Coyote Antics

2016-04-03 17.31.49

In the frosted field, beneath the night,
the hunter aims his unerring sight
for the king of stags with the crown
like a forest with its leaves fallen down,
and sitting in the crook of an old oak tree
he waits with his gun upon his stiff knee,
hearing the chorus of a raucous pack
of coyotes tracing the wild game track
where the stags and does often walk,
where the lesser-wolves often stalk,
and hearing their yipping, yowling laughter,
the hunter wonders what they are after
as they run manically to and fro
like dogs with a humor humans know
when witnessing hubris exact a price
and costs a man much for his vice.
The hunter loses patience with the pack
as they deny him his most desired rack
by chasing away all such grandstanding deer
that may wander thereto, or near enough here,
so the hunter might stake covetous claim
with apt opportunity and an expert aim.
Still the coyotes laugh wildly at him
while racing about the field’s moonlit rim.
Impatient for his next fireplace mount
while the coyotes run about without count,
he takes aim at the wry pack ever abounding
and pulls the trigger, the loud shot sounding
throughout a night that is otherwise silent
except for the coyote chorus, all defiant
at the bullets churning up the frosted turf—
dirt and grass, rock and root and earth.
The hunter loses his temper ever the more
when they all zig-zag around the old arbor
where he sits, his gun raised to his eye
while cursing the moon-lobed, lunatic sky.
He knows his aim true, yet none ever fall,
each shot striking as though the phantasmal,
the cross-hairs on their beastly hearts
and yet striking none of their fleshy parts.
Cussing the night, his gun, and each coyote,
he clambers down from the old oak tree.
But his hand slips on bark and he tumbles down,
falling head over heels, landing on his crown.
His rifle, too, falls roughly to the ground
and fires its anger with a deafening sound,
the bullet cutting a bloody red rut
through the core of his lily-white gut.
The coyotes converge, now, in a circle
and proceed to laugh, yip, and smirk till
one by one they fade away, the last
being the largest of all, in moonlight cast.
Coyote then dons his human skin
and stands upright, flashing a grin
as a black-haired trickster and new-come stranger,
animal and man, a deadly skin-changer.
He waves to the hunter as the man dies,
his bloody mouth agape, and wide his eyes
as he looks upon this primeval creature
who is coyote in spirit, but man in feature.
Coyote then takes a large black flint blade
from his corded leather waist braid
and cuts the scalp from the hunter’s head,
bringing it through the woods to his homestead
and adding it to a large stone wall within
covered in the scalps of other such men
who each mistook himself as a master
while scorning Coyote and his frightful laughter.

dreamcatcher

 

(For those who know of my Native American Apocalyptic Myth series, this is just another poem set in that universe concerning Glooskap and Tawiskaron.  I have several short stories set in the universe, alongside the first novel “The Dark Dreamer”, published under my pseudonym SC Foster, and eventually I will finish the second novel “The Hunter Comes”, though it is slow going since I have so many other things I am currently working on under my other real name [SC Foster is my real name, too, but selectively excised].  There are simply not enough hours in the day to pursue everything and I feel a little bit overwhelmed.  Not that I should complain, I suppose.  Better the floodgates open than a drought beset the brain.)

Wish Come True

You boys need to sit a spell. It’s a helluva swelterin’ day to be out river-raftin’ and I reckon you could use a moment in the shade to cool yourselves off. I’m sure them rapids will still be waitin’ for you in an hour or so. They ain’t goin’ nowhere, ‘cept forward, of course. Funny how the river moves on, but remains in place. Even that turbulence. I’m sure it’s all wear-and-tear on the arms, fightin’ those currents and that mean old spittle of the river. Me, I couldn’t do it. Maybe in my youth I could. Then again, I ain’t so old as I appear. I know, I know. Time ain’t been good to me, but really it is the genes that are to blame. The bad blood in me. Too much inbreeding where I come from. Ain’t good for the specimen, or the species for that matter. That’s why I married me a girl from other parts. No need to have the branches entwined with the roots, if you get my meaning. Anyhow, yessir, I’ve been a chewer most my life. Chewin’ the leaf helps me chew the cud. Mastication, they say, means to chew things over. And I’ve a lot to chew over as I become an old man too soon. It ain’t a bitter leaf, mind you. And if it is, well, that’s just the type of flavor you like in your old age, however premature it may be in comin’ to you.
Yeah, you whitewater rafters have your skin in the game for sure. The river can be mighty fickle as it runs along. He’s a merciless daddy to piggyback on. But when I was a boy growin’ up in Appalachia, the thing most folks said you had to fear wasn’t so much whitewater as silent, still, stagnant water. My daddy’d get kidney stones all his life, and that was because there was a limestone spring where he grew up at, and he and his folks would get their water from it. Yessir, water and minerals all in one gulp and go, and then kidney stones later on. Damn near killed him, those kidney stones. Like givin’ birth for a man. Almost dropped him with a heart attack. But he’d pull through.
Anyway, what you really had to fear was stagnant water fed off from the river. Watershed lakes, is what I mean. You see, it is true that whitewater can chew you up and spit you out as bad as any black momma bear, but still water can devour your body and soul, inside and out. And I ain’t just talkin’ ‘bout chemicals and pigshit and the other stuff that enterprisin’ individuals like to flush down-river; I’m talkin’ ‘bout the history in the bottomlands and their watersheds. I’m talkin’ the torrent of history that bleeds off and gathers in little pools that are so silent and still that people forget about them until they find themselves steeped up to their chins in them, or else drownin’.
I’m talkin’ ‘bout myths. I’m talkin’ ‘bout the Pitcher Woman.
Where do I start? The bottomland was a place where the sun never looked in none. The floodwaters brought thick soils with them that grew them trees tall and taut together, like bundles of giant broccoli, their foliage a roof in a great columned hall. Moss carpeted the ground there, if anything, and lichen and mushrooms grew in fairy rings like portals between worlds. And they were portals between worlds, mind you, though the worlds were nothing you’d ever want to visit.
It waited there, in that stagnant lake, eating frogs and water fowls and whatever else wondered into that forgotten lake, save for when the floodwaters opened the way for the river to bleed prey into that natural cesspool. Deer disappeared there, too, and it was said that a family of slant-eyed tourists had died after eatin’ bad mushrooms near the lake. But that was not true. Their bones joined the others at the bottom of that lake, their souls long gone before that. No one picnicked on bottomland, even eccentric tourists. But you know how drunk kids are with youth. Piss and vinegar can wash away fear faster than a spilling river from a broken dam. And that dam bled freely in our hearts.
And by we, I mean me and my cousins. Not yet teens, but we thought we could rule the wilderness. We went walking along the river every weekend in that Summer. This was back when Summer break was a good three months or so, so the farm boys could help with the harvest. But me and my cousins weren’t farm boys. We was River Rats. Our kin lived our lives along and in the Birchpike River, like muskrats. Fishing, boating, noodling—my granddaddy had lost three fingers to an alligator snapping turtle while trying to pull out what he thought was a flathead in a hole. Didn’t matter to him, though. Said it was the best soup he ever tasted.
Anyway, my cousins and me often explored the backwoods and the backwaters. Hell, they was our home! Elm, oak, and birch were as much our kin as any of our distant cousins (and no cousin back then was really distant since we all lived near the same town).
But I’m gettin’ lost in the thicket. My cousins and me, we liked to push our luck in that treacherous maze of Nature. Cottonmouths and copperheads lurked under every root, rock, and clover patch. Fiddlebacks webbed the underbrush and scrambled through the decaying leaves of every Fall that had come and gone since we had been born. But we was intrepid— foolhardy, you might even say—and armed ourselves with youthful laughter and rusty machetes to clear a path through that riverside wilderness. Everyday of that Summer we cut deeper into the cluttering chaos of countless plants and silver-barked trees. We pressed on beyond the higher land near the river and crossed a muddy wash-out ravine, using an uprooted tree for a bridge, and then descended slowly toward the bottommost bottomland. I remember like it was only yesterday.
Just me and my cousins— Andy, Trevor, and Nick. We were all roughly the same age, give or take a few months, and so nobody was really a leader. We just sort of decided things, and had an accord. An unspoken compact. We would go as far along the river as that Summer would let us. It was a binding pact, too, and one none of us would renege on. Now, you have to understand something: we were all Christians reborn in the blood of Jesus Christ, but that didn’t mean the Irish threads in our souls had forgotten the pagan vagaries and mysticisms of the old country, even here in America. We were prone to our own moments of daydreaming and fancy. What’s more, the Cherokee threads pulled at our sense of awe, too, and so the exploration was as much a pilgrimage as it was a preoccupation to pass the time. We wanted to prove to ourselves that we were men; strong, brave, and independent from our mommas and daddies. Course, if one of us had been snakebit we would’ve realized how make-believe all that shit was in our heads. I guess it was no different than when we pretended to be cowboys shootin’ at Indians.
Actually, it might have been better had one of us ended up snakebit. Then perhaps we would have never dared to go so far along those bottomlands.
It all seemed like harmless fun, though, and so we kept at it for weeks. Chopping underbrush with our machetes, joking about the dummies at school, and talking about the cute girls that we liked, and laughing about how dumb the teachers were. It was how we passed the time when we weren’t fishing or helping dig lateral lines or shingle roofs or whatever. Back then I was too young for chewing tobacco, so I settled for candied ginger root. My cousins thought it something funny, me chewing ginger, since I was myself a ginger. Can’t tell it now that I’ve gone all gray squirrel, but I used to be redder than a fox squirrel in my youth, and speckled worse than Easter eggs. That fiery color’s all extinguished out of me over the last few years. I guess settling down with a woman— no matter how pretty and good she is, or how happy she makes you— will do that to a man. Anyways, ginger is good for ya. Good for allergies and sinuses and breath. Ginger and horseradish. They’re the twin doctors of good health. Maybe I ought to take them up again. Couldn’t hurt me. The good life seems to be killing me. Nowadays, tobacco is my only bad habit. Maybe it’s what’s agin’ me prematurely. Could be the chemicals they use in ‘em now, but I doubt it. Otherwise others would be agin’ like me, too. Nah, it’s just my bad blood. Stagnant to the point of sickness.
We didn’t see the lake until we were almost on its banks. The trees were thick here, too, and rose up around it like a half-assed wall. The lake was congealed thickly with duckweed and green algae. It stank of stagnation. Water that sits tends to do that. Blood does, too, if you know what I mean. That was one of the reasons I got me a wife from Boone County— far enough away to be wife, but close enough to be family without being actual kin.
As I was sayin’, the water stank, and the algae was slimy and green, like mucus in a pneumonic lung. Naturally, my cousins and me wanted to poke at it with our machetes. Each of us started to stir our machetes into the shoals, cocooning the algae around our rusty blades like spools of green gossamers.
Trees rose from out of that stagnant lake, same as they did in all other parts of the bottomland, and so the shadows stagnated too; long-lingering shades heaped black and deep. We did not see the waves when she rose from the center of the lake. We did not see the wrinkles or the rings or hear nothing. One moment the lake was a solid spread of algae and the next she stood upon the water, easy as Jesus on the Sea of Galilee. I’d say she just appeared outta’ nowhere, but that ain’t exactly true. No, it was more like we looked at her without seeing her— like looking at a snake in the bushes without knowing what you are looking at, and then, all of a sudden, you see the snake after being blind to it for so long. There she is! If she was a snake she would’ve bit me.
But despite her walkin’ on water, she seemed a broken woman. Her back was bent and her knees bowed outward in a squat, almost like a frog as her long arms held a clay jar as she hunkered over it. Even so, my grip on my machete tightened.
My cousins and me looked at each other for a second— all with the same gobsmacked look on our faces—and when we looked back at her, she was standin’ on the edge of the lake, close enough to grab us with her long arms. But she didn’t grab us. She just eyed each of us in turn, as if she was our grandmother and knew something we didn’t about how we reminded her of some other relative she might’ve known once upon a century ago, and she tilted her clay jar, or pitcher, toward us. We looked in, being boys, and couldn’t see no bottom. It was all dark as night in the pitcher. But lookin’ in it made me feel like I was fallin’ forever in a dream from which I couldn’t wake up. When I came to, my cousins and me were leanin’ awfully far over the mouth of the pitcher. We shook our heads and turned away from that jar, or pitcher or whatever it was. I could feel my blue blood all sloshy with ice in my veins. Later I’d wonder why I hadn’t run away, or cut at the pitcher with my machete, or at the old woman, but no story ever comes true if you get up and run away from it, now does it? Death is the only exception, and that is only because every story has to end.
Anyhow, the old woman spoke to us. Her voice croaked up out of her corded throat like a bullfrog’s imitatin’ a woman’s speech, and to hear it was to feel it in the deep of your chest, where what they call the fight-or-flight reflex is stalled and stays at the “or”, unable to do nothing but hammer the heart until a cold sweat leaks from your every pore.
“I am Pookjinsquess,” she croaked, “your dear Aunty Pookjinsquess, and you dear boys deserve your heart’s content. A boon for my dear, dear boys! For visiting your Aunty of the Old Waters.”
We were too scared to move, and overawed by the fact that the woman didn’t sink none, nor her pitcher, as she stood upon that filthy water. She was a sight to see, even if you don’t believe me. She was copper-skinned, humpbacked, and had an old man’s warty face full of spindly, long spider hairs. Her drooping breasts were so warty that they looked like mushrooms growing up out of overfull leather sacks. Her white hair had a radiance all its own that shone even in that darkness beneath the trees, and it was long and damp, thankfully covering part of her naked body. Seeing the ugliness of her made me want to fly, but I was like a damn rabbit fixed by the stare of a wolf. Goddamn I used to think rabbits were the stupidest animals I’d ever seen, but now I was the rabbit. Or maybe I was the fish hauled up from the river, hook in mouth and gawping like an idiot with my eyes wide. What a haul for her, too. Though my machete was tight in my grip, it was all but useless as my hand refused to move.
“My dear, delicious boys,” she croaked. “How lovely you all are! In your prime! Bones cloaked in your strength. Meat draped with perfect skin! So lovely, all of you!”
With startling speed, the old hag snatched a snake up from the water— a cottonmouth slithering toward my leg— and bit its head off with a quick snap of her long, crooked teeth. Crunching bone and meat, she looked dead-eyed into the distance beyond us. The sound of the serpent being reduced to pulp in her jaws must have stirred me and my cousins to move. Or maybe that old hag thing lost focus on us for a moment. But the moment didn’t last long enough for us to get away. We stepped back, but her attention snapped right back to us, and fixed us in place like nails to a board.
“Oh my dear lovely boys!” she mumbled, her jaws still working at the bone and meat in her teeth. She swallowed the cottonmouth’s head, her Adam’s apple bobbing up and down in her hairy gullet. “For spending time with your Aunty I will give you each your heart’s desire!”
“Our heart’s desire?” Andy said.
“Really?” Nick said.
“Of course! Of course!” the old hag said. “Anything you want!”
It should have been hard to believe that the old hag could give anyone anything, except leprosy, but I knew it had to be true. I knew it had to be true, just like I knew the sky was blue and the grass was green and I was a child dear in the heart of Jesus Christ.
“What’s the catch?” Trevor asked. He was always to the point.
“Oh, no catch!” she said. “No catch at all.”
This was not true. We were the catch. Her catch. She was hauling us up as she spoke to us, all of us caught in her net.
“Just a sweet little kiss,” she said. “A sweet little kiss for your Aunty.”
All of us shivered. I could feel the bile rising like hot vinegar in the back of my throat. None of us dared to kiss that hideous face. Would have rather kissed a pig’s muddy ass.
“Or,” she said, “if you can’t give me that, Aunty wouldn’t mind a little spit-shine on her pitcher. It is so dirty, and some boys like you could clean it nicely.”
The pitcher was as filthy as an outhouse shitter. Green and brown gunk clung to its fat flanks and the rim of its mouth.
“Why doncha’ just use the water here?” Trevor asked.
“We could take it home and clean it there,” Nick said.
“No!” the woman croaked. Then, in a quieter voice, “No, it’s got to stay with your Aunty. And the water here is no good for cleaning things. Just…just a little spittle is enough, my little darlings. A little spit in the pitcher will work wonders, and I will work wonders for you.”
I wanted to leave, but then Andy stepped forward.
“Can you stop my momma and daddy from gettin’ a divorce?” he asked, his voice all quavering.
“Of course, my poor dear!” she said. “My poor, poor, sad dear.”
We all knew about the fighting that was going on between Andy’s momma and daddy, and we all heard the whispers about them gettin’ a divorce. It bothered Andy more than he wanted to let you know. And none of us knew how to talk to him about it.
Before we could stop Andy, he leaned over the pitcher and spat into its mouth.
“That’s what I want,” he said. “For my parents not to get a divorce.”
“That is not a problem for Aunty,” the hag said, nodding. She seemed to stand a little more upright now. Andy teetered a bit, as if he was tired, but he didn’t fall. Boys recover fast at that age. The drowsiness lifted from him soon enough.
Trevor scoffed. “I think this is a bunch of hogwash,” he said.
The hag eyed him in her knowing, grandmotherly way. “There must be something dear that you desire, my boy. Don’t act all high and mighty and lose this chance. Aunty only wants to make your dreams come true.”
Trevor’s brow crinkled angrily, as it always did just when he was thinking, or when he was about to hit you in the arm. “What have I got to lose?” he reasoned aloud. He went to the pitcher and spat in it. “I want to be rich.”
“And you will be, my dear boy,” she said. “You will be.”
Chris shrugged and stepped forward. He spat into pitcher. “I want to be famous.”
“And you will be, my dear boy,” the hag said. She then looked at me. I won’t deny that part of me wanted to take my machete and lop off that ugly bitch’s head, and I won’t lie and say that it was the larger part of my mind. No, I was thinking about my wish and what I most wanted. A ginger like me was luckless with girls, and knew it would only get worse as I grew older. My daddy warned me so. He said I got the freckles of my momma, and that’s fine on a woman, but it is unmanly in a man. So I was afraid I would be alone for the rest of my life.
And me, I was a sucker for romance. Even then. I always wanted a woman of my own. This desire was stronger because my daddy told me I wouldn’t ever find it. But he was a bitter old coot after momma left him, so, that factors in, sure.
So, what did I do? I told my cousins to scram. I didn’t want them to hear my wish and mock me for it. And they would’ve, too. Sure as flies on a sweaty hog, they would’ve. So, when they had given me enough space, I leaned over that ugly woman’s pitcher and I spat into it and I said, “I’d like to find me a woman to love and marry till the end of my days— a faithful woman who no man would take from me.” Or something thereabouts. And that hag’s face crinkled all over something monstrous as her jagged brown teeth shown between her warty lips. Took me a moment to realize she was grinnin’. Somehow it scared me worse than the first time I had seen her. Again, if I wasn’t so scared I might have hacked at her with my machete.
The old hag winked at me. “Be seein’ you, darling.” She then raised her voice, croaking like a bullfrog. “All of you lovely, lovely boys! Your wishes will come true, I promise!”
Me and my cousins left without another word. Her spell had let us go, finally, or perhaps our nerves had had enough. We were four boys with four machetes, but it was like they had been dulled on our nerves. We stumbled home, feeling exhausted. We never returned to the bottomlands, and rarely went to the river after that.
And then the wishes started to come true. At the end of that Summer Andy’s parents were close to filing for a divorce. They fought constantly, and worked up a storm between them. But then came the car wreck, and both of ‘em died after swerving off the road and plummeting off a gorge. Some people think they were arguin’ in the car. Regardless, they never did get a divorce.
Me and my cousins never talked about what happened down at that stagnant lake. I don’t know if we was spellbound and couldn’t talk about it or if our own cowardice kept our mouths shut. Maybe we wanted to forget about it all. Maybe we wanted to act like it never happened, especially after what happened to Andy’s momma and daddy. I told myself it was a coincidence, a fluke of timing, and I am sure my other cousins told themselves the same. One thing’s for certain: we never followed the river into the bottomland again. Besides, life started to accelerate after that. The whitewater rapids of puberty hit each of us, and those craggy rocks of Middleschool, and then Highschool, and the plunge of the waterfall into the adult world. It was all right at first, mind you. We had mostly forgotten. Willfully so.
It took some time after the car wreck for the other wishes to come true. When Trevor hit sixteen he started working at a fast-food restaurant. There was a freak accident and an electric fire from one of the grills burned him up all over. His parents sued the franchise and won him millions of dollars. But he didn’t enjoy it none. He lived in pain for three years after the accident and then died. He had a closed casket funeral, which should give you an idea of what it was like for him while he was living.
It was a year after Trevor’s death that Chris was murdered by an exgirlfriend while he was at the mall. The security camera caught it all on film as the crazy bitch cut him up with a cleaver, loin to throat. It was ruled a crime of passion. The video leaked to the News, then found its way to all of the broadcasting networks. It was horrific to see. Gruesome. Horrifying. His wish had come true, albeit as twisted as a worm on a hook.
Shit washes downstream. Fish wash downstream. Bodies wash downstream. Why not other creatures? Why not terrible things? I’ve tried to look for answers, but all I’ve got is more questions. What can be said of it all? Things run far in the river. They wash off to the sides, too, and carry a long way off. Feelings do, too. Resentments. Old hatreds. They flow out and shed off and stagnate in areas. Maybe she was an old resentment for the Natives long ago, and now, stuck where she was, she hadn’t anything but to brood and stagnate and bless with her resentments. Baleful boons, I suppose they were. Curses in the guise of gifts. Whatever the case, she got almost all of us good.
Almost all of us. For whatever reason, I was spared. My wish came true without any fishing line attached to it. Maybe it was on account of me being so good-hearted with my wish. My cousins wanted material things, where I was always keen on love. Don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. Then again, Andy only ever wanted his parents to stay together, so that can’t be it, neither.
There were times when I thought maybe my wish wouldn’t come true. Maybe, I thought, I hadn’t spit enough in her pitcher, or maybe my curse was that the wish wouldn’t come true. Too good a wish to come true. I tried to convince myself it was for the better. Maybe I feared that what happened to my cousins would happen to me. Maybe my wish would be all twisted and grotesque, like the corpses of sparrows hung in a dreamweaver.
And then I saw her by that lake in Boone County. She was squatting down in the shoals, looking at her reflection in the water. It was love at first sight for this boy, I tell you what. I saw her and thought she had to be the prettiest damn thing in the whole of God’s green earth. And it had to be destiny, too, because I went right up to her as if the path had been laid for me and I said, bold as a shotgun with the safety off:
“Whatcha’ doin’ darlin’?”
And she smiled and said, “Waitin’ for you, darlin’.”
And by God if we haven’t been together every day ever since! We are absolutely perfect for each other, too. She likes for me to call her “pookie”, and I don’t mind it at all. It is old-fashioned, I know, but it’s better than “babe” or “darlin’” or “sugar pie”. People stare at her all the time when we go out for groceries or go see a movie. They just can’t believe how beautiful she is. And how considerate the angel is! She’s always bringing me a fresh pitcher for my chewing tobacco whenever the old one is close to overrunning. That’s love for ya’! Even your bad habits don’t matter to the love of your life.
That’s not to say that I’m not still haunted by that hag in the water. Sometimes I have dreams at night— nightmares, really— about that moldy old witch and her bottomless pitcher. I dream that she’s caught me in the big clay mouth and I can’t escape, and she laughs and laughs as the thick black swamp within her jar swallows me up. But when I wake up my wife tells me, “Shush, my dear lovely boy. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Give me a sweet little kiss and lay your head down to sleep. Be happy. Be content. Everything is a wish come true.”

Pythian Road

In a valley gleaming with goldenrod
between high-browed hills, I met a god
who was golden-crowned with the sun
and standing, quietly, by the flat-rock run
of a crystal creek, so snakelike through
the waving wildflower view,
and nearby the land that was green and gold
spread vast beyond the blacktop road,
and that rural god walked alone along
the hissing highway, whistling an easy song.
He paused a moment, lost in his thoughts,
and he shook his head at our lots.
He said, “Such haste is it you so often make
that one wonders whether you could ever brake
in time to save you from your own speed
and the fast progress that you think you need.”
Meanwhile the clouds passed overhead,
slow and silent, dark and overfed
with rain, with lightning, bloated in flight
and shading the valley from the midday light,
their pools deep and cool and blue and vast
while a car behind me lost patience and passed
to go wherever it was he thought he liked
while the pagan god took his time and hiked.
The god said, “What a fellow to rush his life
and travel a speed as if Fate’s knife
could be outpaced if he could just get ahead,
only to rush the knife along his thread.
Listen: I may have killed the Pythian snake,
but it is, in fact, an eternal loop in make,
and all mortals are bound to its coils,
so why rush the ending and all that it spoils?
It is the curse of your accelerated age
that you flip the script without reading the page.
Take your time and take in each sight
before you are confined to a Stygian night.”
And though I heard this god, I also wondered—
as the clouds above rained and thundered—
if it was wise to heed a god with all the hours
to walk so slow and admire the flowers.

Wanted: Dead And Alive

20190806_120303-1

He roasted the horned moon over the billowing tongues of his little campfire, burning the crescent unto a sullen orange— hot as a cattle brand—to sear the purple Western twilight. Shadows hung heavy over the mesas, recalling a parlor where a casket had been draped in heavy black cloth long before Sherman marched through Savannah’s streets. The emptiness of the dead lands echoed within him. It was cold, and yet he did not feel it.
A pale horse nibbled at wispy, dying shoots of grass sprouting here and there from the rough throated pass. Coyotes yipped laughter from among the hills. Winds whispered along the capstoned brows of the mesas. A man laid next to the fire, unmindful of the flickering light that stretched and shrank shadows across his still, silent face. To the man tending the fire this silent man was the most precious thing left to him in this darkening world. Yet, now having him in his possession, he felt neither peace or relief or even that hateful joy of a wrong avenged. Instead, he looked out upon the stars and thought of his wife’s eyes— darkling and sparkling in a tearful agony between life and death. He felt the reach of yesterday’s shades plunging the night itself into a deeper gulf wherein it drowned. All the world was a hollow victory.
Night arced overhead, from horizon to horizon, and embers flitted up like dying fireflies in a futile quest for stars. The last drip of the bleeding blackened scabrously at the outer edge of the world. Numb, he unsheathed his bowie knife and sliced the nose from the still man’s face, all with a quick sawing motion. The latter did not flinch or cry out. The man with the knife then threw the cartilage and skin into the crackling flame, dissatisfied with the measure of his revenge.
“You should have lived longer,” he admonished the corpse.
His voice was a hoarse croak; a halting, stiff thing risen from the dead. He had not eaten or drank or slept in three days. Such things were for the living and he did not think himself alive.
“Should have lasted as long as my wife did,” he continued. “But you was ever a coward. One little gunshot to the leg and you bleed out with your pleas and your fears. No fight in you. Just wickedness and sin and prayers to Christ. As if Christ’d do anything for someone like you. He did nothing for Jolene, did he? Jolene, now…she had goodness and fight to spare. Even after what you did to her, she fought on to try to live. She had more fight in her than Robert E Lee and the whole of the Confederacy combined. Was that why you did it, you maggot-bellied bastard? Envy of her strength?” He sneered without feeling. “Told you I wanted no part in your war. The South could lose the war well enough without my help. And what did you do? Brought the war to my doorstep…and to my marriage bed. You couldn’t even have the decency to die in Savannah. Had to shed your pride and run off, like a salamander without its tail. And after all you done…”
He broke off into a choking silence, holding back the grief and knowing the futility of words given to the dead, as well as to the living. The priest had tried to offer him words. The Word, in fact. But what good was the Word to him? He had healed the best he could, though. His gunhand was a mangled mess after the hammers had their say, but his peacehand learned the ways of the gun aptly. Meanwhile, he had plotted, and he had hated, and he had asked around, contemplating the hungry, unsatisfied graves of the earth. When it was time, he aimed for the Devil’s horns, eventually uncrowning him to wear those horns himself. Many he killed, and here was the second to the last bounty he had left to seek. And while wearing the Devil’s horns was a burden, it was lighter than the most lightsome halo any saint ever wore. His conscience had been clear, and still was after all this bloody harvest.
The third man sat cross-legged beneath the horned moon, across the fire from the vengeful man. He had a headdress of Raven feathers and was shirtless and without pants, his loins covered with a limp blackbird. He grinned like the grinning dead who know the terrible secret which awaits us all.
“A good Hunt,” he said, gesturing toward the dead man without a nose. His eyes did not leave the living man, nor blink in the firelight.
The living man nodded. He felt the eyes of the Raven-headed man peering past his face, and deeper. He did not care.
“But not the Hunt you desired,” the Indian said.
The living man shook his head slowly, slightly— shook it only once.
“We have the Hunts we come upon,” the black-feathered man said. “We find what joys we can in them. They are all we have. Nothing else matters.”
The fourth man squatted down next to the fire, on the living man’s left. He was an Indian too. He wore a cloth of rabbit skin over his shoulders, and a loincloth of prairie grasses. He did not smile. He seemed troubled.
“We should seek out only needful prey,” he said. “Hunting one’s own shadow brings no good to anyone.”
The black-feathered Indian continued to grin, and did not look at the other Indian. “We Hunt whatever we find,” he said. “And if we can find nothing, we Hunt for Nothingness.”
The hare-cloaked Indian kept his eyes on the living man as well. He did not blink, his eyes a dark black. “Sometimes it is best not to Hunt at all.”
“But the Hunt is all that matters,” said the Raven.
“Only to those who cannot forage for a better life,” said the Hare.
“There is no fun in foraging,” said the Raven. “No Game. Games are important. They are all that matter. And when the Game is over, what does it matter? Enjoy the Game until the very end.”
“Sometimes the Game can only be won by not playing,” Hare said.
Raven cawed with laughter. “Remember what happened last time you chose to forage among the Hunters? Remember when you refused to play? They found Prey of their own, and your wife was that Prey. They were Hunters, for what is War but a big Hunt? What is the Hunt but a Game? Choosing not to play is the same as playing, only you are playing to forfeit. There is no escape from the Hunt. You must Hunt. There is no other Game in this world.”
Hare’s nose twitched as if he might sneeze. He did not sneeze. “Sometimes peace is when the Prey escapes the Hunt.”
“No escape,” said the living man. “No escape for any Prey. The guilty must eat the bullet.”
Taking his revolver from his holster, the living man aimed the barrel at his final mark and pulled the trigger, ending the Hunt at last. In the echo of the gunshot could be heard the cawing laughter of a Raven, and the mournful hop of a Hare.
The little fire flickered out beneath the endless dark. The burning brand of the moon lowered upon the body of the man who had taken his own life. His Hunt was now finished.

20160128_203912-1

Ignis Fatuus

Ignis fatuus, a fickle fire
leading fools astray with his glow—
leading them into the fetid mire
where swamp creatures lurk below.

Flickering in the deceptive dark,
he draws lost people to his light
for despair, for anger, for a lark
as they wander the uncertain night.

Fanged creatures gibber and howl,
expecting a feast most gruesome
when he glows where they prowl,
all eager for the meals to come.

Drain the swamp? He will not,
for Foolish Fire needs slime to exist;
he would fade away without the rot
and the putrid gas in the mist.

So beware the flame among the muck,
popular though he is, somehow,
or you will fall in and get stuck
like millions who stumble after him now.

A Smattering Of Poems

Social Media Divas
They welcome voyeurs with spread
lenses,
inviting complete strangers to peruse their
intimate stream of posts,
their
photo-filtered lives,
and yet, however deep the probe delves
with flash and magnifier and high resolution
pic-pic-pic-pixels,
their lives are only ever
shallow;
the gleaning of a photo,
taken with “beauty face” on,
while all of the hollow
blandness
is hidden
on the backside of the camera.

Jester Of Jazz
He is always tripping along
from one improv moment to the next,
playing an unrehearsed song
as if he is badly hexed.

Sometimes he falls flat on his face
and smashes into a clamorous mess;
sometimes he has the saving grace
to orchestrate a feat of finesse.

But it is all up in the ambient air,
as is he, stumbling and somersaulting
over sheet music, his instrumental flair
a capricious cadence, never halting.

And there are times when he fumbles the note
and stumbles upon something quite sublime—
something beyond what is predictably rote;
a little out of rhythm, but keeping in chime.

Tradition
Tradition is the
graveyard
upon which we happily picnic,
unmindful of the
dead
buried beneath us, their
muted displeasures
unheard
as we lounge in our own
era.
Only the
graverobbers
seek the dead’s pretenses,
and who should trust a man
wearing the blood-gemmed ring
of a dead tyrant
recently exhumed,
or heed him when he says
“Tradition dictates…”?
After all,
Tradition
is the mold-eaten bedrock of
our home, sickening us as we
breathe in
its spore-crowded vapors.
Why not simply build a new home,
fresh upon a new foundation?
Why not
enjoy this picnic
and not mind the
worms
eating at the remnants
of a decayed era?

Entangled Genius
Is it not like a
spider
entangled and
dying
in its own web,
how he went
bankrupt
at his own casino?

Sisyphus Sighed
“Why not just give up?”
they ask, as if they do not
push rocks uphill, too.

Dis-Crete Labyrinth
Within the labyrinth
of your life
you are
Theseus, venturing bravely
while reliant upon another’s thread
to lead you out of
entombed darkness,
but you are also the ravening
Minotaur,
bullheadedly stubborn
and unwilling to ask
for help.
The Minotaur, being
pride,
shadows Theseus, being
humility,
and how often one overtakes
the other
as the maze twists and bends
like a spider’s web.
But there is a third among them
and she is Ariadne,
she being
grace,
and she holds the
clew
whereby the labyrinth may be
explored
without losing oneself completely to
Daedalic hopelessness.

Gossssssip

Kate sat on the subway train, cradling her cell phone to her ear and chatting to Angela about the weekend.
“And you’ll never guess who Sophie went home with Friday night,” she said, her green-as-envy eyes glittering with glee. “Nick Satterly! Yes, Laura’s Nick! They both shared a martini, and several beers, and then Nick gave Sophie a ‘ride home’. To his place, of course. What? No, you know Laura was out of town over the weekend. Some business with her brother.” Kate shifted her cell phone to her other ear, crossing her legs. She could feel her pantyhose chafing her unpleasantly beneath her skirt in her unmentionable place. “No, I’m not jealous,” she said. “Why would I be? I’m not his wife. Laura, on the other hand…”
She fell silent as a woman sat down next to her. On the subway Kate expected someone to sit next to her, eventually, but this woman set off her alarm bells. She had frazzled black hair, dark black eyes, and dark black eyebrows in a long face with narrow slits for a nose. She wore a black dress and was covered like a Christmas Tree in gaudy, cheap Dollar Store jewelry that looped and dangled from her in mad disarray. She looked like a crack-head Cher with a rat-king nesting in her hair. Kate’s nose crinkled in disgust.
“…Well, Laura will probably be mad,” Kate finished lamely, too distracted by the woman to be colorful or hyperbolic about the weekend affair. She listened to Angela for a moment— her excited gasping and wondrous hawing—and then answered her subsequent question. “No, I’m the only one from the office that knows. You, Ben, Arthur, Madeline—everybody else left the bar early. Only I stayed behind and saw them leave together. And then Sophie called me Saturday morning, giving me the low-down. And it was a new low for her, for sure. Down, down, down low…”
Kate tried to giggle, but realized that crack-head Cher was staring at her. Kate turned away from the strange woman, presenting her back as a barrier of privacy. The woman did not seem to take the hint. Rather, she spoke to Kate freely.
“Who is Sophie?” she asked. Her voice was husky, like heady smoke. She smelled of strange, earthy incense—burning fragrance within a deep cave. “Is she your friend?”
Kate sighed in irritation. “What is it to you?” she demanded, shaking her head in disbelief and continuing to talk to Angela. “No, not anyone important. Just some weird lady on the train…”
“You do not speak of her as a friend would,” the woman said.
“Stop harassing me, you rude, smelly crack-whore,” Kate snapped. “Or I will call the police.”
“Deep underground here?” the woman said. Her look of skepticism was replaced by a small, mysterious smile. “This is my world. No one comes unless I wish them to. I am the Pythian priestess.”
“You are a wacko, is what you are,” Kate said. “She’s a druggie,” she then explained to Angela on her phone. She turned toward the woman again, puffing up with anger and righteousness. “I am not going to give you money,” she added. “I don’t even carry change on me. And if you think I am going to give you my credit card, you are badly mistaken.”
The woman’s small smile widened to reveal bright white teeth, flashing all the whiter in the sooty ash that overspread her pale face. She reminded Kate of a gypsy, or the stereotype of a gypsy. Her teeth were so long and narrow that it looked like she had no gums.
“I find no worth in any such thing as that,” the gypsy woman said. “I do wonder about your worth as a friend, however.”
“How dare you!” Kate exclaimed, sliding down a seat away from the woman. “And for the record, Sophie and I are not friends. We are coworkers.” She spoke quickly into the phone. “But Angela and I are besties. Always have been. Always will be.”
“Then it is very unprofessional,” the woman continued. She slid closer to Kate upon the subway seats, crowding Kate against the end of the row. As she slid nearer her cheap jewelry rattled and the fabric of her black dress hissed. “But who am I to say such things? The world is run by unprofessional people. Unprofessional gods, at that! Did you know that prophecy is simply gossip between the gods? It is true. Gossip is divine. Gossip becomes true, even if it isn’t, because the gods demand that it be so.”
The woman then folded her arms, each hand grasping the other forearm. Her skeletal wrists were entwined with many coiled circlets that clanked and jangled like bells.
“Since gossip is divine,” she said, “I will bless you, Kate Huxley. By the deep womb of Delphi, may you speak a sibilant sibyl’s song. May the twin-headed snake seek you in your most private moments…and places.”
Kate stood, then— losing all patience—and walked to the other end of the subway car. When she sat down she glanced back, but the gypsy woman was no longer sitting where she had been. Kate paid it no more mind. Instead, she took up chatting with Angela where she had left off, telling her all of the scandalous details about the affair over the weekened. She became quite happily lost in the lurid flow of it all and never reflected a moment enough to wonder how the weird gypsy woman knew her last name.

***

Kate did not stop talking to Angela on her phone about Nick and Sophie until she was face to face with Angela on the tenth floor of their firm’s office building, and even then she simply turned off her cell pone and spoke to Angela about them directly.
“He did not even pay for her Uber ride,” Kate said, laughingly. “Can you imagine?”
Angela smiled in mild amusement. She was very tall and skinny. “You know Nick’s always been that kind of guy. I think he has dated every woman in this building at one point or another. Not me, of course, but…well…others.” She eyed Kate’s pink sweater sideways while they both walked to their own corner of the floor. Behind them the maze of cubicles spread wide beneath florescent lights. Beyond the windows the sun rose sullenly between the crowding skyscrapers.
“But I’m sure Nick treated the other women better than Sophie,” Kate remarked. Her smile was somewhat bitter. “She said he didn’t even cuddle afterwards. He just sort of…ahem… he just rolled over and…hack…went to sleep…”
Hand to her chest, Kate coughed and hacked.
“Are you all right?” Angela asked.
Kate waved away her coworker’s concern. A moment passed, and so did the congestion. She continued speaking as before.
“What was she thinking?” she said, laughing sardonically. “As if Nick would use her for anything but a few jollies over the weekend! She’s not even sure…huck…that he wore…ack…a condom…”
Hunching over, Kate coughed and gagged, finally expelling something long and slimy from her throat. It slipped out and fell to the carpeted floor in a sinuous heap of scaly coils. Looking down at it in surprise, Kate saw that it was a snake— a small scarlet snake with pearly white fangs. It slithered toward the elevator. She watched it go with a feeling of relief, and an anticipation of mirth. She did not feel disgust or horror, nor did Angela show any.
The elevator doors opened as the snake reached them, and the snake coiled around Sophie’s ankle as she stepped out from the elevator. She did not seem to see it, but her face twinged as the snake bit her calf muscle through her silk pantyhose. Kate paid the snake no further mind, nor did Angela comment upon it at all, and the two women turned to greet Sophie as she walked slowly toward their habitual corner of the office.
Sophie appeared out of sorts and anxious. Her hoop earrings jittered like June bugs on a hot windowpane. Normally she wore makeup, but not today. Her face was sickly green with snake venom.
“Laura’s not here yet, is she?” she asked them.
Kate looked to Angela, and Angela shook her head. “I don’t think so. She’s not supposed to come back until tomorrow. Nick is here, though.”
The look of betrayal on Sophie’s face did not faze Kate in the least. The serpent bit at Sophie’s leg and foot several times, nearly tripping her as she stood upon her wedges.
“Kate,” she said, “you promised not to tell anyone.”
“I only told Angela,” Kate said. “And she’s my best friend. Just like you. Besties trust each other. We’re supposed to share everything.”
Sophie glanced nervously around the labyrinth of cubicles.
“I don’t want anyone else knowing about it,” she said, red-faced and heaving beneath her blouse. “I could lose my job. Nick could, too.”
Kate took Sophie by the hand. “There are plenty of other things to talk about,” she said. “And people. Did you know that Joe Plitschy in Accounting is getting fired? Hank Danforth told me that Joe bungled a few thousand dollars’ worth of numbers in the Hawthorne account. Some people think he’s addicted to pain meds and…hack…he doesn’t think of anything…blahaock… except taking them…”
Bending over, Kate coughed up another snake. It was orange, like fire, and it slithered toward a cubicle on the far side of the cubicles. Neither Angela or Sophie remarked upon it, though they clearly saw it. Kate continued talking as before.
“Anyway,” she said. “They are going to let him go at the end of the day.”
“I always liked Joe,” Angela said. “He reminds me of one of my dead uncles. Not the creepy one. The one that liked to give presents because he had no family of his own.”
“It was probably that back surgery,” Sophie said, still looking nervous as the snake loosened its fangs from her ankle. “I bet he has been in pain ever since returning from medical leave. Sitting at a desk without lumbar support doesn’t help. Even my back hurts sometimes.”
“Weekend activities can make things worse, too,” Kate said, making the snake at Sophie’s ankle bite her again.
Angela opened her mouth to say something, but at that moment saw Joe Plitschy hobbling toward the men’s restroom.
“There’s Joe there,” she said.
Joe’s face was bright red and his brow had broken out in a cascade of sweat. He was a rotund man—misshapenly so—and his girth twisted awkwardly with each cumbersome step he took. The orange snake which Kate had expelled had encoiled his chest. He held a hand against the wall for additional support.
“Going for his pills, I’ll bet,” Kate said. Her eyebrows hopped eagerly and she left the corner of the office, heading to Hank Danforth’s office. Leaning into his office from the door, she spoke to him briefly, then returned to Angela and Sophie. Danforth stepped out of his office and watched Joe Plitschy go into the restroom. He waited a moment and then went into the restroom himself.
“All things in due time, Kate,” Angela said, crossing her arms irritably.
Kate shrugged. “It’s for his own good.”
Shortly afterward, Hank emerged from the restroom. A minute or so later, Joe emerged, his eyes to the floor. He walked more slowly than before. The snake had tightened its coils around his chest, and had buried its fangs deep into the middle of his spine. The balding man cringed with every biting step as he went to his cubicle to pack his things. Eyes from the other cubicles followed him quizzically, then sympathetically. But no one said goodbye to him.
A few minutes later Kate, Angela, and Sophie went to their cubicles. The workday began for everyone except Joe Plitschy.

***

Kate had a lot of business to attend to. Not official work-related business; but social business. She was a confidante for many people in the office building. Ironically, she had earned this dubious station by sharing with everyone what others had shared with her. People felt like they could trust her because she trusted this and that person with another person’s secrets. Even now, when she was supposed to be filling out data tables and spreadsheets, she spent her time reading emails and sending emails concerning salacious information. She felt the snakes roil and coil in her chest, writhing with restless anticipation.
As the workers sat at their cubicles, working on their computers and reading emails, there rose many whispers between the cubicles among that peopled maze. The whispers were hushed, but together sounded like many snakes gathering in a sibilant storm.

***

Lunchtime came, and with it whole rivers of snakes spewing from Kate’s mouth. The multitudinous tangle in her chest uncoiled and spilled from her throat impossibly, like clowns from a clown car. Occasionally she hacked up a large nest of snakes—like a cat coughing up a hairball—and set them loose on the whole HR department, rolling among the cubicles like a pinball in an elaborate machine until it gradually unwound itself, leaving snakes everywhere to await the return of the workers from their break.
For Kate the release felt good. Thrilling. Cathartic. Orgasmic. Each expulsion of a snake was a tectonic rapture. She was the nexus, after all; the convergence and the floodgates of the garrulous flow. She spoke serpents into the world, and it pleased her to do so.
Everyone had a mess of snakes to struggle with as they returned to their cubicles. But no one had more snakes than Sophie as she returned to her desk. Her head hung heavy with snakes. She bowed beneath the weight of them, staring at the ground like a forlorn Medusa. No one spoke to her except Angela. Kate spoke about Sophieincessantly, and subsequently Nick and Laura.
Nick did not seem to mind any of it. He wore his snakes like trophies as he smiled his All-American golden boy smile and joked around with the other guys in the Acquisitions department. He was invulnerable. This did not so much provoke Kate’s ire toward him as much as provoke her ire toward Sophie and Laura. Laura was not there to protest, and Sophie was too overwrought to do anything about the snakes. And to try to fight against them did nothing but antagonize them. The more she tried to disentangle herself, the more riled the snakes became, biting her in waves of discontent.
And then things became worse. To everyone’s surprise, including her husband, Nick, Laura arrived for the latter part of the day. She appeared unhinged, and not only from apparent jetlag. One of her friends in HR had notified her of the affair via email. Everyone expected her to confront Nick and Sophie, and she did, hysterically. Nick hurried her to his office where the door muted her sobbing and screaming minimally. Meanwhile Kate crept nearby, listening at the door. Angela attempted to call her away, but Kate only smirked. There was a mixture of mischief and malice upon her face as she listened.
And then, abruptly, Laura was standing there, looking like a wartime refugee in the florescence of the overhead lights. Her blonde hair was disheveled. Her blouse and skirt were wrinkled and hitched up and down like she had been fighting herself. There were distraught tears streaming from her eyes, yet the look on her face was simple, overwhelming horror. She looked more like a woman diagnosed with terminal brain cancer rather than a victim of Monday gossip.
“How could you do this to me?” she said, her voice cracking. “Nick and I are getting a divorce now.”
At first Kate did not know to whom she addressed the question. Her surprise gave way quickly to supercilious disavowal.
“Sophie is the one that did it to you,” Kate said. “She slept with your husband.”
“Lots of people have slept with my husband,” Laura said, her voice hollow. “I don’t like it, but it’s the way we work.” The mournful dismay in her blue eyes hardened into ice. “But you…you had to talk about it. You had to spread it around where we work. We don’t have privacy anymore about it. You’ve shamed me more than Nick ever could. Everything is ruined.”
“It’s not my fault you don’t feel any shame about not being able to please your man,” Kate snapped. “You and Nick need to separate. You’ve needed to for a long time. If you had any self-respect you would know that, and do it. Right away.”
“I was happy,” Laura said, ignoring Kate. “We were happy. Happy enough for me. But then you ruined it. You ruined everything with your forked tongue.”
“You should have had your own house in order,” Kate said, smiling with faint satisfaction. “You should have had more self-respect.” She spoke loudly, then, so that everyone in the labyrinth of cubicles could hear her. “You should have divorced Nick for all of the other affairs he’s had. But you just let him walk all over you, and fuck whoever he wanted. You’ve got…hlack…no one…glack…to blame but…ack…yourself…”
Kate bent over, her hands on her knees while she heaved. Her neck bulged and her face reddened and then darkened to purple while her mouth stretched unnaturally wide. A giant python disgorged from her throat, landing heavily upon the floor. It slithered toward Laura and encoiled her. Laura shook her head slowly, ruefully, and let the snake have its fill. She could barely breathe.
“I hate you all,” she said faintly. “I hope you get what you deserve. I hope it comes back to bite you on the ass before it’s over…”
She disappeared into the snake’s unhinged jaws.

***

Kate entered the Ladies restroom. It was the last break before the end of the workday and she needed a moment to take a breather and relieve her bladder. She sat in a stall, tinkling and texting, and soon heard two women enter the restroom, talking. She knew them immediately. They were Angela and Sophie. They did not use the stalls, but stood near the sinks, Angela’s high heels clopping loudly on the bathroom tiles.
“I still feel bad about Laura,” Sophie said. “Friday night was…unplanned. All of us were at the bar and then you guys all left and I had had too much to drink. Kate was hitting on some random guy, trying to show off. I hate her sometimes. And Nick…Nick was so nice to me. I knew better, but I just felt so…so lonely. I hadn’t even been out on a Friday in over a month. I have no life, you know? I’m a loser. A guy hasn’t paid attention to me in forever. And then Nick was so nice and sweet and one thing led to another and I just…I feel awful.”
The water faucet hissed on, and Kate could hear Sophie splashing her face with water.
“Shit happens,” Angela said, “and then you die. We all make mistakes. Several mistakes in a row, too. It’s like playing a scratch-off lottery ticket. You win the jackpot— or Nickpot, I guess—and you are as surprised as anyone.”
“That’s for sure,” Sophie said, sighing. “Drink too much, sleep with a coworker, then tell another coworker about it. What was I thinking? I shouldn’t have told Kate anything. She talks too much.”
“That’s because she has no life, either,” Angela said. Kate could virtually see her smirk through the stall door, so strong was the twist of her lips on that sharp tone. “And don’t feel bad about Nick and Laura. Their marriage has been doomed for a while now. You’re not the first woman he has taken back to their marriage bed for a one-night-stand. Last year he and Kate slept together. A couple of times, actually. She wanted him to leave Laura. But he wouldn’t do it. She was just another side-piece. Kate told me about it. Several times. Wouldn’t stop crying over him. God, I dreaded those phone calls.”
“She liked him that much?” Sophie said, incredulous. “But why? He wasn’t even good in bed. I’m not even sure I had an orgasm. It was over so quick…”
Kate did not see the snake slithering under the stall’s door, raising its head toward her spread knees. She was staring at her phone instead, but her mind was attending the conversation at the sink.
“Who knows why?” Angela said. “Kate’s always wanted what other people had, even if it wasn’t that good. Or maybe she hates Nick just like she hates herself and wants the both of them to be miserable together.” Angela tittered like a snake would if it could. “Whatever the reason, Kate is super-jealous of him and whoever he is with; whether it is Laura or some other girl on the side. She didn’t get over him as well as you have.”
“That’s just…sad,” Sophie said.
“That’s not even the worst part,” Angela said. “Afterward she was so upset that she tried to make Nick jealous. She went and got blackout-drunk at a bar and woke up with some guy. He never even told her his name. He left shortly after they had both woken up, but he left a gift for her to remember their romantic evening.”
Angela paused for a long time, and in the meantime Kate felt like she was falling down into the depths of the earth. Things swarmed over her in that terrible darkness.
“Kate has HIV.”
Sophie’s sharp intake of breath was a hiss, and Kate flinched painfully at the revelation. The snake speared itself into her womanhood and slithered its way into her womb.
“Kate has HIV?” Sophie said, aghast. “But she seems so healthy.”
“She’s on really expensive drugs to manage it,” Angela said. “She’s actually running out of money. I gave her a loan myself to help pay for her rent.” Angela tittered again. “It would be a shame if everyone at the firm found out about that, wouldn’t it? But then again, it might be divine comeuppance, too. She’s always been a busybody. Ever since college. Probably ever since she learned to talk. She doesn’t know how to keep her mouth shut.”
The restroom door opened and the two women left. Kate sat in the stall, stewing in her own venom. Bitterly she stared at nothing, her cell phone loosely gripped in her limp hand. Deep within her, the snake coiled in upon itself, constricting itself into a knot of self-loathing and hatred and despair. It was a two-headed snake and it entwined itself balefully, each end trying to eat the other in an interminable struggle. She wished she had never spoken it into existence.