went for mail picked apples

Fifty years and more we were together, John and me, through good luck and bad, summer rain and winter drought, brought together by the promise of easy gold. We never found gold, though the bug got into John’s soul, sure enough, and even now he’d be panning in the stream if he were here to do it, but we found each other and that were riches enough.

I cooked, he cleaned; he sewed, I tended garden. This sweet land, these mountains, the home we made in the hills after the Miwoks had been driven out and the Chileans had quit or set out for Seattle and points north! Near enough the road for guests, and a spare bed or three for those needing one—I neither needed the company nor minded it, but John was a social feller and liked to see new faces every so often.

We made it to our Jubilee, Tennessee and Old Pard, and a happier marriage two old miners never had. I don’t begrudge the Time that has stolen him away, but I’m not inclined to wait patiently in this empty house for someone that isn’t coming, and neither am I inclined to make him wait.

We spent a lifetime together and more; why should we not spend eternity too?

Felis Domesticus

The vampire was a cat lady.

She hadn’t been much to look at in life, and undeath hadn’t done much to change that. Respectable-looking, that was her lane. She’d had a cat when she was alive, but she’d gradually picked up more in the decades since. It was nice, being surrounded by life;  plus, they kept the same crepuscular schedule.

She didn’t see people very often, so the cats were good company.  When she got hungry, she’d pick up some guy at a bar and bring him home and, well. Do what she needed to. Once in a very long while she’d get a visit from the cops, if the bartender could bother to remember her face. You were the last person, that sort of thing.

Yes, she always said. She’d been lonely, and she’d thought that maybe this time— but she hadn’t heard from him since. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, she’d say. None of them ever come back again.

Half a dozen pairs of eyes would shine in the dark.

It’s hard, I know, the cops would say. You just have to keep trying. You’ll find someone.

Thank you, says the vampire. I hope so. I hope you find him soon. I hope he’s okay.

The Cure

The first leaf, bright green, springs forth between her eyebrows and Brienne stares at it in confusion. What in the world?

She goes after it with the tweezers but it won’t budge. It doesn’t hurt to tug at it, exactly, but it doesn’t move, either. She might as well be trying to tweeze off her nose.

If she had the money—if she had the insurance—she’d go and get it looked at, but she doesn’t, so she doesn’t. She puts on sunglasses and pretends she has awful headaches and hopes no one notices. If they do, they’re too polite to say anything.

After a month or so it’s gotten too big for those tricks, so she calls in sick—they’re not happy—and she really goes after it, because what else can she do? She wraps her hand around the base of the leaves and pulls.

It’s not pleasant—it’s awful—but her skin parts around the root and she’s left holding the firm red weight of a radish. Brienne stares at it, her mouth watering in anticipation.

What Is United Must Dissolve

In bed and the hammer descends, shattering you awake. “Oh, fuck,” you say, and then you can’t do anything but quiver.

The edge of the bedside table is right there, right there, and you’re plagued with visions of how easy it would be to flex and crack the eggshell of your skull against it. Your eyes, mere jellies, could catch on the corner and pop pop pop! It’s a seductive vision, the Lear of your body hapless before the Goneril of your mind, take that, and you quiver with the desire and the fear, both.

Your every muscle is a high-wire act, strung possibly tight between buildings, and it’s only that tension that keeps you safe. Your traitor hands are ready to lunge for your condemned eyes, your exiled cheeks, but they’re far, so far away, and the whole country of you is in active revolt.

Faster Than The Wind

The cats fell in love with the revolutionary, and refused to beat him in a foot race.

So the first thing you have to understand was that it was a different time; tastes were more baroque. The second thing you have to understand is this: the cats were on specially designed lightweight stilts, to give them legs as long as a human’s. The third thing you have to understand: everyone loved the revolutionary. There were none purer in their dedication to the noble cause of freedom. The racing was a distraction, a way to bring some joy in those dark times. How the stadiums would fill to watch the long-legged revolutionary sweep around the track!

The cats had known the revolutionary since they were kittens, and were no less immune to their righteous charms. They always gave a good race, were always close on the revolutionary’s heels, but still: it was obvious. The revolutionary was proud, and would liefer a fair loss than a string of empty victories, so this stung. A person you could talk to, but what can you say to a cat? A cat goes its own way.

So the revolutionary hatched a plan, for once one with stakes no higher than their own pride. How full the stadium was on race day! how bright were the stilts beneath the cats! how joyously they purred when the revolutionary stroked their heads! The revolutionary knew every inch of the track, so this time, coming into the blind corner around the quarter mark, they threw themselves down behind some bushes that grew there. Fast, so fast: if you blinked, they all but disappeared. The stadium roared in surprise.

The cats were no less startled than the smallest child in the stands. Had he gotten that far ahead of them? They put their ears back and charged after. The revolutionary gave them a length, then sprang from behind the bushes and gave chase. The cats were determined to catch up, and never looked back, and the revolutionary, running flat out, couldn’t come close. The distance between them lengthened.

The cats blew past the finish line, and, not seeing the revolutionary, kept going around the track. They caught up to them in the final stretch, and stayed close on their heels until the finish line. A lap ahead, but dutifully just behind; the cats never did quite understand the purpose of these races.

The revolutionary finished the race, and the stadium wept with laughter; laughter and forgetfulness were rare in those days. The revolutionary laughed no less than anyone else: better a fair loss than an unearned victory! But all the same, they never raced a cat again.

Still, you can’t say it didn’t end happily: the cats were content enough to stay at home and curl up on their bed, and wait for the revolution to come.