HAIR TRIGGER 2.0, ISSUE ONE
LAYOUT & DESIGN
Dandelions, digital image, 2015
Hair Trigger 2.0, www.ht20.colum.edu
Department of Creative Writing
Columbia College Chicago
600 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Il 60605-1996
Copyright © October 2016, Columbia College Chicago
NOTHING GOES TO WASTE 3
previously published in Lightspeed: Queers Destroy Science Fiction! anthology
by Shannon Peavey
THE ENDING OF A SENSE 6
by Tendai Huchu
WHEN TO WAKE THE DUST 15
by Shebana Coelho
CORALY’S REVENGE 23
by Phong Nguyen
excerpt from Poison and Antidote, “TROUBLED RECOGNITIONS” 26
by Lee Foust
Author Bios 38
Contents | "i
Hair Trigger first found its home in the Fiction Writing Department of the Department of
Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago. For nearly four decades, the annual anthology
has published and celebrated the work found in Columbia’s fiction classes—work that is colorful
and vibrant, boisterous sometimes and quiet others, and unwavering in its exploration into
vulnerabilities, into the hidden truths that, seemingly, only fiction can unearth. Numerous
individual works from the anthology have been awarded Gold Circle Awards from the Columbia
Scholastic Press Association.
Beyond the accolades, Hair Trigger has inspired incoming students, still struggling to take
risks and find their authorial voices; it has inspired veterans of the department who can see
published writers as their peers—and not hold such accomplishments up as long sought-after
Honoring the past but looking to the future, Hair Trigger 2.0 hopes to broaden the scope of
its predecessor to foster a creative environment indicative of today’s diverse contemporary fiction.
The stories and authors included in this inaugural issue come from a variety of backgrounds—
different countries, different continents, some writers, some teachers—all pursuing a love for
Special thanks to our inaugural issue contributors: Shannon Peavey, Tendai Huchu,
Shebana Coelho and Lee Foust, and for her photography, Maria Rebelo. And to our readers—we
hope you enjoy. Best wishes to Hair Trigger 2.0 on creative excellence.
Jennifer Bostrom, Editor-in-Chief
" ii | Hair Trigger 2.0
NOTHING GOES TO WASTE
I am being abducted in slow-motion.
They're careful and cautious. Nothing changes but this: a feeling I'm no longer the person I
once was. Something else has crept in and made itself at home in my skin and it was too quiet,
too gradual for me to notice the difference. But things are difficult now that weren't before. I can't
They abduct me piece-by-piece. Overnight, they take my left arm and leave me with this
dead strange thing, a lump of flesh attached to my shoulder that looks like my arm and moves
like my arm but isn't, isn't it at all. Might as well be a cat's paw or a carburetor. An alien thing.
It's one of those Theseus's ship questions. Is that boat the same vessel, after such a careful
restoration? I don't think so, no.
A normal alien abduction goes something like this. A sad woman in a flyover state is called from
her bed by a mysterious force. She goes to stand outside, peering up at the heavens—and what a
light! She's beamed up to the mothership in a haze of glory like Christ ascending into heaven.
Then, a set of scrawny gray men with big heads and long fingers strap her down and perform
strange and sexually charged tests on her before sending her back to her bed with nary a scratch.
Maybe they forget to button her pajamas correctly, ha ha. Those aliens, what characters.
Mystified by our strange Earth garments.
The doctor's thirty minutes late, and I'm sitting in a jungle-green waiting room alongside a tower
of pamphlets on genital herpes. At some point, the nurse calls me back to a small white room
and takes my vitals, my temperature and all that. She tells me I have very good blood pressure.
I wait ten minutes more for the doctor, staring at a poster of an ear. How the inner parts
twist into the skull in a tight snail-shell curl.
Shannon Peavey | "3
Then footsteps click down the hall, slowing to a stop in front of my door. I fold my hands in
my lap and think about how sound travels, each of those footsteps tap-tapping past my stirrup
bone and my cochlea and down into my brain, telling me: careful, now. Don't look crazy.
The doctor's a pretty woman with green-rimmed bifocals who knocks and then enters without
waiting for an answer. She introduces herself and sits across from me; she asks me what's the
problem. She listens attentively, though it's a little ruined by the way she jogs her knee and squints
through her glasses.
I tell her my symptoms. I show her my dead arm and foot and my three dead fingers.
They feel rusty, like they'll crumble into bits when she touches them.
The doctor squints again. Finally she says, "You might need to take more B vitamins."
"Okay," I say.
She gives me a pair of surveys to fill out. The first question says merely: SADNESS. 0, I do
not feel sad. 1, I feel sad much of the time. 2, I am sad all of the time. 3, I am so sad or unhappy
I can't stand it.
I look up at her, pen in my hand. She won't meet my eyes.
People who are prone to dark circles under their eyes have unusually delicate, thin skin there. I
think the aliens must love that—to come down, scalpel away those triangles of gossamer tissue,
and stitch them all together to make the most beautiful art projects. Tapestries and tiny human
dolls, so small and fragile that when they're held up to the light, the light shines right through
It's not so bad. You see? They take these things for a reason, even if we don't understand it.
And at least you know—some part of you, even just that small part, was wanted.
I want to feel called. I want to understand why this is happening to me. I'll stand in a field at
night with my arms held up, saying take me to your leader. Please, you can do all the tests you want.
Just make it stop, give me my life back.
I hang my elbows out the apartment window at three in the morning and look for lights in
the sky. Fireballs, maybe, lit discs or darting spheres—but there's only street lamps and a flicker of
neon at the twenty-four hour laundromat.
" 4 | Hair Trigger 2.0
So I take my B vitamins. The next night, they abduct the right side of my skull. It gives me
a strange buzz in that ear, or a sudden deafness if I turn my head too quickly.
"You're looking great," my roommate says. "Have you lost weight or something?"
I shrug and say, "Yeah, I guess," because it's too much effort to explain. My roommate is the
kind of person who likes to be helpful, which is lovely. She would say, well, my friend's sister in
Arkansas has fibromyalgia and she cured herself by drinking herbal teas and thinking about the
cosmic balance of the universe.
Instead, she says, "Will you get more paper towels when you're out today? The cat puked in
the kitchen again and I had to use, like, the whole roll to clean it up."
I say I will and then go take a nap instead. I lie in bed, looking at the ceiling and I say,
"Hurry up," because if they're going to take me I'm ready to go. And I only wonder: what will I
find on the mothership? Will I be reunited with all my missing parts, or have they been used for
some other purpose? Maybe I'll wake up and the first face I see opposite me will be my own, the
face I used to wear before they made me a stranger.
Sometimes I think that's all I'll find there. A hundred versions of me—a hundred stitchedup,
beautiful dolls. We'll wander the decks all together, touching each other's faces and
wondering: did this part come from me? Was this mine? Was this?
Shannon Peavey | "5
THE ENDING OF A SENSE
On the first Tuesday in April, my neighbour (call him Connor) walked up to me and said, “I am
a sick man . . . I think my liver is diseased.”
“You should see a doctor,” I replied.
“I’ve already been, mate. Cirrhosis. He’s given me months to live.”
I contemplated him, silently, waiting for a guffaw which never came. In that moment, I
realised my neighbour was indeed sick and he had a problem with his liver.
We had our first theological conversation. Normally, I stay well away from religion and
politics, but there are rare exceptions. I told Connor that, to my knowledge, God was, once upon
a time, a brilliant author, up there with J.K. Rowling. He did alright with the Torah, but it didn’t
get a wide circulation past the Jewish community, though, in my view, it was an accomplished first
novel. So, He really went for it with the Bible, and nailed it (no pun intended) as evidenced by its
slow burn bestseller status. It was always going to be a tricky book to follow up, but I felt the
pressure on Him to prove Himself to be a literary novelist was intense (the allegations of Him
doing a James Patterson, using different co-authors couldn’t have helped none), which is why He
followed up with the more poetic Quran, which became another bestseller. Being a novelist myself,
I knew the sort of internal contradictions the bestseller status might set off in a literary writer
(not from personal experience (but then is not the writer’s vocation one defined by a keen
empathy (and, I should add some jealousy toward one’s peers who all seem to be doing much
better than one’s own self)?), my last novel had barely sold five hundred copies and my agent was
much slower in replying my emails than I felt comfortable with), on one hand, one is grateful for
the popular acclaim, but one doubts whether the work itself has real merit or its popularity is a
reflection of some innate middlebrow-ness. This explained His zanier last effort The Book of
Mormon, which saw his readership plunge back to Torah levels. It must have been frustrating to
" 6 | Hair Trigger 2.0
have, paradoxically, a broad but partisan readership, few of whom bothered to read his entire
My analysis made Connor laugh and he confessed he’d never thought of things that way.
There is something poignant about the laughter of a dying man, in its duration it holds time fast
to the moment, but after it fades, an awkward cloud hangs over everything. It’s no different to
seeing lightning burn a hole in the ground.
Connor was keen to show me the clinical symptoms of his condition. Dry, swollen hands
being one. He asked me to look into his eyes and see the yellowness of the whites. Even took off
his shoes revealing red, puffy feet before putting his trainers on again, leaving the laces untied so
the feet fit. I could smell a whiff of cider on his breath as we stood in the square near the shops
on our estate, contemplating the mysteries of the afterlife. When we were done, he borrowed a
fiver off me (how could I say no? Though in this regard, I was somewhat appalled by the way
Connor used his condition for personal, fiscal gain) and went on his way, leaving me somewhat
melancholic and confused.
The encounter with Connor had happened at a moment of great personal crisis for me.
That is to say, my life was at a crossroads, or rather I had hit a dead-end, and I was frantically
scrambling to find an alternative route off-road. I’d just lost my job with a small local paper and
my already precarious financial position was thrown into disarray. The holiday planned for the
autumn, which I’d paid a small deposit for, was now (save for an act of God) unfeasible. Hell,
even the rent looked unfeasible, too, at this point. The circumstances by which I’d lost my job
meant I was unlikely to get a good reference, unlikelier still to gain meaningful employment in
that sector again, and I was ill skilled for any alternative occupation of a respectable ilk. Had I
been in my twenties, or even my early thirties, I would have taken it all on the chin and moved on
to something else. But now. . . . My problems paled in comparison (it is an inevitable fact of life
that one’s own preoccupation with their “issues” still has greater emotional resonance even in the
face of an objectively greater “issue” suffered (in this I also think of the beauty and dignity to be
found in the suffering of others, which one, unless they are an egotist, views less romantically
when it comes to their own difficulties) by another) with whatever Connor was going through.
Medwin House was a block of rather unfashionable high-rise flats built in the post-war period on
the outskirts of the city. There was piss and, occasionally, human and canine feces in the stairwell,
Tendai Huchu | "7
whose stench in the right weather conditions resembled what one imagines a third world prison
might be like. Indeed, the two sets of green, metal magnetic doors for which one required an
electronic fob to enter the complex were sturdy enough for use in a correctional facility and the
linoleum flooring of the communal landings would not have looked out of place there either. In
the morning I still woke up at six-thirty on my single bed, which I believed marked out my
vocation and served as a credible deterrent to any chance of a relationship with the many obese
ladies who lived on the estate. I rose, peed, and promptly went back to bed, unable to fulfil any
other function because of an immense depressive lethargy that weighed on my every movement.
There was a small IKEA desk, essentially a block of oak veneer atop four metal posts, which
Plato could never have contemplated. On it was my laptop, open as if I was ready to work, piles
of papers and a few unread books in the far left corner. For a month, I rose (in some sense of the
word) to the same routine, spending twelve, sometimes even sixteen hours in bed and the rest
watching TV or doing unavoidable activities of daily living.
Connor knocked on my door one morning. I cannot say what day it was, whether it was a
weekday or weekend, all days seemed pretty much the same to me at this point. He stood
awkward in front of me, chest leaning forward, feet splayed apart like a broken toy soldier, and
asked if I could come to his house to fix a broken shelf.
I walked behind him as he waddled ahead, a perverse duck walk. He was only thirty-two
and already had bilateral hip replacements, the one on the right hand side had been botched, so
he’d had to have a second operation to correct the first surgeon’s error. Early onset arthritis. It
also affected his knees but they were not yet so far gone he needed to get them fixed. Maybe it
was just bad luck, but he was a young man trapped in an old man’s body. The CCTV cameras
hanging in the landing to deter junkies, thieves, youths in for a quick bonk, and other
undesirables recorded our slow progress past the screen doors and finally into his flat, where the
state’s electronic surveillance might have stopped, but did not cease, for Connor always had
various engagements with social workers—for his children in care, the police—petty shoplifting
now and again, and the occasional domestic “disturbances” between him and his partner, district
nurses on home visits, and bailiffs who gave him the occasional knock for debts he could never
pay. The shelter itself belonged to the council and, for a man on the dole with some disability
allowance thrown in, one could say his entire life revolved around hopping between one
" 8 | Hair Trigger 2.0
interaction with some state agency and the next.
There was a mild pong in the flat, the kind of scent the inhabitants themselves are wont to
miss when the windows are constantly shut to keep out the cold. Their sweat, recycled breath,
cooking in the kitchen and the bin waiting to be taken to the chute.
“I really appreciate you doing this, you know,” he said. “I’d do it myself, but I can’t climb on
a stool or ladder.”
“Happy to help,” I replied, with a grin. “Hi, Tracy,” I said to his wife who was watching the
He went away to make a cup of tea while I fiddled with a loose screw. The plaster behind
had eroded away, so there was no way of fixing the shelf back on without some filling. All I could
do was remove the remaining fixture and make the space safe again. The holes in the wall didn’t
matter none, because it was already pockmarked and the white paint was uneven where bits of
wallpaper had not been removed and sanded down. There were no portraits on the walls; the
furniture was all second-hand, faux leather sofas on an aging blue carpet on which several pairs
of socks lay. The bright, yellow curtains were cast open allowing a view of the neighbouring
high-rise and grey skies.
“Very kind of you to do that,” said Connor, handing me a mug of tea. “Would you like a
“I’m fine thanks.”
I sat down on the chair opposite the couple and tasted the Tesco value tea bitter on my
“It’s very good,” I said and raised my cup to them.
I could not resist going back to Connor’s. We’d not been friends in the real sense before, merely
nodding at one another when we reached the landing or exchanging anecdotes about the SPL or
occasionally pontificating on the Great British subject of the weather. Now I made excuses to
knock on his door, once, twice sometimes even thrice daily. Do you need anything from the wee shop?
Just thought I’d take a look at the leak in the washing machine you mentioned last time. Only popping through to
see if you alright. You watching the game tonight? I got used to the Tesco tea and would sit in their living
room, trying to gauge the mood, to observe everything about this critical period in their lives.
In my free time (and I had plenty of it), I looked online and purchased several remedies for
Tendai Huchu | "9
Connor. Tribal communities in their aboriginal wisdom had been using cures for years which the
western scientific world had long since forgotten. Only a return to nature could cure Connor.
Don’t give up. I got him borututu bark from deep in the jungles of Angola. This I prescribed along
with chanca piedra from the Peruvian rainforests. My remedies would purify his body, cleanse his
blood, rejuvenate the kidneys and gallbladder, invigorate the pancreas, stimulate the digestive
system, and heal his ailing liver. I’d done the research and read the literature, everything was
going to be okay. I recommended other, more common, remedies, peppermint tea and dandelion
tea, anything at all that would detoxify and defy the doctors who had declared with such certainty
Connor would die in a few months. The couple accepted my ministrations with expressions of
gratitude. They took my herbs and promised to use them, assuring me they were whenever I
asked, and seemed generally grateful for my attention. I regularly checked the colour of Connor’s
whites, felt for his pulse, remarked on the improvements in the hydration of his skin, which I
ascribed to the therapy he was on. His face was very puffy, but I assured him the diuretics would
help clear excess interstitial fluids.
Tracy always thanked me in a low dull voice, almost as if she was calling from a great
distance, someplace down a chasm I could not see into. Connor sat on the couch scratching both
sides of his torso with his hands crossed so he looked like he was hugging himself. She put a hand
on his back and rubbed him up and down. It was a small moment of tenderness broken when
Connor learnt over and picked up the glass of Strongbow on the table and took the tiniest of
sips, lines creasing on his forehead as he swallowed. I drank my beer to encourage him, to say it
was okay to be defiant. Tracy and Connor were high school (there is the oft sited truism all
literature is about death (in this I think of Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyich which moved me greatly at a time I
could hardly contemplate the true idea of what death really meant. It seemed to be this dark,
impenetrable abyss other people fell into. I had not even had a dog or a pet to lose as a child, to
induct me, as it were, into the mysteries of grief, that window by which those who remain can see
through to the other side (and when death is described as a crossing over, I often find myself
highly doubtful because the dead remain with us, perhaps even more vividly than when they were
actually alive)) and life is but the deferral (the pages between the book that tell the story between
the slim thin covers that obscure the membrane of the great nothingness of non-life) of it and, in
the pages of life, the greater story of love is written, which arguably is the only other story worth
writing about—the difference being that death can make for a fascinating subject, particularly if
" 10 | Hair Trigger 2.0
it is someone else’s: love on the other hand is a story best told by the subject. Death is a third
person story, love is a first person narrative. Connor would be the closest I had (so far) come to
death and I reasoned that by observing him closely, the process, I would sample something of the
truth of my own death, something I was sure would inevitably happen, even though part of me
still believed, in the most solipsistic sense, that I was the hero of my story and somehow only I
would go on and on) sweethearts, but not in the sense they went to the same school together, so it
might be more appropriate to say they were teenage lovers. It was the drink that brought them
together, and this all sounds made up, because it’s true. Playing truant at fifteen, Connor started
drinking on the estate he lived on in Southhouse as a way of passing the time and/or looking
cool with his mates. Tracy’s dad Henry, long-term unemployed at the time, was the sort of liberal
working class fellow who saw nothing wrong with buying booze and fags for the kids on the estate
in return for a small commission. It could be said he was definitely deemed “cool” by the local
teenage population. A cross-generational friendship was struck between Connor and Henry, who
began to allow him to drink at his house to avoid trouble with pesky law enforcement officials of
one stripe or the other. The regular home visits were the catalyst, Connor and Tracy fell for one
another, and Henry in his dipsomaniac wisdom approved the match; a good call because they
lasted near enough two decades together. And they were still together, even as the abyss was
looming, making for a tragic end fit for ballads had they not been two council estate neds.
(A small afterthought: like a black hole, death itself is impossible to fathom, one can only
touch the event horizon, the lead up and the aftermath.)
Connor knocked on my door one morning. A soft, melancholic knock, almost as though the
bones on his knuckles had turned to jelly. I opened up and stood aside to let him enter, swinging
my hand in invitation.
“No, I won’t be coming in,” he said in a soft voice.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
He wasn’t. His face was puffy like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, bright red with purple
veins streaking under the surface. Tiny slits marked where his eyes were and the only things that
remained somewhat normal were his nose and ears. It was as though he wore some sort of
beautiful, grotesque mask on his face. Finally, I thought, he is beginning to manifest dramatic
symptoms. I wanted to reach out and touch his face, feel the tiny beads of moisture leaking out
Tendai Huchu | "11
from the cells below, the clamminess of it, the infantile softness, perhaps I would even leave the
indentation of my thumb there like a puppeteer.
Connor leaned against the wall to catch his breath.
“You know me, mate,” he said. “Tracy though. You know women, right? Well she feels a
little uncomfortable. No offence, know what I mean? Thing is, she doesn’t like you coming over
so often. . . .”
I nodded gravely, frowned as though a little hurt.
“I appreciate everything you’ve been doing. But she’s been talking to the doctors and all the
stuff you’ve been giving me, well, it’s not good to mix it with my medication.”
“I was just trying to help.” I took a step and looked at the slits that were his eyes. “I
“Yeah, thanks” he said, retreating, for he did not have the energy to recoil. “Thanks for
I watched him hobble away, the heaviness of his frame, how every step was a great
expenditure, a minus in the column of his life-force ledger, which was beginning to run dry. The
slumped shoulders, plump bear paws where his hands had once been. I couldn’t believe Tracy’s
selfishness, that she would deny me the opportunity to join her as a fellow witness in this, his final
struggle. It was a mighty blow, but I was not floored.
I took to watching Connor from afar, like a vulture circling, biding its time. I came out of
the flat several times a day, hoping to catch him on the landing. My window afforded a complete
view to the square below our high-rise where the shops were located and I sometimes caught him
making his way there every morning to buy rolls, or, later in the day, for a bottle of cider and
fags, or household supplies. In this way, I noted his deterioration, the way he stopped to recover
every ten feet or so, how he kept close to green garden railings for support. Sometimes Tracy was
with him, at other times he bravely went forth alone. He’d make small conversation with Gregory,
Millicent, or any one of our numerous neighbours. Even the dogs, and we had many on our
estate, seemed to pity him. They’d draw near when they saw him, tails wagging and sniff him,
before retreating back to their owners. Connor, to my eyes, was a hero, each day he made it
through represented the triumph of the human spirit and I would be its most humble chronicler.
The dignity of someone else’s suffering!
" 12 | Hair Trigger 2.0
In autumn, when the leaves had turned orange, flames all over the estate, I heard the sound of
sirens, almost like ancient trumpets to herald the coming of foretold fate. The sound of boots
pounding the landing confirmed my suspicions. I went outside and stood there watching the men
in their green uniforms, stretcher in tow as they left Connor’s place, an oxygen mask hissing away
on his face. Tracy was in her nightgown, following, forlorn, broken. I rushed over and put an arm
across her shoulders, but she brushed me off, following the paramedics into the lift. There was
nothing else for it, I rushed to get changed, jeans, a white t-shirt, New Balance trainers, grabbed
my notebook and ran to the bus stop. The 18 had a direct route, skirting the fringes of the town,
right to Little France. I confess, I couldn’t afford a taxi, given my circumstances, and as the bus
weaved through the leafy suburbs ever so slowly, I kept bouncing my legs up and down, willing us
forward, annoyed when an old woman with a scarf on her head who’d boarded in Colington
took so long to find the correct change.
Even in the gloom of the overcast morning, a light smirr in the air, the Royal Infirmary
looked light and modern. Made of concrete, glass, steel and modern materials, the building
occupied space, but possessed no presence in and of itself. It was simply a structure, clean,
functional, waiting for the time when it would be torn down and another similarly vacant
structure put up in the same space. I got off at the bus stop, near the main entrance and rushed
“What are you doing here?” Tracy asked me. She was out the front, having a fag.
“Connor,” I said, my voice breaking a little.
“He isn’t here anymore.”
I stood there, stunned. Did it happen in the ambulance along the way, siren blaring, the
paramedics shouting at one another as they desperately performed CPR, struggling to keep
balance as the vehicle swerved left and right. Maybe it happened at A&E, trauma doctors and
nurses, rapid instructions shouted back and forth, intravenous therapy, adrenaline, amiodarone,
chest compressions, ventilation, machines beeping. I felt robbed. All along, I’d hoped for a slow
end (drawn out, cinematic, even—last words and tears). I was not there to hold Connor’s hand in
Tendai Huchu | "13
his final moments, to listen to the exquisite sigh of his last breath.
I walked over to Tracy and embraced her. She stiffened a little, made to push me away, and
then I felt her hands drop, her muscles relax, and after a moment or two, she heaved, trembled
violently and began to sob. Such sorrow. So many dots to join. I felt myself going hard, a
pulsating irritation below, beneath, underground, the seeds of life seeking a way back from grief
and pain. I held her close and looked up into the grey heavens above us.
" 14 | Hair Trigger 2.0
WHEN TO WAKE THE DUST
In the mornings, he wakes to his dreams unraveling—thin strands coming undone, covered with
the dust of his unconscious life. The sun glints through his lashes, catching the shadows his
waking mind rushes to conceal. By the time his eyes are fully open, the images have disappeared.
He stares at the wooden beams crisscrossing the ceiling and gets up.
“All the joints are creaky,” he tells his nephew, Joseph, “but the dreams—oh, the dreams I
Joseph laughs nervously and says, “Never out of stock, ha uncle?” He is a clerk in a cargo
shipping office. He visits his uncle once a month. He would like to move up in the world and
dresses accordingly in striped pastel shirts and khaki pants. On Friday evenings he frequents
upscale bars in the hopes it will get him connected. Once, moved by an unusual surge of
adventure, he invited Suman. It was a dark cellar-like place with wine barrel seats and dim
orange lighting. Suman ordered a foreign beer and nodded approvingly at the crowd. As Joseph
was trying to catch the eyes of a tall blonde in a blazer, Suman nudged him.
“What?” Joseph snapped.
Suman raised his glass and spoke loudly, “This would be a good place to ravish a virgin.”
There was a lull in the conversation. The blonde laughed. Joseph paled and led him out.
Suman mourned the unfinished beer for days.
When Joseph visits, he gives Suman messages from his sister. “I spoke to Mummy yesterday,” he
says, “and she said to tell you to please try and send a letter once in a while.”
“Oh yes,” Suman says quickly. “Yes, of course, I will.” They both know that he will not.
Though he loves his sister, he is content to communicate with her through these visits by her son.
“I called her from my laptop,” Joseph says, “cost me nothing. Zero cents to India!”
Shebana Coelho | "15
“Very good,” says Suman. “Very smart.”
Such small boasts, delivered regularly each visit, are Joseph’s way of indicating that he is
well-equipped to manage whatever fortune will come his way when Suman dies. And when this
time comes, Joseph will not feel guilty for having waited because he will have “done the legwork,”
as he is given to saying, he will have put in the hours, he will have earned his way into an
enormous, sunlit rent-controlled apartment with views of the Hudson.
Suman dreams of a carnival on a hill. He dreams of white candles in the shapes of arms, legs,
noses and planes. He dreams of statues of the Virgin Mary, pale blue and cream with soft pink
lips. He dreams of a boy in a white suit standing amongst other boys in white suits, mouths open
to receive thin wafers of Christ. He dreams of women about to take off their bras and wakes up
before they’re done.
“That’s a nonsense dream,” says Mustafa from Yemen who owns the corner deli and calls
himself Bob. He has pockmarked cheeks and wet black eyes. He often greets Suman with
comments on the weather such as: “what a wind, blow blow blow,” “what a sun, hot hot hot,”
“what cold, brr brr brr.”
“Why Bob?” Suman asked him once. “Mike would make more sense, no?” But Mustafa
shook his head, smiling.
“Bob is red, white, and blue, man, red white and blue. Also,” he giggled, “it is short with a
little paunch like me.”
Now he waves his pudgy hand in dismissal. “That’s a nonsense dream,” he says. “It makes
no sense to me. Dreams should give pleasure. What kind of dream is it when you don’t get to see
Bosoms are of great interest to Mustafa. He has calendars of big-breasted women
underneath the counter—to sell of course, he says, not to keep. When the hookers, who work
near the Westside Highway come in to buy cigarettes or candy, he keeps his eyes on their faces.
Sometimes, Suman follows the hookers back to their corners. Sometimes he asks them how
much. They always tell him even though he has never taken one home and never will. But there’s
a girl with glossy eyes that lets him drown a little before she looks away.
Mustafa is waiting to retire. “In five years, one, two, three, four, five,” he says, “I’ll go.” He
has a house in Sana. “It is this big,” he spreads his arms, “this big and it has dates and
" 16 | Hair Trigger 2.0
almond trees and a round green courtyard in the middle. And beautiful smelling trees, especially
at night, there is one tree that makes you think you are in heaven already.” He says he will go to
this house to die because it is best to die in the place where you were born. It completes things.
Suman doesn’t believe that death completes anyone. He will never return to the place where he
He dreams of brown trains with yellow windows rattling out of tunnels into dusty light. He
dreams of bodies pressed against him so tightly that he feels the ribs of one fellow and the belly
of another. He dreams of a boy in a gray shirt staring down the platform at a girl in a blue dress.
He dreams that they are gazing at each other with looks of love. He dreams of white men with
pink lips pointing guns and he wakes up before they have begun firing.
“That’s some kind of post-colonial dream,” says Rohini, the City Help volunteer who
comes every two weeks. She’s finishing her Ph.D. at a college whose name he never remembers
despite her telling him several times and expecting him to be struck by it. “The British have
damned your dreams, Uncle. You think you’re white.”
“But I think they were pointing guns at me. . . .”
“But were you afraid?”
“Then you were identifying with your oppressors. With the people in power, don’t you see?”
She uses “Don’t you see?” a lot as if the world was blind before she explained it to itself,
before it opened its eyes and saw itself as she described.
“Don’t you see?” She leans back in the chair. She has a thin scratchy voice, a thin dark face
and enormous kohl-lined eyes.
“No,” he shifts restlessly.
She gets the point and sits up in the chair. “Listen, Uncle,” she grimaces at the book on her
lap, “can’t I ever read you anything else beside these comic books?”
“No, you can’t.” He moves his chair closer to hers so he can see over her shoulder.
“You know they’re positively fundamentalist, don’t you? All this mythology. . . . You know
you’re implicating yourself in the fundamentalist agenda to. . . .”
“Look,” he says patiently. “This is my second childhood, and I like the stories.”
Shebana Coelho | "17
“Fine.” She sighs and begins reading.
Today, he has selected the story of the Pandava warrior, Arjuna, as he sets out to win the
hand of the princess, Draupadi. There is a contest, other suitors whom he must best in a game of
archery. And he does―he wins the princess, and in triumph, accompanied by his four brothers,
escorts her home to meet his mother. At the threshold of the house, he calls out, “Guess what we
have brought back.”
And his mother, good woman, busy woman, replies, “Whatever you have, do what you
always do, share it equally with your brothers.”
And Arjuna, obedient son of busy mother, shares—Draupadi becomes wife of the five
Pandavas. One woman for five warriors. How is she meant to survive them?
But she does. Rules are made, protocols established. On pain of exile, they agree, no
brother must disturb her when she is with another brother. And it comes to pass that one day,
Arjuna receives an urgent plea for help from a villager at the mercy of thieves. What to do? His
weapons are in a room where Drapaudi now lies with another brother. What to do? Arjuna
knocks on the door, disturbs the pleasure of his wife and his brother, gets his weapons, disposes of
the thieves, returns and despite the protests of his family who are willing to bend the rules, he
strides into exile. It haunts Suman―that moment when Arjuna confronts the idea of exile and
steps into it.
When Rohini has finished reading the book, they sit in silence. He would like for her to
begin again. He would like to feel the weight of the images in his head, the story playing out. But
she has already moved on. He senses that now that she has visited him for four months, she is
dying to know about his past, how he came to have this apartment on Ninth Avenue, what he did
before he retired, what he is doing living alone in this city. But she restrains herself because she is
not meant to question, only to listen and say things like:
“What a beautiful day.” Rohini stands brightly. “Shall we take a walk?”
“Thank you,” he says, “but no thank you.”
It is her cue to leave. “Okay then,” she says in that same bright voice and rises.
Suman knows he hurts her feeling by not going to walk with her but he cannot get himself
to do it. He doesn’t want people to look at them and think that he is her grandfather, think that
they are a family. It would hurt too much to pretend. But he smiles at her to soften the
" 18 | Hair Trigger 2.0
ejection; he tells her thank you again, and when she leaves, he knows she will return in two
Rohini is a danger to herself. She can talk herself into beliefs that she thinks she ought to
have, but she cannot acknowledge herself as she really is—does she even know? One day in her
mid-forties, living a life she ought to be living, a life she has talked into creation, she will become
apparent to herself and she will either run or she will stay. He hopes she will run.
He dreams of a wedding on a hill. He dreams of flower-wrapped chairs, a flower-strewn stage,
and a long line of smiling guests, hands outstretched. He dreams of white tables on which sweet
things are stacked in triangles, round yellow pieces, white spongy pieces, and dark maroon pieces,
all dripping sweetness into his mouth. He dreams of a man with sticky fingers clasping a pink
palm. He dreams of a fleet of trucks driving at breakneck speed and wakes before they reach
“That’s an omen dream, of course,” says Luis, the Bolivian barber who has been cutting his
hair for years. He says he knows this because for one thing, “Mira,” he carefully parts Suman’s
hair. “Look, this patch here is whiter than it was before. The last time you came here was what?
Three weeks ago. No, hair doesn’t go whiter for no reason. This is a dream that registered in the
body, mi hermano.”
Luis says he can be almost sure about these things because he is almost sure that he is one
quarter curandero, one quarter shaman, one quarter from an island of the sun on a high lake and
one quarter able to sense such things.
Suman questions the significance of speeding lorries as omens but doesn’t press the point.
This place calms him so much that he doesn’t want to introduce any dissent within it. The graytiled
floor, the overhead fan that slowly twirls year-round, the radio always tuned to an Oldies
station, the voices of the other barbers—all this he listens to drowsily, sitting in Luis’ chair, lulled
by the clicking sounds of scissors, the light touch of hands guiding his head this way or that, the
whirr of the electric cutter vibrating close to his scalp, and then—though he longs for it, but also
dreads it because it signals the end of things—then, the brushing of hair from his nape followed
by a soft dusting of powder.
“Who is driving these trucks?” Luis is intent on the dream.
“I don’t see anyone in them.”
Shebana Coelho | "19
“They are driving by themselves?”
“And you are standing facing them?”
“Are you asking them to stop?”
“Well,” Suman thinks. “No.”
“Why not? Why not ask them to stop? Do you want to die? Do you. . . . Aha!” Luis pounces
on Suman’s expression. “Aha. Wait, don’t say another word.” He lifts his hand, jubilant. “Think
on this some more and come back in two days. I’ll give you a hot oil massage—your scalp is too
dry. But remember you must think on this more, okay, mi hermano?”
Suman nods and rises slowly. He doesn’t need to think about it. When he was young, he was
impatient for the great mystery. When he was older and tragedy came to visit, then he was even
more impatient. But now that he is closer to death than he has ever been, he has more patience
than he has ever had.
He dreams of a walk in the woods. He dreams of old trees, thick with monkeys, muddy paths
beaten by horses, and a couple with an infant whose cries echo. He dreams of baskets of
mulberries carried into a dark bungalow in the middle of which sits a gray-eyed woman who
takes the fruit and drops it into a large silver vat. He dreams of a dark bubbling mass inside the
vat and of the strong brown hand of the woman, stirring. He dreams of the creases and patterns
of her hand made legible by the steam rising, like secret codes which need heat to reveal their
true self. He dreams of his son crying in the night and wakes to find a pale blue child in a white
crib. He dreams of himself standing over the crib, holding a screaming woman who will not
survive the sight of her blue son. He dreams of the utter stillness of that dawn, that stillness
before the day bustles into life, as his son will not. He dreams of an enormous black bird with a
yellow beak screeching and he wakes before it picks his eyes out.
“This is a dream of hope, my darling,” says Matthew with whom he does physical therapy.
“Now up with those hands and down with those hands, and say hello to Mister Toes.”
“A dream of hope,” gasps Suman as he stretches downward. Matthew is a golden mass of
flesh and bone wrought together with such perfection that when they first started this therapy,
Suman could only nod dumbly when spoken to and cringe at being adorned with endearments.
" 20 | Hair Trigger 2.0
Now, though he is still embarrassed to be addressed as “my darling,” or “my sweet,” he is getting
used to it.
“A dream of hope,” he repeats. “I don’t know about that.”
“Yes, it is a dream of strength,” says Matthew. “Are you afraid of that big black bird? No,
you are not.” He doesn’t wait for Suman to respond. “No, you are not, and so what if it picks
your eyes out because you are ready to grow new eyes anyway, aren’t you, ready to see the world
with new eyes?”
Suman is quiet. He has no breath left after six months of this therapy. Every session has
something new in it. Matthew doesn’t believe in letting things become familiar. Sometimes,
Suman reminds him that he doesn’t need to continue these sessions—the doctor suggested only
four months of therapy after the fender-bender during which someone ploughed into the back of
Suman’s car and raised havoc in his body. But Matthew shrugs and says, “No, darling, why stop a
good thing.” And so Suman strains, twice a week, to keep his body limber.
Now he straightens and says, “Look—once I had a son, now I do not. Once I had a wife,
now I do not. My son’s life fled from him; my wife took her own away. I left for a strange country
and I have muddled my way through and now I am here in this place where I want nothing.”
Matthew is quiet. Then he says, “Come, sit down, my sweet.”
Suman sits on a black canvas chair. Matthew holds his hand, pats it, kisses the top of his
forehead. Suman says, “I never cry.” It is an ugly business—the wheezes and gasps that he emits
are without grace and he is sorry to have Matthew bear them.
But Matthew does bear them. Suman doesn’t know what his tragedy is but he knows that
Matthew is a god from the family of men. Though his body is sculpted like Grecian reliefs, he is
old and he will die young. He will die suddenly—an accident, a stroke, something that brings him
down in an instant so he will not suffer but go with fierce beauty into light.
Suman dreams of being carried on the shoulders of four men, walking slowly: Joseph looking
very sharp in a navy suit with a cream tie, Mustafa in loose black pants, Matthew glowing in a
crisp white shirt and Luis in the textured red vest of a one-quarter curandero. He dreams of Rohini
standing very still, her thin face darkened by tears. He dreams of a church full of flowers where
his sister kneels. It has been years since he has seen her. Her body is hunched and her skin has the
pallor of winter. She stands and makes the sign of the cross as he passes.
Shebana Coelho | "21
Suman sees the black eyes of Mustafa weeping and the pressed palms of the curandero,
praying; he sees the white of Matthew’s teeth as he blows a kiss into the air. He sees his nephew
avert his eyes hastily. The kiss grazes Suman’s cheek. He would smile if he could. But the dream
" 22 | Hair Trigger 2.0
A man will pay you to do his killing for him. But a woman always kills on her own behalf. I heard
this from a deputy sheriff in our neighborhood named Chard Romaine, pronounced "charred
remain," who sometimes parked his blue-black cruiser on the street overnight. Chard used this bit
of wisdom to condemn the cowardice of men, praising the honest murderous passion of the
other sex. But I had already convinced myself that paying for revenge was the more moral path.
What if I got away with it? Paying a professional to do your grim business was how a man
guaranteed that there was no profit in murder.
Case in point: Jim Davis, not the creator of Garfield but another Jim Davis who lived in
Sedalia, Missouri and played the horn and accompanied professional jazz pianists at the annual
Ragtime festival, former music teacher at Sedalia Middle School and current member of a
seasonal music co-op that gave lessons to kids hoping to hone their skills in advance of the
summer recital. I owned a music store in town, offering lessons year-round, so killing Jim would
mean eliminating a rival. Paying five thousand dollars out of my personal savings—an amount
far in excess of what I would stand to make collecting 40% of lessons on a couple of brass
instruments—assured me that my motives were pure.
Twenty-two years before, Mr. Davis used to flatter me that I was the best music student in
the sixth grade. Other kids could barely play the chimes, or give the triangle a lingering tap at
just the right moment, but I had an innate talent for strings, and had been taking violin lessons
since I was six. I picked up the guitar only a year before, but by practicing every day I'd already
surpassed the high school bands with their power-chords and distortion pedals. So on the subject
of my musical ability, it was hard to argue, and he had every right to cultivate me.
A receding line of brown hair, a blobby nose and other fat-man features on a thin frame,
Davis always spoke seriously to me about my future, and saved his smiles for the parents, who
Phong Nguyen | "23
were equally serious on the subject of my future. Mr. Davis was so much an extension of my
parents that I never questioned that he had anything but my glorious future in his vision.
Look, it's no surprise to you at this point that Jim Davis was wicked, and that my resolve to
slay the sixty-five year old—collector of social security and receiver of senior discounts, wearer of
side-shield sunglasses and abstainer from popcorn and caramels and anything to threaten the
brittle teeth from his Missouri boyhood—was plain justice. I will spare you the details; it is
enough to say that Mr. Davis compounded perversion upon perversion by narrating his deeds. All
these years later, it is the memory of his voice that animates my—hatred is the wrong word, for it
is nothing so alive and caring as hatred.
And it's true, the longer Jim Davis lay in the ground, the more my store would grow and
thrive. Once the townsfolk got over tradition and habit—the faint obligation to local business that
only flourished in towns like this—they'd come pouring in like mud in a pit during a rainstorm.
We were more equipped to deal with the new era than he—where pianos were volume adjustable
and drum kits were electronic, and the instruments practically played themselves—and savvy
counted as much as mastery, and the kids in town would figure that out as soon as they stepped in
the fucking door. But this old man was still alive. And until I did something about it, the whole
town would suffer.
I couldn't share my plan with Coraly. Harboring a dark secret was no joy. I did not fantasize
about wrapping my hands around Jim's neck. There was no glamor in the killing of him, only
I had arranged a meeting with Guy—not his real name, it's safe to assume—for Sunday
breakfast at the cafe, so all weekend I had to reckon with the irony of the lie that I would be
returning to church. But that morning before I left the house Coraly saw me mugging in front of
the mirror trying to look tough in case Guy turned out to be some kind of shake-down artist
trying to get the better of me, and she said "who are you making yourself pretty for?"
Coraly and I had only been married two years, so that we still wore our jealousies on our
faces, and I could never have evaded her question, or glided past it. I tried to wear a confused
mask. But like a dog guarding his own mess, I never counted on the fact that she could smell what
I'd done. So, though I am less of a man for it, I fell into her arms, and I wept and blubbered until
she soothed me like a mother, and I was cured for the moment of the demons that Jim Davis had
once put upon me. And in that restful calm she asked me why I never told her before about the
" 24 | Hair Trigger 2.0
things he had done. And all I could think of to say to my jewel of a wife Coraly was that she
thought she was marrying a rock star, but got instead a damaged man who every day gets
violated afresh by the sick old man who he somehow molded his own life after, and who felt like
he'd never be whole again until that old man was gone from the world. And now I'd gotten to a
point where I was willing to pay a man to do it.
"That's sounds expensive," she said, and her common sense was the most welcome sound
since I heard the first slide on the neck of a guitar by the hands of a dead young man on an
album called Electric Ladyland. She stroked my hair three times before she looked down on me
with a campfire light in her eyes and a wicked smile. "Me and you are young, baby," she said.
"Let's kill him with our patience."
Chard—you motherfucker!—you forgot to add that some men weren't made to kill at all.
Phong Nguyen | "25
excerpt from Poison and Antidote, “TROUBLED RECOGNITIONS”
Lee puts the round key into the bike lock, unhooks it, draws the lock out of its resting place—
hanging from the back of the moped by the short sissy bar—and slides it through the spokes of
the front wheel and around a pole of the painter’s scaffolding. The moped belongs to his
girlfriend Betty; he should have returned it to her a while back. After locking the bike to the steel
pole, he reaches over the seat and turns off the gas flow. Betty never remembers to do that, and
he remembers only sometimes.
Finished with the chore, Lee raises his head, his face splashed a spectral white from the
streetlights along Geary Street, and looks up at the scaffolding; the metal poles are humming
softly in the cold wind that’s blowing in from the ocean, down through the avenues of the Sunset
and Richmond districts, up over Cathedral Hill, and swirls around down here in the Polk Street
gulch. The metal frames of the scaffolding are crosshatched with wooden planks and the dusty
framework stands up against the façade of the building next door to the bar where Lee’s meeting
the rest of the band. The boards are worn, splintered, spotted with drippings of white paint. It
reminds him of the scaffolding that had stood in front of the house where he and Betty had lived
together. All that fall their landlord—who’d moved into the basement flat of the building,
nullifying the rent control—had been repairing their building out in the Western Addition. When
he’d finished he raised their rent and they’d had to move.
Walking toward the bar now, the Edinburgh Castle, Lee looks up the street for his friends.
They’re all coming in Adrian’s car and it’ll take ‘em a while to find a parking space. Lee has come
on ahead to get the fish and chips ordered before the place stops serving food, at ten. There’s no
sign of them yet.
He pushes the swinging doors and goes in, turns the corner skirting the tiny Scottish
souvenir shop, and walks into the bar proper. The space is bigger inside than you’d imagine from
looking at the door on the street, and dark—thick wooden booths line the wall opposite the bar,
" 26 | Hair Trigger 2.0
with a wide-open space down the center of the room between the bar on the one side and the
booths on the other. The ceiling is high and there are balconies running along the two walls
lengthwise, one roofing the bar, the other above the booths along the facing wall. Winston the
Green parrot sits silently on his perch in his cage at the end of the bar, near the television, which
plays without sound in the corner.
Lee walks past the bar and up to the raised platform against the back wall, a sort of
mezzanine between the end of the bar and the stairs to the balconies. He sits at the big round
table up there with his back against the wall. Phony spears and shields are draped about the wall
behind him. The shield Lee likes best—a perching tiger in one of its corners—is spotlighted
above his head.
The room feels warm after facing the wind head on while riding uphill from the
Tenderloin. That comforting but stale bar smell cuddles up around Lee, thick in the dim light.
Waiting, he gets lost in his thoughts. All that last semester he’d been studying Eastern philosophy
and art, trying to find some sense of balance and symmetry in a world he had always seen as
hopelessly skewed, corrupt, competitive, and unfair.
The young waiter—as opposed to one of the much older bartenders—comes up, wearing a
tartan vest, sporting a tidy mustache and newly cut, feathered hair. Jesus, Lee thinks, I thought the
’70s were over. He orders four fish and chip suppers for the band and a pint of Bass for himself.
The bar begins to feel lighter, slowly, as his eyes adjust and he drinks his beer. He starts checking
out the people sitting at the other tables, couples mostly, eating and chatting, the lonelier, heavy
drinking customers lined up along the bar.
A few moments later the rest of the band strolls in. Adrian, the guitarist, rigid and short,
walking behind the others as they cross the room, sees Lee first. He smirks his wide, beautiful
smile at Lee, nods, and leads Devin, the singer, and Johnny, the bass player, up to where Lee sits.
Adrian crosses in and out of the spots of electric light toward the thick monastic table, his slow,
calculated, and carefully executed strides nearly feminine, his stocky legs clad in tight, dark-green
jeans. Adrian’s sharkskin jacket shines from black to emerald when the light hits it. He carries
Lee’s white evening jacket over his bent forearm.
“Faustus,” he says, springing up the wooden steps, flourishing the jacket in the air and
dropping it into Lee’s lap.
“Mephistopheles,” Lee chuckles.
Lee Foust | "27
“I forgot to give you your coat back at rehearsal.”
“Did you order food for us all?” Devin asks.
“Only food. I didn’t know what kind of beers you’d want.”
“Looks like a fun place,” says Johnny, a tall Chinese kid wearing red-tinted prescription
glasses, nodding his head and settling his lanky limbs into a chair on Lee’s left, across from
Adrian. As he sits, Johnny’s face tilts into a beam of light and Lee sees the outline of his warm
eyes, his large, enthusiastic grin, and the scars on his ruddy cheeks from a serious bout with acne
during adolescence. He wears a perfectly sculpted black flattop haircut, a grand red-tinted
cowlick sticking up out of it and accenting his high forehead.
With a quick, fluid motion, Devin, the singer, lights his first cigarette, his eyes roving
carefully around the room from behind his clear, tortoise-shell glasses. His head looks quite round
against the light on the wall behind him except for his pointy chin sticking out, unshaven and
stubbly. His short, tightly curled hair and clothes are black. “I need a drink,” he says smiling
suddenly—like he always does—as if he were ashamed because he had noticed you there looking
at him, or as if saying something were some sort of mistake for which he needed to apologize.
Adrian lights a cigarette as well, looking impishly at his three band mates, his eyes blue,
green, and lively.
The waiter comes back, wondering what everyone wants to drink. “Bass, a pint,” Adrian
says, lowering his cigarette to the ashtray by laying his arm flat against the table. He gives the
cigarette a quick tap to its underside with his thumb and the ashes scatter into the air and settle
into the ashtray’s amber glass circle.
“Yeah, the same,” Devin says, his eyes flowing around the table, his voice deep, sad in a
resigned but also awkward way, as if it were always looking for something, going somewhere.
Adrian says, “Yeah, I’ll have what they’re having,” without looking up.
“What’s that you’re drinking, Bass too?” Johnny asks Lee, pointing at the pint in front of
“Yeah, it’s good stuff.”
“You’ve had it before?”
“Uh-huh,” Adrian jumps in, impatiently, at once annoyed at Johnny’s indecision and smug
about knowing exactly what he wants.
" 28 | Hair Trigger 2.0
“Uhh,” Johnny looks at Lee and shrugs. “Sure, what the hell, give me one too.”
Adrian, on Lee’s other side, asks—after the waiter’s gone and Devin and Johnny have
started up a conversation of their own—“How’s the sex life going?” He asks quietly, exhaling
smoke over his cigarette, looking past Lee, toward the booths along the wall and the balcony
above them. Up there it’s closed off tonight, dark, the tables empty.
“Betty and I aren’t seeing each other right now.”
“Well, you know me, I keep trying to come up with logical solutions to all of our problems.”
Adrian chuckles, running his index finger along the woodgrain pattern of the table, the
lines exaggerated by wear, shaking his head.
“I know it’s stupid,” Lee continues, “but I actually believe that there should be some logical
reasons for what we do and answers to all of our not being able to get along. Of course there
aren’t and all of my thinking doesn’t seem to be doing us much good, but I’ve got to do
something ’cause I’m going fucking crazy. I try to relax, as if it doesn’t mean that much to me,
but then. . . .” He makes a helpless movement with his hands. “I’m being an idiot, I guess.”
Lee leans forward, cupping his beer with one hand and fingering the metal keys and change
in his pocket with the other. “I just don’t understand how someone who’s supposed to love me
can treat me so coldly sometimes. I’m only trying to make things better between us. I’ve made
lots of suggestions, but she always takes things the wrong way, as if I only say stuff to get back at
her or something. I thought that maybe it would be better for us if we spent a little time apart.
But she took that totally the wrong way and got mad because she wouldn’t be able to go to
Johnny’s party, like that matters more than our relationship.”
“I still think you should just get out of it.”
“Sure, that’s easy to say when you’re looking in from the outside, when you have no direct
The waiter brings the beers and everybody reaches into their pockets and tosses bills onto
“That’s rough,” Adrian says when the waiter’s gone, “but at least you’ve got someone. I am,
as they say, green with envy and pretty hard up at this point.”
“Yeah, but it’s hardly worth it. The storms totally outnumber the calms these days. Christ,
Lee Foust | "29
you’d think we’d be able to work things out by now—we’ve been together for two whole years.
She doesn’t understand that sometimes I’m hurt too. She reads everything I say as anger. It’s the
same old argument over and over again.”
“Well, drink more,” Devin interrupts, raising his pint glass.
Adrian pours some of his ale into Lee’s almost empty glass so they can make a toast.
“To the great goddess of nuptial bliss!” Devin winks.
“So, what do you think of the Edinburgh Castle?” Lee asks, sitting up straight, spreading
his arms out.
“Cool place,” Adrian says and the others nod—Johnny smiling approvingly, Devin still
gulping at his ale. “Cool” was the highest compliment Adrian ever gave; Lee had only recently
begun to earn the honor.
Johnny pulls a red disposable lighter lazily out of his jeans’ pocket, his bare arms bony in
the half-light, black plastic bracelets jangling. He brings the flame up to a cigarette of his own.
Johnny looks at the other two smokers, grins at Lee, and asks him, “So, when are you gonna start
smoking?” This is a running joke. The band rehearses in a tiny L-shaped room with only one
window above a porno movie theater in the Tenderloin and the other three smoke in-between
songs, sometimes even while they’re playing, nearly suffocating Lee every time they get together.
“Yeah,” Adrian prompts, “you bum, I haven’t seen you do any drugs either.” Adrian’s
specialty is crystal meth. “You know you’d love it, you’re a white boy, come on.”
Johnny laughs heartily at that, shaking his head.
“Probably love it too much, knowing me.”
Devin leans forward, his hands making little nervous movements on the table. “You’ve
never done speed?”
Lee shakes his head no.
“Any drugs?” Devin asks, his black eyes placid, reflective.
“Never done acid?” Johnny asks.
“Oh, don’t do acid. It’s a nasty drug,” Devin advises.
“It can be real good, too,” Johnny points out.
“Yeah, and just as awful if it backfires on you,” Devin continues. “No, speed’s the drug—
" 30 | Hair Trigger 2.0
ut you can get too deep into it real fast if you’re not careful.”
Adrian nods at Lee in agreement with Devin.
“You were quite a speed freak there for a while,” Johnny reminds Devin, stretching his arm
across the table to get at the ashtray, flicking the red, dying embers from his cigarette.
Devin reflects, in a rapid flow of thoughts, on being a speed freak. He remembers Seattle,
his military father and his disturbed mother who’d left the family when he was only seven months
old. He’d come to San Francisco instead of going to college and mixed into the art school crowd,
working at a gallery, painting, doing a lot of speed and being briefly out of his mind. Dealing
with his wife and her pregnancy had been keeping him busy and off drugs other than pot for a
Lee remembers that Betty had told him she’d been something of a speed freak back in high
school, long before he’d known her—and the phrase always reminded him of her. “Yeah, I was a
speak freak back in high school. I was like Concord’s biggest coke dealer.” He hears the words in
her voice and pictures her face suddenly, her wide blue eyes, hennaed hair, amber skin, her sweet,
fragile smile and exaggerated cheeks, her pouty bottom lip so much bigger than the top.
“What about coke?” Lee asks.
“It’s a kind of speed,” Adrian informs, springing up out of his lazy slouch. “It’s a good
aphrodisiac. Makes you forget about responsibilities—and your inhibitions.” He pushes his chair
out from under him with the backs of his thighs and wanders over to the dartboard. He pulls the
darts out, steps back, roots his stumpy body behind the green line, gauging the distance, squinting
slightly. There are more heraldic emblems and shields on the wall beside him and a turquoise
chalkboard for keeping score. A funny-looking dragon on a shield presides over the game. Adrian
winks at it, cradling the wooden darts in his pudgy hands.
“What’s so bad about acid?” Lee asks.
“It depends on your mood.” Devin considers for a moment, his arm balancing above the
table, pivoting on his elbows, flowing abstractly in the darkness, then moving in rapid expression
of his words, which suddenly come flooding out. “If you’re going to do it, work up to it and do it
when you’re feeling good and with someone you like.” Lee’s and Devin’s eyes meet,
confidentiality flowing between them, each thinking a bit of the others’ thoughts, like a yin-yang.
Johnny starts laughing, “And if you go to the bathroom, when you’re washing your hands
Lee Foust | "31
afterwards, whatever you do, don’t look into the mirror.”
“Why? What happens?”
“You end up standing there for hours. You see all kinds of shit, things you never saw before.
You spend hours studying every blemish. It’s like, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’”
“That’s all that happens to you?” Devin smirks. Apparently his trips are more complex,
darker, and stranger than Johnny’s.
“It’s like,” Johnny goes on, “when you look at something for a long enough time, it starts to
distort, right? Well, when you’re on acid, time slows down and a glance is like staring at
something steadily for hours. It distorts all over the place.”
“I definitely know that feeling,” Lee jokes.
“Yeah, and then the next thing you know there’s people outside knocking on the door, ‘Hey,
man, are you okay in there?’”
“Acid’s rough,” Devin says, leaning past Adrian’s empty seat, his face close to Lee’s, nodding
patiently, rhythmically as a dripping faucet. Everything Devin does begins slow and inconclusive,
then seems to tumble toward the lowest possible spot, tragically firm and resigned. He
purposefully looks at Lee, satisfied—having doused the idea of LSD—leans back in his chair and
glances at his watch. “Hope the food gets here soon, I’ve got to get rolling.”
A serious expression overtakes Johnny’s face and he asks Devin how his wife is getting along.
“Well, she’s doing okay, I guess, you know, under the circumstances. It’s kind of hard taking
care of her all the time, going back and forth between here and the Sunset.”
“When’s she going to have the baby?”
“Well, you know, they’ve got her on this drug to arrest the labor, so it’s kind of up to the
doctor. She’ll have the baby whenever he decides to take her off the drug.”
“Is that why she can’t move around?” Lee hasn’t been with the band long enough to know
all the details surrounding Devin’s situation and his wife’s pregnancy.
“Yeah.” Devin looks deeply at his nearly dry pint glass.
“Did you guys plan this at all?” Lee does know that Devin’s been separated from his wife for
Devin looks up again, shrugging. “No. She went off the pill without telling me, after I’d
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Johnny raises his glass. “Hey, cheer up, you guys.”
“And let’s have some more beer, huh?” Devin smiles all around the table.
Lee observes Adrian, still at the baseline before the dartboard, wondering why he seems so
removed tonight. Probably he’s sick of hearing about my problems with Betty, he thinks. After all, Adrian’s
been hard up for a girlfriend for a while. Maybe they’ve been spending too much time together.
He watches Adrian pull the darts out of the cork dartboard, turn, and stroll back to the baseline.
He poses there, peering in at the round target, about to spring, his arm stiff, half-cocked, ready to
throw, his attitude reckless.
“Hey, why don’t you toss the caber?” Lee calls over to him.
Adrian tilts his head to the side, wrinkling his bushy eyebrows, wordlessly asking Lee what
the hell he’s talking about.
“The caber. On the wall. Behind you.”
Adrian turns and admires the caber hung at an angle, parallel to the rise of the stairs going
up to the balcony above the bar. His attention captured, Adrian steps closer to the wooden pole
and examines the three framed, black-and-white photos demonstrating how to toss the miniature
telephone pole. The first picture shows a seemingly feminine figure straining, legs bent in a
posture that makes it look as if she’s struggling just to hold the darned thing up. The second one
clearly shows the figure to be a man, now trying to get the caber off of his chest and aloft. Lee
thinks this thrower looks disappointed, as if he knows he’ll never get the pole into the air. Adrian
stands before the third photo, which shows the log in full flight, the tosser’s back to the camera;
face turned away, arms outstretched behind him, as if he were grabbing at the ascending pole,
trying to pull it back into his hands.
“Let’s play darts,” Lee suggests, reaching to take the darts from Adrian—but, at that very
same moment, the waiter brings the fish and chips and they sit back down to eat, ordering
another round of beer, Lee and Devin substituting Guinness for Bass.
“They used to have Watneys on tap here, but they don’t anymore.”
“Watneys? I’ve never heard of that either. Is it good?” Johnny wants to know.
Devin nods and Lee says, “It’s the best—the only beer that matters.”
“Sounds good. Do you think they have it in bottles?”
“Let’s go see,” says Johnny, laying a hand on Devin’s shoulder, “before he brings the next
Lee Foust | "33
Devin nods, and they go over to the bar to investigate.
“So, Lee,” Adrian says, munching, “you going to submit any of your lyrics to this band?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable letting other people sing the stuff I write.
I’m kinda happy only to be a drummer for a change and not have to face an audience with
nothing to protect me but a microphone.”
“Devin won’t mind if you sing a couple songs, I’m sure.”
“Yeah, I guess. But I kind of like just drumming in a band for once, concentrating only on
They chew in silence for a minute and the jukebox starts up with “Amazing Grace” on
Lee rolls his eyes. “Somebody plays this every time I come here.”
Adrian scoots back in his chair, out of his casual slouch and into a straight-backed pose,
puffing out his cheeks in imitation of a bagpipe player. He always mimes along with the records
he plays for Lee when they sit around his room getting drunk, and imitates people they know
when telling stories about them.
Johnny and Devin come back empty-handed. “They don’t have it anymore at all.”
“Too bad,” Lee consoles. “But maybe you wouldn’t have liked it anyway. It’s one of those
British beers that’s good even at room temperature.”
After they’ve eaten most of the food, Johnny says, “Seems like we played pretty well
tonight.” He always talks about things after the fact, as if to confirm for himself that they had
actually happened, or to make sure he’d interpreted the events the same way as everybody else.
Devin and Lee nod in assent. Adrian goes on eating.
“The jamming was great.” Lee loves improvising with Adrian’s guitar playing; it’s the most
fun he’s ever had playing music. Adrian has some kind of instinctual feel for rhythm that
impresses him. It’s like they’re communicating in the same way, the same language, when they’re
jamming. And it’s not only a bunch of clichés strung together, like what most guitarists do when
they’re just noodling.
It isn’t all that great for Adrian though; he plays with a lot of people, his whole life being
channeled into music. Still, he likes Lee, and it’s okay when they play together. They spend a lot
of their evenings hanging out these days, drinking and cruising around San Francisco in the
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deserted early morning hours in Adrian’s clunky old Chevy Bonneville. They drive at night
because Adrian has no license and the car is on loan from a friend. Usually they’re sneaking to
the café in the Richmond where Adrian sometimes works—near the house he grew up in, where
his mom still lives—to steal cases of beer and bring them back to his makeshift Tenderloin
“What about the name?” Johnny asks, returning to a discussion they’d had earlier. The
band had been called Troubled Recognitions for a while (partially in homage to William Gaddis),
even before Lee and Johnny had joined, and they liked it mostly in its shortened form, the
Troubled Wrecks, but Johnny has been brainstorming and is now lobbying for a new name. “I
love Kangaroo Court.”
Devin shakes his head, laughing in short, choppy breaths. Adrian pays no visible attention.
It had been Devin who had vetoed the new name at tonight’s rehearsal.
“You really don’t like it?”
“No, I don’t. Sorry, Johnny, but it’s too . . . absurd or something.”
“Oh, well,” Johnny shrugs. Then, turning to Lee he says, “I wish we could play at my party,
but there isn’t enough room in our flat.” Johnny is planning a going-away party for Mary, his
girlfriend, who’ll be heading home to Scotland in a few weeks. Having said that, Johnny’s
thoughts immediately darken. He doesn’t want Mary to go, but her visa is expiring and she
doesn’t want to be deported ’cause it’s a lot harder to come back into the U.S.A. once you get
deported. Besides, she needs to get back to school in London. Johnny’s trying not to think about
it now—there’ll be plenty of time to think about it after she’s gone.
“And we’re not half rehearsed enough to play a show,” Adrian adds. He’s right: they haven’t
all been playing together long enough to get through an entire set competently.
Lee reaches for the vinegar. “Hey, how about this for a name?” He holds the bottle out to
Adrian. “The Four Monks! We’ll call our first album Malt Vinegar and use the label as cover art.”
They all snicker.
Adrian says, “Yeah, but Johnny blows it.” Adrian, as usual, had been complaining to Lee
and Devin earlier that day about not having been laid for so long.
“Yeah, but she’ll be leaving in a few weeks and then I’ll be as hard up as the rest of you
guys. And you’ll see—Lee will work things out with Betty soon. And Adrian, you’ll jump on the
first sweet young thing who looks your way.”
Lee Foust | "35
“Hey, you guys,” the waiter comes up holding a single parcel of newspaper-rolled fish and
chips, “we got one too many orders tonight. I’ll give it to ya for half price. You up for it?”
“Yeah, I think we’re up for it,” Johnny says.
Devin nods, drinking, the black stout bobbing in the glass with the motion of his head;
Adrian, chewing, points at the table in front of him and Lee nods. The waiter drops the fifth
order down into the center of the table merrily.
The jukebox goes on with Marlene Dietrich singing “Falling in Love Again.”
“Betty always plays that when we come here,” Lee says. Everything seems to remind him of
her, her warm smell, her soft yellowish skin, and her blue eyes narrowing at him ruefully. “So, is it
good, or what?” Lee points at the dwindling food, the half-eaten fish wallowing in the amber
The other three band members all nod and Lee is glad.
“You know, Betty and I came here on New Year’s Eve, which is also the night that this place
opened, so the bar was celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary that night too. Up here on the
platform they had all this free food laid out, deli and sandwich stuff. We ran out of money after a
couple of drinks, so it was great to have something for free, and then this waiter started giving us
drinks too, for nothing, ’cause he could tell we were broke.”
“That sounds fun,” Johnny says, laying a dead cigarette into the ashtray where it falls into
ash, then mysteriously re-lights a second later. The jukebox flips the Marlene Dietrich single and
plays the other side, “The Boys in the Back Room.”
Adrian looks around the mostly empty bar and imagines it full of people. He likes Lee’s
girlfriend a lot, she’s cool. He wonders what it would be like to sleep with her. He wonders what it
would be like to sleep with a lot of women at this point.
Lee finishes his food first, so Adrian picks up the extra order and slides it in front of him.
Lee unwraps the globe of newspaper guiltily, not having enough money on him to pay for it but
still hungry, smelling the warmth of the yellow, battered fish as he exposes it. “We’ll split it up,”
he says, not much wanting to.
After a while, after they’ve eaten all that there is to eat, and had another couple of rounds,
Adrian leans back in his chair and says, “Drunk. Now what?”
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Hair Trigger 2.0 | "37
SHANNON PEAVEY is a writer and horse trainer from Seattle, Washington. Her fiction has
appeared in The Masters Review, Apex and Lightspeed, among others, and has been nominated for
the Shirley Jackson Award. Find her online at shannonpeavey.com, or on twitter @shannonpv.
TENDAI HUCHU’S first novel, The Hairdresser of Harare, was released in 2010 to critical acclaim,
and has been translated into German, French, Italian and Spanish. His short fiction in multiple
genres and nonfiction have appeared in The Manchester Review, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine,
Gutter, Interzone, AfroSF, Wasafiri, Warscapes, The Africa Report and elsewhere. In 2013 he received a
Hawthornden Fellowship and a Sacatar Fellowship. He was shortlisted for the 2014 Caine Prize.
His new novel is The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician.
SHEBANA COELHO is a writer and director, originally from India, now living in New Mexico.
She received a Fiction Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts and a Fulbright
grant to Mongolia. Her prose and poems have appeared in many American and international
journals including Word Riot, Sukoon, Chronogram, Malpais Review and Vela. She has recently
completed a short story collection, beyond the end of the world. Her website is
PHONG NGUYEN is the author of The Adventures of Joe Harper (Outpost19, 2016), Pages from the
Textbook of Alternate History (Queen's Ferry Press, 2014), and Memory Sickness and Other Stories (Elixir
Press, 2011). He is a Professor of English at the University of Central Missouri, where he teaches
fiction-writing and serves as editor of the journal Pleiades. His own stories have appeared in more
than 40 national literary journals, including Agni, Boulevard, Iowa Review, Massachusetts Review,
Mississippi Review, and North American Review.
LEE FOUST is a fiction writer and performer from Oakland, California who has lived in Florence,
Italy since the mid-1990s. He teaches literature and creative writing for U.S. universities and is
the father of one. He has authored two books: Sojourner, short fiction and poems about the
mystery of place, and Poison and Antidote, nine Bohemian tales of San Francisco from the
Reagan era. For more info see: www.leefoust.com
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