I, Persephone, take you, Marcus, to be my husband half of the time, to have and to hold from this day forth, except when you’re away, for richer, for poorer, two months on, two months off, our inflexible schedule of episodic matrimony not to be disturbed by sickness or by health, to embrace and to cherish with all my heart when you’re here, to leave the hell alone when you’re not, and to be faithful, when we’re together, until death us do part.
Married: NOV DEC X X MAR APR X X JUL AUG X X.
For an hour each morning the garden level apartment gets some natural light. Some. Not much though. Garden level is another way of saying basement. This single apartment in the basement has two windows, or portholes, barely cracking the earth’s surface. A couple ferns hang inside opposite the windows, but the view outside is plantless. Instead, there’s a concrete runway that gets enough foot traffic you could set your calendar by it. A parade of mary janes in mini skirts marching through spring, ballet flats and tights all summer, hordes of elegant slingbacks following Labor Day, and finally, knee boots wound so damn tight you’d think the mushy calves stuffed inside were on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Today’s consensus, late winter with a chance of rain boots. Just then, two bare feet with bare legs step into view. They pass window number one … number two … and a few seconds later, the apartment door opens—
Persephone enters the basement apartment looking like she just rolled out of bed. Black hair tangled and knotted, some sticking straight up, the main clumpy part falling halfway down her back. She wears a long t-shirt stained with grease, men’s, long enough to where she doesn’t need pants. Barefoot, of course, and in each hand she’s holding a trash bag. Heavy looking and lumpy. Her arms are twigs, there’s a brace on her wrist, and she’s limping. What a mess.
Marcus gets home tomorrow after his first two-month hiatus and Persephone is planning a late Valentine’s surprise. But that’s on hold until after her appointment with Dr. Lane—
The walls of Dr. Jessica Lane’s office are littered with Warhol-inspired pop art. Not good stuff but there does at least appear to be a theme. A chimaera with heads of Lincoln, Washington, and Ben Franklin, a surfing Minotaur, a Hydra smoking what appear to be seven individual joints, and the most famous of the Gorgons, Medusa, whipping her snake-ridden hair back like she’s in a shampoo ad. Maybe because …
Lane herself looks like someone from a different time, with two big bundles of white hair braided and tied off in a knotted crown. Directly behind her is a painting of Pegasus soaring over the Empire State Building, which, compared to the other monstrosities, could almost pass for high art. This being Perse’s first visit with her new psychiatrist and all, she finds the whole thing somewhat distracting.
PERSE: So you’re the Pegasus?
LANE: Sometimes … sometimes Medusa. You?
PERSE: I see myself as more of a harpy.
LANE: Why’s that?
PERSE: Girls used to call me bird body.
LANE: Young girls can be—
PERSE: In college, it’s fine. Let’s not …
LANE: Why do you think you’re here?
PERSE: My last doctor had sex with one of his patients, maybe that’s— It wasn’t me.
LANE: I wasn’t aware of that.
Lane flips papers on a clipboard.
PERSE: She was fourteen, the girl. I started seeing him when I was around that age. You think he wanted …
LANE: What do you think?
PERSE: I didn’t, but now, I— who knows. He offered me gum sometimes …
Lane is writing.
PERSE: You have any?
LANE: No. Does finding this out make it difficult for you to trust people in a position of—
PERSE: I’m sorry, I made that up. He didn’t …
LANE: Offer you gum?
PERSE: No, he didn’t do any of it.
PERSE: That’s good?
LANE: It’s good your doctor wasn’t a pedophile, yes, but why did you say it?
Perse stares at Lane’s feet under the desk. Sandals.
PERSE: I’d been trying to come up with a good reason for switching doctors, then I read this article about a shrink, or maybe a surgeon, who went to jail for having an affair with a girl he operated on.
LANE: Operated on?
PERSE: It was a surgeon.
LANE: And this made you afraid it could happen to you?
PERSE: No, no way. Frank never even shook hands. I just got bored, I guess, talking to the same person about the same stuff for ten years.
Lane takes a sip of water.
LANE: Since this is your first visit I should explain how everything will go. You come in, I ask a question, only one, and you talk about it until we’re done. We might chat when you first get here, but once I ask the question, I won’t say anything. Just you talking. Is that alright?
PERSE: Is that the—
PERSE: Yes, that’s fine. I can talk.
LANE: I also want you to keep thinking about it after you leave. Keep asking yourself the question, over and over. Like a mental exercise. You might have something different to say when you’re in a less, um, foreign setting.
LANE: Persephone, what’s so special about your navel?
Thorns poke from the bags. They try like mad to get under the wood floor. Perse, back in the greasy t-shirt, dress and pantyhose she wore to her appointment discarded not far from the door, stops a moment to put on a record. It begins, My love she speaks like silence, without ideals or violence …
She continues, jerking along the bags, pulling harder, having their sharp claws leave razor-thin curls of wood in her wake like used pencil droppings and is oblivious, above all, to the puny screams generated by the thorn-to-floor contact that serenade her ankle knobs. Her wails, however, are unmistakable as she accompanies in her always scratchy voice a worn Dylan track. Singing, My love she laughs like the flowers, valentines can’t buy her …
Persephone empties one bag onto the bed. Contents: dirt, roots, stems, thorns, rose petals. And with an intense ruffling-of-the-sack motion, she sends the hacked remains of a neighborhood rose bush quivering over the sheets. Lush petals go airborne and coast down like slow-motion pendulums before settling quietly on the bed. Others fall on the floor, lily pads in a make believe moat. Thorns burrow between case and pillow, between comforter and spring. Stems arrange themselves in X’s and H’s and A’s with extended cross beams like the A in -A-narchy. A shiny layer of green fills the gaps. She clutches the other bag to her chest and dives back like a sort of deranged swan. Still going, My love winks she does not bother, she knows too much to argue or to judge …
Hold still … Persephone feels the first trickle of blood tracing her ribs, circling her back, and meeting a little over halfway a second more determined drop luging in hard from the other side. She lifts the second bag over her stiff body and dumps its contents as well. She’s all but embedded between two prickly but wonderfully fragrant layers of rose. Take a breath, The cloak and dagger dangles, madams light the candles …
From below the waist, Persephone peels back her shirt, folding onto her small chest a layer of wrinkled foliage, drawing the curtain on what could only be described as a decently lacerated midsection. When she sucks in a dramatic void appears where the stomach should be … when she lets out the empty flesh peaks in the slightest of mounds. It is at the height of her exhalation, though, that she notices a lone thorn lodged in her enormous outward-facing belly button. A belly button which on a good day protrudes half-an-inch from an otherwise level slab of stomach flesh. Taking the protrusion between her index finger and thumb, Perse attempts to better answer the question posed not long ago by her new shrink.
Really? That’s where you wanna start. Okay, but do we have to call it a naval? That so formal. It’s a belly button, that’s all. Try saying belly button, it’s fun. Mine’s actually a belly button in the sense that it sticks up and can be pushed down. Beep-beep. If only it made that sound. So let’s get it over with— Oh, by the way, I like talking to myself, telling stories, so it’s not homework— I was only a baby so I’m just going off what my mom said here but I remember it well because she told this story constantly, like it was really something to be proud of— My daughter, well she’s got the— Hold on. Let me do a man’s voice cause that’s how she would— Although mine always comes out like Colonel Sanders— Mam, your daughter Persephone has one of it not theee most pro-nounced navel protrusions, i.e. outies, I have eva seen. Theee other noteworthy characteristic of your daughter’s navel being its pro-pensity to swell and con-tract based on a variety of environmental and possibly even psycho-SO-matic factors, not unlike the nipple. The nipple, he said. I cannot fathom the number of times my mom said nipple around a group of people we’d just met. Banker’s nieces seek perfection, expecting all the gifts that wise men bring …
While Perse is accompanying Bob on the occasional lyric and talking at the ceiling, she’s also fingering the thorn and a dull pain’s growing in her kidney’s and the first tingles of numbness are finding their way down to her toes. Won’t be long now before all feeling’s lost from her extremities and she can proceed to touch herself without the feeling of being touched by herself … disembodied hands tugging at the waistband, revealing what appears to be a patch of dark pigtails piled over goosebumps, and as if by themselves, the white panties run down Perse’s thighs, stopping short of the knee, restricting overzealous leg-spreading. That’s the idea anyway, keeping it all together. Of course it doesn’t matter much after she’s folded in half a barbed pillow from his side the bed and used it to prop her legs open with. The wind howls like a hammer, and the night blows rainy …
Chocolate ice cream, I think, that fell off the cone and went down my shirt somehow and ran into the gummy worm thingy growing out of my stomach and nearly made me double over in— I don’t know what, exactly, that made me aware of your so-called environmental factors, Doctor. That’s one of my earliest memories, as a matter of fact, and I wasn’t thinking much about the psychological part while all this other crazy stuff was going on with my body. That was me, poor twelve-year-old Perse monitoring her navel going-ons, on top of waiting for her boobs to grow in, still waiting by the way, praying every night for her period to come so she could be excused from gym like the other girls. Combine that with the broken bones, the casts, everyone calling me Frankenstein, which I tried to tell them made no sense but whatever, my unbrushable hair, and you’ve got what has to be one of the worst if not the worst adolescence of all time. Plus my parents— Then I was making out in the backseat of Tommy Rasputin’s car, my freshman boyfriend, science partner, whatever, some guy I went on two dates with, and of course, neither of us knew what we were doing, except that he just had to get under my training bra, and eventually, I said fine and took off my shirt to make it easy for him. All yours, Tommy boy. Whoa, what’s that, he said, no longer interested in my undeveloped chest. An outie, I said, not a big deal— not exactly a small deal either— Can I touch it? he said. Okay, I guess so. He kind of flicked it like it was a door stopper or something at first but it was so sensitive it didn’t really matter what he did. And he could tell he was doing something right because it was getting bigger and every boy knows what that means and I couldn’t look him in the eyes anymore and he just kept going after it, relentlessly, trying different tactics, rolling it between his fingers, wetting them, milking it, pinching, scratching, tickling, blowing, jesus, and so on, while I’m doing my best to keep my mouth shut. Then he stopped, only for a second, and before I could even look down, his gapped teeth were already biting down, hard, and at the same time with the tip of his tongue he was flicking my poor, defenseless, throbbing, and probably at this point ONE-INCH protrusion of the navel— Oooohly Faaak! I screamed, or possibly something less Bostonian sounding, having never … never having had one before. Not even close. Point is, I was a little more obsessed with— no, focused on, the physical characteristics of my navel before I bothered paying attention to its little reactions to like moods or whatever. That would come later. It’s still sort of coming. Probably like the feeling you get when you poke or itch at your belly button, even innies, from what I understand, get like a weird tinge between their legs when they mess with it. One guy told me, when I tried to reciprocate the belly play, that it felt like he had to pee even though he didn’t. Anyway, sometimes I get that feeling in my belly when someone nearby is anxious or scared or upset. It’s nothing really. Not like I’m a spider-man or anything. You read comics? Of course, I still exercise its other power as well.
Perse takes the pillow from under her head and removes its sleeve. She folds the black pillowcase several times over before tying it around her head, forming a blindfold. Darkness …
Light snow falls under street lamps. One glass front sticks out on a block of dark facades, it’s neon blue sign flickering like a bug zapper: DOUG-NUT HOLE / 24 HO-RS. You can tell it’s late by who’s inside. Poets meet insomniacs meet homeless meet drunks meet— Wait, what’s the difference? It’s probably worth mentioning that anyone who swallows the initial ten cent investment basically has a warm room for the night thanks to DH’s generous refill policy. Although the wait staff, including Perse, looking mighty youthful in her NYU sweater, is encouraged to promptly and cheerfully top off anyone whose head goes down and stays down more than a few seconds. This is where Perse meets Marcus.
On a snowy December night, a week before Christmas, there’s a guy in the corner booth at Doughnut Hole who looks a lot more like a lumberjack than a beat. Both hair and beard cropped close but real thick-like. If he grew it out, Perse suspects, he could pass for a werewolf in men’s clothing. Jeans & flannel. Despite that, Marcus’ appearance suggests he does not spend most nights tossing and turning under a park bench. His mental state, rather, is what Perse questions as she watches him taking notes on napkins and carefully arranging them in two-by-two blocks, doing this over and over. Gee, another poet, the hairy poet, as Perse makes her way …
PERSE: Top off?
Caught by surprise, Marcus covers the napkins with his arms.
MARCUS: Um, sure, please. Thank—
PERSE: You’re a poet?
Marcus takes a sip.
MARCUS: Warmer …
PERSE: Window washer?
MARCUS: Highway worker.
Half the heads in DH are down. The other half, bobbing. Perse whispers …
PERSE: Like a convict … you’re on the run?
MARCUS: I wish.
PERSE: What’s with the napkins?
MARCUS: My escape plan. Here …
Marcus hands her napkin #3: Tiny stick man beside a big one, squiggly lines indicate cars whizzing by, maybe heat, little one says to the big one, I QUIT.
PERSE: Then what happens?
#4: Tiny stick man surfing a huge wave, sea plane pulling a banner that reads, WOULDN’T IT BE NICE. Perse laughs.
PERSE: Wait, your plan is to become a Beach Boy?
MARCUS: At least learn to surf.
PERSE: They’re not actually surfers, you know.
MARCUS: You don’t know that. You think they just—
Penny, graveyard manager of DH, peers out from behind the counter, cigarette attached to her lip, hair net. She spies sleepy heads on just about every table. She calls to Perse …
PENNY: Honey, think a few your tables need toppin’ off.
Perse nods, raising her coffee pot for Penny to see.
PERSE: Penny calls …
Quickly, Marcus scribbles something on a napkin and hands it to Perse. One glance and into her pocket it goes. Jazzed, she buzzes from table to table. Top off … Top off? Marcus gathers his collection of notes and leaves, music playing him out, My love she’s like some raven, at my window with a broken wing—
Blindfolded with the hooks tugging at her thighs and the hooks tying down her spine and the hooks piercing through her neck, Perse regains control of her arms. One hand holds the pillow in place while the other laps her swollen navel, thorn hovering above the surface like a shark fin. When the time comes she may wrap a pinkie around her towering protrusion, hugging up and down, digging a fingernail into its callused base if— Won’t be necessary, a muffled voice comes from the pillow. Perse can’t see on account of the blindfold but she feels something sprouting on pillow’s back. Quiet, you, shoving the pillow further between her legs, engulfing its soft features. At first, the pillow writhes and worms. Ahhh, that tickles.
Perse can’t see in the literal sense, but she’s well aware of the absurdity unfolding before her. Like having an out of body experience or being a stranger at the window, she sees a blindfolded woman on her back with her stomach all scratched up, massive belly button decked out in thorn, on top of a bed of dead roses and other assorted rose bush parts, looking blindly at this furry pillow, a pillow which not long ago had the ability to speak but has subsequently lost it and must now resort to body language. Clearly agitated, the pillow shakes up and down. Mercifully, Perse squeezes. You’re okay, it’s alright, everything’s … and the pillow goes soft, limp, save for the occasional possibly involuntary spasm. Yet it gets odder still …
At the same time Perse has wet a finger on her free hand and began painting, again, blind, from top to bottom her protrusion outward—round the stomach, by the ribs, under the breasts—with controlled strokes in her own thinned blood. Conveniently, she’s able to refill her finger paint under a slow trickle of fluid leaking from around the thorn’s point of entry. This continues for a minute or more before Perse abruptly yanks the prick from her protrusion, letting loose a fresh stream of dark ooze over her thumb, and, with it, adds a few dramatic shadows to an already bloodied landscape. Ta-da.
Swiftly, Perse takes the pillow from between her legs, presses it evenly against her belly, holds it there, flips it, removes her blindfold, and sees, as we see, painted on the pillow a most wonderful hilltop scene: smudgy brick house, roof-high sunflowers, and on the horizon, below the breast line, an intense set of fire-breathing eyes, dragon’s eyes, obviously female, for the pillow’s dark feathers stand in for lashes. Perse milks the last few drops of blood from her protrusion and across the bottom of her stuffed canvas, in bloody script, writes, VALENTINE’S ’66.
While she’s waiting for her impromptu masterpiece to dry, something odd happens. Look closely and you see the eyes start to become fluffy clouds, the white space turning sky blue, cracks forming in the brick, sunflowers fading from a deep red to a true yellow, the whole magical hilltop view coming alive, yet frozen in—
Suddenly, the vibrant landscape jerks into motion. You’re there: massive sunflowers stalks swaying in the wind, clouds ramming one another to make prehistoric shapes, floating dinosaurs galore, steam billowing from the chimney of a brick house, when finally, a window opens and a woman’s black hair comes tumbling out. Perse’s hair, half-a-foot longer than before and no less tangled. She throws her hands skyward, grasping for one never-ending breath of fresh air. Ahhh. The day after Marcus leaves is always her most fruitful.
Watch the hair retreat inside from a distance. One after another the windows on the brick home fly up. The screen door swings open and a woman in overalls steps out holding an easel. Perse fights her way through a wall of sunflowers twice her size, pushing aside their pipelike trunks with a beat up cast on her arm. She plants herself next to a patch of agitated dirt with a signpost that reads, P&M VEGGIES. From there, Perse cranes her neck skyward like a heron love drunk on pure gold. Gulp.
Her eyes water. Salty tears fall over chopped earth. It gives, while the roots take hold of her feet. Warm acrylic is made pungent in the sun and Perse has her mouth open like a wolf in heat. A small square dissolves on her tongue. Eventually, after several minutes staring dead at it, all she sees are black holes outlined in the fire colors: crackling orange, lemon zest, and the brief flicker of another blue sprite biting the dust. Poof.
Through this filter Perse paints over a plain portrait of a man, something you might find at a yard sale. Already she’s obscured the face. Lava on the forehead, fire in the belly, fire down below, fairies darting through the man’s hair like packs of flaming lice—dirt, sweat, tears, pollen, snot, all caught between the bristles of a madwoman’s brush. Close your eyes. Okay. Now open them—
Baby cyclops on a milk carton: MISSING.
PERSE: Is that new?
PERSE: How funny.
LANE: Have you been painting?
PERSE: Some— wait, no, is that …
LANE: Sorry, no, that’s not the question.
PERSE: This is very stressful, you know, me sitting here not knowing when the question is coming.
LANE: Perse, what was the last meaningful thing you lied about?
White walls. The room’s dim other than beams of light concentrated on each canvas. Mere shadows separate Oregon Trail to Space from Waiting for Guillotine from Shapeshifter Mid-turn, and in the far corner, Perse’s contribution, Sunburn. Exploration being tonight’s motif.
Perse is in her final outfit for the day, a floral pattern dress set off with arm cast. She stands beside Wesley. He’s an older man with poor posture and turtle glasses. He leans both in and up to hear her over the chatter.
WESLEY: You said May?
PERSE: Today is May.
WESLEY: It’s very good. Is it somebody you know?
PERSE: Nobody I know would stay still long enough after I set them on fire.
WESLEY: You know what I meant … who inspired it?
PERSE: I bought it at a yard sale, actually, then painted over it.
PERSE: Well don’t tell anyone, or maybe … does it matter?
WESLEY: Kind of.
PERSE: Can’t you tell?
WESLEY: I can now, I guess. But naturally, I assumed …
PERSE: What you’re seeing is what I painted. It’s the original, I asked, so it’s not like the other one exists anymore.
WESLEY: Is that part of what you’re trying to say?
Perse is distracted momentarily by corks popping, klink-klink, hollow laughter.
PERSE: Here we go … no, I’m not trying to say anything.
WESLEY: Something about the transitory nature of art, perhaps?
PERSE: Don’t waste any time, do you?
WESLEY: When you add something to the world, you’re making a statement.
PERSE: I’m always impressed how quickly you can go from actual human being to critic.
WESLEY: It’s naive to think something can exist outside the context of someone having made it.
PERSE: What was God trying to say when he made you?
WESLEY: What was Michelangelo saying with David?
PERSE: You’re a mistake.
WESLEY: Either you take responsibility for your creation, or it speaks for you. Which shall it be?
Perse motions toward the wall …
PERSE: Let it speak …
WESLEY: Although you’ve painted over the mouth.
PERSE: Good, I muzzled it.
WESLEY: Ah, and if that isn’t precisely the point … you’ve taken this formidable man, a man at the head of a table no less, which I realize is how you found it, so let’s weigh that carefully, but then you’ve anonymized and muzzled and covered him to the point where he no longer has a face or an identity or any voice at all. You’ve mutilated, I think is fair to say, and effectively, castrated him.
PERSE: Everything’s about a penis, isn’t it?
WESLEY: How are things at home?
PERSE: People like you are the death of art.
WESLEY: Now you sound like Marcus.
PERSE: God, you’re right.
Perse scans the room. She spots Beth, or at least somebody who looks a lot like Beth, curvy, blonde, arms flailing, hair swishing, but not a drop of champagne spilling.
PERSE: Can we just have a drink?
WESLEY: Sure, but at least tell me what this gentleman looked like before you so thoroughly stripped him of his manhood?
Sunflowers cast their long shadows on the moonlit brick wall. A flickering light draws our attention to one window.
Inside, Perse is in bed, still dressed, staring at the stucco ceiling. Plaster points made exclamatory by dust balls over candle light. She covers her face with a pillow, muffling her voice …
Can’t remember if it’s stalactites or stalagmites that hang upside down … mites means you’re mighty and burst up like mountains … tites means better hang on tight or you’ll fall on someone’s … yeah … that’s— Marcus, the painting was of Marcus before I painted over it. I didn’t get it at a yard sale, although that’s probably where it belonged, so I lied, Miss Lane, that would be the last meaningful thing I lied about. I hadn’t lied about it when we spoke, obviously, but I knew I would soon. I painted it. I worked on it for two months, two whole months, then today I painted over his face, first, then a lot of the other parts because I didn’t want him to know. Because we’re not supposed to use each other in our work. Not that I’m sure painting’s my work anyway. I pour coffee. Painting’s just another distraction, a brief escape, but I wouldn’t call it work— You write science fiction, Marcus. Why do you think I would care if you made me into a smurf monster or whatever— He says he doesn’t want to be self-conscious around me all the time, wondering if the weird face he makes when he yawns or the even weirder one he makes when he comes will end up in a gallery one day. Doubtful. And you don’t have to worry about our private conversations showing up in print, he assures me. Oh, come on, like I wouldn’t love for you to write about us, about me. Make my character crazy. Make her talk to herself. Make her invisible. Make her have a freaking python coming out of her belly for all I care. It’s fine. Hiss-hiss. Use me. Use all of—
She tosses aside the pillow.
And the thing is I did it right in front of you— in front of him. He was here. It was going to be a gift. I chickened out. Even if maybe I secretly wanted him to find it—I know that’s the kind of thing you doctors might suggest—I knew he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t because Marcus is a man of principle, order, routine, and we have this other silly rule about not discussing our work while we’re working on it. There’s this whole work concept again. You like it. You need it. How is it work? He says talking about it only dilutes the creator’s vision. The creator, ooooo, excuse me. He says it’s toxic to independent thought. I’m toxic, huh? But then how is talking about not talking about it okay? He says— he says that’s why he only writes when he’s away, no risk of our life together bleeding into his fantasy world. Well, isn’t that the point though, Marcus, the point of agreeing in this fancy ceremony in front of all these people, a ceremony you suggested by the way, to spend the rest of your life with someone, so you can share those things, share everything with them. I guess that’s not exactly what we agreed to, and that was just as much my idea as yours, I realize that, but sometimes I wonder, are we missing the point?
Perse blows out the candle. The room goes—
To say the bedroom is dark might imply a notion of light. The bedroom is not dark. It’s nothing. What bedroom? There could be walls or it could be endless … ness. Black in its truest form. Time and space interrupted only by two voices. One belonging to Perse, the other, some woman—
WOMAN: You never said how it went.
PERSE: What went?
WOMAN: Your first day.
PERSE: Not well.
WOMAN: What happened?
PERSE: I don’t know, I got off topic, I guess. I told eight-year-olds to stare at the sun as long as they could.
WOMAN: As punishment?
PERSE: No, advice.
PERSE: I did it once. I was fine.
WOMAN: Okay, but why?
PERSE: It’s art and crafts. I was on acid.
WOMAN: You took acid at summer camp?
PERSE: No, not today. I took acid the day I stared at the sun. I painted. The whole thing was inspiring. I thought maybe it would help them.
WOMAN: Maybe it was the acid that inspired you.
PERSE: But the sun made me see things.
WOMAN: The blinding light made you, right, not the hallucinatory drug.
PERSE: Fine— Tomorrow I teach them all about acid.
WOMAN: Laced lollipops!
PERSE: Then I brought up curtains, candles, the whole …
WOMAN: On the first day?
WOMAN: Isn’t that’s more of a, I don’t know, bonfire topic.
PERSE: There was a bonfire!
PERSE: I don’t think they got it.
WOMAN: I still don’t think I get it.
PERSE: I’ve explained.
WOMAN: I know, maybe you should try again. Pretend I’m one of your campers. Please …
In a child’s voice …
WOMAN: Please, Miss Perse. Please do a story.
PERSE: I was nervous.
WOMAN: They’re little people. You can say anything.
PERSE: Alright, it all started when I was little girl …
A room with grey walls, world maps, teddy bears …
PERSE: My room had these dark walls with maps everywhere and teddy bears.
WOMAN: On the walls?
Toy planes and puzzle pieces littering the floor …
PERSE: Like a million puzzle pieces from all these different puzzles always spread out on the floor and she never once told me to pick them up.
PERSE: Mom, Melody, not once. And of course there was my new night light …
A night light in the shape of a rose.
MELODY: Persey, it’s like a flower, like you.
PERSE: She called me Persey.
PERSEY: I’m not a flower.
MELODY: You’re lovely, like a flower.
PERSEY: And sweet, like a mallow?
MELODY: Even s’more than that.
Melody kisses Persey on the cheek. Persey yawns and a few strands of Melody’s hair fall in her mouth.
Melody lingers in front of the night light, her stemlike form outlined in pink. She turns …
MELODY: You sure?
PERSEY: Okay … leave it on.
Melody leaves, peeking back before closing the door.
MELODY: Goodnight, sweet girl—
PERSE: Just outside my bedroom at the end of the hall was this huge grandfather clock. Every hour a sliding tray would pop out, and on it, a wooden bluebird, and every hour the little sucker would go, TWEE-TWEET, TWEE-TWEET, TWEE-TWEET. Like that. Strobe-like.
WOMAN: I know, you still have it.
PERSE: You don’t, because you’re at camp— Anyway, so after mom left I heard the bird going off and I tiptoed to the door. I peeked out … all clear. I shoved a blanket under the door, and when I got back within reach of the bed, I unplugged the light.
WOMAN: What does that have to do with …
PERSE: I’m getting there. I was afraid of the dark like most kids. A week earlier, I had asked for the light …
PERSEY: Mommy, can you leave a light on?
MELODY: You never wanted it on before.
PERSEY: I don’t want Dracula to come.
MELODY: How do you know Dracula?
PERSEY: He’s real?
MELODY: No-no-no. They’re not real.
PERSEY: There’s more of them?
MELODY: No, they’re not real.
PERSEY: But if they were real, then they couldn’t go in the light, could they?
MELODY: If there were such a thing, then yes, they couldn’t go in the light—
WOMAN: Not just light, it has to be sunlight.
PERSE: They’re not real.
PERSEY: I need a light.
MELODY: Who told you about Dracula anyway?
PERSEY: Dad took me to see him.
MELODY: See him?
PERSEY: His movie.
MELODY: Of course.
WOMAN: So you got a light?
PERSE: A flower one. The whole room had this creepy red glow.
PERSE: Then something strange happened. I had a dream where I woke up and it was dark, in the dream, really-really dark, darker than anywhere I’d been, not just dark, but, you know, black.
PERSE: Exactly. So empty and so black and so vast that there wasn’t anything for me to be afraid of anymore. There wasn’t … well … anything.
WOMAN: Just to be clear, you woke up, in your dream, but you were still dreaming?
PERSE: Dream within a dream. And earlier that night we had spaghetti for dinner— that’s not part of the dream. That’s just what happened.
PERSE: But it got me thinking, the spaghetti, in the dark, why do mom and dad always get so excited about spaghetti dinners? They don’t get like that about any other meal.
WOMAN: You’re Italian.
PERSE: We’re not. Then I slipped into a … I don’t wanna say dream, because I was already dreaming, more like a flashback. It felt like I was watching a home movie— we didn’t even had those yet, but that’s what it was like. Fuzzy picture, lines through it, you know. In color though, sort of—
An over-warm kitchen bulb bathes everything in gold. Gold and shadows. Perse’s parents, Melody and Jack, listen to classical music on the radio, chop mushrooms, peppers, onions, roll meatballs, throwing it all into a boiling pot of red sauce on the stove. Melody’s belly is huge under her banana apron. Clean cut Jack wears a familiar looking white t-shirt with its share of grease stains, believe me. Sauce bubbles and spits and coats the black & white checkered floor with a red mist. Melody stirs the pot using a wooden spoon, while Jack mops the tile between her legs with his sock.
MELODY: Try this …
Melody balances a steaming spoonful over her hand.
MELODY: Careful, it’s hot.
Jack leans, blows, and suddenly, Melody slaps the spoon against his cheek.
Melody licks his cheek using the full surface area of her tongue.
MELODY: More salt?
Jack stretches his tongue, reaching unsuccessfully for the sauce.
JACK: I don’t know. Let’s ask the little one …
Jack pushes Melody’s apron off to the side and lifts up her shirt, exposing a big fat belly. He takes a spoonful of sauce, lets it cool, and pours it gently over the bump, rubbing it in with his hand.
MELODY: That’s warm.
Jack gets on his knees.
JACK: Okay little one, kick twice if it needs more salt …
Jack puts his cheek against Melody’s stomach.
MELODY: Feel it?
JACK: She’s doing jumping jacks in there.
JACK: Little one’s a she.
MELODY: You’re sure.
Jack kisses Melody’s swollen navel and licks his lips, getting his first taste of …
JACK: It’s perfect—
PERSE: Then I woke up. Woke up, woke up. Nightlight on, that’s how I knew I was awake.
WOMAN: It came to you in a dream?
PERSE: Yes. The black-black idea came in the middle of another dream, but the vision of my parents felt like more than that. It felt like a memory. It was real.
WOMAN: Did you ask them about it?
PERSE: No, I just knew. Same way my dad knew.
PERSE: A few days later I tried to recreate the part of the dream where I woke up in the dark. I put heavy blankets over the windows, unplugged the light, shoved a towel under the door …
WOMAN: What happened?
PERSE: It worked. It got totally black and I was able to go places and see stuff. Always in the past, but anyone’s past, sometimes my own.
WOMAN: Anyone’s past?
WOMAN: Picasso’s past?
PERSE: Sure …
PERSE: Why not.
WOMAN: While you’re asleep?
PERSE: Well, usually just people I know. Like I’m spying on their memories.
WOMAN: But you know they’re your fantasies.
PERSE: Who says what’s fantasy and what’s memory?
WOMAN: One actually happened and one only happened in your head.
PERSE: If it happened in my head, it happened.
WOMAN: Fine, but—
PERSE: Here’s an example … I’m lying in bed, it’s black, and all of a sudden I’m in a field watching this cute little girl run around, like seven, blonde hair, flowers in it, chasing fireflies at dusk …
PERSE: She catches one. Quickly, she closes her hands around it. She looks inside her hands through the tiniest hole but she doesn’t see any light—
WOMAN: She killed it?
PERSE: No, suddenly it flies up and stings her above the eye. It was a bee.
PERSE: Her whole pretty face swells up like a lopsided balloon. She goes home and her mother’s first reaction is, of course, to panic, but when she realizes her little girl’s alright, she laughs about it. She even calls her elephant girl.
WOMAN: That’s mean.
PERSE: The little girl thinks it’s funny.
WOMAN: Am I the little girl?
WOMAN: But that didn’t happen to me.
PERSE: You sure?
PERSE: I remember it vividly.
WOMAN: I don’t.
PERSE: Either way I see your swollen, elephant face whenever I close my eyes. It’s adorable.
WOMAN: Let’s go to sleep.
Remember, it’s black. Creak … creak.
PERSE: Where are you going?
The bathroom light flicks on. Marcus’ scruffy profile passes in the mirror.
MARCUS: Hey what? I gotta pee.
PERSE: Pee in the dark.
Naked Marcus pees with the door open looking back …
MARCUS: That’s a good idea.
PERSE: Pee in your sleep then.
MARCUS: Wouldn’t be the first time.
PERSE: You’re a bed wetter?
MARCUS: Not anymore. Not since—
PERSE: How are you still—
MARCUS: The wine—
PERSE: Not since when?
MARCUS: A few years, maybe.
More peeing …
PERSE: You were still wetting the bed a few years ago?
MARCUS: You met my parents.
MARCUS: I had a waterbed.
Intermittent peeing …
PERSE: Jesus, you done yet?
MARCUS: Just a … bo … u …
PERSE: Are you masturbating?
MARCUS: T— No.
PERSE: Come on, save a little bit. You know how I like to taste the last little bit of—
MARCUS: You’re sick, know that?
PERSE: Come on, let me lick your pee-pee.
Light flicks off.
Point is it’s dark. Black. Making it all the more, um, alarming every time the grandfather clock, the one with the wooden bluebird, sounds off. Extra fanfare reserved for midday and mid—
TWEE-TW-TW-TWEE-TWEE, TWEE-TW-TW-TWEE, TW-TWEEEE
WOMAN: Happy Birthday—
Perse does her best television detective voice …
Persephone Craft, born June 30th, 1941, four pounds, a few odd ounces, and not due for another month. Anxious, not premature. Parents, Melody and Jack Craft, both since deceased, victims of two separate car accidents having taken place no more a week apart, the accidental nature of the second, her mother’s, immediately but only internally called into question by Persephone and possibly others. No one ever able to bring themselves to say much about it though. Except once …
Early one morning a pale blue moon trades places with the fiery sun. An open window on the brick house outlined in holiday tinsel, like a picture framed in silver garland. The image, Perse and Marcus in bed, with Perse sitting at attention in her NYU sweater and Marcus calm under the sheets—
PERSE: You think it’s a coincidence …
Marcus, groggy, rolls onto his back.
PERSE: The car was fine, I know it was. I drove it right before, like the day before. There was nothing …
Marcus rubs both eyes with his fists like he’s polishing binoculars.
PERSE: Why would she be up there … she never … what do you think she was doing?
Marcus drags a forearm over his crusty nose. Sniff.
PERSE: Well? Is there like a window open or something?
Marcus rolls another half turn, observing his wife in the warm glow of morning, her peach skin cool, bumpy, and shimmering under a million colorless hairs.
PERSE: That’s fine. I don’t need you to tell me what happened. I know already. I know what she— I’ve always known. I think it’s kind of sweet, what she …
Perse’s eyes are closed but Marcus sees something bubbling underneath. He finds a napkin beside the bed with a doodle on it: Angel on top of a Christmas tree and under the tree a head sticking out of a gift box, the bearded head saying, MARRY CHRISTMAS?
Perse’s voice cracks …
PERSE: I would have done the same.
Marcus pulls her head to his chest so she can hear the incredibly regular beating of his heart. The force of each well-timed thump against her face sets in motion a fresh stream of warms tears. The tears run down her cheeks, down the middle of his chest, eventually pooling in Marcus’ altogether unremarkable navel cavity. But a cavity nonetheless. He’s got no special powers of the belly to speak of, but damn if he doesn’t have the most steadfast heart beat a pair of sensitive eardrums like Perse’s ever did face. Du-duh … Du-duh … Du-duh …
TWEE-TWEET, TWEE-TWEET, TWEE-TWEET
And with that, Perse is suddenly ripped back to the blanket darkness of the present moment. The bedsprings whine. Thwat. A gentle clap of soft flesh. Stillness. Wait. Wait. Du-duh … Du-duh … Du-duh …
TWEE-TWEET, TWEE-TWEET, TWEE-TWEET
Black. Shivering. Tiny creeeaks in the mattress. Nasal breathing. A light snore here and there. Howl-howl, goes the wind. And then, the absolute worst sound you can imagine. Human teeth being ground together by their owner. Where is the heartbeat when you really—
Meanwhile, the wind has dislodged the curtain, letting a moonbeam intrude …
There’s a rattle at the door, and once again, it’s pitch black in the bedroom. The deadbolt can be heard flipping, the spring on the screen door stretching. Footsteps. Then the unmistakable sound of each tentative boot step flexing the wood floor. Dishes knocking around in the kitchen. Dishes knocking around in the bedroom. A faint rush of running water. A brief moment of silence interrupted by a kettle’s hoarse scream. Eeeeeeeeee. A thin strip of light appears below the bedroom door, and in it, a polished toe—
Immediately upon opening the door, Perse is faced with a wall of blinding fluorescent light. Just like that it surrounds her in its unforgiving glow. The few parts of her body that do store bits of fat, the buttocks and the hips, sag where they were round before. By the time her eyes adjust, she’s glowing nude in front of the sink.
Marcus, his back to her, wears a santa outfit and decorates everything with fake snow and lilies. Perse’s dead parents, Melody and Jack, aged well beyond her last memory of them, sit in the den staring peacefully at simmering cups of tea. Feels like a long time before they all notice her at once—
MELODY: Sweetie, where are you clothes?
PERSE: Hi daddy.
MARCUS: Sorry honey, did we wake you?
Perse folds an arm over her bare chest, easily covering herself, resting the other on her crotch.
PERSE: I should, um …
Perse looks back.
MELODY: Don’t be silly. Come here. Jack, grab her that blanket.
Jack stares at his tea.
JACK: We’re having tea.
PERSE: I see that daddy. What are you guys …
MARCUS: Thought we’d surprise you. I left a day early, popped by Elm Street, grabbed these fine chaps and picked up some flowers there too. Merry Christmas!
MELODY: Aren’t they pretty, Persey?
Jack holds the mug of tea near his mouth, grey lips blowing and blowing …
PERSE: Dad, are you alright?
MELODY: Jack’s fine, just a few cobwebs.
Melody bops him on the skull with her fist.
Belly laughs from Marcus.
MARCUS: She’s been doing that the whole way here. Lots of cobwebs apparently.
Melody slumps a little.
PERSE: What’s going on, Marcus? Why are you dressed like that?
MARCUS: It’s a character I’m working on, this astronaut who claims it’s always Christmas in space. You know?
PERSE: Do I?
MELODY: Happy Birthday, dear.
Perse stands up. Wrapping the blanket around her shoulders.
PERSE: I’m gonna go put something on.
MARCUS: I’ll come with …
TWEE-TWEET, TWEE-TWEET, TWEE-TWEET
Window half exposed. The moonlight intensifies. Perse wakes, scooting herself to the headboard, rocking and bouncing her feet in hopes of rousing the log-shaped object alongside her. The snoring sheets appears to have sprouted a blonde canopy. Perse whispers …
No response. Perse grabs what she thinks might be a shoulder, shaking it …
PERSE: Hey, Beth, you awake?
BETH: Uun …
PERSE: Were you dreaming?
BETH: Uun … I …
PERSE: I was.
PERSE: An actual dream. I was—
BETH: Is it light out?
PERSE: That’s the moon. Everyone was here.
BETH: Who … what time is it?
PERSE: It’s three. Marcus and my—
PERSE: Yes, I counted. I don’t know how you sleep through it.
BETH: I don’t know how you keep it when it wakes you up every hour.
Perse watches the shadows move across Beth’s neck. The fingerlike patches appear to be choking her. Wind rattles the curtain. Beth turns …
BETH: Want me to fix that?
PERSE: No, it’s fine.
BETH: I should probably go.
PERSE: Go where?
PERSE: Oh … why?
BETH: Jake’s probably worried.
PERSE: I doubt it.
BETH: What’s that mean?
BETH: Okay …
PERSE: Stay a little longer. We can …
Perse hunts through the sheets with her foot, finding Beth’s bare legs, intermingling with them, climbing her like a vine …
BETH: That tickles.
Beth pulls away, digging for …
PERSE: Stop squirming!
BETH: I’m trying to find my clothes. I thought maybe I took them off in …
PERSE: They’re in the kitchen. You don’t remember? We cooked.
BETH: Cooked what?
PERSE: Pancakes. You were in my apron.
BETH: The banana one?
PERSE: Mm-hm. We had them in bed.
BETH: How were they?
PERSE: Sticky. Actually, there might be some syrup left …
Beth rolls out from under the sheets. Naked. She steps over Perse, onto the floor, narrowly avoiding a dirty plate, one foot on the ground, the other, in bed, straddling Perse. Beth’s body is smooth like clay, soft enough for Perse to grab hold of and mold her flesh. Perse massages Beth’s hip, gathering handfuls of skin, then releasing them.
PERSE: Don’t go. Don’t leave me here all alone.
BETH: Don’t be so dramatic. When’s you-know-who coming back?
PERSE: Tomorrow. Well, you know, if today’s today, then tomorrow he’s—
BETH: Maybe he’ll be early. Maybe he’s on his way right …
Beth takes her foot off the floor, lowering …
PERSE: Don’t be mean.
BETH: I’m just messing around. What would he do anyway if he found us here anyway?
Little by little, Beth peels back the sheet …
PERSE: I don’t know.
BETH: Would he be mad? Would he want to … you know?
PERSE: I don’t … maybe … would you?
BETH: I want all the syrup for myself.
Beth licks in half circles below Perse’s chest, working her way …
PERSE: Why don’t you stay?
BETH: I am staying.
PERSE: I mean stay all day. Stay longer if you like. Just—
Beth looks up, tilting her head.
BETH: Perse, you know … you don’t want that. And I’ve got …
PERSE: I know. Me too. I do too.
BETH: Yeah, but it’s different for you.
Beth sniffs around Perse’s ribs and stomach.
PERSE: What’s so different?
Beth stops shy of the navel, Perse’s protrusion poking her in the throat.
BETH: Ahhh, I think I’ve found where the …
PERSE: What’s so different?
Beth rests her chin under the protrusion, speaking directly to it …
BETH: Oh, you know. You understand, don’t you. You know everything, little guy. You just understand everyone so damn …
PERSE: Beth, what are you—
Beth lashes out suddenly with her tongue. The protrusion smacks Perse’s stomach and springs back on Beth’s lips like an inflatable boxing partner. Beth swallows him whole. Perse makes tight fists in the sheets.
PERSE: And I—
Gently, Beth takes the navel between her tongue and upper layer of teeth.
PERSE: And I suppose Jake would be fine with you fellating my navel like some confused dyke?
Beth lets the protrusion drop from her lips.
PERSE: I said, what’s so different?
BETH: I …
Perse rocks her stomach up and down, poking Beth in the face with her protrusion.
PERSE: Come on baby, do it. This what you like, isn’t it? I’m your little boy …
Perse grabs the back of Beth’s neck, forcing her mouth down. Reluctantly, Beth goes along.
PERSE: Come on, I know you can take it whole … you’ve had it before … honey’s at the bottom, baby … feel that in the back of your … you like maple, don’t you … take it … all of …
Beth pulls away.
BETH: You’re nuts.
PERSE: What’s wrong, too similar to Jake’s little prick?
BETH: I’m gonna go.
PERSE: Then go. I told you. It’s fine.
BETH: Perse, I’m sorry.
Perse stares out the window. Beth gets up.
BETH: I’m really—
PERSE: Just go, please.
Naked Beth stumbles through the bedroom, tripping over the dishes on her way out. From the hallway, she looks back …
PERSE: Can you shut the door.
The door shuts. Perse waits. She hears the front door, followed by the screen door smacking the frame. An engine roars to life. Two bright lights appear and then grow dim in the window. A moon beam scans the room searching for the apron with banana print and finding it balled up near the bed. Perse rolls, casts out a flimsy leg and hooks the ratty apron around her big toe. She drapes the sheer material over her face, taking deep breaths, waiting for the heart beat, when finally, Du-duh … Du-duh … Du-duh …
The pleasant beat interrupted by the abrupt sound of a car door. Perse sits up, apron on her head. Footsteps … hallway … outside …
The bedroom door …
PERSE: What are you—
Marcus walks in holding a small pack.
Marcus steps on a plate. It smashes.
MARCUS: Shit— We need some light in here. What’s—
PERSE: You’re home?
MARCUS: Thought I’d surprise you. Was someone here?
MARCUS: The dishes?
PERSE: Oh, yeah, Beth, Beth was. She made pancakes.
PERSE: Yes, Beth.
MARCUS: Oh, okay.
PERSE: I can’t believe you’re …
Perse jumps up, apron clinging to her neck, but otherwise, naked. She kisses Marcus.
PERSE: Where’s your santa hat, baby?
PERSE: Heard you were working on a new character.
MARCUS: Who said that?
PERSE: You, well, no, I had a dream about it. You were in it. My parents too. A real dream, not a memory. I think the moon caused it. Want some tea?
MARCUS: I’m kind of tired. Could we just …
MARCUS: Wait, I …
Marcus removes a bouquet of mistletoe and roses from the pack.
MARCUS: Happy Birthday.
PERSE: Hold on …
Perse closes the curtain. The room goes black. Du-duh … Du-duh … Du-du-du-du-du-du-du-du-dun.
A new day. A new dawn. The sun practically hurdles the horizon. A sweeping wind carries us inside the brick house through an open window, where a wedge of cheese-colored light leans and wobbles on the sill, hesitant, at first, to enter. Then, in an accelerated fashion, the triangle makes its way to the bed, its translucent tip ascending the mattress, creeping through the sheets, and revealing, in a dramatic dagger of light, that the bed is empty.
Dr. Lane’s office. All the paintings have been removed from the walls and her books put in cardboard boxes. Perse looks bulkier than usual, wearing what must be three or four baggy layers over her top half.
LANE: You said it was an emergency …
PERSE: Are you redecorating?
LANE: What is it you wanted to talk about?
PERSE: I didn’t see your name on the door.
LANE: We should talk about why you came in today.
PERSE: Are you going somewhere?
LANE: We’re here to discuss you.
PERSE: You mean I’m here to discuss me. You just listen and give me drugs.
LANE: Maybe that’s why I’m being asked to leave.
PERSE: I’m sorry, I didn’t …
LANE: Tell me why you’re here, Perse?
PERSE: Is this our last …
PERSE: So you know I had shock therapy for a while after my parents?
PERSE: Well, have I ever told you how great it was?
Dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. Midday. TWEE-TWEE. A fly buzzes over the counter, lands on a brown banana, eyes the stove, eyes the fridge, then struts cooly past a pair of toenail clippers before dive bombing a sunny pool of dark red liquid on the floor. It looks almost black between sections of tile. The insect turns over, flapping around, acting drunk, little droplets of blood flying about—
Don’t get me wrong, the first time I was really scared. I was stiff but they still tied me down. Straps really tight around my wrists and ankles but my head I couldn’t even move. That okay? one of them had the nerve to ask. Sure, lovely. I just wanted it over with. I didn’t see them pull anything or flip anything but all of a sudden there was just … my head was on fire. Inside my head. My hair too. I thought I could smell burning, but I don’t know, I might’ve imagined that. The thing is it didn’t hurt. I swear. It felt like my head was filled with ants all digging in different directions— which, okay, sounds bad, but it’s hard to explain. Somehow it felt … nice … like scratching an itch really hard. Like scratching all the itches I’ve ever had in my head and never been able to scratch at the same time. Queen of the ants. I could feel my brain moving. It’s alive. It was like Frankenstein, I guess— his monster, I mean— they were right about something. Anyway, I wanted it to keep going forever. More, more, more! I wanted to scream, but I was smart enough not to do that …
Sun even with the window. Dining table set. Empty plates or paper weights holding Christmas mats in place. Wine glasses filled to the brim with ash. Silver melting in the waning sun. Lit wicks held at bay by the occasional outburst of wind. In attendance, we have the mouse, the fly, and the tom, all banging their tiny fists or feet or paws or whatever on the oak like barbarians. Let us eat!
Not only that but it drowned out those annoying voices I’m always having— What voices? Exactly. I thought about trying on my own, fork in the socket kind of thing, but that seemed like a bad idea. I couldn’t wait for the next time. I was an addict. Already. Jittery. Maybe that was a side effect. Finally, when I got it again, it felt really good, but not quite as dramatic as the first time … and, as you might imagine, less and less every time after that. Diminishing returns, they say. Eventually, I needed something else, something stronger, and there was only one place to turn. My navel— Excuse me, my belly button. I was used to exploiting its sensitivity in order to give myself pleasure, but I was young and I had no idea about the blurry line between pain and ecstasy. No line at all, really. So that’s how I started taking the dull blade of my shaving razor and slicing into it, my belly button, usually while I was still in the tub. It wasn’t the same type of stimulation I got from the shocks, when they were good, and it wasn’t just in my head, but there was something about the unpredictable nature of watching the blood run out that gave me a similar thrill. Even better in a way, because I didn’t trust myself with the blade, so the thrill never diminished. Any time it started to feel familiar or routine, I would cut in a different direction, vertically instead of across, or right at the top, or later, I would try new instruments, like those tiny scissors used to trim bandages … one time I got so close to … or safety pins, before I found the one that never got dull, toenail clippers. It’s difficult for me even now to describe how exactly I use the toenail clippers on my protrusion, but you have nipple, you can imagine.
LANE: You’ve decided you want to stop?
PERSE: Wait, you can speak?
LANE: Why now?
PERSE: I could ask you the same thing.
LANE: I think you know why.
PERSE: I have to …
PERSE: Because I’m leaking.
Water pools on the floor between Perse’s feet. She taps it with her good foot, causing a ripple through her reflection. She gets lost staring at the distorted image of a woman so disheveled she’s practically unrecognizable. The room slowly fades …
Sanitary light. A room with no windows. Two women in white coats. One man in blue. Perse squints. Strains hard. Her eyes look tired, the crow’s feet have six toes each. Knees bent, legs wide, a dirty protective boot on her left foot.
BLUE: Ten centimeters.
Perse’s forehead coated in sweat and spit.
WHITE 1: Breath—
WHITE 2: Push—
WHITE 1: Relax—
I sat on a grenade and took the impact. That’s that. Kablooey. Imagine a bird mistaking one of their eggs for an M9. Damn kids. Oh no, my baby’s spontaneously blown— Wait, then what’s this watermelon between my legs? Dear lord, don’t let my baby blow up.
WHITE 1: Breath—
WHITE 2: Push—
WHITE 1: Relax—
This must be what the Rack feels like. I’ve always been curious about that. Ropes on the upper thighs connected to a system of gears and cranks. One more tick and I’ll split for sure. Divide in two. That’s called mitosis. Getting woozy …
WHITE 1: Brea—
Voices cut in and—
WHITE 2: Pu—
The pain fades.
No pain. No nothing. Numb. Collapsed. WAAAH—
BLUE: Congratulations, Mrs. Porter. It’s a boy.
Follow smears of blood from the doctor’s blue coat to the fleshy cord coming out of the baby’s fat stomach. Oh my god, worse than I ever thought …
BLUE: Would you like to …
Blue extends Perse a pair of surgical scissors. How do they know that’s not part of— She shakes her head, an emphatic No. Looks away. Snip. The rope swings back between her legs. And like a police siren, WAAAH … WAAAH … WAAAH …
BLUE: Don’t worry, that’s good, crying’s good. It means he’s active.
PERSE: It does?
PERSE: Can I?
BLUE: Of course.
Blue wipes some gunk off the baby’s face and hands it to White 1. It looks like a squash smeared in red paint with little arms and legs sticking out. Give him already. Can’t have him thinking you’re the mom. White 1 wraps the baby in a fresh towel and hands him to Perse. Her eyes widen.
PERSE: So light …
BLUE: About six pounds, I’d say.
PERSE: Is that okay? That’s small.
BLUE: A little small. Not too small. He looks very healthy.
Perse smiles, licking a salty tear from her lip. She’s remarkably composed considering the baby’s squirming and punching and kicking in every conceivable direction. Active indeed. Fat arms and fat legs and a big fat juicy belly. Too soon to kiss him? Am I clean? Will blood get on my— Oh who cares. Perse kisses his forehead. It’s real skin. Super tender. Softer and smoother than anything before, but real, real warm, real skin, metallic smelling.
WHITE: Is there anyone you would like us to get?
WHITE: Is there someone here you would like us to—
PERSE: Oh, sure, she’s, um, Beth. She’s somewhere. She should …
White 1 whispers something to White 2. Perse isn’t paying attention.
WHITE 2: Okay, Mrs. Porter. I’ll get her.
White 2 leaves. White 1 grabs a bin of dirty instruments and goes. Blue removes his gloves.
BLUE: I’ll give you a minute.
Already she’s alone with him. They trust me. Am I holding you right? WAAAH— Where are you going, little one? Do my legs work? I’m paralyzed, aren’t I? You paralyzed me. WAAAH— Damn you— I love you. I need to stand. Do you mind if I get up for a second? Will I rip something? She reaches between her legs, checking— WAAAH— Are my hands clean? Should I be— Where can I set this thing down? Where did that nurse go? I need to call—
A man in green enters.
GREEN: Hello, Mrs. Porter. I’m Dr. Green, the hospital psychologist.
PERSE: Where’s Beth?
GREEN: Well, that’s part of the reason I’m here.
PERSE: Is she alright?
GREEN: Mrs. Porter, there’s nobody here named Beth.
PERSE: There should be. Dr. Lane said she would call her.
Green flips through a chart not looking at it.
GREEN: You’re aware you’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia, some time ago, yes?
PERSE: Yes, of course, how could I not be aware …
GREEN: It’s okay, it’s perfectly manageable as long as you’re on medication. Have you been taking your medication?
GREEN: Good, that’s good. Now, is your husband aware you’re here?
PERSE: I’d like to see Beth. Can you get her?
GREEN: No, she’s not here. She’s not—
PERSE: We’re separated, Marcus and I.
GREEN: Marcus is the husband?
Perse runs her fingers through the baby’s sparse hair, kneading his skull.
PERSE: It’s soft …
GREEN: Does he have a name?
Her eyes are on the baby.
GREEN: Mrs. Porter, is your husband the father?
PERSE: Who else would be?
GREEN: You’re sure?
GREEN: Did he know you were pregnant?
PERSE: I haven’t spoken to him, since, well, he’s been away for …
GREEN: He should be notified.
PERSE: Okay … why?
GREEN: Well, unfortunately, we can’t release the child solely into your custody at this time.
Perse hunches over Mark.
PERSE: What does that mean?
GREEN: As a precaution you’ll have to be evaluated by your psychiatrist before we can—
PERSE: I just was— I was— She brought me here. She didn’t say anything about …
GREEN: She wasn’t aware you had stopped taking your medication.
GREEN: There’s no sign of clozapine in your blood … and you’ve injured yourself again.
PERSE: I didn’t injure myself. I tripped over a coffee table.
GREEN: I’m not talking about your foot. It’s the cuts on your stomach.
PERSE: I’ve stopped that.
GREEN: Stopped when?
GREEN: Good, well, it’s just a precaution. Your child should be able to come home with you soon, maybe a week. If the father’s here, then there’s a good chance we can release him sooner to both of you.
PERSE: Why did you ask me if I was on my medication?
GREEN: Part of the evaluation.
PERSE: The manipulation part.
GREEN: In a few minutes one of the nurses will come to take Mark to the infant ward. I just want you to be ready for that.
PERSE: You’re taking him now?
GREEN: It has nothing to do with …
PERSE: My psychosis?
GREEN: All newborns are held overnight in the infant ward.
PERSE: So I can see him in the morning?
PERSE: Then what?
GREEN: I’ll call Dr. Lane and consult with her about your current mental state.
PERSE: But she’s … nevermind.
GREEN: In the meantime you can try to get in touch with the father if you like.
White 1 enters the room. WAAAH … WAAAH … WAAAH …
House after house in rows. All perfectly the same. A station wagon for every drive! Their manicured lawns. Everyone allowed one display of individuality. Frank’s pink flamingo, Cheryl’s fire truck mailbox, Tom’s giant satellite, etcetera. That time of day—
That time of day when everything and everyone is leaking from the inside out a magical orange light, a quiet moment of reflection for the damned and damned alike. Car motors cease and traffic rolls to a stop. Weed eaters choke and sputter out. Peckers rest their weary beaks, while kids fall back on grassy butts or stand arms akimbo and strut. How dramatic we all are. Every neighbor to thy porch. It’s that time—
Time to put aside our petty quarrels for the moment because things looks so darn swell in this evening light. Time to deny. Love thy neighbor. Love thy witch. Remember to forgive. Get along, for this is what we got. This street is our whole world. Resist not. Fear not. Look into the Eye. There is no escape. Reckoning time—
Here we are afforded a few quiet moments to bask in our communal limelight. Open wide, reach high, take a ride on the sunset highway, a miss-mash of lusty reds, greedy greens, vile yellows, all tangled up in blue. To forgive in sunlight or harbor each other’s demons throughout the night. Time’s up—
Revel-revel, while you can. Revel-revel, before hell again—
Their cries, they ring out in succession. SUPPA-SUPPA-SUPPA. Their cries, one after another. SUPPA-SUPPA-SUPPA. Their cries, they come in waves. SUPPA-SUPPA-SUPPA. Their cries, will they ever end—
From every corner kids come knocking on their respective doors. Pat on the head, slap on the back, Lemme see those nails, doublefile, girl-by-boy-by-boy-by-girl, Sam and Lacey, Lacey-Sam, to each their home. Yet how are we supposed to tell which house is home when every facade is nothing but a plain ole clone?
Mark, eight, and little Suze, five, sit on a deserted playground. Merry-go-round creaking to a stop, iron horse whining, swings twisted and losing steam. Suze runs a comb through her doll’s red hair. Mark ties a diamond-shaped rock to a stick—
SUZE: You hear that?
SUZE: Mom’s calling.
MARK: I’m doing something.
SUZE: I’m going.
MARK: You’ll get in trouble if you come home alone.
SUZE: Come on, please …
Mark tosses his spear and the point sticks in the ground.
MARK: I’ll race you—
Suze takes off. Mark grabs the spear and runs after her, pumping it above his head. Patting his mouth with the other hand. AYE-AYE-AYE-AYE.
MARK: I’ll get you, buffalo.
They run down an empty street, past the fire truck, past the flamingo, AYE-AYE-AYE-AYE, turning at a lawn with giant sunflowers.
Marcus, sporting a big gray beard, waits on the porch with Perse, who’s shockingly cast-free. Suze leaps into her father’s arms. Mark’s close behind her with the spear. AYE-AYE-A— Perse interrupts …
PERSE: What’s going on?
MARK: Hunting buffalo.
MARCUS: Your sister’s buffalo?
PERSE: Don’t buffalo your sister.
SUZE: You can’t get me.
MARK: What’s for dinner?
PERSE: And you shouldn’t run with that.
MARK: But that’s how you hunt.
MARCUS: What’s the range on—
Mark throws the spear into the neighbor’s yard, taking out the flamingo.
PERSE: Mark! Go fix that.
Perse turns to Marcus …
PERSE: You’re encouraging him.
MARCUS: Hell of a throw.
SUZE: I wanna hunt.
MARCUS: Usually men do the hunting, sweetie.
PERSE: Hunny, you can hunt if you want to.
SUZE: Do I have to kill it?
MARCUS: Would you eat live flamingo?
Mark returns, spearless.
MARK: What’s for dinner?
PERSE: Go wash up.
Suze hops down.
SUZE: Race you—
They dart inside.
MARCUS: Think they prefer Indians.
Marcus puts his arm around Perse, bringing her head to his chest. Du-duh … Du-duh …
Du-duh. In bed. Perse’s head rests on Marcus’ chest. He squeezes it with his fingertips. A candle on each side table. Perse growls …
MARCUS: I’ll crush your skull.
PERSE: I like it.
MARCUS: I’m not getting brain goo all over my hands.
PERSE: It’s like massage oil.
MARCUS: No, it’s thick, like jelly.
PERSE: I’ll use it on you.
She reaches between his legs.
MARCUS: But sweetie, you’ll be all brain dead and drooling.
PERSE: Drool may come in handy too.
She spits on her palm.
MARCUS: My zombie lover.
PERSE: Look, my mouth won’t even close all the way …
Her jaw hangs over to the side.
PERSE: Aarg …
MARCUS: Mmmm …
PERSE: Why is it that zombies eat brains but people with brain damage eat mush?
MARCUS: A deep question for someone of such limited brain capacity.
PERSE: Would you rather me be a zombie or a vegetable?
MARCUS: Zombie. Definitely.
MARCUS: I like someone who can fight—
Marcus rolls Perse onto her back, clasping her wrists, drool leaking from the side of her mouth.
PERSE: Fi-her? Wha fiher?
Marcus licks the slimy liquid from her chin.
MARCUS: Aww, hunny, it’s okay. Everything’s alright. You don’t need to understand me to fuck me.
PERSE: A romantic.
MARCUS: I caveman.
PERSE: Did you hit me on the head? Is that how you got me? I forget.
MARCUS: You were crazy about me.
PERSE: You think I’m crazy?
MARCUS: Everyone’s crazy.
PERSE: No, seriously, do you think I’m like really crazy?
MARCUS: What does your doctor think?
PERSE: I wanna know what you think.
MARCUS: By their standards, yeah, you’re totally nuts, but sanity is a consensus, not the model.
PERSE: What does that mean?
MARCUS: The normal way might not be the best way.
PERSE: Are you normal?
MARCUS: What do you think?
PERSE: I mean, I don’t know. You’re not like me.
MARCUS: No, not exactly.
PERSE: You love a crazy person.
MARCUS: I do.
PERSE: Then why did you leave?
MARCUS: Sometimes I’m not a very good person to be around.
PERSE: Half the time?
MARCUS: At least.
PERSE: Would you rather live in one of the space worlds you write about?
MARCUS: I do live there … and here.
PERSE: Why did you come back then?
PERSE: Because of the kids?
MARCUS: I was coming back whether or not you had Mark.
PERSE: We had Mark.
PERSE: So when?
MARCUS: When what?
PERSE: When were you coming back?
MARCUS: After the tour.
PERSE: The tour was over.
Marcus lets go of her wrists, rolling onto his back.
MARCUS: I wasn’t able to get much done while … then I was anxious to … you know, start something new … I was going to …
PERSE: And you were seeing someone. You told me that.
MARCUS: I know, I’m the one that told you.
PERSE: If I hadn’t had Mark, you might not have come back. You can say it.
MARCUS: That’s not true.
PERSE: I didn’t even know where you were.
MARCUS: I know, I shouldn’t of disappeared like that.
PERSE: I’m supposed to just wait for you … indefinitely?
MARCUS: Is that what you were doing, just waiting?
PERSE: What are you insinuating?
MARCUS: Nothing, I’m asking?
PERSE: I was pregnant is what I was doing.
MARCUS: Good thing I got you knocked up then.
PERSE: Yeah, good thing …
They face each other.
PERSE: How come you could be around her, but not me?
PERSE: Come on …
MARCUS: She was simple. She didn’t—
PERSE: And I’m complicated?
MARCUS: Yes, very.
MARCUS: No, challenging.
PERSE: Did you eat enough?
MARCUS: You’re funny.
PERSE: And sexy?
MARCUS: Like a nun.
Marcus rolls on top of her.
PERSE: Hey, we’re still talking …
MARCUS: I know, but things are good now, right? The kids are so good.
PERSE: You think you’ll ever start going away again, like before, now that they’re getting older?
MARCUS: I haven’t thought about it.
MARCUS: Okay, I’ve thought about it some.
PERSE: You should, I mean, if you want to.
MARCUS: And what will you do?
PERSE: Whatever I want.
MARCUS: You want me to?
PERSE: That’s what works for us.
Marcus turns. Perse turns. The candles go out—
That time again. Mark sports a fake mustache, curly brown wig, wool sweater, and sucks on a real but unlit pipe. His eyes are larger and darker than before. Suze is taller, gangly, and she’s outfitted in twelve, count ’em, twelve, loosely connected cardboard boxes painted silver of varying size. Twine holds together her joints. Antennae poke from her block head and mesh covers the eye, ear, and mouth holes. Mark violently twists knobs on a cardboard remote control. Perse circles Suze with a can of hissing, metallic paint, touching her up. An ominous grey cloud forms over their heads, threatening to rain down at any moment with tiny flakes of toxic metal.
PERSE: Eyes closed, honey.
SUZE: Mark’s opening them!
PERSE: Mark, please stop opening Mrs. Roboto’s eyes until she’s done showering.
Mark smacks the remote and groans. High velocity paint shoots through robot Suze’s neck seams.
SUZE: Aaah … that tickles.
PERSE: I think we’re just about … perfect. Now, Mr. Vonnegut, care to join your robot sister over here for a photo.
Mark groans and limps over. Perse grabs a Polaroid camera. Snap.
PERSE: To show Dad.
PERSE: Tomorrow, Suzie bear.
In a gruff voice …
MARK: Always tomorrow.
Perse yanks the undeveloped picture from the camera and stares blankly at it. Suze tries to scratch her neck but can’t get in.
MARK: Let’s go, robot girl.
SUZE: It’s Miss-es Roboto to you.
MARK: Who’s the husband? Wait, lemme guess …
Perse hands them pillowcases. Mark guides the unsteady robot, his hand on her back.
SUZE: Mr. Roboto!
MARK: You remember what to say when someone gives you candy?
PERSE: Careful. Bye now.
They wave back, closing the gate. Out of sight, still in earshot.
SUZE: Um … dumbo.
Their voices getting softer …
MARK: Good. Domo-Ari-Gato.
MARK: Close. Try both.
SUZE: Dumbo harry-cato.
The laughter trails off …
Perse stands in the backyard mindlessly flapping the fully developed picture. It’s blurry and the colors are far from accurate, but their entire bodies fit nicely into frame: on one side, teenage Vonnegut holding his pipe, arm propped on the blocky shoulder of Mrs. Roboto, her torso box tilted at a sharp angle, while innocently holding a daisy over where the belly button should be. She’s got a few years yet until puberty. Perse sits at the edge of the garden, slowly drawing the polaroid closer and closer to her face …
Persey in a purple leotard, big clear wings, lace tutu, waving a flimsy wand. Her mom, Melody, twisting Persey’s hair into a french braid.
MELODY: Stay still, Fairy Girl.
PERSEY: I don’t wanna be a fairy.
MELODY: Okay, be a ballerina, or a lightning bug. Should I get the antennas?
PERSEY: I wanna be a freak, like the girl in the movie.
MELODY: What movie?
Persey tilts her chin up and leans back as far as she can, looking at Melody upside down.
PERSEY: The circus movie.
PERSEY: Not Dumbo, that’s for elephants.
MELODY: Not Dumbo … okay. What else have you seen?
PERSEY: There’s a small man like a boy, he’s the leader, some tiny heads, a worm guy, he wiggles under everything, sisters always together, a normal woman who’s really pretty but really mean, and another small woman who wants to marry the small man. I wanna be her.
MELODY: Dad took you?
MELODY: So we need a horse?
PERSEY: Or the girl with no arms. I could be her. Like this …
Perse shoves her arms inside the leotard.
MELODY: How will you hold candy?
Persey shrugs and opens her mouth. Melody grabs a bag with straps, putting it around Persey’s neck.
MELODY: If it gets too heavy you’ll just have to eat some.
Polaroid face down. Perse lying on her back beside the garden. Pandemonium in the streets. Familiar voices flood in from every direction. Jacob the Mischievous leading his troop of egg-touting bandits, Charge!, Lydia and her merry band of sunday school socialites over enunciating every other word of their monosyllabic gossip speak, He IS just SO, Brian the Brain and a couple other geeks waxing on, whining over, The melting point of the high fructose legume, noses pinched under heavy frames taped at the bridge, but mostly, mostly just an immutable wave of white noise washing over everything, marching in, their pounding feet, their frothing mouths, one part fury, a thousand parts glee, deranged little monsters in sugar rages charging like rabid bulls, head long, a regular who’s-who of GI Joe and Barbie world, the entire lot, it seems, screaming toward 1604 SYCAMORE, and fast, like the finish in Pamplona. Time to get inside.
Safely inside Perse puts on a cassette mix called BOO. Costume time. The tape starts, Hey, been tryin’ to meet you shoes get kicked off on the way to the bathroom Hey, must be a devil between us sitting on the toilet rolling fishnets over her calves Or whores in my head, whores at the door legs walking down the hall whore in my bed a robe covered in crow feathers from the closet But hey, where have you been? wings, wings, massive wings, sideways to fit down the hall If you go, I will surely die in the kitchen latex gloves go on with a snap We’re chained lastly the hairy mask facing away on the coat rack We’re chained patches missing We’re chained pulls the mask on Chained latex neck wrinkles form We’re chained plastic sticks to the skin Chained smell of chewed gum We’re chained slowly, turns Chained floppy beak We’re chained yellow skin Chained red glowing eyes Unh! said the man to the lady narrow vision Mmm-mm-mm-mm-mmm pour some candy in the bowl Uh! said the lady to the man she adored and someone’s at the door And the whores like a choir a twirling ballerina Go huh! all night knocks the phone off the hook And Mary ain’t ya tired doorbell rings But this is the sound BAWK that the mother makes BAWK When the baby breaks BAWK We’re chained we’re chained we’re chained.
Perse opens the door. Girl, tutu, front teeth blacked out, wand. Small boy, cone hat, blue robe with stars. Trick ‘r Treat.
Perse squawks …
PERSE: A Mars bar BAWK for the wizard boy and a Jolly Rancher for the tiny dancer.
GIRL: I’m the Tooth Fairy.
PERSE: Where are your teeth?
BOY: Can I have my wand back?
GIRL: That’s how I get them out.
Knock-knock … Who’s there? Bible salesman and his kid. Matching ties, button-ups, briefcases, only difference is the kid has one of those colorful hats with a propellor. Trick ‘r Treat.
PERSE: Hello BAWK and you might be?
KID: We’re selling bibles, would you—
PERSE: That’s not a costume?
DAD: I thought it’d be funny.
PERSE: How is it funny?
DAD: It’s my job.
The kid sets down his briefcase, rubbing his shoulder.
PERSE: Why not try impersonating Girl Scouts next year. That’s funny.
DAD: What’s your problem?
KID: Dad, do I have to …
KID: It is said that only on the unholiest of days may the dark cloud resting over your sinful head be lifted once and for all by the—
PERSE: Oh my god BAWK, BAWK, BAWK, BAWK, BAWK— Twix for the innocent and seven Hail Marys for thy blasted father.
DAD: Don’t you think your costume’s—
Perse slams the door … DING-DONG … opens it. Hey! Mindy’s wearing a fur coat covered in blood. She leads her four-year-old Bambi to the door. Perse gives Bambi a big hug, lifting up her bird mask.
MINDY: People have no shame.
PERSE: I know, on Satan’s day.
PERSE: Bambi-lion, your mom’s dead.
BAMBI: Mommy, are your dead?
MINDY: Almost deary … shot in the heart.
In agony …
PERSE: I think it’s too late.
Mindy falls down, clutching her chest. Bambi hops on her back.
MINDY: Okay, now I’m a Corvette.
PERSE: That red’s real good. Where’d you get it?
Mindy crawls around on all fours with Bambi on her back.
MINDY: Pig farm.
PERSE: Oh, jesus.
Perse drops some candy into Bambi’s pumpkin.
BAMBI: Tank you.
PERSE: When you grow up, you find that bastard who shot mommy and you marry him.
Two Jewish kids and a sailor …
PERSE: Hi Jacob, who are you, your father?
JACOB: Larry. These are my associates Curly and, um, Popeye. We were supposed to be the Three Musketeers but somebody screwed up.
PERSE: You mean Stooges?
JACOB: Ha! Tricked you!
POPEYE: Aye, every time.
Perse lifts her mask, loose skin sticking to it.
JACOB: Trick means we get double.
PERSE: Je n’ai pas des treats.
Perse lifts her wings to show she’s not hiding anything.
Curly points to the bowl behind her.
CURLY: S’il vous plaît, madame?
PERSE: Très bon, très bon monsieur. Ah, mais je suis désolé, très désolé. Ce sont des rebuts, ouvert, a expiré, fondante, lame de rasoir …
Perse makes cutting gesture …
PERSE: Désolé, désolé. Ah, mais permettez-moi d’obtenir une boîte d’épinards pour votre petit ami de marin. Oui?
Perse pokes Popeye’s small bicep. In a baby voice …
PERSE: Vous aimez? Vous aimez épinards mon petit garçon?
JACOB: Let’s go.
PERSE: Au revoir!
Perse pulls her mask down. KNOCK-KNOCK. Grown man in a cop outfit, Officer Donnelly.
OFFICER: We’ve had some complaints.
PERSE: Is the music too loud? Did you bring your own stereo or should I …
OFFICER: You can take off the mask, Perse.
PERSE: The bible salesman, wasn’t it? I should be the one calling you. You know how many Jehovah’s witnesses I chase off every week with a broom? You know how many brooms …
Officer Donnelly pulls Perse’s mask off by the beak. A mass of black and grey hair comes tumbling out, a few strands falling in front of her dark eyes. Casually, he brushes the loose hair behind her ears.
OFFICER: You can’t antagonize the kids. Parents are already skeptical enough of …
PERSE: Of what?
OFFICER: Of you.
PERSE: Right, crazy lady at Sixteen-Oh-Four-Sycamore. I almost forgot.
OFFICER: You ask for it.
PERSE: That’s because I don’t care.
OFFICER: One parent said you threatened their kid.
PERSE: Tattle tale.
OFFICER: Keep the mask off, okay? You don’t even have to answer the door if—
Commotion in the street. Yelling. Screaming. A crowd forming. Perse rushes past. It’s dark. Officer Donnelly runs after her. She pushes through the costumes, unintentionally knocking over a giant peach with her wings. She steps on a tobacco pipe, barefoot, smashing it. Doesn’t seem to notice. There’s a pillowcase on the ground with candy spilling out— A big kid not in costume on top of— wig— curly hair— on top of Mark. Suze is on the ground surrounded by boxes, crying, hands over her face. The big kid’s pummeling Mark. Perse grabs the big kid’s arm, spins him around, and with her free hand slaps him square in the face, the latex glove connecting flatly with the big kid’s fat cheek— POP. Everyone’s quiet. She lets go of him. Mark blinks. Officer Donnelly grabs the big kid’s shoulder.
Perse cups Mark’s head, feeling a knot.
PERSE: You okay, honey?
MARK: I’m fine. Where’s Suze?
Mark sits up. Puffy face, black eye. Suze peaks through her hands …
MARK: Everything’s okay, Suzie. You’re fine. Everything’s …
Perse goes to Suze. Mark sweeps candy into the pillowcase. Other kids help collect the more scattered pieces, even adding some of their own.
BIG KID: Dad, she hit me.
OFFICER: I saw that.
Perse lifts Suze. Mark holds out the pillowcase …
MARK: Look how much you’ve got.
SUZE: Mom, he tried to— then Mark— then—
PERSE: Let’s go home. We can call dad.
My love she speaks like silence
Without ideals or violence
She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful
Yet she’s true, like ice, like fire
People carry roses
Make promises by the hours
My love she laughs like the flowers
Valentines can’t buy her
In the dime stores and bus stations
People talk of situations
Read books, repeat quotations
Draw conclusions on the wall
Some speak of the future
My love she speaks softly
She knows there’s no success like failure
And that failure’s no success at all
The cloak and dagger dangles
Madams light the candles
In ceremonies of the horsemen
Even the pawn must hold a grudge
Statues made of matchsticks
Crumble into one another
My love winks, she does not bother
She knows too much to argue or to judge
The bridge at midnight trembles
The country doctor rambles
Bankers’ nieces seek perfection
Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring
The wind howls like a hammer
The night blows rainy
My love she’s like some raven
At my window with a broken wing