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**PRINT: Our 30th broadsheet, GIVES BIRTH TO MONSTERS, by Chicago-based Spencer Dew, is a tale of one man's small heartbreak, the backdrop to a contemporary landscape of well-meaning but ultimately shallow political activism, fractured communicative lines, and more ultimately enduring drives toward total inebriation. In classic Dew fashion, he'll have you laughing all the way to brink of the void. Dew is the author of the short-story collection Songs of Insurgency (2008). This issue also features excerpts from our David Foster Wallace collaborative mini-tribute by THE2NDHAND editor Todd Dills and Bellingham, Wash.-based Doug Milam, author of our 27th broadsheet

THE FAT GOTHS S. Craig Renfroe Jr.
WING & FLY: DFW, Feb. 21, 1962-Sept. 12, 2008 | Todd Dills

Philip Brunetti

Brunetti lives and writes in Brooklyn, N.Y.

If I had been asked something, then I would've known the answer. But no one asked me anything. I was left to my own devices. I would often sit for hours without speaking. Sometimes the girl walked by. Sometimes she didn't. I didn't know her name: I only knew her face, her body. She was like a Spanish Conquistador -- whatever that was. I had an idea of a painting. I was falling apart inside. It didn't matter. The days were beating on. I'd been sad for a long time. I wanted to wear a cape and turn myself into a superhero. I could see her wearing a cape, too. Maybe she was my superhero. I wanted her to be my mistress. I liked the word: Mistress. It was full of entanglements and emotional pain. Maybe even physical pain. It was a long way from the school yard, all those things we'd done as children. All the falling down like that too.


If you are dreaming of fish eyes, I will give you fish eyes. I am a staunch competitor. Sometimes there's something electric in the air. It makes one feel intense. You're reminded of passion. It invades the death mask you've been wearing all these years and turns your crow's feet more crinkly -- more alive.

I said to her, "Something."

"It's obvious," she replied. "There is always something."

We chatted. Her boyfriend was right there looking on. He wore an out-of-date bathing suit and brown tee shirt. He looked a little paunchy. He was a man who understood the term bloated. He was not my concern. I wanted to get down on the floor and talk to her sneakers. They were off-white and slightly dirty. Her feet were inside them. Then she took her feet out of them. I watched from afar. I was at the next table. They were eating in front of me, but they weren't eating each other. She was feeding me subliminally. She had her seat three quarters to me. I could only see the edge of her face. At times, the one fish eye. It was enough to capture my heart. All the insignificance had become a burden. It hits you like that sometimes. I walked out of the restaurant. I went next door. I decided to write the story but it had already been written. I cried into my coat sleeve. I knew the day would be long and hard. She was just a stone's throw away -- right there. I wanted to cast the first stone. Women didn't love me. I told her that too before I left.

"Women don't love me," I said.

"I know," she said.

"I think they're afraid of me."

"Could be," she said.

"I think they think I'm weird."

"It's all right," she said.

I agreed. I wiped my mouth and hands on a napkin. I left another, unused napkin, folded neatly, for whoever came along.

And then when we are in places. She would look at me with a devious heart. I can see right through her bare chest and into her heart. I'm a superhero, after all. I've got X-ray vision. I see the blood pumping there. Her auricles and ventricles flapping. Her mitral valve opening and closing. I try to find the source of love. She doesn't give me any hints. She is a conquistador of love. She has conquered many men. I don't understand how she could have conquered so many men. But then after all --

I tell her about eating Chinese food in Rome. I was all alone and tired. I stumbled into a Chinese restaurant on the Via Ostiense. The clerk took my order. He made me eat my meal on a high stool at the counter. Other customers came and went. I had ordered the wrong thing in Chinese-Italian. I'd wanted fantail shrimp but ended up with only fantails. Half burnt and brownly translucent. The shrimp had fled or been left out. When I went to make a complaint they put me on a bus. There was a uniformed man aboard checking tickets. I didn't have a ticket. I had a monthly pass but not with me. I must have forgotten it at the pensione. I told the ticket checker this in broken Italian. He asked to see my passport.

"Non c'lo," I said. I don't have it.

"Per che?" Siete Americano?"


Some other stuff. I couldn't keep up with the conversation. He wrote me a fine. I stupidly thanked him in Italian. He'd been very cordial. I didn't know what else to do.

"We must get going." That's what the Conquistador Girl said to me.

"Where are we going?" I said.

"To the movies, of course."

"What are we seeing?"

"It doesn't matter. It's a foreign film. As long as you can read subtitles."

"I can read subtitles," I said. "My whole life is like reading subtitles."

She smirked and took my hand. It was love at first smirk, first touch. We walked to the movie theater. It was on 8th Street. I didn't know this movie theater ever existed. She said it'd been there for a century or more.

In the film Anna Magnani was crying. I don't know why she was crying. It appeared her son was dead. He'd been sacrificed for something. Maybe so there could be some Jesus symbolism. He died with his arms outstretched. The Conquistador Girl kept kicking me. She asked me, out of the side of her mouth, if I remembered Katina.

"How do you know Katina?" I said.

"I was there," she said.

Someone turned around to shush us.

Katina had been in elementary school with me. She used to kick me in the shins with her brown penny loafers in her green dress. I was in love with Katina. She was my first mistress. I cried and cried over Katina. She had the palest skin and the darkest hair. Radiant blue eyes. She was a little devil. A devil in the form of a woman or just a little girl.

"Katina?" I said.

"Don't you wish," she said.

"Shush," said the silhouette in front.

"Shush yourself," the Conquistador Girl said.

I looked back at the projection room. The pale blue beam of light shining above us.

"I have I have I have," I said.

"Nothing," the Conquistador Girl said.

You could just hear the reel of film turning.

And sometimes there are harpoons. Maybe you're reading about Ahab and Ishmael. This is just a children's story. I've been remembering it by heart my whole life. I've been looking for the white whale too. The way it swims through cities. A battered brow and all -- have you seen it?

In a parking lot the girl was learning to drive. The asphalt was all afire. The sun was setting. In a couple of weeks she was getting married. She came to me with tired eyes. She wanted me to read her story. I said OK. I read the story. It was pretty good. I marked it up a little and gave it back to her. She was pleased. She invited me to come to the wedding. I told her, "No."

"Why not?" she said.

"I don't go to weddings," I said.


"I don't think you should get married," I said.

"I'm in love," she said.

"Write another story," I said. "You're not in love."

"I am," she said.

"You can't love a man made of paper," I said. "You can't love a man made of straw. His shirt is stuffed with straw. It's coming out of his cuffs. He's not really there."

"Don't be horrible," she said.

"I'm horrible," I said. "But that has nothing to do with it."

We were quiet for a little while. She cried a couple of tears, not many. We walked to the nearest bar and ordered two shots of vodka. Then two more. We felt a little better. I didn't know what to say. I still didn't think she should get married.

"There is another man who is in love with you," I said.

She listened. I told her about the other man. I tried to convince her that the second man wasn't made of straw. But I didn't really believe it myself.

There she is, going away. Or really it is I who am going away. I have to leave the restaurant. I wanted to crawl under the table and play with her feet. But she wouldn't have it. She was playing footsie with her boyfriend, but it was fake. She knew I was watching her. And so she was putting on a show for me with the soft, wrinkly soles of her feet. She was trampling over me backwards even though I was sitting in the chair. I was also panting under her table like a dog. She knew I was there.

The day was cloudy. The night before it had rained. Everything was damp and slick. The sun hadn't come out yet. The buses rolled along the avenue. They left their smoke and fumes. I walked into a cloud of it and inhaled deeply. It penetrated my lungs like soft fire. I could feel the poison working even if it was colorless and odorless. I liked things that were colorless and odorless but still there. My whole life had been colorless and odorless. I was trying to make it visible. Make the invisible visible. This has something to do with the pen. But the pen is a limited instrument. It's something like the sun that burns you from 93-million miles away.

"You cannot," she said. "You cannot."

"OK," I said.

She told me about California. That's where she became a superhero. Or a superheroine. It's like actor and actress or just actor for both. She used to dance in thigh-high boots. They put her inside a gilded cage on top of a gigantic amplifier and other sound equipment. The men watched her from below with their tongues hanging out. The most they got was a tongue swipe at the sole of her boot. And only that if she let her leg drift out of the cage. And the men would have to give each other boosts. Or be sitting one on top of the other's shoulders. The music played very loud. There was a light show and psychedelic colors infused by drugs. She was only in her late teens and early 20s then. She wore a royal blue tee shirt and a black mini. Her breasts were elevated even without a bra. She was stacked. She had unarmored missiles, as she said, over an armored heart.

I was glad to listen to her stories. It had been a long time since I'd really heard one. I told her a few things about Rome, but she never listened to me. I was not a superhero in her eyes the way she was a superhero in mine. But I talked to her anyway. I'd let my eyes catch glimpses of those breasts too. I was cheating, just a once-over pass. It was delicious to think of the things I could do. But I had to remind her about the other girl. The one in some random neighborhood in Rome, Garbatella I think, who had a party one night and I'd shown up there. We were in the kitchen drinking wine. I had a strong feeling to ravage this girl and she had an equally strong feeling to ravage me. We circled around each other like fighter pilots in a drill. I followed her from one room to the next. We danced a few dances in the living room. We smoked on the balcony. Finally she went into her bedroom and masturbated herself to sleep. I stood behind the heavy curtain. I was holding myself in the palm of my hand. I was quite certain that we could fall in love. It was right there -- everything. I just had to push away the curtain and pull back the bed sheets from her body. Her exhalations were sweetly subtle. I climbed atop her but never tasted her tongue. She kept her mouth closed the whole time, but she was smiling, smiling, ever so vaguely smiling.

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