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9. Duck-Rabbit


They came back, not in person, but on the juke box. The juke box was in a cafe on the westbound side of the highway. Once I had urinated, there was nothing further to impel me in any direction whatever. So I wandered across the glass-shelled pedestrian overpass, still dizzied by the physical sensation of something (my piss) actually leaving my body; I had contained everything for nearly twelve hours.

There was a juke box at every table. I sat down at the nearest one and fished out a quarter Id never had. I pushed my quarter into the slot and pressed A-1, "If You Want Some Food for Thought, Take a Bite of This," by Johnnie Abilene and the Haymakers. Out came Izzy.

"Put your tongue back in your mouth, Mel, this is not a drug experience," he said. Everyone kept right on eating, while Izzys voice spilled from the jukes. A lean, sunburned trucker with faded tattoos on each bicep was drinking coffee in front of me, staring meditatively into his own cigarette smoke. A few tables bubbled with tourist families, whom every twang and gewgaw set chattering. A very fat old hippie in tie-dyes and cut-offs walked in and leaned against the mother juke near the cashier; he scanned the listings, the families, the trucker, and me. Nobody but me heard Izzy.

"Can you hear me?" I whispered into the Wurlitzer.

"No," he said, and laughed. From the left speaker?Izzy was in stereo?I heard an angry cadence, Sarvaduhkas. "Okay, okay," Izzy told him, "Ill be nice. I couldnt help myself." Then to me: "The guy that just walked in, the zaftiger in flip-flops, hes from Sanduleak, but hes on our side. Just be careful about giving him anything of yours." Static. " in Memphis, I told you. Give me a break, Vaduhka; this is intergalactic stuff here for crissakes and after all you said and done, put me flat out on the run, now you think you got a mess of love to shove in my face?well, take a bite of this!" It was Johnny Abilene. Izzys voice was swallowed into the pedal string guitar. I seemed to get a whiff of Sarvaduhkas jasmine, then nothing. The Haymakers.

The big man came to my table. "Mind if I sit down here?" I shrugged. He sat. Maneuvering into the chair, he had to push against the next table to accommodate his gut.

The table slid back into the tattooed trucker. "Hey!"?as his coffee splashed onto the table.

"Sorry," my Sanduleak contact said, turning meekly.

"Just watch it, okay?" The trucker threw a napkin onto the spill, then lapsed back into samadhi.

"Sure. Sorry." My hippie turned back to me. "Whats your name? Im Gypsy. Im waiting for my sister, is all. Shes in the head. She takes a long time, I dont know why; she just always does. What did you say your name was?"

"Mel," I said. There was a floating astigmatism, like a skyflower before me, the kind that is pushed away by ones looking, so its never quite in focus. At first I thought it was in my field of vision, but the more I tried to sweep it to center stage, the more I realized it was a sort of thought. A name on the tip of ones tongue. A half-remembered face. An inkling, an intimation, but of nothing.

It was Izzys temporary. My mind-tongue stroked and stroked it with instinctive curiosity, like leukocytes casing a virus, something hard and foreign patching my mind.

"Youre looking at my beard," the Sandulean said. "Is there something stuck in it?"

Stroked and stroked it. My father was in there, Gone Joe. Stroking and stroking Izzys amalgam, it was Gone Joes fingers I stroked with. He was digging his fingers into Izzys bung, trying to flee my mind; the rest of him had vanished when I was two, left Mom and me at the gift shop in Niagara Falls. Only this shade remained behind, Gone Joes shade feeling guilty in the mind of his abandoned son.

If you fiddle with the tracking on a VCR, sometimes you can see another movie just under the one youve been watching. It flirts between the scenes, steals outlines, blurs faces, commandeers bits of dialogue, makes a lawn into a lake, a domestic comedy into a primeval horror?duck-rabbit. Gone Joes old, blue watch cap wanted to preempt Gypsys beard.

"Did I get some butter in there or something? Robins lay an egg? What?"

"No. Sorry. Youre from Sanduleak, right?"

Gypsys jaw dropped. I mean, it really dropped; it hit his sternum, then sprang back, like a bungee jumper. The whole thing took maybe two seconds, during which I glimpsed Gypsys real body. In there, behind the phony jaw, a yellow snake bristled and shifted. There was a gasp from one of the tourist tables, babble, then hush. Gypsy stood; his hams shoved back the truckers table.

"Goddamnit, you fat slug!" The trucker slammed down his coffee and stood up. Gone Joe had penetrated the seam up to his elbows.

"Im terribly sorry," Gypsy said. "Im just fat, see? Im big. Im clumsy. I cant help it."

I could see the truckers face cloud. It was a new one on him. He paused. He frowned. He said, "Aint you got no pride whatsoever?" He sat down again and mopped up spilled coffee with another paper napkin. He cussed under his breath, then said, "Just be careful, get it?"

"I get it," Gypsy said. "Thank you very much."

"What in the goddamned State of Texas you thanking me for, fat boy?"

"Heres my sister, Nora," Gypsy said to me, sotto voce. The most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life came right up to our table. She stood there next to Gypsy, with her hip in the cleft of Gone Joes chin. She looked impellingly familiar, but I was drawing a blank; whatever she had been to me was occluded by a sliver from Izzys bung.



8. Oil of Cloves | Izzy and the Father of Terror | 10. What It Feels Like to Be an Angel