Excerpts From I Know How You Dug the Passages


"I know how you dug the passages." My Grandfather says. "Deep in the closets. Between the clothes. That's how you get access."

 The room is choked with antiques. Rugs piled on top of rugs. Five settees. A baby grand. Curios from Africa and Alaska and all the other places my Grandfather has been.

 "Access to what?" I ask.

 "I think you know."

 A photo of him looks down at us from the wall- the wall that is hung with too many pictures, one of them a Chagall. In the photo he looks like Cary Grant and Arnold Schwartzenegger, but with Clark Gable's moustache. He looks happy and wise.

 "Access to my wife. She's still got a fine, ripe body, I know."

 I frown. It is four in the morning and even though I have been up for six hours I can't think right.

 "That's fuckin' crazy, man." Ari says.

 "You've used this house pretty hard, Matt." My Grandfather says to Ari. "And you Jimmy," He says to me, " you've used it how you like it too."

 I'm Matt. His breath smells worse than anything.

"Now don't you come back no more. My wife won't dream about you like I know she does."

 He lies back down on the couch where he sleeps. It is a hundred years old, and reeks of piss.

 "No more of your passages." He lapses into troubled dreams. He scowls and moans. His mustache writhes.

 Six hours earlier, the phone rang in the dark. The canopy over my bed fell down a while ago, so I have to crawl under it to sleep.

 I stuck my arm out toward the phone and some books fell off the bed. I reached out, out into the black stale air, hurt my hand on something sharp, pulled it back, reached out again, and grabbed the receiver.

 I held it over the canopy, over my face. "Yeah." I said through the fabric.

 "Matt." Ari said. "My mom killed my dog. I have to come over."

 "Sonya?" I asked. Sonya had been chasing the stick for me in Ari's yard before I went to sleep. She was a chocolate lab, like my dog was before my Grandfather got ideas about her. Ari and his mom screamed at each other in the house. It was hurting Sonya. So I took her out onto the grounds and threw the stick. Behind the coach house, under the oaks, we couldn't hear them any more. She chased that stick like nobody had remembered to throw it for her in a long time.

 "Yeah. I guess I won the argument. So she called me at work tonight and said that she had Sonya put to sleep. Fucked me up."

"How did she sound?"

 "Happy. Like she knew she was going to get some attention. I think she's out of the woods for a while. Can I come over?"

 The heavy black bakelite body of the phone fell off the dresser. The receiver fought me like a big evil fish. I think. I've never been fishing.

 When I was nine, my father told me that my friend Ari was a very angry little boy. Now, my father was disastrously wrong about many, many things; but he knew a lot about being angry. So I've always been waiting for Ari to kill his mother and inherit that giant house. But it looks more and more like she is going to kill him instead.

 It was the angel cards that did it-- that killed Sonya. Three days ago I was over at Ari's house and his Mom had just come home from work and she was hanging out with us in the sitting room. She was beautiful and theatrical in her Gaultier dress and all of her clanking, jangling earrings and we were really worried. We always worry when she starts hanging around with us, looking to score points.

 What do they think of her at work? Ari's mom is the director of development at a huge charity that you have probably heard of. Her father was one of their biggest contributors and his foundation still is. So she gets to be the director of development. I wonder what she does down there, all day.

 Today, she was passing out angel cards.

 "Take one." She said. "Bring an angel into your life, Matt. These aren't tarot cards. There are no bad fortunes here."

 She fanned the cards for me to see. She did it very well, very gracefully. Each card had a picture of an angel, in muddy pastel colors, with an inspirational message written underneath

"Um." I swung my hair in front of my face. "I'm no good at fortune cookies. I only get bad ones. And I really don't want to bring everybody down."

 "Matt," she said, and added a dramatic pause. "These are angels. There are no bad angels. No bad fortunes here, now pick."

 Her hair is as long as mine, and red. She really knows how to gesture with it for effect.

 I reached out, my fingers brushed the edges of the cards, I pulled my hand back. She cocked her head and gave me a strange look, full of something. I looked at the floor and picked a card.

 Somewhere Ari exhaled.

 And there in my hand was a card with a picture of an angel, in black and white, with no message on it. The angel shrugged, looked sad, and held up his empty palms.

 "Show it to me, Matt." She said.

 I didn't know if I could. It's not a good idea to win a fight with Ari's mom.

 She put her fingers on my wrist and took the card. Then she frowned. "This isn’t right." She said. "It’s not fair to count this one."

 "I’ve got to go." I said, and left. Ari came with me. We walked around and did stuff and saw people we knew for three days. Then I got really sleepy. Ari didn’t want to go home, but he had to. It was getting hard to ignore.

 I went with him because nobody else would. His mom was in a kimono and she hadn’t washed her hair and at first she wouldn’t even look at us and then she screamed at Ari. He screamed back and I went outside to throw the stick for Sonya.

 I went home and slept for a long time. Then Ari’s mom killed his dog and he called me and woke me up.