words

They

Like us, they sit with their families on Sunday mornings, on the big bed, eating bagels and lox and watching animated anthropomorphic animals delivering moral and behavioral messages projected on glass. At night, they paint bicycles red by the light of dripless candles. They march in circles, carrying signs. "No more," they chant, "no more." Their earlobes are long as chickens.

They are the termites of temptation.

With their lovers, they drive cross-country, avoiding the big highways, stopping at diners, staying in small green hotels named after rivers and daughters. Their middle name is Michael. They like mushrooms on their pizza.

Once, standing in the rain under an awning holding a dog's leash, they caught a glimpse, in the window of a passing car, of a face that reminded them of someone from their childhoods, someone who frightened them, or told them something they didn't want to hear, or hid their toys under the table. They are considering running for Senate.

They wear their hair short, with rows of bright green metallic earrings all the way up the pink shells of their ears. They buy T-shirts on sale for $6.99 at the big stucco store on the corner, with pictures of wrestlers, cartoon characters, politicians with exaggeratedly large noses, eyebrows, looks of concern. In the winter, they write long letters to their friends back home.

They are thoughtless, selfish, uncaring. We don't know what's gotten into them. What were they thinking? Barging in here like that. They've made a mess of things again, that's for sure. Sometimes we can't stand the sight of them. They are awkward, nervous, graceless, embarrassing to be around. Their parents are ashamed of them; they've been in and out of prison, sent home from a dozen schools, in trouble their whole lives. But they are so lovely. And when they wave their delicate pink hands in the air, we can't help smiling.

They are lounging around in the Mall, by the wall behind Mama Brava, where the highchairs are. She is sitting on the floor with her feet out in front of her, a strand of hair in her face, brown dyed red, her jeans artificially torn. He is leaning against the wall, shifting something back and forth in his mouth. He is in shorts, she is in khakis, she is in jeans, he is in combat fatigues and a "No Fear" T-shirt, her bra is too tight, and is pressing a pink furrow into the skin of her side. He is cynical, they are idealists, she is tentative, they are withdrawn, brash, dirty, friendly, helpful to strangers, lost in a foreign city, trying to make up for lost time.

They let us follow them through the woods, to the edge of the cliff over the water, and they sit there for a long time, as the evening is coming in, looking down at the waves and not saying anything.

Are we responsible for them? Are they our fault? Can they redeem us, do they expect us to redeem them? How can we even ask them anything, ask them for anything, they are so busy with their candles, their children, their long discourses recorded on vellum, their doubts about the plumbing, the pric