good mercy, we’ve broken it at last! shattered the bottle against the tree! little red tulips of wine everywhere, on your coat, on my corduroys! we’re so young! we’re (still) fifteen! are there people on the lake? at this hour? do you think they can see us? do you think they’re trying to see us? do you love me forever? do you still? hunk of hock of star i am, i’m sorry. there are shards of glass in what’s left in my hands that we can drink from. we could upset our stomachs! we could cut our lips! are you smiling? i love your smile! i knew i had something to give! pass me, danger. we made it together, and i’ve years to work out what that is.
The universal sign for choking is a hand clamped to the throat like an animal fastening teeth to its prey. Death is almost always messy. Your mother’s hands were swiftly at your shoulders, steering you from the love seat to the kitchen, bag of candies crackling in your fist. Meanwhile, there is a great family narrative about your choking. Your sister ran to your father, who was mowing the lawn and the only one who knew what to do but ambled toward the house at too slow a speed. Choking has many meanings. But your throat was glutted. Your throat was an underground burrow clogged with the hot frantic rabbit. You were the heat and the frenzy. Until some muscular force pushed you from behind. The counter’s edge was a punch in the ribs, and the ball of chocolate shot into the sink like a small wet heart. For twenty years you believed your mother had saved you. Surely it wasn’t the angel that stood in your room at night, terrifying you into stillness. Not once did you guess you’d run into the kitchen on your own, thrown yourself against the sink as if you knew exactly how to save yourself. And even when you were dying, you knew to do it clean.
You’ve already seen your future, and there was nothing in it but your own mind. Lying in a forest clearing, looking up at how the sky was propped on the ring of trees like a crystal ball on a fortune teller’s fingertips. A cloud passed through like a brain, another like a wisp of thought. Those voices in your head are all yours.
I disembowel a deer in the yard. You watch through the kitchen window. She hangs by her hind legs, her nose pokes the lawn. Her mouth is a closed curve—she grinned at the piercing in her flank. I pull at her intestines and find the bullet, knead it between my fingers. The metal is cool and heavy, the texture of a pearl. I remove her bladder, strip her skin, and rinse her muscle—watch the water drain pink. Cloves and citrus simmer on the stove, you’ve soaked the house in cinnamon. The earth is a recipe ripped from God’s cookbook, lying in a junk drawer. In a forest miles away, a gold casing lays untouched, hollow and dark.
My neighbor bought a white Ferrari and painted it red then again back to white. He sold them on the side. He amassed a fortune. I was climbing the nearby tree during all of this. He was booking dinners all around town. His mask was half burlap and half gold. He saw me in the tree. Said he would cut me a deal. Said he would steal me a few. I watched him drive off often. Sometimes from my window, sometimes from my tree. He needed someone like me to look after him. I knew it. I noticed it and I knew it.
The birds are back. We pull out the old feeders, dust off the winter spiders, turn out the leavings of last year’s seeds. One or two have completed the rusting started years ago and will now have to be replaced. And the bird feed: do we have enough left safe from last year to even begin? We mount the feeders empty, planning to get more when we replace the thoroughly rusted feeders, vacancy hung in the space where food should be found. The birds are still unpacking. One flies over to show me pictures from his time in Brazil. I would have liked to have gone, but it is my place to stay. Stay, and earn for bird feed, un-rusted feeders, storage space for feeders in winter. Envy is brief. Each phylum has its purpose. I am wise enough to know mine.
I get to tend the wolves all summer. Part of the job is trying to convince the wolves they are not a pack, but a flock. It is difficult with all the loose sheep about. We focus the flock on stray rabbits and other plentiful prey, tendered to them captive, and the whole idea of flock making starts working—and then a sheep wanders by and even if we chase it successfully off, there goes a week’s work. Wolves just react, but the sheep can be stubborn, seem unwilling to release the past. I operate as best I can with my wooden staff, even carry rocks and a sling. The fellows who take the winter shift scare off stray sheep with snowballs. The wolves make more progress in winter. Everyone knows I do what I can. The season is against me. With the onset of birthing time, I have to now and again let a small enough lamb pretend it is a rabbit. We mix it with the usual feed we capture and supply. We hope the wolves cannot smell how it volunteered itself, that perhaps they will be fooled and not backslide.
I ask my neighbor if I can lean over the fence and take an orange from her tree. I will only eat the rind, I say, and the fruit’s flesh will be spared for you. If I ask her for milk she will rush inside and give it to me in a blue porcelain bowl. She doesn’t live alone, but I have never seen another person there. The house does not seem alone. I sit in my garden and wait for her to join me. There is a white fence between us but we both know it is only there out of custom. I ask her if she can spare a lawn chair for someone to sit next to me, and she does and then sits. She wears blouses with swans stitched into the sleeves. She tells me her house was painted blue in a trance, and her flowers are eared and toothed to chase away vermin. You can never ask for too much from a woman like this. She has two of everything—two chairs, two glasses perched on the table, two pairs of shoes haunting the doorway. Our clothes share the clothesline, and most days I sit on the back porch and watch her write letters and wait for the phone to ring. One day I find that the second pair of shoes by her door fit me, and realize they are my shoes. At night I go inside with her, and there is a chair for me in the kitchen, and a space next to her in the bed in the shape of me. Tonight I will bring up an orange picked from the tree outside and say: I’ll eat the rind and you eat the flesh. ♦