At the Edge of the World,  Ashley D. Escobar

 

At the edge of the world, there is Unser Café. Our café is a direct translation from German to English, though it is a Portuguese bakery. I find myself there on an end of summer morning; the kind of morning when there is still enough warmth for wasps to infiltrate my slice of cake. The pastéis de nata look tempting but I am usually off and on again about eggs. This time, I am off. 

    At the edge of the world, I am in Berlin, and I can’t quite understand how the edge could be this warm. Perhaps my initial judgments are a bit premature. Judgments made during a daydream of colossal clouds that cling to the otherworldly sky and the greenery that makes its way through the cracks of concrete. It seems that wherever I go, my life revolves around very insular environments: rotating through English speaking bookshops and overheard conversations in the same three cafés. The edge of the world contains everything, yet your body cannot manifest itself to be more than one place at once. 

    Instead of Hesse and Döblin, I am enamored by Cortázar, eating an avocado bagel at Shakespeare & Sons over “Blow-Up.” I can’t explain my urge to read him so suddenly upon arrival in Berlin, why his words are so comforting despite the stories taking place in worlds that are still mysteries to me––Buenos Aires and Paris. Paris, I have encountered once in late December gloom, but have never lived in, the way one wears out a sweater, inside and out.

 

    At the edge of the world, I wait many feet underground for the U-Bahn or run toward the oncoming tram because the East is where my body rests. The East is where I sit cross-legged with my pixelated cover of Cortázar’s visage to hide mine behind. The mysterious nature of his words, the interplay of language and sense, it all feels like a letter written directly for my eyes to see as I enter the bleakness of Berlin. The grey meets you when you’re ready. I thrift a black leather coat. 

    At the edge of the world, I watch a midnight showing of Antonioni’s Blow-Up at a Sixties Italia film festival. I fall asleep without realizing I am still on a Tinder date with a girl I still admire. I begin losing reality within dreams and the unrealized unconscious. The edge of the world isn’t in Italy. It is on a quiet street in Berlin. In Pankow, the East, I watch shadows of trees greet me in the early morning as I come back from a club. The shadows are my only witness. They float over the bright colored houses. There is no sound but the wind and the constant church bells. An airplane flies overhead. 

    At the edge of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain sits Berghain. It sits and waits for you, for me. People who might not make it. People who do. People whose bodies float across the dancefloor. Those that crowd the bar, the bathroom stalls, the dark corners of the club. I am a girl from California, and then I am not, I am from East Berlin. I am a girl from Ireland, waiting by the sink, an assortment of chains on my otherwise bare chest. I am a queer couple from Brazil, the only ones on rhythm to the house music playing in Panorama Bar, and the DJ, continuing to spin new records to the beat of his own head. I am the girl saying “tschüss” and the bouncers who reply with “ciao” to my surprise. Slowly leaving hedonism behind. 

    At the edge of the world, all the shops are closed, and it is always Sunday. I cry over brunch at Café Krone by Mauerpark where I can see the Wall from where I am seated. I cry because I order pancakes and eggs, and they were all my mother ate when she was pregnant with me, and I feel landlocked here. My body is in Berlin, but my mind is somewhere along the cliffs of the West Coast. I suppose the body and the mind can become disjointed and travel to different destinations. I thought the edge was at the edge, not in the middle of things. 

    At the edge of the world, I travel as far West as possible by S-Bahn, and the city feels more desolate than ever before. It is far away from my reach, another stop in the road, a transient bleak passage of railroads for trains to cross. A city otherwise indistinguishable without the TV Tower. It glares at me, no, I suppose it isn’t even looking.

    At the edge of the world, hope awaits a revolution. Anonymity becomes possible, for anyone, even Bowie. I read it on a mural at Tegel Airport when I first stretched my legs in this paradoxical city of feeling culturally lost, of having multitudes of culture, of fleetingness, of permanence, of ruins, of artifacts and graffiti, of order, of chaos. The bridge I now cross is unnamed, and all I can think of is the 25 de Abril in Lisbon. I remember that Berlin has more bridges than Venice. Our shared loneliness is what supports me over the tracks. I suppose this city is a revolution in itself. There may be gods in my head, but are there Gods at the edge? There must be, and this time I think I’m right.

The Administration of Foxgloves, Tim Goldstone

 

Mr Umbridge,

already annoyed at the chirruping of birds

and who doesn’t see why anyone should

use his first name,

walks his normal route

without breaking stride

to check his fences.

Spring’s regime change

of colour has ousted winter

and dispatched foxgloves, early and plentiful,

to infuriate Mr Umbridge,

who is disgusted by these gaudy tarts’

promiscuous flaunting,

shameful enticing,

leaning and draping;

rubbing themselves blatantly

against the sides of his gates,

and touching each other

while he watches.

Mr Umbridge yearns to

rip them up and burn them

but has no spare time

in his many schedules

for the administration of foxgloves

though it helps him to know

the whole sordid lot of them

will pay for the obscene fecundity

of their brightly coloured ways

when autumn’s uniform rot begins.

But they have lured Mr Umbridge  

into letting down his guard

and as he turns to look again –

he catches bees

penetrating deep into petals

until, while he watches, one flies out,

satiated, covered in yellow,

humming with joy,

as if while mining for pollen

it found a heart of gold.

it ain’t a choir #37, Darren C. Demaree

 

we can split the sunlight we cannot split the sun everything we do to the moon is a disaster cars are simple thieves each of my hands has four sides i felt it was two sides for too long to make any difference it was that desire to look at my hands when they were flat on the kitchen table that led me to bathe in sinks i want to cup the world so that i can refuse to put down the world i don’t want to go home i want to stay home forever let me be best for the simple routes that lead to my locked door


it ain’t a choir #38

 

it takes eight hands to lower a body it takes one to make a body it takes permission from god to turn a person into a body let us focus on the parts of the parts we most admire we are all so gentle with the concept of humanness that is overlooked the abstraction we are not diluted nor are we finished ask out loud to be finished nothing will happen to our humanness if we learn the names of our neighbors the abstraction can crumble into the origin of shapes my name is darren i have given up on many philosophies so that i would have room to carry your name with me i will be gentle can i carry your name

 

it ain’t a choir #39

 

i know nothing follow me to something or tell me to follow you to something i have a one piece of a large puzzle in my pocket i’ve never seen a puzzle in ohio who told me this piece off-white cardboard belonged anywhere

My Father Burned Books, Layla Lenhardt

 

I want to ask my father 

which of my boyfriends he liked 

the least. My father is mercurial, 

a slippery silver 

and while his fingers were calloused 

by rosary beads,

my heart was still 

rough and raw

like the steak he marinated and cooked

on the grill. My dad tilled the fire

and pushed my mother

into the iron grates. He watched her

split apart and turn to embers. He collected

ash like jewelry to show everyone

who asked him.

 

The boyfriend he liked the least

was always the salt of the earth.

was the one that cried breaking a bird’s neck,

was the one who put the baby

deer out of her misery.

The boyfriend my father liked the least

was the one who sat steadfast

in the waiting room chair 

while the child died by my choice.

 

My dad was always the ax, splitting 

the wood precisely, 

the silence broken by the force. 

And as much as I didn’t want to be,

I was always the log, splintering to bits, 

giving pieces of myself 

to anyone who ever struck me.  

Defenestration, by Avery Mathers

As a murder victim, I had the right to choose between oblivion right away or oblivion later, after I’d got payback. I awarded myself that right just before I hit the concrete. I don’t know how it works; some might call it wishful thinking. My mother would have warned me to be careful what I wished for, but I was pushed for time.

The blame was entirely down to the gorilla who threw me from the hotel room window. Given that his wife was so pretty and petite, I couldn’t reasonably have known that he’d be a seventeen-stone prop forward. The bedcovers were off and I was sailing over the balcony rail before I could even start to explain. Worse luck, it was seven in the evening and the room was directly over the front entrance; mine was a very public demise. Of course, having been disturbed in flagrante, I was dressed for the occasion – which is to say that I wasn’t dressed at all.

It turns out that the scope for payback is limited. Every evening at seven o’clock I sail over that railing and hurtle towards the ground. If my one crocodile, two crocodiles are correct, I have about four seconds between leaving the eighteenth floor and hitting ground zero. There’s a lot goes through your mind in four seconds. Then I have a couple more seconds until I expire. Where I am between six seconds past seven one day and seven o’clock the next day, I have no idea.

So that’s my death: fall, splat, repeat. Indefinitely. I hope that someone throws a blanket over me, but I’ll never know. 

Carter and the Mirror Man, John Grey

 

A distortion in a mirror: 

looking for a hero, see a creature,

primitive, pasty, scarred, 

    what have I accomplished?

    where did my athlete’s body go?

    why do my eyes keep looking away?

the creature gawks,

it’s too dumb to laugh,

or lord it over me –

    it’s the needle, buddy,

    it’s the downers,

    no wonder you stumble and fall so much –

but I just give my body what it wants,

    it’s needy, 

    the chemicals are stacked against it,

    no wonder it’s so committed 

    to feeding its insatiable hunger –

so how did I get here? asks the creature –

yes, I’m talking to you, plastic-skin,

I’ve seen better-looking guys hanging from the rafters –

    it’s the powder, the liquid,

    my forehead sweat, the momentary pleasure –

yeah, and the long plummet, plus the bad teeth,

the thoughts that can’t grip hold of anything in particular,

the body in the gutter and people walking back and forth,

not even noticing –

    tremulous hands, withdrawal shakes,

    out of smack, out of aspirations,

    no laughter just breakouts of sound,

    and a streak from nose to chin –

    you’re like urban decay on two wobbly legs -

but I’m not judging, says the creature,

just surveying,

and it’s not my fault that your nerves are going into labor,

your ear drums thump Ginger Baker,

you’re dressed like a garage sale,

and it may be Sunday 

but you’re long out of saviors,

    and you’ve nothing to smoke, to sniff,

    to pop, to inject –

just me, just me,

and I’m no high.   

 

 

 

Richter, Frederick Pollack

 
A mist, slight yet possibly

thick enough to impede

military operations,

imbues, informs

everything. The tall perfect candle

burning before a green wall.

The uncle in Waffen-SS greatcoat

smiling because one smiles

for snapshots, forever a few meters

off, in mist. The militant dead in his cell.

The beautiful blond daughter turned

almost entirely away. The action paintings,

purples, greens, sulfur

masterfully scumbled – even here,

mist drifts over. Things

imitate nothing but are an idea

of something. The candle is a candle.

 

Sometimes I speculate,

without anxiety or

regret, what other sort of poet

I might have been. Parents, aunts,

uncles, every bout of

betrayal and anguish chronicled – not

sequentially, but you’d get

the message from the ancestors, the

myth. Cows,

words here and there,

seen from the window of

a Studebaker. Enraged, unpunctuated

metaphors readers

if any would have remembered

if they remembered anything.

Horsham, Chachee Valentine

 

My father who loved me

mother who did not

sat their heads side by side

the car rolled its wheels

to clinic

where my body sat for years.

All I wanted revealed itself

through a passenger window

at the end of a long drive.

 

Elongated roads swerved past trees

swaying hula

round and round

waving farewell 

to the outside world.

To create my only witness

nervous fingers pinched on skin.

Sometimes the fingers felt like mine

other pinches put me to sleep

when clinic closed in.

Make this a dream I dreamed.

Turn me into a dream 

I dreamed more.

The doctor with his brush fire beard

signaled 

his white nylon nurse

to show my body 

its bed.

 

Buried in the grave of the dream

I wrestle against the seasons.

Caught in the snare 

I walk incomplete.

And since I am the dream

who is dreaming 

to be center cut

even my bed has left clinic

seeking more than a dream 

a place where everything is real life

without me.

 

Our last supper

that night I leapt for the cupboard

right hand landed on the stove.

Electric coil hissed 

burned October colors

my palm dried  

book-pressed leaf.

Not one mouth warned timber

or gave thanks

as I lost my childhood

to The Fall.

Trunk rotten

shadow disappeared

my mother stiff as bark

never moved.

 

I have been the nightmare 

the monster under the bed.

I am the recurring dream

that will not go away.

To save myself

trees made me dream.

To hide myself

memories turned mulch

protected the soil of my mind.

 

Remember me. 

Not as graceful as miscarried Hope

might have been.

Remember me 

as those sweet trees

how they move to pass time

sigh in the breeze

stretch their spines

sing lullabies to seedlings

below.

 

But this story I am told

is fishbowl memory 

found in sludge

after 

diagnosis.

Like a good patient

I breathe in the quickness

of the needle's fury

lie down with the dogs.

 

My father who loved me

mother who did not

sat their heads side by side

in the car that rolled its wheels

away from the clinic

away from my body 

sat for years

dreaming with hula trees

swaying 

to pass time.

Ode to Jasper, David Hay

 

Upon your bed of star-filled clay,

your eyes clouded by age,

you cannot see the squirrel,

foraging in the dense undergrowth,

you watch with a stillness given only to vegetation

or the Eremite, in his jaguar-like solitude

his eyes full of prophecy,

his tongue full of the green silence

which shape his thoughts 

into a menagerie of visions.

 

God, what sadness lingers

around the 5 p.m. hour?

that aborted time 

the gabapentin-veined boy

of deep topaz silence

lies heavy on the snow-wet earth.

 

The birds beyond sight

give the evening its subtle refrain,

as I watch the celestial rain fall

onto the moon coated dirt;

a living river of light

flows down the wrinkles of

my mother’s skin

and Jasper, Duke of the dark rooted hour

rises like an old god

bringing with him the genesis of dawn

from the depths of mythology

a carnival of tears.

The Charlesworth Policy, by Kurt Luchs

 

I was in trouble at work. I hadn’t written much new business recently and some of my existing clients were quietly dropping me, not making a big deal out of it, simply neglecting to renew their life insurance policies when the time came. Maybe my drinking had something to do with it, or my philandering. I used to observe a strict no-sleeping-with-the-client’s-wife rule, but lately I had been letting a lot of rules fall by the wayside. There were bound to be consequences. My boss called me in one morning and started right in on me.

“Are you sleeping with that Charlesworth dame?” he said.

I finished my last swallow of stale coffee and said, “She’s not a dame, and sleeping is the wrong verb.”

 

“Don’t get cute,” he said. “We can’t afford to lose that account.”

“You mean I can’t afford to lose it. Well, you can stop worrying. I’m headed out to the Charlesworth place today to close them on the renewal policy,” I said. He waved me out with a look of palpable disgust.

Victoria and Quentin Charlesworth had a rocky May-December union somewhat complicated by the presence of his son from his first marriage, a 28-year-old named Trevor with the mind of a 10-year-old. Trevor dressed like an English schoolboy despite his age and never having been to England. He was a congenital idiot who tried to play with yo-yo’s but was constantly getting his limbs caught up in the string and falling down in a writhing, screaming heap.

Victoria answered the door herself in a sheer red bathrobe very loosely secured at the hip with a cord that begged to be pulled. I restrained myself however.

“Oh, it’s you,” she said without enthusiasm. Trevor chose that moment to let his yo-yo fly at a vase that shattered on impact. He giggled until Victoria reached around without looking and backhanded him. Then he began wailing and crying.

“Don’t hurt the boy!” said Quentin Charlesworth, appearing slowly from around the corner. “He can’t help it.” He was only about 25 years older than her, though he looked 100 years older. 

“Tom’s here from the agency to renew our policy,” said Victoria.

“I’ll bet that’s not all he’s here for,” said Quentin.

“You’re right, Mr. Charlesworth,” I said. “We have a new rider on the policy that I think you’ll appreciate. It’s the same payout, but in the case of accidental death of any two members of the family, it’s double indemnity, and under certain conditions, triple indemnity.”

“Great movie, Double Indemnity,” said Quentin.

“That Barbara Stanwyck is some dish all right,” I said.

“I was referring to Edward G. Robinson,” said Quentin. “He’s the only honest character in the whole scenario.”

“Why don’t we take this discussion outside?” I said. “I want to tell you about a protective provision I’ve added for your Frank Lloyd Wright well, which is not covered by your regular household policy.”

We went out a side door into the spacious back yard, and beyond that, into a small grove of poplars. The well was in the middle of them. We stood around it admiring the bold, imposing stonework and the genius that had designed it. Trevor accidentally dropped his yo-yo in and began weeping more loudly, threatening to go in after it. Quentin restrained him as best he could. In the shade of the poplars Victoria and I looked at each other with sudden understanding and agreement. She got behind Trevor, I got behind Quentin, and at the same moment, we both pushed. The screams didn’t last long. They were followed by a joint splash and the sickening sound of human bodies breaking on rocks.

“Double indemnity for accidental death of two family members?” said Victoria.

“That’s right,” I said. “And under certain conditions, triple indemnity.”

“What conditions?” said Victoria, her chest rubbing mine, her lips touching mine. I pushed. Hard. Her screams didn’t last long either.

“Death of all three family members, in water,” I said to myself.

Thirty days later, a certified check for $300,000 arrived at the Virgin Islands post office box that was the only known point of contact for the blind trust that had been set up in the policy. My boss wanted to fire me. I had closed the policy but lost the client. In the end, though, he realized he didn’t have any other agents to handle the tough cases.

“Charlesworth was a lousy client,” he said, “but still, what happened to that family I wouldn’t wish on anybody.”

I didn’t even look up from the Virgin Islands travel brochure I was perusing.

“Tragic,” I said.

Leaves, Adam Kelly Morton

 

It was the last weekend where Dad was up from New Hampshire and Mom was up north. I didn’t know what up north meant, because Dad never explained it.

Earlier that day, I was watching Saturday morning cartoons in the basement. Dad came downstairs and I heard him say, “For Christ’s sake, where are my goddamned cigarettes? Alan, have you seen them?”

I had flushed them down the toilet. I knew smoking was bad for you. Mrs. Leclair, my teacher at Thorndale Elementary, said so. So I’d flushed them all down and hidden the empty pack at the bottom of the trash can.

I didn’t answer him, and kept watching Wile E. Coyote try to blow up the Road Runner with sticks of flying dynamite. The Coyote let a whole bunch of them float down from a hot air balloon early in the show, and they kept appearing later on and exploding beside him. It was pretty good. Anyway, it didn’t seem like Dad really wanted an answer.

“Listen, son,” Dad said, putting on his jacket. “I have to go to Pinto’s for another pack. I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.”

“Can I come with you?” I said. I ran over and turned off the TV. I had seen all of those Road Runner episodes and knew the Coyote was never going to catch him.

“Hurry up,” he said.

“Do I need to wear a coat?” I said.

“Nah,” he said.

I ran out the front door. It was a cool, fall morning, and on Harmony Street all the leaves on the trees were already turning orange and yellow. There were tons of them all over our front lawn. Normally, Dad would rake them up and I’d jump in the piles, then help him bag them. But from the time he started working in the States, we stopped doing that sort of thing.

We hopped into Dad’s Cutlass Supreme and roared off, with dead leaves flying out from under the car. “I could have sworn I left the goddamned things on the glass table,” he said. “You sure you don’t know what happened to them?”

I swallowed and stared out the window. It was cold and I shivered a bit. There was a song on the radio and the words went, “Goodbye my love, maybe for forever.” We were going past my friend Antoine’s place. His car wasn’t in the driveway, which I knew meant that he was out with his family at their orchard in Rougemont, picking apples. It was the time of year for it, and Antoine’s mom always had a basket of apples for me. She’d always tell me that an apple a day kept the doctor away.

“You should eat apples instead of smoking,” I said to Dad. “Mrs. Leclair says that cigarettes can give you lung cancer.”

“Yeah well,” he said. “Everything good is bad for you.”

We parked in front of Pinto’s and Dad opened the car door. I wanted to ask him to get me a grape-flavoured Slush Puppie, but it didn’t seem like a good time. He slammed the door shut and left the car running. The same song was still on the radio—something about time flowing like a river. It was making me sad, so I switched it off and turned on the heater.

Dad came out of the store with a lit Players in his mouth. He took a few hauls standing in front of the car. I watched the blue smoke come out in clouds under his moustache. When he got back into the car, still smoking, he said, “This is all her fault.” I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me, but I knew he was talking about Mom. She’d always told me that the divorce was his fault, on account of him wanting to take the job in the States. She didn’t want to go, because her side of the family were all in Montreal. I didn’t want to go either. I had Thorndale, and Antoine, and our house on Harmony, plus all the piles of leaves I could ever want to jump into in our backyard.

 

“Whose fault?” I said.

Dad started driving back home. “I’m going to tell you something, son,” he said. “I’m probably going to get in shit for it, but rather than lie about things, like some people I know, I’d rather just lay it all out for you.”

“Okay,” I said. Whenever Dad used to say bad words like shit, I would laugh. But it didn’t seem funny this time.

 

“Last fall,” he said, “do you remember when your mother and I went to the Grey Cup game?”

“Yeah,” I said. “It was at Olympic Stadium. The Edmonton Eskimos won. I stayed at Auntie Maureen’s.”

“Right. Well, I came home alone that night. Your mother met someone there and stayed out with him.”

“Who was he?” I asked.

“A man,” Dad said. “I didn’t know his name until yesterday. I found a phone bill in the kitchen drawer while I was looking for my cigarettes. She made a lot of calls to a number in Mont Tremblant.”

As we drove up Saint Charles, I looked out at the car wash. The three of us used to drive in there just about every weekend. I loved it when all the water came falling down like rain, then the big brushes and soap, finishing with the big, humming heaters on the wheels that made the inside of our car warm.

“Why are you telling me this, Dad?”

“Because,” he said. “I want you to know that I wanted things to work out.”

We drove on for a while. I tried to remember which came first—Dad’s job offer in the States or the Grey Cup—but I couldn’t.

“Do you want to go to the arcade?” Dad said. The Better Dead arcade meant Ms. Pacman and the Black Knight pinball machine and all–dressed hot dogs with Fanta orange pop.

“Sure,” I said. We went there and it was pretty good, but Dad kicked my ass at pinball. At least he let me play Ms. Pacman by myself.

The next day, Dad left after lunch to drive back to New Hampshire. Mom and I were in the kitchen. Her and him hadn’t said a word to each other when they transferred me over.

She asked me how the weekend went. “Fine,” I said.

“What’s wrong?” she said.

I didn’t answer and went to my room. She followed me. She never let me not answer. “What did he say to you?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I said.

“Tell me, Alan.”

I was going to have to say something. “He just said that you two getting divorced started at the Grey Cup last year.”

“Is that all he said?”

“No. He also said that he wanted things to work out.”

“Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? I’ll have you know that that man didn’t want to pay a penny of alimony. Not a penny.”

“I know, Mom. You told me that a million times.”

We were both quiet for a while. She just stood there in my doorway. I was sitting on my bed, looking at my Snoopy comic book. It was the one where he’s dressed up like the Statue of Liberty, only he has a football over his head. I didn’t get the joke.

“Do you want to order pizza for dinner?” Mom said. We never ordered pizza on a Sunday. Pizza was my favourite.

“No thanks,” I said.

“Did you do your homework?” she said.

“No.”

“Then you’d better get cracking.”

“I don’t want to,” I said.

“Well, hon, you don’t have a choice.”

“This is all your fault, Mom,” I said. I was shouting now. “I never have a choice!”

“Don’t talk to me like that, Alan.”

“Yeah? Or what? You gonna leave me?”

Mom took in a big breath, and her face welled up like she was going to cry. She turned and went to her bedroom. I could hear her weeping. After trying to read my comic for a bit, I got up and went in there. The blinds were drawn, and it was kind of dark. I could smell her perfume, but the way it smells after it’s been on her for a while. I could see her curled up on top of her bed. There were used Kleenexes all around her pillow.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” I said.

“It’s okay,” she said. I lay down beside her, and she hugged me hard.

“We can order pizza,” I said. “Then you won’t have to make dinner.”

“Okay,” she said.

“Can you get them to bring me one of those Fanta orange pops?

“No,” she said. “No pop before bedtime.”

“Okay,” I said.

That night, we ate pizza in the kitchen and watched All Creatures Great and Small on the little black and white set. I sat in Dad’s chair so I could see the TV. I didn’t understand most of what was going on in the show, but I knew Mom liked it. After, she helped me do my homework. By the time we were done, it was 7:30—the time Dad would be arriving in Nashua.

 

Normally, he’d call to say that he’d arrived safely, but that time he didn’t.

The Orgia of the Magna Mater, Ryan Norman

 

“They’re coming,” I whispered to Virgil and Horace, weaving in and out of my legs. Their purrs tickled my shins. I stood there, my bare feet cold on the dirt floor, and waited impatiently for the procession of our small horde to come through the barn doors. I could hear their incoherent singing getting closer and positioned myself on the armchair I found for this makeshift setting. Hopefully, no one else can hear them. Technically we were trespassing, but that was the least of my worries. The barn doors flew open as my linen clad procession spilled in. 

 

“Attis,” I called. “Attis, my love. Come to me. Let me give you your crown.” 

 

                                                                                               ***

 

I’ve been to many cities, cast many shadows on the pavement in my life as a traveling nurse, my face alight by the blue glow of my phone. The trick is to always look busy that way no one bothers me. When I got to this small mountain town, I checked the apps.

 

                                                                  The Orgia of the Magna Mater

 

                                                                    Hosted by: Attis Cybeleius

 

Get together will tentatively be held 3/15 to discuss this year’s Cybele over drinks and dinner. Time and place of ceremony TBD but ideally private. RSVP for details. Serious inquiries only.

 

Surely this fool didn’t know the fate of Attis. A sex-crazed local, how absolutely quaint. I stopped against a wall and stood on my shadow’s toes; lit a cigarette with one hand and dragged the nicotine inside as I responded if I pleased with one quick thumb.

 

  • Attis, my love, I’ve been searching for you in every city across this lonely land. When can I see you again? Waiting for details. Your Cybele.

 

I flicked ash onto the ground and pushed the hair behind my shoulder. I was sure that got his attention. And of course, it did. My phone buzzed in my palm.

  • Cybele, I can’t believe you found me. Dry your tears and meet me at Stockade in 30 minutes. I’m wearing a blue and green flannel.

  • Sounds fancy. XO

 

And what a coincidence. I was already staying down the street from that bar, and I got the impression when I walked by that it was more of a blazer and oxfords affair than your flannel hole in the wall. But what did I know. I stomped my cigarette out and heard it hiss under my sensible Mary Jane as my shadow faded into the dark of dusk.

                                                                                                ***

 

I pulled the hair out of my face with golden leaf embellished hair combs to really sell Roman Goddess for this silly man. I pouted my lips deep berry. Serious inquiries only. Maybe I would go through with it to see how far he planned his little game. Maybe I would end it early. I snapped two joints in my gold cigarette case, hugging the one flipped lucky. Virgil curled up in the space between my back and the chair as I was getting ready. Horace sat patiently at his bowl for second dinner. My little circus. They travel by my side, guardians in a friendless world. I stroked Horace’s chin and spooned wet food between gentle purrs. Virgil likes the television on low, so I left it on for him and headed into the street.

 

Stockade was only a block away. Do these streets count as blocks? Who knows. It was one short walk away in this small town where a block takes about two minutes to walk if you luxuriate in your own reflection in the shop windows that you pass by. And there he sat. Attis. Blue and green flannel with navy chinos. It was a choice, I had to give it to him. I put my hand on his shoulder and leaned into his ear.

“Attis, my love,” I whispered. I’ve never seen eyes wider than I did that night. Got him.

 

“Cybele. You’re perfect for the part. Wait until you meet the other girls.”

“Oh? There are others?”

“Yes! Of course. We do this every year. It’s part of our historical group custom.”

“Ah. Yes, I see. And you make the perfect Attis. You’re so handsome,” I stroked his chin the same way I did to my cat. He was just as reactive. “Is there really an orgy? The group name said orgy.”

He swallowed hard. “No – um. No. That’s not what that means. It’s just a celebration. We get a little wild. Drink a little. Smoke some.”

“Oh, I see. We can tone down the orgy for the plebians of the valley.”

“No, like I said. There’s no – uh – or-orgy.”

“Well that’s disappointing. When can I meet the others? There must be lots to plan.”

“There’s some planning left to do. We’re really just looking for a place. A nice quiet place where we won’t disturb anybody.”

“I know a place in the mountains. But I’ll need help setting up for the party. Will you be able to help me?” I ran my nails up his thigh and he jumped.

“No, but I can get you connected with some of the girls. Listen, Cybele. I’ve got to get going,” and he left that bar like it was on fire. I ordered a glass of merlot and flipped through my phone. There must be somewhere available in the mountains around here.

 

                                                                                                 ***

 

I thought maybe I scared him off, but Attis came through. He sent me the phone numbers of Octavia and Servilia. They agreed to scout a location with me, Virgil, and Horace. Horace loved Servilia and wrapped around her legs more than mine. I was just the smallest amount jealous.

“This place is gorgeous, Cybele,” Servilia said.

“It really is perfect. How did you find this place?” Octavia asked.

“The internet is a freeing place, ladies. You never know what you’re going to find out there,” I offered with some sarcasm. Octavia looked at the ground and kept walking around the perimeter of the barn. “So does this man play Attis every year?”

“He has since I’ve been involved,” Servilia answered.

“He’s a little jumpy. I asked him about the sex. You know there was sex in the ancient rituals.”

“Oh, no. We just drink and smoke some,” Octavia said in a hush.

“It’s not very authentic. Attis also … well he dies in the story.”

“What are you saying?” Servilia sounded concerned.

“Oh, nothing. That’s just the story. In the rituals they sacrificed a bull if they could afford it.”

“Well, we’ve never done that. And I’m not keen on that idea.” Servilia was very stern with her answer.

“It’s just a thought. For authenticity. So, I was thinking we should put some sort of chair here. This is where I will be sitting when you bring Attis to me.”

 

“That’s fine. As long as there’s no bull sitting beside you,” Octavia answered.

“So, you’ll start outside, drinking, smoking, singing, whatever it is you plan on doing, and then bring Attis through the doors there behind you. I will be sitting here waiting to crown Attis. Is that fine with you?”

“Yes,” Octavia answered.

“That sounds about right. And you make a beautiful Cybele,” Servilia smiled.

                                                                                                 ***

“Attis,” I called. “Attis, my love. Come to me. Let me give you your crown.”  Attis, Octavia, and Servilia swayed toward me in one fucked up sea. There white linens stiffly tossed around as they clung to one another for balance, while simultaneously pulling each other down. Honestly, it was going to be too easy. And they looked pretty pathetic. Virgil meowed a bored tone at my feet. “For you, my love.” I placed a wreath of cedar leaves on his head. 

 

Attis and the others went back to singing and carrying on, and in those moments, I took the opportunity to reach into my chair and pulled out a secespita. I made quick work to Attis. With my hand on his forehead and my body pressed up behind him I whispered, “Attis, my love. It is time.” I drew the knife across his neck and felt the final spasms of his body as his blood leeched into the ground to propagate the crops as was intended in their desecration of ritual. Octavia and Servilia screamed. “You’re next if you don’t shut your mouths.” They scurried in gasps to corners of the barn. I picked up Virgil and Horace weaved between my feet. I lit a cigarette and walked out of the barn, tossing that cigarette into dried leaves at the doorway. My engine revved, and I drove to the next city, hoping I won’t have to play Cybele again.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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