With the post-theater Dodge City evening wearing on, the rest of the audience still pent up in their theater seats, I press further down the street and around a corner, into an area of lower buildings, atmosphere sparser. I’m trying not to look at the few people around, my temples aching, feeling the others looking at me, watching my eyes throb. It’s mainly teenagers out at this hour, preparing to drive drunk down long county roads, accompanied by loud radios and friends singing different songs, louder still. I don’t know any of them but, somehow, the few whose faces I see don’t look like themselves. They look, rather — how can I put it? — like each other. Each one looks like a different one, and vice versa, or whatever form “vice versa” might take when used to mean a group of people and some property commuted among them, rather than just two things swapped. Wanting to get off the street pretty much asap, I duck into the first place that looks open, which turns out to be a secondhand shop. “Loved Once … ” it’s called.

A bell dings when the door closes behind me. I try to get into some back area without being greeted, but, sure enough, the two teenagers, a boy and a girl, at the front desk, greet me. I think they even call me Mr. “Something,” but I don’t catch the name because I’m too busy looking from one to the other and back again. I see the same thing I saw on the street: I can’t shake the conviction that they have also been switched, so that the boy is actually the girl, and the girl actually the boy. It’s some kind of Saturnalia, a situation afoot in town tonight (or maybe not just tonight, but “Starting Tonight!”) by which what people look like and who they actually are have come unbound from one another, such that I might see Big Pharmakos in one of the back aisles here, and yet know, in some gut-level, inarguable, intuitive way, that he actually is Large, Creeping Charlie, despite the fact that everything outward about him would indicate, with a false sense of comfort, that he is indeed Big Pharmakos, as usual. Like someone might see me and think, “Look, it’s Lt. Ingmar Pörn, back from the hospital and looking younger than before.” I push fast past this greeting by the front door and into a side chapel full of old coats on racks and shoes in a jumble against one wall. I want to calm down in a hurry so I start flipping through the coats on the rack, huffing their mothball odor, thinking … I don’t know, that this might have some soothing narcotic effect. But all it does is further commute the Saturnalia into the coats themselves, so that, now, each coat is a person. They still look like coats but, as I touch each one, I become increasingly certain that each one is a person I know: here’s Big Pharmakos, here’s Large, Creeping Charlie, here’s Rigid Steve and Fiscal Steven, his accountant, here’s Junkyard Charles Matthiesson and H.P. Lovecraft, and even, I think, Dalton himself. My fingers recoil from the fabric, which feels wet and oily now, like bubbling soap left under a dripping shower in a stall where prisoners have been deloused and hosed down. I try to wipe my fingers on my pockets, but I find that, somewhere in the midst of all this, I’ve put on one of the coats, so my pockets are no longer where they were, blocked now by coat pockets. This only deepens the state. Now I think it all must have some meaning, like perhaps I’ve relegated my former acquaintances and endeavors here in Dodge City to this secondhand rack, trying (perhaps in vain, perhaps not) to consign it away and move on to something newer.

I look back at the coat that is Big Pharmakos and wonder if he knows that I know it’s him. Then I get to thinking again about that student who put his ad up on the message board, the one who’s coming to town in search of something for nothing. I can’t believe that I’ve forgotten about him for as long as I have, given how recently he first entered my awareness. Then I catch a glimpse of myself in one of the for-sale floor-length mirrors, wearing this new-old coat, and think, “Perhaps I am this student, my self commuted into him, for at least as long as this Saturnalia persists.” And then, of course, I have to ask myself the next question in this sequence, no matter how banal …