But here it is - the beginning to my novel. I know we've had our differences on this board, but here's the thing I posted in my early days. Now please, if you don't like it, by all means say so, but I implore you to give reasons and other such suggestions for me to make it better.


The metal door opened slowly, and the light from the hall poured into the room, obstructed by the shadow of a tall, lanky man. Through weary, blood-shot eyes he looked in.

"Heh, nothing stolen." He closed the door.

Malcom Black sat down on the old blue couch and pulled up the little coffee table. There, an old typewriter sat, with a lonely half finished novel at its side. He looked at it for a minute, pondering if he should. God, I haven't worked on this for a month, he thought. He ran his hands through his wild black hair, and slowly, dramatically, put a cigarette into his mouth. With a swift move, he whipped out his silver lighter. He looked at it, small, sleek, he moved it around in his fingers, and in a fluid catlike motion, he flipped it open and conjured a flame. A bright flame shown in the darkness. He brought it slowly to the stick in his mouth, and lit. He leaned back on the couch and let his smoldering cigarette burn.
He inhaled, exhaled, and just sat there, looking at the typewriter, staring it down. He felt the need to write, the need to paint, the need to make music, but he didn't know if he could. They all pulled at him. They all begged for him. And as much as he longed for them, he was blocked.
"Damn!" He yelled at the darkness, "What is wrong with me?"

He swaggered over to the ancient refrigerator in the kitchen. It was dark; he probably should have turned on a light, it would have prevented his banging his shin on the table. But, guided by memory and the light of his burning cigarette, he made it without further ado. He took out a bottle of cheap wine and some pizza from the night before. As he walked back, the cigarette burnt all the way down. He threw the useless butt on the ground and stomped on it. Again, he should have turned on a light, because again he hit his shin on the table.

"Stupid table," he muttered. He cursed it, and sat down again on his old blue couch. He took a great drink of wine, and performed the ritual of his cigarette. He slowly put it in his mouth, and quickly took out the lighter, toyed with it, and like lightning brought up a flame. He lit, and smoked.
If he was to write, he would need at least a little more light than dull burning of his cigarette. He crossed the room, banging his shin again ("Damn table!") and twisted the light switch ever so slightly. He kept the light dim, but it was enough to work by.

He punched away at the typewriter, something about the breakup of the main character and his girlfriend - depressing filler. After a little while, (a few paragraphs or so) he got sick of it, and kicked the coffee table away. Malcom closed his eyes and stretched his arms and back like a cat. He sat still; keeping his eyes closed, back arched, and arms out, until finally relaxing.

Malcom looked down, searching for the remote to the TV. He looked in the couch cushions, under the couch, in the kitchen, in the fridge, in the bathroom. After fifteen minutes or so, he grew angry, but continued to search. Half an hour passed and he became furious; he sat on the couch and glared at the television. He didn't bother to go turn it on manually, he didn't care about what was on; he wanted the remote. He just wanted to surf.

Malcom, frustrated, pulled the coffee table back, and started typing on the story, just more slightly incoherent babble. About a minute into it, he got fed up and kicked the table again. He intended to kick to it across the room, but instead the table rocked back, hovered for a second, and fell, scattering the stack of scratched ideas and bad dialogue all over the floor. The typewriter, too, landed with a dead thud, sending the 'w' key shooting across the room into a dark corner.

Malcom grumbled under his breath about the mess and the stupid table, but still walked to the end of the room where the farthest of the papers had landed. He picked up the paper balls, though it didn't really help the state of the apartment, as Malcom had a tendency to throw things across the room instead of in the trash can.

He was picking up the papers when something caught his eye. Something black, shiny and rectangular. The remote! Ha! He held it above his head and gazed upon it lovingly. With that, he dropped the stack of papers where he was standing and fell onto the couch in a slumped position that would have driven any mother to an institution. He tossed the remains of his cigarette to the floor, stomped it and lit another. He held the prized remote lovingly as if he were Arthur and it the sword from the stone.
Malcom hit the Power button and the TV brought up a picture that lit the room in an eerie pallet of shifting blues and whites. He watched for a second; it was some stupid sitcom. Click. Cartoon. Click. Infomercial. Sitcom. News. Cartoon. News. News. Cartoon.

Malcom flipped through all of his channels twice, finally arriving on one of the news stations. There was some pretty little Asian newscaster yammering on about peace talks not going well.

That's a surprise, he thought. He looked out his one window as the anchorwoman rambled on. It was a clear night, and stars dotted the sky. Of course he couldn't see the stars, through the light pollution, but there were some vaguely interesting spot lights dancing with one another in the distance. A new restaurant? A new club? Like they need another. He hated them tonight, the lights and the stars. Malcom wanted to draw inspiration from them like he used to, but that never happened anymore. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket, and diverted his attention from the news that was still muttering in the background. He stood and walked to the window, looked up, looked out, and sighed. I used to love them, he thought. What has happened? Again, he sighed. He did that a lot nowadays.

Malcom sat again. On the news there was an old man talking.

"… on the street it’s called The Memory Drug and Omnisia."
Malcom looked up quizzically at the TV. What was he talking about?

"The effects of Omnisia are temporary memory loss and, if overdosed, permanent memory loss. Other side effects inclu-"

The TV was abruptly shut off. Malcom didn't care. He lit another cigarette. He took a long deep breath, and held. After a while, he exhaled. It felt good. He stood up and wandered over to his lonely saxophone. He looked at it and drew another breath from the cigarette and blew it out menacingly at the instrument. He picked it up; it needed a new reed, but it would do for now. He dropped the stick, only half smoked and stomped it into carpet.

He picked the sax up; it wasn't as heavy as he remembered. He flexed his bicep, it wasn't much. He gave a bit of laugh that just came out as a sigh.

Malcom sat and began to play; he closed his eyes and let his finger run across the keys. A darkly cool jazz melody drifted mournfully out of the bell, and he let it flow. But it didn't work; he had played this all before. He wanted new art, new music. He didn't need it just to sound good.
Malcom sat the golden instrument down on the floor, crushing some crumpled up papers. He got up from the couch and walked over to his stereo, one of the only things that had any real value. He popped in one of his favorite albums. A smooth saxophone floated about. It passed through him. It was better than smoking, better than drinking, better than sex. This was life at its best. He sighed in happiness. The air smelled crisper, he felt a burden lifted. He breathed deeply and wandered to the light switch, and dimmed the lights further.

He sat down on the couch. The bottle of wine was sitting on the floor by the arm. Malcom picked up the bottle and took a swig. The wine wasn't great, but it was getting the job done.

Feeling the calmness that usually came when he drank, Malcom laid back on his sofa, limbs strewn about. He idly toyed at one of the tears on the armrest, pulling and picking at some of the yellow cushioning. The music was still playing. His eyelids suddenly felt rather heavy. They began sinking. He heard a car alarm and a police siren in the distance.

Darkness came and he slept.

---

It was cold. Deathly cold. Snow covered the ground, gray rather than white. There was a little boy dressed in less than adequate clothes for the weather. He was lost, scared, and crying. He was running down a gritty street filled with pawn shops, bars, and strip clubs. In dark alleys he saw spots of fire coming from garbage cans and heard unintelligible screams of insanity and commands for quiet. Cars went speeding by, kicking up filthy, freezing water.

The boy ran as fast as he could, and when finally he could run no further, he stopped at the door of The Golden Blues. On the outside of the building there was graffiti, though less then the other buildings; it seemed more artistic than the others; more respectfully done, if nothing else. It was almost as if a mural was commissioned, save the word "****" that appeared in brilliant red letters. With what seemed to be the last of his strength he pushed open the heavy black door.

The heavy aroma of smoke filled his nose. Blue lights filled his eyes. The blues filled his ears. On the back wall there was a raised area, where a lone man sat with a saxophone. He was dressed in regular clothes - a black shirt and jeans, but there was an air of regality around him. His eyes were closed and his fingers moved flawlessly and effortlessly across the keys.

As warmth made its way into the boy's skin he saw - a bar to his right, where people sat, drinking beer or liquor, others sat drinking coffee. Scattered through the rest of the space were tables where people sat, also drinking coffee, some writing in notebooks. It seemed everyone was smoking. All the lights in the place were a cool deep shade of blue, except those that shone on the stage. At present, they were red - a deep fiery red that shown like blood in the crystal blue water.

As the boy was finally beginning to understand, the bartender, a man of great arms and stomach called out: "You okay, kid?" His voice was deep husky, filled with warm gravel that comforted the boy like a father's five o'clock shadow.

Puzzled at first, the boy pointed at himself and mouthed "Me?"

"Yeah, you kid," he said, "You okay?"

The boy, still cautious and a bit scared, approached the bar. He climbed up onto one of the empty stools. The boy nodded his head unsteadily - this was the right answer, but not the truth.

"Good. Where are your parents?"

Hot tears swelled up again, but he tried to hold them back. "I don't know."

"Do you know your phone number?"

The boy shook his head.

"Then what is your name?"

"Malcom Black."

"Black. Great. That shouldn't be too hard to find in the phone book," the bartender muttered under his breath. With a sigh, he went through a door between two liquor cabinets.

With the bartender's absence, the boy began feeling more frightened and insecure. But as he turned on the stool and listened to the music coming from the stage, he began to feel his cares melting away. It was now he knew what he wanted. He wanted the saxophone. He wanted to be the man on the stage. He wanted to be the people in the audience. He wanted it all.

---

Malcom slowly awoke. Where am I? He looked around. His eyes didn't see clearly - papers, trash, stuff. He was on a couch. Home. Good. With much effort, he stood, stretched, and wearily made his way to the refrigerator. He pulled out his last piece of pizza. As he ate it slowly, he wandered over to his window. Sunlight somehow managed to make its way in. It hurt his eyes and made his head throb.

What time is it? He looked at the clock and stared at it blankly. 10:30. It didn't really matter. He didn't have a job, and he didn't really have anywhere to go, but he liked knowing what time it was.
His head began to pound again. God, what did I do last night? He couldn’t remember, but that was probably for the best. That taste of cheap wine still lingered in his mouth. An empty bottle lay on the floor. Malcom rubbed his eyes, but they stayed blurry.

"Whatever," he mumbled.

His joints and back ached. He stretched them out as he let out a great yawn. As he was walking to the bathroom, he stumbled, but caught himself. When he finally got there, he looked at his reflection. His clothes were wrinkled, his hair was worse than usual. His eyes were blood shot, and he had indentions on his face from where he had lain on the couch.

He pulled off his shirt painfully, his stiff shoulders not wanting to move. He took off his pants. Malcom got into the shower, and turned on the water. Cold! He jumped back and shouted. He was awake now. Soon, the water heated, and he stood there. His stiff joints loosened, and his headache subsided a bit.

He washed himself, and stood there, trying to shake his hangover, but began to nod off. His head would start to droop, he would wake up, he would begin to fall asleep again. And so the process cycled until the water turned a freezing cold. He woke with a start, and quickly turned it off.

Malcom stepped out of the shower and onto the fuzzy blue mat. He reached for the towel rack. There was no towel. He looked on the floor. No towel. There were no towels. He picked up the blue rug he was standing on and dried himself quickly.

Slightly annoyed, but conscious, he walked out naked to his room. Scattered around the room were clothes - some clean, some not. He picked up a black shirt, sniffed it and put it on. He found his tattered denim vest, some clean underwear and some jeans. He slipped on some socks, and put on his black tennis shoes.

Malcom went to the living room/kitchen and found his pair of sunglasses. He picked up his saxophone and put it in the case. He leisurely walked out the door. Malcom walked through the long hall from his apartment to the stairwell. The building was getting more and more run down by the day. It was what he called the artist's paradise. The people there supplied him with inspiration, it was near a lot of culture, and of course, the price was right for an artist's salary.

He took the three flights of stairs to the exit, skipping the first and last steps. They had been walked on to many times and were ready to simply fall through. He leisurely strolled out to the park, saxophone in hand, a notebook in the other. When he arrived, he sat down on one of the old benches and began to play.

Birds sang, and were in key. An older man sat down on a bench next to Malcom. His clothes were in tatters, his hair was long and a mess, and he hadn't shaved in quite sometime, but despite this, he walked with a certain majestic atmosphere. He spoke in a thick British accent as he sat down and said: "Well scribe, what wisdom do you have for me today?"
A smile tugged at the edges of his lips. He finished his phrase and took his lips from the mouthpiece. "Not too much today, Monsieur." Everyone called him that, he called himself that; Malcom was no different. That was it. Malcom believed that if he had had a name other than that, it was long forgotten.

Malcom longed to learn about him, but doubted he could get anything real. Once he had tried, and he got a great tale, but one that could never have taken place.

"Not much today."

"Ah, well, we can never know wisdom without first knowing nothing."

"Yep." Malcom's voice was soft and wispy, unlike the strong voice of Monsieur.

He went back to the saxophone and started playing. Monsieur relaxed his rigid posture ever so slightly and listened. Passersby dropped coins and bills into the open horn case. Monsieur looked at that with disdain, but said nothing.

Malcom played for an hour or so, then finally gave his farewells to Monsieur.

Monsieur didn't really answer, he seemed entranced. He stared blankly at the sky through a parting in the trees.

"Goodbye Monsieur!" Malcom called over his shoulder.

Monsieur remained still.

---

After lingering in the park for a couple of hours, playing alone and getting a couple more dollars, he left for his apartment. He dropped off his saxophone and crammed the money into his pocket.

He walked again, just strolling the streets. He was aimless, but he always made it to where he wanted to go. This time he wound up in front of an old dirty building that said Bob's Diner in faded letters.

He opened the door. An old bell rang with less energy than the room itself. No one looked up from their gray meals. In the back corner three waitresses stood around, smoking and talking in raspy voices with thick New York accents.

The floors were once black and white checkers; they were now all the same shade of sickly gray. The stools at the bar had probably been red at sometime in their lives; they were the color of dried blood or at least old ketchup. A big man in a grease-stained shirt was cooking in the kitchen and screaming in a gruff voice at some invisible scapegoat.
Malcom took his seat in a booth near a grimy window. The booth was peeling, revealing a sallow stuffing inside. The table he was sitting at had various swear words written on it and was cracked in many places. Malcom looked out the window; he could barely see outside. There was an outline of a tree blowing in the gentle wind; Malcom got lost in the shadows. He stared, daydreaming. He was flying; the wind was running through his hair, he was running through the clouds. Suddenly he was back on the ground and in the diner.

"What do you want, sweetheart?" a voice said.

"Burger," Malcom said.

"Drink?"

"Soda," he said distractedly. His eyes never left the grimy window.

At some point one of the big guys sitting at the dilapidated bar, put on a yellow hard hat and walked out. Another building, Malcom thought, that's just what we need in this city.

He ate his burger, not really tasting it, left the money and tip and walked out, feeling full enough. He wandered aimlessly around the city, passing the plentiful adult book stores. Malcom never really went inside them, save talking to a friend that used to work in one, but he did enjoy reading the signs. He usually got a kick of the names of the stores and the names of the movies they sold.

After passing a good amount of the stores and feeling a bit of a happy disposition about him, Malcom found himself walking in a park. The green of it all added to his good mood, as did the little children laughing and playing. With a content and yearning sigh, he watched them.
They did what children do best - play as if nothing else was on the earth but those rusty monkey-bars and lackluster slides. Little boys chased little girls, little girls screamed and ran. A couple of other boys were playing with worms, giggling to themselves as they planned on putting them down a little girl's back.

A few mothers sat on a bench a little bit away from Malcom, reading books, chatting, pretending to pay attention to what their kid's thought to be major feats of agility or strength or cunning. A few of the ladies looked at Malcom with a longing or mischievous look, as if he could be the daddy for little Johnny or little Susie. Others looked at him the way he was accustomed - angrily and disgustedly. He debated over which he hated more.

When Malcom noticed one of them slowly making her way toward him, he said a silent 'adieu' to the little children, leaving only an increasingly graying sky.

Malcom walked on, thinking of returning to his apartment. He passed Big John's Adult Novelty Emporium on his way back, his personal favorite store name.

With each step he took, it seemed that the sky grew a darker shade of gray-green. Malcom tested this theory by stopping dead in his tracks. Though the sky seemed to quit getting darker, when he walked backwards it did not grow lighter. The wind increased, bringing cool air, taking away the pressure; Malcom stood straighter. As he felt the approaching storm, Malcom stretched out his arms, allowing the wind to run through his hair and billow his denim vest. He was flying again. He opened his eyes in defiance to the black sky and smiled. He laughed, the sky bellowed a cry of thunder. He spat on the ground, turned on his heel and walked, the rain began, the wind shifted to face his back.
His wild hair sank in the weight of the water, matting itself to his forehead. His clothes felt heavier, saturated with the water. Malcom was soaked, but happy.

He reached his complex within thirty minutes. He opened the door to the building and walked, leaving a trail of watery footprints on the hard, ragged carpet. Feeling in good spirits, he made his way up the three flights of stairs to his place, opened the door and jumped onto the couch. He began tapping away at the old typewriter. Nothing came. Never anything anymore. Not enough, at least. In frustration, he ripped the paper out of the holder and threw it across the room where it landed in another scattering of lost ideas.

Again, he sank back into the couch, grabbed the remote, pointed, and clicked. More news, cartoons, old sit-coms, but this time there were daytime talk-shows and soap operas thrown in. Nothing good on.
He turned the TV off and walked over to the freezer, put some ice into a cup and threw the freezer door shut. He reached into one of his few and tattered cupboards and pulled out a bottle of cheap scotch.

He poured some of it into the glass, held his breath and drank it in a gulp. He poured another and drank it too. He promptly pulled a piece of gum out of his pocket (spearmint) and chewed vigorously. He hated the taste of scotch, hated wine, but he still drank. It confused him, but he didn't really ever give much thought to it.

He didn't give much thought to much nowadays and hadn't in a long while. That was probably a big contributor to the artist's block. It wasn't so long ago that he would sit, amazed, fixed at a single peeling piece of wall paper, or stare, entranced at the perfect hue of blue in the sky. He used to do that, but then it happened.

---

The damn funeral is what did it. Or at least that's what he blamed it on.
Not a glorious way for someone to go out. It was his mother's birthday when he had come to visit her. He had a cake, wine, and a cheap party hat, his little joke, and he knocked on the door. He stood there for ten minutes, examining his surroundings. It could have been a nice place, in its prime. Now, the wallpaper was torn and curled, graffiti decorating it. The carpet, a royal blue now black, was sparse, combed over almost, in some places. There were probably rats, probably other health risks, too, but this was a junkie complex and when you're stoned out of your mind, you tend not to care about those sorts of things. He stood there for ten minutes before deciding "probably high… I should go in to check on her."
He reached into his pocket and found his key ring. He made a feeble attempt to balance the cups, wine, and cake while searching for the apartment key. Screw it. He put the stuff down onto the rotting carpet. He inserted the key, turned, and picked up the cake and wine.
It was about here that really stuck in his head. Time didn't seem to stop. It didn't slow down, sound didn't become amplified. The first thing he noticed was probably the smell. It was the stereotypical smell of death, but this was not without its friends. There was the putrid stench of urine and feces, rat and human and floating atop was the distinct smell of vomit.

"God, what died?" he asked.

The fates, of course, had to answer him. He entered the apartment expecting a corpse of a woman - his mother in a state of a normal crack head, maybe laying in her own vomit. He found a corpse; he found the vomit, and this time, she was in fact dead. She was lying on the couch, sprawled about as if she had passed out there, and she probably had. Her face was covered in a bloody fluid that was, presumably, her vomit.
She had probably been dead for four or five days. Malcom threw his things onto a chair in front of the couch. In a bit of a stupor, he found her phone under a great pile mail, bills mainly. 9-1-1.

"Yeah, my mom's dead. Send someone over, or something. The address is Apartment 12, Shady Meadows Complex, 30th Street." He hung up the phone. He had dealt with 9-1-1 operators before, and hated it. Morons.
Malcom moved his things out of the chair and threw himself down. He opened the bottle of wine. He toasted to the corpse, "Happy birthday, you stupid *****." He chugged half of it. "And many more." He downed the rest.

He sat and stared at her body until the people arrived, two burly men in white suits. As if someone needed to check, the first man put his hand to her neck. "No pulse. She's dead." They put her in a body bag, and that was that.

The next days were a blur, mostly a constant state of either drunkenness or sleep.

There was a minor break in the time, however. Apparently, his mother had friends. They decided to stop by Malcom's apartment, bearing gifts of cold cuts and cheese. They knocked on his large metal door; he woke and stared at it. Sporting an engorged penis that sloppily hung out of a hole in the old pair of briefs, he stood and stumbled to the door. Chewing an invisible cud and trying to wipe the sleep out his eyes, he gripped the knob. More sudden knocking came, and he gripped his skull. "I'm up!" he screamed, agitated - his head hurt, his back ached, and there was an annoying draft around his genitals.

He swung the door open and glared at the women with the most ferocious look he could muster through his sleepy eyes. "Yeah?"

All of the women looked with wide eyes and wider mouths as they looked him over. He noticed their eyes collectively stop at his genitals, he followed their gaze. "Oh. Hello there," he said. He tucked it back into his underwear, feeling suddenly much warmer down there, and said "What do you want?"

Still fairly shocked, one of the women said in a timid, yet still sugary voice, "Are you Malcom Black?"

He would have answered, but he was currently on his hands and knees, ass facing them. "Ah. There it is." He stood with the newly procured cigarette and lighter, he lit and smoked. "Yeah, that's me," he said, blowing smoke through his nose.

"We were… er… friends of your mother's. Could we… come in?"
Malcom looked behind him, pretending to see if his apartment was in order, and said "Yeah. Come on in." He turned on the lights, but not very high; his head was throbbing just listening to the pipsqueak voices.
With a sigh of relief, the four ladies walked in. "These are for you," said the first woman, indicating to the platters.

"Um… thanks."

The gaggle of women sat themselves around his table in the kitchen, each sitting in a differently patterned chair taken from different places around the apartment. Malcom pulled on a pair of pants he found along the floor, but didn't bother looking for a shirt. He sat down, surprised to learn that he had five chairs.

Awkward silence.

"So. You were friends of my mother."

Looking at them with slightly cleared eyes, he saw that these were not people that he would ever have envisioned his mother with. All were dressed nicely and haughtily, as they should be - one strike against them.

"Yes, Dana was a wonderful woman."

"Wait," Malcom said, "who the hell is Dana? I thought my mother's name was Jaclyn."

"She told us her name was Dana," said a different woman matter-of-factly; she much bigger than the first, and with a voice much deeper.

"Oh."

"But she was a wonderful woman, dear," said the first perky woman.

"I don't know which woman you're talking about," Malcom said nonchalantly, "she was a stupid *****."

A collective gasp.

"She was. Not exactly a candidate for mother of the year, either," Malcom said. He inhaled the last bit of life from his cigarette and threw it on the floor, smashing it underfoot.

They gasped again. "No no no!" said the perky woman, "she was a great woman! Full of talent and love for the world and… Jesus." She kissed a cross hanging around her neck.

"Yeah. Right."

"It's true!" said the big woman, "she was a wonderful woman, God rest her soul!"

"Listen," Malcom said, getting annoyed, "my mother overdosed on crack. If that's a great woman in the eyes of God, then I bet he ****ing loves me."

Shocked at his irreverence towards the Almighty, the women were silenced. With a new coldness in her voice, the squeaky woman said, "These are for you. May God be with you in your hour of need. Come on girls, I think it's time to go."

Malcom ate the roast beef and turkey within the next few days, but he threw the rest of it away.

He was well finished with the platters by the time that the funeral rolled around. He felt a sense of nothingness as he pulled on a black suit, black tie. He left his white shirt untucked. He slowly descended the stairs of his apartment complex and walked the three miles in the rain.

It was expected by society that one goes to his mother's funeral, but Malcom honestly didn't want to. As it was he hated funerals. Not death, just funerals. He saw them as wastes of time; everyone dies. It's depressing; you don't need a party for it.

The funeral was just him and the priest. His mother was in the casket, not much different then the way she usually looked - tired beyond belief. She was paler than normal, not that that really should have surprised him. Her wrinkles and rings around her eyes shown with more definition than ever. Seventy years old at the age of forty-five. She had been drinking, smoking, and snorting for as long as Malcom could remember, probably before that, too.

He sat for the ceremonies, was bored, and didn't give a eulogy.
As the funeral ended, he walked out of the parlor, not looking back. He lit a cigarette and smoked.

And that's why he was having writer's block.

---

He woke from the couch with a start. The sky, from what little he could see out of his window, was a brilliant orange, mixed in a mad orgy of color with electric pinks and met with splashes of purple in the clouds above.

He looked at his easel. There was a partially finished painting of such a sky. Two figures stood looking at it, distant from each other but still connected in a poignant bond. They stood on a lonely hill overlooking a sea of twinkling dots that was their city. Malcom needed only finish the sky, and it would be done. He looked at his paints, jars with their contained color forming a crust around it. Malcom looked at it and sighed.
He picked up a pen and a scrap of paper, sat down on the couch, and wrote hurriedly:

---

Twilight Burning
Coffee shop dreams

Sea of fire
Cutting through the sea of blue

To be quenched once more
Twice a day

Photograph's light
Prometheus flame

Plotting Violet overtakes
The brilliance of a mighty Inferno

And it is beautiful

The sun goes down on Broadway
As the lights go up

Cities awaken
As sleep attempts to push its bulk into the scene

But is thwarted by midnight wanderings
With a friend named Joe

Cool and calm
Hot and alive

A pen is all I need
To make my coffee shop dreams realized

Vampyrically, I drain Joe
And pay for his prostitution

Midnight wanderings held alone
On a velvet sky with pinpricks

And it is beautiful

Malcom looked at it with a certain feeling of disgust, if not contempt. He signed his name

Malcom Black

---

He pulled an old tattered blue folder from the couch and placed the paper inside it. He lit a cigarette and fell back into the comforting bosom of the couch.

He stared at the ceiling and the fan that moved ever so slowly. He inhaled from his cigarette and blew smoke threateningly at the fan. He stared, bemused, and watched the smoke dissipate.

"I'm going out," he announced to no one. The broken silence was still reassuring to him, and he felt a little more comfortable as he put his still damp jacket and headed out the door.

Malcom didn't know that it was a day after last, that he had slept a good twenty- four hours, or that, had he remembered he had dreams which would have provided enough inspiration for any artist's lifetime. Malcom would go on a few days before realizing he missed a day (probably until Sunday, when he would notice that everything was closed) and then only feel a faux anger because he couldn't write. Or paint. Or play. Not that he would have anyway.

And now was one of those stints of calendar ignorance, as he was making his way to one of his haunts - the Grist Mill Cafe. He swaggered down the streets, avoiding others, trying to knock the sleep out of his head. He passed a dilapidated grocery and swaggered in to pick up a soft drink. Something high in caffeine. Something green. Something that was probably bad for him, but hey, it's better than what he'd been forcing into his system for the past… how many days was it?

He reached into the quasi-operational refrigerator and pulled a slightly chilled soda. It was cool enough, if nothing else, it would get rid of the stinking desert in his mouth. He opened it and took a mouthful as he made his way, still stumbling, to the counter. There, he grabbed an ancient pack of honey peanuts and some jerky, along with a pack of cigarettes.

The clerk was a middle aged man of slight stature with dark, lightly oiled, sun cured skin. Small spectacles dotted the end of his nose as he read an incredibly worn magazine. The butt of a cigarette that was desperately clinging onto life touched a graying mustache. Other sparse patches of gray hair dotted his chin and cheeks, as others poked out of an aged green hat. He looked up and grunted at Malcom; smoke came out of his mouth and nostrils.

"Register's broken."

"Don't care. This is the breakfast of champions."

"It's six o'clock."

"I know, but I need my breakfast. Here," Malcom said, as he pulled out a twenty dollar bill that had to be as old and worn as the clerk, "this should cover it."

Malcom gathered his purchases and turned to leave the store.

"Hey. Take this **** back, I don't want it." The clerk slammed the twenty on the counter.

"What?"

"Take your money back. I don't want it. You deaf or drunk boy?"

"Neither. Just tired. Thanks." Malcom took the money apprehensively and turned to leave once more before stopping and turning. He raised the drink to the ceiling and said "To the founder of my feast. Can I share anything?"

"Heh. Dickens. I think I like you kid. Now, I don't touch that green ****… that just ain't right. I won't eat that crap that you have… too many preservatives. I'll take a couple of those smokes, though."

"You won't eat this stuff, but you smoke?"

He shrugged and looked down at the magazine again, but not before putting out what was left of his cigarette. "You gotta die of something."
Malcom chuckled under his breath and lit up the first of the pack. He took about half the pack out and shoved them into his coat pocket. He tossed the remaining to the old man.

"Thanks kid."

"No problem. I'll see you around."

The old man grunted again and once more, smoke rolled out his mouth and nostrils.

The sun was hiding lower behind the horizon now. The sky was being taken by hues of blue and violet, clouds that dotted the sky were now blue, outlined in the last of a dying breed of brilliant orange. By now, the jacket was just enough to cool him down on an otherwise warm night, he drew it closer and smiled slightly.

Malcom blew a cloud towards the sky, but it dissipated before it could join it's larger brothers. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket and turned from the store and it's gruff kindness as he walked aimlessly. Perhaps he'd save the Grist Mill for another night.

As the sun finally bowed out of the picture and lights across the buildings shown continuously brighter, Malcom grew tired of his surroundings. While the rapidly cooling air forced a sense of well being into his breast, the open air seemed symbolic. Symbolic of an unknown metaphor that should inspire, but didn't. He tossed the cigarette aside, he didn't bother stomping it out. He turned and headed home.

He sighed as he kicked a bottle along the sidewalk. It clinked and spun sporadically, happy to be given some attention. He took another long draught from the drink he held and took a piece of jerky, wearing his jaw out as chewed on it. As he swallowed and felt the heavy morsels hit his stomach, he was reminded of how hungry he really was.
I'll wait till I get to the apartment.

He shoved the bag of beef into his jacket, zipped it, and walked. Wind swept gently through the tunnel of encircling buildings. He breathed deeply and cocked a smile. His meanderings brought him home. He stared up at the black building, and it intrigued him.

"Screw it."

He propped open the double doors, slammed his back on the frame and slid down. He pulled out the peanuts, the jerky, the drink; he dined. It felt good to eat, better to sit, the best to stare at the sky and imagine the stars.

Malcom was out there long past dinner. It was probably one or two in the morning when he finally started kicking around the idea of getting up. As he started to stir and awaken his ass from an extreme slumber, a man emerged over the horizon, shown in an amusing array of pink neon and black shadow from an overhanging sign. He walked without a purpose, with a slight cocky swagger.

He left the pink spotlight and continued down the sidewalk, now only a solid shadow. He moved steadily and without waver, kicking a small stone and lightly humming. The man toyed with a quarter in his coat pocket.

Malcom continued to stir in the doorway, but didn't stand. A few more minutes. The neon shadow man had caught his interest now anyway. He made his way closer and closer.

The man and the stone drew nearer to Malcom, still debating on whether or not to move. At approximately five feet away, the rock bounced, hitting Malcom in the side. It wasn't painful, just a little agitating. Malcom muttered unintelligible nothings at the air and life in general.

The man's voice was very fitting to his bespectacled face and slight body. Loud and baritone with a slight hint of a nasal center, he spoke apologetically and with the worried franticness of a man trying to avoid a lawsuit. "Oh God! Oh God! I'm so sorry man! Oh God!"

The man's eyes already beginning to produce tears and the anxious running of his hands trough his hair brought forth an inner laughter in Malcom. As his eyes focused, he saw that his neon shadow being was nothing more than an accountant that spent his evening with a hooker. The inside out tie, red lipstick on the fly of khaki pants, the unevenly buttoned shirt. He smelled of liquor and cheap cologne and wiped the nervous sweat from his brow with a stolen hotel washrag. Definitely an accountant..

"You're a stereotype man," he said, chuckling softly, "You can leave - I won't sue."

"Oh thank God! Look - I'm really sorry man, really, really-"

"Shut up. It was only a rock." Malcom shifted, but it stood, or rather sat, his ground.

"Thank you! Thank you!" The man turned to walk away, but stopped. He turned, reached into his pocket. He brought out a wallet, pulled out a twenty and dropped it to Malcom's side.

"I told you I wasn't going to sue."

"This isn't because of that…"

Malcom stood to face the man. He misgauged the height; Malcom towered a good foot and a half above him. He lit a cigarette, intentionally dramatically. He inhaled and blew into the man's face. "I don't need your ****ing pity. Or your money." With that, Malcom folded the bill, placed it in his pocket, turned on his heel, and went inside. The accountant stayed, stared, dropped his head and left.

Malcom chuckled short puffs of smoke out his mouth as he made his way up the rickety stairs. The night had been productive, if nothing else. He essentially made forty bucks without having to lift a finger. He reached his floor, and as he walked it, he half expected to see a ghost to float by. He jumped when he heard the scream. Apartment 4d, two doors down. They were going at it again.

"Goddamn rabbits. Goddamn thin walls"

He threw down the butt of the cigarette and stomped it out in front of their door. He flipped off the door and sighed. He continued down the hall, tossing his bottle and the two bags behind him. He jumped again as a door opened suddenly, flooding him in a stale yellow light. A pair of wild, wide eyes stared at him. They were topped by a jungle of grizzled gray hair at the top of her head, and didn't detract from her beaky nose.
She was clad in a ripped robe and a white and pink nightie with a floral print. Her breasts sagged unreasonably low, and she was covered in a thick amount of hair on the rest of her body. She hacked a ball of phlegm which landed right next to Malcom's foot. "I saw that!" She cackled, in a voice that sounded remarkably like the mixture of nails on a chalkboard and a screaming baby.

"I didn't to anything Mrs. - "

She hacked up another ball of phlegm that landed in the exact same place.

"And whatever I do can't be any more disgusting than that." He turned and left.

"I've got my eye on you, Black!" More phlegm, same place.
He opened his door and slammed it. Quite suddenly, fatigue sat in. He sat on the couch, and turned on the TV. He was asleep in five minutes.

---

Malcom woke the next morning to a fully risen sun. He checked the clock: eleven. His neck was stiff, and to turn his head any direction pained him. His mouth tasted vaguely of salt and morning, an overwhelming thirst suggested MSG. Apart from this, though, Malcom felt inherently different. It took him a minute, a glass of scotch, and a piece of gum to figure out what it was.

He felt he had a destination that day. It was, in reality, a somewhat confusing feeling. Today he would visit Mike. Visiting his best friend just seemed the thing to do that day. Malcom peeled off the shirt that he'd been wearing for days now and made his way to the bathroom. He turned on the water and tested it. Frigid. ****ing frigid.

He stood with a start and waited for the water to warm. He waited a good ten minutes before finally deciding it was broken. It's fate. Mike has a
shower.

He pulled his shirt back on, grabbed some clothes off the floor and shoved them into a tattered back pack. He threw the stack of papers that was his unfinished novel with the clothes, along with a sax mouth piece and a few CDs. Malcom zipped the bag as far as he could (about halfway) and tossed it to the couch. He made his way to the kitchen for a glance at his refrigerator - no food. Fate again, he thought with a slight smile, Mike always has food.

He took the bag and threw it over a shoulder and walked out the door. Halfway through the hallway, he pulled out a cigarette and a lighter and smoked. The great outdoors met him with a strong gust of wind. His oily hair slightly rustled, his shirt didn't move. Malcom walked leisurely, though with direction. Forty-five minutes later, he found himself looking up at a building much like his own, but somehow… nicer.

He opened the doors to the building and was greeted by a rush of cool air. Malcom made his way up the stairs before finally arriving at the fifth floor. He turned the handle, and most surprisingly, the door opened. He walked in to the hissing sound of water coming from around the bathroom. It abruptly shut off.

"That you babe?" Mike called out.

"Not quite." Malcom said.

"Malcom?" he called. "What the hell are you doing in here?" He walked out, his face half covered in shaving cream. He continued to shave as he spoke.

"I'm hungry," Malcom said, as he made his way to the kitchen, "And I need a shower. There's no hot water at my place."

Mike grunted as a dollop of shaving cream fell onto his hairy chest. "Well you know where the fridge is. I'm gonna go finish shaving." He went back to the bathroom.

Malcom pulled out some Chinese take out and a two liter of soda and began to eat. He ate the cold greasy lo mein thoughtfully and slowly, wondering if Mike had any soy sauce; he dove back into the fridge. No soy sauce, but there was Worstechire. Close enough.

He applied liberally and began eating again. He drank from the bottle; the water in the bathroom stopped again. Mike walked out, drying his face and bare chest with a white towel. "Wanna toss me a beer?"

"You're out."

"Like hell I'm out. I'm never out. Check in the vegetable crisper - under the broccoli."

"Why the hell is it in there?" Malcom asked as he tossed him a can.

"Because mother ****ers like you take the liberty of coming in and raiding my goddamn fridge."

Malcom shrugged. "Good enough. Now will you put on a ****ing shirt? You look like a goddamn Irish gorilla." Mike chuckled as he took a long draught of beer; "Irish gorilla" really seemed to fit him. His hair was bright flaming red, his eyes were a brilliant green. Freckles dotted his face, which also bore a goatee that matched his head. His arms were muscular and strong; his pectorals were the same, covered in hair which followed a trail to his groin. His pecks met a beer belly, which really cinched the image of an ape.

"Irish gorilla? Better than a ****ing twig," he said, draining the last of the beer in one fail draft. "I bet this ape can break you." He threw the can across the room.

"Oh goddamn it," Malcom said as he was tackled. The empty box of Chinese flew across the room as Malcom flew to the couch. Mike sat atop his chest.

"Say it!"

"**** you."

"Say it!"

"****. You!"

"Say it!"

"I hate you."

"Say it!"

"Fine, asshole. I'm your *****. Now get the hell off… I can't breath."

Mike stood up. "Go take your damn shower."
Malcom stumbled up from the couch, he started to walk to the bathroom, taking off his shirt as he went.

"Hey," Mike called, "You bring your sax?"

"Yeah," Malcom said, entering the bathroom, "I brought some writing and CDs, too. Check 'em out if you want." The shower started.
Feeling a sense of awkwardness, Mike stood, waiting. He eventually made his way to the pile of junk that Malcom had left near the door. He rooted through the tattered bag, pushing past the stack of cds (which were mostly burned copies of his own) until he found the worn stack of papers that was Malcom’s novel. He threw down pages 1-48, and proceeded to throw himself on the couch where he began to read.

“This part’s pretty trite!” he called to the bathroom.

Silence. Then, “The part with…?”

“Yeah. This isn’t your style.”

The water shut off and Malcom yelled, “That’s the problem I’ve had lately. I don’t think that anything I’ve been writing is me. Hold on.”
Mike winced as a mighty thud resounded through the door, followed by the clanging of a few bottles and assorted other things falling to the ground. “Dammnit!”

Malcom walked out in a wet shirt and jeans, still drying his hair. “That’s the problem I’ve had lately. I don’t think that anything I’ve been writing is me. It’s all forced and nothing works. Even the crap I can get working isn’t me. Or maybe it is me.” He shrugged. “Let’s jam.”
Mike looked at him and grunted. “Escapist.” With a mock groan, Mike lifted himself off of the couch and ambled his way to the back of the room where an old stand up piano rested. He wheeled it around. “Pull up a chair.”

Malcom picked up a chair, “What do you want to play?”

“I don’t know. I want to solo something though. Starry Night?”

“Nah. We need something more upbeat, especially if you really want to solo. Black and Violet?” Mike said as he pulled an old office chair up to the piano.

“How the hell do you play like that?”

“With my hands.”

“That’s never been funny,” Malcom said.

Mike shrugged. “How about Water Passion?”

Still trying to shake off the use of a computer chair for a bench, Malcom shook his head. “Works for me, I guess. Count me off.”

“**** you.”

Malcom started. Gentle frozen notes poured out as he wrote his own meter. A bar or two in, Mike entered, at first with the same theme, played with a singular hand until the second entered – quietly, but making its presence known. A smooth transition led Malcom into an icy solo, sad but with a tinge of optimism. Mike crescendoed and melted and the music became warmer and lighter as Malcom stopped, as a gentleman should, letting Mike solo.

The music sped up as Mike’s hands flew along the keys. Eventually, Malcom gave up any semblance of a counter melody and began playing on the down beats of each measure.

“I think the problem with the,” a flat, “writing is is that I don’t have,” d, “anything to base it,” f, “off of. I don’t have any,” b flat, “inspiration.”
Mike fowned and look down at the keys. He began to transition, shifting the solo to Malcom.

“That’s a bull ****,” c major, “answer and you damn well know it,” Mike said as Malcom soloed. “You lock,” d major, “yourself away from anything that could,” e flat major, “possibly give you any sort of help.”
Malcom grimaced, played a few more seconds, and finally got fed up with it. He transitioned “There’s always,” f, “the Mill,” he said. “And then there’s,” g, “always Caitlin.”

Mike looked, and realizing that he couldn’t play and argue at the same time brought the song to an abrupt stop. “Yeah, because those two things have helped so much in the past. Look, we both love the Mill and you know my opinions on that *****-”

“Shut up, Mike.”

“-Caitlin. You know that she isn’t right for you. Hell, I hear you talking about her enough to know that, and you should too.”

“Shut up, Mike. If I wanted to break up with her, I would.”

“I hope the sex is worth it.”

“What sex?”

To say that that comment had taken Mike aback would be an understatement. Astonished and speechless, he sat with his jaw dropped, staring at Malcom. “What the hell do you mean ‘What sex?’”

“We haven’t done it yet.”

“And how long have you been with her?”

“No clue. Six months? Two weeks?”

Still staring wearily, Mike said, “I hate you.”

Malcom shrugged deftly, and began putting his sax away. “It hasn’t really come up.”

“What the hell do you mean it hasn’t co- oh.” Mike thought for a few seconds until ultimately he said, “So you’re with a girl that you hate, who hates you, and who you’re not even…” he thrusted his hips a bit.

“More or less,” Malcom said, pulling out two cigarettes.

“Hey, give -” Mike said as Malcom handed him one. “Thanks.” They lit up and inhaled. “You’re way to obsessed with the status quo, man.” Mike said with contempt as he exhaled. “Drop some testicles and break up with that whore.”

Malcom thought and slowly put up a middle finger, “**** the status quo.”
Mike inhaled again deeply. “Whatever you say. Hey, are you hitting the Mill tonight?”

“It’s Thursday. Why would I?”

“It’s Friday.”

Malcom blinked a few times. “Then, yeah. I’m going. You?”

“I’ll probably be there after work. You bringing the *****?”

“I always do… ****. Point taken.”

Mike smiled slightly. It was a victory, if not the monumental win that would terminate the relationship that he hoped for. Still a victory. He made a fist, raised his index finger, and then his pinky. Rock on.
Malcom lifted his middle finger again slowly. **** you.

---

The sky was glowing with an after noon sun when Malcom finally left Mike’s house. His head swam with different thoughts, feelings, and quandaries. He had never had the problem of being in a rut before this, but it seemed that from anyway he looked at it, Mike was right. Malcom needed to break the relationship off, and he knew it. Maybe later.
He walked on, looking at the ground and pondering. His feet knew where they were going – Caitlin’s. The Grist Mill wasn’t far off from there.
Malcom’s thoughts and Mike’s words eventually evaporated from his mind, leaving his brain only the lonely sounds of the city behind and in front of him to ponder. Halfway through the mile long walk, he realized that he had left his bag at Mike’s. No matter. Malcom would get it back eventually.

His mind drifted in and out of consciousness, as his feet hit the sidewalk with sound of gravel and the occasional shards of glass crunching beneath his tattered shoes.

His head still down, Malcom never saw the girl before running into her, nor did she see him. Their shoulders collided as brushed past each other. “I’m sorry,” Malcom said instinctively. He looked up to meet his obstacle.

He looked into her eyes, brilliant blue hidden beneath large glasses, resting beneath a head of brown hair, pulled into a fraying bun. “It was my fault,” she said softly.

Malcom looked at her once more; she was dressed in old clothes, baggy that showed off none of her figure. She pushed her glasses back onto her nose as they began to slip off. “Yeah, well, sorry,” he said. He turned back around and continued on his path.

He walked continuously until his feet instinctively stopped. Caitlin’s apartment building loomed, almost ominously before him. The building itself looked almost identical to Mike’s, but something about it made the building inherently darker. Maybe it was the lack of trees, maybe it was the position of the sun, maybe.

He sighed and walked into the building, met by a rush of cold, fresh air. His eyes began to adjust to the dimness of the flouresecent lights, but it seemed that the bright colors would never go away. He blinked and shook his head; it cleared up.

Malcom ascended the stairs slowly, dragging his fingers lightly along the wall paper. It was smooth and cool, but after a little while, it made his fingers tingle uncomfortably. He stopped, opting to hold onto the cylindrical metal rail that ran along side him. It was smooth and cool, buthis fingers squeaked annoyingly as the moved across it. He put his hands in his pockets, where his left hand played with his lighter.
He kept his eyes on the floor; carpet sprawled in front of him as he exited the stairwell, a hypnotic pattern that never ceased to entrance him. The greens, as always, swirled and merged into the blues, and the pinks eventually joined in the dance. There’s a painting somewhere in there.
Malcom followed the carpet until running into the far wall of the corridor.

He rubbed his forehead. “Goddamn walls.”

He turned to his left and looked at the door in front of him. He raised his fist to knock, lowered it, took a breath, and raised it again. Malcom repeated that sequence for about five minutes before finally bringing himself to tap the door ever-so-lightly.

Caitlin opened the door immediately. A woman of small height, she barely reached Malcom’s breast. Her black hair was short and slightly spikey, and her eyes were dark. She chewed bright pink gum that she periodically blew into a bubble and popped. Caitlin wore black – a form fitting black tee shirt that showed off her large very breasts and black jeans that accentuated her very large rear. She stood glaring, arms crossed, and one hip thrusted out: “I wondered how long it would take you this time,” she said, annoyed, “You’re getting better, though. It was only five minutes and twelve seconds this time.”

“How the hell do you know that?”

“I have a peephole. And a watch.”

“Oh.”

She looked at him angrily. “Yeah.”

Quite suddenly, she grabbed Malcom’s hand, and thrusted it onto her breast. She pulled him into her and kissed him deeply. She vicegripped his genitals. “Nothing,” she said, disappointed.

Malcom shrugged passively and averted his eyes. “Sorry.”

“I’m sure.” Caitlin’s voice was cold and steely, but kept a constant nasal New York accent. The gum in her mouth squished as she spoke, and her eyes seemed to take to long between blinking intervals. “Come in, if you want.”

With a grunt of reply, Malcom walked into the room slowly. His eyes again had to adjust to darkness. The blinds on her windows were closed and her walls, dark clothes lined the apartment’s floor, and dark paintings lined her walls. Cigar smoke invaded his nostrils, and an old sit-com played in the background, as the tv casted odd shadows around the walls.
He coughed slightly - half because of the smoke. “I like what you’ve done with the place.”

“Not funny, Black.”

Malcom sighed, through his jacket on the floor, and, after clearing the couch of assorted black and pink shirts, jeans, and panties, he sat. “I don’t get this show.

“What the hell is there to get?” Caitlin irritably hollered from the kitchen.

“I ****ing hate Lucy.”

“**** you.”

He sighed and stared at the remote on the barely visible coffee table. He leaned forward.

“And God help you if you change that ****ing channel!” she called.

“**** Lucy,” Malcom muttered under his breath as he sank back into the couch. “What are you doing that’s taking so damn long, anyway?” he hollered at the darkness.

He was answered only by the sound of footsteps. Caitlin appeared, shirtless, “I’m assuming that we’re going to the Grist Mill like every ****ing Friday night,” she said.

“That was kind of the plan.”

“Yeah, I figured as much,” she said. As she talked, her breasts rippled, which fascinated Malcom. He sat, staring, transfixed. Caitlin put her hands on her hips. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” she asked with a modicum of contempt.

Unblinking, he continued to stare. “Not particularly, no.”

Caitlin, with a noise of discontent, turned heel and stormed off while muttering angry, but inaudible syllabals. Malcom leaned back into the couch and waited, trying to drown out the dull roar of the television.
Not long after Lucy had ruined another show, Caitlin entered the room again. With a sigh of discontent, she said “Get up. Let’s go.”
Malcom, half asleep from the drawl of the show, shook quickly and violently out of his stupor. “What?”

Caitlin picked up his jacket from the floor, “Get up. Let’s go.”

Malcom grunted, groaned, and stood. He stretched his back and ribs with a great deliberate yawn. Caitlin stared, tapping her foot and scowling. Malcom held his position.

She continued to wait. “Are you done.”

“No.” Malcom stretched further and looked at her. He relaxed. “Yes.”
With a grunt of disgust, Caitlin opened the door. “After you.”

“Gladly.”

Malcom walked out the door slowly, hands in pockets. Caitlin stayed, watching with some semblance of longing as he walked out. She continued staring, transfixed, until she was awakened by the slam of the stairwell door. “**** him,” she muttered as she slammed the door and ran after him.

Malcom had made no rush to leave her, but he was already halfway down the stairs when Caitlin caught up. Out of breath, she walked silently, one stair behind him. How long will it take him to notice I’m back? she thought.

Malcom walked to the exit at the bottom floor. He held the door open for Caitlin as he lit a cigarette. “You didn’t have to run. You know I would have stayed here holding this damn door until you got here.”

Slowly, with her head down, she walked through the door.
The walk to the Grist Mill was uneventful. The long silences were broken by attempts at small talk and one word answers on occasion. The two, if not enjoying eac