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.

Minuteman

They tell stories about the outlaw, how he shot his father to death when he was only two years old—

“Just grabbed that gun out of his belt and shot him clean through the heart, pew, and him just barely old enough to walk.”

How he carried that gun in his own belt ever after, waiting for some child of his own to pull it out and drill him through the heart—

“Penance, they call it, but I say insurance that he’ll never have a kid. A reminder to always pull out, always keep his wits about him; the stakes are too high.”

How he shot a girl in church one time, shot her dead through a wall as he adjusted his belt coming out of a bathroom—

“Death in his veins, that one, death that lands on anyone foolhardy enough to come near him. You don’t blame a rattler for biting, do you?”

How he fell in love at last and had a child of his own, a boy that he loved more than life itself, and how he shot that boy dead in a shooting range teaching him how to shoot—

“Such a tragedy! Who could have predicted anything like that? A million to one chance, the heat of the barrel— the flinch— the ricochet— they say the boy was even more of a crackshot than his dad. Such a shame.”

How life went on, somehow— but at that point he passes out of history and into legend.