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At a stoplight, Terrence lifts his face from Jorge’s shoulder. Cheek hot, teeth ringing, nose a stiff ache.

The rain is letting up.

“Yo. You don’t gotta hold on that tight!”

Cars crossing.

“You hear me, bro?”

“Yeah, yeah,” and Terrence straightens. Getting his ass situated on the wet faux leather brings his crotch, for a moment, grazing against Jorge’s belt.

“The fuck!” Jorge jumps forward and the scooter tilts hard. His leg shoots out to catch them.

Terrence braces, pressing his face again to the briny fabric of Jorge’s hoodie.

“Chill, T! What the fuck!” and Jorge bucks Terrence off. Whips around nearly all the way. Locks eyes: “The fuck is your problem? Are you crying? The fuck are you crying for?”

“I’m not crying—” It’s all rainwater and residual. Frigid downpour, and Jorge’d driven the scooter onto the expressway. Merged into dirging traffic, headlight to bumper with a groaning semi. Cut in front of a sedan, squeezed between a lifted pickup and over-wrecked clunker. Anxious as through a labyrinth, leaving the rowhouses behind, white-knuckled for the industrial waterfront. Jorge’d gotten them shoved against the railing. Potholes, rumble strips, shifting gravel, and to their left, a fifty-foot drop to the swifter southbound traffic. Yeah, Terrence’d cried. His milquetoast little life flashing before his eyes, envisioning his demise a mashed muddle of blood, runoff, and oily metal. Should really quit drinking.

Tears’re welling again, blurring Jorge’s grit-toothed grimace.

Everything’s wet.

A hard pinch on his thigh—Jorge’s barbell callused hand, “You gotta fucking keep it together, man. I can’t do this if you’re gonna be a bitch when we—”

Blaring from behind. A woman’s voice, unrepentant, hollering: “Hey! You faggots gonna go or what?”

The light’s turned green.

“Suck my dick, bitch!” Jorge barks and turns forward to skitter through the intersection.

Roaring engine and howling rubber. Terrence hunches into Jorge’s back, closes his stinging eyes. He does not open them until his mouth fills with blood:

He doesn’t see the woman’s shit-green mini-van gun to change lanes midway through the intersection. He doesn’t see it swerve, fishtail, and disastrously overcorrect. Doesn’t see it flip. But he hears: The screeching, the thudding, the shattering of glass. Jorge yelling, “Dumb bitch!”

The world falls out of from under him when the scooter’s front wheel hits the curb. Flying an instant out of gravity, before the sudden rush of reality back to light.


He’d been trying to go home. Made to wave Julie over and asked, “Anyone leave an umbrella here?”

“No, sugar. Not that I know of.” She’s stacking glasses beneath the taps.

“Goddammit… Alright. I’ll brave the rain.”

“Good luck,” Julie chirped, unmoving.

Outside, he leaned against the building’s front, under the hole-pocked awning that displayed the bar’s name in a blocky, fun-for-all font. Hoping the rain won’t outlast the cigarette.

Lights up and hates it. Tight chested, could barely get the cherry moving to burn the paper. Cigarettes killed his mother, booze’s brought his father piddling and useless.

He’s heard enough stories, at the bar with folks dying to share, to know that there are better ways to ruin one’s time. Substances for proving that people are soft and moist and smiling. Knows that if he wanted to, he could be tasting the light of life in the bodies of others. He could find what flowers from the flow of hands and faces into salty, open hollows; release himself full to a short-lived, pure oblivion. Things don’t really have to be—

“Yo! T!” Coming around the corner, hooded and swift: Jorge.

Knows that if he sobered, Terrence’d have little cause for ever seeing Jorge.

“What’s good, T? You outta here or something?”

“I was thinking about it, yeah.”

“Nah, fuck that. Drink with me.” Jorge too leaned against the bar’s brick. Pulled his hood off and grinned. “Off tomorrow, right?”

“Day after…”

“Ah, whatever. Job’s bullshit… If you’re leaving, spot me a smoke.”

“I’ll stay for one more, I think. Wait out the rain.”

“Spot me one anyhow,” and Jorge jabbed his elbow into Terrence’s ribs. Always the same place. Long nights drinking and Terrence wakes up bruised about his mid-section. Touch is touch.

“Sure thing, I got a few left.”

Jorge took a cigarette from Terrence’s pack. Gripping it in his lips and searching out his pockets for a lighter, Jorge revved: “The fuck you mean a ‘few left?’ Damn near a whole pack, T. Don’t be fucking stingy. You got a job…”

Fire found, Jorge guided his cigarette into the orange wobble. Smirked, eyes the color of birth-mud against the flame.

His skin is rough—thicket of black hair giving over to the sparser olive plains of his unshaven cheeks. Deep rage lines canyoning around his eyes, between his brows. A greasy shine and gray pores. Tender pustules ravaging, densely packed and cystic, so that every expression beyond neutrality must be agonizing. But, he smiles so much…

Smoke chiffon over his face, “You heard from Isabella at all?”

“No. I don’t see her if you don’t see her—”

“Nah, I see how y’all were. Giggling and talking shit.”

“That’s not—”

“Bitch is ruining my fucking life.”

“You guys stopped talking like—”

“Six weeks, I know. Just in time for y’all to fucking fire me and leave me out in the shit.”

“I didn’t have anything to do with you getting fired, Jorge.”

“Didn’t have anything to do with me not getting fired, though.”

Had everything to do with getting him hired in the first place! Personal recommendation. Terrence’d said he’s a fitness junkie, well built for the gig. He’s a good man, needs stability. Whip smart. Can’t help how quickly he learned that if a box was dropped, whatever bottles didn’t break were dead stock. Can’t help it that he dropped a lot of boxes…

“—No big deal. I’ll get it figured out… Dumb bitch…”

“I don’t know what Isabella’s got to do with you getting fired, Jorge.”

“Ha!  It’s complicated, T. Wouldn’t expect you to understand. I’s only asking if you’d seen her and talked to her. No mind. Someone’s gonna have to warn her.”

Warn her what?”

“She just ought to know that if that little faggot she hangs out with keeps running his dick-sucker, I’m gonna fucking kill him.” He’d said it with an impossible calm. No invitation to respond. Rain covered the silence. “Lemme get another butt…”

“C’mon, Jorge, I—they’re expensive and—”

“Don’t give me shit if you’re gonna give me shit. Just say no!” Jorge stepped out, into the rain. A grin again. Eyes ivory and pitch chocolate. “I’m so fucking sick of this shit! No one, not a single fucking soul’s got any principles. Y’all lucky I got a good fucking heart! I’d have this whole fucking City under my boot if I was a worse man, if I was a man that—” The rest of the rant was lost:

A squad of police cruisers barreled down the opposite end of the block. Lights flashing, sirens wailing. Kicking dull wings of muck-thick street water up onto the sidewalk.

Terrence raised his hand. Brazen middle finger.

Jorge stepped back under the awning and punched Terrence in the shoulder, “Don’t be fucking resentful, T!”

“Fuck the cops.” Cheeks bitten against the blow.

“Fuck you too then. Coward shit…” Back against the wall, “I came by that pussy fair-and-fucking-square. All’s whatever in love and war. Bitches are bitches, but I can’t fucking abide by that little, limp-dick fuck saying shit about me. I’ve always said that like, don’t fucking disrespect me. I don’t disrespect nobody so don’t fucking disrespect me. The math’s simple. Talk shit, get hit. I don’t talk shit, I don’t get hit. Everyone gets love until they like, fucking talk shit and get hit! You know? I’m a man of my fucking word. I love everybody.”

“I’ve never heard you say that…”

“Well, I’m saying it the fuck now!


“…and that’s when we come to what must be, in my opinion, and I’ve read this book for twenty some-odd years now, but we come to the most human moment in the whole corpus of pre-modern literature. This moment here with King Priam and Achilleus, this putting of the lips to the hands of the man who has killed his—”

“Nah, fuck, gimme a second…”

A reprieve from the too-bright, shattered-to-gems screen. They’d finished their first round of drinks. Business had picked up. The bar’s loud then, Terrence barely able to hear the video from the phone’s tin-frazzling speakers.

Jorge’d said that it’d changed his life. Randomly found this professor guy, don’t know who he is, but it was a recommended video, so why not? Been sticking to the work-out routine, watching training videos and educational clips and these websites keep track of your shit, so figured it was worth checking out. Guy’s voice is annoying, like a cricket in the closet—purple-ass checkered blazer, bowtie; could use an ass-whooping, but still—he’s saying some wise shit…

Jorge’s eyes shined like TV. Finger on the phone screen, scrubbing through the video. “Long as hell, man. Motherfucker knows how to keep talking. It’s good stuff. Wait.”

Julie’s on her phone as well. Leaning against the register.

She hates Jorge. Told Terrence months ago with a ‘pry-no-further’ break in gaze. No way to know if it’s because something happened, or just a gut thing. Maybe because he’s loud and big and likes to cut-up. Rude and slams his hands on the bar.

Jorge’s said before, drunk as all hell and high in his charm, “I ain’ a gentleman, T. I fuck, you’ll find out. Gotta be proud of every piece of ass… except a fat bitch, ain’ never gonna say I fucked a fat bitch, even if I did…”

He’s a good man at heart. Terrence’d sober up just to have it heard said that Jorge is—

“Here. I got it now. This part, this is the shit.” Phone again in Terrence’s face, “I’m gonna get this bitch to do her job real quick.”

Terrence watched him walk over to the taps. Let his eyes fall to the phone. Thumbed the play icon: “—and this isn’t a theme that we often see in contemporary media, at least not in the way that the ancients would have it. Look, I mean, okay, let’s take a second and think about how alien this actually is! Let’s actually think about how nuts this sounds! I mean, gracious, a few millennia and these ideas have become so diluted, so meaningless that when we confront it, it all seems so—”

“Excuse me!” Jorge taunting singsong.

Terrence looked up to find him stretched across the bar top, waving his hands.

“Yo! Julie! What’s the fucking—?”

“You ever say please?”

“The fuck?” Palms up, “Woah, woah, Missy… What’s the—?”

“Just don’t be fucking rude to me!”

“Rude? You were being rude, hon…” Backing away, gleaming a shit-eater, “We’re just down there waiting on a drink and you, I don’t know, got something real important on that—”

“Fuck you, George.” Phone down, “What do you want?”

“May I please get another—”

Like a memory being made—that fucking grin.

The video’d kept playing: “But, listen, when Achilleus kills Patroklos, I mean Hektor, Hektor kills Patroklos, so Achilleus must, you know, kill Hektor! There is no room for debate! It’s beautifully simple… Does that make it right? Killing? Maybe not! But it does, for Homer, make things right! It sets in order the whole state-of-affairs! It’s all about maintaining an equality of moral exchange. Fate-for-fate, look… the ancients of the Indian sub-continent have the right-action—the dharma, but the West, the Greeks anyway, have honor and glory. What we’re talking about here is—”

“Good stuff, right?” Jorge returned to his seat. Slid a beer over to Terrence, “I put it on your tab.”

Terrence paused the video, “Yeah it’s—”       

“I don’t know, the guy makes a lot of sense. I dig it…” Eye to eye then. There’s a beg about Jorge’s cheeks. Mouth twitching beneath the beard, like it wants to say something. Like he’s waiting for Terrence to say it instead. The answer to an unasked, hopefully implicit, question.


“Where the fuck are you going?”

Terrence’s stepped out of the bike lane and into the street. Rain’s stopped. Traffic is piling. The folks at the front are getting out of their cars.

Broken glass glitters the wet asphalt.

“Yo! We gotta go! This motherfucker starts his set in like half an hour! I want him to look me in the fucking eye!”

The pain’s settling. Shoulder dulling. Tongue swimming in blood. Terrence spits a crimson jet. A tooth, a piece of one, pops through his lips. Caught in a glob of mucus, it dribbles from his chin.

The woman in the van is screaming. She’s upside down, face slashed. Hands to her chest, shaking and stiff like they’re broken. The steering wheel airbag deflates, burgundy smear over its distended surface.

Radio playing—a soaring pre-chorus.

“Yo! Are you fucking listening to me?”

Jorge grabs Terrence by the shoulder.

There’s not a thought in the throb. Not an inkling in the coppery clatter of his mouth. There’s only the turn. Only the fist: fast, everything behind it.

Knuckles implacable at the give of cartilage.

A thick gout. Jorge falls. A crumple with pissed jeans.

Terrence turns toward the van. Obscured now by a small crowd.

He pushes through. Heart thrumming, fist in its ball.

Stoops to look in the window.

The music is loud. The woman is screaming. Eyes pearly against the crusting burgundy on her face.

Shock at it all. At the gathered mass. At the song sinking into its meditative bridge.

Her hands reach up to her lap and set to fumble with the seatbelt latch.

A voice out from the crowd’s dumb murmur: “Woah, woah, lady! Hold on! Hold on! Don’t do—!”

But she does. And she falls to the roof. All her weight at once. A fleshly wet crack and she is still.

The song on the radio is going into its final chorus.

The crowd—wail and gasp.

Then, a quickened quiet, and Terrence hits the ground:

All the wind gone. Cheek pressed to glass and street. The pummel falls.

“Goddamn son of a bitch!” Between the fists. “Fucking hit me, you piece of shit!”

Hard and heavy. Before Terrence can catch his breath, something in his face snaps and sloughs. Before he can raise a limb, seizure grips him. Fists raining down dropped bricks. Curse and gurgle and teeth breaking to pebble. Mashed muddle of blood, runoff, and oily metal.

Through a hazed pinhole, Terrence looks on as Jorge swings. His nose is bleeding, but under the blood his skin is rough—thicket of black hair giving over to the sparser olive plains of his unshaven cheeks. Deep rage lines canyoning around his eyes, between his brows. A greasy shine and gray pores. Tender pustules ravaging, densely packed and cystic, so that every expression beyond neutrality must be agonizing. But, he smiles so much…

The song is ending.

A heavy bell in the dark rings Terrence blind.