A Tree Falls.

There is a philosophical saying “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?”

Well I feel some interactions between partners can be similar, with similar consequences.

“If our intent is not understood to be loving when we feel we act in that manner, the gap between our caring and our partners interpretation of our feelings/actions will cause a division and stress.

I think it it is essential that if we want to be loved by our partner, that they need to be able to interpret our actions and therefore , our motivations as coming from a deep place of caring and therefore, love. If our partner or loved one can not interpret our actions and what we say in a way that feels like it comes from a special and caring place within us, the relationship can become weak. When they do not understand exactly how much we care, how much we love them, and our actions or what we say is not clearly understood, but is interpreted wrongly, we are not given “emotional credit” for the caring that we feel and show in our actions towards them.

But most of us need this “Emotional Credit”. In essence, we need our love to be understood and recognized, acknowledged for us to stay and flourish in a relationship. If our love is not SEEN, then does it exist? To the other person, perhaps not! If they do not have the necessary emotional tools, perception and experience, to be able to interpret our actions and words, they will not know our intent and feelings. Perhaps they have had emotional trauma that blocks their perception. Or perhaps their self-image is weak and they do not feel very “lovable”. And thus we may love them, but they will feel little or none of it, just as the tree that falls in the forest, our love will not be heard, seen, or understood.

Something Fairly Ludicrous

In the purpling afternoon, every simple bush and each plucked
tree seemed to have its patch of grayish-orange underneath it
like a stain spreading on the snow. Starkey stared at the hills,
wondering if these shadows got their color merely from the
tiredness of his eyes. The sun’s rays did not yet slant although
it was nearly time for the orb to begin its descent; instead, the
light – hidden by a thick cap of clouds — had no determinable
source and revealed the slight houses and farms in a diffuse,
anemic fashion, as if perhaps there sat a camping lantern hidden
somewhere up there, not the star that lights the earth.

Tomorrow morning would see the first fox-and-hound hunt of the
year, the Kentucky snow having been forced by rising temperatures
to retreat from the long hills and main roads, and the
Pritchards’ house had been filling with guests arriving all day.
The fox-and-hound hunt tradition in the neighborhood had
originally been merely a run of hounds, there had been no horses
or actual hunting involved, and had had far more gin than gentry
to it. There was a clutch of gin- and whiskey-drinking,
tobacco-chewing, thin old men in worn clothes who walked out on
the hills nightly, who sat on tree stumps and loosed their dogs
to chase a lone and unlucky fox, while they sat and waited,
listening, all night, letting the dogs run until daybreak before
calling them in. The men could follow the progress of the hounds
by the sound of their barks. They had done this for many years on
the hills, keeping warm with various bottled spirits they shared
around. The pedigrees of the dogs were considerably better than
the men’s. Several, including Starkey and his friend Pryor Harris,
had not worked many days of the week even when they were young
and in their prime. Now most were well past the age of seventy, living
on the edge of poverty, and some quite firmly within it.

It is surprising, if a man has some sort of roof over his head,
how little money is strictly necessary to maintain him, if he
lives far enough away from the city. There are individuals who
need a little food, water and even heat now and then but no new
clothing, no fancy grooming aids beyond a comb, no magazine
subscriptions, no newspaper, no greeting cards, no
address-and-telephone books, no deluxe finepoint pens, no white
goosedown pillows, no designer comforters, no colored bakeware
dishes for the kitchen, no New York art exhibition framed posters
for the walls. The old men who met on the hill to run their dogs
were of this category, and had limited, pared and peeled their
lives down to what they could manage. Certainly none of these men
owned horses and did not know why anyone would try to hunt a fox,
anyway. It had puzzled, then amused them fifteen or twenty years
earlier when some young men, newly moved into the region, eagerly
acquired some of their hounds’ pups and then went and purchased
some overpriced horses as well, and hired a man to work them
together. Now several families, the wealthy Pritchards being one,
carried out the pleasing custom of having large house parties and
the hunt was the feature the parties were built around.

Seale Starkey, the old man who owned Lucy and Splinter, observed
numerous cars going past his place toward the Pritchards.’ He
knew of the fox hunt. He and his nearest neighbor, Pryor Harris,
had anticipated it, but considered Tom Pritchard an idiot for
holding one so early. It was too early spring. The weather was no
good, too cold. The temperature affected the hounds’ ability to
smell, and the amount of water from the recently departed snow
cover that the ground and grass still held, Starkey believed,
made poor conditions for tracking a scent correctly. He stood
inside the wooden gate at the front of his own yard and snorted.
His two dogs meandered about the soggy yard. Soon he turned, went
inside to take a nap. The one dog, Splinter, tried to follow, but
he shut him outside.

Each of these fox hunts was like a debutante ball. Only Pritchard
and a few of his friends had dogs who would be involved. Starkey
used to have more dogs, himself, in his better days. The two
remaining were of even better stock, possibly, than the eight Tom
Pritchard owned, but they were less well fed and in poorer
condition. Lucy, a beautiful long-legged beagle, was five years
old and Starkey made some income by selling her puppies, but
Splinter, a male, was now thirteen and was not even used for
breeding any longer. The dogs slept in his kitchen next to the
stove. One night, stumbling toward his ancient, rusting
refrigerator for some milk for his heartburn, as usual, he woke
both dogs, who lifted their heads simultaneously. Starkey saw
Lucy’s brown eyes and then Splinter’s eyes…and there was a
phosphorescent green flash off the retinas, a result of
thickening of the lenses. The start of cataracts.

He felt a stir of anger at the physical evidence of the dog’s
aging. He had hoped these dogs would be the last he owned. And
he’d somehow hoped they would last as long as he did.

The anger stayed with him, and substituted for other feelings.
Splinter, he noted, did not grow gray at the muzzle as some dogs
did, his eyes did not become rheumy, he did not get arthritis,
and his strength was still fairly good, but his temperament
changed. He became milder, stopped barking suspiciously at noises
outside at night, and he began needing Starkey’s company now as
neither dog had before. They had never been coddled, or even
petted much. Still, one night Splinter crept silently and shyly
into Starkey’s bedroom and slunk under the bed, where he could
sleep to the accompaniment of his master’s loud snores. Starkey
heard the dog enter, but pretended he did not notice. Splinter
began coming in to sleep there every night.

Before dawn, Starkey woke and went to the stove and began cooking
a panful of cornmeal mush. The meal thickened slowly in the
water, and he added dried scraps from the pork bone that had been
his dinner yesterday. A can of cold, hardened white bacon grease
was in the refrigerator, and he stirred a couple of spoonfuls of
this into the mush, then moved it off the flame to cool. This was
the dogs’ breakfast. They sat beside the stove expectantly,
knowing what the result would be if they made noise or attempted
to jump for the bowls too soon. Finally he signaled they could
eat, and they thrust their muzzles into the mush, gulping
hungrily, then licked the bowls clean of drippings. Starkey
started over, cooking the same meal for himself, only boiling the
mush thicker so what he did not eat now would cool into a loaf he
could slice into slabs and fry up later. After eating, he took a
cup of black coffee and stood outside at his gate again to watch
the preparations on the hill almost a quarter-mile east of his
yard, where sleek horses for the hunt and their well-dressed
riders assembled. As the light grew, they increased to about
thirty riders; a couple of men in caps came up, with the dogs on
leads. They were all very English-looking. It was an attractive
picture, and in fact a photographer arrived and began preserving
the moment, possibly for a local magazine.

“Seale,” a voice hailed him. Starkey opened the gatelatch for his
neighbor Pryor Harris, who entered the yard and stood with him.
Harris, a skinny, rather yellow-faced man whose felt hat was
shoved tightly over a nearly bald head, shivered a little. His
red and black plaid jacket was thin, more of a windbreaker than
real coat. The only well covered parts of him were his feet: Some
years back he’d found a pair of Timberline icebreaker boots that
fit him perfectly. They were now turning slightly green from damp
around the eyelets and tongue. The two elderly men regarded the
hill. Harris jerked his head at the assemblage. “Dogs been ready
two hours,” he said. “The people aren’t. They’ll take another
hour snappin pictures.”

“Funny how the horses can wait,” Starkey said. “They’re real
patient, like.”

“Horses don’t care about chasing foxes. The dogs want to,
though.” Harris looked hungrily at Starkey’s steaming cup. “Got
any more coffee, there?”

They went inside the house and Starkey poured him a cup, giving
him a dry roll too which he warmed a little on the burner. Harris
never bought coffee; he never seemed to have sufficient food
either, since he drank quite a bit, and drink was expensive.
Relatively speaking, Starkey was rolling in wealth, since in
addition to his social security payments he got a few dollars
from dog-breeding. He occasionally sipped from Harris’ whiskey,
so he didn’t begrudge Harris breakfast now and then.

Harris left, after a little while, and Starkey saw the hunt
begin; Lucy and Splinter heard the horns and the dogs of the pack
answering, too, from inside the house. They howled. Starkey
opened the door, let them run out into the yard. They could not
jump the fence, however, and Starkey let Lucy out at the gate but
blocked Splinter, throwing his knee up and shoving him back. Lucy
sped off up the hill and toward the woods. He had not permitted
Splinter to run along with the hunts for two years now. Lucy, he
knew, was fast and fresh and could easily blend into the pack
without many people noticing, but Splinter would have trouble
keeping up and might start getting in the way, tripping other
dogs or even a horse. That could cause trouble for him with his
wealthy neighbors. Splinter whined and yipped, jumping up at the
fence while his master stood, unmoved by the dog’s entreaties.
The dog lay down on the rough flagstones of the walk, whining for
a few minutes, then became completely quiet. He sat up. Starkey
was still motionless, but staring thoughtfully at the dog. The
dog became taut with attention, his gaze fixed on Starkey. He
seemed to realize the man was thinking it over. Then the man
raised his arm, and lifted the u-shaped loop that fastened the
gate closed. The dog still did not move; then Starkey kicked the
gate open. Splinter was through it and gone like vanished smoke.

He made for the woods, dragged there primarily by Lucy’s scent;
she had gotten so far ahead the dog did not see any flicker of
her white, red, and brown coat, which today would have been
luminous against the backdrop of the olive-brown of the deadwood
and last year’s brush. It was so early spring the plants and
trees would have to be closely examined to see the new buds.
Leaping over heaps of brittle ferns and shrubs, Splinter followed
the familiar household smell of the other dog, and his spirits
leapt too: so far he merely followed a companion, but the chase
outdoors was sufficiently unfamiliar to wake another excitement
which he could not yet identify. In another few moments he would
connect it to the hunt, however, and the whole carnival wheel of
sensation of the chase would take him by the head and throat, and
almost topple him with ecstasy. The sudden sight of the crowd of
dogs, small moving mounds of gleaming white and brown, pouring
together over the hillside, would have struck a human like the
sight of a herd of buffalo; for the horses following the dogpack
would provide the thunder of something like a stampede. The
baying of the dogs themselves as they ran added a discordant but
penetrating symphony written only for brass. In other years, when
catching up to the pack, Splinter was so excited he leapt into
the pack by leaping fully over the backs of several dogs at a
time. Then he became a piece of the herd too, and it swarmed
where the fox-scent led, but to the human riders coming after it
may have appeared like a mob of long-haired, screaming Bacchae.

Splinter could not seem to catch Lucy, or locate the other
participants of the hunt, which he could occasionally hear rather
clearly. At one turn in the wood, there was a definite
Lucy-trace, which he tore after; then it faded, or at least his
nose couldn’t detect it. Then he caught the sound of the baying
of the hounds, which in the normal course of the hunt would slow
or accelerate according to the pace and the seeming nearness of
the prey. But it wheeled farther away again, and he paused,
unable to triangulate with his hearing in what direction the
sound had now moved. So he trotted along deeper in the trees,
following an easy path, mostly clear, and the ground began
sloping downward gradually until it met a narrow creek. He ran
lightly beside it for a short stretch, then stopped and drank
from it. The water was coppery. There was no movement, no animal
anywhere along the creek bed, so he turned and jumped up the
slope again, and trotted amongst the taller trees here, his ears
lifting again and again, but noticing only his own noises. In
this section the light was dimmer, blocked from reaching the
ground by the denseness of the forest even while the trees
remained denuded. Splinter turned, sniffing as if for more light,
and headed in the direction that seemed to have a stronger
blooming of the light. It led finally out of the woods. The tiny
clearing in which he found himself was grassed with velvety
green, the tiny, new spires of plant that crush terribly easily
underfoot, but feel softest. Minuscule blue and white flowers,
tiny as pinpricks, rested here and there within the grass. On
three sides the land swelled up around like an embrace; it also
cut off much of the wind that blew across the hills and the sound
carried by that wind, so when the six or eight horses thundered
by not fifteen feet from him Splinter was knocked over by the
astonishment of it, not having any warning.

He’d not been in danger of being ridden over; the horses had
passed by on the other side of the tiny green rise that hugged
the clearing. He regained his feet and went after them. The
horses were in good form; they dipped and rose easily, adroitly
with every vagary of the earth, and the athletic riders bent and
swerved as if they were another, articulating piece of the horse.
Black patent leathers flashed in the sun at the boot, cuff, and
hat. Splinter remained on slightly higher terrain so he could
keep them in sight. Their speed increased. Splinter sped up too.

There was sound up ahead. The group of horses emerged from the
valley onto a long meadow edged by the woods on one side.
Splinter ran and caught up with them, but the murderous hooves,
and the unpredictable movements of the horses, who might suddenly
move to left or right, convinced him to give them a wide berth
and keep pace by running closer to the wooded side of the meadow.
The riders had fanned out, expanding as the field allowed. But
then the dogs, which had been audible for several minutes, now
appeared like white and dark specks ahead, and everyone galloped
to get closer, and the dogs seemed to zoom faster as well, the
pitch of their yelps rising too. They were nearing the fox.

Splinter opened his throat and barked, his voice rusty but
loosening. He barked in cadence with the other dogs, and ran. He
turned from the wooded side of the meadow and aimed himself like
a bullet at the end of the group of the dogs, which was just
ahead of the horses and beginning to mix with them, a close,
dangerous situation requiring the utmost agility on the part of
the dogs, to avoid being stepped on, and the greatest steadiness
and skill of the horses, who needed not to panic at the small
creatures rushing around their feet. The odor of the hot horses
flowed up the hill toward Splinter, mingled with the muddy, wet
dogs, the smell of their bodies and their breath; Splinter could
not detect the fox at all but it didn’t matter, since the fever
of the rest was enough and he launched himself forward to become
part of it.

And he tripped. There was a dip in the ground in front of him
because here the stream came out of the woods on his left and
etched the meadow edge before turning aside again for the lower
levels. Looking only far forward, he failed to see it at all.
There was a slight fog all around the perimeter of his vision due
to his aging eyes. His small, neat body shot out for a few feet
over the dip, flung into space for a very minor bit of an
instant, then tumbled and slammed awkwardly into the stream.
Pebbles, water were sent high; the dog’s jaw, chest and one
shoulder took the force of the fall. Bones in the shoulder broke
cleanly and without question; his jaw, too, had hit with a crunch
and his lower mouth moved to one side wrongly. Dogs seldom bite
their tongues, and somehow Splinter’s tongue escaped being bitten
through by the still-sharp teeth that clamped together, only the
side of his mouth had been cut a little so blood made a tiny flow
into the water. The water touched his face without filling his
nostrils. His breath came and went. But the force with which he’d
struck the ground made all sight and sound surge up like water
and submerge him in it, and he slept.

Everything warmed. The air entering his nostrils seemed much
warmer, and soothed the stinging there; the soft relief of the
sun heating his fur, too, relaxed and eased his muscles, which
had been hard strained from running after the horses for so long.
It was unaccustomed exercise for him these days. He opened his
eyes; there was something thick and sticky there and he blinked
it away, then the hot light of the sun blared through, making him
squint, but it felt good. The trees on the left seemed to be
bending over, looking at him. Before he tried to lift his head,
he wondered where the stream was. The left side of his face and
body felt dry and even warm. He stirred his front paws. They
scrabbled a little in sand and dirt. This may have been the
stream bed, but there was so little water it couldn’t reach him.

He was aware of a distant pain, in his back and shoulders, and
instinct informed him it would hamper his getting to his feet, so
he lay still a little longer while the sun warmed and
strengthened the length of him. But dogs cannot wait very long;
he jerked, trying to lift his head and roll to one side, and it
didn’t work. It was confusing. He jerked up again, and the
movement sent such a spear of pain through sinew, meat and bone
in the area of his neck he flopped back and cried one long howl,
a sound of his very unknowing. There was no explanation and no
sense. He lay stunned until the pain subsided. Then he could not
prevent himself trying again to sit up by making the same
movement, a jerk and toss toward the side. The spear went through
once again, and this time seemed to lodge itself in between his
bones and catch there. He was caught half sitting up, and
couldn’t move. He simply lay halfway turned, and panted. Each
breath now pulled that spear back and forth through his chest. He
needed to move again. When he tried, he lost the precarious
balance his foreleg and shoulder had, and he slipped back onto
his side.

Even Splinter’s master had been largely unaware of the extent of
the dog’s failing senses. Now, with one ear against the ground,
the dog became completely disoriented as sound reflected through
the earth to him, and it seemed that all those horses were
running up nearer and nearer, then circling around him and
thundering away. The sound returned again: a wave of hooves, then
they wheeled, and left. The dogs, which preceded each wave,
lifted his heart since a bark, to another dog, is an emotive
noise, but they wheeled with the faithless horses and left too.
Now the whole procession returned, left; and now, another single
traveler running on far lighter feet. He was hearing, finally,
the fox. A stink followed, which may have been only suggested by
his brain, but there it was, a deep, red, rank musk that
electrified him and focused his awareness. He wanted to get it.

To say a dog yearns for something is to pretend he can extend his
mind forward and anticipate something in the future time, to form
an image of the desired thing when it is not present. This is
fairly ludicrous. But to say he yearns toward an end, which is
associated with all his life’s training and rewarding, as well as
the associated instincts born into his particular breed, the
success of his biological form to connect fully with those
instincts, well, then it may not be so very unbelievable to say,
and mean, that this dog did wish for one thing – to chase and see
the end of this fox. It was, after all, the thing he was born
for. What his owner caused him to be born for.

His nose lifted and he waved it very slightly through that smell
that hardened his mind, it was like taking a long good drink when
you must pick up and tramp out into the desert once again; it was
also like the priming of a gun. He was putting the maddening
smell in his own nose.

He lowered his head and twitched all over. His left hip clicked,
as if it had been slightly out of joint, and a brief burn there
told him it was now better. There was still the spear-thing, that
feeling of a spear, stabbing through his chest. But it was now.
Not now or never, only now. He blew dust out of his nose, and
pulled himself to all fours.

It was a complicated movement, and he moved like a suit of armor,
turning here and bending there in completely awkward and
unexpected motion. Every joint screamed and yanked back at him,
refusing to go in the urged direction, and although unbelievably
he got up, he as soon almost went down again. But the dog spread
all four feet wider apart, and he stayed upright, swaying
slightly. But in his fear of pain as much as the pain itself he
made one high howl more like a scraping metal hinge than the
sound of a living animal. The meadow all around him, now that he
could see it, had taken on jewel-like gleams; that fog remained
all around the edge of his sight and did not clear with repeated
blinking so he left it; he must have lain very long since the
ground seemed dry now. He could hear himself breathing. He took a
few steps in one direction, and his gait was satisfactory. No
pain screamed at him just now. He took experimental sniffs in all
directions, trying to catch the horses, the men, the dogs, the
fox. He kept sniffing, and waited. Trotted forward in the
direction he’d last seen the horses go, and stopped to test the
air currents again.

There was a change. Not only the light had changed, which it
definitely had, being now so beautifully bright with sun and
yellow sky casting warm golden gleams on the trees and ground,
but the density of the air had changed. Now all sound seemed to
be surfing through tiny jetstreams of warmer winds and took
longer to bounce, echo, and reach his ears than before, and it
was softened, as it is when partially absorbed by a thick layer
of snow on the ground. There being no snow, it was unaccountable,
and it seemed that good weather made conditions for tracking a
fox less favorable rather than the reverse. The dog began to feel
sluggish, as his senses fought this thicker air, brighter light.
A grayness injected itself into the fogginess of the circle
around his visual field. He flapped his head and shook his ears,
which brought on an incredible ache in his skull. His head hung
lower as he circled the meadow, searching the hunters. And he
heard something. The dogs.

The tiny, faint barking was somewhere long past this edge of the
woods. He loped, following it, and stopped every few dozen yards
or so to listen again and adjust his course. His heart rose. He
had a direction at last. The echoes of the barks had to be
distinguished from the actual barks, and as he ran between the
small hills and rises this caused him to turn and retrace again
and again. As the sound led him away from the hilliness and onto
more level ground it got easier, and now he could hear the horses
too, and even the clash of the riding equipment. He hurried more,
and found his limbs began to lock at the joints sometimes. His
energy was already depleted and he’d been running on inspiration,
and the concentration he had to now exert to force the stiff
knees to propel him on put him at a dead walk; his muzzle was
almost on his chest and he had to look up to see forward. His
head felt as weighty as if it were three heads, and he trod a
sentry duty between this field, this world, and the next. As the
small dog peglegged along, although the sight of some of the
trailing horses and riders came into view, he stayed at the same
slow speed, he could not do more. The pain suddenly increased; a
sickness spread through him and he halted. The sick burned his
throat. He went on.

A hundred yards more and he found he was ahead of much of the
pack, because at that instant the spoor of fox engulfed him and
he trembled all over. He was so close it almost overwhelmed him;
this was what he was made for and it would have been a shame if
he could not endure it. His system seemed to answer the need, and
he began to run. To the east of the field, under the elm trees,
just disappearing now under the bushiness of some ferns at the
base of the trees, was a thin fluffy gray fox with a black-tipped
tail. Splinter was the only other creature in the entire field

He ran for the trees, snuffing the ferns but not stopping there,
dipping his snout into tufts of bracken that sprouted here and
there intermittently in these woods, but the fox was fast. His
feet, which now hurt and felt like he was running on bones, beat
the bare, smooth, hard dirt of the path, then took on the
difficult uncleared ways through the trees. He thought he spied a
flicker of gray tail, and followed. The woods brought up to an
end again, and Splinter, barking as he emerged onto the open
field again, looked around for the surely visible fox, who’d
stick out like a canary in a coal mine here… but it could not be
seen. He circled the field, barking. Nothing.

He was alone in the field, climbing the upswing it made to a
tableland that silhouetted the north end. He ran uphill, barking.
Somehow he was able to keep going as fast as before even though
it was uphill. It was getting easier, in fact. And there, at the
top of the tableland, would be the fox. Where else could it be?
This certainty gelled in his thought, and kept him running. His
legs now lengthened their stride, fully stretching out and
contracting like they ever could, there was a pain in his ribs,
it was true, but his breath came in deep and blew out like it was
the wind itself and blowing him up the hill. The joy of feeling
it seized him, and in the middle of his gallop uphill he turned
in a circle and bounced, a sort of dance done sometimes by
rabbits and birds also, a sort of animal laugh, which would be a
form of worship if they were capable of such a thing; then he
scrambled toward the plateau again. If there was any promise made
to this animal in his life, it was to see the end of the chase.
At the instigation of every fox-hunt he had behaved the same
required way: he chased unstintingly. He had not doubted that he
would see the end, someday; in fact he was incapable of doubting
a thing that he knew, it was a physical knowing, expressed in the
line of his body and shape of his head, his foot, his eye. It
could be ventured that he had tremendous faith, for a dog. If a
human may say to express something he is convinced of, I feel it
in my bones, then it may have been true that Splinter — who
climbed the rise with only a sort of yellow glowing heat in his
head to pull him onward, this sunny thing in the distance —
could have been acting on something more than we generally
attribute to animals. If not, does it matter? Can’t we put aside
deciding this and assume for a moment that there was a promise
made? Then, what of it, if this dog reached the top and there is
nothing there at all? I will be disappointed. By all that is
right there should be a fox; by everything I desire, hope and
live by, there had better be a fox. If God is true, that is. And
what about that? As we get nearer the top with this dog the
stakes get higher, because he is nearly out of strength. What
will happen if there is nothing at the end is a thing that
balances on the tip of a very sharp stick in my hand, and my hand
trembles; because who is it who will accuse God if He lies? Is it
there, on the plateau? Is it there? The very picture dissolves
before us because we cannot look at it. The dog’s vision fades.

Splinter awoke to great, wracking pain, and what was worse, to
the fact that he had not moved anywhere at all since he fell. He
still lay sprawled across the stream. The cold, very cold water
seemed to be burning his back and side. The stream-smoothed
pebbles were equally mixed with sharp, broken flakes of rock
underneath him. His jaw was still snapped; the waters of the
stream flowed into the bottom of his mouth, so chilling that it
mostly anesthetized it and he did not try to close his jaw.
Several ribs were crushed, and his shoulder and leg were
fractured. He had not gotten up from this streambed this day, or
run after a pack of dogs and horses, or chased a fox up a hill.
He had merely dreamed. He lay still and blinked his eyes. One eye
was in the water.

No alarm or other reaction took hold of him, he only drifted. The
pain was so extreme he could not tighten against it, so his
muscles remained relaxed. It located inside him like an old woe
and if he had had breath to howl or whimper, would have. The
breath of the woods, marshy and cool, wafted to him, and he
noticed dimly the smell of other animals mixed in it, without
emotion. They grew stronger, and the sound of three riders,
following the lead dogs still, pounded by at a short distance.
Then it grew faint.

But in about fifteen minutes, the fox had made a complete circuit
and was returning.

Splinter heard it coming closer, this small, panting fox who’d
kept ahead of a crowd of creatures for a good part of the day. A
single dog he heard, too, after it: the fox led it zigzagging
across and across the meadow, which showed it was at the end of
its resources. It had no place close enough to get to ground in
this area. It had grown too tired, and therefore foolish. So it
tried pitting its agility against the dog’s. Splinter listened as
the dog came nearer. This was the dog who deserved to get to the
end of a fox chase. His voice was clearer than all the others; he
invariably led the rest, he always forgot his own exhaustion for
as long as the chase took, then afterwards might drop like a
stone. Splinter’s hearing became the one sense in which all his
being was located, and he listened as the fox feinted, the dog
darted across instead of following that feint, and the dog jumped
and thumped on the prey, flipping over and rolling on the ground,
the fox’s neck in his teeth. Splinter listened to the end, then
blinked, and the water was leaking into his throat, drowning him,
since he was unable to cough. It is astonishing he was still
alive to that point.

At the very end, Lucy — who had joined the hunt early and merged
invisibly with the Pritchard dogs – was seen to run off
immediately once the humans began to handle the fox. She sped up
the field, and Starkey, who had wandered outside often that
afternoon, saw her and opened the fence and peered up the hill
for his other dog. It did not come, so he went inside to brew
some coffee while he waited.  The hunt ended not fifty yards from
the spot where Splinter lay, but the blood of the fox and its
meaty, rich, winning odor could not affect him. After the lively
horsemen and horsewomen had congratulated one another on the
catch, the exertion, and the experience, other friends from the
Pritchard house found their way out to them and found the body of
the dog in the stream. They went away quickly, some from the
house resolving to take care of the matter shortly so it would
not attract unwanted animals. They liked it much less than the
body of the fox. Finally all the adults had entered the house and
some went to bathe and change, while others gathered downstairs
for the party. Outside, some neighborhood people had drifted over
in curiosity, if only to admire the horses which were usually not
all out in the yards at the same time. A well-dressed boy of
about eighteen and a girl around the same age stood among them,
unwilling to go inside and subject themselves to the adults yet.

The two young people stood near the stream. The teenage boy
watched the girl cautiously, practicing gestures and words to
say, in his head. He liked her but out of the numerous pretty
girls there he could not have said why; she seemed overly proud
and liable to be offended by anything said to her.

“Disgusting,” said the girl, whose name was Fiona. She was a
friend of Susan Pritchard, the niece of Tom Pritchard. Her lips
pulled up in a tight expression of distaste, and as long as she
could see the dog’s body she couldn’t get rid of the expression.
It didn’t make her feel sick to her stomach, exactly, but it was
like tasting something terribly bitter, she thought; your mouth
screws up and you can’t help it.

The boy, Darryl Pritchard, son of the grand house, smiled
ruefully. “Yeah… It must have run in from somewhere. There’s
always a couple of stray dogs that join in somehow.”

“A stray? It looks like one of your dad’s pack.”

“It’s the same breed. Lots and lots of people living around here
have the same kind of dog, I guess they were just popular here,”
the boy explained, not recognizing the very progenitor of some of
his own family’s dogs. “Then these dogs hear the others barking,
and the horns and the chase, and they get excited and run right
in too. This one must have had an accident, maybe even got
trampled by a horse.”

Fiona, who had managed to wrench her eyes away from the dog and
was looking upstream, wondered — but did not ask — why the
riders might have ignored someone’s dog they’d trampled, let it
lie there and die. Maybe because it wasn’t a dog of the right
class, she thought wryly. Her own class was deeply in question,
she believed. She had just recently been informed that she could
not join the riding school her friend Susan attended; her parents
regretfully said they had no funds to spare for this. Their star
apparently was fading fast. How important does a dog have to be?
she wondered. Aloud she said, with enough anger that Darryl
looked at her in surprise, “Well, it’s all very sad, I must say.”

In His House At R’lyeh Dead Cthulhu Waits Dreaming

Mrs. Reese, the social worker of the hospital, a middle-aged
woman with dark, reddish-black straight hair pulled tight into a
chignon, shook hands peculiarly; she stuck her hand out with the
wrist bent like a gooseneck, and the two sisters hesitated, not
quite knowing how to grasp a hand offered so.

Yvette extended her own hand slowly, palm up, and unthinking,
almost lifted the woman’s hand to her lips to kiss it. Her sister
noticed the movement upwards, and realized precisely what Yvette
had almost done; they had lived together so closely for so long
they could nearly read each other’s thoughts. While very
different in their personalities, they seemed yet on the way to
becoming one creature. If the two sat together quietly in a room,
in a minute or two they would be breathing in unison.

Mrs. Reese squeezed the dry hand, hoping to communicate warmth.
It was her mission not only for her work but as a person. But it
was obvious both sisters had shrunk away in spirit from her
already. She could feel it. Oh, dear.

She smiled widely, and held her hand out to the other sister,
Yvonne. The hospital rarely sent her to speak to a family in this
section of the hospital since it was all private suites and
expensive. The staff called this section the Gold Coast. There
were usually many foreign patients, particularly Arabs, here. A
security man would visit when the patient had been admitted and
was settled, to advise him or her not to keep any valuables in
the room; send these home with your family, he’d say. If you
can’t the hospital will allow you to have them placed in the
institution’s safe for a small fee, just like in a large hotel.
The patient had a bigger menu to choose from each morning, as
well as the privilege to have a family member (or private duty
nurse) stay 24 hours a day in the room and sleep there if he
wanted; there was a comfortable sofa as well as recliner. The
social worker decided these two women did not look like money —
to put it mildly! — the fatter one sitting there in stretch
cotton lycra pants that were beginning to pill, and the clothes
of the other no better, a shapeless corduroy skirt and t-shirt.
They appeared to be both in their mid to late forties. The sister
in pants also wore a jeweled clip in her long hair, and foolishly
bright red lipstick. The other had no jewelry at all, and no
makeup on her long plain face. Her hair, longer than her sister’s
and threaded with gray, had been braided then stuffed into a
rubber band.

“So you’re your mother’s caretakers,” Mrs. Reese said. “You’ve
been, for — how long? oh, yes, that’s a long time,” she
acknowledged as one sister held up some fingers. “Yes, I see.
You’ve done quite a bit of work, both of you, naturally. But of
course because she’s your mother and you love her. I’m so sorry
she’s sick. This, now, must be very difficult.” She spoke
delicately, and deliberately glanced over at the much older lady
in the high bed, who lay simply covered with wires and tubes. Two
machines hovered by her head, one vacuum-pumping oxygen into her
chest. A plastic mouthpiece was taped into her open mouth. The
machines made a lot of noise. Mrs. Reese went over and closed the
door, then returned to the women.

The sisters just looked at her.

“How have you been feeling about it? I hoped I could be some help
to you,” she prompted. They looked puzzled.

“I guess we feel okay,” Yvette said.

“What’s this all about?” said Yvonne. “You’re a social worker?”
She tilted her head so the hairclip glinted.

Mrs. Reese sat down in a chair and pulled it closer to them.
“Yes. You’ve taken care of your mom very, very well and I guess
now everything’s going to change, isn’t it? We don’t last
forever; we just aren’t made to. Your mother was certainly lucky
to have two daughters who would do so much for her when she
needed it.”

Yvette said, drawing her gray braid around with both
hands, “What’s going to change?” and Yvonne, in a distracted way,
began bleating, “What? What?” with her eyes widening. Mrs. Reese
automatically reached out a hand and put it on Yvonne’s arm, to
calm her. She turned to Yvette.

“The doctor did say that he was going to move your mother
upstairs to intensive care, didn’t he?” Yvette nodded, with a
frown. “Well, he also explained to you that it was necessary
because her lungs can’t get enough oxygen, even with the
ventilator. Her blood pressure is dropping, and her heart is
slowing down.”

“So what do they do next?” Yvette demanded.

She shook her head. “It could be a day or more, or just a few
hours, the doctor said.” Mrs. Reese stopped and waited.

“A few hours, and then what?”

They’re in denial, Mrs. Reese thought. Or maybe they are
absolutely in the dark. Is it possible? When you look at that
woman’s face, not to know?  Earlier, the nurse had shown her,
Mrs. Reese, there was mottling on the hands and feet already. She
knew what that meant. Aloud, but in a small voice, she said:
“This is terminal, dear. I’m so sorry.”

The lifting and dropping of Yvonne’s hands and arms that began
made Mrs. Reese think of birds getting ready to fly. Yvonne’s
head snapped to look at Yvette. They both stood suddenly from
their chairs in a convulsive movement, staring at each other.

Yvonne turned on Mrs. Reese. “Nobody told us her cancer was
terminal.” Her voice was a little shrieky with accusation. “When
the ambulance came, and we told the paramedics that she just kept
sleeping on and on, they asked us if it was supposed to be
terminal. We said no!”

“Not once did her doctor ever call it that,” Yvette declared.
“She gets better every time. And goes home,” she added.

“Oh, my dears…. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”

“You’re not a doctor. You don’t know!” Yvette said. Her face
pinked up, with rage.

But Mrs. Reese stopped her: “She knew.”

And everything stopped. The idea that their mother had known the
end was coming but did not mention this to them was too vivid a
betrayal. Mrs. Reese wished she hadn’t said it. Rage, perhaps the
only force holding them intact just then, she had snatched away,
and they began to come apart as she watched. The very skin of
their faces drew and crumpled. Yvette turned gray. “Sit,” Mrs.
Reese commanded. “Lean forward. Put your head down.”

“What is there now?” Yvonne was saying. Her thin arms, waving
randomly, seemed too loose to stay on.

Yvette, then Yvonne, began crying loudly, sobbing and catching
their breath again with an agonized intake. To Mrs. Reese it
sounded like the hee-hawing of donkeys. She put her arm around
one, then the other when she could manage to gather her in, and
let them continue.

The crew of nurses and orderlies who arrived to move the mother
met up with an angry daughter army of two. Who actually did not
attempt to stop them, only hurled abuse as they positioned the
gurney alongside the hospital bed, and loosened the sheets
underneath the mother, rolling the edges to grasp so they had a
sheet to lift with. “On three,” instructed a tall nurse. They
counted, and boosted the patient onto the gurney.

“One, you’re an idiot!” screeched Yvonne.

“Two — you’re fucking stupid idiots! Probably she’ll die before
you get upstairs, or you’ll let her slide off the cot,” sneered
Yvette. “And three — “

“Three, our mother would kill you if she saw what dirty hands you
all touched her with.”

“If she isn’t okay when you get upstairs — which is pretty
likely, the way you’re letting that machine roll all over the
place — we will know every one of your names.”

“Absolutely,” Yvonne said.

“This place has the worst staff. You’re all disgusting to me.”

The sisters waited until the staff and the gurney had rolled out,
then after a minute or so they ran down the hall and punched the
elevator button. It opened hummingly, rolling its layered steel
doors back. It was empty. Good. The mother and her entourage had
gone ahead already, in another elevator. Yvonne chose the button
for the intensive care floor, and then they stood expectantly,
biting their lips.

It was at least half an hour before they were actually permitted
in their mother’s new room, and this was rather disheartening.
Also, the extra staff that did the move had departed, and only an
I.C.U. nurse was there. It rather took the wind out of their
sails. They had lost the psychological moment. They stood by the
bed and regarded their mother. “They took long enough,” Yvette
said. “Anything could’ve happened to her while they took so long
fooling around, and we wouldn’t have been there.”

Yvonne, feeling the beginnings of some promising grumbling,
opened her mouth to rejoin, but could think of nothing. Yvette
said nothing more, either, and they simply stood looking at the
patient, and then the machines she was connected to, for as long
as they were permitted to stay in the room while the intensive
care unit breathed its very efficient air conditioning around

They ate crackers and cheese in the cafeteria, sitting together
on the same side of the table. Yvette had coffee while Yvonne
drank Coke. “How can you drink anything cold?” Yvette asked. “It
was so freezing up there.”

“I was thirstier than coffee. Sometimes it leaves me thirstier
than when I started, you know?”

Yvette did know, so merely nodded. “It was dry up there, too.”

“When are we allowed to go in again?”

Yvette looked at her watch. “Eight o’clock. So we’ll stay here a
little longer.”

“Eight o’clock.”

“You should eat some more. Maybe some fruit, Yvonne,” Yvette
instructed. Her sister grimaced. “I nearly passed out myself —
you want to do that too?” Yvette demanded.

“Will you eat part of it?”


They returned in a while upstairs, and when the nurse — or guard
dog as they dubbed her — summoned them, they returned to their
station beside the mother. As long as they were just waiting,
everything seemed as usual. They did not get upset again. When
they entered the room, the nurses were tilting the bed with an
electronic positioner. The head of the bed was considerably below
the foot, and the nurses returned the bed to a normal position.
Yvonne looked at it curiously.

The younger nurse, looking very weary, took the time to speak to
the sisters to give them an update on the mother’s condition. The
blood pressure, she said, had gotten very low. To keep an
adequate blood supply to the brain, they’d had to elevate the
mother’s feet and lower her head and keep it that way for some
time. Yvette and Yvonne didn’t really know what this indicated,
what it might mean. They nodded. After the nurses left, Yvette
thought her mother’s eyes, which occasionally opened, looked
swollen; not the eyelids, but the eyeballs, distended. She
decided it was an illusion. The face was certainly puffy; that
was it.

No one tried to make them leave the ICU now. It had been about
twelve hours since their mother had entered intensive care. A
nurse would come in, adjust a few things, stand and observe the
mother for a minute, then step out of their way. A doctor came in
a couple of times. He was the attending doctor, not the
oncologist their mother had been treated by for years; that
doctor was too far across town and was on the staff of another
hospital, not this one near their home. This attending doctor
spoke softly and reasonably to them. He seemed very young, like
the nurse. He said their mother was in no pain. (The sisters
didn’t think so either.) He said it was almost as if she were
already dead. The sisters nodded. The machines — which they had
noticed for some hours were showing gradually lowering numbers —
were not doing much of anything for the mother now and they, the
daughters, could say when it was time to stop them. He would do
it when they felt it was all right. They nodded, but did not say,
“Now.” The numbers, Yvette remarked to Yvonne, were still very
high. What right did they have to disturb their mother’s
machines? They just wanted to stay there numbly.

A critical number on the heart monitor was reached, and a bell
rang somewhere. Three doctors rushed in with some sort of cart
and began looking the mother over; they called to each other
different instructions. The sisters stepped back, relieved
someone was feeling urgently about the situation. But when one
doctor called “Lidocaine!” and reached out, another person
stepped into the room, a petite woman wearing a raincoat, and
held out her hand.

“Don’t do any more,” she said. Her voice was sweet and sure. The
I.C.U. nurse behind her was nodding at the doctors. The doctor
looked at the woman, dropped his hand and withdrew the crash
cart. The other doctors examined the monitors, fiddled with them
a little, then left too. The woman walked up to the bed and
leaned over the mother. Her hair, short and fluffily curled,
swung forward. She placed her hand on the mother’s purpling upper
arm. “Goodbye,” she whispered.

The machines, everybody saw, had slowed to single digits.

Yvonne and Yvette could hardly look at this woman. They could
smell her, however. She smelled good. Like gardenias. The woman
turned and approached them and softly grabbed each sister by an
elbow, then let go; rather theatrically, Yvonne thought. “How are
you holding up?” the perfumed woman whispered.

Yvette’s throat made a phlegmy noise. She yanked herself from the
woman’s touch. “I hate you!” she shrieked at Anna, who happened
to be her — and Yvonne’s — younger sister. Yvonne burst into
loud tears behind them. As Yvette fled from the room, braid
flapping, Anna turned to Yvonne, and held out her
gardenia-flavored arms, making a sort of sad coo. Yvonne’s glance
crawled up from her cupped hands.

“Oh, Yvonne,” Anna coaxed.

In the days succeeding, Anna began arranging everything for the
funeral. Her husband Carl, a clean-cut man a few years her elder,
had come into town with her. They had come just in time, he said
to Yvette and Yvonne. He smiled continually, and mostly stood
back and watched his small neat wife do like a whirlwind. An
attractive, girlish whirlwind. She was considerably younger than
her sisters, by about 15 years. But this was not the key to their
differences. In the old family house where Yvette and Yvonne had
lived and taken care of their mother, Anna headed for the
telephone and usurped it. She and Carl were staying in a motel,
not wanting to barge in on the two sisters. But Yvette took a wet
soapy cloth to the receiver before calling her hairdresser. The
plastic smelled faintly of the other sister.

The funeral took place and went correctly and well. The mother
had not been an ostentatious person and would have wanted only
the proper religious ritual, not anything showy or dramatic.
There was a large buffet for friends and extended family at the
house. Anna offered plates to Yvette and Yvonne, who were both
sick and could not look at the food. Yvette, who was feeling
weak, waved Anna away nervously. Yvonne flumped down in a chair
in the game room. Anna sat beside her with a plate of ham which
her husband had sliced nice and thin. Yvonne moaned and turned
her head away, like a child, each time Anna brought a fork close
to her mouth. But Anna persisted, bringing another plate, this
time of kippers, sardines and crackers. She laid a fragment of
the sardine on a saltine and held it up. Yvonne stuck her tongue
out. It accidentally touched the sardine, and Yvonne was
surprised, relishing the salt. It wakened her hunger. Anna fed
her, approving. “You never tried them before?” Yvonne, engrossed
in the crunch and heavenly taste, shook her head.

That evening, when nearly all the visitors had gone, Yvette found
she could manage some thin vegetable soup. She sat alone in the
dining room and ate with her head over the bowl. She had cried
all through the funeral mass and several times since, and wanted
to go straight to bed without thinking about anything.  But
something still disturbed her field of vision. No — not vision.
Her field of sensation. It was Anna. Anna did not belong here,
and it made Yvette feel worse than strange, what with her
mother’s death. Why did she have to endure both at once?

Anna stopped in Yvette’s room late that night to see her. Yvette
allowed herself to be hugged and kissed. She would be gone soon,
anyway, and leave her and Yvonne in peace. “Why don’t you come
down soon for a week or so?”

Yvette blinked. “Where?”

“To my house, silly. We could swim, and go shopping, and things.
You could get a haircut, something really sharp, and a
makeover…” She was touching Yvette’s hair. “Think of all the
time you have now.”

Yvette had trouble being civil in her answer, but thought she had
stayed on the right side of the line. On the day of your mother’s
funeral, you shouldn’t be nasty.

The next morning Yvonne wandered around the house helplessly. It
had been her work formerly to make breakfast for their mother and
help her with a bed bath. She had nothing to do now. She went and
found Yvette. Yvette looked at her with understanding and jumped
out of bed. “We’ll start organizing things here,” she said.
“We’ll … send her wigs to the cancer organization, and start
going through her clothes. And thinking about her property and
what to do about everything.”

“Well, Anna already called the lawyer, and he’ll be letting us
know about most of that,” Yvonne said.

Yvette paused. “Someone made her frigging queen, didn’t they?”

“But I don’t even want to deal with all of that. It’s too hard. I
feel like I can’t move.”

“She doesn’t know how it feels, does she,” Yvette said. “We’ve
cried so much it feels like you could fall out the other side of
yourself. I feel like I’m not all here.”

“Exactly,” cried Yvonne. “And she doesn’t know! She hasn’t been
here.” She looked at Yvette with awe and horror. Yvette nodded.
“Nothing is the same!” Yvonne exclaimed. “There’s nothing left

By mutual agreement, they didn’t try to do much of anything the
next few days, just washed their dishes and clothes, and a few
ordinary things.

Anna was still in town a week later, although Carl had gone home.
She had met with the lawyer several times. The mother’s estate
was divided evenly between the three sisters. Not that Yvette or
Yvonne cared much. Anna appeared at the house one afternoon and
found only Yvonne home, and this was fortunate, since if both had
been home she wouldn’t have been able to budge either one. It had
to be divide and conquer.  Yvonne was coaxed out to lunch with
her, and they went afterwards to a nail salon, which Yvonne had
never done. She was pleased with her pretty pink nails. She
mocked herself, silently, as the manicurist finished her: “This,
and sardines! What a new life!”

They returned to the house, and Yvette was already home. Yvonne
was tired, having spent a long day with her young sister, and was
actually tired of her company too. It was a relief to see good
old Yvette curled into the big easy chair in the front room
watching tv with her bare feet on the furniture. Her hair was
undone and a little greasy. She looked embarrassed when the two
walked in looking nice.

Anna chattered about their afternoon while Yvette scooted around
to hide her big feet. Yvonne sank smilingly into a chair: The tv
room was dim and she deliberately did not turn on any lamp, since
this could make Anna uneasy and leave, with any luck. It had been
a pleasant afternoon. Now get out of here.

It worked soon enough, and Anna left. Yvette turned to her sister
and said, “Don’t ever do that to me again. She’s the same as a
stranger, and I don’t want my privacy intruded on by her.”

Yvonne was stunned. “What did I do? I couldn’t say goodbye to her
at the door, you know, especially since she gave me a manicure
and lunch! It doesn’t matter if she’s here for a second or two;
she’s gone now! What’s the big problem?”

But Yvette was nettled. Something female in her had been
challenged and judged, and found lacking. “Just… nothing.
Forget it. You don’t know what she’s like.”

They were silent for a while, then Yvette burst out again: “She’s
always trying to fix me! To make me just like her! She’s got a

And: “She hates the way I dress, the way I act, the way I sit and
stand and eat and drink, and smell,” Yvette commented later.

Yvonne was growing angry too. “You always say I don’t understand
anything.” She was envious of the enmity between the other two,
but at the same time, felt herself stupid for feeling so. So she
vented this on Yvette: “You’re really critical too.” She, unlike
Yvette, spoke quietly, very quietly. This was her tactic.

They were silent again. Then, with a loud guffaw, Yvette said,
“Did you see the undershorts Carl had on the day of the funeral?”

Yvonne gasped. “Yes!” she shrieked. “His pants kept slipping
because he doesn’t know what a belt is for! They looked like an
old woman’s girdle, all white cotton, and seamed and shaped!” The
two laughed heartily

“And his nose hair! Did you see!” screamed Yvette. Yvonne
responded with a whoop. They kept laughing.

“And did you see — “ Each one kept adding. They laughed until
their stomachs hurt. “Oooh, whoo,” Yvette moaned, holding her
stomach in pain. They rested, breathed, then at a glance one at
the other, broke out in fresh hilarity. Yvette’s laughs were
manly, almost gross. Yvonne sighed happily, giggling every now
and then. She stretched out her arms and catching sight of her
new nails, wiggled them. Pretty, she thought. She glanced at her
sister, who was scratching her dirty feet. Their laughter died
down gradually.

Yvette grunted and clambered out of the easy chair. “And she
thinks she’s all that and a bag of — pork rinds,” she said
loudly, on her way to the kitchen. She returned with a glass of
apple juice and stood regarding her sister from the doorway.

“I am so glad you’re here,Yvonne,” she said. She drank some
juice. “Even though — she gulped slightly — “Mom’s not here,
we’ve got a, well, a family. Not everything’s changed after all.”
She humphed, embarrassed by her speech, and sat down again
quickly in the chair. “Don’t you think so?”

Yvonne kept waving her fingers. She seemed to be thinking. “Mmm,
hmm,” she said.

A Mouse, A Village, A Road

by M. Wilson

We are building a road. We are a very small Indian village, only a couple dozen people or so, but we need this road desperately to reestablish the trade we formerly had with surrounding areas. As it is, they have forgotten us. Trade has lapsed. The dirt paths that run out of the village to other places are disused and disappearing, because they are so hard to travel on by automobile. Near the village, the paths begin as a series of lines pointing outward in all directions like rays from a solar disk; the paths are marked by deep ruts where bicycles and car tires once sank into the mud (fully hardened now, in summer) but a few hundred yards out, the ruts lessen in depth — as if the wheels here were finding firmer ground — and farther on, they vanish. Hardly anyone comes here anymore, only some farmers and craftsmen who have journeyed these parts of the desert since time out of mind. They arrive, taciturn, in clouds of old-engine exhaust and drive off in them, and when the exhaust dissipates it is as if they had never been here… The frequency of their visits has dwindled. Our connection to the rest of the world has been erased.

And which way is it? the world?

A magnetic fault line runs through our village, sending compasses spinning as if one were standing at the North or South Pole; this effectively nullifies navigation here. If some stranger says, “Go to the west corner of the house,” we cannot; we do not know which corner that is.

I know; you wonder about the light. It seems easy enough to say, “Just follow the path of the sun, as it rises in the East and sets in the West. Mark that path.” But take a look at it. There is the sun. Now turn one-quarter turn to your left; there is the sun, again. Now turn one-quarter turn to the left again, and there is another sun. And turn again, there is a fourth sun… The atmosphere splits it into four dimensions… And at night, the stars are similarly mirrored across the sky. We are building our road in front of the village, since there is a natural front and back. It will, when finished, run to the right and to the left, for a total of 52 miles. We don’t know what the road will reach. We are shooting an arrow into the air.

The villagers all work for part of every day on the road, even the poorest people who are barely scraping out an existence. We all agree this road must be made or the village will not survive.

I paint pictures. It is a poor living, now. When I first came here I was relatively wealthy; my pictures found several good markets; they were considered curiosities and sold well to tourists. Now, I am nearly as destitute as the rest of the villagers. Running out of supplies, I draw in charcoal or make my own paints from crushed clay and animal fat. And of course no tourists 
come here to buy them, so I must get them to the agent who sells them for me. I have resorted to carrier pigeons. If I roll up a canvas and secure it with twine, four birds together can manage to get it the twenty-three miles to the agent, who lives in a fair-sized market town. But the pigeons do not like it; they growl and stamp their feet impatiently while I tie all the strings to their thin legs. However, they do it for me, and return to my porch the next morning where I have spread out a feast for them: hard dried horse corn, smashed with a rock into small pieces they can eat. There used to be other methods of getting my work to market, like commercial vandrivers passing through, or even tourists who could be bargained with, but these no longer come frequently enough. So I must make alliances previously unconsidered.

We are starving, I suppose, — or soon that will be the case. There is, moreover, a beast that threatens the village, an animal that has stolen meager caches of food, made off with hen s and a small goat, even broke open someone’s fence and attacked a child. It is a wolverine. It seems to be one of many pressing dangers that make us hurry to build a road, because there is no capturing it. It was seen exactly once, and indistinctly at that. It is almost legendary.

A small girl knocks at my door in the morning and wants to know if I will trade some of my cooking oil for some jewelry she’s made. She holds out her wrist and shakes the bracelets to show me. They are made entirely of old electronics pieces braided with their own wires — capacitors and resistors, and there is a brooch lacy with them that also has a minuscule on-off switch. I seize her arm and hurry her to the hut of a man who knows metals, because I suspect these have lead in them and she is poisoning herself. Inside the hut, this man sits in the center of the dried-mud floor repairing something; he is using a small flame burner he shuts off with a pop when we enter. I gabble my concern to him, and he nods.

“Yah. Don’t worry.” He reaches into a pile of junk beside him and extracts a rolled spool of thick soldering wire, which I know for sure is made of lead. Straightening out a short end, he holds it over the burner which he has turned on again. The flame licks at the muddy-gray wire for a minute, but it fails to melt, or even soften and bend. He grins at my confusion. “You didn’t remember, hah? No poison, no lead, not while it’s here.” He gestures, indicating by “here” he means, in this village. He tosses the spool aside. “It has no use here. If no use, then no harm.”

I walk slowly home, musing. The girl skips beside me and dances, laughing, to my house. From my pantry I give her a round jar of corn oil and refuse to take any jewelry in exchange, but on second thought accept a jangling bracelet for each arm. If I wore them somewhere else, I wonder, would I hold a charge, complete a circuit? I keep forgetting that things are different here. Many natural laws are held in abeyance.

A truck driver carrying bags of food to a distant market has an accident outside the village — slides sideways into a ditch because of the road ruts. Numerous bags have fallen off the back of his truck and split open on the ground. He unloads the rest onto a second truck — the two trucks were driving together, luckily — but the broken bags of rice and gleaming grain still lie there spilled. He tells us we can have them. He looks at us once more, says, “Ahh, shit,” and climbs up into the back and pushes two more crates of vegetables off with his foot. “Catch!” he tells a young Indian. “Terrible what happens when you hit a ditch,” he coments; he waves and gets back in his truck to laboriously back out of the ditch, winched by the second truck. Both drivers turn their vehicles around and drive into the distance until they vanish. It is good fortune for us. The elders, smiling, direct everybody with jars and bags to collect his share.

The most needy person in the village is a widow with nine children. Her black hair is ragged and she wears a long, red and brown striped cotton skirt which has become so loose it is almost falling off. Her nine stand close around her. They all have the sharp faces of small wolves. She and her children have not eaten for two years… The elders, after brief discussion, set her share at twelve times everyone else’s and also decide a village dinner, in celebration, will be cooked at her house. This is wisely done; the dinner will be made under her supervision and will give her a position of honor instead of pity. All the villagers begin dragging cooking pots to her place, which we set up on tripods or racks outside over wood fires. We all donate some of our food. One man, who takes care of the village’s yard of chickens, a collective hold, consults with the widow and returns with two of the precious number; these are sacrificed and put to boil. Seeing them forced down on the chopping block, helpless, is an intense moment for us. But soon they are nothing but food. You know how people are. To live is to regret.

I am pushed aside by the other women who take over the cooking, because I live alone and do not cook for a family. I am considered fairly useless, being an artist. I try to stay out of their way, and like the men squat around the pots and add wood to the fires every so often. The men do not object to my joining them. We look at each other across the fire eagerly. The cooking food is beginning to smell like heaven. We will all be fat tomorrow, and have incredible strength for working the road. The widow approaches me with some of her tortillas. Her sense of importance today makes her black eyes beetle-bright. “Will you eat them in the house?” she queries, gesturing towards her hogan. I shake my head and indicate that out here is fine. She hands me a plate and goes inside to feed the others.

I begin to wonder what is in the tortillas. I did witness some of the preparation, and saw her tuck fried egg, small heaps of rice, beans, chopped green peppers into them, deftly, with her brown fingers; there are also some pinkish-brown bits that I — wishing to spare myself — decide is pork. But who really knows. It could be meat from the local “livestock.” Even as I think this a small brown rodent of indeterminate species peeps cautiously from the bushes nearby, then breaks from them and zooms across the path. It has a long tail. A thin canine, as well, slinks around the wall of the hogan.

I bite into the tortilla, and it is fortunately mouseless, dogless. I taste chicken, is all. I finish almost the whole thing and lick my fingers, cupping a few shreds of egg and rice in my hand. And stand up to go find the mouse, or whatever it was.

It takes some time, but I locate it a few yards from where I first spied it in the brush, and lay out the bits of food on the ground in front of its hiding place, and sit down to wait. I have to sit perfectly still for forty minutes… Then it emerges. It darts forward to seize the food. “I love you,” I tell the mouse. I think I may only be practicing saying this, but it feels true. The hair on its face moves as it looks at me. At least it looks around, sniffing; it’s hard to tell what exactly its gaze settles on. This mouse… he is one of those animals who are more physically aware than others, I can tell this by the way he moves and reacts. He has too many nerve endings, is his trouble, nerve endings to luxurious excess, making him terribly sensitive to touch and sound. All these nerves are tuned to exquisite pitch, and this affects the relationship he has with the rest of the world. Ones like him choose outlying areas like this to live in, for protection; they also tend to keep low to the ground or high in the air. There is an entire civilization of them, sort of an undercurrent to our own world, a secret society like the Masons or Rosicrucians.

I moved here from a large city thirteen years ago, I was looking for love. The city was a gorgeous carnival, a heaving, ringing, yelling, laughing, pulsating sort of place, and the people talked so fast I couldn’t sort out what they were saying. It took a while before I discovered I couldn’t…And if you can’t tell what they are saying, you also can’t say anything back…I decided I needed a vacation: I ought to go either back in time or to the end of the world. I opted for the end of the world, boarding a bus one day and taking it to the end of the line; then I just got out and continued walking.

And here it is quiet. Here I reduce my life to what is manageable. I am beginning again, but I am not sure what exactly it is I am beginning again. It is something about love. A tree, a rock, a cloud. I am practicing.

When I stand on a high place, like the dirt plateau behind the village, I can feel the city in my head. It is a cold pain, a reverberation like the ringing of an iron bell. It feels also like a magnetic pulling, which is strange since I think this village is isolated from the earth’s lines of force. I have wondered sometimes how the pigeons find their way. It must be that the magnetic field is continuous at a higher altitude, although disrupted here on the ground.

For the road today we are crushing stone, as we have been doing, for many days. In the canyon a hundred yards away, the strongest men swing picks and break off large pieces of granite and load them into wheelbarrows. This is the hardest job. Others of us bring these pieces over to the trench which is becomiing the road and drop them in. Then we take sledgehammers and metal crowbars and smash, smash, smash them into smaller pieces to fill the space of the trench. It is six feet deep, this trench. Hot work, and it will take a long, long time. I pause to rest, and take a package of hard, ancient gum from my pocket. The crinkling of the wrapper alerts a small boy’s attention. He too has been working on the road, picking small stones and carrying them over in a sack. “What’s that?” he demands.

“Gum.” I show him.

“Give me a piece!” I extract one piece and give the rest of the pack. Also in my pocket I find a bottle of soap bubbles and plastic blowing ring, which I give him. I pull out the rest of what is in my pockets and he keeps accepting the things as I hand them to him — a fragment of white chalk, a broken Bowie knife, a dog collar, the core of an apple, a cat’s eye marble, a piece of string to swing a rat with, six yellow tickets with Bible verses printed on them. Have you ever known a child who didn’t want everything you had?

I sit in front of the house where the red pickup truck is parked and wait for the man who owns it to come out. I watch for him almost every day. He may not even exist — like the wolverine. I put a basket of flowers in front of the door. Night falls, then the morning comes. An old woman, knitting with flame-colored yard on the next porch, says, smiling, “I don’t think he’s ever coming out.”

Sometimes I walk at night and stand outside the house of the man with two wives. The villagers might turn him out of the village, if they knew. The younger woman is slight and dresses as a boy and the man refers to her in public as his son. But one night I saw them… I stand outside their window and watch them make love, sometimes all three together. I am conscious of a furious wish to join them.

I awake in the middle of the night, hearing a crackling noise. The bed is on fire, as well as the whole bedroom. Little flames lick around the bedding, trying to get at me… My nightgown ignites at the hem, and I grab it and slap it, unfortunately pulling the fire onto my own leg. A flash of pain on my thigh… The valance of the canopy is alight; it starts to creak and crumble, so I take a flying leap from the bed, where the mattress is now burning, to the floor, which I can’t see through the smoke billowing upwards from underneath the bed, praying that the floor is not afire too. I land without knowing if it burns under my feet or no, I can only see that the room is become a red hell. In fact, the whole house….Somehow I run outside and find my neighbors outside awakened and rushing to help. They take me to the widow’s, next door. There the women spread a poultice over the fearful burn on my leg and wrap it. They murmur soothing things as I shake and sob over a mug of tea. My house is gone. There is no way to stop the fire. My clothes, furniture, paintings, even my share of the windfall food, is burned up.

Now the villagers have the added burden of helping me. They cannot afford to have me stay here much longer because I suspect the expense of my existence will get greater and greater…But a plan forms. The charred and broken pile of wood, crockery and stuff that was my house can provide fill for the road. There are a few working vehicles left in the village, and to these we can attach metal plates like steel plows, and, using up the precious small store of gasoline remaining, push my house over, into the trench. Into nothingness.

The widow tries to make me spend the night at her place, but I cannot bear the sight of her children all huddled against the walls on straw pallets, like mice in a barn. Even though the recent feeding has rounded out their faces somewhat. My pity for myself is about all I can stand just now. I slip out the door and walk along the canyon, where the wind howls long and low. I come to a small cave hidden between two broken boulders, and I toss stones into it for a while until the answering silence convinces me nothing is inside and it is safe to enter. It is dusty and cold, but huddling myself into a curve of the walls makes me eventually warm enough to sleep.

Something terrible awakens me — something has entered the cave and knows I am here. I jump up. It breathes horidly, rasping. In the pitch black I can’t tell it’s near until a rank, musky odor fills the air, thick and suffocating, and a massive body falls on me, knocking me flat on my back on the cold ground.

It is the wolverine, only it is as large as a man. A huge arm — or limb — is laid across my mouth and neck; what starts as a blow begins now to be a caress, this huge hand feeling my face. The hand grasps my throat and I feel his other hand on my body. I am tilted backwards and my naked legs pushed apart. Through the denseness of my fear, I feel what he is about to do and am suddenly, fiercely, glad.

As I choke into his shoulder, he enters me and it is surprisingly easy. The thickness pushing into me is almost more than I can manage; with each withdraw, part of my flesh slides too, trying to cling to him. It is only a couple of minutes before my orgasm starts to overtake me like a rocket, my whole form giving planetary shudders. I feel him finish not long after that. I tell him to go slowly, slowly, as he pulls from me. After I’ve caught my breath again and push him away, I sit up and think: This is just like me. I’m exactly like this. What have I done? Everything is getting out of hand.

In the morning there is trouble in the village. The chickens are gone! The young man who tends the clay-walled chickenyard runs around in circles, holding his head and muttering. Every single one gone; how will we eat this winter? I think of the beast of the night before, and freeze in guilt. Maybe he ate them, I consider silently. But there is no evidence they are dead, probably only run away. The young man finally tells us the gate to the yard stood wide open at sunrise when he went to feed them, because the gate latch was broken and the wind opened it. So we scour the village looking. Every so often, someone cries out and points to a bush, a clump of grass, but the chicken has relocated before we reach it; they are amazingly swift. Stumbling around, I trip over two of the widow’s sons who are searching with her, and scrape up my hands on the rocks and dirt as I fall. The widow wipes my hands with her apron apologizing, then frowns at the bruises on my neck and legs, gotten during the night. She looks worried… Someone tries to lure the chickens with a tray of feed set out in the open; but no birds approach. We search the thicker brush and grass of the adjacent meadows, and twice I get close enough to a chicken to catch a glimpse of bright eye, a whirry of feathers as it eludes me. And strangely, these chickens are in the trees. Can they fly?

Hot and dusty, we gather at noon to discuss this. Many others have come to the same conclusion — the chickens are hiding in the trees, can fly and evidently were able to all along. One of the old men says this flock is descended from wild chickens, so it is natural. The big problem now is the chickens’ behavior. They intend to remain at large. They have experienced freedom and for the moment it is better than anything else. Moreover, they are toying with us. One man says, what we need is a better lure than chickenfeed.

Water? someone suggests, unimaginatively.

Everything suddenly becomes clear to me. We must show the chickens something they do not know yet they want, and they will desire it more than they have ever bothered desiring before. I feel in my hands, my head, the ability to create it in paint. I begin to dream, conjuring up paradise from a bird’s eye, and it appears in my head so swiftly and vividly I wonder from where it sprang. But I can bring these chickens back. All afternoon I paint, using up every bit of color I can mix or cadge from others; I get some paint from potters and dye from a weaver. If I get the chickens back, I will finally be of use.

I paint the picture of desire on the front clay wall of the chicken yard. I wish the onlooker to think the wall is a field, and one could walk to the wall surface, and keep walking into the picture. Of course it is clumsy trompe l’oeil, not realistic enough to fool a person, and that was always the fun of the style — that we see it is not real after coming close enough — but it is good enough for chickens. Yellow sunlight pours through the tops of the grass in the painting, soft branches reach over the grass and make shade so deep and cool you can see it is still a little damp under the trees. I work especially on the colors; I find some gold, and make the light heart-wrenching. The Indians stop sometimes and look doubtfully at it, and a little toddler child runs up from behind my back and smacks full into the wall, then falls back on his seat, wailing. The adults stare. I continue the painting on the back wall of the yard that faces the open gate. Reluctantly, the Indians start to gather things to help: long brushes and branches to sweep the chickens in toward the gate if they approach; insects, which they toss in bowls of water, to occupy the chickens’ attention once they are here. The chickenyard man repairs the gate latch. Nobody is out searching for the birds anymore because they are beginning to believe they will come to us.

Two elderly Indians, tough of cheek, small-eyed, long-legged sisters, stand before the picture and look at it with their heads to one side, blinking from time to time. Noncomprehension in their faces. These two women come almost undiluted from a family so ancient their minds are less differentiated than other people’s, they cannot see a painted image as having three dimensions. They look at it as a bird would, a lizard would. It might be a glittering pile of pebbles. Gleaming rain on a wall.

The branch of nerves on one side of my face jumps, like a tiny hand of pain. Oh, hell, what a miscalculation! How could this picture work for the village chickens either? All my labor wasted and useless. I say nothing to the others, however. The painting is done.

But the chickens come. They arrive with the sunlight the next day, and the noise in the yard, from cackling birds and the laughing people who have flown outdoors to see them, is joyous.

And one day, it is moving day. We are moving my burned house. I drink milk out of a chipped mug, and eat my rice off a cracked, blackened plate. Afterwards I throw the dishes into a trash barrel. Soon the cars and the one truck in the village will begin pushing the remains of the house towards and into the trench.

The cars’ makeshift plows are held on by heavy wire and a few nails. The men rev the motors, eager. Everybody in the village gathers at the burned house; we cheer each time the engines roar. Yelling a signal to each other to begin, the men stomp on the gas and zoom at the house. They hit the rear wall simultaneously with a deafening crash. One smaller, lighter car bounces backward, spins its tires, and leaps forward to hit the wall again. There is a huge chunk punched out on one side, a long fissure on the other, through which all three vehicles shove. The entire wall gives way and collapses inward, revealing the living room. It is black and unrecognizable to all but me. I begin to feel distressed, and go away to sit somewhere until the initial wrecking is done; only will I be needed to sweep and wheel rubbish into the trench. I sit and weep at the enormity of this undertaking, this road.

When we have hauled and shoveled enough for the day, we all sit on the ground near the trench and pass jars of cold well water around. The mothers begin calling their young ones together to go home and cook dinner. The men put the wheelbarrows beside the road, and stack the picks and other tools inside the barrows. The suns, all four of them together, are setting and they blare a light greater than the ultimate splendor into our eyes and we hurry indoors. I can feel a difference in the air as I run to the widow’s; something has changed since the house has been leveled: I now feel the city dragging at me more strongly than ever. Shading my eyes with both hands, I turn and look at the naked plot where the house stood. I feel exultant. I feel free to go.

Two hours before dawn, I stand beside a small pack of clothes and belongings. I kiss the widow goodbye; she knows I am leaving today and has risen earlier than the rest of her family, earlier certainly than the rest of the village. She says little, only squeezes my hands again and again. It is good to see her skirt is tighter, her bones covered by more flesh. The door closes after me and immediately I hear a child shriek, and she yells back. Her day has already begun. The path follow is roughly alongside the projected road, it seems the logical way to take. A brown rabbit twenty yards away seems to accompany me for a while as I start out. The dark is lessening in intensity, but the dawn is still far off. I enjoy the quiet as I walk. It will be loud enough soon, when I get closer to the city. I visualize its inhabitants: lone men, lone women, all together and unquiet, I hope I am ready for them, for you. I could love you, I could want you. I could dream you. I could eat you. Pick one.

In The Attic

by M. Wilson

Jesus, who hung on the wall above, happened to be gazing at Miriam when the rays of the very early, very bright sunshine reached through the attic window at an angle to strike her eyes and wake her. She blinked in pain and her fingers flew to her face and pressed at her eyes; they must have hurt quite a bit, since she slept always with her eyes open. She also slept sitting up, with one lovely arm extended and holding aloft a green plastic wine goblet that happened to fit her hand precisely. All her days were spent in an old ceramic bowl filled with small glass marbles, having rather the look of a bubble bath, or this was at least the intention. She had been in the bowl for nearly a year and a half, ever since the old man who owned the house had last climbed the stairs and been in this room, doing this and arranging that, smiling at his fancy, then descending again when he was finished. Never to return, since he left this world shortly after leaving the attic. She and the others here had entered into an era of neglect, but this was only one more period of empty time after so many others. Such was the life of a doll.

Dust motes wheeled slowly round in the beams of light that raked the room. Miriam rubbed her eyes as well as she could, the goblet which she could not loose hampering her somewhat, and gave a tiny sob, a plasticky squeak. She did not often allow herself to cry. She produced no tears, anyway — which she might have been tempted to use for dramatic effect on the other dolls. As it was, she considered the act of crying self-indulgent, so the noise she made now was only for herself. The silence surrounding them indicated that the others were not up yet. Only she and the celluloid Jesus were alert, since they were closest to the window and tended to be the first ones to wake. And being with Jesus was as good as being alone. As she cried He looked at her with slow, sure eyes and said nothing.

Miriam was hurting, and tired. There were some twenty-five dolls in the attic, mostly 11-and-a-half-inch fashion dolls, like herself; besides this harem of Barbies there were some male dolls, a few elephantine baby dolls, a couple of corn-husk dolls with blank, bland faces, two or three smaller fashion dolls, and a Spanish dancer made of muslin and cotton wadding and wire, whose speech nobody could understand. Miriam was the oldest. The old man had singled her out to pose her by herself, probably because she was so different from the Barbies’ cheerful, wholesome, smiling Americanhood. She had a quality of stillness. And solitude. Her eyes were tilted up at the outside corners but half-hooded by white lids, the thin eyebrows very arched, her cheeks a little too high, her expression one of a sort of middle-European withdrawal into her own thoughts. To accentuate her look, the old man had placed a couple of his late wife’s crystal-drop gemmed earrings into the crunchy, elaborately curled masses of her silvery-gold hair and tiny pieces of gold chain around her neck and wrists. He had thought she looked like Marie Antoinette, beautiful and knowing her doom. Even before he had arranged her this way, her limbs had hurt when moved. Now they were an agony. And she was always slipping forward because of sitting on the marbles, so her back frequently ached.

She heard feminine yawns, and looked up to see the Barbies beginning to stir. They seemed to be posed as a group, so alike were they in their happiness; over here, a ponytailed blonde Barbie sat on a tiny doll’s park bench beside a ponytailed brunette Barbie, both wearing pert pink and blue dresses, their arms around each other’s waists, like two teenage girls giggling over nothing; there, a streaky-haired blonde Barbie sat on the edge of an antique writing desk beside a male wizard doll (about the size of a Ken), swinging her bare feet and waving her left hand — which was posable — at nobody in particular; two dark-haired Barbies whose legs were articulated leaned against dusty lamps in difficult ballerina positions. One Barbie who had no clothes was seated in a cloth swing made from an old nylon nightie, and it was twisted around her for modesty. This swing dangled from an upright bar on a set of metal utility shelves. The waking girls blinked their eyes, moved their limbs, and began chatting — softly, out of deference to Miriam, since they knew quite well she detested morning. Later, they would be louder. Their easy transition from sleep to wakefulness, their instant “on,” annoyed Miriam. But they’re so much younger, she told herself, and bashed the ugly head where it was rearing.

She turned to look out the window and sighed. The arm she held the glass with creaked and dropped into her lap, giving her a sudden pain so exquisite she gulped. Then it infuriated her. “Oh — God!” she whispered, seizing her elbow with the other hand. “Jesus Christ!”

Jesus lifted His head suddenly, startled but attending, thinking she was actually calling on Him. Miriam met His glance, and shame flooded her. “Oh, no — I’m sorry!” she said, shaking her head. “So sorry,” she repeated. She lifted her chin high, in control once more. Jesus did not speak, but she could feel the pressure of His mind on her, prodding her to tell Him what her trouble was. She tightened her lips and looked away, out the window again. Jesus, she told herself, was here to watch over the silly Barbies, not her.

After a few minutes she stole a glance over at Him. His head drooped on His chest in centuries-old weariness. His eyes were nearly closed, glazed over in ancient agony that was remembered now only in the curves of the brittle celluloid that made His face shine. Jesus was only three inches long and not a complete crucifix, only the shaped mold of the body atop a partial Cross. The feet were missing. The Cross had cracked off across the bottom when He was removed from a fancy boxed set of books.To stop the thin tendril of pity she felt climbing into her heart, Miriam forced herself to drop her glance and look instead at the bookcase below Him, where a heap of tangled rosaries lay in between some prayerbooks. Their faint glitter drew her for a moment. These objects she did not fully understand; they seemed to be jewelry but it was more complicated than that. She had a vague memory of a teenaged boy, perhaps the old man at a younger time? coming into the attic, dumping the heap of rosaries up here, grinning and calling them “vampire repellant.” So evidently they were also useful. The human world had such mysteries, behind its appearances. Why couldn’t they simply be necklaces to wear?

“To count their prayers,” Jesus said very, very quietly. He did not even look up or lift His head. “That’s what they’re for. I don’t know what vampires are.”

“Maybe they’re some kind of bug,” Miriam replied frostily. She found it unsettling sometimes when He answered her like that, although she had known for ages that He could read her thoughts.

One of the Barbies called out to Miriam. “Ma’am? We were wondering something, Ma’am… We felt sure you would know. Why is it that almost no Barbies have red hair?” Eight pairs of huge beautiful eyes turned to her, waiting. She smiled kindly, not without inner amusement.

“Why, plenty of them have red hair. You’ve just seen very few, blonde being the predominant color. Actually, nearly all of you are made after the California beach girl concept, with some exceptions like this American Indian black-haired girl,” she pointed at one, “and the free-spirit, hippie-type girl” — she nodded at the streaky blonde — “and a number of well-groomed career girls.”

“I did work in an office, originally,” one Barbie admitted.

“I think I drove a bus!” another remembered. “Or a car.”

“The most popular career used to be … “ Miriam paused. They waited, fascinated. “Stewardess.”

They were silent for three seconds of respectful meditation. “Oh, wow. They didn’t even call them the right thing,” someone muttered. Another concurred: “And who would want to be that?” Another: “If I’m going in a plane, I’m flying it.” “Or going as a U.S. marshal.” They brightened at this thought too.

Miriam said, “For a number of years, red hair was reserved for Midge, Barbie’s best friend, who was plain-faced.” They were puzzled.

“You mean, she was made not pretty? On purpose?”

“I’ve never seen that,” the other park bench Barbie murmured.

“What’s a Midge?” one girl queried, trying to be funny.

A deep voice intoned, “A midge is a gnatlike fly of the family Chironomidae. They tend to hover in clouds over stagnant water.” Then Jesus dropped His head again. The girls stared at Him. Then they turned questioningly to Miriam. Miriam nodded wisely, knowing the fancy box Jesus had been pried off had been a set of encyclopedias published by a Roman Catholic firm. He had told her this once. He still retained a memory imprint of all the words and information He had lain against for so many years, and it bubbled up at odd times. He could not help it.

The girls, easily distracted from what they did not understand, turned their discussion to anticipated events that day. “Do you think someone’ll finally walk upstairs today?”

“Do you think a bird will run into the window today?”

“Do you think we’ll see some beetles crawl across the floor? A spider start a web?”

Miriam bent her head in momentary grief, at this talk of attic insects and dirty webs and the grimy day-to-day routine. Sometimes she detested these young dolls and their resilience, their ability to be curious about anything, to take an interest in any stupid thing that now happened in this their horrible life in the attic, and she hated this life, knowing there was only more of it to come. No events, no real people, no newness; she would never again, for instance, be a girl’s new birthday present and be awed at. Or be played with in association with other dolls, among whom she would be the most beautiful and sophisticated-looking. She was not young and soon she would not be able to talk and joke with the other dolls. These Barbies here were already beyond her level of energy; toys and objects tended to slow down and go silent with greater and greater age, and this was beginning to happen to her, but something in her nature was preserving that sense of herself in spite of everything, while other objects forgot who and what they were. She valued her memory, but it was also the source of pain.

She wished she felt like the Barbies. She moved her fingers slightly over the dust-coated marbles and thought: My heart is becoming as dry as this bath. But even as she thought this she felt how artificial and untrue it was. The problem was that her heart was very wet indeed, in fact she sensed watery tears right now pressing against the bottom rims of her eyelids, against every seam and joint of her, ready to burst from her like a bad water main in an unseemly display of despair. Utter self-loathing filled her. She stared down into her lap for many minutes until, little by little, the feeling disappeared into the void of her own tiredness. She was, she reflected, too old even to sustain strong feeling.

Hours passed. The Barbies began, some of them, to take cat-naps in the afternoon sun. It grew quiet in the attic again. From time to time, tiny exhalations sailed from the lips of the smaller dolls; two pretty ones whose only wardrobe was a ball of pink angora wool their bodies had been thrust into, sighed most frequently; their glass eyes they did not even bother to move, so infantlike were their minds, and when a thought actually passed through their heads, they sighed in reaction.

Miriam watched and felt herself parching in the dry light, lifting off in dusty layers with the motes that swirled in the window’s light. I’m going to die, she thought. And no one will see. She felt no particular sadness at the idea of dying, but was aware of a vague alarm. But even it was sluggish; she felt her own resources dwindling and slow to respond with any self-preservation. She let her gaze move around the room. The crystal beaded rosaries drew her vision again, and she lifted a hand to point at them. Her arm creaked like a mummy’s as she did so. “If I had one of those, I could count my prayers,” she said aloud. She spoke slowly. It took a while to marshall the words. “And look nice in a necklace.”

Jesus said, “You can already count.”

“Why, yes… I can count,” Miriam said, recalling a dim game of hopscotch she had participated in long years ago. A girl had jumped on one foot, with Miriam clutched in her hand … and a cadence of the numbers rang in her head again, echoing through that odd, deep well of time. And there had been games of jumprope, too, involving counting. “I can count to … twenty-three,” she said.

“Then you don’t need a necklace,” He told her.

She was silent. She was swallowing something difficult in her throat, something large and prideful and she knew how hatefully hard what she was going to do next would be, but she was aware of a harder, firmer thing inside her that her own stubbornness hit, and bounced off, and flew out of her. It was like an iron bell inside her, which rang for one long, low note, calling her to herself. And the taste in her mouth which had been acidic changed, and she could swallow again; she rested her palms in her glass-covered lap and looked across at the young Barbies, and thought: How nice they are, really.

He was waiting.

“One,” she croaked. The edges of her lips were drawn up in a tight, nasty, self-mocking smile she could not seem to avoid– it was the last vestige of her unwillingness to submit — but she felt her facial muscles begin to relax when it occurred to her that He would forgive her that ugly smile, He would not mind it at all, and all her fear was melting as she realized how grateful she was to be now learning at this moment a new thing, a new important thing that installed her heart in the present instant, now and forever, and the consciousness of it kept renewing her interest in the now and how stunning it really was in its liveliness, how alive she felt now, how good it was, each and every moment of experience, and now her mind poured sweetly like a river and she saw how easy what He was asking her to do was. What came next? … She opened her mouth to find out: “Two. …. Three,” she prayed. 

A Nursing Home Dictionary

Stanley — 1.n. A masculine given name. 2.adj. Short, dark, hirsute, and urbane. Having a low forehead and beady little eyes. 3.v. To be the administrator at a nursing home. 4.adj.Extremely viscous or unctuous when visitors arrive. Not the usual family visitors, though: only wealthy family, or perhaps a new staff doctor. 5.v. To wear oversized clothing, notably black baggy suits, but made by an expensive designer. 6.adj. Sexually attracted to Jewish R.Ns. —- Expression: to stanley around. Meaning, to have an ear to every wall, a finger in every pie; to meddle, without practical result; to try to have one’s hand in everything, a thick-fingered hand, neither fine nor Italian. But professionally manicured, we think.

Talley — 1.n. A familiar form of Talia, a feminine name. 2.n. Another name for the Roman god Janus, who is two-faced. 3.adj. Possessing the droning voice of a cyclone. 4.v. To offer great hopes of salvation to others that are later utterly dashed to pieces. ex: The fact that she wore a nursing uniform every day, unlike any other director of nursing we’d had, led us to believe that she saw herself primarily as a caregiver — like ourselves — instead of an administrator, but within three months she talleyed.

Patience Jackass — 1.n. The punchline or refrain of a running joke that goes: A good, earnest man was told by God to travel to a certain place in the middle of the desert to worship Him. He loads everything he owns on his jackass and leading it by a rope, begins walking into the desert. Hours pass. They are tired. The jackass turns to the man, and asks, “Master, when will we get to the place?” The man calmly says, “Patience, jackass, patience.” They keep walking. Days pass. The jackass looks at the man and asks, “Master, when will we get there?” He answers, “Patience, jackass, patience.” They walk on. Weeks pass. The jackass cries,”Master, when will we get there?” The man, who is still calm and content, answers, “Patience, jackass, patience.” They continue on their pilgrimage, walking. Months pass. (Here the person to whom you are telling the joke should be bored enough to interrupt and ask you to get to the point. You turn to him and in that same calm tone, say, “Patience, jackass — patience.”) This joke is told to just about every new nursing home arrival, whether staff or patient.

Breakfast — 1.n. An unvarying round of despair. 2.n. The first meal of the day, served in what seems to be the middle of the night, when the patient is shaken awake and forced to sit up or even get dressed and up, in order to eat. Which they do not really want to do. 3.n. Any state of affairs for which no change is visible on the horizon.

Toast — 1.n. A piece of breakfast, of adamantine hardness. Must be soaked in hot milk and mashed with a spoon.

Eggs — 1. n. (pl.) A yellow pureed substance vitiated with green bits of an odd-smelling herb, without which the nurse’s aide could mix it with milk and lots of sugar and easily coax the patients to eat it, since most of them love sweets more in old age than they ever did previously in their lives. The herbs added by the kitchen, moreover, cause queasiness and nausea to whoever smells it. One young woman (who had stayed out late the evening before) was seen to drop the bowl of eggs she was attempting to feed a patient and run away to be violently ill.

English Muffin — 1.n. Nonexistent in this universe.

Waffle — 1.n. Nonexistent in this universe.

Granola — 1.n. Nonexistent in this universe.

Nursing Assistantalso Nurse’s Aide. 1.n. A work horse or other beast of burden which is disposed of when injured or has otherwise outlasted its usefulness.

Payday — 1.n. An unvarying round of despair. See: Breakfast, synonym.

Bills — 1.n.(pl.) Things which cannot be met although one works full-time and extra shifts, well past the point of exhaustion.

Ten Dollars — 1.n. Something which a pair of aides or other friends may lend each other back and forth, so each one may buy meat once in a while.

Lobby — 1.n. The large room of the facility which a visitor enters to see the receptionist and state his business there. Its walls are painted white, unlike the pale lilac of the rest of the nursing home, in order not to clash with the lobby’s lovely paintings, which sometimes change.

Twelve Thousand Dollars — 1.n. The cost of the vast rug from Pakistan, on the floor of the lobby.

Corporate — 1.adj. Derived from, or related to, the source of all hardness and evil. Administrators, directors, and board are all considered corporate. 2.n. A seasonal storm easily weathered by working-class persons but which unduly upsets management. ex: Those files had better be in order, because corporate is here to inspect.

Remodel — 1.v. What the administration likes to do at great expense every so often, including new paint, wallpaper in the patients’ rooms and new carpeting, to attract “the right kind of patients.” Stanley’s words.

Damned Fast — 1.adj. The manner in which an aide must work. also see: White Lightning, White Whirlwind.

Investigated — 1.adj. What the facility, its administration and work practices were, after aides filed many, many workmen’s compensation injury claims, caused by lifting far too often and far too much.

Within Legal Limits — 1.adj. What the patients-to-aides ratio was found to be, although it had doubled within the last three years. We take care of 12 to 14 patients per day, all of whom are full care. Down the road is a facility whose aides care for about 8 patients per day. It is staffed largely by aides who once worked here but quit.

Yungalso called Dr. Yung. 1.n. A smiling drinker of cups of plain hot water.

Edwardalso called Dr. Eddie. 1.n. A wearer of suspenders decorated with Disney characters, and a wearer of green and red shoelaces, one color in each shoe, purportedly to make patients laugh and ease tension. More likely to serve as an opening to conversation with attractive nurses and aides, however. 2.adj. Highly sought as a partner in coitus but so far unavailable to anyone. Anyone we know of.

Jackie — 1.n. Myself, in this place and time. 2.n. An individual who once had self-respect and a future.

Winkler — 1.n. That appendage more honored in the breeches than in the observance.

Illness — 1.n. Something they can make money out of.

Injury — 1.n. Something they can make money out of.

Patient — 1.n. Something they can make money out of.

Old Woman — 1.n. Something they can make money out of.

Old Man — 1.n. Something they can make money out of.

You — 1.n. Something they can make money out of.

Me — 1.n. Something they can make money out of.

Foley Catheter — 1.n. A corporate facility attached to a winkler or its female counterpart, a pussywinkler; its plastic transparence allows one to see the nature of the vital fluids it drains from individuals, but the foul sediment exuded from its corrupted insides (usually in the form of doubletalk and prevarication, which see) soon clouds the tubing and obscures the vision.

Posey — 1.n. A brand name for the extreme fatigue and muscle aches which restrain an individual from ameliorating his situation and getting another job. (Experienced by work horses.) A waist Posey is tied around the back of the patient’s wheelchair and looped around the waist. A vest Posey is worn over the shoulders, around the waist and the back of the wheelchair or tied to the bedrails; in either vest or waist form, a Posey is really another way of saying “prison.” Requires a doctor’s written order.

White Lightning — 1.n. An exclamation uttered by patients when observing the white-uniformed aides go about their duties.

White Whirlwind — 1.n. Same as White Lightning.

Sanka — 1.n. A caffeine-free hot drink often used as a substitute for coffee. Everpresent, offered in individual packets in the lunchroom. Not recommended for patients with ulcers, or aides who cannot stop crying because their boyfriends left them. A Yung will bring you a cup of hot water instead, and tell you happily how good life is, really. Maybe with some lemon. And pat your back, like you were a real person who mattered here.

Bulimia — 1.n. The sad disease afflicting the youngest, sweetest and most beautiful female aide employed on the day shift. Its symptoms include: puffy, bloated face during bad spells, shyness about going out to dinner with friends, continued living with one’s parents, and secrecy. 2.n. The reason for our disgust and outrage at Dr. Eddie, who finally decided to pay his sought-after attentions to this rather childlike aide, who was unprepared to deal with his advances, and incidentally had just lost her father to a heart attack. How dare he bother her? He is in his fifties!

Post Office — 1.n. A federal place of secure employment provided one is lucky enough to be tested and interviewed during a time when employees are needed; often a relative working there is required to land a job. Before his heart attack, the bulimic aide’s father secured a place for his daughter, and we were sad but relieved to see her go, as her nervousness had grown under romantic pressure from certain physicians.

Bathroom — 1.n. A place of supposedly secure privacy where one may take care of bodily functions. 2.n. The place we see Stanley loitering, waiting for Talley to exit so they may resume their daily, grand, slow promenade up and down the facility halls inspecting and watching the aides. It is unclear why he stands right there, immediately outside the door of the bathroom, and we think it is strange.

Hair — 1.n. A naturally curly product of Talley’s attractive head, which we originally admired, as we admired everything about her, but which lost our regard when we discovered she was having it off with Stanley. They are both married. One afternoon a few of us were leaving work, and noticed Stanley’s car, a long, shiny Lincoln, leaving the upper parking lot. Talley sat in his passenger seat; when our cars passed she gave us a startled look and actually ducked. Talley’s hair used to be worn loosely and made her appear younger than she is; sometime after the car incident her hair took on severe, sophisticated waves obviously produced by a costly stylist. She looked corporate. The nursing uniform and good, flat white shoes were replaced by tailored suits and pumps. After the change, she was no longer dressed to assist an aide with lifting, feeding or bathing a patient once in a while during her inspection walks. She used to do it and gladly.

Walsh — 1.n. A surname. 2.adj. Sycophantic, if there is such a word. Sycophantic and superficial and unimportant. Cora Walsh, an R.N. who merely looks after some vague paperwork here, was sitting in the break room with a few of us aides and mentioned that Dr. B, a young man whose English is difficult to make out, still had the price tag attached to the sleeve of his suit. “He doesn’t seem to understand it’s supposed to be removed,” she said. I snorted and asked how much the suit cost. She reacted with horror that I would think she would try to read the price off his arm, and that we actually expected her to draw the poor guy aside and tell him to remove the tag. “He’s a very brilliant man,” she said, shaking her head. “You don’t tell him to do things.” Sure you do, if you have any consideration for him.

Doubletalk — 1.n. The preferred language of corporate persons when discussing wages or conditions with aides and LPNs. Its verbs are optimistic, its conjunctions confusing, and its nouns damned lies. This language was the one used in a film shown to all aides at compulsory staff meetings, a film explaining the many reasons why we should not vote to form a union. This film was produced by a consulting firm and cost around twenty thousand dollars (we believe the cost was shared by this facility with its sister facilities, where the danger of unionization was present also); it quite frighteningly showed repeated images of angry male strikers shaking their fists, then the pale faces of weeping staff who seemed to have lost a lot of money. Since there were no subtitles it could not be discerned that the angry strikers were there helping the crying ones. Doubletalk is an advanced and subtle language. Note: Doubletalk is not used between corporate persons and RNs, who are supervisory and salaried. Instead, the language OneUpmanship is substituted.

Prevarication — 1.n. An assault on the organs of hearing, and on the sensibility. Prevarication was performed when Stanley reported that I had made home visits to other staff for the purposes of union organizing, when at that time I had actually only contemplated doing so, and it was curious that he knew anything about it at all. The last time he passed me in the corridor, he couldn’t recall my name. Now he had it right.

Jan — 1.n. A young, long-haired male of pleasant personality. 2.v. To work in the food service of a health care facility but be friendly and affable enough to get a girlfriend who is an ambitious LPN, making an interesting couple who both wear whites but for different reasons.3.n. A discount of 100% on the cost of a hot cafeteria lunch when served by the correct kitchen staff. It is granted when the kitchen help deliberately fails to punch one of the spaces on your weekly ticket which purchases — normally — five meals.

Apartment Sink — 1.n. The location where Jan must wash his clothes frequently since he has very few and needs them faster than his girlfriend Patty needs hers washed. Patty usually has an entire load of uniforms to do at once; although she and Jan moved in together they aren’t able to cut their expenses as much as they need. 2.n. The full and sufficient (albeit symbolic) reason that Jan and Patty are pro-union. The day of the vote, Patty was the staffperson manning the ballot box for the pros. Cora Walsh was recruited by the administration to be the other person monitoring the ballot box; she sat with her head tilted to the side as if she were wondering how long this nonsense would take.

Coffee — 1.n. A hot drink Cora Walsh was invited to partake of in the company of Talley and Stanley back in their luxurious warm offices, once the vote was completed. 2.n. A sound of celebration, a gurgling.

Laughing — 1.n. An elite, among-friends sound Cora Walsh makes in unison with higher-ups including Talley. It is performed with the back turned to the aide who must interrupt them to ask a question or have a form signed.

Crying — 1.n. An action uncharacteristic of Patty, but performed by her anyway. When properly done, as it was on vote day, it reveals lines of frustration and fatigue in the face.

My Shoulders — 1.n. Where Yung put his brown hands and said “Patience, Jackie” as I stood with others by the coffee dispenser, disbelieving everything.