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March 3, 2014

In the bedroom a dressing table, a vanity with a three panel mirror, the sides folding inward, closing to cover the center panel.  The two sides with drawers higher than the center:  both sides are crowded with candles, not votive but all sizes of decorator candles, some scented and some not.  In ironwork holders and plated wire holders, saucers and bowls and punctured tin lanterns.  Tapers and birthday candles too, but mostly thick, sturdy candles sitting atop the ridged, melted remains of their predecessors.  To the right in the wax forest was a framed 8 by 10 black and white photo of a man in VA pajamas and robe smiling painfully into the camera.
No other furniture but a cot.  The floor covered with straw mats.  On the wall a thin, hide-covered drum, beaded rattles, a crow’s wing and posters, pictures, some framed and some cut from magazines, of Buddha and saints and popes and Hindu dieties, thunderbirds and ravens and Mother Teresa. The girl pulled the mirror open and saw it was pasted over with pictures of oriental girls, smiling advertising and pin up girls; some cut out carefully, others torn from the page, completely covering the glass of all three panels.  Some holding toothpaste or soy drink or lipstick, others posing by cars or with children.  Some in bathing suits, a couple nude.
The girl looked at them all for a bit, then threw her duffle on the cot and unzipped it.  She pulled underwear, a sweater, jeans and socks and laid them out.  With quiet urgency she stripped, washed herself quickly with wet wipes, then dressed and stuffed her dirty clothes in the duffle,  slung it over her shoulder.  She stood for a moment, in the room before the mirror, before she opened the door and went back to Ladykiller.
“So how crazy are you?”
“I get a pension for it.”
“I mean, what’s with that stuff in the bedroom.  I mean, do I have anything to worry about?  Are you really fucking crazy?   Bodies in the crawl space crazy?”
“No, I don’t do that.  You mean the shrine?”
“That’s a shrine?”
“It is.”
“With all those pictures, all those pictures of girls?  I mean, you know, that’s the kind of thing the hack and sack boys do, have shit like that with candles and shit.”
“Really?  I’m crazy I guess, the docs say I am, but I’m not a serial killer.  I’m only crazy in spurts.  Psychotic episodes, but all that is, I see things and go into a sort of coma, like a coma.  I sit in a chair or lay on a cot and am out of it for a while.  Have to go into the hospital until it passes.  Rest of the time I’m just an old drunk guy.  Don’t kill people, not anymore.”
“Not anymore?”
“In the war.  I killed people in the war.”
“Jesus.  Why do you say it that way?  That’s different.”
“No it’s not.”
“All the women, all the Asian women.  Who are they?”
“They’re just pictures, out of magazines, calendars.  They remind me of a lady I ran into a long time ago.  Got no picture of her, but those pictures remind me of her.  I’m calling her lady, she was probably 14 or 15 when she died, in the war.  I remember her and use the pictures to remind me.  She was a victim, like you.”
“What do you mean?  I’m not a fucking victim.”
“Oh yes.  Oh yes.  We all are.”
“Fuck that, fuck that shit.  A fucking shrine huh?  You hold meetings in there or something?”
“I pray.”
“Like to God?”
“I don’t believe in God.”
“Not in any god?”
Jen grinned at him.
“You mean you don’t see his work around you?”
“What I’ve seen, this life in this world.  If it’s God’s work than I want nothing to do with him.  Such a God is to be denied.  I’ll not pray to Him.”
“Then why pray?  Who to?  Why pray at all?”
“To the lady.  I don’t know.  I’m compelled to, hoping she’ll have luck wherever she is.  Praying for good fortune, for her and the others.  It seems to me that good intentions, that focusing good will, taking the effort must be worth something, even if nobody’s listening.  Making the effort is important.  Maybe that’s all you can do, try in spite of everything.”
“Who turned you on to that?”
“Nobody.  I picked it up somewhere, the idea.  Things go wrong so often, no matter how hard you try.  Shit happens.  You plan an action to minimize casualties, but someone doesn’t hold up his end, or there’s a misunderstanding, a fuck up, somebody’s late or somefuckingsomething and your plan kills more than if you did it the hard way in the first place.  I’ve wanted to just quit so often.  You know.  What’s the use?  It always gets screwed up.  Guess I had to come up with something, to keep from killing myself, some little thing.”
“What did you come up with?”
“That good intentions matter, even if it all goes to shit.”
“So who’s the dude?”
“What dude?”
“The guy in the picture.”
“Oh yeah.  Guy I knew.  We were both patients in the psych ward.  He was a combat photographer, talked about when he showed up, with a camera, in village sweeps, he showed up with that camera and the bullshit stopped.  The meanness.  Guys about to do some girl see the camera and walk away.  The camera, making a record of it, that made a difference.  Guy said a camera makes people think about what they’re doing.   They reconsider, relent, like taking a picture of a thing makes it real somehow.”
“This guy, he saved people with his camera?  Just by being there?”
“Yeah.  Him and his camera.”
“If he was saving lives how come he ended up in a psych ward?”
“He couldn’t be everywhere.  Hard as he tried.  Got brain fucked thinking about all the places he didn’t get to.”
“Your pension from the V.A.?”
“Me too, well I will.  The paperwork’s going through.”
“Where you live, now?”
“Here and there, wherever.  Get my check, I’ll get a place.”
“Where’s your family?”
“They’re in El Paso.”
“You don’t want to go there?”
“No, we don’t get along too well anymore.  Especially my dad.  He never kicked me out, but it was close.”
“Why’s that?”
“Too many boys, too much partying.  He thought I was a slut.”
“You know how it is.  We make pretty babies, but then we grow up and, oh shit, you’ve got a gook in the house.  You forget the little slant eye’s going to grow up into a fucking slopehead.  And I did give him plenty of reason.  He’d been in Korea, in the Army.  All he knew of Korean women were the base hookers.  Figured I’d be the same.  He expected it so I gave it to him.”
“How long till you get your check?”
“I don’t know.  You know the government.  Now they tell me I need a mailing address, before I can get the check.  Can’t use a post office box.”
“You don’t have one?”
“Not now.  Was with a guy but he, you know, turned out to be like any guy.  Fuck him.”
“You can use mine, just make out a card at the post office.”
“I thought about asking you, didn’t know.”
“Why not?  Doesn’t cost me anything.  You can stay here, you know, when you need a place to sleep.  I won’t bother you.”
“Maybe I’ll bother you.”
“Nothing much bothers me as long as the booze and cigarettes hold out.  Shit, we’re both vets.”
“You sleep in there?”
“Mostly I sleep right here in my recliner.  One of man’s great inventions, this thing.  You can have the bed. I don’t know if you’ll be able to sleep.  I usually leave the light and TV on all the time.”
“I’m like you Jack.  Enough booze and I’ll sleep anywhere.  I like a light too.”


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