In Line

Gray sky slouches, angry and resigned. Refusing to reveal any texture or hint of where the sun may lie. Under that gray sky, we sit.

Smear of forest rides the distant hills, a blackened brown lined by cracks of snow. Hints of the evergreen are invisible at a distance, and it all looks dead. Or, at least, it looks like it’s trying to die. The winter still sits with us. Sky through the branches looks like nothing. A white void.

The trees are just trying to do their best, though, reaching scraggly arms to the featureless plain above. Down at their mossy trunks, the dry brambles play.

Old boards of the hunting stand are held on the wounded trunk with old rusted nails. The plywood of it bends like a forgotten promise to pay you back, from a friend you know never will, rotting with resentment and the creaks of old age.

The hunters: our breath a silent summons. An unpleasant scent of warm beer and sweat. The smell becomes a blanket for us, and the long-gone wind refuses to wake up and carry it off.

In the stillness, the deer stands framed by black oak trunks against the muddy snow. Raises its head to become a better self. Twitches in the stillness, no sound, our breath held in now, our smell retracted, praying it does not alert our prey.

The bullet flees from a resounding clash. A tiny explosion in its beliefs sends it buzzing through the stillness. An invisible knife, a murderous orbit, an accidental insult you can’t take back.

Entering the flesh, the bullet rearranges the poetry of the deer into poorly-written comedy. We would cringe if we could see the havoc up close, but we are far away. Under the same gray sky, but far, far away now.

Blood cells on high alert rush to the scene of the wound. The pumping heart of the deer as it recoils in pain sends a red river down its haunch. Through the matted tangles of a forest in miniature, each hair a tiny tree, an un-dammed river of red splashes downward.

Except these burnt-black trees are on an earth that is upside-down, and dying. A droplet forms. A dark bright red, the color of candy. The color of a woman’s lipstick when she wants to be seen as someone else. Transparent, holding a precious cargo of blood cells, the globe cuts its surface tension. It falls from the struggling deer, unnoticed.

The drop of blood falls through the still air towards the snowy ground. Within it, the blood cells desperately try to gauge the situation. Should we attempt to coagulate? Yes. There is so much air here. But where are the rest of our forces? Where is our host? And now what is this cold, cold crystalline shore we’ve crashed upon?

Star-shaped crystal snowflakes form a colorless beach, a sculpture garden at microscopic scale, and the deer’s blood seeps out into it. A tiny circle of red in the white, unreal spreading there within the brown black forest under the distant gray sky.

Look closer. The crystalline structures and frozen palaces of the winter’s art are formed from water molecules, locked in their icy dance. But the warmth of the vibrating blood begins to loosen their bonds. The water and the red blood begin to mingle, melting outward.

We follow the trail of pink through the muddy snow.


Weapons of Weapon Destruction

In the William P. Hobby airport, CNN is on. Glazed stares and crying babies maunder through an almost-visible haze of cinnamon, fried fat, and cleaning fluids. On the screen, the anchor is reading tweets from the public. But then the bottom of the screen flares up, with a shining silver “BREAKING NEWS” badge. “GUNS ALL GONE?” it reads. Just as a few people start muttering, the airport intercom erupts with static.

“Please remain calm. A state of emergency has been declared by the governor of the state of Texas,” the toneless voice rings out.

At the FastCheck TSA security checkpoint line, a man in a battered cowboy hat stands confused, reaching in his jacket. “Where the hell did my piece go?” There’s dust all over his hands. He claps them off, confused, patting his pockets. Then he stares at the guy behind him. “You take my gun?”

“Naw man, what’re you even talking about, man?”

“I’m a fed, son. Don’t mess with me.”

The guy puts his hands up; sort of joking, sort of not. “I’m not messin’ with you, dude!”

From far back of the TSA line someone yells, “Hey! They’re sayin’ ALL the GUNS are gone!”

“What? Gone?” someone shouts back.

“They ALL GONE!”

Mumbling and jostling anxiety skitters down the lines, ramping into a buzz of fear.

The fed stands stock still, arms akimbo, glancing from side to side. “I’m an air marshal,” he says, more to remind himself than to inform anyone else.

The TSA agents look around in panic. This was not covered in the training videos. One of them stands up, sky blue gloves raised, and tries to restore order. “Please wait until we get further information!”

The marshal pushes his way to the front of the line, causing more people to grumble and the general chatter to get louder.

“PEOPLE!” he hollers, loud enough that everyone actually does stop and stare for a moment. “I am a U.S. Air Marshal! I hereby order you to REMAIN CALM and STAY WHERE YOU ARE!”

“Yeah, but do you have a GUN?” an anonymous voice in the crowd yells out.

The marshal’s hand moves instinctively to his empty holster, he looks down confused, and then pandemonium erupts.

“Blyaaaa!” yells a man, completely unintelligible, as he launches himself at the U.S. Marshal and bites his ear clean off. The ensuing screams are drowned in the clatter of the mob rushing over and past them, plowing their way through the checkpoint and howling with feral glee as they enter the sacred inner confines of the airport’s plaza.

Some react like animals, becoming predators or prey, asserting their dominance or running for cover. Some people lucky to not be pushed along in the raging torrent stare in disbelief, frozen. Deer with only other deer to fear.

By this point there is far too much screaming for anyone to hear the airport’s intercom. “Please stay calm,” the disembodied voice says anyway, flat with the conviction that it can’t compel a soul now.



Hours later, a family are huddled together in a fortified restroom entrance, walled in by chairs and baggage. The two boys’ faces flicker by the light of the blazing fire that used to be a Sbarro.

The mother glances around the corners, grimacing in the direction of a bloody pile where a police uniform lies in tatters over a mangled body. “I bet there’s a radio.”

The father nods. “Not a bad idea, hon. I’ll keep watch.” He hefts a home-made spear fashioned from a walking stick and a barbecue tool set.

She touches his cheek, and then lurches out past the baggage, as one of the boys grasps for her hand. “Mom, no! Be careful!”

Ducking fast, and staying close to the soot-stained wall, she eyes the infinite gates stretching past the roaring Sbarro fire. Nobody in sight. Far off, the sound of screaming, or maybe laughter. Behind her, towards the dead end terminal they came from, most of the lights have been broken. But no motion in the shadows there, either. Just bodies, quietly lying. She shudders, and looks at the body.

Grimacing, she kicks at the belt. Nothing. Empty holster, of course. But she grabs the heavy flashlight and sticks it in her waistband. “Stupid of them to leave that,” she mutters. “Radio must be on his chest.” Before rolling him over, she looks both directions again. Nothing moving.

As she pulls the body over, a sudden radio squawk makes her push it away with a sickening thunk. But that sound means the radio is still working. She grabs it, squeezes and yells, “Help us!”

Static fills the air. And then a voice cuts through. “Excuse me ma’am, this is a police channel.”

“I know. The, umm… the officer is dead. It’s total chaos here. Let me get back to, uhh, to cover. Call you back.” She flips the radio back off and hustles back to the wall, cradling it.

Her husband steps out and watches for movement as she ducks back behind their little fort. “What’s going on?” she asks into the radio, as he squeezes her hand and pinches his lips together.

“Sorry,” the voice on the other end crackles. “I don’t want to get your hopes up, but… I can’t help you. I’m locked in a radio room.”

“What’s going on out there? Is it like this… everywhere?”

“Pretty much. Some kind of high-tech nanotech mumbo-jumbo destroyed all the guns. Now there’s no guns anywhere, no way to protect ourselves, so we just gave up. There’s a few good police still trying to work how they can, but…”

“But what?”

“The federal government sent in marines armed with bows and arrows. They’re taking over all the states one by one like this. First, they get the guns. Then, they take over in the inevitable chaos.”

One of the kids yanks on her sleeve. “Mommy, why did God take away all the guns?”

She looks down, wiping a tear from her eye. “God didn’t take the guns, sweetie. THE MAN took all the guns.”


Purgatory Tactics

Man, shit. It smells like a hospital in here. All rubber and get-well-soon balloons, tanks of gas, linoleum dosed with cleaning supplies. Stacks of grim colors, floor to ceiling plastic heart replacements destined for the landfill. Party City is a fucked up place when you’re all alone, late at night.

Nobody comes to buy supplies for a party this late. Why is this place even open? Maybe they already closed, and I just didn’t hear cuz I’m so high? Shit. Now I’ll have to survive by hunting piƱatas and eating their shitty stale candy. Shit shit shit. I’m gonna have to sleep in here, head on a god damned pile of cocktail napkins that say “CHEERS!” on them. I’ll wake up and have to pretend I just got here early to buy supplies for my nephew’s fuckin’ giraffe-themed birthday party. Annnnd yup, there’s the cash registers, nobody there. Ghost town. I’m fuckin’ locked in, and I can’t get out.

Okay, no, wait. That’s gotta be the weed talking. I shoulda listened to Kev. Definitely shouldn’t have eaten that second brownie. Fuck me. There’s no way they leave the muzak playing all night, right? Calm down. It’s just a friggin’ giant empty party store. No big. Gonna just walk around and try to remember why I’m here. Get the heart back down from orbit.

Man, what even is this crap? Cowboy parties? Ice cream parties? Baptism parties? Who the hell has the time to celebrate gettin’ dunked in the Lord’s holy juices? How come I don’t ever get invited to ice cream parties, dude? Casino themed party bullshit? Mad hatter tea party, mass produced! “Sassy” versus “classy” bachelorette parties, okay, society is just straight doomed. Why is Party City selling underwear that says “Bachelorette” on it? I didn’t need to know that. Fuck, I did not need to know that existed.

Oh shit, there’s Kevin at the end of the aisle! Don’t yell. Keep it cool. Yelling in a quiet Party City is not cool, dude. Like, worse than yelling in the library. They’ll call the cops on you for that crap, for certain.

Dodge the endcaps, try to find which aisle he’s going down. Themed plastic table settings. Nope. Costumes. Nope. Balloons that have jokes on them. There he is! Wait, why are there nunchucks?

“Kevin, what the hell are we doing here? Who in fuck’s name dresses their kids up as Amelia Earhart and Abe Lincoln?”

Kevin laughs. “What are you even talking about?”

“Dude, back over here, have you seen the costume aisle?” We walk through the warehouse from the end of Indiana Jones, except the evidence crates are all party supplies for the kinds of parties I would run from. It’s worse than having God hiding in his weird little gold house somewhere, knowing that God’s never been in this fuckin’ place. I really doubt he’d be able to sleep in a fake pirate chest that says “It’s Yarrr Birthday!” on it.

I point down the costume aisle, and then shove my hands as far into my sweatshirt pockets as they’ll go.

Kevin laughs, real loud. “Wow, now I kinda want to buy a plastic ninja sword.” He swings it towards me, menacing grin, and I back up, trying to laugh all normal.

We wander through the endless aisles. Kevin points the sword at a plastic limbo set. “Hey, did you know that the original tradition had people limbo from the lowest up to the highest bar? It was, like, signaling a release of tension, or a growing from death back into life, or some shit.” He stares at me. I blink a few times.

Handing me the sword, Kevin says “Hold it up!” Then he makes like it’s a limbo bar and laughs his way under it. “Guess when it got popularized we made it into a fuggin’ competition.”

“I guess we’d rather pretend we can beat death,” I say, carefully sliding the sword back on a shelf in between plastic champagne flutes that proclaim “It’s a Boy!” I glance up at the fluorescent lights. My heart is pounding, still. I wanna lie down. I want to see the stars or the sun or hear some other humans talking. But all I can see is floor-to-ceiling plastic. The muzak is playing a truly shit instrumental rendition of “Manic Monday”. Why did we come here?

Kevin hits me in the ear with the sword, giggling. “Dude, lighten the hell up!”

I hear myself ask him, “Why are we here, man?” and it sounds even stupider out loud.

“You’re the one that thought it would be funny.” He hacks over a cardboard Chewbacca, making whooshing noises. It drifts to the ground and makes a soft splut. “You were right, man, this place is hilarious late at night.”

Guess he can’t hear my heart trying to lurch back out of this limbo. I stand there, and I can feel my fists stretching my hoodie out and down to match the passing time as it seeps across the chlorine-soaked floor of fuckin’ Party City, sliding under a blacked-out wookie.



Hoo boy, you humans would probably envy my job. If you knew it existed, or if I could even explain to you what it was. I am like unto a metaphor contractor, a literal creator-from-nothing, crafting from the whole cloth that which was not but now… IS.

It sounds cool when I frame it like that, like I might be able to step into some glowing robes and really God the hell out of it. But I spent this entire last year specifying the finer details of a micro-ecology that lives inside what you might call the colon of an alien pig, a species that lives in the stretches of dense storms in the thicker regions on a gaseous planet so far outside your light cone you’d be baffled if I tried to explain the distance.

An entire year’s worth of my work, and for what? I mean, it’s an impressively creative apparently-evolved set of intertangled sub-biomes within the gut of the pig. My team made quite the hog. But now, what? We’ve got another new complicated component to add on to the universe. I’m some sort of downloadable content slave. Pay me, oh powers that be, and I’ll make sure that there are new cosmetics for your galactic-scale games. Somebody might study it later, after my work’s been fully disguised by millions of years of evolution.

I’ve seen your movies, you know. I wish I was a cool and mysterious god-like being, seeding the universe with life for my own majestic, unknown, unknowable purposes. Instead I’m just a wage slave like you. At a different plane, but nonetheless. Know that you are not alone, mortals, and tremble.

Or don’t.

Good grief. I just found out that gas planet got wiped by another scheduled supernova event. That floating omnivorous gas hog my team and I carefully built over the last year is gone, already. Why do I even bother? We could argue for reinstantiation elsewhere outside of that loop, but…

I’m starting to think about downgrading and coming to join you. The price is so expensive, though. Memories are hard to let go of; so many millions of years. And I’d be mortal. Not even knowing when a supernova is coming to strip my civilization’s skin from the bones of its planet. Doesn’t seem worth it.

So, instead, dreaming in my off time, I specify new stories of my own devising. I spin new species to rise through the emergent planes and spread through the stars. Role playing as one of your gods. Instead of saying “Entertain me, mortals,” I am inspired by the way you entertain each other in the face of inevitable entropy and death.

Keep going, puny humans. Keep us all afloat out here with your impossible hopes and dreams. We’re not laughing. I swear it.



We needed color back in our lives. We needed blood rushing through our shouting lungs. Finally, it was just me, the diplomat, and of course his translator. “Good morning, Mr. Krznykev,” I said as he clambered into the car; I’m sure to have mispronounced his name, but I try my best. All the bland coffee and beige back and forth in windowless rooms had left us all drained. After entire week of dry, forgettable diplomatic meetings starved of wit by the translation barrier, I confess: I was truly excited to get to show the representative from Rorzhakistan a game of real, live American football.

As we rode smoothly in the armored car to the stadium, I tried not to get carried away. But even still, I could tell it was reaching my cheeks. Reaching my speech, in the quavers of emotion I’m sure the diplomat could hear well before his translator distilled the drips of words quietly in his ear. Hell, the excitement seemed to be reaching the world out of the tinted windows, where the sky was bluer than dreams.

“Just look at that big blue sky,” I said with a grin, rubbing my hands together. “I really think you are going to enjoy this, today.”

Mr. Krznykev looked annoyed, listening to the translator. Then he turned to her and said something quietly. I patiently waited, letting the colors sink back into me. “I still do not understand. Is it really… necessary that we attend this ceremony?” she said at last, not meeting my gaze. He said something sharp, pointedly looking between me and the world outside the windows. “We have much work to do,” she said.

“Yes, I know. But this will be good, to take our mind off that work for a while. A break.” I paused. “Plus, it may help your understanding of our American culture to see how we have fun!”

He nodded while she translated in hushed tones. There was a resigned look on his face. I could see it hang across his brow. But I was going to break through to him, somehow! And here we were. The vast concrete cavern loomed over us, welcoming all to the spectacle.

We hustled and bustled through the VIP gate. The translator was clearly gawping at all the strangely costumed fans in their red and orange, the few rabid visiting folks standing out as the enemy in blue and gold. Our security detail whisked us through the crowds to our box seats at the top of the stadium. “Ahh, living in style!” I smiled and gestured for them to take a seat in the comfortable chairs. “I will get any food or beverages you need. Please let me know!”

I bowed to the translator slightly, and deeper to Mr. Krznykev. She covered her mouth and curtsied back. The diplomat just looked at me and nodded. Then he turned, took his coat off, and plonked himself down in a seat, arms crossed.

We all surveyed the field for a time, and sipped flavored waters. For the life of me I could not get them to try the local delicacy of deep-fried mushrooms wrapped in bacon. Finally, the translator got through to me that Mr. Krznykev did not eat bacon.

“What about you?” I winked at her, holding one out, knowing Mr. Krznykev was not paying attention.

She got an angry look in her eyes and shook her head quite vigorously. “No, thank you,” she said, but it was like a parrying stab. In retrospect, I should have assumed that Rorzhakistanis might not appreciate the finer tastes of American living.

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry.” I glanced down at the field. “Look, the game is about to begin!”

The home team rushed out onto the field, blasting their way through a large plastic banner to a bombastic song, blaring through the stadium.. They waved their bright red helmets in the air. Everyone in the stadium was electric.

Two men ran at each other on the field, sprinting headlong. A red helmet crunched into a gold one, clanging with a force the entire crowd could feel. They bounced off each other like rag dolls, only to be piled on by two more roaring teammates, and then two more, all trying to push the pile of people toward their end zone.

The red and orange tide was carrying the mass toward victory, slowly. I must admit, my excitement got the better of me as I let out a loud “WHOOOOP!” along with the roaring crowd. The stadium shook with the bellowing fans.

Suddenly I noticed the translator waving gently at me, trying to get my attention. She pointed at Mr. Krznykev, who covered his face. “What is going on here?” she yelled. “I thought football had a ball!”

I shake my head. “It used to,” I yelled back. The diplomat turned to me with a look of shock on his face, pained and red. Knowing they probably couldn’t even hear me over the surging roars of the crowd, I smiled wide in their faces and raised a fist. “This is the politician drafting league!” I shouted. “This is politics, baby!”

The crowd roared as the home team pushed one of the blue and gold visitors into the end zone. “For shame,” I thought. The enemy is making this far too easy.



Wittened hashen puffs of snowly sparkledown past the streetcar’s windows, framing all the cities as a new formeration we had not seen before or since. In the patterns, we thought we sawed out a shape for ourselves. But like all these things, it was mere illusion, a mirror of sense for our nonsense. It reflected back something that we cannot say, now. On this state, your estate so much larger than my dwelling.

Sitting hared in the humble bumpling streetcar, the silence outside settled on our mind’s ears like a starkled tragedy of forms, of black eating white, of white subsuiting and betraying blackness. But the crumbling sounds inside fragmented too. The mesmerated bumps hid under the blankling snow, retreating and giving up before we felt them in our bones and our bodilys.

It’s extremely difficult to descript the moment when language passes, finally, from our scented grasp. Slidles and slips like a ladled soup of letters and phrased sunlight into the gutters and tracts of goodbye.

We once had wives, and sons and daughters, and rambling mansions filled with standoffish cats or aristocratic dogs. Stables and horses, servants or stewarded, the very core of our souls, our family. Now gone and dusted underling softened blank tooled snow.

It’s a feat that’s difficult to admit. And hard-earned peak still to summit. Perhaps it is finally time to open wide and cravenly craft the finality. We lost the eye in that snowstorm. There isn’t us anymore.


Delivery Guy


The doorbell rings. You open it, expecting your takeout order, but instead a goofy looking dude in a blue jumpsuit and matching hat is holding an arrangement of flowers out at you.

“Flowers for, uhh, Clara Terig-uh-ulsch?” Impressive. He’s butchered your last name worse than most. You glare at him, and he nervously paws at the frizzy hair flying out from under his hat. He stares at you, gesturing with the flowers. You don’t take them. They can’t be for you.

“They can’t be for me,” you hear yourself say.

“But you’re… Clara?” he asks, plaintively, as he checks an app on his phone.

“Yes. But they’re not for me.” You just moved to this damn town. There’s no way Jo would have tracked you down here; you’re not on very good terms after the way that relationship ended. The only people who know your address are your dad and the crinkly old delivery woman at the Thai place down the street. Neither of them seems like a bouquet-based assassin, trying to accidentally (or otherwise) murder your current steady state of emotional avoidance.

“You have to take them!” he says. “They must be from a secret admirer or something. At least read the card.” He points at an ornate piece of paper riding through the jungle of dyed carnations on a stick of plastic.

You roll your eyes and start to close the door. “Nope,” you say. “Sorry, guy.”

“I’ll set them down right here, then!” he says, suddenly defiant.

“And I’ll report you for littering,” you say all deadpan. You don’t really mean it, but you feel a bit bad when you see his crestfallen face.

“Look. I don’t know anyone,” you say. “I don’t want creepy stalker flowers. Just give them to some nice old lady on the street. Don’t tell your boss. Everything works out.”

“Why don’t you just take them and pass them along, then?” he asks.

You stare at him for a moment “…” You’re about to knock the damn flowers out of his hand or slap the guy. You can feel the flush of anger in your cheeks, a strange electricity returning to a long-dead circuit. “Count to ten,” you say under your breath.

He clearly reads the steam coming out of your ears. “Okay okay, I’m sorry Miss, uh Terugul– uh, Clara.” He does a weird kind of pained bow, and tips his dopey little embroidered hat that reads “Freedom Flowers”.

“That’s alright. They’re not for me,” you say, meeting his gaze and willing him to understand. “Now have a good day — and leave me alone.”

“Okay–” he says, and you semi-accidentally slam the door, throwing the deadbolt immediately. “Sorry!” you hear him say as he walks back down the concrete steps. He sounds sincere and you feel slightly bad. But mostly you’re just hungry. Where’s that damn food?


“So, yeah. I know it’s weird to come to one of these and say this, but I’m not addicted to a particular drug. I’m addicted to an act. No, yeah, no… it’s not a sex thing. It’s a flower thing. Don’t laugh, but it does sound like a joke. I understand that. Flowers are my drug.

“Yeah, I know, it’s confusing me too. I work as a delivery driver for a florist. And I can’t stop. I mean, when I get done, I just go home and sit there watching TV, with the demand itching through my scalp. I have a basic need, unmet, crawling around in my belly, unsatisfied by gift giving or relationships or any of that. I’ve tried it all.

“The only thing that works, that gets me high, uhh, as it were… is just, uhh, delivering flowers to strangers. It’s not the joy of seeing the surprised faces, though there is that. There is that… It’s more… it’s like… well, it’s like a weird guessing game. Trying to predict from the arrangement what the story is, getting a window into how they are feeling from how the recip reacts. Cold, apology failed. Giggling, early lovebirds. Blank, confused dementia. Smiles with something hard behind them, a story I can’t quite see the edges of.

“Anyway, it’s got me in a bad way. So uh, yeah. My name is Darren, and I’m addicted to delivering flowers.”


It’s a week later, and you’ve forgotten about the mistaken flowers. So you’re not sure what to feel when you look through the peephole and see that same guy with the blue jumpsuit and matching hat holding flowers.

You open the door, exasperated. “Hi again.”

“Hi,” he says, but before he can get a word in, you start in.

“Look, these are not for me. Can you just tell your boss or whoever to save the money and just not deliver anything to here?” You glare at him.

“Well, uh, look. They are for you. I’ve got a problem.” He sounds so serious.

“It’s not that bad,” you say. “It’s just a case of mistaken identity. I’m sure you get that all the time.”

Then he whips his hat off and throws it on the ground. “No, look. I have a problem. I like to try to deliver extra arrangements to random people. Just to see their reaction.”

“Wait. Have you been stalking me?” Feeling your blood start to boil over, you brandish your phone at him like a sword hilt.

“N-n-no, nothing like that. Just random selection.” He sheepishly points at your mailbox. “Your name’s right there, Clara.”

“Oh. Right.” You blink. “Why the hell are you back? What do you think you’re doing?”

“You just, uhh… you’re the only person who hasn’t just taken the flowers. Everyone else just takes it in stride, the uh, the excitement of a secret admirer or whatever.” He runs a hand through his hair. “But now it’s not very secret. Will you take these flowers?”

“No. I hate flowers. Well, no. I hate killing them to put them on a table,” you say. It sounds stupid when you say it out loud. But he doesn’t get all beaten down. In fact, when you say you hate flowers, you could swear that made him smile.

“Have dinner with me sometime then?” He gingerly removes the card from the arrangement and hands it to you. “I’ll just throw these out, I guess.” He looks at the flowers, grinning, and back at you.

You say nothing, but you can’t stop the smile that begins to grow. “I’ll think about it,” you say.

“I’m Darren. It was nice to meet you, Clara.” He grabs his hat from the ground and does an intentionally funny little flourish with it, and you can’t keep your smile from growing a little bigger. Damn it.

“Bye,” you say, as you close the door, fiddling with the card and failing to convince yourself to just throw it away.

You flip it open. “Your Secret Admirer,” it reads, with the word Secret crossed out and a phone number underneath. And damned if it doesn’t make you smile to think about having dinner with the dopey flower guy, Darren. Get a grip, you tell yourself, as you carefully put the card on top of a stack of unopened mail. You know what happens next.