Broken light through trees. Shadows and sunshine. Light breeze playing in the leaves. Overhead a plane rumbles distantly, and thin clouds break twist and tear silently. I lay your body in the leaves and straighten your limbs. The woods fall silent. I smell earth and wood and dried sun. Vines weave out of the earth, slide lightly over your body. Dark beetles make their home in your breast, deeply. I watch you crumble the smokeless burning of decay claiming you utterly while vines and beetles begin to wrap my feet in loving embrace.
He went to work fourteen fathoms down, where the sea-women sing. He purchased groceries from a store sitting in the shadow of pyramids. He caught the train home through rivers of lava splashed by bright meteorites. He watched TV on a screen made from the skins of chameleons, ate a meal of gold and diamonds. He went to bed in a mountain of fur harvested from extinct animals. And as he slept he dreamt of reading the paper while drinking coffee and talking to the woman he loved, and outside the window a bird sang its song to the sky.
Under cover of darkness I make the journey into the pines. I stand beneath you, silent and listening to the soughing of the wind in the trees. Above me you swing, a darker shape. Nothing happens for long minutes. I imagine you are here with me, that the warmth is in you. You speak and I run the back of my hand against your cheek. Of course, you are here, but you are not with me, and the warmth has leeched from your body. I turn and leave through shadow. Knowing you are still there, swinging in the breeze.
silence, frowns, fumbling with cutlery. a glass clinked. silence. i cleared my throat. glanced round. nearby, the machine sat in the corner, winking quietly to itself. i smiled. exuded calm and positivity. He coughed once, picked up His wine glass, drained it off, set it down. a little loudly. i smiled with bared teeth, tried to indicate everything was good. but it was not good. He spoke aramaic. i spoke english. the others german, french, greek. in the corner, the machine winked and whirred and none of us knew what the hell was going on.
We branded his left cheek. He squirmed, but remained controlled and did not cry. I turned to the class. “What do we call this?” “Being a team player.” “Right.” I looked at the bright, eager faces. “When we take the field tomorrow we are a team. No one lets the team down, no one shirks the team. We are one.” I picked up the hair clippers and switched them on. They buzzed angrily. I turned and looked at the young faces, the newly branded left cheeks. I raised the clippers. “Who’s first?”
Wasp. Notebooks were waved, pens thrown. It sipped some of my tea. I batted at it with a ruler and it surged into the air. Everyone fanned out around the office. It tried flying out an open window – a mandarin was perched nearby as a lure, they like the color orange – but as it was about four feet long (minus stinger) it couldn’t fit through. Someone grabbed a spray-can but the wasp was ready for that and smacked it out of their hands. Eventually it lumbered into the darkness under a desk, and slept. We returned to work, waiting.
We’re sorry, but the organization has changed and we don’t believe you fit any longer. It’s not that we’re unhappy with your work, it’s just that we are changing. I know it’s hard to hear, after you’ve put your heart into your job, it’s just the nature of things. We’ll give you excellent references, of course. Big J– on the East Side has openings at the moment. Needs knifemen. Seriously, some of his boys made 300G last year for just occasional killing. My wife’s sister’s husband works there as a bagman – I can put in the good word for you.
We hunted them, found them, took them back. They kept escaping. All day we headed out, found prints in dry earth, caught them crouched beneath rattling thorns. We were calm, silent, gentle. Walked back like dead men. No wind rattled bare trees. A white sun lost in a white sky. Eventually we decided to sedate them, complaining, lay them under slow fans, watch the growths turn blacker with passing hours. They died in front of us, each one. But we couldn’t let them die out there alone. No matter how much they wanted it we couldn’t have survived it.
We nailed the lid shut, dropped tools, shoved the crate into the water. Weight shifted inside. We moved deeper. There may have been a deliberate noise from within, but we did not stop. After a few minutes we cast the crate adrift into the middle of the moving water, and the weight shifted again threatened to roll steadied stayed upright. We stood and watched until it faded to grey. That night, around the fire, someone asked a question. Eyes stared unwaveringly at flames. Feet shifted. A log cracked. We tried not to think about the sound we couldn’t have heard.
We shot them at dawn. They had been fishing in the river, strong hands drawing bass with quick tugs of the rods. We watched them from the bushes; drew dry guns; caught hungry breath. When they were done they sat and smoked, feet dangling in water under the willows. The first shots took them, bullets through brow throat shoulder arm elbow. We rolled the bodies over, inspected clumsy wounds, took cigarettes matches shoes. When we had stolen what we could, we left. But only after I pushed the bodies into the water, keeping the bait happy.
Cheap clothes swaddled the corners of your bones, bare pins held back strands of hair. He stood by your elbow. The baby was wrapped in a graying towel that had two red bands running round. Drizzle fell and you peered from the roadside, waited for a break in the traffic. Three of you together. Not like some – no affairs boredom meanness. Just together. He at your elbow, thin body encompassing you and the baby. Strangely a family. Young, wet, poor, cold. But not hopeless. Not hopeless. No one was going to draw the hope from your cold bones.