Jimmy explained to Gladys there might be future friends of Willy’s in need of a place to stay for a night or two, and Willy would, he was sure, be grateful if she could put them up, not often, just a few.

“Will you come too?”

“Maybe, sometimes.”

He never would.

“They might even help you with your home improvements.”

Which she’d never make.

“Well ok why not,” said Gladys. “I think it all started when they brought the interstate through.”

“What started?”

“Wrack and ruin. The Blood Throwing Lady.”

Sgt. Maurice Thigpin’s wife had divorced him after the infamous event at the Redding recruitment center, gained custody of Benny and Maurice Jr. on the legal basis that their father was a weenie.

Lake gave Gladys his Bronze Star, which he pretended was Willy’s, as a going-away present, which worried Jimmy— evidence, evidence— but Lake was a war buddy of Willy’s and the medal no measure of desertion. Lake waited till his duffle bag was in the trunk of the Volvo from Portland to put something in Jimmy’s hand, a Colonel’s silver leaf, torn threads attached.

“That’s not,” said Jimmy.

“Found it lyin around,” said Lake.


Jimmy shook hands with Gladys at the door. She watched through the venetian blinds as her daughter walked him to the car and leaned against it like a model.

“Will I ever see you again?” asked Mona. What a teenager.

“Don’t you think it would be kind of odd if people in town saw me? Wouldn’t that spook em out?” What a lame excuse.

“You’re not answering my question.”

“I’m not Willy, Mona.”

“You’re the next best thing. I mean —”

“Go find the real best thing. You can do it. You’re a terrific girl.” This gets paltrier and paltrier.

“And don’t come to San Francisco, I guess.”

“No, not for me.”

She pushed off from the car, swinging her arms in unison, headed for the house. A bent venetian blind snapped straight.

“Bye,” she said.


Her mom sat in the reading chair, Decks and Porches on her lap unopened.

“Will all these friends of Willy’s be Negroes?” Gladys asked. “They kind of worry me.”

“I don’t think so, Mom.”


There is nothing so grand, so American the Beautiful as a full tank of gas and fifty bucks in your wallet. Thank god for that offshore liberal. The Ford leaped over the Sacramento River, Jimmy entered the tao of driving, zipped past wonders of dam-fed irrigation, squares of John Deere green where water sprayed, and as if to prove the point, squares of desert where it did not. Jimmy’s father thought the Central Valley Water Project a triumph of mankind. Walter loved technology, believed plastics the second-greatest achievement of World War Two. Optical lenses, artificial eyes, lamination, plexiglass, lucite, cellophane. Plastic that when twisted remembered its original form, reformed itself. Walter’s son, when he thought of plastics, thought of plastic shrapnel devised to cause festering septicemia, gangrene death.

Cars on the other hand. Mercedes 230SL convertibles on the other hand. Pearl gray on the other hand. That one whizzing past him on the other hand. Ah.

Cosmo slipped into Jimmy’s trance, Cosmo in isolation at an address in Jimmy’s pocket. He imagined the address to be a summer farmhouse, stone and mossy in wine country, a Spanish pavilion with a view of a lake, a cabin on stilts deep in pines. He imagined Cosmo dead on the floor from a drug deal gone bad, dead on the floor of chemistry gone putrid, opening the door gun-in-hand to kill his friend Jimmy if he took one more step, weeping with relief that Jimmy forgave him. By the Williams turnoff, he’d exhausted the permutations of Cosmo, time to head west, descend into Napa County, put an end to secrets and silences or give them a name.

Questions rose and fell with the fencerows, tree lines, hollows, shaded farmhouses, openings of sky. Where was Dwight buried? What exactly did Lake do in Vietnam? Could Gladys be trusted or had he built a trap on the underground? Was Mona on the Pill? which had never shadowed his mind until a satiric sketch — Mona Pregnant with Suitcase on the Steps of 17th Street — yanked him off the road in a panic sweat. He stood on the gravel berm, breathed contemplatively, wet his lips with warm orange juice, shook out his arms and legs, spat in the dust.

And thought an odd thought: Dwight will care for her.