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THE TALKER /Je/jf Friedman He knew that nothing would go wrong between them as long as he kept talking. It didn't matter what he said, if he talked about the migration of Monarch butterflies to a small town in Mexico, whose name he couldn't remember, about mob bosses dumping New York garbage in landfiUs in the Midwest and how the people were fighting back, or about the future blossoming with possibUities. But something had already gone wrong, because she no longer participated in conversation, staring at him as if he were a cursor moving across a computer screen, mowing down green blocks of characters. If he asked a question, a long pause stretched before him, a road winding deeper into the backwoods. He could see the pines, birches and oaks, sticking out at angles from the slope of the mountainside. He imagined how the roots of these trees clutched rocks and dirt, graduaUy sUpping, losing their grip. He could see some boys carrying a canoe over their heads, the gold Ught that, near sunset, breaks off water. If she answered, which she might not, he would try to get her to go on by asking more questions or expressing his own opinion about what she said, which she usuaUy resented. The more he talked, the more he hoped he would discover what he was trying to say, the more he hoped he would arrive at some brilliant insight that would change things between them. But each odd, useless detaU—the tuberculosis epidemic, the radiation emitted from the sides of the computer, the eerie glow of color monitors, the enlarged throat sac of peepers, his father's cUches—led only to the next odd, useless detaU— Uke items in a catalog or the frozen spotted wings of a swarm of butterflies clinging to the trees. 25S · The Missouri Review BEYOND THE RAIN / Jeff Friedman Beyond the rain, there is more rain and then a darkness, a motionless space where a wind starts that is a thought repeating itself, the wind cutting the rain the way anger sUces through a room. The woman says no more. Her eyes drift to the spots in the ceiUng where the paint peels and then to the window where rain bursts into streams. She closes her eyes, not wanting to remember how she arrived here. The man envies her abihty to faU asleep even during their worst moments. He sits up in bed and wishes he could let his fears rest. He wishes he could counter her silence with a sUence of his own. Now as she turns away from him, curUng into the sheets, he traces their faUures back to the beginning. He assigns blame in each case. He tries to be fair, but can go no further in his thinking. He feels the rain as though he were a window. Beyond the rain is more rain and then a darkness, a motionless space where a wind starts. The Missouri Review · 259 DESIRE I Jeff Friedman Outside the rain comes down slowly tapping on car hoods, and the moon exhales its moist warm breath. I massage your eyeUds in smaU circles, move my fingers graduaUy toward the whiter skin of your temples. Once I desired you the way a boy locked in his room as punishment stares out the window and imagines a path of pine needles and yearns to lose himself in the thicket of trees and not return until his mother cries and his father blames himself for whatever has happened. Then I desired you as though at a distance, not wanting to touch you, but just to see you in the Ught of our room, how your fingers twined your hair, how you could stand before the mirror proud of being naked. I admired the flesh that gripped you Uke a warm kiss. When I Ue back you move into my arms as though you had found a place to rest. I close my eyes. Now desire is an act of forgetting 260 · The Missouri Review Uke a rain-sUck street long after midnight. Jeff Friedman The Missouri Review · 162 SCATTERING THE ASHES / Jeff Friedman In the car I...


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