Gauze, A Medical Dressing, A Scrim
When they converted the basement into his room, Billy was too young to know any differently. He just wanted his own space, didn’t want to share it with his five older siblings anymore. Then when he was around ten, he stopped eating dinner with the rest of the family. His mother placed his dinner plate on the top stair every night. In exchange he only communicated by notes he’d send or receive by pulley-pails through the laundry drop.
A Medical Dressing
One time when Ethyl, the family dachshund, accidentally ventured downstairs, she was never seen again. Same for one sister, Darla, who thought she’d left a sweater atop the laundry machine. Disappeared. Eventually Billy was indistinguishable from any basement dweller, resembling the spider realm. Webs. Gossamer silver. Detecting vibrations, lurking toward eventual prey.
The family nearly forgot he existed.
Then one day while folding laundry, his mother noticed a note and she decided to read it aloud to the rest of the children at dinner that night: Here is your stormy day, the one with pressing clouds and chilling breeze. Here is your way you fall in step, synchronize laughs and moderate beliefs, acclimatize moods and medications. Here, then your last vestige of blue sky and fortitude. A mélange of mercurial designations. Bastion of sailboats emptying out horizons.
They all craned their necks toward the basement.
Flip of a Coin
The first time he admitted to himself that they were really leaving, really traveling a full day, more or less, twenty-three hours if everything went as planned, was a week before they left when he said, as if propelled by molecules: I’m going to India. But he was at work, in his basement corner cubicle, so he just dialed the next number on his list and asked for Mrs. Matthews in accounts payable. When she said hello, he blurted I’m going to India. There was a long pause, then she said I thought this was India, as if one can speak to an entire country. And in that instant he realized he’d been lumping everyone that he’d ever met into a huge sack of shit, a burlap bag that smothered him before he’d left the womb.
Which then made him think hard, deeply, furiously about this we he was a part of, this leaving, traveling caravan called family, this trip that was charted, booked, the every move determined with reservations, drivers, escorts, tour buses. How had he come to this? Always a nomad, a bedouin, he’d traversed lunar landscapes and spelunked into the anus of linked caves of the indian southwest, surviving solely on tar and nicotine. Okay, some cannibus. Man was his nemesis, so the idea of this unit, this we, suddenly made him feel noxious. He fled the basement law offices and ran through the winding streets, destination happily unknown.
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When my ex Fed-Exed me a small box of her pubic hairs it ranked right up there among the strangest things I’d ever received in the mail. But the oddest was my grandfather’s femur. I was away at college when he passed. Shoved in front of a train by his third wife while visiting Berlin. My mother’s theory.
Then Dad decided to send along the package. When I opened it, I wasn’t quite certain if it was a joke. No note, no return address. Just the bone, suspended and fused inside a rectangular plastic frame, like a tarantula my kid sister had. I placed it on my dorm room closet shelf.
Through the years, and multiple moves later, I’d grown attached. It was as if we shared bone. Cartilage. Nerves. Connective tissues. It was what prompted me to pursue forensics, and I’d tote it, not an easy task, to my yoga classes, or to weekly seminars in Vegas. Cradle it at night, the smooth surface reassuring, hum ourselves to sleep.
After I got married, my wife begged me to get rid of it, wouldn’t listen when I pleaded with her to let it stay. She said it was too creepy. Really? What she doesn’t know is that I snuck it under the mattress, above the box spring on my side of our bed. And I can feel it, every time I lie down, growing.
Six Glimpses of the Uncouth
Street: 1:34 a.m.
His raincoat was splattered with light spots of splayed dirt. The books behind him in the broken shop window were scattered and scarce. It was much later I recalled both his hands stayed in his pockets the entire time we made out. He was groping me through the jacket. Hands like clubs. It was diverse and hazy, like the winter was shedding.
House: 3:40 a.m.
Back at his place, he made me watch these home movies of some unknown person’s life. At first I kept wondering why, who is this, what are we doing? But then I felt privileged, like it was something exotic. A peacock. Then that made me excited. The wilderness stretched out forever; just you and me. And a prescription to keep the hounds at bay.
That week he asked me to meet him on the corner of 12th and Lafayette. On the steps of the huge statue of Gilgamesh. He brought Jean Genet’s play, “The Maids,” and when we read it aloud, he used more than ten different voices. I was amazed, like the first time you realize the tooth fairy is just another lie. Or that big girls don’t cry.
Dancing Queen: Valentine’s Day
We all ran around the back yard playing a home-made game, crazy valentine. And you acted like nothing left. We all ran all around. Susie had hers off completely, Danny poured beer all over us, Fern screamed so loud she spit. The back yard, running around. “Crazy Valentine.” And you lit my hair on fire. Poof, that acrid smell. It was really fun.
After you left for another war, I went looking for him or for traces of him, like a correspondent, like a common genie looking for its self. I wore a uniform of the northern people so I would blend in with Susie, April and Fern. You went AWOL when I ripped my shirt off because of the spilled beer, Fern lent me her shawl. And we couldn’t find you.
Garage: 12:34 today
Another day at work. Phone call, meet me at the garage. I did. Scary because it had been decades, another lifetime. Then you walked in, raincoat still a mess. Talking gibberish and mumbling this and that. Pacing like a panda behind bars. We went walking and cast a pall over the shed skins of the misfortunate. What did I do to make you do the things you did.
Photo By: Jenny Downing