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"Do I have a car?" said Billy.

Billy would sit erect, the back of his bed cranked as far forward as it would go, playing on his unamplified Stratocaster solos that wandered from song to song, key to key, era to era; solos that climbed toward crescendos only to find their ladders pulled out from under them, solos like stories written in disappearing ink, solos like columns of figures that did not add up but that continued adding, adding. Sitting so straight, with some of his hair still spiky and some of it starting to lie down over the shaven patches, Billy looked wet and quizzical, like a newborn chick.

Each afternoon he was wheelchaired upstairs to play with blocks and walk up and back between two rails that looked like a gymnastic apparatus. Every evening, before her shift at the club, Melissa spoiled Billy’s apperite for the hospital dinner with smuggled foods: most, like raisins and pistachios, Billy could now recognize immediately; some he still seemed to taste for the first time. A Hershey’s bar made him close his eyes and frown slightly as he ate.

"This one is my favorite," he announced, as he had several times before. "What’s it called?"

"Sound it out," Melissa told him.

"Choc-o-late." He said it with a long a.

Billy logged every new flavor, every new idea, every doctor, nurse and visitor in red, yellow and blue five-by-eight spiral notepads, each of which he’d titled Billy’s Brain. For Melissa, guiding him through his discoveries was something like raising an outsized child. It had occurred to her — first as an abstraction, then colorized by altruistic overtones, and finally with plain desire — that whatever Billy’s experience with women before the injury, he had now recovered his virginity. She liked to wipe him down with a wet washcloth, and smell his skin.


Billy’s father came after dinner on the eve of Billy’s release from Blaine Memorial. He stood beside the bed in high-heeled pumps, a long floral cotton dress, and subdued quantities of lipstick, eyeshadow and blush. Billy’s father had breasts.

"Dad?" said Billy.

"I realize this comes as a shock," said Billy’s father in the same deep, assured voice-over voice that used to say, "Customer Service," when Billy had telephoned the Oregon Mutual Savings Bank, the same voice that had always called Billy "son" and Billy’s mother "your mother," the same voice that had, long before, explained sex to Billy in clinical and terrifying detail.

"Where’s Mom?" Billy asked.

"Your mother’s gone to Idaho," Billy’s father told him. "She left me and went to Idaho."

Billy reached to the nightstand for his blue notepad and set it on the tongue-shaped table that had been wheeled over his midsection for dinner. "Mom’s in ... " he murmured as he wrote.

"I-d-a-h-o," said his father.

Billy looked up. "That’s bad."

"Your mother wouldn’t say so." Billy’s father half smiled. "Your mother would call it wabi. May I sit down?"

"Uh-huh." Billy’s face was in his notepad.



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