We Become Murder

In the dark, the bedsheets were foreign to me,
holding porcelain patterns
like chinaware.
From woven silk, one of my feet dangled free,
and upon the calloused skin I felt cold air.

The bead curtain rattled like she had just left;
I, with thoughts of her forked tongue from scaled bodice.
Seems I had come to nought,
turned victim of theft,
like a landlord gives hope then cancels the lease.

She was meant as revery disguised respite,
but with her back turned spreading curtains’ beads
her mind dots with currency, of matters trite;
I understand now that I must change her creed.

To teach her love not monetarily gained, I
destitute, know the ways of living now;
disconnect, no longer drown in life feigned.
To heat hearts the factory must be burned down.

Naiveté has struck her as thorned thumb,
I will suck the wound gentle til solid thought flows.
We will come to clarity, a pure trust in sum,
then travel speedily, horizons turn to ghosts!

But lo! I take heed – my thoughts she does encroach,
returns with shadowed mass -
lumbering willow that weeps across his shoulders, his skin cockroach.
He says loudly: “I should take you for a crow!”

“Crow?” say I, somewhat surprised, “Whatever for?”
And he: “Dark wings who steal the shiny things of mine.
She cannot be stolen.
I will make you sore.”
I think: His wits match only his mundane crimes.

“Not crow,” say I, “you mean to accuse me magpie,
but I do not steal from those who have nothing.”
I look to her cowering: “Do not seek to cry,
when he is gone; do not think of running.”

And she speaks now, her forked tongue having vanished,
attempts to dissuade me now knowing my cause,
believing I to be weak, a mule famished, panicked,
carrying burdens to meekly draw.

As if I am lost in the decrepit sways
of the urbane, seeking solace in her,
and acting in purely irrational ways,
when all I feel is calm. How I know her

I show a teethy smile, her eyes touring,
how she knows, she knows! Having seen me before
come back in the dark, like cat before morning
to sleep after prey has been quartered from claws.

“I belong to him,” she paws his dirt jacket,
sympathetic. I should be empathetic
understanding deals: idiosyncratic
love between melting wax and a flaming wick.

“You gotta pay damn it,” she says scared, “then run!”
The brute rises nodding inevitably,
like earth is possessed to orbit the sun,
approaching stoic not knowing of me.

“Give me cash,” comes as mere suggestion to I;
with a wink and a flicker glimmers metal
and his broad throat grins a hell-chasm
and she cries
as he tries to struggle free.

She becomes an hourglass in the doorframe,
shapely transluscent, a lamp without shade
from her head to her toes I see the sand drain.
She will run perhaps, though maybe she will stay.

I watch her drowning many stupified gasps
holding to the frame as if she’s within ship
in storm.
Bit by poisonous asps, she gags as he gargles from throaty sips.

“Seems ‘crow’ is accurate,” I say to my blade,
“For I become murder when I’m with friends.”
I wipe his face clean across brute newly made
easel; impressionist dab of light I send.

“Come hither!” I scream to her fading footsteps
“You will not get far!” Her toes sound of raindrops
on the hardwood floor, a match for the quicksteps
of my quick heels – always ready for the block.

“It is just you and I, left to fight!” I scream
“What misery, in time, such a world has birthed,
where ever tread man he fears the next!
Maybe we can start in new vigourous mirth.
Come back here and we will find a home together,
at least in the refuse the world has left bare.
We will get married in the dust you will learn,
form beauty from the faithless muck, like clay-ware!
You will grow large, bulbous, and litter a litter
of small dark children who bleed tar and smuggle.
They will have to! Of having been born in the shitter!
And born of anger!
How they will know the struggle!
They will be strong oxen with bloody-born muscles
to plow fertility from futility, babies no longer
starving from empty suckles.”

I see her shadow sweep around a corner,
fled to the streets into derelict market.
Another wrong, I fear, so late in the hour.
For both her and I! Foolish I
having no snare set.

They will see the nubile nude as invitation.
I would have shown her the love, O, and the light.
They will steal her youth as form of masturbation.
They will show their love gathering as dark blight.

She is pulled to the ground savaged by dark strangers
of the unkind, the desperate. And I wish
her in Hell for it would be a lighter curse.

In the muddy rain she flounders like a fish.

They are the black in the night,
wear robes of dead;
wish her not upon those lost in light.
Hooded with hooked noses, balding of the head,
squawking and flapping their arms:
the real magpies.

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I don’t want to be my brother’s age
so I turn boy between two parents.

Stew pot steaming
mother’s arm gliding
ladling through the mist
as though it was thick water
and I remember drowning.
Seeing my father’s tie
brown serpent within the chlorine.
Fairy lights refracted then cleared
the gathering of suits and gowns
gasping harder than the child without air.

You didn’t have to save me.
There was a lifeguard there and
I wasn’t the one that needed saving.
The one who would have loved to be here
filled to the brim with roast potatoes
gravy stew steam
the warmth his warmth
that hanged from the ceiling.

He would have loved to be here
two parents joust without lances
each utterance from their old lips
reaching but
they’ll only be for a while lovers. Periodic strangers -

desert madmen with broken backs
digging oasis crystal into their throats. They meet each other’s
eyes upon the surface shattering

an illusion swept by steam the warmth
his warmth hanged from the ceiling and
I don’t want to be my brother’s age.

So I turn boy between two parents.

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Betsy, again.

At the age of seven, I was in my sunday best, squat ankle deep within the stream and watching the scattered leaves spiral down through the current. I stood and walked back to the river bank, where my socks were bundled into black shoes, and picked up a small pebble, wondering if I could place it on top of a leaf to be carried downstream. With the stony passenger in its leafy seat, something caught my eye. A deer stood some ways upstream, its neck craned down into the water, its pink tongue lapping gently at the water surface. It raised its head and stared at me. Water droplets fell quick from its snout and glinted in the noon sun. I did not move. I knew what to do in this situation. My mother had told me many times how rare it was to see a deer in the forest. I was not to make a sound. Just sit and watch – and I did – not noticing my leaf boat was carrying the pebble safe downstream.
‘Hello, deer,’ I thought, trying to speak to it from my mind to its. ‘Mom told me I need to be quiet. Not to disturb you.’
The deer pushed its snout back into the water surface.
‘Mom says you’re filled with something great that nobody can understand. That’s why you’re all leaving the mountain. She says there’s better places for you all.’
Some birds took flight nearby, startling the deer to retreat into the forest.
I watched the tree-line, thinking the deer would soon return. After some time, I pushed myself up and ran to put on shoes and socks, not caring to soak the cotton. I ran upstream screaming for my mother and father. But when I arrived back at the picnic, only my mother was there, on her knees, packing up. The bugs had stopped chirping. I remember that sudden silence clearly. She turned to my approach, that damn weakened smile across her face.
‘What is it, Betsy?’ she asked.
‘Where’s dad?’
‘Oh he went into town to get something.’
I didn’t say anything for a while, having forgotten the reason I was excited in the first place. It wasn’t until my mother asked me again.
‘I saw a deer, mom.’
My mother stood, her hands on her waist and her head cocked to the side. ‘You saw a deer did you?’
‘I did.’
‘You’re not telling lies?’
‘No I’m not!’
She smirked, and then folded up the red and white hatched blanket into the basket. ‘Well aren’t you a lucky thing.’
‘She was beautiful,’ I said. ‘Like she wasn’t real.’
‘Can’t say I’m not jealous of you, Bets.’
‘We going home now?’ As my mother turned from me, I saw the back of her arm. Four reddened dots were surfacing beneath the skin. ‘What happened?’
‘Nothing, Bets. It’s okay.’
‘You hurt yourself.’
‘It’ll get better. Don’t you worry.’
I took hold of my mother’s dress and pulled until she came down to my height and I tried to hold her as best I could. ‘I hope it gets better,’ I said, kissing each bruise. ‘You gotta be more careful.’

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Betsy’s Story Cont. II

Eric had picked me up from school in his truck when he was still a bit of a stranger to me. He told me he was going to show me a surprise, and I agreed because I had begun to like him. Whether his adventurousness was an illusion I couldn’t tell. He was excited that day. I could tell his heart was beating fast. He looked at me, his eyes dilated and wide. Across the dashboard the shadows of the leaves flitted past, reminding me of light refracting across the surface of a river. Do the shadows know they are shadows? Does everything know of itself? I looked at Eric, his eyes forward on the road now, the pines running along side us, the road markings skipping under us, the sky stretching forward infinitely. I imagine the truck lifting off the asphalt so we can see ourselves and how everything moves and turns to eat itself.

‘Where you taking me?’ I said.
‘I was here the other week with Ruffian. We were just walking along, halfway through a delivery,’ he said, and then stops.
He smiles, his head tilted. ‘Guess.’
‘What do you mean guess? Guess what?’
‘Just guess what happened.’
I make a face at him of disbelief, the palms of my hands pointed upwards as if to shrug. ‘All you said is that you went walking with your dog. What am I supposed to guess? The trees came alive and ate your dog? What?’
He chuckled. Like a man, he chuckled. Deep, from his heart. My palms began to feel damp. The boy was making me nervous. The boy was making me feel something new. Something warm.
‘Ruffian saw a squirrel.’
‘Yep. Full on squirrel with bushy tail.’
‘No squirrels here you liar. They’re all dead.’
‘I guess some things come back.’
He stopped the truck. I looked around. We were just on a stretch of road, the forest was around us. I watched him walk around the hood of the truck, this shit eating grin on his face.
‘Does it hurt?’ I asked him through the truck window as he pulled open my door, and offered a hand. I didn’t take it and just jumped out.
‘Does what hurt?’ he said.
‘Grinning like that constantly.’
The expression faded from his face faster than ever I’d seen and part of me then realised how easy it is to chip a heart.
‘I’m kidding,’ I said, shoulder barging him, causing him to be now physically imbalanced as well as emotionally.
He smiled a little and then his face turned stone again. I tiptoed up to him and kissed his cheek, which turned as red as rose. He stood there, rubbing his forearm with a hand and looking into the distance, afraid of looking at me directly all of a sudden. Oh dear, I thought, I broke him.
‘Come on then, why we here?’ I said.
He coughed and asked me to follow him. He looked at my hand, and then at me, and then away from me. I grabbed his hand and he smiled.
‘Be careful of these roots,’ he said, pointing out how they tangled all upon each other, how deep they grew into the soil.
‘You didn’t kill it did you?’ I said.
‘The squirrel.’
‘Why would I kill it?’
‘I don’t know, maybe Ruffian killed it.’
‘He wouldn’t hurt a squirrel.’
‘How would you know?’
‘Well he didn’t,’ he said, almost angrily. I felt his grip tighten. My heart was racing. He’s so expressive, I thought. So much emotion wrapped up inside him. Sensitive. ‘Just chased the poor thing up a tree and barked at it for a while.’
‘I didn’t mean to say your dog was a bad dog.’
His grip loosened and he stopped in his tracks and he leaned in close with his finger on his lips. ‘Listen,’ he said.
‘Listen to wha – ’
He shushed me. ‘You hear that?’ He had his finger pointed upwards to the sky, and I expected a birdcall of some sort, and then I heard it.
‘It’s the stream from top of the mountain.’
‘Bullshit. It’s all dried up.’
He grabbed my hand tight and pulled me into the forest until we came to a small spring, the water bubbling up and trickling down into a narrow stream, spreading itself out evenly across the forest floor.
‘It can’t be the same stream,’ I said. ‘Is that what you think?’
‘I’d like to,’ Eric said.
We followed the trickle of water, watching it pool in some parts, only to be carried down further in others. Water skippers darted across the surface.
‘I saw a fish once in the stream,’ I said. ‘It splashed the water.’
‘Think the only fish you’ll find here are tadpoles,’ he said.
‘My mom says everything goes back into the ground eventually.’
‘Well this stream isn’t taking no for an answer,’ Eric said. ‘At this rate it’ll probably reach the ocean.’
We sat down on the driest part of soil we could find and just watched the stream trickle slow. I rested my head on his shoulder and he rested his head on the top of mine. And we held hands until I felt a little cold. I checked my watch and then eyed the sky. I looked at Eric, who nodded.

These are times now when I think back on memories like that and I wonder if it could be as simple. And then I remember there wasn’t a simplicity to it. There never was and never will be simplicity to anything. Each second a new layer is added to me. I am a constantly changing being.

And yet, I try to be the same. Every moment and memory seems to contradict what has come before. Is it contradiction or change?

I sit down on the couch and stare into the fireplace. There is a couple dried logs beside it. I want to light a fire but I don’t want to have to go and chop more wood. And so I sit in the cold, wrapped in a blanket, until I fall asleep. Maybe the boys will be here by tomorrow, I think. Maybe I will wake upon a layer I want to be on. Maybe I will wake up in the middle of the night and I’ll breathe air that tastes like miracle.

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Betsy’s Story Cont.

I can remember when I first met Eric. The memory almost burns me its so vivid. The chain link fence, and him stood behind it, his fingers gripped in the gaps as though he was going to rip it down just to get closer to me. I was sat under the oak in the playground – two weeks after finding the dead man – my mind gone, my eyes always transfixed on a spot on the ground – but never really looking at the surface – my gaze seemed to go right through it, like I was looking at a point past, as though I wanted to see into the earth itself. And he came up and he called to me and smiled that smile. So coy, almost innocent, but he had a cheeky disposition to himself. Who would call to a girl like that anyway without having some sort of brash confidence?

I didn’t tell him my name that day. I didn’t know him, or want to know him. Or so I told myself. He grinned at me and told me to come out with him. I said, I gotta go back to school. And he said, I was the only one here. When I looked around I realised I hadn’t heard the bell, nor that anyone else had gone inside. I was embarrassed. And I remember being embarrassed because embarrassment was something so far from my mind at that point – to be ashamed of something in that moment was so out of the ordinary. To feel my cheeks blush. To dip my head down like some otter slipping into the water’s surface away from the sun’s rays. I grabbed my stuff real quick and did not care to give a glance to him, to show him a weakness I forgot I had.

He called to me.
I clutched my books harder around my chest and dipped my head again as I scurried across the playground to the school doors. My cheeks were going numb from my lips digging upwards into them.
He called to me again and I tried my best not to turn and look at him. I tried my best to realise I didn’t want to look at him because I knew I wanted to. I knew I wanted to look at him until he shattered into pieces and I could keep him forever in a shoebox. As I walked into the cool, shaded hallway, I felt the flames dancing across my skin start to fade. I took a glance then, back at the fence. And he was there, kicking at the dust with his hands in his pockets, in his white t-shirt, his blue jeans, his hair swept back like some movie star. And he was kicking dust because I made him. I made the beauty of a boy feel a failure.

And now when I think of him – I don’t know what image comes up. His face is a blur, a mixture, a series of memories formed into one solid shape that is constantly out of focus. But I feel him in there. I feel something of him. I know there’s a warmth there I can reach, that I can hold. And when I imagine I’m stroking the side of his face, I feel his nineteen year old skin, and the bushy beard of the fifty year old man. I see the grey eyes, like a foggy mist swirling in a globe and how he turns me cold. How he lets it grip me so he can grip me and melt and freeze me over and over again.
Did I ever want him to be one temperature?
Was he ever?

God knows why drink does what it does to men. Maybe they grow up wanting to be something that people don’t like. And they bottle it up, all this frustration and anger at the world to just let them be and when that amber drop his their tongue, caresses and releases all that juice into the brain – maybe they see some sort of light – and they’re trying to run to it, but they can’t because they’re steaming piss-filled drunk and they stumble and they turn violent because all they’ve done is cause more frustration and more anger thinking all blurry about who they are and what they want to be.

And in the end all you get is a snake eating its own tail. This disturbing eternal cycle.

Maybe I’m no different. Staying up here in this cabin. Surrounded by the shadows that creep through the trees. Sometimes I draw the curtains because they peek in through the glass like some panhandler. They don’t stretch their hands out though for anything. They don’t want to give anything to me either. And I question their purpose to me then. Are they just reminders? Are they some sort of punishment for me being here – does this mountain belong to the spirits only then? The dead?

Sometimes I feel I’m dead here.
But when I see them I remember I’m not.
And that’s when I cry.

He cried. My father. When he found that hanging man. Something clicked in his soul I think, or his heart, somewhere in his body something definitely clicked and he fell onto his knees and he cried into the silent forest. Those next two weeks he was drinking more. Those next two weeks he hit me for the first time. Those next two weeks he took my mother and he turned her into a puddle of flesh and bone and blood and he left her on the floor, storming out the cabin, shoulder barging me, huffing like some winter bear. I sat next to my mother for sometime, holding her, letting her cry and letting myself cry. If that hanged man killed himself because he was sick of being hurt, or if he was hurting people, I wondered if he knew he was still doing it after taking his life. I don’t dare think that Lawrence wanted to hurt us. How cruel a thought. How cruel.

My father said the hanged man held ideas of his own of what should be. He said that the week before he beat my mother half-dead. A man like that takes more time than you can imagine to put himself in that situation, he said. And to go through with it.

He became a vessel for his thoughts, he said. And you should never have to feel that – and if you do, you take it in stride to push yourself past it. Don’t run. It’ll chase you.

Don’t run, he said.

But he did. After I had found out he had lost his job. After I had found out he had been drinking all day instead of owning up to it. After I had pushed him to the ground kicked at his soft body for longer than I could breathe, Eric holding me back, only for my father to stand up, drool trailing down his chin and him laughing at me. ‘What’s it you think you are?’ he said. ‘What’s it you think you’ll ever be? Happy? It’s all done already, Bets. We’re all angry the moment we’re born.’

Eric pulled me away from him and we got into his truck and I screamed and banged at the dashboard and I cried and moaned not caring for the boy I hardly knew to look at me breaking down into tiny pieces.

He took me home. And we told my mother what I had done and she looked at me like a poor startled deer. She took the rifle down from above the door but Eric put his hand on it telling us that isn’t the way. He told us then his dad had died because he was foolish enough to carry a pistol into a drunken brawl fight only for it to be knocked out his hand and into another’s. And that other man felt something within him so deep, so ready. And fired.

But it was too late by then.
Dad was home – firing his pistol into the trees and telling us to come outside. Seemed his skin was the only thing human about him then. He looked a dried husk in the faint glow of the cabin lights.

He told us he would not kill us and yet he pointed his gun at the door when we came out – mimicking gun sounds at each of us until he put the barrel to his own head, letting the metal sear his flesh, finally letting whatever those tears meant to run down his cheeks.

But he did not pull that trigger. He never did. That man would live forever as a slow burn, running. He threw the gun into the woods and got in his truck and we watched his headlights fade into the trees, into darkness.

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Lawrence’s Story Cont.

During the ride home we say nothing. We don’t drink. We let the dying sun cast its glow across the windshield, the flickering shadows of the leaves patterning against the glass, and across the dashboard in front of me. I see the white-tops in the distance, some earthen claw stretching upwards to grab at the sky.
‘See you tomorrow,’ I say as I get out the truck. Jon leans over the passenger seat and shuts the door himself and drives off. He’s pissed. He’s angry that I’m the one that’s left after Jane. He doesn’t get her anymore because she doesn’t want me anymore.

My dad’s not home again, the truck is not parked outside. I see my mother walking through the house, appearing in window after window. She wanders a lot these days. She wanders a lot inside and I figure it’s the same within her head too. I open the door and I say I’m home and she says dinner is ready soon and she’s been preparing it all day and then she stops and looks at me. She squints, looking me up and down.
‘What?’ I say.
‘Nothing,’ she says. She looks down at the floor and takes a step, and then stops again and looks at me again.
‘What is it?’ I say.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asks.
‘Nothing,’ I say.
We don’t move, until we hear a sound further into the house – the sound of James playing with his toys – he’s making gun noises and explosion noises and he’s laughing manically. Both our heads turn in the direction, and then she looks back at me.
‘Are you sure? You don’t look okay.’
I sigh and say I’m fine and I walk past her to my room. As I’m about to close my door, some weird urge tells me not to – and I leave it ajar, and look back through the gap. I see my mom still moving around the house – the roast is in the oven already and she has nothing to do but move and move until the food is ready and then my dad will be back by then and we’ll eat. We’ll do this and we’ll do this and we’ll do this and we’ll do this forever. She’ll keep moving until she dies I think. It’s like something is chasing her but I don’t know what.
She never sits.
Never takes a break.
Does she know she can?
It irritates the hell out of me.

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He was sat on the ground, his back against the chain link fence, the metal bending, cradling him. Either side of him sat his two lackeys, later to be known as his friends. He sat crying because we had said cruel things to him.

But only because he had hit our friend in the chest.

And our friend threw up from the blow. It was a loud thump to his sternum and he bent over and he threw up instantly.

And so after, we insulted that kid. And we had hit that kid. We made him fall onto his rump and start crying. And when I figured the fight was almost over, the loud screaming now stilling – I stomped on the kid’s foot.

Like I had stomped on my soccer coach’s foot the week before, putting as much effort as I could to see if I could hurt the man who towered above me. I saw my football coach’s hand come up to strike me but he clenched his hand and he bit his lip and he looked at me wondering what is wrong with this fucking kid.

I told myself I would not stomp on anyone’s foot from then on.

Until my friend threw up from the kid’s punch to his chest.

So I stomped on the crying kid’s foot with just as much force. He did nothing but cry harder. And I saw in his lackeys’ eyes looking at me, upwards at me, wondering why someone would do that.

And I would reply, for my friend.

But by then, my friend was gone.

He was sat elsewhere with the others, doing what the kid was doing:
Sat down and crying and being cared for by friends – their hands on each other’s shoulders, their mouths towards one another saying things I could not hear and things I did not understand.

And when I looked back to the kid and his friends, it was the same.

I looked down at my shoes – and then up at the sky. White puffy clouds. A bird. The searing glare. It was a summer’s day and I could not wait to get inside where the room would be cool.

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