David Meltzer/ Fiction
What day is it
It's all of life
We love each other and we live
We live and love each other
And do not know what this life is
And do not know what this day is
And do not know what this love is.
Ice crystals lace the bedroom window. It's snowing outside. Hills are white womanly shapes. The bedroom radiator clanks and coughs up steam; steam hisses and whistles out of the brass valve.
The boy and girl nestle under many blankets, covering their heads with them, singing songs in body-heated darkness. His leg through hers. His hips feel the bristling shoots of her growing pubic hairs. Wet fire from the lips beneath her scratchy triad.
O the old man wants the sun
O the old man wants the stars
O the old man wants a million candybars
Pretend I'm your slave, he asks. I'm your slave and you're my mistress. A queen like Cleopatra in the movie.
It's too cold, she answersmaybe in the morning.
The tip of his penis tingles and slowly fills out. She feels it poke into her belly. Hot satiny force. Neither says anything about it. Or her wet cunt or how her nipples turned hard a moment earlier. That would spoil the game.
Let's pretend, he says, to kiss each other into another place. And they do. His erection flattens against her firm belly pressed against him. They roll back and forth under the blankets and they laugh.
O the old man wants his Heaven
O the old man wants his Hell
O all the old man really wants
Is my brand-new golden bell
Do you ever think of dying? What happens then? The darkness, the end. Do you ever think about dying? she asks. She always asks those questions after their games. He always answers that he doesn't know, because he doesn't. He feels he should know more about death because he's two years old than she.
Uncle Arvin died last summer. He was the first person they knew who died, who was no more, gone, nothing left but snapshots. Do you know why Uncle Arvin died? she asks.
Cancer, he answers.
No, I mean the real reason.
I thought he died of cancer, lung cancer. That's what Mommy said he died from.
God punished him, she says. That's why he died. God punished him.
For what? What did Uncle Arvin ever do wrong?
Uncle Arvin, their mother's brother, visited them once a month, even when their parents were off on tour and lazy Pearl Star, the maid, would tend their house. He was red-faced and round. They said he drank too much. He also smoked too much. They'd air out the livingroom when he left. Either Mother or Pearl Star went around the house spraying pine stink into the air from an aerosol can.
Uncle Arvin French-inhaled cigarette smoke: white-gray smoke coiled voluptuously down from his hairy nose-caves to form a shimmering smoke ladder pouring into his open mouth.
He liked ladies too much, their mother said. You kids watch out that he doesn't get fresh with Pearl Star. He likes the dark meat as well as the light. Their father started to laugh, then stopped, his smile turned down, and he told the mother not to kid around like that in front of the kids. The mother's slate-gray eyes turned dense blue with concentrated anger. He turned away from the glare.
Every time their birthdays came around, Uncle Arvin gave them each a silver dollar. Both got silver dollars because Uncle Arvin said he didn't want them to have hurt feelings. Buy a ton of candy, he said, laughing. His breath smelled of whiskey and Peppermint Life Savers. Sometimes it smelled of Sen-Sen which they both agreed smelled more peculiar than whiskey.
I can't tell you, she says, turning her back to him. I want to sleep.
Oh come on. What did Uncle Arvin do that was so terrible.
I can't tell you. I'm going to sleep.
She shuts her eyes, pretending to be asleep. Her breath becomes loudly measured.
Oh, come on, tell me!
He remembers the last time he saw Uncle Arvin. No longer round and red faced but thin and pale on the hospital bed with tubing in his nose, tubes in his skinny arms. Everything was white. He was in a white gown on white sheets, white pillowcases. The blanket was white. Mother said Uncle Arvin had a rummy's nose which he thought was "runny nose." Red and blue veins like trapped lightning covered his nose tip. In the hospital light his veins looked black. His eyes were yellow. His hair powdery as if it were turning into dust. We gotta stop meeting like this, he said in a crackly voice trying to smile.
What did he do to be so punished? You've got to tell me, he asks his sister.
I can't. It's too awful, she answers, moving closer to the wall.
* * *
He's a Roman slave in his Fruit-of-the-Loom jockey shorts. Early morning winter light illuminates the edges of ice crystals on the window. Standing on top of the bed trying to keep his balance (the mattress is lumpy with bent broken springs) while she, Roman Slave Queen, pinches and prods his flesh to see if he's fit and firm enough to be her slave. She's dressed in a bedsheet wound through her crotch then over her shoulder to resemble a toga. He can feel a current of sexual tingle move through his penis and watched it heat and swell within his shorts. She pinches his rump cheeks demanding that he pull down his shorts so she can inspect his sexual organs to see if they are suitable.
It springs up, slightly curved in the center, its tip blazing with a red flush. She taps the tip of it.
You'll do. You'll become my new animal, she says, reaching underneath the erection to feel the heavy weight of his balls. For a few seconds his balls feel the warmth of her cupped hand.
After their game is done, he masturbates in the bathroom for the second time that day. Pulls on his hardness on bent knees. Pretends a Roman Slave Queen drags him through Roman streets holding onto his cock for all to see. He's spat on. Shat on. Dogs nip at his ankles, urchins throw stones. Rocks and mud. Cock shaft gets raw from rubbing. Maybe it's too soon to try again, he thinks, shutting his eyes. Sometimes you have to concentrate harder. Real world distractions. Dripping bathtub water faucet. Just as he thinks he'll come, he sees Uncle Arvin on the hospital bed and pretends to see inside his wasted body into raging rot of parasitic opportunistic cancer cells devouring living tissue, webbing Uncle's veins and muscles with a menacing ivy-like proliferation.
* * *
It's a white leatherette Bible with a golden zipper running around it. The rite never varies: first she looks through its preliminary leaves, following the ornate gold, blue, red, green foliage framing the Presentation Page. Births, deaths, weddings. The only name she has put in her Bible is her own name:
REBECCA (SOLOMON) SAYRE.
Her real last name is Solomon. But her parents changed it to Sayre for Professional Reasons. Maps of Syria, Palestine, the Mediterranean Basin follow. Then she feels against still bright gilt edges of the pages for bumps which tell her where a picture is. All the people in the pictures are golden with history and holiness. Moses in Arab camel-trader robes atop Mt. Sinai with the stone Commandments tablet in his hands. Lightning strikes behind him, cuts through the darkness surrounding the mountain. Christ angry on the steps of the Temple looks like a sublime surfer, his golden hair freshly washed and fluffy, blue eyes, tall and tan. Jacob wrestling the angel whiter than a cloud in a rosy sky ringed with cherubim who watch it all with angelic glee.
Rebecca picks her daily section by shutting her eyes and opening the book.
Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet: Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts.
The Book never lies. She falls to her knees and the darkness surrounds her. It begins in the core of her center. Before she can cry out or turn away, darkness spreads through her body. Her heart beats faster; it feels like bird wings fluttering in her throat. Small droplets of fear sweat bead icily around her forehead and mouth. And it must be endured. As all things must be endured.
Rebecca tries praying but words turn away from her. God takes them away, robs her of words. She can't breathe and falls dream-like into the terrible void, into the dark infernally infinite arctic ocean of the core, the center. And it must be endured.
Forgive me, forgive me O God. Hoping that by asking the sky will part and a cast of thousands will glide down to her, riding shimmering golden light beams of healing and release. The light will warm her face, her heart; the warm gold light will undress her. Doves will fly upon her body and caress her flesh with gentle silk wings like soothing fans. She'll be in royal rich blue space carried aloft by doves, cushioned upon a huge cloud. But the cloud shreds and parts and turns into cigarette smoke and Rebecca falls through the royal blue space into dawn gray back into the blackness of her fear. Darkness surrounds her and she cries into her pillow.
* * *
They're in a cave he's made out of snow. A white fortress. They have to squat down low in it and when they talk the sound of their voices is muffled by the snow walls which sparkle with glints of rainbow. Their noses run. He licks salt from his lips. She uses the sleeve of her winter coat, a black hooded duffel coat. The snot leaves a glistening trace like snail tracks.
It's like being inside the mind, she says.
Ice's mind. Yeah, I like it. It's secret, he says.
For a moment in his mind he's a sniper in the bunker watching a platoon of enemy soldiers edge across the field on their bellies.
Secret. Yes, that's right. A secret in a white box.
An icebox, he says. I'm so cold it almost feels warm.
It's a beautiful cave.
I've been working all day on it.
I hear the snow breathe, she says. Can you hear it?
I'm the Ice King and you're my slave I've captured from Viking marauders.
Oh, it's too cold for games, she says.
But I've been waiting. I built this place for us to play games in.
Child fat surrounds his face which usually makes his stern looks ineffectual.
Not now. Tonight, she says.
Will tonight be the last time? They're coming back tomorrow.
Oh, don't be so dramatic. You know you can always sneak into the room late at night.
The first time tiptoeing past their parents' bedroom. Father snoring as if he were drowning and mother's short even breathing.
Suddenly he's hungry and his feet burn.
Let's go in. It's getting dark out and it's starting to snow.
Wait, she says, let's stay a little longer. Let's watch the snow fall.
They watch thick snowflakes tumble out of a slate-gray sky.
* * *
Pearl Star sits in the kitchen peeling potatoes to fry for their dinner along with the hamburgers, chocolate milk, and sliced tomatoes. Pearl Star, the maid, is a big black woman wearing a starched white nurse's uniform a size too small for her. Her slip shows and the buttons near her breasts and belly look ready to pop under the pressure of her flesh.
Now, Jeremy Sayres. Stop peeking down my dress, she says to the boy who is fascinated by her full body. Her top buttons are always unhooked and part of her big breasts are always in view. Once he peeked through the bathroom keyhole and watched her change. It is photographed in his mind. He uses that image when he's tired of being a slave.
She sits on the toilet seat and rolls down her nylons, stretching out her legs, her skirt raised to her thighs. Pink patch of panties. Then stands up to unhook her bra and his spying eye is suddenly obscured by a sweat drop falling off his eyelid. Her dark brown breasts are big and round and firm. Her nipples erect as thumbs. She stands before the floor-length mirror, examining her breasts, touching them with her fingertips, squeezing and rubbing her nipples. The energy starts from the soles of his feet working electrically and quickly through his body, gathering force in his groin. His cock feels like a radio tower discharging tiny sizzles of electric current into the air. Pearl Star puts on an old white bra hooked together with safetypins and slips into her nurse's uniform pulled out of her cloth bag. Turns, facing the door, and Jeremy jerks up and runs down the hallway to his room.
Now stop it Jeremy Sayres, laughs Pearl Star, her chalk pink tongue darts between pink edged black lips.
When are we going to eat? What are we having? he asks. His cheeks are flushed.
You blushing for doing the eye thing with me?
Naw, it's cold out. It's snowing out there. We been out in the snow all day. Anyway I'm probably getting a cold.
Poor Jeremy Sayres, why'n't you sit on my lap and let me give you some comforting?
Aw, Pearl, I'm too big for your lap.
But you ain't too big for peeping down my blouse.
A few months ago when their parents were away on the road, he saw Pearl Star with her boyfriend Lemon Fred. He was on her bed in the back room off the kitchen where Pearl stays when the parents are gone.
Jeremy saw them through the partly open door. Lemon Fred's black leathery long fingers on her blouse. Whispering in her ear as he slowly unbuttoned one button and then another. Pearl giggling.
You want what Lemon Fred wants? she asks the boy.
When they saw him in the doorway, Pearl laughed. Lemon Fred crackled a dry propriety chuckle.
Huh, Jeremy Sayres? You want what Lemon Fred wants?
Aw, Pearl. He begins to stammer. The heat of his lust smothers his face. Aw, Pearl, I just wanna know what's for supper.
Whenever she sleeps over, he peeks through her bedroom keyhole hoping to look upon her large black body. He imagines her doing a strange African dance like in the voodoo movies, shaking her breasts, undulating her rolling stomach muscles, rubbing her firm cunt mound against a carved magic phallus planted in drum rocking African earth. The closest he ever came to seeing her in any form of undress, other than that time in the bathroom, was when she walked over to the lamp on the nightstand near her bed. As she snapped off the light, it shone through her nightgown outlining her nakedness. He blinked and heard the bedsprings jangle as her body stretched out on the mattress.
* * *
Though they go to the same school they are in different classes. They eat lunch together in the school cafeteria. Pearl Star packs them sandwiches, usually something like either Spam or bologna on white bread smeared with margarine. Usually some kind of goodie like a chocolate cupcake with a sticky burning sweet center or a few pieces of candy from the Whitman's Sampler box Lemon Fred gives her everytime he visits. Sometimes cold fishcakes on Friday. Sometimes peanut butter sandwiches with mucousy strawberry jam staining the centers of the Wonder Bread.
Did you hear them yelling at each other last night? she asks, sucking milk from a straw stuck in a half-pint carton of chocolate milk.
No, I guess I was asleep, he answers, trying to swallow a lump of bread, jelly, margarine glued together with peanut butter.
They're talking about leaving us with Aunt Lorna when they go to Florida this summer.
Aunt Lorna and their cousins ugh Nina and Ricky. Uncle Arvin used to be married to Aunt Lorna. But a long time ago. They spent a weekend there once and it was terrible. Nina and Ricky were mean wolfish kids and Aunt Lorna always had a sour face like she had a constant stomach ache.
It's because of Uncle Arvin, she says. I just know it.
Oh for God's sake, what about him?
We'll endure Aunt Lorna. We'll endure Nina and Ricky too. Who knows, maybe they've gotten better. Anyway, we have each other and we have the games.
The bell rings and lunch period is history.
* * *
Money, money, that's all it is. It's money, money, the father says, pacing around the bedroom. What good does it do if we don't get nothing out of it? Shit, no real home life. Always on the goddamned road. Third-rate clubs, crummy local TV freebee shots for nothing, nothing at all. Exposure, fuck it. It gets us nowhere. What the hell does it all mean? Huh? What does it mean?
We've got to live, get by, answers the mothers. It's the only way we know how. We can't quit it. What else are you going to do? Be a gas station attendant, a bank teller, a bricklayer, work at a fast food joint flipping burgers? We're a team, right? Sayre and Sayre, the Lovebirds.
Yeah, sure, but what does it mean? We've been doing this almost fifteen years. It's the same thing over and over again. Each year we get older and it's that much harder. We'll never make it big.
It's our shitty agent, the mother snaps. If only you'd've listened to me when I told you about Gus Lovely. He was interested in us and he had connections . . .
Maybe I can learn an honest trade.
She laughs harshly. That'll be the day buster.
Don't call me buster.
I'll call you buster when I want to call you buster, buster !
Goddamn it, bitch bitch, why do you push me so?
You're no better than a car, no smarter, you deserve to be driven.
Cunt cunt, gritting his teeth, you're worse than your cunt sister Lorna.
Go on fool scream at me. Scream all you want dumb fuck. Blame me for your misery. Whenever we could've done better, whenever it was time to take a chance, what did you do, huh, buster? What did you do? You backed down, you backed away. Like with Gus Lovely. Look what he did for Mavis Fine. Made her into a star, a big star. He could've done that for us, but no no no you couldn't break away from Frazier . . .
Frazier's a good friend . . .
But he's a shitty no good agent. Dumb unimaginative and without any fucking hustle in him. He's a fucking zombie.
Bitch bitch how would you know anything about decent human beings?
Certainly not by living with a meatball like you, you dumb pig.
Through the night. Snappy patter. Ha ha.
* * *
They're on a train riding through snow.
The father wants to say something. He's had that look since the station. The mother smiles and pats them each on the head. The father's mouth seems ready to form an important string of words. There's pain in his eyes; his forehead gets furrowed and his jaw muscles begin flexing.
They're on a train riding through snow. Five dollars in an envelope is pinned inside her slip. The paper rubs against her skin.
It's his turn by the window and he looks out into the darkness at swirls and curtains of snow. The overhead lights are off. Some reading lights are on like candlelights. He flicks off the light above them. Rebecca tries sleeping to the sound of the train, letting its rolling vibrations rock her.
Hey, we're on a bridge over a big drop, he says.
She hears wind moaning and whistling outside the train car. It rattles the train windows.
They ride over a great bridge spanning an endless canyon bowl. Wind blows the snow in two directions at once.
What if the wind snaps the bridge in half and our half of the car stays on track while their half falls forever into snow-flaked darkness?
* * *
I went to the bird market
To buy birds for you
I went to the flower market
To buy flowers for you
I went to the scrap-iron market
To buy chains for you
Then I went to the slave market
And looked for you
But I could not find you
Gopher picks his nose and tastes it. Sunlight streams through slats in the ceiling. He's in Lorna's basement again. It's Gopher's retreat. Sometimes rats streak by. Maybe Rebecca Sayres walks on the floor above and he can look up her dress without anyone knowing it. Smell of damp earth. Old broken furniture like dinosaur skeletons scattered about woven with spiderwebs. Shadowy hutches and ruts Gopher likes to stick his hand inside and scrape unknown surfaces and grab out trophies. Get bugs especially spiders and torture them. Stuffed the runt of a cat litter in one of those hutches to see how long it took to die. Stole his father's chronometer watch and timed it. Four minutes and twenty-seven seconds.
He pulls away a rock hiding and protecting a package of Camels he took out of his father's coat pocket. He sacrificed the change in the pocket for the cigarettes. A fair trade.
The Revival Time girl trio sings The Perfect Will Of My Lord out of the radio upstairs. Old witch Lorna's tuned into the gospel station always too loud. Hymns, sermons, men talking about abortion and communism, sin and redemption, all day long. At night old witch listens to phone-in talk shows and drinks and talks back to the radio.
I have a future in Heaven for sure
The book of matches is crumpled and damp. After wasting six matches, the seventh hits the mark. He puffs on the crooked Camel until it's fully lit. A round grubby premature man of the world, Gopher slides down to the dirt smoking half of the last cigarette in the pack. No rats in sight and spiders are hiding out in shadow caves behind their webs. Gopher feels free to dream about Rebecca Sayres whose beauty bothers him with strange activity in his groin.
He pulls out the wrinkled photograph from a hole in the wall and brushes dust off it. It's a picture he found in his father's coatpocket when he was scavenging for coins. A man sits on a sofa and is naked except for his shoes and socks. The black socks are rolled over his ankles, the elastic from the rips. A naked woman squats before him. Her mouth's wide open and the man's dick is inside it. The photograph is blurry. The man doesn't look down at the woman and seems content. His eyes shut; mouth slack. Gopher can see only the woman's naked back, part of her breasts, her rear-end and her face in profile, her lips around the man's cock stuck in her mouth like a pole. Is that how they do it? He thinks of Rebecca Sayres doing that to him. Broken bathroom pipe trickle and hum of mosquitoes around the puddle. His father told him it was no big deal. A man sticks his prick in a woman's hole and that was that. But Gopher suspected his father lied when he found the photograph in his pocket. No one tells the truth; everything's secret.
He unzips his dirty jeans. He wears no underpants. His tiny pecker tip pokes up smelling of pee and sweat. Gopher bends over as far as he can trying to get his mouth on it but his belly gets in the way and he begins to roll around in the dirt looking like a fat snake at its tail.
I feel a deep down need to make myself acceptable in
Let Him save you today
Let Him save you today
Save you today
sings the Sunnyside Quartet.
Lorna sits at the kitchen table drinking lukewarm coffee, smoking a cigarette, wanting the goddamned diseased dirty fly to get snarled in the spiderweb in the corner of the windowsill. The filthy fly edges close to it and as he's ready to step into the tangle, some perverse instinct signals him to draw back and buzz off to another part of the window. Damn fly, she thinks. Everything's damned anyway.
The kids are damned, damned kids, goddamned kids. That Ricky's going to be like his cursed father Arvin and Nina's damned to marry some cursed man like Arvin and submit to drunken fucking in the middle of the night, his stubbly chin scraping into my shoulder and weaves of whiskey stink in my face. Damned to being underneath some damned drunk man with his fat ugly hose poking around in the air like a stalk in the breeze and him taking my clenched fist, opening it, fitting it around that meat hose and clutching it so he can groan in hairy joy. Damned. I smell sin musk from Rebecca, daughter of my damned sister. My damned sister, goddamned sister, is a tramp, a two-bit actress married to a damned doomed clown of a husband in a damned doomed wheel of constant mediocrity and suffering, their terrible unions bringing forth a doltish son and musky daughter. Something in her eyes that tells me she knows too much about the world; the light is the light shining through Satan's eyes smirching the hem of the robe of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Lorna picks skin off her forefinger. It smarts. She peels dry skin off until it hurts.
They're behind a pyramid of sand and gravel the construction crew has left behind for the day.
Ricky holds Jeremy by the throat, pushing the back of his head into sand and gravel, grinding it down. Some of it begins trickling down into Jeremy's hair and eyes. He tries shaking his head.
Stop it, snarls Ricky, or I'll kill you.
Four other members of the neighborhood gang, the Ravens, are in a semicircle around the two boys. There's Cruncher, Gopher's brother, who washes maybe once a month and always wears the same dirty red and white quarterback shirt. There's Itchy who is always scratching himself. Fleas, lice and bedbugs inhabit the continent of Itchy's scrawny nobody. Marco, the Ravens' leader, isn't as handsome as Ricky, his lieutenant, but he's older and a lot smarter and has, he says, sinister connections with the mafia. Marco has a tiny scar above his upper lip creating the illusion that he's always just about ready to smile. He has a seven inch stiletto and says he knows where to get guns. The last member of the Ravens is both their ultimate weapon and mascot. A big horse of a moron taller and stronger than all of them, Dumb-Dumb, Marco's idiot brother, stands, watches, and lets his nose run. His shoelaces are untied.
Jeremy can't talk, can't protest. That's part of the initiation.
Marco hands the paper bag to Cruncher who walks over to Ricky and Jeremy.
Hold him real tight now, he says.
Cruncher puts the paper bag over Jeremy's head and ties it around the bottom with string.
Tie it tight, says Marco. I don't want any air getting in.
Sure, Marco, sure, Cruncher says, wrapping more string around the paper bag around Jeremy's neck.
Brown daylight passes through the paper bag. Cruncher's hand shadows pass by his eyes. The heat of his breath panics him with suffocation fear.
Itchy, light my cigarette, orders Marco. Ricky, you light up too.
Ricky pats down a strand of black shiny hair. He likes each strand in order, all neatly slapped down on his skull, adhering to the perfect shape of his head.
Okay, stud, says Marco. Now we're going to see how brave you really are. All Ravens are brave to the core. Chickens can't be Ravens.
Itchy, Ricky and Cruncher laugh. When they stop Dumb-Dumb laughs.
Take the right eye, says Marco. I'll take the left.
Jeremy sees the burning orange circle of Ricky's cigarette. It's the first to burn through the paper bag. The smoke irritates his eyes. They water and he blinks. Then Marco's cigarette burns through the paper bag.
Watch this, dumb ass, she chants in her head.
Claude Winthrop watches Nina pull her sweater up over her breasts cupped in a black brassiere. His mouth gets dry. His pale blue eyes widen behind thick glasses. She licks her lips bright and blazing red with Maybelline Cherry-Sun lipstick. Nina's pink tongue tip pokes between her lips.
Mm, mm, she moans.
They're in Study Hall and gray Mr. Darnell is correcting papers at his desk.
Claude Winthrop's throat is stuffed with cement. The sounds he wants to make, the words he wants those sounds to shape, are frozen in cement.
Nina slyly pushes her tight skirt up above her knees so the flesh of her thighs flash their tight white glory.
Claude Winthrop chokes to break the knot and Mr. Darnell, who wears the same gray suit to work every day, looks up.
In a flash Nina is in order and studiously reading her textbook.
Claude's pale face flares red.
What's your problem Winthrop?
Nothing, sir, I . . . I'll . . .
Nina shuts the classroom off and sinks into silky inner world pleasures.
She can't sleep well. Up three times last night. Cold and then hot. Both then neither. The first time she woke up sweating; the second time she woke and felt death in her body, her bones, her womb. Cold pale death. Snow, glaciers, ice death. Freezing death. She burrowed under the covers seeking an arc of body heat and blanket heat, too frightened to call for her brother.
Now awaits dawn in a damp chilly room. Aunt Lorna took out the big throw-rug to put in Nina's room. The old wallpaper's yellow and stained with streaks of brown edged water making lumpy ugly designs. This was Uncle Arvin's room, the room he died in. He'd been out drinking and sinning, said Aunt Lorna, so that I couldn't stand to have him bother my sleep with his whining and grunting like a pig, like a crazy pig rooting and rutting in garbage. So he slept here alone when he came home. When he came home because after a while he stopped coming home much. The last few years. What a swine, a dirty smelly brute, sex pervert. You know what I mean, do you? Why blush, child? asked Aunt Lorna's metallic voice offering no tone of kindness. You wouldn't know anything about the dirtiness of sex, you're too young. Ain't you? Rebecca nodded dumbly. Nodded and nodded. Aunt Lorna laughed rusting door hinges. She knows she must know.
Her room's cell bare: cot, dresser with one leg slightly shorter than the rest, a small table with a torn doily and the closet. The cot's hard, the dresser drawers get stuck all the time, the table's too small to sit at and the closet has mice in it. She hears them all night chewing and clawing. Once they woke her up sounding as if there were hundreds of them thousands of them chewing and clawing through the wall to get at her to devour her. O God.
She pulls the Bible out of the dresser, unzips the cover, opens it to a page.
Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
To another page.
Know ye not? hear ye not? Hath it not been told to you from the beginning? Have ye not understood the foundations of the earth?
No answer anywhere yet always questions and suffering. The window in the room is dirty; she looks out at gray morning mist hanging over houses and wetting yellow grass lawns. It had been a hot summer and a difficult fall. The grass is dead, the bushes broken. She hears the first birds, the early birds, of morning begin to twitter and chirp and sing. She sees them hopping about on dry leafless branches. Mud-colored sparrows. Does God really care for them?
They haven't played the game since being at Aunt Lorna's. Too risky. Nina and Ricky are always spying on each other and when they get tired of that they spy on Rebecca and Jeremy. She's sure Ricky watches her go to the bathroom whenever he can. What a conceited idiot. All he cares about is his hair and good looks.
Nina thinks she's more subtle. She comes into the room and asks lots of question and alludes to knowing some secret information. When she feels she's gathered enough data she goes downstairs and tells it all to Aunt Lorna. Even if nothing has been exchanged, Nina goes to Aunt Lorna and invents a story, a story Aunt Lorna reimagines out of Nina's fragments.
You mean she plays with herself a lot?
She had her hand in it when I came into the room.
Did she stop or did she keep poking in it while you talked? I bet she did. She don't care. More deranged than your dead father. You know God struck him dead for all his sins. You know that. Really yanked and tore death out of his big rotten pig body.
Look, it's like this, Marco says. My cousin Freddy works for the big boys and whenever he comes to town he tells me, he says Marco, any kind of job you want done by the boy I'll get done for you since you're a cousin. Since you're family I can get anything for you real cheap, cheaper than wholesale.
Wow, says Ricky.
They're sitting in the basement of Ricky's place after telling Gopher to scram.
Dumb kid, why don't he play in his own place?
Marco tears the ring-top of a beer can and drinks a slug of warm brew. Ahh. Passes the can to Ricky.
Ricky guzzles some beer and sighs, wipes his lips.
Wanna smoke? asks Marco.
Yeah, sure, Ricky answers, feeling the top of his head for a stray hair that might have sprung up.
Marco passes the pack to Ricky who taps out a cigarette and hands the pack back.
I sure like these Luckys more than them Viceroys your mother smokes.
Yeah, you're right, these are real cigarettes. No dumb filter getting in the way. I even dig the little bits of tobacco on my tongue.
When's your cousin coming to town again?
Who knows? They got a lot of work to do where he's at, you know: dope, hookers, rubbing-out guys.
Wow. How old's your cousin?
Bet he gets a lot of pussy.
All he wants, all kinds.
Speaking of pussy . . .
They both chuckle knowingly and puff on their cigarettes.
What's your cousin's name? asks Marco.
She charges my battery. Does she put out?
Jeez, I don't know, she's kind of strange. Mom thinks she's some kind of tramp but I don't know. She reads the Bible a lot.
That's a drag. Of course that could mean two things.
What do you mean?
She's got a tight zipped-up cunt or she puts out like crazy.
Ricky feels uncomfortable and doesn't say anything.
Does she date anybody?
No, she stays by herself.
Have you ever seen her naked? How big are her tits?
Ricky gulps in shame.
You have haven't you? I mean she's there, isn't she? It's okay spying on your cousin. A cousin isn't a sister, right?
What's her cunt look like? Lotsa hair?
What the fuck does that mean?
Jesus, Marco, lighten up. Ask her brother.
What does that mean?
I don't know, mother says they stick together a lot. They're weird, you know. She says my aunt's kind of weird too, messed-up. You know, my aunt and uncle are performers.
Yeah? What do they do?
They sing and stuff, they're not so hot, they're not famous or anything.
Marco squints his eyes to see clearer. Shuts them and bends his head backwards.
Is she Jewish? he asks.
I don't know, says Ricky. My uncle's a Jew.
I thought so, says Marco, satisfied with his insight.
What do you mean?
Jews are fuck happy.
Yeah. My cousin tells me the best cockscuking whores outside of niggers are Jew girls.
Have some more beer. I'll talk to that brother of hers. We'll give him one more initiation test.
To see what kind of Raven he'll make.
Ricky's confused but joins Marco when he begins laughing softly.
This is for a son at college who is a Christian and who is entering a secular schoolthis song is for him, to give him strength to abide and resist temptation.
Lorna sits in the bathtub, warm water easing the stiffness at the base of her spine. Pine oil bubble bath bubbles rise high and fluffy above the waterline and conceal her worn body. The transistor radio rests on a nearby ledge.
The lady who's facing the amputation of a limbthe thirteen-year-old boy who's run away from home and is on drugsthis song is for thempray for themmother and son
Blessed interlude of soothing organ music. Her narrow pinched face seems to float above the crackling bubbles. My hair's falling out because of those pills, she thinks. Her soapy skinny hands reach out of the water to rub her head. My hair's falling out. She touches her forehead which has become more predominant over the years. Her once dark brown hair is short, greying and thinning. Those pills. Terrible. And they didn't help. My womb's empty. Nothing stops God's will.
Hear them bells
Don't you hear them bells
They're ringin' out the glory of the
Slides deeper into the suds. If I could strike back at the blackness in the world around me. The badness. I'm a good woman. Pure as best as a married woman can be pure. Why did I marry him? He wasn't bad at first. But what did I know. He looked good, acted polite. Surfaces surfaces. The seed of pollution was within him. My life's a test an ordeal I've lived through like Job. My scars. God's will. The more you learn the more obligated you are to teach no matter how the truth hurts. You can't damn them for they're damned to begin with. From wombs slimy with man's blind lust these wretched rat-faced creature come howling out into the world wanting to be fed from breasts swollen with sweet milk turning sour while breasts flatten to flaps from all their sucking and pawing. And when these creatures begin growing they always grow away from you into fuck animals cunt poking pecker pulling immoral crazy filthy litter whelps. Raging freaks rapists murderers spawning more litter. The world's breaking apart from filth of children begetting children and all of them walking around with fuck stench pouring out of them that dogs following bitch girls licking up the drippings. The world's filled with darkness musk of gaping stink holes open like mouths wanting to be filled with more and more rotten pointless life.
The bubblebath suds are crackling and disintegrating.
This wonderful Jesus who died in my place
Murdering jungle animals with dumb minds easily directed and distracted as long as you drag them nose first to their shit pile. They'll do what you want. Disgusting. What happens to the good pure Christian? Arvin was modest and kind. It was done under the covers for the first years. In darkness. No need to see anything and I could lie back, shut my eyes, pretend something else was happening. God's will. A good Christian woman gives some pleasure to her hard working husband. Be fruitful and multiply. God's will. Once-a-month was enough and it was fine with Arvin. All murderous animals root in swill and slops of their own dropping. He never made me touch it. But everything changes. The monster sot wants me to look at it, see it, touch it. It's a cock ! a prick! a cock! he'd bark Boozy fart breath. Look at it. Shut up you'll wake the kids. Look at it. Balls balls. Touch `em. Slobbering. These hands forced to hold stinky pouches of sin.
She holds her hands up to her eyes. Freckled age spots pepper white blue skin around her knuckles. Her fingers are small and thin. She bites her fingernails, chews the skin around them.
Though it's been burned and it's been spurned
Though it's been desecrated
The teachings of its saints has been vindicated
No more suds, the bubbles all evaporated, Aunt Lorna looks down upon her thin bony body through gray waters. She sees wet hairs around her vagina uncurled, pushed down flat by water's weight. They form a sparse uneven triangle. Skinny legs, knobby kneed. Around her ankles are varicose vein branchings. About her thighs and over her belly are pale streaks of stretch marks. Her breasts are shriveled with dark brown nipples now erect responding to a draft of cool air coming through the window open slightly above the toilet. Cool air from inside Aunt Lorna as she breaks wind in the water and shuts her eyes in pleasurable shame. Cool air coolness of clouds circling her empty womb. Cotton textured clouds she tears apart in her mind with fingernails she no longer has.
It's so hard to be alone together anymore, he says.
They're sitting across from each other in the school cafeteria.
Are you all right? she asks. Your eyelashes, will they grow back? It's lucky they didn't burn your eyes out.
Everything's all right. It's just a game with them. Anyway it's good that I have some friends, says Jeremy to his sister.
Are they really your friends? They look so dumb, so thuggy.
Oh they're okay I suppose. Even the big one, Dumb-Dumb, Marco's brother. He's an idiot, born that way. Even he's okay.
It's not right that you should have those kinds of friends.
Have you met any people? he asks.
No, I don't need them. I'm all right.
You got to have somebody to talk to.
I have you.
But we don't have time anymore. It's so hard getting together in that house. We haven't played together since we came here.
Jeremy sleeps in Ricky's room and Aunt Lorna sleeps in the next room and Nina sleeps in the room next to Aunt Lorna. To get to Rebecca means passing both of the other bedrooms, walking up noisy stars to the attic room where Rebecca stays. It has a slanty roof and mice.
Aunt Lorna's been making Rebecca do more housework. It's my health, complains Aunt Lorna. I need all the help I can get, I'm not well.
Nina should be helping her not you.
That's okay, she answers. We have to earn our keep.
What is it?
I don't know how to say this but . . . I mean it might sound weird . . .
What is it if you don't say it?
You know Marco?
The leader of The Ravens?
Well he thinks you're very beautiful and wants to see you sometimes.
He's a jerk; he's worse than Ricky and probably twice as mean.
No, no, he's really okay. His cousin Freddy's a gangster.
What? Where are your brains?
You don't understand, if you don't see him I can't be a Raven.
Good, she snaps, turning away from his sad sack eyes.
* * *
It wasn't like it was in winter in Larry Varno's car, windows shut, in the State Park parking lot. She was so hot, so ready. The shut carwindows got all fogged with their breath.
Nina's breasts were firm cupped in her fancy white bra and Marco felt their silky hard tautness rise and fall beneath his fingertips.
She'd breathe in his ear and he'd touch the back of her neck with the edge of his teeth while her breathing got faster and hotter working through nerve-ends coiled around his spine and his hand went under her skirt.
Nina groaned in his ear something sounding like "no" but he couldn't hear well and placed his palm upon the silk bulge of her crotch shielded by panties. For a shockingly pleasant moment he gently rubbed the silken bulge. The palm of his hand tingled with sensation. Abandoning esthetics, he crooked a finger under the elastic panty hem touching the furry edges of her cunt. Oh now, she moaned, twisting her hips and thrashing about, still holding him around the neck, her mouth upon his ear. Oh no. Confused by paradox he let his fingertip rest on top of her pubic hairs. Again, gently. Nina's breathing became heavy. Moist exhales followed by her tongue tip alarming his hot ear rims. His finger slides snakelike through her pubic hairs to the already moist fleshy clearing. He could smell her smell faintly. A car door slammed and they froze.
It isn't the same as then, he thinks, as they kiss and tangle on a blanket thrown on the basement's dirt floor. She's too eager, too horny, too familiar. She must know.
Nina's cunt mound rubs and pushes into his cock which despite his distraction is swollen and pulsing. Her blouse pulled off, she lets him unhook her bra and reveals her breasts to him in gray twilight rays coming through the dusty basement windows. For the first time. They jounce free and stand firm. His hands reach out to touch her erect nipples.
The touch of them surprises his fingers and for a moment they tense. Nina laughs under her breath. Afraid of them? she asks. Marco leers and places his mouth onto her left nipple, pushing the tip of his tongue into the tough center. Moves his tongue tip harder against it while his teeth lower slowly around its base. Then bites. Gently. Nina groans. The nipple in his mouth held firm by his teeth allows him a distracted moment to reach down under her dress and grab the wet heat of her pussy as if to pull it off. Ouch, she squawks. His hand jerks away. Afraid? he asks. A moment of puzzlement and then they both laugh.
He knows she knows what he wants to ask her because later on, when it's almost dark in the basement, she touches the distended form of his cock buried inside his pants and underpants. Starts at the crown and runs her finger slowly down the seam. His heart beats quicker.
It seems like hours before her paralyzed hand returns to life to leave his sex and find the handle of his zipper and with some difficulty pull it down. Another endless pause as he feels cool basement air on his open fly. Marco lays as if in state waiting for her hand to come to life again, imagining Nina whipping out his cock and rubbing it against her naked breasts and licking it and sucking it and cupping his hurting balls in what a dream-fuck is supposed to be. The vision morphs as Nina's replaced by Rebecca. Rebecca's dark mysterious face kissing his naked chest; her naked body he imagines as olive-skinned, black hair down to the curve of her butt, slender. Nina rubs her hand up and down the length of his hard cock.
Licking the inside of her dark Jew thighs, kissing the lips of her dark Jew cunt while her ripe Jew lips suck his cock dry.
Marco drifts off into it and comes. Nina's hand springs away.
It's a lousy orgasm, unwanted. He feels humiliated and shamed and is preparing a desperate speech when Rebecca opens the basement door to look for mouse-traps Aunt Lorna ordered her to find. She pulls the light chain.
It won't be long, Gopher thinks, pinning the fuzzy chartreuse caterpillar to the ground with the end of a twig. No sir. O boy. Imagine catching Rebecca Sayres jerking off Marco in front of Nina. O boy.
His house is five houses down the block yet everybody heard Lorna screaming her head off when she found them in the basement. He saw Marco streaking down the street trying to zip up his fly, looking back to see if Lorna wasn't catching up.
The hollering and sobbing from that house.
I knew it, I knew it.
Nina cowering in the shadows, whimpering. Awful, awful. Lorna grabbed a stick and started whacking Rebecca's shoulders and back. Awful. I knew it. I knew there was something evil in you, something disgusting. Foul. Rotten. Each word punctuated with a swipe of the stick.
Rebecca didn't say anything. Just took it. Boy she must be tough.
Gopher plans on the day when Rebecca Sayres will be his too. Just like Marco. Just like the photograph.
The twig point severs the caterpillar's body in half and out comes a thick yellow fluid.
It's a crummy movie, one of those endless married comedy color dream fuck flicks starring a blond haired lady with a plastic surgery mask shot through a mist filter escaping her husband's advances because her husband's over the middle-age hill, gutty and chinny, and suspected of laying horny hands all over his secretary who looks like a Playboy foldout. Everybody at the office knows the girthy husband's seeing the secretary after working hours because he's trying to patch up her engagement with the fiance who happens to be his best friend and business partner and she's helping tubby select a proper gift for his tenth wedding anniversary and helping him put together a surprise party for the blond wife who's beginning to have eyes for her husband's best friend (played by a bronzed middleaged ex-tennis champion) and using the best friend as a possible weapon against her husband who is getting hornier and hornier. And so on. A crummy movie.
The Ravens sit restlessly in the balcony. Dumb-Dumb is nervous. Movies scare him because the people are so huge. TV scares him because the people are so small. Most of the time he tries to sleep or keep his eyes covered with his huge hands.
Ricky and Marco leave their seats to scout the theater for pickups. Itchy slumps low in his seat, props his feet on the neck of the chair in front of him and scratches away. Gets his hand inside his pants and picks. Every so often his sensitive fingertips pick out a flea or crab louse from his crotch. Tries to squash them in his fingers or burn them with a cigarette. Tries to. Most of them get away.
Cruncher eats popcorn trying to figure out where in the movie he's supposed to laugh. But his mouth his usually full of popcorn anyway. Laughing would court death. Chocking to death on the movie house floor in all that guck, popcorn husks stuck in his throat like fiberglass splintering and shredding any laughter.
Jeremy's restless and bothered. The feeling has no face to it, no graspable form. It grows wide inside then recedes into a pinpoint. It's like an eye's responding to extremes of light and darkness. The movie accompanies his meditation. He hardly sees the technicolor bodies except in moments when screen voices cut into a thought. Then fade out.
Cruncher nudges him again. Want some popcorn, huh?
No. I told you before.
Okay okay, mumbles Cruncher, his mouth full of popcorn, his breath smells of fake butter.
* * *
No, man, not her, Marco whispers to Ricky.
Her mother's a freak. One day I was here and she sat behind me, see, and after a while her foot's over my shoulder and I ask her to come and sit with me and she says she's with her little sister, can her sister come too. Sure, I say, and this chick sits down next to me and her little brat sister sits next to me on the other side and I'm penned in by these two sisters, see. So then big sister starts digging her fingernails into my wrists and biting me on the ear and I stick my other hand between her legs. She's wearing jeans and clamps my hand between her legs and squeezes on it like a lady wrestler. I don't know what the fuck's happening but I'm getting hot and ask her if I can drive her home and she says sure I can if I take the little sister too and I say why the fuck not and I say what if we drop little sister off first and then both of us take a little ride up to the park. She says huhn huhn and nibbles my earlobe some more. I drive them to their place and big sister's clawing my kneecap which gets me hot and stupid giggly at the same time and I keep thinking I'm going to jerk away from her and pile the car up. Little sister peeps up that there it is, there's their place five houses after we pass it. She screams so fucking loud I think muddy and slam on the breaks and little sister hits the floor and starts crying in the loudest kid voice ever like cats in heat. She's screaming in my ears and big sister's laughing sexy nervous in my ear and then it happens and it happens fast. Little sister opens the door and starts wailing to momma and momma opens the door and sees me being slurped in the ear by big sister and before I know it momma yanks the car door open, pulls big sister out of the car by the roots of her hair and starts screaming blue murder at me. Another thing: momma's got this butcher knife in her hand and while she's yelling at me she keeps swinging that knife around. Keep away from my daughter my little girl, she screams. Swipe swipe with the knife. I hit the pedal and take off in a fucking cloud of dust leaving momma screaming and slashing away.
Wow, says Ricky.
Marco grunts and bites into a frozen Milky Way.
* * *
Isn't that Nina? Cruncher asks Jeremy, who is deep in a memory trance.
What? What? What is it ?
Whew, hold it down, whines Cruncher, I just asked if that was Nina coming down the aisle with Snowflake.
Jeremy looks and spots two dark forms slowly descending carpeted balcony stairs walking like Copa showgirls with teased hair surveying the balcony scene looking for a little action but not wanting to be seen looking.
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