Jocose.

jocose
dʒəˈkəʊs/ adjective formal
  1. playful or humorous.
    “a jocose allusion”

He wore around his neck a wooden cross on a long chain and on his face a subdued smile. He spoke ruefully and self effacing about his day on the road and how he was glad to be through it. I stood to one side half-watching him and listened to his story and to Linda as she ran him through the rest of the night with him nodding appreciatively throughout. She led him away gesturing widely around and I looked up to follow them across the room and into the next. It was a Saturday. I was stripping mint. I still remember it.

His band was four members and they packed the room. They played a thrashy kind of rock music I didn’t know much about and ended with a waltzy, southern-styled ballad I liked quite a lot. I pressed myself between the sweating bodies and collected glasses through most of their set or stood for moments at a time watching from the step behind the bar. His singing voice was so strangled I couldn’t hear most of the words. Only a general tone and a hint from his accent. A sense of a romantic place quite far away and perhaps imagined. I quite liked it. When they finished there was applause and wooing and more wooing and one guy whistling madly and the lights swinging on the low, sweat-slicked ceiling. The band filed away somewhere and for a while people drank and spoke and the room felt strange and vacant with the lights up and the music gone and all these dolled-up rocker-types just talking casually with their faces tacky and ecstatic and their hair stuck to their foreheads in threads.

When the people were gone we picked rubbish from the tables and pushed it around the room with a broom and joked a little. Linda came through and told us we were almost done and then the band was there again stood in the corridor and talking idly. Security came through and said goodbye and hugged all  the women and nodded manly partings to all the men who nodded many partings back and made me smirk.

When I came back through to the main bar he was sat with another member of his band around the seats near the back and Linda was sat there too with all three of them drinking beer which they poured from frothing steel wine-buckets into rocks glasses. The rest of the band I could see out on the road, see out the sheltered windows, out on the road smoking and talking to the few still left from the crowd. I went up into the little office and waited outside it for Stephen to change then went in after him and sat minute watching the cameras before changing out my work stuff and getting into my coat.

Stephen and the new barmaid I didn’t know were staying with Linda and the band to drink but I had to cycle home and so said goodbye and got goodbyes back and went out to the road and unlocked my bike. The new barmaid came out for a smoke and asked if I had a lighter and I told her I was sorry I didn’t and just as I was about to go he came out too and asked if she had a lighter and she laughed and said she was looking for one. He spoke in this playful way. Instantly made a game of it almost like a child might; framed finding a lighter as some solemn duty they had to undertake together and I should’ve left but I couldn’t help but smile and I followed them up the street to the next bar where a queue of students were smoking outside and he leaned over the barrier and whispered at them like we were soliciting something illicit and me and the new barmaid stood beside him laughing at his silliness and the confusion it bought. They stood both leaned against the barrier smoking and he asked if I wanted one and I said I didn’t and he nodded sagely and then smiled and joked about something else. The new barmaid wanted to talk about his band but he seemed disinterested in that and instead joked about Linda and about our bar and when pushed told a story about their journey there which he framed as this rolling, disastrous epic that worsened at every turn filled with treacheries and twists

When they finished their cigarettes we walked back up to our bar and I climbed onto my bike and said goodbye again and she stood waiting for him in the doorway and he said goodbye and then asked how far I was cycling and told me good luck when I told him. I couldn’t think of anything better so I told him I liked his band and he smiled and said he did too. I watched them down the corridor through the glass of the door and wished I’d thought of something better  to say.

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Transmogrify.

transmogrify
tranzˈmɒɡrɪfʌɪ,trɑːnzˈmɒɡrɪfʌɪ,transˈmɒɡrɪfʌɪ,trɑːnsˈmɒɡrɪfʌɪ/

verb

humorous
  1. transform in a surprising or magical manner.
    “his home was transmogrified into a hippy crash pad”

 

One.

An Irishman came seeking me. The barmaid led him up to my hotel room and left a lamp and a bottle and we sat and spoke. The Irishman told me a Mexican had taken his daughter from their ranch in New Mexico and they’d last been seen in Montana. He told me he’d pay me six hundred dollars to kill the Mexican and a hundred more if I bought him his daughter back. I asked why not more for the daughter. He told me he only had seven hundred dollars to his name, and that with selling his farm.

When the Irishman left the barmaid bought me up another bottle and told me she’d pay me another fifty if I bought the daughter back. I told her to send the bar boy to buy me new furs and took myself to the train station.

The girl was a redhead and the Mexican dark and tall. I didn’t have any other description nor images of either. The local law hadn’t seen them but had spoken to people who had. They’ve gone into the mountains, they told me. I looked between the two men. Neither seemed overly concerned with it. With winter coming they’ll be back this way. I ain’t following ’em up there.

I went to a horse-stop inn set between two mountains and there spoke to an old couple who had seen both three months previous and who had thought them a strange pair. When I left the inn the first flakes of snow began to fall. I followed the valley to a roving camp that tarried behind the ever-spooling rail line as it bisected the wild and I trod between the canvas tents in the mud and the snow and watched as they laid the line which rolled out about as fast as I could walk with burly, hard-bit immigrants hammering flat the iron and the oak and working in waves with the camp itself folding in and expanding and rolling onwards with the work. I bought my own tent and a pair of new boots and had my rifle re-sighted and slept in the camp and spoke to the workers none of whom had seen them. When I woke the camp was gone and a black line ran from horizon to horizon with snow already beginning to smudge at it and gather at its edges. I took leave away from the rails and up into the mountains.

I met with a trapper who wore a whole elkskin and the antlers sprouting from his shoulders like wings who told me he had spoken to the girl and seen the Mexican and called him devilish. This was a month past, just ‘afore the snows started. He looked me in the face with a slow, sad look as though of knowing. Do not follow the girl, he told me. That road has an ending and more beyond it.

Snow took in drifts to the old trapper’s trails and I followed them north as far as I could until the trails themselves stopped. I rested a night in a station cabin and consulted the maps there. Mountains, stretching up and over and ending past the map’s damp edges.

Two.

Each night I pitched camp and each morning I laid traps or tracked game and moved slowly further up the frontier. Before a week passed I found fresh tracks and followed them to a used campsite and then another the day after before losing them overnight in fresh fallen snow. They walked single file with one following behind the other and each campsite was carefully chosen and cautious with it. I tried a cliff-side cave but smelled something sickly I thought to be a bear and so left and went back down a stream which ran still under a frozen surface and bubbled out in spouts with smoothed stones held in place by the ice as though arranged there by purpose or design.

I caught rabbits or birds mostly. There seemed such little life there on that endless bank. The further up I went the more I felt myself approaching some great crossing with a sense like descending towards an ocean. I grew accustomed to the sole huff of my horses breath and everything beyond silent and split to either endless white or strikes of black like a sight with all the color stripped from it.

She came into my camp one night as I sat resting. Just walked right up into the glow of the fire as though she’d always been just beyond it. Just as she’d been described, willowy and young with red hair almost black in the firelight and her features made gaunt and pocked by shadow. You should go, she told me. You shouldn’t be here. He’ll kill you for it. You don’t know what you’re into. I tried to ask her where he was, how she’d gotten away. She said again You should go. You shouldn’t be here. She moved to leave and I moved to follow. I heard the click and thought I may’a been quick enough but I took the bullet to the collar all the same. I heard my panicked horse thrashing against his pitching and felt my face burn and then freeze and the whole world became dancing orange stars as I fell through my campfire and out the other side. She stood over me with some look on her face whose like I couldn’t read. I told you. You should go, she told me again. He’ll kill both us for this.

Three.

I figure I must’ve bolted for the dark. That or he dragged me out there and left me to die. I came-to half buried with more snow falling and my own precious blood pooled and caked about me like my essence expunged into the drifts of the mountain. I didn’t find my camp before nightfall and I heard wolves that night, the first I had for years. I slept propped in a leafless oak and dreamed that I found ancient carvings like from another time embalmed forever in the bark depicting grand hunts from ages spent where long-limbed men took spears to heathen beasts.

I came upon my camp the next morning. Everything left as it had been but with my horse cut loose from his hitch with his bit and bridle removed and his throat slit, his body frozen solid. I took the leather from his bridle for a sling, gathered what else I could and left and walked five miles or more up a slender canyon before finally stopping to eat just on the edge of collapse. I hadn’t meant to  sleep after eating but I did and was perhaps fortunate to for no one followed me and I saw no sight or sound that day or the next.

There was no exit for my shoulder shot and with a little prying I could tell at least one bone was broken wrong. I did my best to set it back and strapped my right arm flat to my chest so it didn’t move as I walked. If he had been tracking me I would’ve looked easy pickings strapped and bent like a hunch-back and working only with one hand. Each day seemed to stretch forever and I barely caught or scrounged the food to survive. I slept without campfires with my tent backed to escarpments and the hood open and my rifle propped between my knees. The third day after I found tracks again in the fresh fallen snow and stood a long time beside them before following but before long fresh snow took them away and I was left again to a night of darkness and of not knowing which footfalls and rifle clicks were dreamed and which were real. He came to me in the night and told me again to go now with his voice not hers and regarded me by the fire I hadn’t lit and looked south down the vale as though seeing a long way hence.

I found her body the next morning a half mile north, laid flat on her back in a shallow pool which had already begun to freeze around her. Her throat was cut and her blood hung spider-like on the surface arrayed about her like a plumage or an extension of her swimming red hair and her skin was pale so even her freckles faded and her eye’s light gone; unseeing. And there she was, dead.

Four.

I chipped her body from the ice and buried her in a raised cairn of stone and rotting wood for the ground was too cold to dig and I could find no site for a proper burial. I do not know if the Catholics burn their dead or bury them. I did what I could with what respect I had.

A mile north I felled a yet-living tree with a hatchet and stood listening to the crash sound up the mountain and call back with a rumble to it and that night I built a grand fire on an outcrop jutting into open sky and set my furs arranged around it in my likeness and before dark set myself half-naked with my arm strapped to my chest on a perch overlooking the site and shivered there all night my rifle cocked and wedged against me but he never came.

Past dawn I regarded my own wretched body, half blue and frail, and knew I would die if didn’t steady. The center of my chest was a hot, pink spot that struck me as a knotting of the squirming within and above it blue and yellow and sickly and black on my collar, still oozing softly. Had I been already dead I would’ve known no difference and only in the clamping of my hands and hard set of defiance within me did I think myself living. I picked my way down to the smoldering fire and pried my frozen furs apart and lay them by the embers where I set myself and soon slept like something mummified and left and easy for the taking but still he did not come.

Five.

A month went and I picked further north and winter went on and worsened about me. I hadn’t since found tracks nor sign of camping and I wondered if he had started south again, his business in the mountains concluded. I thought much on him and questioned and pried at him in my mind and he simply sat and smiled and never did answer for I had no answers to put upon him nor sense to make of him only an imagined face like something hewn from pagan stone in a time long passed smiling knowingly at me. The mountains seemed to climb forever and I never crossed a peak without sight of a higher one beyond it. If I went far enough, I knew, the mountains would plateau into ice fields many of which had never been crossed and flow a hundred miles down back to the ocean. I questioned how far north I would have to chase him and knew only that north was the path and south was surrender and so continued north into an endless, lifeless expanse.

One morning, crossing over a valley which cut itself between peaks, I came upon a lake half-frozen and drifted and there cut the ice away for water. Sitting beside it, watching out over the view, I spied in the distance a horse without mount or bridling but with colorings like my own dead colt stood ponderously in the treeline. It turned to look at me across the water and we both, bewitched it seemed, two unnatural beasts well beyond their elements, stayed a long time there regarding each other and without thought or feeling within and barely knowing in the drifting snow. It turned and left and I made to follow but by the time I had circled the lake even its prints were gone to the snow and I felt perhaps visited or haunted and I couldn’t tell which.

Six.

Afternoon of the day after I saw smoke like a needle climbing into the sky. By nightfall it was gone but in the darkening blue of dusk I found the camp and the fire still embers and warm and trod carefully about it and walked most of  that night under a snow-bloomed moon following tracks that trailed further north and by midday finally caught sight of him.

He sat in a rounded valley between two shallow peaks where persistent black grass broke from the snowline in spears and few trees cast limbless shadows. I was a full six hundred meters from him and carried myself low to an escarpment of raised stone free from snow with loose rocks arrayed for cover like some ordained dias. He sat facing away from me, propped straight-backed on a wooden stool beside a fire above which a pot was hung. I thought him to be smoking or perhaps drinking something and he shifted often to test the pot or adjust his hat and sat looking out over the view before him with his back to me. I propped my rifle on the stone and sat preparing myself and adjusting and confirming everything I could all the while with my eyes trained on him. You’re gonna eat that, I said out loud. You’re gonna take that pot off that fire and put it in a bowl and you’re gonna sit and start to eat it and that’s gonna be the last damn thing you do.

She came up to my spot quite suddenly and sat down facing me and I remember my head throbbing with the thought of it. Here she was, again, walking in as though she’d always been just beside me and sitting now and looking at me with a look I didn’t know. She said he wasn’t cooking it for him, that it was for her. That I could sit here all day and he wouldn’t take that pot off the fire until she returned. I didn’t have words for her and only sat gaping and she smiled a little and I was relieved at least to know that sight and she raised her chin and showed me the thick ribbon of scarring that ran beneath it so recently open and dripping and now looking as though long-healed and painless. She said she had told me so and told me to leave and told me I didn’t understand anything, not in scheme of things. She leaned in a little and told me again with deep, portentous sincerity. She said finally that none of this concerned me. That no aspersions could be cast on the  ferocity of my hunt nor my character but that I had buried her, and that had been enough. She said I was free to shoot, but that I would find no body, and free to follow further, if I wished to, but that it would certainly mean my death. She again showed me the scar about her throat and read me still with that look I couldn’t read and stood and told me my horse grazed a living field a mile south and that I might find him there. Fresh snow had begun to fall and caught and melted on her hair and I asked could I touch her, to prove to myself at least that I hadn’t yet died on that distant peak and she took my hands and I felt beneath her skin the pulse of consummate life.

I sat an hour more on that escarpment and watched down the valley to where he sat adjusting that steaming pot and looking north to the lands beyond belike a shadow or totem on that cloud-strewn bank. I never did shoot him and he faded to night’s darkness before I moved. I set camp in a nearby hollow and built a fire and curled to sleep in my furs and before sleeping took a round from my rifle and buried it in shallow earth without really knowing why.

Seven.

I found my horse as she described, grazing a field of snow-bit grass a mile south of that valley. He tossed as I approached and came over at a canter as though pleased to see me and I felt beneath his throat a thick ribbonous scar, long healed, and I pressed myself into him for his warmth and his weight and his sense of being. I had no saddle or bit and so led him mostly, only riding sparingly though I must have weighed half what I had before. The two of us went south, finally, back into Montana and headed home.

There is nothing more to the story. I never went back to the Irishman. My arm never really healed and that horse lived another seven years before dying of his age. I found other work and told this tale sparingly and only to those I thought might hope to understand it. I told my father once, one of the last times I saw him before his death, and he made almost no comment until I had finished, saying only he had known that I had changed after going up that mountain and that it wasn’t just my body that didn’t come back the same. He coughed and wheezed and I bought him more coffee and sat thinking as he rallied himself. The more we spoke the more we found ourselves going around in circles and losing track of where we had started, losing track of the orbiting glimpses of knowing within. He told me he thought he understood as I had, but that he didn’t know, that none could know really save that girl and that horse and that neither seemed likely to tell it.

Fenestrated.

fenestrated
ˈfɛnəˌstreɪtɪd,fɪˈnɛstreɪtɪd/ adjective
  1. 1.
    provided with a window or windows.
    “the fenestrated heights of nearby buildings”
  2. 2.
    ANATOMY
    having perforations, apertures, or transparent areas.
    “the capillaries have a fenestrated epithelium”

She led me into the kitchen and sat me at the counter. Everything was spotless, gleaming and expensive with the counter-top a warm and alluring cut of tan marble. She sat across from me and read me a moment. A slight smile and that misted look that comes to eyes considering things long past.

She offered me coffee and stood to the side waiting for the pot, framed against the wide windows and leaned nonchalantly with her hands talking animatedly in the air. We ran through the list of all the names we could recall. All the people we’d known and what had become of them. Those who’d made it, who’d fallen up, who’d fallen off, those who’d fallen apart. I told her about my mother’s funeral. My son’s birth. Breezed briefly over work life, mentioned holidays, names of people she’d never met but might one day grow to like and she in turn told me stories of her life and mentioned in passing places I’d never be able to go and people I’d heard of but would likely never be able meet. And all the while with that look. As though viewing me from a great and impassable distance.

After a time she very suddenly touched my arm with a serious look on her face and asked if I still smoked. We sat at a table tucked just outside the window and tapped into an empty flower pot she took with the affectation of a naughty child knowingly misbehaving. We talked about parties she remembered, men we’d dated or slept with and for a long time felt, both of us, like young women again, returned to a heady time of exploration without responsibility. I told her of my life in Brazil and she listened with a breathless earnestness and told me she could almost taste the salt and citrus and see clearly the gleaming bodies sprawling the white beaches.

She stubbed the cigarette in a sudden rush. Half-stood and thought better of it. I was laughing and smiling at the sudden rush but her look stopped me. She sat faux-casually and brushed herself off and adopted a posture that seemed alien to me. Like another woman had suddenly taken her place. I heard the kitchen door open behind me and twisted to look back.

She said darling and rose and beamed and introduced me smoothly and with a seeming of social easiness. Her husband I knew by sight from the paper but he was taller than I expected and somehow broader with a weighty presence. I offered my hand smiling and he took it and looked me up and down without pretense then looked to the flowerpot on the table and the three cigarette butts within and then back to me.

‘I would prefer,’ he said, ‘that you would bring your own ashtray to my house if you visit future.’

My automatic reaction was to stammer but I caught myself and before I could even respond he had turned back to the kitchen and his wife followed after him and I was left alone on the small patio looking this way and that and suddenly feeling in a very different place than I had been less than half a minute before.

I moved to rise and follow the two inside but thought better of it. I sat awkward and alone and watched through the fenestrated wall as the two moved back and forth, her following a pace behind where he walked and nodding as he spoke. He turned on the spot, his jacket over his arm and said something. Pointed at her and she looked to the floor and didn’t answer. For all the stories she had told me and all that I knew of her I felt that moment the most sincere window into her life. Like a transparent sore revealing flowing blood beneath. A column of ash fell from my held cigarette and made me jump and both looked around at me. I didn’t know whether to rise or wait and so simply looked back. He said one final thing which came out the corner of his mouth like hauked saliva and turned and went further into the house.

She stood a moment not looking at me, the window a clear but solid division between us. Arranged herself. Came back outside and told me her husband had gone to work and she hoped I hadn’t found him rude but he was under a lot of pressure at the moment.

Tincture

tincture

noun TINK-cher

Definition

1 : a solution of a medicinal substance in an alcoholic solvent

2 a : a characteristic quality :cast

b : a slight admixture :trace

3 :colortint

4 : a heraldic metal, color, or fur

She knelt cleanly. Like an animal I thought; without any hint of clumsiness. She knelt cleanly and her shorts rode up and bunched at both ends and I had to look away. The house was silent throughout. Summer birds beyond the window and electric static. Not a sound more and when she slid the cabinet open it bumped and complained and I winced somewhat.

Would you relax? she said. You’re so tense, Christ.

I’m not tense.

Like hell you’re not.

You said keep watching I’m keeping watch.

Relax, she purred. There’s no one coming. Ah.

She leaned into the open cabinet and seemed to roll into it. Like a contortionist or creature climbing through foliage, bending easily and flowing into the space.

One, two, two, that one, three, she said.

I stood awkwardly over her with my shadow like a clumsy lump, somehow in her way. I shuffled. Tried to stand naturally. She paused and looked back at me. Just one eye, a cheek, a flick hair, the furthest verge of lips. Perhaps a smile.

Come look, she said.

Can we just hurry up?

Re. Lax. Come look.

I looked once out the window and sighed and knelt beside her, craning my head into the cabinet. Her bare elbow touched mine. It smelled like dust and her skin and the proximity between us and I could feel the air drift as her hair moved it. The bottles stood before us laid out and lined like a choral stand or attentive congregation.

What do you fancy? she asked. She already had three bottles propped between her fingers.

We don’t need that much, I said. Put some back, we don’t need that much.

And we won’t take that much. Just a little of each. Look at this, this is lemon. Oh, it’s like Russian or something. How old is this bottle, look at this, this must’ve been here for years.

I leaned further in and twisted the bottle she’d touched back it it’s original position.

You remember where you got them from?

No one’s gonna notice.

You don’t know that.

It’s a mess in here, no one’s checking.

You don’t know my dad.

He ain’t gonna notice, quit fidgeting.

She put her hand on my arm. Her hand on my arm. Steadying herself as she leaned further in. Her body rolling away from me like liquid and her palm hot and living against my skin and I swore she’d feel my thumping heart beating beneath the surface. Swear my whole body must be pulsing with the drum of it.

I know one thing about your dad, she said. He’s not much of a tequila man. Everything in here is brown. This’ll be fine. This’ll do.

She leaned back and stood and breath hissed between my teeth. I felt her shadow pass me, the hot sun through the window breaking for a moment between her slender form. I knelt a moment longer before the open cabinet. The contents somehow sacrosanct. Like an ancient alchemical store or assassin’s poison stash. Dark and still with but a hint of sunlight tracing the edges and all the bottles stood in judgement of me. I heard her feet on the floorboards, passing out the room. Heard the glug, the rush of the kitchen tap. A hiss at a time, cautious and measured. Slowed close to stillness and held a moment before quieting. I stood from the cupboard and looked out the window at the empty driveway and fields beyond. It wasn’t noon yet. The house would be empty for hours. I thought about the others, waiting for us out there in the field. I thought if I could convince her to stay here. Not forever, just for a while. An hour or two perhaps, spent away from everyone else. Just the two of us. I thought of the long summer day laid before us and wondered what would be different come sunset.

She came back into the room with the three glass bottles in one hand and a plastic 12oz filled and orange in the crook of her elbow.

Cocktail, she said, under-arming the 12oz to me. I took some juice too, she said. From the fridge.

That’s fine, do they look ok?

They’ll be fine, she purred. No one’ll ever notice. Our secret.

I crouched back down before the cabinet and held my hand out to her.

Pass them here, I said. I’ll put them back.

Before that – she said.

I felt her next to me. Felt our knees touch again.

I want to try the Russian one.

We’ve got enough.

I know, I just want to try it.

She leaned forward and came back with a bottle of vibrant yellow liquor, turning the bottle slowly in her hands. The bottom was full of sediment and a thick, separate syrup which ran slowly under the surface.

Just a little bit, she said, catching me eye. Just a taste.

The cap came away with a scrape and sprinkled sugar with it. Like sparkling dust in the sunlight.

Just a little, she said again. A taste. I promise.

The bottle went to her lips and tipped slowly. The tiniest taste. A tincture, a thimbleful.

I watched quietly as she ruminated on the taste. Her top lip shone, reflective.

That’s nice, she said. It’s sweet. I could drink that.

She proffered the bottle toward me.

Try it, she said. Her tongue ran once over her lips. It’s nice, you should try it.

I took the bottle and put it to my lips. I could already taste the lemon, the sugar. Sweet, like she’d said. She just drank this, I thought. This is what she just drank. This is what her lips taste right now. I closed my eyes and tipped the bottle, determined to hold onto the flavor for as long as I could, hoping to hold it forever.

Sinker.

sinker
ˈsɪŋkə/ noun
noun: sinker; plural noun: sinkers; noun: sinker ball; plural noun: sinker balls
  1. 1.
    a weight used to sink a fishing line or sounding line.
  2. 2.
    BASEBALL
    a pitch which drops markedly as it nears home plate.
    “he throws a sinker as hard as 92 mph”
  3. 3.
    a type of windsurfing board of insufficient buoyancy to support its crew unless moving fast.
  4. 4.
    US
    a doughnut.

The two went for coffee and sinkers. She was hesitant at first but he was calm and convincing. The sun was setting before they reached the diner and once inside they talked a long time. She pushed a limp rag of donut around her mug with a small steel spoon, watching it sink before fishing it out to let it sink again. He told her about his life. About his family, his work, the car he wanted to buy, the sports he followed. Lies, all of it. She listened with a distracted, uncomfortable air as though not quite at home in conversation. The night gathered softly about them, the rows of windows fading from paled silver into imperfect mirrors which cast only their own images, returned to them bathed gold and yellowed and caught twice, not quite aligned with not a sight from without. He asked the man behind her not to smoke so close and she said she made no mind of it as her father smoked constantly. He asked her opinions on culture and she considered him impressive in his knowledge. Two men seated at the bar watching a baseball game occur across the country broke into a heated argument and she said she ought be home by now. He convinced her to walk with him and so they did, out the diner where they stood a while in the lot, leaning against the bumper of a truck and looking out over the city. He touched her bare arm and she felt the soft brush of his warm fingers against the cool evening air.

She didn’t tell her father about him. To her mother she told only that she had met a nice man and they had talked outside a diner. And that only because she had half-mentioned it in a distracted moment. He sister later told how she could tell something had come over her, but knew no more than that.

The two met again, as they had devised, a week later, outside the same diner. At his suggestion they took a walk down towards the seafront where they drawled up and down the arcade then further out the city towards the cliff sides where they watched recreational fishermen labor line after line far out toward the horizon. He told her she was pretty and she blushed as young girls do, unprepared. He touched again her arm and she tasted fresh mint and something foul like rot in his mouth. He said they aught take a walk up a path he knew where they could look down over the city and the ocean. Up winding concrete stairs left cracking and salt bitten where thick sea brush and weeds crawled between small cracks, widening them. Darkness bit and out away from the lights and the people it was cool and quiet. She felt his hand rest on the back of her neck, his thumb wrapped about, just barely nudging her esophagus, another sinker set for the ocean bound in fishing lines and weights.

Centenarian. (Part One).

centenarian
ˌsɛntɪˈnɛːrɪən/ noun
noun: centenarian; plural noun: centenarians
  1. a person who is a hundred or more years old.

I should doubt to have thought, for all my long years, that I might live to see the bones of a dragon.

 

Leaving, we set fires beneath the curtains. First those in the bedroom then those in the hallway, the living room. The Foreigner showed me how to ball four sheets of paper into a mash that would smoulder for ten minutes before bursting into flame. We set two such sculptures beneath each curtainstem, hurrying out the back gate and over the fence. The Boy was stood upright in the driver’s well of the car, door open, scoping for us. He hissed hurry and we jogged the last few paces. I thought of The Dead Woman’s eyes, still splayed open on the bedroom floor. I wondered what the flame might do to those eyes. We clambered in and The Boy went to drive away. The Foreigner put his hand across the car and gripped the wheel.

Checks? he asked us. I patted my pocket. Opened the back centre seat and eyed the boot. Mentally ticked. Ticked.

Checked, I said. The Boy fidgeted, agitated.

Checks? The Foreigner asked again. The Boy mumbled he hadn’t left the car. The Foreigner’s finger swept across the dash, intimating the fuel-gauge, mile-counter. Stamped his foot in the well.

These are your checks, The Foreigner said.

Checked, fuck, checked, The Boy blurted.

Good. Go.

We pulled away. Lights set to low, sweeping out the track onto the street. Down the street and away, pulling onto other streets that rolled and rolled out to the highway like rivers running to  the ocean. The boot began knocking but all three of us ignored it. The Boy didn’t say a word, just sweated, sat forward in his seat, squinting every corner for imagined pursuit. I scanned behind as we crossed the overpass. A miniscule spectacle of sparkling orange in the distance behind.

Relax, The Foreigner said. Relax, it’s done already.

 

The Buyer was waiting for us on the bluff, leant against his SUV, shadowy forms shifting in the blackened glass behind him. He stepped away as we approached, our headlights picking out his tan suit in the sallow desert. The city glowed with a heavy curtain of neon beneath him. Like a dome; a sheet of luminescence chained to ten thousand twinkling anchors.

Sit, The Foreigner said as The Boy went to open his door. You stay here.

The Foreigner moved smoothly from his seat. Lithe, like a cat, the car door closing softly behind him. The Boy shifted uncomfortably. Fidgeted in his seat, the boot knocking a rhythmic beat behind me, The Boy subconsciously matching the beat with his foot against the floor.

I don’t fucking like this, he said. I closed my eyes and counted in my head. Listened to the insistent knocking. I don’t fucking like this one fucking bit, he said again. I leant back, opening my eyes and examining the fuzzing headliner above me.

If we’re just – The Boy started Why don’t you shut the fuck up and let your brain quiet? I interrupted. If we’re in trouble I’ll tell you we’re in trouble. Up to then all you need to do is nod. Right? And drive the fucking car. Christ.

The Boy went back to silence. Outside The Foreigner and The Buyer had bowed to each other and now stood in conversation. The Foreigner gestured The Buyer and The Buyer nodded. The Foreigner turned and came back. Pointed at me as he crossed around the car. I clambered out and went with him to the boot.

Good? I muttered.

Of course, he replied.

We popped the trunk and The Old Man rolled over to face us, his misty eyes scanning fruitlessly, his body shrinking away from the cold desert air that washed over his naked skin. The Foreigner grabbed him under his arm and lifted him out the boot, suspending him a moment in the air like some hollow doll, easily swung, before dumping him into the dirt with a start of dust. He whined through his gag, tears rolling out his white, pearlescent eyes. I gripped him beneath one armpit and the foreigner beneath the other and we lifted him easily into the air, carrying him across to where The Buyer stood waiting like some expectant heathen deity. The Old Man’s felt like paper beneath my grip; barely present. I speculated how far I could throw him. Wondered what his end might look like were I to pitch him off the cliff; how far he might fly. I swept his feet back as we deposited him and so he landed in a heavy bow, his bound hands useless as his wet, sticky face went to the dirt. The Foreigner pulled him back by the hair, exposing his belly, and intimated with a knife I hadn’t seen him draw the design of a dragon, tattooed across The Old Man’s chest. The mark was almost faded, a mess of deep reds and blacks, hints of yellow across the withered man’s antique and ochre skin. The Buyer squatted to examine it. Ran a finger up and down it it. The Old Man shivered, whining, his head tossing like a blinkered horse. The Buyer looked The Old Man in his shifting eyes, scanning for something in those dulled, blinded orbs. Nodded to himself, not quite smiling. Stood and drew a pistol. Shot The Old Man through the upper teeth, severing the spinal chord. The Old Man keeled at me, gaping. I dumped the body to the dust in disgust, my arm and shoulder splattered with blood, bone and matter. The Buyer smirked an ugly, mean smile at me.

Good job, he said.

Good job yourself. We could’ve done that in his house, I spat. Done him clean like the woman.

Everything has a purpose, The Buyer purred. I have my reasons.

I ran my tongue over my teeth, picking the flecks of gristle from them. Spat them onto the body.

If you wanted him dead you aught have paid me to kill him, I said. Would’ve been cheaper.

You know where you’re going? The Buyer asked The Foreigner, his interest evaporating instantly off me.

Of course, The Foreigner nodded.

Then get to it, The Buyer said, turning to return to his car.

Hey, I said. He turned to look back to me, raising one slender, dismissive eyebrow. Money, I said plainly, holding out my hand.

The Buyer stood a moment, looking at me with slim, steely eyes. A shadow shifted in the SUV behind him but I blocked it out, keeping my attention square and focused, not letting my eyes flutter.

Money, I said again.

The Buyer rolled his eyes. The Foreigner took me by the shoulder.

I have it, he said. We’ll split it when we’re done.

We are done, I said. Find him and bring him was what we agreed. I found, I bought, now you pay.

He has your money, The Buyer said, turning. And you’ll get it. When it’s done. And it’s done when it’s done.

I didn’t see you pass no money, I said. My heel lifted an inch, considering a step forward. I thought better of it. Rested back. This isn’t what we agreed, I said.

No, The Buyer said plainly. It isn’t.

Come, The Foreigner hissed. You’ve crossed a line. You want your money; come.

I thought about arguing. About going for the gun in my waistband. About how good a human shield The Foreigner might make. About whether The Boy would wait for me or flee. I thought a moment before turning on my heel and following The Foreigner’s lead as he lifted the dusty, naked corpse of The Old Man who peeled like sticky toilet roll out the earth as we hoisted him.

The Boy had a gun drawn, held beneath the dash in sweating hands. The Foreigner slapped it out his hand as we climbed back in, muttering to himself in his own language. The Boy caught my eye in the rearview.

We in trouble? he asked. I shrugged, eyes flicking to The Foreigner and back. The Boy nodded once. Steeled himself and sparked the engine. Creaked into reverse.

The Buyer watched as we pulled away, stood where we left him, The Old Man rolling back and forth in the trunk and the earth bouncing up and down out the rear windscreen. I thought again of The Dead Woman’s open, empty eyes, staring sightlessly in the burning bedroom.

Puffery.

puffery
ˈpʌf(ə)ri/ noun
noun: puffery
  1. exaggerated or false praise.
    “his puffery actually was not far from the truth”

The Hippo gnawed out a long, gestating breath which fell heavy across the room. In tall towers gilded silver did such beasts puff themselves into ruinous tribal effigies, towered like totems matched foot to shoulder with those below. Heaving like some beached beast of the sea he stretched and strained in his confinements, his weight a great and gruesome millstone dragging like gravity, as though his meaty form were some leg of flesh set to the centre of an overburdened table where it slipped between the seams, dragging the cloth and all that was set down with it.

I matched shut my leaded lids and let between my lips slip a sigh as soft as silt, which drifted like a cloud between unknowing ears. To care, to care was a hatred I harboured within myself. For in all the wide world there is not a segment set with more care and delicacy than any other, and none less so than this beleaguered Hippo.

But, lo, in such moments the mercenary hearts of mutinous men glow shimmering beneath a reckless light. And with breath did the glowering Hippo push, in arrogance, a cursing life into effigies of clay which clung to that aberrance, and, lo, such did they applaud. With renegade puffery whose cacophony was as  a multitude of falling hooves hammering against stone, pulped to dust.

The Hippo leant back, a slack and sickening smiles stretching taut between his cheeks, his bulging body a wrecking ball that strained and settled and strained again like the shifting form of antique stonework carved into the living earth. And he smiled as they adored and simpered and sought favour and fortune and dug into the folds of him like men of the mines gnawing for gems of amethyst or jet. And he boasted again of the simplicity of things and spoke, drawn out, like spilling honey, on the worth and want and value of plaudits, even as lift him they did to their crippled, broken shoulders, no worth or want in a word, only empty flattery dragging down, down, down.

 

Suadade.

saʊˈdɑːdə/
noun: saudade; plural noun: saudades
  1. (especially with reference to songs or poetry) a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament.
    “her songs are based on love poems and evoke a melancholy known to the Portuguese as saudade”

I came by his house late into the afternoon. He was alone, it seemed. I sat across the row in my car and watched his wearied, watery face as he carried black, straining bags out his pegged door and out to his truck. A small girl rode loops on her bike. Her father shouted her for supper. The sun began setting and so after a time the truck was loaded, and he threw a tarp across the bed and secured it. Then he set himself back on his deck and just sat, staring at the neat lawn beneath his feet as the sun slowly shrank behind him.

We sat there, both, a long time, he staring nowhere, I accounting him. Two women pushing a stroller crossed the road to speak to him. One put a hand to his shoulder. He grasped it with a polite, devastated kind of gratitude. They held their palms to their hearts as they backed delicately away. Platitudes. Theatrics of unknowable feeling. The world turned a slow, spectral blue. A man smoked a cigarette two houses down. Returned inside, framed by gold as he crossed the windows. A pickup rumbled down the road. Disappeared, its note fading with the daylight.

I climbed out my rental and stretched. He looked over to me. I matched his gaze. He looked away. A child sang a nursery rhyme in a garden somewhere. I crossed over to him and stood at the verge of his lawn, watching him. He  looked up at me. I asked if he was moving out.

“Why? You want to buy the place?”

I didn’t answer. I asked if he was moving out.

“Not right now,” he said. “Maybe some point soon. You want to buy the place?”

I asked if they’d talked about it. If they’d discussed him moving out. If the decision were made or not.  He took me in. Looked me up and down. Slowly, like a man appraising a drop into murky water.

“We know each other?” he asked. I said we didn’t. He glanced up and down the deserted street.

“You want to sit down?”

I sat, crossing the lawn. Each step felt like a profanity which cut two directions. For all my soul I wished it were other.

And so we were shoulder to shoulder, looking out across the low, flattened and cluttered plain of his desiccated life. I asked what he’d been packing away.

“Clothes,” he said. “Mostly clothes, going to charity or a thrift store or whatever I pass first.”

We went to silence again. A car pulled up across the way and a pretty young girl climbed out the passenger side. Went around to kiss the driver. They giggled together. The door of a house opened and a middle-aged man stood in the threshold, looking out. The pretty girl disengaged from the car and the man waved a stony greeting as the car pulled away. The girl followed the man into the house. The door closed. It was dark by then and we sat side by side on the darkening porch of his house, watching the street without, his windows sole unlit on that dusky autumn evening.

“I know,” he said finally. “I know who you are. She talked about you.”

Even in the darkness I could see the water running down his cheeks. I sniffed once. Twice. Tucking away, as I was well versed, all the immeasurable weight.

“She wrote you before she went. Did you read it? I thought you might come before she left. I’m sorry you didn’t get to say goodbye.”

I leant back on my elbows. Looked up. Four or five faded stars speckled the deep, deep sky. There was no moon. No hint of familiarity in that dark and devastated reach.

“I said goodbye,” I told him. “I said goodbye many years ago. I already got to say my goodbyes. There was – ” I faltered. Paused. Coerced my thoughts.

“There was a time I  thought I couldn’t live without her. Like my body and mind would shrivel to nothing in her absence. And when she left, when she had to leave, when we had to be apart, then I thought I might die. With all the meaninglessness of it all.”

I paused again.

“Excuse me,” I spat passed his lawn onto his driveway. He shrugged. “Excuse me,” I said again. “But I didn’t die,” I continued. “Life… life just keeps on. No matter how big the hole feels, it won’t kill you. And there’s the sick irony of it. A car’ll kill you. A stone, a fall, they’ll kill you flat, but a gaping, raw-edged hole dug right into the core of you… you’ll live passed that a thousand times over. Its like our bodies betraying us. Disregarding all that hurt like it just doesn’t exist. I’m rambling. We… I got to say my goodbyes, did my healing other the last eight years I did my healing and my hoping and my everything else and I… and now it’s done. Done with absolute finality.”

He looked out over the dark street. Spat on his own lawn.

“It’s done,” he said. “But it’s not over. We still have to hurt.”

I nodded as sagely as I could manage, blinking fiercely.

“Does it get easier?” he asked. I got the sense he wasn’t asking me. I didn’t bother answering. Didn’t have the heart to tell him it never did. That the deep pain never really left. Only ever got quieter.

“I keep dreaming about her. Dreaming this whole ugly, broken thing was only a dull imagining,” he says. “And then in that half-waking transition I’m stumbling in the dark trying to keep a grasp on her. But she’s like smoke, disappearing out my grip. And then I’m just cradling sand or ash or fine, disappearing silver water that fades off my skin into vapour.”

I closed my eyes, pumping tears from their edges. Some things are universal, even in translation. Need blending want and hurt and helplessness. Melancholia and suadade, listlessness, tension that never lets loose.

A car pulled up the street and turned into a drive. A late-night jogger passed somewhere behind the house, the dull, slapping footfalls their only announcement, approaching, passing, retreating. We sat a long time in speculative silence, both bound in imaginings of the same vanished face, never to return.