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Name the Baby (Mark Cirino)


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  You know how it is, sometimes you love to go for a walk or something, and notice new things: "Oh, I never knew that old oak tree had that little nook in there, man, and look, what a strange pattern on the bark," or, "Jeez, did you ever notice the deli over there has a bullet-hole in the window?" you know, shit like that. I'll admit, sometimes I'm like that. Who doesn't like to discover new things? But today, up Eighth Avenue, man, all I'm thinking about is getting to the Port. That's it. And I've seen all these stores before; I've seen all the crazy people threatening other crazy people. I've seen all the cops' dirty looks before. You may not understand, but I guess now I have a different set of priorities. Let's face facts--my girlfriend killed herself. You know what that means? Me neither, but let's say it's kind of hard to get excited about a tree or something like that so soon after. So I put it on cruise control and let my feet do the walking and my brain do the wandering. That's okay, because dusk has given way to darkness, and I'm walkin' slow. Oh, usually, when there's a Don't Walk sign, I walk anyway and dodge. Not now. Hey, man, the sign says Don't Walk, what am I gonna do? So I don't walk, deferring instead to the stationary darkness. Can't remember the last time I ate, but that's okay; there'll be something at home. But traveling, like religion, or a funhouse mirror, I've noticed, allows for awful reflection.

It's a crowded night, people are hustling home, and I swear I see Leonia appear across the street. I know instantly it can only be her fingerprint of a silhouette, with the frill of her coat and her mountain of hair. Her old lady posture, her poet's laugh. The music of her being, the sadness of her music. The spirit and energy of her sadness. I'm so mad at Leonia. What she did, man, she did to me. The bullet went through the roof of her mouth, by way of my heart. And her body crumpled, and the blood soaked the linoleum, overflowing the space between the tiles, so explain this to me: how did she look as beautiful as ever? Explain to me how she was a vision in death, explain to me how that idiotic death pose was somehow synonymous with her falling asleep on the couch on a Sunday while reading the sports section--how's that, man? Tell me how I looked at the blood get fainter and fainter the farther it was from her body, and the parts of the stream that made it to the kitchen looked like when someone tries to finish writing a sentence when their pen is running out of ink. And when you write your autobiography and your epitaph is in blood, it doesn't have to rhyme; it's already poetry. But across the street, I mean, that can't be Leonia's exact silhouette, right? That can't be hers at all. I let the shade move on, it's probably someone harmless, I ain't gonna hassle her. I'm wary enough about talking to the living, but there's this whole thing about contacting the dead, you know? I wouldn't even try that--I don't think Leonia would want to hear what I have to say. I am so mad at Leonia. Yeah, just what I need--to go through all that trouble and all those mysterious dimensions to contact Leonia, just to tell her that I think she's nothing but a quitter.

Still on auto pilot, I'm up to Gate 220--I know the Port better than the damn custodians, probably. I don't take the escalator steps two at a time, like usual. Shit, if I have to wait, I have to wait--no one's expecting me or anything. The Port is fuckin' crawling with the living dead at night--all the animals come out at night. No problem, you just gotta become one. Lucky for me at this point I don't have too far to go, and no one looks twice at me. A lot of people are hustling around, and I ease my way up there. I wait for fuckin' ever, easily more than an hour, until the bus I need pulls up. Must mean one just pulled out as I came into the gate. Two people are behind me in line for the bus. Some couple with about twenty bags. It takes them like five minutes just to board. I don't offer to help. I just sit down in the back. I can't help but think that this terminal is the worst kind of dungeon--fumes and subhumans, and cursing and plagues and people rushing around for no good reason I mean whatso-fuckin'-ever. My eyes meet the bus driver's in that crazy long horizontal rearview. Did he just give me a dirty look? Is he nuts? So I give him a night-bus-home smile--pained, like my front teeth are clamped down on a thick piece of rope. Fuck you, bussie, shove your attitude, and stand on the motherfuckin' gas and take me home. Trust me, you have no idea, you haven't walked a mile in mine, ma'. I settle down by the window and just stare out. The doors creak wildly and the exhaust gasps, and the dinosaur lurches forward, angry, finally ready to attack the night.

I did a lot of things wrong, man, I mean a lot. I'm not even talking about the deadly sins, or a lot of things that should be sins but aren't. I fucked up a lot along the way, you just can't imagine how much. I hope I'm not trying to paint myself as no superhero--I got flaws the size of my jaws, kid. Made some big, big mistakes. I gotta see me now, right now--where's my face? I remember the mirror on the ceiling of Goldheart's elevator, and I remember the mirror in the bathroom of my apartment, where Leonia used to look at herself and critique out loud. People smile for mirrors, man, they pose. You're not looking at yourself; you're looking at the best case scenario of yourself. Fuck that! I move my face back, like, six inches from the window dividing the night from myself. The light frames me in silver and black, and it works as a mirror of my own. I lock in on myself, can't look away. Won't. I'm in a stare down with myself, and as the bus books, the sights of New York City are orbiting my face, scowling, man, always scowling, as the dinosaur tumbles even faster, and it's bumpin', but I ain't movin' my eyes from my eyes. I somehow increase my concentration to that next level, like a trance or something, and I become the face in the reflection, starin' at myself starin' at myself. God, the mistakes! I made so many mistakes! Who's gonna blink first, punk? Not me. I'm not moving, kid, I ain't even thinking about moving, kid! And the scarier it gets, the more my past filled with flaws swarms around my eyes, the meaner my face gets--my left eye inflates, my eyebrow slants, my lips part slightly in defiance of the cosmos and the dead; and the lamp posts and storefronts let me be--they don't have my attention, or respect, and do you know what? They know it! Oh, God, I'm staring at myself and my mistakes are hovering over me, it's like I can see my feebleness in every speck of matter in the bricks of the stores and every fraction of fire in the corrupt stars, and I don't think the mistakes will ever go away, definitely not tonight. I gotta stare 'em down, though, gotta be tough, gotta hang together, gotta be the master of darkness.

My eye is set on the image of my eye, reversed, and I can only assume that my harmonica is somewhere. I can only assume the gun is tucked. I can only assume that Goldheart is waking up somewhere with a Leviathan hangover, and she feels happy about me. I can only assume that the bouncer at Terra and that strange singer (I only wanted to jam, have some fun, you gotta understand that above all else) feel some pang, some shard of the guilt that I do. Shard, man, that's all I'm askin'. Did Leonia have time to feel guilty while the bullet was in flight? Mistakes, man, haunting my ass. Inadequacy, mediocrity, haunting my lonely ass. But my mind, I learn, is only moving, operating, progressing, as long as my head is still. Completely still. So I ain't blinking until I get home. That's the only way. When you stare down memories, mistakes, guilt, if you blink, you're dead, motherfucker. And every now and then, blinding streaks of light shoot from the street to my eyes, and my whole face twitches, but I told you already, I'm still. I ain't blinking, kid. Lights erupt as I get closer to home. Look there, a bumbling vagrant with a stogie who stumbles. The night unfolds, and the world comes out from undercover. Mistakes. Shit. Mistakes? I never, never, never should have told her I loved her.
 
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Excerpted from Name the Baby by Mark Cirino. Copyright © 1997 by Mark Cirino. Excerpted by permission of Anchor Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.