• FTB Literary Group

In a Forest of Filleted Bones -Elizabeth Kirschner

My mother’s peached door: truth. She loved peaches: that’s the truth. What burrows in the peach fuzz, she said: that’s truth.

Like a voice the odor has changed, this bed, which I think of as my past, is really a monk in a garden. And the moon in the pennyroyal. With its gut full of shiners. And beyond, flowers glow like a torchlit mausoleum. In eye-lime dust. In the endless dark, time still enters me. When the voices leave, it seems like dusk. Sleep-stunned sheets coax all my colors back, like clowned-out clowns. Such mystery in being, I can only believe I breathe it, as this random life throws its astonishments down upon the bloody membranes behind my eyes. Come morning, I stand among the sweet narcissus, silent as a point of bone—the thing no one tells you about is that joy has very little pleasure in it. And if I died of living, having lived one hour among the fragrance of lemons and the witch hazel’s hairy leonine blossoms, then who among the numberless have I become, I who only desire this moment, which comprehends nothing more than loss and fragility and the fleeing of flesh? Because mystery roofs the life left to me, I salute the birds by being quiet, like sensible trees among rocks like cranked hospital cots. Light, too, is a presence I turn around to face, lean into and join. Old now, and flawed, I want to be who I am, going where I’m going, all over again. Into a forest of filleted bones where I couldn’t have saved the boy. I couldn’t have even saved a dog. From the window, I saw him. In the red snowsuit. Heavy as a padded quilt. Scalpel cold, he shivered as if dowering were a verb. Snow beneath him, in a starched obedience, but unkempt, and somehow ruthless. He was the shape of Wisconsin, a sad animal with its head hangdog low. Bulleted with pain, even I could see that, and behind him, hills rumored gold and the marsh-wealth in a buzz of conversing, wing flap and wind, ringed with shouts faint as a cough. The lost boy. An orange rind for a smile, was anyone looking for him? His mother? Outside, the voices faded, like a stain. Leaving him, alone. Like the abominable snowman. Or a half-buried stone, which had witnessed more tragedy than a filthy glass of water. I watched him tuck his wings beneath boney plates, the kind you spin on the tip of a stick. To keep the story going. Or the world which mourns its ceaseless movement. Then dusk. A snore of it, cold as a collar. The ground, madras plaid. And the boy, crying now, sobbing really, his back shaking, a hammock. There in a forest of filleted bones. I grabbed my parka, went out to get him. Under a sky red as menstrual blood, the wind boxed us, screamed, like useless children. Beneath clouds thick as mashed pulp, the mountains jutted, larger than ocean liners, mountains whose weight was a marathon sleep, heavy as violence. The malt dark mountains crouched in serial silence. To get to the boy, I pushed out of myself into the nothingness that isn't silence because nothing sounds like silence. As I grabbed him, the horrid bawling of the wind kicked up. While snow blew, thick as blind milk, I half-carried, half-dragged him into the house. Into the kitchen we went, his snowsuit heavy, waterlogged. His boots, these sloshed, like a gushy snow cone. When I pulled them off, one, then the other, sludgy water poured out. I laughed, but the boy, he looked exactly like what he was, a small, lost boy. Your name? I asked, as I took his mittened hands in mine, like the paws of a circus bear, then took a curtsey. The kitchen was no ballroom, but still I lifted him off the chair, and together we performed a sad pas de deus, like mannequins whose arms were tight as rolling pins. Our bodies, cold pastry bags. The politeness, his, mine, this felt abominable. Yet there it was. The mittens, I took them off, each one soggy as custard, and his hands, these looked skinned. The flesh on them, wax paper-thin. See-through. Like a negligee. What can I say? That those hands lacked decorum? Or that I did? The rawness, the nakedness, it disturbed. Like peaches. Bleeding. Your name, I asked again, but the boy just took a pretend key out of his pocket, locked his lips, then threw the key away. That gesture. Like clouds full of raw torment, it told me the world is at least half terrible, and for every kind of stranger, there’s always one who’s out to break you. Was that stranger me? I hoped not. With his mittens off, and his arms hanging by his sides, like pale cold fish, I could see the string hanging out of his snowsuit, the one meant to keep his mittens attached. Or his mother. Who was nowhere to be found. Which was the best way to be. Or so I thought. As I tugged on the string, it stretched, like a rubber band, or silly string. Spools of it came out. “Cat’s cradle?” I asked, laughing again, as I wrapped the string into tiny balls the cat might worry. The boy’s silence, stoic, unearthly, is what comes at the end of a loud suffering or during it. This tunneled into me, boring holes, minute as dust mites. Because that boy, in his abominable red snowsuit, continued to shiver, I grabbed a saucepan to heat some milk in. I waited until the skin formed, like stiff gauze, or the veils that veil us, one from the other, then grabbed a can of whipped cream. As I squirted, only air came out, in puffs, like Puff the Magic Dragon. Little puffs, like the sounds mushrooms make when they collapse, in a creepy, cretin-like decay. When I started singing, Puff, Puff the Magic Dragon while blasting the kitchen with puff bombs, the boy tried to laugh, but all that emerged was a gross tufted cough. I sat him down. Gave him the mug of hot milk, which he dipped his fingers in, as if it were pudding. When he made the sign of the cross, x-ing his forehead, his mouth, his throat, hard tappings on the windows slanted icy dashes on the glass. While the pines groaned and the scent of metal became deep and close, like a silent-burial, I made phone calls. For the lost boy. Whom no one would claim. Only after the last flashes of lightning, only after the light cracked the sky again, did I remember the cave. It was there all that time, all that time. And who would want to know what was in it? Bats, like dreadful masks, a void sharp as a paper cut and in me, and in spite of it all, the whipsawing voice of obsession, my own species of insanity familiar as the family name. Softened by silt and ruin, the boy had come to me, to meet what no one can see—the cold, black absolute that life swifts into us, hungers that devour us in such a deep way that all we can do is find the hour where we do not matter anymore. To anyone. The boy, mute as heartache, already knew that nothing stays, especially if you love it so and nothing goes because you let it, yet the glory that is our portion here is dark and immense and gold and marvelous. And heroic. When a truck gunned its way into my driveway, the boy’s eyes were knots that refused to be chastised. Whale-boned to the world he was, a pin on a landscape—and if you pulled that pin, if? The man who then burst into my house, gruff, goat-like, barked at the boy, ordered him into the truck. His arms waved, were tattered mops. “Who are you?” I yelled, and that silly string, this I wanted to use to cat-cradle the boy into me, as if it were a papoose. “You,” I yelled again, “can’t have him.” With every word I hurled, carnival-colored hummingbirds speared my mouth. Wings furiously fluttered; propelled my chest upward. A hybrid of fear and elation reverberated through me. I went cold. Then hot. Real hot. An aching fire devoured me. I turned to him, cooled. When he looked at me with eyes that were a small blip on an eternal timeline and said, “No,” I grabbed him by the face, the jowls really, loose, gangly as nerves, and said, “get out.” I bit my eyes shut, let my shouts incinerate into hisses. The man, he shook me loose, placed his hands on either side of my face, as though it were an accordion, and squeezed. The groans, which sounded like birds trapped in a bag, these were mine, as he shoved me onto the floor, and grabbed the boy. Who said nothing. As he was yanked out of the house, a crow snapped its beak over and over again: everything became a blurry splotch of red crosshatched with neon light; the boy, his snowsuit, the man, the truck roaring out of the driveway, the gun rack, a swastika. In grainy darkness, I went out after them, but they were gone. The storm, too had passed, a mirror which showed me that the outer derives its magnitude from the inner. Clearly, in the mysteries of what lives out here, the hunted and the hunter are linked, as if by a great white trope. The man and the boy. Me and my mother, who knew the difference between the two darks and insisted that each day was like sitting in a roomful of dolls who were quietly slitting their throats. They did not bleed, they did not die, they just kept quietly slitting their throats. Who did I send that boy off with? I wondered as I stared ahead while the bright, liable flesh of my mind told me how to live as if already dead, under a sky which collared distress, hulled pain. There's nothing now except the fact that I was old, I was young and now I’m old again. Life without that boy hasn’t been wholly one thing or another, but his eyes, which were the color of butterscotches, how could I not be heartbroken by them? Or the peaches. Which, like pallid squid, carve themselves, year after year, between rosy petals of rosy snow. And when they fall, heavy as altos, with a euphoric plummet, as though falling out of the skin into soul, like blood sliding its alloy through the veins—the soft thud is what gleams, like broiled marigolds. The boy. He was the gleam, the seer mistaken for the seen, with the scent of peaches on him, which is, of course, the scent of resurrection—quietness, green, muscly, leaves whose scent is of clove. Does he know that sound itself is a kind of violence, that there’s room for him to cry in my mouth, like a finch that flinches a little from the cold? Among the peaches, bosomy, plated, funereal and furious as sparks. Or truth. Abominable, or otherwise.

Elizabeth Kirschner is a unique and talented author who wishes to write herself in and out of this existence. As one reader put it, "a voice so sharp yet lyrical, so heartbreaking, unorthodox, shocking, and exquisite. I think of it as trademark Elizabeth Kirschner, wings fluttering between poetry and prose.”

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