The sick summer flowers startle me with the stench of death.

By August a third of Strawberry is dead.

The first lesions start on the hands and face, small patches, soft and pale.

Sunday morning Mortimer spends almost an hour in front of the mirror.

He finds that he’s afraid of the things he’s always loved: the long walks out to the beach, the cool green water where he’d walk out up past his knees, the wonderful and silent mysteries of the woods, the walk home again through the small and charming town of Strawberry.

But most of all he’s afraid of other people.

By the afternoon the full sun and cloudless sky make the heat unbearable.

Outside there is no breeze. The air is stagnant and humid. The sky is sickly pale blue. The few people outside look tired to death.

Out beyond the town square into the surrounding little woods, the trees give nothing away. Occasionally he passes a carcass.

Past the woods and out to where the beach separates Strawberry from the world, the green bay waters give nothing away. The beach stinks of dead fish washed ashore.

Mortimer wades into the water dizzy. His relationship with the world hasn’t felt the same for weeks. Terrified or not, he needs to talk to someone.

Back in the small town square of Strawberry the few people outside look tired to death. An old woman in black looks like she’s dying of thirst; she’s afraid to drink the water; the sound of crying children comes loud through closed windows of depressed looking apartments; a bedlamite dressed in rags is standing on the corner screaming. For the first time ever Mortimer thinks he’d prefer the company of drunks.


They’re not letting anybody leave.

I know, says Mortimer.

And they’re not letting anybody come in.

Who the hell would want to?

Christopher has frequented this same bar for as long as Mortimer can remember. Only casual bar acquaintances they’ve never been good friends; terrified or not, he needs someone to talk to.

What do you think it is? Mortimer asks him.

The hell should I know?

How many people have died? Do you know?

I don’t think it’s all that many.

Not that many, huh?

Just a few of the unlucky ones.

Mortimer lets his sleeves slide up over his hands.

Are you afraid?

If it gets me, it gets me, says Christopher. We all have to die somehow or another anyway.

People say it’s the plague.

What do people know?

The bar is empty; the bar is bright, the summer sun comes heavily through the windows and the ceiling lights are on. Fans turn lazily around defeated. Christopher looks intent on something for a little while.

They’re saying not to drink alcohol, he says.

I know, says Mortimer.

But everyone’s too afraid to drink the goddamn water, so what’s the harm in a little beer?

Mortimer shrugs. We’ve been sectioned off, he says.


So what if we’re all doomed to die here like this?

Shit, I don’t know. Can they do that?

Maybe they have to.

Yeah. Christopher orders another. He looks out the window where the heat is visible in blurry nauseating waves.

Shit, it’s like I said before. If it gets me, it gets me.

What do you think started it?

Neither of them says anything. The bartender brings Christopher’s beer.

Fucking Strawberry, says the bartender, and walks off.

I don’t know, says Christopher.


Out in the street again there’s a girl crying in a doorway. Death and alcohol make Mortimer bold.

Is there anything I can do? he asks her.

When she looks up her face is pale and she looks old for a girl so young. She doesn’t say anything.

Mortimer sits down next to her.

Go away, she says.

What do you think started it?

She starts crying again.

Mortimer puts a hand on her shoulder.

Don’t touch me, she says.

I just wanted to help.

For your own good. She looks up at him and pulls back her sleeve. It’s covered with lesions. I’m infected, she says.

They say they don’t think it’s contagious.

Then why can’t we leave? And why can’t anyone come in?

Precautionary, Mortimer says not believing himself. The heat is making him dizzy again.

My mother died from it yesterday, the girl says.

I’m sorry.

I’ve seen it, she says. It’s contagious.

What’s your name? he asks her.

Does it matter?

We need friends now more than ever.

The girl looks up squinting at the sick blue sky. Mary.

My name’s Mortimer.

I don’t care. I don’t need any more friends and neither do you.

They don’t say anything for a little while. The street is dull with the sound of sobbing and fighting and fear.

Won’t you go away? Do you want to catch it too?

I think we’re all going to die here, says Mortimer.

Please leave me alone.

Mortimer touches Mary’s arm. She looks over and sees his hand.

You see? I’m infected too.

It feels like it gets very quiet on the street all of a sudden. Christopher is coming out of the bar with a bold stagger. Mortimer watches him walk off towards Southport.

When he looks back at Mary she’s smiling, looking far away and straight ahead.


By early October half of Strawberry is dead.

The infection’s spread from families to friends to relatives to acquaintances. Corpses in houses are left in bed; sanitation units come for bodies in the street.

The lesions cover all of Mortimer’s arms and chest. They run in soft pale splotches up his neck.

Mary’s condition is worse: the lesions on her are thick and putrid. They cover her breasts, neck, face and upper torso. She’s weak all the time; Mortimer stays with her all the time. She’s afraid all the time.

Sometimes he goes to talk to Christopher at the bar. Christopher’s healthier than Mortimer, but he has lesions all up his arms. He drinks more heavily than ever.

We’re all gonna die here Mortimer, he says.

I know.

Why Strawberry? he says.

I don’t know.

You’d think New York or L.A. or something.

I know.

Why Strawberry? he says.

I don’t know.

By late evening Christopher is incoherent. The kind of terror Mortimer sees in Christopher’s face makes his greatest fear that others see him the way that he sees them.

Out into the cool autumn evening he can see in the faces of the people on the street the dead hope that the cool weather will kill the plague. The leaves strike him as symbolic.

On Sunday morning he goes with Mary out into the desolate Strawberry streets. The town square is cold and black and red. Already dead bodies are lying in corners of doorways like the homeless in cities.

Out past the town square they go to the little woods surrounding Strawberry where the leaves are all of fall’s myriad colors.

Mary holds onto Mortimer’s arm.

The woods give nothing away, she says.

The carcasses, he says.

But if you ignore them.

Yes. If you ignore them.

Out past the brittle leaves and carcasses onto the beach, the stench of the dead fish is so thick that Mary gets sick. She vomits on the pale shores where the cold waters rush with carnage.

Mortimer cries.

I’m fine now, she tells him. It was just the smell is all.

Aren’t you afraid? he asks her.

Yes, she says.

Christopher says we’re all going to die.

Mary sits down on the beach. She feels drowsy. We probably will, she says.

What do you think started it?

The unanswerable question again, she says.

It’s the only question Christopher has anymore.

Mary lifts herself into Mortimer’s arms. I know. That question is probably the only thing Christopher has anymore at all. She laughs. Except maybe his drinking.

It’s not funny, Mortimer says.

I know. I can’t help it.

He smiles at her. Neither can I.

She slides back down onto the beach. I’m going to die first you know, she says.

Why are you talking about this?

Because it has to be talked about.

How do you know you’ll be first anyway?

Mortimer, I’m serious.

He doesn’t say anything.

I might not make it through the month. I’m weak all the time.

Mortimer doesn’t say anything.

The beach is alive with the sound of waves and the stench of rotting flesh.

I’ll come down here and drown myself if you die first, he says.

I don’t want you to do that, says Mary. I want you to see if you can survive it.

We’re all going to die here Mary.

Maybe, she says. But we don’t even know what it is. What if the winter kills it?

I wouldn’t want to go on anyway.

Promise me, she says.

But I wouldn’t want to go on.

Promise me, she says.

I can’t.


By January three quarters of Strawberry are dead.

The warm and wet yellow snow covers corpses left dead in the road. The sanitation units don’t come anymore. Apartments are burned down regularly. Suicides are frequent.

Mortimer has lesions covering his entire body. He’s weak all the time. He’s with Mary all the time. She’s in bed all the time. She’s dying; she’s dying slow.

Mostly she’s delirious.

The cold wet streets of Strawberry are always deserted. The roads and building are falling into putrid disrepair. The town square is peopled by corpses; empty stores are peopled by corpses; restaurants and bars are peopled by corpses. Mortimer goes sometimes to talk to Christopher.

Christopher is sick, sick to death, worse than Mortimer, always weak. The lesions cover his face and body. They’re thick and scaly. They peel off in flaking silver scabs onto the floor.

The bartender lies dead where he dropped weeks ago.

Why don’t you get out of here Christopher, Mortimer says to him.

What’s the use?

Mortimer doesn’t know what to say.

Christopher leans forward and pours himself another drink from the tap.

Turns out to be something of a boon, this plague, he says through a breaking smile. Been drinking free for weeks.

He laughs. Mortimer tries to smile.

Still haven’t lost the drunkard’s sense of humor at least, Christopher mumbles.

Why don’t you get out of here Christopher?

Christopher doesn’t say anything.

These long silences are uncomfortable and frequent, but Mortimer doesn’t mind them.

What do you think happens? Christopher asks him after some time.

What do you mean?

You know what I mean. Christopher takes a long drink. When we die.

I don’t know.

Do you think about it a lot?

Of course. We all do. You know that.

Christopher shrugs. I know. He drinks again. Are you religious? Shit, you know all this time I never asked you that.

I don’t know, says Mortimer. I’m not even sure what that means.

It’s all over’s what I say, says Christopher. It’s just fucking stupid that we’re put here for this shit.

Maybe so.

It’s not fair. Fucking Strawberry. What a place to live and die; and what a way to go.

Mortimer doesn’t say anything.

Would you do it again? asks Christopher.


Fucking life, Mortimer. If you had the choice would you choose to be born knowing all this shit or would you just say fuck it.

I don’t know.

I’d say fuck it. Never had a choice to begin with. Or if I knew about all this shit, I’d of moved out long ago. Done something with it.

Problem is, you already have to be born to be able to choose if you want to be born or not, right?

Christopher laughs. Well that’s the fucking kicker, isn’t it? Pour yourself a drink man.

I’m alright.

What? You on a health kick or something? Christopher laughs again.

Even Mortimer gets a chuckle out of that.

You know what, says Christopher. You know what I’ve decided?

What’s that Christopher?

I’m gonna go out laughing. I mean, that’s my final fuck you, right? That’s all I have. I could sit here and cry and piss and moan all day. Shit I did it long enough. He laughs again; but fuck it, you know? Find the absurdity in it I say. Find it and laugh at it.

That’s not a bad plan, says Mortimer.

The old expression laughing to keep from crying.

Sure, I’ve heard it.

Well, shit. Christopher takes another long drink.

They’re silent for a long time.

The bar is cold and small and dim.

How’s that little girl of yours doing? Christopher asks after a little while.

Mortimer shrugs. Not so well.

Not so well, huh?

Not really.

She as bad as me?

This time Mortimer laughs. Almost.

Well, shit. He looks down at the bar. I would’ve liked to take a wife sometime myself, you know. Always figured I would someday, even though I used to say I wouldn’t.

Things go that way.

Yeah, well.

They’re both silent for a long time.

After a while Mortimer stands up. Well, Christopher, I’ll come by and see you here tomorrow.

I’ll be here, drinking for free like always, says Christopher. He points to the corpse of the bartender on the floor and laughs.


He says over his dead body! Christopher starts laughing again.

Out in the empty street Mortimer can still hear him laughing. The snow runs down wet and dirty and uncomfortable. The streets shake with the sound of the old fool laughing himself to death.

When he gets back home he finds Mary dead.

She’s smiling, looking far away and straight ahead.

(Whit Frazier, From “Youth and the Unreal City”, 2001)

Phoebe’s little adventure

as a little girl she always looked like a little boy so she knew some things.

her name was Phoebe, but she called herself Philip. after a while she gave up altogether trying to make people understand that she was a girl. socially she became a boy.

she cut her hair short and wore jeans and jerseys. she liked baseball caps a lot. learning about sports was fun. her only real problem was her voice.

Phoebe sounded like a girl.

this was a problem for her because all the other boys called her a faggot and made fun of her a little bit. but most of the times she got along with them just fine. once she even kissed a shy little girl on the lips who had a crush on her just to prove she wasn’t gay. it was one of the most disgusting things she’d ever done, but people thought about her differently after that.


one day Phoebe comes to school a little later than usual. she’s missed her bus and her mother gives her a ride. as she’s heading towards class she meets a boy in the hallway.

aren’t you Philip, he asks her?

uh-huh, she says. why?

I don’t know. I’ve seen you around is all.



what’s your name, she asks him.

Leslie, he says.

Leslie? isn’t that a girl’s name?

some people say so, but my mother says that it’s both a boy and girl name and they don’t know what they’re talking about.

he blinks at her in such an innocent way she thinks he’s very attractive. he’s much different than all the boys she hangs out with.

the hallway is narrow and gray. everything’s made out of dirty old metal. it’s a nice day and she’d rather talk with him outside.

aren’t you late for class? she asks.

I’m going to skip my class.

her face goes soft and curious. skip class? do you do that a lot?

I’ve never skipped class before, he says. that’s why I’m going to try it out.

why today?

well, last night I read this story where this kid skipped class and had the most wonderful day of his life because of it.


yeah. and my dad says that, and here his voice goes deep and stately, literature is the very germ of all human truths.

Phoebe laughs and covers her mouth. why does he say that?

he says that whenever he doesn’t want me to watch tv. he says to go read a book and then I ask him why.

do you read much?

Phoebe looks at him and squints. I think life is a story already, she says. and it’s better than dusty old books.

well, that’s what I’m going to find out today, he says.

can I come with you?

it’s dangerous you know. we could get caught.

what happens if we get caught?

Leslie shrugs. the boy in the story got in a whole lot of trouble. but it was worth it, he said.


his whole life changed.

well then I think we should skip class too.

well come along then and follow me.

they sneak around the corner and back out the front door. Phoebe feels really happy to be outside.

say, I like you Leslie, she says.



I’ve heard rumors that you were gay, says Leslie. he looks at her sideways.

that’s a lie, says Phoebe. it’s just because of my voice is all.

do you believe me?

I believe you.

there’s something romantic about the schoolyard today. a large oil stained parking lot sits shining beneath dozens of colorful cars in the morning sun.

is it too dangerous to go to the playground? she asks.

I think so. we have to stay away from windows too. that’s what the boy in the story did.

where should we go?

let’s hide between the cars.

the pavement is awful hot to touch and warm to sit on, but Phoebe doesn’t mind.

do you watch baseball, Leslie?


yeah, like on tv.

my dad doesn’t like me to watch too much television.

but I don’t mind so much, because I don’t know if I’d watch baseball anyway.

Phoebe looks at Leslie’s flat face and wide ears. she smiles.

what would you watch?

I don’t know. something with a story, I guess.

you like stories a lot then?

a little I guess. just because I’m always reading them when I can’t watch tv.

you’re a strange boy, Leslie.

am I?

I think so.

I guess I am a little bit strange. but I’m not all that different from other kids.

I guess not.

I think maybe someday I’d like to write stories, he says.


yeah. Leslie kicks out his legs like he’s uncomfortable with his skin.

Phoebe decides he looks adorable. what would you write stories about?

I don’t know. people I guess.

just people? doing what?

having adventures. he looks at her and smiles. just like we are now.

what about big adventures?

like with pirates and soldiers and knights and things?

yeah. like tv and the movies.

I don’t know.

I like those types of stories, she says.

Leslie frowns. well, that’s the problem. I mean, so do I. everybody does.

so why not write them?

well, I’ve tried.

you’ve written whole adventure stories?


I’ve never known anyone who wrote a whole story before.

just because I wanted to try.

well, what’s wrong with big adventures?

maybe it’s just because I’ve never had one.

what do you mean?

well, just that I like to read and write about people like me. like the boy who skipped class.


yeah. and then you can go try it out for yourself and learn something from it.

Phoebe’s hand rests on the hot pavement next to Leslie’s. when she shifts her pinky touches his very lightly.

you sure are strange, Leslie.

maybe. why do you keep saying that?

I don’t know.

the sun feels like a warm poem on Phoebe’s face.

I like poetry a lot too, Leslie says after a while.

so do I. I mean-. Phoebe looks up at the blue layer of clouds squinting. I mean I’m not sure I’m supposed to like poems though.

why not?

being a boy and all. aren’t they for girls?

Leslie shrugs. are they? I don’t know.

that’s what my friends say.

they don’t say anything for a few minutes. Phoebe’s watching the cars as they pass by the school.

I like stories that are poems, Leslie decides.

stories that are poems?

like Shakespeare.

Phoebe frowns. Shakespeare doesn’t make any sense.

but it sounds nice.

does it?

yeah. and I like reading the short lines of verse.


the rhythm of it I guess.

but how can a short story be a poem too? it’s not like a play, you know.

Leslie folds up. I know.

for the first time in a long time Phoebe wishes she weren’t a boy.

but here’s the thing, Leslie says. I know I can write a story poem if I think about it enough.


well, maybe. I hope so.

I don’t know. I don’t read all that much, but maybe I’ll start.

if I ever did figure it out, I’d write a whole book of them. nothing but.

she smiles at him. me too.

my dad says that literature and love are the same thing.

why does he say that?

because I told him about my idea and how it might be impossible.

and that’s what he said?


what do you suppose it means?

I don’t know. maybe when I get older I’ll find out and then I’ll be able to write a story poem.

Phoebe screws up her face. why do you suppose we learn more as we get older?

Leslie shrugs.

do you think it’s school?

Leslie looks at her smiling. but we’re skipping school to learn, so it can’t be school.

you think it’s adventures?

that’s what I think.

I bet it would take a big adventure to find out what your dad means.

like pirates and soldiers and knights?

soldiers at least.

I don’t know.

has your dad had a lot of adventures?

he was in a war I think.

I bet that’s where he learned it.

may be.

the sunshine is quiet and warm and minutes pass.

Phoebe balls up her fingers and squints. she can feel her heart in her throat. I want to tell you something, she says.

sure, go ahead.

I mean, but it’s a secret, she says.

a secret?

I don’t know. you’re not like other boys. I like you and trust you for some reason.

well, I won’t tell anyone.

you promise?

Leslie unfolds again like he’s uncomfortable with his skin. he’s grinding his palm into the hot pavement.

listen, he says. I’ll tell you a secret first and that way we can both feel safe.



they don’t say anything for a while.

well, it’s just that, says Leslie. you remember how I said people said you were gay?


well, he squints. have you ever been curious?

but I told you I’m not.

well a year ago, says Leslie, I read a lot of Walt Whitman and I heard he was gay.

who’s he?

he’s a poet. and he’s a real good one.


yeah, but, he pauses and looks at Phoebe. I mean you have to swear not to tell anyone.

I swear.

Leslie looks at the ground. it’s just that I’ve been curious about kissing another boy ever since I read that Whitman.

have you done it?

no, he says.

they don’t say anything.

Phoebe smiles nervous through the sun and the shining metal colors of cars.

I’d give it a try, she suggests softly.


just this once and all, I mean.

they turn face to face and pause in the awkward moment.

Phoebe doesn’t know who moves first. she feels his lips against hers.

afterwards they don’t say anything for about a minute.

what did you think? he asks.

I don’t know. what did you think?

I don’t know.

Phoebe feels even sicker than she did when she kissed the shy little girl. she’s dizzy and the sun and the pavement are very hot now.

she wants to die for dread of his next question.

(Whit Frazier, From “Youth and the Unreal City”, 2001)

The Sailboat Story

when he’s six years old Andrew’s father buys him a toy sailboat. all that summer he sits by the pond downhill and watches the boat go from inbetween the tall grass out into the small water where he could still see the clouds. after a while it would wander downstream a little towards where the hill dipped, and he’d have to go splashing after it. if he was feeling daring he’d let the boat roll over the hill and splash the reckless journey down. one time at the bottom of the hill he meets a girl. the sun is going down and the pond is orange and black.

are you the boy with the boat? she asks him. her name is Delta.

Andrew just looks at her.

the boy with the boat, Delta says. everyone knows about the boy with the boat.

who’s the boy with the boat? he asks.

follow me, she says.

they walk down the hill and out into the long fields where his mother and his father told him not to play. his boat is in the water and they’re keeping pace with it.

have you ever heard the story? she asks him.

the story? what story?

the story about the boy with the boat.

but if I am the boy with the boat, then I must know the story because it’s about me.

Delta stops, kneels down and gives the little sailboat a flick with her finger.

cut that out, Andrew tells her and she laughs.

do you know how I know you’re the boy with the boat? she asks him.


well they say that the boy with the boat is the only one who doesn’t know that he’s the boy with the boat; that’s how you can tell him apart from all the other boys who go and play with their sailboats by the pond.

and that means I’m him?

Delta nods.

well then why did you ask me if I’m the boy with the boat if you already knew I was and knew I didn’t know because I was already him?

cuz I didn’t know you were him until I asked you if you were him and you said you didn’t know.

what if I’d said I was him?

then I’d know you weren’t him.

you’d think I was lying?

I’d know you were lying.

does everyone else think I’m him?

that’s what they say.

Delta smiles at him in a way that makes him blush.

but who is the boy with the boat? he asks her. what’s the story about him?

it’s about you, you know, Delta tells him. are you sure you want to hear it?

why? is it mean? do people make things up about me?

you see, you must be him, Delta says.

I still don’t know what you’re talking about.

well, it goes like this: once, a hundred years ago there used to be this boy who’d come down to the pond and play with a toy boat.

a hundred years ago?

yeah. maybe even more.

but I’m not a hundred years old.

well, I know, she says. see the boy with the boat set it out adrift one day and it went down the hill and out past the fields.

where we are now.

right, but farther even. and the boy followed his boat into the pond and out into the river.

into the river?

yeah. and it kept going and he kept following it. he vanished out in the ocean somewhere and no one’s ever heard from him since.

did he drown?

nobody knows what happened. but the story has it that one summer he’s going to come back.

and you think that’s me?

I think so.

but why me? and why would I come back now?

they say that the summer he comes back will be a sign.

a sign?

yeah. that the waters around the island will turn to dust.

all the water’s going to turn to dust?

and mainlanders will overrun what was once our island.


and he just wants to come back to enjoy his boat one last time. while the water’s still here.

I don’t know if I’m him.

they say that you are.

I don’t want to be him.

but you are. pause. she says, do you remember the bottom of the ocean?

Andrew stops to think. Delta kneels down to flick his boat.

I think I do remember it, Andrew says.

really? what was it like?

it was warm and like a dream because I felt like I was sleeping.

all you did was sleep?

but I wasn’t asleep. I was awake, it was just like I was asleep.

and I could talk to all the fish.

what did they say?

I don’t remember anymore. I think one of them mentioned you.

Delta laughs. don’t be silly, you’re making this up.

I’m the boy with the boat aren’t I? Andrew looks at her. are you scared? he asks.

she looks up at the clouds. yes. pause. are you?

Andrew shrugs. I don’t know if I’m supposed to be.

yeah. neither do I.

have you ever seen mainlanders? he asks her.

I’ve only heard about them.

me neither.

you didn’t see any when you went out in the ocean?

only some who were already drowned.

her voice goes low. what did they look like?

fallen angels, he says.

a breeze picks up and pulls the sailboat sailing beside them a little ahead.

I’m not supposed to go out this far, Andrew says.

but you’re the boy with the boat.

I don’t see how that changes anything.

that changes everything, she says. she pouts. why did you have to come back just now?

I didn’t even know.

you weren’t out here last summer, she says.

I didn’t have a sailboat then.

how long were you out there in the ocean?

I don’t remember anymore. it feels like only a second.

I wish you’d waited until after I grew up, she says.

I didn’t know about you.

I thought you said the fish talked about me. which she says in a way that makes him blush again.

that’s true. they did. I think I timed it badly.

coming back?

yes, he says, or maybe I just got my sailboat too soon.

the sun tucks away orange behind the clouds and the sky turns a rich and darker blue. Andrew and Delta keep pace with the sailboat.

it’s getting late, Andrew says.

in a lot of different ways, Delta says and looks at the sailboat.

will I still be here when the mainlanders come, he asks her. or do I go away again?

I don’t know. maybe you’ll go back into the ocean before it turns into dust.

but that wouldn’t make any sense. I’d still be around after it turned to dust wouldn’t I?

I guess so. she kneels down and flicks the sailboat. maybe there’s an ocean somewhere you’ll go to that won’t.

I think I’d like to find one.

I don’t want to meet the mainlanders, Delta decides. I’m going along with you.

I don’t even know if I’m going to go yet.

but if you do. and you should go anyway.

will you be able to breathe under the water?

was it difficult?

it was at first, says Andrew. but it got easier as the years went by.

did it take long?

not too long. the fish showed me how.

were all the fish nice?

even the sharks and jellyfish are nice if you know their language.

how did you learn it?

I listened for a long time and soon enough I could speak it.

say something to me in fish, she says.

just like that? what do you want me to say?

I don’t know, anything.

the moon starts to pull out from behind the twilight sky. the field and the pond settle dark and wide where the sailboat glides. Andrew and Delta walk beneath the small blinking stars.

I think I could breathe underwater after a little while, Delta says.

we could go to a tropical ocean, Andrew says.

that would be better anyway, agrees Delta.

for a while they’re perfectly quiet.

how would I have found out that I was the boy with the boat if you hadn’t told me?

you wouldn’t have.

then how would I know to return to the ocean?

you wouldn’t know.

would the ocean still turn to dust?

I don’t know. I think so. pause. but I’m part of the story too, you know.

you didn’t tell me that.

well, a girl tells the boy with the boat who he is.

and what happens after that?

Delta kneels down and flicks the boat. I don’t know.


well, no. except that the ocean turns to dust and the mainlanders come.

the story goes on, I think. there’s a whole saga about it. but I only know the story about the boy with the boat.

why don’t you know the rest?

because I always knew in my heart that the girl in the story was me. and so that’s the story I cared about the most.

how did you know that?

Delta shrugs. I don’t know. I just knew somehow.

did you ever feel like you were somehow special? she asks him.

I never even knew about the boy with the boat before.

not even that, she says. just different somehow.

I guess. but all I ever do’s sail my boat. I don’t play with the other kids.

neither do I, she says. because I always knew I was the girl in the story.

will we be famous?

we already are, she says. and nobody knows it yet but us.

she kneels down and flicks the sailboat.

hey cut it out, says Andrew.

the sailboat spins in a little circle and heads out across the pond.

it’s going away, she says. should we go after it? she takes a step towards the dark pond.

Andrew walks up to where she’s standing. I’m going after it.

give me your hand, she says.

they take small steps out to where the pond runs up past their ankles. the sailboat is running far out, guided by the moon white on the water.

do we keep going? Delta asks quietly, laughing.

it won’t be easy out there.

she turns and smiles at him. she squeezes his hand. say something to me in fish, she says.

what do you want me to say?

he turns and catches her eye. the sailboat passes out of view. fish don’t speak, silly, he says.

the look she gives him is like a shy and innocent kiss.

(Whit Frazier, From “Youth and the Unreal City”, 2001)

siamese twins

he stops by her apartment just a little after midnight. she doesn’t say anything when she opens the door, she steps to the side and lets him in. all the lights are off. in the bedroom the moon lights the room evening alabaster through two large windows. she sits down on the side of the bed in the moon. she’s not wearing anything. he takes a seat across from her in a large blue chair.

you didn’t think I would come, he says.

I didn’t know.

neither did I, he says.

you’ve been drinking.


would you like another?

he stands up. don’t bother, he tells her. I’ll get it myself. are you having anything?

she shrugs. bring me whatever you’re having.

the moon through the windows looks like large piano keys.

he comes back with two drinks, hands one to her and sits back down in the chair.

I wish you hadn’t come, she says.

I wish I hadn’t either.

then why did you?

he shrugs. what did you do today?

not much. I walked out by the pond.

women are being attacked out there, he says.

I know.

he finishes his drink without looking at her. I could use another, he says.

do you want me to get it?

never mind. I’ll get it myself.

she doesn’t move. he comes back and sits down without looking at her.

I shouldn’t have come tonight, he decides.

you should never come.

maybe I should leave.

she pulls up her legs and folds her arms around them. she laughs. did you hear about the guy in the news today who burned down his own house?


yeah, there was a mouse in it. he chased it all night and he couldn’t get it. it drove him crazy.

sure sounds like it.

well, he got so mad at the mouse, well this is what he said happened anyway, that all he could think about was getting revenge on the mouse. he didn’t care what happened to his apartment.

so where is he now?

I think they’re putting him away in a place for crazy people.

I guess that’s where he belongs.

when I was a little kid, she says, and he’s looking at the moon making squares of light on her bare legs, I burned off a little corner of my windowsill because it hit me in the head one morning as I was getting out of bed.

sure, that’s different.

I don’t see how it’s that different. given the right circumstances I might have burned my house down too.

did he get the mouse?

I don’t think so. I think the mouse got away.

that’s the way of things.

is it? maybe that’s what would happen if the man upstairs tried to burn us down. which she says in a way that makes him stand up again. is he listening? I need another, he says. are you having anything?

I suppose so, she says. I suppose I’m going to need it.

as he comes back into the room she asks him, aren’t you drinking too quickly?

is it any different from any other night?

she thinks. no. I suppose not. in fact-

he smiles and she smiles back at him.

you’re like the sun, she says, when you do that.

like the sun?

is that the sun I see,

smiling back at me? pause. what do you say someday we go sailing together?

sailing? really? I think I’d like that a lot.

so do I. did I ever tell you the story of the first time I went sailing?

I don’t know. maybe.

well, tell me again. you think I remember every little thing you say?

when you put it like that it doesn’t sound nice at all.

she smiles at him and he smiles back again.

you’re like the moon, he says, when you do that.

the moon?

I saw you standing alone.

without a dream in my heart, she says.

I was only sixteen.

that’s not that young. I tell you that every time.

it felt like I was very young. and I’d never been sailing before.

what time of year was it?

well that’s a silly question. it was spring.

was it just spring, or had it been for a while?

it was well into the spring season, he begins. beneath the late may sun, friend and friend and friend embarked together on a journey by sea.

I thought it was just a little creek.

oh, go to hell.

what kind of thing is that to say?

well, let me tell my story.

you’re going to need another drink.

am I?

I think so. I think tonight you’re going to need another drink.

should I just bring in the bottle?

yes, after all, I’m going to need another too.

he gets up and leaves the room. she leans forward on the bed, arms still around her knees so that her whole body bathes in the moonlight. he comes back and stops to look at her.

you should learn to be polite, she says.

he puts the bottle down next to her glass and sits back in the large blue chair.

you should be more appropriate around guests, he says.

you’re an intruder, she says. you’re no guest of mine.

that’s right, he says. I’m an intruder.

the sound of someone stomping around upstairs comes through the ceiling.

doesn’t that guy ever go to bed? he says.

never, she says. he’s always there. all day and all night. he doesn’t sleep and he doesn’t leave the apartment.

have you ever met him?

no, she says. I’m afraid of him.

sometimes he’ll get quiet when I’m here.

yes, he’s listening.



how do you know?

I can imagine him. I can see what he looks like and everything.

have you ever seen him?

no, she says. I’m afraid of him.

well, I’m certainly not afraid of him. let’s go have a talk with him.

she shivers and slides back on the bed. no!

yes, he says and fills up his glass again. I say yes. he finishes his drink.

aren’t you drinking too quickly, she asks.

am I?

yes, she says.

he pours himself another. I’ll decide what’s yes and no.

will you tell me the story? she asks.

which story?

the sailboat.

oh, the sailboat story. have I never told you the sailboat story before?

no, never.

well, it begins with father and son on a sunny autumn day.

and you’d never been sailing before?

never; but I was only sixteen.

that’s not so young.

not so young to some, but I was in the prime of my youth.

and you’re past that prime now?


are you no longer in the prime of your youth?

alas, he says flourishing, I am not.

you should go.

father and son on the high seas.

I thought you said it was a creek.

a lie, he suggests, in order to appear humble. it was the high seas indeed!

you’re drinking too quickly.

I’m drinking at just the appropriate speed. did you know that when I first came over here I dreaded everything?

you did?

yes. almost as much as you dreaded my coming. but now nothing seems better.


yes, after all, here we are, talking about sailing.

will you take me sailing some time?

is a promise a promise?

yes, she says. a promise is a promise.

do you know, he says, that the moon makes you look more lovely than Helen of Troy?

does it?

oh, I could write soliloquies.

did you know Helen well?

I knew her intimately.

anyway, you shouldn’t be so happy as you are.

not so happy as I am? can anyone be less happy than they are? he finishes his drink and pours another.

you’re drinking too quickly.

too quickly? he says.

and so you’re forgetting, she says.


that he listens.

yes. that’s right. he listens. pause. storm the staircase, he shouts. we’ll kill him!

we can’t kill him, she says.

and we can’t let him live, he says, standing up again and pacing the length of the floor flooded by the moon. she slides up against her pillow. you’re scaring me, she says.

scaring little girls, murdering tenants, drinking glass after glass of god’s glorious gin, what kind of men do you let into your apartment at odd hours of the night?

will you tell me the story about the sailboat? I’d much rather talk about sailboats.

sailboats and sailors and sinners all go to hell, he shouts, finishing his drink and stopping a minute to pour himself another.

be quiet for a second, she says.

he stops pacing and stands in place.

you hear? she says. no more stomping. he’s listening.

shameless bastard son of shit! he yells at the ceiling. you’ve got nothing better to do every evening I suppose.

don’t be angry, I bet he’s lonely. she smiles at him and he smiles back. he walks over to where she’s sitting on the bed and sits next to her.

you’re like the moon, he says, when you do that.

like the moon?

I saw you standing alone.

without a dream in my heart.

he says, beautifully, yes.

she leans herself up against him and whispers no.

he rapes her.

afterwards she won’t talk to him. he sits in the large blue chair and finishes the bottle while she lies in bed smoking. after the last glass is finished he stands up.

he was listening, he says.

she doesn’t say anything.

I’m not going to come tomorrow, he says.

she doesn’t say anything. he goes to the door and looks back at her. I mean it this time, he says.

he opens the door and pauses at the threshold. she’s saying something:

(Whit Frazier, From “Youth and the Unreal City”, 2001)

Story of a Poem about a Girl

when I kiss her she runs away.

I write dialogues about children in love and for an unwitting while, am one. halfway into the failing dialogue she shows up at the door.

I didn’t think you’d come, I tell her.

the way she laughs reminds me of all my Whitman.

back out past the doors on the bench overlooking construction we talk about cities and writing, youth and flight.

I didn’t think I would either, she says.

the small dirty hills of cigarette butts and litter are romantic today. the sun is too pleasantly warm. she looks nervous and she is.

small paper cups carry coffee. the world is heavy with construction, tobacco and coffee. an hour passes.

back inside with time on the other side there’s a half finished manuscript about children in love. it’s easier to write and more difficult.

she has eyes that grow wide as green universes, her face gets small and pale in the sun. beneath the curve of her hair sometimes small shadows are birthmarks. this kind of dialogue is very hard to ignore and even harder to write.

some of the banalities I’ve allowed my children say is suddenly very obvious. if my reader’s no longer myself let me say that I will never finish editing these stories.


I meet her for the first time and it’s three days ago. she’s a friend’s friend.

meet Katey, someone presumably says.

hello Katey, the pleasure’s all mine. (and it really is)

maybe I drink too much or dance with her and go away unchanged.


spring in Strawberry is strange:

this year winter really held out. it got tediously cold.

the day after I meet Katey finally feels warm. I sleep in late.

early in the afternoon I do the things people do in the early afternoon: shower, go to the grocery store, make lunch, drink. by twilight I’m challenging Shakespeare:

there’s no question Marlowe was the superior poet!

to which perplexed friends respond, well, regardless of how anyone feels about the matter, there’s definitely a question.

by the evening it’s god.

the sky is a warm evening blue through the open window and we feel like we’re in prison. after prolonged hours we’re driving each other crazy with our alcohol and conversation. someone suggests going out. we swing by the bar because we reach it before we reach a decision.

it turns out to be a bad place to go to escape conversation and alcohol.

he’s been on this Shakespeare kick all night, friends explain to Katey and her friend when, hours later they show up unexpectedly at the bar.

we thought you all might be here, Katey’s friend says. so we figured we’d drop by.

Katey smiles a lot and she laughs even more.

returning to the table with another unfortunate drink in hand, I notice that Katey and her friend are engaged in a game of chess.

the bar is dim and small. the tables are old and wooden and lopsided. the music’s bad. I sit down next to Katey.

Katey smiles a lot and she laughs even more.

she plays well. she doesn’t like most of my advice and she shouldn’t. when she laughs she turns her head and looks at me and her eyes go wide and green. she holds a gaze like nothing I’ve seen.

her laugh and her eyes make her look awestruck. this kind of dialogue is very hard to ignore and even harder to write.

we win.

but it’s well past time for me to be in bed. my head spins on the walk home. friends are worried. back in my room everything looks small and confining. where did the day go? what did I do?

going home can feel empty as mirrors sometimes.


sometime sunday early afternoon the telephone wakes me up.


it’s Katey’s friend. did I wake you? she asks.

it’s alright. listen, about last night-

we’re making brunch, she says. come over.

I’m still welcome?

she laughs. just come by.

shaving, showering, heading out the door with my head pounding I feel convinced it’s a trap. they plan to poison me or something, revenge for last night’s behavior. this hangover might kill me first.

spring in Strawberry is strange.

it’s cold outside and drizzling hail. what happened to yesterday’s weather and the sun? the gray sky and my stupidity combine to create a pretty unpleasant effect.

a couple other people are there when I arrive. a chessboard is on the table.

Katey smiles. chess, she says and softly. she looks at me, and her eyes are wide.

someone slaps my shoulder. jesus, how do you feel today?

I lie. just fine.

really. if you could’ve seen yourself last night.

Katey’s still looking at me.

I go out onto the patio for a cigarette. a couple minutes pass free from moral defamation.

I need your help, I hear Katey say from inside. looking through the screen door I see her playing a game of chess.

no fucking way.

let me finish this first, I tell her.

yeah, and she laughs. it’s better when you jump in halfway through.

it’s cold outside and wet. the cigarette’s making me nauseous. I come back inside and sit down next to Katey. I do this very deliberately and politely.

I leave a modest distance between us.

she turns and looks at me smiling. that gaze again. she holds it.

I look thoughtfully at the chessboard.

she finds this funny. I can tell.

her opponent’s good and so is she, but my head isn’t. she contradicts all of my suggestions.

we win.

we make an unbeatable team, I tell her.

she’s looking at me again. I know.


after brunch, Katey and her friend and a few other friends go out for a long walk down to Strawberry pond.

I stay put with a couple of the roommates as lazy as I am.

you told her she was your girlfriend last night, laughs one of them over coffee.

too weird for me, says another.

well, she seems to have taken it all in stride, I say.

I think I’m challenging them, or maybe just myself.

true enough, but she might just be laughing at you.


true enough, she might just be laughing at me.

ay, there’s the rub and my friend was shrewd enough to know it and to know to say it.


Katey, after all, she’s just a kid.

she was a child and I was a child

I want to go home, I say it all day long but they keep me there.

it’s a lazy Sunday, we’ll have dinner together later and then go out to the bar.

go out to the bar? I don’t know if I like the suggestion or hate it.

sure, why not? Katey’s only here a few more days.

which is true. Katey’s from Germany and she’s visiting my friend after touring several American cities. she’s been to New York and then to Washington, Philadelphia and Boston too. she’s spending the last few days here in Strawberry.

when does she leave anyway? I ask.


so soon.

so soon.


something happens during the day. it must be the conversation.

Katey made me nervous at brunch, but now that she’s back I’m petrified. why?

she smiles and looks at me and we sit alone together while they’re making dinner.

how was the walk? I ask.

(an easy one, I know, but it has the advantage of sounding polite, relevant and interested.)

it was nice. a little bit cold, but not too bad.


where did you go?

just to the pond. we walked around a while, went to the café and read some.

it sounds nice.

she looks ruffled and tired and damp from walking. she’s sitting on the couch next to me. I can smell the shampoo in her hair.

I tell her about my travels abroad, about Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam.

she talks about hers. she’s been everywhere: Rome, Paris, Berlin, Brussels, Greece, Amsterdam, et cetera.

she’s been living in London for the past two years. she’s German and speaks with an English accent. she calls roommates flatmates. she’s fluent in German, English, French and Italian.

she clearly has a lot more to talk about than I do. which, right now, is fine by me. I could listen to her for hours.


at the bar that evening I feel a little more relaxed. it’s dim and small. the tables are old and wooden and lopsided. the music’s bad.

Katey’s sitting next to me. I’m watching how much I drink. change keeps falling out of my pocket.

Katey’s laughing and picking it up and putting it on the table.

you’re as silent as the tomb tonight, Katey’s friend says to me.

didn’t I tell you I died last night?

Katey laughs. really? I hope it wasn’t my fault.

did you ever read the story by Borges about the priest who dies but doesn’t know he’s dead? someone asks.


Borges wanted to be a poet you know.

did he?


he wrote a bunch of poetry all throughout his life.

that’s all he started out doing.

but his real strength came through in his short stories.

I wonder, I wonder out loud, if there was ever a poet that wanted to be a writer. and no one paid any

attention to his fiction, only his poetry. so that he had to spend his whole life as a poet when all he wanted to do was write fiction?

isn’t it usually the other way around?

that’s what makes it so funny.

Katey looks at me and smiles. I’m learning to like it.

for the first time ever I hold her eyes a while and smile back again.


later that night after everyone’s gone to bed, Katey and I stay up late to play a game of chess.

but we’re a team, I tell her.

we’ll see about that.

for a cup of coffee, I say.

we’re both tired and a little tipsy. like everyone, she has her own language. I stumble through it: something about her eyes and her smile and the way she can hold a gaze.

chess complements this language perfectly.

I hadn’t realized how sensual the game could be.


I haven’t gotten away unchanged.

several things clue me into this suspicion:

one, instead of taking the bus I walked home last night.

two, I’m not sure I can handle her coming by my work for coffee.

three, all day long I hope she comes by my work for coffee.

and besides, I’m tired because I couldn’t sleep last night.

the day goes slow.

it’s a beautiful spring day.

spring in Strawberry is strange.

there’s no reason why she’d show up. how is today different from any other?

leaving the office for lunch strikes me as the greatest kind of hubris and daring.


I write dialogues about children in love and for an unwitting while, am one. halfway into the failing dialogue she shows up at the door.

I didn’t think you’d come, I tell her.

she’s just walked into the office, looking flustered and embarrassed.

neither did I.

there’s a bench out back, I say.

we get coffee and sit out back. it’s hideous. it overlooks a dumpster and a construction sight.

it feels romantic. the sun is too pleasantly warm. we slouch a little into each other.

how was your day? I ask her.

nice, she says. I walked all over Strawberry. yours?

boring. I don’t do much here.


you must be the luckiest guy on earth, she says.

it could be worse, but that’s going too far.

what do you want to do when you grow up?

her eyes grow wide as green universes.

I don’t know. what about you?

I travel too much, she says. I don’t know. I never stay in the same place very long.

I think I’d like to write stories, I tell her.

people walking in and out of the building look at us like people look at young lovers in early spring. it makes everything feel uncomfortably nice.



I used to paint, she says.

used to?

I quit painting.


I don’t know. I always liked music more anyway.

yeah? you’re a strange girl.

you think so, do you? she smiles again. you’re a strange boy.

that’s what I was doing when you got here.


I was writing a story.

what kind of story?

a short story.

I bet you’re going to end up a poet that always wanted to be a writer. she laughs. so do I.

she has this way of calling me on my conceit.

maybe so, I say.

so you want to be like Hemingway or something?

like Hemingway? no. why do you say that?

I don’t know. saturday night, for example.

jesus, I say. that’s not fair.

isn’t it?

poor Hemingway.

she slaps my shoulder. exactly.

there’s nothing better in the world than being out here with her.

maybe when you’re famous and I’m an English literature professor, I’ll teach your books.

professor then, eh?

she shrugs. I don’t know.

do you know, she says, how strange it is that in two days I’ll be back in Freiburg and you’ll still be here?

I don’t say anything.

America’s not at all like I expected, she says.

what did you expect?

I thought it would be boring.


back inside with time on the other side there’s a half finished manuscript about children in love. it’s easier to write and more difficult.

she has eyes that grow wide as green universes, her face gets small and pale in the sun. beneath the curve of her hair sometimes small shadows are birthmarks. this kind of dialogue is very hard to ignore and even harder to write.


it’s Katey’s last night in the States. we’re at the bar playing chess, the two of us.

the bar is small and dim. the tables are old and wooden and lopsided. the music’s pretty good.

I’m fluent in her language. it’s divine with chess and small amounts of alcohol.

time flies and it’s last call.

outside it’s drizzling and a little chilly. I walk her home.

after all, it’s already tomorrow.

so what will I tell everyone when I get home? she asks. that I met a drunken American writer?

after all, I say. I want to be just like Hemingway.

she slaps my shoulder. oh you! see I knew it.

I’m joking of course. I look at her. I just want to write.

she smiles slyly. you just want to be adored.

she has this way of calling me on my conceit.

you know half the time you’re full of shit.

I laugh. do you think anything really exists?

it can’t, I suppose.

why not?

why should it?

it seems like it does.

seems. she looks down. it’s so strange, she says.


this. she’s not smiling anymore. I love it, but I get so tired of running from city to city sometimes.


tomorrow I’m going to be gone.

that’s true.

when are you coming to Freiburg?

soon, I say.

she laughs. no you’re not.

I don’t say anything.

it’s just-

apparently she doesn’t know what to say either.

it is strange, I say. later on it will be really strange. and it’s only been three days.

we laugh.

but I won’t see you again, she says. that doesn’t make any sense.

it doesn’t make any sense at all.

it’s not fair, you know?

and it isn’t fair. and it doesn’t make any sense. three days. how could this happen? what is it we’re even talking about? everything takes on the vague urgency of everything’s uncertain.

every evening has to end, she says.

we’re in front of her friend’s building.

so this is it, she says.

yeah, I guess so.

we look at each other. there are linguistic depths to this language I hadn’t thought about.

goodnight, she says.

I watch her walk up the steps to the building.

going home can feel empty as mirrors sometimes.

Katey, I say.

she turns around. I run up the stairs. I’m not clever enough to pretend I really had something to say. she knows I didn’t anyway. I hate this. I take her hands. she’s looking at me like she’s awestruck. I want to give her flowers, gifts, alms, apologies.

when I kiss her she runs away.

— (Whit Frazier, From “Youth and the Unreal City”, 2001)