“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”

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.

Algid and windless, the day smacked without breeze. It used its atmosphere like a cave of teeth biting you on the cheek, or on the wrist if your glove slipped down. Your neck if it had become exposed. They had no choice but to walk through. The tension combined with the dropping temperature and lack of water, snack or any sense of direction; how does one not go mad with fury? It was the middle of January, seventeen degrees and she felt it.

Hardly any birds circled so they were mostly trapped in the infinite stillness of the woods and the remnants of a harsh blizzard that slowed them.

 

“It’s the eye of the storm.”

“Okkkk….but that doesn’t mean it’s not coming back.”

“It’s not,” she texted.

She bet her friend didn’t check her weather app. She bet her friend didn’t question her. She bet her friend trusted her to lead.

“Watch, I bet we get the yellow car,” she said to her friend the day they stood in line at the amusement park.

 

It was hot then, shining, blissful. They had eaten nothing but sugar. They were waiting to go to the final water ride of the day, spent, thirsty, aging yet jubilant. The trams were in no particular order, randomized, and every time they waited, she guessed.

“ I guess with about a 98.4% accuracy.”

Leana laughed loudly next to a woman’s ear, so loudly she shot them a look only Cat saw.

“Yeah, ok.”

“What? I have been right every time.”

“That’s 100% though.”

Catarina tapped her thigh to keep the time as they stood.

“Well, you can’t be right every time.”

“True,” Leana said, sort of smirking, half engaged, half stuck in her own secret fixation.

Catarina kept her hands free of the straw most of that day, preferring to play with the strap of her bag or the cap of her aluminum water bottle. She tapped her thigh only in line sometimes. They were engaged off and on but paused when it happened.

“Did I tell you about the time I drove my car into the car dealership?” Leana suddenly said.

“What?! Tell me now.”

But the train was rolling in.  Both women’s eyes widened as the big yellow tram rolled up. Cat smiled the biggest and threw a look behind her exposing all of her teeth.

“Now, you trust my psychic ability?”

Everything was hiding.  The snow had ceased but every once in a while a tree shook when a bird perched and a big clump fell startling them. They would both look up, unspeaking and resentful and a growing worry between them. The cold was a barrier. The distance was a barrier. The unsettling feeling that this was not going to end was a barrier They heard a crow call a few hours ago; at least three or four hours ago. They hadn’t spoken since she looked up and said,

“It must be noon.”

Her friend didn’t question it or speak to her.  Cat turned slightly to check on her. Her breathing was labored. Her cheeks were bright pink and dotted with tiny drops of ice. Leana’s face was pallid, stinging, her endurance waning and their breath came out in synchronized huffs.Together, they marched but separate, each in their own quiet obsession.  Catarina was counting hours. Catarina was reviewing lists. Catarina had practiced this walk, had a deep resolve, a spine made of knife and her knees were going to buckle but she knew what adrenaline can do. She drew hearts on her hand with each passing hour. The only time she pulled down the glove. Pockets devoid of cell phones, only a sharpie and some protein bars, there was no cell service here. She had advised Leana to keep her cell phone in the car so she didn’t lose it. Pliant for show only, Cat reassured her.

“I have a metronomic heart, you know. I can always tell the time”

Leana trudged behind her, adjusting her parka and getting ready for the first small incline.

“Cat..”

This was hours ago, when they were friends. She turned, bright, dawning, her auspicious eight am self: well fed, hydrated, head covered but face still exposed. She smiled to show her teeth.

“You’re full of shit.”

All they saw were endless groves of bare trees dotted with sparse patches of evergreens; a brightening to the dense forest of trunks. An interminable white crystal blanket to cross kept them moving, reserved and privately poignant. All conversation had ceased between the two friends. You could only hear breathing. You could not hear their steps. 

Catarina guessed it was about three or 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. She could see it in the distance: the veiled sun, the yellow halo obscured by boundless gray barely shining through the clouds. The sky heavy and pregnant with fresh 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 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. 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.

Forget the whole thing. It was agony to know and it didn’t seem fair. Wear the blindfold. None of this was fair. But she did see the wolf. She was reaching to pull the pen out to mark the four pm chime in scrawl on the veins of her left hand. A ritual of safety. That’s how they met. He was gray and white with yellow eyes. Low to the ground and keen, he held a silent snarl between his teeth. She couldn’t hear their steps. Her head lowered,  she did not reach past her hips any more. Heedful, without making a sound, she turned her head slightly to the left. From her periphery, she saw his friend skulking carefully and quietly on the other side of them, 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. 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 and from her right, she heard the snap. From the left, she felt the hesitation. She knew there were only those two. She began to run. You could not hear them breathing. You could only hear screech turn to scream and then only her own breath quickening in time with sprint; each quickening step. You could hear a flutter of wings above, one call and if you had time to look up, you’d see a flock of blackbirds pushed to movement from the violence below. But there was no time to look up.

 

“The Woman Who Saw Her Own Death” (or “The Woman Who Ran From Wolves”)

It was 91 degrees and rising. Sunny. Saturday. A bit windy but a bright blue sky and I had been looking forward to the weekend since Monday. Home for a brief stop and my favorite place since I was a kid– the beach. I had the day off. Well, I took the day off. Fourth of July, let freedom reign.  I got my best book and my old bikini and five seconds of space from my family, my colleagues, my friends.  I was ready this summer for love. Ready for whatever may be. My tarot cards had been flashing Two of Cups and I was keeping an eye out. If there’s anything I trust, it’s tarot.

My mother let me borrow her folding chair, a towel, her flip flops. I always needed something when I went home. I always needed something in general. It was a littler windier than I would have preferred, as I said, so that sand whipped my thighs as I was getting ready. Better to wait on the suntan lotion, I thought. It was already too messy. But bright: bright, hot and sunny, like a heat storm which is unusual actually. On windy days, I usually see darker clouds even in the distance but the storm was coming and hadn’t caught up. Skies were serene, blue, clouds looked placid but the wind. Because I was starving, and I knew it would be bad but had to eat, I reached into the red and green Christmas colored bag my mother let me borrow as well.I had only brought a suitcase with the essentials: my laptop, my book, two outfits, underwear, socks, my three year old bathing suit that didn’t fit my breasts right anymore but I kept wearing it. The cup of the inseam twisted so my naturally crooked breasts looked even more crooked.  Frugal and disheveled, I didn’t replace it. I also always brought my toothbrush even though my mother had one for me. I believed in packing light, and flight. I believed in moving.

The minute I opened my hummus container, the wind kicked up once more and blew all over the top so there was a nice grating as I bit into the first carrot stick.  Nevertheless, she persisted. Persist in ideology, robustness, routine. Establish a routine. My new inflammatory flares were forcing me to eat differently, choose differently and make sure I ate breakfast, less coffee, less walking, more veggies. I dipped the second stick in and another gust blew. I turned my face to the left and felt a nice big chunk of sand land on my tongue.  No more bread for me and all the better for it really. If I want to meet a mate, I’d have to shape up.

My friends say I’m lucky. That I’ve always been lucky. Yet, here I am, five years in a row alone and not always the better for it. Rough. I would say I’m getting rougher. I would say I’m getting scabrous, prickly to the touch. Like a cactus but drier inside. And empty. And void. I look at the stand to the right of me noting the yellow flag which means “Caution,” but not “Danger.” Not “Unallowed.”  I place the hummus back in the bag and pull out the container of blueberries pouring a handful into my palm and then beginning to count. On red days, you can only really go calf deep. On yellow days, you have to swim by the stands.  On green days, they didn’t blow the whistle that much.  I stand up to brace the water. I came here to swim.

The sand was scalding hot. The sole of my feet burned a little on the way down. No reprieve, and my cheeks were whipped the whole way down. Hesitant for a moment, I turned back to face the chair once more. Something in my stomach lurched as I looked at it there, alone, made for one. I could hear my family’s laughter in the distance.  Something in my chest hurt. I kept going. Dipping just my toes in at the shore line, the water was ice cold. Coriolis effect be damned, a storm was coming and had brought up the deep ocean currents. It was also July. August had more jellyfish but also warm water. When were there crabs? All the time.Growing up here, I knew everything about the beach.

I usually tried to avoid beaches with lifeguards because you can get away with more and my Everclear Slurpees were more hidden from sight on secluded spots or at night, but to be honest, that was a long time go. Today, it made me feel safe.  The waves weren’t particularly large but there had been some rip current warnings at the beginning of the walkway. A sign was posted; probably always there but today I stopped and read it. Swim parallel to shore.

“I know,” I said out loud, as I began to wade.

I’m a strong swimmer and my friends say I’m lucky. I once ran headfirst into a cement mixer with my car and came out unschathed. Well, I broke my sternum and concussed mildly but the police didn’t take me to the hospital. They took me to jail for drunk driving. My head leaned against a metal toilet as I threw up all night and couldn’t see straight but I lived. I got that charge reduced to a first offense. I got that jail time reduced to house arrest and an ankle bracelet. I got that first arrest completely stricken from the record.  I once also slid across the trolley tracks on my bike and flew headfirst into a car. Doctors said I was lucky I was wearing a helmet or else I would have concussed worse than I had, and probably worse than the cement mixer, and my glasses would have broken in my eyes. I fell through a treehouse and landed on a rusty nail that pierced only the rubber of my shoe, not even touching the foot. The glory of the ocean is current, tides, undertow. The glory of luck is timing. 

I was up to my knees and waiting. Before I went to the beach today, I promised my guides I would do the ritual. Throw the blueberries in the water and say the right name. Thirteen of them. As I waded further in, I began to let one drop from my hand little by little so there was a curling line of blue dots at the surface for a moment. A fish darted past me. An omen. 

“Whole body healing,” I said out loud.

And then dove in. Algid ripples cut through my skin like shards of ice were piercing me. Something pushed my torso backwards: an undulation, a phantom hand.  Arising covered in goosebumps, I let out a long breath. Slowly, I let my toes touch the sea floor doing a quick sweep for broken shells that could cut or crabs that could pinch. Planted, I looked behind me to see if I could still see the fish. My body was pushed backwards by the force of the wave. I swiveled my body to the right a bit to see if I could still see my stuff or had it blown away? Squinting, I could see the little blue chair in the distance. Smiling, turning back to face her, a larger wave was forming. Get smacked or go under. I chose to dive in again. An underwater sway took over and my body was pulled towards it slightly and then pushed towards the floor. It felt like something was dancing with me but viscous, moving and in control. The tips of my toes pressed into the sand as I held my arms upward so I could propel myself back up. It was only three seconds since my head went under and my mouth opened again  to salty air. It felt longer. Where I stood, I could feel the current pulling me backwards now. Had I not been firmly seeded in the ground, I may have floated further. I looked back to see if the lifeguard was still there. But I began to feel dragged.

I let my body take in what I was experiencing. Rip tide. Without any dawdling, I began to swim parallel towards the stand, a little further from my stuff.. I hit the trolely tracks the one time because I didn’t move perpendicular across them. It crossed my mind twice today, that accident. Once, driving here over the bridge and then again as I read the rip tide sign and hearing my friend says “you’re usually lucky anyway. Things have a way of falling in your lap>” She was referring to a job opportunity I was just offered to do private freelance consulting for less hours but more pay than my social work job.” This came shortly after I decided I wanted to quit social work and I hadn’t even applied for anything.  But i’ve been fortunate in accident too. And I did feel my luck changing.  I swam backs towards the beach perpendicularly for a moment, then parallel again. Then perpendicular, then parallel. What rip tides do is exhaust you. They pull you further and further out and because  they are fast, they pull you far. They don’t take up the expanse of the short; just one line, but that one line is a bad place to be.  You have to swim parallel to the shore to get out of the current, but it’s not easy and by the time you’re out, you’re far out.  did about two more of these “T-movements:” to the left, then forward back to the beach. As I got my footing again, I looked to the lifeguard who seemed unconcerned by anything I was doing. She can see better than me.  I felt calmer.

“Perhaps that was just a strong current,” I say out loud and see a family standing near the shore. “There are children in this water.”

But you can have rip tides form without knowing anywhere there are breaking waves. My gut dropped. I also felt something inside of me, underneath the water, some terror. I felt the pull of fingertips upon me. My head began to spin a little. Shivering, I begin to wade back towards the mother with her black curly hair and pink one-piece gripping her young daughter’s hand with her shorter but just as black and curly hair in a pony tail. Their bathing suits match.. They all have a dreadful look. Probably adjusting to the temperature. Her husband was wearing blue swimming trunks and has that typical dad bod; beer gut, mustache, sparse hair on chest and the son looks like my dead brother. Something in my sternum creaks. Old broken bones. Suddenly, very taken by my thighs glistening with droplets as I emerge, I keep my head down as I walk past them. I give the boy a glance but nothing more. His whole body is pale where the rest of the family is olive. Something in my heart moves. I hope the girl finds my blueberry. Or the fish that found my blueberry.

My seat is still there and covered with sand and I’m surprised it didn’t blow away. All that is weighing on it is sand that I had pressed on top of the two metal bottom bars and a prayer. My red and green Christmas bag too. My hands are a little shaky for some reason as I reach for my pink towel. I feel dizzy again. Plopping down without drying, giving up on it, pebbles stick to the back of my thighs.

“Ugh.”

I look down. I can’t get my breath.

“Ugh.”

The water must have kicked up my mild vertigo.

“Deep breaths.”

It helps to speak out loud when these attacks happen, although sometimes it helps to do nothing at all. Sometimes I sit clenched and don’t speak and barely breathe and my legs just fall off. I felt like I couldn’t move again. Like I couldn’t stand. Breathe. The wind kicked u.  Sand got in my eye and I had to close it. Breathe. Then my face was hit. Ugh. Then I opened my eyes and there it was. The way you see things matters. The way you see them move. Right before something hits, your brain flashes: Oh. And it’s not like they say, I didn’t see my past. Well, I did but I didn’t see my past in this life so much as all the other lives coming together, coalescing into a nice tight and bitter coffin. The mordant taste of betrayal and several and today on my tongue: sandy and caustic. The knowing. The way I saw it first. The way under water I even thought, this isn’t it but it could have been. I’m a strong swimmer. The warning. The current, the warning. The dizziness, the warning. The way I read this article about something similar earlier. The way I rode over the bridge. The way I stopped in front of the sign. The way the umbrella flew towards me and some people think attracting luck means that the umbrella will blow past you but once the pointy end hit my chest, I knew it was something else.

 Once my throat let out that air, that final air, I saw the first life of the hooded black women.  Once my neck lobbed backwards and I now longer cared about the sand on my tongue,  I saw myself walking across a lake of ice.  As my tongue fell out, I could feel my body press into the bottom of the chair; once inexplicably sturdy, now tilting to the left. Once my lids closed and everything  stopped, I knew that luck meant you’re hit, and  you’re the legacy now. 

 

“The woman who went to the beach”

dream I was being sent to hell. when I asked how to get to purgatory, someone said “pray.”

After work, I head out. Almost immediately. I pack thebowl. Smoke. Repack the bowl. Make a cup of tea. Head out. I get my papers done, generally. I get my paperwork in. I have a mounting to do list that keeps me functioning. Today it says:

–read syllabi
–look for lightbulbs in storage closet.
–sign up  outreach.
–read texts for class
–begin sw series

I love being packed to the brim with ideas to keep me occupied.  I devolve into an automatic writing session as I am distracted before my walk. I do this sometimes. Close my eyes pick up a pen, ask God to talk through me and I write it. Sometimes with my left hand. TOday it says:

God moves through me like water. I am everything. I feel everything. I am an angel. There is no time. 

I am wrapped in a blue cool light and my purple peacoat. I am on the street by 6:45 pm and moving away from the bridge. I am not prepared to cross the bridge today. I take the University side again. I am at Market and 32nd with a blink of an eye when someone asks me how to get to the train station. I have no earthly idea what’s going on and can say this firmly, as I keep walking. I sometimes pretend I don’t speak English in these situations. Shake my head and throw my hands up. I have no earthly idea what’s going on, I say and keep walking towards the train station. 

It’s not that I don’t want to help, it’s that I have no idea where I am.  Better to pray they find a more unshakeable scout than me. Someone who may just lead them there, arm in arm, on their nightly walk around the town. I am at the train station and laughing uproariously in five minutes. I am pushing along, suddenly looking up at a sign that reads 22 and Walnut. I am wrapped in a blue cool light, breath condensing on a window near Chestnut St. saying out loud, there is no time.

 

1/9/2017

We met up a few weeks later when I was back in town. Able to borrow his ex’s old kayak and oar we headed to the dismal swamp.
“ I released my alligator snapping turtle here,” I remind him.
“You never had an alligator snapping turtle.”
“We do this every time. Yes I did!”
“Ok, pay attention,” he said.
The name made it sounde desolate but it was lush, full of sycamores and bald cypress, my favorite, I loved watching the spanish moss hang. I had a hard time focusing once I got around a lot of plants. I couldn’t retain all I learned but was mezmerized by their foliage, the green, the light glinting through branches, the sun hitting water, a large stone, a magpie darting, the scurry of a chipmunk.
“Pay attention.”
“Ok. I did have an alligator snapping turtle though. His name was Michaelangelo.”
“Cute.”
We started slow. He led my boat to the shore and steadied it so I could hop in.
“Put your paddle behind you. When you are alone, you will do it this same way but get more in the water. Because I am here, I can push you off a little.
“What about cottonmouths?”
He just shook his head. Then he placed his paddle above his head.
“Take your paddle and find the center like this.” He made his thumb and index finger wrap around it. “You can change it as you go but see what feels comfortable and balanced. Even. Find a place that feels like the weight is balanced on one side.”
I bit my tongue a little so my tongue poked out and mimicked him, looking up at him through my sunglasses for approval. He nodded and twirled his paddle like a baton but dropped it on the ground.
“Yeah, “ I said. “You’ll get the cottonmouths.”
He pushed me a bit more in the water but I waited for him to get in his boat before doing anything. We only went out for about an  hour and Jacob showed me the basics of paddling, or forward stroke and told me to focus on my core not my arms. That was easy. Dip one blade forward and then the other falls back.  Then draw stroke and rudder stroke to move sideways and back to shore. He told to me swivel my body to face the blade when I wanted to turn. We had some speed  so he showed me that I could set the blade in the water, lean my body slightly one way when I want to turn but and rely on the momentum to keep it up.
“See.”
“No,” but I managed.
“You can also do this when you get a nice wind.”
He was a bit ahead of me and I was placing one paddle in the water and letting the other stand up like he was. I could feel it. I could feel it turn I mean.  It was quite easy. While I didn’t understand everything he explained, you can attune to the water fast. A rudder stroke was just a way to will water. If you asked me to explain the mechanism, I couldn’t but I did it several times. It reminded me of the perpetual motion game I played as a kid except without as much movement. My dad used would roll his fists one on top of the other and just repeat: it’s perpetual motion, lion, you can’t stop it. I would jump on top of him and put all of my weight on him and laugh. He was very strong. Perpetual motion, he would say over and over turning his fists and I couldn’t stop it. Grab them, claw them, sometimes bite them. I couldn’t stop him.  Until he needed a sip of wine. We let our kayaks float for a bit.
“You can look up and try to find snakes.”
I had been looking up but hadn’t seen anything.
“Or down to see cottonmouths. Or Michaelangelo.”
“I’ve been doing push ups,” I beamed and formed my left arm into a right angle to show him my bicep.
“No, you haven’t. But they look great.”
I laughed.
“My arms hurt,” I said. “Let’s go back.”
I looked up at the pines lining the shore; still green, some browning. Warm fall. I didn’t see any snakes but I saw a few ripples in the water as a school of fish swam by.
“You can see bats here sometimes,”  he said.
“Cool,” I was looking down again.
I saw more ripples around my boat.
“Pickerel you said, Jake?”
“Yeah, or catfish. Lots of catfish.”
Back on the bank, he extended his hand and helped me out. Jacob was right. It was easy, relaxing. My arms were toned and fit  and ready for this. I could see my right tricep bulging in the sun as I rowed back to shore.  Growing, pulsing, moving towards something bigger with each stroke of the oar, I smiled. Smiling while tired, that is the women’s armor. We surprise you being continually broken and rowing.
“I want to be prepared,” I told Jacob.
“You don’t have to go out that often. I’m telling you,” he rested his hand on my back as we I got out of the boat.  “The trip I want to take you on is easy.”
“I’m not strong enough, Jake. I want to get stronger.”
“It’s only going to be about three hours.”
“Jake.”
“Yeah.”
“I also heard that the alligators are moving north.”
He laughed.
“Stop googling things.”

 

Jake took me out the next day as well and we went a little further down Lake Drummond, staying out an extra hour so I can practice turns.
“There is a legend of the swamp, Jake. A bride died just before her wedding. She stays out here in her white canoe and holds a lamp looking for her husband.”
“Was she killed by an alligator?”
“Didn’t say. Will have to check when we get back.”
Jake was paddling backwards and facing me.
“Isn’t that hard?”
He shrugged.
“Next time, I am going to bring my camera,” I said. I squinted. The sun was bright and today I forgot my sunglasses. We were in the middle of the lake, far from the bank. I felt safe with him there. “I can’t believe I haven’t seen a single moccasin.”
“Or lamented bride.”
“Or bat.”
“Well maybe tonight.”
“Or Michaelangelo.”
I dipped my index finger in the water, smiling. It was the end of September, 71 degrees and sunny.

Without any warning, she turned to walk away. Her friends followed suit. I heard the cracking of bones in the distance. If I could smell blood like them, I would have. It was everywhere. Congestion, fatigue, general shutting down–I couldn’t smell anything and I was freezing, slowly freezing, slowly twirling in a net, slowly turning to face her body, to face them walking away.

The two ripped her limbs off delicately and two more had joined them. One looked over at me curiously, but with no commitment to leaving what they had found. All alphas. I know how this was going to go. I had spent my entire life watching kills for fun, watching my cats trap mice under the oven, bring half dead rabbits to the door, and the way a packs forms like a swarm.

“We have to kill them.”
“Why don’t you do it?”
She raised a palm to the bark.
“Oh, god, ok, with your hand?”
Admittedly, I looked down but then back up to see her smash the lantern fly against the bark, one after the other. All five.
“Ok, savage, yeah,” Rayne stepped away.
“Someone has to do it,” Salome was bent over near one that had fallen, inspecting it and then squishing it with the ball of her hand.

I was watching, unable to contribute, unable to picture myself face to face with an actual plague of insects so pretty as these mysterious asian flies that had besieged our trees.  Earlier in the hike, I had been taken by a discarded web only to notice the sap dripping from a cut near the bottom. I ran my finger across to feel the moisture. The tree had already uprooted itself due to storm. If only they would seek the fallen trees to suck but why suck something dead and fallen when a growing sumptuous oak is nearby? I twirled there with those women unable to commit to violence watching it become committed towards me.

When the fifth one came, she trotted right past the body, right towards me. This is where the divide begins between alpha and beta so the betas were coming next. She was playful, the comic relief of the pack; black and gray and smiling. Running and smiling and even though everything was blurred from tears that never broke and the sting of chill that hit me with or without wind, I could see her drooling. I had stopped moving awaiting the dog’s arrival.

“I stepped on a lantern fly today. I am not feeling great about it,” I texted the group.
I looked down at the body somewhere between Dickinson and Reed and it was smashed flat into the concrete and I was desolate and growing more abyss than sun every day. Yet, it still took something deep from me to step on it.
“Spotted lantern flies jump more than they fly,”  she informed the group.
I saw the light change in my periphery before I heard the ding.
“The trees thank you,” was her reply.

The black wolf was right under me, looking up. My cheek was probably going to freeze to the rope, I don’t know, but my face was smushed against it and I was curled in an upside down fetal position so I could see everything as long as I faced it, but not if the wind, a sadist, a wolf, or a breaking branch moved me. Or God. What I did I wish for? What did I seek? She had asked me. A chance or long sleep.  Very gently, the black dog stood on its hind legs so it’s front paws touched the bottom of the net and pushed. I twirled effortlessly in the air like that as the wolf watched. Listening only to my heartbeat, which was slowing, and the creaking of the branch, which was louder than the bones breaking or the distant snarl of the two wolves that had fought over my friends calf muscle. The wolf watched like that and myself, a watcher, understood the game.  

I wasn’t sure what the plan was. I was waiting to pass out and I regretted immediately letting the green eyed witch leave my sight but I also understood I was not in control. What I hoped was that, I would freeze to death first and then they would rip me to shreds. What I realized now is that they were trying to get the branch to break to get to me more easily. It wasn’t as easy to pick me apart through the rope, six feet above. Tall, strong, but still spent from the hunt and people say wolves only kill people in folklore and myth, but here we are, the scrape of his claws leaving traces of terror all over my lower back.

 

Ive watched my nervousness

eat me daily,
clutch me with its
indecision   I am robed in
rosary, nodding, chanting throughout
the day but really I am
   fickle
is the first thing I write about myself
and I am always
holding something somewhere in
my body.
like a claw lives inside
my jaw line and now
I have TMJ

       what’s that? sometimes
they wait.

a psychosomatic disorder where your
jaw locks when you’re chewing
and you slowly start to choke.

well not everyone chokes.
I just started to choke
when it closed the first time.

“the drowning”

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”

rainstorm.

unscheduled and I had been
comfortable in shifting drought.
avoiding the wasps
hidden in the grass
with my clumsy, calloused toes
seasoned from walking too far
and too hard in unpadded sandals
when the first sign of spring hits,
and my sky blue sundress seems a
sudden hindrance:

flimsy, strap always falling down and
blows up in breezes
so I have to keep watching the way I
carry myself around men.
I crouch and the hem crawls to
expose my left thigh and the
garter you gave me:
not the daisies I wanted,
a ring of bruises
in the shape of your open mouth
still fresh with conquest;
lasting impact of
your parting breath that
said nothing and now
just hangs there and hurts
when I shower.
wait

I’m counting cicada shells
under the picnic table;
a gesture of presence.
someone told me to stop everything
and I needed a year to pass.
I scrubbed away the last of your fingernail
but I have to ride those
bite marks out.
blinked once and a ripple in the sky
burst; liberated and aimless,
she shows just one day’s worth
of self-containment uncondensed,
without tension, falling naked
she’s black and soft and
seamless        surfeit with mild
violence, crackling and
completely cageless.

my feet are covered in mud
before I even notice the shadow
wash over my bangs.
wait.
drenched in flood my head
is dark red because you liked
“subtlety”
and I liked demonstrative movement;
a hint of auburn wasn’t enough to show
blood with just a little bush
so I adorn myself with ritual:
hair dye and cleanses,
little thorns,
little kills to draw your
attention.   my knees hurt and
all those cicadas are dead
so I stand to lift my face to the thunder;
a small gesture of inflorescence.
Wait.

open my arms purposefully
like petals of a rose exhaling
in relief for the drink
her master brings.
parched from the work my dry words had done
undoing
as they roamed free all over
your front yard.
God makes pacts with penitents
and you barely have a face that isn’t
my reflection so I’m itching to be clean and
fresh and start
again.
stretch my neck with pride to
to catch her drops on my tongue,
 bold with repentance
and ready to wash away
the phantom jaws that bait me.
but suddenly charged,
the gray sky remembered
she held lightning.
and suddenly illuminated,
I remembered
       
I am
the dark thing
inside of me.

“prayer”

 

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.

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