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A BAR IN ASPEN /James Tate People in the bar are talking about black holes and quarks. The ones who are without mates insist on showing their best parts. The owner of the bar is just back from a tremendous hike in forbidden areas of Nepal. The phone rings: his friend tells him that her lover is trying to kill her. "WeU," he says, "one fights wars, makes love, is captured by aUens, meets the Queen, faces the death penalty, grows old, gets mugged, wins the Olympic decathlon, is menaced by rats, snakes and leopards." "What the fuck are you saying?" She is pressuring him now. She is making him uncomfortable, doubting him. "WeU," he repUes, "you simply rest in your torn carcass, radiating your Uttle beams of false knowledge." Silence. She seems to be reaUy mad at him now. "Irma," he says, "I've got to go. I've just burned myself, but I refuse to scream into the phone. TeU Larry to cool out or he'U never see another perfect sunset." "You are a sick cookie," she says. The owner spins himself around on the barstool, and pretty soon a giant wasp is kneading clay in his head. He tries to think: What booL· do the American people read? And, later: Where exactly is Australia? The Missouri Review · 25 PIMONE, STRANDED IN THE COUNTRYSIDE /James Tate She's doing the best she can to reach the jug of cold water by the armchair. She has no coUateral or compass, and there are bachelors with cigars crouched in the cornfield just waiting to photograph her supping on the marbles, carefuUy placed, and they wiU likely shriek, and try to lure her into a game of strip-backgammon. Pimone thinks: stone, flame, plant, brute, man, heaven, angel, and scoffs at the brush strokes of her destiny, the spherical shadow of the epoch sheltering its powder puff, and she tosses a fish platter at the atlas shimmering down the narrow haUway of the bound-up straggly farmhouse of her imprisonment. Strawberries plop from the ceiling, an omen that love is working its charms, and Pimone, who's doing the best she can in this stupid, lackluster plot, is a horsewoman with counterparts in the netherworld, embroiders the domain in misshapen sunlight and shadow, pours cream down her own gown and disappears, the secret of her modesty leaving her initials powdered on the stiU water. 26 · The Missouri Review PORCH THEORY /James Tate Lots of wicker and baskets, a Victorian birdcage, on rainy nights children sleeping but not reaUy sleeping under quilts telling ghost stories. The porch sags. The children grow into surprising adults. There's a dinner party, an uncle faUs asleep. The cushions on the wicker couch need mending. The wülow itself is finaUy dying, having strangled everything within its great reach for half-a-century. "Look at those clouds," someone says. "The face of God is in there, somewhere." A cat watches a cricket caught in a cobweb. Drinks are served. More chfldren climb on the wicker couch, and grandmother stares at the croquet set in the corner, remembering the parrot her grandfather brought back from the Pacific, what seems Uke yesterday, or tomorrow. The Missouri Review · 27 MORE ABOUT PEGGY /James Tate She was afraid of dogs and sharks and elevators. (I'm sure I've left something out of this auspicious Ust.) She feared that one day she would neglect her hygiene altogether. So she taped Uttle reminders here and there. On the bathroom mirror: brush teeth and douche before leaving. She was afraid that one day she would inadvertently show too much cleavage at the club and a headwaiter would spill a drink down her front as a hint that there were certain standards to be upheld and she had sUpped beneath them. Peggy was petrified at the possibility that her mother might caU and use the words habitue and mien in the same sentence. (This had happened once a dozen years ago when Peggy was already febrile and wan.) Her mother, Mrs. EsteUe Bartkett, was a hydra-headed pestilence, with a certain gift for semiotics and lawn tennis. (There is a nest of...


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