Writing, as they say, is all about rewriting. Sometimes, though, it’s about deleting. In my case, an early attempt at a first novel, without my meaning to, exactly, somehow bloated into this 800-page-plus behemoth, filled with too many David Foster Wallace-style riffs, too few true feeling. Part of what made me a real writer, I think, looking back, was taking that 800-page-plus mess, and sculpting it down into a more manageable, 300-something-page mess. Which I turned in as my thesis at Columbia’s School of the Arts.
Velocity Blues, as it was initially called, till I realized there was a movie coming out, starring none other than James Van der Beek, called Varsity Blues–as I finally called it, St. James Infirmary, was the story of a sixties family torn apart by a mother’s illness and a sister’s disappearance.
That said, though as a whole I still think it’s pretty unwieldy, parts of it, I (immodestly) think, have aged OK. Like this excerpt.
I’m just sitting at the glitter-specked kitchenette table when in come my sisters Alice, all smiles, and Kat, simpering.
It’s early spring, 1968, the year before the year my sister disappears. She’s all decked out, resplendent in her psychedelic Pocahantas gear with smiley faces painted one to each cheek and because she wants to be Janis Joplin or that woman from Jefferson Starship, Grace whatever, when she sings me “Happy Birthday” she does so not only with her characteristic élan and extreme hyperactivity she also warbles, high and voice-cracking, pretending she’s on TV and everyone’s watching. In fact, everybody is—neighbors and the mailman and whoever happens to be driving down our lane. Mrs. Rathmussen. Benjamin Crewson’s father, the astronaut. Because she’s loud. My other sister Alice glances out at the porch, spots Dad, who even though today’s the day has been gone since before sunrise, golfing, and who hasn’t yet even glanced in my direction, who’s avoided his three kids. Not that this is surprising. In fact, since Mom left him he’s more or less forgotten about us entirely and spends days when he’s not working with golf buddy Carson Moon or his girlfriend, who lives in the city and works at a boutique, Meghan Puissant. They dance around me, circle me, chanting an atonal rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
Guinness the family dog banging at the sliding doors. Barking.
Alice scowls, says, loud so maybe Dad can hear, “How could he?” Then Kat, her warbling stopped, “Um.”
“Hey, I got it!” My sister Alice sprints into the living room. Kat shrugs. I shrug back. Kat laughs. Thing about my sister Kat is that there’s this way she has of being all cutesy and flirtatious, of sucking you in emotionally, because when she smiles or laughs or sometimes even when she scowls her face becomes so radiant and beautiful and not like older sisters’ faces tend by definition to look, not stern and reptilian—then once she sucks you in and has that part of you you normally don’t give out this quickly to anyone, anyone, once you’re emotionally vulnerable, she more or less stabs a blunt butter knife in and makes you feel all gicky and psychologically trod upon. Just by stopping her smile or laugh or maybe even her scowl, by killing it. This is what happens when Alice out of nowhere sprints into the living room. Kat’s castrated laughter.
Her eyes buzz. I grow dizzy.
Guinness the family dog with her paws up on the already slobbered-on glass of the sliding porch door. Dad, outside, snapping, “Down! Down!”
When out of nowhere Alice returns. Bearing fabric.
Kat’s eyes light up, her mouth in a sumptuous O. Fabric? She immediately knows what her sister, her twin sister, is up to carrying all that fabric—shirts and multicolored skirts, scarves, halters with the pins of psychedelica still on them, Kat’s tutu from when she was four, five, tops, Mom’s sun-faded kimono dress she wore exactly once, a poodle skirt, a see-thru onepiece . . . the sight of which prompts Kat to screech: “Whoa!”
“Where did you get that?”
“Found it,” Alice says, in mid-pirouette, her arms in a Y, displaying the goods— “In the closet!” The twins giggling in sync.
My face meantime wizens up in a look of worry. What’s going to happen to me?
“Groovy,” Kat says, rushed, breathless.
Alice now flaunts the clothes around the kitchen, prancing behind her kid brother, the clothes over me, veiling me, so that at one point the bottom edge of the kimono dips into my Quaker Oats and I stand of a sudden, saying, “Hey, what’s going on? What are you guys doing!”
Kat snickering. She grabs the oatmealed kimono from her sister and disappears for a moment, goes into the first-floor bathroom, humming, and after a second returns. Wearing the kimono.
Alice laughs. I emerge from the multicolor veil, and laugh, too, and hold my stomach.
Living rooms have seldom held such strange, enigmatic happenings. They take me into the living room and instruct me to stand in the center of the room. Alice grabs my left elbow, Kat my right hand, squeezing periodically as if sending me coded messages, and once both have a firm grip they proceed to undress me, and I protest, okay, on principal, say, “Hey, wait a sec—no fair!” No dice. It doesn’t work. By the time I even think about saying something, anything, else my older sisters have already derobed me and here I stand, denuded, smack in the center of the living room. Not wearing any underwear. I just didn’t put them on. The window shades are open. Sun slanting in. Inquiring minds, passing by, scarce have to turn to see that there’s a buck-naked B-day boy exposed for all to see. Hey, what kind of neighborhood is this anyway?
My eyes go all wet and hypertrophied, sogged. Cheeks well up and go blotch red.
Alice spots this, pauses her disrobing, and says, “Hey, what’s the matter, sport?”
I smile, half-smile, wipe my eyes. I seem to be okay with it. My prepubescent peach fuzz.
Kat giggling louder and louder, flicking the darkened head of my, you know, unit, laughing, poking it, pulling at it, saying, “It’s so . . . cute!”
Instinctively, I guess, I pull back, withdraw, shuddering, and drop and now cover myself with pillows, what clothes I can gather and shoot my sister a look—“Hey, what the fuck, Kat.”
Kat, still laughing, says, “Don’t have a fit, little brother. Don’t have a shitter.”
“I’m not a kid anymore.”
“Yeah. I’m not.”
Alice telling me, “You’ll have fun. Promise.”
I’m replying something like “But I don’t want to!”
Alice saying, “But hey, come on, we’re having a party for you!”
“Swear,” Alice says. “Just like old times—promise.”
To which Kat adds, “Groovy! Yeah, Buster Brown, it’ll be the grooviest in the history of your birthday parties!”
“Yeah, but what about —”
“She’ll be there too,” Alice is quick to reply, “because she wants to be.”
I shrug. Look happier. Relatively. Then I realize that I’m still buck naked, in my birthday suit, which might seem appropriate given what day it is but sure doesn’t feel appropriate and comfortable and how I should be right now, so I say, “Presents and all?”
“A few,” Kat snaps. She and Alice are now conferencing as to what would be the most appropriate garb for this special day.
The tutu? Too passé. A skirt? Too everyday. The kimono?
“No way,” Kat says, “that’s mine.”
“Okay. I got it. I can see it,” Alice says and then she’s gone yet again, up the stairs and to the attic—Kat in the meantime on one of the first floor’s two phones, a military-green rotary with an extra long cord that’s all tangled.
Which leaves me, naked, on display.
Outside there’s not a cloud, the trees blowing in the wind ever so slightly, an old guy passing by on the sidewalk with his dog. Luckily the guy doesn’t look in. Till Guinness the family dog is up on the sofa that’s by the streetside windows, barking madly, the dog outside looking around, charging the house. The old guy, okay, now he sees. Or does he?
I drop. Roll. Cover myself with the tutu. My hands search for my sweats, the same unwashed pair of too-big sweatpants I’ve been wearing to school all winter—now that Mom’s no longer around to forbid such casualness. But can’t find them. All my hands seem to grasp are dresses, loose, flitty fabric. So I bolt to the closet, close the door and remain there, in the dark, surrounded by winter coats, scratchy wool, and I’ve got to find something to put on, something that’s not scratchy or too hot, whereupon as if by some divine intervention my hands find a nice soft and downy cotton thing that smells of starch, detergent. I slip it on. It’s a suit—Mom’s all-black suit reserved for funerals. What’s it doing in the downstairs closet?
“Hey, now that’s not what I had in mind exactly,” Alice says, “but it’s okay. It works.”
I’m grinning, say, “I don’t know.”
“It says something,” giggling.
“It’s too big.”
“Yeah. It is big. But —”
“I don’t know. It’s spooky.”
“So okay,” she says, “what about this?”
It’s a puffed-out ragstock skirt looks like Alice made years and years ago, in preschool—this awkward put-together thing, checkered fabric there, gauze, glimmery polyblend here. It looks vaguely hippieish. But fits.
“No way,” I’m like, “not ever.”
“Come on,” snorts my sister, “it’s cute. Really.”
“Are you trying to give me permanent psychological problems, Ali?”
“We just want you to have fun,” she explains. Holding out the skirt, urging him, pleading. “It’ll be so neat.”
“But it’s my birthday.”
“Hey—groovy!” Kat says as she skips into the room, a huge gooey smile across the gleamy expanse of her face. She’s giggly.
Alice says, “What happened to you?”
I say, “Not that we care,” under my breath.
“He’s coming!” Her face aglow, bubbly.
“Whose funeral are you going to?” Kat asks me, momentarily distracted.
Then Alice, “What did you do?”
Kat approaches me. Touches the mourning suit, inspecting it playfully, and now spins me around and gives me a once-over, measuring me up as a tailor would—“Yes, that’s right, little bro, today you’re gonna get.” Big pause. “… laid!”
“Kat!” From Alice. “You can’t do that,” Alice sternly tells Kat, who shrugs, says, “Everything’s set up and ready to go.”
I want to know, “W-with wh-wh-who?!?”
Alice gripping Kat’s arm now, yanking her to a far corner of the living room, whispering, hands cupped over her silently moving lips so that I won’t eavesdrop.
Even Guinness the family dog is quiet. The shades are drawn.
When Alice cracks up, laughing glass-breakingly loud, as does Kat now, too. The twins shrieking together, in sync.
Guinness the family dog now humping my left knee, humping the suit, which prompts Alice now to scold, “No! No! That’s Mom’s!”
Kat still laughing, standing next to me, prodding me, says, “Now we have to get you real stylish.”
A little while later I ask Kat, “When are they coming?”
“Who? Everyone?” The three of us are on the sofa by the window, waiting. Guinness the family dog curled up by Kat’s feet.
“Yeah. I guess.”
“Soon,” she says. Adding, “Any minute.”
I say, “I’m scared, Kat.”
“Well, don’t be,” Alice says. “Be tough,” Kat says.
Twenty minutes later the doorbell chimes. By this time Alice has taken me upstairs to her room and is almost finished outfitting me for the party. My hair’s long enough, halfway to my shoulders, so she sculpts a wire hanger and braids my scarlet hair around it, the ends of the sculpted hanger straight up in the air. Next she hands me a pair of her overalls, tells me, “Here, put these on.”
“But they won’t fit.”
“That’s the point.”
“But I’ll look stupid,” guttural.
“Just put them on,” she says, “and don’t wrinkle that suit.”
I change in the bathroom. Splash on some of Dad’s Bay Rum. Back, Mom’s all-black mourning suit folded sloppily in upturned hands, Alice rolls the legs of the overalls up to just under my kneecaps and instructs me to put on an extra-long pair of black-and-white striped socks. “They’re in my top drawer. Pull them up. Tight.”
I do. My sister Alice sits me down on her bed and goes to the bathroom and returns a few moments later with makeup.
“Sorry,” I’m like, “but I don’t think so. No way. Never.”
“Just a few dots.” Then, “Come on. You’re gonna be so cute.”
“Eew. I hate that word.”
“Yuck!” I’m not sure about this teasing business.
Eventually I let her. With Mom’s liver-color eyeliner she draws three dots, in the shape of a triangle, on each of my cheeks. Finally she says, “There! Presto change-o!”
“Who, uh, am I?”
“Pippi Longstocking.” The name rings a bell but I don’t really have a clue, so I ask. And immediately regret having asked. See, my sister Alice launches on a longwinded tangent about how Pippi Longstocking is the coolest cat in the world and she’s so strong and powerful and can kick any, any, guy’s ass hands down and for this reason alone she’s like a rock star and is, along with that Ella Fitzgerald, one of Alice’s patron heroines . . . “She’s in my pantheon.”
I just deadeye the air, shrugging.
“Whoa, wow, groovy,” Kat says, entering the room with Cassie Cardigan.
Cassie Cardigan who spots me, says, “Groovy outfit, man. Farout.”
Alice wincing at the thought of her little brother and Cassie Cardigan mashing tongues, getting it on, so she asks Kat, “She the one?”
Kat, smiling, says, “Nah. Someone else.”
Alice sets her right hand over her heart, looks relieved. Playfully she fans herself, Kat laughing.
“That’s such a groovy, you know, outfit, man,” says Cassie Cardigan. Cassie Cardigan who happens to be wearing overalls with decorative pins on them so that when she walks she rattles, the pins clanging together musically. One pin, the most vibrantly colored one, is of a dove.
All this time I’m eying the shag, embarrassed.
“You’re like, sexy?” Cassie Cardigan who is right up in my face, leaning in, smiling. She’s tall, thin but bony, her cheeks heart-shaped. She seems to sway as she stands there and flicks one of my upstanding braids.
Everyone, except Alice, laughs heartily.
At which point Cassie Cardigan, next to Alice now, displays a cigar-size joint, holds it aloft and says, “Got a light?” Her arm around Alice, who tries to shrug it away.
“Farout!” says Pippi Longstocking.
“No way,” Alice says firmly, “you’re too young.”
Kat meantime telling Alice, “Oh, come on, sis, what’s up your ancient butt? The kid just wants to have a little fun. Is that all right with you?”
“It’s not like he hasn’t done it before. He’s not a pot virgin.”
Cassie Cardigan lights the joint, inhales, and now passes it to me. Then pecks me on the cheek.
I’m confused, say, “What do you—?” Playing with her.
“It’s all groovy,” Cassie says.
I inhale. Smoke wafts around inside for as long as I can hold it, Cassie Cardigan meantime egging me on, saying, “Go, cat, go!” Then everything’s coughed out and I can’t stop coughing. My face, Kat tells me, is plum-colored.
Alice squealing and squirming, tickled.
I’m on the shag now, in the three-inch green shag Mom had installed maybe three years ago because her good friend Nancy Romeoville, who in every sense of the word was hefty, was then trumpeting green shag over brown, which is what our carpet used to be, mocoa-brownish, saying, “It’s more vibrant. It has more zest.”
When the doorbell again chimes.
They all, except for Cassie Cardigan, go downstairs to answer it, see who’s here.
“Hey,” in a voice that worms.
“Far-out!” Kat squeals and hugs today’s second visitor, Alice at shrugging at me, saying, “Beats me.”
Andy Rathmussen. He’s so tall he has to duck when he walks through the doorway. Even so, he almost knocks into the top of the jamb and is the first to say, “Happy birthday, man,” when informed of the special occasion. Then, “That’s farout, man. It’s your birthday!”
Kat, giggly, eyes her man and says, “Yeah it is.”
“Don’t get old too fast though, man,” Rathmussen says and picks Kat up. Twirls her around once, hugging her, wanting to know, “Pops home?”
“Out back,” Alice says, lying, “so watch it.” Then, “No funny stuff with my sister.”
“Not my style, man.” Solemnly. With dour eyes.
We retreat to the domestic underbelly, Alice sitting crosslegged on the shag. Kat’s on the beanbag, Rathmussen inspecting the LPs. After a moment I join Andy Rathmussen, point to The Magic Ukulele of Roy Smeck, Rathmussen saying, “Hey, that’s cool, man, farout.”
“Yeah?” Rathmussen apparently has yet to notice my B-day boy garb.
“Yeah, man, you heard of Dylan?” I nod. “That’s the key, man,” Rathmussen fingering the Smeck, “to understanding Dylan, man.” Ukulele?
Alice says, “Whatever. You don’t know anything,” but no one hears.
Kat pats the part of the beanbag she’s reserved for Rathmussen. Before he joins her, I tap him on the shoulder, or, since I can’t reach that high, yank at his elbow, say, “Where’s my present?”
This gets everyone giggling, even Rathmussen.
The LP’s on a speed too slow, the lyrics garbled, underwatery. But it sounds groovy, hep. The sound of the future.
When upstairs the doorbell rings again. And again.
A minute or two later now enter Zeke and Jake and Rory and Dwight. They’re followed a few minutes later by Nicole and Becca and Neve, Neve Carpenter our cousin, not by blood but still, and Gene, short for Genevieve.
Down the basement stairs. Dad James must have let them in.
“Hi,” I chirp at each femme in turn.
Only Genevieve replies, smiling, “Hey there, little man.” Her voice is swift and concupiscible, languid in that way the female voice in men’s heads are always languid and inviting and sultry. “Spiff threads, man. Whoa!”
Meantime Alice has pulled Neve aside and is now whispering something I’m sure is about me. But all I overhear is “He here?” Kat says quick hellos to Zeke and Jake and Rory and Dwight, while Andy Rathmussen, nearby, makes the sound a rattlesnake makes before it snaps at you. Seething.
Nicole and Becca apparently are entranced by one of the pillows on the floor by the hi-fi, so Alice explains, “My mom did that!” Gleeful.
Genevieve saying, “Whoa, that’s intricate.”
It is. Patriotic vitriol, red and blue and white artfully interwoven, intersticed, though it’s hard to discern in exactly what fashion. The colors, from far away, blur into this one indiscernible smudge that could be pretty much whatever you want it to be—which is the cool part.
“Yeah, but that’s the coolest part,” Nicole says, as if it weren’t apparent.
“The togetherness quotient,” Becca says, winking at Kat’s beau.
Who maybe half winks back, saying, “It’s like the, the, the, who was it?”
“The Amish,” Alice says.
“Yeah. Somebody. It’s very American, is my point.” I don’t say anything. Just smile.
“My grandfather,” says Rory. Rory’s maybe the second tallest person in the room, after Rathmussen. But he’s the bulkiest by far. Plays tailend, Varsity squad.
“Excuse me?” inquires Andy Rathmussen, arm around his Kat.
Dwight and Jake, Rory’s teammates, by the looks of them, perk up their heads and look at the tall guy in the lime-green cords.
“My grandmother,” says Rory, “he used to do that shit.”
“Mine too,” says Rathmussen. Everyone laughs.
Time passes like it tends to do down here in the domestic underbelly—you don’t notice it. There is no time.
Dwight and Jake have found Dad James’s voluminous LP collection and have laid their eyes on the perky Whipped Cream & Other Delights.
“Check out those bazoombas, man.”
“Boys!” Genevieve announces, then, to me, “Boys are so gross.” After an awkward silence she says, “Don’t ever be a boy, okay? Promise?”
I’m still nodding. I start to say something, fear a stutter coming on, so I clamp it, stopping, and nod. Eventually I want to know, “But Andy’s not so bad, is he?”
“Nah,” Genevieve says. “He’s okay. But still.”
Alice and Neve in the interim talking about the sci-fi book they both have been reading of late, 1966’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.
Guinness the family dog trots downstairs and laps at Zeke’s face. Zeke laps back.
Kat turns off the rec room’s flood lights, turns on the lava lamp, lights a candle and is now handed the joint.
When all of a sudden there’s a screech from upstairs.
Maybe it’s the mood but Genevieve’s right up in my face, whispering, “Want your birthday kiss now, Birthday Boy?”
Another screech. My sister Alice sprints up the stairs. After a sec Neve’s up and after Alice, followed shortly thereafter by yours truly, whose sculpted pigtails make it difficult to maneuver the low-hanging ceiling halfway up the stairs—so I duck.
We all follow. Everyone stops. In Mom’s old changing room, adjacent to the master bathroom. I’m out of breath. Neve bumps into Alice, and I bump into Neve. Everyone’s faces are stone immobile, fixed, staring blankly ahead. I must now strain to see what’s going on. For a moment there’s no sound, no more screeches, not even the heaved sound of his rapidly thrumping heart. Alice and Neve are both stoned immobile, not moving, shocked. They move to the side to let me through. Time has now officially ceased. Not like in the basement rec room—time now is suspended, everything slow, slower than downstairs, and every second takes a million years. Cassie Cardigan’s here, too, I notice, and her face is chalk white, her mouth dropped, everything stilled, except for her left eyelid, which twitches. As does my whole upper torso now as I spot my father, keeled over Mom’s old shoes, blacked out.
Dead? Alice leans in now, then flinches, backs away, then again she checks out Dad James. Me, I’m unbelieving, can’t think what in the world might have happened—Dad always having been the stern, rooted, solid, stable one in the family, the predictable one. Neve says something parsonical, like, “Oh, my God . . . ,” and Cassie Cardigan, her eyes welled up as are Alice’s and Neve’s, grips both her knees and bites a nail. Standing here, surrounded by Mom’s extensive wardrobe, you can nevertheless smell the bathroom, musty, old, mildewy, rot. It’s enough to make you puke—which Cassie Cardigan does now, everywhere, all over the turquoise carpeting.
Neve curses Cassie, who screeches again, pressed back against the wall. Under one of Mom’s numerous dresses.
Alice attempting to move Dad now, slap him to, but he’s too heavy. She therefore enlists my help, my rabbit-ear pigtails caught in a dress or ten. Feels like Dad’s heavier when he’s under, a good hundred, one-fifty pounds heavier than when—wait. Then it’s as if Dad himself helps them, flops over for them, his body, the mountain range of his body stretched out perpendicular across the changing room—his left foot an inch from the throwup. Dad’s eyes are open, are staring right at me. His mouth closed, white guck around the edges. Then his whole body convulses.
Cassie Cardigan gripping her stomach, wincing. Neve next to Alice.
“Hey, wait a sec,” Alice says. She’s facing me, her forehead crinkled up, and says, “What are you doing here? You’re too —”
“Come on, Ali.”
“— too young to see this.”
“I have to.” I crease my forehead vertically.
“Go find your sister,” she says and shoves me out of the room, the door to Mom’s changing room closed, slammed shut.
Outcast. I bang on the door and start to cry, stop. Wait for the door to open but it never does.
A voice behind me now saying, “Hey, what’s going on?”
Turn. Don’t know what to say.
Genevieve. She’s smiling, standing there twice my size. She takes my hand.
“Hey . . . ?”
She’s tall, too tall, and when I look up my neck strains and I feel dizzy. It’s like I’m seeing her for the first time, her face new, fresh, inviting, virgin. I feel her mammoth hands on my shoulders, gripping slightly, trying to make me feel okay, safer, at least marginally sure that everything’s going to turn out all right. Right before my very eyes she’s sprouting upwards, growing taller by the second, and pretty soon she’s so tall I can hardly see the frayed ends of her stringy hair. For a moment in her distant face I imagine I see Mom’s closer, realer, tangible face peering across a darkness at me—because we’re this close—because she’s looking right at me—because we’re level—because Dad is not passed out in the changing room attended to by Alice, and Genevieve is not five-hundred feet tall, not standing over me . . . Mom is. Then the vision’s gone and the woman, the girl, standing over me and right now leaning in on me is Genevieve. Genevieve who apparently has no idea what’s going on in the other room. Because she mumbles something I have no idea what it is nor would I want to—who cares?
Where’s Alice? Where’s Kat? Is Dad okay?
Voices from the underbelly waft in through one of the vent drafts on the opposite side of the room.
You have to strain to hear anything, any sound from the cordoned-off confines of Mom’s changing room. That preserved artifact. That relic.
I throw Genevieve off me and despite my body’s feeling more and more faint and the carpeting under me more and more liquidy, eventually I make it to the stairs—and down. I’m calling Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! Kat! When all of a sudden I hear her voice. Coming from the netherworld. I’m down the stairs and into the rec room and there she is, my Kat, sitting on the bean bag. It’s dark, the lights darkened save for the lava lamp. Hypnagogic music issues forth from the hi-fi, and my sister smiles at me and says something mumble-ish and quiet like she sometimes says things and then I notice that what she’s holding in her left hand glows. It’s that mythic-light-at-the-end-of-fog-shrouded-horizon thing. It’s the joint. Nobody else is around. Just my sister Kat and I, and Kat smiles at me in that vast goofy way she sometimes smiles at me, and I smile back, or try to, because it’s like my face is plastered and immobile and I can’t smile back I’m so run-over by that smell. That earthy smell. Kat says, “Hey, man, like, my brother!” She’s still smiling. Her hair’s short, whispy. She says, “Hey, man, cool!” and I nod, and she says, “Hey, why don’t you come here, man, my kid brother!” and I do. I sit on the shag right in front of the bean bag. The music is atonal and inflected and if it has to be a color it’s blue—the blue not of skies or oceans but of that translucent blue fog that covers mountains after rain. My sister Kat passes me the joint. The smoke fills my lungs and goes berserk and my lungs go inflamed and I cough and cough and my face goes olive green and deathly. I might be drooling because my sister Kat wipes my chin with her shirt. She’s still smiling, laughing. The blue music getting bluer and bluer and more and more atonal. Things get darker and lighter and I get dizzy and my head goes, clunk, right in my sister’s lap. She has taken back the joint. My sister Kat runs both hands through my hair. I’m still coughing. She accidentally pokes my eyeball and giggles. The shag carpet is tall as corn in early November, and I’m lost in it. I feel small and fizzy and feathery and stone-heavy at the same time. Time itself becomes blue. My sister’s nails are scratching my scalp ever so lightly so I have tingles at the base of my back. The music fades in, then out, hypnagogic. Then I manage to raise up my head. It takes pretty much everything I have in me, and after raising up my head I’m breathless and heaving but no longer coughing. Kat smiles. Time passes. Kat leans in now and we bump noses and both of us laugh and roll over onto the shag, laughing and still rolling. Everything is fast and slow at the same time. My lungs burn, feel charred. We roll on top of each other. This is what I remember. My sister is laughing and we are rolling together, our bodies interlaced, and then I feel this wet slobbery thing in my mouth and after a long sinuous while I know that my sister is kissing me with her tongue and I’m thinking right about now that kisses are the grooviest thing in the world and that this kiss especially is one groovy-groovy kiss. This kiss is nice. Nothing else happens. No fondling. Just a kiss shared between two people who love each other in ways we probably should not love each other in, passionately and forever, me and my sister Kat. Our mouths fit together perfectly. Her tongue’s grainy and hot. We stop kissing and my sister Kat sits up, then stands, says, mumbling, “I have to go do something.” “Hey,” I want to say, “check on Dad, will you?” but she’s already halfway up the basement stairs. I can’t believe I forgot about Dad. I watch the ceiling, the faux wood paneling. Music fades in, out. At some point in here the doorbell rings.