Although I would learn the details only later, they are worth repeating here since they illustrate the way fortune smiled on my brother. He met her at the southern edge of town down by the old garages, shabby metal boxes that held a few boats and old cars. The area was overgrown with tall grass and the lake lapped serenely at a narrow strand of stony beach. As dry lightning flashed across the night sky, my brother shoved her into an empty garage whose door had long ago been ripped away by lustful teenagers. The stench of cheap alcohol on her breath was overwhelming, but her body was loose and suggestible.

What drove us to such lengths in those days? I guess it all came down to the lack of options in our town, and our long-term struggle to make something from the nothing, blowing on a fire that kept dying down, watching all our failures drifting away in scraps of smoke. Take another deep breath and blow again. Try to make a mess of it all, since a mess, in the final analysis, was something real.

So my brother went diving into the turbid waters of the meat seller’s daughter. The late night breeze swept in off the lake, whistling through the weeds, scraping across the cheap metal roofs. Then she started laughing and wouldn’t stop. Nor would she explain. She wanted him to work for the answer and in the end my brother ran smack into it like a wall. He couldn’t get inside her and she was howling, projectile tears spraying in all directions.

“Now,” she was trying to say. “Now, you would have known if you’d done some foreplay.”

But that wasn’t my brother’s style. With his left hand he began to rummage around inside her. She was so wet the thing slid right out. He held it up to his lighter flame and revealed a grim hunk of salami.

She would demand much of him that night and he dutifully returned what he felt he owed, coming to believe it was fate herself he was thanking, for her twists and turns, both beautiful and hideous.

As dawn was breaking he washed the salami in the lake and stumbled back to our Street of Cosmonauts and up to our room where he woke me with a rude flop down onto his bed. After giving me the gist of the night’s events he began ruminating.

“You know what we are, brother? We’re all just hoses,” he said, not waiting for an answer. “We’re all just hoses and liquids running through and spraying out the hoses. Here and there a valve tries to control the flow, but it’s useless. Or maybe the worms are a better comparison. I’m a crude system of worms. A whole nation of worms. But then…” he trailed off.

“But what?” I yawned, waking up, a little confused.

“But then there is an animal inside me. Inside my mouth. My tongue.” He made the aahh sound, like a doctor was checking his throat. “It has a life of its own. Aahh.” He carried on that way for a while, trying to make peace with his tongue.

When I woke up for real my brother was finally asleep and the salami was resting on the windowsill. So I hadn’t dreamt it. I threw off the blankets and took the meat in my hands. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d held one.

But the voices in the next room portended disaster. My mother was laying into my little sister about her attitude. My aunt had wandered in from her flat down the hall. I called in sick for work. Or else there wasn’t a shift that day. Whatever it was I snuck past my cantankerous relations and went out into the warm, sticky morning air. Thinking only about trying not to think about the salami, I ended up walking down to the spot of my brother’s rendezvous. Trying not to see the ghostly remains of the crime, the last wisps of smoke, I was looking for them all the same, and, of course, finding nothing. I checked all the abandoned garages. I listened for moaning above the gentle lapping of the lake at the shore. But there was nothing. Not a soul in sight aside from a stray dog limping along the shoreline. I was no conjuror. I had walked down to the stony beach without magic. The question was where to find the magic, the power to make something from the nothing, but my mind was as empty as the blue sky overhead.

Against my better judgment, I went back to our flat where the trouble was already brewing.

“Oh look. He’s back,” my mother said with a smile that belied her grave uncertainty. She was standing around the kitchen table with my sister, my aunt and her son, my younger cousin. They were focused on the salami on a plate in the center of the table, all of them waiting for a sign.

“Now…” my mother started again, but she was totally dazed and had nothing to say.