Dan Marshall

    At one end of the story is the PEN clubhouse in Braun's garage, just a bunch of old rickety lawn chairs with the webbing sagging out of them, ashtrays overflowing on the floor, a couple pieces of oil-soaked carpet. The guys used to joke, the only place you wanted to take your shoes off so you didn't track dirt outside. But the fridge in the corner had a keg in it, and old man Braun made sure it was always full. He didn't care if the guys drank, as long as they did it there, and nobody drove home.

    Nobody wanted any accidents.

    So, they called it a fraternity, made up the letters-PEN, Pussy Every Night, haw haw haw-ordered jackets, sharp ones, too, maroon with gold sleeves in leather. The letters PEN embroidered in Gothic letters. They decorated the place with real estate signs scavenged from all over town, street signs, One Way, a Stop sign spray-painted to read Stop War. Prank stuff, kid stuff. High school kids.

    At another other part of the story, near the end but not quite the end, is the Frank Fiore Quartet, bass, guitar and drums, and Frank on the electric piano. They played a weekly gig at the Cameo Lounge, playing the kind of background music nobody had to shout over. Cocktail music. A kind of purgatorial gig for the low talented. They drove in from Port Clinton, across Bay Bridge-a bunch of middle aged white guys, all with day jobs. They rode together in Frank's old Town and Country wagon, room in the back for the instruments. I imagine Frank told the same jokes every trip.

    Then came the Friday before Christmas. Some warm air blew up out of the south and the early snow melted and fog banked in over the bay. Frank drove slowly, the headlights reflecting back at him like smoke, with funny faces in it. He rolled through the entrance ramp to the Bay Bridge without realizing it. He should have turned, but there was no Stop sign.

    Near the end of the story was the next day when they pulled the Town and Country out of the dark water-sixty feet deep, where they'd had to excavate to build the overpass that Frank had missed and plunged straight down into the water.

    And at the very end of the story is me, who brought the Stop sign to the PEN clubhouse. I just wanted to drink with the older guys. I just wanted one of those jackets.     I never told anyone where I got it.

    I keep trying to find some way to arrange this story and leave me out of it. I've tried so long now that it seems that I'm all over it-sometimes I'm the bridge, sometimes I'm sixty feet of black water, sometimes I'm the funny faces, appearing and then disappearing in the fog. Sometimes I'm Frank Fiore and my eyes are cold and wet.

    Maybe one of the guys said something to me, or Tony Bennett came on the radio and I leaned over to turn it up. I go to say something and then we are all falling.     I just can't make it right.