We shared a biblical kiss beneath a pomegranate tree that dripped pale, limp fruit. It felt like a kiss but I wasn’t certain. Next we hugged hard.
She said, “I would return to nothing without you.” Then she asked if I was scared.
I held her hands as if they were crystal cards. Her jagged fingernails had been chewed to nubs and they scratched my skin.
This was something we had to do, something we had always wanted for ourselves, and now that the opportunity had arrived as surprising as a rainbow during a downpour one of us was having second thoughts and it wasn’t me.
“Tell me a story first,” she said, “then we’ll do it.”
I told her about a blind magician who made lovely potions that could transform hearts. He changed warring nations into lovers bent on fine freedom for every people. The magician had a nasty facial scar but he was kind, laughed a lot, and said, “That’s a good one!” anytime someone told a joke.
This made her chuckle.
I said the magician had a pet chinchilla he’d named Abracadabra. If the dog lapped up the potion, it grew wings and flew around rescuing endangered species.
When I handed her the vial, I was surprised she took a long pull without hesitating. I did the same.
I made a large smile and told my sister the truth. “It’s supposed to work fast. In a few minutes, he won’t be able to hurt us anymore.”
Category Archives: Len Kuntz
Silence is an instructor telling me now, what you’re doing and with whom. I am not so dim.
My organs sag like wilted crepes. I am suddenly jowly everywhere. I am a rain-soaked picnic while the tarp above the table sounds like a wet harpsichord about to burst its water belly.
We agreed. We promised to make our partners happy.
I know what you’re doing.
It’s happening right now, isn’t it?
I kick off the lights. I put on music. The moon is trying to call me out for a slow dance and, after a skip of hesitation, I decide to go.
I’m not as busy as you.
The youngest of us has grown fangs and claws and his licorice pupils are dry from staring. We should care more, but our own ribs are poking into our bony arms. We huddle together in somber silence. We’ve been told to stay at home—no roof games or playing with the pigeons.
Papa was a baker. He stole husks of bread before he got busted. Now he’s out hustling on the streets. Mother we haven’t seen but in an old photograph where her chin is tilted toward the moon.
Below this apartment building, the air is rotten with taxi cab car horns. Someone called it the greatest city in the world, and perhaps this is true, but we are becoming carcasses and I am running out of excuses.
Selma wants to know why we don’t go to school like other kids. Rico wants to know if magic really works. I say I don’t know to Selma and to Rico I say, “Sure it does, let me show you.”
A punch to the gut shuts him up. Little Rico thinks I’m being cruel, but I’m just finding ways to distract him from the hunger pains.
Our room is so small that I can hear Selma saying The Lord’s Prayer. We get free rent if Papa does some things for Manuel, the Super. It beats being on the street.
I saw a sign once: ‘Home is where the heart is.’ I think I know what the author meant. I hope I do.
My daughter enters the room with unborn child showing inside sweater like a tub and I am think, This is all wrong, my baby having baby, one just sixteen years and the other creature floating in fluid, a strange alien astronaut, same as ones I have seen in American television programs when handsome actor doctor says it’s girl or boy, “Look, right here’s the evidence.”
My baby is pawing her baby, a basketball player dribbling wrong who will be called for traveling. I know American basketball rules. Holding ball too long inside palm is named traveling, a penalty. And who should pay this penalty? My daughter has no boyfriend. Some lewd man just shoots his seed in my poor baby. He holds knife to her throat and it leaves a mark like this > from the pressure of the tip, an etching of his crime. Abortion is fine, I say, it is legal in such cases, but my daughter says, no, life is life.
I am crying, weeping hard as my daughter comes across the room. I think she will slap me. I have told her how hard it’s been to make something of ourselves in this country, and now this. It is a bad sign. The child will be evil. That’s what I said, such a cruel bastard I can be.
But now my baby walks up. She takes my tear-soaked hand, places it on the mound that is moving and jerking inside my palm, and says, “See?”
It begins like a migraine, with a trail of effervescent spots throbbing black across her corneas. Her left hand tingles, goes numb. A branch cracks inside her skull.
And then she’s blind.
At first she thinks it’s a power outage. She crumbles to the bathroom floor and waits for the lights to come back on, but they don’t.
So, she moves forward in life. She makes the kind of moves a newly sightless person would–ramming into coffee tables and chairs. She accidentally sticks her fingers into other people’s cupcake cream, into other people’s nostrils, into light sockets.
Her husband cackles. He says she’s turned into a funny woman, that he might be able to stand her this way. Instead of beatings, he can play pranks now, rearrange the furniture, tell Helen Keller jokes. It’s not a fair exchange, but the heart always saves itself somehow.
Being blind teaches the woman-the wife-someone’s daughter how to listen better.
Now she doesn’t even have to use a monitor to hear the baby breathing all the way down a hall, to know that the infant is just as frightened as her.
She can hear her husband crushing peanut shells and whispering “something-something six o’clock” into his cellphone.
She hears a plane above their roof. Hears a bird pecking in the feeder at the sink window. Hears a dog’s distant yelping. Hears her mother’s voice telling her, at age ten, to be careful who you trust, that boys don’t always have the best intentions.
She speaks in barbwire, sharp twists of metal. When she breathes, it’s through her mouth so her tongue shows ebony in a pool of oil. She sings nursery rhymes about dismembered animals, dancing corpses, bones banging bones. She dreams of another world where people might think her normal.
As a child she liked to read. Just as there are some things that shouldn’t be seen, there are those that mustn’t be read. Her brothers gave her magazines with monsters in them, men gnawing on women, women on women. They told her she could be eaten, too. They said they would show her.
In front of a mirror, she always focuses on her eyes. Off center of the black dot is a fleck which is really a door. Once upon a time it was a trapdoor, but now she imagines it opens up into the black-sheeted sky, to another galaxy with good mysteries, lacking evil.
The bus driver shakes his head when she tries to sneak behind a suit. It’s December, bitter cold. There’s a heat vent she sometimes sleeps on, but some boys found her once. They had metal bracelets around their fingers and they took turns. It was like her brothers all over. That is where the black oil came from, that is why she speaks through barbwire, her words crumbled Blue cheese.
“Yo, bag lady!” a kid screams.
He’s got that right; she’s a lady. Even now, she still is.
But just to be safe, she runs anyway.
I was oldest and prettiest, but he did not want me. He preferred plain things that could be uprooted and made ugly.
He took turns with my younger sisters. When they returned to our room, neither ever spoke until dawn, and then it was as if nothing had happened and we were all three good children with clean skin and flower-scented hair. We’d talk about the cute Beatle and make breakfast.
Our father did not drink. It would have been better if he had, for then it might have made some sort of sick sense. Back then, I was always trying to force logic at madness, but I only came away with soupy sounds swishing in my stomach well.
The last time I saw him was in the kitchen. He came up behind me after I had opened the refrigerator. Cold, sour air wafted over my dress front while Father’s bitter breath slaked down my neck.
I dropped three eggs.
He said, “Oops. Best clean that up.”
I waited but nothing happened. Walking past, shells stuck to my socks, the yolks like glue.
That night he had a heart attack. We had prayed for such a thing half our lives and there it was.
Now I watch my grown sisters with their husbands. I haven’t told mine.
I wear thick slippers to bed, but even so, I still feel those broken egg shells from time to time, jagged and brittle, clinging, clinging and never letting go.