The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.
—Samuel Beckett, Murphy

It’s obscene the way she cleaned up. It was a mess. I was a mess. Covered, I was. And she came and, I swear to God, when she finished, there was nothing left. All traces were gone. I kept saying to her, “Wait a minute, slow down there, I want them to know—to see—the evidence.” But she didn’t take any notice. I called out to Patroclus in the house opposite, breathless: “Quickly! Come quickly!”

But when Patraki arrived, nothing was left. Nothing. I’ve tried. God knows I’ve tried. Once, I wrapped the turd up, oh so carefully, folding the edges of the handkerchief over it, and put it in one of those plastic Tupperware Ethel loves so much. I hid it. Over there, in the corner, behind the bed. But when I woke up in the morning, it had gone. Not a remnant. Who the hell are you? I recognize you. It was you who sent me the Romeo and Juliet cigar. And the monk’s bag.

They’re crispy and crunchy the whole year through. Jack Armstrong never tires of them, and neither will you.

They keep moving my things, the bastards. There’s a whole team of them. There’s what’s-her-name from Georgia and the other one who speaks a few words of English. Sometimes there’s a third one. Maybe that’s my wife. I mean my ex-wife. They keep rearranging my stuff. But once things have been shifted, they are no longer the same. Natia, or whoever the hell it is, puts this thing here over there, and that thing there over yonder. Till I can’t find them anymore. Things that have significance for me. Once they’re moved, they don’t have the same meaning. Things like the handle of my knife. The Havana cigar my daughter sent me for my birthday. Or the monk’s bag from Sri Lanka. They’ve disappeared. God knows where the hell they’ve gone. My pipes, for example—if you move them, they change somehow. I know it sounds like I’m a dingbat, but that’s not it. Not easy, getting old, you know. But what are the options? Maybe George Eastman got it right. One bullet in the heart and his problems were over; his suicide note said, “My work is done. Why wait?” Is my work done? What was my work? I spent too long trying to work it out . . . and ended up being a lousy market researcher, to put bread on the table.

I was drafted before I was even shaving; didn’t know my ass from page eight. I was in Tinian, the island. You’ve heard of it, right? Nothing but a hangar, a runway, and cane fields. Location of the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, when it all started to go balls up for the Japs and they lost 429 planes. From there, we sent Little Boy and Fat Man, along with the Greeting to the Emperor at 8:15 on a Wednesday morning. Necessary Evil, my ass. Cavafy was right: waiting for the barbarians, we invent the bloody barbarians. One day they are Nazis, the next they are Japs, then Koreans, Vietnamese, Iraqis, Afghans—and that’s just in my lifetime. Who will be next? Let me hazard a guess: China or Russia. I saw banzai, not the thousands that jumped into Saipan’s shark-infested waters or bashed their babies’ brains out against rocks, but enough to haunt me for the rest of my life. And hundreds of B-29s dropping napalm. There was this one day, fuck me sideways, when there was just me. I had to fight my way out. I shot three Japanese soldiers. Three. Then I cut the tapes of their engraved brass ID tags and gave them to my officer like trophies. Tell me, somebody, how are you supposed to stay sane after that?

Hey, hey, Suzie Q, what’s cooking with you? Your teeth look whiter than new, new, new.
My teeth aren’t new, but my toothpaste is. New
Pepsodent! Get with it, kids.
You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.

When I was discharged, I bought a ticket to Alaska. That was the farthest place I could imagine. Can’t remember what the hell we did. Salmon fishing? That was it—Barney, Johnnie, and I were going to hit the big time catching fish! I ran into a brown mother bear that weighed over three hundred pounds. She was defending her cubs; she reared up on her hind legs and came for me. I will never forget those claws. I shot her straight between the eyes. It was her or me. I’ve killed three Japanese soldiers and a grizzly bear. Another time, I was walking in the snow with this girl I was seeing . . . and I started to get frostbite. I couldn’t feel my nose. She grabbed a handful of snow and rubbed it on my face. A layer of nose-shaped skin came off in her hand. I came home at Christmas when my mother fell ill. She was born on a plantation in the Deep South. When she eloped with my father to New York, she was excommunicated. My father died. I grew up in Pop’s house. My stepfather, Dud, an engineer at Eastman Kodak, was around all the time, but it was just me and my mother really. Who the hell are you, anyway?

I met this redhead in Australia; we got engaged. I promised to marry her, but my mother had a heart attack, and I went home. Pops was dead already. My mother was still working as a secretary at Kodak. She was born in Rochester, grew up there . . . and never left. No imagination. We lived on rat’s ass and handouts. Not a pot to piss in, nor a window to throw it out of. Ethel and I were in Quebec . . . about to set sail for Europe. I called from the port to say goodbye to her. Found out she was dying of pneumonia. I went home. Amongst my mother’s things I found this newspaper cutting after she died. Carefully kept, torn and folded into itself, a yellowed article about a fireman called Robert—a court order to pay child support to a previous wife. This is all I know about my father. Yet I know him. Am afflicted by his legacy. He married again and had three more children. I’ve got half brothers or sisters knocking around someplace. Dead by now perhaps.

When I was thirteen, I was messing with a Lincoln, off Tacoma. Of course, I’d never driven. It was on an incline, and the damn thing coasted straight down into some old lady’s yard. Glided straight through her living room’s glass doors. Lucky she wasn’t in the living room at the time. Wasn’t my car either. Another time, I spent the night in Rochester’s science museum. It was a dare to sleep beneath the woolly mammoth skeleton. I was scared shitless and sat wide-awake all night in the museum foyer on a wooden bench. On Saturdays, we went to picture shows with newsreels, serialized cartoons like Captain Marvel, and movies like Tarzan, the Ape Man, Captains Courageous, or Little Orphan Annie. I hung out with my buddies, smoked woodies.

Look, here’s the new Band-Aid plastic strip with new super-stick. It sticks better than any other bandage. The proof? Take a dry egg at room temperature. Touch the egg with any other bandage: brand X, brand Y, brand Z. Not one sticks . . . but a Band-Aid plastic strip with new super-stick sticks tight instantly.

Rochester was the armpit of the world. A little nowhere place, where nothing happened, with nobody of any interest whatsoever in it. The only person of note was George Eastman. Eastman developed Kodak, the first commercial film-roll camera. He opened a school of music and a theater the year I was born. When they ran auditions at my school, turned out I had perfect pitch, so I got free violin lessons and joined the orchestra and choir. I soloed tenor on local radio and was chosen to sing at the New York World’s Fair. Boy, was that exciting! The World’s Fair was put together on twelve hundred acres of reclaimed land in Queens, where Fishhooks McCarthy had dumped the city’s incinerated garbage. It was a rat-infested, mosquito-breeding valley of ash till a few businessmen came up with an international event: Dawn of a New Day. The cataclysmic mote in their vision was the Second World War. They had to cancel the Navy fleet, otherwise distracted in the South China Sea. But never mind! There was this brand-new thing called TV. A thousand people across New York watched Roosevelt in black and white on two hundred sets. View-Masters made an appearance for the first time, electric typewriters and calculators. What a miracle! There was even a time capsule they buried with a Mickey Mouse watch, a Gillette razor, a Kewpie doll, a pack of Camels, and change for a dollar. What use they thought these items might be to humanity in the future, God only knows.

But the highlight for me was the pavilions. I discovered I was pig-ignorant and, come hell or high water, I would see the world. The pavilions were physical embodiments of how foreign governments wanted their countries to be seen by Americans. The Greek Pavilion was plastered with Nelly’s idyllic collages, a photographer in cahoots with the Fascist, Metaxas. The Japanese Pavilion’s motto was of eternal peace between itself and America, even as we geared up for war. I saw genuine European art for the first time ever—da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Rembrandt. A theater of Time and Space. And wandered through Bring ’Em Back Alive, Frank Buck’s Jungleland with an orangutan, six hundred monkeys, snakes, and a trio of elephants. There were even a dozen different girlie shows, from the artsy-fartsy Dalí’s Dream of Venus to the Hot Mikado and Billy Rose’s Aquacade. When the Bendix Lama Temple failed to draw crowds, they introduced dancing girls to pull in the punters.

Well, thanks for coming by. I really appreciate it. Call again when you can.


I am alone. Worried. I had an argument on the telephone with my son this morning. He’s short-tempered these days. I need so little—a bed, one shelf to put my things, a small room at the back of his coach house. I could visit old friends and maybe go for a drive to the Vienna Woods, for old times’ sake. But he’s gone all funny. Can’t be done, he says. Something about his old lady forbidding me, since the troubles. I don’t know what he’s referring to. Anyway, up yours, Charlie. Your timing is impeccable, kid. I just put yogurt in my mouth. Yesterday, you called just as I finished eating yogurt. Funny that. There’s less of a pain in the ass or more of a pain in the ass. There’s no getting better. Not wiser, just sadder.

When I was in the army, there was this guy called René Partons (we pronounced it “Reeny Parthoons,” as we didn’t know the damn difference). Anyhow, Reeny never washed. I mean never. The rest of us would shit, shower, and shave every day, whether we needed it or not. But not Reeny. Once in a blue moon, Reeny’d go to the sink, so help me God, dip his pinkies under the cold faucet, and smooth down his eyebrows. His socks were green, and he wore the same pair of polka-dot skivvies come rain or shine. Rancid he was. The barracks couldn’t stand the stink, so one morning we hauled him off to the showers, peeled off his uniform like skin off a banana. Bare-ass naked we pushed him under the showerhead, lathered soap on with a brush, scrubbed him down, rinsed him, and threw him a towel. My dear, could you pass me those pipe cleaners?

Hey, kid, how would you like to be the first on your block to own a genuine Jack Armstrong whistle ring, complete with its own secret code?

India. Now that was something different. I was there when they shot Mahatma Gandhi. India was exciting back then. Not like now, where the world is all one huge shopping mall and everyone eats the same burgers and wears the same jeans. Back then, people were real individuals. When I came back, I met Ethel, on a three-day voyage to Italy. We wrote love letters. She wanted to get married. Could have been anyone; I just happened to show up at the right moment. What a comedy.

I made that journey overland. Through Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. I remember these guys sitting on a truck of figs, white jellabiyas tucked up around their waists, no skivvies, balls hanging out; couldn’t tell the difference between their balls and the figs. I got dysentery in Hyderabad; passed out cold in the street. A stranger picked me up and took me back to his house. He and his wife kept me for a couple of weeks, feeding me, making me tea, nursing me back to health. Fine, honorable people who saved my life. Finally, I made it back to Australia. The redhead wasn’t interested anymore. The redhead died. The redhead was a lesbian. The redhead married someone else. Who gives a fiddler’s fart?

Yesterday, I saw it outside in the yard. The box. It was long, sanded smooth, dark wood. Waiting for me. All of it. Empty. I know it’s all in my mind . . . but try telling my mind that. “Bid us sigh on from day to day,” as Beckett would say. When I see it, it’s real. Besnik came by today, the first time in six months. He cleaned my pipe. I’m having a smoke, damn right. Where the hell did my pipe cleaners go? I told Besnik about the box.

Your grandmother, or your mother, wanted to get married. So we did. Only, her family! Jesus Christ. They were bizarre. Really peculiar. Always asking you your opinion or telling you theirs. Saying things like, “Chrissie wants to know what you think about such-and-such.” Frightening, for crying out loud. As tight-assed as bulls in fly season. Your mother thought frozen smiles and perpetual consternation were perfectly normal. She missed them when we lived in Vienna. We’ve lived more than fifty years abroad and she still refers to New Hampshire as “home.” Who are you, again? You think I’m soft as a grape. Well, guess what? I’m softer.

Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us. All we ask is that you let us serve it your way. Have it your way.

They’re doing the three-prong thing. Which is? I don’t know. The first one happened. Doctor What’s-His-Ass made all the arrangements. It’s an injection. You swallow it. You stick it under your pillow, under your armpit. And then you’re a new man. No examination. It’s like putting something on the table, that’s how physically involving it is. They stick it on your back. Up your ass. It’s just a pill; so harmless! The doctor loves it. I had it in my mouth for a while, then I changed my mind. Wanted to check it out. But today I was up for it. Now, I’ll eat more steak. I’ll let you know if anything drops off. I’ll send you a copy. Or a piece. Bye, bye, nice talking to you.


Ethel dated a whole raft of men at Radcliffe. There was John, the doctor; he was a good guy. Ethel wanted to marry him, but her father forbade it, as they were distant cousins. Then she went out with a Harvard medical student. But his parents told him to focus on his studies. So, he gave her up. Christ, what a soap opera! Then she dated Dyer, who was studying medicine. That was what people did in those days. Dated. She left Dyer behind when she came to Athens to work as a teacher. He was still writing her letters when we met. He didn’t know what hit him when he got the news. Marrying a foreigner? But it was her old man who went fucking nuts; he wrote to the Greek consul, asking them to intervene. Imagine that. Dyer hooked up with a nurse and went to live in California. Years later, they found his body on a beach in the Bay Area; Doc Dyer strangled by a junkie who he’d refused drugs, poor bastard.

Forty years in market research, up and down the UK, holding qualitative research sessions to find out what dish detergent Newcastle’s housewives preferred or which luxury car a Mancunian civil servant aspired to buy. You know those concentric circles on the Nurofen packets? That was my idea, borrowed from Tantric mandalas. Just looking at the packet made you feel better; you could throw away the ibuprofen! I pioneered market research in England. They’d never heard of it before. The Financial Times interviewed me—a two-page spread with a sketched portrait! Hot stuff. “He had turned, little by little, a disturbance into words, he had made a pillow of old words, for his head.” Sam was a genius!

If you don’t give your man 007, I will. If your man lives for excitement, give him 007. A license to kill . . . women.

Then I met Nina. You’d been born, and before that, your brother, and before that, your other brother. I had the whole kit and caboodle: a wife, three kids, and a marketing job. The full comedy. I was working in the States, some research for someone or other. You know, we have these hearts and they love people. When I met your mother, my heart went bleep and I carried her in my heart. Then we had each of your brothers and my heart went bleep, and then bleep and they were in it. You came along and bleep, another person in the soup. And then Nina, one more bleep.

Ethel and I were sitting there, once, in this restaurant; she was wearing a cap over her cropped hair, all these keys around her waist. And she laid into me: she wasn’t going to put up with this, or with that, or the other. Men should do this, or that, or something else. That she wasn’t having it anymore. She got up and stormed out. This fellow, sitting at a table nearby, came over and put half a bottle of wine on the table and said, “Excuse me, I know it’s not any of my business, but I overheard . . . and you might need this.”

This flat tire needs a man, but when there’s no man around, Goodyear should be. Why? Watch this. A tire within a tire. Keeps on going. Next time, give her a second chance.

We did our Grand Tour of Europe and ended up in Vienna. I wasn’t keen on the idea—Austrians being the “enemy” and all that. But we got off the train at Grinzing by mistake. The next day I met this guy, Charles, who explained I could register at the University as a GI and get a grant. So, I studied philosophy. I studied philology. No, psychiatry. I wrote a thesis on D. H. Lawrence. And we stayed at Charles’s Tel Aviv apartment the year after you were born. Your mother wanted to go up Masada, whose 960 inhabitants committed suicide when the Romans laid siege to it. So, we took a taxi through the desert, though it was hotter than a festering fox. It was midday, and the only way up was by camel. The driver said it was too hot for a baby, so we left you with him. Five hours with a stranger. You were still there when we got back. Well . . . we think it was you . . .

Our dearest friends in Vienna were Hedy and Otto, good souls. She was this huge brick shithouse of hausfrau and Otto, this wiry man. They were on the bones of their ass, even poorer than we were, but Hedy had a heart big enough for all of Vienna and then some. Otto was a little less kind; he used to say, “I was born a Nazi, I’ve been a Nazi all my life, and I will die a Nazi.” Frau Markgraf washed the boys’ diapers, took them for walks in the cemetery, and cooked them dumplings. She pumped their legs every afternoon at 4:15 precisely to make them shit. Then I went to India where they shot Gandhi. It was all so new and exciting to see people doing things differently. I met this redhead in Australia. But I guess things didn’t work out. At any rate, she married someone else. The redhead was a lesbian. Tempus fugit. Acch. Time flies. Fruit flies.

Nuts! Whole hazelnuts! Cadbury take them, and they cover them in chocolate. Nuts!

God! What is it all about? I’ve lived all these years and I still have no idea. Do you think they ask after me? I mean, do you think they ever think about me? My son could make a room light up. I tried to help him, God knows. But he didn’t understand. It was all toenail fungus . . . He said I interfered with his daughter. And so we became enemies. Most peculiar. I had three children, for Christ’s sake! Three. Acchhh. You’re one of them. You turned out okay; the brains of the eldest, the charm of the second, and a goodness of heart all your own. Third time lucky, champ. Speak to you later.


The first one showed up one day, sat there on that sofa. He brought me a brand-new jacket, new trousers and shoes. I had to put them on. I couldn’t understand why. Me, of all people, who’s never given a shit about clothes. Why would it matter? All these things we are supposed to do nowadays. So tiresome. Drink bottled water or else. Eat fruit. Every day, a banana! Fuck me! I never ate a banana before, why now, when I need it least? And the pills. Just to prolong this pointlessness. Most ridiculous is washing my feet. My feet! I never go anywhere. They’re my feet, for God’s sake. My ass, I could understand; I could hang it out the window and advertise. But my feet? What a comedy! Shit, I need to take a leak.

I go to the window: there’s nothing to see. It looked like that yesterday, it looks like that today, and it will look like that tomorrow. I look out at that wall, over there. Same as it always was. Sparrows chirp every so often. What makes you think they’re happy? Perhaps they’re chirping in pain. Chirping their little agonies out. Children play there. They shout, “Dorf, Dorf, we love you, Dorf. We don’t want you die. Even though you will. Goodbye, Dorf! We’ll miss you.” So, watch out; if anything happens, don’t forget what I told you. When you find the body, call the police and let them know, okay? You were all right, but you turned out just like your mother. Or was it your grandmother? Or is that me who’s just like my grandmother? Who cares?

I hear them singing. All the women come and hang their hats there on that piece of furniture, and then they go away again. Most peculiar. I wonder if they’ll come back. And the back window? I look out of that less. I look at my feet and wonder what the fuck for. Cracking ice for grandfather’s piles. Ninety. Let me give you some advice, blossom: don’t bother. Now, where’d my matches go?

Just remember . . . the pleasing mildness of a Camel is just as enjoyable to a doctor as it is to you or me. More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.

They want me to eat more yogurts with vitamins. My girlfriend, the blonde from Georgia who’s built like a tank, brings them to me for breakfast. And keeps giving me water to drink. There’s a whole bevy of them wanting to make conversation. Nag, nag, nag. I wish to hell they would leave me alone. Who needs it? Really. Life is too short. And blood tests. What do they do with all that blood? They’ve been taking it since I was in the army. What for? So, when it happens, they know exactly why. And the latest news is a fire in my bed. A fire in my head. All I want is to warm these bones like Sam McGee. I’ve lived ninety fucking years, and I don’t have a clue. I just want to get out of here now. My needs are minimal. “I don’t know why I told this story; I could just as well have told another. Perhaps some other time I’ll be able to tell another.” Samuel was right, you know—we’re all bloody alike.

I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company. It’s the real thing.


If I piss myself, it might be several hours before anyone comes, which means lying in it. Something is vaguely troubling me, but I can’t recall what. To do with my son. Was he here? Or was that part of the dream? Perhaps that’s why it’s so fucking dark and so damn quiet. Where did they all go? And smoky . . . wasn’t me, pal, though I wish to hell it was. So much smoke and no tobacco. Let’s swing my feet off the mattress and lever off the bed.

I can breathe out okay.

In is another matter.

This is the time, this is the best time, this is the best time of your life . . .
Open your eyes, life is a prize . . . You’ve got it made . . .
The world’s forward marching and you’re in the parade . . .

Cassandra Passarelli

Washed up on a Greek island, Cassandra has wandered between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. She completed a PhD at Exeter, where she taught creative writing. Cassandra has published stories in Cold Mountain Review, Ambit, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Cost of Paper, Exclamat!on, Question, Riptide, and Five by Five. Two new stories are upcoming: "The Big Hush" in Litro’s Sunday Story on February 5th and "Ready or Not" in The Lakeshore Review’s third edition.

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