The Erasure


Constantine Singer

Constantine Singer, a Seattle native who found his permanent home in Los Angeles, is the author of the only-briefly-in-print but still well-reviewed YA Sci-Fi novel, STRANGE DAYS. When not writing, he teaches high school in South Los Angeles and coaches new novelists through Writer’s Workshop.

Amina laughs, counting money like a robber baron, fanning hundreds, five-hundreds.

She’s clear, crisp in my mind’s eye. Her eyes shine. Her hair falls loose. She’s achingly beautiful.

“It’s your turn, Daddy. Stop texting.” Sara is glaring at me from across the table, cross.

“Just a sec, sweetie. It’s Josh about a job for me.”

It was more than a second. I had priorities. I was stupid.

“Daddy?” She’s exasperated. She’s adorable. She’s…

For the first time in a long time, I can see Sara’s face, too. Clear, bright. Her eyes too big to be real, her hair like her mom’s, a tiny sharp chin. Little teeth in her smile.

“Alright, alright!” I free up a hand and reach for the dice…

The dice hit the board. My phone dings. It’s Yours! “Fuck YES!”

Sara stares at me. “Why are you cursing?”

Amina stares too, but she’s amused. “Good news?”

“You rolled a seven.” Sara is back at the board, counting spaces with her fingers. She squeals when her finger touches the seventh space. “Park Place, Daddy! You owe me eleven hundred dollars.”

It was adorable the way she said it.

“Eleven hundred dollars.” It doesn’t sound the same when I say it. I can’t match her pitch, her inflection, her enthusiasm, her glee. I can’t be her.

I don’t have much. I’ve been playing with half my brain, too focused on… “I’m gonna be in a big movie, Little Winner. A big scary movie…” I fork over the remainder of my money. “I’m gonna play the killer!

“You’re not a killer, dad. You’re too nice.”

“Am I?” I reach into the take-out box next to Amina and pull out the last shrimp bao.

“That’s mine.” Amina reaches for it.

“Too bad.” I put it in my mouth. “I’m a killer, babe.”


Pulled over in front of Hotel Figueroa, lost in time.

Sara is on the couch, looking down at me. She’s wearing a nightgown? Did she own a nightgown? I can’t remember. We’re running lines for a stupid commercial.

“What’s in your wallet?”

“Sillier, Daddy.” She’s laughing.

I can’t make out her face, a mess of smiles, eyes, and skin descends into a panic-inducing swirl. She’s gone. It’s gone.

Sillier, Daddy.

The memory slips entirely. I’m alone in the car. Smashmouth on the radio, Rockstar. I turn it off, hit my vape, but it doesn’t settle me.

The App dings. Its pink splash brightens the inside of my Kia. “Jayson” needs a ride. Black. Smiling guy. Photo on a beach. “Ugh.” Beach photo people never tip. Lower my window to vent the vape-smoke but take one more hit to get me through the ride. The city mellows. The brake-light sea up Figueroa from the arena is fine now. It’ll take me eight minutes to go three thousand feet to The Bloc where Jayson is waiting. I give it a moment, maybe get reassigned something in the other direction. Nope. Okay.


Ugh. No. I know him. He’s an asshole. Arrogant prick.

“Danny?” Jayson recognizes me, changes course and gets in the front seat. “I thought it might be you from your pic, but damn, man!” He jams his hand across the center console. His smile threatens to envelop me. I take his hand, dreading the bro-hug that’s going to follow. “How you been?”

“Alright, I guess.” ‘Jayson is Jayson Means. Years since I’ve seen him in person. Twenty maybe? But recently he’s everywhere on TV. Movies. “Not like you, man.” Fuck him. He’s king right now. Everywhere.

“Oooh…” he leans back in the seat, throws his hands behind the headrest and clasps them. He takes up all the space in the car. “I had myself a rough patch, though, believe me.” He turns to me. I pull into traffic. He’s going to Silver Lake. A house up above The Red Lion. The App wants me to take Hill to 2nd. Makes sense. Twenty-two minutes. Too long. I won’t survive that long in a car with him. “After Master Class, I couldn’t buy a fucking role.” He chuckles. “Not like you, man. You just…” he makes a sound like a rocket, lifts his hand in a slow arc.

“Worked out great.” I haven’t done shit in the last eight years. “I got some stuff on the horizon, though.”

I see him look me up and down. “Good to hear. You deserve it.  I loved Venice Station. Lasted what? Like five years?” He barks a laugh and claps — “Network, too — some fucking residuals, man.”

He’s waiting for a response. I shrug. My last check was for $396.42. I smile for him. “Yeah.”

He sighs. “Tough when that shit ends, though. I had a rough patch myself. Got far down. Burned through all my Master Class money thinking thing’s’d pick up again, you know?”

“Yeah?” I know all too well. After Venice Station, a couple B movies, a few starrings, and then a collection of day-play five-and-unders until… nothing. Stupid fucking business.

Hill Street’s wide open. Time to destination drops by six minutes.

“Danny man,” I can feel him looking at me. “I worked at Gold’s Gym, got my personal trainer license. People used to recognize me, ask me to say my line when they did good.” He chuckles. “Reeee-dicyoulusssss.” Like he said on the show. “Three years ago I was on Cameo for twenty dollars a pop. It was saaaad…”

“Not anymore, though.” He’s everywhere.

“Nah,” he chuckles again. “Not anymore. Things are good.”

The tunnel under Bunker Hill makes things loud. He doesn’t try to talk over it. He was bad. Before. He was a bad actor — no depth, just looks and a schtick. Nothing going on underneath. Embarrassed me to be on the show with him. I was a lot better than him. Fuck this business.

But he’s good now. Impossibly good. “Been watching Manchester Square.”

He looks at me. “Yeah?”

“It’s good.”

“You think?”

“You’re good. Really good.” Brake lights at Glendale and Beverly.

“Thanks, man.” He’s looking me over again, weird expression. Thinking about something. Then: “You want to join me for a beer or two at the Lion? I haven’t talked with someone from the before-times in years, right.” He waits a moment. “I’m buying.” That smile again.

It’s 9:30. I need money but I’m suddenly tired. I shouldn’t. Shouldn’t drink. It’s a chance to talk myself onto Manchester. He’s a lead. He’s got pull. “Yeah.” I smile. “That’d be good.” I tap, “Last Ride.”


The Red Lion is a cop bar. Two of them recognize Jayson when we come in.

“Reeeeee-dickyoulussss!” One of them shouts. The other one laughs.

Another recognizes me. “You used to be Danny Ruiz!”

I hate it here. “Still am.”

They want a photo. “Manchester Square, man.” The older cop confides when the picture is done. “You ain’t fair to the LAPD on that show, you know. Makes it hard to respect you when you don’t respect us, my man.”

Jayson nods gravely. “I’ll bring it up with the writers.”


I’m drinking again. Oh well. It was a short sobriety. The beer loosens me, clears me like weed just doesn’t do. “Can I ask you something?”

Jayson’s looking over my shoulder at the cops. They’re loud, boisterous and menacing. “Yeah, what do you want to know?”

“Back in Master Class,” I hold my beer up to the light, then finish it off. “You were…”

“I was an asshole, man.” He shakes his head. Rueful. “Especially to you. Part of why I wanted to do this.” He leans in. “I owe you an apology.”

“For what?” Could be a hundred things. He treated me like shit.

“I knew how you felt about Katy, man. I knew but I…” he laughs, embarrassed. “You were better than me, man. I was scared of you so I always tried to put you down, keep you there, you know. I was a scared kid and you were better than me.” He shrugs elaborately. “I never felt good about any of it and I’ve wanted to say this to you for years.”

I don’t remember Katy. Who the hell was Katy? “It’s cool man.” The apology is nice. Unexpected. Maybe now he’ll get me on Manchester. “You were good, though.” It’s a lie.

“Bullshit, man. I sucked and you know it.”

“Yeah, no. We all sucked.”  He sucked more than the rest of us. “We were kids.” I tip my empty bottle at him. “But you are now. Good.”

“I am?” He’s being modest.

“Fuck you, Jayson, you know you are.”

He shrugs. Big smile. “Yeah. I got a lot better.”

“How? I mean, it’s like you got depth or something. I freaking believe you on screen and talking with you I just…”

He chuckles, disarming. Charming. “I learned some stuff, some good stuff. Things that changed me. Changed my life.” His smile changes. He leans in. Conspiratorial. “Gave me a leg up.”

Scientologist. It’s clear now. His big secret. His new success. “Wow!”

“What happened to you, then?” He leans back again, eyes the cops for a moment then back at me. “You were good and then you just…”

“This stupid town, man. After Venice Station, I was primed, you know? Ready. Then Josh talks me into doing some stupid trashy slasher shit that’s supposed to be the next Scream and it bombs, then he talks me into Stellar Ship and that bombs and I start to get the reputation, you know?” I’ve told this so many times. It’s sing-songy now, rote. “Josh tells me I’m poison because he made bad calls, then he drops me.” I sigh, wry smile. “Things are looking up, though. I got some things that might pop. Been writing. Some AD gigs, building my portfolio so I can direct TV, you know.” Don’t push too hard. “Love a chance to get back in front, though.”

“I do know.” He laughs, looks up and raises two fingers. I don’t turn around. “That’s awful, man. You deserved better. You were great on Venice Station.”

“I was a surfer-cop who solved beach crime.”

He smiles. “A good surfer-cop, though.”

More beer arrives.

“Let me see about getting you some time on Manchester, Danny — get you straight to producers for something recurring — we got a Latino neighbor coming up. They all love me there. I’ve got real pull.”

“You don’t have to,” but he has to. “That’d be amazing.” Hope. Fuck. Scientology. Oh well. Might be worth it. “Do you need me to go with you to get…” I’m so stupid. “Never mind.”

Jayson’s amused. He’s leering at me. “You think I’m a Scientologist.” He laughs. “I ain’t a fucking Scientologist, Danny.”

“You’re not?” I blurt it. I shouldn’t drink.

“You’re safe.” He lifts his beer. He’s still amused. Thank god.

“Then how’d you get so good? Whose class?”

He chuckles like he’s got a secret. “No class, man.”

“Then how?”

He shakes his head. “Can’t tell you.” He leans in, intimate. Whispers: “Not supposed to tell no-one.”

We drink. Talk about other things. What happened to so-and-so, do you remember how hot so-and-so was, did you actually fuck so-and-so in the costume trailer. Can’t stop thinking about how he got good.

It gets late. The cops filter out. “Don’t think about driving home, buddy,” one of them says to Jayson. “That’d be reeeee-dickyoulusss!” It gets laughs.

Jayson looks at me, then him. “Don’t worry, man, I got a Lyft.”


In the car, Jayson blocks the ignition with his hand. “Maybe we should sit a while.”

“Yeah.” We listen to music, talk more. I’m feeling alright. I’m actually liking Jayson. Still arrogant, but not a dick anymore. “So really, how’d you get so good? What’s the secret?”

He squints at me like he’s remembering something. “You’re married, right?”

“Was.” I don’t feel the whole weight like I normally do. I smile. Feels good to talk about it. “She left me.” He tenses. “Relax, it was years ago. I wasn’t my best self, you know? Things had gone bad. I don’t blame her.”

“That sucks, man.” He looks concerned, sympathetic. “Did you two have any kids?”

Fuck me. “Yeah.” Then: “No.” Then before I can stop it: “Not anymore.” It’s out. This wasn’t the plan. My eyes burn. My throat closes.

He bites his lip, his face creases like he’s screwed something up. “Dammit. I’m sorry, man. Sara, right? I totally forgot — she died? I wasn’t…”

I wave him off. Shake my head. The sadness won’t stop. Beer-loosened emotional sphincters give way. Grief. Ugh. Fuck. Sara. Sara. Jayson’s hand is on me. The warmth. I choke a little.

He pulls me close. “It’s cool, man. I got you.”

He’s strong, comforting. I give in to his hug. I’m crying a little. “Sorry.” I sit up, reach behind me for the tissues in the back seat and set about cleaning myself up.

I forgot about Sara.

“You knew about Amina? About Sara?”

He nods. “Yeah. I knew.” He sounds so sad. “Didn’t know what happened, though.”

“Who told you?”

He shrugs. “I don’t even know, man. Word got out. Danny’s got family, right?” He shakes his head. His sympathy is going to drown me. “I can’t even imagine how awful that must’ve been.”

“You don’t even know…” It’s a whisper. The blue glow from the dash blurs and Jayson’s hand is on my shoulder again. “No.” I clear my throat but it ends in a cough. “FUCK!” Hand to face, hard. Control. I breathe in. Got it. Good. “I’m fine, man. Most of the time.” He’s looking at me, eyeballs round with concern. “Some of the time.” I pull my vape up from the map-holder. “You mind?”

He doesn’t. Deep in. My psyche uncreases just a little bit. “It ruined me, man. I’m just      done, you know? My career was already tanked by then anyways, so…” I shrug, because I don’t have the words. “People are supposed to get on with things, but I… I’m not. I can’t. I got nothing now. No family, no daughter, no career. I drive and smoke. I just want to go back, you know? Go back. Go back to when she was here, when I had Amina, back to when I had work. All of it. Go back.” I’m whining, nearly crying. “Jesus.” Another hit. It doesn’t help. “All night every night, all day every day, I stare at the goddamned ceiling and try to remember things. Things we did. Times we had.” I don’t know what I’m doing. I shouldn’t be saying all this.

Beer, weed, and kindness fuck me up every time.

Jayson isn’t saying anything. He’s looking at me. His expression is weird, conflicted. “What?”

He nods, just a little movement, like he’s made a decision.

“What?”

“You really want that, don’t you? To go back? One more game of Monopoly, eating bao with your wife and kid?”

Monopoly. Bao. Happiness. The wish is strong, rises like hope in my gut. Head shake, slow, with the wonder of imagined happiness. “Groundhog Day my ass right fucking then because I’m done here.” I turn to face Jayson square. “I wake up every day and wonder why I haven’t killed myself. I should. I should just do it.” I hold his eyes. “Stupid question.” I’m tired now. I want to go home. I reach for the ignition, then freeze. “How the fuck did you know about that?”

He shrugs, looks guilty.

“What?”

He sighs, deep. He’s still looking me in the eye. It’s uncomfortable. “You wanted to know what happened, how I got good. Can I tell you something? Like in confidence?”

“I couldn’t give less of a shit about your Artists Way journey right now, Jayson.”

“It’s related, man. I could help you. Just listen. It’s not anything you’ve heard before, I guarantee that. I can change your life. I know things. I’m not supposed to tell you, but I’m big now. There’s nothing they can do to me and after how I treated you on set, I feel like I owe you this.” He leans forward, close to me, intimate. His voice is a whisper. “You said you wanted to be in 2014? I can help make that happen.”

His insanity, his narcissism — they’re slaps. I face forward, hands on the wheel. “Fuck you. Get out of my car.”

“Listen.” I lean away, my head pressed against the window, yearning. “Three years ago, man, I was low. Low low. I had nobody. I was months behind in rent and the pandemic was just starting. It was bad.” He sighs. “I was sitting on my bed, holding my Glock and thinking hard about what came next when there was a knock on my door and this girl…” He shakes his head like what he’s about to say is crazy. “She came in and told me I had a choice. She offered me a different way and I took it and… it’s everything, man. It’s my secret — it’s my superpower, and it can help you, too.”

“You said you weren’t a Scientologist, man, get out of my car.”

“This ain’t about fucking Scientology.” He seems genuinely offended. “This isn’t anything like that. This is magic. You know how I knew about Sara? Amina? Monopoly and Bao? I was there, man. I saw it through my own goddamn eyes. That girl? She made me a patch-worker. I protect the integrity of the time-stream, man. I fix the past and it’s got real side-benefits that can help you.”

“Seriously, get the fuck out of my car before I hurt you.”

He doesn’t hear me. He’s ranting, relentless. “I’m not supposed to tell anybody, man, but I think I’ve got to tell you because I owe you that much for how much a dick I was.” I’ve got my head pressed so hard against the window it hurts. I close my eyes. I see spots. The door. I reach across myself. Open it. Stumble out. “Danny, man!” He’s coming after me. “Wait!”

My right foot catches on the lip. I stumble, catch myself, then sit on the pavement. “Leave me alone, man, just leave me alone.”

“I’m telling you real shit. She hooked me up. I work for Time now.” He’s kneeling next to me, leaning close above my ear. His voice burns. “I fix holes in the past — lost memories. I go back in time and fill in the goddamned blanks — it’s how I got so good man. I don’t have to wonder what it’s like being other people. I don’t have to play the truth of imaginary situations. I’ve been other people. I’ve been you, man.” His hand on my shoulder. “Several times.”

“Stop.” It’s a whisper. “Please just stop.”

He won’t. He’s smiling, maniacal. “I rolled the seven that landed you on Park Place where Sara had three houses. I ate the last shrimp dumpling that Amina wanted. I felt that, man. I have been a thousand people in a thousand different lives now and so can you. I can talk to that girl again, man. I can hook you up and maybe you can go back, live that moment, too.” He’s leaning over me again. Tender eyes. Intensity. “Very least you’ll get to be other people, too, help your career, maybe help you in general.”

“You’re fucking insane.” But he’s not. He’s sane. I had rolled a seven. I had eaten the last shrimp dumpling. Amina had wanted it.

He shakes his head slowly. “I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone, man, so you can’t tell anyone, either, okay? Next time I see the girl, I’ll talk to her for you, though. I promise.”

I look up at him. His face is open. He’s earnest, honest. “You go back in time…”

“Yeah. Not like some movie sci-fi shit, though. One moment I’m me now and the next moment I’m Sally Archer in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2017 trying to decide which canned soup to buy at Dollar General and wondering if I should leave my husband, and then I’m back to being me.”

“Man…” It’s insane. What if it’s real?

“I swear it’s true.” He looks so earnest. “We’re the people who keep time from getting fucked up. Sometimes things don’t get stored right — things happen but then they get erased so they both happen and didn’t happen at the same time and that can really fuck things up. We go back and re-live the lost moments.  That’s why I’ve been you, man. You keep erasing things.”

It’s not real. I stand up. “You’re such an asshole, Jayson.”

He stays where he was. I watch him watch me drive away. He looks scared. I can’t shake the feeling.


Morning. I think. Light anyways. The vertical blinds in my bedroom are useless. My head hurts. My back, too. Last night’s memories filter in. Slowly. I rolled a seven.

“Fuck.” It’s a whisper, raspy, forced through phlegm. I screwed up my chance for a recurring on Manchester. I feel sick.

Toast, peanut butter, coffee. Consider my day. Drive, I guess. Amina wanted the bao. I should have let her have it. Maybe if I’d let her have it, I’d…

Fuck I’m hungry.

My apartment is gone. I’m…

The Gas’n’Save looks bright and cheery inside. 

I’m being painted over, hidden.

I’m Jimmy Dammaker. 

It’s winter-bright, sun-shiny. I’m in Akron, Ohio. It’s four days before my ex-wife’s birthday. She’s a bitch who took my kids. I need twenty-five dollars in the next few hours or it’s going to be a rough fucking night. 

It’s not me. It’s Jimmy. I’m Jimmy.

The shelves inside are colorful, filled with friendly food. I’ve got four dollars and seventeen cents, but I need that. More. It’s cold. I’m sweating. Not good. The Indian who owns the station kicked me off the property this morning, but he’s not here now. Just the girl.

I walk up slow-like. Casual. I’m beside the door. The wind picks up, blows my coat open. It’s cold as a motherfucker, but my hands, my back, my face feel shiny. 

There’s an older guy getting out of his car, fat and weak. Polo shirt under his coat, khaki pants. The kind who carries cash. “Hey man! Hey, you got a sec, man?”

He won’t look at me.

“I’m a fucking vet, man. You’re gonna walk right past me like you don’t see me? I served for you, asshole.” I didn’t, but I’m mad now anyways. Fuck this guy. I’m jonesing. Hard. “Give me some money, you pussy.”

The girl inside is wide-eyed scared, hand on her phone. The guy in the polo shirt slows. “You need to leave.” He won’t even look at me.

“Give me twenty bucks, then.”

His step stutters. “Here.” He pulls his hand from his pocket, holds out a five. “Go.”

My hand is halfway to my mouth. Jimmy Dammaker is still in me, memories that feel like mine but aren’t. A house with a big lawn, fist-holes in a wall, a twelve-foot python named Sofie. Sadness that feels like anger. He’s slipping away, but he leaves a sheen of himself behind in me.

My toast reaches my lips. I bite instinctively, but I have no saliva. The bread sits in my mouth unlubricated and unpleasant. I spit it into the trash.


I pulled Jayson’s number from the app. His phone rings a bunch before it’s answered. “Who’s calling, please?”

It’s not Jayson. Maybe an assistant. “This is Danny. Ruiz. Can I talk to Jayson?”

“What’s your relationship with Jayson?” The guy on the phone sounds too old to be an assistant. Professional. Suspicious.

“We’re friends, man. We were drinking last night. Can I talk with him?”

The voice changes. Harder. “You were with Mr. Means last night? At his house?”

“No man, at the Red Lion. What the hell?” My head is pounding. I’m starting to feel sick.

“Mr. Ruiz, my name is Detective Rafael Luna, LAPD. Would it be alright if I sent someone over to talk with you?”


Jayson is dead. Beaten to death in his home. They ask me about baseball bats, whether we fought. I tell them the truth. When they leave: “We might have more questions, so please keep yourself available.”

After the door closes, I vomit into the sink, spare sausage from last night, bile, water. It burns.

I collapse on a chair, put my head in my hands.

A knock. Solid, confident, a set of three raps. Moments later, three more. I should get it, but I can’t move my hands, my head. “Just a minute.” I pinch my cheek hard. The pain brings me out.

“Sorry, I was in the bathroom.” It’s a woman I don’t know. “Who are you?”

She’s in her thirties, maybe my age exactly. A little heavy but wearing it well. Her hair is thick, teased and messy, reminds me of Jennifer Finch from L7 back in the day. Clean jeans, a black tee, black Chuck Taylor’s. Pretty but scary. “Hi Danny,” she says. She smiles, but it doesn’t touch the rest of her face. “Can I come in?” She pushes past me. “Thank you.”

I stay at the door, watch her scan my living room. It’s been a long time since anyone who wasn’t me has seen it. I imagine what she sees and blanch. “Sorry. Who are you?”

“My name’s Darby.” She turns to face me. She smiles again, then motions me to the couch. “Have a seat, Danny.” She sits on the far side, angles herself to look at me. “I was a friend of Jayson’s. We need to talk.”

I can’t sit down. I stay standing, arms crossed, between her and the door. “You know about… It was you, wasn’t it? The girl who talked to him, told him about Time and whatever. What did you do to him? He didn’t do anything, man. He was trying to help me.”

She laughs, for real. It’s at me. “Danny. there wasn’t anything me or anyone else could do to keep Jayson from dying once he broke the rules.” She widens her eyes at me, like I should understand. “He told you. He shouldn’t have done that.”

“But none of this is real.” I don’t even believe myself anymore. “Was it? Is it? It wasn’t. That’s stupid.”

“Okay.” She stares up at me, dead-faced.

It deflates me. “Fuck.”

She glances at her watch. “Jayson broke the rules and was sent to patch a death. You are now a patch-worker because it was either that or kill you because Jayson was an idiot and told you.” She widens her eyes, leans forward. “Rules.”

She lays it out. Just like Jayson.  “You’re gonna fix Time, Danny.”

It’s heady. Patching is re-creating a forgotten moment, a piece of time. It takes a while for the past to solidify. Most moments are strong, sticky, built to last, but others don’t set right. Others get erased.  She gives me an example: “Imagine you buy blueberries at the store and pay six bucks — if that moment disappears from Time, then you ate blueberries that you didn’t buy, someone else might buy blueberries that don’t exist and the shopkeeper is six bucks short while you have six extra you already spent. We go back and relive that moment, make sure it sticks.” 

“I don’t…” It’s a lot.  My head hurts.

“Don’t get lost in the whys and wherefores, Danny.” She wrinkles her nose, shakes her head. “More things on heaven and earth and all that. Just know you’re saving the world.” She shrugs. “If those paradoxes make it to the present, Time’s fucked. We’re all fucked. We keep that from happening.”

As she leaves, I ask my only question. “What rules? What are the rules?” I don’t want to die like Jayson.

“Fight Club, Danny.” Darby smiles as she stands up to go. “The rules are Fight Club rules.”


Donnie Gleason. It’s 2016. Richmond, Indiana. I’m wide. Tall, too. My skin beads with sweat. My hair is hot on my head. It’s hot. Can’t believe I still live here. You ain’t leaving, Donnie. Too fucking scared. I tighten inside, shameful. Speedway has twenty-five pumps, but the one I chose is out of regular. I scan the lot, consider getting back in the car to move to a different island, but it seems like too much. It’s too hot. The Purina factory is making the whole town smell like dog food again. Seattle doesn’t smell like this. How the fuck would I know. 

I slap the button for premium. It’s twenty cents more.

“Fuck.” Nobody’s listening. Nobody cares.

Patches come randomly, no warning. I’m here, signaling left, third in line for the turn and then suddenly I’m Jaden Preble helping my sister buy a dress for her eighth-grade prom and I’m mad she hasn’t even said thank-you even though I could have spent the day playing Call of Duty. Then I’m back but I don’t remember where I am or what I was doing and everybody gets pissed at me while I puzzle it out.

She should have thanked him, though.

Patching. Inconvenient, but not awful. Sometimes good. I feel what they feel. I’ve been thrilled about finding twenty bucks when I was Emmett Combs, a bricklayer in Evanston, Illinois in 2015. I’ve felt schadenfreude as Connor Fields in Klamath Falls when Caden Brooks got busted for vaping in the bathroom. I’ve felt the sadness of Alberto Mendez of Massapequa when his favorite pair of socks were too worn to keep.

There are downsides, too. Something happens to me there, it happens to me.

Eric Bledsoe. Truckee. 2018. Driving, barely thinking, thinking. Not thinking.

“Not…” words are weird. Sounds. Mindblowing. Moving air makes music. Moving air.      “Blah blah blah blah” means something but it’s just air.

Laughing now. Can’t help it. It’s snowing a little, still September. Weird. Brake lights in front of me. I feel lazy. Moving slow, foot from gas to brake.

Not going to make it. No panic. No worry. Just is. I turn the wheel, slide onto the shoulder, then over the shoulder… over the shoulder sounds… more sounds.

The car bumps, then we’re riding a bucking bronco, up down up up up up down down. Stop.

“We’re okay!” I tell myself. I’m the only one listening. My nose hurts.

I had a bloody nose after that one. Back and neck sore for a week. Jayson died like that, being someone else when they got killed. He was trying to help. Wanted to give me my career back, give me a chance to see Sara again. I think about Jayson a lot. Beaten to death. A bat, maybe something else. Found in his living room, wearing boxer-briefs and a robe. The robe didn’t have any blood on the outside, no blood anywhere but on his body. Reddit’s got a sub now, r/meansmurder. People think he was killed elsewhere.

Not elsewhere. Elsewhen. Sent to patch a death.

Most patches are small. Moments in time easily forgotten — choices made doing laundry, whether to buy tomatoes.  People worry. People care. People are scared. People have joy. Patching is making it harder to judge people.

Then there are erasures, moments people remember into oblivion. People like me. We are memory destroyers.

Paula Robinson. The Anasazi Steakhouse is fancy. Caleb’s choice. He’s across from me, eyes down, intent on his rib-eye. He cuts it carefully, fork in his left hand, backside up, tines in the meat. His manners are so good. He’s refined. People would never know if they saw him at work or driving on the freeway in his beat up ancient green Tundra.

“This is nice.” I feel myself flush. I sound simple. “I’ve never been here before.”

Caleb looks up. He’s chewing, but it’s subtle, quiet. His eyes are bright. His face, he has a look. Everything about him is slightly wrong — his nose is too large, crooked, too. His eyes too deep. His goatee isn’t full, his cheeks are hollow but the whole thing together looks… good. He’s like a younger Sam Elliot. He smiles. “Couldn’t think of another place where I could take you and people wouldn’t think I was too cheap for my date.”

I’ve been here as Paula three times already. Something must’ve happened to Caleb. She must really miss him. Erasures like hers and mine are always tragic nostalgia.

Every time I fade, splash down inside a mind somewhere else in time, I hope it’s mine — that moment where I rolled a seven. Some other moment of joy with Amina, with Sara. I drill down on memories daily, forcing moment-by-moment replays until the faces dissolve and the moments drown in murkiness and I’m not even sure it happened at all.

If they’re sending patchworkers, they’re not sending me.

But Jayson was right. While I’m patching I am them. I feel them, think them, know them. It’s real. I don’t have to play at imaginary truths anymore.


“You want back in.” Josh sounds skeptical.

We haven’t talked in four years.  Last time we did he told me my only options were reality. Screw that. If my career was going to end, it wasn’t going to be sitting across the desk from whoever-the-fuck replaced Donald Trump on Celebrity Apprentice or whatever.

“I’m ready. I’ve spent real time focusing on craft. I’ll impress you, man. I’ll impress everybody.”

He tells me I don’t need to impress him. He wants a new headshot. “You haven’t updated your webpage.”

“I’ll have it all by Tuesday.” Hang up. Lean back, close my eyes. Another moment with Sara. I focus, remember it hard.

The concrete path to our front door in South Pasadena. Amina is on the porch. She’s radiant, watching us. I’m holding Sara’s hand. The sun is hot. She’s looking up at me. She’s smiling. “The baby muskrat!” She says. She’s telling me about Wonder Pets.

I can hear her voice. It’s everything. Her face blurs, the house, the path, the heat, the voice, they fray, degrade into swirled flashes of colors.

Somebody will get to patch that. Probably not me.

Headshots and web-service are expensive, but Venice Station residuals check came in yesterday. $433.89. Bigger than expected. If I don’t pay rent I can swing it.


“You booked it, man!” Josh.

The call woke me from a sound sleep. “I did? That’s great!” I don’t know which part he’s talking about. I’ve sent in tapes for more than a dozen in the last few weeks. “Which one?”

“The recurring, man! Sunset Emergency!”

“Really?” I smile. Channeled Dr. Ahmet Pour for that one. I was Ahmet for three minutes while he sat on the toilet and thought about calling his wife. We didn’t. There was too much to talk about and not enough time. We both knew he wasn’t calling because he was afraid. “That’s awesome.” My superpower. Jayson. “Thanks, man.” I didn’t used to thank Josh. Didn’t used to thank anybody, I guess, but people need to hear it.

Off the phone. Jayson was right. Don’t even have to rehearse. Shit’s just there.

Jayson.  “Thanks, man.” I touch my heart, bring my fingers to my lips, and then raise them to the sky.


“You’re doing it on purpose.” Darby showed up at my door unannounced. We’re sitting on the couch. “You’ve got to stop.”

She’s intense. I want to meet her eyes, but I look at my coffee instead. “I’m not…”

“You want to see them again, I get it, but it’s not going to happen.” She sets her water bottle on the table. It lands firmly, with a clack against the glass that startles me. “We don’t patch ourselves.”

“Why not?” My voice betrays my panic.

“It just doesn’t happen, Danny.” She sounds sympathetic, sad, like I’m a child. “You have to stop.”

I shake my head. I’m not going to answer. She waits. I wait longer.

She gets up, lifts her bottle from the table. “I’m serious, Danny. You need to stop. You’re creating work for other people and it’s never going to get you what you want.”

I don’t look up.

“Daddy?” Sara just got her uniforms, ugly gray polos, blue polyester pants. She’s standing in the doorway, silhouetted by the setting sun behind her from the open patio doors. There’s jasmine in the air…

She stands to leave but pauses at the open door. “I’m serious, man. This is serious.”

Sara does a spin. “I’m modelling!” She spins again.

“Gorgeous, Little Winner!” It’s ugly, but she’s amazing. I’m smiling. Happy.

When I look up, Darby’s gone.


In line at Lassen’s, basket full of fruit and meat. People look at me as I shop. They recognize me. The girl staring from the cross-aisle by the coffee, the guy by the meat counter.

I hear my name. I smile, pretend not to have overheard. It’s been years. Decades. They know me. Sunset Emergency is big. My character’s arc is airing currently. There’ve been interviews — “Phoenix from the ashes” sort of things.

“Hey man.” Guy behind me. I turn around, smile.

“What’s up?”

He points to the front of the store. “Register’s open.”


Still awake. Still in bed. Sheets are too warm. Blanket’s too much. I feel damp.

Amina is standing beside the bed, pulling off her shirt to put on her nightgown. She’s telling me about something that happened at Sara’s daycare, something about what another parent said or did. I’m not really listening, watching her breasts, waiting for her to take off her pants.

“Mom?” The door bursts open. Sara’s there, all smiles until she sees Amina clutching her shirt to her chest. Her eyes go wide. “Were you having sex?”

Again.

Amina is standing beside the bed, pulling off her shirt…

The image is blurring. Amina’s skin, face, hair, muddling into blotches. Her voice slips, becoming simple unspoken words in my brain. She’s being erased. She’ll need a patch.

Jayson lied. It won’t ever be me.


Bestia. Josh’s choice. “We gotta celebrate!” He just bought a new condo in the old Parker Paints building. He’s high on the Arts District and wants to share it.

Bestia’s fine. Good food. The agency’s picking up the tab with the Marvel money I’m about to bring in. We’re sitting by the big windows in front, visible from the street for obvious reasons. People aren’t staring, but I still feel eyes while I eat flatbread and tapenade.

“Danny?”

She’s standing beside me, snuck up without me noticing. She was always quiet. She’s dressed well, but I recognize the loose long dress that cinches at the waist. She bought it when we were still together. It’s frayed at the hem, a little faded. The tailored black cardigan hides it. She’s lost weight. Her hair is swept back into a loose knot. There’s gray in it.

I don’t know what to say. I stare until the discomfort of silence overrides surprise, overrides the ache she brings. “Amina… hi.” I gesture across the table. “You remember Josh.”

“Hi Josh.” She smiles. It’s hollow. Her cheeks are hollow. She’s hollow. She’s a gutted version of herself, a taxidermy like me. To me: “How’ve you been?”

I shrug. I ache. I’m hollow, too. I’m sorry. You left me. She’s dead. I’m dead. “Okay, I guess. Career’s picking up again which is cool, but…” another shrug. “How are you?”

“I’m…” She shrugs. Her eyes turn hard, the look she had after Sara whenever she looked at me. I wilt. “I’m surviving.” She turns, looks back at someone or something. “I just saw you over here and didn’t want to leave without at least saying hi.”

I stand. “Hey, maybe we…”

She shakes her head, smiles again. Sad. Still hollow. “No, Danny. I don’t think I hate you anymore but this is all I can handle, okay?”

Maybe before I might’ve forced the issue. Not anymore. Too much of other people’s pain in me to prioritize my own anymore. Sitting down again, watching her walk up Traction with another woman. They look back, but I can’t tell if it’s at me or the restaurant. Josh is speaking, saying something. Enthusiastic.

She still thinks I let Sara die. I want to die.


Sara. She’s standing in vomit outside my bedroom door. I’m etching it into my mind. Every moment, every color, sound. Erasing.

“I threw up.” Her voice is soft. She’s holding her head. She’s so small. She’s sad. “My head really hurts.” Then: “I’m sorry I made a mess.” She’s clear, then she’s not. For moments I see her face as it was, but then it degrades, disappears. Needing a patch.

“No worries, Little Winner.” I step over the puddle. The smell is acrid, awful. Bile. Vomit usually makes me want to vomit, but hers doesn’t. It’s just a mess to clean. Weirdly undisgusting. “You want some Tylenol?” It’s the moment before the worst moment of my life. If they won’t give me this, they won’t give me anything.

“Yes, please.”

That vomit stayed for days.


“Just over there,” Cassidy gestures at the hill across Sunset. She’s twenty-four, been in LA for two years and now she’s Daimeon to my Ghost Rider. She’s pointing at her apartment. “I might move, though.” She shrugs, twirls her drink. “I want to stay in the neighborhood but my apartment is…” She makes a face. Some fans are pissed she’s a girl. Incels and losers.

We’re good together, on screen. She’s okay but together, chemistry. “It’s a good area.” I don’t know what else to say. It’s true. Echo Park is nice.

Daddy? I threw up. I take a breath.

“Are you liking Beachwood?” The show is coming together nicely.

“Only been there four months, but so far it’s fine…” On set, I get to be Johnny Blaze more than I have to be Danny Ruiz. It’s a relief, being someone else consistently. Not one-offs. Even Ronnie Suarez on Sunset Emergency wasn’t as all-encompassing.

But at the end of the day, I still go home.

Cassidy’s eyes move off me, up. Something behind me. “Hey Danny.”

Darby. She’s not alone, standing with a tall lanky Black guy who reads gay. I shift on my stool. “Hi.”

“I’m Darby,” Darby puts her hand out to Cassidy. “I’m a friend of Danny’s.” She points to her companion. “This is Alex. Alex, Danny and…” She cocks her head in Cassidy’s direction.

“Cassidy.” Cassidy tells her. “It’s nice to meet you!” She looks around as if trying to find a pair of stools to pull up to our counter at the window. “There’re no…”

Darby shakes her head. “No worries, we can’t stay. Can I steal Danny for a sec?”

Outside. Alex has stayed with Cassidy. I can see them talking. Laughing. “You brought muscle this time.”

“Alex is not muscle, Danny. Alex is just a friend like us.” She shifts herself, putting her body between me and the window where Alex and Cassidy sit. “You’ve got to stop, Danny. I told you it was serious. Don’t fuck with things you don’t understand.”

“You’re telling me to stop remembering my daughter. You shouldn’t fuck with things you cannot understand.”

“I’m just the messenger. I’m trying to save your life. Erasures like yours, they endanger Time and they won’t have any compunctions about stopping you permanently if need be.” She leans in. “If you keep at it, you’ll end up on a death patch, just like Jayson.” She looks honestly concerned. “Please.” Then: “You’ve built a good life, Danny. Love what you have, look forward not back okay?”

I look past her at Cassidy. A good life. Daddy? Maybe. In some ways. It’s not enough. It will never be enough. I nod, let go the breath I didn’t know I’d held. “Yeah. Alright.”


It’s later. We’re still at the bar across from Cassidy’s. Lights are bright. Noises loud. My cheeks are warm. Cassidy is laughing.

“Can I ask you something?” She leans forward. “Something serious?”

“Sure.”

“It might be rude.” She shakes a finger at me. “I don’t like being rude, but I really want to know.”

“Ask. I won’t be offended, I promise.”

“Okaaayyy.” She sits up straight. “I was watching Master Class and a little of Venice Station…”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“We’re working together. I wanted to see.” She sighs. “Anyways, I was watching and… I work with you and you’re like… you’re amazing now but then you…”

“I wasn’t very good.” I chuckle. I wasn’t very good. Jayson’s words. “I know.”

“What happened? How did you get so good?”

“I just…” I shrug. “I learned some stuff, you know.”

“You took classes?” She squints at me. “Playhouse West or something? Studio 5? It’s just… I’m not very good.”

“Cassidy, you’re good.” It’s a little bit of a lie. She’s cute and she’s got charisma but she’s not good. I lift my beer to my lips to hide my shame. She could be good.

“Bullshit. I’m cute. I won’t be cute forever and I want to be good. I want to have staying power. How’d you do it?”

Staying power. I’ve got staying power now. I’m big again. I’ve got the nice place, the career. Daddy? I couldn’t care less. It’s your turn! Cassidy is watching me, waiting. I can give her what she wants. Patching made me a better actor. A better person, maybe. It didn’t give me what I wanted. Maybe it will for her. Maybe she’ll be happy. “You really want to know?” Daddy?

“Seriously, Danny!” She pushes my leg.

“It’s a big dark secret, Cass.” I raise my eyebrows, take a sip. “Life and death.” Park Place, Daddy!

“Tell me!” Eleven hundred dollars!

I sip my beer. It tastes good. The evening light is perfect. I’ll miss this. “I really shouldn’t, but okay…”


I have two of Sara’s uniform shirts left in my closet. I take one. It’s very small. I raise it to my face, but it only smells like soap. I bring it with me to the couch.

A hit from my vape. I wait in silence.

Fight Club Rules. “Anytime now.” I wait. Nothing.

Until.

He’s not coming. “Daddy!”

I’m not me. I’m her.

My head. The noise.

Oh god.

The door opens and he’s there. I can’t look up at him. At me. “I threw up.”  He doesn’t look mad. “My head really hurts.” I look around. The vomit. The mess. I feel bad. “I’m sorry I made a mess.”

“No worries, Little Winner.” He’s smiling. He looks tired. He’s got no shirt. His hair is messy. “You want some Tylenol?” He looks around. “I’ll get this cleaned up later.”

 He takes my hand. I can barely see it. Things are dark now, blurry. “Daddy?”

“What’s up, Winner?”

“My eyes are weird.” My head hurts. A lot lot lot.

He chuckles. It relaxes me. He’s not worried. “Let’s see. Headache? Barfing? Weird eyes?” He lifts me onto the couch and sits down next to me. He’s warm. He’s comfortable. Daddy. “Sounds like you’ve got a migraine, Winner.” He leans forward, looks me in the face. “I used to get them, too. They suck.”

I laugh. It hurts. It’s hard to see. I… more vomit. Dad sees it coming. Catches it with a popcorn bowl.

I’m soooo tired. My eyes.

My head…

It hurts… “Daddy?” It hurts so much. “Where’s mommy?”

“She’s in Houston, remember? Work. She’ll be back tomorrow.”

I want her to be here. I want to see her. My head hurts so much. “I’m scared.”

“Don’t be, Winner. It’s just a migraine.”

I can barely hear him. Through a tube, a long long way away. It’s so dark.

Am I dying?

It’s not a migraine, Little Winner. It’s an aneurysm. I’m so sorry.

It’s dark.

I love you so much.

A long time. Our hearts beat.

I’m so sorry.

Then slow. Beat again. Once.

We’re together. In silence.