Her aunt used to tell her that nothing was pure.  As a sophomore cop, she believed that her aunt, while sweet and well-intentioned and full of empathy (no one was “all bad” etc.), would not have a made a good law enforcement officer.  There existed boundaries and lines and rule books and that was how those charged with safeguarding the social contract were able to be effective—without the superstructure of hard lines, society would sag, the joists would snap, and life as everyone knew it would be gone in a poof of pink vapor in one day’s fucking time.  She’d seen it happen, or at least the aftermath: a driver run a red in the small hours of the morning and T-bone a tipsy teenager on a bicycle.  A past partner that had been distracted by a divorce who misfired his weapon and ended the life of a toddler nine months into his first assignment.  The ignored “check engine light” that presaged a slipping head gasket that occasioned a fiery wreck that ate the lives of her grandfather, a young couple in another car, and a dumb, valiant Samaritan that tried to brave the flames.  She had a whole arsenal of evidence for how not respecting rules led to disaster.  Her uniform was ironed and her ponytail was tight and her gun was oiled.  She drove the tension of her work into heavy bags three times per week to prevent a slip up with a defiant suspect.  She drank one glass of Merlot per day.  She wiped down her dashboard once per week. She met Leo on the first night of patrol in a new neighborhood.  She lived 15 miles north of the city limit and therefore found herself patrolling the grimy expanse of state highway a few miles south of the city limit—the department had rotated officers so they could claim they were honoring the idea of policing their own communities.  It was a place of decrepit fast food franchises, pawn shops, liquor stores, auto parts dealers, cheap motels, hardware stores serving as fronts for meth rings, strip clubs, dive bars, milling clots of day laborers and addicts and the like—a strip of urban American stereotype and she loathed it, the way it offended all of her sensibilities and indeed seemed to breed chaos and disorder, in the form of stumble bums and reckless driving and the palming to and fro of shadow things.  Leo stood with a straight spine on the sidewalk outside of a Jack in the Box, the bleed of the marquee coloring his high cheekbones with a rose hue.  He wore a beanie style hat that stuck straight up, a smooth black windbreaker, creased blue jeans and spotless shell-toed Adidas.  He was perfectly symmetrical, even how he held his hands at the midpoint of his chest, fingers intertwined, thumb pads pushing against each other.  He sported a pencil thin goatee and chinstrap and the long lashes on his sleepy, large eyes were long enough to curl upward.  As she circled the block the second time, he let his gaze slide over her windshield and softly caught her own.  She told herself her heart hammered as she cut rubber around the block again because he was a suspicious character and she watched her mind tick off the rationale for parking close in the restaurant’s lot on her next pass: young, male (omit Hispanic/poss African American), idle/loitering on public thoroughfare, 12:03 a.m., dress consistent with possible gang membership, drug trafficking activity, etc.  She watched her hand rise from the butt of her Glock to straighten her ponytail.  She felt her exaggerated cop-stride toward him, but felt within it the ghost of a hip switch.  She asked him what his business was.  He told her he was waiting for a ride home from his uncle.  She asked how long he’d been waiting and he painted the night sky with his eyelashes as he gazed up, blinking, calculating.  Two hours.  The way his eyelashes lifted as he blinked at her, painted her in a light sheen of sweat as he wondered if maybe she could give him a ride—it was a rough area, and he didn’t want to get into any kind of trouble.  An hour later, as her fourth orgasm receded in pulses through her thighs, her face pressed to a Formica table top on which her pistol and his pistol and a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue vogued in a tableau of vice, she would wish that she hadn’t requested his ID, hadn’t seen that he was just shy of his 17th birthday, hadn’t thereby eradicated any shred of pretension that the world wasn’t just as gray as her aunt had always insisted; she would wish that she could find a way to believe that she wasn’t all bad.






I should have known I’d make a good fool the first time I put on that stupid fucking paper ice cream cone hat.

Summertime in this thriving strip mall/dying farm town is rough. There is nothing much to do—all of the kids that can afford to fly home and sleep 12 hour nights in beds they don’t make do so. The rest of us look down the barrel of three hot months that smell like manure (the dying farms), chemical-laden asphalt (from the all the new parking lots and shit) and exhaust (from the interstate).   You know, come to think of it, the first wave of departures in June doesn’t feel bad at all. It’s nice to imagine life without racket of dum-dums at the fraternity next door—a dying fucking tradition anyway, I mean, Jesus, how do you have ONE fraternity? I guess you just have to come to Cowtown for that.

Cecilia and I had been broken up since late spring and I knew she was lurking around for the summer, not because she couldn’t afford to go home, but because she had real bad issues with her stepfather.   And possibly because she wanted to stay close to me.

I’d been working at “The Scoop Soda Fountain” in the town’s only “Legitimate (Mini) Mall!” for a few months when I was still dating Cecilia, so when she appeared that day in August with her mascara all smeared, trembling under the Food Court’s enthusiastic AC, Clarence hollered a greeting before he saw her state. Then he ducked his head and shouldered close to me. I was sweating, suddenly, standing over the sorbets.

“I think that’s your cue, dog,” he whisper-ordered, and since he was my boss, I folded up the hat and by some pre-arranged drama narrative arc, met Cecilia at a sticky round table off to the side.

She cleaned herself up and tried at a smile and I’m half-southern, so I had to smile back, even if I felt like sprinting for the north exit. But as I felt my face muscles work, I was seeing, in my mind, the night that Cecilia tried to throw herself into traffic because I broke up with her (I broke up with her because she had broken up with me, fucked this corn-fed wide receiver and then convinced me to get back together). And right at that same moment at that sticky table, I swear to God, a faux-farmer (actor, I imagine) in cartoonish overalls walked by leading a very well-groomed, very cute Holstein calf on a leash, swarmed by cooing toddlers. And Cecilia did this thing that she knows how to do where she giggles in a perfectly delighted, impulsive, young way, right through her red eyes and over her smeared cheeks, and I don’t care if you just lost your pet calf, you smile.

So I smiled.

And she leaned in and hooked my wrists and wrestled our noses close and started in on a monologue that combined erotic promise and tearful plea and I felt my heart sink and other parts rise and then Clarence appears with a banana fucking split (there was an actual cherry on top) singing in his goddam gospel baritone “Reunited—and it feels so good,” and Cecilia is smile-crying now and I took a spoonful of hot fudge that she pushed toward me to earn time because I’m pumping my brain like brakes gone out to stop this and then, I swear to God, Sinead O’Connor is singing through the mini-mall megaphone speakers (so I can’t even blame Clarence), “Nothing Compares,” and Cecilia doesn’t even have to work at it anymore, Clarence is watching, big arms folded, nodding along, and some large stroller pushing mothers who have parked for milkshakes are weepy and grinning at us and I know that the following chapter of time in Cowtown—however long it turns out to be—is going to feel a whole lot more torturous than the summer ever did.

And so I kiss her.