Sated from the cannibal interlude and hoping to pass quickly through the window (five hours, perhaps?) of food poisoning risk so as to relinquish my present concern about the state of my stomach, I take to strolling. I stroll around the chamber with all these cannibal video projectors, confident that by plying the wall long enough I will discover a door or chink in the masonry into another place. Eventually just such a thing turns out to exist. I pass through, and through some dim and dripping tunnels, and finally out onto a hot summer street in a place like Macon, GA (although I know it to be, of course, a further extension of Dodge City). I picture Harper Lee ladies sweltering on front porches, with iced tea and fans, watching some vehicle roll slowly down under cover of massive … oaks? Elms? I don’t know, and, anyway, all of that has little to do with all of this. It’s dark and I hear hotrods screeching and see young men covered over in tattoos like Polynesian warriors coming my way, lit by the lights of convenience stores. Past this crowd (almost an altercation?) I come to a store called Liquor Vinnie’s Elective Affinities. I enter, desirous of getting myself off the street, and find it to be a liquor store, or the remnants thereof. There are almost no people in here, and most of the liquor is gone, the shelves empty and sagging and tilting off their runners and toward the carpeting, which is patterned in squares but appears to be all one piece. The only people to be seen are drinking ferociously, men with deep scars and dilated bug-eyes, drinking in robotic resignation, one in each liquor department. The man in the Whiskey department, for example, is drinking only whiskey, while the man in Rum drinks only rum. They appear respectful of one another’s space and supplies. In Wine there’s a tasting table set up, a foldout I think, draped with a red and white checked tablecloth like in an Italian taverna. The man there has a bottle in each hand (red / white) and is pouring from both at once into a series of plastic cups, mixing the streams together and spilling onto the floor and somehow drinking from the two bottles as well, all at the same time. I watch him pour and drink, on and on, and decide I ought to do the same. I scan the aisles for a free section and find World Misc. I make my way over here and see a few bottles remaining: Armagnac, Fernet Branca, Ouzo, Cynar. I take up one in each hand and begin unscrewing the caps, thinking this might settle my stomach. As I do so a piercing alarm cuts through the glugging of the room. I look to see what the problem might be and notice that all the other men have nooses around their necks, attached to vanishing points in the ceiling like circus flying wires. I see my own noose in the dust under one of the shelves, and I take it up, brush it clean on my trousers, and fit it around my neck. Then I start in on what tastes like spoiled Amaretto.

I drink as much as I can until the noose pulls me up, hard, by the neck and straight to the ceiling, as I half-knew it would. I enjoy the view of the other drunks from above as I go up and up, crashing finally through the ceiling and into another chamber, where the noose releases me. This here turns out to be a garret apartment, where a literate bachelor may have lived, or live still. It is excruciatingly hot. I notice the cactus and fern collection, embedded in one wall. I stumble over, having dropped my bottle, and feel the sweat start to flow heavy. The temperature is rising, not yet at its peak. In among the plants I uncover a bookshelf arrayed with handsome, worn copies of the works of Patrick White. My fingers slip on the bindings as I try to get a grip on Voss, The Great Australian Novel. Finally I am able to pry it from the shelf, and I sink to the floor in a pool, my legs splayed out beneath me like sacs of water, breathing through nostrils dry as firewood. I open the book and begin with page 1, thinking to see how far I can get in one sitting.