When you were one, the world was fire trucks, dogs, squirrels, apples, peas. The Home Depot fire alarm went off when you were wandering through the house plants and later you had a nightmare that you were lost in a sea of patriotic balloons and dwarf orchids and everyone was a stranger. When you were one you had a preference for shoes: sometimes you wanted your flip flops, sometimes your sneakers. It depended on your mood, when you were one. You were learning to love. The love that your family heaped on you like hot affectionate gravy was overwhelming and claustrophobic — they came to hug, to pinch, to kiss — but then there were times when you’d be playing with your blocks and you would think of mama, and you would say it, her name, just because you were wondering what she was doing and if she was thinking of you. When you were one you smiled at everyone — at the people at the pool, the man sleeping under dirty duvets on Hollywood boulevard in 110 degree heat, the women with inflated lips and immovable foreheads. When they didn’t smile back, you withdrew. When you were one you laughed when you ran downhill and you liked to clean up the yard by gathering the leaves that fell and putting them in a broken plastic watering can, and you would not let anyone take it away.
When you were one you were small. You saw bigger babies who were younger than you, but they couldn’t say “broccoli,” so you knew that it was okay to be in your small, smart, sturdy body, and you loved it there. You scraped your knees and got your leg stuck in the crib slats. You scratched your cheek with the ragged edge of your fingernail. You didn’t understand the way the body can be harmed, or harm itself, when you were one, but you learned to scoot to the edge of a step to get down to the lower level. You were learning fast when you were one, and you didn’t forget. You hoarded words that hadn’t been spoken in days to bust out when you saw a sock or a sweater. You were frightened of strangers because you couldn’t categorize them, but you wanted them to like you because you knew that that would often keep you safe from harm. You threw your blocks when you were one, to experience the loud noise when they hit the floor or the sofa, and to feel the force of having made the noise. You liked to feel the wet sand at the beach in your hands, and later you would squish a grape or a piece of melon between your fingers like the sand, and babble to try to explain that the malleable material was just like — just like! — wet sand, like the damp dirt, like the slugs you find on the apples the squirrels bring into the yard. Nobody understood what you were saying, so you often found yourself alone with your thoughts when you were one. You would whisper phrases with words that were recognizable scattered among mostly ones that weren’t. It was important that you feel understood, and you rarely did when you were one. You would melt onto the floor in a human puddle of anger at being so alone in your experiences, next to your truck, which you would sadly note says “beep beep beep,” and then those idiots would look at you and know that you were talking about the truck, and for a minute you would think — ahh, it’s okay. We’re all friends here.
When you were one you didn’t know the news. The news was a tray of broccoli and a cat climbing a tree. Your mother was reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and there were times when you would look at each other with the understanding of two acid-tripping hippies caught in a divine web of intersubjectivity. When you saw bubbles or felt bubbles on your tongue, and you laughed because how weird is that? And you looked into a human face and looked down a long hall, thirty years long, and saw a snapshot of the first time that other human had felt or saw bubbles, popping them, blowing them, drinking them, and you and the other human laughed for ten minutes as though you were ageless entities, best buddies. This when you were only one! And then again out in the rain, before you were one, when there was cheese in the fridge older than you, when you felt rain on your head and looked up to see vanishing dashes of liquid flying out of the sky — like what? You weren’t even old enough for a suitable metaphor, when you were younger than cheese, but you were looking for one. What is this like? What do I know that this could possibly be like?
Nothing, when you were one. You got blue. You stared out the car window and thought about the sad times you’d had. Perhaps the juice box had shot into your eye or it was time to go to bed, in the dark, with unfamiliar striped curtains that you’d never noticed were completely chilling, if you thought about it. Your teeth had plagued you. All your life they’d been drifting, like tectonic plates, and thinking about them made you feel glum. Who was to say if you’d get teeth on the other end of the pain? What were teeth to you, when you were one? Things you didn’t want. But then there was the moment you first saw a dandelion and thought, this is IT, this is a FLOWER, and how it was the first time you were very hot in the summer and a hose appeared to shoot rainbows and mist onto your sweaty baby forehead, and you are overtaken with gratitude for having happened to be outside when the world conspired to hand you this joy. And you look back at anyone else who happens to be standing around, probably recording you on a little electronic, like, “Hey, are you getting this? This is positively fantastic.” This is how it was when you were one.
Winnie was in the kitchen when she first saw a slobe up close. She was filling the coffee pot with water and caught sight of something slithering up from the drain. It had the texture of a jellyfish but, once it had slid the strainer out of its groove, appeared to be roughly the size of a newborn kitten. Its face was rounded, with a prominent whiskerless muzzle and a blunt nose. Its eyes were on tentacles, like a snail’s. It resembled a small, gelatinous, ugly walrus, and though it had no hands, feet or flippers it quickly oozed its way onto the cutting board, which had been smeared with beeswax the night before to preserve its integrity against knife marks. The slobe’s underside met the beeswax and the slobe reacted by turning black. Winnie grabbed a bottle of olive oil and, impulsively, brought it down on the slobe with a violent smack. The animal emitted a high-pitched squeal even after Winnie had completely flattened it by striking it repeatedly, so she sprayed it with a eucalyptus-scented cleaning solution until it went silent. Its remains fizzed when it came into contact with the chemicals. The slobe’s murder scene was quite a mess. Winnie went into her office and retrieved a clean square of poster board and her phone. She brought them into the kitchen and lifted up what was left of the slobe, arranging its parts on the board. She photographed it from every angle, next to a banana for scale. She posted the photos online with the caption, “Real Slobe I Found In My Sink.”
She left her phone on the kitchen table and went outside to dispose of the slobe. She threw it into the garbage along with the poster board and the banana, which had come been coated with its slime. Winnie didn’t know if slobe slime was poisonous, or if it could penetrate a banana peel, but she didn’t want to take any chances. When she went back into the kitchen and checked her phone, she saw that her post had received a lot of feedback. Some of it, she noticed with horror, was awfully negative. Her pulse quickened. “HOW COULD U,” remarked someone named BattenRude, “KILL A FUCKEN SLOBE??? THAT LOOX LIKE A BB SLOBE. A BB SLOBE WITH A MOMMA SLOBE OUT SOMEWHERE LOOKING FOR HIM. HOW MANY SLOBES U THINK THERE R, SO MANY U CAN JUST KILL THEM W/O THINKING? I WOULD LIKE TO KILL U!”
"Relax," typed Winnie, who was not relaxed at all. "This thing came out of my drain, how do I know they don’t bite? Do you know slobes don’t bite? It could have been dangerous. Like a spider."
BattenRude promptly responded. “U COULD HAVE FOUND OUT IF IT WOULD BITE BUT NOW U DON’T EVEN HAVE A CHANCE 2 KNO,” he or she said. “WHAT DID U EXPECT? SAY SOMEONE HAD NEVER SEEN A PUPPIE, THEN THEY FOUND A PUPPIE IN THEIR HOME AND JUST HIT IT WITH A HAMMER UNTIL IT WAS FLAT? U WOULD CRY OVER THAT PUPPIE.”
Winnie considered this. She really was fond of puppies.
Her inbox pinged. A Dr. Lewis Conway had emailed her about the slobe. “I need more information on this creature,” he wrote, “and I would happily pay you if you would be kind enough to send me its remains — unless it’s alive. Is it by any chance still alive?”
Winnie wrote back, “I’m sorry but the slobe is dead. I didn’t know what it was.” Winnie paused. She decided to adhere to this lie as long as was necessary. She continued, “I just panicked and hit it and hit it and hit it, spritzed it with cleaner and then threw the body away. Do you want me to get the body out of the trash? I suppose I could do that.”
"You threw away the body of a slobe?" wrote Dr. Lewis Conway. "You "spritzed it with cleaner"? I don’t know how a person could do that. Or kill it in the first place. Disregard my request. I need nothing further from you."
Winnie’s post had hundreds of comments. It had been hashtagged with #slobekiller, #slobemurder, #poorslobe. Someone had discovered her Facebook profile photo and was manipulating its image so that Winnie’s smiling face was covered with warts, and in the hand that had held a chilled Corona Light that she had sipped on vacation in Bermuda six months ago, a slobe’s head had been inserted, as if she were throttling it. The slobe had a dialogue box above its head that said, “Someone please…stop her.” The image was on the front page of Buzzfeed, where it had amassed thousands of little broken heart icons and just as many WTFs.
A New York Times reporter named Carolyn Whittleboss emailed Winnie asking for a statement. Winnie supposed she should calm down and think about her situation before she wrote back, but then her phone started ringing. It was People magazine. And then it was TMZ. And the Scientists for Slobe Preservation. She declined to comment. Her favorite online paper, the Cranberry Wagoner, rang and she couldn’t resist. She cracked. “Yes,” she said, “I killed that slobe with a bottle of olive oil and Mrs. Gladys’ countertop astringent.”
"Do you regret it?" asked the Cranberry Wagoner.
"Yes," said Winnie, though she wasn’t sure she did. "I had never seen a slobe before, and I just freaked out."
"Not very many people have seen a slobe," said the Cranberry Wagoner. "Some people think they’re mythological, or from outer space. Did it seem to be from outer space? Just, you know, was that your impression?"
"It looked like a slug crossed with a walrus."
"Yeah, but in your estimation, did it seem like a space walrus?"
"More of a slug."
"A space slug, then?"
"No," said Winnie, "but I was mostly concentrating on getting it out of my sink."
"I see," said the Cranberry Wagoner, who was clearly disappointed to hear it.
"I just want to say for the record that I never intended to do any harm to the slobe or anybody else," said Winnie. She started to cry. "I feel like such a fucking idiot for what I did."
"Yes," said the Cranberry Wagoner, "I imagine so."
"And for posting it online."
"Yes," agreed the Wagoner again, "why did you do that, exactly?"
"I just felt like I had to," said Winnie. "Because you see something weird and that’s what you do."
"Thank you," said the Cranberry Wagoner, "for being so honest."
Winnie felt a little better. She left her phone on the table for a while and lay down on her bed. The light had been shut out by blackout curtains, and outside she could hear the sound of a wireless ice cream truck, which let the neighborhood kids know that they could download popsicles to their smart phones at a discount for the next fifteen minutes if they Shazam-ed its tinkling tune. She practiced mindful meditation, telling herself that all that existed were the bed sheets, the ceiling, her breathing, her body, and the dark air. Her direct-to-brain subscription to the Cranberry Wagoner interrupted her calm, alerting her to the fact that a feature-length piece had been devoted to her slobe murder. “FUCKING IDIOT” KILLS RARE SLOBE IN COLD BLOOD, the headline yelled at Winnie. She pulled on her earlobe to unsubscribe. “Are you sure you’d like to unsubscribe?” the Wagoner whispered.
"Yes," said Winnie.
"Pull twice to report as spam."
Winnie pulled on her earlobe twice.
"Touch your nose to power off," said the Wagoner.
She touched her nose.
"Are you sure?" asked the Wagoner.
Winnie touched her nose again, and powered off. Two more slobes crawled out of her kitchen drain, then made their way silently into Winnie’s bedroom, following the scent of the eucalyptus that still clung to her hands.
John was looking forward to hanging out with Andrew. Usually they kicked back, had a beer, smoked a joint and then, if they felt like it, they would order a pizza and watch 20/20 together. They talked about women, and about hockey, and maybe sometimes about a weird interaction either of them had had with a stranger that had made them uncomfortable. It always made John feel good to know that he had a friend in Andrew.
John had a pizza waiting when Andrew arrived at 5:30. It was an Ultimate Extra Superior Supreme and it had artichokes and gouda on it. Andrew came in with a large messenger bag, went into the kitchen and got himself two slices of pizza. He flopped down on the sofa and John turned on 20/20.
"Hey man," said John, "that’s a nice bag."
"Thanks," said Andrew. "I’m kind of not used to carrying a bag."
"Yeah," said John, and then they watched a long program on the infant prostitution ring in Finkerstown.
"That shit’s pretty fucked up," remarked Andrew.
"Yeah," said John, "the world’s really fucked up."
Andrew helped himself to more pizza. John made them a pitcher of sangria.
"Sangria, my brother," said Andrew, "now we’re talking business."
"I threw in some diced watermelon," said John. "Why not?"
"Go crazy," replied Andrew.
"Right on," said John. They drank their sangria and talked about a date John had had that was not successful.
"I had no idea about the value of this certain kind of rare cashmere whatever," concluded John, "it’s not my world."
"That’s really fucked up," said Andrew. "I don’t even have a response other than it’s fucked up."
"I know, and now I’m humiliated."
"Yeah," said Andrew. The hour had grown late. The dogs that lived across the street from John had gone inside for the night. The streetlamps were flickering.
"Do you want like some coffee or something?" asked John.
"Nah, I’m cool," said Andrew.
"So," said John, "what’s up with tomorrow?"
"Ah, tomorrow," said Andrew. "Yeah."
"Yeah," said John. He went into the kitchen to make coffee anyway. He looked at the clock. It was 11:30. Andrew usually departed by nine. He made coffee, taking a long time and dimming the lights in the kitchen to indicate the deep, chocolatey night. He dropped spoons everywhere and picked them up slowly, one by one. He could hear Andrew texting with someone in the next room. He brought in the coffee service on a silver tray with little cocktail napkins decorated with trombones.
"In case you want some," said John. "I like to have a coffee right before I go to bed."
"I know that about you," said Andrew. John drank his coffee, then put the cup down on the coffee table with a firm clink.
"Wow," said John. "It must be late." He stretched and yawned.
"Yeah, I’ve become a real night owl," said Andrew. "Do you want to Netflix something?"
"Man, I don’t know if I can," responded John, "because I’m pretty beat and I have to get up tomorrow morning for work."
"Oh," said Andrew, "okay."
Andrew was a good and nice friend. Andrew had cleaned up dog vomit when John was dog-sitting for a friend and Andrew caught sight of it in the kitchen before John did. Andrew had bought rounds of drinks for his friends, friends whom Andrew hadn’t previously known. Andrew had gone along on a road trip to Vancouver with him and paid for gas.
"Do you want a bite of cheese?" asked John.
"Cheese I will take!" replied Andrew.
John went into the kitchen and put the cheese on a huge porcelain platter with an array of whimsically-shaped crackers and a cheese knife engraved with his initials. He opened a bottle of Pernod. He dusted off his fine crystal goblets. He tossed capers artfully around a smear of fig jam in the center of the platter. He started a Roxy Music playlist on his iPod at a barely audible volume. He lit a lavender candle and covered it with a red glass cloche.
"Here," whispered John, "is a tiny nibble of cheese."
"Shh," joked Andrew.
"Yes," said John.
Andrew and John lingered over their drinks and cheese for another two hours. John had reached the end of his wits. He had already fluffed the throw pillows, then removed them from the sofa and hidden them in the bathroom. He was acutely aware that he was deliberately messing with Andrew’s comfort levels in his house: elevating them to induce sleepiness, then depleting them to make Andrew crave his own bed in his own home. The plates had been cleared. Andrew went through his bag and retrieved his toothbrush.
"What’s that?" asked John.
"My toothbrush," said Andrew.
"Are you staying overnight?" asked John.
"Of course not!" said Andrew. "What kind of a question is that? I’m just brushing my teeth. Excuse me."
"Sorry, that’s cool," said John. Andrew disappeared for a long time. Sometimes the water was running, then it would shut off, then it would start running again.
Andrew emerged close to 2:30.
"I’m sorry dude," said John, "I’ve got to get to bed. Let’s do this again next week."
"Goodnight," said Andrew from the sofa.
"I think you should go," said John.
"That’s cool, I think I’m going to hang out for a bit longer," said Andrew. He smiled. His smile contained no malice.
"Okay," said John. "Do you want a blanket or something?"
"Nah," said Andrew. And John went to bed.
The next morning, John wasn’t feeling well. Maybe it was the Pernod. He went into the bathroom and saw that he had a considerable amount of gray hair on his head that hadn’t been there previously. He looked haggard. Andrew was in the kitchen, chipper, making scones from scratch.
"Sorry," said Andrew. "I used all your butter."
"That’s okay," said John. "God, I slept terribly."
"Not me!" said Andrew.
"Well, good," said John. "I have to go to work."
"Have fun," said Andrew.
"Andrew," said John, "This is awkward but I need to ask you to go now."
"Oh," said Andrew.
"Yeah, I’m sorry, it’s just that I really don’t like to leave with people in my house."
"I see," said Andrew. He stuffed some tissues and a water bottle into his bag. "Out the door," said Andrew.
"Thanks, bro," said John.
"Okay, ‘bro,’" said Andrew.
"Don’t," said John.
"Fine," said Andrew.
John got into his car. Andrew was dawdling by the driver’s side door. John waited.
"Bye," mouthed Andrew.
"Bye," responded John from inside the car.
John waited. Andrew waited. The sun beat down on the two cars in the driveway. John was late for work. Andrew began to sweat. The mailman came, which meant that the morning had collapsed on top of the afternoon. Andrew texted frantically while John watched.
John opened the car door. “Andrew,” he said, “for God’s sake just be honest with me. What’s going on. What’s happening right now?”
But Andrew was gone, and so was his Pontiac. John went to get the mail and saw that it was all addressed to a Mrs. Eloise Cumbersmith, but the address was his own. The trees that had needed trimming had been trimmed. The front door was green. It had been white. John’s car was filled with garbage, with little cracker crumbs and coffee stains. He could not find Andrew’s number in his phone. In the backseat were a number of Beanie Babies and lottery tickets. John drove away slowly so he could think of a place to go. A band of stray cats followed his car, appearing out of nowhere and refusing to go away.