“Ontogeny, oh, let me tell you about Ontogeny,” she says, hair full of bangs and fingers full of calluses. “Let me tell you about the broke and unemployed, the gardeners and the drinkers.”

Picture us, drinking in a piano bar, half drowned out by Gershwin songs having their backs broken by karaoke. Cash only. Me: “Don’t tell me about that. Ontogeny’s old news. I’ve been to Ontogeny, it’s all low roofs and moving vans, all strip clubs and salt mud. Tell me about angrier cities.”

She laughs who hasn’t paid for a beer all night. “Angriest city I’ve ever been in was this place called Rem, way over across the sea. Didn’t speak a lick of the language, no, but who cared? They hated foreigners, sure, but then they all hated each other, too. You could get beat up for smiling too widely, stabbed for laughing. Ugliest damn buildings, all square slabs and narrow windows and all the roads were full of broken glass, I swear they did it on purpose.”

“Why the hell’d anyone live there?”

“Brother, it was pure mean-headedness. They all hated the place with a passion but they hated to let anyone leave more. They’d lie in wait for you on the road outside of town, and if they caught you leaving they’d gut you open like an Argentine fish and dump you in the river full of rocks.”

“How you get out, then?”

She grins all malice, yellow teeth chewing on smoke. “Hitched a ride on a corpse, naturally. Ran a snorkel up through the throat and sucked air through the ruins of his trachea and just floated on down to sea. It was all I could taste for, like, a month.”

I don’t believe a word of it, no way no how, but there’s another round of beers to buy and they’re likely to call us up to the piano any day now. Here at least we understand hospitality.