“Shannon, it’s Jim, where are you.”
Shannon holds a cell phone to his face, looks around the yard. “I see a rope of clothesline. A ruffled apron. Pile of cinder blocks. Hammock. Chest of drawers.”
“Okay, you’re in your backyard. Come to the front door and let us in. My mother’s here for her lesson and can stand for only so long.”
In the testicle print apron, Shannon opens to a solemn man, broad in a three piece suit, and a stooped narrow woman with dull eyes.
“Here’s her lesson book, you left off on page five. I’ll be back in two hours.”
Shannon helps her to the piano bench.
He turns to see the man ask the floorboards, “How are you today.”
He considers. “I’m rested.”
“And your face.”
He touches the cuts on his forehead, lips, and cheeks. Shrugs.
The man frowns, but his full charcoal mustache hides it. “I’ll see you soon.”
Shannon walks to the bench, opens the book to page five, Jim’s mother grimaces.
“What the hell is wrong with your floor.” Chalk outlines of bodies upon bodies are traced around the table in a mass grave. A watch alarm beeps, he raises his wrist. BATHROOM CABINET. A door-knock turns Shannon once more and it’s Jim, his sheening striped tie thrown over his shoulder. “How was the lesson.”
“We played Shenandoah,” Jim’s mother bleats, “Twelve goddamn times. It was my favorite as a young twit.” Shannon folds down the music at page ten, helps Jim walk her to the car.
“It’s air-conditioned, she’ll be fine,” Jim says, and they stand by the street sharing a cigarette, as they sometimes do. Shannon pulls the tie from Jim’s lapel, Jim clears his throat.
“I have another paying gig for you.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“I’m having a Sunday brunch in two weeks, and I’d like you at the baby-grand.”
“What’s the repertoire,” and passes the cigarette.
“Something playful, jazzy, light.”
“You’ll need your full suit. Shoes this time.”
Shannon nods without humor.
Jim takes a second drag, hands it back. “Call if you need anything.”
What that anything could be Shannon couldn’t guess and Jim is hoping he won’t. He puts his hand on Shannon’s shoulder, appraising him. “Eat more.”
From their black Mercedes, Jim’s mother waves in the ruffled apron, testicles rubescent in the shamelessly bare summer sun.
Pizza grease pumpkin orange from the folded slice of pie drips down his t-shirt. The weather is ridiculously good—air free from demon heat—sky fearlessly blue, clouds sheer and coy as the finest lingerie. He can think of no one he’d want to sheath in these clouds in order to unsheathe. The couples’ tennis match is just beginning, four men obviously new learners, balls rarely making a decent return across the net. Relaxing against a tree, Shannon chews with the negligence of the unskilled players’ swings. A ball pops over the park fence, lands in doughy thumps by the tree. He grips the glowing fuzz, vaults it back, watches slack-jawed as it flies across the tennis court, over the next fence into the street. The players sulk in uniformity—he frames them into an album cover: “Due to the Color Green” he’d call it.
“Nice arm,” one says with mild esteem.
Shannon stands without thought of the ball—he has a craving for rock’n’roll, and polishes his hair with mozzarella oil on his hands. Maybe he’ll find a band on his way home.
Moving in the roomy body bag of his clothes, his joints feel loose; every porthole resisting for an instant only to roll back into place. The late afternoon sun is bleaching the edges of everything he can see when a golden old Cadillac pulls up beside him.
“HEY SHANNON,” and Shannon doesn’t turn.
Caddy follows at a sinister pace.
“WHERE YOU HEADED.”
Focused forward, he imagines a locomotive headed straight for him, playing chicken with his split lip.
“OH COME ON, IT’S JULIEN!”
At the car window, a man with paunched ruddy features, state trooper sunglasses, framed by over-brushed brown hair.
“WHEN YOU COMIN AGAIN. WE MISS YOUR SULTRY VOICE.”
Back to the choo choo.
“WELL AT LEAST LET ME RETURN THESE.”
One, then two shiny black tuxedo shoes bounce on the pavement at his feet.
“THE POOL BOY FOUND THEM IN THE BAOBABS. WHAT A NIGHT THAT WAS!”
He stares at the shoes as the Cadillac zests away, past the whistling steam engine.
One shoe crammed in his first back pocket, second shoe in the other, he steps to the street cupping his brow to stare down the last of the sun, its hot amber rind unnerving his retinas, his chest pumping like faulty car breaks. This time, he decides, the motherfucker’s gotta go. So he tries not from the bottom, but straight through his rib cage—fingers as one beak—lacerating flesh, in between bone battens and intercostal clatter, until his hand grips his heart. The “fist dipped in blood,” the enigmatic mind fighting always until it doesn’t. It fights his fist now as he strains to pull it out, ribs yawning open for the slow, gory birth. Mounting the spouting organ on his fingers like a baseball eclipsing the sun, his other beaked hand breaks thigh muscle, sliding it aside to grip his femur, yank it free. He swings the bone elliptical to become a bat. Trancing—as a ninja must to imagine he’s already broken the fact of the board with the fiction of his hand and the rumor of his will—Shannon must believe he is not, in fact, the board itself. And throws the heart high, whacks it hard with his femur, splattering blood to the pavement, on his face, in his mouth. His heart flies at the dying light, “And heeeEEEEEEE’s OUTTA HEEEEEEERRRRrrrreeeee.”
It smells like college. Buick halts in the driveway, college boys escape, stampede the flock of children. He swerves behind the smallest girl in boy clothes. She sprints him up the block, five strides ahead, her laughter amorous as before. He’s stronger this time, ready for joy, to run faster, farther. She spins, keeps running. He spins, keeps running. She throws out her arms, falls to her hands, feet slicing air with a cartwheel. He throws himself down, completes the same orbit. They run on, now running in tandem—as she twirls, he twirls, as she jumps to clap her hands he’s already in mid-air, clapping. When she grips her slim hips, his hands are on his own, waggling their pockets, then sprint. Hands reach high, fingers like lit sparklers, craning their heads to howl.
Abruptly she pops to a higher gear, speeding farther, he can’t keep apace. Follow me, she says in his head. Lungs toppling in his chest, he jogs to a stop, her silhouette dimmed to a grease streak. Come back.
As the smudge of her dilates, it shudders; he can feel the tremor in his teeth, behind his eyes, clutching his head with both hands to hold her still, but she’s bleeding out everywhere swelling into life-size—because she’s running back. The joy to prepare for now is her’s, its centrifugal force will rupture him like a pipe bomb—he won’t survive he’s sure of it. The wait to receive her dissolving him, her will alone keeps him standing. She gallops to him, leaps at him, lands on him, a cell phone rings. He presses the sound to his face.
“Um, hey there Shannon, it’s Bill, you at home?”
Shannon rolls his bare back on a stripped mattress. Halogen heat from the ceiling scorching his eyes, he flinches. “In a hallway. Brick walls, institutional white. Many doors.” A ginger centipede flurries by on its batting lashes of legs. “And the walls have eyes,” he groans.
“Okay, well, um, it’s Friday, so I’ll be by with the twins in an hour. You want a ride home?”
“No. I’ll be there.” Phone down, faced smushed to mattress stains stinking of bleach and bread dough, he attentively licks one splatter, then another. Maybe a few more minutes, just a few. Watch beeps. Where the hell are his shoes.
It’s queasiness when the twins arrive. Boys about five or six, stand nearly identical looking at Shannon, who wants to tell Bill Please take them, just take them away.
Bill, though in a business suit, could be a jockey—small-boned and eager, as if on a jittery horse, anxious for the starting bell, the getaway. “What’ll you be practicing?” straightening the boys’ shirts again and again.
“Let’s do scales,” says one.
“And Chopsticks,” says the other, climbing onto the piano bench.
Bill drops cash in an ceramic flower pot Shannon is now noticing atop the piano.
“Ok,” Bill turning to timidly ask the door, “And Shannon how are you,” hands gripping, regripping reins in his pants pockets.
Shannon, flexing jaw, spits an unconvincing, “I’m fine.”
Relieved, “Okay then. Um, I’ll see you in an hour?”
At the high end sits one twin, at the low end the other, straining tiny fingers into rhythm up musical scales. Shannon crosses tightly against his billowing stomach. It’s a marvel to him, their effortless reflex with fragile size. Why would Bill do this, leave such weakness in his care.
Pounding at the door, “Shannon, it’s John Thatcher, let me in.”
Shades are drawn.
John. Thatcher. Means nothing to Shannon.
“I KNOW YOU’RE IN THERE WITH MY BOYS, LET ME IN.”
Pounding strong enough, doorframe easily splitting—it’s almost theatre, it must be comedy.
Twins look to Shannon, eyes flying-saucer-round.
“SHANNON, YOU PERVERT, YOU MONSTER, WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH MY BOYS,” vowels sloshing over consonants all barely bobbing to the surface. He’s throwing his whole body at the locked door.
When had Shannon locked it, does he ever.
Pulling twins off the bench, “We’re going to run now, out through the kitchen.”
“Are we playing tag.”
One lobbed onto his back, the other swung onto his hip, his hand on the back gate breaking its latch as the crunching front door surrenders; then the thunder of discordant chords under vengeance of a bat or a hammer or slat of doorframe. He runs and cannot feel his body, only clawing fingers and clamped limbs—their exceptional will to hold on.
At a park sentineled by statues, the boys slide down, he drops to his knees, fistful of a shirt in each hand. He bows for balance as though all joined in mighty prayer, then scans the playground as he might the heavens for confirmation. Families like rodents chirp on the equipment, through tunnels, over slides. Phone out, a twin stuffed under each arm like a duffle, “Bill, John came for the boys… At the park, with brass men in sheets.”
One twin to Shannon, “They look like lawyers.”
“Who looks like what.”
“You gonna puke, sir?”
And he does.
“Time to renew the restraining. Mandate. Demand. Memo.”
“Order,” Bill wheezes.
At the foot of a brooding bronze man, “I know, I know. What, what did he do.”
“Smashed in the door, and piano.”
“I’m, I’m so sorry to’ve put you in danger. You probably don’t want the police involved.”
He wants to ask Bill, Why monster, why pervert. Leaning in, “John used words—”
With eyes extraterrestrial as his sons’, “Shannon, he’s a bully who’s lost control, he’ll say anything to get me back.” Shannon leans closer. “I’LL HAVE THE PIANO REPLACED,” Jim blurts.
Shannon blinks, crouches to the twins, “I’ll see you next time.”
He had known to use the words restraining… something. Act, action. Restraining Action. Bill had understood him, he had understood him. What had they understood. The words evoke something burdensome, all-embracing. Crack-crack. Knuckles like wood on wood, like a mallet, had declared worse than bad news or a verdict. Thatcher with the doorslat, Thatcher with the bat, Thatcher with the chance given, would he have.
From a saloon across the street, applause burbles out to the chill night air. Inside, a full-figured voice lays about the room, blurring in with shadows of drinkers and their drinks; a calm, commanding voice that pulls him, weakens him against the jukebox to keep upright.
The singer is a slender man tightly swallowed by a red satin gown, hipbones abrupt to the plucks of an electric guitar playing in the background, his box shoulders bracing the spotlight as a street fighter with an honor to defend. His large laced hands grip the mic, gloves rushing up lean biceps, and at his throat, a white pearl choker. His shaved head flashes letters of a tattoo, ear to ear, nape of neck, when turning to wink at the bartender. Mouth is heavy with red syrupy lipstick, beautiful in its demand to be seen. And Shannon wants to press his thumb on that begging mouth, slowly smear it onto the glittered cheek. Lips spread across a gap in the teeth wide enough for a tongue to slide between; Shannon’s tongue in his own teeth as the singer croons to him, “I’ll be your woman, and you can be… mine.”
Ca-lunk of boots close-in behind Shannon, then a voice emerges from a terrain of grime and gravel and the grim will it takes to speak in strong winds. Brim of his cowboy hat divides the rise of purple smoke encircling from the floor.
“You wouldn’t think to look at me,” the man says through an overflowing mustache, pulling out a pack, handing one to Shannon, “But I’ve stood before waterfalls, kings and murderers, saints and little green men. And none of them made me falter or freeze—I spoke with the ease of Socrates! But this one, up there,” points to the singer, “She makes me dumb with desire. I can’t put two sentences together when she looks my way. Times we step out for a smoke, I don’t know what to do, I’m a buffoon with her. Now, why do you suppose that is.” Cigarette behind ear, Shannon considers the sly slopes of the singer, the dark rattle in her voice. “She’s out of your league,” he shrugs.
The man grunts, snorts, cackles in amusement. Tinny click of his lighter bright like tinsel in his dense-footed departure. At the door, a stomp once or twice, then “Son of a bitch.”
Inside, the singer’s shaded eyes water from the sour stench of unwashed denim, her tears compelling patrons to wait—for the next song, and the song beyond that, and the song beyond that. The light holds back the singer until she can no longer stand its arctic stare and steps away. She wants to move with darkness, see in it what she can. Speaking quickly to Shannon, taking his hand, both shiver in the nervous push of last call.
The early periphery of dawn is not so much a color—although a painter would argue otherwise, would have to—but more a droning in the chord of D minor; universe yawning out of one form into another, on its way to something else. Shannon sways in the chord, walking to the curb where stands a hunched and hooded creature, hands old, arthritic. It’s dressed too warmly for a summer sunrise, as though teleported from another world still enduring winter. It pulls around itself a battered grey shawl over a tangerine rain-slicker.
He’s about to step off when she speaks to no one in particular.
“Usually it’s a car accident. It’s a piano falling on your head and you don’t get to watch the meaning of Forever change.”
He looks to her, she does not turn. Her voice is course and steady, a voice that knows unwanted things.
“And like a cartoon angel, you float above what’s left of your life and you cannot choose it, you want none of it. Only desire will keep you alive. The desire will not be your own.”
She steps off the curb, crosses the street, not looking back. Shannon stands gasping.
Minutes pass, perhaps hours, most likely minutes. Watch beeps. He walks uncomprehending through a neighbor’s yard to the back gate. His gate. Broken latch. Twins. John Thatcher. Busted-in door, the goddamn piano. The memory is there. Like himself as a child with his Uncle at the funeral. Parts of his brain had made an agreement, though not binding, for the child looks like the twins, and his Uncle, less a figure than a force of warmth and mercy.
Memory of the break-in is an orchestra of interrupting sounds and images rocketing past each other, finding a new order and now another until escaping the room with the children is no longer Shannon, but the man in the Cadillac, the saloon singer, the old witching woman on the street. The front of his skull aches with activity, passing landmarks to the kitchen where he hears a voice—not the voice of John Thatcher.
“Hi, are you home?” it says uneasy from the front room.
“Who is it.”
“The piano delivery guy.”
Shannon enters to a round man in coveralls.
“Sorry it took a couple days. We don’t deliver on Sunday. Are you Bill Kaplan?”
The new piano, in the same upright design, is darker, more chestnut in stain; glossier, conspicuous in the hypothermic blues and greys of his apartment.
“Are you Bill?”
“Just need a signature,” hands him a clip board and waits, pen raised. Shannon hesitates which hand to reach, takes the pen. At the red arrow he draws an X. And then an O.
“Watch out, you’re bleeding,” looking at Shannon’s hand, “Is it paint?”
Shannon smudges thumb to his finger, then to his tongue. “Lipstick.” Then smears it around his lips, smacking them together.
The man shakes his head, hurries to the front door. “Keep the pen have a nice day.”
Door closes, Shannon’s mouth is ajar. His hands swab the undamaged doorframe, the gleaming new knob. He steps back. No more chalk outlines on the floor but one, beneath his feet. He backs up, distressed to be stepping on it—the shrunken outline, the smallest body, on its side, knees draw up. He crouches down, traces with his fingertips the crescent spine, club feet, the knobby knees, and face without features—silhouette now a blur. Lying down beside it, knees drawn up, face to face with the foggy figure, “Your honor,” hoarsely, “to honor…” he strokes its head, “the visitor, the prophet, the night’s plutonium shore,” hands to his chest, “Quote the raven—” Watch beeps.
Subway car dings, doors close, an over-starched automated voice declares “Next stop is.” Vessel bolts forward jerking Shannon awake. Travelers across from him look like worn out, well dressed hostages. Must be the early morning office crowd—faces leadened piles of flesh drooping off skulls onto dimpled lids of iced coffee. He imagines reaching out his thumbs to mold their puddy features into something more alarmed and goblin-like; a Goya painting—fingers in each other’s mouths, mid-gargle, lit from below, caught in a moment of terror or glee.
He imagines there would be few misgivings if he slid from the lacquered bench onto the sticky floor of soda spills and dried urine, where he’d crawl around the hostages’ feet and lean like a doting house pet; jowls slathering their leather loafers or sandal straps, hands holding their ankles, nose nuzzling their shins, teeth gnaw kneecaps. He’d sink them down to the gooey ground, taking each by their elbows or haunches and unscroll them like laying out the dead to be reverenced. He’d tell them, “Let’s take a rest.” And then maybe, “I am a flood.” And a wave pool inside him would rise, rock him into the flourish of limbs and quivering chins.
He doesn’t envision a tangle of appendages; rubber soles snared on buttons, face cut on zippered groins. No, it would be a subtle surfing. His face submerged in body caves, smelling the brown rust and yellow salt of their hush-hush… “Shhhhhh” he’d assure them, “The worst suffering is over.” And he’d want from them more than their souls.
There would be sighs, weak smiles, and a dubious onlooker to drag him by the collar up against the wall and hiss, “Look here, friend, just what do you think you’re doing?” He would explain, “I’m forever-ing in here bumping into walls then moving through them rolling on the shiny floor no trace of me I breathe on windows and put my hand on the wet I whisper please find me and the taste the first time I threw-up and couldn’t swallow and had to wash the shiny shiny floor no trace of me lost in the big big big big bed where I lie very still my bones hurt and make me dance beautiful in empty rooms no trace of me there is a lion outside pacing back and forth watching me and writes with its big paw hands it paces for days I like the lion and sometimes show it how I try to pull my face off and I cry lots STOP IT STOP CRYING STOP FOREVER find me before forever does before he comes …”
Opens his eyes, holding a cell phone to his face.
“Shannon, you have to stop this. Calling me. Saying these things.” A woman’s voice.
He’s alone, passenger seat of a parked car, in a neighborhood stippled with maples and gingkos ruffling in the jungle green dark.
“Who is this.”
A bleak silence where breath should be.
“Why don’t you call Sal. He misses you.”
Across is a man’s bearded face in an upstairs window.
“I don’t know any Sal.”
Silence clicks, phone goes dark.
Car door opens, he teeters the block toward a bearded face he’s certain knows him. And passes a willow tree dropping hangman ropes cornrowed with delicate tongues. He takes hold of one, taut between fists, and wraps the branch once, twice around his throat, then reclines back until he’s levitating. Other branches reach down in a ribbon garden, dragging their locks along his face. Usually it’s a car accident, it’s a piano on your head and
Rope snaps, he slams to the ground, groaning, almost smiling. The sky is a watching-thing, he ponders. Patient, not hostile, not reluctant. Pulling out a slim tin of cigarettes, he smokes on his back. A lone branch looks as though it’s asking for a drag. He lifts his smoke for the rope to loop it gingerly and pull it to its higher depths of hues.
He never got to see the battered piano. ‘It’s a terrible thing not to have someone unto whom you can unburden yourself. I tell my piano the things I used to tell you.’ Chopin said that. Had Shannon ever played the gone piano. What had it witnessed. The wreck, and not the story of the wreck. Who said that.
Blowing out the last cable of smoke, his lips stay round and tight, breath narrow, and the loveliest sound buoys out. A Chopin melody. He whistles it like a bird.
Rolling over, he stands, head expanding like a balloon. Why do we have a head at all, he wonders. If life as such is an inventory checking, rechecking itself, why have even a body. Weeping branches rest on his shoulder, he hangs his head. Life as such. And pats the branch. How could I be a monster. His grubby hands rub his face, smearing on tree-soot. Show yourself.
He knocks at the door, a boyish man opens, almost middle-aged. What a finely trimmed face. The beard wears an undershirt fragrant with freesia, his square compact frame like a freshly planted wall.
“Hi, I’m Axel. Welcome,” extending his hand and Shannon doesn’t shake it. How could he—this gesture of lack, of having-been-without, of having been wrong. The man smirks. “Head upstairs.”
Every ledge inside is lined with action figurines, toy weapons, costume masks, a canary colored hazmat suit hanging in the doorway. A hovel. A landfill of nostalgia—days of sticky dishes, maybe weeks; years of political buttons, homemade signs: ‘change smells like tear gas,’ a blow horn between cereal boxes. The beard grins nervously.
“The others aren’t here yet, but you can wait in the game-room. I didn’t catch your name.” He dusts off Shannon’s back, “You a friend of Rick’s?” Shannon looks around, the man hands him goggles, “There’s fully-loaded pellet guns and woah, buddy, steady now.” The man anchors their weaving until both men stop bending. He holds him close and Shannon wants him to. He wants disaster. He slides his face down the floral chest to his knees. The man wears no belt-buckle, Shannon’s face is the belt-buckle. The first time I threw-up and couldn’t swallow, the words pass through him like nausea. He wraps his arms around the man’s waist, his cheek so tense on the white cotton belly his scabs resplit and seep.
The man strokes his head, cups his face, inspects the wounds; a man too handsome to take in. His crooked mouth loose and listening, with deeply creased eyes—shiny watchful eyes—patient, not reluctant, not hostile; and the proud oblique scar passing down his entire cheek in the shape of a canoe, paler tick marks hemming it like gunnel bolts where stitches had not held. A once-pummeled face. The piano. Shannon looks away, knowing he’ll never see this man again.
The man lifts him, uncoils the boa of leaves, takes back the goggles. “Maybe you should settle into one of the beanbags.”
Shannon slumps in the electric blue. The man takes out a porcelain saucer, leans against the doorframe and smokes a leftover joint with precious drags, filling the room with tumbleweeds of smoke, while the one dim lamp is carving out a path through the back of Shannon’s eye sockets with its brightness. The buzzing of the turbine in his chest is becoming audible. He pulls on his sleeves, he tries to listen.
“You’re not well, friend. You’re sick with longing.”
“Is that it,” Shannon grumbles, beginning to sweat.
The man extends the joint, Shannon waves it off.
“Where’s your fidelity,” the man asks, sparking the lighter.
“To what are you faithful.”
“Like, to a person.”
“No.” He sucks the smoke deep, coughs it out. “Sometimes you don’t know what until you’ve betrayed it. You feel like you’re dying, and then you know you’ve found it; it’s already found you.”
“What will it want from me.”
The man sucks deeper, squinting. Then blows out the entire dustbowl. “And then it’s no longer the what but the how. How do you honor it, how does it want you to.”
“Why must we,” Shannon winces.
“Why doesn’t matter, we make that part up. The what makes us up. And we tribute it without reward or reciprocity, even if it means damnation. That’s fidelity.”
Shannon is desperate not to claw his own face off, “Am I double damned if I don’t know.”
“Many don’t. But watch them, they live their lives by it.”
Shannon looks to his hands, filthy and clammy. The man notices. His sermon continues.
“After the cleansing, praying, spells and exorcisms, after the gutting, cutting and years of treatment, the bond is there, ugly, aching still. You’ll be sick, mentally ill with longing for it, to be rid of it. Yet you’ll defend it with your life because your life is nothing without it. It’s madness. It’s why you’re here, why you’re anywhere.”
“But I’m not here.”
The man blows out, looking cross. “How’s that.”
“What if I told you I won’t remember this in the morning.”
“I’ll remember for you.”
“I won’t remember you,” Shannon growls.
The man looks hurt. “Because you’re not here?”
“Here is an unknown quantity. How can we possibly know what it does and does not account for.”
The man straightens, drops the butt, glowers.
“And all that sentimental bullshit you just blew up my ass, you sound like a boy scout spreading gossip at a campfire. You think I want fairytales—I WANT TO KNOW WHO DID THIS,” hand encircling his face. Instantly his eyes clench shut, face flattens, voice blank, “There’s indifference in me so deep you’ll mistake it as understanding, for it needs no conversion, seeks no argument. You’ll mistake it as strength and swagger. It will be conspiracy, I will be dreaded.”
“What are you doing.”
“SPREADING GOSSIP,” Shannon glares, eyes twitching with rising temperature.
The man kneels to the beanbag, “What substance are you on, friend.”
“I have no substance.”
“So where are you.”
“In the eye of the beholder.”
“Then you ARE here.”
“HERE IS AN ENDLESS SHEDDING. I’M ABOUT TO BE SLOUGHED OFF, CAN’T YOU FEEL IT.”
Holding down Shannon’s fists, “I’ve got you.”
“Then take me with you, far as you can.”
“Shhhhhh, friend. Whoever you are, whatever’s happened, the worst suffering is over.”
“No, friend,” teeth hissing, damp forehead to forehead, “It wants everything.”
Outside, summer wind is picking up dirt and leaves, scent and sound, carrying it all to the next block over, to the block beyond that, and the block beyond that. The weak light in the game room burns hopeful until the man can no longer stand its faithfulness and puts it out. He wants to see with darkness, do in it what he can. Moving quickly, taking Shannon’s hand, both shiver in the starless tenement heat.
The Buick halts in the driveway, college kids dart into the gang of children who flee. He goes straight for the smallest girl in boy clothes, she sprints him up the block, five strides ahead. The distance between condenses quickly and the sense is to lift her and scatter her into noise, to rise and fall at the command of her rapture. She sharps a left turn through honeysuckle. He leaps, close behind, but already she’s across the lawn at the stoop of a house. “Follow me!” she calls. “NO,” he calls back “DON’T GO IN, IT ISN’T SAFE.” She springs past the threshold. “NO,” he vaults at the door. Past the frame his body drops, plummeting into a crater. He clings to the doorframe pulling himself to stand. “COME BACK,” he yells, “DON’T LEAVE ME.” He tugs off one shoe, into the blackness he flings it. No sound. The other shoe is hurled across the cavity. Nothing. He lets go of the doorframe, falling forward like a domino struck.
Spasming from sleep against impact, he turns over, engulfs his face in pillow. He is home, in bed, somehow. He wants never to leave it. He wants to shackle himself—here; announce himself in its unknown quantity: account for ME.
The aroma of her hits him first. Apple juice and jasmine. His eyes can barely open on her face, small in the lamp light—black eyes shining, cruel and curious and much too close.
“I’m hungry,” she grumbles with a low silver-plated voice. Then tromps to the kitchen—her dark hair tangled and bounceless, her loose boy clothes wrinkled—five strides ahead.
Kat Mandeville graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, is finishing her PhD in Philosophy & Critical Thought at the European Graduate School, and with Atropos Press has published her Master’s Thesis, Seduction into Life, Revelation with Strangers: Could Ettinger’s Matrixial Borderspace Answer Badiou’s Call for a New Philosophical Tradition? She’s published two books of poetry, with various poems published in various journals. She lives in New York City.