Chapter 9, Part A

Now you know


Vic was hiding in the bushes near a trench during the war listening to the gunfire overhead as he hummed to himself trying to drown out the noise. Every so often, just as he had hummed so sweetly that it would make the gunfire cease, he’d scream out across the fields just in front of the bushes before scampering away, knowing he had probably just revealed his location. As he ran he began to hear the voice of a woman screaming, echoing his own scream, and wondered which direction she was running, and tried to figure out how they could scream to each other with their screams. He listened carefully to her screams, trying to see if she was thinking the same thing and enclosing a code of some sort in her screams. Perhaps she could follow his screams better than he could follow hers, and made short screams to indicate he was getting closer and longer screams to indicate that he was further away. He heard a variety of different screams from the woman’s voice and wondered if either it was a number of different women or if she was being tortured in various degrees. He eventually realized that he was hearing three distinct screams. One that was high and piercing, almost a song; one that was a very shrill shriek, and one scream that was so agonizing that he was frightened to even listen to it. As he scampered this way and that he realized that he was getting closer to the scream that was high and piercing, occasionally lapsing into song, and as he reached the place where it came from he heard the thundering of boots surrounding him and darted away from the screams, serpentining this way and that. As he looked over his shoulder he saw through a clearing in the bushes a woman lying on her side in a uniform making love with a fellow officer, as the officer she was with encouraged her to scream louder and more sweetly. He ran towards the shriek and found a small girl picking flowers who was not in any trouble at all, very secure from the fighting around her, and was simply mimicking what she heard. He bent down to pick her up and carry her to safety as her shriek turned to cries of agony, not realizing that his ears were more finely tuned to hearing the boots of the surrounding warriors in the underbrush. She began to scream louder and louder as Vic ran on towards the most agonizing scream of the three. As he ran closer to the scream he imagined what he’d find and refused to even think about it. The scream sounded like the moan of the devil himself. As he reached the voice, he found a woman who resembled himself with her left leg caught in the grip of a wolf trap as she bent over herself, ready to chew her leg off and escape. He quickly set down the little girl who ran to the woman as the woman forgot all about her leg and began to nurture the little girl and ease her crying as Vic looked at the wolf trap and wedged his boot into the trap and pried it open a fraction so the woman could free her leg, leaving Vic to think of the one swift motion he’d need to remove his own foot from the trap. The little girl reached down and tapped his foot away as the claws of the trap sliced the little girls finger severing it from her hand. The little girl looked at Vic’s foot, which had escaped untouched, then at his face. He bent down to pick up the little girl’s bloodied finger and handed it to her as the woman wrapped the little girl’s hand in a swatch of cloth she’d ripped from her blouse. He looked at the little girl’s face, who pursed her lips and tried to raise the corners of her mouth into a smile. He helped the little girl climb onto his back, then the woman helped Vic climb onto her back as she began to run at a full trot mimicking the high, piercing scream of the woman soldier, camouflaging the three of them as she carried them all along the edges of the bushes for mile after mile after mile until they were safe. He climbed down from the woman and the little girl climbed down from Vic as the little girl embraced the woman and Vic wandered off into a nearby field. He waded into the fields of wheat, occasionally looking back at the woman and the little girl becoming smaller as he kept walking and began to make swipes at the wheat with his arms that grew into metal sickles. With each swipe he would harvest an armful of wheat, husk it for the grain, place half of the grain in his pocket and rub the rest between his hands before taking another swipe at the wheat, continuing the process over and over. Eventually he tired of the activity and simply swiped at the wheat, held it in his hands, threw it up into the air and watched it fall. He’d take another swipe at the wheat, hold it in his hands and throw it up into the air to watch it fall. Darkness surrounded him as he turned around to head back to the woman and the little girl who were not where he had last seen them. As he waded back through the field to the place where he left them, he scanned the horizon only to find that they were nowhere to be seen. All that had been left was the little girl’s finger and the blouse that the woman had used to wrap the little girl’s hand in, which was now soaked with blood. As he picked up the bloodied blouse, he opened it up to see the way the blood resembled a pounding wave. He looked back at the wheat field he had just waded through to see the woman and the little girl standing at the spot where he had been harvesting, motioning him to come to them as the wheat waved back and forth and eventually swallowed the woman and the little girl in the wake of the path that Vic had used to return from the field. He held out his arm and etched a circle around the horizon with his finger. As he finished the circle he ran to the horizon then followed the line his finger had drawn until he was back to where he started, the entire time looking at himself standing in the middle of the circle with his hand tracing his movements. Each lap around the circle he ran faster and faster, felt his heart beat softer and softer and noticed his strength and his joy increase. Cornucopias grew where he once had hands and skies formed where he once had eyes. As he continued running he turned his sights to the outside of the circle he was running and noticed a packed circle of faces surrounding the circle he was running. He noticed a few familiar faces among them from throughout different years in his life. He also noticed them holding each others' hand, then each person taking a turn to pull their hand away before attempting to hold hands again, then the other person pulling their hand away before holding hands again. All around the circle he saw this as the faces turned into dominoes, then faces again, still pulling their hands away, then attempting to hold hands again. Their faces would violently argue, then placidly smile, then violently argue, then placidly smile as the attention they paid to Vic, originally voyeuristic as to what he was doing, now was of indifference. Vic looked at his newly grown cornucopias on the ends of his arms, took aim at a few of the hands that were pulling away from other hands and shot flowers and fruit and money and letters and postcards and books and houses and cars and everything that he shot out wasn’t even reached for, as Vic saw it all plummet to the ground as the faces watched it all fall then bent over and watched fascinatedly as it all began to rot before their eyes. As it rotted they began to snicker to themselves, grab their stomachs and bend over in hysterics. They would bend over further to pick up what Vic had shot out and began wearing what they found as if they were hats or brooches, mocking their very existence. The cornucopias on Vic’s hands disappeared as he put his hands up to his face to distort it as he kept running. The faces looked at Vic distorting his face and laughed louder, then stopped laughing altogether, preoccupied with offering their hands to each other before pulling them away. Vic turned away from the crowd and they disappeared. He looked back into the center of the circle and saw himself still tracing his movements as he ran lap after lap of the circle on the horizon. He was running so fast at this point that when he tried to stop and rest he stumbled, realizing how fast he was indeed running. As he tried to slow himself down, which he realized would take at least two or three laps of the circle, he searched for places in the circle that he might like to reach when he stopped. Just as he would find one place he was satisfied with, he’d get the urge to get up and run to another place. He stopped his body from running and found that although he wasn’t actively moving, he was still caught up in the inertia that seemed to ebb and flow at random. Eventually he sensed a pattern in the ebbing and flowing inertia he was suspended in and decided to not try and find a place to fully stop, but to let the inertia simply take him where it may. He suddenly felt overjoyed and lay back to enjoy the feeling only to be seized by a fit of dizziness that made him violently retch through his eyes all of the images of the faces he had seen on the outside of the circle. When all of the faces had been cleansed from his system, he felt a feeling of relief but only briefly as his body suddenly doubled over, wracked with pain, and his eyes exploded as the image of himself bore it’s way through and lay in front of him panting and shivering, his legs reduced to bloody stumps and his carcass writhing around on the ground. He reached down and put his arms around himself as he put his ear to his heart and heard his heartbeat galloping slower and slower and slower until he realized that it was trying to form words. As he listened closer to his heart he couldn’t understand what the last whimpering rattle screamed out.

He woke up in a sweat to find himself holding onto Estrelica, realized where he was and panted slower and slower, realizing that she was still asleep and always had been. He lay there for a while in the darkness holding her as he wondered how long he had been asleep. Her body moved slightly as Vic attempted to lift his body away from hers as she turned over and settled herself again. He lay on his back and saw shadows on the wall opposite the branches of the trees outside in the wind swaying to and fro resembling arms offering hands to hold, then pulling them away, then offering them, then pulling them away. He tried to recall what he had just dreamed but could only salvage that he had been running, that he had found a woman and that he had seen himself. Everything else was a blur. He slowly rose from the bed so as not to wake her and ventured out into the front room in the dark. He noticed that the air was humid and wondered if it was just the air in the apartment or if it was humid outside as well. Although he was nude he felt incredibly warm and felt like walking outside for some fresh air. He wanted a cigarette so he grabbed the lighter out of Estrelica’s skirt pocket that still lay on the floor but remembered it was low on lighter fluid and searched the room for some until he remembered he had seen some on the porch of the house by an old barbecue and some briquettes. He was still half asleep and forgot about grabbing any cigarettes as he concentrated on where he could find lighter fluid. His nakedness was the last thing on his mind. He left the door to her apartment unlocked as he descended the stairs on his way to the front door of the house, stepped outside and began to walk counter-clockwise around the house. When he was just beneath the tree he had seen through her window with the branches tossing to and fro, he looked up and thought of her sleeping there. As he kept walking he noticed a garden he was coming to, and a patch of grass that braced the side of the house. An old wooden bench sat right in the middle of the grass by a sapling as he walked over the wet grass to the bench and lay on it with his feet up on one of the arms and opened the lighter to pull off the casing. He realized he forgot to grab a cigarette and finally noticed that he was awake. He looked at himself nude in the middle of the night with cold feet sitting on a bench filling up a lighter without a cigarette to light and he laughed. Armitage jumped on top of him, startling Vic, but not so much that would make the cat jump down. He just settled himself in Vic’s loins and looked at him.

"So, you’re ready to meet me, huh?" Vic mumbled.

Armitage kept looking at Vic as he played with the lighter.

"So, what’s she really like? I guess you’ve had her for a, she’s all right, huh? And what about me? Do ya’s approve? Nah, I wouldn’t either."

He finished filling up the lighter, slipped the casing back on, then tried it out as a blue flame engulfed the lighter, almost scorching his fingers. He kept relighting it until most of the spillage had burned off. Armitage watched unamused. Vic noticed a design on the side of the lighter and kept it lit so he could make out what kind it was. He was able to make out the fading insignia of a United States Navy ship: The U.S.S. Stein, and he wondered what sailor she’d stolen it from. He slapped the lighter shut and put it on the ground next to the can of lighter fluid as he gazed at Armitage.

"So, cat; tell me how I can be her valentine. You must have seen enough of them come trooping through to know what she likes. Do I show her my tattoo now or later? Will she make me happy or are you her main man?"

Vic petted Armitage some more, then tried to pick him up as Armitage jumped down and scampered away, looking back over his shoulder at the nude figure relaxing on the bench.

"Yeah, me too." Vic murmured to himself as he grabbed the lighter and the lighter fluid and walked to the front of the house, set the lighter fluid by the briquettes and removed the yellowed newspaper he’d used to keep the front door ajar. He walked up the stairs and back into Estrelica’s apartment and closed the door gently. He looked around for a cigarette and found a pack on top of a writing pad in her bedroom that he flipped through an noticed a letter to someone addressed to J. Dove. He didn’t bother reading it, but flipped to the first blank page he found and reached in one of the drawers of the desk for a pen. He lit his cigarette, and set some words to paper.


She lives by the harbor

and for years she has stayed

to show her palms

to the dark girls

who find they must stray

to the sea when it bites

and the fog and the night

and the wind and get carried away


Is she a widow

or the last sister left

of a long line of spinsters

with a face that she’s kept

out of reach

of any glory

out of reach

of any grip

that could have smothered

what’s left of her heart


Just a little glass of water

she’d say

Take from the hills

and pour it into the bay


But I’m just an electrician

and the backrooms I haunt

are as far away and violent

from the harbor I want

just to bide for a season

just to ride for no reason

just to show her a face

just like hers


Now her skirt of velvet

turns to the road

She picks up the pace

like a little girl told

not to talk to the stranger

whose life he has wagered

will one day

bring him back home


Just a little glass of water

she’d say

Take from the hills

and pour it into the bay.


Estrelica & Vic, Chapter 9, Part B

Now you know