Gomer

Another long shift at the temple and it’s all bitch, bitch, bitch when she gets home. “I can smell them on you,” Hosea says, sourly, his face wrinkled like an old fig against the incense and cedar water they use at the end of the day. “I know where you’ve been.”

Of course you do, she doesn’t say, you met me there. You lost the faith, found another, and now you’re ashamed of the old ways, your old desires, your old practices. But we were twins once, both aglow with piety. You’ve grown sour with poetry.

“The whole country is rotten as an apple in winter,” whatever that means. “Rancid oil, spoiled cakes.” He has taken up drinking, breadmaking, prophecy, so everything is symbolic, each act a sign, each moment a commentary on the one before. She doesn’t understand where he gets the energy; just trying to parse his speeches is exhausting.

Still. The work is still the work, and gods are gods or they aren’t; all the poetry in the world won’t shift that. She goes to bed weary with a day’s labor well-done, wakes up to a new day of hard, pleasing work ahead. His complaints are smoke rising through the roof on a windy day — tch. He’s infected her with metaphor.

Never Take A Job From a Sister-Wife

You don’t know much, but you do know this: you’re two snakes and you’re here to kill this baby.

Simple. In and out and back to wherever two snakes go in time to do whatever you want, you marvelous pair of murder worms, you. The baby is asleep and there’s even an extra baby so maybe you’ll get a little bonus for going above and beyond. You are two pairs of snakes and you are pumped.

Only. Well. Look, mistakes were made, you didn’t have the complete picture, certain key facts were left out of the briefing you didn’t get. When the baby you are totally jazzed to strangle wakes up and throttles you to death with his pudgy hands, you feel hard done by. Used, even. Just the first bump on some wailing asshole’s heroic journey.

You didn’t know much, but you did know this: you were two snakes and you still had so much to give the world.

Running Water, Scattered Salt

There are secrets you cannot keep.

In winter, you crawl your way out into a frozen field and hack at the ground with your hands until your nails break off. You press bleeding lips to the shallow earth and whisper what is not unspeakable.

Stumbling home, you veer off course and fall through the ice into still water. Cold as it is, you are colder, and winter is long; you could kick your way to the surface, but to what end? For what purpose? You burrow deep into the mud and wait instead for the first moon of spring.

Months later, wrapped in weeds, you haul yourself up upon the bank. They have nibbled away your nose, your ears, your fingers, your toes; they would have taken your eyes, too, but there are some things you hold on to. The world is warmer, but you are not. You strike out for town, and on the way pass an acre of grass whispering the name you tried to bury.

William Fitzgerald Turns Freelance

William Fitzgerald is there when they teargas the mayor, just as he was there when they teargassed the mothers, just as he was there when the crowd was only a few dozen people and no one was paying attention. Not in the crowd, mind; well off to the side, an anonymous hunched shadow next to a trashcan, bearing witness, such as it is.

It’s been a lean few years for William Fitzgerald, his secrets worthless, his clients gone; the office is shut and he’s living in an unheated, windowless basement, sleeping on concrete. He’s desperate, and worse, he’s sober, too skint for even the six dollar scotch he prefers. He loathes the openness of this violence, but he is long familiar with the glee and the fear glittering behind the blunt snouts of the gas masks, the safety they think their power and anonymity give them. His fingers twitch with acquisitive fury.

He prowls behind them, a lion after hyenas, remembering faces, conversations, license plates, names. When they slip out in the grey light of morning, legs shaky from a night’s worth of license, he is there, another piece of litter blown against the sidewalk. When they go home, he is there, with his camera and a new little book, piecing together identities. What is hidden is valuable; what is buried must be unearthed.

Roaring Camp

Off base and in the bars, or crowding the rails in the opera house, the Gentlemen are on the hunt for somewhere to sleep. War is come, but not—quite—yet, and they are flash in their uniforms, the clever, the canny, the old hands among them camouflaged in civvies, wary of the tigers that prowl the streets, that slink in through the kitchen door just long enough for the word to spread and the less wise to scatter.

They pass messages through the jukebox, sometimes through titles, sometimes through lyrics: heaven for two, why don’t you do right, jolene, jolene. They are scrutinized by the other patrons, the locals, the townies: what do they know, and when do they know it? None of them are from this town, all of them are suspect.

Later, scattered to the winds, they send letters through the military post, always one step ahead or behind the censors. Change the names, change the dates, change the places; nothing as formal and as breakable as a code, but all sly allusions, sidelong slang. If you know, you know. Meanwhile, the Army, off on completely the wrong track, prohibited soldiers from using any Xs at the end of their letters because ‘the number and arrangement of kisses might constitute a code.’