Brandy had been spared the task of leading local authorities to the site of Simon’s 'deathbed'—his 'alleged' if unconfirmed grave. Oscar had done that. The whole ordeal, in fact, had reached its sad conclusion. Now, as she drove back alone toward Tucson, her thoughts were bent on collecting her things, dropping off Simon's at the Bureau of Missing Persons, then heading out of town, out of state, as soon as possible. Bound for...? Anywhere. No place in particular. Back to LA, maybe; it hardly mattered. Jodi, of course, had pleaded with her to stay. But somehow Jodi's spell (if indeed she ever had cast one) lost its influence. Brandy wanted closureof theirs and the whole affair... Simon's memory nagging like a riddle left unsolved.

‘Everything happens for a reason.’

Did she believe that? Several recent events cast serious doubts—her coming to the desert in the first place prime among the absurdities. On what pretext? On whose recommendation? In retrospect it all seemed rather… vague… almost forced. She felt like a misused puppet with gone-slack strings.

Still, only a week had passed. She could resume her old job, move back in with Barbara; life would only have suffered a momentary lapse…

But retreating seemed an insufficient answer—in lieu of the answer. Simon was more than an enigmatic detour. Brandy felt his presencesince his absencegrow more and more profound. Even during her torturous hike from the canyon (his semen dribbling out of her in a gluey stream of tears) Simon's ‘physical’ loss seemed offset by his ‘psychic’ perseverance. Spiritually, psychologically, he stayed near. Jodi had noticed it. As had Oscar. Both remarked a difference in Brandy’s general demeanor; they claimed her very appearance was somehow not the same—though neither could explain exactly how.

As for Brandy’s own perception... repercussions plagued... none more disconcertedly than supersensitive random replays of their unprotected sex; membranes still constricted on occasion to the point of spasmsorgiastic interludes both consummate and perplexing. Brandy needed time—and distance—to think things through.

While she drove along the highway, a bump caused her to glance at the passenger-side seat. There, where Jodi had placed them (for keepsakes) were the His-and-Her cups Simon and she had made… alongside his magic slate, the last word he had written still scrawled across its surface: Later.

‘My present!’

Brandy had forgotten his unopened gift. Suddenly it—whatever "it" might be—was the key to what confounded her: why her path, with his, was destined to intersect... leaving her both bereaved and bizarrely self-possessed.


Dismissing the idea, she nonetheless kept a heavy foot on the Volkswagen's gas pedal.


At last the road was smooth and reasonably straight. Brandy soon was back at the Adobe Motel. Number Eight stood sequestered as ever—a bit forbidding, she thought, on pulling up the drive. She rolled to a stop, got out of her car, crossed to the womb-like threshold, turned the key with impatience, then suddenly paused—overcome by a nameless twinge of uncertainty. Shaking it off, she entered, and was quickly re-enveloped by the bungalow's eerie calm.

There, atop the coffee table, right where they had left it, sat her present … wrapped in silver paper… powder-blue bow… no card. Its isolation enticed yet raised new apprehensions.

No longer in a hurry, Brandy busied herself with gathering her possessions… which she packed carefully… taking more time than was necessary… satisfied to linger in the space they once had shared; their clothes still hung in the bathroom—garments dry and wrinkled like age-old lifelong friends.

After carrying Simon’s backpack, then her luggage, out to the parking lot and stowing them in her Volks, Brandy returned. The light within, by contrast, was soft and dim. She sat on the floor beside the coffee table, reached for the gift-wrapped package, laid it in her lap, then took a deep breath… waiting for her heart to stop its errant pounding.

Finally, with reverent care, she untied the ribbon... shed the pretty paper... uncovered a white containera jeweler’s boxmade of sturdy cardboard… its lid emitting an intimate "phluph" on being lifted. She peeked insidecontents still obscured by a layer of cotton batting… which Brandy gently pinched and plucked aside… revealing, in reflection, none other than herself... bounced back from the surface of a tiny cheval mirror… its setting, cast in bronze, depicting a lifelike monkey whose upraised arms and forepaws formed an ornamental frame… into which she gazed for an unfixed spell of time… Then, removing the curious artifact, setting it on the table, holding it securely by its Old World monkey base, turning it with her index finger, and watching as its flipside swiveled into view... Brandy (face again reflected) peered in utter awe...

A trick of light, or were her emerald eyes now blue?



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