Try to imagine this scene. It’s the end of a long workday. Feeling hurried and tired and very hungry, you dash into the local McDonald’s. A man and a woman stand in line in front of you. They are middle-aged, conservatively dressed, probably husband and wife. After they receive their order, they sit down at a small table.
People who are young at writing — and this does not necessarily mean they’re young in years — ask me, now and again, if I can tell them something useful about the task. Task is my word, not theirs, and it may seem a harsh and formal word, but before writing is anything else it’s a task. Only gradually do you learn enough for it to become a craft. (As for whether writing becomes your art — that isn’t really up to you. The art can be there in the beginning, before you know a thing, or it may never be there no matter what you learn.)
The cockroaches in this apartment have gone beyond all rational number — they have reached an irrational number. And they no longer wait until midnight to come out; they swarm after dark, at five. Ever since our visit to Russia in 1990, they’ve been increasing, and now they outnumber us four thousand to one.
I dreamt recently about the rundown house that used to be The Sun’s office: I was complaining to a young woman how disorganized everything looked — not like in the old days when the stacks of magazines and boxes of manila envelopes and extra rolls of toilet paper were all neatly stacked. But it was no longer The Sun’s office, she reminded me. Besides, she didn’t care about the old days.
My old dog lies on her side, the overhead fluorescent light bouncing off the silver table. I stand beside her head.
“Good dog, Tripod,” I say in time with my slow strokes. “You’re a gooood dog.”
She doesn’t like veterinarians. I’d blame it on the fact that a vet removed her right front leg when she was young, but the truth is she hated them even before that.
Cherokee had worried that Johnny’s top hat might attract terrorists, but they were lucky. He rode out of Lima with money in his pockets. He even gave Cherokee a fifty to hide in her bra. By the time the red-and-blue bus had crawled out of the gray city, the money had become a secret part of her skin. She decided she would lose the bill in case she needed it later, even though Johnny might interrogate her body inch by inch, trying to find the money. Flame, she reminded herself, not Johnny. Johnny was his name before he discovered magic. But Flame was his true name, his aura name, just as hers was Cherokee. It was the name she should have been born under, he told her when he discovered her at the Stop-N-Go in Lockport, New York. Even to think of their old names indicated a lack of faith, and she needed that fifty.