Giraffes

The man in the trench coat approaches, poised for a shake. His extended hand is speckled with bubbling green lumps; his lips smack through blackened gums and toothless smile.

Male giraffes climb trees to signify their desire to copulate, he says. Green juice squirts from a certain asterisk-shaped mole under his left eye. The juice trickles down his cheek. Lumpy hands smear juice on gums. The mole juice acts like a glue and his gooey gums begin to seal shut in a green-black sticky slop.

He says that male giraffes perch their rumps on a sturdy limb and yodel a mating call to woo female giraffes. This really gets him going. The sporadic spurts of mole juice turn into a mini-stream that flows directly from his cheek into the corner of his partially sealed-shut mouth. When he laughs little droplets of juice drip down the front of his black coat and onto the floor.

The female giraffe, he says, has her own mating ritual, too. When she hears the yodel of the male giraffe in the tree, she does a jig where she spins her head in a circular motion and hops from hoof to hoof while bouncing toward the crooning male giraffe. When she arrives at the tree, he tells me between slobbering giggles of watery goop, she taps her head precisely eighteen times on the tree trunk and prances around the tree precisely seventeen more times.

The man in the brown coat loves this part. I can tell that he loves this part because when he tells it, his eyelids slip back into his skull, eye-whites bulging. They even seem to extend forward as if his talk is pushing them out of his skull like two fleshy meatballs. In one plopping motion his two eyes pop from his face and he pinches them in his hands and holds his hands over his empty eye sockets. The two eyes stare unblinking.

The male giraffe, he continues, waits until the female completes her motions and, he explains this part with tremendous intensity, launches his perched giraffe body straight up into the air, spins thrice head over heels and lands perfectly in the mating position atop the female giraffe. A slender, pencil-sized peach-colored tendril begins to emerge from the center of the man in the trench coat’s forehead. The tendril wiggles this way and that. It sniffs the air.

He tells me that when the male giraffe impregnates the female giraffe, she immediately sucks inward with all her might and precedes to consume the male giraffe through her orifice, turning the mating ritual into a kind of sexual death trap. He sighs, scratches himself.

The tendril slithers into his empty eye socket, tickling the man in the trench coat so much that he drops both of his eyeballs on the marbled floor, which end up mashed and deflated under his black loafers, rips the tendril from his socket, slips on the puddle of green mole juice that dribbled down his front and in one quick slip cracks the back of his head on Frank’s coffee table. The party halts.

When he cracks his head open, hundreds of bite-sized baby giraffes covered in blood, brain bits, and mole juice leap from his ruptured skull and run mad around the living room, yodeling in high-pitched shrieks like rabid sheep, sending drinks flying everywhere and guests hopping in panic. The screams are fantastic until the giraffes begin to attack.

————————

Jamie Grefe lives and works in Beijing, China with this wife and two dogs. His work appears online. Follow him on tumblr at Shredded Maps.

Eleven Cats and Me Make Pearls

Mr Pockets is a dear; he wakes me with a tender pat when at my desk I fall asleep, the pearls half-made on pewter scales, the pots of mixture cooling hard and sliding dawn rose-lighting sky.

“Have they gone out?” I ask, my voice a smudge and fingers waking up my eyes.

Mr Pockets purrs, on the worktop padding, stretched to rub against my neck and stroking hands and this means—

Yes, Trevor, they’ve all gone out on the Wagon, safe and sound.

Food, please, now.

Grinning, I get Mr Pockets his breakfast.

(He is Mr Pockets because every inch of him is ink, except his face and paws—they’ve been sugar-frosted and when he sleeps upon his back, his hands down his belly go; it’s like his paws have slipped in pockets.)

From the press I take a pouch and squeeze the mortal slime inside, wet and glistening jelly, blatant in its pieces, out into his bowl.

“There you go,” I say, “Yum yum Mistah Paw-kutts!”

And he looks at me as if to say—

G’way. Eating now.

Nom nom.

Our workshop stands in bushes at the end of Holness lane, one long and wooden room, clouded plastic to windows pinned, with dim gold lamps along the roof and tables ranked across the floor.

Every surface sees twisted glass alembics and racks of foster pipes, with slumping sacks of ketterjine and shallow mounds of wax, lit by coral tongues of Bunsen burners played on brass in cooling lengths, held in blocks of hydrogen, with patching pans of solder and rubbing stays and alabaster (matte and gloss) of every single grade

Here is where eleven cats make pearls with me, working hard both day and night.

A grunty breath comes from my shins, and looking down I see—Mosley has shuffled from his bed and brought his mouldy blanket with him.

Fnyarhm, he says.

Fnyarhm.

Mosley is a misery—mouth and eyes in downward curves, his whiskers tangled wire and sullen chin upon the floor between his paws. He likes to keep the cats in line, a hiss or whine with broken teeth, or a slapping paw to eye or nose, for they must stop their mischief and he must get his sleep!

On the worktop Auntie Doris pushes beakers with her nose, getting things in order for the pearl making to come. She softly yowls as if to say:

Such mess, Trevor! What would you do without me?

She tuts her way amongst the mess of half-made pearls. A while ago I made for her a little paisley bonnet, and when she hasn’t pawed it off she wears it proud between her ears.

(I like to think that Doris and Mosley are man and wife—they certainly fight enough!)

And then I feed Calico and Yowbdy and get Cottingley his medicine.

(He’s looking better, I tell myself. He’s looking better.)

But the rest are still out on the Wagon and so I sit where Doris has cleared and go about my breakfast. I’m halfway through the ham and lamb when I hear the Wagon coming up the lane—

Chuff chuff chuff chuff

With Mr Pockets and Calico dancing about my heels I pull the clanking door aside and let the Wagon in. Smoke and steam thicken air, taking a minute or two to clear—and I see there’s been an accident—a battered pipe is trailing.

“Oh, what happened?” I whisper.

From her perch at the front little Bosco Glory nuzzles up under my palm.

As if to say:

So-reee Trevor. We wanted to come home fast to see you! We’s a bit careless!

I sigh and say, “We’ll fix it tomorrow, when it’s light.”

I pick up Bosco Glory— a kittenish bundle, breathing between my hands.

“And next time,” I say, “I’ll come out on the Wagon with you.”

This makes Bosco Glory very happy!

The cats are leaping from the vehicle— Little Shish and Marigold and Captain Dan and finally, slowly, Madame Shush.

I put the Wagon under its tarpaulin as the cats line up, expectant, at their bowls. So I feed them, singing: “Bitta fish for Little Shish, half-a-bowl for Marigold, and more for Dan, he’s a growing man, an elegant mush for Madame Shush— lightly spiced and nothing gory; only the best for Bosco Glory!”

They yowl as if they’re singing along!

When all the cats have gone to bed I go wake Mr Gentleman. Here is where we sleep, all of the cats and me, in boxes all along the wall. And there, covered in moons and clover leaves, the box where Sancho Panza slept until the poisoned slip of meat.

(Cottingley’s recovering, look— his strength’s returning.)

At the end of the row and a bit apart, on navy velvet sparked with stars is the cat called Mr Gentleman.

“Wake up, Mr Gentleman,” I lightly rub his chin, “Time to go out.”

He turns amber eyes on me.

There’s a gloss to Mr Pockets—Mr Gentleman is living dark, a lithe shape cut in cloth of night— and soundlessly he rises, hopping from box to box to windowsill and shrugging under plastic.

He goes out to do his work while all of us are sleeping.

I lock the door, making sure there’s no-one in the lane.

I turn off our golden lamps.

I put myself to bed.

Mr Pockets curls upon my stomach.

“You remember, Mr Pockets, the day we first met?”

He yowls as if to say—

I do Trevor. I was scared in that bag and wet!

I rub his chin.

He purrs as if to say:

Thank you Trevor, thank you.

I smell the cats. Smell the cooling ketterjine and wax.

Smells of contentment.

We’re happy.

Look at us, curled asleep in bed, and one of us silently prowling the roofs…

Aren’t we happy?

***

And Mr Gentleman throughout the day is man about town— a shadow along a wall, a pair of ears in a hanging basket.

He learns everything, does Mr Gentleman. Nothing escapes his notice.

No cruelty, no shame. No ragged, abandoned misbirth.

Mr Gentleman finds the things that people don’t want found and brings them home to me.

***

The sun is going down when next I wake, Mr Pockets patting my cheek with his paw.

Mr Gentleman at the foot of my bed, lapping his dirty places. Looking up he lets me put my arms around him. In his velvet ear I whisper “What have you found out, Mr Gentleman? What can we use?”

(There’s plenty. Oh, there’s always plenty.)

As the cats all wake and stretch, Mr Gentleman curls up amongst his stars and sleeps. His day is done but ours has just begun…

Peering
out through plastic, the winds of evening makes the trees and bushes move—night
comes alive as we make our pearls.

We melt the wax and ketterjine and run it through the patching pans and Calico, a wicked cat of tortoiseshell, splattered black and amber, rolls a hundred pawfuls, a craftsman in his silent angles.

And Cottingley comes to help as well, a little dab of furry cream, but I know he’s still too weak. “Bed, Cottingley, back to bed.”

He softly mews as if to say—

Let me try, Trevor. Purrr-lease.

But I lift him; lay him softly down to rest.

“Another night,” I say.

With Calico working upon the pearls Yowbdy lumps upon my shoulder and we go to repair the Wagon. Yowbdy is a scruffy thing, a bathmat trod by muddy boots; his fur a poor attempt at dying ginger hair.

He looks at the machine with clear green eyes. His paws are talented, supple pads—we made the Wagon from everything: there’s half a washing machine in there, and half-a-mile of pipe, floorboards and a kitchen sink, the chassis of an Audi.

Something has knocked a funnel loose and when we fix it out we go—time to give the town our wears!

I wave at Mr Pockets as we turn away into the lane—

Chuff chuff chuff chuff

Our Wagon runs on steam— Little Shish and Marigold roll lumps of coal along the boards and down into the burner manned by Captain Dan. From that boiler of polished brass two long bent chimneys, dagger-fringed, send white smoke bellies up between the houses.

Chuff chuff chuff chuff!

A cat tree rises from its core, a nest of cubes and cylinders, covered in sisal and carpet cuttings—the domain of Madame Shush; imperious, diamante-collared, she is white and rimmed with pink. Languidly, unhurriedly, she keeps her eyes on things.

There’s a seat for me before the tree, and it is joy to watch the steam clouds blow, and Madame Shush slinks down to set upon my lap and nuzzling down we chuff our way through the sleeping town.

At the Wagon’s head is Bosco Glory, cream and biscuit brown and with an emerald ribbon round her neck. Her paws work on the levers; she guides the Wagon down streets and through the mouths of sleeping estates.

We slow— in pouches along the Wagon’s sides Calico and Yowbdy and Auntie Doris have stored hundreds of our pearls— “That house,” I say, pointing, selecting pearls for Little Shish and Marigold— with arching backs and tails high to show their asterisks they ghost over moon-silvered lawns.

That door will always get a pearl— that’s where the purveyor of poisoned meat is hiding.

(Once there were thirteen of us and we were happy, you should have seen us.)

And there are others too—

Those who push us to the margins.

Those who make our lives so much harder.

We’ve made pearls for them as well.

(Just leave us alone. We’re happy alone. Look at us, we’re happy.)

So from my seat and smiling I watch as Little Shish and Marigold dart from door to door, a globe of white in pink-tongued mouths.

They drop the pearls on doorsteps and scamper into night.

And we go home and go to bed and as I sleep I dream:

Everywhere about the town, as dawn comes up in day, the townspeople open doors and find a pearl upon their step; they pick them up and peer—

There are words upon them.

And I think of how their eyes are widening, reading the words that Calico scratched, the secrets that Mr Gentleman stole—

GIVE BACK THE MONEY

And—

YOU TOLD HER THE TEST
WAS POSITIVE

And—

YOU SHOULD HAVE GONE
BACK TO CHECK

And—

POISONER. POISONER.
POISONER.

And morning after morning, all of them knowing their secrets were known…

Sleep so good and kind when all your dreams come true like this.

***

And so it goes: a pearl a day for the poisoner, her secrets scratched upon each one…

Until one day—waking, as the sun goes down, a tap from Mr Pockets’ paws…and the eyes of Mr Gentleman are holes of darkness, looking on an amber sun.

And growling low as if to say:

The job is done.

By rope at dawn.

They found her and they cut her down.

That’s one door that won’t need more pearls.

(Rest now, Sancho Panza.)

***

We celebrate— Ketterjine makes our fires mauve—

Mr Gentleman, a shadow on the eaves, looks up from washing and I wave.

And in the moonlight down our lane, the cats and I line up to dance and Madame Shush and Yowbdy play ukuleles and Captain Dan his mandolin, while Little Shush and Marigold yowl in perfect harmony. I take their paws and they take my hand and round and round we go; Calico and Mosley, Cottingley and me, and little Bosco Glory, in moonlanes in the silver light.

“We’re happy?” I laugh, “Are we happy now?”

And Mr Pockets smiles and every inch of him is ink, except for snow-white paws and face.

“Yes,” he says, “Oh happy, yes.”

We dance— eleven cats and me.

(I’m crying. Why can’t I stop crying?)

We dance.

————————

Graham Tugwell is a writer and performer of Irish distraction. The recipient of the College Green Literary Prize 2010, his work has appeared in over forty journals, including Anobium, The Quotable, Pyrta, THIS Literary Magazine and L’Allure Des Mots. He has lived his whole life in the village where his stories take place. He loves it with a very special kind of hate. His website is grahamtugwell.com.

Utsayantha

A twosome appears in the half-light thin and ragged in pale buckskin.  A father and daughter together in the sunset crouched atop a promontory.  Iron blue dusk settles on the dry creek bed below.

She follows him through the dimming. The gravel pike crunches underfoot.  His gaunt contours lag.  His gait is feeble and weighted with an empty canteen slung from one shoulder.   His spine bows. He reaches for the daughter.  She examines the bulb of his hand.  His knuckles callused and scabbed.  She takes his into hers and allows herself to be lead.

They pass a rusted horseshoe.  They pass a coyote track in cracked mud. They pass a bleached rack of deer rib.   Very small, high above, a distant wedge of fowl fords the heavens and fades into evanescence.

The daughter limbers forward on nimble legs.  Her nymphal torso noodles like a mantis.

“I’m thirsty,” she says. Her face is cratered and pink with pockmark though in the chevron twilight she is beset with a vernal beauty.

“I know,” the father says.  “Me too.”

“If I had a penis life wouldn’t be so hard,” she says. “Would it?”

“I prefer not to speak of such things,” he says.

“What things?” she says.

“Sex things,” he says.

“What are those things like?” she says.

“Like everything,” he says. “They exists and go away.”

“I’m worried about disease,” she says.

“We all have to stare death down,” he says. “Or life, depending on how you look at it.”

“What does that mean?” she says.

“Everyone gets sick eventually,” he says.

“Is that true?” she says.

The father holds the canteen and shakes it blankly.  “It’s nature’s way,” he says.

The daughter’s brow furrows.  The father cups her mouth with his hand before she can respond and she respires through his fingers.  “No more questions,” he says and removes his hand.  The daughter wets her hairlip and sighs.

The pike narrows and parts into twin treads, running parallel through the woodland.  Stocks of ragweed sprout from the tract between the ruts.

“What are we doing?” the daughter says.

“I dunno,” he says. “We’re walking.”

“We’re walking where?”

“To where the water’s at.”

“How will we find it?”

“Listen for it,” he says. “We’ll hear frog croaks.”

“We don’t have a lantern,” she says.  She nods at the nightfall.  Lavender bands settle on the horizon.

“We don’t need one,” he says.  “The moon’ll lead us.”

“We should turn around,” she says.

“Don’t look back,” he says.  “We can’t.”

The pike dwindles into a patchy footpath and they follow it uphill through the forest.  The daughter labors with the grade. “Can we stop?” she says.  “My legs hurt.”   She slows and rests her tiny hands on her knees.

“Relax,” the father says. “We’ll wait.”  He stands beside her and segues into the incline as if his pelvis was hinged.  He fishes through his buckskin.  He produces a small matchbox; inside is a hand rolled cigarillo half smoked and damp with old saliva.   He lights up and holds the cheery to the girl’s earlobe, inching it closer and closer until she shoos him.

“Stop it,” she says. “That burns.”

The father titters, drags and expels a plume up the rise where the pike recedes into a frill of dead cottonwood.  A rotund crag of rock rises above the trees, and within the bald a small cave is visible.

“Look at that,” he says.

The daughter stands upright and rubs her eyes.  “At what?” she says.  “I can’t see.”

“A cave,” the father says, winging his elbow ahead. “Let’s go closer.”

They start up the scramble navigating loose moss and stone until they stand before the cavern’s black maw.

“What is it?” the girl says.

“The mountain’s mouth,” he says.

“It looks hungry,” she says.

The father fans his hand at the grotto. “Do you feel that?”

“It smells like urine,” she says.

“The earth is breathing,” he says.

From their vantage they can see out over the town where they had both been born not one generation apart.   A dry riverbed sprawls southward beyond the silhouettes of abandoned belfries.   The settlement had prospered until the broke tides of Christendom receded.  The drought that proceeded consumed all that preceded.  Life was made improbable save for bandits and dust and whatever else sulfurous wind spared.

The father and daughter climb the remaining rise and stand on the small knoll of the precipice.   A wagon-sized wedge of lichen rock juts in an upright menagerie. The pillars cast shadows in the moonlight.  The arrangement appears unnatural as if balanced by the hand of a dozer rendering some ancient pagan order.   The father and daughter stand before the structure pacified and reverent.

“What is it?” the daughter says.

“It looks like a tombstone,” the father says.

“I feel like we’re intruding,” she says.

“I bet it’s been here for a thousand years,” he says.

Starlight glazes the earth in cold cellulite.   Sparse archipelagos of cloud dot the winking sky.

“When I get sick, you have three options,” the father says. “Begging, stealing, or selling your body on the street.”

“You’re not sick,” she says.  “Are you?”

“That’s not the point,” he says.  “This goes for all people.”

“What would you do?” she says.

“I’m not certain,” he says.  “I have a hard time asking for help.”

“I wish the world was different,” she says. “I wish we could live forever.”

“Life continues without us,” he says.  “There’s no reason to feel bad about it.”

“We should have a revolution,” she says.  “Would things be different?”

“Probably not,” he says.  “Let’s go.”

They start down the gradient and temperature drops.  Their breaths fog from their nostrils.  The cold air fills the daughter’s lungs she coughs.  She sidesteps awkwardly and twists her ankle.  She totters backwards and falls onto a moss heap where she play-lays lifeless in a bramble of dead leaves.

“Water,” she murmurs into the earth.

“Don’t be dramatic,” the father says. “We need to keep moving.”

The daughter remains motionless.  Neither she nor the father speaks.  A soft breeze and funnels a calm into the hollow.  A boggy stillness descends upon them and spreads into the uttermost rebates of space.

“Do you hear that?” the father whispers.

The daughter lifts her head and tilts with a rubberneck curiosity. “What is it?” she says.  She sniffles and fingers her hair from her face. The distant chortle of ribbits murmurs from the forest’s dark depths.  “I hear a sound.”

“God speaks through the least of his creatures,” the father says. “They’re thirsty too.”

————————

Adam Moorad is a writer, salesman, and mountaineer. He lives in Brooklyn. Visit him here: adamadamadamadamadam.blogspot.com

Goodbye, Base Eight

Goodbye Base Eight by Jeremy Hanson-Finger

This is how human beings construct meaning when they talk to each other:

I make a statement: “You are a fantastic person.”

You make a statement according to what you understand from my statement: “I am involved with someone else. He is studying to be an engineer. He is smooth and precise and brilliant.”

I compare my understanding of your statement with my original statement in order to judge whether your perceived interpretation matches my intent. I make another statement that incorporates an attempt to correct any errors: “That does not stop you from being a fantastic person.”

You compare your understanding of my statement with your original statement in order to judge whether your perceived interpretation matches –

***

We work in a factory that makes small black tubes. I pick up a finished tube from the conveyor belt and hand it to you, and you use zip ties to attach it to a card with lots of small words printed on it.

This process does not happen every day. Some days Susie hands you the tube and some days I hand Mark the tube. I am not as happy on those days. Some days it is the weekend and nobody hands anybody any tubes at all, except the janitors. They sit around handing tubes to each other when they’re not sweeping, but those are sloppy white tubes that glow orange at one end and make you giggle after you put them to your lips and breathe in and count slowly to five.

I think the tubes you and I and Mark and Susie hand each other go in a Honda. I am not sure what kind of Honda. Once you thought it went in a Honda lawnmower, but then my Honda lawnmower broke and I took it apart in my basement on a sunny afternoon and there were no black tubes in it. I saw black wires and black matrices of polycarbonate but no tubes. I had no idea what the black wires did or the black matrices of polycarbonate, so I just bought another lawnmower. It cut the grass so I knew it was working.

***

You live on 42nd Street and I live on 52nd. There are ten blocks between us. You live in an apartment. I live in a house. It would take me ten minutes to walk to your building, and then, in all probability, another five minutes to get to your door, factoring in the wait for the elevator.

It would take less time if I could take the tube. This is the tube that goes under the ground and lets people on and off sometimes in between the blurred streams of light. Unfortunately, it does not stop between the block North of my house and the supermarket where I go to buy tuna and other things to put in my body.

I have never been to your apartment. What I know about it comes from looking at a map of the city and extrapolating from your description, the rate at which I normally walk, and the acceleration of other elevators in which I have been.

***

I do not know why you do what you do. I tell you that you are fantastic and you tell me you are involved with someone else. The input is that you are fantastic and the output is that you are involved with someone else. How that information is processed is a mystery to me.

***

I stole one of the black tubes from work today. While Mark was outside giggling with the janitors, I put it in my pocket instead of putting it aside on his tray. I have feelings of guilt and shame but I am ignoring them. My resting pulse is much higher than normal. I wonder what I can do with the tube. I will spend Saturday providing varied stimuli for the tube and hoping to elicit a response.

***

None of the stimuli that I provided the black tube with resulted in any reaction. I had to bury the evidence.

I went into the basement and took my shovel from behind the Honda lawnmower, then dug a hole next to the porch. It was dark out. There is only one street lamp on my block, so some houses are always in shadow. Once a car went by and its lights reflected off my raised shovel but the probability was low that the occupants were looking for anything that I was hiding. I finished filling in the hole and rested the shovel against the white lattice under the porch. I did that in case it was windy overnight and I needed to smooth the dirt in the morning.

What would you think if you saw all this?

***

It wasn’t windy overnight, so in the morning I brought the shovel inside. The ground was moist. The loose dirt would set and soon it would be indistinguishable from the rest of the soil.

I thought I wouldn’t have to feel shame and guilt anymore, but on the tube ride to work I started to think about how long it would take the device to decompose under the ground.

It looked like it was made of plastic so it would probably take a couple of thousand years. I knew it took plastic that long to break down from a TV program about seabirds and the clear netting you find on pop cans.

At least I could only feel guilt and shame for a maximum of sixty years and then I would decompose. The remaining one thousand nine hundred and forty years were irrelevant.

It took one thousand nine hundred and forty years to get from a very important carpenter being nailed to a cross to six million people who weren’t even alive at the time being set on fire.

One thousand nine hundred and forty years is a long time to wait for payback.

***

I didn’t have to wait that long.

“Product larceny:” my paycheque said at the end of the day, “minus twenty cents.”

Twenty cents being how much it cost the factory to make it, I supposed. That made sense. The factory made many tubes, and each one was very small, so they couldn’t be that expensive.

“Should I return the product?” I asked on my way out.

“No,” said the payroll officer. “It’s useless now.”

***

When I got home, I stopped at the porch steps. Now that they knew I had stolen the tube, I could just throw it out. I had buried it well, however, so it didn’t seem worth the time.

The dirt was still in place but now there was something that hadn’t been there before. I bent down to examine it. It was green and it had two broad leaves.

I don’t have a garden. I just have a lawn and a uniform patch of dirt. Had a uniform patch of dirt, rather. Now I have a patch of dirt with something green in the middle.

Was it a weed? Was it connected to what I buried last night? Did the black device leak some sort of fertilizer? Was a potential green sprout contained inside every device?

I wondered these things.

***

 I didn’t know the answer.

***

I haven’t seen you for a couple of days. Yesterday Susie handed you the tubes, and I couldn’t find you during the 30-minute lunch break. I even waited for you in the hallway after the bell rang but eventually, like everyone else, I stopped salivating and went back to work.

***

Today I saw you. Your engineer dropped you off just as I was walking across the parking lot. He kissed you, reaching as far as his seatbelt would let him in order to wrap himself around you. In situations like this, usually my breathing stays the same and so does my heart rate.

This time, I felt an expansion in my chest. A ring of wedges, like a windmill with all the blades turned around. That was how I imagined it.

After your engineer finished kissing you and drove away and you saw me and walked over the wedges didn’t reverse but they stopped and I could feel every edge.

“Hi,” you said. “I haven’t seen you in a long time. What’s new?”

I wanted to tell you, but what would you think? I had never come up with the answer. Your lawn was spotless, I imagined. I still hadn’t seen it. You probably didn’t even have a patch of bare earth, and almost certainly not one with a green stem and now eight broad leaves that turned lazily toward the sun.

“It has been a while,” I said. Then I asked what was new with you.

“Honestly,” you said, “I know I’m supposed to play the game and always say ‘fine’ but today I don’t feel like it.”

Your eyes are hazel, and now they were shading toward the green side of the spectrum.

It couldn’t have been your clothes because you always wear the same dark blue coveralls I do. It couldn’t have been the weather, because the sky is also always blue. The airplanes that seed the clouds with silver nitrate before they get too close to the city account for that.

“You should do what you feel like doing,” I said.

“It’s only a game anyway.”

“Right.”  I didn’t know quite what you meant when you talked about games but I trusted you.

“Life with the engineer is becoming unbearable,” you said.

“In what way?”

“His smoothness and precision and brilliance are making me uncomfortable.”

“Does he talk down to you?”

“Yes,” you said. “He talks about differentials and logarithms. What can I talk to him about? I don’t even know what the black tubes do yet. Have you figured it out?”

“No.”

“And I can’t talk to him about music because he just doesn’t get it. He likes Bach and Beethoven because they’re so mathematical. Listen to that Fibonacci sequence, he says, but I can’t hear it.”

“What kind of music do you like?”

“Shoegaze.”

“Shoegaze?”

“It’s a British style of music from the 1980s and 1990s. It’s called shoegaze because the musicians had so many electronic boxes at their feet that they were always looking down.”

“What does it sound like?”

“Layers of guitars with lots of feedback and reverb. Lots of white noise beneath really melodic vocals. The words are usually pretty hard to understand, though.”

“Hmmm.” I wished I had something more intelligent to say. I added some more reverb to the hum.

“Do you want me to make you a mix tape?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’d really like that. It’d make the smoothness and precision of the tube ride more bearable.”

Then we handed each other tubes in silence for a while. The wedges were expanding again and it was hard to speak.

***

The stem wasn’t so delicate anymore and there were many more leaves. First two, then eight, now sixty-four. It took me a while to count them but it was sunny outside so I didn’t mind.

It’s always sunny outside.

Two, eight, sixty-four. Base eight just like the machines at work. I don’t know who invented base eight because it was around long before computers. I remember hearing about a tribe in Chile – somewhere in South America at least – where they counted in base eight, not base ten, because they counted the spaces between the fingers, not the fingers themselves. I liked that.

***

I put the cassette in the deck and powered on the amplifier.  The blue-green light that illuminates the radio frequencies painted the wall behind the sofa.

There was a crackle in the background as well as the usual tape hiss. She must have recorded this song from a record. The case said that the song was called “Loomer.”

Soon the plant would be big enough to cast a shadow on the white wall of the house.

Tiptoe down to the holy places, sang the woman on the tape.

Behind her, a wall of guitars fuzzed, but fuzzed sweetly.

I couldn’t make out any of the words after that but the first line in that honey voice kept recycling over and over in my head – growing and breaking down and growing and breaking down and growing and breaking –

***

 The plant was brighter green. Today was Saturday. I tiptoed down in my bare feet to see it several times. Now there were seventy-seven leaves. Goodbye, base eight.

***

What did you think of the tape?” you asked.

“I loved it,” I said. “Especially the first song. I didn’t know noise could be more beautiful than information.”

“Now you know.” You adjusted your overalls. “My Bloody Valentine is such a terrible name, though.”

“But if noise is more important than information, who cares about the name? If you don’t think about the meaning, it sounds pretty good.”

You laughed.

“Do you have any other songs by them?” I asked.

“I have the LP. Do you want to borrow it? It’s 180-gram vinyl.”

“I don’t have a record player.”

“I know where you can find one for not too much.”

“Where?”

“Take the bus with me from work instead of the tube and we can get you one. Then you can borrow the LP.”

***

 The main organizational strategy in the shop was the pile.

Underneath strata of yellowing sheet music, the proprietor found a turntable with a burled wood veneer. I paid for it with cash.

***

“You want me to help you set it up, right?” you said.

***

Outside, the plant was crawling up the side of the porch. Slowly, too slowly for me to see it of course, but I could feel it, feel those rooty tendrils moving millimeter by slick millimeter, their green xylem turgid with water from the ground.

***

I told you that I would need to purchase some LPs now that the record player was working. You pulled a pink cardboard square from your bag that said My Bloody Valentine on it.

“Wait, you–”

You winked, a shutter snapping up and down. I swear your eye was greener when you opened it again.  Or maybe it wasn’t a shutter – was instead a flower closing at night and blooming in the morning again from the point of view of something that lives a very long time and moves very slowly.

***

I looked at your feet. Your output was so sudden I didn’t know what else to look at. I wasn’t sure what input had caused it but that didn’t really matter. I wondered what I could do to increase the output’s amplitude.

“I’m up here,” you said. “What are you doing?”

“Shoegazing,” and then we both started laughing – giggling, even. You rested your head on my chest, out of breath and red in the face.

The wedges withdrew and collapsed but they’d done their job.

There was a space inside me. You are about thirty-two inches around the hips, thirty-six at the bust. I decided there was just room enough for you since my chest measures forty inches and my waist thirty-four.

***

The plant tangled upwards, the leaves spread like fingers. I could hear it against the white stucco now, hear the leaves unfolding, straining toward the sun’s heat.

***

This is how human beings construct meaning when they talk to each other:

I make a statement: “I want you.”

You make a statement according to what you understand from my statement: “I want you too. I want you right now.”

I compare my understanding of your statement with my original statement in order to judge whether your perceived interpretation matches my intent. No further communicative action is required.

————————

Jeremy Hanson-Finger attended Carleton University, where he wrote his MA thesis on dirty bits in postmodern American novels. He now lives in Toronto, where he is a production editor for John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd. during the day, and co-edits the online literary magazine Dragnet by night.

Tuscaloosa

“Quote me as saying I was misquoted.”

 

Will you marry me? Do you have any money? Answer the second question first.

 

I’ve just found out, from the internet, that a friend of mine has gotten divorced. Is getting divorced. I’m not sure. When I say a friend of mine, I mean a woman I have been in love with for the past fifteen years. When I say, is getting divorced, I mean has moved back from Cambridge.

When I say in love with, I mean that I do not know what love means, and probably never have. I mean that love is when you take the picture of someone, as that person appears in your head, or maybe as that person once appeared in real life, and make it into a kind of a gesture, that you can repeat over and over, like a Tourettic, like the scene of a crime.

 

Die, my dear? Why that would be the last thing I’d do!

 

Somewhere around the seventeenth century, things changed. For most of western history, death was the great adventure. A good life was a life lived for the sake of a good death. This had many advantages. For one, it meant that one’s entire life was an adventure. It meant that narratives never left you unsure.

The great adventure now, they tell us, is love. Redemption is also popular. These have the advantage that you can tell a story without all or most of your characters dying at the end. These have the disadvantage, that once you have successfully fallen in love or been redeemed, your life can have no further meaning. You are forced to live the remainder of your life as a nothingness, as a narrative lacuna.

It is embarrassing to live one’s life outside of a plot.

 

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

 

This is why we love to fall from grace. This is why so many of us spend our lives falling in and out of love. We need the narrative. We need to feel that we still count for something, that something is still at stake in our lives.

 

Outside a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.

 

That whole year I woke up each morning to violent fantasies, vivid, horrifying, intensely and almost painfully sexual. I never remembered the dreams that preceded them.

I was used to waking up beside someone else, someone that I want right now to address as you, as if said person were listening to this. Said person is not listening to this. I could tell you in detail about said person, about said person’s own sexual proclivities, the things that you could do to said person in bed that would make said person come pretty much immediately or the things that you could do that would make said person immediately stop, say stop in a certain voice that made it clear that stop was not part of the fantasy. We had a safe word but we never used it. Said person just said stop.

 

I married your mother because I wanted children. Imagine my disappointment when you came along.

 

My fantasies when I woke up each morning were not about said person but about men and women said person was close to.

I spent that winter heating up knives, like regular kitchen knives, I would count, one Mississippi, two Mississippi, holding the knife over one of the gas burners, trying to reach one hundred before I held the side of the knife to my shoulder. This was usually late at night, when I was so full of desire that burning myself was the only thing that made sense, when even an orgasm seemed murky and indistinct.

I did not chose the fantasies I had each morning, or if I did, I have no memory of it—it was as if I only became conscious in the middle of a fantasy that had already begun. I chose to continue them, out of a sort of rage that consumed me that year, a rage that filled up more of myself than any other part of me.

 

He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot.

 

It was a dull ritual, the burning, but I already knew that I didn’t like blood. It was always my left shoulder. It didn’t matter if I said the words aloud as I counted, only that my lips moved. Occasionally blisters would have already formed by the time I went to sleep, or else they would appear by the next morning.

 

I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.

 

At this same time I became obsessed with angels, the way they were described in the writings of the early church, or in the medieval works on the angelic hierarchies.

The Cherubim with four faces, the face of a man, the face of an ox, the face of a lion, the face of a vulture.

Those known as Thrones, composed of two interlocking wheels each covered in hundreds of eyes.

Those known as the Powers or Authorities, who served as the Bearers of Conscience and Keepers of History.

I pictured angels with wings covering their faces and wings covering their genitals or feet and two wings with which they flew, and I came to understand that these were the Seraphim or Burning Ones, who continually shout: HOLY HOLY HOLY HOLY HOLY. Not even other angelic beings can look upon them.

Satanas, in the Book of Job, is not Satan, this was before Satan existed as a concept in Judeo-Christian theology, Satan came later. The word Satanas refers to “an office,” “something like a CIA agent.” Satanas is “therefore in the Lord’s imperial service…the Lord’s master spy.”[1]

In the first version of the Book of Job, at the end there is no redemption. There is only the whirlwind, and the voice of God.

 


[1] The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, Wayne A. Meeks, general ed.

————————

James Tadd Adcox’s work has appeared in PANK, Requited, Another Chicago Magazine, and Barrelhouse, among other places. His first book, The Map of the System of Human Knowledge, is forthcoming in 2012 from Tiny Hardcore Press.

Little Zoo

You: cut your hair short for summer, found a fetish site, sold your ponytail to VetteStud68,  asked me for a standard envelope I knew wouldn’t fit.  It: didn’t fit.  We: found a brown box, peeled off the labels, put another layer of packing tape on the edges.  You: put your hair in a sandwich baggie, told me to kiss it good-bye.  I: kissed your ponytail goodbye, took the package to the post office, answered no when the postwoman asked if I wanted insurance, answered no when the postwoman asked if the package contained: drugs, alcohol, weapons, bombs, live animals, dead animals, half-dead animals, human organs, homemade pornography. He: received the package in two days with priority shipping, emailed back pictures of animals knotted from your strands.  They: a little zoo made from your hair: a giraffe, a whale, a penguin, an elephant on his tongue.  You: didn’t show me his emails.  I: found the pictures on your hard-drive, pretended to be you, emailed back VetteStud68 from your account, asked him about other animals: Could he make a one hump camel?  A two hump camel? Large birds? Man-eating birds?  He: replied, wrote that he could make many animals, asked how fast your hair grew, suggested new shampoo, suggested tomato paste to remove build up, attached more photos: a one hump camel, a two hump camel, a condor eating a one hump camel while clutching a two hump camel in its talons.  I: emailed again, asked why all of the animals posed on his tongue.  He: replied that he ate them, replied that they reminded him of the animal crackers of his youth, asked how your much your hair had grown, offered to make more animals for your hair.  You: asked me why the shower smelled like tomatoes, asked me why I shaved my: head, chest, legs, arms.  I: lied, told you I had rejected mammalian heritage, told you I had embraced evolution, told you I had collected my hair in sandwich baggies as a reminder of the mammalian heritage I rejected.  You: told me I looked like Uncle Fester, didn’t have sex with me that night. I: found another brown box, peeled off the labels, covered up the Amazon logo with a marker, put another layer of packing tape on the edges, took the package to the post office, answered no when the postwoman asked if I wanted insurance, answered no when the postwoman asked if the package contained: propane, wine, knives, fireworks, live organs, frozen seafood, chocolate, manga.  He: emailed, complained that the hairs were too curly, too small for animals, resembled bacteria, attached photos: salmonella, staphylococcus, streptococcus, chlamydia trachomatis.  They: were too small to photograph, looked like spots of spinach on his tongue.  I: lied, apologized about your hair, wrote him that the hair grew back that way, wrote him that all of the hair grew back curled and different, asked for more time until I could send him more hair, created an account on the fetish site, made my username Zooologist3: Zoologist, Zoologist1, Zoologist2 were already taken.  You: denied me sex for two weeks until my hair grew long enough for you to pinch between your fingers, asked why I borrowed your laptop so often.  I: told you I needed to order a new battery, ordered a ponytail from GlitterB89.  It: arrived in two days with priority shipping.  I: kissed the pony tail good-bye.  It: did not feel taste like yours.  I: soaked it in tomato paste.  You: asked me about the tomato paste can in the trash.  I: apologized for not recycling, mailed the hair to VetteStud68, included a note about how your sister decided to cut her hair short for summer too, the postwoman had the day off, the postman didn’t ask any questions.  I: volunteered that the box was safe for shipment.  He: nodded.  I: emailed VetteStud68, asked him if he could make marsupials.  He: replied, attached pictures: a dunnart inside of a cuscus inside of a quoll inside of a wombat inside of a bandicoot inside of a possum inside of a walleroo inside of a kangaroo.  They: a chain of little marsupials, made of hair, strung from his tongue, hanging in the air.  I: emailed the pictures to GlitterB89.  She: replied, asked if I could make more animals, asked if I could make: Little birds?  Mouse eating birds?  Bird eating birds?  Bird eating humans?  I: replied that I could, asked for more hair.

————————

Chad Redden is the author of Thursday (Plain Wrap, Spring 2012).  He lives in Indianapolis where he edits NAP.

Monty

The gigantic ape statue surveyed Webster Way with a critical eye, causing pedestrians trickling through the sleepy street to stop, sometimes out of surprise, other times out of amusement.  Bradley had not budged from the window since he put the statue out there.  It had been well over an hour (he knew this because, despite his despair, he still checked his cell phone on occasion to check the scores of the Giants’ game—losing, of course!  Could he not catch a break?), and every time someone stopped to look at the statue, his heart stopped in his chest.  This must be what it’s like to lose your offspring to child services, he thought, except maybe worse, because I’m not entirely sure when or where to I’m going to lose Monty–only that I will.

Bradley thought about calling his friend Molly, who was a self-proclaimed poet.  She frequently promoted her works on social networking sites with typo-ridden exclamations with inconsistent punctuation.  Molly was always drinking from a box of wine, and only sometimes wearing pants.  Molly would come up with something, some sort of eulogy for Monty.  It wouldn’t be good, but it would be heartfelt.  Molly was known for being overly emotional in her inebriated state.  Perhaps he could channel her messy bathos into something concise, clear, beautiful.

His phone vibrated in his hand.  He glanced down at his glowing device and read:

Babe, are you still pissed about the monkey?  I love you.  Celia 1:37 PM.

His hand inadvertently made a fist as he thought of a response.

Monty was not a monkey, to start–he was a gorilla, a mountain gorilla to be more exact.  (Bradley wasn’t positive about the latter but he brought in a big book of gorillas for the apathetic clerk at the consignment shop to look at and identify.  The clerk had pointed at the first entry without even looking at it, and continued to work on a sketch for his latest tattoo.  Customer service, Bradley had thought, at its absolute worst!)

The problem with Celia had been twofold.  Firstly, she had given him strict instructions not to buy anything from the consignment shop anymore.  It creeped her out to have dead people’s things, she had said, and besides, she did not appreciate her coworker Chelsea recognizing her late grandma’s pearl brooch on Celia’s cardigan.  The fight that had ensued after Celia learned of the origin of the aforementioned brooch was almost as bad as the time Bradley had lost her niece at the zoo.  The problem with that scenario, Bradley learned between having pillows thrown at him, was that Celia expected the niece to wander off.  She was six, and diagnosed with ADHD.  What Celia didn’t expect was Bradley walking off to see the Hamadryas baboons, leaving the six year-old in front of the restrooms alone for an hour.

Secondly, Celia hated Monty.  Not only did he used to belong to some now-dead agoraphobic, she kept waking up in the middle of the night, screaming at him because she mistook him for the South Berkeley Rapist hiding in the corner of their bedroom.  Bradley thought that was ridiculous because the rapist had been captured well over a month ago, and also because Monty could never hurt anyone.

Celia had said earlier that morning that Monty symbolized everything that was wrong with their relationship, and in a fit of the drama Bradley had pushed him outside and proclaimed, “Fine!  I don’t even care!”  But that wasn’t true at all, Bradley cared a great deal. And if he’d had a space where he could hide a seven-foot ape statue, he would have done so the moment Celia had peeled out of their driveway blasting riot grrl music and staring daggers at Monty, who stood innocently out on the front lawn, rejected by the one who had loved him most.

Bradley loved Celia.  That was never a disputed fact.  And most of the time, he felt Celia loved him, except when she got drunk and invited her ex-boyfriend Edwin out and she allowed him to touch her breasts.  When that happened, Bradley felt like he was Celia’s shadow, stretching thinner and thinner as she walked away to get another round.  In his heart of hearts, he knew that one shouldn’t give up a significant other over what was, essentially, a decoration, though Monty meant far more to him than a decoration.  But on the other hand, couldn’t the same thing be said in Celia’s case?  Isn’t it equally ridiculous to break up over someone owning a gorilla statue as it was to break up because he didn’t want to give up his gorilla statue?

Bradley was positive his love for Monty was greater than Celia’s hatred for Monty.  Celia went to the hospital and worked for ten hours; he doubted she spent every minute of it thinking about how much she hated Monty.  When she was gone, Bradley sat on the stool with a leg missing, dipping back and forth as he talked about his problems to Monty.  He even dreamed about Monty.

His most commonly recurring dream was that Monty got up and left the bedroom, and Bradley climbed out of bed.  He looked back at Celia and thought about waking her, but she had just come home from work and needed the sleep.  Bradley stepped over the dirty laundry on the floor, tripped on a sneaker, and opened the bedroom door to reveal a jungle, lush and full of life, and with Monty standing in front of it, beckoning him.  Bradley hurried after Monty, but in the last moment of the dream, he turned around to get Celia, but the door to their bedroom had disappeared and several rubber trees had taken its place.

Bradley knew this would never happen.  Monty was a gorilla and it was unrealistic to expect bipedalism out of a species that primarily knuckle-walks.  Also, he was thousands of miles away from the closest rainforest.  But the feeling of freedom, of being home lingered with him even after he had woken up and started putting on his Willy’s Weiners uniform, the hot dog hat never failing to fill him with vehement despair.

He couldn’t remember the last time Celia made him feel hopeful, free.  Bradley’s phone vibrated in his hand again and he stared at the message from his girlfriend.

Are you ignoring me?  You’re being ridiculous.  I don’t think it’s too much to ask that my twenty-eight year old boyfriend grow up and not bring creepy toys in our house.  Celia 2:13 PM.

It was the last straw.  “Monkey” had been an insulting enough misnomer, but to call Monty a “creepy toy”?  That settled it.

Bradley suddenly no longer cared that Celia was the prettiest girl he’d ever kissed, or that she was a champion at pub quiz.  That sweet, startling moment when she had first pulled him into her arms and made him hers vanished from his mind.  Bradley didn’t have epiphanies often, but the knowledge that there was nothing left settled on him like nits on the back of a chimpanzee.

Bradley hurled the front door open and shot out into the street like a bullet.  Monty was nowhere to be seen.  The street was empty, aside from a middle aged woman in a pink velour sweat suit jogging with a stroller in front her of; Bradley doubted that had anything to do with Monty’s disappearance.

He let out a scream–primal, and full of pain–as he fell to his knees next to the indentation in the grass that was the only evidence Monty had ever been a part of his life.  The pink suited lady accelerated, looking back at Bradley with alarmed yet curious eyes as she swerved around the corner.

Later that evening, when Bradley stuffed his duffle bag full of clothes, he swiped some of Celia’s heavy-duty sleeping pills before hurrying out of the house.

On his mother’s couch Bradley took two sleeping pills with a glass of SunnyD, hoping soon to be taken to the world beyond his bedroom door, where he and Monty would brachiate between branches, living freely in the folds of Bradley’s subconscious.

————————

Micaela is an 89-year old cat lady stuck in the body of a 22-year old. She loves cats, cardigans, and crosswords puzzles. She’s been published in Girls with Insurance, Pure Slush, and Monkeybicycle. Follow her at micaelalee.blogspot.com

Rid!

Rid by Dane A. WisherThere were a lot of insect repellents to choose from.  They lined that shelf in the supermarkets and bodegas, neat rows of upright aluminum canisters and narrow plastic spray bottles.  The containers came in bright colors that reminded us vaguely of the sun—some were like the white sun at two in the afternoon, hovering over the scorched pavement, some like the yellow hangover sun that blinded us over the top of morning traffic, and some orange like a muggy afternoon out on the porch, when the light glinted off the brown beer bottles that we bought because we’d read that brown bottles keep the beer from getting skunky.

There were a lot of insect repellent brands to choose from but everyone knew Rid! was the best.  Our outdoorsy friends told us so.  They had beards, some of them, and did things like wear their hiking shoes or bulky sandals on casual Fridays, a fashion point we found obnoxious.  Regardless, they knew insect repellent.  They spent their weekends hanging from cliffs and fucking in the woods after they’d eaten gorp and smoked joints.  Only an idiot, they said, would be caught out in the wilderness without a can of Rid!  The other stuff was just a waste of time, but Rid!, it worked.  The owner appeared on the back of the can in a small photo.  He wore a rugged blue shirt and held up an oar.  Next to the box was small print that read, “Whether it’s summer in the city or a sub-Saharan safari, Rid! will get you through it.”  He didn’t look like a businessman, which we liked.  Some of us noticed that under the list of chemicals comprising Rid! was a line of fine print stating that the repellent was made in Secaucus, NJ.  What we knew of New Jersey was not particularly reassuring, but it was probably cheaper to get chemicals there.  We had no reason to think so, but it made sense to us.

Our outdoorsy friends would come back from the weekends with scratches on their burnt skin and we knew that we wanted no part of whatever it was they did out there.  We liked going to the movies instead.  And bars.  And afternoon baseball games on our flat-screen TVs.  And trashy novels that were about smart women making it in the city.  We actually liked reading when we could fit it in.  We stretched out on the couches in our climate-controlled living rooms and felt both guilty and rebellious when we turned the pages from the bottom, something we vaguely remembered our second-grade teachers chastising us about.  When we did go away, we went to cities, sometimes abroad.  The closest we got to nature were the resorts that feigned tropical escape, though as far as we knew there was no threat of being mauled by indigenous wildlife.  When we ate out, we liked our food prepared by chefs who’d been to culinary institutes, not food that was in gel form or in high-density protein bars.  Really, the only thing we cared about when it came to lifestyle suggestions from our granola friends was their choice in bug repellent.  If it staved off tsetse flies and malaria, it could handle our local gnats and mosquitoes.

And so we bought lots of Rid!  When we drank wine on our porches or threw barbecues or drove down to the beach.  Did you get the Rid!? our spouses would ask.  We wouldn’t answer.  What a stupid question.  We’d communicate our feelings about the question by reaching down for the can and holding it in the air while wiggling it in their faces.

Rid! cost eighty-nine cents more than the other leading brands, but what was a little extra money when compared to the dozens of bug bites we’d otherwise suffer?  It wasn’t even a question.

No one liked smelling like a factory vat, so Rid! came in surprisingly pleasant smells like Spring Mist! and Autumn Dew! and Ozark Morning! and Nightingale Bliss!  Some of us who were men had reservations about scents of any kind that weren’t deodorant or a tasteful cologne.  The vague suggestion of perfume worried us, but this was dispelled when our wives or girlfriends would embrace us, bury their heads into our chests, and say Mmm, you smell nice.  We liked this.

Life outdoors, even if was just our backyards or parks, was carefree with Rid!  We didn’t even worry about West Nile anymore.  Not even when we heard maimed birds cry from the sidewalks as flies swarmed around them.

We liked Rid! as a philosophical idea too.  We didn’t actually want to kill the bugs.  We didn’t like killing in general.  We respected both insects’ right to live and their fundamental value as parts of a delicate ecosystem.  We just didn’t want to deal with the bugs; we didn’t want to think about them.  Rid! took care of this efficiently.  We liked efficiency.  Our bosses required it of us and we required it of our subordinates and so we respected products and companies that respected our need not to have our time and money wasted.  Especially in this economy.

Still, sometimes we got bug bites.  We typically noticed after the fact.  We’d be sitting, crosslegged, smoking a cigarette or drinking an import beer, and we’d feel that nuisance feeling.  A slight itch.  It wasn’t much.  But there it’d be.  And once you noticed it you couldn’t ignore it.  Trying to ignore it required more focus on the itch itself, which only made the itch worse.  And then we’d scratch.  Casually at first.  We’d drag our fingers lightly over the spot, as if it were nothing at all; we didn’t want to make a spectacle of it.  The contact would sooth the itch for a few seconds, and then it’d be back, but worse this time, as if the itch itself knew it’d broken us.  What resulted then was an alternation of resistance and scratching, which would continue until we’d scraped our skin bloody, until a red dot would appear at the head of the bite and we’d feel the blood trickle down our ankle.  The blood felt cool on our skin for some reason.  After stopping the blood, hoping no one was watching us, we’d wonder why the Rid! hadn’t prevented this.  Wasn’t this why we’d spent the extra eighty-nine cents?  So that we didn’t have to hold cheap napkins to our ankles while people stared at us?  It was undignified.  We’d gone to college and gotten our MBAs and JDs specifically so people didn’t look at us like we were schmucks.  This is why we bought Rid! in cellophane packages of six at the BulkMart and made our husbands carry them in with the stacks of frozen turkey burgers, three-packs of organic ultra-homogenized milk, bags of field greens and assorted bell peppers, and gallon-sized jugs of Margarita City margarita mix.

We wouldn’t worry about the bite, we decided.  It was probably an anomaly.  Some freak mosquito immune to the stuff.  Or maybe some insect junkie that even liked the repellent.  Who knew?  Wasn’t there mystery in the universe?  Questions we couldn’t answer?  Even miracles?  Like insects who were immune to repellent?  This thought both reaffirmed our faith in Rid! and our belief that there was something more to life than income and death, a spirituality we stored somewhere in the backs of our minds.  In this sense, the single bug bite was a good thing.  We ordered another beer at the bar down by the harbor or another cocktail at the patio lounge.  We didn’t mind the bite anymore.

That is, until two in the morning, when we would wake up scratching our legs until they were deep red and hot and the dead skin and dried blood was caked under our fingernails, until the sheets were dotted red.  Then we noticed we had dozens of bites.  Shorts had been a poor choice.  Dresses had been a poor choice.  We tiptoed to our bathrooms and took antihistamines and rubbed cortisone cream into the affected skin and took swigs of cough syrup and went back to sleep.

Sometimes, not often, we did wonder if Rid! really worked, if our outdoorsy friends were as full of shit about this as they were about their community grown agriculture and apple wine vinegar and hot yoga classes.  But consumer reports all confirmed Rid! was the best.  Sometimes we knew we shouldn’t trust our friends, but a sensible company with no stake in the judgment?  We could trust them.  But then why did we have to run to the bathroom stall at three-thirty in the afternoon on a workday to scratch ourselves all over, making sounds of shameful joy?  None of it added up.

Unless.

Unless Rid! had done its job after all.  It stood to reason that had we not purchased the Rid!, had we not sprayed it liberally to the parts of our arms and legs that extended beyond our rolled up sleeves and khaki shorts, had we not lit the accompanying oversized Rid! insect repellent candle in the rustic metal pail, had we not trusted our outdoorsy friends—because in the end, if you can’t trust your friends, who can you trust?—, had we not trusted the experts, the ones who knew what they were talking about, we would have been inflicted with even more bug bites.  Our sheets wouldn’t be dotted with our blood; we would be swimming in pools of it, more than any dry cleaner could hope to deal with.  We could picture them shaking their heads from behind the counter.  We’ll try our best, they’d say, and they’d take our money, but when we went to pick up the laundry in four days, the sheets would be stained brown now.  No.  Rid! had spared us this.

Still, we developed infections.  In the morning, the sheets were stuck to our left ankles and we gingerly pulled the sheets from our skin, leaving the affected areas raw and painful to the touch.  More pus started to collect around the pores.  We showered and rubbed the areas down with antibacterial moisturizing soap.  Afterwards we dried the skin with clean towels and applied hydrogen peroxide.  The peroxide turned white and frothy on contact.  We wiped it away with cottonballs and repeated.  Once we were satisfied that we’d cleaned our wounds thoroughly, we smeared liberal amounts of antibacterial ointment on them.  We tried covering these messes with band-aids, but the ointment prevented the adhesives from sticking properly when we rotated our ankles to test for durability.  This was a problem.  We searched though the backs of out bathroom cupboards, under the sinks and behind the mirrors, where we kept things we hadn’t used in years:  camphor, iodine, rubbing alcohol, petroleum jelly, aspirin, black shoe polish, Ben Gay, stolen hotel lotions, Epsom salt, rusty nailclippers in grooming kits we got for free with our perfume and cologne purchases.  Eventually we found sterile gauze and surgical-strength medical tape.  We cut long lengths of gauze and folded them into thick squares with which we covered the wounds.  We then covered the squares in strips of tape.  This would hold.  We dressed for work, but then discovered our left shoes were a tight fit, tighter than could be accounted for by the gauze.  If we’d put on socks, we pulled them off.  We compared ankles.  The left ankles were markedly swollen.  We could barely make out the ankle bones.  We cursed aloud then composed ourselves.  We’d taken the proper steps and the body would heal itself.  This thought reassured us.

Walking to the car or to the subway or to the bus, we noticed our ankles tighten up; we could feel the skin straining against the buildup of fluid.  It felt like a mild sprain or at least a twist.  We limped.  We wished we worked at cooler companies, like tech startups or trendy NPOs where the dress codes would allow jeans and sneakers.  We thought about the jobs we did have, how we’d wound up at them.  We’d gone to college, good ones according to the rankings.  We were marketable and had career skills, but nothing particularly distinguishable from anyone else, just like everyone else.  We thought of traveling after graduation or giving our band a real try, but we had student loans and overbearing parents and significant others who were itching to settle down in a few years, so we broke up our bands, put our travel dreams on hold until we had some disposable income, and took jobs in the cities or suburban office parks.  Our salaries were good and we slowly paid down our loans, but our credit card balances crept toward their limits and we had car payments and eventually we were pressured into other things like marriage and mortgage and parenthood.  But who needed to find themselves abroad or follow risky career ambitions when you could end up with bug bites and infections right here in your own well-maintained, grassy backyard or pool area designed like a Japanese rock garden?  Everywhere had its own adventures.  One place was as good as another.

At work we tried not to favor our injured ankles, but walking normally made the strides more awkward.  We winced.  People who could only see our faces over the tops of the cubicles thought we were hungover or constipated.  When we were younger we didn’t know anyone who was constipated.  It was a myth, something that happened for comic effect on TV.  Our bowel movements had been regular, normal, even inconveniently normal.  We held in farts when we stayed over our girlfriends’ or boyfriends’ apartments.  We excused ourselves, flushed with embarrassment, in the middle of dinners to run to the bathroom.  Now, though, some of us knew that constipation was all too real.  We knew the drugs that could cause it as a side effect and when our doctors prescribed them we learned to deal.  We learned to eat whole grains.  We stood blocking the flow of shopping carts at the supermarket while we checked the nutritional information on our snack bars and breakfast cereals.

We weren’t sure if this infection was better or worse than mild constipation.

We took three ibuprofens in our offices with our morning coffee.  Our outdoorsy friends asked, Didn’t you use Rid! like I told you?  Yes, asshole, we said.  We used Rid!  Well, they said, you can’t expect it to take care of every bite.  Sometimes you just get bit.  You shouldn’t’ve scratched it though.  Everyone knows that.  It’s all about willpower, like that time I was lost on the Appalachian Trail and was being hunted by a whole family of brown bears.  Did I ever tell you about that?

After work, after we arrived home and collapsed onto our couches and turned on the TV.  There, watching the latest Amazon Challenge, we changed the dressings on our ankles.  The old bandages were wet and stained a pale yellow on the underside.  The skin glistened.  We rested our feet on the coffee tables and let them air out.  We’d heard this was good for wounds; the air was necessary for scabs to form.  A good scab meant you were healing.  We went to bed on top of the comforters.  We didn’t want to ruin the sheets any more than we already had.

In the morning there was still no scab, but there was crystallized pus stuck to our skin in jagged little pebbles.  These we picked at, clearing them away like rubble from a blast site.  Pus was good, though.  It meant the white blood cells were attacking potential pathogens.  There were bound to be casualties in any battle, and the dead soldiers were unceremoniously expelled in sticky fluid from our ankles.

It was the weekend and it was hot and we wore shorts.  When people saw the fresh gauze and medical tape on our ankles, they shook their heads in sympathy while we all chatted at barbecues and lunches and tennis outings.  Though we were vague about what was going on with our health, our friends secretly suspected it was poison ivy and so kept their distances with uneasy civility.  We still sprayed ourselves down with Rid!  Everyone smelled like it.  It was in the air, as common a scent in the summer as flowers, grilled meat, and sangria.

Days went by, sometimes weeks.  The bites would scab over and parts of the scabs would flake off.  Sometimes we’d pick at the parts that didn’t flake off and reopen the wounds.  And sometimes there were new bites and we scratched them in our sleep.  Sometimes we weren’t so good about taking care of the infections.  The bite areas would start to turn deep red and purple and the skin swelled and our feet smelled like aged Dutch cheese.  We didn’t mind the smell ourselves, which is a funny thing about one’s own body.  But our husbands and wives and girlfriends and boyfriends and children noticed.  Their faces would contort in disgust.  Even our dogs noticed.  They would lift their heads from the carpet, get up, and walk over.  They would sniff the area with mild curiosity.  Their eyes said to us, Hey, this is something new.  They would lick at our wounds.  We knew dog saliva was cleaner than human saliva so we let them lick.  They licked the area dry and we thought this helped.  Eventually we would shoo them away and go back to watching TV.  We kept our cats away.  Cats were filthy.  They would only give us some infection with a long, unpronounceable name.  Cats carried sporotrichosis.  Everyone knew this.  We worried what would happen if the infection never healed.  We looked up “amputation” on the internet.

Eventually Rid! season would pass and eventually the wounds would heal.  We didn’t know anyone who’d lost a foot to a bug bite.  We were sure it happened, but it happened in places like rural Georgia or New Mexico, places people weren’t meant to live.  By late October we stopped scratching ourselves and it happened without event; we didn’t even notice; we couldn’t pinpoint the moment of change.  It was like falling asleep that way.  One day it just stopped, and maybe we’d be out looking for Halloween costumes for the kids or maybe even it would be later in the season and we’d be out Christmas shopping at dawn the morning after Thanksgiving.  We’d see a pair of pants we wanted for ourselves.  We’d go and try them on, remembering at first that Christmas was about giving and not receiving until we realized we’d sacrificed enough to get up at four in the morning and we deserved some goddamn pants on sale if we wanted them.  We’d change in the dressing room and notice an ankle free of red marks and scabs.  There might be a scar, but nothing you’d notice if you weren’t looking for it.

The Rid! sat in bathroom cabinets or in hallway closets, the bottles nestled in wicker baskets with the beach towels and sunscreen and cocoa oil our dermatologists told us not to use.  It sat there, the last bottle, half empty.  It’d be the first thing we’d grab in a panic on the first unseasonably warm day of early spring, when we were itching to be outdoors, when we didn’t have the strength or patience to run to the store before we fled work and home for the sunlight.  There it sat, hibernating, ready to remind us what we might otherwise forget.  That Rid! is the best.  That Rid! is the very best money can buy.

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Dane A. Wisher lives in Doha, where he teaches writing at the Community College of Qatar. He received his MFA from the University of Houston and his BA from the University of Virginia. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, Word Riot, and ACREAGE. He is currently completing a novel, Minor Poets in America. You can follow him on Twitter.