Miss Quill invites me in for some lavender sage tea and cookies in the shape of Alphabet cone shells and Baby’s Ears. Ours words flake into our hands or the meanings grow like yeast in our dark shriveled houses. She says that her brother has not written her since the Battle of Maricourt. Perhaps, she opines, he has been blinded by too many powder fingers and can no longer paint sunsets in the shape of a bleeding tooth or the sky as broad-ribbed and inchoate. She says she is feeling faint and asks me to carry her to bed. There, I read to her an old poem that ends with the line, “Your tulips have always been true.” I close the dusty book. She smiles in short increments, says “When we were children, we always fought our peculiar war games, didn’t we? Tell me, Shank, who wound up winning? I mean, on average. And what were the odds?” “I can’t remember, Madame. It was so long ago.” She has me rearrange the furniture to dissuade any intruders. We are so far out in the country. Back in my apartment of Egyptian blue walls, I notice three deeps cuts on my arm. Have I ever made dangerous wagers by candlelight while brooding over secret maps? I never keep these recollections.
Miss Quill and I share coddled eggs, hardly cooked. I imagine her eyes as cool water baths as my ears begin to pop from long-repressed pressures. After she alludes to her last lover, a highlander prone to arcs of mania, she drops a piece of exquisite china. Picking up the odd geometric- shaped fragments, resembling islands in the sky, she cuts her finger. I grab the hand and rush to cleanse it as if to save it from becoming infected by the air, as if it was once a part of me that grew too inward, too removed from blood flow and exchange of nutrient. Sobbing in some other language, she fights me off, says to let go, that she can handle all of this–blood is splattered on my face. Later, she shuts off the lights and says she must be alone. Before I leave, she says You know, Shank, whenever I look at you, I see you as if in a mirror. Tell me what it means. Please! Please! Reverse me! Back in my apartment of shuddered windows, I shut off the lights and stare at into my own obsequious mirror. I can see the whites of her eyes. The mirror cracks. I am cut in half, longitudinally. Under shards of daylight, the three of us do not talk to each other. Dumbly.
Miss Quill is standing over the Ogre-man, a deep red gash near the thyroid, blood pooling in the shapes of dismembered hands, heads of the last three distempered victims. His fingers are mangled, end in talons. Near one dented lobe lies a boomerang with a scimitar edge. Miss Quill is beside herself. She is shaking beneath her white frilly shirt and calico riding skirt. “How long,” I ask her, “how long has he been after you?” “For as long as I could see myself from the outside in. From the time I grew too tall for my glass globes. From the time I could swallow my own reflections and dream in doubles.”
“He knew all my secrets and tried to kill off my spontaneously regenerating selves.”
I’m struck by the Ogre-man’s freakishly long tongue. As if by instinct–and I am never a man of acutely-angled obsessions–I kneel beside him and latch on to his tongue. I pull and pull more. Miss Quill yells me for me to stop. But I keep pulling, the way I once tried to strangle my father before mother stopped us, all those nights of foisted need and its misrepresentations. I keep pulling as if I will find gold in the Ogre-man’s roots. Miss Quill keeps screaming for me to stop, that I don’t know the consequences of such an act, that I must let the dead speak for themselves. I finally manage to pull out the whole tongue, all 50 or so meters of it. A fine catch, I pride myself. Consequences: Miss Quill goes mute. I speak with a forked tongue. My foster-father, a silent assassin of third world dictators, dies mysteriously at the mouth of a river somewhere in Indo-China.
Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Elimae, Smokelong Quarterly, This Zine Will Change Your Life, Matchbook, and elsewhere. Kyle blogs at http://upatberggasse19.blogspot.com/. He also loves cats, dogs, and garage bands of the 60s.