Wandered into a snowstorm last night. Would have died, but a knight on a white horse rescued me. All was deathly quiet except for the faint jingle of bells on the horse’s red-ribboned reins. The knight was decidedly unhandsome—something too ironic about the set of his mouth. His armor was too rusted to shine. But his eyes were very luminous. Blue as forget-me-nots. He took me to his house. Made me hot black tea from a brass samovar. It tasted like autumn, like home. He went to sleep early, didn’t even take off his boots. Like an actor exhausted after his own tragic death. I stayed up late, still drinking tea, watching the full moon. The snow fell in silent spirals all night. Yet the moon shone through it, burning a hole through the clouds. I thought, among other things, about my savior knight. He slept with his arms crossed. I wondered what lay beneath his armor. Crushed flower petals? A magic amulet? Secret stitches running the width of his chest? I longed to reach out and touch him. To ask him what it was like to wield a sword with a jeweled hilt. To sit astride a horse. To know good from evil and still choose good.
He always wore silk clothing, no matter the occasion. In the garden, in the city, in the countryside. He drove a silk car and ate silk pancakes for breakfast. He walked a silk dog and married a silk woman, Iris, the woman of his silk dreams. He admired her satiny sheen that shimmered when the wind blew. He wove silk into every conversation he ever had—he spoke of ancient Asia and mulberry trees whenever possible, sericulture and insect larvae. One morning, he got up early to walk the dog before a light drizzle became rain. At breakfast with Iris he felt the smooth silk tablecloth and said silk is one of the strongest natural fibers. Yes, she responded, but it loses about twenty percent of its strength when wet.
After Michael Martone
returns from bingo at the warehouse, he finds a chicken in his sun room. This cannot be, Michael Martone thinks. He does not own a chicken. Something’s not adding up.
After Michael Martone
discovers the chicken, he aims to capture and release it, but is not quite sure how. His great-uncle Linus owned chickens in a hand-built coop in his backyard, but they mostly stayed inside its borders. Seemed like the point. Michael Martone remembers a trick he’d seen where one could tie two chickens together with string to keep them from running off, but that wasn’t much help here.
After Michael Martone
empties the trash can, he returns to the sun room and attempts to trap the chicken. This is pretty easy, the can plopping down around the hen. Now, Michael Martone waits. Thinks some more. This is not like catching a bug under a cup, there’s no sliding a piece of paper beneath the trash can to hold the chicken in place. How did the chicken even get into the sun room, he thinks. He inspects the windows. Nothing opened, nothing breached. Perhaps the chicken did not come into the house from outside, but was inside the house and is slowly making its way out. Had he noticed a chicken in the house lately?
After Michael Martone
opens the door, he lifts the trash can to angle the chicken out, and finds that it has laid an egg. This is starting to feel like another story, he thinks, one that doesn’t involve me.
The mother and the son are driving north towards the state line. They have brought two boxes of Trivial Pursuit cards from the eighties. The questions about Berlin are out of date.
The son asks his mother, is it true your sister had shock treatments? She notices his “your sister,” and not the usual “Aunt ____.”
Yes, the mother says, your aunt did have shock treatments. I don’t remember much about it. I was young, and nobody told me anything.
They drive north for a long time, and the son drifts in and out of sleep. I see her on the telephone wires, he says, watching us.
The mother says, those are crows, or grackles. After a few minutes she says, I see her too.
It doesn’t matter, the son says. She can’t come down.
Near the border, the son pulls out a card and asks a question about Charles Lindbergh.
The mother watches the telephone poles flipping past. The Kennedys, Lindbergh, Roosevelt, she says. You only have to know a few things about them, really, to win.
In 1982 I was eight and Clell’s ear had been floating for more than one hundred years. It resembled a contemporary ear, if slightly swollen. First: shot clean off in a standoff with the sheriff. Next collected from where it fell after it flew. At some point: washed, cauterized, jarred in formaldehyde. At some point placed on a lace doily for anyone who wanted to see, even me. Drifting soberly in its bath: an ear! An ear a man had used to hear what noise there was. A wicked man with an honest, whorled ear, backlit to glow like a conch. A wicked man, come to sack the city, come to steal its copper ingots, come to pack his duster pockets with gold bars and maple candy. Reduced to this ear in this brine. Preserved: helix, antihelix, lobe. Galactic ear: the compressed life of Clell. In the dim back room of the historical society, I paid my quarter again and again to stand before it. I would ask Clell’s ear its favorite tune and other questions like what is your mom’s name, what is your favorite color, what do you like to do for fun. Or we would be silent for some time; I would cup my own ears tight, to hear the blood.
My lungs have become hot air balloons rising. I can hear little rich people tittering about the wine in Alveolus. I imagine them gout-suffering and French-bread-crumb-moustachioed, sitting in their baskets rising through the mucus cloud in my chest cavity.
The balloon tops tap at my sternum. I can hear one of them make a phone call to an aeronaut. “We’d like you to de-ossify the sky,” he says into his phone. On a smaller hot air balloon a pickaxed-man rises and fractures my internities.
From here I decide to guide them with my voice. I love them like children, I want them out of me. “You’ll have to divert the balloon’s flame to melt away the skin,” I say. The one with the phone says “We ought to divert the balloon’s flame to melt away the skin.” The others pat him on the back.
They wait while the sky melts open for them, saying things that little rich people say like “My, my,” or “Oh dear,” and “I would like a pig delivered with an apple.” I hum what I think an opera would sound like, and it seems to sate their need for expensive noise.
At last they burst out and shout a haughty “Hurrah!” They look down at the Alveolus region, whose wine making is slowing by the second. The Mountains of Dermis all frayed and blackened; they have been discovered.
“Goodbye,” I sputter as my lungs fly away. One of them throws down a hunk of bread as a thank you. They bicker over proprietary matters. ♦