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Thirty-three. It’s a tough one. A lot of all-time greats went down at 33. Jesus was 33 when they hung him up on that cross. So was Keith Relf of the Yardbirds when a high-voltage shock unplugged him forever. Rushton Moreve from Steppenwolf was born to be wild but not to see 34. He died at 33 in a car crash. Same thing happened to Rob Collins from the Charlatans UK. Don’t forget poor Lester Bangs, dead at 33 of “flu-like symptoms.” The great Sam Cooke got shot dead before he could sing himself a sweet, happy 34th. Remember Lee Morgan, the legendary jazz trumpeter? Murdered when he was 33. And, of course, there’s John Belushi, who was done in by a speedball at 33. Fifteen years later Belushi lover Chris Farley performed the sincerest form of flattery and did himself in the same way. At 33.

Dempsey’s looked into it; he knows 33 can be a make-or-break kind of year. It’s troubling to think about. So, before he thinks about it anymore, or anything else for that matter, he flops on the couch and sucks on his cigarette. The smoke burns where his lungs and throat already burn from too many cigarettes. An empty Heineken 22-ouncer is on the floor in front of him. He kicks it out of sight, but there’s another one over there and another one over there, all reminding him of how things went wrong last night, of how he got all jumpy and drunk again, despite his promises to get off this jag. But here’s the morning again, and it appears that only the smallest things changed in the night, like how Dempsey now looks like an alien with no eyebrows and a patch of hair missing from the front of his head. The big things — those stayed the same.

Dempsey turned 33 himself last night. That’s partly what had him so jumpy. Even though he knows it’s not bona fide to compare himself to these big people and their short, bright lives, and it’s especially wrong to compare himself to Jesus (although Jesus sometimes feels more real to him than the rest), Dempsey still thought it reasonable that a person could be a little jumpy at 33, even if that person isn’t a rock star, or a comedian or a savior or anything like that.

So instead of celebrating his birthday in the way he had imagined it might be someday — in some fancy restaurant with friends and well-wishers toasting his somewhat improbable success — Dempsey sat in his apartment last night on the couch he got at a yard sale down the street and had a chocolate bar, smoked some cigarettes and cracked open that first 22-ouncer — one of four things in his refrigerator. The other three things were also Heinekens. The beer only got him more restless, though, and onto thinking about how he was pretending to be carrying on with some half-baked plan about being a writer. Carrying on. Carrying on. Carrying on. As if the plan was the person. But not really carrying on with the plan because, truthfully, what the hell had he written?

Funny thing is he almost wrote something last night on his birthday. After his second 22-ouncer, he got up off the couch and went over to the computer and started typing notes about a guy who can’t sleep and who decides he wants to go out in the pre-dawn to find an all-night donut shop. Only the guy is having trouble getting out the door. He fumbles with his clothes and can’t find his socks or shoes, and doesn’t know where his car keys are, and all the while it’s getting closer to daylight. If he could just get out to the donut shop while it's still dark, his whole life would change because what he doesn’t know is the donut shop that’s calling to him is magic. It’s a place where all these strange and magical people congregate in the off-hours: There are diamond smugglers from South Africa and the mistresses of drug barons from South America, and sailors ready to ship off to the South Pacific (all the crazy stuff must happen in the Southern Hemisphere), and renegade housewives from the Midwest (except that), and there’s a clown entertaining everyone in the shop, doing stupid magic tricks. All sorts of unforeseen possibilities are waiting there, if only he could get out the door before light. Because when the dawn comes, the light turns the place back into a regular donut shop with plain donuts, plain people and plain coffee. But this guy Dempsey was thinking about just keeps bumbling around messing with one thing after the next — the socks, the shoes, the hair — making a big production out of getting out the door, and by the time he turns the doorknob, it’s light out and he suddenly doesn’t want to go anymore and the spell is broken.

[

When this whole thing began last night, Dempsey was at the computer typing notes and wondering how to start the story — whether it should begin in the donut shop or in the guy’s apartment. But instead of writing, he started thinking about turning 33, and then he cracked open another Heineken 22-ouncer and lit another cigarette, and then another. By the time they were gone, he was ready to go out, because even though 33 is a tricky one, he knew he was his own worst enemy sitting there in that shitty apartment about to run out of beer and maybe even cigarettes.

So, unlike the guy in the story Dempsey didn’t write, who couldn’t get out the door, Dempsey went out for a drink instead of a donut. He walked down to Melrose where there’s a bar called the Snake Pit. He’d been showing up there more lately. He sat down in the corner and hoped for that waitress who probably had something to do with why he’d been showing up there more lately. This waitress had long black hair almost down to her butt and olive skin with some freckles on it. She walked with an athletic bounce that gave her compact and curvy body a friendly appeal. It all made her a compelling figure in Dempsey’s imagination. He thought she could’ve been one of those wannabe actress types you see waiting tables, looks-wise anyway, except she didn’t dress or act like she thought she should be someplace else. And when she smiled it didn’t seem like she was auditioning.

Dempsey could picture her naked as clear as he could already taste that shot of Wild Turkey and draft he was about to order. She was the first one he could do that with since that thing happened that he didn’t want to talk about to anyone. That thing could be why he didn’t talk much, because you meet someone here and the next thing you know, they want to know what you’re about. Mostly, he figured, they were worried you might be about the same thing as them. In his head, though, this waitress was different. She didn’t act like she cared what you were about. When Dempsey thought about her naked, he thought about a mermaid. Or rather, a person with mermaid-like qualities. Whatever the hell those might be.

“Haven’t seen you since last night,” she joked when she came over to take his order.

“I’m trying not to be a regular,” Dempsey joked back.

“Then, how come you regularly sit over here in the corner drinking by yourself?”

“Um, well, I guess to appreciate you from a distance, and without any interruptions,” he tried. “Plus, I don’t have any friends.” He was going for an affect of flirtatiousness tempered by self-deprecation should the flirtatiousness not be well-received.

“Trying to get the sympathy vote, are you?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess so.” But he meant the part about no friends and the other part, too.

“Hmm. I don’t know if you get mine. You don’t look so bad off to me. What can I get you then, lonely guy?”

“A shot of Wild Turkey and a draft.”

“A shot and a beer. Special night?”

“Yeah, my birthday.”

“I see, no friends and your birthday. You really are trying. I’ll give you that. Any more cards up your sleeve?”

Dempsey realized he was having an exchange. Already this exchange exceeded the sum of all their exchanges from all the times he’d been there before combined. In fact, they had never exchanged before.

“No, that’s my only card. Lonely guy on his birthday. Is it working?”

“Well, it might get you a free beer if you’re lucky. How many is it?”

“Probably too many to tell you without you thinking I’m an old man.”

“You’ll never know unless you tell, will you?”

“Why don’t you tell me and I’ll decide from there.”

“Oh, I’m 23. Practically a baby,” she teased.

That sent Dempsey spinning. Partly it was the sheer brilliance of her being 23 and having all that hair and that skin and that smile with those fucking fresh teeth, and her being so damn sure she had the world right where she wanted it. And she did, too. How could she not? Partly, too, it was just thinking about 10 years ago and how Dempsey probably was just like her. Thinking is a dangerous thing, especially when you’re drinking, but that never stopped him before and it didn’t stop him now from thinking about how possible everything felt 10 years ago. Back then the future was this buzzing light off on the horizon, a light that attracted him to it with high hopes of what was waiting, but also filled him with a dull dread about how to get there. He remembered how even back when he was her age, he wished he could stay suspended there where the light hadn’t yet started getting smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror of his life.

[

Dempsey downed his shot and all of a sudden felt both light and immovable. He knew that whatever disaster was about to strike Los Angeles — and it’s a sure thing one’s always on the way — it would have to take him with it.

“Well, I better keep my condition a secret then,” he said, returning to her question. “You might think I’m a dirty old man. . . . Maybe I’ll tell you later.”

“Maybe if I get you drunk enough,” she said and sort of winked without winking. When she came back with his drinks, he tipped her five dollars and hoped she took it the right way.

Over the next hour or so, she made a couple more trips back his way, and he repeated the same order as the first — Wild Turkey and a draft. Each time she came, he tipped her anywhere from three to five dollars. They kept up a little banter; mostly she asked Dempsey if he was going to tell her his age yet, and he said no, not yet. He tried to steer his expectations clear of anything other than periodic drop-offs of Wild Turkey with a cold beer to chase, but he was getting looser with each drink, and something like anticipation began creeping into his head. He started thinking there was something in her eyes that was meant for just him. The only time he got up was to take a piss. As far as he was concerned, anything that was coming his way would have to find him right there.

On her third trip back, she said, “Well, I’ve brought you three shots and three beers. You must be getting drunk enough to tell me how old you turned today.”

“You don’t know me very well,” he said.

She said, “I might not know you very well, but I know you’ve already tipped me more than your bar bill. So, either you’re drunk or you’re stupid.”

“Well, um, you ever consider that maybe I’m just feeling magnanimous? And maybe I appreciate what you’re doing for me right now?” There’s a fine line between corny and brave, and Dempsey felt surprisingly sure of himself walking it. He wondered if she was curious about how a guy 10 years older than her touches, or fucks even.

“You’re easy to please considering all I’m doing is bringing you drinks.”

“It’s the way you’re bringing them that counts. It means a lot to an old guy on his birthday.”

Dempsey was pretty loose at this point. If the Pope walked in the door, he would have told him to buy a round or go fuck himself. What would be the harm? Anyway, if he put her off, she didn’t let on. She said it looked like he had a few good years left in him.

“I’d like to believe you believe that,” he said.

Dempsey noticed then that she wasn’t wearing the little apron where she kept her table checks anymore. She explained that the kitchen was closed and that she was just waiting for a table to finish up so she could go home. She nodded in the direction of a bunch of square-headed guys with gym-built bodies, too much hair gel and too few wrinkles. They wore loud shirts and turned their baseball caps backward. Together they looked like the human equivalent of a parking lot full of SUVs. Dempsey, on the other hand, was lean from the sheer effort it took to reach 33. Plus, he was wearing aerodynamic black pants and a brown T-shirt.

“You got a date with one of those gas guzzlers or something?” he asked.

Please. That’s why I don’t work the late shift. Too many frat boys like them start coming in about now thinking they’re cute. I just came over to see if you needed anything else before I bounce.”

It was about then that Dempsey had a rare feeling of exemption. He started forgetting his worries about being 33, and everything else. Maybe this will work, he thought. And even though a part of him knew he was in a mirage or a dream, he was happy to be lost in it. So he kept going.

“Well, I’d kill for a cigarette,” he said, “but they don’t let you smoke in bars anymore, not even this one, which makes about as much sense to me as not putting milk on your cereal.”

[

“Tell me about it,” she said. “I’m dying for a smoke myself.”

He decided to go for it.

“You could use a smoke. I could use a ride home,” he said, looking up from his beer at her. “I walked down here from Stanley, but I just don’t feel like I’ll be able to get up and out of here without some help . . . and I don’t want to spend the night here.”

She considered for a minute or so. “You got any smokes?”

“I do.”

“Well,” she said, “I guess I could manage a lift. I’ll buy you a beer for your birthday, and you’ll just have to sit a few minutes while I finish up.” She started walking over to the bar and said over her shoulder, “Think you can stay awake that long, old man?”

“I’ll stay awake,” he almost yelled back. “And, it’s 33.”

“What?”

“Me. I’m 33. That’s what I turned today.”

“You aren’t dead yet.”

“No,” he said. “But you know what happened to Alexander the Great when he was 33?”

“What?” But she was back at the bar now.

“He died, that’s what,” Dempsey said to himself.

She dropped off his beer and went to tend to the table of frat boys, leaving Dempsey there thinking: Jesus, why are you being so good to me? Why so good when I’ve been such an asshole?

He put his head in his hands and howled inside.

z z z

When they started riding in the car, Dempsey could tell how drunk he had gotten. At first he was worried he might look stupid, but then he remembered how girls her age haven’t learned to expect all that much from guys. He took advantage of that fact by asking her to stop at the liquor store on Santa Monica and Fairfax — the place where they sell the Heineken 22-ouncers he preferred. She didn’t seem to mind, so he bought six.

Dempsey opened one in the car while she was telling him that she lived down near the beach and that she paints and isn’t into hip-hop and goes jogging in the morning. He said “that’s cool” while he tried to time sips of his beer to her weaving her ’67 Mustang through the small gaps between traffic on Fountain. She showed mostly disdain for the other cars on the road and kept on talking about herself and gobbling up whatever space was between her and the next car. Dempsey mused that she was almost like one of those California girls they’re always using on TV commercials to sell you some idea of what your life could or should be like, the kind who surf and dance around the bonfire on the beach and drive sensible, but sporty, SUVs. Only she didn’t have blond hair, which was just as well, and probably didn’t do any of that other stuff, either. And her car wasn’t anything you could use to camp on the beach. Still, she made him feel optimistic for a moment, just like those commercials did. He didn’t say much while they drove, and he didn’t feel like he needed to. The radio was on, she was talking, and that was fine. Dempsey just sat there drinking his beer, wondering why she seemed so invulnerable, like she had no clue what this world could be.

It queered him a bit to think about that, and he had a mean feeling come over him. Where did she get off? Dempsey knew that if he wanted to, he could turn everything she thought she knew right on its head in a second. All he had to do was grab the steering wheel and jerk the car into a telephone pole and nobody would know what went wrong. Car lost control, they’d say. Or, he could just knock those fresh teeth down her throat and get out of the fucking car and run away and they’d be on their separate ways, forever. The idea thrilled and repulsed him at the same time. Maybe he’d just spit and scream and shake his head and bug his eyes out like a maniac, something she didn’t seem to think he was. How did she know? He thought on that for a minute, getting all on fire with it. How was she so sure that wasn’t going to happen, that he wasn’t capable? But then the fire went out just as fast as it came, because, of course, he wasn’t capable. It wasn’t in Dempsey to crash the car or punch her teeth in or even bug out. It’s just that he knew what this world could be. Truth was, what he really wanted was to bury his head in her neck, smell the ocean in her mermaid skin. He wanted her sea breeze to lull him to sleep and for her to still be there when he woke up.

[

Dempsey finally spoke up. “Where’d you get this car? It’s a classic, much revered by my generation.”

“Supposedly it was my father’s,” she said casually.

“What do you mean ‘supposedly’?”

“That’s what my mom told me when she gave it to me on my 16th birthday.”

“What’d your dad say?”

“He said goodbye — a long time ago.”

That put Dempsey off balance. He was supposed to be the one with a back story. What was she doing here anyway, looking for a daddy? Or revenge? He kept his mouth shut until they got to his place. When they got there, he’d recovered enough to ask her if she wanted to come in for a beer and to listen to some music, forgetting, like an idiot, that he didn’t have any furniture, except for the one couch, and that his place was a mess. It was too late, though, because she already said she’d come in for just one, before she drove back to Santa Monica. Inside, he was immediately disappointed that he hadn’t emptied the ashtray or cleared up the empties. He put the good beers down on the computer table next to the door and scooped up the empties and grabbed the ashtray and already felt like things had become awkward now that they were no longer out there in the twilight zone of the city.

“Sorry about the mess. I’m usually not this much of a slob.”

“This isn’t bad compared to what I got used to in college.”

From what Dempsey could remember, that made sense.

He took the new beers back to the refrigerator and grabbed the lone leftover for her because it would be colder and because he didn’t care too much about beer temperature so long as it wasn’t hot. Then, Dempsey put a CD on the box and lit two cigarettes and handed her one. They sat on the floor with the now-emptied ashtray in between. They sat there mostly because sitting on the couch side by side and looking forward at the blank walls didn’t seem like a good idea. Even so, it felt more intimate, somehow, two strangers face to face on an empty floor, than if they were side by side on the couch. It was like they’d somehow skipped the traveling and arrived at some place in the future anyway. It made Dempsey a bit uncomfortable, but he wasn’t going to ask her name. He was too afraid that would ruin everything.

“So, like, what’s your deal,” she said after a drag on her cigarette. “You don’t have a girlfriend? No buddies, you say? Why do you come to the bar and sit in the corner by yourself all the time?”

Simple questions, but not really. Dempsey answered by saying he had just recently moved here, which was sort of true.

“Where’d you move here from?”

“Colorado.”

“That explains it.”

“What?”

“The big, blue pickup truck with Colorado plates parked out front. It’s not very Hollywood, that truck.” She blew smoke in Dempsey’s face. He wasn’t sure if it was a come-on or a putdown, but the act made him think he knew what she was after, the same thing as anyone wants. Control.

“Yeah, I guess it’s not,” he said. “I keep backing over little cars parked behind me that I can’t see in my rearview. I backed over this one guy’s Camaro twice. I think he thinks I’m doing it on purpose.”

“Well, are you?”

Dempsey thought about it. “I don’t think so.”

She kind of looked him up and down. Dempsey nearly asked her name then, but he chickened out.

“So, what happened?” she asked.

“With what?”

“With the chick? The one who put that look in your eye?”

“What look?”

“I don’t know, scared? Putting up a . . . what do you call it? . . . A façade.”

“You think so? What façade is that?”

“The façade of, like, you know, ‘It’s okay, I’m cool.’ Don’t get mad, but you’re easy to read.”

So, Dempsey thought, she’s had me measured from the start. She’s probably some New Age beach girl who thinks she can restore me with the right crystals or realigning my chakras or a blowjob or something. Maybe she could. Dempsey took a long pull from his smoke and a hefty gulp of Heineken.

“So? What about the chick?” she pressed. “The one back in Colorado, I’m guessing.”

“What makes you so sure there’s a chick?”

[

“Please. I’m young, but I’m not stupid. Guys like you are always haunted by the one they think got away. Probably has something to do with your mother.”

“There’s no chick.”

“But there was, right? So what happened?”

“Let’s just say the timing was bad.”

“Bad for what?”

“For everything . . . for anything.”

They were sitting with their feet almost touching in a way that formed a diamond with their legs. The ashtray was in the diamond and they were flicking ashes in it and sipping beer. She had thick eyebrows, and there didn’t look to be a worn out cell of skin on her body. Dempsey felt like if this were three years ago or three years from now, it would have been perfect.

“Were you guys, like, superserious?” she teased.

“Serious enough, I guess. We just weren’t soon enough.”

“Soon enough for what?”

“Look, when you’re young like she was, and maybe even I was,” he said slowly, “things aren’t supposed to last. They just have different ways of ending is all.”

“Go on,” she said, not teasing anymore.

Dempsey figured, why not? He hadn’t talked about it to anybody here. Maybe this was the time and she was the one.

“It started with a headache. At first we didn’t think much about it. But it kept up. Then, she started getting dizzy spells. We wondered if she was pregnant, but thought it was more likely some kind of flu, or something from the water. The water was always getting bugs in it up there. Still, we thought it was nothing until one morning we’re just making some coffee and fixing some cereal in the kitchen and she fell over. I took her to the hospital and they ran some tests. Found a tumor on her brain stem about the size of a lemon. They took it out, but the cancer was too far gone. It had spread all over. I remember her in the hospital, looking like Frankenstein’s bride with those screws and that brace on her head. It was awful.” Dempsey scratched at the floor with his bottle cap, took a drink of his beer and a drag on his cigarette.

“The doctors wanted to try radiation and all of that, but nobody was optimistic. She refused treatment. She’d seen what that stuff had done to her daddy. You know, I asked her to marry me right there and then. I think I meant it. But she laughed like I’d said the funniest thing in the world. She said I shouldn’t let my imagination run away with me, that our whole thing was just a moment we were passing together. Then she told me all the things she hated about me. There were a lot of those. Like how I couldn’t really play the guitar, and how big and clumsy I was — always crowding her and hurting her when I hugged her. She said she hated just about every pair of shoes I had, and my hair, too. She liked long hair, but I always looked stupid when I tried to grow it. And she hated the color of my truck. I think she even hated my truck. Stuff she always used to kid me about. I guess she wasn’t really joking. She said that she didn’t even know me and I should stop pretending I knew her and get on with figuring out who I really was. Finally, she said she didn’t want to see me anymore. No visits. Nothing. I knew what she was doing. But it hurt just the same. That didn’t stop me from splitting, though, like I’d been waiting for my chance all along. I ran like a scared boy and came out here like we had talked about. . . . She died not long ago. Peacefully, I’m told.”

“How old was she?”

“Twenty-seven. Same age as Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain and . . .”

“Same age as they died?”

“Yeah. Same age as they died. Same as Robert Johnson, and Pigpen from the Grateful Dead, Alan Wilson from Canned Heat, Pete Ham of Badfinger. He committed suicide like Kurt did. Then there was Gary Thain from Uriah Heap, he overdosed like Jimi, and Janis. Kirsten Pfaff died in her bathtub, like Morrison. Also, Mia Zapata from the Gits, she was raped and murdered. And . . . lots of people die at that age. A lot of them in worse ways than her.”

“I get the picture. Christ, what are you, keeping a record?”

“Something like that . . . and for the record, Christ was 33 when he died. Lots of people die at that age, too. Like Lester Bangs and John Belushi and . . .”

“Okay, okay. You can stop now.”

He could tell by the look on her face that he was going too far, but his moroseness sometimes felt like his only weapon. He snubbed his cigarette out.

[

After a moment, she said: “So, what about you?”

“Me? I already told you. I’m 33 . . . That’s how old Jeff Buckley was when he drowned swimming in a river.”

She put out her cigarette and shifted uncomfortably. Now, he felt hot and ashamed. There was silence.

“That’s not what I meant. I meant, like, are you worried?”

“I guess so.”

“What? That you’ll die, too?”

“Or that I won’t. That I’m no closer to what she wanted from me than when she was alive. That I should have put up more of a fight. I should have stayed. I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

“Sounds like you did what she wanted you to do.”

“I think she wanted me to figure out how to be something on my own. But that’s a tough trick to learn. It gets lonely.”

Dempsey had said a lot. More than most people want to hear. He thought she’d be looking at him nervously, but she wasn’t. All that talking had him feeling light and floaty. And there was still the matter of her being there. He put his hands around her rib cage and leaned over to kiss her. He pulled back and looked at her. She didn’t seem to mind. He did it again. She kissed back this time, nice and friendly, and she tasted as good as he imagined. It didn’t feel quite real, though. More like he was acting in a movie. Dempsey tried to tell himself that it was real, that this was his life now. He felt like if he saw her naked, maybe that would make it real, make him real. He wanted to see her hair on her skin and her skin on the white sheets. He wanted her skin and the way her hair fell on her skin to show him a way to the future. That was a lot to ask of a girl who might have just wanted to get laid by an apparently decent bloke, but Dempsey didn’t know what else to do.

So, he led her to the bedroom where there was a mattress on the floor and a clock next to it. They knelt on the mattress facing each other and Dempsey decided he’d just do whatever he had to do to see what he needed to see. He undressed her slowly, drawing in air at the sight of that impudent skin. He wanted to touch that skin like he would touch the Mona Lisa if it were available to be touched, like it would tell him something. He trembled.

He kissed her where he could. He was having trouble with his breathing. He wondered what she thought. She was silent, but her eyes looked at Dempsey with confidence and care, like she knew that she was the bearer of gifts here.

Dempsey didn’t want to disabuse her of that notion. After all, she was young and powerful. He was afraid her decision to be kind with her youth and power deserved more than he could offer. But he would do what he could. He wrapped her up in his arms and pressed her close. He slid his hand down her back and pulled her pelvis into his torso and held her body there. She released herself and began to unbutton his shirt. He wanted to stay, to accept her gifts and be thankful like a generous person would be. But as she kissed the hair of his chest, he could feel himself pulling from his body and going up and out in the other direction, heading for the door even as he helped her take off his shirt. He tried to stay. Maybe a moment of her skin on his skin was all he needed.

Her hands slid down onto Dempsey’s hips and she undid his belt. He was crying inside with the need to be there. Why can’t I stay? He begged God to let him, please. He could feel the tears starting inside his closed eyes as he tried to cling to her, but he was slipping away faster than she was removing his clothes and he knew his flight wouldn’t end here.

By the time she had his pants down, he was already out the door and in the street, naked and running north toward Sunset. The night air was cool against his unsheltered body. The breeze went through his pores. He felt light and free again. Who needed anything else but this? He was jogging at first and then he picked up the pace until he was sprinting, moving with speed and ease. Nobody could touch him. He was a blur as he neared Sunset, running out of street. By the time her lips were down and around him, he was up in the air, flying over the rooftops of the Kinko's and Astro Burgers and 7-Elevens and tattoo parlors, up and over the Hollywood sign and across the Valley with its lights burning like embers of a dying fire. Up and over the San Gabriel Mountains, so dark they looked like lakes on a desert floor.

[

Flying, flying away from where he was now and back to where he’d been before, her ministrations left far behind. All the way across deserts and mountains, back to the house on that narrow street near the park where the girl he left behind once lived. Back to the big window in front of the small garden where he could see her there at the desk with the lamp shining down on the notebook she was writing in while she sipped on some tea. She liked to write in a notebook and sip tea. Dempsey stood there naked in the garden on the other side of the window, waving his arms at her, but she never looked up. He was wishing he knew what she was writing down on that paper, wondering if it was something about how now that she was no longer burdened by the world or him she was free to be whoever she wanted to be. He waved and waved, but she never looked up.

z z z

When Dempsey woke up on the floor next to the mattress, the girl who was there was gone and the girl who was gone was no longer there. The mirage had dried up in the unsympathetic light. He stumbled unclothed into the other room and grabbed his cigarettes and went to the kitchen and turned on the gas oven and opened up the door. He opened a beer while he was waiting for the fumes to get heavy enough to do the job and sat down in front of the oven and thought about how when he was 23 if he ever knew a girl like the one who he thought was here last night, he only knew it or appreciated it by the time it was too late. Next, he started thinking about all the girls he’d known going back to that first one he kissed in the sixth grade and he started trying to figure out exactly what went wrong in each case. Then, he thought how nothing much has changed, about how it’s all just a mirage that dries up in the long desert of days.

Dempsey gulped his beer and decided that he thinks too much. Then he decided that what he really needed was that cigarette to really think things through. But he’d been thinking so much by then that he had forgotten about the oven with the gas on, and when he lit that cigarette he just about blew up the kitchen from the sounds of it.

Now, he’s smoking that cigarette in the other room with the sun sneaking through the blinds, turning the magic donut shop back to its plain, everyday self. He’s got his bare feet on the floor and no eyebrows and a singed half-moon missing from his hairline and he’s thinking about all those people who died and that if he sees this through, 33 is going to be one hell of a year.

LA Weekly