Two Flashes

Two Flashes

Let’s call it telepathic intuition: that the beautiful them that unfurls psilocybin-infused chocolate from a mass of tin foil has our best interests in mind.

“Well?” they say.

We are in a queer bar in Philly. We have only just met them. Still, we are not fools; we do not turn gifts away from spirits with braids down to their waist and a way of asking questions that suggest our minds are already made up.

My sister, who is not my real sister—we were born on the same day, years apart and from different mothers, but still, siblings—is the first to understand that the spirit, who has disappeared, was a trickster. My sister is melting from scalp to toes. I tell my sister: everything will be ok. We are symbolically in tune. I can, with the power of my mind, right the bar that has turned sideways for us, so that we are no longer walking on the walls.

My sister is not a twin but sometimes I wake up thinking her thoughts. I understand this as I stare at her thick leather wristbands sweating bull blood as she floats above the dancefloor. I call out to her, warning her to be careful, because her thoughts are scattered like mine. But really, I am most worried about the distance between us. Between you and I. How I can’t seem to read your mind though for a time, we were terribly close.

My sister, who is not my sister, stole my better parts from the universe. She bogarted the embryonic fluids and left me weak and uninteresting. I am, in this way, incapable of being singular. I don’t have enough juice to exist without being suckered to another like a leech.

You, certainly, understand.

We are in this queer bar though I am not queer. The mushrooms turn this into a source of discomfort. My sister, who is not my sister, reassures me that I “could pass.” We are talking in the unisex bathroom.

Passing is only through my approximation to you, I say.

Here in the unisex bathroom, the music seems to skip to a frenetic beat. I wonder whether the skip might be caused by a scratch in the golden rings of a CD. But nobody uses CDs anymore, right? The time of CDs—my time—is over. It turns out it isn’t the music skipping after all; I’m listening to the sound of an exhaust fan, whirring, working, an unseen system of clearing the unseen air. It is just like me to go the long, depressing route of figuring things out.

I can pass. This is surprising. The real queers don’t seem to know any better. I am suddenly happy to be proven by the place I am in. A guy hits on me. I’m spinning out, and only when he takes my hand do I realize I’m not in the mood. The man screams at me, tapping his long finger on the top of my head. I’m a cock tease, he says.

“You give it all or you don’t, motherfucker!”

This really gets me. He understands! I say to my sister. He seems to know me better than all of you!

It takes my sister a long time to talk me off this ledge.

Subdued, my sister and I leave the queer bar to hunt down pizza for her lover, who has called and begged for sustenance. Philadelphia has turned into a labyrinth of smoke and mirrors. We find ourselves standing outside the lover’s rental b’n’b trying to figure out the right bell to buzz, and we discover that the pizza we somehow, somewhere, have already purchased, as if it manifested out of thin air, has gone cold.

Upstairs, in the lover’s b’n’b, my sister burns her forearm on the oven trying to heat up the food. While we, together, brother and sister, watch the flesh swell, my sister’s lover eats the entire pizza on her own. I touch my sister’s wound like an extraterrestrial, my finger glowing. We laugh at how all that has happened between us has become a cosmic affront that we must navigate together. We are unified.

I need this, I say.

But my sister, who is not my real sister at all, kicks me out of the apartment. She wants to reap her lover’s reward. Ah, to be ripped apart by love! This is also my curse.

I am back in the spinning night, unmoored from gravity. Floating away from my sister. Is she the sun? A son of someone? Perhaps she isn’t my sister at all, but a blood brother.

Only she can tell me that.

We, all of us, are constantly learning new ways to relate to one another. Our star signs aligned, but only in passing.



A friend of mine, now in his sixties, calls to tell me he’s just gotten married.

You already have a wife, I say.

This is another one, he replies. A new one.

This new wife, who lives with him, I guess—he’s moved to a houseboat on the IJsselmeer—is his boy’s former sailing coach. They met last year. My friend doesn’t say much about his ex-wife or how all the filthy business of divorce and child custody battles went down, but I can imagine the scandal of it: a 65-year-old man and a woman 40 years his junior fucking behind the launching dock while his kid is out on the water, catching a southerly breeze.

I’m ashamed of my friend. Ashamed for him.

Still, I make plans to meet this new wife tomorrow afternoon.

Over dinner, my wife and I sigh over the cliché my friend has become. Just another old dude and his dick, she says. I plead, but she refuses to accompany me for the “ontmoeting”—this getting to know the new wife. I could desperately use her support. How do I face such idiocy with a straight face?

That’s for you men to figure out, she says.

My wife and I often talk as if we’re on a different plane of Samsara than the rest of the lowly animals, and sometimes I’m led to believe it. Why not? We eat our pasta. We read literature until the evening is heavy. We try not to do any harm.

I’m not certain I’m in a position to judge. I washed a spider down the drain the other day. But even with that great sin, there’s been no great alarm, no sound from the heavens to tell me I’m anything less than holy.

But something strange happens around two in the morning: I wake up violently shaking. There’s a chill in my body, striking down to the marrow. The thermometer tells me that my temperature has dropped just south of 36C. This, as a website confirms, is mild hypothermia.

What the fuck does this portend? Is this, like, some kind of sign?

I drop the philosophy when my body refuses to warm, even when my wife wraps me in blankets, cranks the heat to a tropical 23C, and boils me a cup of tea. None of it works. My teeth chatter. My wife desperately corrals me into the shower. I dial up the heat until the water is scalding and my body begins to warm, though surprisingly, the heat of the water doesn’t quite seem to register.

I read somewhere once that you can slowly boil a frog to death this way—by slowly increasing the heat of the water they swim in until they die of exposure.

In the morning, further online research suggests I might have diabetes. “The silent killer.” My wife holds my hand. If it’s that, she says, we’ll manage. We’ll eat better. We’ll lose weight. Together, we’ll live forever.


I am tired and grumpy when I drive out to the harbor. She, the new wife, is waiting on the dock. She introduces herself as Nicole. Tanned and smiling Nicole. Bikini in the waning sun Nicole. My friend has his wrinkled hand at her bare waist. His face, in comparison to her smooth visage, is haggard. Like me, he’s gotten fat; his throat is swollen like an inflated balloon.

We walk to the gate that guards the private area of the dock where my friend’s houseboat is moored. The gate is locked.

Allow me, Nicole says.

She dials 69, 69, 69 into a keypad. The lock clicks. My friend, following behind her as I hold the door for them, grins like a dumb animal.


Nicole cooks dinner for us with a fat spliff hanging between her lips. A tone has been set. She bounces up and down with an energy even I, only in my early 40s, have begun to forget.

My friend and I drink icy pilsners. The atmosphere feels tense, but I am sleepy too from the third beer in a row. I begin to feel paranoid about glucose levels. I say this out loud, the joint making me too dumb to hold things to the chest. Nicole is unworried though. She introduces a few white rails to the table.

Charlie Sheen? she asks.

I decline. Nicole and my friend hoover the snow with knowing precision.


My friend, having had too much to drink, jumps from the side of the boat into the water below. He surfaces in his wake, his voice croaking in the dark.

Help! He cries.

I can’t see him in the primordial evening. I don’t know if he’s in real danger, though I worry he is. Nicole stumbles towards the guardrail. She gulps air and belches.

Swim! she shouts.

I listen to these two perform their call and response.

Help! Swim! Help! Swim!

Though melodious, these words seem to have no power. All this great noise, all this time passing, and still, my friend is out there, oblivious, just swimming around in circles.


About the Author

Daniel J. Cecil is a writer and teach in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. His work has appeared in The Rumpus, The Heavy Feather Review, The LA Review of Books, Barrelhouse, Miracle Monocle, and The Stranger, among others. His work has been nominated for a pushcart, was long-listed for the Dzanc Fiction Prize, short-listed for the Yes Yes Books open reading period, and received the support of several residencies. Daniel is the founder of Honing House, an English-language, community-centered, and empathy-led educational resource that was built for writers all over the world.


Image by Vicki Hamilton from Pixabay