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Monday, August 8, 2011

Link to Filmmaker Magazine blog

Hi all...I'm providing a link to a blog I wrote for Filmmaker Magazine about micro-budget filmmaking.

http://www.filmmakermagazine.com/news/2011/08/the-microbudget-conversation-script-v-story/

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fiction: Songs of Dead Children

As post-production tends to be a slower time, I won't have much to post most likely.  So, I'll share some fiction here that has been accumulating for the last 15 years.  This is from the late 1990s. One of my faves:

Year 21. Week 1252. Day 6264. Hour 62,640.

Philip double checked the doors on the fifteen office suites to ensure they were locked. He listened to the hum of hard drives in the reception lobby and turned off Mrs. Newton's PC. Mrs. Sally Newton always had a habit of forgetting things. Phillip did not blame her as he selected "shut down" from the option menu. The woman had five teenage boys.
Philip walked into the men's restroom and changed from his navy tie, dress shirt, and dark slacks into the puffy cotton space of a clown outfit. He shaved his face and poured a small cup of water into the dry pot of a forgotten Chinese Evergreen that rested on the ledge of a frosted window. Men make poor gardeners, he remarked to himself while banging his razor blade against the sink to free it from shaving cream and clumps of grey and black stubble.
With his backpack in hand, and his work clothes wrapped in a tight ball, Philip set the alarm to the building and locked the front door. The bike rack was warm against his hands when he unlocked his ten-speed. He noticed a pigeon had shit on his bike seat, and he flicked the dry mound off, dusting the remaining stain away with his polka-dot sleeved elbow.
"Damn birds. Damn damn pigeons."

Before mounting his bike, Philip hitched up his clown pants so they would not catch in the chains of the bike. This was the last thing irritable mothers of birthday girls and boys liked to see: a party clown dirtied with bike grease. Because he had forgotten the name of today's party girl, Philip took his day calender from his backpack pocket and flipped to May 17. Party. Alyonushka - girl. Anna - mother. 5306 Cielo Drive. Philip practiced the girl's name four times, upset that the girl had the difficult name and the mother had the easier one.

Philip returned his planner to his back pack with his work clothes, then dug deeper beyond his spaghetti sauce stained tupperware containers and a box of party favor pens to make sure the gun was there. He felt the cold solid surface against his fingers, and zipped the bag up. With the back pack on his shoulder, he mounted his bike and began to ride through networks of subdivisions in New Russia Town, peddling quickly to make lights while they remained green.
He did not make all the lights, and stopped at one, his breath falling heavy out of his body, his sweat wetting his back where his backpack rested. Cars passed, staring at the clown without the wig and nose, and Philip's mind flew over his check list of things to do.

"Called Office Depot. Cancelled the order for software disks. Backed up all on the mainframe. Made a P.O. for a new drive for McKee. Bought bullets."

Philip stopped breathing as a teenage boy in a Bradley Braves sports jersey threw a large paper cup at him. It bounced off Philip's tire and broke into shining pieces of Coke-stained ice.

He had forgotten to buy bullets. Philip ignored the green light and the walk signal flashing for his right of way. He had forgotten the most crucial thing today: bullets. He had not written the instructions down on his yellow post-it note pad titled "To Do Today!" on each repetitive page. How would he complete his list now? How would he be able to leave the Russian girl's party after an hour or two of balloon-twisting and ride to the alley way behind the Dairy Queen? How would he be able to wait until all the workers were gone to pull his friend from his backpack, sing his favorite Beatles' song...I need a fix 'cause I'm going down, down to the bits that I left up town. I need a fix 'cause I'm going down...while holding the warm gun face to face, eye to eye?

Philip heard an ambulance running in the shrill distance, watched cars begin to pull over, a Mazada with a pony-tailed mother, picking up the bottle of formula her son threw from his car seat, a Mexican in a truck with ladders and paint cans, a city bus with tired faces peppered inside, a woman in a forest green S.U.V cursing this inconvenience of an emergency and digging a plastic fork into her Ranch McDonald's Salad Shaker. Philip watched these vehicles passively rest on the side of the street.

...The man in the crowd with the multi-coloured mirrors
on his hobnail boots lying with his eyes
while his hands are busy working overtime...

The doppler effect of the sirens came to Philip like sleep. He watched the heat lift from the asphalt, distorting the fenders of halted vehicles, and gripped his bike handles. He moved his bike to the edge of the curb. Five second more, he whispered to himself as Beatles lyrics swirled in his grey brain. He looked away from the pony-tailed mother who picked up the bottle a second time. He pressed his brakes. I am sorry little Alonush...Alanuskia...whatever your stupid name is. Sorry there won't be a red rubber nose to squeeze and a yellow balloon of a unicorn to force feed the icing from your white cake. Two seconds more...And most of all, I am sorry, Star. Precious Estrella. Sorry. One second.

Philip released his brakes and peddled to the intersection with dark bursts. As his body met the front of the speeding emergency vehicle with a great pop, the squeals and cracks and breakings made the salad woman look up with a jerk. Over the intersection, like God had dropped something important, Philip's dislodged arms and legs rested, stuffed in a polka-dot swatch of cloth saturated with blood and soft matter. His back pack ripped open, blooming with a white dress shirt, a navy tie dirtied with pasta sauce, wrinkled slacks, and party favors that rolled from their cardboard box over the street. The salad woman dropped her plastic fork, spit out a crouton, and vomited in her lap while the local lite rock station ended a Kenny G hit and went to commercial.

...Mother Superior jumped the gun
Mother Superior jumped the gun...

It took two hours to clean what remained of Philip from the intersection of King Street and Little Broadway. A policeman shifted traffic flows around the mess and shouted "There's nothing to see here, keep moving on" when pale curious faces rolled down windows to see blood. The police man was upset that his meal break had been interrupted. The only thing that pleased him was to pick up a small red pen with a sliding trolley car inside of it. He flipped it over and over, watching the car slide left and right, then tucked it in his pocket with a smile. He would later give it to his little boy.

...She's not a girl who misses much,
do do do do do do do, oh yeah,
She's well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand
Like a lizard on a window pane....

* * * *

PHILIP V. (b. 1946-d. 1996)

Dear Nella,
I hope you find this letter. There isn't much time left. Remember when mama said that granny went on a full moon and that's why she's in heaven? Well, the full moon starts tomorrow.
See...I loved the girl in the red polyester. I met her when she was a size six and her hair matched the New Mexican soil. She had stars on her cheeks and blue velvet eyes. She was eating a rare steak and these french fries thick as a man's thumb. I saw her. I loved her. She smiled at me. No matter what it looks like, I loved the girl in the red polyester.


Philip's father had always told him that in the land of the free and the home of the brave, success only came to those that worked hard for it. So, Philip worked hard for his visions of large houses with multiple car garages and a wife that had everything she wanted. But his father failed to mention that the language of myth provokes incredible hallucinatory visions, desires too big for their britches. When he was ten, Philip's mother often touched her son's shoulder at the buffet line at Luby's Cafeteria, roast beef piled like shingles on his plate, and told her son: "Somebody's eyes are bigger than their stomach."

For Philip, hard work didn't bring a house layered like cake, a yacht docked at Fire's Island, or a wine cellar of 1982 Bordeaux and Ports. Hard work only left Philip with an unusable amount of sick leave, boundless respect from his peers, fatigue, and florescent tinted skin.

But Philip waited, waited for a big bundle of cash to bounce from the sky, a reward from God who would not force Philip to live retirement in a small house that needed a new roof, live in a retirement without expensive wines, sherries, void of sailboat rides in the Gulf of Mexico. Philip knew God would not continue to punish him with two jobs and no relaxation. God knew, surely, that Philip had himself to feed. And he had his wife, Estrella, to feed.

I remember when she first heard disco music.
"What is this stuff?" She whispered in my ears.
"They call it disco," I told her as she smiled. God. She was fifteen years younger than I was. She should have been carrying thick text books to classes and have a backpack slung over her shoulders.
"Let's go dance," she grabbed my hand. I followed her, watching her curls bounce and swing under the flashing blue and red lights."

* * * * *

Philip meets Estrella in the winter of 1978.
He is 32.
She is 17.

Philip and his friend Frank are passing through Newark. Their future weekend in Manhattan brings them hopes of honeys in platform shoes and short sequined minis.

"So Wanda split the shit, eh?" Little Frank bounces over the seat with each small road bump.
"Yep. No note." Philip spots a rode side diner with blue brick walls. The black pipes of industries behind the diner give white smoke to the air. "She left nothin'. Gone. Figure she took off with that German she met doing her Peace Corp thing."
"Sorry, guy."
"No big deal. She was a bad catch anyway. Let the German have her. Maybe the bratwurst will kill her!" Philip laughs and pulls the car into a space in front of the diner where they will use the restroom and stock up on cigarettes. Disco clubs and bars on the Island are infamous for charging high prices for tobacco.

The diner is warm and smells of maple syrup and fried eggs. Bright green plastic plants with parasitic dust clumps hang from the ceiling. There are a few truck drivers sitting in orange vinyl booths over oatmeals and plates of bacon. Philip sees a women sitting at the bar of the diner, near a boy with hair as thick, curly, and red as hers. Little Frank looks at the red head once, and continues to the urinals. Little Frank only thinks of Latina honeys, the roses of Spanish Harlem, with meaty breasts. But Red catches Philip's eyes, and she returns his gaze, her fingers clutching french fries.
Philip continues to watch her as he walks to the urinals. Red puts a fry into her mouth and grabs her coffee cup.
The door of the men's restroom shuts behind Philip and he stands near Little Frank to unzips his jeans.

"Red was watching you, Phil." Little Frank zips up his fly and washes his hands.
"I noticed." Philip smiles, and watches his piss quietly coat the white porcelain of the urinal.
"Are you gonna talk to her?" Little Frank blows his nose into a crisp paper towel.
"Nah. She's with somebody. Some kid."
"Ah. Didn't notice." Little Frank laughs and runs his fingers through his dark hair. "Well, there'll be plenty of reds in the city, I'm sure, if that's your flavor of the day. Hey, I'm gonna get some cigs. Then I'll be out in the car."
"Okay. I'll just grab a Coke for the road, and maybe a slice of chocolate cream pie. Be out soon."

Little Frank looks at his teeth in the mirror, then walks out of the restroom. Philip leaves the urinals seconds later, almost running into an old man who hobbles with a clunky walker. Philip strolls to the counter, near enough to Red to hear her cutting her steak into small pieces. A skinny saggy waitress with silver hair comes to wait on Phil.

"What can I get you?"
"A coke. And do you have any chocolate cream pie?"
"No, just peach and key lime today."
"Okay. Well just some peach then. And I need that wrapped to go."

The waitress walks to a plexiglass display of desserts that spin under a florescent light and removes plates of dumpy chocolate cake to find a slice of peach pie. Red looks at Phil and he feels her eyes prickling over his skin. He hears her jump off her bar stool, and feels her warmth as she stands behind him.

"Do you see any Freshen-Up in there?"
Philip looks over his shoulder down at Red. "What's that?"
Red moves to stand next to Philip to look at the glass display of colorful gums and candies.
"Freshen-Up. I love that syrupy stuff they put inside it, especially after the gum's been in your pocket and it's nice and warm. I wonder how they do that you know, put that syrup inside."
"Oh, technology. You know." Philip grins and scratches his elbow.
The waitress brings Philip his peach pie wrapped in aluminum foil and a glass bottle of Coke. Philip pays her the dollar and twenty cents she asks from him, and when she smiles, he stares at the crooked brown incisor planted inside her gums.
"Enjoy your pie, sir."
Philip turns to Red and places the eighty cents in change into her small white hands.
"Here. Buy yourself all the Freshen-Up they've got."

Red looks up to him as Philip walks to the door, his palms are sweating. He sees Little Frank sitting in the car, a cigarette protruding from his mouth, leaking smoke into the diminishing January sunlight.
"Hey, you!" Red calls to Philip. He stops with the front door open and the bells tied to the handle bang against the scratched glass. Philip looks back to her, to her overloaded blue eyes and his guts shake.
"My brother and I are sorta hitching it into the city and were wondering if you guys were going that way?"
Philip smiles, the chills leave his body. With a toss of his shoulders, Estrella, her brother Jonathan, and five packs of peppermint Freshen-Up gum travel with Little Frank and Philip in a black Chevette to New York City.

Nella, see, I didn't know what I was getting into when I brought Estrella back home with me. How could I have known? Estrella didn't know either. My precious Star. She never told me much about her past, except that her mother was an "insane bitch" who often ripped open Estrella's stuffed pandas and teddy bears while the child watched. Her father was a man who had given up on life, and spent most of his time gambling. He'd come home to sleep, piss, and pat his daughter on the head. And that was all Precious Star ever saw of him. Her brother was her only source of solace. Until I came along.

The weekend passes well for the four. Little Frank finds a stumpy brunette with amazing skin who smokes very long brown cigarettes. They return to her apartment in the Lower East Side. Estrella dances with Philip in nightclubs with names like "Lucky Four," "Gem's," and "Luscious." She wears a pair of tight red polyester pants and adores the music called funk and disco. Philip buys Jonathan too many White Russians and has to drag his limp body back to the hotel early Sunday morning.

When the weekend spree ends, Philip knows that Estrella and Jonathan have no place to go. He invites them back to Jersey with him. Estrella says yes, and Jonathan stays in Manhattan to look for a job. A year passes, and marriage and a new job bring Philip and Estrella to Illinois where corn is always cheap and fresh. Their house is comfortable and the yard is healthy from the effect of Estrella's green thumbs. She buys cook books, exploring daily the culinary histories of all the world's countries. On Saturdays, Philip drives Estrella in the company Chevy Caprice to record stores to buy Beatles albums for his collection and albums by Bootsie's Rubber Band and The Commodores for Estrella. On Wednesday evenings, they lie in their white bed together with a bag of Cheetos and watch Dynasty.
"Star?"
"Yeah..."
"Where do you want to go when I retire?"
"Africa."
"People starve in Africa, hon. Remember Ethiopia."
"Rome."
"Rome. Okay. Italy. That sounds nice. We'll drink wine every day and eat pasta."
"Here, have a Cheeto, Phil."
As Estrella places the orange Cheeto in her husband's mouth, allowing her fingers to linger over his teeth, Philip touches Estrella's soft freckled rear from under her pink satin nightie. She does not wear underwear to bed.

Yes, I would have liked to have had a son, or maybe a daughter, with hair as wonderful as Estrella's. And you could have been an aunt, Nella! But Star couldn't have children. We checked everything out. She was as sterile as they come. We thought of adoption, but it just didn't feel right. I think this all hurt my precious Star a little more than she let on. She's just kept cooking these wonderful dishes every night. Pruning the tomato plants and killing the Japanese beetles by hand. But from that time on when we found out that we couldn't have our own kids, there was a sadness to her, her eyes were a darker shade of blue than they'd ever been before.

After Philip's suicide, his only sibling, Nella, opted to take care of the details of closing up her brother's life and sorting out the matters of the world he had left behind. Death was an easy situation for Nella who worked in Dallas at a retirement home. Philip would not take much of her time with weeping or memories, since the last time she spoke to him was seven years ago for a "Merry Christmas!" phone call. Shutting up his life neatly would be as simple as placing a pill under the tepid tongue of a patient.

Nella tackled the house first, to separate trash from treasure. But the only useable thing Philip had left behind was a collection of work clothes and clown outfits of various shades and patterns. Nella would donate this to the local Good Will, if her family did not want them.
"Dad, do you want Phil's clothes?" Nella would ask later that evening from her hotel phone.
"Why would I want his clothes?"
"He was your size."
"No, he was fatter. How's the house look?"
"It's really a mess. The wall paper's peeling. The toilet downstairs in the basement doesn't even work. Hasn't been used for years. The carpet's stained. Bare in place. I even found all these rags everywhere, covered with hair or dried food."
"You should donate the furniture to Good Will. They're good people. And tax deductions."
"No, dad. The furniture is ruined too. Broken tables. I even found dried cat poo on a couch."
"Lord have mercy. Your mom better not ever find out about this."
"How is mom?"
"She's still curled up in a ball in the bathtub, crying her eyes out over her nuts son."
"Is she still not eating?"
"No. Not eating. Tried to give her some warm milk and turkey meat. For energy. Refused it 'til I had to raise my voice at her and force her to get out of that damn tub."

It was said for many years among Philip and Estrella's neighbors that Nella never grimaced once when discovering the awful trash behind the heavy oak doors of 2115 Fern Drive, that she remained as she always was in the face of death, calm and collected, there to do her job then go home. Neighborhood children with jump ropes and bikes, who were convinced that Philip's ghost remained in the house, made rope skipping songs about the things Nella found.

One two, one two, chicken bones in a shoe!
Three four, three four, brown mouse under the door!
Five six, five six, gonna be sick, gonna be sick!
Seven eight, seven eight, dead kittens in a crate!


* * * * *

I don't know when it all started happening, Nella. I just remember that one Sunday, I got myself up early to make breakfast for us. It was a beautiful cool summer morning. I put the coffee and pancakes out on the back porch table and went upstairs to wake Estrella up. She put her bathrobe on and came downstairs with me. We began to walk outside to the back yard and right when she walked out the door, she started screaming. Screaming like she was in pain. I thought she'd stepped on a nail, but there wasn't any blood on the floor. She ran back inside and flung herself on the couch, clinging to the pillows. I held her and kept asking what was wrong. She could only look at me and shake her head. "I don't know. Don't make me go back out there." "Of course not," I said. After that morning, she could never go outside again. She shut all the blinds in the house. She would scream if I mindlessly opened up a window and let some sunlight and fresh air in. Her rose garden died. The vegetable garden died. Her indoor herb garden too. The house became dark all the time. She slept all day, was up all night. I tried to tell her that maybe she'd like to see a doctor but she insisted on her sanity, saying she would soon feel better, and that she didn't need to see anybody. She'd cry for an hour if I mentioned bringing someone over to the house to see her.
"He'll smell like daylight once he's in here." She'd start crying.
"Well, I must smell like daylight when I come in after work."
She'd just look at me. "No. It slides right off you when you come in. I see it slide off you, like banana peels, falling to the floor and cracking, running frantic like lizards into the cracks between the wall and the ceiling."

Philip leaves the house several hours before he is required to be at work. He leaves before Estrella wakes and starts to do something he cannot tolerate or change. Philip showers at 6:30 a.m., shaves quickly, and dresses, surrounded by the smells of bleach. At 7:10, he drives to the local Butter Burger on Main and Clarkson where he meets five other restless aging men. They sit in a far orange formica dining booth and drink bottomless styrofoam cups of black coffee. Some smoke harsh cigarettes, some talk about broken garden hoses, or how good their college football teams were when they played on them, but all talk about their wives and flatulence while the morning crew of Butter Burger employees pull frozen hashbrown from cardboard boxes and fill a coffee creamer display.

When the morning rush of suits and ties in nice cars come, the old men remain in their corner booth, hoping to see the skinny blonde in three inch heels come in as she does every Thursday and Friday to order her small black coffee and a fat-free apple bran muffin. All the men and the teenage cashier watch her as she walks out of the Butter Burger doors, and as she slides into her silver Audy to drive into Chicago. They watch her smooth legs move like milk and perfection.
When Philip is at work at 9 a.m., he slips into his comfortable routine, safe under the fluorescent lights. He tidies his desk, picks up paper scraps from the floor, dumps pencil shavings, and greets every employee with a "Good morning!" He smiles until 4:45 p.m. every work day, when then he watches his co-workers eye the minute hand on the clock, dump out old coffee, stuff papers into drawers, and zip up purses. He envies them, these happy people content enough with going home to be with loving families. They would have an evening of conversation, diner, and interaction in beautiful homes. They would have their spouses to make love to when the children were tired of watching Fraggle Rock and went to bed.

When the minute hand hits the 12 marker and the hour hand hits the 5, everyone waves goodbye to Philip who stays, reading the local newspaper, or scrubbing out the coffee pot in the break room with a Brillo pad. When the clock reads 7 p.m., Philip panics. The janitor would come to clean soon and doesn't like Philip in his way. Philip then leaves the office, but slowly, delaying his return home with whatever distraction he can find. He chats with Gina, the parking lot attendant, asks about the well-being of her two small boys. He drives ten miles under the speed limit. He stops at a grocery store to buy milk, Frito corn chips, a can of chili, while walking up every aisle to watch the blur of colors and letters on the cans and boxes before him. In the frozen food aisle, he picks up vanilla ice cream to share with Estrella, if she is in the mood to eat.

When I'd get up in the mornings, and when I'd get home from work, I'd find all these paper cut outs of these models that Estrella plastered over the windows. She'd tell me that she'd pulled out pages from these magazines and covered every window in the house with them so no light could leak through. So, everywhere I'd go, I'd have these models smiling stiffly at me as if they knew something I didn't. Once, I found Estrella talking to a cut-out of a well built dark-haired male model. I couldn't hear what she was saying, but she wrung her hands, and gently shook her head at him. He kept smiling at nothing.


Philip had always known that Estrella had been a curiosity of her neighborhood. When she and Philip first moved into their house, they had quite a few neighbors being neighborly and bringing over homemade breads and jellies. Estrella accepted everything with a smile, but never invited the women of the neighborhood into her home.
"They're gossipy hens, Philip." She once told him in the first week of their new home.
"Well, just stop answering the door then."
So, Estrella never opened the door to one of her neighbors again, or to their children who were selling cookies or chocolate for school fundraisers. After futile knocking, the children began to think she was a crazy witch, casting spells in her basement over a pot of boiling poison.

The last time Estrella was her old self was four months, two weeks, and six days ago. I'd returned from work and found her on the couch watching The Honeymooners. She was curled up in a small ball, her red hair curling over her knees. She had my blue bathrobe on. She looked at me when I came in and smiled. Then I remembered the diner outside of Newark. I remembered the peach pie in my hand, the pile of silver coins in hers. She asked me to sit next to her on the couch. I did. She put her arms around me and I put mine around her. We sat like that, in the sinking middle of the couch, through two episodes of The Honeymooners, through an episode of All in the Family. She got up to go to the bathroom on I Love Lucy.

* * * * *

When Nella began the second day of cleaning Philip's affairs, she had found in the silverware drawer in the kitchen, an old cassette tape labelled in Philip's precise handwriting: "BEATLES MIX: ALL TIME FAVES, PT. 3." But when Nella played the tape on an old Sony portable, she instead found it full of Philip's muffled voice. He talked about a small tree he had planted when he was nine, how he had watered this tree everyday and watched it grow. "It was some simple blue spruce tree that didn't make any berries, and didn't smell beautiful. It just grew on the side of the house. When we all moved out after I graduated from high school, the tree was really tall. Then when I'd come back to town, I'd always drive by the old house to see the tree. Every time, it was always a little fuller."

Then he talked about his wife as the tape hissed and clicked:

"Estrella has started collecting pieces of food out of the garbage and placing them all over the house. I can't understand why. She tells me that if the house is a little messy, then light will never come in, that her stupid neighbors will never bother her and knock on the door. So, she just goes through the garbage, collecting little meat bones and putting them in jewelry boxes next to her silver earrings. She's also completely destroyed her prized record collection by melting 'em down over the gas oven. She couldn't tell me why she did it, 'cept that 'it was a recommendation.' But probably the worse thing she's doing now, the thing that just makes me...cry...when I see her doing it, is when she spreads our cat's shit on the inside of the closet, then washes her hands with pure bleach after until they are swollen and red. I wonder sometimes if there's any reason to hope she'll get back to normal. I don't know what to do. I couldn't stand to watch her being dragged out of the house, screaming, by a bunch of men who have tied her in a straight jacket. No. She's better off here. But I can't understand why she's said nothing to me this past week. She doesn't even look at me now. I've tried to tell her things that might make her smile. Memories of our marriage. Our honeymoon back in New York City when I took her to see A Chorus Line. She loved it and I bought her the soundtrack the next day. She played it incessantly for weeks. I could remember all the songs on the record. I tried to sing them to her tonight, what I could remember anyway. I sang her that strange song...how's it go...the one with 'tits and ass' in the chorus? I could remember the melody clear as day, but only a few lines. She stopped and listened to me, laughed a little, but still didn't say anything. Then I tried singing some of Donna Summer "I Feel Love." She didn't pay attention, just stood in front of the oven, motionless and quiet."

Nella kept the cassette tape and called her mother that night. She had finally come out of the bathtub and was eating again.
"How's the house look, Nellie?"
"The house is in great condition and everything's fine, mama. Should be an easy sell."
"And his wife? What is going to happen to her? Have you talked to her?"
Nella stopped. She had never been good at lying to her mother.
"Star is fine mom. She's going to live with her parents for while while she recovers from the shock of it all."
"Good. Good girl. The poor creature."

After the phone call, Nella sat against the bed frame of the stiff hotel mattress, listening to the air conditioning blur with the sounds of the local nightly news running a small segment on her brother's death. Over the television screen came images of Estrella in her soiled nightgowns being led out of the house by three men in matching outfits, her red hair matted against her neck desperately as she wailed and screamed against the light. Nella shook her head at a detached reporter clutching her microphone: "His mysterious wife had been kept for years within the house when she desperately needed psychiatric help. She is survived by no known family members." A delicate wind flipped a glossy swatch of the reporter's brunette hair into her mouth which she removed with red-tipped fingers.

When an Energizer Bunny commercial emerged, Nella popped the cassette in to her Walkman to listen to the rest of her brother's monologue. But he had finished recording over his tape apparently as the chorus line of his favorite song abruptly began:

- gun
Happiness is a warm gun
When I hold you in my arms,
and I feel my finger on your trigger
I know no one can do me no harm
Because happiness is a warm gun (bang bang, shoot shoot)
Happiness is a warm -Yes it is - Gun..........