A region where the visual is always infused with smell--a motionless thickbrown bayou and the vaguely salty odor of fish going bad in the heat.

Martin, riffing: But someone going on a shooting rampage in a mall or a brokerage is a cultural manifestation, not a political one. One that appears specifically American. You don't hear about it in Kashmir or Ecuador or Greenland.

No, Gayle said, you only get naked maniacs running through English churches with medieval swords chopping people up.

But you see, the Brits just want to be like us, they just have to do it within the confines of their resources, right?

And her: What about I Don't Like Mondays? Him: Still--that would have been inconceivable without the example of America.

More specifically, reluctantly describing to Gayle what he had been writing at home. Personal stuff, not for the paper. There was just the two of them, sporadically interrupted by the waiter, who made his time in the heat outside as brief as possible.

Martin. Why don't you ask me what I'm thinking.

Okay. Shoot.

The particularity of place. Being here now. The dirty bayou, how it's hot and buggy and unpleasant on the deck of this restaurant. The sun still up but low over the cypresses. A Friday evening, dead, dead. Why do they even have decks in this state? Nobody ever eats outside.

True. Not much of a window for temperate dining. It's hot already by April.

How long have I been here now?

A year ago in December.

Already the second spring? Seems like the fourth.

Gayle, in shades and a suit-dress, calf rocking on knee, brightly angling herself back into the conversation: And so the school system is going to prevent senseless mass slaughter by issuing mandatory picture IDs to be worn around the neck.

This is going to--how-- ?

By helping the teachers know which kids are in school. Who they are, more precisely. Who's physically on the premises. Because when they ask a kid his name, the kid says he's some other kid. So everyone has to wear an ID. Everyone's legit who has one.

Dog tags.

Right. Only the lanyards snap real easily, you know.

I do?

So when a kid rips one off another kid's neck it won't cause cervical strain.


What this has to do with stopping a kid with his personal AK 47 from waltzing through the hallways in the throes of Quake must be clear in somebody's mind, whoever thought up this ID thing.

The other extant patrons are behind the glassed panels, in the air conditioned area.

What's amazing to me is not that two kids decide to take out a couple dozen of their most hated friends with shotguns in a cafeteria but that it doesn't happen more often. The question is really: What is it that holds us back 99.9% of the time?

Maybe just a little cynical, huh?-- Martin, the roles reversed a moment, uncomfortably.

The waiter whizzed out their order and made a joke about if the etoufee wasn't hot enough give it a few minutes. Gayle was on the break between the 630 and 1030 newscasts, after which she had to be at the station.

You know, I can't really understand why you don't want to talk about what you write off the job. Particularly to me--who else could it be easier for?

It's just anybody. I don't like to . . .

I'm just anybody.

Not what I said.

Might as well be. Who's been griping you out at work? Bodie?

Nobody. He's not a problem, just have to get around a few 19th century ideas.

Not a Lone Ranger there, got a few Dickens characters around my cubicle as well. What, what's that book you're talking so much about, you like? The Invisible Man? The novel. The only one you read anymore.

A little cool: The Man Without Qualities, to be more precise.

The unfinished one, right? But somehow more comprehensive than Joyce or Proust. The guy kept adding, revising. Is he what you identify with?

Just a good model for a journal is all.

Well. Is that how you've been writing? In a journal?

A sigh. Yes. Thought I told you.

I'm sorry. You probably did. But hey, I remember this, something like it: "the simple creation of sentences, connecting words to alter the universe even if no one ever looks at them."

Gee, thanks a lot. Sounds pretty stupid doesn't it.

I didn't mean it that way. I wasn't making fun.

Thing is, I know you're not. Still stupid.

The sound of an electric trolling motor hovered from time to time like a returning insect, only to be drowned out by 18 wheelers on the highway. Whiffs of rank greenery tagged along the bayou's breezes.

Gayle shifted her shades further back on the bridge of her nose, making her eyes seem even more distant. Her voice was quieter. This was dumb. I don't know why I ever think things will be different.

Martin shifting, brightly: No, no this is a great place to eat, this is being in it.

Maybe it's you getting me in this mood. And this miserable atmosphere.

Hey--it's really not so bad. Catfish a'jumpin', pretty colors in the sky. The spanish moss.

Leave it to you. Had I been enthusiastic you'd be whining about malaria.

Unfair. You know I had my shots. OK, OK. Tell me what's really bugging you.

Martin. I'm 35 and I look 38!!

Naw. Not a day over 34 and a half.

You're such a son of a bitch.

I'm just kidding. Just making you listen to yourself.

I wish you knew what kind of jerk you sound like. Kidding.

You don't seem to know what I'm really like. You'd know I wouldn't hurt you with what I said.

Why does it hurt, then?

You've just got to start trusting my motives. Have a little faith.

Oh. I buy that at pharmacy, right?

C'mon. . .

Okay. I'll trust you if you answer me honestly. Why haven't we talked any more about moving in together?

The sound of the bayou, or: nothing.

It's just--we talked about it. We both have terrible places. You don't even know if you want to stay in this job. I don't want to get stuck in your house and you leave?

I guess that's what I'm asking you. Is there any reason for my staying here?

What do you mean? In a lot of ways, it's your best job, more money, a better crew, sharper newsroom technology, not as hectic as Des Moines. . .

Martin. Does it matter to you? Whether I stay or go? Is it a point of interest in your life?

Of course it is. Sure.

Well. Convincing. It's not one of the qualities you emote well.

You're going to piss me off.

You're capable of that? Heartening, I suppose.

Look. I've never been married. You've never been married. It's an edgy step toward.

And I'm five years older than you are. You've been thinking that, haven't you.

What about it? It's not like either one of us ever planned on kids. I don't think about that.

Thirty five is too old to have kids?

Listen to yourself. I'm miles away from saying that. I'm not even. Don't you remember that night at Christmas and my personal Top 300 reasons for not bringing children in the world? Doesn't have anything particular to do with you. Or maybe that's what bothers you.

I see. Maybe you're right. Down Syndrome, congenital anomalies. Scary thought, isn't it?


Not a pleasant thought, a two-hundred pound drooling blob of pale flesh and fecal odors strapped to your back for a minimum of fifty years, thanks to miraculous modern medicine.

See? Bothers you too.

They both wanted to laugh. But they didn't.