A Billion Years Before This Ocean Rolled
…The fragility of those bare arms of yours—how I longed to enfold them, all your four limpid, lovely limbs, a folded colt, and take your head between my unworthy hands …and—“Puhlease, leave me alone, will you,” you would say, “For Christ’s sake, leave me alone.”
—Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita, 1958
“Surprised you didn’t kick my door in and lynch me,” said the kiddie book author, Orson Moony. Was the baseball cap supposed to make him look hip? Doug resisted – barely – shattering the guy’s thyroid. Think of your brother.
“Pleasant surprise? Cuz‘ don’t get me wrong. You will be sprayed with the jumbo can of Raid. Good Night, Roaches—Buenas Noches! Not by me, though. I’m Mason’s father—not Our Father. You’ll survive tonight—many Snuggly-Buggly nights, maybe. If, like I say, we can … finagle.”
“So you’ve … alluded. But I fail to—”
“He fails to. For someone schooled in—Hey, you wanna Make Way for Ducklings? One Boy, Two Boys, New Boy, Screw Boys? With absolutely No Noise?”
“Are you—? A bribe?”
“For Mason? Your—?”
“Look, you gotta feed the Very Hungry Caterpillar, Orson, Old Bean—and I got my own shit needs feedin‘.”
He slumped onto his Williams-Sonoma settee, where surely Mason’s face had pressed. “You lost me, Man.”
“No, I lost him. The Little Prince. Long ago. Too Curious, that George. Finders keepers.”
“He said you were a low-rent scumbag.”
“Well ain’t that the pot calling the kettle Nigger Jim. I’m conceding, Brother O-Face. Frog and Toad are Friends here. Don’t fucking look at me like that. What, he don’t like it with you? You ain’t goin‘ all Dahmer and hack—?”
“No, I love Mason.”
And Doug nearly vomited fish-tacos onto an Oriental rug. There’s a case needs making, a deal cut. Keep control. Don’t Let the Pigeon drive the Motherfucking Bus. “Well, there you go, Orson Wesleyan: Amor Vincit Omnia.”
“What do you want?”
“Swanky, this joint. The Hobbit and Holes biz pays a bugger, huh? Go Dog, Go! [Doug had done his homework]. It’s negotiable. Are we talkin‘ sale or lease?”
And he began to rise, but with a single finger, Doug prolapsed him. “You wanna haggle instead with a coupla‘ tatted-up Vice cocks with Cuban-daddy issues? “You buyin‘ outright—or makin‘ goddamn payments?”
“Fuck. OK … It depends. How much?”
“Brass tacks. Nice. Lessee …New model … Cherry, right? Make me an offer.”
“Too crass? Creative financing then. What’s on the table, Orson Scott Cad?”
“Hold on—I know. I gotta cabin. In Georgia. Inheritance thing. On a lake—it’s yours. But I never fucking see you again. Mase and I—”
“Now allow me to interrupt—Don’t resist.”
“Resist the arrest, Orson—or …the savage ass-pillages in prison. Oh, the Places You’ll Go, My O!”
Whereupon the copious Boys in Blue busted through to pounce the perv prejudicially for the gross misuse of one Mason Harcourt, 11.
“Cap. ain’t gonna commend hearin‘ N-words on the wire, Dougie.”
“That, Partner, is what you call ‘the air of authenticity.’”
Detective Douglas Pace – Fate’s lieutenant – could never resurrect his baby brother, Butchie—but he could bury men like Orson in a grisly abyss, and when he’d left a billion bitches bleeding there, he would weigh their worth against half his brother’s heart.
Now the Ship is Sinking Inch by Inch!
For James Stanton
Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts
of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves:
It was a long lake in the middle of Maine, the wildest state within a day’s drive of the Upper West Side, where I lived in a $3.1 million penthouse, thanks to my last film, a steaming turd called Kelpie, about a Scottish shepherd boy (me) and his ghost horse (Kelpie). My dialogue coach, a peachy Glaswegian, fake teeth, fucked me on set.
My great-grandfather built a cabin on Long Lake, circa 1947. Summers, my parents rented it out, but stopped when I started supporting them at age 13. It was so musty I had to keep every aperture open for days before my chest stopped aching and my nose unstuffed. I sequestered my fame there biannually.
In a canoe in the middle of Long Lake I met the “Maine Murder Fraternity,” the boys, Hunter and Etan Bishoff, in sleek yellow kayaks, the former red-capped (“FDNY”), and the latter in a black one that read “Zero.” Just post-dawn; hypnotic loons. Fog clung to the surface and the moon yet hovered hangdog. “You’re Johnny Kilkenny!”
“Can’t escape it.”
“Why wouldja‘ wanna?”
“You gotta be on all the time,” I said.
Hunter held the spoon of my oar. We drifted, freewheeled into marshes; Etan pissed, barely louder than whispers. They were ferrying weed in a Ziploc. We bonded on a wee, stony, pine-treed island—“Blood Rock.” I let Hunter fuck me with a palmful of his and his little brother’s saliva. Then Etan tried to fuck me and failed. “Sorry …”
“Stoned,” said his brother in his stead.
Then they confessed. Clever rags were calling them “Gog and Magog.”
“What’s the point of killing kids?” I asked, naked in the afterglow, Etan still stroking his big brother.
“What’s the point of pretending you’re some kid you ain’t?”
“Cash money. I drove a Bugatti Veyron to this backwater.”
“That make you any less a cum-dumpster, Kid? I’m rockin‘ an F-150 and who just rode whom?”
“What if they catch you, Hunter? They gotta demolish adorable pups down at Warren State, no? I did a movie, Red Rain—”
“Yum! But none of them dumb fucks suspects us. Etan’s in Cub Scouts and I’m the odds-on favorite to win the Soap Box Derby. Anyways, we’d be King Shit in that horny Reform School, like in your picture.”
“Reform—? No, that’s for kids who, like, knock over the frozen yogurt shop. You guys … I mean … how many …?”
“Don’t you feel—?”
“Etan does, a bit. Right, Baby Duck?”
I pulled up my underwear. “So … how?”
“Depends,” said Etan, all nonchalance, and kissed me long. Lovely.
“Keeps ’em on their toes,” said Hunter. “The whatever. FBI.”
“So. You ever …?”
“Jesus, Johnny-Boy. We ain’t deviants! This ain’t Hollyweird bullshit. This here’s Regular America.”
“Although …” said Hunter, and the siblings simultaneously hefted stones in their hot hands. “There’s always a first time.”
“A thirteenth!” said the littler boy with a filmic smile.
Six Shivering Things in the Kingdom
For Nark & Mormon
Pulvis et umbra sumus
—Horace, Odes, Book IV, 23 BCE
Quivering. So cold. Gradations of darkness. They’re all over Akron. Emergency bands report “Shadow Beings.” I never believed in such bullshit. But something cowers now in my garden. Interdimensional immortals, some people claim; doppelgängers; aliens; ghosts. The dutiful warrant demons, bolstered by their cardinal eyes. After tonight, we no longer vilify tricks of chimerical “imagination.” Now citizens and cops and I have cornered creatures, inexplicably materialized.
Well, quantum calculations long located Akron in the depths of Plato’s Cave.
In our history, these ephemeral entities appeared mostly only to children—quickly dissipating. My boyfriend was a consonant kid; at Cuyahoga Falls, one slid over the stones. Humanoid – pure shadow – brisk, choppy (“Dyschronometric” said his pretentious shrink)—With evil intention, James insisted. This etheric double snatched his breath; he couldn’t budge his neck to check any “presence” there. Neither could the kid detect whether his friends had clocked this shadow mass that passed behind them.
What if out of the corners of our eyes we mark the transient astral bodies of nightmaring neighbors? My stab (at Applebee’s) anyway after he disencumbered himself of his secret, a year into our courting, June, 1989. And I really considered this concept of our spirit/consciousness wandering dimly while we slumber—even after the final curtain call.
James’ brainstorm: Far in the future, people figure out time-travel, and they visit our timeline, but we glimpse only their umbra.
“Then why do you suppose you got the strong sense your shadow-stranger was malevolent?” I asked him, “if they’re just innocuous tourists?”
“In Little Women, Alcott writes some people get sunshine, and some all shadow—so … souls? … incarcerated in darkness, eternally?”
No, not forever—that doesn’t adumbrate how six such essences hypostasized in the Midwest tonight, and thence, began to scream. The first one substantiated “in agony,” according to the butcher, Gualtieri, “in [the] meat locker. [My] balls shrunk up.” Soon, the second shadow screeched when it felt that it had coalesced alone in a snow-strewn, cobblestone courtyard. The third blinked and shivered as it entified, and shrieked and writhed in the Fickett Funeral Parlor. The fourth and fifth of the Visitants to Summit County manifested twinned, but that seemed incidental. First skittering discretely in Stan Hywet Hall, upon tornadic embodiment, both conjoined, becoming doubly aberrant. This thing wrangled, squealing abortively to disentangle from its Other and our explicate World.
Blanketed in our backyard, James and I fucked as was our winter wont. When I first apprehended the shadow glide over his backside, I clenched. Then it scudded over snow, disappearing by our (ice-) pissing imp. I gasped—his boyhood daemon swooping to consume him home? Then … shimmering into form, a naked, palpitating slink. (It bawled) We crab-crawled backwards—like a mirror!
These shadows want utterly nothing from us. Their sanguine eyes belie their enmity.
Six quivering things, existentially irresolute.
Thrust into lucidity, we.
All shiver still.
We are but dust and shadow
Shadow and dust but are we
Peep at His Zenith
For Augie—Sorry, Boy
In my career – and you know me – I’ve plumbed the theme of boys in love so many times it must be pathological, as all my critics claim. To them, “Fuck you,” I recommend. Yet this will be the last time. Kayden is dying. Back home. Under mosquito netting, he is going to taste this cardamom air for the last time.
So he tells me. I thought I knew it all. We are men in our 70s, and now he tells me, un-composed, says, “I brought my misery to Maine with me – to you – and I know why.”
I have seldom seen him cry, and only over quadrupeds.
That dog, Peep: I always knew there was something. When once we killed a bear cub with the Rover, Kayden wept, and insisted on elaborate prayers by the roadside. He wouldn’t speak for days. In the night, on the ocean, he sucked in air. He said, “Peep …” But he couldn’t continue.
I had seen a photo once, battered and bleached, when we went down to close the ranch after his mother died—at 101. I understood that goofy-looking pup had occasioned his lifelong mania for rescuing and awaiting a rescue.
And I had heard of those brothers, too, the kids of the Mission Minister, Edgar Pounce. They were bullies all, who later lorded over the third most lucrative tire and lube concern in that hemisphere. Kayden’s mother told me once they had “pissed out the sparkles” in her son’s eyes.
You know me: I loved that boy the way you love a baby buzzard covered in oil.
Sixty-odd years. Four allusions only—occasional, vague claims against the Pounces. The Pince. They whipped Peep’s snout with a willow rod, and lashed right through the fur. He cried and continued to cry, all the forest alive with his cries. He cried so long Kayden’s father couldn’t brook the crying anymore, so Kayden punched the dog once, hard, in the throat, which shut him up, and saved him, and killed them both, a little.
What happens to you is your soul unspools from its spindle. The kernel that contains you hops like popcorn in the fire. You cannot take a life and never pay the price.
They knew. Subsequently, seven-eighths of the way up the ziggurat outside the village (where we met), the Pince advanced with pokers and fangs, and my love, when he was young, flung that puppy by his two starboard paws as far as he could. He dislocated his shoulder in the swing; it was never the same, always pained him. And out over the broccoli tops of the canopy flew Peep.
A compulsion pulled Kayden’s gaze out, and he caught the dog’s eyes at a level with his own—eyes wild in the blank sky. Peep’s body wheeled with limbs outstretched like a flying squirrel, he tells me, or a skydiver. Then my Kay turned away and saw a blade of grass strain against the wind rushing over the ancient stone.
Here’s for Your Trouble
His father finds Jem’s success at soccer ironic. Whenever the boy’s legs scissor, Art pictures the scar between them, plum and serrated. Once he sneaks into a pot-filled hotel ballroom and watches Jem come in second at a slam poetry contest, cap cocked and body lithe. They feed him Jose Cuervo. His piece, “Never Use the Same Word Twice—NEVER!” alludes darkly to the rape. There’s a little dance in his step when he mentions Brittney, the love of his life, and the only girl who knew, Art suspects. The other kids appear to treat Jem like a fellow human, but for a long time he sits alone on a sofa, sometimes worrying his hat brim.
His mother considers it critical that they call it a rape. The police prefer the term “assault.” The “perp” is named Sam Baker. A private eye finds him in a little apartment built on the garage loft attached to his parents’ house. He suffocated them with chlorine gas, and never set foot in their part of the house. They had banished him to the loft because they couldn’t stand the smell of formaldehyde.
Sam worked as the school custodian. He could have drugged the boys, but chose instead to punch them in the nose. He discovered Jem at a school play, in which he portrayed an otter with a lisp. Art and Diane waited 20 minutes before searching backstage. They divorced. Jem’s teacher, the director, poured Drano down her throat.
Sam operated on a card table under ultraviolet lamplight. He photographed everything. He had no medical training, just an old hardcover of Grey’s Anatomy, heavily notated, that his mother had bought him at a yard sale when he was young. A cinch, the doctors said, with some reverence. First he hacked through the perineum with his mother’s grapefruit knife, then with a finger in the anus, shoved out the prostate gland, severing the nerves and connective tissue. He sewed the boys up with his mother’s thread, but didn’t know how to stanch the internal bleeding. One boy died that way, but the other three lived. When they woke, he gave them each a toy. He gave Jem a plastic horse with a knight in saddle. He said, “Here’s for your trouble.” He carried the kid down the stairs in the night, leaving him under a ratty blanket in a shopping cart at the Piggly Wiggly.
They found Sam hosting an intimate candlelight tea with his “kids.” He had made their bodies from melted candle wax. He made the heads from the pinkish-grey prostates, shellacked with clear nail polish, and painted with hair and happy faces.
In prison, they took him apart.
The police returned the evidence to Jem: knight and horse.
Art works two jobs to afford the green Mustang for Jem’s 16th birthday. At midnight, he watches him in the driveway with Brittney, and finally one night, sees him turn his hat around and lean back slowly as she disappears below the dash.