26 August 2010

Late Afternoon, Late July, Late 1960s

“There’s one of those old wives’ tales we had as kids, one of those things that kids tell each other on a hot day like this when they live way out on a farm and they say a dragonfly is the Devil’s Darning Needle and those dragonflies’ll zip by and stitch up your lips quick as that,” and she did a little juggling with her plastic tumbler of vodka tonic, her partially smoked 100 centimeter menthol cigarette, and her fingers so she could almost snap them when she said the work “that.”

She looked at her fingers as if they were in some way defective, unsnappable for a heretofore unsuspected reason. She sighed a gray cloud of minted smoke. And she made more of the same finger snapping though mostly silent gestures at the children tumbled in the flowers along the driveway in the backyard, children in their bathing suits of striped and dotted elastic fabric and playing with the garden hose, children of whom some were hers, and her fingers made a gesture to simulate the erratic and precise flight of a dragonfly as it flew to sew these children’s mouths quite shut.

“Zzzzzz,” she mimicked the sound of a flying sewing machine. “Good Lord, but do I wish that old wives’ tale was true? I sure do.”

And the ice in her drink didn’t so much rattle or ring but rather clunked it’s way around when it shifted within the thick walls of the faded orange plastic. The cigarette gave an extra puff as smoke as a small pocket of an accelerant added to the tobacco caught fire.

It was like she was just waiting for someone to get hurt. The backyard was a wasteland with a thousand yards of burned and glassy dunes between her and the children clustered around the water tap. She could barely see them across the blasted sands’ glare, shapes first bloated and then minuscule, body parts all out of context and seen merely as “foot” or “sternum” or “vertebrae.” She winced against the sun, took a long drink from her orange plastic tumbler, took a long drag of her long menthol cigarette, and sort of whisper-yelled across the desert toward her own and other people’s kids.

“Be. Careful,” she whisper-yelled. “It’s. All. Fun. Until. Some. One. Gets. Hurt.”

And, then, as she whisper-yelled it, some child did get hurt and headed toward the shape she made in that child’s eyes, and she quickly dropped her orange plastic tumbler and her 100 centimeter long menthol cigarette into the sink to splash and sizzle out and mix there in the bottom of the kitchen sink, and she quickly wiped her hands on her apron, already saying, “Oh, honey, what happened?” before she knew whose child it was, if it was one of her own or another mother’s, before she knew its gender, its name, its stumbling odor. The mewling sound it made could have been one of hers, but it was still too far out in the dunes struggling against the burned sand, its arms akimbo and its breath in short gasps, for her to properly identify it as anything other than a child hurt and shocked by being hurt and she would wait at the edge of this great basin of children’s play and children’s pain until the poor creature could work its way close enough to be comforted.


  1. in the deep south, they call them "snake doctors" because they are believed to stitch up hurt snakes... This story has its own texture. It feels like a needle and thread going through fabric. Where as in your Golden Gate Bridge story, the words felt like wet paint, smooth and slick. I like the textural aspect of your writing. I can visualize the mouths sewn shut, like voodoo dolls. These children, are warned by one who already must know what it is like to be hurt, and to give pain because they are hurting. Childishness is not limited to children and her warning that the possibility of being hurt while having fun never stopped anyone from playing their games. At least she tried to comfort a hurting child, even if was perfunctory, even if she needed to feel needed, at least she tired to comfort, which is more than some people will do.

  2. Very interesting, Robert!

  3. Oops, that was me, Kate

  4. Damn. Good one. I feel like I know her.