Humidity suffuses rampant and Mac cannot find the right combination: defrost-cold then defrost-hot, windows down windows up, then the vent. In all circumstances condensation builds over the dash, scum on the windshield, impossible to see. He even tries steering with his head out the window.

Following the low numbers along Louisville he turns right at random, then slams to an immediate halt. The stop sign that's always there is missing.

While pondering the curiosity, he's forced to move to the curb hard: a Continental with brights on barrels down his lane, directly toward him. After it has passed, unrepentant, he spots a new glittering sign strapped to the telephone pole.

They have changed this to a one-way street.

Unfair didn’t even begin to describe it.

Why hadn't anyone told him? Nothing could make him feel so left out, nothing as personal as a change in the order of the streets, the flow of traffic. It seemed like some dark message directed specifically to him.

Whoever they are. Mac knew there had to be actual human beings who decided where stop signs went and what turn signals went before or after the green, but was convinced you couldn't talk to them. He had a picture of geeky wizards hidden away, inaccessible. Pulling switches and using two-way radios in some hidden bowel of the city--sort of like Oz in the movie he and John and Connie used to watch with fanatical devotion every time it came on--those far between Sunday nights.

Mac sits in the driver's seat, totally displaced.

Annie's place is down there, on Ninth. Now they want him to drive all the way down Eighth or Tenth to Roselawn just to get back over.

It makes him feel cut off, free to do what everything about him tells him not to do.

He takes a deep breath, glances around for cruisers, halfway sorry there's not one to make an arrest. Jamming the gas, he drives the wrong way down Ninth, forcing the occasional oncomer to the grass.


Annie doesn't say anything about his not having been back, which slightly disappoints him. She lets him in quite matter-of-factly, chewing something. Clothing sits seeping in the kitchen sink.

"I went to the blood donation place today," Mac says.

"Which one?"

"All of them. I'm not dizzy anymore now, though." He shows her the money, unfolding his wallet close to his right hip. Annie peers, as if over a precipice.

Annie says she has got to get a VCR. She receives many requests to replay scenery from specific tapes furtively presented from coat pockets. "You can rent players just like you can tapes, right? Even 7-11's have them, don't they? But I think they're pretty cheap anyway. Plus you can get one that makes copies of tapes." A good businesswoman.

The bed lies unmade, brown tide-like marks along the wrinkles. Annie turns the bedside portable radio down as she strips and falls back. Mac ventures over shyly, sitting on the edge of the bed at first, then stretching out. "You better get to moving," she says. "I ain't got all night."

"I'm going to pay you."

"You said that right."

A motorcycle goes by outside, loud, scaling its doppler drone. "Everything sounds backward now they turned this street around," Annie remarks. Mac seems to visibly grow sadder.

"What exactly are you intending to pay for?"

"I--uh. I was just thinking about laying here a while. How much will that cost?"

"Just to lay here? Like for a whore's hour?"

"Yeah. I guess."

Annie seems to be considering. "The normal."

Mac assents. If she’s surprised, she doesn’t let on. They lie, side by side, watching the waterstained ceiling, not particularly touching, other than mild contact along the thighs. After a while Annie covers herself with the sheet.

"Hey," she says. "That doctor woman--the one they said you found, I meant to ask you--had she been fiddled with? You know, molested?"

Mac waits a little while: "I couldn't tell." A commercial on the radio for furniture, no payment the first three months.

"I think that would tell you a lot, toward finding who did it. Whether it happened before or after she was dead. I mean, that would really be disgusting--an old lady, like that. But you're saying you don't even know if it did happen."

Mac doesn't respond. It's not clear if he's listening.

"They ever find that guy, your little friend with the funny eyeball?"

Mac replies disinterestedly, "I don't really know him."

"Because there are some people around who are totally sick, I am here to say."

"A lot of the guys who come to see you, they ask you to do things? Special for them, I mean?"

"What are you getting at? You about to ask for something weird?"

Mac waits a long time, obviously pained. Like drawing an embarrassed request from a third-grader. "Could you put your arm around my head?"

Annie grins, but slowly it fades: he’s serious.

She looks around, as if certify no one could possibly observe this. Time passes; slow movements. One tentative grasp, an elbow pocketing the occipito-parietal region, the other arm somewhat down his side, distantly proprietary.

Mac's body does a gradual release, like the uncoiling of a band-spring in some archaic piece of machinery. His arm shyly falls across her soft belly. Cars pass on the street; a child calls out plaintively for another somewhere nearby. Muscles relax in little quivery outbursts.

Annie's gaze falls vacantly upon the shifting red numbers of the clock radio.

Mac sighs, maybe asleep? The cars go by outside, weird-sounding. There’s a lot to do tomorrow, but she can’t remember what.

Annie's little finger starts to twitch. A joke occurs to her. She's marginally ashamed, with Mac in this state, but can't help entertaining the impulse. Should she resist?

She can't. She leans over the edge of the bed, fumbling through a noisy set of objects along the floor--props for various requested customer scenarios--reaching down and into her mouth, as if she's drinking or eating something. Mac lies very still, unbothered.

She has to wait a long time. When Mac finally rouses, opening his eyes, she mumbles "Hey, look" and the bulge in her jaw is manifest as a glass eyeball poised in the circle of her open lips.

Mac focuses, and his arm flies off her. The toy shoots out upon the bed and then to the carpet and rolls halfway across the room. Annie's laughing uncontrollably. Mac falls from the mattress, shuddering the floor of the apartment.

He's up, moving crouched toward the bathroom door, but doesn't quite make it before the early retches ravel upon the carpet, a stringy, sticky line toward the toilet.

The bubbly-tearing sound of involuntary upheaval.

"Shit!" Annie yells. "You're going to wipe every bit of that off my floor!"