight for a moment. They both look around. If someone was going to see them they would have seen them by now. Kristen takes Maxwell’s hand and they leave the pool of light.

It’s quiet in the girls area. At Rainbow cabin Maxwell stands at the bottom of the steps while Kristen goes up. She opens the door.

“Come in,” she says.

Maxwell knows he could get kicked out of camp for this but he goes in anyway. He isn’t even supposed to be in the girls’ cabin area.

Inside, Kristen switches on her flashlight and extends the handle. It’s a yellow one that can be a flashlight or a lamp. She sets it on the floor and that lets them see their own feet, and Kristen’s suitcase.

Kristen sets out a travel-size bottle of Scope. Then she fumbles through her things and finds a sweatshirt. She puts the sweatshirt on and puts the Scope in her kanga pocket. She looks at Maxwell and says, “Let’s go,” but Maxwell isn’t looking at Kristen.

The light from Kristen’s flashlight shows Maddy’s suitcase too. Maxwell is looking at Ziploc bags of mushrooms, labeled on the sides in permanent marker. The name is Latin. Maxwell lifts one of the bags and sets it on the floor.

Kristen says, “What are you doing?”

Maxwell says, “What is this stuff?”

Kristen says, “It’s my counsellor’s. She was showing us how to write letters on birch bark. Wanna see?” Kristen grabs the flashlight and shines it at Maddy’s mattress. “She’s flattening it under here. Help me lift it, I’ll show you.”

The children lift Maddy’s mattress and what they see there is not only birch bark. There’s a flat Tupperware container. Inside is cotton, bloody layers of Saran wrap, and syringes.


“Blake. Hey. Blake. Yo. Blake.”

Blake takes off AIWA headphones. “Hmm?”

“Get your gear. We gotta run an errand.”

Blake is shaking his head. “I hope this isn’t what I think it is.”

“It is.”

“I told her not to be messing around with that guy.”

“I know.”

“What happened?”

“I’ll tell you on the way.”

Pastor Steve and Pete Harold are watching football in the living room portion of the suite. “Where you guys headed?”

“Just gonna take a walk.”

“We’re doing group activities in half an hour.”

“We’ll be back.”

“There’s not really time. We need everybody to be a part of it.”

“We need you guys. What’s in the bag?”

“What time are we starting?”

“Eight o’clock. Then we’re doing games, we’re gonna watch a movie..”

“Okay, we’ll see you at eight.”

“Can’t you take your walk later? Guys, this isn’t really cool.” That was Peter. I’m not really into giving Peter leeway right now since he’s been fondling one of the youth that he’s supposed to be taking care of. That, if anything, is what’s not cool.

I scratch the side of my face and stare Peter down, best I can. “Who’s winning?”

“What?”

“Who is that, the Blue Jays?”

“That’s the Dolphins. Blue Jays is baseball.”

“Why do they have a bird on their helmet?”

“That’s not a bird. That’s a dolphin.”

“Hm. Looks like a bird. We’ll be back at eight.”

“Be back before eight.”

I give Peter a look. I’m gonna deal with you later.

Blake and I step outside room 336.

I’m pointing at the door. “That guy is starting to piss me off. That guy. That guy is on thin ice. Have you seen him all over Sarah? He’s all over her!”

Blake puts his hands on my shoulders. “You need to center yourself.”

I exhale. “I’m centered.”

“Good.”

“Now,” I say, “you gotta come help me with this thing.”


Me and Blake are on the concrete ramp headed up to the boardwalk. It’s dusk.

“So where we headed?”

I glare at Blake.

“Nevermind. Forget I asked. Is this for Beth? Don’t answer that. Look,” Blake says, “whatever you need, I’m here.”

“I’m not trying to disrespect you,” I say. “It’s just, basically this is a black box mission—”

“You mean black ops—”

“Whatever. Yeah. Black ops. I mean, this is like Apocalypse Now. This mission does not exist—”

“Nor did it ever exist—”

“Right. Fuck. Blake. This is really fucked up.”

“Whatever you say doesn’t go any farther than this.” Blake marks a space with his hands.

“Okay,” I say. “I’ll tell you. Beth lost her phone. And we’re going to find it.”


I won’t say I never think of Beth sexually. Of course I do; I’m a guy. After she told me about the first time she had sex I always have a mental picture of her bedroom when it happened. I wish I had been there. The posters on her walls. The color of the light coming through her curtains. And some guy got to be the first guy to fuck that girl. Of course I think of it like that.

I don’t know what it’s like for women, but for guys, testosterone is like doing a line of cocaine except that the desire to do that second line stays around, as mind-warping as any addict’s craving, until well past thirty. Addiction warps a person’s mind. It’s wise to consider love the same way. There’s no such thing as an addictive personality. There are only people who have used drugs, and people who haven’t. With love it’s the same way.

So is Beth not an object to me, somehow? Does she escape consideration in that light? Just because she died, is she off-limits in that way? I’m not going to lie to you, because what’s the point. It’s not that she’s off-limits in terms of sex, it’s that my thoughts of sex are colored by the fact she died. Neither aspect goes away. They both get mixed together. It’s not that blue is off-limits, or red is off-limits..it’s that, in my palette, there is no such thing as pure blue and no such thing as pure red. There never can be and there never will be. That palette has been altered, and its colors will always be more nuanced than those with simple names.

Probably, even in children, there’s no such thing as simple colors. Everyone’s box is a tad varied. People we consider insane are missing one color altogether.


Blake and I go past the t-shirt shops, we watch the swell of the sun turn to deep blue. Fun Fair, down the way. The Ferris wheel, the rollercoaster, their lights now the brightest in the sky. Townies are out, travelling in packs. Fourteen-year-olds in cut jeans. Deep-tanned bellies, deep-tanned legs.

“Ooo-eeee!” Blake says, turning to get the reverse view.

I’m not looking.

“So where did she leave her phone?”

“This way,” I say, and we turn off the boardwalk.


Sometimes I wake up thinking of Beth’s body.

It’s not something I want to think about. It costs me. To think about her in any way is costly, but to think about her body is even more so. Because I saw her dead body. So to think of her body in any way is to think of her dead body. To think of her in that bathtub. And someone’s body, by itself, is not a wonderful thing. Someone’s body, without them in it, is a horror. If I look at myself in the mirror long enough, or in the wrong way, I can see my body like that. Can start to see the eyes as empty, as machines. Can start to see the arms and legs as hangers of ligament, sticks.

The body, by itself, is not a beautiful thing. By itself, it isn’t anything at all.

So when I think of Beth’s body I have a mixture of feelings. I can think of her as a girl, but not for long. Because it isn’t right. Because she’s my dead friend. But I do remember her as a girl, and as she liked to get undressed in front of me, and as we grew up together from the time we were children, I cannot help but think of her that way too..as a person with a body, as a female, as a girl with long hair and brown eyes and soft skin and one dimple on her left side and as a girl with all the other parts that girls have. She liked to show off. She had a nice body. She wasn’t pretty—she wasn’t ugly, but—primarily she was hot.

She was. But I can never, ever think of her that way without getting upset.


Back alleys. Cookie-cutter condos. Xenon streetlights.

Me and Blake are in a parking lot.

“See that door?”

The door we’re looking at has a huge foam cutout of a middle finger on it. You know those huge hand gloves for football games? Like that, but a middle finger. And it’s five feet tall.

Blake gives me the middle finger and raises one eyebrow.

“Yeah,” I say, “That’s where Beth’s phone is.”

Blake drops his finger. “Tell me that’s not who I think it is.”


Beth told me about the first time she had sex.

It’s late. We’re at church. Everyone else has gone home, or gone to lunch, but our parents are still talking. The janitor has turned out the lights. He’s hiding, waiting for us to leave. Beth’s parents are in the sanctuary. My parents are there with them. Maddy is outside. Suzette is lying on a pew. Beth and I are alone in the MLK Commons. There’s alcoves in there. We’re in one of them.

She tells me that it was with this guy B. Hall she was dating. They don’t date anymore. That’s what people call him. His name is Brian, but people call him B. Hall. His license plate is customized. It says “B HALL.” They dated for three months. He was at her house one day and her parents weren’t home. They had sex in her bedroom. Beth says she wishes she’d waited.

She says it wasn’t all that great. She’s the second girl who’s told me that. Girl’s who’d had sex—at least the two I knew then—didn’t seem to be anxious to do it again. Both Beth and this girl Jenny were like, “There’s no need to rush into it, I wish I had waited,” etc. Maybe that’s just the advice they give me. Sarah and Hannigan..I don’t know if they’d done it or not.

Beth broke up with B. Hall. They didn’t date anymore. They didn’t see each other. Beth wasn’t in a relationship when she told me. That had been a year—since that last summer. She seemed happy. She talked about guys but she didn’t go crazy about them. She let Blake hang on her but she never did anything with him. She keeps a distance.

With me, she keeps it too. The two of us act like brother and sister.


“Tell me that’s not who I think it is.”

“It’s exactly who you think it is.”

“Our Beth,” Blake says, “truly knows how to pick a classy motherfucker.”

“I’m going up there,” I say. “Would you just watch out and see if anybody comes by while I’m up there?”

“Oh no.” Blake is going for the stairs.

I snag him by the sleeve of his jacket. “Hold up. Blake. I’m serious. Just wait here and look out. I need to know if anyone’s watching.”

“Why?”

“Would you just do it?”

Blake straightens his jacket. He motions toward the stairs with a flick of his head.

“Thanks,” I say, and I go.

Three minutes later I’m back downstairs. “Did anyone come by?”

Blake shakes his head. “Did you get it?”

I show him the phone.

“Is that the mission?”

“That’s it.”

“Is it over?” he asks.

I shake my head, looking at the ground. “I certainly hope so.”

Blake and I approach the Rite Aid.

“I want a cigarette,” I say.

Blake looks at me weird. “You don’t even like to smoke.”

“I just feel like it, I don’t know why. Do you have cash?”

“Yeah,” Blake says. He holds the door open for me.

We’re at the counter. I’m scanning rows and rows of cigarettes.

“Well?” the lady says.

“Parliament Menthol Lights. Is that okay?”

Blake says, “I’m not smoking em.”

The lady puts the box on the counter.

“And a lighter.”

“That’s okay,” Blake says, “I’ve got one.” He pats his vest pocket.

Outside I’m fumbling with the cellophane.

“Gimme that.” Blake does it for me. His lighter is a Bic with a Confederate flag on it. (Blake is black.)

I drag the cigarette and cough, once. “That’s fucked up,” I say.

“What? The fact that you’re gonna get cancer?”

“No,” I nod at his lighter. “That.”

I’m on my fourth cigarette. “Where’d you get that lighter?”

“Pawn shop.”

“Why do you have it?”

“Neurolinguistics.”

“Blake. Promise me you will not go back to Sean’s house.”

He’s flipping the lid of his lighter open and shut. “Did she fuck him?”

“More like he fucked her.”

“I told her not to get involved with that guy.”

“Yeah, well, that goes both ways.”

Blake says, “Why don’t girls listen?”

I say, “‘Cause they’re stupid.” And I realize I’m not completely joking. “They are, they really are.”

“Duh! I’m gonna kill her when we get back—”

“Don’t. Give her some space. She doesn’t need a lecture now.”

“Did she tell you what happened between them?”

“She went over his house. He got a little rough with her—”

“He got rough with her?”

“Apparently—”

Blake stands up. “Get up.”

“What?”

“Get up.”

“Blake..”

“We’re going back. How exactly did he get rough with her?”

“Just..sit down..come on..”

“What did he do. Tell me what he did. Did she tell you?”

“He hit her.”

“Matt. Get your ass up. We’re going back.”

“Well,” I say, “I don’t think we need to do that.”

“Why not.”

“Because,” I flick my Parliament. “She hit him back.”


Peter gets me as soon as I’m back inside our room at the Westin. “Matt, I need to talk to you.”

“Maybe later.”

“It needs to be now.”

“Go for it.”

“I need to talk to you privately.”

Pastor Steve is right there. Brian is there. Suzette is on the balcony with Maddy, but I’m pretty sure the two of them can hear us. Is he really going to do this? I’m staring at this motherfucker. This guy who six hours earlier had his hand up the side of Sarah’s shorts, had his hands all over her back, her belly. This guy is supposed to be an adult leader on a youth retreat. What the fuck.

“Can you come outside and talk with me in the hallway?”

Pastor Steve looks at us both. “Do you want me to come outside with you?”

“No. Peter, just say what you have to say.”

“Yeah,” Blake says, “I’m interested to hear this.”

“Step outside—”

“I’m not stepping outside with you. I’m not gonna have a private conversation with you. You wanna make that into an issue, go ahead. I’ll go there with you, and you know I will. Say what you have to say. What is it?”

“I’ll talk with you later.”

“Talk with me now.”

“Matt,” Pastor Steve says, “calm down. What’s going on, Peter?”

Blake cocks his head sideways at Peter. “Yeah. What’s up?”

“I just wanted to talk with him about them going off when we’re trying to do vespers, but I can talk with about it later.”

“No,” I say, “Talk with me about it now.”

The door to our room opens. Beth and Hannigan and Sarah come in. We’re all quiet, and they sit down, lean on various surfaces.

Beth looks at me, looks at Blake. Then tries to play it cool. “So. We doing vespers?”

Pastor Steve stands up. “It’s not really vespers.” He smiles. “It’s some group activities.”

The door opens and Cheryl comes in with her guitar case. “Hello everybody. We ready to do this?”

Maddy and Suzette come in from the balcony.

Cheryl sits on the couch and takes out her guitar. “I thought first we might start with a song.” Cheryl sings in an Australian accent. She does everything in an Australian accent; she’s Australian.


I’m awake. Lying in bed. All my clothes on.

I’m holding a piece of birch bark from Maddy. It’s almost paper thin. The writing is deep brown, almost red. It’s Maddy’s lettering, ultra-precise. It says, “The truth will set you free.”

My campers are in the cabin. I’m waiting for Blake’s signal.

“Matt.” It’s Blake’s voice. “Matt.”

“Yeah.”

“There’s a water leak. I need your help.”

“Holy crike. Where is it.”

“Cafeteria.”

“Alright,” I say, and I get out of bed. I shine my flashlight around the cabin. Everyone’s here. “I’ll be back here in less than an hour. Everybody be here when I get back.”

Blake and I go toward Screwdriver cabin. He goes inside and I hang back. Then I go up to his cabin and say, “Blake. Blake.”

“Yeah.”

“There’s a water leak. I need your help.”

“Jimminy monk. Where is it.”

“Cafeteria.”

Blake says, “I’m coming back here in thirty minutes and everybody better be asleep.”

Then Blake and I head over to Lamborghini and Deerfoot cabins to collect Blake’s brother and the Junkyard Dog. We’re on the trail, far away from the cabins, before anyone speaks.

“Why did you say thirty minutes?”

“What difference does it make?”

“You’ve gotta say something like an hour or else they’ll realize too soon you’re lying.”

“You said half an hour?” Oscar asks.

Blake says, “What difference does it make?”

And Oscar says, “He’s right dude. If you say too short then they’ll realize you’re lying.”

“So I’ll say two hours next time, who cares.”

“No dude. If you say two hours, they’ll think they can sneak out and get back before you do. You have to say an hour.”

“What did you say?”

Brian says, “Forty minutes.”

“Forty minutes? That sounds so technical! Why would you say forty minutes?”

“What the hell do you say?” he asks me.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I just make it sound natural.”


Lights coming from the mess hall. Table lamps and candles, not the main light. Marcy’s laughter.

“You guys are being way too loud,” I say as I go in. “I can hear you practically at the Turn in the Road.”

“No you can’t.”

“Sit down fool. I made you a cocktail.”

“What is it.”

“It’s bug juice motherfucker. Drink or I’ll sincenerate you.”

“Your ass is already sincenerated.”

Julie Jane puts her arms around Oscar. “Hey Dog.”

“So how’s your camp week going?”

“The best is Nixon.”

“No the best is Kristen and Maxwell—they get couple of this year for me.”

“They don’t neck. They ankle.” Julie Jane’s cracking up.

“What does that even mean?”

Blake says, “We need to watch out for that; if something happens—”

“Nothing’s gonna happen—”

“They’re completely innocent.”

Blake asks me: “You think so?”

I toss it off. “Probably.”

“Blake,” Maddy says, “I’m on it. Kristen—” Maddy makes an equals sign in the air. “Not a problem.”

“You’re sure.”

Maddy nods. Her head bob is exaggerated.

“Are you okay?” I say.

Maddy says, “You don’t even know.”

Maddy gets up on the table. Julie Jane and her dance. Maddy grabs my hand. Now I’m up there with them.

I grab Maddy’s headphones. “Am I ready yet?”

“Take a listen. What do you think?”

“Yeah. Yeah!”

“Gimme those back. You’re not ready yet.”

I need someone like this. This is someone who brings out the parts of me that I want to cultivate.

Now Junkyard is up here. Now Marcy. Now Piglet.

Sometime in the evening I notice Maddy isn’t drinking. Julie Jane is pouring Maddy “cocktails” in the same paper cups we’re all drinking from. But Maddy isn’t drinking her drinks. She sets her cup down, we all get confused about who’s drinking from which cup, some cups get empty and eventually someone reaching for their own, empty, cup, reaches over and takes Maddy’s.

“Maddy,” I say. “Take a walk with me.”

“I was just going to invite you to do the same,” she says. She makes hand signals with the people still at the table. “We good? Tomorrow? Scripture scripture; service service; music music; Christ. Oscar, you ready for this? Julie? Don’t fuck me on this music now.” She points at Julie. “Keep your E flats and your G flats correctumundo, kosher, straight, we cool?”

“Yeah,” Julie says.

And Maddy stumbles out of the hall. I’m at her heels.

“What’s up with you?”

“Go to my hideout,” she says.

I can hardly see her in the dark. She goes straight into the woods out back of the mess hall. No trail, no flashlight. I’m stepping over logs and vines.

“I’m glad you called me Matthew. This is more fun than I thought. I think I’m finding God as well.”

“You are?”

“It’s hard to believe, believe me, and I know. But. Yes.”

“How are you finding him?”

Maddy’s tongue is in my mouth. I didn’t see her stop. We’re entwined.

She tastes funny.

“What are you doing?” It’s a whisper.

She whispers back: “Kissing you?”

And I can see her eyes, faint light in them. My hands are on her pants. Then hers find me and she’s leading me by the fingers.

I don’t talk to her anymore on the way there. I don’t ask her where we’re going. I don’t ask her about her “finding God.”

I don’t care anymore.

I can feel the same urge in Maddy as I felt at Bridget Foy’s the other night..it’s the urge to leave, not care, and do whatever I want. When did I first feel this? Maybe once ten years ago in Ocean City. But I didn’t; I didn’t then. And ever since then I’ve kept that feeling in check. I get it at lunch at work sometimes. I feel like not going back.

It’s giving up, that’s what the feeling is.

And it’s great.

I felt it when Beth killed herself. I felt it then. I couldn’t do anything about it, though. Has it taken me all these years to find that urge again?

Maddy has us ducking through bushes, only our pinkies locked. We’re going over hill, descending into valley. She’s taking us a long way.

What I did next is hard to explain. Maybe it’s impossible. Any reason I give for it won’t make sense. It has something to do with feeling like there’s no way out for me in this life. It’s probably related to boredom, but..sometimes when there is no positive step forward—no real progress that can be had from the current position—and when the current position has become unbearable..sometimes at that point it becomes a rational decision just to do something.

Maddy had my arm wrapped up before I really thought about it.

She was kneeling over me.

We’re in her nest—her hideout. It’s a sleeping bag and some books—I can’t see which titles. We’re way up the first hill from camp, and a little bit over the other side. There’s no trail anywhere near here. Even the closest trail, which is further down this hill and away from camp, is nowhere near.

Maddy’s knees are on me. My arm is wrapped in a cord.

“Hold this.”

I hold the end of the cord.

“Hold it tight.”

I hold it tight.

“Are you sure about this?”

“Why not,” I say.

“I’m asking your consent,” Maddy says. “Is it okay with you if I do this to you?”

Maddy and I are very clear about these things.

I nod.

Before she does it she touches my dick. She can tell I’m uncomfortable.

“Are you gay?”

“I don’t have sex.”

“Am I making you nervous?”

“I think it’s that you’re—”

Maddy’s breasts are in my face. My head is between them. I can smell her sweat.

“I think it’s that you’re smarter than me.”

“Yeah?” she asks.

“Yeah,” I say, “I think that’s it.”

Then she hits me with the needle.


Big. Heaven. Now. Oh. Glorious. One.

There are surface things and there are intimate things. The intimate things have to do with blood.

What does it mean if you’re alone in the world? What does it mean if no one’s watching?

I like blood. I like it. I make blood. I make it. I manufacture it. I collect it. I wet it. I dry it. I take it with me. I extract it. I mix it. I inject it. That’s what I do with blood.

When you’re not terrified, you need not worry that love is just around the corner.

And what I do is holy.

I feel free to make love, but am not compelled.

I have no need of speech; nothing I say will change anything.

There is nothing I can do that’s wrong. I have no need to worry whether what I do is right. Even if someone judges me for doing this, I will not judge them for judging me; I will put no stock in their perspective.

If this is love, then this is a scary kind of love.

I have never known love that didn’t need to speak. I have never known love that took its time. That didn’t need to come. I have never known love that was innocent. This love touches like the blind. It’s disregarding, it’s still. We’re not pretending.

We’re crimeless.

Is part of what it means to be angelic, part of what it means to be innocent..not coarsely that one does not commit crime, but that, to one, there is no such thing as crime? I think it is, and our fear of that is what distorts our view of holy things, of spirits. A white paper cut-out with wings and a dress comes as close to representing an angel as a Happy Meal Batman. An angel—a messenger of God—when viewed by one of us, would have to be, among everything else it might be..terrifying.

We are with the trees. And we are with each other.

I see what it is like to be with the trees. It isn’t sex, exactly. But we love them. We slide with them, we roll with them, we lick them.

We are with the earth. We are smooth. We are under the sky.

I am not sure if we speak. I know we do sometimes. Other times I do not know. But even when we are not speaking, we are together. It’s like the difference between speaking and not speaking has gone away. When I look in her eyes I am not sure if we’re speaking. It’s not like telepathy. It’s like we have moved beyond the need for telepathy.

And for a while we sing with the grass. We pet the blades, and we let the blades pet us. We are making a song together, all of us, me, Maddy, and the others. They were always here. They were always with us. Only tonight have we decided to sing with them. They are always singing. Sometimes we can hear them.

Our tones are guided for us. They control themselves.

We can listen. We are the hearer and the heard.

We can touch. We can feel minute ridges, in the grass, in our fingers, on our skin.

Everyone we know is with us. No one is lost.

A moment is indelible.

And there is ease, confound it. There is ease in a way I have never known before. It isn’t fear at all. It is comfort, and lightness, and warm. It doesn’t require thought. It feels. It really feels. And instead of thought overriding feeling, it is the other way around. And I can look in your face forever, and touch your hair, and not speak, and not speak about not speaking, and have that be okay.

Before there was movement, now there is sound. The envelope of time has torn open and let us inside it. This was here this whole time. This has always been around me. I just needed a push to recognize it. I needed help to see.

Sometimes help comes to you. Maybe her name is Maddy.

This night, and what we’re doing now, is why I came to Camp Lake.

And what would Maddy and I do if we were the final people on Earth? Might we do something just like this?


The sky gets light. Maddy and I are still looking each other in the eye.

“I gotta do polar bear,” I say.

She says, “Me too.”

“Sleep,” I say, “None of your campers are doing it.”

Maddy frowns at me. “I gotta check anyway.”

Halfway down the hill to camp I pull Maddy close. I brush my thumb across her cheek. “See you.” And I go off my own way.

Maddy keeps on down the hill. From there, she’ll come out between the mess hall and the meeting hall. She’ll walk through empty grass. She’ll cross the volleyball court and be at the girls cabins.

I’ll stay in the woods and go the long way ‘round. I’ll see farmers’ land, the reservoir, the old ropes course, and I’ll go through a dense set of bushes and swampy land before I’m home.

When I say “Polar bear!!” I won’t even check the time. I’ll be right. It’ll be six o’clock. Maxwell will have been sleeping. He will be the only camper to come out. He’ll be in his flip flops and suit.

Maxwell and I will walk the path along the ravine to The Turn in the Road. I will be barefoot. The clay will soothe. It will be cool. It will give a little. It will be the perfect pair of shoes. Maxwell will chatter about scripture, or what we did in group yesterday. Maxwell’s a little academic.

When we get to The Turn in the Road Maddy will be there. Kristen will be with her. Today it will only be the four of us for Polar Bear. Everyone else will be too tired from the dance. It will be the two who always come and the two who never come to Polar Bear. Maddy will be barefoot as well. Kristen will have her towel.

Four of us will take the path to the lake.

When we come to the lake, the lake will be still.

Two ducks will coast silently at the far end.

There will be mist above the water.

At the end of end of the dock there will be a men’s sweatshirt, XXL, crumpled, turned inside-out, one arm of the sweatshirt dipped in the lake. And next to the sweatshirt, set neatly beside it, with the cap still on, there will be one travel-size bottle of mint Scope.

When we do Polar Bear we will jump in from the dock as usual, but we will not shout Polar Bear as we do it. We will just jump in. And Maddy will swim to the middle and then sit on the dock. And I will dive to the bottom and sink my hands into the soft mud. And Kristen and Maxwell will tread water, with thirty feet between them, and pretend they never met.

I will fold the sweatshirt and set it neatly on top of the pole at the end of the dock.

Kristen will ignore the sweatshirt when we leave.

Kristen and Maxwell will walk up the path ahead of me and Maddy.

I will give Maddy the sweatshirt.

Maddy will say, “What’s this?”

“It belongs to one of your campers.”

“How did you get it?”

I stole it.

And Maddy will say, “You perv.”


Goodnight kisses at The Turn in the Road aren’t just for campers. After a dance, when the area’s mingled with the whole camp, all cabins, all counsellors, when everyone is going home, on the last night or the next to the last night of camp, counsellors have been known to catch each other in a kiss or a hidden feel.

When parents bring their children to us, the brave parents come as far into camp as The Turn in the Road. We don’t let parents take their children all the way to their cabins. But some parents break the rules and force themselves past The Turn in The Road because they just can’t make it through the week without being able to visualize (and possibly complain about) their little one’s sleeping arrangements.

The kids whose parents take them all the way to the cabins are the kids who turn out to be most problematic as the week develops. These are the summer camp equivalent of the crazy college kids who in their first semester sleep with 20 people and end up with their heart stopped in the back of an ambulance from alcohol poisoning. These are the kids whose parents are ultra conservative, or ultra clingy. These are the kids who have never been on a youth retreat without their mom because their mom always insisted on going. The ones whose parents give them space adjust to adulthood’s lack of supervision gradually, and at college when their entire dorm is doing shots of Bacardi 151, these kids are sitting at Wendy’s reading Benjamin Barber.

That’s one segment you have to look out for, that you can spot right away: the kids whose parents are breathing down their necks. Those kids will end up terrorizing the other kids: they will either be a bad-apple type or a super-popular type, but either way they’re going to be the one person out of a group of five who is arranging everyone else’s trouble.

The super super shy kids are ones to watch out for too. Of course it’s those kids who you will end up talking with one-on-one because you find them crying before or after the dance. But that’s handle-able. Sometimes the super-shy kids turn out to be the imploding/exploding type, the type that does dangerous pranks and breaks things out of misdirected anger. Those shy ones need to be detected early. Parents of imploder/exploder children are in complete denial. Not just about their kid. About everything. I’ve never seen an exception to that rule.

Of course there are the sassy girls and the braggart boys, and even though they’re annoying to their cohorts, the prom-queen-team-captain ring-leader types don’t come with any special instructions for care. If they’re benevolent, they’re a benefit. If they’re malevolent, within the context of a week of summer camp, they self-destruct by day two without any ill effects on anyone.

After that, it’s the kids you love to get. The smart ones, the caring ones, the ones who love nature, the ones with amazing talents, the ones who get into the religion part of it, who love to pray, who help with the services and will read in front of the other campers. Those are the great ones, and they’re all great in some way. If a kid isn’t having fun at camp, if their light isn’t shining through, that’s on me. It’s our job to see through to the wonderful part of each of them, to facilitate their enjoyment of the week and of themselves, and—perhaps—to help the other parts of them grow.

Maddy was at The Turn in the Road. And Tislam was there. And Maxwell was there. And Blake was there. And Edwards was there. And Pierce, and Piglet, and Liz, and Mai, and Katherine, and Jennifer, and Erica. Karen was there, Marcus, and Jamison. Marcy and Oscar were talking, Piglet by their sides. Brian was gathering his campers: Jake, Darren. Julie Jane was right in front of me, and she was saying something, and I caught her excitement but not her words. The halo of everyone standing in the streetlight of The Turn in the Road is what had my attention.

Nixon ran to Erica, and he touched her on her back. Erica took two steps and clocked Nixon in the back of the head, to which he smiled.

I had never quite come down from my night with Maddy. In fact, I haven’t been to sleep. Today the sound has been turned up, and turned down, and I have noticed the various blues. Blue of the pool, blue of the sky, blue of the cafeteria table. It hasn’t changed my concentration, only how my concentration feels to me. It seems easier, I feel easier, to be myself.

And I don’t want to do it again. They say those things addict you on the first try but it just isn’t true.

Julie Jane is telling me: “..they were separate, no one was talking, and today at the pool Karen and Erica and Marcus and Jamison they formed this almost gang, they were going to anyone who wasn’t playing and they were throwing them in the pool, but it was in a nice way, everyone was playing, and—” Julie exhales, “—everything’s coming together. Don’t you feel?”

I hugged Julie Jane, and I brought our foreheads together, then I put one arm around her and squeezed her shoulder. Sound was bothering me right now. I didn’t want to talk. When I spoke next my words were almost a whisper.

“This world seems perfectly fine,” I think is what I said.

Maybe in addition to the love scripture there should be a beauty one. Beauty is not easy, beauty hurts. Beauty is not sweet; it bites. The beautiful cannot be contained; it doesn’t come in Hallmark packaging. Beauty changes you; it is that which, when you encounter it, cuts you. Beauty is the act of change. Nothing beautiful is stagnant. Something easy cannot also be beautiful. Beauty is breaking, and terror, and pain.

That night I finally did sleep. It was incredible sleep, something like the first time you stretch a muscle that hasn’t been used in a while. Something about it like my first orgasm. Something about it like a sneeze when you’re first getting sick, or an infant’s yawn.

I didn’t dream. And when I woke it was smooth, like on liquid, or a precision fade. I knew what was ahead of me (ropes course) and I was ready for it. My memory was intact. The previous day had been a tad gunky. Now the gunk was gone. It had drained away in the night. Now I was a machine, freshly oiled.

And I was a machine with the memory of an experience with Maddy. Parts of it were remembered high, and parts of the memory were of getting high. If I think of getting high, while high, what am I thinking of? If I desire to go back to someone who was never really there, what does that motivation mean?

Something about it was like a bee sting, too. A bee sting doesn’t actually hurt for that long. Mostly you have the swelling, and your thoughts about it afterward. Mostly it’s everything that happens after some tiny moment of confusion, some instant where your nervous system doesn’t know what to think.

Oblivion is something Maddy knew about. She had arrived at, and invented, a million ways to find it. It was something you could carry with you. It was something you could concoct. Beth had found it early; she had made it art. And in this case, at this art, the younger sister had learned from a master.

What Maddy knew, I would spend a lifetime searching for. Her way of living was too dangerous for me..and my fear of living that way is what prevents me from getting at the font that she’s connected to.

I think living such that you’re connected, without also destroying yourself, is an art. It’s also a contradiction. Maddy doesn’t attempt that balance, and that’s why Maddy is connected. My way is—I think—more reasonable, more balanced.

In some ways balance is a mistake.

Ropes

“All condescension aside, I think you’re in a bad place and I want to help you. I don’t know if that’s why you brought Maddy up here. I know you’ve never come clean about Ocean City—”

“Neither have you—”

“What do I have to come clean for?”

“You’ve gone ballistic, one-eighty, you’re Crazy Christian now.”

“I wish I knew what you were talking about.”

“I know. I know. I wish you did too. Try taking your head out of the sand. You’ll find a whole world out here.”

“I know you don’t think I understand. And I know we’ve taken different paths.”

“Pff.”

“I want to help you.”

“Yeah. Yeah,” I say, “Unfortunately for you, you’re not in a position to do so.”


“I could get into doing some of this kind of music back home.”

“You mean in the Wednesday service?”

“No, I mean..on the Sunday service. I want to see more music like this. I would get more out of a service with music like this. Wouldn’t you?”

“Yeah, but..”

“That’s the problem. Why are you going? Don’t you want to actually get something out of going?”

“Well..we have youth group.”

“Leading youth group is fine but I want a church I can go to. You know? I don’t want the real stuff to be on the sidelines. We have some life in our youth group. We have life when we come out here. Why is it only this way once a year? Aren’t we supposed to be inspiring people? I feel inspired out here. I want it to be this way all the time. We could do this.”

“You mean put some of our music in the service.”

“I mean have our own service.”

“Who’s gonna come?”

“You’re looking at it. Us. Would you come?”

“Well..yeah. But if everyone in the youth group comes, and we get a couple of the younger blue-hairs, that’s what..twenty people?”

“So.”

“So you’ve got four of us in the front, you’ve got..I mean, how many people are really gonna come?”

“Where two or three are gathered..”

“What is that?”

“That’s Matthew 18:20, bitch! ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there.”’

“I wish you wouldn’t curse about it.”

“No. Fuck that. Fuck that. I’m gonna curse. And it’s not a new service. It’s a new church.”

“Yeah.”

“I agree,” Oscar says.

“Where are we gonna meet?”

“We can meet in the parking lot. We can meet at the Rite Aid.”

“We can meet at my house.”

“You can use my house.”

“See? Problem solved. It’s not about the building.”

“So we’re splitting from FBC.”

“I’m not splitting.”

“If you’re starting a new church—”

“I’m still going to the old one. Of course. I’m not giving up FBC. But—”

“I like this idea,” Oscar says. “I think we should do it.”

Blake says “We have to check with my dad first.”

Julie Jane laughs. “We don’t have to check with your dad.”

“If we’re going to use the building.”

“We don’t have to use the building.”

“If we’re going to use the parking lot—”

“Blake. We don’t have to check with your dad. He can come if he wants. This isn’t FBC business. This isn’t Camp Lake. This is us talking about a church where we can do the music like we want it.”

“And where there’s a real mission focus,” Oscar says.

“And a peace focus,” I say.

Blake leaves.

“Yes,” Marcy says, “I like this, you guys. We better do this and not just talk about it.”

I think we do need to start that new church. I think we need to be serious about it. I think we need to love the sinner and hate the sin. I think we need to keep it simple. I think we need to use the Bible. I think we need to forget about what we think it says and actually read it. We need to read it from where we are now.

Christians have ruined Christianity, at least they have in my life, in the same way that historians have ruined the pyramids. There’s all this stuff we say about them..and then there’s these giant chunks of stone. You don’t need historians to interpret the pyramids for you. What you have to do is stand beside them. The pyramids are their own statement. So are the words of Christ. I don’t need some administrative superstructure to tell me what should be in the Bible and what shouldn’t be. I certainly don’t need them to tell me how to interpret its words.

“Let’s call it The Church of Peace.”

“And let’s make it simple. Like all we do is sing songs and help people.”

“Let’s have a single mission focus. Like let’s do tutoring only, or housing only, or food only.”

“Let’s do food.”

“Let’s just feed homeless people and sing.”

“Or maybe we have a particular neighborhood we work in. Maybe that’s our focus.”

“That could work.”

Blake comes back. “Guys. We’re starting. We need to review tonight’s worship.”

“Okay,” Marcy says, “We can do that in a minute.”

Blake says, “We need to do it now.”

Marcy shoots me a look.

Blake sees us all looking at him. “Okay,” he says, and he leaves the meeting hall.

Maddy says, “He can be a real..” She searches for the word.

“Yeah,” Marcy says, “he can be.”


“I assume that’s why Maddy’s here. And fine if you don’t want to let the rest of us in on it.”

“What is there to let you in on—”

“What happened in Ocean City—”

“What do you want to know? You were there, as I recall.”

“I’ve never been a part of your inner circle with Beth and—”

“Can we please not talk about Beth?”

“Sure.”

“And there was never any inner circle.”

“Matthew—”

“I’m sorry but what is the point?”

“I think you’ll find once you address your demons—”

“Fuck me. You’re ridiculous Blake. It’s like when you were a little kid you discovered that what you really like to do is give advice. And then you proceeded to live your entire life in such a way that you’re the last person anyone would ever listen to advice from.”

“‘What the ancients called a clever fighter,”’ Blake says to himself. “‘is one who not only wins, but excels at winning with ease.”’

“Oh, fuck me.”

“It has come to my attention,” he says, “that you’re not following the curriculum.”

“Brilliant conclusion.”

“I’ve heard that—”

“Who did you hear from?”

“I’ve heard from your small group—”

“Hold up. Hold up. Did they come to you, or did you go to them?”

“I—”

“Before you answer, Blake. Just..consider that if you went to my counselees and asked them about what we’re doing in curriculum..that’s..shit central on your part.”

“As in?”

“As in if you did that you’re a piece of shit. Did you do that?”

“I had a talk—”

“DID YOU INITIATE THE MOTHERFUCKING TALK?”

Blake doesn’t meet my eye. He keeps his head down.

“Those kids are getting a good week at camp. I’m following the curriculum. I’m not following it to the letter and if you are, then your kids are getting cardboard, not a counsellor. Don’t talk to my counselees again. You hear me? About the curriculum. About small group. If someone has a problem they will come to you. You don’t need to go around searching for a problem. Are you looking for a problem?”

I step to Blake.

“I have legitimate concerns about the—”

“Are you looking for a problem? If you look for one, you’re gonna find one. I’m looking for: safe campers. No one gets hurt. We show them some Bible verses. Maybe in the discussion someone grows, spiritually. What are you looking for?”

Blake starts, “When I think about creating what I would consider the ideal environment—”

But I stop him. “The minute you start making sense is the minute I start listening to what you have to say.”

“It’s not just the curriculum.”

“Don’t you ever talk to my campers again.”

“I won’t.”

“I know you won’t, you fucking pussy. If you talk to them I’m calling your father. Have him put the training wheels back on your bike.”

“I hope you don’t do that.”

“I know you hope that. Because you like being Rambo commander, lone star, you can make up your own shit.”

“I’m worried about you, Matthew. How are you feeling?”

I just laugh.

“What?”

“Blake. You’re going to psychoanalyze me? I think you’ve grossly misread the situation.”

“What situation is that?”

“The situation between you and me. In which: you have no idea what’s going on but you continue to speak about it anyway.”

“I came to you because I wanted—”

“Look. Are you gonna kick me out because I’m not following the curriculum? If so, keep talking. If not, go away. Just go away, Blake. I’ve had enough of the hate theology.”

“I have spoken with my father.”

“Congratu-fucking-lations. Is he kicking me out of camp? No? Then get the fuck out of my room. I’m serious, Blake. Get the fuck out.”

“I’d prefer if you didn’t speak like that around campers.”

“Are there campers here? I don’t see any campers.”

“There could be. This is—”

“There either are or there aren’t. Right? Look around you. There are no campers here.”

Blake sits down in the Chair of Shimmering Velvet.

“Don’t sit there.”

“What?”

“Stand up. Get the fuck up.” I’m right on top of him. “That chair is for my group. It’s not for you. Get the fuck up.” I help Blake out of the Chair. I push him into the hallway. I pull my small group door closed.

“I’d prefer if we didn’t talk in the hallway.”

“Fuck you. That’s my group space. It has a certain energy.”

“I’m fucking up your energy?”

“Blake. Tell me what your daddy said. Did he reinstate your allowance?”

“Let’s find a place to sit. This may take a while.”

“I’m not taking a while to talk with you. I’m preparing my curriculum for tomorrow. You’re interrupting me. Just..say what you have to say..here..and then, please, you’re not benefiting the situation here. Just say what you have to say. Go. Make it quick.”

Blake exhales. He’s got this sleepy look in his eyes. “This is going to be your last year at Camp Lake.”

“Is that all?”

“No. Maddy won’t be coming back either.”

“Why are you telling me Maddy’s business?”

“I thought you would like—”

“I don’t need to know other people’s business. This is my last year at Camp Lake. Are you finished?”

“Do you have anything you’d like to say?”

“No, do you have anything else to say? If not, please leave me alone so I can get ready for tomorrow’s small group.”

Blake goes down the hallway.

“And Blake,” I say.

Blake turns around.

“You’re a real bitch. I just thought you should know that.”

Piglet comes out of her room. “What was that?”

It’s just me and Piglet in the hallway.

“That was Blake, saying that this will be my last year at Camp Lake.”

“Is this about curriculum?” Piglet asks.

I nod.

“He can’t do that,” she says.

I shrug.

“No,” she says, “He can’t do that. You don’t have to follow the curriculum.”

“It’s his dad’s camp. He can do whatever he wants.”

“No he can’t. Did he talk to Pastor Steve?”

“He said he just got off the phone with him.”

“Well,” Piglet says, “That’s unacceptable. I’ve seen you work with your group. I’m not following the curriculum exactly.”

“It’s a selectively-enforceable rule. Classic tactic.”

“Blake is out of line.”

“Yeah.”

“No,” she says, “He’s gone too far with this. He thinks just cause he sleeps with the Bible under his pillow that everything he says is right.”

“He sleeps with his Bible?” I say. “He used to sleep with nunchucks.”

“He slept with nunchucks?”

“Yeah,” I say, “He carried them everywhere. And The Art of War.”

“What’s The Art of War?”

“It’s this Chinese book. Ancient military strategy.”

“And he used to carry that around?”

“Yeah. Always. He slept with that too.”

“Well now he sleeps with the Bible,” Piglet says.

“Actually,” I say, “it was a sword he slept with. But long before Blake was quoting Jesus, he was quoting Sun Tzu.”


“How is everyone this morning?”

Manny smiles, his eyes slitted closed. David says, “Ready for ropes.” Kristen lays in the grass, her head on Maxwell’s leg.

I’ve put us under a tree.

“We’re going to join up with everyone else in a little bit but I wanted to do our morning meditation before we go over there.”

“They’re not doing it?” Maxwell asks.

I don’t even have to answer. Katherine says, “Their loss. What scripture are we doing?” and she has her Bible out.

We have two between the five of us. I hand mine to David. “Share with Kristen and Max. Katherine, will you let Manny read with you?”

But Katherine comes to sit on my right side and Manny scoots nearer, to sit on my left.

I’m looking at the rest of camp. They’re getting harnesses ready, setting out ropes. Blake is organizing.

“What scripture?” Katherine says.

“How about Luke..10..verse 38.”

“Whoah,” David says. He has my Bible open. He lets the top of the book dip and I see the pages, for once, from about four feet away.

The pages are marked. In pen, pencil, colored marker. The book of Luke is definitely marked. There’s writing in the margins, sideways, upside-down. There’s clear tape at the edge of the pages. There’s writing on top of that. That’s my study Bible. I treat it like I would a machete. I throw it in my bag. I take it to the woods. I carry it into bars. I take it to church. If they would make Bibles with thicker pages, out of plastic, I would carry that. I carry that Bible like some people carry their phone; my shit is beat up, well-loved, and I can’t function without it. Easter Christians keep their Bibles nice. Their shit is more like a purse than a phone. I’m not even sure I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus. I have been a Christian at times. Someday I might be a Christian again. When I act like Christ, that’s when I’m a Christian. When I don’t, I’m not. I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that.

“You must really like highlighters,” David says.

“Yeah,” I say, “I love ‘em.”

We read Luke and then we do a discussion. The whole rest of camp is waiting on us, but I’m not going to hurry my way through small group. They can wait.

“Where do you find God? How does God speak to you? What parts of nature or humanity does God use when speaking to you?”

Manny has got this punk look on his face. “Who? Me?”

“Anyone.”

“Nature,” Max says.

I nod.

“The mountains.”

“The sea.” That was David.

“How does God speak to you?”

Kristen says, “Through the Bible.”

“How so?”

“When I read it. It’s His Word.”

I look at Tislam.

Tislam says, “He speaks to me through people. In their actions. It says that in the Bible. Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me. That’s how he speaks to me.”

He speaks to me through people. Yeah. That’s how he speaks to me, too. He speaks to me through others’ actions. She speaks to me in beauty, with her touch, with a kind word. She speaks to me as the person who includes me when I’m left out. She speaks to me in nature, yes, I realize, but more than that, to me, God is in the people I know. He is behind their faces. He is inside their voice. In their words, I can hear God speaking, as though the voices of us all were a chorus, and my life is the act of listening to the music of that chorus one voice at a time, but the whole thing, all together, is God.

Do I see God in you? I do. Have I ever seen him any other way? I don’t know. I see God in nature. I do. Some of the most powerful..beauty, I guess..I have seen in nature. And that beauty fits that wider definition of beauty—that which is terrible. Not the nicey-nice. But that which is so beautiful it hurts, it kills, it breathes life into, it takes that life away. Nature, certainly, mountains and oceans, water and wind, whales and waves, a hawk screeching, the organization of ants..certainly that is where some of what I find most powerfully beautiful can be found. But God himself..God..where do I find you? How do you speak to me? I don’t know.

Or maybe I do.

Maybe I do.

And maybe that’s what’s bugging me.

God speaks to me through people. God is people who are nice to me. People who love me. I pray. When I pray I do not pray to people. At night, in my bed, when I talk to God, I’m not talking to a person. Who am I talking to? How does God talk back? I hear a voice in my head, I hear a voice when I talk to God. Do I hear a voice talk back?

I don’t know. I’m not sure about that.

I hear a voice that interprets what God would say back to me, or what he has said. Is that it? I hear a voice that is mine, who talks to God. But what do I hear back? I do hear something, something coming back to me in my mind, but it’s not the voice of God. That’s my understanding.

When I hear God talking back to me it’s not a voice. It’s in the world.

I see God in the world. When God answers me it’s in action. I ask for help when I pray. But how have I determined, all this time, that God has answered me? I think in every case I can think of, it has been that I have seen something done, by another person or people, that I take to be the embodiment of God’s response to me. It’s that I pray for help, and that another person helps me. I have never questioned this. I have never thought, before, that this was not the natural way for God to speak back to me when I ask for things. And I’m not saying that now. Honestly, I can’t imagine a better way for God to speak back to me. And this doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God. It doesn’t mean that. I think, though, it means I am redefining my concept of God; that I am considering, more closely than I have before, what it is that I mean, when I use that word.

“Are we gonna go do ropes?”

“We’re going. Let’s stand up. Let’s pray first.”

Everyone holds hands.

“My prayer, today, is that no one gets hurt on the ropes course. Please keep us safe, let us push our limits.” I squeeze Manny’s hand.

Manny says, “Thank you God that it’s not raining.”

David says, “I’m thinking of my sisters, at home. Please watch over them.”

Maxwell says, “Thank you for bringing me here this week and showing me what you’ve showed me. I want to learn. I am listening.”

Kristen doesn’t say a thing.

Katherine says, “Thank you for the translators of the NRSV. Fabulous text. Love the Psalms in it. Truly badass, God, that your creatures have taken the time to bring us the NRSV. I mean. Wow. And thank you for Matthew saying I don’t have to do the ropes course if I don’t want to. I don’t want to end up pissing myself in front of my new friends.”

Katherine squeezes my hand.

I say, “Amen.”

And we go to the ropes.


“Finally!”

“Your harnesses are pre-strung.”

“Un-do ‘em.”

“Matt, we’re late, we gotta—”

“Brian, I’m not using pre-strung harnesses. In fact,” I shout, “I want everyone to take apart your harnesses and set them on the ground in front of you.”

“We already did that.”

“I’m the ropes coordinator. Okay? We’re not in a hurry. Take your O-ring off if you have one, hold all your carabiners in your hand.” I hold a harness above my head. “Put your harness on the ground like this. Don’t step into it yet. We’re gonna talk about ropes for a few minutes. Today is going to be a day when you climb that tower, yes. But first we’re gonna learn about the equipment that’s going to keep you safe while we’re doing all of this.”

Katherine on the ropes is a trip. Maxwell and Kristen stay near each other. We do ground exercises first, and then trust falls, and then we do the first wall.

“Is it gonna hold me?”

“Katherine.”

“Is it gonna hold me?”

“Katherine. Katherine. Listen to me. Feel this?” I walk back a step, tightening the rope.

“Oh my god,” she says.

“Katherine, stop climbing. Rest your arms. Put your left hand on the rope. Keep your right hand on the wall. Feel how tight that rope is?”

She does what I say.

“Now listen. I want you to put your right hand on the rope and fall off the step.”

“No way.”

“This is gonna show what would happen if you fell. So practice falling. When you’re ready, put your right hand on the rope and step backwards. Look at me.”

She tries to turn her head but the helmet straps are in the way.

“That’s okay. David, go stand next to her. Stand in the middle of the wall.”

David goes over.

Katherine is terrified.

“Now let yourself fall.”

“I can’t.”

“He’s got you,” David says.

“I can’t.”

“Just step backwards and hold onto the rope.”

She takes one foot off the step and leans back. She loses her balance but doesn’t go anywhere. I’m walking back with the rope. Katherine is dangling.

“See. You’re fine.”

“I didn’t fall,” she says.

And you’re not going to.


It’s a long way down.

Maxwell and Kristen are coming across the wire.

I’m up top, hanging off the wire, leaning back, nothing below me but the air.

This is the highest part of the course, higher than the telephone pole. It’s back in the woods, strung up on pines. To get to this part of the course you have to have already climbed a long way. Not everyone makes it up here. Below a certain point, if you decide to stop, your ground belayer can lower you down. And past that certain point we don’t let you go back. It clutters the course. Up here there is no belay. Not this year. Up here there is only one way to go.

It’s usually not a problem, though. If you’ve made it to the wire, you trust the course. At this point, you look down, you see the height, and you ignore it.

“How’s it going Maxwell?”

“Fine!” He bounces the wire. Me in the middle, Kristen behind Max, and Piglet on the other side of me, all go flying.

Piglet shouts, “Don’t do that!”

I smile.

When Piglet leaves the wire, as Maxwell’s coming toward me, he takes his feet off the bottom wire and, his gloved hands gripped over the top wire, does pull-ups. As the wire bounces, Kristen looks down at her feet.

“Kris, who’s after you?”

“Nobody. Maddy’s coming up.”

“She last?”

“I think so.”

Max’s arms tire and he rests his weight on his feet. Max is beaming.

“It’s great up here, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

I unclip one of Max’s carabiners from the wire above and re-clip it on the other side of the ones that tether me to the wire.

Max and I do a little dance so he can go past me. Then I move his other carabiner to the other side of mine.

“What happens if that wire falls?”

I look down and smile.

Max says, “At least we’d die together,” and continues across the space.

“K, how you doin’?”

She’s sweating and her hair is in her face around the helmet. “I have to pee.”

“How long has that been going on?”

“Since we came up that first wall.”

I clip her first carabiner to the other side of mine. “Ten minutes. You’ll be at the bottom.”

“We came up with what we want to do for the talent show.”

“I shudder to think.” I clip Kristen’s second carabiner to the other side. “Tell me later. Check each other’s carabiners. Max. You check Kristen’s. K, check his.”

Kristen gives me the thumbs up and slinks piecemeal along the wire toward the zip line. When she and Max are on the platform I put my weight on my overhead ropes and run along the bottom wire over to them. I watch Max move one carabiner to the zip line, check it, then move the other one. Kristen puts her hand on Maxwell’s carabiner and jiggles it. I can see them both.

“Is that good?” Maxwell asks back.

“Yeah.”

“Oh, fuck,” I hear him say. “Is this safe?”

“Safe as it’s gonna get,” I say.

And Maxwell jumps.

K follows.

In a few minutes it’s me and Maddy at the top of the wire.

“Successful day,” Maddy says.

Everyone’s at the bottom. I see people taking their harnesses off, sitting in the grass. Blake is passing out box drinks.

“Yeah, it was a good day.”

“No mishaps,” Maddy says.

And I look at her. And I realize why she’s saying this. She has come across the wire, right to its middle, without her carabiners clipped to the wire. Both guides are tossed over the top wire. Nothing is clipping her in.

“Unclip yours,” she says. “It’s liberating.”

“Have you been like that the whole way up here?”

“No,” she says, “Just for this part. It’s like skinny dipping. It makes you feel..free.”

I’m glad I didn’t bounce the wire while Maddy was crossing. She’s too far away from me to catch her guides if she falls. I want to move toward her but I’m afraid to move at all. Also, I don’t want to ask her to clip her guide in because that would involve her taking one of her hands off the top wire.

I’m looking at Maddy’s face.

And she’s coming toward me.

There’s a breeze blowing across us, and I see Maddy’s bare stomach, below the shirt, and it makes me nervous. I’m thinking of touching Maddy’s stomach. I want to. My thoughts are mixed between thoughts of putting my hand down her pants and needing to catch her when she falls.

Maddy takes a step toward me. She slides one foot, then one hand, then one foot, then the other hand.

I say, “I bet you’re not wearing underwear, either, are you?”

She shakes her head.

She looks like a child to me. Maybe she reminds me of being a child. There’s something so direct about her that it’s scary. It’s like opening a closet that was dark, in the middle of the day. She’s like a blast of air, or light on your face. Or a high note, separate from any song, that rings out on its own force.

I hear a bird. I see the sun. I feel the sweat on the back of my neck.

This is what it’s like when people die. This, like any other moment, is exactly what it’s like in the moment right before someone dies. I’m already leaned back on the top wire. Without moving anything else, I lay my head back and look at the sky.

I’m not going to pray about this. I’m not going to pray “God, please make Maddy not kill herself.” I’m not going to pray that. I don’t believe in that prayer. I think God has more of a grasp on this situation than I do. Me praying for such a simple thing would be trite, a detail, after the fact. If I knew what to pray for, if I really knew how to pray, I would be asking for understanding of why I was placed in this situation, or praying that its outcome would be a part of making me wise.

Or maybe I would be thanking God, really thanking God, for putting me here.

I’m alive right this instant. Maddy is alive right this instant. Maybe instead of complaining to my maker that life isn’t exactly what my little mind knows how to want, I should be trying to learn something. My God is bigger than me. Maybe that means that instead of praying for things to change I should be thanking God for what makes me uncomfortable..thanking God for what I do not understand..

I open my eye. Maddy has one hand on the wire. Her other hand is on her belly.

Nothing on my face is worried.

Maddy looks at me, and I look at her, and our expressions are plain.

She reaches up, from her belly, and that hand clips one carabiner to the wire.

And this was stupid, and I don’t know why I did this. But I stood straight on the wire and faced the next platform, and with one hand on the top wire, I unclipped both my carabiners and let them fall to my sides. And I walked the second half of the wire with no guides.

When we got to the platform I clipped Maddy to the zip line. And I clipped myself as well. And, with Maddy against a birch tree, and me against a pine, and the distance and the trees covering us partly from the campers, I put my hand down Maddy’s pants, and I feel her, and she’s wet, and I put my middle finger inside her. My dick is hard. And probably some of the campers can see us. But it doesn’t matter.


Blake finds me at the bottom. “So. Everything went well. No one got hurt. Good job.”

“I guess you’re gonna miss me next year. Who’s gonna do the ropes then, you?”

“I was too harsh earlier. I didn’t—”

“No. You know? Earlier was earlier. You said I’m not coming back, I’m not. I don’t have to do this every year. I might..use my vacation for an actual vacation next year.” I pat Blake on the shoulder.

“I want you to know, I think you do a good job.”

I laugh. “You already spent all your coin with me, but you just keep spending.”

“I think when we get back to Philly we just get people together and discuss curriculum week, we figure out if curriculum is a guide, or a suggestion, or what.”

“Blake. Honestly. I hope you have fun doing that.”

“You’re not going to come?”

“Am I invited now?”

“Matthew, realistically, some things need to be looked at.”

“I hope you have fun looking at them,” I say.

Blake says, “I want you to be there.”

“You’re off on next week, you’re off on last year, I’m here. What are you doing with your small group this afternoon. That’s what you should be thinking about. There’s no next week. There’s one step, then one step, then one step. Right? Right now I’m not doing curriculum for next year or discussing policy for curriculum for next year or discussing when I’m going to discuss policy for curriculum for next year. I’m putting away a climbing harness, and I’m closing up the rope shack, and—hey, Max! I need some help with these ropes!”

Blake has a buttery look in his eyes. “I just want you to know. That I’m sorry for what I said before. I shouldn’t have said it. And you’re welcome at Camp Lake anytime.”

I put my harness on one of the pegs. “It’s too late,” I say.

Max is here. “What can I do?”

“Pair up the gloves. Gloves go here. Coil this. And that, that’s on the ground? Cut off that end. Dirt gets in there, it weakens the fibers. Tie off the end. Then we’ll melt it.”

“What do I melt it with?”

“Talk to Maddy,” I say, “She’s got a lighter.”

Blake says, “We’ll meet you guys at the mess hall?”

But I don’t respond.

Blake shuffles off.

Max says, “What’s up between you and him?”

I’ll tell you what’s up between me and him. Or between Beth and Sean, for that matter. Some animals don’t play together. It’s like people keeping chimpanzees for pets. We think chimps are cute. And they’re more affectionate than human babies. But the problem with a chimp is it’ll rip your motherfucking face off. It’s confusing, too: in a way, the chimp seems like the sweet one and the person seems like the one with all the knowledge and the power. And that’s true in very limited circumstances. But outside the zoo, it pays to be a chimp.

Someone like Sean, or someone like Blake, will never understand that. Because to them all of life is a zoo. They live in a world that is halls and bars and feeding times. They’re in control when control is in control. But most of the world isn’t ruled by control. It’s ruled by something else. And when you take those, from behind the glass, who need that glass to maintain their status with the other, then you see who is the pet and who is the keeper. God and people are locked in a similar dance, and if you don’t already know this, I hate to be the one to tell you, but God is not the one who hides behind the glass.

“Blake,” I say, “is mad about something that happened about ten years ago. He thinks he got the raw end of a deal.”

“About what?”

“He’s got a complex,” I say. “He feels like he’s not part of the inner circle of our little friend group from when we were kids.”

“All the counsellors.”

“Some of them.”

“You and Maddy.”

“Basically.”

“It seems like you’re pretty nice to him.”

“Try to be.”

“But his dad owns the camp.”

“Yeah. Hey—hey! That’s a medium and a small. You can tell by the colors.”

“Matthew.”

“Yes.”

“You know the prayer before dinner?”

I stop folding harnesses.

“Can I say that tonight?”

This is my man.

Kristen comes over with Maddy’s lighter. “Maddy said to bring you this.”

“Tell Maddy to get her ass over here and help me fold ropes ‘cause she was a bad, bad girl on the course today. Gimme that. You’re done. Prayer. Tonight. You. Make it good. And kickass on making it to the top today.”

The two of them walk across the grass. About halfway to the tree they turn around and shout in unison, “Be bold!!”

You know what I said back.


Sunlight. Staring at the blue.

I’m lying by the lake. I put my cap over my eyes.

These days are shockingly blue. Mega-blue.

I’ll take a nap now. I’ll lie here for a while. From the side of my eye I’ll see the great blue sky. Not a cloud. And the shouts of campers playing lake volleyball. Julie Jane is in there with them. She’s got them for now. She’ll take them through the paces, with her and two campers on the one side, and on the other side of the floating net, as many campers as want to be there. Julie Jane will smoke them. She’s a pro. Thwack: the spike of the ball. And screams from the other side. She smoked them.

Tiny hairs on my arm stand upright. The wind blows between them.

Kristen is beside me. Maxwell is with her. “We’re going up the path. Okay?”

“No. Why are you going up the path?” I’m laughing.

“It’s not what you think. We’re making a necklace for Donna. Out of flowers.”

“We need the yellow ones. They’re only in a certain place.”

“Come back quickly.”

They run off.

I’m lying there thinking of baseball fields, summer days, hills that go up from a bike path to reveal a lake, riding bikes with my family, ribbon streamers that sprout from handlebars, flying in the wind. There’s a picnic, somewhere.. And someone’s grilling burgers..

I remember a camp somewhere, some week, some weekend, people are putting canoes in the water, it’s the year of the cicada, the seventeenth year. The lake is so littered with cicadas that the fish won’t eat. They’re already fat off easy food. Some group of teenagers, from another church..they’re putting their canoes in the water. I forgot to put on sunscreen. A couple making out at the edge of the wood, their boat docked sloppily on a mud bank. There was an eddy, in upstate New York.. Beth and I were wading out in the shallows, where the smooth flat rocks were.. And there was a snake..

Thwack. My eye turns to the lake. Julie Jane bobbing out of the water, flexing her biceps, bodybuilder-style. “Bring it on!!”

Kids jump in the lake to help defeat Julie Jane. Christine, the only real contender, is serving for the other side. She serves. Morgan, with Julie Jane, returns the serve.

There’s an ant on the grass by my eye. There’s two. Black ants. The small kind. I put my finger out. Maybe he’ll crawl on me. Imagine being an ant on a human arm, walking between tall hairs, translucent stalks. Like being in a swamp of hair, terra flesh. There must be less detail at that level. Like walking in a Lego world, bright lights, flawless surfaces, you could see the building blocks. High-resolution. Every detail sharp. I think I could get clarity as an ant.

“Communing with nature?” Maddy is above me. She sits, with my head between her legs.

I smile. I’m squinting in the light.

“You should come with me to Florida. You should come and visit. I’ll take you to the beach, this place near Ft. Lauderdale. There’s an orchid farm, and railroad tracks. The beach is long..it’s this thin beach, there’s boulders and a little road, and the train tracks are between you and where you park. When the train comes by, it goes between you and the cars, between you and the road, so for a minute it’s like there’s just the train, and the beach, and the ocean. I’ll take you there.”

“I don’t want to do that, though.” I touch Maddy’s arm.

“I’m not doing any more of that. I’m out. I am. It’s not like I do that all the time.”

“But I do want to come out with you again,” I say. “To your fort.”

“Oh do you.”

“But maybe not all night.”

Maddy puts her hand on my belt.

“But maybe for a little bit.”

“I’ll meet you after vespers,” she says. “And it’s a hideout.”

I think I hear the wind say: My life is in giving others life.

And I know that that is true. That’s where I have found you, in others’ touch. That’s where I have found you, when others help. And that’s what I must be. I must make myself such that others can find you when they look at me. I must make my I an I that can be passed through, by certain types of love.

I think I hear the I’ say: *you find me in others*. But if I heard the I’ say that, does that mean there are others within myself?

“What do I do to get the Polar Bear shirt?” It’s Nixon.

“You have to do Polar Bear every day.”

“How many days do I have to do it to get the shirt.”

“You have to do it every day. Nixon. I don’t think you’ve had your Wheaties.”

“They have Wheaties here?”

“You can’t get the shirt. You’ve already missed days. It’s not about the shirt. You should come with us tomorrow.”

When I was a kid there were no showers so we bathed in the lake. You had to bring Ivory soap (no other kind) because Ivory floats, and when you’re bathing in a lake, that’s important. The guys bathed and then the girls bathed after them. While the guys were bathing, the girls were carefully ferreted away, back at camp. When the girls were bathing, it was the same. Only guy counselors were at the lake when guys are bathing and only girl counselors were at the lake when the girls were bathing. As far as I know no one ever broke through that and spied on the other sex bathing. Pastor Steve was very strict about that. They counted heads, they had a kindof handoff that they did at bathing time. That made sure everyone was in the right place. Even Blake’s mom wasn’t allowed to come down here during bathing time. When guys were bathing, Blake’s mom stayed far away, even though they have their own cabin that overlooks the lake. You can’t have slip-ups of that nature. Priests and camp counselors already don’t have the best reputation when it comes to this. It was guy counselors standing on the dock making sure nobody drowns while they’re getting clean, and I assume the girl counselors did the same, but, like I said, I never saw them. Even if you were a guy counsellor and you were with a girl counsellor, Camp Lake bathing time would have been one time you did not see that person naked.

I remember bathing in the lake when I was a camper, this one time. The guy counsellors were diving off the edge of the dock. Everyone was naked. This one counsellor’s dick stands straight up. He wasn’t my counsellor but he was one of the counsellors. He’s standing on the dock and we’re all in the water bathing. And his dick is standing up. I’m trying not to look, but I also want to look, because he’s ten years older than me, and I want to see what my dick is going to look like when I’m older. But mainly I’m trying not to look. I absolutely cannot have one of the other campers catch me looking at his dick. Yet I am looking, because I can’t look away.

It never struck me until recently that this counsellor was probably gay, and he was turned on by watching us bathe.

I ask the wind: was that guy gay?

The wind doesn’t blow.

I ask the wind: should I keep going with Maddy?

The wind doesn’t blow.

Should I not worry about all these questions?

The wind blows.

The wind doesn’t tell me what to do. I don’t wait for it before I act. But, sometimes, when I’m doing something, the wind lets me know it’s right. Maddy’s voice in my head. She’s talking about ease. Ease isn’t something you can make happen. It’s something that sometimes happens to you.

I want to learn ease.

You can. Listen for it.

What are you, God, are you this world? Are you a voice inside my head? Are you coming from me?

Now the wind isn’t blowing. It doesn’t like when I lecture it.

Katherine’s on a bench beside the lake. She’s reading her book, hair in her face. When shouts come from the volleyball game, when boys walk by shirtless, when girls go by chattering, Katherine doesn’t look up. She is not with us at the lake. The most vital part of her is off with Gawain and Bors and Lionel. She is beside another lake altogether. This is part of why we ban cell phones, so you engage with the people around you, but I feel a care for Katherine. There’s something less obnoxious about a book than a cell phone. Aesthetics aside, though, their use has similar effects. But I sense that Katherine doesn’t need to be here. If she put her screen down, would she benefit more? Maybe I should make it harder for her to isolate. Maybe she’s too old to be here.

K and M return with their flowers. Kristen is looking at Maxwell. He’s got blue and white board shorts. Kristen is looking at his thin stomach, at his chest. Maxwell doesn’t work out, but everything about him is smooth, and Kristen likes the pale of his skin.

Maxwell is looking at her too.

Kristen is wearing a one-piece. Maxwell is trying not to be seen looking. They’re lining up on the dock. Everyone’s holding life preservers. Maxwell sees Kristen’s butt. He and Pierce are talking about something, trying not to care.

The swoop of Kristen’s one-piece goes right into her crotch. That’s what Maxwell is trying to look at. He has seen it, he has gotten a glance at her crotch. But only for a second. And he keeps going back to it, as if the next look will bring him to some higher understanding, or some different place.

Kristen had a similar interest in Maxwell’s pouch. Certain ways he turned, you could see it. The shorts he wore of course hid everything, and were long—below the knee. But she could see his ass, and in the folds at the front of his trunks, she could catch a glimpse, sometimes, of the shape of his dick.

Underwater was a different story. It turned out Kristen was a freak. She nipped him—why not? Maxwell didn’t get hard, but he got thick. When Kristen came up, they treaded water together, and her hair was slicked back, and she looked like a mouse, and their arms and legs churned frantically. Then Maxwell held his breath and he went underwater.

He opened his eyes—how could he not?—and he avoided Kristen’s kicking legs. But he swam between them, and he braced himself by putting one of his hands on each of her thighs, and he bit her. He didn’t know where to bite, but he felt Kristen’s muscles tighten, so he bit again. Not hard. And he had the stretchy fabric of her suit in his teeth, and he could feel the extra layer of padding they put in the crotch of girls’ swimsuits, and he wondered if, above water, anyone could see what they were doing.

When Kristen went down she used her hands. She pulled down the front of Maxwell’s swimming suit, then she pulled it down all the way. She kept her eyes closed, since they were in the lake, but she found his scrotum with her hand and she worked her way up. His penis was stout, and circumcised. She put her fingers on its tip and rolled the skin down. Then she put her lips around it.

She licked. Her mouth was wet but then again..she was underwater.

Maddy gets out of the lake. And I’m not stealing Polaroids of teenage campers anymore, I’m looking at someone my own age. And this looks better. Jesus Christ. Fantasies flood back at me from high school. I’m thinking of things I used to jerk off to ten years ago, when I maintained a vaster array of scenarios. That shit, back then, was complex. I used to take hours to jerk off. I used to stand on my head—do a headstand on my bed and jerk off upside down. But when Maddy stands on the dock and dries herself, I’m back there, taping magazine photos to my bed, thinking of my female classmates and their older sisters doing things to me that to think of at this age is straight-up perverted. Now I settle for a coworker fantasy and get done with it. It’s entirely functional. Back then it was a luxury, a vacation, a universe of thought. Maddy pressing the towel on her stomach, bringing a hand up and brushing a tendril of wet hair over her ear..opens up a universe again.

I don’t usually swim in the lake. I prefer the pool. I will swim in the lake if I have to, and we do some of the swimming lessons in the lake, which I don’t see the point of. It’s supposed to teach the kids not to be afraid of the deep, of swimming where they can’t see the bottom. I get that. But the lake is dirty..and we have a pool. Some of our swimming exercises involve righting an overturned canoe—you have to do those in the lake. But if you just want to go swimming..I mean, come on, that’s why God made swimming pools.

I hit the water. It’s warmer than I expected..it’s downright warm. I sink. I turn around on my back. I open my eyes. It’s not as murky as I usually think of it. The sun coming through, translucence, glass. I close my eyes. I sit there.

I need to shed some things from my past. I’m travelling too heavy. Now that Maddy’s here.. I don’t want to hurt her. We seem to be liking each other. I think we’re both enslaved, though, by what has gone before. At least I am.

I swim up, but I don’t go to the top. I need a moment. Under here I have a tiny minute of space. Everyone needs space from the week. We’re all stuck here together, everyone misses their families. I need to get my kids some space.

And when I come up from here, I want to make a change. I want my life to be different. I would meditate on it for hours if I could hold my breath that long. I always expect that I can somehow make a change happen right away.

I come to the top. I want a change. That much is mine right in this moment, that I want it. This is the moment when I want a change, when I have asked for it, and now I must go on and wait for it to happen. I breathe. And I am swimming for shore.

When we go back from the lake Kristen and Maxwell were holding hands. They walk apart from their respective groups. There are runs of girls, runs of boys, and then Kristen and Maxwell in the back, lagging farther and farther behind. Maddy and Blake are in the front. Me and Junkyard are in the back.

I look back at the lake. No one on the benches. No one on the dock.

Maxwell takes his hand out of Kristen’s and puts his arm around her shoulder. Kristen adjusts and puts her arm around Maxwell’s waist.

Junkyard says, “Are you seeing this?”

“Yes,” I say, “I am.”

“They are so cuuute. When I have children, I want them to be exactly like this.”

“Yeah, as long as he stays in his cabin and she stays in hers.”

“That is the game, no?”

I grin at Oscar. “How’s Julie Jane?”

Junkyard punches me in the stomach; he grabs my head in his bicep. “Julie Jane is fine, my friend, and you know that. She is very fine.”


Imperceptibly, it came upon me. It was my break. Maddy had my campers on a hike. She was watching them, supposedly. I was taking a nap. I had gone back to the cabin and was lying on my bunk when I saw it. The door was open. I had propped the door open so there wouldn’t be any screening between me and the outdoors. I wanted to look into the forest. I was lying there looking into the green, into the sky behind the trees, letting my thoughts wander. I had my head propped up on a post, with my pillow between the two. I had my shoes off, which is part of why it scared me. I was that little bit more defenseless, with no shoes. The main thing was that it had come up to the cabin so slowly that I didn’t recognize it until it was halfway inside the cabin. I saw it before that..my eye saw it before that..but I didn’t recognize it until it was too late.

It was a snake.

It was a black snake, from the woods. It was six feet long. By the time my brain recognized it as a snake, it was three feet inside the cabin, with the rest of it sliding in. It had come upon me so slowly that even though he was right in the middle of my field of vision, I didn’t see him until he was within striking distance of my bed.

It wasn’t poisonous. His head was the wrong shape. But I didn’t want to be bitten. I couldn’t have him in the cabin. Mostly, the fact that he had snuck up on me scared the shit out of me.

It might have been the week. It might have been the heat. I don’t know what element was present in me that made me react the way I did. I usually like snakes. I’ve kept them as pets.

But I didn’t like this one.

He saw me. He saw me move. I moved on the bed. I sat up.

The snake saw me and he was completely still.

I sat there. The sparks in my spine began to prick. On my neck, on my arms, my skin pricked. Snakes are unnatural. There’s something wrong about them. There’s something about them that shouldn’t be that way. And something in me, something genetic, something in my DNA, in my bones, in my natural history..something in me knows that. Knows it without thought. Some knowledge is below the surface. When I see a girl, I know what to do. I know how to feel about her, I know how to act with her. When I see a snake, I know it, too, know something is very very wrong and must be fixed.

With this snake, I decided that the snake would die.

This snake was halfway up the steps, halfway inside the cabin. His body was lain over the sharp ridges nailed to each step. He was halfway in and halfway out.

I was going to crush him.

My eyes were on him. He did not move. All I could think about was the dark, back part of the cabin. There might be other snakes in there. Even if they’re not poisonous, they might be in people’s beds. One of my campers might go to his bed and underneath the covers, inside his sleeping bag, lying on top of his pillowcase, there might be another snake. Some camper might get bit. I see the lashing out, the striking of the snake, on some pale hand. I’m gonna have to check this whole cabin for snakes. After I deal with this one, I’m going to have to go through every cabin, starting with this one. I’m going to have to take a flashlight and use a stick or something and go through every cabin and check every open suitcase and every mattress to make sure that under it, behind it, inside it, isn’t one of these snakes.

The back of the cabin is dark. There’s a door back there, but its shade is closed. There could be snakes in every one of these cabins.

I’m stealthy moving. I’m moving cobra-style. I move, kneeling, on the mattress. I’m looking around me. Are there any snakes behind me? If I see any snakes I am going to kill them. Like I am going to kill this one. Slice him in half on the metal edge of the steps. Get something heavy. Get in ambush position where he cannot strike me when I come down upon him. I will crush him, slice him, end him.

He isn’t moving.

I’m moving. I’m moving to the door. I’m staying high. I’m watching him without blinking. The dust forms tears in my eye. He sees me but he is not moving. What can I drop on him? What can I get to, from here, that I can drop on this motherfucker and kill him? How sick, how improper, is it, that this creature can come upon me without my knowing. How truly cunning, how wrong, it is, that this creature can move, within my field of vision, without my seeing it! My arms are riddled with goosebumps. My neck is prickly as though I’m some kind of animal flipped into hunt mode. Into defend mode. This snake would have been just fine if he had been strolling through the woods away from my cabin. I would be sitting in my bunk spacing out and this snake would be strolling through the woods unnoticed. Why did he come in here? Is he drawn to the cool of the cabin? To its dark? Is he hot? Is he just exploring? I should never have opened the door, I should never have left it open. Once I take care of this guy I am going to go through every cabin, to the back of every cabin, to see if any more like him are in these children’s beds. Some camper pulls back their sleeping bag and there’s a fucking snake there.

I am above the snake’s body and the snake’s eyes are on me. His body is lain across the cabin steps, wooden slats over cinderblock. There is no one who can see me. There is no one in any cabin. There is no one in the woods. No one can see me crouched on the edge of the cabin wall, pressed into the screen, three feet from the snake, bending down, eyes locked on him. If he moves, I will know it. If he decides to leave, I will let him. If he turns around right now and heads back into the woods, I will watch him go. I will not follow him. I will watch him go back to where he came. But he’s not going to do that.

I am reaching for the cinderblock. It is the cinderblock at the foot of my bunk where I have gently folded birch bark, bark that I intend to use to write Maddy a letter. I have collected it. I have folded it. I have let it dry. I will write Maddy a letter. My eyes are on the snake. He is not moving. His eyes are not moving. He sees me. I take my eyes off him. I am not breathing. I look into the cinderblock. I look inside both of its compartments. I make sure there is not a snake. I make sure it is only birch bark. It is only birch bark. The other hole is empty. There is no way a snake could get in from the bottom. There are no cracks. The snake is not moving. I move the birch bark. I put it on my bed.

When I move it is imperceptible. I move to assassinate. It is plain day and even if a camper came upon the cabin they would not see me, even as I’m perched about the door. My hands go down. I stabilize myself. My hand is on the doorframe. My hand is on the screen. My leg is pressed against the screen. I see him. I see him. He cannot move. He cannot escape me. He cannot move.

I take the block. I take the block. The block is in my hands. The block is on the doorframe. He is not moving. I am above him. His eyes are upon me. I am above him. He sees me with both his eyes. My eye is upon him. I will kill him.

I am upon him.

I crushed it with the cinderblock, but the cinderblock didn’t kill it. It slowed it down, but it didn’t kill it. It was still alive. And it wasn’t trying to strike me, but I was afraid it would. It could see me. It was watching me. It was watching the one that tried to kill it. It knew that. I dropped a cinderblock on its head and I tried to kill it. It could see me. It saw me throughout. I dropped the cinderblock on its head but it didn’t kill it. It didn’t hit it right. It hit his back, it smashed upon him, it slowed him, but he’s still alive. I’m jumping up and down, I’m jumping in the cabin. The snake is trying to go out. He knows it was me that hit him. He is trying to go out. I want to hit him again. The cinderblock is too close. If I grab it. If I grab it it may strike me. It might strike. I’m turning behind me. There might be more in the back of the cabin. Anywhere could be another one. I have to keep watch, I always have to look for them. They could be in my sheets. They might be under the bed. They might be in the ceiling, in the rafters.

I’m hitting him again. He is down the cabin steps and I hit him again. I do it. I lift the cinderblock. He is trying to leave. The back part of him is on the step and I do it. I do it. I raise the block and I hit. I hit. I crush him. He invaded my domain. And I crush him.

I am bleeding him. I am looking at his guts. I did that. I cannot kill him. He will not die. His guts are coming out. I hate him. I hate that he invaded my domain. He came upon me. I was sleeping. I did not seek him out. I never wanted him to die. I didn’t want to be the one who killed him. I have spilled him. His guts are outside now. He will not die. He is crawling back to the forest. He knows he will die. His guts are outside him. I did that. I did that to a simple creature who will now die. He will die. It’s because of me. I am terrible. I crush him. I lift the log above my head. I will crush him. He will not suffer. I will kill him here. I owe him. He did not mean to scare me. I never wanted him to die. Something came upon me, when I saw him. It was fear. It came upon me. His nature made me fear it. And I had a nature, too. This is what happens when I see him. This is what happens when he looks upon me. I am his reflection. His reflection is death.

When he came upon me, he saw himself in me.

He learned of himself, by seeing what he stirred in me.


Maddy comes into the boys area. She comes out from the path. I am terrible. I am terrible.

“What are you doing? Matt?”

The look in my eye is terror. I am searching.

“Matt. What happened?” Maddy is wiping my face.

When she pulls her hand away, it is blood.

She wipes it on her shirt.

She wipes her thumb across my forehead.

She pulls it away.

It is blood.

“Matthew. What happened?”

I am holding a stick. I am holding the branch of a tree.

I was beating the ground when Maddy saw me.

I was beating it. My hands were scraping on the branch. Bark was cutting me. I was going to kill the ground, and kill the snake that walked upon it. It was unnatural. I was going to kill it. I could drive it out. I would beat it back into the dirt.

I would bury it.


That night our night meeting had no bug juice. The meeting hall was quiet when me and the other guys came in.

Marcy stood up. She left one crutch on the carpet and, with the other one, hopped over to us. “Don’t say anything. Okay? I’m running this meeting.” Marcy sat us down, guiding us with her crutch. She made it so me and Blake weren’t directly facing each other. She put me and Maddy next to each other.

“I know what’s been going on,” Marcy says, lowering herself and stacking her crutches behind her, outside the circle. “I heard,” she says to Blake, “about your conversation with Matt and also with Maddy.”

Blake starts to speak. “Just let me—”

“No,” Marcy says. She holds her hand out flat. “This is a meeting of peers. Your power of alignment with your father isn’t relevant. Camp Lake counsellors are chosen by a peer council—this council. We’re here now. Camp is almost over. We’ve got two days left to continue what we’re doing for these kids. Tonight, though, we have to mend a rift among this group.” Marcy looks at Blake. “Your problems..with Matt..are not helping us all—”

Blake starts, “Let me just say—”

But Julie Jane says, “Stop!” There is water in her eyes. “Stop.”

Marcy says, “It’s not just you, Blake, who has a small group here. It’s not just you, Matt, who has a small group here. Or Maddy, or me. You can get your dad to not let Matt, or any of us, not be a counsellor here. Do it after camp is over.”

Blake opens his mouth.

Julie Jane stops him. “I’m serious. You keep those lips shut.” Julie Jane is shaking. “Marcy is running this meeting.”

Blake sees how shaken Julie is. She’s mad, but she’s hurt also. To see that cuts through some of Blake’s autocracy.

Marcy continues. “What I’d like to do is a group meditation. Nothing heavy. Nothing religious. I want to do a guided meditation. I want us to lie on the floor. I want us to be shoulder to shoulder. I’m going to play some music, actually it’s the sound of the rainforest. I’m going to say some affirmations. I want us to remember who we are to each other. We’re not enemies. This disagreement doesn’t deserve our reaction—”

“I’m not coming back to this camp,” Julie Jane says. She’s pointing at Blake. She’s crying. “I will never work with you. I will never play piano in your service again. Not even here—”

Marcy’s instinct is to stand but she can’t get to Julie quickly. Piglet puts her arms on Julie Jane.

“Okay,” Marcy says. And then to Blake: “You may have to find some alternate music for service tomorrow night.”

Blake starts to talk.

“I’m serious,” Marcy says. “You see these?” She grasps a crutch. “I’m about to play sounds of the rainforest and if anybody speaks I’m gonna go Robert Garrow on you.”

Oscar whispers, “Who’s Robert Garrow?”

Piglet whispers back, “He’s a serial killer.”

Marcy gives Piglet and Oscar a stern look. “I’m serious. Pretend we’re a small group, okay, and I’m your leader for the next ten minutes. Now lie down. Julie, do you need a tissue?”

Julie holds up her snot-soaked sleeve.

“Okay. Good. Get your shoulders touching. Now close your eyes.” Marcy is hopping over to the CD player. “Place your palms up.” Marcy un-pauses track three of A Month in the Brazilian Rainforest. When she hops back she sees Julie and Piglet holding hands. “That’s a good idea. Why don’t you hold hands with the person next to you.” Marcy maneuvers herself to be in the circle, too. The sound of monkeys and birds fills the room. Marcy is lying down. She holds Brian’s hand on one side and Oscar’s on the other. Marcy closes her eyes. The splinter doesn’t hurt as much today. She exhales. “You all are all my friends. Let’s try to remember why we’re here.”

At the end of our ropes course is a telephone pole. You climb to the top of that, then you stand on top. Then you jump off.

About four feet away from the top of the pole, and about four feet above it, is a bar. You try to catch that.

If you were standing on the ground doing this, it would be easy. Forty feet above the ground, it’s hard.

You have on a harness while you do this. Someone at the bottom is holding you. But we don’t help. We keep the rope slack. Climbing up the pole, the rope is slack. When you get to the top, the rope is slack. When you maneuver yourself to standing on top of the telephone pole, the rope is slack. When you jump, we pull the rope. If you miss the bar, you still fall. You just don’t fall very far.

This is extremely hard to do the first time you do it. It is hard for everyone. The hardest rocks, the littlest girls, old, young, it doesn’t matter. The first time you make that jump, it’s difficult for everyone.

It looks farther than four feet away. It looks like you can’t catch the bar. Perception plays with you. Standing up on the telephone pole is, physically, the hardest part. That requires some balance. But jumping for the bar is, very literally, a leap of faith. I’ve done that ropes course a million times with a million different groups—all types, campers, adult church members, mountain climbers, drug addicts, the mentally challenged, corporate groups doing team-building—the jump is hard for everyone.

That’s why we do it last. We start with easy stuff: trust-falls on the ground, leading your partner around blindfolded, other exercises with low altitude. It’s the same thing whether you’re low or high. The purpose is to learn to trust your teammates. The purpose of the telephone pole is to learn to trust yourself.

By the time you get to the telephone pole, you’ve fallen at least once. We make sure of that. And when you fall, you see it’s not that bad. You’re in a harness. The harness is tied to a pulley. The pulley is connected to a rope. And there’s someone at the bottom holding the rope. In fact there are three people, all in a row, and the first one is harnessed to the rope such that even if they let go, you won’t fall. The weight of the person at the bottom will stop you. So when you get to the end of the course, you know, in your mind, that you’re not going to get hurt. If you fall, you know you’re not going to fall far. But, it turns out, when you’re standing on top of a telephone pole, what you know doesn’t matter at all.

What you know, when you’re standing atop a telephone pole, doesn’t have a shred of relevance. What you see—a harness, a rope that could lift a pickup truck, a line of three people holding the rope below—those don’t matter either. It’s very lonely at the top of a telephone pole. It gets quiet up there. All that’s left is your thoughts. Those get very loud. And the loudest thought of all is fear.

You don’t have to be standing on top of a telephone pole to listen to your fear. You can be in your office, you can be in your school. You’ll feel it when you open your mouth to speak. You’ll feel it on the first day.

Fear has an interesting relationship with the truth. Fear is always of the truth. And truth is always of the self. Fear is about becoming. When you become, you are afraid. That is the only thing that anyone is ever afraid of: what they might become.

In the case of the telephone pole it’s simple. You might become someone who can make yourself jump off of a telephone pole from forty feet in the air. That is what you find out on the last exercise of our ropes course. You might fall. You might catch the bar. It doesn’t matter (and if you fall we let you go again). But as surely as I’ve seen that every human being who goes to the top of that pole feels terror to the point of immobility, I can tell you something else: everyone jumps.

And that’s the point. Are you a lion, or are you a mouse. What I’ve learned from holding ropes for hundreds of people, while I stand at the bottom of that pole, is this: when put to the test, no one feels like a lion..but when put to the test, no one acts like a mouse. That roar is in every one of us. The shame is that so few have been put to the test.


What would you do if no one was watching? If you were the last person on Earth, on a desert island. If no one was ever going to know what you did, if no one was ever going to be there to judge you or praise you..how would you fill your days?

What if there was no voice inside your head observing the rest of you? What if you didn’t have thoughts about yourself? What would you do for enjoyment then?

What would it mean if you were putting on a play and no one was watching? What would that mean for the actors? Would they be more real? Less? Maybe “all the world’s a stage” means that there isn’t an audience, and everyone is a player.

If I wasn’t performing..if I wasn’t aware that there’s a god, or if there wasn’t one..if no one would ever know what I do..what part would I act then?

What about Matthew 6? “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them..whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet..do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Jesus even says not to pray in churches, but to “go into your room and shut the door” and pray in secret. How would I pray if I truly prayed in secret? How would I live if I lived in secret..and by that I don’t mean secret from others..I mean secret from myself, in the sense of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. What if the parts of my mind were like that..if the one part did not know, or judge, or praise, what the other part was doing.

Can I do that with respect to my small group? Can I not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing? Can I plan with one hand and execute with the other? Can I plan and execute with one hand and reap the results with the other? Could part of me plant the seeds, and another part of me, oblivious, harvest the plants?

Can I sow seeds before bed, forget my life while I sleep, wake, and tend the fields as a new person?

If there was to be a born again, would it not be like that?

Would it not be about oblivion?

If I was born again, wouldn’t I forget everything? If I was born—if I came into the world through birth—wouldn’t I forget everything from the world before? In that same way, wouldn’t a spiritual birth involve a sort of spiritual oblivion?

I share these thoughts with Maddy.

“We’ve come at this,” I say, “from the study of texts. The texts strove to describe something they didn’t understand. Our understanding, based on the texts, is perverted the same way as a teenager’s ideas of sex. I think we have a perverted view of God because we cannot see the whole.”

“So wait. You think the future us went back in time and that’s what Ezekiel saw?”

“Who fucking knows. It’s just a theory.”

“I like it. I can’t justify it with the rest of Ezekiel, except that maybe he went crazy. Or took liberties with his charge. Seeing aliens is one thing but then..’the word of the Lord came upon me’..I don’t know,” Maddy says, “maybe he went crazy.”

“Maybe he just thought he was crazy after what he had seen.”

“Right,” she says, “Or maybe he took liberties because of what he had seen. Like he thought he was connected to God because of what he said, so he just made stuff up after that. Or attributed it to the Lord because he thought he was connected.”

“I think we went back in time to save ourselves in the future. Because,” I say, “in the future we know we’re going to destroy ourselves. So we send someone back to the past to make a sign for ourselves, to make sure we don’t die.”

“Wait. Which us do you mean? To make sure the past us doesn’t die?”

“I don’t know,” I say, “The whole us. It’s all the same us.”

“Like we’re living in a loop?”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“You’re really into this, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, I sit up all night reading the apocryphal texts of Enoch.” I say it like I’m sarcastic but I’m not.

“I knew it,” Maddy says. “I knew it. You’re a real nerd. Do you have them with you?”

“Of course I do.”

“Okay. Get them.” She’s waiting.

“You’d be interested in that?”

“Hello. We’re having this conversation, aren’t we?”

“Maddy. What’s something you find holy?”

She brushes the hair off my forehead. “I think,” she says, “it’s the thing that scares you so much you become a child again.”

I fall asleep with Maddy in one arm and the apocryphal texts of Enoch in the other. I love a girl who can talk about things. Most of the time the roles we play are so simple it’s not even worth it. I want a girl who can talk about the apocryphal texts of Enoch from time to time. It’s not even that. I want a girl who can get excited about things. It’s not even about girls. With people, in general, I want the ones who still have a spark in them, who are still thinking. When the ideas that are in the body stop changing, then the body is dead.

The Miracle

When I woke up Maddy was gone, and the apocryphal texts of Enoch were gone. Maddy had put them back in my Honda. She stacked the pages neatly, so their edges were aligned. And Maddy had gone wherever Maddy goes, back to take a shower or into the woods or who knows.

And I think: today I’m going to figure something out. I’ve lived long enough to know that I’m not going to figure it all out today. But today I’m going to figure something out. It’s going to be something significant. I’m really going to focus. I’m going to take quiet time. I’m going to pay attention to what life is telling me.


Sony was Making dinner and Maxwell insisted on helping. He and Kristen were on some kind of a service kick.

“What needs chopping?” “Here’s fresh water.” “Let me get you a knife.”

Piglet passes me on her way out of the kitchen. “What happened to those two?” She makes a “loopy” sign with her finger.

Inside the kitchen, Kristen is chopping vegetables, Sony is stir-frying potatoes, Maxwell is at the blender.

“This looks lovely,” I say, “Can I do anything for you?”

“Nope.” “No thanks.” “We got it.”

O-kay. The last time I saw people that cheerful it was on public television.

“Where’d you put my bag?” Maddy’s washing dishes.

“It’s on the shelf.”

Maddy looks up. The shelf above the dishwashing sinks. There’s her bag. Spray from the nozzle is peppering the green fabric.

“Can you get that down for me? Be careful.”

Kristen stands on an inverted trashcan. She reaches the bag.

“Thanks. Just—put it on the—yeah, thanks K.”

“No problem counse.”

“Is all this stuff cooked properly?” I ask. “Some of this roughage..it’s raw.”

“That’s camp food,” Maxwell says, “‘s’good for you.”

“This mushroom has bark on it. There’s dirt in this. Did you even cook this?”

“I cooked it. I cooked it. Gimme that. That’s good fiber. You’ll need that in the morning.”

At dinner everything tasted fine.

Julie Jane looks at the very rustic-looking mass on her fork. Then she puts it in her mouth.

“Thatta girl!!” Oscar yelps, “Put hair on your chest.”

Julie gives him a sideways look. “Do you want hair on my chest?”

Oscar is chewing but the sound he makes is a garbled, “Maybe.”


“Do you believe in the devil?” That’s K.

Marcy says, “I believe there is evil in the world.”

“But do you believe in the devil?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Because,” Kristen says, “I think I’ve seen him.

“Kristen’s sick,” Marcy tells me later, “We need to send her home.”

“What’s sick about her?”

“I don’t know exactly.”

“She’s sick enough she has to go home?”

“Yeah. She’s infecting the other kids.”

Infecting them?”

“Mentally. Yeah. She’s infecting them with an idea about a spirit from the lake. It’s freaking everyone out.”

“It’s a ghost story?”

“Yeah. Sort of.”

“I can’t send her home for telling a ghost story.”

“No? What if she was telling racist jokes or using hate speech and it was getting in the way of other people’s camp experience?”

I look at Marcy.

“Will you at least talk with her? I think she needs to understand the effect her stories are having on other people’s camp experience.”

“I’ll talk with her.”

“I think you need to hear her story,” Marcy says. “This isn’t a ghost story. There’s something very wrong with this girl and she’s scaring the shit out of the other kids.”

The children talked of a face. They mentioned it in whispers. They referred to it in signs. The sign they used was something from a mime: a hand drawn over the face, and then the eyes closed.

They were sad eyes, the eyes closed by this hand. When they made this sign, the children pretended they were dead.

They saw this face in their sleep. The face was painted. It came when their eyes were closed. It couldn’t stand the light.

But at night it was of the utmost power.

It had come uninvited.

It had requested a place be set for it at the table.

It was ready to party. But its guests were not ready for him.

It could come at them from any angle. It was everywhere without movement. It couldn’t make a sound. It would try. The face would open its mouth and scream. It was on the backs of the children’s eyelids. In paint that wouldn’t wash off. As big as the hole it made when it opened its mouth, as violently as it shook itself, as far apart its strides and as birdlike its gait, it couldn’t make a sound.

The children tried to wash off the paint when they showered. Out of sight of the others, they would scrub their eyes with the backs of their fingernails. Each one thought he was the only who had truly seen it.

But they had all seen the same face. It was tracking them.

“What did she tell you?”

“She told me they’ve uncovered a demon called the that.’,”

“Do you believe her?”

Maddy stared at the carpet. “I believe they found something.”

“But you don’t think it’s a demon.”

“Why? Do you?”

“Did they describe it?”

Maddy meets my eye. “Yes. They said it looked like paint. Like a painted face that screams without making any sound. Does that make any sense to you?”

“Some people think you can’t have God,” I say, “without the devil.”

“Yeah, maybe, maybe not,” Maddy says. “Let’s get Kristen.”

“We don’t call it ‘him,’ ” K says. “We refer to it as ‘the that.’ ”

“Why do you call him—”

“Don’t say ‘him.’ It gives..power.”`

“Why do you call it ‘the that?’ ”

“Well. You said the ancients called God ‘that.’ This one isn’t that ‘that.’ It’s another one.”

“This thing you found. Where is it?”

“In the lake. Well—it was in the lake. It got out.”

“Where is it now?”

Kristen touches the air. Her eyes are spacey. “It’s everywhere.”


“Lazy day.”

“Lazy.”

“I wish we had the lake again.”

“I wish. Do you think,” Kristen says, “that we’ll see each other after this?”

“Of course we will.”

“Be realistic, though.”

“Of course we will. We’ll write letters. You can come to Philly.”

“I’ll meet you in Philly,” Kristen says, “I’ll ride the train. I’ll tell my mom I have..I’ll tell her I’m..”

“We’ll go to the library.”

“You’re so cute.”

“I’m so lazy today.”

“I’m lazy too.”

Maxwell lifts the bottom of Kristen’s shirt and brushes her belly with his fingers.

She doesn’t stop him. What else will she let him do?

“You wanna go back to my cabin?” Maxwell asks.

Kristen looks up at him. “Why?”

“To get some shade. Why? What did you think?”

“I’ve got a better idea,” she says, “Come with me.”

They go to the edge of the field. From here they can see the swimming pool, but no one there is paying attention to the two children. Kristen and Maxwell step into the woods.

They watch for poison ivy. They watch for poison oak. They watch for snakes, but they don’t see any. Sometimes snakes are in the limbs of trees. Maxwell thinks of nature channel shows where snakes in Africa bite you in the face as you walk through the jungle. Max has seen the snakes here. He’s seen them hiding in the trees. These snakes aren’t likely to bite you in the face, but still..if one was at eye level..

Kristen goes first. Maxwell watches the sweat soak through the back of her shorts. He thinks about what is underneath, and he imagines it sweaty. He can see the outline of Kristen’s underwear through the jersey fabric. Her socks, her shoes, her shorts: all white. If she takes him to her cabin he will kiss her.

“Where are we going?”

“My cabin.”

“Why?” he says.

“It’s a surprise.”


They can see The Turn in the Road. There’s no one there. Through the trees, they can also see the girls’ cabin area.

“What time is it?”

“I don’t know.”

“How long are we at the pool?”

“For a while.”

“This isn’t gonna take long,” Kristen says, and she strolls out of the woods.

Kristen goes straight for Maddy’s mattress. She lifts it. Still the birch bark. Still the plastic wrap.

“Grab that.”

“What are you doing?”

“Hurry, this is heavy.”

Max goes next to Kristen. The birch bark is perfectly flat now. It doesn’t curl up when you lift the mattress.

“Get it.”

Maxwell reaches for the plastic wrap. His hand stops short.

Kristen adjusts the mattress, holding it with her shoulder.

Max puts an arm under the mattress to help. “What if she has AIDS?”

“There’s fresh needles, look.”

“Have you ever done that before?”

Kristen says, “I’ve seen someone give a shot.”

“What if we mess up?”

“We’ll just do a little.” Kristen grabs the plastic. She turns it over. “What’s the cotton for?”

“Maybe to clean up the blood?”

“Are you scared?” Kristen says.

And Maxwell says, “No.”

Kristen says, “Do you wanna do this?”

Maxwell says, “No.”

Kristen says, “Me either.”

She puts the plastic next to the birch bark and she and Maxwell lower Maddy’s mattress back in place.

Max sits on the floor of Rainbow cabin.

K stands by her bed. “I wanna do something, though,” she says.

Maxwell is sweating. He’s not trying to hide the fact that he’s looking at Kristen’s shorts. “What do you wanna do.”

“I don’t know,” she says. She goes to sit by him. “What do you want to do?” Her lips are on his neck.

Maxwell pulls back. “I don’t know. They’ll be back soon. I mean—” He looks at Kristen. Should they have sex now? Everything is so dangerous. If they try Maddy’s needle they might get AIDS. Maybe Kristen has AIDS. Maxwell imagines a conversation with his parents, months later, about the call they just got from Kristen’s parents. A little cum splashes in the wrong spot, and you’ll find yourself in that conversation. But in her eyes she seems open. How long would it take? Max didn’t want to rush. “Have you ever..had sex before?”

Kristen says, “I’ve done everything but.”

They stare at each other. This is one of those moments.

Max looks at the bed. Kristen is on the bottom bunk. That could be kindof cramped. There’s Maddy’s bed. The other one that isn’t a double belongs to Mai. That wouldn’t be right.

Kristen puts her hand on Maxwell’s.

With his other hand, Maxwell grips the bottom of Kristen’s shirt and twists, tightening the fabric around her.

They kiss.

Then people, sounds of them, coming into the girls’ area.

Kristen whispers “Quick!” and scrambles out the back of the cabin. From where he is, Max can see who’s coming (it’s Jennifer and Mai) but they don’t see him yet.

Max’s knee hits the edge of Maddy’s suitcase as he tries to crawl over it. The zipper scrapes his knee. He tries to set the suitcase back the way it was.

Kristen hisses from behind the cabin. “Come on.”

Max sees the bag of “pluteus salicinus” and grabs it. He scrambles out the back of Rainbow cabin.

Kristen and Maxwell are running. Out the back of the cabin. Through the open area before the woods starts. And then, up the hill, and up, and up, and up, through thick woods.

“What do we do?”

“We go back to the field. We’ll say we were walking around the edge. Then we go back to the pool.”

They run some more. When Maxwell looks at the back of Kristen’s shorts, he isn’t thinking of sex anymore. All his attention is focused on running.

Kristen finally slows. She turns to Max. “What is that?”

“What?”

And Kristen is laughing. She tears the bag from Maxwell’s hand and runs up the hill trying to read its label. “Pluto saline sick-nuss?” She throws the bag high into the air and it lands at Maxwell’s feet.

He stops. He’s panting. He grabs the bag and darts up ahead to catch Kristen.

When he catches her she’s next to a tree. Maxwell pushes her back. Kristen feels the birch bark. It’s half-accidentally, half-on-purpose, and that really was the moment at which they might have fucked. His hands were on her sides and he was somewhere between tickling her and..something else.

But Kristen snaps around and grabs the Ziploc bag from him, and leans against the tree.

She smells the sealed plastic bag. “Mmm..delicious. Are you gonna cook these for me? Build a fire.” Kristen points to the ground. “Build a fire. I’ll make dinner. If you want my womanly charms.. Don’t you know how to build a fire? It should be no problem. I’ll give you one match. You can use birch bark to get it started. Then I’ll make dinner. We’ll play house. I’m just kidding.” Kristen flips the bag into Maxwell’s lap. She slaps the tree. “I wanna get fucked.”

Maxwell examines the bag. “These are probably poisonous.”

“Are you listening?” Kristen says. “They’re not poisonous. Why would she collect poisonous mushrooms?”

“To kill somebody? I don’t know. They probably eat your stomach and kill you. I want you to get fucked.”

Kristen gives him a silly look. “Up here?” She opens the bag and breathes in.

“Shit,” Maxwell says, “There’s probably dust motes in there.”

“What the fuck is a dust mote?” Kristen tosses the bag to Max and squats with her back against the tree.

Max sniffs the bag. He looks up at Kristen. “You never heard of a dust mote?”

“Gimme that.” Kristen grabs the bag. She takes out a mushroom. She licks it. “Want some?” She extends her arm.

Max scoots up some.

“Here.” Kristen drops the mushroom into Maxwell’s hand. “That one’s yours.”

Max turns it in his hand. There are actually two kinds of mushrooms in the bag. One is tall and thin. The other is short and squatty. Max’s is short and squatty. It looks kind of like a baby bella that you might find at the grocery store. A little larger.

Kristen has the other kind in her hand. It’s broken, but it’s half the cap and a long stem. “If I eat this will you eat it with me?”

Maxwell says, “Maybe.”

“Let’s eat just a little bit.”

“What if it’s poison?”

“Here’s what you do. I was reading Maddy’s mushroom book. You eat a tiny tiny piece, the size of a grain of sand. Then you wait half an hour. If nothing bad happens you eat another piece, this time the size of two grains of sand—”

“I get it,” Maxwell says, “Did you happen to read anything in Maddy’s book about..” Maxwell turns the bag so he can read the label. He struggles with the Latin.

“No,” Kristen says, “I didn’t. But obviously she’s tripping on them. I mean obviously that’s what these are for.”

“No.”

“Yeah.”

“No, she could be cooking with them..”

“I’m pretty sure this is the tripping kind.”

“Well we can’t stay up here all day.”

“Why,” Kristen says, “how long does it last?”

“I think it lasts a while. Did the book say how long it lasts?”

“I only read the introduction.”

“Also,” Max says, “we’re kindof fucked.”

“In what regard.”

“Because. Look. This is pluteus salicknuss but there’s two kinds of mushrooms in here. Maybe the other one is deadly nightshade or some shit.”

“Deadly nightshade isn’t a mushroom—”

“How do you know, have you ever seen deadly nightshade? No? That’s my point. We eat this we’ll end up going to the hospital and our brains will rot.”

Kristen runs her fingers through Maxwell’s hair. “I don’t want your brain to rot.”

Maxwell looks at Kristen sincerely. “I don’t want yours to rot either.”

“Well, there’s one solution to that,” Kristen says.

“We don’t eat it?”

“Yeah.” Kristen drops her mushroom.

But Maxwell picks it up. “No,” he says. “We feed it to someone else.”


Nixon seemed like a good candidate. He was spastic enough already, so if the mushrooms made him more so, maybe no one would know the difference except him. They would keep a close eye on him for several hours just in case.

“I’ll get Maddy’s mushroom book,” Kristen suggested.

“Okay, and I’ll get these into a decent form. Should I grind them?”

“That’s your part of the plan. I’ll meet you at the mess hall.”

“Okay.” Maxwell watches Kristen run away. He stuffs the bag in the back of his shorts, tucks his shirt over it, and heads up the road.

Sony’s in the kitchen.

“Hey man.”

“Are you here for an appetizer?”

“Bathroom’s full,” Max says, and goes into the bathroom in the kitchen.

He lifts the lid of the toilet and makes it plink as it hits the back. Then he unzips the bag.

They smell like dirt, and they smell like fungus, which they are. If Maxwell takes a deep enough breath he thinks he might throw up. He takes out a single long-stemmed mushroom and separates the cap from the stalk. He puts that in his left pocket. In the right pocket, he puts one of the short stubby mushrooms.

Then he seals the bag and sets it in the sink.

He removes the lid from the toilet tank, careful not to make a sound.

He drops the bag into the tank.

He replaces the tank lid, puts the toilet seat down (plink).

Then he presses the handle, waits for the flush, and washes his hands with soap and water.


“Can I sit at Maddy’s table?”

Max is at my side.

He has his tray in hand, food, bug juice, and he’s facing Maddy’s table.

“No,” I say.

“I just want to eat this—”

“We eat as a cabin. That’s just the way we do it. You can see her after dinner.”

So Max sits. He eats. He has two plastic cups full of bug juice and soda, and four pints of milk, two chocolate and two regular. Max eats everything but two pints of the milk and then starts to get up.

“What is that?”

“What?”

“Drink that. Don’t waste it.”

So Max sits and drinks the remaining milk, one chocolate and one regular, and he doesn’t seem upset at all. He keeps looking over at Maddy’s table. Once, I follow his look and distinctly catch Kristen giving Maxwell the thumbs up sign.


“What’s going on with your camper?”

“What’s going on with yours?”

“Something, I don’t know, but they’re scheming something.”

“Is that disallowed?”

“Yes. In the two of their case, yes. Definitely. Totally disallowed. Keep an eye on her.”

“Yes, captain. I’m scheming something too, you know.”


“What does the book say? Did you get it? What does it say about dosing?” Maxwell is looking behind Kristen. “Did you get it?”

“I skimmed it,” she says.

“You were supposed to bring it.”

“If she sees us with it, she’ll know.”

“What did it say about dosing?”

“It didn’t. It’s for chefs and hikers, it’s not a drug book.”

“But it mentioned pluteus salicinus?”

“Yeah. It’s hallucinogenic.”

Maxwell puts his hands in his pockets. “Which one is it, short and fat or long and skinny?”

“Long and skinny.”

“Are you sure?”

“Well. It comes in several varieties. I think. The pictures are in black and white. They’re not really pictures. They’re more like drawings..”

“Does it give, at least, a reasonable dosing?”

“I’m telling you, it’s aimed at a different audience. This is more of a what if we get caught in the wild sort of book. The only amounts it gives are when a species is particularly fatal.”

“How much is fatal?”

“Not very much.”

“Like?”

“Like some of them if you lick it you’ll die.”

“Then we’re okay. Right? We licked both of them. We didn’t die. I’m kidding. We can’t do this. If it’s the wrong one and we give him too much..I mean..that’s not cool.”

“Let me see them.”

Maxwell reveals a corner of each out of the top of each pocket.

“Let me see them. All the way.”

He lays them both on the front of his shorts. “I got a stem and a hat from this one in case it was the stem or the hat that was the part you’re supposed to eat.”

“Was I supposed to look that up? I’m kidding. Don’t be so serious. It’s the stem. Pretty sure. Pretty sure it’s the stem. It’s definitely this one.” Kristen takes the short stubby one and throws it into the grass. She takes the cap of the long skinny one and throws it into the grass.

“I’m gonna go grind this,” Maxwell says. “How much?”

Kristen puts her finger across the mushroom, halfway between each end. “This much,” she says.


There were still people in the mess hall. Nixon was still there. He and Oscar were the only ones left at his table. Kristen and Maxwell walked in separately, Kristen from the front and Maxwell from the kitchen. Maxwell carried two beverages: one was an open milk pint, one was a plastic cup, a Coke. Maxwell sat right down next to Nixon.

“Oscar. Nix. See you’ve chosen the beefcake.”

Nixon’s chewing. He manages, “This is fantastic.”

Kristen comes up behind Oscar and puts her arms around him. Maxwell eyes Nixon’s tray. One milk, unopened. A plastic cup of soda, to the ice.

Kristen tells Oscar that Julie Jane wants to see him.

“What for?”

“I don’t know. She said she needed to see you. She’s outside.”

“I can see her later.”

“She seemed pretty desperate,” Kristen says. She’s got her boobs practically on Oscar’s neck.

“What was her exact message?”

“I’m not at liberty to say.” Kristen eyes Nixon. “In present company.”

Nixon says, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

Oscar says, “Hey!”

Maxwell says, “Nixon, I dare you to pour your milk in there and drink it.”

“Fuck you.”

“Hey!!” Oscar shouts. But he’s pushing his chair back. “She’s out front.”

Kristen nods. “She was.”

Oscar reaches for his tray.

“I’ll get that for you.” Kristen picks up Oscar’s tray.

Oscar puts his hand on Kristen’s shoulder. “Thanks, sweetie,” and walks away.

Kristen takes the tray toward the kitchen and doesn’t look back.

Maxwell reaches for Nixon’s milk. “Can I have this?”

“I’m drinking that!”

“I just want a sip.”

“Hands off.”

“I—”

Nixon says, “Back off grandpa—”

Grandpa?

“Holy fuck, I’m trying to do something here—”

“You’re fat enough NixDix, mission accomplished.”

“Hey—now—this—is—mine—” Nixon grabs his milk away.

Max has his hand on it.

Nixon pulls.

Maxwell pulls.

“What the—”

The carton flies. It hits the floor. Sideways. Sploshes.

Maddy stands up. “Gentlemen. You wanna get a mop? Before someone slips?”

Max leaves his open milk on the table. “I’ll get it. I’ll get it.”

Nixon says, “You should, you fucking slob.”

Maxwell says, “Keep your hands off my stuff. Don’t be spittin’ in my drink.”

Nixon mumbles, “You should feel lucky you still have a drink, fool.”

Maxwell and Kristen pass at the kitchen door.

“Did he drink it?”

“Not yet.”

“Where are you going?”

“To get a mop. Keep an eye on him.”

But Nixon didn’t drink Maxwell’s milk, or spit in it, or touch it in any way. He sat and ate his beefcakes. He watched Maxwell scrub the floor. Then Maxwell pushed the mop bucket back to the kitchen and Nixon took his tray to be washed. Kristen went back and sat with Maddy while she finished, but when Nixon got up, it was just Maxwell’s opened milk and plastic cup of Coke left on the dinner table.


“We’ll get him tomorrow.”

“Okay. I really wanted to get him tonight.”

Sony leans over the counter. “Who are you going to get?”

Maxwell moves the milk carton from the top of the counter to the rails below.

“It’s nothing bad,” Kristen says.

Sony goes back to the dishwashing sink.

“Let’s not even do it.”

“I agree. Let’s each have a little sip. I mean a tiny little sip.”

“If I take a sip of this you better not chicken out.”

“I won’t.”

“I’ll force-feed you.”

Kristen takes the milk from the rail. She brings it to her mouth, an inch from her lips. She looks behind Max.

Max turns.

It’s Blake. “Max. Kris. Time for service.” Blake sets his tray on the counter.

“We were just going,” Kristen says.

And Maxwell says, “Yeah.”

Kristen brushes past Maxwell and sets the milk carton on the bus counter. She grabs Maxwell’s hand on the way and drags him out of the kitchen.

“Amphitheatre, ten minutes,” Blake says. He picks a fry off of someone else’s tray. He shakes the milk carton. There’s still milk in it. “Unbelievable,” he says, and he drinks it down.


The empty feeling started in Blake’s belly during the service. It was when he stood up. It felt free. It felt like oxygen in his lungs. He didn’t know he was supposed to be looking for something, so, in a sense, he never noticed it.

It came so slowly—and, like the snake, imperceptibly—from the edges, and because it came into his mind, his mind was doubly unprepared. If you tell someone you’re going to touch their back with a hot match, and then you touch them with a piece of ice, for a second the person thinks they’re being burned. It actually feels like burning. If you don’t know what to expect..if you have no language to use to prescribe experience..then you don’t (in the same way as if you do have a framework of language on which to hang your experience, you don’t) even know that something happened. What if you felt an orgasm for the first time without ever having known any stories of sex or of cumming or of pleasure. What if you were blind, and then suddenly had sight—but you had never heard of sight and had no idea that sight was coming. What if suddenly you knew every word I was about to say—what if there was no more you or me, no more future, no more past—but you had never conceived of telepathy or spacetime?

Blake could hear cars on the road outside of camp, a mile away. He could hear their engines. He could hear their tires scrape against the road. It was like they were right next to him. The sounds that really were right next to him weren’t louder, though. It was like the distance between everything had gone to zero.

When they sang, there was space between the notes. When Blake stood, it felt easy, but unnecessary. The service was going on, but it didn’t have to. When Blake read, he was before each word and he was after each word.

He tried to imagine the service ending, but he couldn’t.

He tried to imagine places other than the amphitheatre, but there weren’t any.

The voices of everyone came together like God and Blake could hear through them. He wondered why he had never heard them like this before, but it was impossible to hold onto the thought.

From our point of view it’s hard to understand how he didn’t know he was tripping. He was aware of all these sensations, he was aware of what he saw. But it was like there was no meta, for him, since no one had told him what to expect. When you know something’s coming, even if you don’t understand it completely, you still know what is happening.

For Blake it was like..you know those imagined memories of yourself as a child, where you know that, say, you must have played in that schoolyard a hundred days, but, really, your memories of it are only a few? Some memories we forget. But some we don’t remember, some days were days without memory. When we were having them, we were there, but we forgot to take anything with us. That’s pure consciousness, without the meta. Meta is pure consciousness, too, unless it has a meta of its own.

Blake was like that.

He was seeing, but he wasn’t thinking about what he was seeing. He was hearing, but he wasn’t thinking about what he was hearing. His experience was altered, but he wasn’t thinking about the fact that it was altered. The one thing you and I cannot do, which is to understand Blake’s experience without our description, is the one thing we must do.

Blake standing at the podium. Blake turning the page of his book. He turns the leaf over. He looks on the back. He turns it back and looks on the front.

I don’t know what he saw. I only know what I saw.

I saw Blake turning the page of his book, then turning it back. He looked amazed at what he saw. Maybe he saw nothing. Maybe the pages were blank. Maybe he forgot the page number. I don’t know.

It’s after the song. It’s time for benediction. Blake leaves his Bible at the podium and goes to the altar. I’m at the other podium and I follow him to the middle.

Because he’s looking at me.

The amphitheatre is full of all our kids and fellow counsellors. Blake is looking deep in my eye, and I don’t know what’s going on here, I didn’t know about Kristen and Maxwell and Maddy’s mushrooms. I think I’m standing in the middle of the two podiums, at the altar, because Blake’s forgotten to tell me about some joint benediction that we’re supposed to be doing. Blake looks perfectly comfortable. I’m thinking I forgot my lines. I look at Maddy in the front row. All the kids are quiet. I feel like a minute passes.

Then Blake’s thumb is on my face, below my eye, and he’s staring at his thumb, which he brushes across the top of my cheek. Then he looks at his thumb.

There is nothing there.

He brushes my other eye. Then he looks at his thumb.

He is wiping away my tears.

But there’s nothing there.


“We can’t see ourselves,” Blake is saying, “Because of culture. We’re locked in a cultural perspective and I can’t see you. I can’t ever change something when I need it. Do you see that?”

“I don’t know. No. I guess not.”

Blake says, “Do you have a second?”

“What for?”

“For me,” Blake says.

For me. How can I say no to that? I always had time for Blake in the old days. The new Blake has generally been someone I haven’t had time for. Or maybe it’s the real Blake that I don’t make time for. Because I don’t think it’s worth it. As children, he had potential. Lately (meaning the last decade) I’ve basically come to the conclusion that Blake is a piece of shit.

I take Blake’s arm off me. “I’ll sit with you for a while. If Maddy’ll watch my campers. Would you ask Maddy—”

“We’ve got them,” Piglet says. “You two go. Go.

“You need a lifeguard,” I say.

Julie Jane says, “I’ll lifeguard. We’ll see you at the pool.”

“My campers..”

Oscar is there. “I’ve got your campers. You two need this. Go.”


Spending time with Blake is not something I relish. If you paid me to do it, I would quit.

“I miss Ocean City,” Blake says. “I miss that whole time.”

“I do too.”

“I want us to get back there.”

I look at Blake. “I don’t think we can. I don’t think I want to.”

“I can see differently now,” Blake says. “I can see what I couldn’t see before.”

“What is that exactly.”

“You’re skeptical of me,” he says. “But I’m not mad at you anymore. I don’t feel anger. We’re past that. And Beth is okay. Beth is fine. I want you to know that. Do you know that? I know we’re not allowed to talk about this. But that’s only our own rules. I’ve been..” He looks around, at the gravel, at the benches in the amphitheatre.

“Blake?”

He looks perfectly at ease. He looks like a baby.

“Let’s walk,” I say.

“Okay,” he says, “But only if you lead.”

I’ll walk with him. I’ll do that. I’m not that hardened of a rock that I won’t walk with a human being who will walk with me. I’m not going to change. But I’ll walk.

“I’m not going to talk to my dad about you. If you want to be here next year, then be here.”

“I don’t know if I’m going to.”

“That’s okay. Maybe you’ll find something better to do,” he says.

“What about Maddy?” I ask.

“Maddy has a drug problem,” he says.

“Runs in the family,” I say.

Blake says, “That’s not why she killed herself.”

“It must have been a factor.”

“No,” he says, “She knew she was going to get caught. She shouldn’t have done that.”

“No,” I say, “she shouldn’t have.”

Blake says, “I would have visited her in jail.”

I say, “She might not even have gone to jail.”

Blake holds my arms in his. “We tried to help her. We would have lied to help her. I would have. The same goes for Maddy. I don’t care what she did. I don’t care that Sean is dead. He was a Christian.”

“How do you know?”

“I just know. It’s okay that he died. You don’t fuck with my Beth.” Blake chuckles. “It’s against the rules. And everyone dies. When you break the rules, sometimes death is a consequence. You can tell me anything, Matt. I’m not promising I wouldn’t say anything. But I want you to know that: you can tell me anything. If someone hurt Brian,” he says, “I would go to jail. Is that why Maddy wants to die? You can tell me.”

“I don’t know.”

Blake looks at the ferns. It’s a look of understanding. He says, “I love Maddy as much as you do.”

“I think you’re sick, Blake.”

“I’m not.”

“I think there’s something wrong with you. I’m not kidding.”

“I’m fine.”

“I mean—I’m serious—are you feeling alright?”

“I feel fine.”

“You seem a little off.”

“Because I’m apologizing to you?”

“Are you apologizing?”

“Yes,” he says, “I don’t care if you like me. I want you to know that I’m over it. I know I’m not up to your standards, but..you’re up to mine.”

“Well, I’m glad for you, Blake, but what exactly do you think is going to be different between us?”

“Nothing. I’m not asking for anything to be different for you. But. Ocean City. For me. It’s behind us. Who cares? I’m glad if you can help Maddy deal with it. She needs you.”

“I’m glad you’re over it.”

“Aren’t you?”

“No,” I say.

“Do you miss Beth?” he asks.

I say, “Ten years is a long time.”

“It is a long time,” he says, “I don’t think you need to worry about Beth anymore.”

“I’m not.”

“Maddy will fix herself. With time. Hers is a different road than yours.”

I turn my back on Blake. I feel guilty about Maddy. I feel guilty about being with her. If I’m honest with myself, in this moment, that’s what I’m feeling. Blake can go to hell, I don’t feel bad about doing drugs with Maddy. Blake doesn’t know exactly what we’re doing. No campers have gotten hurt. I’m never coming back to Camp Lake after this week, and maybe I will find something better to do. But the one thing I feel bad about is Beth, and being with her little sister. But Maddy and I dated first, and Beth didn’t even like me. I guess I wish she had.

I turn around.

Blake is staring at his hands.

“Are you sure there’s nothing wrong with you?”

Blake doesn’t even hear me. He’s talking, not to me.

“The ancients were giants,” he mutters, “They were bigger than anything you can conceive. They were like trees, like mountains—” Blake’s voice is quick. “—they were like rivers and they were like the bottom of the ocean. They’re still here,” he tells me. “They’re still in the oceans, they’re still in the mountains. They haven’t gone away. And the Earth is an ancient. It is one of them. And there are ancients in the stars, spirits that are larger than everything we’ve ever known. The reason you can’t see the ancients moving, the reason you don’t hear the ancients talking..like you hear me talking to you now..is very simple.”

“What is it?”

“Scale. Scale. You know what I mean by scale?”

“Like a dragon.”

“No.”

“Like a snake.”

“Scale like time,” Blake says, “Scale like when you weigh yourself on a scale. Or on a model. A model car, an airplane, model trains..they are at one-tenth scale..of the regular thing. Scale like size. Different things are different sizes. An ant has scale. A tree has scale. You and I have scale. The ancients..are of a different scale. That is why you don’t hear them talking. They are talking. You can hear their talking..but you don’t know what they say. They talk in eons. If you put an ant up next to your mouth, and you speak to it, even if it was an English-speaking ant, it couldn’t know what you were saying. It would hear your voice. But it wouldn’t know your words. It’s the same with us and the ancients.”

“That sounds very New Age,” I say.

“I’m simply letting the words come out as they do.”

“That sounds like a change of strategy for you.”

“Yeah,” Blake says, “Yeah.” He pats my chest. “I like this one.”


Night. The swimming pool.

There is a spirituality here that wasn’t here before. There is a spirit here. I can’t see it, I can feel it palpably. It has come upon us. It did so without our seeing. I think it did so without our asking. I thought you had to call upon a spirit. I thought you must invite it in. I see now that which does not wait for invitation. I see now that which does not need to be invoked. This spirit is here, it is in every laugh and every splash, and it was here before we got here, and as we didn’t invite it we cannot uninvite it, but we have stumbled upon it.

Piglet dives, her tiny body lit by underwater lights. The pool is full, legs kicking, back-splashes, under the stars. And a full moon. Or maybe it was full last night. Crisp edges of the disc, like it was stuck there from below, with tape. Piglet sits beside me.

“I think this is the best year ever,” she says.

“I think so too. I feel optimistic,” I say.

“You do?”

“Yeah. This. This is good. These people, this place..I’m glad you’re here.”

Piglet puts both arms around me. “I’m glad you’re here too.” Her face is close enough that I can feel the heat of it and the cold of dripping water. Smell of Piglet in chlorine.

I put my hand on her waist.

I could fuck her. I could fuck this girl. How clean would that be, how unencumbered. Piglet who does not know me out of camp. Piglet who came along later, to whom all these people are relatively new. For whom there is no Ocean City, no FBC, no Beth, and hardly any Maddy. Piglet has her own Maddy, her own Beth, somewhere, back in Ohio, or Connecticut, or wherever she said she was from.

“Where are you from?”

“Near Allentown.”

“Where?”

“Bowmanstown.” She almost kisses my ear when she says it.

Max splashes me. Then Kristen is behind him. She pushes him down by his shoulders, holds him there, then she’s reeling back from being tickled.

“ALRIGHT!” Julie Jane says. She’s on the diving board. People clear out. She does a cannonball. Pluh-kuuush! Concussion wave. Teardrop. Someone throws a beach ball at her. She smacks it but it decelerates. Julie makes a bodybuilder pose, showing her biceps.

Nixon is on Erica’s shoulders. Maxwell and Kristen meet them for a ostrich fight. Kristen slaps at Nixon’s head. Nixon grabs his own ear. I’m glad he has short hair. Erica is bigger than Max but Kristen’s reach is longer than Nixon’s. Nixon falls. He hits his head on Marcy. Tonight’s Marcy’s first night in the pool.

Marcy and Oscar stand in chest-high water with Mai. Mai has red lips and a plastic cup of bug juice in her hands. She’s looking into the cup like it contains a secret orb, the One Ring to rule them all. Nixon pinches Mai. She drops the cup, spilling red into the pool.

Blake and Brian sit on the side, opposite me and Piglet. Blake looks like he’s giving advice. Brian is listening. I wish I had a big brother. I do. Blake gets to mess up, and Brian has an umbrella. Less attention, yes, but less exposure. At least that’s how I imagine it.

Maddy is behind is. Maddy sits next to Piglet, with Piglet between us. And Maddy is loving. I don’t think she’d mind if I fucked Piglet. Maddy puts her legs on Piglet’s and the three of us are intertwined, all our feet together in the pool. Maddy engages Piglet, and Piglet engages her back.

Somehow we didn’t mess it up. Somehow we got this far without anyone dying. Without anyone breaking their leg. Without anyone drowning or getting bit by a poisonous spider. We made it through the dance. We made it through the ropes course. No one got hurt. I made sure of that.

And I didn’t live legalistically, not as legalistically as I do in normal life. I took a break with Maddy. And that was appropriate. She and I had to reconnect, and I met her where she was. I don’t have to do that again. It doesn’t change me, essentially, it doesn’t change who I am. It’s like having sex. When you’re a teenager, before you did it, you thought it would alter you forever. Like there was some before-sex you and some after-sex you that would be fundamentally different. There were people who had done it and people who had not. Back then that’s how it was. It was like a whites-only water fountain, that’s how segregated it seemed. People who had had sex were magical, or grown-up, or stupid. Whatever they were, it wasn’t going back. It could never be changed. You were either permanently adult or permanently a sinner or permanently something. It’s the same thing with drugs. We think of it as there being these well-defined categories of people, people who are this way and people who are not. Or moments that are particularly this way or that. Like Olympic moments..those must be moments of purity and exceptionality, moments of glory. And some of them are. But some Olympic moments are also jealous moments, or pathetic moments.

Our pool night is the same. There’s David. There’s Darren. Tonight is the night they’re going to regret that they weren’t the ones splashing around with Kristen. And where’s Katherine?

There she is. She has her jeans on. She is reading. And maybe she won’t regret that. But maybe she’ll know that there are two paths—or many, many, really—and that she has chosen one of books and letters, and that she will never be around as many people as she is tonight without feeling as lonely as she does right now. And, with every year, she will realize more and more profoundly how alone she is.

And me. Whatever I do tonight I will regret the other half. I think it’s because we imagine ourselves, and in imagining, we identify with a fantasy. Our self is an idea we have..that can never be. Hence melancholy, hence longing. What I imagine could be, could never be. My equipment was designed to see what is not there, to hope and plan and build for what will never be. Why is that? Why are we built that way? If there is a God, if there is a plan or there is some order that’s bigger than me, why would that thing design us so that we are always wanting, always without, capable of seeing, and compelled to see, potential that will never be.

I don’t know the answer to that. I’m not smart enough to think it through. But I can suppose, that if some one or some thing designed us to be that way, that that someone or something, in its nature, must be that way too. An impossible plan. An unreasonable wish. Somehow I know the unnameable must be like that.


2am. Hallway at the Westin. Blake silently pulls the door shut. We look up and down the hallway. Blake checks his watch. 02:14. He looks nervously at the door to 332.

I whisper: “Beth??”

Blake tugs on my shirt. I look his direction. Beth is in her pajamas, peeking around from where the elevators are. We go around the corner. Beth is laden with blankets, a duffel bag, and she’s got an open Sprite in her hand. She’s sipping that while adjusting the bag’s strap across her shoulder.

“Can I help you with that?”

Beth hands me the Sprite. “You were supposed to bring stuff.”

“I forgot.” I sip the Sprite. “You don’t want us to go back now?”

“This should be fine.”

Blake takes the duffel bag off of Beth’s shoulder.

Beth loosely re-folds the blankets, holding the wad of them against her belly with both hands. “Can I have my drink back?”

In the elevator, Blake says, “Just like old times.”

The door closes.

Beth says, “Just like old times.”

And it’s me, and Beth, and Blake, sneaking out at night. Blake pulling the door to 336 closed so slowly you can’t even hear a click. We used to do this at Camp Lake, sneak out and go fishing. Now we’re creeping down a lighted hallway at the Westin. Back then it was the three of us hiking down the hill in the dark, then we’d be spotlighting in the lake on a borrowed raft. You don’t even need bait when you’re spotlighting. You can shine the light right on the hook.

Blake looks Beth up and down. Blue PJs, images of lighthouses and the steering wheels of ships.

When we snuck out to go spotlighting we always wore black.

The lobby attendant sees us going out. Everyone else is asleep. We’re walking around with hotel comforters. My cigarette is lit before we come out of the elevator. Beth’s PJ top is open. You can see the top of a bikini. She’s wearing flip-flops.

Blake looks inside the duffel bag and pulls out a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black. “What’s this?”

This is in the middle of the lobby.

“Goddamnit,” Beth says, “Can’t you hold your fucking horses?”

The lobby attendant snickers.

Beth turns to him and says, “It’s like going out with your two-year-old.”

The lobby attendant tilts his head. He knows.


“I need a shot of that. Let’s go. I need a shot of that.”

We have the comforters spread out on the beach, down at the lower end where no one ever goes, the opposite end from the rollercoaster. Beth is sitting on the blanket with her butt on her heels, legs apart. We’re near some rocks, in the shadow of the boardwalk. Blake hands Beth the Johnnie Walker.

Beth knocks it back. “That’s more like it.” She wipes a dribble from her mouth and hands me the bottle. “Love that shit.” She rises up on her knees and puts her thumbs through the leg holes in her bikini bottom, pushes it down, adjusting.

Blake and I are both watching.

Beth says, “Aren’t you gonna hit that? Hey! Matt! Hit that shit and pass it on.”

I sip the Johnnie Walker and hand it to Blake. My eyes don’t leave Beth’s body the whole time. I’m not ashamed of it.

Beth sees me looking at her.

Blake is smiling. He waves his hand in front of my face.

“Jesus, bro.”

“Just drink your drink,” I say, “I’ve had a long day.”

Blake drinks.

Beth says, “Let’s make that a rule for tonight. No talking. No talking about anything important. From this moment on. We’re here to have fun. Nothing more.”

“Count me in.”

“Count me in, too. Jesus, is this all you’ve got to drink?! I can’t drink that shit.”

“What do you think this is?” Beth says, and she unzips the duffel bag.

“Fuck, fool.”

“Where’d you get all this shit?”

“Brought it with me?”

“Fuck.”

“No..”

“Yeah. This was in Cheryl’s trunk.”

“Give me something easy. Give me something light. Good god what all do you have in here?”

“Try this.”

Beth hands the bottle to me. I can’t open the cap. I hand it to Blake. He opens it with one twist and passes it back to me. I swig it. I make a horrible face and fight back the gag reflex. It tastes horrible but it’s better than Johnny Walker Black.

Beth is happy and numb when she suggests we play truth-or-dare. I should have seen this coming. She’s rubbing her knuckles, the back of her hands, and she’s got this ecstatic look on her face, like a baby who just took a shit.

“Every time you lose, you have to take a drink,” she says.

I say, “Beth, there’s no losers in truth-or-dare.”

“I thought I told you not to attempt serious discussions tonight,” she says. “You go first.” And she hands me a bottle of DeKuyper Hot Damn.

“Alright,” Beth says. “I dare you to take off your shirt.”

“Done,” I say. I take it off. The ocean breeze gives me goosebumps. I set my shirt on the stolen Westin comforter. “Blake?”

“I dare you to take off your..swimsuit,” Blake says.

Beth doesn’t miss a beat. “Top or bottom?”

We’re not that far from the boardwalk. The boardwalk is forty feet away, the ocean a hundred. I’m in my swimtrunks, Blake is in his tighty-whities, his gut hanging over. He works out—he works out his chest, so there’s muscle there. Still, Blake’s a big boy. He’s drunk, halfway off the Westin comforter and Beth is in her bikini bottom only, flask of Johnnie Walker Black in-hand, kneeling on the sand. The air has her skin pimply. I can see her shaved armpits as she brushes her hair off the back of her neck, and she’s tilting her pelvis unconsciously, from being drunk. She’s in that relaxed state, like when you’re in bed under covers, in a dark room, and no one is watching you. She’s moving like that. She drinks the Johnny Walker. Flask-shaped bottle. Everything’s moving in slow motion. Even though my skin’s bare, I’m warm from the inside, everything about me is comfortable. I don’t know if I could get a hard-on, but I get some thickness looking at Beth. Only the random mismatched couple slinks along the boardwalk, coming from home, or going there. Coming from the darkness of a television in a living room in some condo, to get some air. Or going back there. Or the homeless guy, looking up at xenon stars, shaking from whatever drug..he doesn’t even see us, and he’s down some alley..

Half the time you think you see something, you decide you’re crazy. Maybe you don’t do it in your conscious mind. But underneath the surface, you make a decision not to notice, and if you notice, not to give it thought. You walk by some half-naked kids in the sand on the beach, you don’t see it. Your friend steals your shit right under your nose, you make up reasons why it never happened. You left the shit somewhere, or you never owned it. Your mind makes up these stories. And it makes them up before the thinking you even comes into play. That stuff is there before the word go. By the time you’re aware you’ve started to consider whether your sister might have had something to do with your boyfriend leaving you, your mind has already explained away that possibility with a decoy. We can’t afford to think those things..the rhetoric is all there, has all been placed there, prior to the beginning of our conscious thought, in order to create a pleasant experience for the higher faculties: an argument that makes sense, an enemy to defend against, a rational object of desire. But right underneath, just beyond the edge of the terms that make up our normal discourse, neither side of the argument has any relevance..and there is no such thing as an enemy..and we have no need of desire at all.

Sometimes I get a glimpse of those edges, sometimes I can see past the pretenses that wield me—as a weapon. But not often.

I look over and Beth is pouring the Black Label down her. There’s only the last half of a drink, and she’s licking the bottle, licking its tip, and letting the last of the whisky drip down her chest. I could tell you more but this isn’t that kind of book. I will say this: that in the darkness and with the rushing of the waves, with littered bottles all around us—some that we put there and some that we didn’t—Beth didn’t wait for either Blake or me to dare her to take off her bikini bottom.

Some things you get caught for. If they’re bad enough you go to jail for them. But most things, whether they’re wrong or not, regardless of whether they’re against the law, regardless of whether they’re insignificant or of import, regardless of whether you do them secretly or in the open..most things just don’t get noticed. That’s how it works. You think this place is civilization..or maybe you think it’s a zoo. But nobody’s looking, so it’s not a zoo. This is the outback, this is the bush. There’s too much going on, there’s too much space, there are too many tangles, and even though we make a big show of bringing criminals to justice, that’s only what happens in extremely rare, trumped-up cases. Mostly nobody notices anything.

“I want to tell you something. I want to tell you guys. Well, Matt already knows.”

“Beth, you’re drunk. Just..” I’m watching her sink deeper into the sand every time she moves. “Beth, you’re gonna get sand..”

“In here,” she says, and puts her hand on her abdomen, below the belly button. “You know that guy Sean?” she asks Blake.

“How could I forget?”

Beth looks at me. “Did you take him with you?”

“Yes.”

“Sorry. I’m fucking Schlitzed. Anyway—Blake you’ll be proud of me on this—” Beth gets very serious. “He got his today.”

“Yeah?” Blake says. “What’d he get?”

“Fuck you, Blake, you know that? You’re a fucker.”

“You shouldn’t throw it around so much.”

“Throw what around. Blake. Throw what around?” Beth tries to get up, but falls.

I say, “I thought we weren’t going to have any serious discussions tonight.”

“Make an exception,” Beth says. “I need to explain something to you, Blake. You may think I’m dumb—”

“I didn’t say that.”

“—but just ’cause you’re a virgin doesn’t make me a slut.”

Blake says nothing. It’s the first time I’ve seen him not deny being a virgin.

Beth continues: “You and your ninja moves. What would you do if you were in a real fight? Outside of a gym. What would you do if somebody was really trying to hurt you? Have you ever gotten beat?”

“My mom,” Blake says.

That quiets Beth. “Sean tried to beat me today.”

“I’m sorry,” Blake says.

“Don’t be. Because he didn’t beat me. I beat him. Where’s your ninja shit now? When I beat you, you never get up.”

Blake’s shaking his head. He says, “Don’t joke about that.”

And I say, “She’s not joking.”

We dress in silence. No one’s on the boardwalk now. There’s nothing sexy about watching your friend stumble on a stolen Westin comforter, unable to dress herself without help. I say stolen Westin comforter because we left that shit right there, we left the bottles and everything. We even left Beth’s duffel bag. She threw the empty nylon and it landed at her feet. Blake and I tossed the bottles in the ocean. We left an unopened DeKuyper balanced on a rock.

Stumbling back into the Westin, lobby lights burning into us, I was glad the lobby attendant wasn’t there. On the third floor, Beth weakly hugged us both and went back to her room to pass out.

I’m schleffing toward 336.

Blake says, “You wanna take a walk?”

“Sure,” I say. Sure.

We go to the pool. The clock says 4:38. The door should be locked but it isn’t. We sit on the edge and dangle our legs in.

I take out my cigarettes. “You want one?”

“Sure.”

“Really?”

“Why not?” Blake says. He’s got a desperate look in his face.

We each get partway through a second cigarette without saying anything. I can smell the chlorine. The water is soothing, I would hate to be in the jacuzzi right now. The thought of Beth’s body in the jacuzzi, my memories of her undressing from earlier..it seems stale. I try on the idea of Maddy in her swimsuit, of Sarah (blocking out thoughts of Hannigan) but none of it works. It’s just two guys in a deserted pool area, smoking cigarettes they shouldn’t be smoking, and the hum of the decompressor, some pool machinery.

Times like this I hate fluorescent lighting.

Fluorescents can take a depressing moment and turn it into an existential crisis.

Blake and I are on the same page. We don’t need to discuss anything.

The only thing he says the entire time we’re sitting by the pool is: “I hope that phone is the only thing she left there.”

And the only thing I say the entire time we’re sitting by the pool is: “I hope so too.”


Maddy opens her trunk. The cardboard box is there, the trunk bar. Edwards stands ten feet away. It’s just the three of us in the parking lot. I’m whispering in Maddy’s ear.

“That’s all I’m saying. If you ever leave your pussy unattended..”

“Then what?”

“I’m just saying. Don’t ever leave your pussy unattended is all.”

Maddy looks over the top of the trunk. “Get your ass over here loverboy.”

Edwards squirms. “Stop calling me loverboy, it’s not becoming to someone..of your stature.”

Maddy jumps up and down. “Are you afraid of my height??!! He’s afraid of my height!!”

Edwards looks at the ground. “Don’t make fun of me.”

Maddy bites my ear. She seethes: “I want to unzip you and kiss your brain.”

“No,” I pull my ear away, “but do you really think we should be doing this?”

“Lol. I really think we shouldn’t be.” She’s pouring Tangueray 10 into a water bottle.

“You mix a wicked gin and tonic,” I say.

She corrects me. “I drink a wicked gin and tonic. Though tonight it looks like you’ll have to settle for the former.”

“Do we have limes for this?”

I look at Edwards. He’s kicking gravel.

“Edwards,” I say, “Can you go get us some limes from the kitchen?”

“Edwards!” Maddy shouts.

That gets his attention.

“Go get me a lime. Edwards.” She’s pointing at him. “Go get me a lime or I’ll skullfuck you.”

Maddy’s hair is wild. It’s like a sprouted onion, or Medusa, or monkey grass that hasn’t been mowed—and monkey grass should never be mowed. It always feels like it’s been one day since her hair was washed. It’s clean, but it’s got that little bit of grease in it. She never wore it this way when she was in high school. Back then it was poofy and dry.

I like to run my fingers through it. I like the way it feels.

“There’s a spirit here,” I say.

“I believe there is.”

“This is not the ‘that.”’

“Is this the other ‘that?”’

“I don’t think so,” I say. “I don’t know—”

“I think—”

“I think this is the ‘this.”’

“You’re right,” Maddy says, “This is the ‘this.’ It could be no other.”

“Have you seen this before?”

“What are you talking about?” she laughs.

I laugh back. “I don’t know.”

“I have never seen the ‘this’ like this before,” she says. “No. Never.”

Edwards is in Maddy’s front seat. He has a book in his hands. “‘There are not more than five musical notes,”’ he reads, “‘yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.’ This book is wrong. There are eight diatonic tones in an octave. Maddy, your book is wrong.” He drops the book.

Maddy’s leaning into me. “I like you Matt.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. You’ve got QWAN.”

Edwards is next to us. “What’s kwan?”

“Fuck.” Maddy pushes Edwards away by his forehead. “Don’t you people read the dictionary?” She touches Edwards’ nose. “QWAN. Quality. Without. A. Name. See?”

“You think he has that?”

“Of course he does.” She pulls me close. “Kiss me.”

Beauty is frightening. It is the terrifying. Real beauty is never even called by its true name. It’s hardly ever known. It is simple, and gone. I think nature is beautiful. Like a crocodile biting, or a crocodile swimming, underwater, or an old crocodile, dying. It’s hard to see people as natural, from our point of view. But if we could I think we would see that we are beautiful, too. We’re too close to it to know, but breaking up in email is beautiful, and our terrifying art is beautiful, and even our weapons are beautiful. We’re, actually, too beautiful for our own good. And even after we create computers that are smarter than us, or after X-Men happens, we may be seen as the passionate race, the race that makes symphonies and Lamborghinis..things for which there is no good raison d’être..except that we motherfucking love them. What does that make us? The race that loves without reason? The race that loves love? I think so.

I think Maddy knew that about love. Because I think Maddy had seen things more terrifying than I had. I think when Maddy spoke, it was straight from a dream. I think her words were from the unconscious. She was underneath it all. That’s not how normal people like to live. And there’s nothing wrong with normal people. But people like you and me, when it comes to the subconscious, we’re more or less above the surface. Maddy transgressed that membrane whenever she liked.

Some people are fish. Some people are birds. Fish stay on one side of the line and birds stay on the other. But some people are amphibious. To them there is no line.

When you have both fins and wings, when you have both gills and lungs, the world is a bigger place.

To me the world is huge.

Kristen is here. She’s jumping up. “The this’ came upon us.”

There’s Maxwell.

“Do you deny it? The this’ was here. And now the this’ is gone.” Kristen growls. “Did you send the this’ out?” She’s snapping at Maddy. “Did you?? Did you make the this’ go? Did you hide the this’?” Kristen’s voice is a grumble.

Maddy closes her trunk. I’m holding the water bottle.

“Something is wrong with these kids,” Maddy says.

“Something,” I say, “is wrong with all of us.”

“Did we eat something?”

“It’s that bark in the water.”

“Maybe it’s wormwood.”

“Yeah,” I say, “we ate something.”

“No,” Maddy says, “It’s not wormwood. Shit. Shit. I’m an idiot.” Maddy looks at Kristen. “How could I not know?”

Maddy’s emptying her bag. Everything falls out, her tools, her iPod, her giant headphones. A sewing case, cotton balls.. She’s looking at me shaking her head. “We ate my mushrooms.”

If there ever was an eternity, it was that: it was that she looked into the mirror and the mirror told her something about herself that she did not already know. What she saw in the mirror was not herself. It was other. It was not the same. It looked like her. It was of the same material. But it was not the same. But when she looked at it, she saw something about herself that could not be seen in any other way. She had to see it from the outside. She had to see it in reverse. It moved when she moved..it breathed when she breathed..it matched her..it was her mimic..it showed herself in shadow..

“We did what?”

“We ate my motherfucking mushrooms.” Then to Kristen: “Did you take them?”

“I didn’t take anything.”

“I thought you could tell,” Maddy says. “I don’t know why I couldn’t tell. It’s just..” She’s shaking her head. “..whatever you’re thinking about gets magnified. We’ve all been meditating for a week! We’re up here thinking about religion and talking about God. Fuck.” Maddy’s staring down her camper. “Somebody stole them. And I suspect we ate them for dinner. Kristen. Is that true?”


“Come on Max.”

“Awww..”

“Come on. Guys go with guys. Girls go with girls. Let’s go.”

Max’s hand lingers in Kristen’s. Then the fingers drop. I have Max. Here’s Pierce.

“Where’s Tislam?”

“Here he is,” Pierce says. He and Tislam look faded.

“You been smoking pot?”

“Where would we get that?”

“Look at my eye. You smoke that shit in PeeWee cabin you’ll be sleeping under the stars tonight. PeeWee cabin doesn’t smoke pot. You doing polar bear tomorrow?”

“No.”

“No.”

“Yes you are.”

“No we’re not.”

“Yes you are ‘cause everyone in PeeWee cabin does polar bear the last day.”

“Tomorrow’s not the last day.”

“It’s the last day of polar bear.”

“You said it was optional.”

“It’s not optional for stoners.”

Edwards says, “I wasn’t smoking.”

“It’s not optional for stoners’ friends either.”

“They’re not my friends.”

Tislam says, “We weren’t even smoking.”

I say, “Save it.”

Max is looking back at The Turn in the Road. Random campers. Kristen isn’t there.

“Bro,” I say, “you’re pathetic.”

“I’m not pathetic.”

“He’s pussywhipped,” Edwards says.

“Somebody,” Max says, “owes me a pair of boxers.”

“You gentlemen are quite odd.”

“That wasn’t the deal,” Edwards says. “The deal was that you had to..”

“Had to what?” I say.

“It’s just this deal me and Maxwell made.”

“I don’t want to know.”

“Maxwell said that he could—”

“I don’t want to hear—”

“—and then if he couldn’t I would get—”

“—la la la la la—”

“—but if he won then he would have to—”

“—I can’t hear you—”

“—but I said you have to prove it—”

“—Tislam, these are your bunkmates—”

“—and the only way to really prove it—”

“—you’re supposed to keep an eye on them, tell me if they lose their minds—”

“They lost their minds the first day.”

“I can see.”

“So if Maxwell loses, which he has, then he has to give me the pair of boxers.”

“I didn’t lose.”

“What sense does that make,” I say. “You two are gonna switch boxers?”

“I think they like each other,” Tislam says.

“I think they might, too.”

“No.”

“No.”

“Sounds like kind of a gay bet.”

“We’re not gay. Well. I’m not,” Edwards says.

“I don’t care if you’re gay. Just wash your boxers before you do any trading.”

“There’s not going to be any trading,” Maxwell says, “because I didn’t lose.”

“But the bet was that then I would have to give you my—”

“I don’t want your boxers,” Maxwell says.

And Edwards squeals, “But they’re Armani originals! They’re worth a hundred bucks.”

“I don’t give a shit.”

“Sounds like the bet is off, Edwards.”

“Only ‘cause he can’t prove that he won.”

“Can we please have some quiet?” I say. “Enjoy the night. We’re in nature. You’re supposed to be soaking this up before you go back home.”

“Yeah,” Tislam says, “mosquitoes and mud and Edwards farting.”

“His name,” Max says, “is Edmunds.”


I’m reading Solomon to my campers. Everyone is showered. Everyone’s flip-flops are ready for polar bear, set below our bunks. By flashlight, I see the words:

There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle,

“What is manifold?”

“It has many parts.”

mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, overseeing all

“Why does it say in her there is a spirit? Is she a girl?”

and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle.

Edwards makes an obscene sign. “Penetrating!”

Tislam says, “This sounds like sex poetry.”

I say, “It’s about wisdom.”

Pierce says, “Is wisdom a girl?”

Maxwell says, “It’s like when guys name their boats or horses after a girl.”

Edwards says, “But what if their horse is a girl?”

And Maxwell says, “Or a gun or something.”

“You don’t name a gun.”

“Some people do.”

“Who?”

“People name guns.”

Edwards looks doubtful.

Maxwell adds, “People name their cars.”

I would be telling them to shut up and listen to Solomon but I’m not reading Solomon anymore. I’m listening, because I hear someone moving outside.

Someone’s coming up the path. It has to be Sony, because all the cabins were in and I didn’t hear anyone leave. I set the Bible down and stand.

There’s a flashlight swinging. There’s two.

“Stay here.” I go outside.

Max comes to the door. “What is it?”

I turn back to him. “Read Solomon.”

Max picks up the Bible. “Guys.”

“What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Max says. “Let’s get these vespers done.”

“Yeah, let’s,” Edwards groans, “if we all have to do polar bear.”

Max continues reading.

Oscar’s cabin has flashlight in it. Blake’s and Brian’s are dark. I go toward the path.

It’s girls’ voices.

Girls aren’t allowed past The Turn in The Road. If this is campers, they better not be Maddy’s. Visions of Maddy in her nest, shooting up, reading Ezekiel.

I listen. They’ve stopped talking.

“Who’s that?” I say.

I go further to them. This better not be campers. I’m not in the mood to take the path all the way back to The Turn in the Road.

“Who’s there?”

The lights shine on me.

“Hey, Matt.” It’s Marcy’s voice.

“What’s going on?”

Marcy’s light is at her feet. There’s no bandage. She doesn’t have her crutches.

“How’s your foot?”

“All better,” she says. She doesn’t seem happy.

“I thought you were supposed to use the crutches for a week.”

“It feels better. The pool helped, actually.” Marcy’s face is somber.

It’s Julie Jane with her. Both their flashlights point at the ground. Julie Jane’s cheeks are hanging low. The shape of her mouth is tense. Julie Jane is in her pajamas. Pink felt balloons from her boots, which are unlaced. Her hair is partway down, blond strings falling from what’s left of a ponytail.

Marcy switches off her light. Julie shines hers on my feet. A spider crawls across my bare foot, pauses on the big toe, and continues on. His eyes glow green in Julie Jane’s flashlight and he has a single white dot in the middle of his back.

Julie Jane says, “That’s poisonous.”

I say, “Only if they bite you.”

Marcy says, “Were you doing vespers?”

“Yeah,” I say. “Reading..Solomon..what’s going on?”

Julie shines her light on PeeWee cabin door. Maxwell, Tislam, Edwards, Pierce, all pressed against the screen.

“Go back to Solomon,” I shout.

“So,” Marcy says, “We need you to come back to camp.”

“Right now?”

“Yeah. There’s a problem. We need to have a counsellor meeting.”

“What happened?”

“Well. Earlier tonight..”

“Is this about Maddy?”

“Yes.” Julie looks at me. It’s one of those moments that lasts forever.

“Are you looking for Maddy?” I ask. “Or do you know where she is.”

Marcy’s looking at me like I’m crazy. “Maddy’s at camp.”

“She is?”

“Yeah. But one of her campers..while we were at the pool..” Marcy stops.

“Maddy’s fine?”

“Yes,” Julie Jane says. “But one of her campers..while we were at the pool. You know Mai?”

“Yeah,” I say.

“Mai says she was raped.”

“What??”

“So we need to get you and Blake and Brian and Oscar and have a meeting to decide what to do.”

“When did she say this?”

“Just now. She told Maddy.”

“Where is Maddy?”

“She’s with Mai.”

“Who raped her?”

“We think..Jamison.”

“That’s what she says.”

“What did she say exactly?”

“I don’t know.”

“What did she say.”

“Maddy said that Mai said that..he put his dick in her mouth.”

“She said he forced it there, or..she said he put it there? I’m sorry. I hope you don’t think that’s a dumb male thing of me to say, but, I mean..”

“No, it matters. She said she said forced. But listen. That’s not all they did.”

“It’s not?”

“No.”

“Fuck me.”

“Can you get Blake and Oscar. If Brian or one of them wants to stay here with the campers,” Julie Jane says, “maybe that would be appropriate.”

My hand is over my mouth. “Holy fuck. When did this happen?” I take my hand away.

“At the pool.”

“Mai, though? Mai was at the pool,” I say.

“I know,” Marcy says. “After the pool. After we left. When Maddy got back to her cabin Mai wasn’t with them. Mai told Maddy. Who’s cabin is Jamison in?” she asks.

“Blake’s.”

“Well maybe Blake should stay here, then.”

I look back at my cabin. My campers are listening.

I look at Marcy and Julie Jane. Now my mouth is making the same shape as Julie Jane’s.

“I’ll get Oscar and Brian.”


“He’s probably dreaming about raping innocent girls.”

“That’s gonna be the last dream he ever has.”

“I don’t believe that bitch did that.”

“He’s dead now.”

“That’s what he is. He’s a fucking bitch.”

“He’s a dead man now.”

“He’s probably in there dreaming about raping her. He’s probably in there planning who he’s going to do it to next. If he even thinks about touching her—”

“Chill, man. Chill. He’s not going to be thinking much longer.”

“And by the way,” Edwards says, “you can measure the cost of a life.”

“No, but if he did.”

“If he did..”

“You add up the cost of each of the elements, when you die. The chemicals. You figure out the price of carbon..”

“No motherfucker messes with the girls in Rainbow cabin.”

“He’s dead. He’s dead. That’s all I can say.”

“Like car parts. You add it up and that’s how much it’s worth.”

“Are they gonna send him home?”

“They don’t have to send him home. They better not send him home.”

“They’re gonna send him home. They have to send him home.”

“No they’re not.”

“Why not?”

“They’re not.”

“Why not.”

“‘Cause,” Maxwell says, “we’re gonna kill the motherfucker.”

Edwards is still talking. “Also, for your information there is one other way to measure how much someone’s life is worth, in dollars. You add up the money he makes, in his whole life, and that’s how much he’s worth. For example, if you take my dad—”

“We don’t want to hear about your dad,” Maxwell says. And he doesn’t.

“That fucker is dead.”

“He’s dead.”

“He’s not gonna wake up tomorrow.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m in.”

“Yeah?”

“Fuck yeah. We’re gonna kill that bitch in his sleep.”

“Edwards. Is this guy dead or is he dead?”

“I think,” Edwards says, “it’s time for this asshole to experience throat-fucking first hand.”

“Well,” Max says, “This is your chance. T. You got the shit?”

“Yeah,” Tislam says. “Let’s go.”

Snake Biting

“Blake, you in there?”

“Yeah. What’s up.”

“You got all your campers in there?”

Blake switches on his light. “Yeah.”

“Okay, keep it that way. We’re going down the meeting hall will you keep an eye on PeeWee and Deerfoot.”

Sound of Blake’s feet on the boards. He’s at the screen. “Where are you going?”

“Meeting hall.”

“Hold on. Let me get my shoes.”

“You’re not coming.”

I can see Marcus back there. I shine my light in. Jamison is on the bunk above Marcus.

Blake pushes the screen door open. He steps down. I put my hand on his chest.

I whisper. “Make sure nobody leaves. You and Brian. Nobody. We’ll be back in an hour.”

“What’s up.” Blake says.

I don’t answer him. I hate that expression.

“What’s up,” Blake is saying.

I hiss back. “Don’t worry about it just..keep everyone here.”

“Matthew. Matt,” he says. “I need to know what’s going on.”

“No you don’t,” I say.

And me and Oscar head to the path.

It’s Marcy, me, Oscar, Julie Jane.

“What happened to Brian?”

“Left him there.”

“Did you tell Blake?”

“No. Jamison was there. I just told them to watch everybody.”

“What about your cabins?”

“My cabin is asleep,” Oscar says.

Marcy laughs.

“No, they are.”

“What about PeeWee cabin?” Marcy asks.

“They’re fine,” I say. “PeeWee cabin takes care of itself.”


They were dressed in tiger gear, commando gear, they had black from head to foot. Only Maxwell wore red Converse. The others had known to bring black shoes. Black Nikes with the black swooshes in black relief. Black Asics. Black Skechers. The heads of their flashlights were wrapped in black socks. Only a tiny hole poked in each sock let light out.

They weren’t taking anyone from any other cabin. It went against the rules of engagement. It was completely untactical. It involved too many people. It would get them caught. The other boys wouldn’t stop them but they couldn’t have anyone extra knowing about their operation.

Plausible deniability. Maxwell had heard that on TV.

Maxwell, Tislam, Pierce, and Edwards fell out of PeeWee Cabin in single file. Edwards did a somersault and landed on one knee. He had seen that in militia training videos online. The Taliban didn’t have anything on American militia. And the American militia didn’t have anything on Edwards. Edwards was prepared. He had brought mountain climbing gear. He had brought smoke bombs. He had brought sulfur and charcoal and other ingredients for making bombs. Edwards scraped the black powder out of Estes model rockets and mixed it with ammonia, and finely-mixed baking powder, and paraffin wax. Once boiling wax reaches a certain temperature, you can set it on fire. Edwards knew exactly how to do this, by wrapping layers of wax and tin foil inside 35mm film canisters, and adding his custom ignition fuses, made mostly from the same components as firecrackers.

Maxwell made a fist and gave Tislam the go signal, one quick jerk of his forearm. He tried to make a hand signal to tell Edwards and Pierce to get into position, but they weren’t listening.

Maxwell hissed. “Get—your—asses—back—in—there.”

Pierce and Edwards went back inside the cabin.

Maxwell knelt on the roof. Tislam went to Screwdriver cabin. Edwards and Pierce stood on the beds by the door.

They had seen Blake leave, seen him head along the path holding his flashlight.

Then Tislam went to Blake’s cabin and rattled the door. “Yeah. Jamison. Matthew wants to see you. You gotta come to..uh..PeeWee cabin right away.”

Both Jamison and Marcus come to the door.

Tislam shines his light directly in Jamison’s face.

The screen door bangs shut on Screwdriver cabin. Tislam and Jamison head away from Lamborghini and past Deerfoot cabin, back to the first cabin you come to on the path from central camp..PeeWee cabin.

Tislam tries to walk side-by-side but Jamison keeps getting behind him.

“I think you’re the only black person at camp,” Jamison says. “Besides Blake and Brian.”

“That’s very observant,” Tislam says.

“Are there a lot of black people where you come from?” Jamison says.

Tislam doesn’t answer.

“I bet you go to a school with all black people. There’s prob’ly..like..two white people at your school.”

Tislam doesn’t like having Jamison behind him. He slows down, but Jamison slows too.

“I bet white people don’t even want to work at your school. Is your principal black?”

Tislam turns off his flashlight. “We’re here,” he says.

“Matthew, what do you want? I heard you want to talk to me.”

Tislam and Jamison stand in darkness in front of PeeWee cabin.

“Go on in. He’s waiting for you.”

“Gimme your light.”

Tislam shines his light on the bottom of the door of PeeWee cabin. “Go on in.”

“He’s not in there.”

“Yes he is.”

“If he’s not in there I’m’onna beat your ass.” Jamison steps up to the door of PeeWee cabin. He pulls the handle. It’s locked. Jamison turns around. Tislam’s flashlight is on him. Jamison starts to say “I’m gonna—”

But a board comes down, a four-foot piece of firewood, and clocks Jamison in the front of the head.


We cross The Turn in the Road. It’s 11:15 p.m. by my watch. I’m in flip-flops. Julie Jane is in pink pajamas and boots. Marcy has a red flannel shirt on. Oscar is fully dressed, wearing a baseball cap. Lights in the girls area are on. Flashlights in every cabin.

“Who’s in there?”

“Maddy.”

“Where’s Pig?”

“Meeting hall. Don’t worry. Do you want me to do a head count?”

“No,” I say. “Let’s make this quick though.”


Jamison’s head goes back against the screen. Maxwell jumps off the roof. Jamison is conscious. The PeeWee cabin door opens. Pierce and Edwards come out. Maxwell is on top of Jamison. Pierce hits Jamison in the side of the head. Edwards holds Jamison’s feet. Maxwell has the nylon strap. He wraps it around Jamison’s head and Tislam holds Jamison’s head in the dirt while Maxwell pulls the strap tight. He takes one end of it and circles it backward around Jamison’s face. The strap cuts Jamison’s lips. Tislam has the log now. Jamison’s feet come loose. He kicks Pierce in the chest. Pierce falls backward. Tislam brings the log down on Jamison’s head. It hardly makes a sound and it bounces off.

“Whoah. Whoah. That’s good,” Maxwell says. “Tie his arms.”


When we go in Sony and Piglet are standing in odd poses, completely still.

“Is that tai chi?”

“That’s yoga.”

They break their poses.

Sony says, “Where is Blake?”

“He’s watching campers. Him and Brian.”

“Everyone accounted for?”

“When we left,” I say.

Sony says, “What happened?”

Marcy says, “Mai told Maddy..you know Mai, that little Vietnamese girl..?”

“I know her.”

“Maddy says Mai was left behind when we were at the pool..and Jamison..was there too.”

“Did they have sex?”

“We’re pretty sure,” Marcy says.

“And she didn’t want to?”

“Maddy gets back to the pool, Mai is crying. They were in the pool shed!!”

“You saw it?”

“Maddy did. She told me. We need to take Jamison home.”

“I will take him home if need be. But,” Sony says, “if he raped her, then we need to call the police.”


“Get him in the woods.”

“Yeah.”

“Where are we taking him?”

“Up the path.”

“Where? Back to camp?”

“No. Up this way. Shut up!” Max says. “We’re going over this hill. Jamison.” Max shakes his head. “We’re gonna teach you a lesson.”

Max pokes Jamison with the log. Pierce holds one of his arms. Edwards holds the flashlight with a sock over it. They can hardly see where they’re going. Tislam is in front.

“This way?”

“To the top of the hill,” Maxwell says.

“I can’t see shit.”

“You can use your light,” Maxwell says. “No one’s up here.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” Max says.

And Tislam turns on his light. Max sees the five of them, Jamison easily the tallest. They’re in the middle of the woods. No one is going to find them up here.

“A little further up that way.” Max points. “We wanna make sure no one can hear us.”


“She said what?”

“I don’t believe it.” That’s the Indelible Julie Jane.

I say, “You don’t believe it?”

“No,” she says, “I don’t.”

“Well we have to take it seriously whether we believe it or not. Why don’t you believe it?”

“Because. He doesn’t seem like the type.”

“Okay,” Piglet says, “it doesn’t matter.”

“I’m not asking you to believe me. I’m just telling my intuition.”

“Which I respect. I respect. But that’s not the issue.”

Marcy says, “Why do you think she would lie?”

“Look, it doesn’t matter if she’s lying. We need to get a doctor and have her checked out.”

Julie Jane has her phone out. “We need to call the police.”

“I thought you said you didn’t believe her.”

“I don’t. But we need to call them anyway.”

“Shouldn’t we call her parents?”

“Matthew, you’re second after Blake. It’s your job to handle this.”

“I know. I know. Just. Put the phone down. Give me a second.”

“Dammit, dammit, dammit.” Julie slams her fist. “This was preventable.”

“You can’t keep your eye on everybody all the time,” Sony says.

Julie is crying.

Sony hugs her. “You’re doing a good job.”

This is not a good job.”

Sony gets his phone out. He looks at me. “Maybe we should get Jamison down here.”

“I’ll go get him.”

“Was anyone else there? Did anyone else see it?”

“I don’t think so,” Marcy says.

And Julie says, “Want me to get Mai?”

“Let’s talk to Jamison first.”

“I’ll be right back,” I say, and I go to the door, but when I open it, there’s Pastor Blake Ramsey.

“Dude,” I say, “what the fuck.”

Blake strolls into the meeting hall. “If you’re having a meeting without me,” he says, “I’d at least like to know what it’s about.”


I’m at the cabin. Lights are out. It’s way too quiet, and I know when I open the door what I’m going to find.

Shine my light around.

Shoes are gone. Boots are gone. Backpacks are missing.

Pillowcases are missing.


They sit him down at the top of the hill. This is where Kristen and Maxwell came when they stole Maddy’s mushrooms. Tislam shines his light on all sides of them. The hill descends, trees come together, and it’s just dark.

They have Jamison kneeling. There is bark on his face, and dirt, but he isn’t bleeding. His hands are tied with shoelaces and fishing line. The nylon strap gagging him. His hair is slick.

He looks like a rapist to Max.

“You know we’re gonna kill you, right?” Max stands right in front of Jamison. “You know that.” Max says, “Tie him to the tree.”

“Which one.”

“Tie him to that fat birch right there and Pierce, you watch him, you and Edwards watch him. Tislam. Come here.”

Edwards has the rope. He and Pierce walk Jamison to the birch, and, with Jamison’s back against the tree, they start lashing 8,000 lb. tensile strength climbing rope around Jamison and the tree.

“You’re gonna be here a while, Jamison, you fucking faggot. Do you have to pee? If you have to pee just go in your pants.” Edwards is shining his flashlight in Jamison’s face.

Pierce is on Jamison’s other side. They’ve got Jamison lashed so hard to the tree he can hardly breathe. “Put a blindfold on him.”

Edwards takes off his bag. “Let me see what I’ve got. Oh. Here we go.” Edwards stands up. He’s got a pillowcase. He hands his light to Pierce. “Hold this. Let’s lock this fucker down.”

Pierce takes the light.

Edwards puts the pillowcase over Jamison’s head. He ties the bottom in a knot. “Max, what do we got in store for this guy? You want me to take his pants off?” Edwards kicks Jamison—literally kicks his ass. “You want me to fuck this guy’s asshole with a stick?” Edwards breaks a stick over his knee. He pokes Jamison through the pillowcase with one half of it. “When I stick this stick up your ass,” he says, “you better not shit on it.” He presses the stick harder. “If you shit on it, I’ll stick that shit in your mouth. What are we gonna do, Maxwell? Tell me the plan. I’m ready to fucking fuck this bitch.”

“Just hold on a second.” Maxwell is talking with Tislam.

Edwards leans into Jamison. “Be glad it’s not me who’s deciding your fate—”

“Yeah, be glad,” Pierce says.

“If it was me,” Edwards says, “I’d cut your head off and skullfuck you with nine inches of—”

Pierce is laughing. “You don’t want this guy to skullfuck you.”

“Max what’s the plan I’m about to decapitate this bitch.”

“Don’t decapitate anybody,” Max says. Max and Tislam come over. “Is he tied real tight?” Max says.

“Feel this rope! There’s no way this fucker can get out of this thing.”

“Do you have more rope?” Max asks.

Edwards pats his bag.

“How much more do you have?”

Edwards pulls out a knife.

“Jesus, what is that?”

“It’s so I can decapitate this motherfucker.”

“Gimme that,” Tislam says.

Max touches its edge. It’s comically serrated, with insane curly spikes cut into the backside of the blade. “Don’t decapitate anyone.”

“Why not.” Edwards kicks Jamison. “I want this bitch to feel what it’s like getting skullfucked—”

Maxwell laughs. He likes the idea of Jamison getting skullfucked. “If you skullfuck him after you decapitate him,” Max says, “then he won’t be able to enjoy it.” Max laughs again. His laugh is uncontrollable. It embarrasses him. You’re not supposed to laugh when you have someone tied to a tree. “Here’s what I want,” Max says. “I want you three to stay here with him until I get back, and I want you to do absolutely nothing to him. Make sure he’s breathing.” Max goes to Jamison. “Can you breathe under there you—”

Jamison makes a noise. It’s an inarticulate moan.

Maxwell whispers in Jamison’s ear. “You raped Mai? You fucked up when you did that. You fucked up. You can do anything you want but when you rape a girl..that we go to camp with..Mai is my friend..Kristen is my friend..if you cross that line..” Max presses his face into the pillowcase. “That’s a line that, when you cross it, will cost you to come back. That’s where you are now, you—”

Tislam is pulling Maxwell back.

“That’s a line you do not cross,” Maxwell says. Maxwell looks down at his arm. There is blood on it, scratches from the struggle after jumping off the roof. He wipes the blood off. “Stay here ‘till I get back. No exceptions.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to get the people,” Maxwell says, “who are going to pass down judgement on this motherfucker.”

Edwards howls to the sky. “Oooooo-oooo!”

“Shush. Be in silence. I swear to fucking God. If he’s not here when I get back. If any of you are not here, I’m gonna fucking kill somebody. Tislam. You’re in charge. No offense to you guys but Tislam has to be the last word.”

Maxwell bends down to tighten his shoelaces.

“Who are you gonna get?”

“Who do you think,” Maxwell says. “Rainbow cabin.”


The Art of War had said it best:

Let your rapidity be that of the wind, your compactness that of the forest.

Max’s run was a demon run. He kept the flashlight on. He ran. He did not care if he broke his leg. When he came to a fallen trunk, he lept. He soared. He landed on the other side. It was downhill. If he cut his face, on this run, it would be an honor.

Flashlights were on in all of the girls cabins. Max crept into their area. He went straight to its center, where the flagpole was. He put his back against the flagpole. He could see into every cabin, just by turning his head.

A figure came to the door of Rainbow cabin. It was Maddy. She looked at him. Maxwell didn’t move. Maddy opened the door. She had Mai with her. Maddy and Mai came out of Rainbow cabin. They went down the steps.

Maddy has her arm around Mai. She has her flashlight on. They go for the entrance to the girls area. Maddy doesn’t see him.

He’s right here. Maddy is sixty feet away. Maybe a hundred. She doesn’t see him.

Maddy and Mai exit the girls area.

Maxwell walks right up to Rainbow cabin.

He opens the door.

He sits.

Liz, Jennifer, Erica, Kristen: all looking at him like what the fuck.

Kristen comes over to Maxwell. “You won’t believe what happened.”


“So how are we gonna get up there?”

“We walk. That’s where I just came from.”

“You have him up there?”

“I don’t know about this.”

“No,” Erica says, “You’re going. You’re fucking going.”

“All we have to do,” I peer out their door, “is get past the counsellors.”

“It’s not a problem,” Erica says, “They’re all gone.”

“Then let’s go before Maddy comes back.”

“What should we bring?” Kristen says.

Maxwell says, “Batteries.”

Kristen is next to Maxwell. She’s shooting her eyes toward Maddy’s bed. “What should we bring.”

Maxwell looks at Maddy’s mattress. “You guys we gotta go now.”

Jennifer pops up her hood. The sweatshirt is all black. Liz is out the door. Jennifer is out the door. Erica is out the door. Maxwell is out the door and Kristen reaches under Maddy’s mattress and grabs the bloody Saran wrap. She shoves it in her kanga pocket. She’s out the door.

“Flashlights off,” Maxwell says.

Katherine leans out of Buttercup cabin. “What are you guys doing?”

“This way,” Maxwell says.

Liz says, “I can’t see.”

“Hold hands.”

Katherine steps farther out of the cabin but she doesn’t have a light. She squints behind her glasses to try to see exactly who it is that’s slinking through the darkness toward the edge of the wood.


“Maddy, Maddy, bring Mai. We gotta go on a little expedition.” I shine my light inside Rainbow cabin, then step back down into the courtyard.

Katherine comes out of Buttercup. She’s wearing a nightgown.

“Where’s Maddy?”

Katherine says, “Meeting hall.”

“What the fuck,” I say. “Is everyone in your cabin?”

Katherine nods. “Rainbow cabin left,” she says.

“Where did they go?”

Katherine lifts her arm. She points at the woods.

“Katherine,” I say, “Will you please keep an eye on everyone?”

“Sure,” she says.

“Actually, fuck that.” I approach Buttercup cabin. “Get your shoes on.”


I open the door to the meeting hall. I hold it open. In goes April cabin, Star cabin, Buttercup cabin, fourteen girls in all. I count each one. Karen. Arianne. Morgan. McKenzie. Most are dressed. Some are in pajamas. All carry Bibles and flashlights. All are wearing socks and shoes. Katherine brings up the rear. Then I go in.

Marcy, Julie Jane, Piglet, Maddy, Oscar, Blake, Brian, Sony, Mai: all staring at the procession.

The door closes behind me.

Maddy stands up. “Where’s my cabin?”

“They’re in the woods.” I say it cheerfully. “Blake. You wanna go get your cabin? Get everyone. Get Brian.”

Blake is glaring at me. He doesn’t like to be spoken to this way in front of campers. That’s why I’m doing it.

“Don’t worry about PeeWee cabin,” I say. “Or Jamison.”


“Oh fuck. I got a thorn in my leg. Guys. Thorns.”

Maxwell switches on his light.

Liz has some minor scratches.

“Use your light. But hurry. We gotta go.”

“How far up here is it?”

“Remember where we went that day?”

“It’s not that far, Erica.”

“You sure they can’t see our lights?”

“No,” Maxwell says, “There’s no way.”

“Nothing’s going to jump out at us, is it?”

“Not unless Pierce and Edwards can’t tie a knot.”

“Oh, don’t fuck around like that.”

“Nothing’s going to jump out at us.”

“Now all I can think of is Jamison running loose in these woods.”

“Don’t worry. Pierce, Edwards, Tislam. They have him tied to a tree.”

“They tied him to a tree?”

“Yeah. He’s not running free. Trust me. I hit that fucker in the face with a log.”

“How much farther is it?”

“It’s right up here.”

“Are you sure you know how to get back to them?”

“Guys. I can’t breathe.”

“Take a break. You okay?”

“I just can’t breathe.”

“Okay. It’s no hurry. Let’s slow down.”

“I need to stop for a minute.”

“Okay.”

“How much further is it?”

“Liz, it’s right up here. Can you make it?”

“How far..away..did you have to..bring him?”

“Just where no one can hear us.”

“We’re not gonna do anything bad to him, are we?”

“No,” Maxwell says, “We’re just gonna scare him.”

“How are we going to scare him?”

“If you don’t feel good about this,” Kristen says, “I’ll go back with you. Or Jennifer can.”

“I’m not going back.”

“I’m not going back either. I’m just out of shape. I’m sorry I can’t climb a hill like you guys—”

“Don’t worry about it—”

“But I just want to know,” Liz pants, “What are we going to do to scare him?”

“We’re just going to freak him out,” Kristen says, but she’s thinking of the syringes. She can’t let anyone but Max know about them. But they could use them, they could. Kristen’s aunt is a nurse. Kristen knows how to give a shot. Of course Kristen doesn’t want to kill him. She hopes Max brought the mushrooms. They could give Jamison a whole bunch and turn him psychotic. Then they can deny everything. And even the other kids will later testify that nothing happened, because she and Max can do it in secret. They will feed him the mushrooms. If they give him the shot, they might give him too much. Kristen doesn’t want to make him feel good. She also doesn’t want to kill him. Maybe they will just stick him with the needles, and not inject anything. If Maddy has AIDS Jamison will get AIDS. But Maddy probably doesn’t have AIDS. They can stick a needle in his eye, like in the song. Kristen can’t get it out of her head. Maybe that is exactly what they will do: cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.

Maybe that’s what they will do.


This time it’s me in front of Maddy in the woods.

“We shoulda been over there.”

“I know.”

“We should have been in those cabins—”

“Yeah. I know. Would you please shut up. Just shut up. Let’s deal with..where we are now, okay?” Maddy keeps walking. She’s straying to the right.

I’m shaking my head. “Maddy,” I say.

She says, “You’ve got an attitude today.”

I stop walking and shine my light in every direction. “Fuck.”

“Where did she see them go?”

“The hill. I guess. This hill or..maybe the next one. I think it’s gotta be that way. They could be..over in those fields, you know..”

“Which way are the fields, you mean the pig farmer—”

“What pig farmer?”

“There’s a pig farmer over that way,” Maddy says.

“No there isn’t.”

“Whatever. What fields were you thinking of?”

“Just some corn fields, the corn fields up that way.”

“Okay,” she says, “Let’s go that way.”

“This is bad,” I say. “And what the fuck are you talking about about a pig farmer?”

“He’s been there since we were kids,” Maddy says. “There’s a pig farm. Right over there.”

I’ve never even heard of a pig farm. “Do they grow pigs on a farm?”

“They have to have someplace to eat—”

“Yeah, but a farm?”

“If they raise pigs there,” Maddy says, “I call it a farm.”

“Okay but when I think of farm I think of something with fields, and crops—”

“There are fields—”

“But they don’t grow pigs in them—”

“They have pigs, they have fields,” she says. “I call that a farm.”

“Fuck,” I say. I shine my light in her face. “Why did you leave your cabin?”

She says, “Why did you leave yours?”

“Yeah,” I say, “but if it was only a bunch of boys running around in the woods we wouldn’t have to worry about someone else getting raped.”

“I think they’re going to kill him,” Maddy says.

I lower my light. “I think so too. Let’s go up this hill and maybe over one more hill and then check the..corn fields.” I laugh. “Then let’s go check the fucking..holy shit..is there really a pig farm over there?”

“Giant pigs,” Maddy says.

“Heifers?”

“Fucking..sows,” she says.

I laugh.

“The reason I left my cabin,” Maddy says.

“Yes?”

“Something Mai told me.”

“What did she tell you.”

“She told me her dream.”


When they came upon Tislam and Edwards and Pierce, the boys were quiet.

Max shines his flashlight on Jamison.

“What’s wrong with him?”

“Nothing. What took you so long?”

Erica shines her light on the pillowcase. “Is that him?!”

Maxwell says, “Seriously guys, is he okay?”

“He’s fine,” Edwards says.

“Did he piss himself?”

“Not yet.”

Erica looks like she just got her birthday present. “You have seriously got to be fucking kidding me.”

Five flashlights are on Jamison. Black pants. Neon green climbing rope. Black rope around his head. The pillowcase.

“What do you have to say, Jamison?” That’s Erica.

Tislam takes the pillowcase off of Jamison’s head.

Nylon strap, his mouth pried open.

Jamison takes in the sight. Pierce to his right. Edwards and Tislam to his left. Before him, Maxwell, Kristen, Erica, Jennifer, Liz. Liz dressed in black, just her white face peeking from beneath her hood. Maxwell sweating, sticks in his hair, holding one of the lights.

Maxwell says, “Jesus, that log really fucked up your face. Sorry about that, Jamison, I’ll get you some ice in a minute. Don’t go anywhere.” Maxwell runs his hand through his hair.

Kristen steps forward. “You decided to mess with Mai?” She reaches for the nylon strap. “Can I take this off him?”

“I’d prefer you didn’t.”

Max picks a stick out of his hair. He tosses it in Jamison’s face. Jamison blinks, and when he opens his eyes, he’s looking at Maxwell.

“You guys are really fucked up,” Erica says. She’s smiling at Maxwell, then Tislam. “Really. I have a new respect for you. This..” Erica gestures at Jamison. She puts her arm around Liz’s neck. “What is this?”

Liz pushes back her hood. Wisps of auburn hair.

Erica is giving Liz a nuggie.

“It’s a work of art,” Liz says.

“Motherfucking right,” Erica says.

Kristen has her hands on Maxwell’s waist. “I’d do anything for you right now. I’d suck your cock.”

I’d suck his cock,” Jennifer says. “Aren’t you glad you made it up the hill?”

“Yeah. Oh yeah.” Liz is no longer panting.

Kristen flicks Jamison in the nose. “You fucked up James.”

“It’s Jamison,” you can hear him say through the strap.

But Kristen says, “I think I’ll call you James.”

“When you fuck one girl from Rainbow cabin,” Erica shrieks, “you fuck every girl from Rainbow cabin.”

“Also,” Maxwell says, “when you fuck with Rainbow cabin, you fuck with PeeWee cabin. And that’s not good.”

“No,” Erica says, “That’s not good at all.”

“So what are we gonna do?” Kristen says. “You brought us up here. Are we gonna kick his ass?”

“No,” Maxwell says.

Erica shakes her head and smiles. She looks Jamison in the eyes. You can feel the poison in her veins. Edwards talks about skullfucking. Erica looks like she would do it to you. “I wish Mai could see this. Why didn’t we bring Mai?”

“We’ll bring her up later,” Maxwell says. “For now, I’d like to discuss some things in private.” Max steps to Jamison.

“With him?”

“No,” Max says. And he puts the pillowcase back over Jamison’s head.


She dreamt of a carnival box. It had paint on the sides.

There was a handle. It was specially made for Mai’s hand. Five fingers fit inside it. When she turned, the lid opened, and out came a snake. It was a green garden snake, the color of a blade of grass, and its tongue was pink. The tiny tongue came out to lick her. It licked the back of her hand and tickled. She called her snake Mr. Shy. He liked to hide. She would close the lid on him and he curled up in the dark.

Mr. Shy was napping. Mai didn’t want to wake him. She carried the box with her to school. She set it beside her in the lunchroom. She saved a piece of her sandwich. When she was done, she would feed him the crust. She thought of Mr. Shy’s tongue, and wondered whether snakes ate bread. Strange things could happen when you fed one animal to another animal. For instance, did cats eat poultry?

Mai’s dream went along like this. This is what she told Maddy.

She dreamt her cat ate the snake. Mai was in Rainbow cabin and the wind was howling. The cat was scared. Mai tried to comfort her cat by imitating the wind. She waved her arms and made the wind sound with her mouth. But the cat only became more scared. Mai made whistling sounds with her mouth. Her hair flowed, suspended in water. Mai breathed into the kitten’s mouth so she could stay alive.

Kittens could not breathe underwater. Where was Mr. Shy? Mai told Maddy she was no good at taking care of pets. The kitten licked its paw. Mai’s hair was bathing the kitten, reaching out like octopus arms, to get the kitten clean. The kitten loved Mai’s hair, and rubbed against it. They forgot to invite Mr. Shy to the party. Mai swam to the surface. But she could no longer breather underwater.

The kitty’s lungs began to shrivel. Mr. Shy swam into Mai’s mouth.

And Mai swallowed him.


It was Kristen and Maxwell’s job to find the snake. They took Edwards’ pillowcase. Each had a flashlight. They went slowly, so the snakes wouldn’t hear them.

Maxwell would shine his light above them, then turn it off. That’s where they expected to find them, in the trees. Max had seen them hiding there.

That’s where they sunned. That’s where they stayed to be out of danger. They could intertwine there, pairs of them, and mate.

Maxwell turned his light on. Empty branches, shades of gray. He turned it off.

He and Kristen held hands sometimes. Kristen’s hand was cold. Max shined his light on her. She looked smaller than usual. There was a shroud around her eyes.

Maxwell turned off his light.

They had decided they would loose the spirit of the devil on the rapist.

They had decided they would cleanse him.

They had decided to help.

They decided he would eat the snake. It would be a competition. Jamison would hold the snake. And they would make him bite it. They would see who got bit the most.

“That’s fitting, don’t you think? Whoever lets his snake loose, gets a snake loosed on him.” Maxwell had been laughing. He had the pillowcase in his hand. In Maxwell’s mind, this was an ancient tradition, invented in the middle east, in north Africa. Some ancient people in what is now Morocco, doing this as a sign of manhood. Or maybe entertainment to be had with prisoners. At night, at campfire, after they had had their feast and before they went to their tents to be alone with their favorite women, they would bind a prisoner’s hands to the belly of a snake. Then they would remove the blindfold from the man and the bag from the snake’s head. And they would see which one could bite the other first.

Maxwell had bound Jamison’s hands. He had made them nice and tight. They wouldn’t do the snake thing right when they got back. First they would pull down his pants and the girls would ridicule him. As a general rule, you don’t ever want to leave justice in the hands of the victim. It’s the equivalent of going to the grocery store hungry.

They went in silence. There was nothing to say. There would be no making out. There would be no discussion. They had forgotten where they came from, forgotten who they were. Their job was to hunt the snake. That was it.

They forgot about camp. They forgot about their parents. They forgot about their brothers and sisters. They had never known home. There was no Philadelphia, and no daylight. There was only this hill, and somewhere on it, a snake.

Max wanted a big one. For what they had in mind, a big one would be best. He imagined a meaty fat viper from Peru. Hopefully they could find something satisfactory here. He held Kristen’s hand, stopped, and turned on the light.

Kristen was screaming.

Maxwell was saying, “Oh / Oh,” repulsed.

Neither one was afraid. They were heightened.

Both had their lights on it and it was squirming. They had found it in a tree.

It wasn’t trying to bite them. It was trying to run away.

But Max had it in his hands, squeezing the neck, and Kristen was helping him turn the pillowcase inside-out.

They had become untouchable. They had gone beyond. If they could catch this snake, they could do anything. They could live in the woods. They could stay up here for weeks. Max and Kristen would have sex for the first time in these woods, in the trees, like the snakes. Teaching Jamison was just a first step. Everything had to change. All the laws and all the customs. Everything was wrong. They weren’t going to fix it. They were going to make a couple of adjustments.

“We can probably even get Maddy and Matthew to come up here.”

“Yeah. We can.” Kristen’s voice was a hiss.

She stopped Maxwell in the woods and when she stuck her tongue down him it was like a tentacle, or a vine.

Max’s fingers on Kristen’s neck were dark. Black nails. If he wanted to bite her, he could bite her chin, her lips.

He could bite them off.

And she would love it.


“When did you have this dream?”

“Just now.”

“You’ve been back to sleep?”

Mai’s eyes thwarted each other. Mai was one of those girls who can move each eye independently. One eye was crossed. The other was straight.

“You went to sleep just now?”

“I’m tired.”

“Are you hurting?”

Mai looked away. She looked at her mattress.

Maddy whispered, “Do you want to talk to me outside? If he hurt you..we need to get you to a doctor.”

Mai looked at the ceiling. She wouldn’t look at Maddy.

“Did you really have that dream just now?”

Mai nods.


“I’m not a dream interpreter.”

“You don’t have to be,” Maddy says.

I shout into the darkness. “Maxwell! Jamison!”

Maddy is next to me.

“Tislam? You out there?”

Nothing. The sound of Maddy breathing.

“So she made up the dream.”

“She wasn’t even sleeping.”

“So.”

“So what else did she make up.”

“He didn’t rape her?”

“I don’t even think Jamison was at the pool.”

“Marcy said you saw him and Mai in the pool shed.”

Mai was in the pool shed.”

“She was crying.”

“Yeah.”

“Why was she crying then?”

“Maybe she freaked herself out.”

“Did she say Jamison raped her?”

“Yes, she said that.”

“She said they had sex.”

“Yes, that’s what she told me.”

“But you think something else happened.”

“I just think,” Maddy says, “that if she lied to me about her dream, she might be making things up about Jamison too.”

“So did you ask her point blank if it was rape?”

“I’m not even sure they had sex,” Maddy says.

I look up into the darkness.

“Maybe we should go back,” Maddy says.

“Maybe.”

“Maybe they went back to their cabins.”

“This is awesome,” I say. “I bet you’re glad you drove up from Florida for this shit. I love Camp Lake. Tomorrow we’re going to have a dead Jamison and..who knows what the fuck Rainbow cabin and PeeWee cabin are doing right now.”

“Maybe Jamison’s somewhere else. Maybe he’s not with them.”

“Maybe. I have no idea where else to look.”

“I don’t either,” Maddy says.

I say, “I think we should call the police.”

“I agree.”

“I can’t wait to tell the parents this when they come on Saturday. We killed your kids and by the way, here’s my address in jail. Do you have any more of that stuff?”

“Are you serious?”

“Maybe. Yeah, I’m serious. Why the fuck not. Fuck fuck fuck.”

“We’ll find them,” Maddy says. “You wanna go back to the cabins? See if they’re there?”

“Yeah,” I say.


There was singing. Coming through the woods and there was singing. It was Erica, it was even Edwards, it was Liz, Pierce, Jennifer. Tislam is standing. Jamison is uncovered. Tislam is leading them. They’re chanting.

It’s not words. It’s low, low sounds. Like whining. A deep wailing.

Jamison’s eyes are on them, and they dart to Kristen and Maxwell. Then his eyes go to the pillowcase.

Max and Kristen sit in the circle. Max puts the pillowcase before them. They do not need to ask what the group is doing. Erica takes Kristen’s hand.

Max and Kristen chanted, too.

Jamison’s eyes were locked on the group. He couldn’t move his hands. There was no way he was getting out of this. What was in the pillowcase?

If it was what they said, he’s in trouble.

Something was wrong with these kids.

Erica’s doing the ritual. It’s the ritual of sticks. Pierce is beside her. Erica breaks them, stacks them. She puts them in her mouth. She eats them. Tislam is praying. Edwards is singing too. They have never met each other, but they have met each other now. Jennifer holds the light; Liz goes to the prisoner. She takes off her sweatshirt and places the hood over Jamison’s face. Maxwell is writing in the dirt with strange writing, writing none of them have ever seen before.

And Kristen’s chanting low.

The viper is moving. The captive does not want to die. He doesn’t think about it logically. He doesn’t think there’s no way that could be an African pit viper. He just thinks of the pillowcase, and he thinks of it moving. And when they shook the bag, he saw the thing inside it strike. He thinks of himself receiving that strike. He thinks of people dying, bitten by the snake. He’ll be alone. Then this crazy thing will rise up and bite him in the face, then he’ll lie here dying in Pennsylvania.

That was how Jamison was going to die. But once someone found them these fuckers were going to jail. Who knows, they might decide to help him once they saw that he was really dying. It didn’t look like they would. But they might.

I come upon them singing.

They’re singing in the woods. The final verse. A hymn.

Running out, seeping through the trees.

Seep into the roots.

Someone’s turned our hourglass over, and it’s almost empty now. Almost empty.

Night eclipse. And children singing.

Her voice rises like blue smoke into the trees. She is a fire. She is burning herself. The song is ash.

Ash rising.

And spark. Embers.

Rise into the trees.

Her song curdles, aches, reaches for flight, sinks, dives deeper, gets eaten by a whale.

And rises again.

Something is moving inside the pillowcase.

“You know what this is, Jamison? This is an African pit viper. This fucker is mad. We’re gonna let it out. When we let it out it’s gonna kill you.”


Maddy lifts her mattress. I shine my light.

“Did you move your shit?”

She lowers the mattress.

“Did you move it somewhere? Maybe you forgot? Is it in the woods?”

Maddy is speechless.

“Maybe it’s in your car.”

“It’s not in my car.”

Maddy walks out of Rainbow cabin. She lets the screen door slam behind her. I’m sitting on someone’s bed, my light shining through the screen. I hear Maddy curse. She’s looking at the stars.

Maybe it’s more addictive than I thought. All I can think about is wanting to get high.


Something was terribly wrong.

The children had stopped speaking.

Everything they said was in the eyes.

When they looked at each other, the eyes spoke. Complete messages. Plans. Understanding.

Kristen imagined the face. It was with them now.

Kristen fed Max a leaf. He ate it.

Pierce put sticks on Edward’s lap. Then they all did sticks, and they put dirt in their hands. And they let it run through like the hourglass. Erica spat on Jennifer, and Jennifer spat on Liz. They rubbed the spit together with the dirt. They made handprints on the pillowcase.

Then they took their clothes off.

And they danced.

They danced on Jamison. They danced in pairs. They danced off alone.

Then Kristen danced in the middle of them all, and they formed a circle.

And they knew in the eye-language what they would do next. Jamison would be there, but they weren’t there to teach Jamison a lesson anymore.

They weren’t there for Jamison at all.

Jamison was there for them.

In a circle they gathered. And they only spoke the eye-language. In the eye-language they decided there would be no more speech. In the eye-language they said that only the eye-language was allowed. If they ever had to speak again, they could leave the eye-language behind them. That other world was not welcome here.

Even Jamison spoke the eye-language. It was the only language he could speak.

They made a circle.

They looked at Jamison. The eye-language said: should we cover up his face?

Then the eye-language said: no, we want him to see it.

We want him to see it. He will..must to..watch. We will eat here. We will wipe our hair. Our eyelashes will be thorns and there will be tears, secreted from the pores. If anyone speaks they will be forced to leave. They will leave forever. If they leave they will never be spoken to again. Not in this forest. Not in any. The eye-language is absolute. It has been here all along. It was there when you were born and it will be here after you die. The word-language is low-resolution. The word-language is for babies. It is farce. It will solve nothing. The word-language is a cat’s cradle. The eye-language sees. It sees. The eye-language sees, and seeing is without time. Seeing is before time, during time, and after time. Seeing is still. It is complete. It is not sequential. When the eye-language talks, there is no discussion. There is no back-and-forth. The eye-language is still, a moment, all at once. It knows the future now. It remembers the past forever. The eye-language is incapable of argument, disagreement, confusion.

In the eye-language killing is the same as kissing. In the eye-language there are no fools, or fiends, or fear. It is all the same.

The eye-language wants you to lie down. The eye-language wants you to touch her hair. The eye-language wants your eyelashes on the ground. The eye-language wants dirt. It wants more dirt. The eye-language says to pray without words. The eye-language says to scream. Now join. Now come apart. Now go. Now come back. We will protect you. We will keep secrets. We will never tell.

We have done this before.

You are not the first.

You are not the last.

This space is impenetrable. Nothing can come upon you.

No power can overshadow you.

We brought you here not to be afraid. Do you feel fear? Can you be destroyed? We brought you here not to be terrified, but to be terrible.

And now you feel it.

Simplicity, terror. Simple. And nothing is like it. Now you see the eye. And every eye sees every eye. Every neck breathes into every neck. Every tentacle that feeds, is fed by another until there are no tentacles, only feeding; until there are no necks, only breathing; and until there are no eyes, only sight.

That is when you will see.

And you will make him see.

Open up now, let him see it.

Open up now, let him see.

Are there watchers, watching the watchers? There are only watchers. Put his hood upon him. Sink him into dark and sing. Sing so that he won’t forget where he is and not be there when you take his hood off. He needs to be reminded. Remind him of the sting. Make him always hold it. Tie it to his hands. Keep it in the bag.

Pluck his eyelash. Let it bleed.

And you shall call him Snake Biter.

That shall be his name.

He is the one who bites the snake and that shall be his name. But show him love. Show him how to love the right way. Show him Kristen cumming. Show that with love. Show it hard. Show him something he will never have. Show it extreme. Show simplicity. Show uninflected love. Show without word or color or sound. Now show him how to love without touch. No touching. Show love with no touching. Show what it means to be shameless. Show love, and kiss the one who holds the snake. Show him in your eyes what his name is. Show him his name in your eyes. And everyone do it. Kiss him on the cheek. Then show him his name. Then the next person go. Then we make our circle. We brush with hands. We cry with hair. We make our fingers knots. We braid our legs. We poke vision with eyes and pry clenched jaws with teeth dyed, we ink, plunge, terrify.

When my hand is on your neck your neck is still. We bite, we rearrange.

And you can untie the snake now. Untie the knot. Let him see it coming. Let him try to dodge. Let the snake only want peace yet lock him to war.

And let me put this in you. This is honey. Honey to your veins.

And lie with me in leaves. Bathe with me..in branches..

Watch the viper strike him. Know that it is right.

Watch him bleed. Watch his face swell.

Then give him honey, too.

Let him not care.

Let him vomit in the woods. Watch him with the eye-language and let him sit beside you. He is holy too and he has crossed back over the line. He has returned. He has crossed twice, and now sits with us, and all is reset.

Give me more of the honey. Give me honey here. I have no need of clothes. Honey, oh; and give it to everyone. Keep us honey; keep us sweet.

But always call him Snake Biter. Make him remember his name.

Give Snake Biter more honey. Ease his pain.

Stop talking outside the eye-language. What are you doing?

What is that face?

That is not the face of honey.

When did you come back? Did I come back too? What is my name?

What is that face you’re giving me? Is there danger? Can I remember fear?

Use the eye-language.

“What?”

Use the eye-language.

“Talk to me! Say something!”

The eye-language has passed. Now sound is here.

“We have to help him!”

Eye fading.

Plastic, blood.

“We have to get him to a hospital!”

Ziploc bag. Jammed syringe. It won’t go anymore.

Maxwell standing. Drops a flashlight.

K is sitting on a log looking at her arms.

Maxwell looks there. Is there eye-language left in her?

Yes. There is. She is still in the eye-place.

Max’s hand on Jamison’s neck. Jamison doesn’t move.

“He’s fine.”

“He is?!”

“He’s perfectly fine.”

Vision of the snake gliding over leaves. Max looks around them. The snake is gone. He steps on the pillowcase. Flat.

Jamison’s face is bitten. Swelling. But Jamison is fine. Thankfully. He’s still in the eye-place.

Jennifer and Liz are gone. Erica walks in circles. Pierce, Edwards: gone as well. Tislam has come out of it. He’s sitting on the ground. He looks up. Someone’s coming. Max hears it too. Two flashlights, coming through the woods. It’s almost dawn.


There was nobody in Rainbow cabin so Liz and Jennifer went into camp. They cross The Turn in the Road. The lamp is swarmed with moths.

Liz says, “Maybe it’s the end of the world.” Her mind is filled with visions of apocalypse. It’s possible they’re the last people on Earth.

Jennifer says, “Let’s check the rooms.”

They hit the mess hall first. Sony is in there when Liz opens the door. They had expected it to be locked. Sony is seated alone in the middle of the lunchroom. His flashlight is in lamp mode. He reads a tiny book.

Sony’s eyes follow Jennifer and Liz. They walk by him. They go to the kitchen.

Jennifer gets a milk and a box of cereal. Liz opens the fridge. She gets a yogurt.

The girls sit with Sony.

Jennifer peels back her cereal box and pours in the milk. She lifts one corner to her mouth and sips the edge of the box. Liz opens her yogurt.

Sony goes to the kitchen and gets spoons for the girls. He holds one out to each of them.

“Thanks,” Liz says. She digs into her yogurt.

Jennifer says, “Is everyone looking for us?”

Sony sits.

Liz pokes at her yogurt. “You know,” she says, “you never know when a ten-minute walk is going to turn into a two-week survival hike.”

“That is true,” Sony says.

“So is everyone mad at us? Are we getting kicked out?”

“Everyone,” Sony says, “just wants to know that you’re safe.”

“What if what we did is really bad? When you find out are you going to quarantine us?”

“Are you gonna tell our parents?”

“Of course they’re gonna tell our parents.”

Sony looks over the girls. They’re breathing. They seem cogent.

“Don’t you even want to know what we did?”

Sony says, “No.”


What we found when we came upon them was this:

  1. Clothes strewn on the ground. There was a shirt maybe thirty feet from where they were sitting.
  2. Jamison’s feet were tied together with climbing rope. His lips were cut. His face was so puffy we could hardly see his eyes.
  3. Maddy’s heroin kit, contents exposed.

Cotton balls. Four syringes. Saran wrap. I checked Maxwell and Tislam’s arms. Maddy checked the girls. Jamison it was hard to tell what was going on. I told him we were going to the hospital. He told me he was fine. Maxwell helped me walk Jamison down the mountain. Maddy took the others back to their cabins. I left Maxwell at the meeting hall and drove Jamison to Philadelphia. There was no small group that morning. Not in my room. Piglet took my group and they did Bible readings together. Maxwell didn’t go. He waited at the meeting hall until I got back. They said he sat there the whole morning.

Jamison was fine. I did a little interview with him on the way to the hospital. When I asked him what had happened he told me that he tried to bite a snake. I asked him why. He wouldn’t say. It didn’t take much to connect the dots. I count two trips to the hospital in one week as total failure. Marcy wasn’t a problem. This one..is probably what ended Camp Lake.

Maddy and Kristen cleaned up the hill. They left tangles of climbing rope outside the supply closet. When I get to PeeWee cabin, none of the beds have sleeping bags on them, including mine. Pierce and Edwards were in town washing. They took the road. They sat in Tow’s, this little store down there, and washed all the clothes.

Tislam found Max. He brought lunch out and the two of them sat with trays on the porch of the meeting hall. When they were done, Tislam brought the trays back to the mess hall.

Maddy did have small group. She borrowed her cabin campers and added them to her group for that morning. There was much upset about this but Maddy wasn’t up for discussion, so she just did what she wanted and told Blake to fuck himself. It was something I had wanted to tell him for a long time.

Now there’s Max, and there’s me, and I take Jamison’s arm and we lift him off the hill. I don’t look back, I can’t, I can never go back there. Never will that be quiet, Christian Camp Lake. I can’t look at that place and think of the ravine or the slope of the hills or the way the trees silhouette the sky.

That’s just not how I think of it.


Sony peeks into the main hall. Kids are everywhere, boys and girls together. One half of the ceiling lights are on. They’re using Bibles as pillows.

Julie Jane comes out.

Sony says, “I have Jennifer and Elizabeth.”

“Good, where?”

“They’re in the mess hall.”

“Are they okay?”

Sony nods.

Julie hugs him. Her fingers grip his back and her eyes are wet.

“The children taking care of the children,” Sony says, and he squeezes Julie tighter.


I’m going up to the pool and I see Beth come out of 332. She closes the door gingerly. I go to her. She puts her finger over her lips to say “shhh.”

I whisper. “What’s going on?”

We go down the hall together.

“She’s gonna take a little nap, is all.”

“Who?”

“Maddy.”

“Is she okay?”

“She’s just tired. You going upstairs?”

“Yeah.”

“You wanna come with me on a little field trip instead?”

“Where to?” I’m barefoot, shirtless, with a towel around my shoulders.

Beth says, “Down the boardwalk.”

“Yeah. Let me get a shirt. Are you going to get a drink?” I ask.

Beth says, “You don’t need a shirt.”

“No?”

“No.”

“You’re not getting a drink?” I ask.

“Why,” she says, “do you want one?”

I shake my head.

“We’re gonna pay Sean a visit,” she says.

“Sean.”

“Yes,” she says. “That Sean.”

“Did you hook up with him last year?”

“Yeah, I did.”

“Did you hook up with him this year?”

Beth looks at me. “Not yet,” she says.

We’re standing in front of the door with the giant middle finger on it.

“I can wait outside if you want.”

“This’ll only take a minute.”

Beth rings the bell.

Sean opens the door. There’s a roach clip in his other hand. He looks at me, then burps pot.

Beth says, “Can you wait downstairs?”

I’m standing in the parking lot. I find a wall to lean against. It’s somebody’s condo; hopefully they’re not home. Maybe they’ll invite me inside (“You look hot. Come on in. Want a beer?”).

Thanks, no, I don’t drink beer. I could go for a long island, though.

Sipping those with Beth when we used to stay in Sea Isle, was heaven. When we used to take your mom’s Nissan? That’s where we’d go, down to the OC boardwalk. We drove all that way. The first time we went there she didn’t tell me where we were going, either. She was like, “I’ve got this place I want to take you.” It was Sean’s bar. The seafood restaurant, you know, Zen, where he manages the bar? Beth and I would sit at the bar in our swimsuits and sandals and Sean would serve her a long island and me a pineapple juice. But I’d sip sips of Beth’s long island when she passed it to me. Then we’d drive home, back to the house in Sea Isle City, and we’d have a teenage buzz while we hung out with our parents. Sean said he owned a piece of that restaurant but to me it always looks like he’s just the bar manager.

I guess it’s not wrong for me to fantasize about what Beth’s doing upstairs. I prefer not to think of Sean’s part of it, but thinking of Beth getting naked gives me a hard-on. Not good for parking lots. But if it gets a little hard and hangs down thick, nobody’s gonna see that. It’s like a desert island out here: cars, asphalt, sun, and me. When I get some time alone I’m gonna masturbate to Beth. That image of her pushing down her swimsuit and peeing in front of me at the Westin will never leave me. She was just young enough that she didn’t have much hair on her pussy. And whatever hair she did have she shaved. I love seeing a pussy like that even though it kindof reminds me of a baby. There’s something innocent about it in a way I don’t like to think about. It’s perverted, I know, but how can you help what goes on inside your mind? Beth is getting freaky upstairs with that asshole. She’s probably sucking his cock. That fucking asshole probably has a bigger cock than me. Actually, I know he does; you can see it through his shorts.

I hate how when I’m thinking about Beth and Sean fucking, I have to imagine Sean’s part of it, too. If I’m thinking about Beth getting his cock hard with her mouth, I have to imagine his cock, too. It’s fucked up. I don’t want to imagine his cock. It’s so offensive, too, that Beth uses me like this. She wants company on the way to her hook-up? You’d think she could just walk herself. Or get Sarah to come with her. Sarah’s probably off having sex with Hannigan. The two of them are disgusting. We’re all pretty sure they had sex on that one retreat where we went to Camp Lake. They snuck off behind the volleyball court where there were some trees. We were all having dinner while they did it. They don’t even come to dinner and later when Pastor Steve asks if they’re hungry they’re like, “Oh, we already ate.” Wink wink. Nod nod. It’s right there in everyone’s face and in their love haze, they have no idea how obvious they are.

You have to treat people who are in love like you have to treat people who are on drugs. It’s the same thing.

Beth comes down after about six minutes. “Hey, Matt, you ready to go?”

I’m not going to answer that. I never even wanted to come here. “Can we get a drink now?”

“You want one?”

Yeah, I think you owe me one after this shit. “That didn’t take long,” I say.

She’s all the way down the stairs. Her clothes are exactly as they were before she went inside. Her shirt’s not wrinkled. A little strand of her hair is out of place but she brushes this back in place. “You really want a drink?” she asks.

I’m staring at her face.

She sees this.

I’m staring at her face because right under her eye there’s a streak of blood.

“What?” she says.

“There’s blood on your face.”

Beth gets out her mirror. She licks her thumb and wipes off the blood. She wipes her thumb on the top of her jeans. She puts her mirror away.

“Don’t worry,” she says, “It’s not mine.”

Beth takes us up the boardwalk. We get to Zen. The seafood restaurant. Sean’s restaurant.

Beth says, “Wait here.”

She goes in and I’m standing out front. There are no doors, it’s open to the boardwalk. Sean’s boss, the guy who actually owns the restaurant, is tending bar. Beth asks him something. The guy shrugs. Beth says something else. The guy shakes his head. Beth comes back outside.

“Everything okay?”

“Yeah,” she says, “Let’s get that drink.”

We get MD 20/20s at this grocery store and sit on the rocks while the sun sets.

Beth says, “I hate this place.”

“It’s okay,” I say.

“We should stop coming here. It sucks coming here.”

“We should really go to the Ocean City in Maryland.”

“Have you been?”

“Of course,” she says, “have you?”

“No.”

“It’s crowded. We should go fishing.”

“Let’s catch crabs tomorrow.”

“Aren’t we doing fucking prayer vespers all day?”

“Let’s just go,” I say. “Let’s cut out, leave early. Like 4am. Stay out all day. We’ll just come back in time to sleep and go home. Fuck ‘em. What are they gonna do?”

“Okay,” Beth says, “Who?”

“You, me, Maddy, Blake—”

“Not Maddy.”

“You, me, Blake.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah,” I say, and I sip my strawberry-kiwi mad dog.

Everyone has rules to follow. Sometimes we make special rules for our friends. You might think that when you make exceptions for your friends that you’re doing them a favor, but you’re not. Something happens when you make exceptions for your friends. At first it’s nice, because you can do things with your friends that no one else can get away with. But it doesn’t work that way. The rules are there for a reason. Once you break them, it never goes back. There is no honor among thieves.

It’s weird, because you think you’re giving your friend a break by letting them get away with shit. But you’re not. And what’s worse, it ends the relationship, because if I let you get away with some transgression against someone else, then sooner or later, one of us is going to end up perpetrating that same transgression against the other. Special rules don’t work, because they’re based on the false premise that “we” somehow exist in a microcosm, a microcosm that is independent of its container. But we don’t. It’s all the same world. It’s all the same people. There is no other.


Marcy finds me as soon as I get back from the hospital.

“Jamison, are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Jamison, wait in the meeting hall. Wait in the front room, okay? I’ll be in there in a minute.”

“We’re not sending him home,” Marcy says. “Unless he wants to go home.”

“Why is that,” I say.

“Ask Maddy,” Marcy says. She doesn’t look happy. “What happened to that kid?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where did you find him?”

“On the hill.”

“What happened to his face?”

“He got bit by a snake.”

“I can see that. How did his face get where a snake could bite it?”

“Marcy, I don’t know.”

“What were they doing up there?”

“I don’t exactly know.”

“Is it safe,” she asks, “to have Jamison at camp?”

“You mean for him?”

“I think,” she says, “you need to get your little campers to tell you what they were doing in the woods last night. Unless you already know and you’re just not telling me. I told Blake we should close camp.”

“What did he say?”

“We’re not closing camp. He thinks it’s just a minor snakebite or something.”

I laugh.

Marcy says, “What the hell did you find up there?”

I shake my head. “Marce. I honestly don’t know. I think we should question every one of them and figure it out, though, ‘cause when their parents get here.. I mean—” I laugh. “I don’t know, Marce, the guy was tied at the feet—”

“They tied him?”

“Yes.”

“Well what does he say? You asked him.”

“Yeah. I bribed him with Burger King on the way back.”

“And what does he say?”

“He says that nothing happened. He fell. He got bit by a snake.”

“That’s funny,” Marcy says.

“Why is that funny?”

“Because,” she says, “I talked to every one of those kids while you were gone. Kristen. Liz. All of Rainbow cabin. And I talked to them without Maddy. They say the same thing as Jamison. All smiles. Everything’s fine.”

“They don’t seem beat up. Minus Jamison.”

“No, they don’t.”

I squint at Maxwell, silent, on the porch of the meeting hall. I say, “Do you think they’re lying?”

Marcy looks deep into me. She says, “They don’t seem to be.”


Lakeside. Gear in a sweatshirt. Folded. Maddy goes ‘round to the far side. No time to salvage it. Get more rigs later. Maybe somehow in Philly. Might have to wait ‘till home.

Unfolding the sweatshirt. Dumping shit out. Looking behind her. No one.

First light. Dawn. And this is what she’s doing. This and then back to camp. What is the point of camp anyway? Not sure if she can make it another day. Weirdly glad for the chaos.

Chaos is easier. Makes things easier. More like home. Less pretense.

Cotton balls floating on the surface of the water. Rigs, the hollow part of them keeping them afloat. Maddy scrapes them back to her before they float away. Get the sweatshirt.

Sacrifice the shirt. Put everything in. Tie the arms. Goodbye sweatshirt.

Maddy finds a rock. Brings it back to the side of the lake. Need a bigger rock. Back at the forest’s edge, digging through leaves. Put that rock in the sweatshirt, tie, and toss it in.

Sometimes I dream of the snake.

I dream that he’s in my hair.

The snakes in my dreams are soapy, like they came out of the dishwater. Or like they were just born, they just broke through the egg, and that film is still on them. They never bite me. That kindof bothers me. They crawl in my hair and I want to get them out. They cling to me. They’re like sticky worms. I fling my hand but one will still stick to me. It will be on the back of my hand. I’ll try to comb them out, but they’re like having taffy between my teeth, too hard and sticky to get out. That’s how they are in my hair.

I try to clean them. There’s always one left. And if I miss one, then it gives them power to come back. If I miss one then there will be another. I’ll see him somewhere. He’ll be in the bathtub after I get out. Then there might be one between my toes. They’re like worms, they’re really very cute. But they’re annoying. And I have to get them out of me, they inhibit me, they bog me down. I can’t sleep not knowing where they are. But if I try to contain them, they get out. No matter what I put them in. They have this slug-like ability to flatten themselves. They can even get through something with a sealed lid. They make themselves totally flat—just that part of them is flat—and they can get through anything. They can even get through a jar with a screw top.

They’re under the toilet lid. They’re in the sheets. They’re everywhere.

“I want to go home.”

“What did you do? Maddy. Look at me. You better start talking.”

I won’t even look at her. I can’t. I sit on the bed next to her. That’s the best I can do. “I want to go home.”

“Well we ain’t going home today Maddy, we’re going home tomorrow.”

“If Matthew and Brian ride home with Pastor Steve..we can take Cheryl’s car—”

“You listen to me,” she says, “I’m your big sister.” She takes my face in her hands. “You tell me what happened.”

I put her phone down on the bed.

I can’t make eye contact with her.

“Oh no. You didn’t. Tell me you didn’t go over his place.”

Beth is clicking around on her phone.

“Did you hook up?” She throws her phone on the bed. “Look at me. Did you hook up with him?” She grabs my wrist. “Maddy. You better start talking or I’m gonna call Mom and Dad. We can handle this between us or you can handle it with them. I’m serious—”

“Okay,” I say. “I’m sorry.”

“What did you do?”

I shake my head.

“Did you have sex with him? I’m not gonna be mad at you I just need to know.”

“I didn’t want to.”

“Maddy, we’re having a moment here. You mind looking me in the eye?”

I look at her and I’m almost in tears, but I feel like laughing.

“You need to tell me what the fuck happened right now.”

“I went to his condo.”

“You stole my phone and you called that asshole, then you went to his condo—”

“I didn’t steal your phone.”

“Maddy.”

“I didn’t. He called you but your phone was on the bed so I picked it up.”

Beth shakes her head. “Why did you do that. Why Maddy. Did you have sex with him? That’s kindof an important question and I’m asking you so we can make sure you don’t get pregnant so..listen..we can have the long sister-bonding version of this talk later if you want to but right now I need to know..did you have sex with him?”

I nod. And then I close my eyes. I never meant to have sex with him.

I hug my sister. “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t even know we were going to do it. I had no idea.”

“I’m sure you didn’t.”

“He just called and told me to meet him at the boardwalk. I’m on the boardwalk and his lazy ass won’t even come out to meet me. He talks me all the way to his condo.”

“He’s a good talker, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, he said my voice sounded nice and that I had interesting thoughts. I told him I was bored and he listened.”

“I bet he did.”

“It’s nice to have someone listen to you sometimes.”

“I know. Maddy. Here. Come’ere.”

“He was just so soothing and he let me talk. And then when I saw him he was nodding and looking right into my..right into my soul it felt like! It’s was like..he listened, you know?”

“I know.”

“Am I stupid?”

“No. You’re not stupid. Well. If you’re stupid, I’m stupid too.”

I’m running.

Running in the woods at night.

I like to run naked. Well, not quite naked, but in my underwear. I tie rags around my feet instead of shoes. I like to feel the ground. I run in the starlight. I run in the moon. Light is a hindrance. Light is a bore. With light, you have to work your eyes harder. With light, your imagination works less. I like to run in the dark. I run on hills. I run through forests. I run between the trees. I stoop to the water. I cry at the edge of a lake. I cry in the stream. Leaves are on my face. I put them there. Fuzzy leaves, ragged leaves. I put them there. I scoop them up between my fingers. I collect them with the dirt. I run with leaves, and when I run I leave them behind, falling behind me, windstreaks, falling like dead scales, forgotten hair, falling behind me. And I leap. I don’t know where I’ll land. When I fall I might vanish. When I fall it might be the last time. When I fall I might die, and in the air I do not know, and I leap anyway. I go over, I go out, I go, I go, I go. There has never been another leap like this one, there is no plan for me to follow, I am a leaper, and that is all I know. When I lie among the bugs. When I lie. When I lie among the bugs, and worms, and grubs come upon me, it is not dirty. There is nothing dirty here. For everything washes with a single dip and, with time, everything washes away, decomposes in my hair, settles there. Layers tumble. Time sedates me. Layers fall to dust and fall to atoms and mores and quarks and tiny pieces of time. Then everything is clean.

Everything is clean in such small pieces. Dirt cannot get dirty. Dust cannot get dusty. Water cannot get wet.

And I’m spinning. Spinning in starlight. And I’m clean.


That night at dinner Maddy’s washing dishes. Kristen beside her. Maddy sets the dish out. Kristen dries it. Kristen puts it away.

Maddy has gloves on. She and Kristen are talking. I can’t hear what they’re saying but it’s the kind of gentle patter that goes on between a mother and son who live together, a father and daughter, the type of talk you have when you’re doing yardwork next to a relative, or cooking, or launching a boat. Simple talk, talk that doesn’t matter. Kind talk, even informative talk. Like when you’re watching TV and the TV’s just the background, and you’re telling your wife about your day. That’s how Kristen and Maddy were talking.

I imagine Kristen and Maxwell shooting heroin, if they did in fact shoot it—could they figure out the needles? I’m never going to ask, in case they didn’t, and they’re never going to tell me, in the case that they did. Remind me never to be a schoolteacher. Some people are made for that. I think you might have to have a simplicity that I just don’t have. And Maddy obviously.

Kristen is drying a strainer. Maddy goes for a plate. She gets it soapy. She puts it under the sprayer. She adjusts the plate in her hand. The plate slips. Maddy grips it, but it falls anyway. It hits the bottom of the sink, whatever’s down there. I hear a tink..this delicate little shattering sound. It sounds like the brittlest, thinnest glass, a glass femur, some protective dome. The delicacy of the shattering makes it worse. It’s like if it had been some dramatic smash, I would have known it wasn’t that bad. But somehow this exquisite, instant fracture thrills my imagination. It makes me think of finger bones, and spinal fluid, and nerves. I could break like that: all the biological parts—the tissues—frozen, tapped with a hammer, cracked into a thousand pieces. If you got me cold enough, where I wouldn’t bend anymore, then any movement would break me.

Maddy holds up what was in the bottom of the sink. It’s just a teapot. The top rim shattered. She shows it to me, drops it in the trash can, and goes on washing the dishes.

The Course at Night

When Kristen came to breakfast she was wearing a poncho. She had on her normal clothes: shorts, a t-shirt. Then a yellow poncho. During some of breakfast she wore the hood. It wasn’t raining.

She didn’t eat. She got a tray of food and then when she sat down she parceled out each of her food items to a cabin mate. Then she came to my table and sat herself on Maxwell’s lap.

“Good morning, Kristen.”

Kristen lowers her sunglasses. “Good morning.” Kristen puts out her hand to Tislam. Tislam gives her a slow-motion side-five.

“K has become inaccessibly weird,” I observe to Maddy outside.

“She’s had a rough week,” Maddy says.

“How’s that?” I ask.

Maddy says, “Girl stuff.”

On the porch of the mess hall, Maxwell sits on Kristen’s lap. Kristen pushes him off. He says something to her and she says something back. Then Maxwell walks off and Kristen pushes up her sunglasses. She sits by herself on the porch.

In small group Kristen doesn’t come into the main room. She stays in the Chair of Shimmering Velvet. I don’t say anything to her. Manny goes over to her. Maxwell ignores them. Manny draws something on Kristen’s hand. Kristen concedes.

When she sits in the circle I nod toward her hand. She opens it like Spider-Man. The design that Manny drew is a cross.

“The power of Christ compels you,” she says.

“What happened with Jamison,” Manny asks. “Why did his parents pick him up?”

“They did?” Max and Kristen and I look at each other.

“Yeah. You didn’t see?”

“No.”

Manny says, “I heard he got raped.”

David raises his eyebrows.

“What?” Manny says. “Guys can get raped.”

“Don’t worry about Jamison,” I say. “He got bit by a snake.”

David’s eyes pop.

“No way,” Manny says.

“Yes way,” I say. “He had an accident wherein he got kidnapped by some of his fellow campers, tied to a tree, then he was drugged and forced to put a snake in his mouth.”

Maxwell and Kristen are mortified.

“Luckily,” I say, “the snake was non-poisonous.”

Manny giggles. “That’s fucked up.”

“Yes,” I say. “It is.”

I have us read Revelation.

“So do you think John was on drugs?” Kristen asks.

“When he wrote Revelation,” I say.

“Right.”

“I think..that..when you’re on drugs, you think everyone else is, too.”

“But everyone is on drugs,” Kristen says.

“In some grand sense, I guess—”

“No,” Kristen says. “I don’t mean in a grand sense. I mean in a your-brain-is-chemistry sense.”

“Yeah but at least people’s natural chemistry is shared between people—”

“It isn’t, though. What you find scary, I find funny. Your thoughts are colored. You can’t see that you’re blue, because everything looks blue to you. To you there is no blue. But I’m really purple, even though I look red to you.”

“Don’t you mean..you’re really red, even though you look purple to me?”

“Whatever.”

“Maybe he was on drugs,” I consent.

“He wasn’t on drugs,” Katherine says, “I don’t think. I think there is a God, and sometimes he looks like an alien and sometimes he looks like an apparition and sometimes he looks like an astronaut and sometimes he looks like an angel. I do think one thing is for sure. That we don’t understand him. I don’t think you understand him any more than the Christians do, with your John-was-on-drugs theory. That’s just..that’s just..”

“It’s a paradigm.”

“Right. That’s just how it seems to you—”

“It’s a way to dial it down to your own language—”

“Right. The truth is that in some reality there’s no such thing as drug addicts, even when describing drug addicts. We’re so limited,” Katherine says, “We can’t understand anything.”

“You guys wouldn’t get along at my church,” Manny says.

“I don’t get along at my church,” I say.

Katherine says, “Me either.”

“What do you do?”

“What do I do?”

“How do you get along?” I ask her. “What makes it so you don’t get along? How do you survive? Reading?”

Katherine laughs. “Basically.”

“Is that enough?”

“It’s all I can get. My brother understands some of this stuff. But. In church. It’s like they’re..it’s like their religion..is..the book.”

“Jesus didn’t have the Bible.”

“He had the Old Testament.”

“I don’t count that,” Katherine says. “He didn’t have the Christian Bible.”

“There was no such thing as Christians,” I add.

“So are we really walking in his example?” Katherine asks.

“How can we be?”

“If we look at what he looked at. If we look at what he did. Actually. No. I don’t even think it’s possible,” Katherine says. She looks to me for my opinion.

I don’t give her one.

She continues. “I find forgiveness to be true. I find love to be true.” She looks down. “But I hate the News Christians. Christians who are on the news. And Government Christians. And War Christians.” Her teeth are clenched. She says, “I hate them.”

Everyone’s looking at her.

I say, “Hate is a strong word.”

“No,” she says, gripping the red plastic cover of her Bible, “I hate them.”

“I think K’s theory is right,” Maxwell says. “John was on drugs when he wrote the book of Revelation. There’s no question.”

“Why do you think that,” I say.

“Because it’s crazy. And why do you pray?” he says. He’s looking right at me.

“Me personally?”

“Don’t you think it’s kind of schizophrenic?” he says.

“Hey that’s a good point,” Manny says.

Kristen’s eyes I cannot see. Katherine looks angry. David is drawing.

“Guys. Kristen take your glasses off. Just for a minute.”

She has circles under her eyes.

“Let’s get out of here. Let’s go on a field trip.”

“Won’t you get in trouble?”

“Yeah, probably,” I say, “but I’m already in trouble. Do you want to do that?”

“Where are we going?”

“I don’t know.”

“Outside of camp?” Maxwell says. His eyes brighten when he says it.


Maddy sees us piling into my Honda. “Be back for parachute games.”

“One o’clock, right?” I say.

Maddy nods.

We pull onto the road. Manny, Katherine, David in the back seat. Kristen on Maxwell’s lap next to me.

Kristen presses the down button on the window. “I don’t want to do parachute games.”

“Well,” I say, “you’re in luck.”


The road is empty. I see David talking to Katherine in the rear-view. I don’t ask people to put on their seatbelts, which is something I always do. I think, as rational as it is to wear your seatbelt, that knowingly not-wearing it one time in a thousand, is rational as well.

“You guys want McDonalds?”

“I’m a vegetarian,” Katherine says.

“You can get the fries.”

“They’re cooked in animal fat.”

“I’m not sure that’s true,” I say.

We get there and Katherine eats the fries, too. We all do.

“Can I eat in your car?” Maxwell asks.

“Just don’t throw your trash out the window,” I say.

And we drive. We drive in Pennsylvania. We drive through snaking forest roads with sun cutting across the trees. Long shadows cross the road. We drive with the windows open. We pull up next to a police car at a stoplight. Kristen makes eyes with him, wearing her poncho. He doesn’t stop us. He pulls ahead and I make a right. We get on the highway.

Cars, trucks. Today is Friday. It’s 10 a.m. A whole world is going on out here. A man in a Lexus swerves around us. He’s talking on his phone.

“That guy looks like a dick,” Katherine says.

I agree.


I park in front of the Philadelphia art museum.

“Are we going to the art museum?”

“I wasn’t planning to,” I say. “Do you want to?”

“No. Where are we going?”

“Nowhere. Let’s just walk.”

Flags are out on the mall. We walk from the art museum to almost city hall. It’s a bright bright day. I look up.

“We’re missing lunch,” David says.

“Are you hungry?”

“Kindof.”

“What do you want?”

“How about a hamburger.”

“Sounds perfect.”

We’re at Logan Square. A circular fountain in the middle of a circular street. Greek gods and goddesses lounge in the fountain, with brass turtles, and water shoots out of them.

I give Max my money. “The pin number’s 2850, right down the middle.”

Max and David come back from a street vendor. “He doesn’t have hamburgers.”

Kristen sits on the edge of the fountain. She has sandals on. She puts her feet in the water.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“No.”

“He doesn’t have hamburgers?”

“He’s out. Can we go down the street?”

“Yeah. Just come back here. Bring plenty of food. I’m starving.”

“How much can we spend?”

“Just be reasonable.”

Kristen is on her hands and knees, in the water, barking. A five-year-old comes over and pets her head. Kristen pulls back the hood of the poncho and looks up at the little boy.

She barks again. The boy starts crying.

Max and David return with bags of food. Katherine and I are sitting in the grass under a tree. Kristen is lying down. With her shades, I can’t tell if her eyes are open or closed.

Max starts doling out the hamburgers.

“Did you get my chili cheese fries?”

“Yeah, but—it was kindof expensive.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

David brings out a sandwich he hands to Katherine. She peeks under the bun and smiles. It’s a shitload of thinly-sliced vegetables, shredded lettuce, pale-looking slices of dill pickle.

I lift one of the bags. It’s still heavy. “What else is in there?”

“Extra burgers,” Max says through a bitefull.

“Good man,” I say.

“After this,” Max says, “can we see a movie?”

“Sure,” I say.

“Can we see it at the Omniverse?”

“What’s playing?”

“Sharks.”

“Sure,” I say. I love the Omniverse.

It cost me close to $200 to get us six tickets to the Omniverse. Kristen held my hand she found the movie so scary, which of course is inappropriate but she didn’t do it in a sexual way. She kept her glasses on the whole time. Once I saw a tear coming down her face and I lifted the glasses and she wasn’t crying. But one of her eyes was watering. Or maybe she was crying. Is it crying if it’s only one eye, and only one tear?


We’re in the gift shop of the Franklin Institute. “I have this really weird feeling that we’re all going to die.”

That’s Kristen.

David and Manny are playing with a gyroscope. Katherine is browsing puzzles.

“Where’s Max?” I say.

Kristen says, “I mean, we are going to die.” She puts her finger on my chest.

“I don’t think you should worry about it today,” I tell her.

She laughs. She says, “I’m not worried.”

“Where’s Max?”

“Outside.”

“Guys, let’s go.”

“Just a minute.”

“K, are you eating Maddy’s mushrooms?”

She nods.

“Are you having fun?”

“I was. It’s not fun anymore.”

“Do you have them with you?”

She taps her purse.

“I want you to throw them away. Go to the bathroom. Flush them down the toilet.”

“Okay,” she says. And she goes to the sales desk—walks behind the sales desk at the Franklin Institute gift shop—opens her purse, and takes out the bag of mushrooms. She drops them in with a bunch of receipt paper. She comes back to me and says, “I did it.”

The sales clerk is looking at me.

“Go get the Ziploc,” I say.

Kristen squats beside the clerk. She unzips the plastic bag, dumps out the mushrooms, and brings the bag to me.

“Okay, good.” I put my arm around Kristen.

She adjusts her sunglasses.

“Kate. Emmanuel.” They look up. “Time to go,” I say.

I insist on seatbelts this time. We keep the windows rolled up. I even put on the child-lock. Then I drive real fast.

Not dangerous. But the Parkway, tubes and ramps, a concrete channel, deserves speed. We enter the highway, go down an exit, and are off as soon as we got on. Twenty minutes later we’re at King of Prussia. An hour after that we’re at Camp Lake.

When everyone gets out of the car Blake knows not to say anything.

“What do we do now?” Katherine says.

“Work on your skit for tonight.”

“Can we use the meeting room?”

“Of course.”

“Are you coming?”

“No. I’ll see you at dinner. Tonight we sit with small groups so come to my table.”

And off they go. Kristen still wearing her poncho, now with the hood down. Maxwell and Kristen walking separate, on opposite sides of the phalanx. Katherine’s the glue now, and David, and Manny. When you watch a movie the second time it’s the supporting characters that grab you.


I try to find Sony.

I need advice and Sony’s the ideal person to give it to me.

I look in the kitchen. I walk to the lake. The lake is empty. I sit.

When I get back from camp I’m gonna get drunk. I’m gonna watch movies for like three days. Then I’m gonna quit my job.

I can’t do that anymore. Maybe I’ll feel differently after I take a break, once I get back to my regular hangout, with the next direct deposit. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll visit my dad. I hate his wife but maybe I’ll visit him anyway. Or maybe I don’t hate his wife. Maybe I just hate that she hates me. I’m not a very forgiving person. Maybe I’ll do Outward Bound as a participant, out there in Colorado, and not be a counsellor anymore. I can get my fill of the outdoors hanging from a rope somewhere in the southwest, with no responsibility except my own spiritual journey.

I think I’m done with spiritual journeys.

I think there’s something beyond spirituality, actually. I don’t know what it is. I don’t think it’s money or success or, you know, fucking Playboy models. I know this guy who brags about how he’s fucking a former Playboy model. Of course, he’s 26 and she’s 53. She has kids and maybe there’s something more to it than sex for him. Maybe it’s love. But I doubt it.

This is the time when Sony’s supposed to come by. He’s supposed to walk out of the woods and meet me at the end of the dock and tell me some amazing metaphor about being a farmer..the wind and the sea..something.

I need a Sony in my life. Someone to give me advice. Because I don’t know the way. I need to learn from people who are older than me. But sometimes people who have had more experience have less of a rudder than I do. And sometimes people who at one time knew the way..they become lost again..how is that possible?

When I’m at lakes I wonder if Jesus really walked on water. Someone knew that. At some point in human history, someone either saw him walk on water or no one ever saw him walk on water. How can I go back and find that out? Is there some way you can add up all the texts and do a logic puzzle like from school to find out who is lying?

Why am I coming here? Every year, why do I do this? I’m looking for something that isn’t there. I’m talking to something that doesn’t talk back. There may be a God, there may be some sense in which it makes sense to use that word. But it’s not the God I met when I was a child. It’s not the God my parents and teachers introduced me to.

And do they know that God? I think not. I think when you’re young you believe that adults know what they’re talking about. In fact, they do not.

They’re talking without reason. We’re talking just because we have mouths.

And that is reason enough to sing—because you have a voice.

Is God the listener, or the one who sings?

And Sony’s not coming.


“I wanna talk.”

“About what?”

“About Jamison.”

I kick out the chair across from me. “Talk.”

Max sits. He says simply, “I’m sorry for what we did.”

“You need to tell that to Jamison.”

“I already did.”

I nod. I drink my bug juice.

“What now? What do I do next?”

“You do nothing.”

“Don’t I have to do penance or something?”

“You’re doing it. Did Jamison forgive you?”

“He doesn’t think we did anything wrong.”

“There you go.”

“But we did. We did!”

“Will telling me about it make it better?”

“I don’t know!”

“You’re welcome to if you like. No pressure.”

So Maxwell tells me. He doesn’t technically say what other people did. He only says what he did. The way he tells the story, it’s like judgement can only be applied to him. Like if he went to war and somehow his battle buddy wasn’t complicit in killing, but he was. Or like, in Maxwell’s world, the guy who pulled the trigger is a murderer, but the guy who mounted the gun is not.

I listen. When he’s done I ask him if he feels better.

“No,” he says. “I feel like..like I really let you down.”

“Oh god. Max. It’s the other way around.”


“Sony’s gone.”

“Did he say goodbye?”

Marcy and Julie Jane look at each other.

“Where did he go?” I ask.

Marcy says, “It’s his day off.”

“So he’s alright,” I say.

Marcy gets up.

“Did you see him leave?”

Julie shrugs. “You wanna skip church when we get back and go to Dorney Park?”

“Yeah,” I say.

“Maddy can come too if she wants.”

“I guess she’s going back to Florida.”

“She should stay. I mean just ‘till Sunday. She can stay with me. You can come over. We can have a sleepover.”

I wish we could invite Beth. Then it would be a party. I’m always doing imaginary things with Beth, like forgetting to invite her to church events that I know she’d like. Whenever we all sit down, I think we need to get another chair.

I’m sick. It’s been ten years.

“Do you want to?”

“Want to what?”

“Come over. The two of us and Maddy.”

“That’s it?”

“Unless you think that’s awkward.”

“No, it’s not awkward.”

“Are you okay?” Julie scoots closer to me.

I look into her eyes. I’m tired.

She looks away. “You and I should have got together when we were kids,” she says.

I let that sit for a moment.

“I liked you,” I say.

“I thought so.” Julie exhales. “I’m getting divorced. I realize that’s awkward timing to tell you that after what we were just talking about and I don’t mean it as a segue. Not that I don’t still like you. I do. But that’s not the point.”

“I get it. Why are you getting divorced.”

“Because he doesn’t like me. He doesn’t. I know that sounds simplistic but really that’s all it is. He never did. I can’t do that. It’s bullshit. You should know what you like before you get into a relationship. That’s advice for you.”

“Good grief, Julie. But. I’m happy for you?”

“Thanks. Me too. So call me sometime if you want to get coffee. There’s only one way to address a situation like this. Where it’s just not working. I’ve come to this conclusion. Finally. You stop. And you never look back.”


My group is gathered in our meeting room before I get there. They’re sitting quietly when I come in.

I sit with them a moment. They have cultivated an energy in the air and I want to flow with that energy, not against it.

We sit in a circle. Katherine doesn’t have her book with her. David sits across the circle from Katherine. They seem to be doing some sort of energetic exchange. One looks at the other, then the other looks at the one. Then the one looks away. Maxwell and Kristen are not sitting next to each other. Manny is between them. And Manny looks calm; he has his eyes closed.

I sit with them for a while and am aware of the space, of my skin and the air that touches it, of my breathing. I look at each of them. I watch them look at me. Something has happened here. Something that allows us to do this together. I forget, for a moment, who we are, why I’m here. I forget for a moment that anything needs to happen. And, truly, nothing needs to. The wind has been coming through our windows and I haven’t given it a single thought—it’s been on my arms and face and I have been breathing it in and breathing it out without, for a moment, thinking that it was so.

I stand.

I say, “Come with me.”

No one asks where we are going. We are in the zone now. We don’t need to know. We don’t need to figure out. We don’t need to strive.

I take them down the path that leads to the lake.

When we get there, I sit on the edge of the pier, in the shallows. I take my shoes off and dip my feet in. “Take your shoes off,” I say.

I get in the lake up to my waist. I’m in shorts. I let them get wet.

“Sit on the edge.”

Everyone has their shoes off.

“Now. We’re going to wash each other’s feet. Like Jesus did. We’re doing this as a reminder of what Jesus calls us to be, in this world. So, I want you to—half of you get in the water. Roll up your jeans if you don’t want to get wet Katherine—if you don’t want to get wet you can stand there. Pick someone. Wash their feet. Then switch and wash the person’s feet who washed you. And, when you’re washing the person’s feet, I want you to say something—say it quietly—say something you appreciate about them.”

But they didn’t do that. No. That’s not what they did.

At first that’s how it started. Maxwell got in the water and Kristen got in the water and those two were conscientious not to wash each other’s feet, and Maxwell washed David’s feet and Kristen washed Katherine’s. And I saw them saying quiet things to each other as they did this. And I found Manny and I washed his feet. And I told him that I appreciated his intellect, but more than that I appreciated his caring, because I could see that having been an outcast at school had given him the gift of sensitivity to others. And then everyone switched places, and the servant’s feet were washed by the master.

And it started to rain.

Then my group decided—and they decided this on their own, and they decided it without speaking—they decided that each person in our group would wash each other person’s feet. And that each person in our group would shower each other person in our group with wonderful phrases. So as it rained, everyone was in the water, and, one by one, we lifted one of us out of the water and set that person on the dock, and one by one, we washed that person’s feet and whispered quietly..phrases of power, petals, notes from songs, bee stings, soil, thick roots, bones, bones’ marrow, and the morning dew.

Then I heard thunder and I ordered everyone out of the lake.

On the bank, rain fell and there was nothing to cover us.

Maxwell started stamping in a puddle. He and Kristen were doing it for fun. Their crush had taken a Platonic freedom and they would play with each other as people, with nothing hidden, nothing partial—with no perversion. They splashed each other with muddy water, then they splashed each other with mud. We might have left the lake then but David made a running jump and turned the mud puddle into a Slip ‘n Slide. Then Katherine took off her jeans and joined them. And we were all in our underwear, clumps of sludge in our hair, expanding this puddle with our jumps, and slides, and throws; our pulls, our wrestles. I maintained a distance, since I was their leader. But I played too. I just didn’t wrestle as Kristen and Maxwell wrestled. And I didn’t throw as David and Manny threw. The two of them fought, in a way, laughing. They threw each other into the mud face down and they breathed mud and all the while they were laughing. Katherine was so stained, every part of her, from mud play, that going back to camp we huddled around her in a circle and hid her on her way back to her cabin.

That was our last group exercise. We didn’t go back to our meeting room. The next time we saw each other as a group was later that night, at the evening service, where we all sat in a row, and shared hymnals, and gave each other space, and looked each other in the eye, and generally continued to treat each other like civilized human beings.


So here’s Maxwell. And I know what he’s going to say, because I’ve been reading this kid’s mind all week. I’m sitting in front of the cabin, on the top step. Maxwell comes up alone.

“Can I talk to you?”

I stand. “Let’s walk.”

I take us along the path, but away from camp, past the cabins.

“Where does this go?”

“I have no idea.”

Maxwell laughs. “Have you ever been out this way?”

“Yeah. Kinda. It goes up a long way. I don’t know how far it goes. There’s a reservoir up here. There’s a pine forest back that way.”

We walk a little more and Maxwell says, “Do you believe in heaven?”

I take a few steps and decide not to answer him. “Do you?”

“I have this problem with heaven,” Maxwell says. “It scares me. The thought of there always being a tomorrow..the idea that there would always be another day, after today, and that every day would always have another day. People talk about heaven and forever like it’s a good thing, but the forever part scares me.”

This is a deep guy I’m talking to.

“That’s complex,” I say.

“There’s something else,” he says. “I want to follow Jesus.”

We stop walking.

“I do. I want to follow Jesus. I believe in what he says. I don’t like the Old Testament but I love the New Testament. Well, I like Genesis and Psalms and a couple other books from the Old Testament, but—”

“The Old Testament is hard. There’s a lot of hate there.”

“But once Jesus comes in—”

“It’s a whole different story.”

“Yeah.” There’s this beam in Maxwell’s eyes. “I love the Jesus stuff.”

“I do too,” I say. And I do. The Jesus stuff is great.

“I want to get baptized,” Maxwell says. “Can I do it here?”

“Do you go to church back home in..New Jersey right?”

“Yeah. No we don’t, I mean..they’re..against that stuff.”

“Your parents are against it?”

Maxwell nods.

“Why did they send you to a Christian summer camp?”

“They’re against it for them. They’re for it for me.”

“That’s typical. No offense to your parents.”

“None taken.”

“What else are you interested in, besides becoming a Christian?”

“Baseball.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Actually I’m really good at it.”

“Huh. Good for you. I was never any good at sports. Do you go to church?”

“A couple times.”

“Baptism is a serious thing. I mean..I know you’re taking it seriously.”

“I am.”

“I know. I can see it in your face. What I’m thinking is you might want to tell your parents. I mean..it’s important to you, maybe it would be an appropriate thing to share with them.”

“I don’t need their permission.”

“I’m not saying you do.”

“My parents are against me. Do you know what that’s like?”

“How do you get to baseball games?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Do you drive? Do you ride your bike?”

“My dad takes me. I mean with ideas they’re against me.”

“Look,” I say, “I don’t have kids. I don’t know what it’s like to be a parent. Do you have kids?”

Max laughs. “Not yet.”

“So you and I don’t know what it’s like to be a parent of a teenage boy, that’s all I’m saying, I’m not saying your parents aren’t against you, ideologically. I accept that from your point of view they may be. They very well may be. My parents aren’t on the same page as me on every issue. Your parents don’t go to church. Do they believe in god?”

“No. They’re atheists. Well, my dad says he’s a pantheist but—”

“Okay. Who cares? No offense, but who cares. Your dad is a pantheist. My mom is a minister—”

“Your mom is?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ve never heard of a woman pastor.”

“In New Jersey? You must live in a small town.”

“We don’t even live in a town.”

“I’m just saying. What if I didn’t believe in god. And my mom was a minister. We’re still mother and son, right?”

“Wait. Do you not believe in God?”

“What if I didn’t? What if you have kids and your kid, after you become a Christian, is an atheist?”

“What if he’s a pantheist..”

“What if he’s a she?”

“Yeah,” Maxwell says, “what if.”

“So you’ve decided to be a Christian,” I say.

Maxwell breathes out and he says, “Yeah.”

I put my hand on the back of his shoulder. “It’s an impressive thing you’re doing.”

“What? Being a Christian?”

“No,” I say. “Doing what you think is true.”


Piglet plops down in the Chair of Shimmering Velvet.

“I need to ask you something.”

I look up from my binder.

“Or..I need to tell you something, and I think you know what it is.”

I put my binder on the floor and look Piglet in the eye.

“Maybe..,” She squirms in the chair. “This is hard. Do you know what I’m about to say?”

“No.”

“You don’t actually know what I’m about to say because I could say anything I want, but..I mean..I think you know what I’m going to say. And..I guess I don’t need you to say anything back. But I need to do this. Even though..I’m pretty sure I know how you feel.” Her voice warbles. She takes a pinky fingernail to one of her eyes. She inhales. She meets my eye. “I like you.” She purses her bottom lip. She wipes the other eye.

We sit there for a while.

She says, “I guess I do want you to say something.”

I kneel before her, before the Chair of Shimmering Velvet. I hold Piglet’s hands. I smile at her, through her tears, and I hope that doesn’t hurt her feelings. Then I let my smile fall. “I love you, as a person. And I like you, as a friend.”

Then Piglet smiles. “I knew that. I knew that. But I had to ask. For me.”

“I get that,” I say. “Thank you for being open with me.”

She snorts. “And even now, you’re the nicest person.”

“So are you,” I say. “How could I say otherwise, while you’re sitting in the Chair of Shimmering Velvet?”

Piglet laughs. “Maybe I thought if I sat here you’d have to say yes.”

I grin. “Dangerous chair. It’s like mistletoe.”

Piglet says, “I wish.”

I let her hands go and I sit back.

“Do you mind,” she says, “if I sit here for a while? Does it make you uncomfortable?”

“It doesn’t make me uncomfortable at all,” I say. If Piglet writes me after camp, I’m going to keep writing her. She will have to be the one to decide that I have sent the last letter.


Maxwell and Kristen are doing me and Piglet’s jello trick. Half the camp crowds around them.

“Maxwell.”

Jello shoots out of Kristen’s mouth, a good six-foot arc.

“Maxwell. C’m’ere.”

He breaks the circle. We’re away from the others.

“What we talked about earlier..are you still thinking the same way?”

“Thinking, feeling, yes,” Maxwell says.

That’s good enough for me.

“Arright, cool,” I say, “If you tell her to rest her tongue flat on the bottom of her mouth you’ll get a smoother spray.”


I find Blake at the pool. He’s scooping leaves off the surface.

“Where’s Sony?”

“I don’t know,” Blake says. “Do you know?”

“No.”

“Haven’t seen him since yesterday.”

“I thought yesterday was his day off.”

“Yesterday was.”

“Maybe he quit,” I say.

Blake says, “That’s what I’m worried about.”

“He didn’t quit,” I say. “He’ll be back. Has he called?”

“Maybe I’ll quit,” Blake says.

“Are you serious?”

“Maybe I am.” Blake rests the net at the pool’s edge. “I’m thinking about joining the army,” Blake says.

“Really?” I say.

“Yeah,” he says. “Don’t tell anybody.”

“Blake. Do whatever you want.”

“I don’t think I’m suited for ministry,” he says. “My dad will hate me if do that though.”

“Who cares.”

“Matt. Brian is gay. If I’m not around..don’t let anyone give him a hard time.”

“I won’t. You’re scaring me, man. You’re not suicidal?”

“I won’t do that.”

“I knew Brian was gay, by the way. No one cares.”

“Some people,” Blake says, “do care.”

“On Sunday me and Julie are going to Dorney Park. You should come.”

“I have church,” he says.

“Right,” I say. “But if you’re joining the army I thought maybe you’d have Sunday off. Maxwell..you know Maxwell. He wants to get baptized.”

Blake puts his hand on my knee. “Good job.”

“It wasn’t me.”

Blake smiles. Then his smile becomes an open grin. “That is a mysterious work,” he says.

“He’s serious about it,” I say. “We’ve talked. We spent a long time talking about it. He’s clear. He understands what he’s doing. He’s smart—I mean..he’s sincere.”

“Have him send pictures,” Blake says.

“I’ll take pictures..or..Maddy can.”

“Where does he go to church?”

“He doesn’t.”

“Where is he getting baptized?” Blake says.

Then he sees my smirk.

“Matt,” he says, “I don’t even think you believe in God.”

“You’re right.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he says.

“Fuck you. Don’t pity me.”

“Fuck me?”

“Yeah,” I say. “Fuck you.”

“You can’t, though—you can’t bring him to God if you yourself don’t believe.”

“I agree it’s odd.”

“It’s beyond odd,” Blake says, “It’s unethical. You can’t baptize him.”

“I’m not going to,” I say. “You are.”

Blake and I look at each other. Now you see.

“Did you call his parents?”

“I’m not gonna call his parents.”

“Don’t you think they’ll want to see?” Blake asks. “Can they come down?”

“They don’t want to see. They’re not Christians. I told you they don’t go to church.”

“So they have no idea he wants to do this,” Blake says.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what they know.”

“So he goes to camp..he comes back baptized..does he have a community?”

“I don’t think so.”

“But he believes.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Very much so.”

“And he came to this realization in your small group.”

“Without the curriculum,” I add.

“Don’t even get me started about the curriculum,” Blake says.

“I used it. Some of it.”

“Did you take your group mud wrestling?”

“Mud wrestling? No. We were foot-washing.”

“So this kid’s parents..he’s gonna go home baptized and they’re gonna call me up..call my dad..”

“You want me to call them?”

“No.”

“Get their permission?”

“No,” Blake says. “I don’t give a shit if he has their permission. I just wanted to know. This is his decision. You don’t need your parents’ permission, my permission, your permission, anyone’s permission to make a decision, in your own heart, that you love God. Tell him to wear his swimsuit to service tonight.”


Max sat next to me at service. Blake led. We sang everything acapella. The piano sat, cover over they keys, Julie sitting with her small group. She held the songbook with Karen but Julie herself did not sing. Blake seemed to think she might give in; he kept looking her way but Julie never gave him the opportunity. She never looked at him, not once, so he could never catch her eye. Julie Jane is like that. I believe what she said, about never going back..I believe she will do that with her marriage. She’s the kind that, when she turns a corner, that’s it. I doubt I will see Julie Jane’s fingers on the upright at Camp Lake—or maybe on the baby grand at FBC—ever again. When Julie Jane closes you down, she closes you down forever. Why do you think we call her the Indelible Julie Jane? I write in highlighters, but when it comes to writing, Julie Jane is more of a Sharpie sort of girl.

“We have a special night tonight.” Blake has his purple stole on. “One of your campers has decided to give his life to Jesus.” Blake motions to Max.

Max goes forward.

“This life is yours. You created it. And now Maxwell Bowman has decided to pledge his life to you. To honor what you honored. To value what you value. To live his life in a way that pleases you, Lord. His life is precious, and we thank you for it.”

Maddy looks at me. I smile.

“Did you wear your swimsuit?” Blake asks.

Max nods.

“Then let’s go to the pool.”

Maddy walks beside me. The whole camp is going down the path.

“Why is he doing it in the pool?” Maddy asks.

I shrug. “I don’t know.”

“Did you know about this?”

“Yeah,” I say.

Maddy grabs my arm. “Good job.”

“Why is he doing it in the pool?” I say.

“Right?”

“Shouldn’t it be like a river—”

“It should be the lake.”

“The pool is kindof retarded,” I say.

“I mean John the Baptist didn’t have a pool,” Maddy says.

“He was probably allergic to chlorine.”

“I bet John the Baptist didn’t have a robe like that either.”

“John the Baptist probably did this shit naked.”

“I’m serious,” Maddy says, “His whole life Maxwell’s going to look back and he’s gonna be like I got baptized in a pool?!’ You should do something.”

“Like stop it?”

“Like exactly.”

“Yeah, no, I like it, it’s kindof poetic.”

“I love it too,” she says, “You know I’m just kidding.”

“I know.”

Blake and Maxwell up to their waists in the shallow end of the pool. Blake in his dark robe. Maxwell in a purple and sky-blue t-shirt that says “POLAR BEAR” across the chest.

Kristen sits on the edge of the pool with her feet dangling in.

And that dinky icon of the polar bear. Next year I gotta find some new clip art.

Cloth soaked to Max’s skin, his skinny arms folded across his chest, and Blake is reading something from the Gospel According to Matthew, something official-sounding, like he’s getting married, something you’ve heard a thousand times before. And Max is going under the water, and everything is turning upside-down, and chlorine is getting in the corners of his mouth and seeping under his eyes. There’s the flash of a picture being taken. Erica, from Rainbow cabin, with her phone out. Max on the LCD. She centers him and there’s another flash as Blake pulls him out of the water. Max is grabbing Blake’s arm and the polar bear t-shirt is clinging to his body. Then Max is going out of the pool but Mai is getting in. That tiny girl wades out to Blake and Blake has a private conversation with her and Maddy’s looking at me like did you know about *this*?’ and I’m looking at her like no.’ I’m thinking we might have a full-on run, but Kristen only splashes her feet and no one else climbs into the water and Blake is holding his arm around Mai’s face and pinching her nose and in his dark robes lowering the little Vietnamese girl into the water. Then Blake is benedicting us and Jennifer is pulling Mai up the side of the pool and Mai is leaning back on Jennifer, soaking wet, wiping the hair out of her face, and there’s a clap of lightning. Gray skies, and Blake looks up and makes his way to the edge of the pool, walking up in long strides, up the corner stairs, past Mai, past Jennifer, past Maxwell and me and Maddy and everyone else, and Blake takes his Bible from Brian and leads us, soaking, up the path.

Kristen is at Maddy’s side. “Does God have QWAN?”

“Yes,” Maddy says, “Definitely.”

This time the wind blew, there was no voice behind it. I saw it move the flag, I felt it dry my skin. It was in the trees. It was on the surface of the water. But there was no one in it, this time.

When it moved, there was movement, but it didn’t mean a thing.

And then Julie’s voice, lucent, soprano, towering, immaculate, ringing true over everyone.


Maxwell is shivering and Kristen takes the polar bear shirt off him and puts it on herself, over her other shirt, and she fits Maxwell with her extra-large sweatshirt and she zips him up to the neck and she sits behind him on the steps of the meeting hall with her feet wrapped around him and her skin now soaking and pale arms folded across Maxwell’s chest.

David sits beside them.

I go up to them. “Polar bear!” I say.

Maxwell says “Polar bear!!”

“Be bold!!” I say.

“Be strong!!” they all say.

I put my arm out. Maxwell takes it. Then David and I lock arms. Katherine is behind me. She puts her arms around my waist and I put my arm around her. Katherine pulls Manny around by his hand and the six of us are together.

“Are you doing a skit for the talent show,” I ask, in a monotone droid robot voice.

“Yes we are,” Kristen says in the same voice.

“We are doing something you will like very very much,” Manny robots.

“What are you doing,” I say.

“It is a surprise,” Katherine machine-guns my side with finger-pokes.

“What is its nature,” I say.

“It’s nature is classified to beings at your level,” Manny says.

“How can I get my level upgraded,” I say.

“You cannot,” Manny says. “Access upgrades are restricted for your kind.”

I break from robot-voice. “My kind?! What kind is that?”

“The exclusionary kind,” Katherine robots.

“How did I become the exclusionary kind?” I ask.

Katherine says: “By being excluded.”

I pick her up by her waist and turn her upside down and set her down. Then Manny tickles her and she squeals. I hold Katherine’s arms up and Manny tickles her a second more. Then I let her go and she’s chasing him back, and David is running his hand over his chin like an old man, and Kristen is leaning her head against Maxwell’s neck, cooing like a drunk, and Maxwell is staring past me, focused on some nonexistent point of interest far, far beyond this place.


And Maddy is behind me, and her breath is on my neck, and she’s pulling me into the darkness. And we’re on a tree. And she’s moving fast. I feel her hand circle my forearm and I stop her.

“I don’t want that, I don’t want that,” I’m saying.

And she’s saying, “I don’t have it, it’s gone, I threw it away.”

“Are you sure?” I’m saying, and she’s parting my lips with a finger.

Then we’re kissing, and I can see The Turn in the Road, and it’s thirty minutes to the talent show.

And she’s saying, “Do we have time?”

And I’m saying “Yes.” I can’t see my campers but I know where I left them and after Maxwell’s baptism they seemed fine. They are at the meeting hall and Marcy and Julie were there, Julie smoking. Someday Julie’s going to walk into her workplace and kill a bunch of people but for now I’m with Maddy on the tree. And I love seeing Maddy on the tree. And she gets nasty on the tree, showing me her backside and I’m putting it in and she’s gripping the tree with both hands, hugging it face down and it’s: Maddy, and me, and the tree. It’s stolen, it’s a tiny moment, it’s wrong in that someone could catch us. But no one’s at The Turn in the Road and I need it. And so does she.

There’s nothing like a solid fuck after a baptism.

Maddy’s pulling up her jeans, doing a little dance. There’s cum on the tree, and it’s dripping out of her, and when she walks she’ll hide it by the way she stands. Maddy’s eyes wild, hair down, something in them like the devil.

I don’t imagine angels getting down for a quick fuck on the back of a fallen tree.

But I can imagine the devil doing that. And we’re not the devil for doing it, but there’s something of the devil within us. Something that cheats a pussy-moment out of some campers, letting them go unwatched while we slip away into the woods. Something of the devil who doesn’t care. And I hate that. I hate that about myself. The me that will cheat you out of something you deserve so that I can have something that I am just going to take. That me that knows you’re hungry but I don’t share my food. Or that me that sticks my dick in Maddy while she’s face-down on a tree and takes. I take. Sometimes I take. Some taking gives. But some taking just takes, and in some sort of devil-way, that taking’s good. Some things go untaken. Untaken is wasted. Wasted is evil, so is use. Maddy face-down on a tree is..all of these at once.

Something about it isn’t about us, like we’re the tools but not the plan. Like we’re the execution but not the outcome. It just needs to be done. Even in the middle of it I hate it, for a moment; for a stretch something about it doesn’t require me. It could be any two people and it happens to be me.

It doesn’t need me. And I am the one being used.


“So amigo.” Marcy taps me with her foot.

“You all better?”

“Yeah,” she says. “We made it.”

“Yeah,” I say. “No one died.”

Marcy gives me a stern look.

“A little closer than I would have liked,” I admit.

“That’s good about Maxwell,” she says.

“Yeah,” I say, “I guess.”

“Don’t get negative on me,” Marcy says.

“When am I not?” I say.

“Somebody needs to go sit in the Chair of..what was it?”

“I dismantled it.”

“Too bad,” she says.

Campers are congregating in the main hall. Julie Jane is setting up a mic. My small group is sitting together, in the front row.

“You know how you and Beth used to sneak off and do coke back in the old days?”

I look at Marcy. I don’t want to think about Beth, or coke, or the old days.

“You wanna do some right now?” she says.

I look over at Maddy, approaching the meeting hall, squirming as she walks, legs close together to hide any stains that might still be wet.

“I think Maddy’s out of that shit,” I say.

Marcy smiles, a smile I do not want to see. “That’s okay,” she says, “I’ve got some. You think you’re the only ones who’ve been fucking around all week?”

My heart sinks. Marcy’s going to the mess hall. I don’t know why, but I follow.

“I don’t wanna do any of that right now,” I say.

Marcy’s tapping out powder on a metal cutting board. “Then why’d you come back here?” she says.

“Oh, fuck, I just—”

“Take a bump,” she says.

“You go first.”

“God, we’re fucked up.”

“Why do you have to judge everything?” she says. “You’re here. Take a bump or stop making me feel bad about it.”

“Fine. Let me get a straw.”

“Use this,” she says.

Julie walks in. “We ready?”

Marcy presents the cutting board like it’s The Price is Right.

Julie walks right up to it, fingers Marcy’s rolled-up Lincoln, and takes a bump. Julie, wide-eyed, says, “Did you have one?”

“He’s getting a straw,” Marcy says.

“Use this.” Julie hands me the Lincoln.

“Jesus, guys.”

Julie says, “What’s up?”

“He’s getting moralistic on us. Now that his camper got baptized.”

“It’s not that..”

“I love how the most fucked-up person here is the one who has like..considerations..when it comes to coke.” Marcy presses one nostril closed and does a bump without the Lincoln. “Does it remind you of Beth?”

“Can we please not talk about Beth.”

“You have,” Marcy sniffs, “selective memory.” Marcy cuts off a line for Julie Jane.

Julie Jane takes the Lincoln from me. Julie Jane goes for the line and Marcy is talking.

“Beth, to you, is like..some kind of perfection. Right. She’s like..crystallized at sixteen.”

Julie takes the line. She pops her blond hair back, slides down against the kitchen wall.

Marcy cuts off another line. “This one’s for you.”

Julie Jane leans her head back. “Give him a break.”

“You want this?”

“I can’t.”

Marcy does the line. “See?” she says, “Not a problem.” She taps out another line and does it. “You see how not-a-problem that is?”

I nod at Julie Jane and head for the back doors.

“Send Brian back if you see him.”

I say, “What about Oscar?”

Julie Jane says, “Don’t tell Blake or Oscar.”

“What about Pig?”

I hear Marcy tapping out another line, razorblade on the metal counter, and I look back, and Julie Jane’s long blond hair fanning out behind her and she steps up to the table.

Marcy looks back at me. “Just send Brian.”


Edging my way into the meeting hall, Oscar comes up to me.

“Have you seen Julie Jane?”

“No,” I say.

Piglet is running with a clipboard. She stands at Arianne and McKenzie, who are dressed in mime. Piglet points at the clipboard with the back of a pen. McKenzie nods. Arianne touches the back of her ponytail, then turns around, and McKenzie fixes it. Piglet goes to Mai, who has a gymnast suit on. I wonder what her talent is.

Maxwell, Kristen, David, Katherine, Manny: all in a row. Maxwell turns around. Katherine turns too. Excited smiles. Maxwell is nodding. I give the thumbs up.

Blake and Brian are moving the piano off the stage. They roll it into the hallway. Blake comes back and he’s talking with Piglet. Brian comes to the back of the room and I flag him.

“Julie Jane and Marcy want to see you in the kitchen. They’re back there now.”

Brian’s face opens up.

“The back doors, the kitchen doors,” I say.

“Thanks bro.”

Maddy’s reading, corner chair. I sit next to her, half on her chair, half on the chair next to it.

“Where is everybody?” she says.

“Playing,” I say, “reindeer games.”

“Are you playing with them?”

“No.” I turn over the cover of the stapled booklet Maddy’s reading. Microeconomics (9th Edition).

“Don’t shoot,” she says. “I downloaded it.”

“I’m not going to shoot you,” I say. I put my hand inside Maddy’s thigh, feel the denim’s pattern under my fingers, and I close my eyes. I exhale. I feel Maddy return to reading. If there’s one thing I hate more than anything else about Camp Lake or any other camp I’ve ever been a counsellor at or any camp or youth retreat or conference I ever went to as a child, it’s the goddamn last-night-of-the-week show-me-the-same-motherfucking-skits-as-last-year let’s-sing-Kum-Bah-Yah play the flute violin and viola, juggle your fucking socks, make a puppet out of your sweatshirt, spray whipped-cream all over your boyfriend’s face and lick it up talent show.

For the talent show my group decided to expand upon my Bubble Tape trick. If you’ve seen at least one talent show, you’ve seen the deal where you have one kid in the front and one kid in the back, and the one in the back puts her arms through the sleeves of the sweatshirt being worn by the one in the front. Then the kid in the back proceeds to feed the kid in the front pudding, and comb the front kid’s hair, brush their teeth, etc. My group decided to do that with Bubble Tape. It was the disgustingest skit ever. It wasn’t funny. Katherine actually threw up on stage because Kristen fed her so much bubble tape. I’m their group leader and I didn’t think it was funny. But they stuck together. When they left the stage people were reeling at Katherine’s vomit, but everyone in my group held their heads high and escorted her off the stage. When I went out back they were all laughing. Katherine still had the vomitous sweatshirt on, and they were all chewing Bubble Tape. I think if anyone had said anything about Katherine vomiting the whole crew would have beat that person up.

It’s true, as the week went on, my group became increasingly eccentric. It’s possible some of my tendencies influenced them.

“Did you like our skit?” Katherine asks this. She still has digestive chunks in her teeth.

“Did I like your skit. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s the best skit I’ve ever seen.”

Kristen leans against me. “Did you really think it was funny?”

“I didn’t say it was funny.”

“Oh! You’re a sell-out. Don’t sell us out like that.”

“You know what I like about you all.”

“What.”

“You stick together.”

“Of course we do.”

“So what’s our next activity?”

“Sleep.”

“Awww..no. What do you have in store for us?”

“I got nothing in store for you.”

“Well..”

“Should we tell him?”

“Yes. Whatever it is, you should tell me.”

“But. What if it’s against the rules?”

“Then don’t tell me and don’t do it.”

“But. What if it’s only slightly against the rules.”

“There’s no such thing.”

“Awww. We wanted to have some fun with you tonight. What about our late-night Bible study?”

“You’re the only people I’ve ever met who get excited about late-night Bible study.”

“Are we going to have it?”

“I wasn’t planning to.”

“Why not?”

Cause I’m tired.  Cause. Do you really want to do it?”

“We have to. It’s our last night!!”

“Okay. Do you have a Bible verse picked out?”

Kristen says, “David?”

David says, “I’m looking. Five minutes.”

And Kristen tells me, “Five minutes.”

I’m flexing my neck muscles. “Ehhh..”

Kristen leans in and says, “We have to. We have a surprise for you.”

“Maxwell. Get over here. Do you know about this surprise?”

Maxwell nods.

“How against the rules’ is it?”

Maxwell calipers his thumb and index finger to about an inch.

“Is it safe?”

Maxwell nods vigorously.

The expression on Kristen’s face renders this last response dubious, however.

“Katherine,” I say. “Brush your teeth. I’ll meet you all here at exactly 10:15.”


“Put this blindfold on.”

Maxwell hands me a bandanna.

Katherine is waiting, Kristen, Manny, David.

“Where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise.”

Kristen holds one hand. Maxwell holds the other. Katherine walks behind me. She reads the Bible.

They walk me over the road. We’re going downhill, past the girls area.

Katherine reads the Psalms. She reads Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

he leads me beside still waters;

he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

“Careful, there’s a dip.” Max guides me by my arm.

We come out into the opening where the lake is. I can’t hear the lake, exactly, but I can hear the openness. They’re taking us around the lake. I can see splotches, flashlight, through the bottom of the bandanna. Finally I close my eyes. I take each step with confidence. My feet press into the grass. The night is cooling. Manny and David have a heavy bag between them. I am glad my hands are not tied.

“Is it this one?”

“It’s to the right,” Maxwell says.

We’re headed to the course.

“We learned something about faith this week,” Katherine says. “We all did.”

They have me at the bottom of the first wall. This wall has pegs in it. You climb to the top. You walk across a bar. Then there’s a platform.

I hear climbing.

“We’re gonna have vespers up there.”

“Up where?”

“On the platform. You don’t have to climb with the blindfold.”

“Here. Grab this.” David and Manny are struggling with the bag.

“Do you want me to take the blindfold off?” Kristen asks.

“We’re just going to the first platform,” I say.

Maxwell starts climbing.

“Come on up,” Manny says. “This is plenty big.”

“Blindfold on or off?” Kristen says.

“On,” I say, and she starts climbing.

Katherine goes in front of me. I feel her heat come from behind me and feel the air move as she starts up the pegs. “Can you hold this?” she says.

Kristen answers. “Got it. Take my hand.”

I reach in front of me. Wooden peg, steel bolt. I put my foot on the bottom peg.

When I get to the platform I feel hands on my face. I still myself on the pegs. They’re taking off the blindfold. Katherine in front of me. She holds the bandanna.

“Come up top.”

I lift myself to the platform. Maxwell has the Bible now. He switches the flashlight from lamp mode to flashlight mode and the light narrows to a focus on the text. They’ve been using my highlighters.

“What’s in the bag?” I say.

“The glory of the lord,” Manny says, and they all giggle.

“Seriously, what’s in the bag?”

“Supplies.”

“Don’t use that word.”

“Well,” Manny says, “We kindof don’t want to tell you. Because it’s kindof illegal.”

“Did you get it from Maddy?”

“No.”

“Then I’m not worried.”

“Well,” Manny says, “You probably should be.”

“Why don’t you tell me what it is that way I won’t have to be worried.”

“We kindof wanted to wait until the end of vespers so that if you’re mad at us it won’t ruin vespers.”

“Is it alive?” I say.

“No,” Manny says. “Well, not in a literal sense.”

“Does it have a brain and central nervous system?”

“No.”

“Are you planning to eat it?”

“No.”

“Are you planning on me eating it?”

“No. But we are planning on setting it on fire.”

The wind blows. I feel it on my skin. It feels wonderful.

Katherine has us sing “Shine Jesus Shine.” When we get to the part about Jesus setting our hearts on fire, I think of the black bag. Then we do a backrub circle. I rub Katherine’s back. Manny rubs mine. This is the kind of thing you can get sued for. Some counsellor, out in the woods with five minors. “Did you touch her?” “Yes.” “Where did you touch her?” It’s hard to explain, but before 2010 people used to touch each other and not file civil suits. I have to trust my group not to sue me. That’s faith. If they sue me, I won’t write them letters. If they don’t sue me, I will write them letters. The night is beautiful. I have the bandanna around my neck.

“Can I suggest a game?” I say.

Katherine says, “Yes.”

“Give me your flashlight.”

I switch it into lamp mode and set it in the middle of the circle.

“Hold hands. Now look at each other. Don’t say anything. You can look at anyone. You can stop looking at any time. But always look at someone. Look in their eyes. That’s the only rule. No talking. Always look into someone’s eyes.”

We did that. We looked into each other’s eyes. We didn’t look away. When we stopped looking at someone, we looked at someone else.

There was a beginning period of quick looking. There was a middle period of laughter. Then there was a long period of long looking. There was no talking. In the middle period, when we laughed, we laughed for a second, covered our faces, then looked at someone else and laughed. There’s always a middle period of laughter.

Then there’s always a long period of silence. Where people become comfortable not to smile. When you know you are allowed to smile, because no one ever stopped you. But you don’t need to smile. You know where that will lead. What you don’t know, is where deepness will lead. When you press, and hold, and dissipate..what will happen then? When you do not exert. When you need not turn away. Embarrassment is flirting. We’re not interested in that here. Flirting isn’t serious. It’s isn’t seriousness, exactly, that I want to attain. But there is a seriousness to it. Real fun isn’t possible when you’re kidding around.

When I look in Katherine’s eyes, right next to me, when I see the eyes of someone whose back I was just touching..my fingers press into the body of another body, almost like mine..my fingers touch tendons, touch muscle, touch skin, touch cloth you’re wearing. When I press into you, when I move your bones, when you react to my pressure, there is no longer two bodies. When I look into you and do not look away, something happens.

Maybe it’s our limbic brains.

Maybe it’s the spirit.

There is a feedback there, a still feedback. I don’t call it telepathy. But there is a language there. It’s pre-word, or post-word; you can feel it but not hear it, directly. If it has a grammar its grammar is very simple, having maybe three rules.

When I look at Katherine something holds us there, even simply that we know we’re playing a game. Then an interchange happens. I feel a transfer from me to her. She receives. Then I am still. And in time I receive from her. Then there are washes, like ocean waves, an exchange. There is something in the eye that knows about the body, even if it never looks at the body. When I look at Katherine our eyes know about the body. Katherine is right next to me. Our bodies are twisted so that we can look.

The eyes know this. They say it, in a way, with their look.

When I look at David I see someone who I don’t know well, who I will never see again. I can see in his eyes how he sits, how he breathes. He sees my edge. He sees that I am teetering. He doesn’t know what lies on either side of that edge, but he knows the edge is there. I can almost tell what kind of jobs David will have after school. I can see him at home, eating breakfast. I can see the room.

When I look at Manny, I see deep sadness. I think he will commit suicide. I don’t feel sad about this now, because I tell myself I am wrong. You can see things like that before they happen. They’re always right around us. One function of our language is convincing us to forget what we know is true. To lie, to ignore, to reframe horror. Beauty, too. When you look at someone, look only, strip away all speech, all that remains is beauty and horror.

Wrapped around each other, twisting, intertwining.

One is the red and one is the blue.

They’re stuck together. They need each other to breathe. One, without the other, creates concussion, sucks in breathable gas, overrules.

When I look at Kristen we are past all those games, games that pretty girls play and games that boys and men play with them. Our eyes, our eyes themselves, don’t have that violence. In these eyes we see ourselves as slaves, eyes trapped in something larger that’s out of control. Eyes peering from within a shell, like a crab. In this moment, without armor, crossing from one shell to another. And then a greater sea, after that, of motherhood and boyhood, of daughters and fathers, of taking care.

A fullness, there.

We are each other’s angels.

And a long time, a long still stare, that means nothing.

Maxwell. Servant. Seeker. Maxwell. Pure. I see that. Maxwell. Deep. No pain. That’s his problem. The world is full of pain and Maxwell has none. I know he will look, he will try to find it, he will bring it on himself. What if all the clothes in all the stores in all the world were made to fit someone else’s body? What then? The answer to that question is Maxwell.

And if he sees me, he sees that in me.

What are we doing here?

We are not like the rest. What is our job?

To love them.

Kristen has goosebumps on her arms. “It’s here, too,” she says. “But this is the good one.”

“What is here?” I ask.

Maxwell and Kristen say at the same time: “The eye-language.”


What was in the bag was a firework. Manny had brought it from home. It was a big one. It was the kind you’ll see in firework stores in Indiana and Kentucky. They’re only open certain times of year. By law, they can’t sell certain items to state residents. But if you’re driving through, you can get them.

“Where’d you get that?”

“My brother,” is all Manny said.

“When we’re done, take that shell.”

“Which part? ‘Cause this part flies—”

“The base part. When we go back. Put it in your bag. Take these. My car is the black Honda. It’s the fat key. You put that thing in my trunk. Do not throw it away in the dumpster. After we launch this you never mention it, ever.”

“No problem.”

“No even to your cabin mates.”

“Right.”

“Not to your brother and sister when you get home.”

Manny makes a zipping motion over his mouth.

“And that’s the last thing we do out here tonight. We sit here as long as we want. Do whatever you want. But we light that fuse, we’re going back to the cabins. How far up does that thing go?”

“It goes up far.”

“Will they see it back at camp?”

“If they’re looking. Not through the trees. Actually I’m not sure.”

“Have you ever lit one like this before?”

“No. Not exactly like this, no.”

“Arright. If anyone says anything, we saw it too. You have no idea who shot it off. We saw it while we were doing vespers. If anyone gives you a hard time, come get me.”

“Is this illegal?” Maxwell says.

“I have no idea,” I say. “But it’s definitely against camp rules.”

Kristen leaning back against Maxwell. Katherine resting her legs on top of David’s. Manny whistling. I start whistling with him. Katherine hums.

“Come on guys, let’s go home.”

“Home?”

“Yeah, I’m tired. Who’s doing polar bear tomorrow?”

“Ugh.”

“Let’s get some sleep.”

“You mean after we set this off.” Manny taps the bag.

“Let’s do it at the lake,” I say.

Katherine comes down last, shining the light for the rest of us. When she climbs down I’m standing at the bottom.

“Can you catch me?” she says.

“Sure.”

She jumps. She’s only a few feet above me. But I catch her. I put her down.

“Do you mind if I steal that purple joke of yours?” Manny says. “Or do you have the copyright on it?”

“I stole it from someone else,” I say.

“Oh. Good,” he says. “Because I’m envisioning the perfect audience for it.”

“So you’ve never shot one off like this before?”

“No. Not quite. Not of this magnitude.”

“What about your brother? Has he shot one off of this magnitude?”

“I’m gonna have to plead ignorance on that front. Wait,” Manny says. “Do you have a lighter? I forgot my lighter.”

Kristen busts one out. It’s Maddy’s.

“Thanks. Whoah. This one’s nice. What do you use this for, welding?”

“Manny,” I say, “how long does that fuse take?”

“I would think it would take..about eight seconds.”

“Okay. Let me light it.” I take the lighter from Manny. “Let’s watch from back there. Head back. Off the pier. You too Mann.”

“Are you sure, I could hold the fuse up for you like this.”

“I got it. Meet me back there.”

“Manny!” Kristen shouts. “Come on!”

Manny leaves me at the end of the pier. It’s a sliver moon, a quarter full, but bright. I look behind me: Manny, K, other K, David, Max. I’d write letters forever for this crew.

Look at them, standing there. Manny’s greasy hair; he’s bending down. “Manny! Look!” Kristen pulling him up by his shirt. She’s lost the poncho but I’ll never forget her barking at that kid in Logan Square. Katherine. For once without Le Morte Darthur, this time toting that Bible and leading our last vespers. David, plain; if any of us could be a pastor it’d be him. And Maxwell. Most like me. He’s the one I’ll write the most. He stands apart from Kristen, for once, and I know he’s gonna be smart about that.

I take a picture in my mind.

I light the fuse.

I run.

I picked the lake because I thought there would be less chance of us starting a forest fire if we shot it off from there. I hadn’t thought about the reflection on the water. Manny had underestimated. The fuse had at least twelve seconds on it. And I had underestimated. That wasn’t a firework you can buy in any store in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Alaska, or Arizona. It blew big. It rocked the pier when it left and it rocked the sky when it arrived. When it went off it rocked Camp Lake. Every camper in every cabin heard it. Every counsellor: the same. But if you weren’t looking at the sky above the lake at that particular moment, you wouldn’t have seen it. And everyone at camp was already in their beds.

It was green. It streaked out, opened over us like an umbrella, fed our eyes, blanketed the lake..and that was it. The boom you would certainly have heard from the road, maybe from town.

Holy shit.” I cover my mouth and sit on the grass. Everyone’s beside me, laughing. I’m sure we’re going to get in trouble for this. Or I am. I roll back into the grass and the stars are coming down on me. What’s the point of living if you never see a thing like this? I scream: “Wwoo!” Oh my shit. You can’t do this in the city. You try that shit in Rittenhouse Square, you get arrested. I’m trapped in a cage in the city, driving between lines, walking when the icon tells me to, washing and drying my hands by motion sensor.

“So wha’d you think of that?” Manny says.

Maxwell is kissing Kristen. I look at David and Katherine. M + K only kiss for a second but it reminds the rest of us that we aren’t with someone.

“Dude,” I say to Manny. “That was amazing. What does your brother do for a living?”

“He plays Final Fantasy.”

I laugh.

“No. He’s online help for Final Fantasy. If you’re in the game and you need someone to tell you how to complete a quest or if your avatar gets stuck in a part of the map like behind a mountain or somewhere you’re not supposed to go or if someone uses profanity when they’re not supposed to, he’s there, and he’ll help you, you press F1 or actually I’m not sure what the key combination is in the latest version but..”

Manny keeps talking but I’m not listening. He talks while David and I test the firework’s launch cylinder for heat and load it into Manny’s bag. Then we put the straps on Manny’s shoulders and he tells us all about the online help in Final Fantasy and how his brother came to be a spirit guide or guardian angel or whatever they call online help in that game. “Anyone can become one, all you need is an innate love of helping people.”

We head up the path toward the pool and the girls cabin area and The Turn in the Road. Kristen and Maxwell linger behind us. They follow at their own speed. They think they’ll get together after camp. They think they’ll call each other, they think they’ll make trips to see each other. If they had been walking this path a decade ago they might have fantasized about marriage. But they won’t call, they won’t write, they won’t get married. This will be their last night together. Tomorrow will be parents and bags and everyone getting together with the cars they came in. They will want another kiss tomorrow but there won’t be one. The one they’re having now, which was supposed to be the last just for tonight will really be the last one ever. And that last blink of the firework and this last vespers..these will be our lofted moments, screaming, soaring, sinking, gone.

Ocean City

When I wake Max is standing over me. He’s wearing his polar bear t-shirt.

“Polar bear?” he says.

I say, “There’s no polar bear today.”

Polar bear!!” he shouts.

“You can go if you want to.” I turn over. “Go without me.”

“But it would never be the same without you.” That’s Kristen’s voice.

I take my pillow off my face. “Kristen. What the fuck. There’s no girls past The Turn in the Road.”

“Except on the last day. Maddy said—”

“Maddy’s wrong.”

“Blake even said so. They said since camp is over that we could do whatever we want.”

“Right. Like you haven’t been doing that all along.”

I sit up. Edwards’ bunk is clean. His viola, his suitcase, packed. Pierce is sleeping. Tislam is sleeping.

“So,” Max says. “Do you wanna do polar bear?”

“No,” I say. “I don’t. Camp is over. There’s no more polar bear. You got your t-shirt. What else do you want?”

“You’re grumpy in the morning.”

“You should see me in my real life. I will have breakfast with you though.” First I have to get dressed. “Kristen. Do you mind?”


The cafeteria is free seating. There are only a few people in here. I’m munching on Rice Chex. Max and Kristen are eating with me. Kristen’s flipping through The Art of War.

“‘When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.’ We shoulda learned that sooner.”

“Yeah,” Max says, “Mark that page.”

“So. Are you two gonna get married when you go home?”

“No,” they both say.

I point my spoon at them. “How do you know?”

They laugh.

“I’m serious. How do you know? You might be forced to marry, by circumstance. For tax purposes. It might be convenient. Or necessary. Financially. And yet when I ask you if you’re gonna get married you so confidently announce that the answer is no..when..really..basically..you don’t know.”

“I don’t even pay taxes.”

“But you might have to start.”

Tislam sits next to me. He’s still asleep.

“Is Pierce still sleeping?”

Tislam nods.

“This is the best part of camp,” I say. “No one’s in your way. You can sit wherever you want. No one’s shoving curriculum down your throat. Sorry about that, by the way.”

“We forgive you.”

“Where’s Maddy?”

“She’s doing yoga.”

“I bet she is.”

“She is. She’s by the lake. Oh. I forgot. She told me to tell you not to leave without her.” Kristen gives me a look.

I point at myself with my spoon. “Do I look like,” I chew my Rice Chex, “I would leave..without her? Did she say that?”

Kristen nods.

Maxwell says, “Do you and Maddy live together?”

“Maddy lives in Florida,” I say.

“I think you should move to Florida,” Kristen says.

“What do you think?” I ask Tislam. “Should I move to Florida?”

Tislam is staring into space. “What?”

“Just say yes.”

“What am I saying yes to?”

“Whether Matt and Maddy should shack up together.”

“Do you love her?” Tislam says.

“What!? You crack me up, Tislam. You should be a radio announcer or something.”

“Why should I be a radio announcer?”

“Because you have the voice for it, I don’t know.”

But Kristen’s nodding. “You should,” she says. “You should.”


“Matt, Matt, this is my mom.”

“Hi, I’m Matthew Temple.”

“Sharon. Bowman. Max said we had to meet you.”

“I’m glad I had a chance to meet Max. He’s very..sincere.”

Mrs. Bowman says to her son, “Do you want a picture?”

Max stands next to me.

I put my arm around him.

Mrs. Bowman takes the picture.

Max and Kristen are holding hands. They’re sitting on the porch railing of the meeting hall. Kristen’s parents are ready to leave. Kristen makes a tunnel with her hands and says something in Max’s ear. Max’s fingers let go of Kristen’s shorts and Kristen walks away. She smiles at him getting into the Ford. She closes the door. Power window goes down. Kristen’s face, turning, their car headed up the road.

Max’s mom comes from somewhere, takes Max, and they’re going to their car.

“See you Max.”

He gives me a hug.

I hug him, hold his head, let him go. No reason for pleasantries here.

I love you Max. I hope you have a great life.


Katherine comes up the road slugging her suitcase.

“Kate, give me that.” I take it. “Jesus, what the hell do you have in here?”

“Books,” she says.

Katherine is telling me her email address and I’m typing it in my phone.

“Write me,” she says.

I look in her face. “Katherine. I will.”

“You better.” She bounces around. “Oooh. Oooh. Take my Twitter.”

When Katherine’s parents get here it’s a blue-and-beige conversion van. She has three brothers. Her dad is fat, her mom is fat, they’re all short, the brothers run as soon as they get the doors open. Katherine’s dad puts his hands on his hips—or the fat around his hips. Katherine’s mom looks around and doesn’t see her daughter.

“They’re artistically challenged,” she says.

“Do you have a book for the way back?”

Katherine holds up Morte Darthur.

“Haven’t you read that by now?”

“I’ve read it six times.”

“Come with me,” I say.

We go the other way, away from her parents, to the meeting hall, and beside it, to the gravel parking lot. I open the back of my Honda.

“You are completely insane,” she says. “You know that, right?”

“I’m completely aware of the situation,” I say. “Pick one.”

“As a trade?”

“I don’t want your copy of Morte Darthur, I have my own copy of Morte Darthur.”

Katherine’s fishing through my books. “In here?”

“At home. These are just my travel books.”

“Do you read while you’re driving?”

“I saw this guy playing the trumpet while he was driving, once. This is near Bethlehem. The guy actually had sheet music up on the steering wheel.”

“I can have any one of these?”

“Any one.”

“Boring. Boring. Are you a mathematician or something?”

“Sort of.”

“Oooh.”

“I got that on Market street. You know the little bookshops along there?”

“Oh my god this is beautiful. I took a year of Latin.”

“That’s supposed to be the best translation. I don’t read Latin but I have read several translations and from an English speaker’s point of view, I enjoyed that one the best.”

“I can take this.”

“Yes you can.”

“Thank you.”

I shut my trunk. “You’re welcome.”

“Do you know I write poetry?” Katherine asks.

“I had no idea.”

“It’s very contemporary,” she says. “It doesn’t rhyme. I only write at the typewriter so I haven’t done any here because it’s very musical in a kind of chattering..kindof like bubbles.” Katherine’s face is bright. “I have to go now.”

“Katherine. It’s been a joy meeting you.”

“I’m going to write you.”

“Perfect. I’ll write back.”

“I’m going to include some of my poetry.”

“I look forward to that very much.”

“It doesn’t rhyme,” she says.

I laugh. “That’s not a problem.”


And that’s it for Camp Lake, pretty much.

The leaving morning is a blur. There’s not even a worship service. We just do breakfast and cabin cleanouts and then church vans start showing up, and parents in cars.

Normally you can’t find anybody, and people are gathering around trying to get all the right group pictures. You get a picture with the girl you like, and with your cabin mates, and maybe with your small group.

Then there’s nothing.

Typically we’ll say a prayer, all the counsellors, in a circle in the meeting hall after everyone gets picked up.

Then it’s like taping up the last box when you move—you just take it and go, and all that’s left is dust and sunlight and a magnet you left on the refrigerator with the number of a local hoagie place.

I hate the last day of camp, because it reminds me of the ways in which everything I hate is actually something I also love.

Manny, David, Tislam, Edwards. Everyone goes home.

“You wanna play some one-on-one?” Oscar leaps up the steps to the meeting hall.

“Not really,” I say.

“Call me,” he says. “I’ll come into Philly.”

“Okay. Deal.”

Julie sits on my lap. She and Oscar’s hands mingle.

“Are you gonna marry me this year?” Julie asks. She’s talking to me.

“Yes,” I say.

Julie lights a cigarette. I can feel her butt shifting on my leg.

Maddy and Marcy get out of Marcy’s car. They sit side-by-side on the railing.

“Where’s Pig?” I say

Julie says, “She left. Didn’t you see her?”

“No,” I say. “Did Blake and Brian leave too?”

“They’re doing paperwork,” Marcy says.

“Well fuck,” I say. “Do you guys want to get lunch or something?” I take Julie’s cigarette.

“I can’t,” Julie says. “Meeting my sister.”

“Bring her.”

“She’s in Carmina Burana.”

“What about you guys?”

“I gotta go.” Oscar stands up.

“Now?”

He extends his hand. “It’s been fun bro.”

I stand up and Julie and I both hug him.

Julie says, “I’ll see you soon okay?”

“Okay baby,” Oscar whispers.

“See ya.”

Then it’s just me and Marcy and Julie and Maddy and Julie sits back in my lap and I’m smoking her cigarette and Maddy and I are looking at each other and finally Marcy gets up and Julie gives me one more cigarette before she leaves and we kiss and Julie Jane and Marcy walk each other to their cars.

“Can you drive?”

Marcy puts all her weight on that one foot. “All better.” Then she flinches. “Ow.”

Maddy at the opposite end of the porch and we’re staring at each other. Eventually Blake comes out, and Brian, and Blake carries a file box with him. The screen door slams behind him.

“Bry. You out?”

“Until next time,” Brian says.

Blake puts the box down and we hug. “See you Sunday?”

“No. But I’ll see you next week.”

“Good. We can start planning the curriculum for next year,” he says. He smiles but I don’t smile back. “I’m kidding,” he says. “I’m kidding, I’m joking.”

“Wait up,” I say, “I gotta go to the bathroom.”

“It’s unlocked,” Blake says.

I pull open the screen door. “See you.”

Blake and Brian wave.

The lights are off inside the meeting hall. The floor has been swept.

The bathroom light is on. I push the door open.

“Matthew! Hey..” Sony stands at the sink. At his feet is a bucket and rags. His hands are black, coated with grease which sticks to the side of the sink. It’s the kind of grease that sticks to soap, gets on everything you touch.

“So what’s next for you?” Sony says.

“Huh?”

“What’s next for you, after this?”

I kick open the toilet lid. “Back to work.”

Sony continues washing his hands.

“What about you?” I say.

Sony looks at me over the divider. “I guess it’s work for me too.”

“Don’t you have kids?”

“Grandkids,” he says, “And almost more of those. Take care of yourself, and you’ll have grandkids too. Once you have your own, then they do all the work. You just sit back. It’s like Mary Kay. Did you and Blake make up?”

“I think Blake and I are always going to be at odds.”

Now I’m waiting for the sink. Sony is still using it, black gunk running down the porcelain. He focuses on one hand, ignoring the other, ignoring that grease is caking the soap. He gets that one hand clean.

“Something happened to Blake when he was younger,” Sony says. “That’s why he responds to you the way he does.”

Black water pooling in the bottom of the sink.

“What happened to him?”

“I don’t know,” Sony says. “But I know it has made him afraid.”

“Of?”

“Of shining a light.” Sony has one hand clean. Now he washes the other. Black water drains from his hands and when both hands are clean he turns the soap, rinsing it. “Some people are afraid of the light.”

“How do they get that way? Why are they afraid of it?”

“I don’t know,” Sony says. He is splashing water around the basin, getting the whole sink clean. “How do some people come to shine the light? I don’t know. To shine it, doesn’t mean you love it; to love it, doesn’t mean you’re not afraid of it. I don’t know how my flashlight works..” Sony wrings his hands in the air. “But I know that when I turn it on, roaches go away.”


The only cars left beside the meeting hall are Maddy’s and Sony’s and mine. I sit on my side of the porch and Maddy sits opposite me. We’re both smoking.

I don’t have anything to say. Maddy and I perhaps have that in common. Traumatic experiences. If you have too many of them, your mind never goes back. People who’ve never had anything horrible happen to them don’t really understand life. And for membership in this club, all you have to do is cling to one terrible, terrible truth. It doesn’t have to be tragic, actually. It’s just easier with tragedy, because tragedy forces you to accept the truth that life is short..and hence..that life is valuable. To truly accept that, really, for most people the quickest way is to have someone die.

My cigarette, the last one Julie gave me, is down to the filter. I stamp it on the porch and cross. Maddy has one waiting for me. It feels good..sun on my back..deep drags on her Parliament. I wish the week could start over and we could do it again. I never pay enough attention to things while they’re happening. And that’s a sin.

We take our time. We watch the sun move across the porch. This wood, the rest of the year, will have no one sitting on it. Days will pass and with no one here birds will fly, land on this railing, sit, move on. A snake will trek across here, just because this porch is in his way. With us packed away, back in our cities, Camp Lake and all the wood and shingles and screens it is made of will be very very quiet. If I could sit still all day, and think about the same thing, and look in the same spot, I would see the sun going by overhead. Maybe I could even see the lake fill, and the leaves fall. And birds wouldn’t look like individual birds, to me, but a migration.

Maddy’s looking at me. “You wanna go?” she says.

The two of us walk through the gravel lot. And there’s Maddy’s—whatever it is—and there’s my Honda. I just got new tires. I should go camping more often. I don’t have to wait until Camp Lake. Should just grab a tent and call Oscar and fish.

Maddy’s veering toward her car and I’m veering toward mine. I’m glad I called her. I’m going to try to be elegant about this goodbye, make it a smooth transition, don’t say anything awkward. When she goes and I go I’m just going to let it be done. I’ll think about her. When I get home I’ll jerk off about Maddy a couple times and by Monday I’ll be back to the usual, back at Glaxo.

And I guess by then Maddy’ll be driving down I-95, heading back to Miami Beach.

My key in the lock. I linger.

“You wanna come with me?” she asks.

“To Florida?”

“Maybe.”

“Can we just go for a drive?”

“Get in.”

Maddy’s car. Pinprick ruby, pinprick ruby red. Slopeface car. Racecar seats. In Maddy’s car she only listens to remixes, no radio edits.

“You know what this world needs?” Maddy asks.

“What?” I say.

“More Fatboy Slim.”

The ashtray a garden of decomposing Parliaments and pennies. She keeps the top down, even when it rains. She drives like that in the rain.

There’s a length of gunmetal piping sticking out from under the passenger seat.

“What’s that for?”

“Don’t ask.”

It looks like something you beat people with. It looks like something that when someone flips you off you pull up behind them at the next stoplight, get out of your car, and start beating the shit out of them. That’s what it looks like.

Maddy peels across the gravel. I take off my hat, put it in my lap. Maddy folds her left leg up under her, so she’s half sitting cross-legged. She adjusts her mirrors, then accelerates further.

She says, “I don’t want to talk for a while.”

And she drives.

I could get used to a girl who does this. I could get used to a girl who says, “I don’t want to talk for a while,” and drives. I could get used to that. Because this is what she does. She drives us out of the camp area, she drives us past a different lake. She drives us away from the teenagers diving from a floating dock in the middle of that lake. She drives us away from that. She drives us away from the town, she drives us away from the bait shop and the tire shop and the Wendy’s. She doesn’t stop at the Wendy’s. She doesn’t even stop for fries. She goes up a hill like she’s launching the car, like we’re a rocket and she’s launching us, like we’ll take off at the top of the hill. That’s how she drives. She doesn’t drive like Beth, in the Walmart parking lot, where you know today is the day we’re going to crash. She doesn’t drive like that. Maddy’s not going to get into an accident today. She’s going to get into one someday, though.

And when she does, the accident that Maddy gets into is going to kill you.

I hope I’m there when it happens. I hope I’m in the car with her.

That’s how Maddy drives. Like you want to get into an accident with her. Like you want her to crash the both of you.

Maddy drives like a seamstress—like a needle pulling thread.

“You wanna know my car’s name?” she says.

“What?”

“I call her Silver Watchdog. She’ll never age. You can call her Silver. That’s her short name. You wanna know her full name?”

“Tell me.”

“Her full name is: Miss Mr. Shankar Watchdog, Silver Watchdog, Silver Maiden Whore Swaminathan.”

I run my hand along the dash.

“You wanna know how she got that name?”

“How did she get that name?”

“I named her.”

That’s how she got it. Maddy named her. Of course.

Maddy smiles.

How else would Maddy’s car have gotten a name except that Maddy named her? Maddy’s making an existential point. She’s channeling her zen master. Hopefully she doesn’t get the itch to leave me in the woods, drop me on the side of the road so I can think things over.

“I didn’t name her that all at once. I give her new names, and add to her name, on long trips. It’s something to do. I talk to washing machines, too. I tell them to wash my clothes. It will help you with your sanity, if you talk to washing machines. Notice I did not say talk with. It will not help your sanity if you expect them to talk back. Wanna take this road?”

“Sure.”

“Oh-kay!”

And she swings us onto that road. There’s a cow in our lane, from a broken fence. His buddies are still in the grass. Maddy speeds up and goes ‘round him in the left lane.

“What’s this music?”

“Daft Punk. Technologic. Remix.”

“It’s nice.”

“It’s old. I gotta get new stuff. Fuck. Can you give me a hand with this?”

Maddy’s lighting a cigarette. I take the wheel.

“Thanks, loverboy.”

Maybe this is like driving with Beth. I feel like I’m going to die. Maddy’s car is insane. If we were in Africa it would be a gazelle, and we would be airborne. People have the strangest definitions for words. If I was going to define glory, it would be the moment before you’re going to die, the moment right before, when you’re flying.

Anything short of that doesn’t justify use of the word.

She pops the gazelle into fifth and if there’s a deer over this next hill we’re dead. Maddy’s car grips the road. It’s a supersonic spider. If this road was banked like the Indy 500 we could take it. I imagine Maddy hitting the breaks, and the seatbelts gripping us, total stop, everything about it tight. We’d leave rubber behind us but we’d both survive.

Beth is like a perfect totem between us—circle of protection.

Maddy pops it into fourth and merges onto a ramp and I can’t believe we’re at the highway. She pops it down a gear and wraiths her way past an 18-wheeler. We’re around the other side. The car is evil, a shade. My bags are back in my car at the meeting hall. Maddy and I don’t say another word until we get to Philly and we’re on the Ben Franklin. The way Maddy drives it makes me look like a Hot Wheels captain.

Do you invite death? Or are you terrified of it?

Or maybe that’s a false dichotomy.

“You wanna go to Ocean City?”

“Sure,” I say. I don’t think. I just answer. Sure I want to go to Ocean City. Sure I want to remind myself of the last decade, and everything I’ve done wrong in it. Sure I want to go to where it all started, a place that used to be fun and sand and family vacations, that’s now..something too terrible to name. Drive me down the coast. Drive me to Sea Isle City, where we trapped crabs and got sand in our cracks and first discovered medical waste, washing on the shore.

Maddy slows down enough that we can light another cigarette, and in her glove compartment I see that she and Marcy have made a trade. Right there, a fat Ziploc, the freezer-sized ones from the Camp Lake kitchen, folded over, one corner full of coke. It’s a part of my life I hold at bay. It’s a part of my life I wanted to leave behind. It’s a part of my life I would utterly and completely hate except what’s the alternative? We make choices in the real world. That something isn’t the best outcome imaginable doesn’t necessarily make it anything less than the best real choice, in this place. I can beat myself up for not perfectly abstaining from cocaine or whatever else, but why? I do not live among perfect people. I do not even live among good people. My church, my family, my neighbors, my boss: we are evil people, ignorant people, fools. At best we’re misinformed. No hands are clean. What makes me so special that I deserve to be the forward-looking part, the face, the seeming good? Or is it just as well that I am the backside, the tattoo, the whore, the tragedy..the dead one.

All our pithy sayings belie the real vein. If you live by the sword, you die by the sword. If you play with matches, you get burned. That’s all good and well for mushmilk. Do you really want to die, though, any other way than by the sword? Is never getting burned really a trophy I want to teach my kids?

It’s all in worship to a myth of purity—and purity is the most dangerous concept in our vocabulary.

You go to the mountain. You’ll find nirvana there.

I don’t live on a mountain.


Maddy has the shit out on the bedspread of the Days Inn in Ocean City. They ran my credit card. They photocopied both our IDs. Maddy has her hair down.

It’s a giant ZipLoc.

She’s tapping the coke around in the bag. I’m looking at the dresser, seeing if there’s a way to get the mirror off. Maddy’s anxious. She goes to the bathroom. She unbuttons. She sits on the toilet, door open.

“This shit makes me have to shit,” she says. “Just by thinking about it.”

When she’s done, she doesn’t flush. “Do you need this?” she asks.

“This place sucks,” I say. “Let’s go somewhere else.”

“You already paid!”

“I know. I don’t care.” I’m looking at the tiny bathroom. “I’m kinda thinking—”

“I have an idea,” she says.

“What?”

“Well,” she says. “It’s kinda weird. Or. You might think it’s really weird.”

“No, it’s okay. I think I’m thinking the same thing.”

“I think so too,” she says.

“What are you thinking?”

“Let’s go to the Westin?”

“Yeah,” I say.

She grabs the ZipLoc.

Driving through those little back alleys (and Maddy actually slows down) makes me want to be rich. Get another place, come out here on the weekends. Here, or someplace like it. Something about sun on a white house by the sea. It reminds me of the old family vacations, but also something else. Something of money, and salt water, and restaurants, and dusk.

The Coke machine at the entrance to the Westin, by the parking lot, is in the same place. At least, this new machine is in the same place as that old one was. This one has more choices, different choices. And this one has more lights, a bigger plastic bulb on its face, bigger buttons.

Maddy leaves the top down and we go up the steps to the lobby. The lobby’s changed. The desk is on the other side. We wait behind an elderly couple checking in. Maddy has an unlit cigarette in her mouth.

“Two?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m going to assume smoking.”

Maddy smiles. She takes the cigarette out of her mouth. “Actually. Can we have room 332?”

The guy looks at the screen.

I stare at the side of Maddy’s head.

“Sure..and..yes..that’s a smoking room. 332?”

“Yeah. Thanks.” Maddy meets my eye. “Is that okay for you?”


\332. I open the balcony door. I step outside and behind me I hear Maddy do a line. She turns on the TV. It’s wrestling.

There’s no breeze. The ocean’s still. I wish there was. I wish it was Monday, or the last Monday. I wish there was somplace more to go. If it was last Monday I would at least be able to go where I went last week. That could be the possible. Now it’s just old people in hotel rooms, t-shirt shops, Coke machines, clerks at reception desks, credit cards, receipts, signatures, fresh towels that have that slimy too-clean fabric softener feel to them, and if you could zoom out it would be me among a thousand balconies, all pretty much the same, maybe a chair here moved or that one has a bicycle on it.

“Do you mind this?”

“What?”

Maddy motions with the remote control.

I close the balcony door behind me.

“I just want to have something on,” she says.

I’m sitting beside her. “It’s fine.” She has giant lines laid out for us. Marcy must have just got paid.

“This shit is really good,” Maddy says. “It’s clean. I guess you’ve had it.”

“Not this week,” I say.

“Oh,” Maddy says, “I thought she would have offered..”

“She did.”

Maddy looks at me.

“I was just trying to focus on camp.”

“Is this alright?” she asks.

“It’s alright,” I say.

“Do you want a line,” she says. Maddy takes off her shirt. Purple bra, crisscrossing.

I kneel on the floor between the couch and the coffee table and take a nice, long, motherfucking line.

That hits the spot.

I pull myself up on the couch and Maddy’s helping pull me up and her arms and hands and breasts are touching me, touching my chest and face, and she’s pulling off my shirt and I can feel the coke and we’re kissing and I can taste it in the back of my throat, sour, burning, and Maddy tastes like it and her tongue is rubbing around my gums. I am light. I fly. Maddy’s jeans are pressing on me. I feel my stomach churn. An ad for depression is on the TV. My hand is at the top of Maddy’s waist, pulling on the button. The balcony curtains are open. All we can see is the sea. Maddy pressing herself against me. I can have anything I want. And my dick is very, very hard.

Maddy sits up. She cuts off a line, straightens it, hands me the rolled-up bill. This time it’s a Ben Franklin. Her fingers press into my shoulders and I can feel the acid thinning. She stops rubbing just for me to lean forward over the table. I wipe my lip, blink. And lie back.

Maddy’s lap. Between Maddy’s thighs. And Maddy’s fingers in my ears, my hair, my everything tingling and Maddy’s fingers tweak my nipples at the same time. Her hands down the front of my shorts, her thumb massaging me.

Then she stands. She strips her jeans. She kneels on the carpet, cuts the thinnest and longest line I have ever seen anyone cut in just one movement. She does it. She sets the razor down. She stands, dizzily, and walks away.

“Maddy. You alright?”

“I’m wonderful. Just going to take a bath.”

The commercials are for birth control, and class-action law suits, and lots of commercials for mood disorders. Watching two guys beat the shit out of each other isn’t my style. I mute the sound. And it’s the sound of Maddy filling the bathtub. From the other room, tiny water trinkle. She turns on the hair dryer, turns it off. The last tinkle of bath water and it’s like I’m in the bathroom with her..sound of her foot breaking the surface of the bath. Then her whole body sinking in. Then a slosh. Then quiet.

“You okay?” she says.

“Yeah. Fine. Just couldn’t deal with MMA.”

“Change the channel.”

Maddy’s cigarettes are on the table. And a pack of menthol I bought on the way. I tap out a menthol, light it. Breathe in. I love that cool feeling.

I slice off a bump, snort it. I reach for the cigarettes, grab another menthol. I pinch out the end of the tobacco, lift a tiny pile of cocaine on the corner of the razor blade, dump it in the empty space in the cigarette. I light the end, flash it, and the paper singes. Then I change the channel. A Bergman movie. The Price is Right with Drew Carey. I always think of the other guy. What was his name? The next channel is a gardening infomercial. I go back to the Bergman film. I unmute it. Hollow voices, microphones like the range had been clipped off. Could no one in 1950 make a microphone?

“Wha’d you find?” Maddy yells from the bathroom.

“A Bergman film.”

“What one?”

“Virgin Spring.”

“What’s it called?”

“The Virgin Spring,” I say.

Maddy says. “I’ll be in there in a minute.”

I rake off a moderate line, sniff it, lie back, and light the cigarette. My mind is full of ceiling specks and razor blades, glass tabletops, marble countertops, drinking. Or Maxwell..where is he right now? Home? Watching TV? Or Katherine? What book is she reading. Freak. I feel good about that small group. I wish my job involved more of that sort of thing. Is there any job in the world that requires you to both be physical and spiritual? Maybe a priest, in the old days. Certain types of warriors. How sad. How weak. We don’t require of ourselves both a strength of will, and a strength of caring. Head and heart. It’s an option, sure, but what does that mean that we don’t require it? I take a full drag on the cigarette and my head swirls.

Relax, relax. Let it pass. No one died. We can at least say that, that no one died. I will go with Julie Jane to the rollercoaster tomorrow. We’ll drink wine by the glass at that stupid steak place and stay late and buy sweatshirts at the gift shop when it gets cold at night. I want to ride that one rollercoaster over and over again. I take the last drag off that cigarette that has cocaine in it, then I sit up and set it on the top of the Parliament box, next to the other cigarette that is burning there.

We’ve got to get some alcohol. I see the razor blades. It’s a different kind of package than the one Beth had but still.

“Maddy?”

I mute the TV. I set the remote down on the glass coffeetable. I’m not going to freak out. This is the type of moment when you get freaked out and then it turns out to be nothing.

“Maddy?”

I’m going down the hall. Beige carpet. The latch on the door to the suite is closed. I should have probably opened that, in case Maddy has a gun or she pulls me into the tub and tries to electrocute me and we both get killed or something. I know I’m just being stupid.

“Maddy?”

My shoes are off. I’m half-expecting at any moment for the carpet to get damp, that I’ll step in a puddle and push the door open and there will be water spilling over the tub, covering the tile, seeping into the carpet.

The door is open a crack. I walk past, not looking, and stand in the bedroom. There’s that bed. Closet’s in the same place. I hate those fucking bedspreads.

So I go back to the bathroom. I push open the door. And Maddy’s fine. She’s looking at the backs of her fingernails, that same wet body, naked, pale, like a baby. Maddy’s hair is drenched, spread out just like Beth’s was. Maddy turns her neck, very slowly. Her mouth makes an O. She says, “What?”


“I guess you think that’s weird,” she says.

“What?” I say. I’m cutting us more lines.

“What I just did. Take a bath there. It’s a different tub. The whole bath’s redone.”

I slide over a line for Maddy and she kneels in her towel, carefully twisting her hair behind her back.

“I don’t think it’s weird,” I say. “You do what you have to do.”

“I wish we had some rigs,” she says, picking up her phone.

“Who do you know up here?” I say.

“No one.” She throws her phone down. “Guess we’ll just have to do this the old-fashioned way.” She does her line and sits, letting the towel fall. “Like the settlers did,” she says. Then she starts scraping off another line.


Hours later, Maddy and I are in the grocery store. Maddy’s wearing my shorts, flip-flops, and I’m wearing a robe from the hotel Westin. We’re at the bread counter.

“Do you have a wine cooler?” Maddy asks.

The guy doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

Maddy makes a circle with her hands. “A wine cooler. It’s this thing. You put your wine in,” she makes a spinning motion, “the wine..spins around,” she makes another motion, like lava settling, or a plane landing, “then the wine is cool.”

The guy tells us it’s at the end of the aisle near the wine.

Maddy keeps talking to the guy.

“You’ve got a certain QWAN,” she says. “Do you know what QWAN is? That’s Q-W-A-N.”

“Why don’t you tell me,” he says.

“I couldn’t say.” Maddy smiles. “That’s the central feature of QWAN as we’ve been discussing. What is QWAN.” Now she’s talking to herself. “What’s it made of?”

“Maddy. Come on.”

“I’m serious. What is QWAN and why can’t we name it.”

“I’m serious. Come on.”

“Why can’t we name it?”

“Um..” I struggle, looking at the bread guy.

“It’s..”

“It’s like..”

“Well..”

“Because it’s like..”

The guy behind the bread counter says, “It’s the sum of a million facets.”

“You’re right,” Maddy says, and she grabs a baguette, “exactly. Except it’s not a sum.”

I grab her by the sleeve of my t-shirt and she sluffs along next to me.

“It’s the sum of a million facets. That guy knew what QWAN was.”

We get cigarettes, straws, a pinwheel, chilled Jägermeister (using the wine cooler, which Maddy operates), and also a 2-liter bottle of Absolut and some canned pineapples.


Maddy is cracking up looking at the can when we get back to room 332.

“This is supposed to be pineapple juice,” she says.

“Yeah,” I say, “Look at the front. Pineapples.”

“Pineapple juice,” she repeats, drawing her finger underneath the photo of a pineapple.

“You know what I just thought of?”

“What?”

“We don’t have a can opener.”

“You’re ignoring the more obvious issue,” Maddy says. “Even if we had a can opener..”

I take the can from her. “Yeah,” I say. “But there is pineapple juice in here. Right next to the pineapple.” I drop the can on the counter. “I can’t drink that straight,” I say.

“Neither can I,” she says.

“Let’s go downstairs and get a Coke or something.”

“Okay,” she says.

But first we do a shot of Jägermeister.


I’m standing before this updated Coke machine, Maddy with me, and we’re both staring at the buttons.

Maddy’s making me go first.

And I don’t want to go along with this little charade of hers, but actually there’s only one drink here that I drink.

And it has nothing to do with Beth.

And this isn’t even the same machine.

To everyone else, we’re just a couple downstairs because we’re thirsty, standing in a parking lot in the sun in southern New Jersey. I look at Maddy, half-expecting to see her crying, or pensive, or remembering Beth, and she may be, somewhere in her she may be.

But that’s not what I see on her face. On her face, in this sun, her hair drying and her eyes squinting up in the direction of me and the Coke machine, is a smile, a bright smile, white teeth, a pink tongue, just health and skin and radiation.

That’s what is there.

I can make this out as Beth’s eulogy all I want, but it’s not.

There’s no Beth here. There’s just concrete, and bare feet, and brown hair, and bodies. Bodies who are breathing. Bodies who are aware. Maddy is holding my hand. I’m not the kind of guy who holds hands in public. But with one hand, I put a dollar into the machine and press the button, and with one hand I bend down and get the can from the dispenser, and with one hand, I hold it while I press the button for the elevator.


“I found a piece of her hair in a bag about a year ago. It was a piece of her hair I found on my shirt, after Ocean City. I guess I’m not 100% sure it was hers, I mean, it could have been mine but it looked like the end was dyed so it had to be hers, right? Unless I was seeing the end wrong. I put it in a plastic bag and then last year I found it. I opened the bag. I smelled the air inside it. There may have been a little bit of Beth about it. The hair smelled like her. It still did. I put it in my mouth and swallowed it with some milk. Is that sick? I just missed her. I don’t miss her now. Thank you for coming here with me.”

I’m sitting completely still.

“Go ahead.” Maddy stands up. “Drink your drink. I’ll do a line with you in a minute. It’s not disrespectful. If Beth was here you know she’d be doing it. So by that way of seeing things, at least, we’re okay.”

Maddy flicks her cigarette over the balcony. It’s that time of night where everything’s pastel. Pastel doesn’t fit Maddy very well. It makes me imagine her old.

I get up with my cup in hand.

“Bring a drink out,” she says.

I duck inside the room. The air conditioning’s on. I bring the bottle.

Maddy points at 332 with a new cigarette.

“For weeks after..that..I was desperate. I was like lying on the floor of the bathroom. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t watch a movie. Couldn’t even sit still long enough to watch a movie. Or..it was like..I couldn’t allow myself to watch a movie, because it was a waste of time. And how could I do that when so much more important things were happening. Like enjoying normal life was a disgrace. And then, after that, somewhere around years eight or nine..I pretty much don’t enjoy anything anymore..I mean, like, as a matter of policy. And now at year ten, that policy’s become standard. I don’t even question it.” She’s chewing on her unlit Parliament, just like Beth used to. She flicks the lighter a couple times but not at the cigarette. She seems content just to have something in her mouth. “You seem pretty functional.”

“She wasn’t my sister.”

“But you’ve had other deaths.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Don’t do that. They all count.”

“Life doesn’t seem real,” I say. “And death doesn’t seem real either. I believe in it. And I don’t..believe there’s a heaven. But even the life part, that dies, doesn’t seem like it’s quite..living. You know? I mean, the part that goes away, I feel like we’ve misconstrued that such that we don’t even know what it even means to be alive..and then we mourn when we die..but..what are we mourning? When those stupid cops were talking to me I wanted to get down the hall. I wanted to get in here.”

“Why? Why did you think she was doing it?”

“She thought she was going to jail for Sean.”

“Beth had cut herself before. You should have seen—”

“I don’t remember Beth cutting herself—”

“How would you!? She was always—”

“I saw her..naked..I didn’t see any cutting.”

“You don’t remember. You don’t. She cut herself. That was probably the fiftieth time she cut herself in a bathtub. That was what she liked to do. She did. Matthew. Trust me. Me and Dad used to drive her to the ER so mom wouldn’t see. We’d get back, Dad would say he took us for ice cream. Beth would be wrapped up. Dad would go in the front door. Me and Beth would go in through the garage. They’d be downstairs fighting. Me and Beth would listen to Kid A and she’d show me her scars. That’s how I’ll always remember Radiohead. Beth taking off her bandages. It’s weird. There’s something sexual about it for me.”

“Death?”

“I know that’s weird because it’s my sister.”

“I think I get it.”

“Do you have that?”

“No, but..”

“When did you see her naked?”

“Here.”

“When you and I found her.”

“Before that too.” I shake my head.

“Do you remember now?”

“No. I never saw any cuts.”

“You will,” Maddy says. She draws a line across her thigh with two fingers. “She used to cut herself here. Do you remember?” Maddy draws a line across the inside of her elbow. “Do you remember?”

I’m blinking. I don’t remember. Beth’s skin was clean. It wasn’t cut.

“I remember her cut..in the bathtub,” I say.

Maddy is very still. “She was cut before that,” she says.


“When you went to his house what did you do?”

“We checked up on him.”

Maddy frowns. “What did my sister tell you to do? When you got there.”

“She told us to get her phone. She thought she left it.”

“And? Did she?”

Blake is downstairs. I’m standing at the door to Sean’s condo; the giant middle-finger hand is staring me in the face. I don’t look behind me, even though I want to. I want to see if anyone’s watching me—some old man taking out his trash, some yuppie getting into his Porsche ends up being the reason Beth goes to jail, ‘cause this guy sees me going into the condo in which Sean is later discovered dead, then somehow they track it back to me, and that leads them to Beth. Blake’s supposed to be looking out for this angle of things, so I just turn the handle and go in.

I have to push the thumb of the foam hand back outside the condo to get the door closed. What kind of a jerk lives with the inconvenience of doing that every time he has to close the front door, baffles me.

The lights are on. There’s a quart of milk on the counter. The refrigerator door is open.

I go into the living room. What I see there makes my hair stand on end.

Sean is lying on the carpet. His head is in his bookshelf, neck against the corner of a cinderblock, plywood shelves across his chest.

That’s not the bad part, though.

I look at his face, and he’s looking at me. He’s not dead.

His eyes are following me, but that’s it.

There’s blood coming out of one of his eyes. There’s blood coming out of his ear on that side. The rest of him looks fine, except that it’s not moving.

I look to the door. His blinds are closed. I look to his bedroom. The light is off. If this is what passes for a condo, I think you’re getting ripped off.

I kneel by Sean. Instinctively, I touch his hand. It’s warm.

There’s Beth’s phone, on the couch, at eye level.

“Sean, what’s going on buddy?” I poke the palm of his hand. His hand doesn’t move. “Can you feel this?”

His eyes just move to the farthest corner of their sockets. I look behind me. No one there.

There’s Beth’s phone on the couch. All I have to do is take that phone and walk out. Jesus. My fingerprints are on the door handle. I’m a fucking idiot.

“What the fuck am I gonna do with you?” I say it out loud. I stand up.

Beth’s phone is right there.

“You’re a real fucktard Sean, you know that? Are you in pain?”

Sean looks from side to side.

Then what I said, I’ll never forgive myself for this, really, because the fact that I would say something like this is a real negative indicator of my personality.

I ask him if he has to work today.

He moves his eyes side to side again.

I don’t know what I would have done if he’d said yes. Probably the same thing.

I’m standing over him. “You know you shouldn’t be fucking around with my friends, right?”

I have the strong urge to kick him, run my foot down through his face, but I don’t. If that cinderblock is placed right, that might kill him.

I take Beth’s phone off the couch.

“I’m gonna call 911 for you. Okay. I want you to know that. Not with this.” I put Beth’s phone in my pocket. “I’m gonna get you help. After I leave here. Fuck. Fuck you for ever messing around with her. But I’ll tell you something else. She’s not gonna get in trouble for this. This is your fault. Your fault. I hope I’m making that exceedingly clear to you, you stupid townie fuck. Are you able to get this?” I’m snapping my fingers in his face. “Are you getting this? Is everything in there working well enough? You understand me?” I want to slap him but I don’t.

I can see in his eyes he understands. His eyes are moving fine. He looks at me, looks away. He looks extremely stressed.

“Did Beth leave you like this?”

Sean looks confused.

“Did Beth know you were alive?”

He looks like he’s about to cry. He moves his eyes side to side.

“Yeah, well. I’m gonna call an ambulance. From like a pay phone. That’s the depth you’ve sunk to, you fuckhead. You get that? The one person who’s gonna help you is gonna do it from a payphone, you dumb piece of shit. I might wait a while before I do it, too. Let you sit here for a while and think about that shit. This is what happens to you when you fuck around. Don’t fuck around. And let me tell you something else. Are you listening to me? If you talk about this, if you say anything about me or Beth or anyone I know..if you come to us..if you tell anyone that Beth was here, I will come to the hospital and unplug your breathing tube. If you say anything about this, if you mention Beth, I will come back to Ocean City and we’ll sneak into your house and you’ll fucking die. Do you understand what I’m saying? Show me.”

For the first time, he moved his eyes up and down.

I stand up, look around. Beth, you better not have left any other shit here. I see the milk out on the counter as I’m going for the door. It’s amazing how innate our thinking is; I have to consciously talk myself out of putting the milk away. I put my hand underneath my shirt and put my shielded hand on the doorknob. I’m thinking I’ll find a payphone on the boardwalk.

But I don’t turn the knob. I don’t open the door. I take my hand from beneath my shirt and I turn back to Sean.

He’s watching me, which is the worst part.

Even though the rest of him isn’t moving, he’s watching me as I approach him. He’s watching me as I wrap my fingers around the ends of one of the bookshelf cinderblocks. He’s watching as I lift it above his head. He’s watching as I bring it down upon him with all the fury that I have ever had.


“I knew that,” Maddy says.

“How do you feel about it?”

“Happy,” she says.

I chuckle. “That’s a strange thing to be happy about,” I say.

She says, “Is it stranger to do it or to laugh about it? Anyway it doesn’t count,” she says.

“It counts,” I say.

“I didn’t mean that. I mean it’s not your fault.”

“It’s exactly my fault.”

“But what? The guy has the choice of being paralyzed all his life or that? By the way, I really did know this all along.”

“You did.”

Maddy shakes her head. “You and Beth are just the same. You think you’re keeping secrets. You’re not.”

“I wish Beth was here so the three of us could get high together.”

Maddy smiles.

“And you know what else? I wish Blake was here too. If Beth was. The two of them had sort of a—”

“A fit.”

“They did. They fit. Not as equals. They were counterparts.”

“Let that be a lesson to you,” Maddy says.

“What?”

“Don’t lose your counterpart.”

It’s dark outside. It’s completely still. Maddy goes inside, turns out the lights, and puts a razorfull of cocaine on the back of her phone. She hands it to me and sits down next to me.

“Cover your nose,” she says.

“Aren’t you going to cut it?”

“Cover your nose.”

I do.

She holds the phone up. “Now sniff.”

I do, and my throat is burning.

“I’m gonna get you higher than a kite,” she says.


Beth’s phone is on the bed. I can’t find you guys anywhere. You guys leave the pool. I’m right behind you. Then the hallway is empty. You guys aren’t in the rooms. Everyone’s at the pool. I’m in 336. Nobody’s there. The TV’s still on. The balcony door is open. Sunny outside, cool and shady in. I can see the beach. These are perfect rooms. Check 334. It’s locked. 332. No one. Lie on the bed. Get up. Close the door. Lie on the bed. Breeze through the curtains. Thick carpet-looking curtains. Dark in the room. Beth’s ringtone. NIN. Closer. Pick it up.

“Hey sexy.”

“Who is this?”

“Who is this?”

“Are you lookin’ for my sister?”

“I’m lookin’ for you. What are you up to?”

“Do you even know my name?”

“No,” he says, “but it must be something pretty.”

I’m at the house with the middle finger on it. We’re still on the phone.

“I’m outside.”

The door opens. Smells like weed. Sean’s chest is there. It’s smooth. He works out. I go inside.

I ask him if he’s smoking. He asks me if I want some.

I’m wearing my swimsuit. It’s a one-piece. I’m aware of my legs. I sit on his couch.

He sits right on top of me and I push him off.

He’s right next to me.

He puts one of his legs over both of mine.

I let him keep it there.

He hands me the bowl.

“You first.”

He smokes. He hands it to me. I smoke.

Then we start kissing.

I wanted to kiss him. Of course I wanted to kiss him. From when Beth was first with him she was always saying he was “delicious” to kiss so I’m always wondering how delicious he actually is. I wanted to kiss him from before I went over there.

Mainly I was bored.

*It’s the salt of the ocean, the salt in the air, it’s the sun in the afternoon, you know how that is. It’s melancholy. It’s the same reason you watch TV or get water ice or, now, drink a beer or crave pizza. There’s no better reason ‘cept that space in your stomach? You know how that is? It’s not being hungry. It’s not butterflies. It’s a vague *dis-ease, a benevolent malaise.

I’ve been feeling that since I was a kid.

I felt it at camp when I was much younger, I always feel it in the summer, I always feel it at pools. Not usually when I’m in the pool, but right when I’m about to get out, sometimes..and always when I’m sitting on the side. Is it pools themselves? Is it associations I have to the chlorine? It makes me feel a little out of control. It makes me feel like taking a nap where I don’t ever go to sleep, just lie on the bed and smell the chlorine. Lie on a beach chair and feel the sun on my back. Put a book in front of my face and pretend to read. But don’t read. Lie there and think. Take in little pictures of what people are doing. Think but don’t really think. Do you ever do that?

That’s how I feel before I make out, or how I used to when I was younger. Maybe still a little now. Maybe it’s just the feeling of having swallowed a little bit of salt water, a little bit of chlorine. It’s weird. It’s some psychological feeling I get. Like being a baby. Do you get that?

I had that feeling when I was with Sean.

I know that’s sick but you have to understand, I wanted to be there. You can say I didn’t want to, but, look, I’ve had ten years to think about this and here’s the way I’ve come around to thinking about it. Did you want to steal those cans of Sprite? You might have had fun, you might be glad you did it, you might be proud of it, you know what I’m saying? Did you really want to go to Ocean City that summer? Or did you just go because that’s what happened? That’s just where we were going. Did you even really choose to go? No. You went because your parents paid for it. You went because Pastor Steve knows the owner of the Westin. I wanted to go to Sean’s place as much as you wanted to steal those Sprites. I’m not saying I wanted to in some grand sense. But I didn’t want to be at the pool. I was sick of you and Beth sneaking off without me. I’m not saying that to blame you. I’m not saying that. But it’s not like, instead of being at Sean’s house, there was someplace else I would have rather been. That was the best place I could think to be, at the time.

I took my clothes off.

I didn’t know what was going to happen. We took it one step at a time. Did he get what he wanted? Yes. And just shut up for a minute; I know you have a whole argument about how, psychologically, what he did is criminal, etc. etc. And that’s right, that’s right, twenty-four-year-olds shouldn’t have sex with fourteen-year-olds, generally, because with that level of age difference it can never be balanced.

But it wasn’t rape.

When a boyfriend and girlfriend have sex and one of them doesn’t want to—I mean isn’t in the mood—is that rape? No. Maybe in some technical sense, but no. That’s not rape.

I didn’t tell him no.

I didn’t tell him no because I wasn’t so not-okay with it that I didn’t want it. I would have said no if I didn’t want to, okay? I appreciate what you—and Beth—did.

And I’m sorry.

You can never know how sorry I am to Beth.

And that’s not your problem—that’s something I have to deal with—but when two people do something that’s not ideal for one of them—or maybe it’s not ideal for both of them—that’s not rape—that’s compromise.

It was actually great. I never felt two things fit together so perfectly.

He fit right in me. He fit right inside. It took us some adjusting to get positioned right. Then it was fine. And I liked his muscles. His combed hair. Very preppy in a way. I lied back, and I let him do it. And I closed my eyes.

I couldn’t look at him while he did it. Not the whole time. It was too much going on. I wanted to feel. I didn’t want to see. And he was strong in me. He pushed me. And I discovered that I liked to be pushed. Sometimes I opened my eyes. And I saw his hair falling in front of his eyes. He put his hands underneath my neck and cupped my head and fucked me. And once he put his hands on my ass and pulled me up. He had this look on his face like, “Ooo-wee, ain’t she a beauty.”

At least that’s what it looked like to me.

Boys always like cars. Or even better, they like a girl standing next to a car. I wonder which they like most. I’m attracted to shapes, too, but shapes are only part of a more total thing, a thing like a mood, but not a mood like an emotion. When I say mood I mean a thing like intuition, but not in the frou-frou sense that word usually has. It’s kindof like standing back from a mural, and taking in the entire view at once.

That’s what I mean when I say a mood.

Being attracted to shapes is like standing two feet from the painting and saying, “I like this.”  But I’m attracted to shapes, too.

And I like being fucked. It must be something natural.

It puts me in a trance. There’s something about me, when I’m getting fucked, that puts me—almost half-asleep I want to say. It must be like a pig feeding its young..’cause you know that has to hurt..and yet it doesn’t. Nature puts you into a trance, and you like it.

That’s not always how it is. That’s how it was back then.

It was definitely like that for parts of that time with Sean. Like being a baby rocked to sleep. You don’t even want to sleep. When your mother rocks you, though, you fall asleep. It’s like being on the first hill of a rollercoaster after they strap you in: there’s nothing you can do so you might as well enjoy it.

And you do.

Every turn and every fall isn’t where you expected it—it’s definitely not where you would put it—but you enjoy it anyway. You enjoy being scared. You enjoy thinking you’re about to piss yourself. You know you’re not going to die—but it’s fun to pretend that you might.

So all in all, I liked it. It was kindof like getting beat up, but with your pussy.

He sweated all over me.  My hair was wet when we were done. He took a shower. He invited me to take it with him but I didn’t go. I was lying on the bed, feeling myself, hoping he wouldn’t come back. I wiped the sticky into my skin. As I was lying there, I had that feeling in my stomach, the feeling I get before I go on a long trip, or when I’m nervous about something I can’t do anything to change.

Really my only worry was that I might get pregnant.

Beth was pissed. She wants to kill the guy.

“Well, she came pretty close.”

And that stupid bitch left her phone?

“Yeah. That’s the only reason I went over there. She told me to get it. She had me take Blake for backup.”

“You shouldn’t feel bad. She wanted to kill him. She tried.”

“Yeah, well. I took care of that problem.” I look over the railing.

Maddy says, “I’m sorry if this makes you not want to fuck me.”

“I still want to fuck you.”

“You do?”

“I have a very kinky way of looking at sex with you that will probably,” I say, “never go away. Not while we’re young anyway.”

“Because of Beth. It’s okay—”

“It’s not just because of Beth. Part of it’s because we met so early. Part of it is because of Beth. Part of it is just the way you are.”

“I think we should get really high and do sick shit.”

“Sick sexual shit?”

“Yeah,” Maddy says. “It doesn’t have to be that sick.”

“That sounds like a good idea to me,” I say.


At some point Maddy and I are lying on the balcony, having done rails upon rails upon rails upon rails, drinking Absolut and Sprite, hotboxing coke off the tips of her Parliaments.

“Come to Miami Beach.”

“I knew you were going to say that.”

“Then you’ve had time to think about it.”

“Like..come to Miami Beach?”

“Like that.”

“Aren’t there mosquitoes?”

Maddy nods. “Pass that.”

“This?”

“Yeah. Fuck you about mosquitoes. There’s mosquitoes here.”

“I heard everyone in Florida has nets over their pool and shit.”

“Is that why they have nets over their pools? I thought it was..I thought..”

“I’m pretty sure it’s because of the mosquitoes. What the fuck am I going to do in Miami Beach?”

“Work. Go to the beach. Feed me potato chips. Have mind-blowing sex.”

“And what are you gonna do?”

“Work. Go to the beach. Eat potato chips. Have mind-blowing sex.”

“What do you exactly do for work, you’ve never actually—”

“Don’t you worry your little head about what I do for—”

“That is quite worrysome to me, you know, I don’t want to get arrested—”

“You’re not. I keep everything..very..compartmentalized.”

“Do you think we would get along? For more than..you know..a weekend?”

“It’s been two weeks!”

“Yeah but I haven’t seen you in..your natural environment.”

“You got a taste. You saw me. You know what you’re in for. I think you’d be a perfect addition.”

“To your party.”

Maddy presents herself. “To this.”

I’m thinking.

“Give me your hand.”

Maddy has one hand on the balcony railing.

“Give me your hand.”

“Why.”

“Give it to me.” She takes my hand. She puts her left foot on the bottom of the railing. Her grip tightens. I’m holding her weight. She puts her right foot on the top of the railing. She shifts her weight. I’m holding less of her weight now. She puts her left foot on the concrete side of the balcony, on its flat top, and she lets go of my hand.

“Come up here.”

“I don’t want to.”

She gives me a look and almost loses her balance. My hand catches hers for an instant and then she lets go.

“The view is much better from up here.”

I look down. “Yeah, the view of a parking lot.” Chain link fence. A Saab.

Maddy’s looking straight ahead. “This is the way to do it,” she says. “What’s the difference, if you’re ten feet off the ground or two stories.”

My palms are sweating, more than before. I say, “I don’t want you to die.”

She says, “I don’t care if I do.”

“You might be about to,” I say.

She looks down at me and says, “You’re right,” and even that little glance downward makes her almost lose her balance.

She corrects. I’m not there to catch her hand this time. I try, but her hand is too far out. It spirals in the black space, lit by our hotel room lights from behind, and I can see the black ocean, and the Ferris wheel down the way. You could see our room from the boardwalk. Someone down there is watching this.

“Maddy. Please. One of these days you’re going to fall.”

“I know.”

“Do you want to?”

She corrects her balance. She’s looking down. Her left foot is solid but the right one, on that skinny rail, doesn’t do much to help. She brings her right hand to her face, scratches her nostril. This movement throws her, and she’s correcting with the left arm.

“Maddy. Fuck.

I want to grab her, but if I touch her she might fall.

“Please. Would you please..”

She’s catching her balance.

“Will you get my sweatshirt?”

She seems to have righted herself.

“I’m cold.”

Both arms are out.

“Get me my sweatshirt?”

“Why don’t you come down and we can go to dinner.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“You can watch me eat,” I say, and Maddy almost trips. She almost does it to herself and only barely catches herself—she leans forward, then back. Then the foot on the concrete edge stops her. “Maddy. This isn’t cool. Seriously. Come down.”

“I’m not scared. Why are you?”

“If you fall, I won’t be able to have dinner with you.”

“What are you having?”

“I’ll decide when we get to the restaurant.”

“I’ll meet you there.”

“Do you want help?”

“I don’t need help.”

“I can put my hands around your waist,” I say.

She says, “Just meet me at the restaurant.”

“Okay.”

“See you soon.”

“You’ll meet me at the restaurant.” I wait for a response.

“I’ll meet you wherever.”

“That sounds good.”

“Bye,” she says.

“Why don’t you meet me in the room.”

“I better meet you at the restaurant.”

“Maddy, you know what..”

She teeters a little and looks down.

“..fuck you. I hate to say that to you right at this moment, but do whatever you want. I hope you don’t die. I’m going to Zen’s for dinner. I’m having crab. I’m drinking gin. If they still have Plymouth I’m drinking Plymouth. If they don’t have Plymouth I’m drinking something else! I’m not waiting for your ass to order either! Fuck! I WISH YOU WOULD JUMP!!!

I kick the chair and I half hope that will make her lose her balance.

Maddy stands there with her back to me.

She’s going to do it.

I take my wallet off the coffeetable and go to the door. I’m having crab tonight. I open the door to 332 and I step out. When I pull the door to, I don’t look back and I close it very gently.

I’m not going back in there. I’m going to order shitloads of food at Zen and get so drunk I can’t remember my name. I’ll sit inside so I can’t look up and see the Westin. If Maddy joins me, fine. If not, I’ll find out after dinner that she’s dead.

My heart jumps and I’m frozen. Maddy falling all the way down.

Here’s a maid coming down the hall. This short guy. Pushing a cart. All the towels are clean. The cart is stocked with fresh sheets. He must have loaded it with supplies for tomorrow’s cleaning. Taking it to some storage closet somewhere. He sees me, and I look at him, like I’m asking for help or something. This is the guy who’s going to ID me. Once they find out Maddy jumped from this room. Or fell. Or whatever happened. This is the guy. I step backward, right against the door to 332, and let him pass. He gets a good look at me. The room is in Maddy’s name. But they’ll find me. And they’ll wonder if it was a suicide or if I pushed her. And this guy..I’ll see this guy again..in a courtroom someday, and he’ll remember this moment for the rest of his life.

I expect him to say, “Have you lost your key?” He doesn’t say that, though. I don’t look like someone who lost their key. He’s peering into me, trying to figure out what I do look like.

I can’t do this anymore. I can’t.

I can’t save Maddy, and Maddy can’t save me. I’ve said what I had to say. If I get canned because Maddy lets herself go over the railing, because we both have coke in our systems..well..that’s my life.

Fuck it. At least I came clean.

And all I can think about is the air, how still it was out there. If she lets herself fall, it won’t have been an accident. I should be there, reaching for her, clenching her, pulling her back. But then what? I can’t be with someone who enjoys making me think she’s going to die.

And somehow, in the catch of my throat, I know she’s not there.

So simple, horror. An empty blue railing, silent night.

Like losing your phone, except you never find it again. I’ll open the door. See an empty railing. No one, sitting in the chairs. The television on. No one watching. Hope she’s in the back. Check the closet. Bathroom: no one. Bedroom: no one. And that will be it. Nothing there to convince me that Maddy wasn’t just a dream. I came here with someone. I left alone. When I open this door, if Maddy’s not there..

The maid is at the far end of the hallway. He turns a corner.

When I look back the door is opening. 332.

Maddy is there. She sees me. My shoes are on. I would have left. I would have run. Hidden on the boardwalk. Found someplace to eat dinner. Then found a rental car. Called someone, never looked back. Left Maddy in the Westin. Forgotten all about that girl.

But then I would have missed what happened next.

Maddy, shorter than me. Maddy, eyes upturned. Maddy, small.

I stare at her. I think it’s anger. Then there’s something else in my spine. It feels like tumbling down, like a waterfall. I think that’s sadness. Or maybe..maybe it’s tiredness. Maybe it’s needing to sit down. Maybe it’s needing for this never to happen again. I think it’s being tired.

If I go back in that room I can’t have that ever happen again.

I sit. I sit on the Westin carpet. In the hallway. I look up.

Now Maddy is taller than me.

My eye is on her and she looks at my eye.

I think she understands.

She opens the door all the way. She stays on her side of the line. I stay on mine. The balcony door is open. The maid is gone.

Maddy goes to the balcony door. She slides it shut. She locks it.

She extends her arm. She opens her hand. She waits for me.

Then I take that hand, and I let it lead me. I let it pull me inside the room. I feel it on my shoulder. Maddy leaves the television mute. She doesn’t talk. She looks straight ahead. I almost sit down with my head first, and my head goes directly to Maddy’s lap. I put my head there. I can’t sit up anymore. For now it’s going to have to be lying down. And I cannot close my eyes. That would take too much energy. I’ll have to keep them open. I’ll just do that. I watch people on the TV go by. I watch it cut. One picture goes to another. Maddy’s hand on my ear, fingers, hair. And I can see her leg, plain, beautiful leg.

Maddy touches my head, and then my heart.

Then I look into her eyes.

And when I look into your eyes, it’s like there’s two of you.

And when you rock me, which is exactly what I need you to do, it’s like I’m looking at my mother. You bring me in and you bring me out. And someday the one who is taken care of will be the one who’s taking care. The mother one, the child one, the friend one. Circling around, each one part of God.

Each minute part of God. Each second part of God. Each step, each footprint, each toenail. Each sip of a drink part of God, each syllable in a name, each strand of hair, each cow. Each tear.

Nothing by itself, no ideal pear, no basket, no sentence is complete within itself. No person. No lifetime. No country. No science.

Not even a death is complete within itself. Not even going away is complete. Not even loss means something in a vacuum. It needs a sister and a friend. It needs a month to pass. It needs terror to follow terror, and it needs happiness to follow terror, and it needs terror to create terror again.

That, spinning whole, almost adds to the glimpse, comes unraveled, knits, burns, steals, breathes, and breathes again. Without it is nothing. Purple fabric, red and blue. The in, and the out. And clear my eyes, but not so I’m tortured..so I can live. And so can you live, and so can you.

And it will be terrible flawed.

And I will be a shadow

of a shadow

of a shadow

..coming back again.


Sometimes you happen upon a real journey. You always imagine, at the beginning, that these are excursions of the moment, excursions that will end. You start one thinking this is something you will do for a while. But a real journey is one-way. It’s a trip you leave for, from which you never return.