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t took him at least ten minutes lying there, listening to the silence, to believe that he really might be home alone.

No babbling in French. No female voices nagging him to clean something up. No Jimmie Sue woo woo or Senior dementia. Just…..silence.

He turned over which nudged Iggy awake. The iguana lazily opened its jaws and then snapped them down, more quickly than Jamie might have believed possible, on a beetle or maybe that was a cockroach scrabbling over his covers.

He’d been working hard to lure the bugs and the dust and the chaos back into his room, just to show his sister who was boss, if only of this 12 by 15 foot patch of ghetto. Let her scrub the cracks and align the corners of the rest of this dump; she wasn’t going to get the better of his room.

Jamie got up, brought Iggy into the shower with him, then let the animal perch on his shoulder while he gulped a cold cup of coffee left from the pot and ate the ends of all the food on the plates piled near the sink, ranging from peanut butter and jelly crusts to what tasted like a roquefort and leek omelet.

Where was everybody? What time was it? What should he do, now that he could do anything?

He flipped on the TV, but it seemed as if somebody had disconnected the premium cable: No more porn on demand. He considered jerking off anyway, but he’d done that already last night. Somebody had cleaned away all the magazines and newspapers. He had the feeling he’d been reading a book, and that he’d even liked it, but he couldn’t remember what it was or where it had gone.

There was nothing left to do but go out. At least there was nobody to stop him. He went downstairs, Iggy still on his shoulder, leaving the door open since he’d long ago lost track of any keys. His poor melted crotch was feeling a bit better, he noticed, though he still limped a bit taking the steps.

The streets seemed strangely empty. Now that he was outside, where was he going to go? His default destination, the Go Go, was shut down. There were other bars in town, but not ones where he knew anybody, and besides, he hadn’t had a drink in — he couldn’t even remember how long. Plus, he had no money. No girlfriend. No friends.

No friends except the miracle of Iggy, that is. He stopped in front of the MAL, giving his pet’s hide a proprietary pat, and that’s when he noticed it. The old place looked different. Cleaner. He pressed his forehead to the glass of the front window and peered inside. Damn if it didn’t look like somebody was fixing the place up.

He retrieved the key he kept hidden above the old air conditioner and let himself inside. It could only have been his neatnik sister who’d dragged out all the trash, scraped the grease off the kitchen surfaces and seemed to be fixing to do something with the place. Jamie limped through, running his fingers over the shelves, giving one of the stools a tentative twirl. He’d always loved this place. How had things gone so wrong?

Even the old pots had been scoured so hard they were shiny, hanging by size above the big black stove.

“Are you hungry, Iggy?” Jamie said. “Want Daddy to make you something to eat?”

He’d always dreamed of cooking here, turning the place into a really cool restaurant. But Senior wouldn’t hear of it, insisted that the people of Hot Springs relied on the MAL for chicken salad sandwiches and fried grits the way Mama always made. Shouldn’t mess it up by getting any fancier than that.

Well, if Cora had her way, it was certainly going to get fancier. But maybe Jamie had some ideas of his own. On the shelves, he found a sealed package of rice, a can of chicken broth, an onion with a long green tongue.

“How about some railroad rice, Iggy?” he said. “Would you like that?”

He snapped the green root from the onion up to the iguana, who snatched it from his hand. Then he found a newly-sharpened knife and began peeling its golden skin.

I’m back, he thought. Or maybe, he was here for the first time.

Read Jamie’s side of the story.

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