Neoliberal Appetites

My stepfather zipped my lime-green vest to the dock handrail where I left it while running barefoot in the muck below. Seven, rain-drenched, digging at my braces with my tongue, I tried to loosen the zipper down. I soon found that it was stuck and abandoned the vest for the handle of my plastic bucket of water and freshly dug clams. Later, a raccoon ate the clams on the house deck one by one with dexterous baby-fingers while Shasta, the retriever, barked and smudged her nose all over the glass door. The raccoon picked each blue-grey clam up, pried it open, and slurped it down while looking into our eyes.

My ducks are missing feathers. Their naked bellies remind me of greasy skin exposed for a slice of butter. A chef’s pinch of herbs. I gobble-quack at them so they know I’m coming and call to my daughter, asking her to drag over fresh bedding and the old grill so I can scoop out spent ashes and sprinkle them in the coop to deter the mites. Dandelion and Madeline waddle the yard, consulting one another with complaints. My daughter runs over in flip-flops and opens the grill to scoop out ash. Instead she finds four yellow jackets building their papery castle.
“Let’s kill them,” she says.
“They’re beautiful,” I say.
“No. They’ll sting you when you’re sitting there. For no reason.”

I have heard this story many times. Her stepmother minding her own business when a wasp stung her for no reason. I return to shoveling the coop while my daughter skips around, talking to me, inspecting grass and dandelions and looking at the sky.
“They don’t do anything” she yells.
“What?” I yell over my shoulder. “They’re beautiful! Look at what they’re doing. Building a home for the queen.”
“They’ll sting.”
“They won’t bite.”
“They don’t bite. They sting. For no reason!”
“So what?” I say, snapping my t, while taking a wood panel out of the coop and hosing it off. “So what if we get stung?”
Bickering now.
I admire yellow jackets. Feet moving rhythmically. Musically. Focused. Feeding babies with insect meat. I wonder if we are bonded species. Me as one. Them as them. Colonies and swarms. Organized. We have met before.

I was four. My mother and father together. Me in patterned culottes and a red shirt with white hems and little pearly buttons—details I recall—wandering along a dead grey-brown hillside near a stream. Shasta beside me.
Abruptly, memory shifts to my body resting against fine grit on cool porcelain. A baking soda bath. Raised bumps on my arms and legs that look like volcanoes. Bits of skin hang off the top of each one, exposing a red lava middle. A doctor friend, a kind man. Tall with a mustache and a soft voice talked with my parents outside the door.
My mother later tells me Shasta stepped on a hive. My father scooped me up. We drove through dormant autumn hills to see the doctor.
After that I carried a self-injecting needle tube. My mother’s mantra, Always remember your bee-sting kit, echoing, a sing-song in my brain. I wore an allergy bracelet locked on my arm with a snake-y red symbol. A defect. A miniature steel handcuff.
My mother searched for an antidote until she found an experimental program with regular injections of anti-venom. I watched intently every time a pasty medical student pulled the needle from a package, sucked liquid from a glass container, flicked it, stabbed my arm, returned some blood, and pressed down.
“How can you watch?” my mother would ask. Every single time.

Eighteen years later I met a wasp again. South America with another twenty-year-old, blue-eyed blonde who winked at our jungle tour guide, obtaining an invitation to an indigenous wedding. We hiked through deep slippery mud over winding roots and under flowers and foliage in too-short dresses, with wooden beads dangling down. Arriving at the clearing, we encountered steaming pots covered in banana leaves where women stirred and checked cooked monkeys, bent grotesquely into fetal position as though they were asleep. We sat in a circle on logs with banana leaf placemats and swallowed fermented drinks out of a gourd passed along. An old woman walked around the circle distributing small servings of dinner. I picked up a piece of meat and found that it was the thumb of a small monkey and the whirled print looked just like mine. I moved the food around a little and adjusted my stance to keep my short dress from sliding up my legs. It didn’t protect me from the wasp on my thigh. A burning sting intensified and swelled into a baseball. I hadn’t remembered my bee sting kit. I sat on the log looking around at the people laughing and talking, smoking and sharing their food. Would my tongue swell? Would my breath cease? I’m only a primate. I could die in the jungle like our dinner. I watched as my leg grew redder. I could hear Quechua conversations and laughter through my anxiety as I monitored the sting. My friend danced and laughed, imagining her glinting smile to be the light of the party. The sun went down and the swelling slowed and stopped just as the sounds of the jungle rose up around us.

We are preparing for the Fourth of July BBQ. In the front yard, a handsome neighbor tells me he killed the disruptive groundhog who had been carefully interrupting our mowed lawns with piles of fresh dirt.
“I stuck a hose in one side of the hole, washed it out, and shot it,” he grins and tilts back a can of beer.
“Why didn’t you relocate her?” I ask.
“Groundhogs are worthless.”
I go to retrieve the grill. More wasps gather. Maybe I should remove them so they don’t sting my daughter. Protect my family. Plug the holes with a glue gun. Light a fire. Put a bag over them. Burn them with the blow torch I use for perfect strawberry crème brûlée. Later, a storm floods out the party and the grill fills with water. I’m certain the queen will drown but when the rain subsides there they are. Building. Focused. I leave them to their work and go inside.


Lisa J Hardy is a medical anthropologist living in northern Arizona with her daughter and their dogs, chickens, and ducks. Her creative work appears or is forthcoming in Riggwelter and Writer’s Resist.

Lisa Hardy.jpg

One Eye to Heaven

A stray dog wandered into our yard one day, scaring the chickens into a real tizzy. They clucked and squawked like they were under attack. Daddy ran out to the porch to see what the hell was going on, and we followed close behind, my sister and me. We saw the mutt right away, and it was a strange one, though he wasn’t after the chickens at all. He’d pushed his way through an opening in the fence surrounding our empty doghouse, sniffing around like he’d found his home at last. We’d lost our last litter of pups to parvo, and Daddy said the virus lived in the ground there, all around the doghouse. We tossed everything out that could have been contaminated, like the bowls for food and water, a couple of chew toys, and a tattered old blanket. We took our little terrier and moved her to a new home, out near the shed. Daddy was still trying to decide what to do with the old doghouse.
Rubbing his stubbly chin like he often did when thinking something over, he glanced down at us for a moment before returning his gaze to the dog. “Tell you what,” he said, sensing our excitement, “you two get rid of that dog, or I will. Got it?”
“Yeah,” my sister said, clasping her hands together. “We’ll chase it off.”
“You better,” he warned. “You ain’t gonna like it if I have to take care of it.”
I watched my sister take off, ready for the challenge. She looked gawky running through the yard, her legs and arms like toothpicks. Not that I was any different. Both of us were long-limbed skinny things, about the same height, each with straw-colored hair and eyes as blue as the sky above our heads. Some folks mistook us for twins, but my sister always corrected them, huffing and puffing that she was older than me—one year and eleven months, to be precise. We didn’t look much like our parents, especially since they both had dark hair, but Mama said that’d change soon enough. She guaranteed our hair would darken over time, though I had my doubts.
Up at the dog lot, we stopped to assess the situation. My sister was more the animal lover than me, doting on any creature that happened to cross our paths—the baby bird that fell from its nest, the rabbit our cat half-killed the previous summer, or a turtle we found near the creek. As we stared at the dog, I asked her if she thought it had rabies.
“Nah,” she answered. “Poor thing’s just scared.”
Considering he ran behind the house away from us, whimpering, she was probably right. The dog was fat for a stray. His fur was black, though he had some brown splotches here and there, mostly on his face and paws. He’d come out, only to retreat behind the house again. I worried that the scuffed-up spot on his backside might have been mange. My sister started sweet-talking him, but it didn’t do any good. He maintained his distance, keeping his tail tucked between his legs. When my sister leaned over the fence, holding her hand out, I warned her that he might bite.
“He ain’t gonna bite me,” she scoffed. “Come here boy, c’mon.”
She managed to get him close enough to sniff her fingers through the fence, but he kept backing off. He’d go inside the doghouse, come out and circle it, then approach us again, right before backing away. Frantic and full of energy, he couldn’t seem to sit still. He wagged his tail some, like he wanted to play but wasn’t quite sure if we could be trusted. My sister decided to try a new tactic. She walked over to the part of the fence that wasn’t attached to a post, pulling it back as far as she could. “Here, hold it open,” she told me. “I’ll scare him out.”
I did my part, watching my sister make her way to the back of the pen. She picked up a stick and beat it along the fence, yelling the whole time. “Go on, get! Get outta here!” That stupid dog didn’t get, though. He ran inside the doghouse to hide from all the noise.
“Now what?”
“I don’t know,” my sister said, staring down at our house, worried. We didn’t know what Daddy would do if we didn’t succeed. He was as unpredictable as a hurricane, and sometimes just as destructive. He could be nice and sweet, and though he was always sorry the next day, we didn’t know what he might do when he had too much to drink. He yelled at our mama about all kinds of stuff, and sometimes he hit her too, all while we watched, the two of us lined up like dolls, unable to stop him. Unable to move at all.
“Should we try to pull him out?” I asked.
“Maybe,” she answered, grabbing the fence with both hands. She pulled it back and forth, nervously. “Yeah, I’m going in.”
I watched her pull the fence down and hop over. She took a hesitant step towards the doghouse, bending down towards the entrance. The dog watched her the whole time. She tried more sweet talk, but he wouldn’t budge. If only that damned mutt hadn’t been so stubborn. She got closer, reaching out with one hand, but the dog suddenly snapped at her. She jumped back, scared. “Be careful,” I warned.
She shot me her special fed-up look before walking around to the back of the doghouse, giving it a good hard kick. She kicked it over and over again, making such a racket the dog finally jumped out. “Go on, get outta here!” my sister yelled, approaching him. When the stupid thing started growling, she jumped back over the fence to join me. At least she’d gotten it out of the doghouse.
Just then, we heard the screen door creak open. There Daddy was on the porch, rifle in hand. “Get down here right now!” he yelled. We did as we were told, knowing better than to argue. As we got up on the porch, Daddy stepped down. We kept our eyes on him, praying he wouldn’t do it. “I told you,” he said quietly. “I warned you both.” After taking a few more steps, he held the rifle up and took aim. Knowing it was too late, we turned away, covering our ears.
But nothing could muffle the sound of his gun exploding when he pulled the trigger. I felt an intense rupture of pain, like a deep, jagged fissure opening inside my head, splitting it in two–before and after. The first thing I saw when I turned around was Daddy lowering his rifle to the ground. He’d done what he said he would do.
My sister and I looked past him to see the dog stumbling around in circles, yelping desperately as some smooth, glistening organ slipped out from the gaping wound. The dog twisted its head back, sniffing at the newly formed hole in its side, at the things falling out. There was a surprising lack of blood. For such a fatal wound, one would expect more blood.
My sister made a strange hiccup noise and ran into the house. I wanted to follow her, to run to my room and bury my head beneath the pillow, shutting out the echo of that single gunshot, but I couldn’t. With the sound of my father’s boots stomping across the porch, I knew the world would go on like nothing had changed. He opened the screen door. “It was just a mutt,” he said, leaving me alone.
As I walked up through the yard, I watched as more of the dog’s innards came tumbling out, trailing after it. I felt so dizzy, like the world had been turned upside down, knocking me loose.
By the time I got up there, the poor thing was losing steam. Panting, each breath came slower than the one before. I knew it wouldn’t be much longer. After dragging itself around in one more slow, tortuous circle, it slumped over, giving up at last. With one eye to Heaven, its head rested against the ground. I couldn’t stand what I was witnessing but couldn’t force myself to look away. I knew I had to stay with that dog until the end. I bent down on my knees and gripped the fence. For a moment, its eye shifted over and took me in—the last living thing it would ever see. When that eye returned to the sky, I imagine it saw something else, something beyond Heaven and Hell.
And then it was over.
With a trembling hand, I reached out to make sure, rubbing its snout. I closed my eyes and reached further, feeling the warm, sticky blood around the wound. Startled, I pulled my hand back and jumped up. I stared at the black blood covering my fingertips, mesmerized. After taking a deep breath, I rubbed it across my white shirt. I had never been so scared in my life. I looked down at our red house and could have sworn I saw my father’s shadow in the window, watching me. He’d done this awful thing, but it was more than that. Terrified, I realized I didn’t know him at all, this man called Daddy.
Something new was born inside me that day—something warm and slick like an organ, filled with the darkest desire. I clenched my fists together, wishing I could make him pay for all the things he’d ever done—to me, my sister, my mother, and the dog. I wanted to march down to the house and take the gun from the cabinet, lifting it up in his direction while watching him squirm. But I knew it wasn’t possible. I wasn’t big enough to handle that gun, and I didn’t feel sure I was ready to pull the trigger.
Not yet, anyway.


Cameron L. Mitchell grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. His work has appeared in
Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Queer South Anthology, Literary Orphans, Coffin Bell Journal, and a few other places. He lives in New York and works in archives at Columbia University. Find him on Twitter: @CameronLMitchel.

Photo Credit: Ryan Mendenhall

Photo Credit: Ryan Mendenhall

Oblivion

So we’re walking home from the high school after meeting with Principal James and it is muggy, like eighty-five degrees, which feels wrong, considering it is Halloween and the streets are blanketed with orange leaves and vampires and punk rock stars, when I say to my wife, Caroline, that I wish I was the Lord, or, at the very least, a prophet, which prompts Caroline to turn around, apparently expecting an Old Testament trick-or-treater behind her. No, I explain, I don’t want to dress as the Lord, I don’t even need to be worshipped, although that would be nice. I just want some clarity on how we got here and what to do because it’s like trying to put a shattered egg back together, right?
Yup, just like Humpty Dumpty, is her response, but she’s distracted, her hazel eyes staring straight ahead, not bothering to look at me or the cracked-vinyl-sided homes plopped in the middle of weedy lawns. She must think I’m talking about Josh, who, it’s true, is unraveling, but I’m not really talking about our son, I’m not really talking about his only friend, Thomas, who is a pyro, and I’m not really talking about Principal James having just labeled Josh a “troubled young man” with a “tendency to resolve conflicts by force.”
Caroline always blames herself for Josh’s problems, but my wife is patient, a woman of few words, who lets me talk and listens well. Take, for example, right now: we’ve just walked by a mother strolling her daughter, who’s sporting a Teletubby costume, looking like what I imagine an alien looks like, so I start talking about Fermi’s Paradox and possible answers, such as advanced civilizations always destroy themselves, and that might be why you and me and Josh are in this mess, but this is the world, I say, and we must play by its rules. Do I smother her? Do I? No, I do not, because, as I said before, she listens well and chooses her words carefully, and she says right then, it’s like those dead brown leaves on that oak hanging on for dear life, and I smile because sometimes she gets me.
It is true that occasionally she gets mad: broken plates, bent silverware, a shattered window, that sort of thing. But those events are rare; she’s like a volcano, usually quiet, erupts every so often, and when she does, we assess the damage and move on.
Her eruptions make her think she’s the reason Josh comes home with bruised knuckles and chipped teeth, and I fail to convince her otherwise. The thing is, I can’t bring myself to tell her what I know to be true: Josh is not angry. He is, like his father, scared of so many things: his big nose, pretty women, aggressive boys. How do I know this? It’s his sweat, which smells like mine, sour and unholy, and when he comes home from school he stinks to high heaven, his odor like that of a cornered animal. I want to help him, but how can I when I am the same?
The sun is getting low, streaming into a gaggle of costumed pre-teens gathered outside the Margolis home, known for their jumbo-sized Butterfingers and zombie lawn decorations, the children extending their gangly limbs in all directions, relieved that for this one day they are not themselves and that the competition—amassing a superior candy stash—is a low-stakes affair where they benevolently trade and stuff their faces and toss wrappers that fall to the driveway and do not move in the hot, windless evening.
We’re five blocks away, and I need to be straight with Caroline before we get home because Josh is inevitably coding and chugging Monsters in his room, upset that Thomas canceled on him (he probably went to burn down a forest or something) even though they had purchased matching Steve Jobs costumes and started calling themselves the Steves. But I don’t know how Caroline will react and I chicken out.
We’re now passing the park, which consists of two rusty swings and a rusty bench, where I’ve spent the last three days sunbathing, listening to the empty swings creak, coming to terms with my loss, my job loss, that is, the fact that after nineteen years I have been relieved of my duty as the Customer Development Manager of Hogs Gourmet, the fact that I had worked hard, really hard, to sell over one million hot dogs consumed by thousands of satisfied families, the fact that I had lost Alex’s account because he wanted to go with organic-cased rather than non-organic skinless, the fact that cleaning out my office—sifting through musty boxes filled with invoices yellowed from time; sticky notes with my harried, now faded, handwriting; a customer service award in thick, typewriter font; a coffee-stained user manual for MS Office 97—made me feel like I was dying, like my life consisted of a pile of useless, soon-to-be-discarded relics.
When I look over at Caroline, though, I think maybe I can be reborn, transformed into something better, and I ask Caroline to wait in the park and she furrows her eyebrows, but sits on the bench. I start running, my feet smacking the pavement, sweat pouring down my face, and I enter our house and run up to Josh’s room to get his costume and he is not coding. Instead he’s flicking a lighter and staring into the flame, goddamn Thomas, and I ask him where the costume is and he points to his closet and tells me I smell. I want to help him, I do. He is my blood, my child, but I can’t slow down, I can’t stop myself.
I am overheating in the black turtleneck, the rimless eyeglasses are bouncing off my nose, and the restricted, rubber-smelling air inside the mask—which is equipped with a receding hairline and gray stubble—is making it difficult to breathe as I run back to the park, where I find Caroline, who stands and faces me. Through the eyeholes I can see wrinkles forming at the corners of her mouth and I think, please embrace me, please embrace me. I know how this looks, it is strange, it is pathetic, but I need to be someone else, someone successful, and the point is, I need to play by the rules, but as I begin to speak I just want to disappear in her arms and burn it all down.


Mike Riess lives in New Jersey with his wife, Jen, and daughter, Madeline. He works as an attorney and started writing fiction a couple of years ago. His work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Typehouse Literary Magazine, and Cleaver Magazine.

Michael Riess.jpg

The Bicycle Theft

“I’ll pull yer fuckin head off!” a man shouts at the bus driver. The driver manfully shrugs, braced in the passive. The driver is powerful by reason of his seat’s height above the crowded tarmac and yet he is vulnerable, exposed to the bus stop’s swilling frustration. People push against the bus and unreason and reason push into need and we all wait under a thick sky of warm drizzle.
I need to get on that bus, is this the bus?
Cannot you not get more people on the bus?
I’ll pull yer fuckin head off.
If light should relate to shadow, and will my bicycle fit in the luggage hold?
Tide tugging at the flow, pulling at the river so that it can barely keep pace with itself, a band of salty mud gradually exposing itself on the far shore. Here there is a thick rampart for the town to sit behind; I lean over the wall and watch the river, waiting for a bus connection.
The cloud is tall and intermittently white, reflected on the broad surface. Reflections push against the billowing silt cumulus which swirls up from below. The water provides a thin film by which to separate these two weather systems, a tense expanse that rides the river’s body, occasionally sending cracks shearing across its surface. Vortices pull up into presence, folding surface and depth one into another, turning and turning and then releasing. Sky and churning river have mixed and separated in an instant and it would be hard to gauge their degree of intimacy. The twirling runs on like colliding galaxies, the silt a pulsing red plasma. As the cosmos mixes, so do these waters. The breathing of an ocean lung, river comes and river goes. Giant constant pull of water, and there is rain.
Of course there is rain. After discovering where I had come from, a fellow wayfarer said:
“O, where we get all our weather from.”
“O,” I said, “but I thought we got it all from you.” After that the conversation faltered.
On the last loop of road, nearing my first campsite, I saw in the field a crow crucified on an upright plank. Grim scarecrow to darken the evening. My tent poles snapped. The site owner was not much help apart from suggesting a hostel in town. Worrying at the budget, I cycled by the crow once more, bags of useless heavy in the panniers, and in due befuddlement I found the hostel. On the windowsill a manic toy clown grinned at me, threatening and possessive.
I showered, stowed my luggage, and walked out to inspect the late evening town. The main thoroughfare looked peculiarly one-dimensional beneath brightly painted frontages. Boys were crowding around their malicious boredom, flat shadows against the square expanses of primary colour. To one side I spotted a sports shop and thought of my broken tent. Everything was closed, apart from the pubs, and the shops would stay shut all tomorrow as it was a Sunday. When looking in the window, foolishly hopeful, I found no true interest in the goods but feigned it while desperately reciting the few lines that I could recall of the psalm:
I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, even so, I shall not fear. You are with me though I walk in the shadow of death. You are with me. I shall not fear. I am in the shadow of death.
Turning aside from my exhausted-looking reflection, I walk by the snarly huddle of boys. And one boy does, it seems, snarl. Like an ill dog, his face white and contorted, a twisted and hissing grimace. Face angry, feral gnarl of mouth contorted as a submissive wolf in resentful abeyance. I blink: What had I seen? I keep walking.
Was he alright?
Cautiously I turn around, and yet now I see only listless, bored teenagers.
In the pub I find fellow cyclists, other travelers, and we all cling to pints; we all roll out a few tales. I do not tell of the crow, or the snarling boy, and I return to the hostel early where, beneath cruel joviality of the clown sculpture, I plot a route for tomorrow’s hike.
On my hood I can hear its intimate percussive pat, so it must be raining, but mostly there is an appearance of mist. I can see my boots, bright and shiny in the wet, stealing light from somewhere, and my soggy waterproofs also, as if gathering up all available light from the thick wrap of cloud. Their artificial hues dominate a fuzzy perimeter of four squelches in any one direction. Only fifteen minutes ago I was holding up a map by way of assurance and hurrying away from town; seeking out a sign for the footpath. Only that quick march across lumpy pasture and already noise is dimmed almost to nothing. I breathe. No rain now. This is silence then. A nearness to silence. A relationship to silence, an enabling of an inaudible something
inside a pause,
inside studied grey.
Gradually moving out from the sheen of clothing there is a close by astonishment: the chrome yellow of buttercup and purple clover bowing to each other. A stone wall is draped in lichen clumps, dressed in the archaic greens of antler and far distant tree line. From somewhere a snuffled baa, a sheep querying its fogged pasture.
Every sound is rolled toward me in large soft scoops of its own distance. My breath, heartbeat; even the whirl of my own listening becomes audible, and the body is delirious at meeting itself. I stump on up the muddy slope. Up is all that is required until one gets to the top. The sheep begin to notice me and I them. Some pound out of the way in a skittered bang of panic, whites of eyes whiter than their fleeces, the wool greyer than the mist. Other sheep raise their bog-stained muzzles and look. One animal trots in my direction. I say hello. Another sheep follows; I hesitate to be polite. Then, out of the invisible a tumbling of baas and bleating, an entire flock emerges. Sheep are running around me in a thickening and tightening spiral. They move as one as if grass touched by wind. The earth is reverberating to the drum of hoof. I move faster, they run closer. I change direction, they split, reform, hurry at me. A now large flock has formed, and also a horse, chestnut with a star streaking down its nose, another, dappled as if carved from the weather. And I am running amongst a hot-breathing tide of lowing cattle, bullocks pushing at a trot, sheep bouncing off one another, and horses throwing the water from their manes and strange guttural sounds. The herding clank of bells, an occasional shepherd whistle, dog barking, and shouts of huppa hup hup and then out of this bovine cascade I see camels. Tall dromedary lopes, their jowls hung with amulet, red bridles of knotted rope. They pass so close I can see the wet pearling hanging jewel–like on their showgirl eyelashes. To one side I see a flash of wall and I push through clattering goats, urging the beasts to move ahead of a trundling squad of black oxen, and making the wall, I jump.
Tufts of strong, waxy grass hold me just off the earth; breath geysers, subsides, and the grass gradually lowers me down. No other sound but a curlew’s piping lament.
As a gate goes bang squawk bang squawk at some strangely luminous point in amongst this hung grey, I stand amongst a steaming row of bloody spatchcock creatures and stare into the thrumming banks of smoke. Every moment of consciousness contains the whole of consciousness. A hacked open unconsciousness releases a hiss of awareness. It is all consciousness. Spit curdles on hot rock. For the completeness of my lostness I could get no more lost and this finally convinced me that I was not lost.
Then the path again, a pink ribbon of sand between black boulders. I stood on the rock to free myself from the heather and fern. Rocks stacked up into this grey, motile weather, a path trickling in between. The ascent had caught me by surprise and I was warm now, pulling open my jacket to let the cold palm my chest. An entire bank of cloud pushed against me, tricking me into stillness despite the laboured hike. At any moment the route may once again vanish, the fern’s prehistoric curls sinking beneath a graceful drowning skirt as the tide finally comes in. I remain standing on this stone, swaying, bones groaning demurely, an ark waiting to be tipped over by a returning dove.
Shepherds find the ark one day. They are surprised at how tiny it is. A few of them are certain that this cannot be true, for how could such a small tub, smeared over in hard uneven tar, have ever contained all the world? All the seeds of the world, say another. Look, one points out, I can pick it up. It fits beneath my arm. He can indeed pick up the entire ark; it does fit underneath his arm. He spreads his blue cloak over, instinctively sheltering it from the cold. But it is the ark, explains one, all of the world came from it. We, our animals, our pasture, and it witnessed the end of the world also. It rode on the back of oblivion; it is creativity buoyed up by death. I had better put it down, says the shepherd, gently replacing it amongst the heather. Only, how did they get in there? God sealed them in. Are they still in there then, because I cannot see a break in that seal? Yes they are still in there, how could anyone break open something sealed by God? Yet they came forth to be fruitful, look, the cairn over there; that is the first altar, where the rainbow rests. There’s a hole here. That is where the spirit blew, like a radiator bursting, after a year of incubation the pressure was too much. The dove shot out like a rocket, phnnnnew! The breaking of wind, they laughed. But it is said that sealed in the centre of the ark there is the Garden of Eden and the tree. With the bitten apple? No, that was fed to the pigs during the storm. What tree then? The God tree, the one with Him nailed up. That’s in Eden? Inside, inside. And on this hill, here? Aye. When the sheep bite down to the turf you can see the bone. And stamp on it, it sounds hollow, like my head, and it snores at night an’ all. It’s the caverns below filling with torrents. It’s said that the whole flood did not really go, it only got lost in Golgotha’s teeth and that’s what the dragon is. They reckon George was not meant to kill the dragon. He was only to pull it out so that Beauty could get close to it, for dragons are of course very shy creatures, but the benefits of them and Beauty getting close, you know, that is worth several lifetimes of questing. So George was only meant to winkle it out, as if pulling a mollusc from its shell. Whelks die like that, get eaten. To the dragon it would certainly seem like death. All transformation is a dying. The dragon keeps its free dragon nature of course, just as Beauty does not lose beauty by sharing it, so dragon meat bestows… all the weather and a thousand other transfigurations. George scoffed the dragon? He may have eaten some, he probably helped with the cooking, but the meal itself goes to his sponsors. Who? The town elders, the town, you and me. We don’t live in the town, and the elders don’t speak to us. But I don’t recall dragon, you’d hope to notice a menu like that. It hides in the lamb and in the mountain stream. And they nod and are silent. And silent they pick up a stone. They walk to the rock pile leaning over to place their stone, with familiar clunk, atop of the cairn’s risen breast.
I step over a stream and hesitate to watch the turbulence, listening to the all telling foam. In one whirl a large bubble sustains, twirling with certain elegance and taking in all of the sky as it opens and all that stands below the sky and then, the bubble rests, taking me in, absorbing me, it and I balanced in a deeply observant pause. All the river to come and all the river past; all the sea and the full community of cloud, and the delight of rain and the rushing through of streams stand in this moment’s rest. I look closer; all slides across the sphere’s knowing surface, and I can see myself reflected, stood astride it, one boot on the bank, another wobbling on a partially submerged stone. The stream is reflected in my eye. The bubble is in the reflection, I am reflected in the reflection in my eye and this myriad cluster can be spotted swirling on this water’s surface. It is all gone.
I am not sure who blinked first.
Having spent most of the morning looking for the mountain, I now realise I am on top of it. The mist has rolled away like a bald patch. Short trees reach up from the valley lip, ripping the cloud, dragging loose fistfuls that they let trail as ragged banners. I hear the gate, it is below me now and going creak clung! Creak clung! I think there must be other walkers nearby and squat down on a stone, eat sandwiches, and anticipate the cheery reassurance of a nod and a hello. But no one passes and the silence sustains its own ongoing quiet. The sounds of my mastication become unbearable.
I stand and get view of the summit and head upwards as fast as possible. There is now not even a hint of pathway and the ground beneath each footfall sinks into black, peaty abandon. Dirty rivulets of water seeping from the peak force brown cuts through the ground. Precarious tufts of heather are handholds and balancing points between leaps. Bog. Thick deep squelch. The sky fills with a storm rash of hailstone. Lightning bashes across, electricity seeded at nose level. The summit has vanished once more. My face becomes a cold, raw, sodden mask. I hide in a cracked rock, hunching into a ball to peek out at this sluicing wilderness. Each strike lights up the guts of the cloud so that the entire mountain is roiled up into a strangely internal space. The hail turns to snow and the aqua green air sizzles.
The madness of this mountain. I unfold my body and begin leaping, bog slithering in search of a route. A stream wriggled through, rubbing open a rib of brilliant white rock. Water and quartz dance a ladder down the hillside. I hop and scramble and laugh off the mask. The storm goes away after a few steps. Descending further my coat begins to steam as sun hotly breaks through. A whirl of small sandy birds flicking and chatting from the bustling turf: and my glee flings me from rock to rock to rock with preternatural surety of foot. The clouds are utterly stripped away, sharpening the landscape and showing me the little town. I spot my hostel. Full of admiration I pause to take in the wonderful distances, and I see now a tiny cluster of boys. Even on this teetering mountain edge I can hear their laughter as my bicycle is unhooked from its d-lock and ridden away. One boy rests on the handlebars, one is riding croggy, and he–the feral one–is pedaling, saying to the lad on the handlebars:
“Keep still now or I’ll pull yer fuckin head off.”


Recent prose by Nick found in Zeno Press, The Fiction Pool, Storgy, The Happy Hypocrite, Shooter, Epoque Press, and elsewhere. nicknorton.org.uk

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