"Oh that's great, just great. Is it permanent?" Uncle George would have said it differently if Aunt Mary was out of earshot. But they were both there, both staring at my new tattoo.

"Yeah, it's a real tattoo." Proudly.

"It's . . . what is it?" Aunt Mary was about 8 hundred billion years old, but real sweet and understanding most of the time.

"I know what it is. Everybody knows what it is. What I want to know is: What does it mean?" George was flummoxed.

I was going to keep the smile on my face through this whole thing -- no matter what. I wasn't gonna let them make me feel like a little kid anymore. I was going to just stand there and smile, and make them go out of their ever-loving Buick-driving golf- clubbed minds. So I carefully smiled my most smugly smirking smile and slowly and quietly said: "It's a fork."

"So it is a fork." Aunt Mary was ever so slightly relieved. She had no idea what else it might be, but if she had to guess, her guesses were fairly dark and torturous indeed.

Uncle George was guessing too. "This is some gang thing. This means something. This isn't just a fork is it Keith? [My name's Keith, I just couldn't work it in earlier in the story. Sorry.]

Uncle George started mouthing something. Paused to control himself. Then he actually said: "What other boys at school have 2" long forks tattooed on their foreheads?"

"WAIT WAIT Let's just take it this far, OK?"

I was sunk. Here I had created and carefully crafted this beautiful little short story, and Archangelo the supposed English language savant was drawing his knife on the first of only three pages. I didn't think I would be critiqued here anyway. This was an grant application essay, not a homework assignment.

"First. What is the point of view you're writing from? Who is Keith? We need to know more about him ."

"Well, my idea was just to keep the reader in the dark about it and gradually reveal it over the course of the story. That was kind of like the whole thing." I shouldn't sound so defensive. I don't need this grant. This was all Glorias idea.

"Yes, of course. And the fork. But it's too cute. It just doesn't work here."

"Well if you would just read the whole thing, you'd find out that the first person was really a poodle in the distant future where animals are real smart, and this was all what he, Keith Arbogast, poodle lobbyist, was seeing on this virtual reality interface. And then at the end, you find out this is just the introduction, just the setup to some sort of weird kinky cyber sex scene involving the poodle and the good decent midwestern farm folk. And then it just ends and leaves you hanging and hopefully thinking."

"That's the stupidest thing I ever heard in 25 years of reading some of the stupidest pieces of crap ever written."

We stared at each other silently for a moment. I, to my discredit, looked down first. He leaned back in his chair and said, "But I do like the 'Yeah, it's a real tattoo.' proudly." "It's sort of like a stage direction -- proudly-- I like the economy of that."


AMY: Well, you didn't have to read all of it. Just tell me how to punctuate that quoting a sentence with a quote in it. [She points to the second to last paragraph.] I end up with a close quote right next to an open quote. Which is kind of clunky.

BILLY: New paragraph?

AMY: Yeah, I thought of that, but I really don't want a new paragraph there.

BILLY: You could maybe put in some description about how [he looks down at the page] Archangelo . . . leans forward again, or something.

AMY: Huh. There really isn't any good way to do this is there? To imbed all these quotes within each other?

BILLY:I don't know, maybe you could use indents. You know, set it off like an extract.

AMY: Yeah! That would work. [Excitedly] You could do anything with indents. You can do quotes within quotes within quotes . . . ad infinitum.

BILLY: Yeah, but it is kind of cheesy. By the way, I really liked "golf-clubbed minds" up in this first stuff. [Billy pantomimes hitting a golf ball.]

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