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Amy

When you pray you burn a sacrifice. It’s the oldest human tradition that isn’t a matter of pure survival, except of course it is a matter of survival, and of keeping something pure. Amy crouches in her cold jacket on the porch she has to leave soon and turns it in her fingers: white paper, black ash, red ember, trace of smoke twisting up to disappear. The buzz has her head a little spinny. She doesn’t pray often, but some days you have to give something up to the sky. There it goes. Watch it rise. A minute of your life.

Amy

Here’s what you’re left with, when it’s over: crap neither of you bought and nobody wants. Amy cleans and bags and cleans and bags and makes him pick it up when she’s not at home. She is shipshaping. She is fixing what she can fix.

Sleeping alone is cold on your body and weird with your dreams. Exhausted but awake, one false dawn, she takes tea out back and watches the recycling pickers. She’s exchanged more satisfying goodbyes with homeless people than they got from each other, she and Jake. The trouble with love stories is they only have one author.

Jake

At times of deep self-loathing, Jake discovers, Maslow’s hierarchy is reversed: sleep evades him, and peanut butter tastes like a dead thing in his mouth.

“You’ve failed me for the last time, Maslow!” Jake shouts.

“No, Mister Jake!” cries Maslow, covering his head and scurrying for cover. “The Maslow is so sorry!” Jake whips him around the house with a willow switch anyway, but it doesn’t make his food taste any better.

“Why do you let him treat you that way?” asks Amy, dabbing Maslow’s forehead with a cool cloth.

“The Maslow has needs too,” says Maslow, shivering with delight.

Jake

“Thanks for coming,” says Jake.

“What?” says Amy. “I live here.”

“I’d like to begin by addressing certain rumors about the motorcycle.”

“What did you do to my bike?” says Amy sharply.

“Has a modest amount of chocolate milkshake been introduced into its tailpipe?” says Jake. “We can neither confirm nor deny.”

“Sometimes it is very hard to remember that I like you,” says Amy, facepalmed.

“There is a distinct odor of burnt marshmallows! No one is arguing otherwise.”

“I’ll get the hose,” Amy sighs.

“By the way,” Jake says, “turns out I was two days late to the milkshake party.”

Jake

“This is going to be stunning,” says Amy, “but I’ve come to the conclusion that most people don’t spend their idle moments replaying awkward memories, gripped by chagrin.”

Jake frowns. “That can’t be right. Seriously? They don’t catch themselves staring at walls, imagining what it would be like to hit one’s fourteen-year-old self over and over again, in the mouth?”

“I think they daydream about nice things,” says Amy grimly. “They may not wallow in past idiocies for two, three days at a time.”

“Is there some kind of medication we can use,” says Jake, “to make them start?”

Jake

“You’re aware of why you’re doing this, right?” Amy waves at the screen. “Working, throwing it all out there, panting over every inbound link? It’s such a transparent cry for affection–”

“Like you?”

“Like me.”

“But free distribution of digitizable content is the only model that even makes sense anymore!” Jake protests.

She smirks. “Coincidence. You only download music to get back at the RIAA too, right?”

“So what, I should put it behind a subscription wall? Print stories on t-shirts?”

“Well,” she says, “you could resell it in hardcopy.”

Jake winces. “Do I have to call it a ‘blook?'”

Amy

Funny, thinks Amy, how “scrubby” has come to mean “unscrubbed.” She really has no business among humans right now–no shower, no shave, IU sweatpants, hair yanked through a hat and feet in dusty thongs. Oh, and commando.

She holds it together, though, through the day’s two lectures. Leaving, she snags in a traffic jam near the gym’s entrance. Somebody’s holding a green towel, somebody else a peeled orange.

Memory. It’s 1995, dark outside, he’s a towel an orange and she feels dirty–wrong–excited–

Amy’s sweating, suddenly disconcerted; she hurries on, uncomfortably aware of the brush-brush of her secret thighs.

Jake

“We’ll tow your swivel chair,” they threaten, and Jake can’t make himself write at the moment so he gives up and agrees.

The party’s at least got a dance floor, and it’s mercifully dark; Deek and Gigi follow him into the thick of it and then out, arms up in crowd-maneuver stance. Jake’s smiling now, sweating a little. He lets himself people-watch: it’s not a bad crowd, Allie looks hot tonight, there’s a

small laugh

her wrist

Things blur. He finds himself upstairs, somebody’s office, page after page of Amy on yellow legal in a hand that’s just beginning to tremble.

Amy

Amy’s either shorter or taller than she’d really like to be. She likes old-school hip-hop but she sings loud bad Aerosmith. She’s embarrassed about wearing sweatpants so much. She doesn’t know she’s extraordinary for using words like “aegis” and “anacrusis” in everyday conversation.

Brown hair, B cup, freckles when she runs. Her only poster is of Jon Stewart. She used to drive fast, but she had to quit.

Writing Amy, Jake’s astounded by how easily she comes into his fingers. She’s like cheating. All that time inventing genius space-spies with the French Pox, and for what? Amy was here all along.

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