Tower of Silence
Big Ben had been dead for six games now -- nearly a whole month -- and the realtor said we only had one day left to empty his house.
Since the funeral, none of us had wanted to visit his place alone. When the realtor emailed Dr. Aziz and told him that we couldn’t put it off any longer, we decided to all go together.
“One last afternoon at Benjamin’s,” said Dr. Aziz.
According to the realtor, Big Ben’s house had already been sold, and if we didn’t empty it ourselves, it would be emptied by a salvage company who would charge us by the truck load. Because Big Ben had willed everything to the three of us, we would be charged for the removal of the property, and the salvage company would be indiscriminate, junking things and charging us for them whether they were valuable or not.
We met up in front of Big Ben’s house on Saturday before dawn, where we quickly discovered that none of us had remembered to bring a key. While he had been alive, it would have been unthinkable for Big Ben to lock his door.
We went around to the back, where I grabbed one of Big Ben’s potted plants and hurled it through one of his kitchen windows.
“Easy enough,” I said when Lucy and Dr. Aziz glared at me.
“Do you feel better?” asked Lucy.
“Yes,” I said.
Lucy wrapped her leather jacket around her arm, protecting herself from the shards of broken glass as she reached through the window to unlock the deadbolt.
We stepped into the darkness of Big Ben’s empty kitchen and stood there for a few moments in silence before I found the light switch.
The first thing I noticed was that the air conditioning was still running. This seemed so unfair and insulting. Why did the air conditioning get to keep going when the man himself was dead and gone?
“There’s no way we are going to be able to get rid of all this junk before tomorrow,” said Lucy. “Look at all this crazy junk.”
“All this wonderful, comforting junk,” I said, sweeping up the broken glass and the shards of terra cotta from the potted plant.
“Let’s sit down and think about this,” said Dr. Aziz, stroking the thin, white goatee at the end of his long, wrinkled face. “Let us apply our wits to the problem at hand, the way that Benjamin himself would have done.”
The three of us sat down at Big Ben’s kitchen table, where for years we had spent so many nights together, screaming at each other over dice and rules, or else coldly watching foolproof military strategies unfold with the impressive inevitability of Arctic glaciers.
The four of us had been meeting twice a week to play board games for years. We had been a solid crew of gamers since Big Ben and Lucy graduated from the University of Texas and started hanging out at Spiderhouse, the same Austin coffee shop where Dr. Aziz and I met every day to play Scrabble for laundry money.
Big Ben and Lucy had been a couple back then, which I still found hilarious.
“How could you not know he was gay?” I asked Lucy for the hundredth time, staring at the fifteen boxes of AIDS drugs piled up on Big Ben’s kitchen table like ammo. “He was so fucking gay.”
At the end, Big Ben had been taking Intelence and Truvada every day – “a combination of emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate.” The way Big Ben pronounced it, Truvada rhymed with “tostada.”
“He was hot, he was nice to me, and he had a big, huge dick,” said Lucy, rolling a cigarette. “His dick was the size of a small airplane or an orbital satellite. You think we called him Big Ben because he was tall? We called him Big Ben because he had a dick the size of a clock-tower and it was always right on time.”
Lucy sealed her cigarette with her tongue and then lit it.
Big Ben’s house in Hyde Park was crammed to the eaves with insane trash. Big Ben had been a collector and a hoarder, and there were stacks of tattered paperbacks, closets full of ratty clothes, shelves full of useless knick-knacks, milk crates full of old toys, and stacks full of antique medical equipment.
He had started collecting the medical equipment as soon as he had been diagnosed with HIV. He was fascinated with the evolution of medical technology over the past century, tracking the way tools changed from pearl-handled stainless steel instruments that were kept in velvet-lined boxes to disposable, digital diagnostics.
Of course, it hadn’t been AIDS that killed him. It was his liver that finally failed. As a professional party promoter, Big Ben only had two real passions in life: games and drugs.
His walls were bare except for paintings that I had done years ago, back when I was still trying to make a living as an artist. Big Ben had collected the entire series since no one else would buy them.
They were porn paintings, except all the characters were cute cartoons and mythological creatures. I had replaced the sex stuff with rainbows and glitter showers. Bears crapping rainbows into leprechaun’s mouths. Fairies spraying glitter out of their nipples. A sad panda doing it doggy-style with the three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hell, except all of the dog’s faces were Scooby-Doo.
“First we should retrieve the things that we personally want,” said Dr. Aziz.
“It would take weeks to sort through all this stuff,” said Lucy.
“Yet we do not have weeks,” said Dr. Aziz, sighing. “In addition to items that we may personally want, we must also attempt to secure the items that seem to be of great symbolic worth or financial value. Most importantly, however, we should attempt to gather Benjamin’s most personal belongings – his correspondence, his journals, his private photographs, and so on. We must put them together in one place so that we can deal with them later.”
This was obviously the right thing to do, but obviously it was not so easy.
Lucy and I went for Big Ben’s board game collection first. We piled these boxes high on the kitchen table, handling the frayed boxes like vials of nitroglycerin lest they should fall apart. These games were sacred objects to us.
As gamers, the four of us preferred board games that required skill, strategy, and very little luck. Our favorites were games like Imperial, Dune, and High Frontier -- games that were very complicated but also very expressive -- games where you got a chance to use mental agility to overcome the universe’s natural tendency toward entropy and dissolution.
Imperial: where you played as a corporation that invested in different countries to gain control, sending them to war against each other in order to profit from global instability and the blood of nations.
Dune: an out-of-print game from the seventies, (based on the novel and not the movie), where you played as one of six factions seeking to gain control of the spice planet. Each of the factions had different goals and powers, making every turn a white-knuckle opportunity for tactical cunning and misdirection.
High Frontier: a game made by astrophysicists where the goal was to build rocket ships and send them into space to mine water. In High Frontier, risk could always be mitigated by preparation, and small, smart maneuvers early in the game reaped massive rewards later on.
These games were the essence of life in Texas. Space rockets, energy politics, corporate intrigue, tactical cunning, and verbal manipulation.
Though I hadn’t painted anything in years, I wanted to paint a picture of these board games next to Big Ben’s boxes of Truvada. They were such gloriously opposite forces in Big Ben’s life.
Big Ben also had all kinds of normal board games, the boring kind you could find at the drug store. Big Ben was fond of “gamemashing,” which was when you used pieces from common board games to create your own games, using rules you found on the internet or made up yourself.
For instance, Big Ben had invented a game called “Uprising,” where you combined the pieces from Monopoly and Risk. You played a game of Monopoly, but as each person went bankrupt, they amassed troops along the edge of the Monopoly board who lived in the underground and could mug people as they came around, controlling the flow of play.
You strategically positioned your troops until there was only one “monopolist” left, and then the game became an outright war between the haves and have-nots.
Another game that Big Ben had invented was called “Matryoshka,” named after the Russian nesting dolls. For this one, you needed a chess board, a copy of Candyland, and a box of Trivial Pursuit questions. For every team, one person was chosen as the chess player. The chess player simply played chess, but in order to make a move, her team had to answer a Trivial Pursuit question correctly. Every time the chess player took a piece from her opponent, you got to spin the wheel and make a move in Candyland.
You could win “Matryoshka” either by making it to the end in Candyland or by checkmate in the game of chess. This was a great game for large groups of people who all wanted to play something different.
After we had secured Big Ben’s board game collection, I wandered through his house fitfully, choking back waves of bitterness in order to focus on the task at hand. I halfheartedly searched through his things, but it was too painful to do much serious probing. When I opened his closet, I smelled his laundry and I started to sob.
I realized that there wasn’t much that I wanted from Big Ben’s house. All of his possessions were too heavy and too emotionally poisonous for me.
Lucy and Dr. Aziz were equally unwilling to toss Big Ben’s house for goodies. Lucy didn’t even get up. She just sat at the kitchen table, reading the rules to old board games and smoking.
My pile of things that I wanted stayed small -- band t-shirts, old Polaroids, a silver cigarette lighter, cracked teacups, filigreed potholders.
Dr. Aziz cherry-picked all of Big Ben’s medical equipment, collecting the rare stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, and gilded tongue depressors in a black leather doctor’s bag from the 19th century.
I also stacked up all of the electronics I could find, thinking we could pawn them, but most of these were broken or redundant. Who could possibly want an old VCR in this age of instant, on-demand movies?
“What are we going to do with all of the furniture?” Lucy asked.
“That is a very good question,” said Dr. Aziz. He ran his hands down the side of a leather recliner.
“Maybe some of these antiques are valuable,” I said.
“I do not think we will make much of a profit from the household of our dead friend,” said Dr. Aziz coldly.
Dr. Aziz was a retired oncologist. Though we had been friends for a decade, we had an adversarial relationship that played out both in real life and at the gaming table. Dr. Aziz saw himself as a man of old world honor and integrity, while I knew that he saw me as some kind of amoral street hustler who would do anything to get ahead.
“Forget about the furniture,” I said, picking up one of the boxes of AIDS medication. I didn’t want to be afraid of it. “How much do you think these boxes of Truvada are worth? A couple hundred dollars?”
“Hmmm,” said Dr. Aziz. “Much more than that.”
“How much more?” I asked.
“Perhaps five hundred dollars for each box,” said Dr. Aziz. “Perhaps more.”
“No shit,” I said, impressed.
“Will a hospital buy back old AIDS drugs?” asked Lucy.
“No,” said Dr. Aziz. “They will not.”
“So is there a black market for prescription drugs from dead people?” I asked.
Dr. Aziz shrugged.
“Maybe there is some kind of website,” I said. “They aren’t expired.”
“Maybe Big Ben has some AIDS friends,” Lucy suggested. “Part of his support group or something.”
“There have to be street dealers for prescription drugs,” I said. “What happens if you don’t have insurance? What happens if you can’t afford 500 dollars a box?”
“You die,” said Lucy.
“I bet Big Ben got these illegally in the first place, which is why he had such a stockpile,” I speculated.
“Listen,” said Dr. Aziz, sitting down at the table between the board games and the boxes of Truvada. “We must focus. Before the end of this day, we need to get rid of all of Ben’s furniture and possessions, and yet we must also retrieve all of his personal effects for safekeeping.”
“Fucking impossible,” said Lucy. “Look at all this stuff. We’d need to rent a truck. Even if we spent all day moving, we wouldn’t be able to get rid of it all.”
“It is not impossible,” said Dr. Aziz. “I have an idea. We must feed him to the eagles. We must put him in a tower of silence.”
We stared at Dr. Aziz. Dr. Aziz sighed.
“You do not know what a tower of silence is,” said Dr. Aziz. “Though both of you have degrees from a university.”
“My degree is in electrical engineering,” said Lucy.
“It is an ancient Persian custom,” said Dr. Aziz. “From the days of Zoraster. In Zoroastrianism, there are two gods: one good god and one evil god. The good god is named Ahura Mazda and the evil god is named Ahriman. They are twins, born of Time.”
Dr. Aziz put one of his wrinkled hands on a copy of High Frontier and the other one on a box of Truvada.
“Ahura Mazda created the world, and it was beautiful and perfect, and so naturally Ahriman rushed in to mess everything up,” he said. “As soon as Ahriman entered the world, however, the prison door snapped shut and Ahriman was trapped. Cunning Ahura Mazda had created the entire world as a snare to capture his evil brother Ahriman.”
Dr. Aziz grinned.
“In Zoroastrianism, all of reality is a game between these two gods. Ahriman is trying to escape this plane of existence, and Ahura Mazda is trying to keep him here in this prison. Both of these gods are very creative and vindictive. Both lay claim to human souls and have their own heaven and hell for followers. If you are wise, then you know that they both must be placated. Therefore, the world has been divided up between them. Living bodies belong to Ahura Mazda, but dead bodies belong to Ahriman. The carrion eaters collect dead bodies for him, eating the dead to purify the waste.”
“I don’t understand,” said Lucy.
“He is already cremated,” I said.
“Just listen,” said Dr. Aziz. “In ancient times, the priests of Zoroaster would lay out corpses on top of high towers, saying the sacred words and anointing the dead with oil and incense.”
“Aha,” I said. “Towers of silence.”
“The eagles would eat their fill and then the priests would take the bones of the dead and mash them into paste. The eagles would eat the paste. Then, beetles would eat what the birds left behind.”
We thought about this for a moment.
“I understand what you are trying to say,” I said. “All the things in here belong to Ahriman and not to us.”
“Except for the things which belong to Ahura Mazda,” said Dr. Aziz. “The things of the spirit which cannot be corrupted. We are making a mistake trying to sort these things ourselves when there are carrion eaters out there who would be joyous for the opportunity. We must put a message on the internet.”
“I get it,” said Lucy.
Lucy made an ad for Craigslist with her smartphone that was only three sentences long: “Dear Austin: we must get rid of an entire house full of things before tomorrow! Everything is free! Come, bring a truck, take as much as you want, early bird gets the worm!”
She took a picture of Big Ben’s living room and pasted the picture into the ad.
Lucy also hacked into Big Ben’s Facebook page and sent out a message to all of his acquaintances in Austin: “Boo! Free stuff from your dead friend Ben all day long! Everything must go! You should have all this junk instead of sweaty, stupid strangers! Come clean out my house today or my stuff will be gone forever, just like me!”
“I hate how all the embarrassing stuff you post online stays there after you are dead,” I told Lucy.
“Yeah, well, the internet was built to survive nuclear apocalypse,” said Lucy. “That is the point of the internet. Maybe they will need all that embarrassing stuff in order to rebuild civilization after the bombs.”
“There ought to be some kind of digital cremation service,” I said. “Some kind of program that deletes everything you left behind on the internet when you died -- all of your stupid status updates, all of your naked pictures, all of your blog posts about how much you hate junior high or vegans.”
“I think the internet is beautiful the way it is,” said Lucy. “I like that we can’t get rid of the stupid things that we compulsively share. I like how we can only provide context by sharing more stupid things.”
We put the Truvada and board games in shopping bags and put them in the trunk of my car. We divvied up everything else, including all of my paintings.
“Do you think we will need security?” asked Lucy. “For the eagles?”
“Why would we need security?” asked Dr. Aziz. “Everything is free. We want people to take things. We are encouraging this.”
“I heard this story once about these guys who broke into the house of this lady who had just been cremated,” said Lucy. “Her ashes were sitting there in the middle of the living room in a cedar box. The guys thought the ashes were raw cocaine. They did lines and got so sick that they had to call an ambulance.”
“I don’t think there will be any trouble,” said Dr. Aziz. “This is a holy place now.”
We had barely finished getting everything out of the house when the first eagles arrived.
I don’t know what I was expecting. I guess I didn’t really think it would work. But free is a magic word and people could smell the opportunity out in the street.
As the summer sun rose up in the sky like a blowtorch, Big Ben’s house filled up with feverish speculators ready to haul away an entire life’s worth of possessions.
The eagles came with minivans and flatbed trailers. They came with flashlights and plastic gloves. They came with their own hand sanitizer and their own garbage bags. At first we tried to show them around, but pretty soon we realized that we were just in the way. We answered their questions, we asked for donations, and we told them to please bring us any personal items that they found so that we could remember our dead friend.
Because it was the house a dead man, people were surprisingly respectful, but not so respectful that they were unwilling to tear the place apart searching for items of value or hidden treasures.
“The value of everything is relative to our ability to assess value,” said Dr. Aziz to me through clenched teeth while we watched the eagles work. “For instance, no matter what condition a car is in, if the odometer is broken, the car is worthless. Sine we assess the value of an automobile by how many miles are on it, a car without a mile-measuring device can only be worth nothing. We assume the worst about this car and assign the lowest value possible. However, when things are free, we do the opposite. A thing that we receive for free is nearly unlimited in value to us. We could always get rid of it later, for instance, or sell it ourselves. The unknown value of this free thing becomes huge in our minds. People will kill each other for free things, no matter what condition they are in, whereas dollar stores are seen as depressing places where only the most desperate people shop. All things with a price tag belong to the dark lord eventually.”
One of the earliest eagles was a portly, bald man with a red beard, sunken blue eyes, and a sweaty grey t-shirt. He was a professional. He was wearing a headband with a light on it and he had a roll of blue dots that he made everyone take notice of.
“If I put a dot on it, it belongs to me,” he said. No one bothered to argue with him.
He roved through the house, muttering to himself, tapping on the walls, searching under Big Ben’s mattress, and worming his way into all the hard-to-reach areas.
“What are you looking for?” I asked him, creeping up on him as he shined his light under the kitchen sink.
“Are you the owner of this house or perhaps family of the deceased?” he asked, standing.
“I’m not family,” I said. “But I’m certainly a friend.”
“Did the deceased die unexpectedly without time to make arrangements for property or belongings?”
“It was unexpected, but he had been sick for a very long time,” I said.
“I see,” said the man, disappointed. “I would still be correct in assuming that you have not made a complete search of the premises? You have not spent much time searching for hidden treasures or secret stashes?”
“No,” I said. “Knock yourself out.”
He continued to hunt for hidden treasures, lifting up the back of the toilet and opening every book on Big Ben’s book shelf, shaking them each to see if there was money inside.
He only tagged a few things with his blue dots as he stormed through the house. Before leaving for other garage sales and estate cleanings, he collected these items in a burlap sack and then thanked me for letting him poke around. He pulled me aside and handed me a dusty plastic baggy.
“I have no way to sell these illegal items that I found in the bedside drawer,” said the man. “You should dispose of them before you face unforeseen legal consequences.”
“Thank you,” I said.
In the baggy was a pack of very exclusive Danish joints with strike-anywhere tips, a handful of codeine pills, and an even tinier plastic baggy the size of a postage stamp full of cocaine. I stuffed the baggy in my pants.
Professional movers would not have been as fast or as thorough as the eagles that arrived in wave after wave to carry away Big Ben’s things.
Eagles marched into the house, did a cursory walkthrough, and then left carrying away the ten most valuable things that they could find.
Each eagle left feeling like they had scored a major victory. There was always something left that was “the best,” and therefore each eagle got to feel good about their predatory prowess, like they had cheated the universe somehow.
The eagles were incredibly conscientious about bringing us things that they thought would have great sentimental value to us, such as letters, pictures, artwork, or journals. We made a stack of these objects on the floor of the living room.
It wasn’t long before an orderly system developed like some kind of self-organizing virus. Objects that were alike wound up piled together in stacks. The eagles came around and pulled objects from these piles, sorting them by cleanliness and age.
The initial clutter was cleared this way, allowing the eagles access to the drawers, shelves, and closets, where they thought there might be secret jewelry or hidden money. Whatever people found in these drawers, shelves, and closets was sorted into new piles. As these piles shrunk, they merged with the larger piles.
“Benjamin would have loved this,” said Dr. Aziz to me, crossing his arms and watching the people sort and barter.
“I miss the crap out of him,” I said.
“I think that the way the world works is that the good god and the bad god answer each other’s prayers,” said Dr. Aziz. “If you pray to the good god, you get the bad one, and so on.”
“You’ve got to see this,” said Lucy, grabbing my hand and dragging me into Big Ben’s bedroom.
Here, the eagles had made three stacks: one for clothes, one for shoes, and one for neckties. Big Ben had a billion silk neckties. The room was emptying of objects fast and somebody had already stripped the sheets from the bed.
The thing Lucy wanted me to see was in the center of the bed, placed there delicately on the center of the mattress.
It was a pair of fuzzy purple sex handcuffs. There were big silver clasps on the handcuffs and a thin silver chain held the cuffs together.
I laughed out loud. Several people in the room nervously met my gaze before turning away -- not wanting to answer any questions or offer any information. Lucy squeezed my shoulder and marched me into the backyard.
“I need to know who will take sex handcuffs from the house of a dead gay man,” I told Lucy.
“It is the ultimate test of the effectiveness of the tower of silence,” said Lucy. “Will even a dead gay man’s sex handcuffs be consumed by the eagles?”
I continued walking around the house, helping people move furniture to their waiting trucks and absorbing the madness. Every few minutes, I would peek into Big Ben’s bedroom to make sure that the sex handcuffs were still there.
Eventually, a woman with long fake fingernails sat down on Big Ben’s bed, claiming that she “called” the bed frame and the mattress and that someone would be here soon to pick them up.
When almost all of the other furniture was gone and all that was left in the house were a few piles of clothes, trash, and knick-knacks, a man drove up in a maroon van that said “New Dawn Ambulette Service” on the side. The car had an electric ramp.
The man had a chain wallet and was chewing on half of an unlit cigar. He was wearing a blue button-up shirt with the same “New Dawn Ambulette Service” logo on the breast pocket.
“My girl Brittany just called and told me that you had a bed that I could take away,” said the man. “Is that true?”
“If you can haul it, you can have it,” I said.
“I want to see it first. I go to estate sales like this all the time. A lot of my clients are very old and sick. But their beds are always covered in piss and cat litter, and that’s if the box spring isn’t busted.”
I led him into the bedroom. He moved with an aggressive swagger, elbowing his way through the other lingering eagles with his chain wallet jangling.
His eyes lit up when he saw the bed and his girl.
“That’s a hell of a nice bed,” he said. “That is one hell of a good bed.”
“It’s not too soft, neither,” said Brittany. “And look!”
She held up the sex handcuffs.
“Put those down, honey,” said the man. “Those aren’t part of the deal.”
The man turned to me conspiratorially.
“She’s a school teacher,” he said. “She teaches third graders. She’s on a fixed income. You know how it is.”
“They are free,” said Brittany. “Everything is free.”
“Really?” said the man, taking the handcuffs from her and inspecting them. He held them out to me and I took an involuntary step backward.
“You don’t mind if we take these, too?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said. “Go nuts.”
“You mean we can just have these?” he said, dangling them in front of my face, shocked.
“Take them away!” I said.
“These things are expensive, you know,” he said. He was almost mad at me. “Real expensive. More expensive than some used mattress or a particle board bed frame. You could sell them.”
“Now they are all yours,” I said.
He attached the sex handcuffs to his chain wallet and then he and Brittany moved the bed out to the waiting ambulette. They took the frame apart and then secured the mattress on top with several lengths of bungee cord.
“We are gonna do some fancy bed fucking tonight,” I heard him whisper to his girlfriend. “You still got your sister’s camera?”
“He’s listening to us,” said Brittany, staring at me malevolently.
I hoped that the man was going to drop off Brittany and the bed first before he picked up any old people for church or heart surgery.
“You wouldn’t know anything about fencing unexpired AIDS drugs, would you?” I asked.
“I know that’s a big-ass felony,” said the ambulette driver, laughing. Brittany laughed, too. “I know that for sure, man. Better throw them away.” Brittany kissed her boyfriend as they backed out of Big Ben’s driveway.
“A big-ass felony,” I mumbled to myself. “So I should just throw away ten thousand dollars worth of life saving AIDS drugs? That’s what the universe wants me to do?”
When I got back into the house, there was an elderly couple in cargo shorts going through the kitchen, putting all the food and spices into canvas tote bags.
“Are you taking that?” I asked, astonished.
“It’s not expired,” said the old man, holding up a can of Spaghetti O’s.
“Some of these spices last forever,” said the old woman. “Like cream of tartar.”
I went to go use the bathroom. In the bathroom, I found a pretty young girl with a ponytail stuffing Big Ben’s adult diapers and toilet paper into a backpack.
She zipped up her bag and smiled at me.
“I’m not quite finished,” she said, “but I’ll wait outside until you are done.”
When the house was completely empty, we put all the trash that was left over into ten paper shopping bags and set them side by side on the front porch. A woman with smoke-wrinkles that turned her mouth into a dry, cold pucker pulled into the driveway in an immaculate red pick-up truck. She was wearing huge sunglasses.
“Oh hell,” said the woman. “Did I miss it? I knew I should have got here early.”
“There’s nothing left except these bags full of trash,” I said.
“Oh hell,” said the woman. “Well. I guess I’ll take them. Will you help me load the truck?”
“It’s trash!” I said. “Are you sure?”
She looked away at the horizon and then she looked back at me. She nodded tersely.
Lucy and I loaded the bags of trash into her car and she drove away.
“Free trash,” said Lucy.
When everyone was gone, the three of us sat down on the carpet in front of the pile of letters, photos, journals, and drawings that were left behind
I picked up a hand-painted coffee mug that Ben must have made when he was a kid. On the side of the mug, he had turned his tiny handprint into a turkey.
I set the coffee mug down and picked up a glossy print-out of the four of us seated around his kitchen table, playing a game of Dune last Christmas. Big Ben was leering at the camera, with his arms crossed and his teeth showing. There were deep bags under his eyes.
“This wasn’t long ago,” said Lucy, looking over my shoulder. “This was basically yesterday.”
“Fuck this world,” I said. “Fuck this world and all of its truths and lessons.”
Dr. Aziz held out his hands to each of us. We took his trembling hands, withered and gnarled with old age and liver spots. He turned our hands over and kissed our wrists, right on the big veins. We formed a triangle over the things that the eagles had left behind.
“I have seen a lot of people die,” said Dr. Aziz. “There is never any sense in it. All we can do is hope to join them one day. We know that we will. We will go to the same place they have gone, even if that place is a blank abyss.”
“These were the things that mattered,” I said, squatting over Big Ben’s pictures, sketches, journals, and photographs. “These are the ashes of his soul. He was cremated once by fire and then once again by market forces.”
“What should we do with this stuff?” asked Lucy. “What should we do with the ashes of his soul?”
“We should scatter them,” I said. “We should mail each thing to a random address from the phone book.”
“Phone books don’t exist anymore,” said Lucy. “But I like the idea anyway.”
I went out to Dr. Aziz’s truck and came back with a copy of High Frontier. I took the dusty baggy full of drugs out of my pocket and I handed out pills to everyone. We washed them down with water from the kitchen sink that we drank from the hand-print turkey mug.
“I’m going to drive over to the east side and give that Truvada to the first heroin addict I see,” I said. “Nobody is more resourceful than a heroin addict. They will make sure it ends up in the right place.”
I lit one of the fancy Danish joints by striking the tip onto the strip built into the side of the pack.
I took a drag, letting the rich weed smoke inflate my lungs. We’d save the coke for later.
I spread the game board out on the kitchen floor and we sat down cross-legged in front of the flat board full of stars and planets.
“One last game here?” asked Lucy. “Just to piss in Ahriman’s face?”
“Obviously,” I said, passing Lucy the joint.