Marg dances. Old sagging bones shudder, rags as well. I opened my door for this?
I invite her in, but she pulls me outside. I don’t want to go to her apartment, but that’s where we are.
Marg is a hoarder. Every part of the apartment is full. We travel the maze, the bent old crone pulling me along, my shoulders hitting everything. I sit on a stack of magazines as she dances in a clearing.
Behind her, wires and screens. A keyboard. “You have a computer, Marg?”
She smiles a smile of black teeth. Then she turns and dives into the stacks of garbage, vanishing. On the computer screen, a simple question: “Who do you hate?” I go to the keyboard. There are so many options, but I put in the obvious one: Adolf Hitler.
Energy travels through space on boats made of straw. Fingers pinch the hull; electrons dance on the deck. Each destination is a purpose. Each purpose, a reckoning. A boy on a blue disc pushes a button, and a boat swings sideways, almost arrived. It started the journey a billion years ago, or more. He’s twenty-eight. Somehow, these things are connected.
Space splits to the side. I lurch against the frame of a bicycle sitting on its head. Through the hole, there is a concrete wall. A man slumped against it. A gun in his hand, barrel under his chin. I jump in, swat away the gun. Pull him through the hole, as the world behind him explodes in flame.
He’s crying. Cold. Curled on the carpet, hands over his eyes, because he doesn’t want to see. Behind him, the hole in space vanishes.
“Happy?” asks the keyboard.
I take him back to my apartment. In the bathroom, I strip off his uniform and put him in the shower. I clean him with my hands. Then I shave his face. Make him tea and sit him on the couch, in my bathrobe. Comb his hair, and this is what is going through my head:
“Who do you hate?” And then: “Happy?” As though these two things are connected.
That night, he sleeps in my bed. Holds my hand. In the morning, eggs and bacon, coffee. The radio, which makes him twitch. Across the table, he stares. I put clothes on him and draw him to the street. “Say hello to the modern world,” I say: vending machines and cell phones, electric bikes and homeless people. Firefly drones. Transparent metal. Schools transmitted through the air.
Dear Penelope. How do you get off not breaking my heart? How did you allow me not to fall in love with you, and then not abuse that connection? You’re still blond. Brilliant. Up the stairs I’m coming to you with my friend the dictator.
“Come in,” says a woman I never loved.
“I need you to teach this guy something,” I tell her. “Piano.”
The lessons start right there, Penelope the woman I never loved on a bench next to the man I hate. He’s got some skill. I sit at the window and listen, drinking coffee. Taking my time.
“He’s not bad, who is he?” asks Penelope.
“The devil,” I tell her.
We’re outside. What do you do when you’re not who you say you are? It’s a simple question. Because like me, you’re not always you. At times, you differ. You change. In the mirror, you morph. Your edges fray. Eyes glow, teeth grit. You’re cancer. Mocking terrible intent. And you’re free to roam. Destined to travel. Maybe you should board a boat. Row for the stars. Take this brand of motherfuckingevilbullshitaplenty to a new world, to other people. I’m in a park, with Adolf Hitler. Under a tree. He’s leaning on my shoulder, whispering about Jews. I tell him no, today and especially right now, I’m me the way I was meant to be, not the evil version. Pleasebegood.
These are days of Adolf and Penelope. I take them to dinner, wondering if she will figure out who he is. She sits close to me at the table, laughing. Falling in love. He’s eating chicken wings, sauce all over his face. Then we go dancing. Glow-sticks wave in the air. Ice crunches under our feet. We huddle close, taking off, drawings ourselves away. Falling in love. That night, in Penelope’s apartment, they do a lesson at the piano. We are drunk and not ourselves. When Penelope goes to the bathroom, I give him a hug, and his hands tighten around me. We are not ourselves, I remind myself. We are not.
“Who is he?” asks Penelope on the phone, the next day. “I should know, shouldn’t I?”
But I’m too in love to confess. While he’s sleeping, I go to Marg’s apartment. She’s not home, but there’s a sign on her door: “You want easy? You can get that anywhere.”
An atom snaps its fingers. A crown melts on a stove. I take him shopping. “I signed you up for a recital. You will be playing in front of many people. Mostly old folks. Rich folks. Do you know what song you want to play?”
He stares at me. It’s a woman’s store. We buy a red dress. Jewelry. Later, a blond wig. Make-up. Heels. In the apartment, on the floor, we play. Music blares as the phone rings. As the boat leaves.
The night of the recital, I take off his clothes as Penelope watches. “Why are you doing this?” she asks but doesn’t interfere.
On goes the dress, the wig. Penelope helps with the make-up. He walks, uncertain in the heels. Outside, rain. We share an umbrella, the three of us walking down the dark street of autumnleafspatter. At the auditorium, we go to the back stage and encourage him to just go. Walk on the stage. Show yourself. Be yourself. He walks, in that red dress, to the bench.
The audience is quiet, until he starts to play. A collective breath is released as a few hundred people realize that this person at the piano has some skill. A touch of beauty. A perception of music.
“Who is he?” she asks me again, but I don’t know. He’s love, I want to explain. He’s hate. Maybe he’s both, at the same time. I leave her and move backstage, into the darkness, as the piano music juts through my spine. Ahead, a rift in space, and a hand pulls me through. To what? This oxygen that’s not enough. A sun that’s too bright. Sky of orange, land of black tar. Around a campfire, I’m sitting with them. Explaining myself. Dancing, something I never do. Let me show you what I can do with my body, as you tell me why you brought me here: because of love or hate? What did you see in me? I’m there for a year, through a change of season. As they march on each other and shoot their dead into space, one camp against the other, a great bloody wave, and then another.
On the stage, the music has finished. Hitler and Penelope are outside, holding hands. It’s hard, I think, to think. When you’re askew. Uncertain. In love, and full of hatred. They are close, kissing. Whispering to each other. Together, but improbable.
At home. I’m in the apartment. Come take me, I tell the universe. Or just bring the two of them over here, so that I can talk with them. But the universe is hard of hearing, and they are in the darkness of a room. It’s quiet in there. Smells like vanilla. Feels like life.
There’s a knock on the door. Marg is dressed in rags. There’s a bruise on her cheek. A mouse trap on her finger. Still, she draws me outside. Sits me down on the sidewalk, and dances on a sewer grate. Weallfallhard, justgetthefuckup. “Who do you hate?” she laughs. Then, her voice in my ear as though she’s in front of me and behind, all at the same time: “Happy?”