Giving Directions

Up on second mountain, beyond first mountain, we are warned to stay out of the forest. Why, we ask; well, it’s complicated. Witches there, but they’re not the problem, though they’re a surly bunch. Not cruel, mind, but insular; self-sufficient. Worse, they’re inquisitive, you’re not like to get away from them without decanting your whole life’s story into their varied ears. Lose a whole day, that way, or a week, if you’ve the bad luck to meet a group of ’em all at once. Best avoided, unless you’re looking for ’em particular, of course. Nice enough, but like feral cats, better appreciated from a distance.

Deeper in, well, it’s a tangled place, all blackberries and scrub, you’ll lose more skin than it’s worth to push through. Blackberries are a blight, a settler plant that went rogue a century back and hasn’t been purged out, not since the fires got outlawed. Nowadays it’s a powder keg. Hasn’t been a year in a decade where summer hasn’t brought choking smoke from one fire or another, and often both. Dangerous to get caught in.

Course even if you do push through all of that, what’ll you find except the center, a long rolling lawn with a manor house at the end, and, why, if you’ve seen that it’s already too late. Nobody climbs up that lawn who sets foot on it, neither tourists nor townies nor witches. What’s at the bottom? Couldn’t tell you. Best left alone, whatever it is. Don’t bother it, won’t bother you; you could ask for worse neighbors.

Hephaestus

Small and sharp the teeth sinking into the flesh of the hand, red the blood that runs, bright the eye above the ball of the thumb, pink the tongue that laves, fast the heart beneath the delicate arch of the ribs, hard the palm against the floor.

A hunger, a hunger, an ulcer, acid gnawing deep into muscle, an egg released beyond the forest, any port will do, a liver, a kidney, swollen and ready, legs coiled to kick, eyes swollen and closed, drink deep, drink deep, drink deep.

Older, much older, death an unlined face in the mirror, cedar trees green, moss heavy lawn, a blade caught in the grass, the grass, motor still running, oil and wine, hillsides and trees, water and sky.

An empty street in a busy town, red sky at midnight, smoke in the lungs, promises, promises.

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?

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.