Mineral Vegetable Animal

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Mineral Vegetable AnimalI am mineral—begun or began again in the breach position inside of a stone. That’s the way she tells it. Amethyst anima. I run my hands over the tablecloth—smooth purple, stretched yellow stars—and nod politely, as if I agree. On a high shelf, there’s Our Lady of Shrugs. A silver bangle slides down the psychic’s wrist to join twelve others. And I get out my money. Well then, thank you. I’ll think about all of this. Her dog, small shaggy creature with no lips with which to cover its teeth, lifts its head indifferently as I go off into the day. Pink flowering trees form arches over the parked cars, their tips weighted down by blossoms. Other than flowers, a couple walks their Chihuahua, skitters it, towards a tree where it can squat. I step around them, head right up, arms swinging by my sides and think about kicking the dog, all dogs that don’t acknowledge me. There it is: I am reverberating like some struck metal prong. If I didn’t want to feel seen, why did I go to someone who sees people for a living?

*

Whole days flow by with nothing to show in the way of human warmth. So it is, when you move where you don’t truly belong. Your old life gone away, and this new life like quarried earth, stripped bare. Mornings I teach, get to live with others briefly inside the bubble of our metered communication. After classes, I walk home by the psychic’s shop. Her with the long steely grey hair, smile at the ready for me, her dearest gringa. She teaches me the word for what she thinks I am. Geode, both in English and in Portuguese. In Portuguese geode is soft in the mouth, not like a rock, like a murmured name. Like the geode, she says, you’re not much outside, but inside you have a hidden charm. You just need a man to come and crack you open. So I come and pay her to tell me, to be told each time how my week will be full of desire and covert beauty, and I fall in love with her a little more with each telling. And so I begin to steal from her, small things at first. Take a match from the pack she always leaves on the sideboard. Take a chip of crystal from the bowl on the window ledge. Her grizzly dog watches me. You see me now, I say.

*

A perverse mood can tend to fester. Before my last visit, I go shopping at the Pão de Açúcar, circling slowly. Time is the one thing I have plenty of. I open a bottle of selvagem and swig from it on my path up and down the aisles. Love potion, this stuff—if you’ve someone to think you worth the loving. In the fresh produce section I hold up a pineapple and say its name. Abacaxi. I poke its spikey leaves into my chin, smelling it. I pick about in the alien vegetable selection, unsure of what I could do with any of them. Seventy years ago where I am now, there was no supermarket to walk around in. The city pre-boom, parked further back, closer to the river now running lavender with signs posted along its bank that read danger of death, crossed skulls, do not swim. After lengthy appraisal I tuck an imported courgette into the band of my trousers. Geode, I say to myself, in the intimate way. Was I a stone, before I am whatever I am now? This country has some of the best amethysts in the world. I could be from here, in some radical, intangible way. I look at the cashier, nod and smile when she offers me a bag, when she says some other things I can’t catch. I will take any falsity, at this point. I want to know that something that runs through me, quartz-clear and deadly. Like so many women, to wear my taintedness like a fine sash.

*

I am sloppy drunk already on the sweet catuaba. Step in the door and the bell tings. I nod to the statue of Mary on the shelf. I nod to the dog. The room empty as a psychic’s shop can be, empty with knickknacks, old scarves, hope’s cloying stink. I stumble to sitting at the table and wait.

Dear, she says coming from the back. I can’t read you today.

Why not?

She just holds up her hands. No more, eh?

There are some words I could use to disagree, but I’m drunk, and they scatter.

Go away now, she says.

Okay, okay. I’ll pay for all of them, the crystals, I tell her, if you want. The one thing I have when I have no time is money, at least, money enough for here. The dog is barking; the dog is looking up at me. I see its weird lipless face, grill of dogteeth. It is wagging its tail, finally. There’s a good boy, there now. I say, stooping to him, and he licks my sticky hands and wags his whole body. The courgette slithers out of my trousers and the lipless dog jumps on it, gnashing it like it’s a dark green bone.

You have to go away now, the psychic says. You’re bad luck. You get bad luck.

I rise, I smile. I stick my hand in the bowl of crystals and grab as many as I can. Get out into the street. Geode on the move.

Ahead under the trees, under a shedding of petals, a couple are waiting on their tiny shitting dog. Seventy years ago this was all forest. And under the trees, under the dapple of light and shadow, underground, where there was never any light at all, there were lots of rocks. And it made no sense then either, seventy years before me. The secrets those rocks had. The beautiful pointlessness of it all.


Photo used under CC.




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About Author

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Helen McClory's first story collection On the Edges of Vision, won the Saltire First Book of the Year 2015. Her second story collection, Mayhem & Death, was written for the lonely and published in March 2018. There is a moor and a cold sea in her heart.

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