“I’ll jump in. I get it,” the man who offered me the beer can said. 

He was wearing a cat suit of all gold and looked like the man in the blue and silver. They kind of matched. They both shone. I didn’t even realize that someone had turned all the starlights off until then. I looked above him and saw the string there, with the translucent plastic, off so it was only the fire lighting our faces. They both looked like skin of shiny satin you could stroke, like big, manicured cats. When the man in all gold leaned forward, I saw he had the same headband as my old friend. Gold coughed, passed the joint to the Blue who stared at me and whispered,“We’re aliens.”

 

People have me all wrong. They have their projections about me but they don’t know me. I let a finger trail over his jeans as I moved past him at the crosswalk. They think, this person is abrasive, too Machiavellian, maybe a bit undiscerning. I pause in the middle of the street so two men split and walk around me. I just tell it like it is and swallow what I want. I was around 12th and Chestnut and walking back home after stopping at Capogiro, as was my normal routine at the time.

 

“I’ll take banana,” I said.

An unkempt young boy; blue eyed and pocked, was working today. His black hair was greasy and he leered. No time for games.  I had finished the sorbet long ago and needed to get home. I have drawing to do, I thought but truthfully, the weed had worn off and I was tiring of my playlist.

“I better get home,” I said out loud, standing abruptly and ignoring the group of men in the corner who had been staring at me. Blushed, I coughed, as if I hadn’t spoken the first time. Just a clearing of the throat. Just a narration in my ears to my mother on the phone I clutched tightly.

I love walking. I turn the headphones up. For miles. Someone bought me these noise cancelling headphones recently  and now I can block out all of the traffic. I can block out the passing screeches. The city titter. Horns. Groups. I can listen to The Gauntlet.  This is the part where you are about to start running. Your lungs build. Chest pounds the bones with inimitable force like  bong. If you could hear your pulse in your head, it would sound like tick tick tick. Rapid.  Mladic. 

 

I love this song, I thought, closing my eyes and  turning my noise cancelling headphones up.  I didn’t even feel the guy try to grab my bookbag as I stepped off the curb. I didn’t feel the breeze, just the hot, mid-day sun and one bead of sweat roll from the top of my throat to the bottom. And it’s accompanying electric guitar. My right knee pinched and the temper of the drum, flared, spurring into several taps at once. My pulse to match, I could feel  even though I couldn’t hear as I turn my headphones up.  The sound rising. Not the man yelling behind me. Not the screech of the tire on the pavement. Not the horn. Not the violent crescendo I wanted but (perhaps)the violent crescendo I deserved.

“The Woman Who Saw Her Own Death” or “The Woman Who Walked for Miles”

about 1/2017

the ardor started at the turn of the year  and immediately. I had without any visible sign or warning that this would be the new circuitous trajectory, put my plans for being a student and a doting social worker on hold. I would become very deeply and fanatically obsessed with the occult. to be clear, spending  23 of 24 hours devoted to it and it’s worship, the bedevilment of trying to decode it.  the bondage of belief forcing myself to have one belief, just enough to witness the circle of thought, action and the sigils on the door. and to light them. the spoken things. the dreams. the thinking longingly  and lovingly about my master Lilith but also quite frightened of her. every night a tense unwinding. guarded.
crystals lining the entire apartment.
floating on epsom
but nervous.


that year was full of blizzards and I spent most of it outside, letting the wind chap my cheeks with her pointed slap. and reciting long verses of rhyme out loud. sometimes smirking but in a way that held me up, not as ostentatious but frantic and to tell others I should be mostly avoided. like a gate between us and them, my mouth loaded and sometimes open. I had begun to bite my tongue between my jaw to get it to stop moving so it poked out, forked and I would talk openly to myself and laugh. almost squeal. it was rare those days if I were sad. not at the turn of  the year. I became euphoric, I became energetic and mad. 


I felt the earthly parts of me receding, like general discernment, regularity,  good habits, water, rest, concern for appearance, friendship, chapstick, any intimacy with  another. I suddenly disappeared from all networks; even changing jobs in the middle of it and letting the lighter, flightier parts gain weight and hover on a darkness. I began to examine the motivations of the centipede that would  show up in some corners of my tub: observe it’s migration through the house, almost feeling spied on or mocked. but then almost feeling tender towards it. protective.


one of the first visions was of a pig slaughtered in front of my bookshelf.
I didn’t want to know. I made one agreement.  what they always say is to be humble, and to be careful what you say.
I will not see my death.
is the phrase I chose.
the dream I chose.
the rule I chose.

we make our own agreements before we walk into
the crypt.
        remind them to commit
I will commit.

you can tell me every secret
but you cannot tell me
the story of my last breath,
and when it begins,
two hands cover my
eyes and we commit.
they are enthusiastic
for vessel and agree
wholeheartedly that even
if they have to hide the
gutted life,
they would indeed
smell sweet like
carrots and I gallop.
I sing odes to them.
devote days to them.
I let the centipede
linger wherever she lands.
I don’t root for the cats.
I don’t remove them
from the tub either.

it didn’t feel
like sinking, it felt
like being pulled
down
the whirlpool.
breathing also,
cooing
sending cardinals
to lovers all
the way
just to remind them
there are sweet songs
and there are rules
to this. 

“the agreements”

She took her time. Each stroke became longer and more sparkly. It wasn’t necessary but dramatic as was the theme and when he come up behind her to hug her, she smiled in the mirror. She patted her lips one more time letting the blue shimmer by candlelight, washed her hands and returned to the party. The back stairs were set with alternating black and white candles, twelve each and the entire backyard was covered with string lights so everything twinkled.

“Don’t you think this is dangerous?” she asked, waving her hands over her Mary Janes pointing to each votive on her way to the bonfire.

A lavender laced joint was being passed around.
“We are doing it again.”
“What?”
“Thirteen stories.”
“No.”
“Yes.”

“So,” Petesia clapped his hands together and went over the rules for the newcomers as she took her seat. “One person starts–they set the theme. Last year it was ‘Video Game or Nightmares’ and we were supposed to guess which is which after each story. This year…”

Osiria cut him off, “This year we have no theme because we haven’t started.”

Timidly, Ava cut in, “Isn’t the theme Shakespeare in Space?”

Orb laughed loudly next to her and Jelinda shot a glare his way.

“Well, it’s a Midsummer’s Night Space Dream but the theme of the stories and game can be anything,” Petesia said.


“So this is how it works,”Osiria immediately turned her attention back to the circle. “Someone starts the story. The person who starts set the tone; the theme of the story and the rule of the game. We go around until we get to thirteen. Since there’s now only ten of us, three people will go twice. The last person has to end the story that the first person started.”

“What’s the catch?” “Mr.” asked taking the joint from Ophelia.

“It’s got lavender in it,” Cat said.
“No, with the game.”
“Well, legend has it that whoever it ends on is cursed.”
“Mr.” passed the joint to Pan.
“Oh yeah?”
“Yeah.”
“Annnd…” Petesia interjected.
“Annnd, we make you tell us the weirdest thing about you .”
“Ohhh, cool!”
“Well we did that before.”
“Or you have to confess all your secrets.”

Pan passed the joint back to Cat who winked at Petesia quickly.
“Or maybe act out the story for us.”
“That’s not all, “ Petesia pointed at Artemis letting his fangs shine.
The crowd waited.
“The story comes for you,” he winked, not at Artemis or Ava but at Cat. “And it comes to life.”
Osiria grabbed the joint from Pan before he could take a drag.
“Who wants to start?” she said. “I start almost every year so I’m trying to pass this time.”
“Oh you play every year?” a woman in a fairy costume asked.
She had named herself “Eliza.” Petesia and Osiria nodded at her.
“We try to keep them kind of short though,”Osiria looked at Artemis.
“There’s only ten of us, “ Marco said, circling to the group.
“Three people will go twice, “ Cat turned to gently remind him.
“I’ll go first!” Artemis cheerfully volunteered.
“Really?” Osiria shot her a look.
“Yeah, I love games!”
“So…” she rubbed her hands together and looked at Petesia across the fire. “The first story is called…The Woman Who Walked for Miles.”

“The 13th Story”

 

She took him down a long corridor and up a flight of stairs to a single room at the top. They passed a couple doors on the way but the apartment was relatively abandoned.  He heard no movement in any of the place but their own and even his lady walked with a bit of a tiptoe.

“I’m renting for the night before I drive home tomorrow,” she stated placing the shorter silver key in the slimmer silver door.

“Where are you from again?” he asked her removing his hand from her back to check his phone for the time.

Flinging the door open, she tossed her pocketbook on the end table, ignoring his questions. She turned around suddenly and placed her palm over his phone.

“Get undressed.”

 

She had him tied to the headboard and blindfolded him before he could registerd the time or check his texts. He was naked and she was tying his feet to one of the posts as she began.

“I don’t like chit chat and I’ll review the rules once more,” she said.

“Can I see you?”

“No.”

She watched him lick his lips.
“Can I have some water?”

“No.”

He licked his lips again.

“Rule #1: You will only be allowed to touch me after you follow all of the rules. If you do get to touch me, you have to ask before you do anything. Do you know what that means?”

He hesitated, bound to the wooden frame and unable to see her; her apathy and mocking eyebrow lift as she cooly sipped a tall glass of water out of his reach.

“I have to ask before I touch you.”

He licked his lips.

“But what does that mean?”

She moved closer to his face.

“That before I touch you I have to ask.”
She licked her wet lips next to his ear.
“But why didn’t you?”

“What?”

“Why didn’t you ask all night?”

He said nothing. She took a sip of water and let it dribble down her chin but caught it in her palm before it hit his lips.

“I don’t know.”

“Let’s keep going.”

She placed the glass on the nightstand next to him.

“Rule #2: You must repeat after me when I say ‘repeat after me.’

She waited.

“I said you must repeat after when I say repeat after me.”

“Yes, I will.”

“No, you don’t get it. REPEAT AFTER ME.”

He licked his lips again and moved his head to the right slightly.

“You must repeat after me when I say ‘repeat after me.’

She opened a drawer and took out a metal pinwheel and pressed one of the edges to his nipple.

“Ooh. What is that?”

She bent down and licked his cheek as she moved the pinwheel across his nipple and over his chest.

“You’re very hairy,” she let her tongue run up and down his cheek close to his ear.

“Yesss,” he smiled.

“Repeat after me,” she whispered. “Rule number three.”
She kissed him on three, she repeated.

“Rule number three,” he repeated,catching on.

She put her mouth to his  mouth so she could breathe directly on it.

“My name is Hecate and I enter your dreams every night.”

“My name is Hecate and I enter your dreams every night.  Oh, wait. Should I say your name is Hecate?”

She picked up a red lighter from the drawer and lit one white candle on the nightstand.

“Say it both ways.”

“My name is Hecate and I enter your dreams every night. Your name is Hecate and you enter my dreams every night.”

She picked up the candle and sat on the edge of the bed.

“The first story I am going to tell you is about the woman who saw her own death and tried to out run it. Your job is to listen and to figure which story is true and which story is false. “

He laughed.

“You’re fucking something else.”

 

She let one drop of wax hit the same nipple she had been running the pinwheel over.

“Esssh,” he let out a noise and a wince with his jaw. “Ok, how many?”

“I will gag you if you talk during the story. You are only allowed to talk when the story is  done. You may ask only one question to figure out which story is true,” she let another drop of wax hit, “but you have to wait until I finish the whole story and have to ask it immediately afterwards so don’t fuck it up. Yes?”

“Yes!” He winced a bit and raised his voice.

She reached for the glass of water and raised it over his lips.

“Open your mouth.”

He licked his lips and parted his mouth only partly, a tiny shudder passed over him that only himself, the trained psychologist, or herself, the trained sadist would notice. She let the cool liquid dribble onto his lips at the same time she let the hot wax trickle over one breast to the next. Reaching his neck toward her, he lapped at each lip.

“Good boy,” she said. “No talking. I’ll give you drops of water as you need them.”

She stood up and walked around the bed to sit on a stool that was placed at the end of the bed near his feet. She set both of her bare feet on the post spreading her legs wide, wide enough to reveal the sheer black panties underneath her blue and cream and floral sleeveless dress that iexplicably matched the groomsmen the way the body shimmer and the tinsel neck piece had.

“It’s called The Woman Who Saw Her Own Death: The dream about the alligator”

She saw his Adam’s apple move as he swallowed his own spit for moisture.

when it came to me
you said I was all
 muscled positivity
as if I didn’t hang myself once before;
as if I didn’t try to tell you

how cavernous a grin is,
or anything at all.
even though you are never sure I won’t
find that perfect bedsheet knot
or not or a razor
or a kitchen knife
or a drunk night on the freeway and I’m
headfirst in the cement mixer
but I made it out of that
in jail but alive and I am
always palms clasped and grateful.
you say   you pray
with FERVOR  as I finger the locket,
my brother’s ashes clasped
around my throat
and I hold onto
that same little lie
about choice.

I let go of the wild lavender
sprouting from your toes through
the hints of splattered paint.
there’s a meadow in your abdomen
coaxing foxes from their
holes    your knees knock mine,
sudden sting         close and sharp
  the way memory sits on your skull
then pulled back
how you held me
far away sometimes;
making wind happen
blowing kisses from the pines.
the bath is on, I’m cold.
you always say
I’m cold.
I beckon to the side:
you and I are from the same
arctic sky.
help me in so I feel
the frost of your fingertips
trace me;

my broken back to you now.
my nails are brown tipped and filthy
from digging myself out of my ancestral
grave and I’m spattered in the ,
sweat from a hard night’s day,
walking alleys, stalking shadows
and you’re truly unremarkable
these days save
the mosaic of carpenter’s paint,
some gray cement
garden: no flora, no fauna,
and even God told me to pause  
and rest on my previous laurels
before I get carried away.
but i’m a martyr for this,
God,
I crave repercussion

I become a
yawning, clanking watering can
spritzing your open lips,
dolling up your stolid ground
to birth your stories:
pollen murals out of micro gestures,
extinguished longing that suddenly reignites and
I’m grabbing cattails from the gales to
comb out the tangles of your childhood
   tell me about your father
fistfuls of mud    planting seeds in the
tiny cracks around your chest that my own
sharp-toothed grief left when you
muttered the first
no  and I stepped a few
years back.
freedom will teach you how
to stay in all new ways.

there is no difference
between love and liberation
and some were born saints,
you say as you help me
in the mugwort bath,
the smell of rose and geranium
circling the tile.
I plucked the petals and dropped them
one by one for aesthetic.
not free of indulgence, but
patient   your fingers make
stems in the water
and I guess I am waiting
for something.

“the swell”

I’m the fairest thing that ever happened to you. I know because I once saw the whole thing.  You could say I asked for it.

“God,” I began.

I was centered in sigil. My spine was straight, although I usually slouch. I usually admonish myself for taking up too much space on my couch; even alone, even in privacy, I shrink. This evening was different. I felt propped by something and sitting up, breathing softly, not nervous and with intention. The gasping I am used to transmuted into long, deep inhales; long, thrumming exhales. That night even the callous on my palm where I lay the plastic straw I can’t let go of, can’t stop twiddling as I walk around the city, felt soft.  It felt healed and my hands smelled like cherry blossom from the lotion I rubbed on my knees as I took care of myself, my needs, for once. Once a day, I drink water and rest. Once a day, I pause to smell a honeysuckle. Once in a while, I cease compulsion to drop the straw, pet a dog, move on.

I was melting; suffused with the moonstone resting on my lap, becoming waxing crescent. I was becoming spring. Dust around me tickled my shoulders to remind me: We are here to help you breathe. I immediately became breath. The room rocked like a cradle and I was swathed in her gentle nightlight. I was enveloped. Call the dust what you want, the noise what you want: dirt, fantasy, demons, guides, saints, Lilith and her coven (I light candles to all kinds), they were there that night using my forearms, using my hands, using my throat to sing. My diaphragm rose and fell with ease. God. I asked for breath. Breathe. I became breath. I became nestled in large silk strands.

“God,” I waited and then started again.

I let the fire in my chest build with each name I said until I could feel the slow burning rise to full flame. I waited until I could feel the full pounding of the floor dropping out, until I was hovering in air, until I was on the cloud. It’s the pyre I’ve been waiting for: the charred ribs, the suckled breasts, the ghosts that waft out of the ropes. I waited until I knew who to ask for; until I heard someone say it.

“God,” I started again, and let it be known I was not in fear, I was not shaking, I was not anxious. “Whose answered prayer am I?”

There is no trepidation. You only enter with one affirmation. You only enter with perfect love and perfect trust or you do not enter us. I waited.

It started in the city, or at least, it felt like it started in the city. I had marched for a long time to get to this party and all along I was whistling. Nothing brazen and loud, but quietly. I guess it was more like a hum with the occasional whisper in the wind as I pursed my lips together in an effort to make noise. I wasn’t making much noise, in fact, it felt like a long creep to your place.  Letting my arms dangle, I moved my hands in a mild gestural manner: an old habit of mine. I have a nervous disposition, I told him once over Thai. My fingers stretched against my tights so I could feel the nylon. It was more dense than nylon but my shins were lined in goosebumps. My legs were wrapped in a thicker fabric like leggings, but sheer so the wind cut through. I don’t remember carrying anything like a book-bag or purse. Room floated around me and it was past dusk, it was dark. It was night when I arrived. I had marched a long time through the city to get to this party; this specific party in which I was going to confront a few of them at once. There was a guest list and I was on it. I was dressed appropriately although I did not look at my face in a mirror so I cannot tell you what I looked like only what I felt like: like vapor rising past an edge. I was shifty.

 

The last thing I remember before turning the corner to get on your block was that I had no idea if I had driven or not. It was strange. I had the sensation of getting out of a car earlier but truly I didn’t have any recollection of it. It felt like I had walked for miles. I dissociate. When I opened the door to your place, it felt familiar; not the place but the way I entered. It was as if I always open the door on my own. There was a gathering in the center and you turned to greet me with a chilling apathy and I smiled with every tooth. I embraced you which was out of my character. Perhaps to soothe a beast in you. You said:

 

You look taller.

That’s when I looked down to see my boots and my knees, a little shaky and wrapped in black, and then I felt the sweater as you turned to put your arm around my waist and I held it there. There was one moment in time in synthesis and I held it there. This is what I am wearing. Even though you delivered a tepid reception, you grabbed me like I was yours. You brought me closer to the kitchen but a dark swarm took over my body. I looked sideways to follow it. My friend Reagan approached me from the other side. I’m being flanked.  I was distracted long enough to ignore the person skulking out the back door.

 

“Hi!” she embraced me like we were sisters and pulled me to the couch.

 

Funny how recollection tricks you. There was someone else in the kitchen who slipped out the back door as I sat down but I would tell you then on the couch that never happened. I would embrace Reagan like a friend even though I barely knew her. I would tell you it was comfortable even though I felt set up.  I looked down at my dress. A dress. I’m wearing a dress.

 

“How are you?” she smiled brightly in my face, her dark hair hanging over her cheeks.

 

There was nothing memorable about her except her green eyes. They were beautiful to look at in my moment of rising panic.  I swallowed like I was swallowing an apple core and I held her hand like we knew each other forever. Turning to look for him, she squeezed it.

“Let’s catch up, hon.”

 

I kept turning my head to understand the new layout. There were candles lining the floor to the stairs but the staircase was on the opposite side. When I turned back it also appeared that the stairs were in the right place even though there were none near the front door. It was like the room was cut with mirrors and drapes. It felt like a stage. I don’t think there is an upstairs.

 

“ I want to see my reflection,” I suddenly said.

 

“Hahaha omg,” she patted my leg. “Listen, I don’t know why you would trust him. He’s an alcoholic and manipulative.”

 

I swallowed again and stood up.  I should confront him. Where did he go? I walked away from her and realized the entire party had cleared. It was just the three of us. He greeted me without his shirt and I saw a tattoo. There were two. The bigger one, I couldn’t read it though.

 

“Are you staying or leaving?” he said.

 

His eyes were blue and that was normal. Blue like a fresh paved lake of ice.

 

“I’m leaving,” and I shuffled past Reagan without acknowledging her again.

 

I headed towards the door that was on the right side even though the kitchen and stairs were misplaced. I stepped out before I could change my mind, before I could stop and pause and demand my reflection. Let me use the bathroom. There were no cars anymore. No streetlights or streets. I held the hem of my dress, once feeling thick like a sweater felt thinner, lighter, more spring but still black.  I had come to the party in all black and now I was shivering. It had dropped a few degrees in the forest. I was staring at a forest. I was staring at a row of trees and yellow eyes were popping out of them. They were slow, methodical and walking towards me. My hands were gripping the handles of a bicycle. I can’t bike through this. Turning around to plead with him, he was already closing the door. My eyes narrowed at his side as he leaned against the frame.

 

“Can I just stay here a while until the wolves go away?”

 

He shut the door without a word. I turned to face the forest I had just somehow safely walked through and pretended it was a street. I pretended the people were people. The people were hungry. The entire pack settled at the entrance and watched me. Gripping the bike, I turned back to make sure, yes, he shut the door and yes, he wasn’t coming back. A giant red oak square with a brass knocker stared me in my face and the man I had been chasing vanished inside. I looked down.

 

I become so enlightened at the turn of it

I start writing with a desperation.

 

That’s what the note on my arm said.

 

And what did the note on his ribs say?

 

I interrupt myself. I am scrambling to remember the whole thing before it fades. It is 5:30 in the morning and I am in pain; not from separation but from untended rhythm. Maybe I never noticed my dreams had cadence or style or meaning, yet, I have pages full of them. I begin again.  I have to begin again. I stopped myself from compulsively flipping through last year’s journal. Sitting is my weakness. The morning overcomes me and dawn is nice. I am too tired to move so I stay. It was a tattoo on his chest, not his ribs. He had two and I could only read one. They were connected over his body like a map.

 

I tapped my head with my pen and sat. Sometimes the morning is foggy and I just need a second to breathe. Coffee is too stimulating and I just need a quiet moment to breathe. One was so giant I couldn’t read it like it cascaded across his whole body,  I reread my note from earlier and I put the pen back on the paper. Mania is a curse of the unrested and dutiful investigator. Jaw clenched already, my migraine set in but I continued. It said:

 

One was so giant I couldn’t read it like it cascaded across his whole body, and the other said love exists with or without hope.

With a natural lethargy, she put her makeup on slowly elongating the whole process by several minutes. She wasn’t used to wearing it. Moving her neck like a snake upward from left to right, like she was wrapping it around a trunk or leg, she admired the stretch first, then the movement itself; hypnotic and quiet and binding. She stopped applying the powder to stare. Motionless, she admired herself head on. The blush she chose was dark; a shimmering burgundy that ran across her face and cheekbones in the shape of a bruise. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear examining the soft waves falling over her shoulders first as they moved, and then again as they settled. She wanted to see what she looked like as she approached; in stillness and in motion.


“That took too much time,” she said out loud.


Moving her head back and forth in a slow no gesture to see what she looked like disagreeing, she could feel and see the skin of her lips cracking. She eyed the chapstick on the shelf.  She wet her lips with her tongue. We must move on. There was nothing she did for anyone without motive and no one was around to touch them yet. Setting the bamboo brush on the sink, she ignored her dry mouth and her thirst, and picked up the mascara. Carefully, she applied the wand to the eyelashes of her left lid and then immediately stopped to examine herself again. Unbundled and free, her thoughts had been leaping ahead of her. It was distracting. They were being seized by something else; something distant, either imaginary or future she could never tell, but something tugging at her sleeve. Look behind you. She reached for the twisted, plastic straw from the sink’s ledge and began twirling it in her fingers on instinct.  Letting herself be overtaken by the fake memory; the fake way he held her, the fake way he smiled, the fake way it felt, she felt the rush in her chest.

“Stop it,” she barked at herself.


Staring at the mirror once more, she held her own gaze in trance.


“My name is Catarina Kacurek,” she practiced again.


She said it a couple more times until she was satisfied with the way it felt rolling off her tongue. Naturally. Nodding, she put the straw back on the ledge and began to apply the mascara to the right lid’s eyelashes. It’s always like this. She couldn’t see the clock in the bedroom and was thankful. I’m late, she knew. Taking her time anyway, she could still feel the electric bubble running up her spine to announce its arrival, announce its bones were growing over her bones into a grove of wands. I have things to do. She set the mascara neatly back in her makeup bag and pulled out the eyeliner. Dragging the skinny black pencil across the top of her left lid first, she felt a breeze, a draft from a hidden place to the left of her. What the fuck is this all for?


As she fawned herself, praising the way her eyes grew from small and doting to big and black and full of infirmity, she heard a car backfire somewhere in the distance. She placed the pencil on the sink and waited. Goosebumps trickled up both arms. In her spine, her bone grove of smoke and scream and sudden life, she felt it.


“My name is Catarina Kacurek. May I come in?” she practiced again, feeling the backfire of other every other thing.

Part 4: The Act Of Chasing Things

Jung ponders, “How can evil be integrated? There is only one possibility: to assimilate it, that is to say, raise it to the level of consciousness.”

 

You couldn’t hear them move over the forest floor.  The snow was fresh and soft like powder. Each step left an imprint but no resounding echo. You could only hear their breathing. You could not hear their steps.

Compared to the surrounding stark silence, their breath was bleating. Each huff was pained and loud. Since the two women had ceased speaking, it was all you could hear as they walked. All reserves were focused on completing the hike and returning home. The snow was at a halt. It was a windless day and they were making use of the eye of the storm. Within the eye, everything was hiding.  Every once in a while a tree shook when a bird perched and a big clump fell and startled them but hardly any birds circled. Hardly anything moved at all. A crow called out to them hours ago.
“It must be noon,” Catarina said when she heard it.

Behind her, her friend said nothing but she heard her sniffle and knew she was wiping the snot from the nose on the sleeve of her coat. Her friend said nothing but Catarina knew she was resentful. Catarina had promised her peace. I have given you a gift, she kept to herself. She had heard that sniffle now for hours. She had glanced back enough times to know her black parka was glistening with snot. She heard her cough. She could hear the rustle of the sleeve in the air as it made her way to her nose and did she feel sorry? They were trapped in the infinite stillness of the woods and each other’s brutal wordlessness surrounded by barren trees and an imposing gray sky. Once blue, now darkening, the woods were once dull, inviting and now growing toothed and sharpening. It was the beginning of January, seventeen degrees and Catarina felt it.

Their breathing was labored. Their cheeks were bright pink and dotted with tiny drops of ice and both women’s skin was an alarming shade of pallid, blue like ice or crystal lake. Each woman trudged in black gear and bitterness and Cat’s endurance was waning so she knew L’s was too. Both their breath came out in synchronized huffs one after the other. In front of them lay endless groves of brown trunks dotted with sparse patches of evergreens in the horizon; a brightening to the dense forest and an indicator of distance. Green meant car. Green meant escape. Green meant salvation but they still had an interminable white crystal blanket to cross. All conversation had ceased between the two friends. You could only hear breathing. You could not hear their steps.

Catarina guessed it was about four pm. They had gotten lost, separated from the trail and if they were not out when the sun finally went down, there was no way they were going to survive. They had no food or water. They had no phones. The park was abandoned. They had only a light layer of fleece underneath their clothing and they did not dress for longevity, but comfort. They were both catching cold which would breed pneumonia. There was no shelter nearby and the two women were growing angry and confused. Nightfall would complicate their emotions which would compromise their sense of direction further. She could see it in the distance: the veiled sun, the yellow halo obscured by boundless gray. It barely shone through the clouds. They were heavy and pregnant with blizzard. It was an unforgiving winter. It had been and remained unforgiving now. The sunset they faced would turn to black without portrait. We will survive, she had lied.  She knew her friend would die. She knew that soon she would hear the twig snap and that she would run. She didn’t know what her friend do but she did know she would hear her scream. She would dart across the forest as fast as she could while her friend was ripped to pieces. She would sprint. She would sprint the whole way without looking back or without time to reflect on her reflex. She would have no time to wonder what L’’s blood attracts.

She had decided to wear a blindfold and forget the whole thing. It was agony to know and it didn’t seem fair. None of this was fair. None of this is fair.  But she did get to see the wolf. It was not a promise but a possibility, and she was grateful in that moment. Six hearts in permanent marker  underneath her black glove on her hand, she reached for her pocket to draw the other one: the seventh.

“You know, L, I keep time with my metronomic heart,” she sneered at her friend hours earlier, drawing hte second around the wrist bone in black felt tipped pen. “It’s ten am.”

  1. smiled, “Catarina…look at me”

“Yes,” she turned around to  show L all of her teeth.
“Your full of shit.”

He was gray and white with yellow eyes. He was hiding behind a larger tree with roots that twisted into several X’s like carved figure eights bursting from the ground. Low and keen, he held a silent snarl between his teeth. A wolf restraining herself from howl is a terrifying wolf indeed and Catarina had been spotted peeking. Without making a sound, she turned her head slightly to the left. From her periphery, she saw the wolf’s friend skulking carefully and quietly on the other side of them. He was also low and snaking through the branches. Walking this clearing for the past five or six miles exposed them. It will be faster, she said. She already knew.

At least one branch had fallen and the wolf wouldn’t see it. He would step on it just as he was getting ready to pounce and she would be afforded an extra second that would propel her. She kept her eyes and head down, hand at her side still, frozen in movement, stopped from grabbing the pen. She wanted to laugh. It’s four pm, she thought. I have a metronomic heart, she thought. I’m full of shit, she thought. She inhaled and felt her pulse begin to thrum and warm her body in anticipation. She began to lift the balls of her feet. She began to clench her palms into fists with determination, her jaw with anxious habit and from her left she heard the snap. From the right, she felt the hesitation. She knew there were only two of them. She began to run.

From behind, she heard her friend yell “Where…” before she heard her scream. Before she heard two dozen wings beating above her from the nesting sparrows awoken by fright and taking off from their hidden holes, she heard the lone screech. Before she heard the victory howl, she heard the sudden scream. Before her right foot hit the Earth again, she heard the sound of two wolves colliding at a throat just missing Catarina. You are lucky. Before she heard her breath quickening keeping pace with her racing feet, her racing chest, she heard the beginning of a cry for help ripped in half by a hungry team and a voice far away repeating a story: you are lucky.  She was sprinting through the forest headed towards the green. It was 4 pm, 16 degrees and she felt it.

 

“The Woman Who Saw Her Own Death”

At 5:30 pm, I am in the bath. Winters I spend immersed in bath. Tonight, it is chamomile and yarrow oil and a sprinkle of angelica root. I have been having some superstitious tendencies again so I add my Nana’s rosary to the windowsill next to me, a hunk of tourmaline on the shelf that holds my razor and shampoo, and a rose quartz at the bottom of the tub. This will make it worse. I snap my head towards the blow of air beside me but I settle. There’s nothing there. Baths soothe my gnawing winter madness. Some call it depression or “seasonal affective disorder.” You’re sad, Cat. I don’t know what to really call it but nothing could be worse than this.

“Did you take your prozac? he asks from the kitchen.

I dug my nails into the sofa. My hair was combed. My lips were not chapped.

“Yes,” I responded immediately. “Everything should be all right now.”

Resentful, I sat on the edge of the couch prepared to jump up at any moment and leave if I ever could grow the guts. It was the mostly mocking tone I had grown so accustomed to hearing that triggered my bottled rage. The medicine created a tense space between us and left me feeling like a new baby well of sorrow was building somewhere deep inside of me, but I couldn’t empty it. Mechanisms related to crying had disappeared or been stifled somewhere in the bottom of a trunk I had no access to; had lost the key or motor skills to turn the lock so I just let it fill without my knowledge. It sat fat in its vicious growth, plump with previous insult, previous assault or terror, ready to spill over if I had the wherewithal to sharpen my nails and eviscerate my body; suffocate him with the bile that spilled out, or the precious bottle of antidote, or the pillow I keep between us and  grip daily for comfort. I’m a tepid lunatic that never grows to boil. Devoid of feeling, but going through the motions, I was sitting eerily still waiting for dinner. I was wearing a pink and purple striped sundress that tied in the back. I was wearing lip gloss to match. My purse was already on my arm and I had pinned a stray hair back with a blue and green caterpillar clip a girlfriend had given me to remind who I was, and mostly, I was trying not to check the time as I waited for the years to pass by.

My bottom lip is under water before I realize I am sinking in the midst of another flashback. I shoot up with fake alarm. I will never drown like this, but I am stoned, I remind myself.  Better to be careful than feed your ghost regret. What is this? I look around my delusive tomb in horror. Lit with more than a dozen votives: all white and tall and leaving flecks of wax all over everything, the room smells faintly of fresh linen but it is a manufactured smell; plastic, not the way most fresh linen smells. My sheets smell blank. There was more than that too: lavender incense wafting from the dresser in the bedroom, the ylang-ylang that permanently coats the sides of the tub, and the faint remnant of vinegar from where I tried to scrub the spots off the mirror with my homemade glass solution. I am over stimulated. Wildly stoned and always coming back to myself in the middle of the same thought: maybe that’s where these hallucinations start, I feel uncomfortable. The voice from my bowels is starting again. Goosebumps dot my shoulder and I regret not making a fresh Earl Gray before I got in. Loscil is playing in the background from my bed and I want it louder. I want someone there to help with these things and I can’t tell you how long I sit upright in a fetal position contemplating that thought. I keep no clock in the bathroom. I desperately need the respite.

Sinking back to let my head rest on the peeling ceramic, I sigh loudly in a way that tells the world, Nevermind, I am alone and I’m ok today. I’m going to make it. There is a way out, and I inhale deeply the green grass dotted by gray ash from the glass bowl I placed next to my nana’s rosary and I say to no one:

“I need help.”

This is fine.  There is something about water that is so soothing to me. My whole life has been spent in water. As a child, my summers were spent outside with the Dyson sisters at the community pool; getting tan and bracing the high dive, guessing which lifeguards liked each other, giggling, showing the boys the banana Now-n–Laters stuck to our teeth. If it wasn’t the pool, it was at the beach chasing ghost crabs, learning how to body surf with Alex, being pulled under everytime and miraculously standing to survive, the top of my bathing suit always twisted to expose one nipple before I realized. I was always keeping an eye on Alex from some distance. Even at the pool, in my accidental glow and popularity, he in his awkward pallid skin, we sometimes were distant but never separate. I always kept an eye on him. Some days my legs were beat by jellyfish, my toes were sore from broken shells, cut and pinched my crabs, but I always went back in. During storms, I scoured the block in the pouring rain looking for bugs or just letting the water baptize me. Even as a child, I showered whenever I was upset and the thundering tantrum couldn’t cut it, I needed a warm cleanse. In adolescence, baths replaced those as I needed more time to mourn the interminable unrequited love that I continually faced as my hormones grew into teeny monsters to match the teeny breasts that baited them closer. I hit that budding menses stage and sobbed into the pink drain at my bad luck; a woman?!?!  Everyone hates women.

My mom called me a little water bug and those didn’t bother me either. I played tidal wave with the beetles that flew into our kiddie pool. I ducked dragonflies, watched them skim the tops of the water in the ditch when we played house in my backyard. I spent hours in the rain plucking worms from their hiding places; under bricks in neighbors’ gardens, my legs caked in mud as I walked back with a handful to feed to Michaelangelo, our alligator snapping turtle.  I never avoided puddles, I jumped right into them. Water was my sanctuary.

“You’re filthy, Catarina!” my mother would scream as I traipsed the wilderness all over our kitchen floor on the way to the tank, letting twigs drop from my knees.

“Look, Alex!” I would ignore her to drop a handful of worms near Mike’s head so he saw them instantly.

The two of us would stand over him in awe as he quickly, with uncanny precision, devoured each one right after the other, little particles of flesh floating to the top. I pressed my palms together to stay grounded in the excitement.

“Get in the shower when you’re done!” my mom shrieked pointing at me.

“Mom, look,”  Alex pointed as I rolled my eyes.

“Cool,” Alex would say and I nodded.

I splash the top of the water for my own enjoyment, letting the daydreams take back over, another Cheshire Cat smile spreading wide across my face. The weed was devouring every synapse. One summer, I had a sprained ankle. Who knows where I got it; probably doing gymnastics in the backyard, showing off, proving I was the best at something I was clearly a novice at, but I tumbled. My mom wrapped it carefully in an ace bandage for me. Some hot day, we went to a party near a lake with their friends and their friends’ kids. No one packed a bathing suit for me because I wasn’t supposed to swim with my impairment but once everyone jumped into the water, I was immediately forlorn.. My parents really couldn’t take my tantrums for more than a few seconds and I knew this was no place for screaming, that would lead to too much embarrassment. I had to beg.

Consumed by jealousy, I began,“Please please please please please please please please pleeeeease, please pleeeeeaase.” I repeated like that to my mom and began to hop on one foot. “I am fiiiiiiiiiiiiiine. Loooook, fiiine. Fine fine fine.”

My mother frowned.

“I’ll watch her Linn,” my dad, fun drunk hero, interrupted before she could remind me of the agreement and I began to quickly hobble and quickened the hobble to a half run, still in red sundress, still with barrettes in hair to the edge of the lake. I started wading to catch up to my new friends on the back of their dad’s raft before my mom could even consider an outfit for me to put on instead of the dress.

“Look, mom,” I shouted already caught up to the others. “I’m fine! I am using my right leg! I won’t drown!” I splashed for effect to show her I was the best swimmer out there.

My mom waved. I waved back. It was that perfect time of day in summer. Everyone had the day off. Everyone had eaten and drank their fill of wine coolers. The kids had plenty of soda and time to run around the house. We were settling but still excited; had worked some of that nervous energy out. The sun was beginning it’s journey to set casting a yellow glow over the entire surface of the water and everyone was happy. I was in the water and everyone was happy. I was not alone.

I shoot up again with that thought. You’re stoned. I am stoned and sinking into the water again. I run my hands over my wet head and curl back into my upright fetal position to watch the nearest flame wink.

“It’s so hard to stay present,” I say to the empty apartment.

Tapping my fingers on top of the water to watch the ripples, I pretend the noises it makes are from someone else. Someone else’s hand on top of the water. Someone else’s eyes doused in flame reflecting back to me,“Have you ever tried telling anyone about your fear of drowning?”

Fuck. The imaginary man handing me the hot Earl Gray is right. I am lonely.

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