Leo, the Water-Pipe

Years later, Dan Jones couldn’t tear his gaze from the bus-stop outside his apartment. He washed clean dishes again and again just to stand near the window in his kitchenette watching buses unload passengers every quarter-hour. By the time Faith disembarked the 12:30 bluebird-line, Dan’s fingers were raw and prune-like. He waited at the peephole for Faith to knock on his door. “Dainty! Ready to help me smoke centipede?”

“Faith! Come in before you say things like that!” Dan opened the door and received from Faith a frosted cupcake with the number twenty-eight written in cinnamon candies.

“Happy birthday, Dainty.” Faith kissed him on the cheek and lounged on his couch. “Share that cupcake with JayJay. You two have the same birthday. Can I hold your bong?”

“Thanks, Faith.” Dan put the cupcake on the coffee-table by the couch and passed Faith a glass pipe. “It’s not a bong, it’s a water-pipe. I named it Leo. I use it for cricket, but it works with centipede. Is Beatrice coming?”

“JayJay and BeatBax missed the bus. They’ll be on the next one.” Faith looked into the water-pipe like a microscope. Dan had cleaned Leo to crystal clarity, so she saw five internal fingers of slotted glass submerged in ice-water. Ten glass buboes circled the mouthpiece for a solid grip. The erect stem of Leo, the water-pipe, held aloft a tiny bowl for filling with powder. “I’m nervous,” Faith giggled. “I’ve been putting this off for years.”

Dan took the pipe from her and set it gingerly on the coffee-table. “How much centipede-powder did you bring?”

“Check it out. You’ll like this, Dainty, it’s about a religion. I got it visiting my uncle in high-school.” Faith passed him the red card-stock pamphlet from her purse. He opened it to see a plastic-baggie filled with brown powder. He scanned the pamphlet, a religious introduction with text in ten languages. “Monks from the Islands of Sheridan were lecturing in Wyoming.”

“And they gave you bugs? And you accepted them?” Dan hesitated to open the baggie. “Maybe you shouldn’t smoke this, even with all of us here to trip-sit you. Taking bugs from strangers is ill-advised at best.”

“It’s okay. I’d met one of the monks before, apparently.”

“You must have impressed them. This is a lot. There’s enough to share with Jay and Beatrice if they want to join you.”

“JayJay might,” said Faith, “but ever since BeatBax started working as a nurse, she’s bugged me to cut back on the bugs. And… um…” Faith stared at Leo, refusing to meet Dan’s eyes, and took a deep breath. “You know, Dan, sometimes you get a little too close to Beatrice, and it makes her uncomfortable.”

Dan covered his face. “I know,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“I’m… attracted to her, but not sexually, or even romantically.” He wandered back to the kitchenette to watch the vacant bus-stop through his window. “I just think she’s perfect. I’ll tell her that when she gets here. Then she’ll understand.”

“Maybe don’t,” said Faith. “I’m sure she’ll appreciate your feelings if you just give her space. We’re all friends here.” Dan nodded. Faith tried to smile at him. “Hey Dainty, look at this!” In her purse she carried a cardboard-box. She unfolded its flaps—it contained moist earth. Six raw crickets were stuck eyes-down in the dirt, sprouting buds with their own black, beady eyes. “They’re propagating!” she said. “I told you we could grow our own. If I dried them, would you wrap the wings? You’ve got a knack for meticulous work like that.”


“I could try,” said Dan. He compared the budding crickets to a hand-drawn illustration in the red card-stock pamphlet. “I should show my professors this pamphlet. I’ve never heard of a Sheridanian religion. News about the Islands of Sheridan is all crickets and centipedes.”

“The monks seemed reclusive. It makes sense no one knows about them.”

“But they lectured in Wyoming. Were they lecturing across America?”

“No, just the one lecture in Wyoming. They made a point to mention they would never return.”

Dan closed the pamphlet. “Well what was the lecture about?”

“Nothing. It was a silent lecture.”

“Did they… make hand motions?”

“I don’t know. I wasn’t in the room.”

“And you want to smoke centipede-powder they gave you?” Dan wrung his hands. “I’ve smoked centipede, Faith. It’s a harrowing experience at the best of times. What if they cut it with something?”

“Centipedes are prepared by Virgil Blue. Are you gonna tussle with Virgil Blue? This is the way it’s meant to be!”

“If you say so.” Dan poured half the centipede-powder into Leo’s bowl and packed it tight. He brought a black blowtorch from his bookshelf. “Did Virgil Blue tell you to drink cold orange-juice when you smoke centipede?”

“Virgil Blue didn’t say anything. They were the silent one. But Virgil Skyy didn’t mention orange-juice, either.”

“Then call me Virgil Orange, because I just saved you a sore throat. I’ll be right back.”

Dan hurried to the refrigerator. Faith stole his spot by leaning across the couch. “This is a nice apartment, Dainty.”

“Thanks. It was my dad’s before he died.” Dan poured three glasses of orange-juice and looked at the bus-stop outside his kitchenette window. Passengers disembarked the 12:45 bluebird-line. “There’s Beatrice and Jay. I haven’t seen Jay since he started transitioning—he looks great. What should I tell him?”

“Tell him you like his T-shirt.” When she heard a knock at the door, Faith shouted: “JayJay, BeatBax, help me smoke some bug!”

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