I purchase the long coat I’m wearing, at the moment not eager to part from it, and exit the secondhand shop. I make my way back into the Dodge City night dressed in what appears to be a full new outfit, so much of my figure does the new coat cover. Drawing it tight around myself with its waist-sash like a trenchcoat, I begin to walk, thinking of myself now as the student who’s come to town looking for something for nothing. My whole figure now, inner and outer, is done up in a bit of a nod to Michael Cisco.


Walking without destination, a kind of sadness at the immensity of time overtakes me. I find that I can no longer remember when I came to Dodge City (neither what the moment was, nor when it was, nor even what ‘when’ might mean in this case), nor can I be certain that I have not been here always, since the very first moment when I can claim to have been in any place at all, at least on this earth. The earlier understanding I’d had about having come to this city from far away, in order to dispatch a certain task, is gone now. Maybe it will return when I find it in me to peel off this coat and renounce its associated identity.


Lost in such thoughts and their related retinue, I blunder into an ice cream shop. Had the shop not been open I wouldn’t have been at all surprised — my feeling is that it must be nearly dawn by now — but the shop, which closes at 9pm, is not only open but full, so here I am waiting in line.


I bungle my order when it’s my chance to tell the scooper what to scoop, and end up with a compromise in my hands, some combination of flavors that I’m sure will suffice. Scanning the cramped interior for a place to sit, my eyes come to rest on the only table with a free seat, a boy of twelve sitting on the other side.


I make my way over and ask the boy, who’s humming quietly and dripping ice cream from a cracked sugar cone, if I may share the seating with him, and he nods distractedly. I take a seat and begin the work of discovering what concoction of flavors I’ve come away with. He looks at me with one big eye, the other turned away. Weighing his words, he says, “You’re that new student, aren’t you?” I don’t say anything for a moment. “Oliver Treatment,” he says. I take it this is the student’s name, though I can’t imagine how this boy would’ve come to know such a thing. But I nod, and, for now at least, accept the name. “I guess you got here, finally,” he says, and then turns his head as if to leave the matter at that.


“And who, in that case, might you be?” I ask, not content to cease all conversation just yet.


He hesitates again, back in the humming place he was in when I found him, but then he comes out of it. “I’m Mark Linkous,” he says. “AKA Sparklehorse.” Neither of us says anything for a little while. Then he adds, “back from the dead. In town for a little break.”


He says it like he’s on summer vacation, which, I suppose, he may well be. There’s something canned-sounding about not only his voice but his choice of words, as if they were all fixed phrases he’d been told to say and from which he cannot deviate. “Sparklehorse is dead, I know and you know,” he says. “But, for good behavior, he’s allowed to come back sometimes. Like now, for instance. But they didn’t have his grown-up body available for the trip, so they outfitted him back into his childhood body. They had to make do, you know?”


I picture bodies in a garage like rental cars, an agent walking down the row to see which ones they can offer, and at what price and insurance bracket. I almost want to ask him if he has insurance for the body he’s in, but I can tell that that would deviate from what he’s been taught to say and would thus be met with silence. I wonder if someone else is moving about, someplace else, in the adult Sparklehorse body, not to mention the adolescent, or if those are simply out of circulation now, perhaps melted down and recast beyond recognition.


There’s a kind of deferential quality in his voice whenever he talks about the grown-up Sparklehorse, like that Sparklehorse is his father and he’s the child, away from home for the first time, maybe visiting his grandparents in another town, on his very best behavior.


“If you really are Sparklehorse,” I say to him, “can I ask you about your music? I have some questions that I’d … ”


But when I look up, he’s gone. His dad probably told him not to talk to strangers, I think. I look around for a napkin dispenser to mop up the leavings of the two servings of ice cream, his and mine, both now sopping from the table onto the floor. I wonder how much vacation time he gets. Probably not much, I think, and then I try to decide how I feel about this, like if I wish he got more, or less, or if I’m happy with the amount he gets.