OUR EYES, OUR TONGUE
I awaken to the sun cutting through the window, illuminating piles of dirty clothing, two broken bottles of rum, and a woman on the floor whom I have never seen before. She has hair as crinkled and wet as brown leaves in autumn, matted to her face and mixing with mascara. She moves, her lips pressing together and her hands sweeping the air in a wide stretch. I become aware of how naked she is, how naked we both are, how my limbs sprawl across the bed and weave in and out of blankets, how my breasts pinch against the mattress, and my spine lies as a long white slab in the sunlight, just as her stomach does below me on the floor.
the man’s in the closet don’t forget
I snap my head up from the mattress at the sound and look to the woman for its source, but she merely waves her long eyelashes sleepily and rolls over. She pulls herself up toward the bed and her face hovers before mine. She smells of sex and cigarettes.
“Where’s my wallet?” she asks, smiling droopily. “Where’s my—”
I push her face away and she squeals, rolling back onto the floor. She’s still drunk. She tries to stand.
the man’s in the closet the wallet’s in the closet don’t forget
“Stop it,” I whisper, shaking my head. “Stop it.” The woman looks up at me curiously and laughs. I rise and wrap the blankets around myself, wading through the dirty clothing across the room. The woman grabs my ankle and hisses up at me, but I don’t hear what she says. I hear only the hoarse whisper, the yelp in my ear, the voice, which echoes,
the closet the closet don’t forget
In the closet is a man as naked as I am. His body is limp and pale, hanging from the coat rack by his bound wrists. His head leans down against his chest; there are leaves in his hair. As I open the closet door a crack of light touches his left hand, on which is a golden ring. A brown leather wallet is stuffed in his mouth.
“Is he dead?” the woman whispers behind me, peering over my shoulder. Before I can answer she reaches forward and plucks the wallet from his mouth, wiping his saliva from the leather onto her thigh. The man coughs quietly. His shoulders twitch.
“Who is he?” asks the woman. She’s rummaging around the floor for her clothing, teetering and clutching my shoulder for support.
the man is a man he’s a man and nothing more string him up
“He’s my husband,” I say, staring at the gold ring on his finger. A matching ring adorns my left hand. “He’s my husband,” I repeat, and begin to help him down off the coat rack.
The woman leaves quickly, though I offer her breakfast. She tucks her wallet between her pushed-up breasts and stares at me while she walks out the door, her gaze drifting over my body. She won’t stop smiling.
I shake my head and hold my ears as she disappears into a taxi.
beautiful sacred holy oh but she was good maybe tonight again the man was good quiet in the closet and she was good on the—
I smack myself hard on the forehead. After closing the door I find my way back upstairs to where John—yes, his name is John—is recovering on the bed, rubbing his wrists. He looks up when I enter.
“What happened?” I ask, moving forward and sitting on the edge of the bed. “I don’t remember much.”
He shifts away from me and begins extracting the leaves from his hair. His skin ripples with goose bumps and I tell him to put a shirt on, or at least to pull the blanket over himself. He doesn’t listen. He crumples the leaves in his hands and scatters them around the mattress like dark green confetti, like crackling sprinkles on our icing-white bed.
he’s breaking his crown the man the man is breaking his crown
I flinch and squint, once again shaking my head. My brain feels bulbous ⎯ swollen and slow. John watches me with wide eyes and begins moving his hands through the air, swinging them in figure eights in front of him. I wonder if he too is drunk, and then discard the thought almost immediately. John never drinks. John never makes mistakes.
“One moment,” he says, raising his arms above his head. His voice is high and whiny, as if in mock imitation of someone. “One moment. I can’t see. There’s something there. There’s something… wait. One moment.”
“John, what are you on about?” I say.
He waves his hands more frantically. “I can feel it,” he says, his mouth gaping and sucking. “I can almost see it. It’s right…”
the man broke his crown the man
“THERE!” he shouts, his hands fluttering down to his sides. He sweeps the crumbs of leaves out from in front of him and, without looking at me, propels himself off the bed and retrieves a pair of work pants from the piles of clothing. As he buttons up I entreat him once more.
“John, what happened? What’s going on?”
He laughs, his dark tongue flashing behind his teeth, “No time for small talk, darling. Work doesn’t wait for the insane.”
the insane? the insane? who’s he calling—
“Right,” I say, getting up from the bed, “work.”
“I don’t think so,” says John, placing a hand on my shoulder and pushing me back down. “I called in sick for you already, while you were showing your… friend to the door.”
our friend our friend yes Lisa was a friend but more than a friend she was sacred the man the man has broken his crown he’s falling he’s falling
“Lisa?” I say.
John throws a white dress shirt around his shoulders. “How am I to know what her name was?” he sneers. “I saw her for the first time last night when you two attacked me, and then not again until you released me from the closet this morning. I’m well-acquainted with her voice, though, if you care to be reminded. You’ve certainly never made me scream that loud. Now where is my wallet?”
John bends down and searches roughly through two piles of clothing before spotting his brown leather wallet behind the window curtain. “Aha,” he says, tucking it into his pants’ pocket.
“John, I…” I say, following him out the bedroom door and lifting my hands limply behind him. “I don’t remember. Please—”
“Too drunk, were you?” he asks as he pounds down the stairs. The front doorknob is in his hand before I can protest. He turns before going outside to the car.
“Next time,” he says, leaning toward me, his chin protruding above my head and his smile large, “don’t pretend you’re someone else. I would appreciate the truth. Don’t tell me you’ve reached another world, that you’ve crossed boundaries. Especially don’t try to prove it to me by waving your arms in front of my face and telling me you can feel it, whatever “it” is. I’m your husband—doesn’t this mean anything to you?” He points to his left hand where the gold ring shines in the late morning light.
John starts out the door, pauses, and as an afterthought says, “I want the house cleaned before I get home.” Then he is gone.
I remain stunned in the entryway, listening to the echo of the slammed door. I realize he was mocking me in the bed, twisting his arms in front of him and above his head. I turn away from the door and am lost and alone with my own mind.
I wander back upstairs to the bedroom. Birds twitter outside, I can see them in the trees, but in the room it is quiet, muffled. Dust motes float up from the piles of clothing and stuff the air full, as if clogging my ears with cotton balls. The closet door hangs open like a mouth, like John’s smile as he left the house. Silence pulls at my mind.
What about that voice?
that voice he called us insane
I begin to shake my head, and then subside. Now that I’m alone I no longer have to push the voice away. I can welcome it, urge it closer, bid it come sit with me. I lower myself onto the floor and pull some clothing into my arms for warmth. A shard from one of the broken bottles of rum finds its way into my fingers and I fiddle with it, tucking it into the crease of my palm.
“Hello?” The room rocks with the word; the dust motes move. I wait. “Hello?”
“What?” I say. “What do you mean, ‘what’?”
we mean what do you mean? we mean what do you want? the night’s still far away years away and we don’t come out until the night the man will—
“I want,” I say, stopping the flood of words with a push of my mind. “I want you now. I don’t want to wait for night.”
but the man the man will come and the man will—
“The man will what?”
the man will eat our eyes and we will not be able to see the man will gut us the man will cut out our insides and use them as trophies he will put them high on a platter and then suckle them lick them chew them swallow them the man the man is coming he will come and he will take our voice take our tongue we can’t speak until night when the man has gone dark like the sky and we will string him up and give him a crown because the king has fallen the king the man the night—
“Wait!” I cry, holding my head between my hands. “Just wait one moment. One moment.” I can feel something now, something in front of me, a shape hovering before my vision. It’s hazy and moves with the sunlight. It has something flowing out of its head, as translucent as water and inconsistent as heat waves. I raise my hands and try to touch it but it slips out of my grasp. My arms cross and pull apart, moving in wide figure eights.
The voice carries on.
the night is black and has more space for us the night whispers like we do the night shrieks the night hides us away from the man the man will come crawling and will know power when he sees it huge and masterful before him the king has fallen and we will bury him but he will not rise again he will not he will not he will be reborn like he wished but he will be a she he will be a she a woman with breasts and hips and She will know the world She will touch the sick and heal them She will walk on water walk on air She will fly with wings like eagles’ and She—
“One moment,” I mumble, reaching for the vision. The watery strands flowing from the head, I now realize, are hair. A woman floats before me, hovering, hovering like Lisa’s face beside my bed that morning. But instead of smelling like sex and cigarettes, this woman smells of air, of wide open air, of wind, of a place beyond the dust motes and piles of dirty laundry which now lie discarded in my lap. She smells of distance and time and unnameable things. She smells of new thoughts born like laughing children in my mind.
What of Lisa? I say in my head, not needing to speak out loud to the vision now that she so clearly sits before me, huge and smiling.
what of Lisa? repeats the vision. we found her on the street she needed money we gave it to her she followed us home we beckoned her we tied up the struggling man we gave him his crown he wouldn’t stop yelping we put his wallet in his mouth he was quiet his voice full of money then we took Lisa and we stripped her and she stripped us and our layers fell off our skins that keep us safe she pulled them off and trampled them down and the fear was gone the fear was gone and we found the breasts and the warm place between the legs and—
I lift a hand to silence her and she begins to laugh, a large rippling laugh as watery as her hair. She laughs because she thinks I don’t want to hear about it, about Lisa and I, but I do, I do, I do. A warmth has spread from my thighs to my lower belly and I do want to hear it but I heard something else, something important.
"We put his wallet in his mouth?" I ask.
The woman smiles."
his wallet yes his wallet his money the leather skin kept him quiet his wallet—
"Lisa took his wallet," I say. "Lisa took his wallet from his mouth and he took hers from under the curtain. Lisa took everything, Lisa took—"
A noise reaches me from below. It’s a door opening and then slamming. It’s the pounding of feet on stairs. The woman touches my shoulder as I stand and turn to face the door. She pulls her arms around me and holds me. The man—John—enters the room, his hair in disarray and the buttons of his shirt pulled loose. He shakes something in front of my face: a brown leather wallet.
“Where is it?” he shouts, spit speckling my nose and cheeks. “What have you done with it?”
I cannot speak. Every word I try to say is but a murmur. My head has turned to water and I suppose the man sees something in my eyes, something he doesn’t like, something faraway. He grabs my shoulders and begins to shake them. The woman, the vision, clings tightly to my back and does not fall off. She’s with me. She whispers—
it’s time it’s time to give him his crown and to string him up to bury him so he cannot rise again the man the man it’s time revelation the end it’s time
The man shakes me until my eyes bulge out of my skull and I know the vision is right, that he won’t stop until he has taken my eyes and my tongue, my sight and my voice. I know what I must do, I know the shard from the broken rum bottle is near my feet. I drop while he slaps me and I grab the glass and I shoot up and I wield my arm, my body like a weapon and I—
And I pause just before I plunge the glass into his neck because I see his eyes and in his eyes I see fear. The man steps back, raising his hands in defense, in submission. I circle him, holding the shard high, the vision on my back hissing at me do it do it do it. I know if I drop my arm he will strike, but I cannot strike him. I circle him until my back is to the doorway. John’s bottom lip trembles. He’s a child beneath all that muscle and hair.
“The wallet,” I say, having found my voice. The vision subsides. She hangs quietly, subdued and peaceful over my left shoulder. “Give me the wallet.”
John throws the wallet and I catch it. His limbs twitch. He knows I am going now and he thinks he will stop me. I continue to hold the shard of glass above my head, ready to plunge it into his mind if he advances, to take his eyes and tongue. I close the bedroom door and jam the hallway chair under the doorknob. I’m halfway down the stairs before I hear John scrabbling at the door. Then he’s banging and screaming and I race outside, dropping the shard of glass somewhere along the way. The gold ring hangs heavy on my finger but I keep it there, enjoying the sensation when my thumb rubs up against it. John will beat himself into the ground, I think, beat the house down before he stops, but I’ll leave him to it. He will not take me with him.
I flip open the wallet and find her name, her address. It’s downtown and it’s dirty and it smiles like sex and cigarettes. She opens the door and sees instantly the vision on my shoulder. She smiles, nods, and lets me enter; without words she tells me I am welcome.