seven cows stood together on a hillside a hundred yards away. Horse -flies found him and began to bite him through his jeans. He retreated down the hill, swatting at his legs.

LATER, RAY DROVE back down through the hills into Doyle stown and parked on a side street. It was a Sunday afternoon, the day quiet and the air thick with humidity. He put a baseball cap over his wet hair and walked the main drag, stopping at a book-store to get a paper. He stood near the door, feeling his wet clothes cool and holding his paper. There was a circular rack with ten- dollar DVDs near the register, and he stood and pushed it around. One of the faces looked familiar, and he picked up the case, finding it to be the movie he’d watched the night before. Gun Crazy.

A woman stood at the register holding her glasses up to the light, and then she breathed on them and wiped them with the tail of her shirt. She put them on and took them off again while Ray watched her. She swore under her breath, then noticed him standing there.

“Sorry about that.” Her smile was crooked, and she looked down. “We’re not supposed to, you know, swear in front of the customers.” He smiled back and shrugged to show he didn’t mind.

She pointed at his hand. “Ring that up?” she said, and he handed her the box, his mind blank. He felt his face coloring.

“This is a good one.”

“I watched it last night. On TV. You know, not the DVD. Or why would I be getting it now?” Jesus Christ. “I never saw them before, the couple in it, but I liked it.”

“John Dall, he never really did anything else that was, you know, famous. The girl, Peggy Cummins, she was in Night of the Demon.”

“A horror thing?” He was conscious of the way he talked, the words forming in his mouth. Of not cursing, trying to seem okay. She had a small mole near her mouth, and her smell was sweet and faint, like an apple smelled when you held it to your face.

“Oh, yeah, a great one, with Dana Andrews. Directed by Tourneur. Great stuff, very…” She waggled her fingers and widened her eyes in mock terror. “You don’t get nightmares, do you?”

Ray thought she must be in her midtwenties, maybe thirty? Younger than him, he thought, but he was no good at ages. She came around from behind the register and went to another display and flipped through some more cases. She bit her lip and pulled her glasses off her face to use like a magnifying glass. Her hair was dark, and she wore it in a braid, something that always caught his eye. He thought of her in a room somewhere braiding her hair in front of a mirror. Putting on makeup, those little pencils and liners a whole branch of knowledge he knew nothing about. Not that she wore much makeup.

“Shit. Sorry. These things aren’t worth a goddamn. Sorry. Doesn’t look like we have it.” She was tall, maybe taller than him, with a slim build under loose clothes. A gauzy skirt, one of those sweaters that looks like it has thread pulls all over it. Dark colors, like he wore. Browns and blacks and dark blues. Did that mean something?

He wanted to keep talking, had nothing to say. He nodded.

“Thanks for looking. I’ll keep an eye out.” He spent a long time looking through his pockets for the right change. “Night of the Demons.”

“Demon, right.” She smiled at him. There were lines by her eyes that made her seem like someone who would be nice to people. Ray looked down. He held up his bag, smiled, and waved on his way to the door, and she watched him go.

He sat in the car a while. The sun wanted to come out, he thought, but then fat drops started hitting the windshield and the roof, loud as pistol shots. It began to hail. Chunks of ice pounded the car, making a muffled roar that was somehow pleasant. He liked being inside and watching it come down. People ran by: two young girls, holding hands; a fat man with a bent umbrella. He opened his paper, closed it again. He was drawn to those women who wore long clothes and dark colors. He thought it meant something, dressing like that. It seemed to him they were protecting themselves against some possible danger, and he thought it wise to be onto the world, to know things could go wrong.

He wondered if he asked her out, how long it would take for her to get on his nerves, or how long until she got bored with him. Isn’t that what happened? She seemed a lot smarter than he was. There were people he met who seemed to have a whole language he didn’t know. He wasn’t stupid, but what he knew was what he had taught himself. He haunted the bookswaps, buying paper bags full of Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. Books about World War II, black holes. He had opened a book of short stories by a woman named Amy Hempel and couldn’t stop reading it. Bought it for ninety cents and went to the library in Warrington to get more. Something in it made him wish he’d finished school, could somehow get to know smart women who knew there was a terrible joke inside of everything that happened to you.

He could only see clearly the end of the arc of wanting someone. He could feel gears turning inside him when he saw certain women, fell in love two or three times a week with women in shops or at bars or just stopped alongside him at intersections, but it was like he skipped too much in his head and got caught up in how the end played out. The screaming and cocked fists and broken glass. He had a vision of his mother carrying him into the bathroom and locking the door, holding him in the bathtub while his father screamed like a gutshot animal and smashed things in the kitchen.

THAT NIGHT HE lifted the lid on the toilet tank and pulled out a plastic ziplock bag with a foil package in it. He went into the kitchen and made a pipe out of a straw and aluminum foil and dumped a tiny hit of brownish, clotted heroin into the bowl. He sat on his old couch and fired it up and waited. His apartment was tiny, white walls and three rooms over a garage owned by an ancient Ukrainian widow who only left her house for funerals and bingo.

He had put on an album he liked, the sound track to the Bruce Willis movie where he finds out he’s a superhero. The music was quiet but built to a point. Ray liked to think it suggested powerful things happening that were invisible to the eye. He put the pipe down and poured himself a Jameson. He became aware of a pound ing in his blood, a repeating signal that spread warmth and light through his head and down along his arms. He lay back on the couch and let his eyes almost close, so the lamplight filtered or ange through his lashes. Currents moved in his blood, and he thought of chemicals being conveyed through his system to his brain, like people in another time passing buckets full of water hand to hand to throw into a house on fire. He sipped at the shot, and the burning in his throat was like something being cleaned out of him. The woman from the store came into his head wear-ing blue and black, and he closed his eyes, trying to conjure the sensation of her fingers touching his forehead. Light, in the way some women’s hands were light on your skin. He touched his own dry lips and felt his heart beating in the pulses in his fingers. His head moved with the low drumming of his heart, small lateral movements as if there were water under him. He drifted, drifted, waiting for the fire to go out.

“Hey, counter lady.”

“Hey, you.”

“How much is this hat?”

“You want that hat?”

“I don’t know. Yeah.”

“That is a ridiculous hat.”

“It’s cool.”

“Take that off, it’s making me laugh.”

“I make you laugh?”

“Yes, you’re laughable.”

“Well, I like to make you laugh.”

“I know you.”

“Yeah. I know you, too.”

“You’re in Mrs. Haddad’s fourth period En glish.”

“I was. Fatass Haddad.”

“You used to make us all laugh in there.”

“Not Fatass.”

“No. You’re Ray.”

“ Yeah.”

“You know my name?”

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