Molasses

Written around a year ago. I thought I’d posted this already:

A lake spills out of his mouth sometimes. It’s sticky as tar, and it pours slowly like black, black molasses. A thousand little spiders cascade, their feet caught in it, crackling and angry. It happens when he hiccups, which is rarely, a gummy slough in the back of his throat. But it happens often enough that I can hear him coming.

He keeps to himself, stays far enough away, but he sleeps underneath the reeds and when the wind blows over them with its sleek, easy breath, the holes in his head whistle. It sounds like a lullaby for the frogs, but there are no frogs in that place. It might be a swamp. I’ve never been close enough to find out, but oh I can hear him whistling.

It’s a lyrical haunt.  He whistles as he walks, the grass sweeping aside. His stumps of feet suck in the mud like the earth was trying to keep us safe by holding him back. The ground puckers and slumps as he drags himself closer.

My quilt is a cold flap of second skin, useless against the bare-armed night and the ragged lungs of my bedroom. The whistling passes beneath my window sometimes, and I can see through my eyelids into his face, his vertical gash that sags and seeps and is nothing but a mouth.
And one night I can hear the frogs, though I know there are no frogs in that place. I think maybe he may have gone, but through my eyelids and into his mouth and through him too into something that might be the sky.

He is less than a nightmare but more than a dream, more than the slick of the trees and less than the heaven brushed above them. He hiccups, and my bedroom floods with the sickness of trapped spiders and raw water. Yes, there is something that might be the sky. It cracks, and a gob of yellow squeals through. It breaks, and he flees.

And nothing is left but the sound of the frogs, though I know there are no frogs in that place.

 

Ivy

Ivy was ugly, not unabashed but ugly all the same, kept it tucked beneath a hat when she could. She draped her face with a handkerchief once, to see if that would make a difference but it only covered her vision and her eyes were nowhere near the worst part of her.

She kept a glass of water by her bed, always full though sometimes dust floated in it. When she awoke at night sweating and wishing she could scream she sloshed it into her mouth, dribbling down her chin and neck.

Someone had once told her that at least she could be beautiful inside, but having no one to tell her if she was, she let go of that preposterous notion, giving it to her pet fish in case he could chew on it. She had read about people like her, mouths melted open slammed behind prison bars. The mental hospital on an old tree-barren hill, smashed against the lip of a forest. She thought maybe she might not be alone, but then seeing herself and only herself in the mirror she reconsidered.

Plain, she thought, spent a whole afternoon looking up synonyms but none of them were what her mother used to call her.

She wanted to try something someone somewhere else and she went so far as the train station with half a wallet full of money. The odd selection of coins wasn’t enough so the man on the other side of the glass told her to go home. She asked him for directions. He didn’t know.

What she saw outside of her windows frightened her, even when she thought she could see water, which happened sometimes if she didn’t pay too much attention, didn’t try too hard. Instead she stayed inside, learned how to make casserole, stitch things into pillows and dance with a coat on a hanger. The closer she got to the real thing the more worried she felt, embarrassed to have gone on for as long as she had. Never reached that point, though, where she found herself ill-equipped outside the walls for she stayed well inside them.

One day as she settled down to pick through some knotted thread she found an old box, pink full of flowers and whirled ribbon, bit grimy from the drawer but that hardly mattered. Inside was a faded blue woman in a ball-gown, spinning mechanically as the music box sang her a song. The woman was alone, nothing else in the box, just twirling on her own on a little pink platform.

Ivy wanted to know where the box came from because she had never seen it before, because it only just now snuck into her hand after weeks or months or years of invisibility, only just now crept into that drawer she forgot existed. Some smell came out of the box, like some herb, some sort of plant, some smell that her mother used to exude, breathe down the staircase. Strong. She didn’t like it. Must have come from her mother then, nowhere else would have smelled like that breath down the staircase. She didn’t know where her mother was, hadn’t for years, didn’t matter now any more than it had back then which wasn’t much.

She looked out the window, past the dust-coloured curtains. It had started to rain while she wasn’t watching. The leaves shuddered, dripped, heavy with water.  She put the box back in the drawer and went on with her thread.