Monday, July 25, 2011

E. J. Salamander

The Romanian sisters slept together in the same horsehair bed their mother gave birth to them on, their faces touching on the pillow. Their mother’s grunts were heard far and wide, waking the rector’s assistant who called the constabulary to complain about the awful racket. The midwife who delivered the sisters smelled of cloves. She said she worked naked because placental blood was hard to wash out of good cotton. She remembers her mother’s graceless features and angry stare.

Dejesus stepped onboard a ship destine for the New land. They met three days later under less than auspicious circumstances. He spat up an oyster barely missing his shoe. Dejesus was the first to speak. ‘Where am I?’ He wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve. From his inside coat pocket he pulled a piece of torn paper and began to read. ‘Ex pluribus menses glorious in excelsior’. Not knowing how to reply he smiled and nodded goodbye. He was the first to eyewitness the stigmata, the vassal squinting to make out who was standing in front of him.

He lost control of thought. ‘I am nothing more than a petty demon, a minor player. I am nothing’. This, you see, is the problem: the words come but the meanings remain hidden. E. J. Salamander, coopers assistant, wears a chin-string to prevent the wicker from flying.

He met E. J. Salamander at the shell bazaar; the church renting space to shell-collectors twice a year. He set up his table next to a fat woman who sold shells of all shapes and sizes. A man, recently retired and living off a meager pension, upended the fat woman’s table sending her shells flying. Seeing what he had done, and the mess he had made, he broke out in a sweat. ‘I had no idea I was so close. Please forgive my clumsiness.’ The fat woman collected her things and sighed.

Every Thursday he ate a hard-boiled egg. When he was little his mother served him soft-boiled eggs in a cup. He allowed himself one cigarette which he smoked like a man facing a firing squad. He exhaled through his nose, a web of smoke issuing from each hole, and inhaled through his mouth. He snubbed the butt out into the pavement like a bug.

That morning while out walking he watched a three-legged dog running like it was a four legged dog. A woman out walking her cat shifted her bag from one shoulder to the other, a black hole between her bicuspid and a loose eyetooth. Having earlier that day lit a votive candle for the Pope, the Papal candles costing 5 cents, the poor 3, he felt an uncommon airiness impassioning his step. He came across a sack of flour behind the church, the makings for deified biscuits or the pancake breakfast the woman’s auxiliary held every Saturday morning. He inhaled a mouthful of organ sough, the odor of forested pump air assailing him. Earlier that morning he had spat up a gob of eel-black spittle. ‘if dogs could fly they wouldn’t need legs’ he said clearing his throat. The woman walking her cat sneered at him, the black hole in her mouth making her look angrier than she was.

Dejesus’ refusal to acknowledge the existence of God angered many. Those he angered said his stubbornness was due to a rotting tooth, others that he believed in nothing, neither reason or intellect. Catholic, Jew and Jehovah alike they all believed that bread and wine were quiescent until blessed by a priest. To Dejesus this seemed silly. He knew a baker who made dinner rolls that looked like the Pope’s hat and baguettes that had an uncanny resemblance to Mother Theresa’s nose. That bread could be made into flesh and wine into blood was scandalous indeed. He accepted nothing, quiescent or enlivened, that he couldn’t see with his own eyes. The New Providence of the Society of Jesus banned Dejesus from all church and secular events, claiming he was a depraved unapologetic atheist. Catechized into a life of unquestioning vassalage the brothers of the New Providence of the Society of Jesus lived as anchorites. With the exception of brother Ignacio, who had a predilection for young boys, few strayed beyond the ivied walls of the monastery.

Ship Day was observed every seven years. Confederate with Ship Day was the Day of the Locust, rivaled only by his grandfather clearing his gravelly throat and spitting. His grandmother, unable to assuage her husband’s coughing, took to plugging her ears with wax; her husband’s coughing and spitting up sounding like a death rail. Junkers arrived one after the other, sailors jumping ship on the hunt for rum and the chance to prove their manliness. Ship of Imbeciles. Sailors stealing from whores and whores stealing from sailors, the docklands run riot with imbeciles and whores. Cecil Si├Ęcle, the docklands superintendant, was heard to say ‘Never in all my years of superintending have I been witness to such total disregard for life and limb!’

Seldom did his mother have a sensible thought. Harkening back to the fate of her grandmother who spent the rest of her life in a hospital bed after making a hasty decision, he implored her to stop with her insensibleness. She said that she was his mother and could do as she wished. She spent Ship Day drinking and carousing unabashedly with the sailors, his protestations falling on drunken ears. Defilers he called them, his mother taken advantage of by ship-jumping dogs, her cotton skirt manhandled over her head, a peg-leg whaler with scabies mauling her like a ragdoll. ‘Horace!’ the others yelled, ‘You’ll do better to throw her over your shoulder. That’s it, now flip her on her back!’ An Egyptologists who had booked passage on a whaler exclaimed ‘Let her be man… can’t you see she’s insensible?’ The others, laughing, said he best keep his mouth shut. ‘We’ll do you in old man, then you’ll never see those blasted pyramids you’ve be raging about!’

A barrel-maker by the name of Sims, resisting the urge to bite one of the whores who had robbed him of his dignity, climbed aboard his scow, his uncrowned chemise soiled with rum. ‘I’ll see you under the channel whore’ said Sims angrily. Even though he had a fondness for hairy women he restrained himself. In the past his rebelliousness had gotten him in hot water, a seamstress once accusing him of foul language when he saw her manly feet. ‘For the love of Joseph and Mary’ he exclaimed. ‘…you’re cunt must be cavernous’. A patulous wound between her navel and pelvic bone made her nakedness all the more horrific. He figured the scar was remnant of a caesarian birth, the child’s coning crowning head covered in talc and feces. ‘I’m not untouched’ said Sims. ‘But I fear I’d get lost and never find my way back out’. The hirsute seamstress huffed and threw herself into the river, a buoy dragging her, her manly feet kicking, out to sea.

Watching her disappear, a speck on the ocean, he recalled his father’s passion for flying-machines; a rarity back when a horse drawn carriage was considered a luxury.

His father was known to associate with hoodlums and spent his evenings robbing syphilitics and blind beggars. Begging for mercy the blind and the syphilitic fell prey to his father’s thievery. Mumbling about flying-machines he robbed them blind, warning them that if they spoke a word, even the beggars, he’d cut out their eyes. ‘You there who said you saw a flying-machine. Show me… show me where!’ The blind beggar raised his arm and pointed, his father squinting to make out a tiny speck bobbling on the sea.

He stopped to listen to a boy’s choir sing Wagnerian arias, tiny Gaullist helmets on their tiny heads. He stopped to buy a nosegay of flowers, the Groceteria crawling with mothers and squealing children, the proprietor ringing the cash register like a funereal bell.

She poisoned the rats that lived in the walls with potassium hydroxide. She’d had enough, the gnawing turning her stomach like a Ferris Wheel. She smoked a cigarette held nimbly but firmly between her thumb and index finger. She overheard the woman in the flat next to her tell her friend about the tenant across the hall with the disfigured face that kept her housebound and that at night she could hear her weeping through the crack under the door.

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"Poetry is the short-circuiting of meaning between words, the impetuous regeneration of primordial myth". Bruno Schulz

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