The mask smells like a midget’s rectum. Sweat, soaked in sweat. Your eyes glint out from the small holes cut into the vinyl and you smile. It is time. The reckoning. You belch into one satin glove and you’re ready. The first thing you hear is vast silence. When you step into the ring, the entire world disappears. The crowd is a voiceless monster thrashing in the close oblivion. You are in a vacuum, and your mouth is dry. Your tongue is glued to the roof of your mouth, so you smack your gums. Your tongue taps the top teeth.
The chair hits the back of your head like an explosion. Three toddlers tied to sledgehammers, sent down the falls to scatter in pieces on the shore. You see a quick blackness and hear the sound of tearing metal. The crowd comes back in a symphonic wave. You taste blood and money. The laughter erupts from your crocodile throat.
The bar is empty, but for two old men sleeping and the barkeep. The whiskey takes the pain away as long as you never stop. Just like wrestling. Everything is OK just as long as you keep GOING!
Ding ding ding.
The darkness is cold and absolute, and screams belt the star-quilt – you are undone by it. You are left groveling in the sad, gritty realization that nothing will ever profit. Nothing will change. You will die a simpler creature than you are now. You are getting simpler by the day. The craven need is unstoppable and you shout it into the universe with hand on heart and moms tut-tutting and people serenading through your life until you think, fuck man, they’re all just waiting around for you to die. They want ringside seats or a brownine badge for saving you. Right. Go into the December darkness if you must, but I don’t want to see it. You can give my ticket to the next sad woman who liked your band in high school. I will be here, ear pressed to the tepid shore, tasting salt and brine. Whose place is it to judge?
You look at me with wide eyes and the thing that falls out of your mouth turns around; I find myself staring from an animal much lower than horse high – I start to look like the bad guy. Suddenly, I am NOT angry. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want any of it. I want to talk about this show and what happened today and we can pretend like it never even got spoken. There’s no rewind on knee-jerk reactions though. You live in that moment because you have to because you created it. Sucks, I know.
Anger, regret, with a dose of fear. We all live it, but few tell it as well as you. But.... midget’s rectum?ReplyDelete
There are three ways to die with a rope around your neck.ReplyDelete
The first is common at the hands of new executioners, ones overconfident in their skills. It occurs when the rope is too long and the body develops too great a velocity on its way to eternity. Instead of just snapping the vertebrae in the neck, the entire head pops off. Doctors who study such things say it is actually the quickest and most merciful, but hangmen avoid it for its effect on the spectators. It’s one thing to cheer for a hanging; it’s quite another to have a severed head land in one’s lap.
The second is the preferred means of death, insofar as such preferences matter. The rope is tied into a hangman’s knot, often with thirteen turns of rope for superstitious reasons. The knot is placed under the chin. Ideally the poor soul stands on a trap door, ensuring the fall is entirely vertical. Through use of the Official Table of Drops to determine the appropriate length of rope, most professional hangings result in an apparent quick death and the crowds can disperse quickly, before they realize they’ve been party to a murder.
The third is the domain of rank amateurs or executioners too drunk to choose the correct length of rope or to properly position the hangman’s knot. It is death by asphyxiation. The rope crushes the trachea and the brain of the executed dies slowly and painfully from lack of oxygen. In the twenty or so minutes before death arrives, the spectators have ample time to examine their consciences and recognize their complicity in an unmerciful death.
Can you guess which end met Jeremiah Washington, the son of a slave, on the limb of a cottonwood in Lone Tree, Nebraska?
Sweet Jesus! I had an idea where this was going and, maybe like those miserable Cornhusker yahoos, couldn't turn away. I know not whether there is indeed an Official Table of Drops, but I'm going to steal it when I do my next frontier execution story, I think. Brutal and so matter-of-fact in its telling, Leland.Delete
Thanks! And yeah, it was a real thing. In fact, the military still maintains a version of it.Delete
Oh... That cottonwood tree is growing bigger and bigger.Delete
I LOVE this. You crushed the tone and language. This has such a solid, classic feel to it.Delete
Each night I lie in bed
and ponder why I still sit
in that chair every day
trying to tell stories
of a me and a you
that never happened,
why I scribble about memories
that are the barest of vapors
moved by a breath I’ll
never feel on my cheek.
These days I ponder
that same question even
as I sit in this chair
talking to myself alone and
not listening, just transcribing
the silence where once spoke reason.
Maybe that’s why I still do this.
I’m searching for reason
where reason doesn’t exist.
No longer reasonable,
yet unreasonably necessary.
Beautiful... and transcribing silence is a wonderful turn of phraseDelete
Leland took my answer. Lovely, painful, wistful.Delete
It’s not the first time Talisman has come across a human child in this part of his territory. But the sour scent tells him the girl is not well. She lies curled on her side under the scratching tree, her dark hair dull and matted, her eyes glassy, her chest nearly still beneath her thin, dirty clothing. Talisman bats at her with a soft paw the way he’s seen the humans do; the only reaction is a delayed shift of her eyes to his. He wills her to hold his gaze. One second. Two seconds. Her lids then fall closed as if keeping them open is too much effort. Has it been enough to convey trust? It will have to be. Night falls hard and cold in the desert and he’s loath to leave her unprotected from the coyotes and the grown humans, but she needs nourishment.
He calls for the human’s mother; surely she will not have gone far with her young one so ill, but his cries go unanswered. Still yowling, less and less often as he gets no response, Talisman stretches his body over hers to provide heat and to warn predators away; they will also sense the sour aroma on the wind.
Soon Talisman’s mate Kowloon arrives, mewing apologies for being too far afield to hear him. Her amber eyes widen in alarm as she quickly absorbs the situation.
“No grown human tends her?”
Talisman shakes his head.
Then a sound comes from the girl’s throat. “Gato,” she breathes.
Every inch of Kowloon freezes except her tail, which paints the scrubby grass in a slow swish.
Talisman’s throat vibrates to calm the girl…and his mate. Kowloon has bad memories of grown humans, so in a soft mew, trying not to break his soothing spell, he asks her to take his place while he finds the one the humans call Esperanza.
“Don’t worry,” Talisman purrs. “This girl is small and weak and too ill to hurt you.”
“I worry more for you,” Kowloon growls.
“Esperanza is good. I was sick once and she found me and poked me with something sharp like a claw but I got better. She leaves water in the desert for the mothers and children who travel in the night. I’ve seen her do it. The water is trapped in a big container but sometimes she’ll leave a bowl. Agua para los gatos, she said once, and her voice was as soothing as the water itself.”
Kowloon still has reservations, but she changes places with him to keep the girl warm. Talisman presses his forehead to Kowloon’s then slinks off toward the village. It’s better this way. Kowloon is a fierce fighter, and several times tangled with coyote pups who tried to hurt their kittens. She won’t let anything harm the girl.
Esperanza lives in a small house on the far edge of Talisman’s territory. Sometimes he hides in the brush and watches her tend her garden. Always with her eyes soft and smiling.
“Gato,” she says, when he hops up to the windowsill. She is the only grown human he’ll allow so close. Her hands are rough but her touch is light and warm. “Gato, what is wrong?”
He mews one continuous note of alarm, telling her about the sick young girl, while holding her gaze with his. He hopes she’ll understand. Her mouth presses tight and her eyes narrow. “I will get my things and meet you outside.”
Soon they’re walking through the scrubby grass. Esperanza has a light attached to her head. Light makes Talisman jittery and he wants to hide. A much bigger light suddenly pops on over them and Talisman is all claws, clinging to the base of a small tree. Esperanza stops and puts a hand above her eyes.
Her words are angry now. Two grown human males appear from the dark and Talisman hisses low in his throat. They speak angry words back. Their language is different from hers. One grabs her arm. She jerks it away. Her bag spills as Talisman stalks forward. One human shines his big light on what is spilled on the ground.
“Soy medica,” Esperanza says. “Doctor.”
The males look at each other and smile. Not a friendly smile. Talisman growls.
“Go on, Esperanza la medica,” one of them says, sweeping his arm forward. “Show us who you are looking for who needs doctoring.”
“El gato knew where to…”
But Talisman is already gone. He must protect Kowloon, and the child. He is fast, and strong, and he sees them, a lump of cat and girl beneath the scratching tree.
“Cover her,” Talisman pants, already using his claws and mouth to drag deadfall around the base of the tree. Kowloon helps. “She’s okay?”
“Sleeping,” Kowloon says. Then stops. “Humans are coming. I can smell them.”
“Cover her up good and hide with me.”
They huddle between the scent and the girl.
Talisman sees them. One male to either side of Esperanza, pushing her along. Each male has something shiny attached to his hip. She looks sad and lost. The fur rises on Talisman’s back. “On my count,” he says. “I’ll go left, you go right. One…two…NOW!”
They sink teeth and claws into flesh. They bite and scratch and growl. The men yelp and cry and attempt to slap them away. But they are too fierce. So fierce that Talisman doesn’t see when Esperanza rushed in and stole the shiny things from the men. But she’s screaming at them to leave el gatos alone.
Talisman turns his head just enough to see Esperanza raise one of those shiny things in the air. There’s a noise so loud Talisman leaps back and grabs Kowloon and they roll off into the grass. Talisman quickly rights himself to see Esperanza now pointing the shiny things at the men.
“¡Váyase!” she yells. “If you are not running when I count three, I will shoot. What you do, stealing the women and children, is very illegal.”
And they run. She watches them go, then puts the shiny things in her pockets and starts picking up the items from her spilled bag.
“Gatos,” she whispers. “Gatos, come. We will see to the girl.”
I love this... a wonderful point of view to see this story from. And I love Esperanza, too! Perfect name for a wonderful character.Delete
Amazing. So many stories in your head. Can I borrow a few? Like the magicalRealLeland vibe. ;)Delete
Thank you! I was inspired by magicalRealLeland.Delete
Y’all make me smile.Delete
This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyDelete
Around the corner and down a way, just before the main road, two staples hold what’s left of a piece of paper to the power pole. I’d pass it in its fullness on my way to or from when snow still covered everything. It was hard to read then, weather having already faded it, the home printer’s ink running in tears down to the oiled wooden pole. But I knew it was a picture of someone’s white cat that had left the house and not returned. It could have run away, but I doubt it. It could have gone out and run afoul of a winter-hungered coyote, or maybe it got lost in the expanse of white upon which Home happened to be and a car or snowplow had sent it spinning like a snowflake to join the rest of the white on white landscape, maybe until Spring. And now all that’s left of someone’s plaintive posting for their loved one to come back are two staples and a tear of shredded hope. And I thought about the times I have been spun and hunted and lost. When I didn’t know which direction was Home, or if I even wanted to go there. When the dome of sky and the plate of earth are indiscernible from one another, and you look around you for help or escape and you know not which way is the N on the compass, let alone the road to redemption, you just have to find your way within. I once saw a litter of puppies tumbling down a hill toward the busy road upon which I sped by. There’s was nothing I could do for them, surrounded as I was by semis and fulls - the former, trucks and the latter, idiots. I filed that scene as a short loop that runs in my head and heart for thirty years. I have no idea if the little black bundles of bumptiousness hit road level and found a diverting chain link fence there (I pray so) or if a frightening inevitability ended their lives. I just know that they still live within the Home that is me, just as that cat might live in the lives of its family, or whoever saw its snowy invisibleness now indivisibly rendered in the home within them. Whether we know it or not, there will always be a Home for us, grim, gritty or glorious as it may be, in the memories of others, even strangers. Perhaps someday one of them will remember the shred of me when I passed through their day on the way Home. Theirs or mine, the direction doesn’t really matter. We’re Home.ReplyDelete
My god, that's so beautiful and so sad.Delete
Agree completely. Devastating.Delete
Goddamn. I concur. My heart.Delete