“Okay, it’s not that funny”
The body in front of me is thin and short from age. In the fluorescent light of the room I can see thin white hairs standing straight up on her skin. Her ankles are the thinnest. The line of the stretched tendon is fierce along the backs of her feet running up from her heels, like they could snap. Each of her arms are lying straight along sides of her body, her hands upturned like jesus on the cross. Some kind of ironic move she’s doing in her sleep. Always clever, always having the last laugh.
Aunt Carmella's on her deathbed. At this point she’s 3 days away from the final breath. 3 days after 98 years. I’m the only one there when she dies. I’m sleeping in the hospital room. I breathe her dead air for another 5 hours before waking up, seeing the straight red line of her heartbeat, and calling the nurse. I don’t really care, I didn’t know Aunt Carmella for that long, considering how long she’d been around. I’m 16, I’m in Abilene, Texas watching my aunt die.
“Oh how nice, to scoop it out while it’s still warm.”
Aunt Carmella's feet stick out from underneath the thin hospital cover, everything else is tidily tucked away - besides those stigmata hands.
Gianna was at some bar with her sister for a birthday party. Ice cold. Beer dribbles down the side of a glass and then around the thumb holding the glass. Iiiiice cold. Debbie’s turning 23. The most honest thing I did all year was sit here and watch you guys eat each other out. Uhhhh we don’t like to talk about that. Grace is on a stool by the bar. She’s got on big boots and those skinny legs of hers. The prettiest hands. Small. When laid up against my own I’m reminded of the intimate drawl of a bedtime activity. Sleepy tangle. Hm. Now my words are coming out smokier. Grace is in my hand and I’m in love in the way I always am when a girl gives me her attention like that. this. At the bar with a sweaty thigh laid on top of mine. Cocktail blues. Some kind of tequila in the lowest part of my belly which warms me and turns me softer and tighter at once. That red head’s out of the bathroom now and I can see where she’s come from, a kind of serious shudder as she walks out into the bar again. Green light hitting red hair and white skin like a front yard christmas display. Like a pinball machine. Like a traffic sign. I whisper in another strange ear and forget who I’m talking to.
Carmella’s in bed. She’s 23 and somewhat beautiful. Middle of July. She’s laying in a few layers of dirty sheets and all around her are glasses half filled with teas and dusty water. Dust on top. Tea curdling. She’s lying with a head hanging off the side of the bed and getting dizzy. Most of the time when someone leaves her somewhere she gets a little nervous and needs to move around a lot but today she stays still and lets the blood run to her brain. A little vein forms along the curve of her forehead, face turning red. She’s alone playing a game with the wall, watching little stars appear as she presses down on her eyelids. Carmella sees green waves and dots then takes her hands away from her eyes and lets them fade away. She sticks a finger in her mouth and up around her gums feeling for some bits of leftover cereal she had at breakfast and fishes the mushy pieces out. She’s in a white top and loose old underwear that have started thinning and sagging from wear. She whistles a bit of a weird tune and fades in and out of hot sleep.
You gave me someone to be competitive with a time in my life when that was very important and I want to thank you for that but - I’ve had enough now. I’d like to go back to how it was before.
I only care about one thing and that’s money mpney money momney
And one more thing -
Carmella enters a little dreamsong.
My father is sitting archbacked over his diary at the kitchen table, writing frantically before dinner is served...
Writing - suddenly - to his late mother he begins even more furiously to tear pages out.
My mother my Dear mother - please come visit me one more time, I’d like to see you again before… I know you’re by the seaside and that it’s beautiful there and away from all the hustle bustle of the city (it’s horrible here I know I know) but I can’t hardly remember what you look like, and the kids would love to see you, and Lorraine as well.
“WHAT’s for diNNERr!”
Dad screams - sweating sloppily onto the page, all over the diary, into the sweet iced tea my mother sat tentatively in front of him when she saw how worked up he was getting while writing. She looks at me, raising an eyebrow comically as though to say - “what’s gotten into this guy!” like they do in soap operas - eyes to camera breaking fourth wall type shit - ha ha ! The crowd clucks. I am the crowd, my mother’s some beautiful actress on a day time show. We’re playing a game now. My brother is the laugh track. My father’s the chaotic comedic relief but doesn’t know it yet.
My mother sings back -
“Meeaaaatloaf darliiing, it’s Thursday remember!”
Everyone else that I love is disgusting and filled with hate. They spat at me my whole life and they won’t stop now just cause I’m sick. I’m weak - I said it from day one and it’s the truth.
Girl and boy are sat on roof w unidentified city skyline in background. Girl turns to boy after she finishes telling a lie.
“So, now you know everything about me.”
Boy getting down lower bringing himself somehow from sitting position to a place closer to the floor and more at her feet answers -
“Yes I do, I do”
Girl smiling, thinking - what a fool.
Before going to bed she repeats this mantra - Everything is Mine.
Here we are - we’ve arrived. There are ponds all over the land and a few old churches that are mostly overgrown with moss and things - you can take a look if you like. Maybe once you’ve had a rest - I know the journey is long - maybe after that I can take you for a walk, to see the property. It’s a nice day for that. Yes, you’ve arrived on a good day. It’s the perfect weather don’t you think - balmyyyy - that’s what my mother would say. Oh yes - here’s the main river - it runs through the entire land. About 8 meters across at most places. Yes! It is quite substantial, you can even fish in parts of it. Big fatty salmon.
Anyway, here is the main house, where you will be staying. Although - of course - you may chose to stay in any of the properties on the land. It is all yours. Everything is yours.
“Tonite I’d like to have an argument.”
“Alright honey, what about?”
“Well, I don’t know. What’s getting on your nerves at the moment?
You take your position and I’ll take the opposite, we’ll just see how things go.”
“Okay, let’s try it.”
In anticipation of the
Sun’s going down. ____ is beside me falling asleep. The bus radio is playing a slowed down version of an old pop song I recognize from my adolescence. I’m working really hard to push this feeling of fear away that seems to follow me everywhere these days. I’m so glad I have ____ at least. I don’t tell her about anything but still her presence soothes me. Her body against mine at night in all these foreign beds. She makes them known to me. My front half fitting against hers the same way no matter where we are … I do wonder when she’ll leave me. When my accidental coldness will no longer be tolerable for her. And then what.
Carmella’s leaving class one day and a man boy sitting next to her tells her -
“It is all so exciting because you’re very young. Me - I am blase to it all because I am old and careless. At your age I went out to the desert and I just sat on a rock for 3 months. I came back to the city caked in dirt and darkened by the devil. I was like an animal and people no longer interested me. Everything had become rotton and I no longer wanted to participate in the fakeness of the people who welcomed me back. Whenever you read of a great creative, or possibly even a genius man they all wanted to run away and live in isolation. That’s the sign of a true intellect.”
Carmella is used to people talking to her like this so she shrugs and says he didn’t ask for his life story in the first place.
Carmella's on her mother’s couch. She’s sitting spread legged and soggy eating cubes of papaya that she cut up in the kitchen earlier. It’s spring but it’s still cold outside, gray and heavy.
Carmella’s in a pool holding her face above water, her ears below. She listens to the underwater sound of her strong heartbeat, her toes just barely reaching the gritty pool floor.
Carmella is walking to the bathroom.
“Heavy footed” thinks the cat. I walk to the bathroom to pee and she kisses my toes but thinks still how unladylike my walk is. Galloping into the WC, feet like bricks. Sorry little cat but I’m sleepy, I wouldn’t expect you to understand, you nod off all day in sunny patches on the floor while I get on with it.
Mama’s in the living room picking at her toe nails, overgrown from being on holiday for too many weeks and she’s thinking -
I think the way you’re living is weird and it freaks me out. I made you, and now I can’t understand you - that’s the biggest fear I had when you were inside me - that nothing I’d say would make sense to you, and you to me. Some dark endless misunderstanding between mother and child. In my mind we’re sat in this white room facing each other and we feel like we’re being watched so we keep our mouths shut. I say something fake like “so how’s school, how’s Michaella?” and you say “It’s okay, she’s not my friend anymore” and I feel bad for knowing so little about your life, about you. The way you answer my lame question isn’t malicious like you hate me, it’s more tired - like you pity me. And the way I ask is the same. So we’re in a loop of feeling bad for each other for not supplying the right relationship. You don’t look like me. I’m uncomfortable and unsupportive.
Sitting in the womb I’m sticky and 28 weeks into development. Thin slices of toenails and gooey eyeballs are hardening into something I’ll be able to work with in a couple months. My mother’s mother on her own in Africa in ‘62 has transplanted stress and fear into her murky womb and now we’re all a little nervous. Mrs. Dupont swallows her glass of red wine in one gulp. The top layer is thick with grease from the roast suckling pig Mr. Dupont made for dinner. It’s little carcass syrups having penetrated the room, making the air in the house wet with cooked meat juices. Mrs. Dupont breathes in deeply and imagines droplets of fat adhering to her lung polyps. Mrs. Dupont is going crazy from the baby in her belly. She slurps down another slither of meat and dismisses herself from the room. Has a cigarette out the window of her bedroom screaming “I don’t want to share!” into the hills beyond the house.
The cat’s lying in the hallway in front of a mirror, lounging as per. I walk out heading to the bathroom and she stops me. She says :
“Don’t you think I look especially pretty today? More so than usual?”
I say no, you look as attractive as always. And you do always look good, isn’t that enough for you?”
She says no and turns back to the mirror, her most trustworthy friend.
I walk heavy to the bathroom knowing she is hyper aware of my iron feet. The cat’s lucky. She’s poised. She’s pampered both by others and herself . She’s slender and her coat is always shining. When I leave the bathroom she turns her head in 360 degree owl-like fashion and with this move instantly exposes my own lack of grace. I used to shrink when she looked at me, now I hold my ground so that my monstrous body looms over her tiny, sexy one. She can’t always have the last word.
Everyone is standing in front of me and I am thinking to myself - which one am I dedicating this life to. I have an endless amount of lives, one day I will exhaust myself and decide not to fill another body and finally I will rest but until then I can go again and again. My mother always returns, either as sister or as aunt. My father joins, as lover or best friend. As pet. As boss. A million variations for my family. Maybe in a past life I killed you. In a past life I was beheaded. In a future life I have one arm amputated, the right one. By now you’ve played every role. I fed you from my breast in one life and now you’re licking me again in other ways. Everything becomes symbolic, a twisted hint.
Being the first to arrive home that day from school, P and Y were the kids who baptized the newly laid floor of the courtyard below their flat. The old floor, soaked with piss and trash juice had been deemed by the parents of the block as a ‘no play zone’, but this morning two men had come and dug up the gravel and left behind a flat piece of land, polished and clean, resembling a grainy sort of black tar. Having watched it’s holy creation with their own eyes, the mothers couldn’t keep their children off of the floor - so undeniable was it’s newness.
P sits on the asphalt, testing how hot it is with the soft underside of his paw. London’s unusual sun has already begun baking the tar, seeming to finish off the job by cooking the still gooey black into something fully hardened. The men this morning, who’d come with sledge hammers and hard hats, had ripped the previous floor up from beneath their own feet. P sits, imagining what else might have come up with it, continuing to test his thin skin on the new burning floor.
T was not the kind of man I would usually go for but something about his aire of indecency, money and sex had got me interested. What’s the point of being a woman. I want everyone in the room to desire me all of the time. I kick my little pink booties in the air and arch my back like a dog, I know how the game goes. Someone tells me I always look slutty but in a subtle way. Someone gets all close to my face and tells me ‘you know everyone in this building wants to fuck you’. Her prosecco breath tickling the inside of my ear and getting me all hot. As in getting me sick. As in I can’t explain.
Either way, it felt good to tell the man in my bed that he was stupid. That he was too loud and that his jokes at the dinner table were borderline offensive, also just un-funny. This desire to be the mean one, a desire already accomplished. You are mean!
While you were asleep I touched all of the things in your room.
Why? Out of spite?
I just wanted to make my mark - now I’m definitely here. Indelible little fingerprints all over your shit.
That doesn’t bother me.
What do you mean?
As in, I don’t mind. Lick it all - what do I care.
Carmella’s mother tells me she is asleep in the other room. Her body is warm beneath a thick sweaty duvet. I put my hand across her unconscious forehead and wipe away a little fever grease. Three times a year Carmella becomes sick and sweats a lot and something green comes out from a lot of her orifices and in it’s own way it mummifies her and casts her in a hard opaque resin and she becomes very stiff inside rigor mortis setting in but then, suddenly, she becomes soft again and all of her bones recalibrate and her pores are cleaned out and her muscles are massaged to a state where they are nearly as new as when she popped out the womb the first time. After each sickness she is completely refreshed, made new again, dissolved into a gaseous state and then reformed as a solid. Slips through a liquid - this is her favorite part - like a full body orgasm, the good part right before the release lasting for what feels like days. She is lying there sick and the whole house, the whole family, all her friends and whoever might be her boss at the time just let her do it they give her the time to. Days and days off just lying there wet. A puddle of sick. A puddle of girl turning green and then pink again. Some people - me - coming to watch for a bit. To see a body in a state of change and still visually at such ease. To watch and to see almost no trace of the shift inside. Carmella’s belly - oh. Carmella’s belly rose and fell the way bellies do under the sun. Hot and baking on the inside, the hair on the surface turning white against the skin turning an earthy reddish brown underneath. It was an honor to watch Carmella sleep in these times - really, it was my honor.
All men are immortal.
Here is a picture of my best friend the morning after she lost her virginity, doe eyed and relieved. Not a completely successful break into this half of her life, but alright - if it needs be. He was cute enough and played that confident tanned boy body role of ‘charming’ well for his age. Would become a monster probably, a master at it. I had given him that all-knowing look then already - which said something along the lines of ‘I know’ or ‘Me too’. Fucking each other over. Fucking each others friends over, fucking each others friends full stop. Even then the potential to go further - to switch bodies to get so knock out drunk that we meet each other in different rooms. Having coffee with one instead of the other one morning because someone needs to sleep in longer. Sleep stuck in the corners of eyes, yellow and (demanding). Fat lips. A sideways look on the beach towards some stretched muscle on a back or a belly running tight beneath a dress. This one’s mine. Which one? Him! Seeing double suddenly, rocking into each other a bit. These boys were like that and even in the innocence of some sticky summer sweet romance the opportunity was there. Let him hear from downstairs so it’s like he’s involved in this with us. Let him get in from below. Just let him in the bed!
What happens when 6 sunstroked bodies with bellies full of Whispering Angel collide is especially soft.
Here is the dream Carmella dreamed in her third round of sickness this year, the last one of 2016. Lying in bed during one of the early days - a fresh sickness - she dreamt :
P is lying on the ground. He has been on the tacky asphalt forever. He is part boy part floor. In the dream my mother is a furious business lady. In the dream I am engulfed in a fire. Fire eats me up.