Harley Wax had found his groove. The dance beat pounded hard. Harley’s hands hit the keyboard as he rocketed with his own song. The people on the dance floor, in sync with the computerized lights, undulated in the deep beat of the sizeable New York club. He moved close to his mic and sang:
Hey, man, I just spin the vinyl
While you all dance and shine while
You think I’m some kind of yogi
and Kamal Kashoggi gets chopped into little bits.
No one has fits about Trump as he sits
chumming up to Rocket Man,
Kim Jong, Long Dong, and I’ll bang the gong
and keep moving on
to bring you the song.
Harley banged a gong, and everyone on the floor cheered and raised their hands. He loved this stuff. “Intense” shouted a young woman in a minidress who tried to get up to his platform. A security guard pulled her down. While his songs could be political, such as this one, written while Trump was in office, no one particularly cared as long as it had a dance beat. He loved that it remained timely. The kids needed politics by subliminal messaging.
Fading in a CD, listening closely to his headphones, and using his array of knobs, buttons, and pads, Harley kept the sound level high and the beat pounding.
He had come to New York knowing he had to be patient. It might take up to two months after he arrived here before a label would find him and his music. His actions would bring success.
Now it was nine years later. People liked him, but no label or bigger club had taken him on. He had had to get a real job. He ran one of the student computer labs at Hunter College to have some steady money. Then he found DJing fun and more lucrative than playing his music alone. He discovered he could include his own music, playing it live, but still no record deals. It was gravy money.
Now, people rushing the bar to prepare for the next set meant he was doing well. He knocked down two beers. He didn’t used to drink, but fuck it. It made the night more fun.
After the last set, as he packed up, he couldn’t escape the feeling that overwhelmed him lately: this path wasn’t enough. He should be happy. He got people dancing. He was twenty-eight and doing just fine, or at least that’s how he should feel, but it wasn’t enough.
The woman who’d tried to jump on his stage earlier sashayed up to him and cleared her throat.
“Hi,” he said, packing away a turntable, now appreciating her style – great necklace and earrings. “You want to get a drink out of here?” he asked.
“You serious?” she said.
“Yeah.” Perhaps she might sleep with him. One perk of the job was he got laid often. They could go to the Up & Up bar, nearby, then hit his tiny apartment not far from there.
“You look familiar,” she said.
He recognized her from the computer lab. “Isn’t your name Barbara Moon?” he said. “You had a problem printing with a Google Doc?”
“You’re that guy?”
“My name is actually Bunny Moon. I used ‘Barbara’ at the lab so you’d take me seriously. Your name can’t be The Groovemouse.”
“Made up, too?”
“Father was a biker. He died in a car crash.”
At the Up & Up as they perched on stools at the elegant bar, mirror and glass more intricate than a fun house, Bunny talked a lot, mostly how she was an older student on a scholarship who’d previously been a model. In her minidress and braless blouse, he could believe she had modelled. “It’s been fun to travel the world,” she said, “but now at thirty, money nearly gone, I realized I needed to go back to school. I need a new calling.”
She didn’t look thirty—older than him?
“Where’d you travel?” He liked watching her lips as she talked.
“London, Barcelona, Milan. Oh, Milan! And above it is Lake Como where George Clooney and wife Amal have a mansion on the lake.”
She had a gentle nose and flawless face that could be on a Vogue cover. She now ran her tongue over her lower lip. Things might go well after all.
After two Cosmos, she admitted to having a child, which is why she had dropped out of modeling. “It’s tough having a kid and going to school, too,” she said. “My kid’s brilliant. She’s three and making cubes using paper, scissors, and tape.”
Shit. A kid. Talk about killing a moment… but stay nice. “Is she in preschool?” he said.
Bunny sighed. “Hunter has a preschool if you’re faculty or staff, but not for students. It costs to pay for babysitters. I’ve taken my kid to classes, but then one professor put a stop to that. I might have to drop out for a while.”
“Where’s your kid tonight?”
“With a girlfriend. I’ll pick my dumpling up in the morning.”
Was she suggesting an all-nighter? “Want to have another drink at my apartment? It’s small but cozy,” he said.
She smiled as if that was what she was hoping. “Absolutely.”
* * *
When they got to his tree-lined street, she looked around as if she knew where his place was and smiled.
“You been on this block before?” Harley asked.
“No—but it’s beautiful.”
He directed her to his brownstone, and he opened the door for her. She walked in.
Inside his minimalistic apartment, on the only sofa, a loveseat, they downed a couple shots of tequila, smoked a joint, then raced to undress each other. He was spinning at that point; maybe he shouldn’t have had that last shot.
When he woke up in the morning in his bedroom, surrounded by his musical instruments and tangled in his sheets, he remembered they seemed to have fun, even if the details were fuzzy. He’d expected her to be gone. She was still there.
“Don’t you have to get your kid?”
“Yeah, soon. I really liked last night.”
He nodded. He should say something, but he didn’t want to encourage her.
“Are you working in two nights?” she asked.
His head pounded. He could use a drink. “You know… I’m not boyfriend material.”
“Slow down. You’re leaping ahead,” she said.
“I’m like a skyhook, anchored to nothing. You don’t want to hang around me.” He pulled clean underwear from the dresser next to him.
“I thought it’d be fun to have dinner,” she said. “Get to know you as a person—or as a skyhook. You’re very talented—and not just in the music department.” She smiled.
“Ha! Talent is like… Let me ask you this. Why’d you want to be a model?”
“I thought I’d be good at it.”
“How’d you get into it?”
“As a kid, I saw the first season of America’s Next Top Model. I could do that, I thought. I was around sixteen. I found a good photographer, convinced him to shoot me, sent the pictures into an agency, and at seventeen, I was modelling.”
He hammered the bed with his fist. “See!” he said. “That’s what I expected in music. You wanted something, you were driven, and you got it. For me, it hasn’t happened.”
“It has. You’re like no other D.J. Your music is the jam!”
“I like EDM and DJing, but it’s not what I wanted.” He bolted out of bed and pulled on his pants. “I have places to go,” he said.
“I get it,” she said, finding her blouse, and he appreciated her form once again. “Hey, there are big downsides to modelling: being hit on all the time, drugs, aging out, pregnancy… Anyway, feel lucky success hasn’t hit you. It’s not all that great.”
“Mind if we exchange numbers?” he said.
Later, out on the street, on his way to the Bagel Pub where he breakfasted every day, drinking a Green Machine (vegetables juiced) and an everything bagel with butter, he thought perhaps he was too harsh with Bunny. A friend back in Los Angeles, Callie, had once accused him of not being sensitive enough with others. Wasn’t all his music, though, about being sensitive? That’s where it counted.
The more he thought of his brashness, the worse he felt, until a homeless man, standing under an arch on West 8th Street, asked him for five dollars.
“Five dollars?” said Harley, incredulous. “What happened to ‘spare change?’”
“What, for parking? I got no car.”
Then and there, Harley decided that he would do four great things that day. People only had to ask him for something, and he’d give it. Four things, and he’d be a better person. He could be giving. The guy wore torn jeans and a gray T-shirt, and Harley slipped him a five. The man examined the bill, surprised like a kid at Christmas. “Thanks, Mister.”
That left three good things to do.
Before Harley got to the Bagel Pub, a very young woman looking worse for wear stepped out from behind tall plants at a florist. In a ripped dress, mascara running, she said to him, “Need a date?”
And what place would let us in, you looking like that? he thought, but instead he said, “What do you really need? What do you need money for?”
“Honest? Meth,” she said. “How about a blow job, just twenty.”
He gave her a twenty and waved off the blow job. She, too, looked surprised—good, honest amazement with that kid’s smile again. Two down, two to go. This was fast.
As he sat at a small round table at the Bagel Pub, he wondered if he really should have helped the girl. Money for drugs would do more damage—but often enough, he’d certainly felt as bad as she did. Why was success so hard? At least he’d given her a slice of time where she felt good. Besides, he was just going by what the universe asked him for that day.
On his return home, a U-Haul moving truck was parked in front of his building, and three young men struggled with carrying a sofa through his building’s front door. Two of the men, pasty looking, thin, and not muscled, wore T-shirts that said, “Struggling Artists Moving Company.”
The third guy was larger, in his thirties, and wore a leather jacket and crisp jeans. He looked confident. This had to be the new renter. Good things came to guys like this. Harley ran up and held the door open. The three moved the sofa in.
“You got it?” asked Harley.
The man in the leather coat said, “I could use another set of hands on my end.”
Harley joined in. “How far?” said Harley, now feeling the sofa’s weight. “Do you have your dumbbell set in here?”
“Just to the third floor.”
On the second floor, as they had to lift the sofa above the banister, Harley felt a sharp pain in his back. He grimaced but said nothing, and when it was over, the guy in the leather coat said thanks and reached for his wallet.
Harley held up his hand, “Hey, no. I’m on the second floor, Harley. Welcome to the building.”
The guy looked at Harley quizzically. “Really?” he asked.
“Yeah, no problem,” Harley said, and the guy gave him that kid’s smile like the two before him had. One good thing to go.
The skinny guys in the T-shirts said thanks as Harley limped off and down a flight.
Inside his place, Harley took a warm bath in hopes that would help his back. Once he was in the tub, a sense of peace overcame him, much like the initial feeling of good pot. Helping people was… good. He realized his DJing was helping, too. Maybe he was normal after all. Maybe he needed to find a way to get his music out to more people—maybe a really big dance event at an arena.
He added more hot water. The heat helped his back. As he watched a few drips of water fall from the faucet, his thoughts went in another direction. Was helping with the sofa one good thing or two? First, he had held open the door, then he lifted. Two things—but for one event. Did he have time for one more helpful thing?
His phone rang. He looked to his pants on the floor. Could you get electrocuted from a phone if it fell in the bath? He decided no, so grabbed his phone from his pants. It was Bunny.
“Hi,” he said.
“I’m home now, and ‘Go-dar’ is doing fine.”
“Go-dar?” He used the same French accent she did.
“My daughter… After Jean Luc-Godard, the French filmmaker. Saw his films in an existentialist film class. You don’t like the name ‘Godard?’”
“In French, it sounds great,” he said. “In English, it sounds more like ‘god-hard.’”
“Like a groovemouse?”
He laughed and said, “What’s up?”
“Are you free tomorrow night? If so, I’ll arrange for a sitter.”
“This is where you ask me out to dinner—if you’re not working.”
“Bunny, I should warn you. I’m not a fancy guy. I lived in an abandoned storefront in Brooklyn before this. Going out to dinner for me is zipping around the corner to 7th Street Burgers.”
“I like burgers.”
He paused. She was so good looking. “You baffle me,” he said.
“Don’t be defensive. Don’t you see how remarkable you are? You’re talented.”
“That and some spare change will get me bubble gum.”
“Enjoy the moment,” she said.
This could be his fourth good thing. It was for tomorrow night, though. Would it count on today’s list? It would.
“Okay,” he said. “Come over at 7 p.m. Remember the place?”
When Bunny arrived the next night, his back still hurt, but ibuprofen kept it to a dull pain. She wore a stylized low-cut dress fit for a red carpet, and tight. He gave her a glass of wine, then changed from his gray T-shirt into a black button-down shirt. He needed to be more presentable in this last good encounter. After the wine, he took her to Kikoo Sushi—she wasn’t dressed for burgers—and they drank sake there. Back at his place, she said, “Do you have any more of that dope?”
“Yeah?” He pulled a joint from a wooden box on the coffee table. That would probably help his back more.
They smoked a joint, and he looked at her, trying to figure something out. When she seemed to notice, she said, “You’re staring. What’s wrong?”
“Did you ever do nude modelling?”
“Of course.” She pulled off the spaghetti straps on her dress, revealing her breasts. She straightened her back to accentuate her assets. Maybe it was the pot, but, man, she was art.
“I modeled once for sculptor Robert Graham—a couple years before he died in 2008. He did that Duke Ellington Memorial in Central Park. He made a statue of me.”
Then what he’d been trying to understand became clear. “I’m nothing like Robert Graham. Why are you interested in me?”
“Anyone who can make music is magical. You are magic.”
“Or is it because I could get your daughter into Hunter College’s daycare, and you could keep going to school?”
She stood then and let her gown fall to the floor. “Does it matter?” she asked. “It wouldn’t cost you anything. We can help each other.”
He took her hand and guided her to the bedroom. Once on top of her, he moved faster and faster, groaning in back pain. She groaned in return, leading to climax. That led him to reach the same place.
“Your sounds just rocketed me,” she said.
He didn’t tell her about his back. Instead, afterwards and lying flat, he put a pillow under his spine, which helped.
“Honestly,” she said, “I haven’t been with anyone since Godard was born. I—I just like you, that’s all. I want you to meet Godard.”
Was this part of doing good? “Okay,” he said, but instantly regretted it. He was just her ticket to daycare. He wouldn’t mind a few more weeks of this, but then…. Shit.
“I need another drink,” he said. “I hurt my back yesterday and this—well, it didn’t help.”
“I’m good at massage,” she said.
* * *
In the morning, he felt a rumbling and thought of an earthquake. He’d grown up in California with quakes, and he immediately opened his eyes, thinking he had to stand under a doorway. His neighbor, Old Mr. Whitaker, a black man the size of a refrigerator, kneeled next to him, still shaking him.
“You’re on the sidewalk. People’re just walking around you like you was homeless, but I see ya.”
Harley held his head. My god, he had a hangover. Where was Bunny? He reached for his cell phone in his back pocket, but it wasn’t there. Had the phone been stolen? The keys to his place were still in his front pocket. The sun was just coming up.
“Thank you,” he said to Mr. Whitaker.
“What ya doin’ here?”
“I had gone to get some more liquor.”
“Guess you found it.”
Harley stood shakily and looked around. No bottle of anything. He couldn’t keep doing stuff like this. Bunny’s aggressiveness had thrown him. He just shouldn’t drink. Also, looking at his Apple Watch—he still had that—he saw he had to leave in an hour for work at his day job, the computer lab. Could he get himself together and get rid of his headache?
As he started walking, his back started throbbing. Now he remembered why he started drinking on the way back from the liquor store: the alcohol deadened his back pain and took away his worries about Bunny.
In his apartment, he found his iPhone on the kitchen counter under his baseball cap. He checked his messages and saw Bunny had texted him last night, first with “Where are you?” Then with, “I need to relieve the babysitter. Let’s talk in the morning. You seemed a little manic.”
She must have walked the other direction from his front door; otherwise, she would have seen him.
After his quick breakfast at the Bagel Pub, which helped him lose the headache, he thought about this whole Bunny thing. The pot, sex, and drinking was taking him off track. He had to find his focus again. Time to stop dating Bunny, if that’s what he was doing.
She answered on the third ring.
“I missed you last night,” she said in a friendly voice. “You never texted back.”
“I did this morning.”
She paused, perhaps to look at her phone, then said, “Oh. You did. Why so late? Where were you last night?”
“I wasn’t in my right mind when I left. My back hurt, and so I opened the bottle I bought. I got to drinking and—”
“You were drinking in the street?”
“Yeah. Too much. I passed out. My neighbor woke me up on the sidewalk this morning.”
He had nothing left to say on the subject.
“This changes everything,” Bunny said.
“I have a daughter. You’re not a good role model.”
“I’m not a good role model?”
“I’m sorry. Despite the daycare, I can’t see you anymore,” said Bunny. “You got to get your act together, Harley. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re not always there, you know what I mean?”
“How am I not there if I’ve done everything you’ve wanted?”
“The way you connect. It’s only about sixty percent—maybe fifty percent. I felt you were with me only half the time.”
Then she hung up. His mouth fell open. He had wanted to end it, not her.
He walked back home, a stick drifting in a river to nowhere. He had had such purpose, so where had it lost it? And “fifty percent there?” Was it because of his childhood and his angry father, a professor at Columbia? The police report on his father’s death said Dad had accelerated off the cliff, not braked. His mother died only last year, death from a heart attack at age fifty. Too much meth, he suspected. You only get so many heartbeats.
A car honked. He was jaywalking, in the way of a speeding cab. He leaped forward. God damn it!
Safe on the corner, he leaned against a building, catching his breath. He fucking needed to get his act together. He needed to make sense of everything. He’d always been driven, but life was just getting too tortuous. Perhaps the songs of his that worked could be put into his own album, one he produced. Stop with the singles. He should have an overall theme for his album, such as Pink Floyd used to do. Maybe it was time to pool his best music together and look for a theme. He had to stay focused.
Over the next weeks, he’d become more obsessive, not less so. He ate exactly at 8 a.m., 1 p.m, and 6 p.m., a five-hour pacing. No more drinking. This part was hard as he kept having headaches and his hands would shake. He wrote at least one song a day, sometimes the melody first by noodling on a keyboard, or sometimes the words first.
Instead of something topical, he tried writing something more personal. It was the hardest thing he ever tried. Life had always felt hard to him, but how to get that across simply in a song? Could people dance to it? He had an image that he was a barnacle. Barnacles adhere to the bottom of boats. Yet when he wrote, “Barnacles on the boat. / It’s life. We all scrape by.” That was just too on the nose. Too morose. He then tried:
A plastic bag lifts up in the wind
Like a lost and lonely kid,
And it flies over a mountain
And into a fountain.
That’s all that’s left of me, a skid.
That was better. How about another stanza? He tried different images, such as a baseball off course, an Uber driver missing a jaywalker and crashing, and a solitary ant who tries to flee an angry house owner with Raid. Each image made him laugh. Stay serious.
Why couldn’t he shake the sense that a sink hole was about to open its maw and swallow him? If he had an album finished, would he be happy? Then again, the album would have to get great reviews and sell well.
What burned him the most was knowing the music he made was good, some of it even great. When he performed as a DJ, people felt it. He gave them what their bodies needed. They often literally danced until they dropped. There had always been the notion that if you focused long and hard, success would come. He’d been here almost ten years. Why hadn’t his music brought success?
* * *
Harley accepted DJing for a private Halloween costume party on the Upper Eastside, the kind of place where the elevator required a code. It opened to a living room and to a collection of costumed people, almost all younger than he, and his first thought was to leave. These people were rich and successful, unlike him. Would he be able to perform here? What had he expected with the Upper Eastside?
The first costumes he saw, as he pulled in his wheeled cart, was a guy with a bowl-shaped haircut and a Schwinn bike, and his girlfriend wore a pink dress. They were portraying Mike and Eleven from Stranger Things. Another couple came as a plug and socket. A tall, thin woman all in white had a big yellow circle on her tummy. He thought she might be a modern art version of a ghost or pregnant, but when he asked, she said she was “an egg.”
“What’s the green felt on your back for?”
“It’s spinach. I’m Egg Florentine.”
“Can I be your English muffin?”
“You’re the third guy to say that.”
He waved goodbye and found his host, a thirty-something guy named Noah who was paying him well and putting on this party for his young sister attending NYU. Harley soon set up his machines and speakers.
He played background music at first while people still mingled and munched from a buffet. After a while, he figured fuck it, get on with it. He started with tried-and-true dance music, Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” and the Black-eyed Peas’ “I Got a Feeling.” The guests danced like popcorn in a microwave. He moved into instrumentals with a fast beat, and then, with rage starting to build in him, he played his newest song. It started with a rocking rhythm on his acoustic guitar before he leaped to his keyboard. He sang:
We grow up with desire
We claw to the highest stance
We scramble in one big dance.
Don’t forget to grab the romance,
A few people shouted “yeah!” at this point. He kept up the beat. Then:
But what if there’s no higher?
There’s nothing to invent.
We’re one big accident.
Then it’s blackness permanent.
He had no more lyrics. It was all just refrain. After the song, Ms. Egg strode right up and said without pausing, “What the hell did you just sing?”
“I didn’t think anyone listened to the lyrics.”
“One big accident? Then it’s blackness permanent?”
“Basic existentialism, no? Life’s absurd, right?”
“You’ve been burned?” She gave a knowing expression.
“Being burned is the human condition, no?” he said.
“Speaking of desire, I like to think desire gets you somewhere.”
“It can for a while,” he said. “If you need to know, Ms. Egg… I don’t have to defend myself.”
“I’m Desiree,” she said with a pretend French accent.
Indeed, desirable. Was she fucking with him?
“Rhiannon! There you are,” said a young woman dressed as a genie.
“Not Desiree?” Harley said to Ms. Egg.
“I’m not going to tell the DJ my real name. Then I’ll hear that godawful Fleetwood Mac song.”
“I’m dashing off with my friend to buy some prosecco,” said the genie to Rhiannon. “We’ll be back within a half hour. She turned to Harley and said, “I loved the set. Can’t wait for the next one.”
“When the prosecco arrives.”
The woman smiled flirtatiously and left.
“That’s Montana, my roommate. She’s sister to the dude who owns this place. He works at Goldman Sachs.”
“You’re a student at NYU then?”
“Yep. Montana and I spent the spring semester in Florence, Italy. It’s where we met. She convinced me to transfer from boring Ohio State, where I was going.”
He and Rhiannon walked to the bar together where she ordered a vodka-soda, and he, a ginger ale, staying forever sober. He loved that she was flirting.
“Why Florence?” he asked. “What’s it have over Ohio?”
“All those great artists,” she said. “Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, not to mention Galileo, Machiavelli, and the poet Dante.”
“They did what they loved and are remembered for it,” he said, realizing again what he was missing. “In today’s world, you can be great at what you do, but you’re not recognized.”
Rhiannon laughed and shook her head, even waved her finger at him as if he were so naïve.
“What?” he said.
“You’re a guy. Had you ever thought of what happened to the great female artists of the Renaissance?”
“Women weren’t artists then. It was hard enough just staying alive and having babies.”
Rhiannon gasped in shock. “You’re wrong! As an art history major and having studied in Florence, I can say you are way wrong.”
“How so?” He smiled at her passion.
“There were many female artists then, and some great ones, such as Plautilla Nelli, sixteenth-century Florence. Her ‘Last Supper’ would make you melt. She was a master of emotion—people in her work expressed things in their faces.”
This definitely was an Upper Eastside conversation. He said, “I don’t know her work.”
“She was great, but the men, of course, didn’t recognize her. Then there’s Sofonisba Anguissola. She changed portraiture because she didn’t make women mere objects. It wasn’t about fame. It was about doing. Still, her name doesn’t rattle off your tongue.”
“I’m feeling male chauvinist,” he said.
“You should. Women then couldn’t join an academy or get an education like women today. They persevered with everything against them.”
“I, ah, have to get back to obscurity.” He smiled politely and took a step away in mock offense.
She grabbed his arm. “I’m sorry. Sometimes I get on a roll. Your music is very good. I’m sure you’ll go far.”
“I’m not so sure,” he said.
“One thing I learned in Italy. Art is about feeling. It puts you in a moment. You put us in moments.” She smiled.
At that moment, he noticed a guy dressed in yellow with a giant round pillow behind him waving wildly at her.
“Do you know him?” Harley said. “What’s he dressed as?”
“Hollandaise sauce on an English muffin. My Italian boyfriend. Dario followed me over.”
Harley sighed. Even this hadn’t gone where he had wanted. It must have shown on his face because she said, “I’m sorry.”
“We enjoyed meeting each other, didn’t we?” she said.
She gave him a peck on his cheek and moved toward her boyfriend. Rather than feel shut down, he felt a surge of…. What? He realized what he needed to do. He hurried through the people to his control panel and flicked on his amps and his drum machine, programming a strong beat. On his keyboard, creating chords, his hands felt just right, and he played hard. Everyone started dancing. Using his middle finger’s nail, he gave an upward glissando, and his fingers adjusted the electronic knobs perhaps like Plautilla Nelli and her paint. His hands dove back into the chords.
“This is a little something for you,” he said into his mic. “This is what it’s about. Not albums. Not money. Not fame.” Rhiannon nodded to him, and he nodded back. “Not about our little time here on Earth. It’s about now, about one evening with music at Halloween… on the Upper Eastside.”
An egg sunny side up, a muffin, a plug, a socket, Mike, Eleven, and others smiled at him, and their feet came down on the dance floor. He laughed skyward. One hundred percent connection. The way he liked it.
Only later, when he was walking toward his brownstone near midnight, did Harley consider more deeply this night. He knew he couldn’t base his life from a high moment. Rather it was a time like now, low-key, his breath showing in the crisp air and where he watched carefully for an occasional puddle from a rain, that he kept his mind open. As he approached the steps, hefty Mr. Whitaker came from the other direction with a bouquet of flowers. For whom? Was there a Mrs.? Harley held the door open for him.
“Thank you, sir,” said the happy man.
Right then, his new leather-jacketed neighbor, the one who he helped move, also jaunted up the steps. Harley held the door for him, too.
“Friendly of you,” said the man.
Harley then entered, knowing it was stuff like this that mattered.
Christopher Meeks is the author of five novels, three collections of short fiction, and a play that’s been produced. “East Egg Dancing” will be a part of his fourth collection where the stories will be interconnected.