We sat between goalposts, picking grass until egg yolk broke across the sky and the whites clumped lazily together, sliding above us. Slowly, wooden castles, recycled tires, and rows of buttercups stepped out of hiding to see God’s flaxen hair swing gently over the soccer field. Our hands fit together like zippers with bits of green pressed in the heart of our palms like petals drying into memory between pages.
The slate sky strung itself with thick cords of ink-black, the color that scums ocean floors and stretches through gutters. Bells of light that once streamed and pooled like uncoiled trumpets now whispered through the smoke; the greasy haze had persisted long enough that no one in this corner of the world could recall the gleam of day without squinting. On my way home, I passed by Thorn Crown church, the only halfway house left for the confused and spiritual, the last, white scab on the island. Wind and sea salt stripped paint from the door and ran through vines like harrow’s teeth, warping the horseshoe trellis that bent around the frame. The long shadow that hung over the walkway led up to a “wings of desire” replica standing in silhouette. The angel’s metal wings spread to her sides and her hands rose into the dark heavens that seemed to sink over her skull like oil. Through the hallow rattling of the breeze, the black statue called, “My wings…” It wheezed with dragging repetition to remind passersby to be fearful. “My wings,” it echoed all through the night, breathing on the faces of men and women, lapping over the town like waves.
Minerva admired the ocean from her house overlooking the bay, the old lighthouse standing next to her right thumb as she held her fingers in the shape of a frame. Often the wind at the edge of the cliff blew too hard to allow her to step onto the porch with her camera, and today it moaned while floorboards rattled, rubbed together like bones, sank closer to the earth like her skin. Rain blotted the sunken glass like gum syrup and the waves that uncurled under the precipice seemed to swell and relax like a tongue licking at the clay supporting her home. Through her fisheye pane, the sea grew as if a yawning mouth with white, sea froth running from blue lips, panting, “Down, down” on the bluff walls. Staring into Death, she felt a tremor jostle her to the floor as if the very foundations were shaking.
There was a rustle in the Faustus bushes.
“Go on,” said Giglosh, “Your pet rock was the one who threw it in there, so you have to go get it!”
“Stupid necklace! Stupid necklace!” Tiam’s pet rock sang. “It looks like a turd with whiskers!”
“It’s not stupid and it’s not a turd! How many magical pendants do you have?” Giglosh shot back, “And it’s not right to throw other people’s things into bushes, especially Faustus bushes, you little pest.”
“Giglosh is right,” Tiam said, trying to avoid a fight. “Why don’t you apologize—” But the rock retracted it’s limbs and facial features before plopping on the ground, like a lifeless pebble indistinguishable from the rest. “You can’t always do that when you’re in trouble!”
“My necklace! Go!” said Giglosh, pushing Tiam toward the bushes. “My grandmum gave that to me!”
Tiam could see the pendant winking light near the bush’s trunk, but when he reached his hand close to the leaves, the Faustus bushes trumpeted a twisted song that hurt his ears. Its branches thickened to blood-red arms and gripped over his elbow, pulling him in. Finally, his fingers found the pendant and jerked out of the bush as fast as possible. The bush relaxed back into its quiet, manicured beauty and Tiam dropped the necklace into Giglosh’s hand.
“Disgusting things aren’t they, T?”
“I still remember the first time I came here and you pushed me into one.”
“Oh, we were just children then. It seems funny now.”
“It was a month ago.”
“Yeah, but I had my tenth birthday. Double digits, that is. And either way, it’s still funny.”
Sally wasn’t the smartest of girls. She was the dumbest, which given circumstances at home on top of a mandatory fad of thongs and fishnet stalkings, led her to be the sluttiest. She could be found sitting at the tops of school stairs, listening to boys’ exploits with her mouth already hung in the shape of an open-mouth kiss. Her idea of protecting her reputation was to say, in between late-night study room smooches, “This is either the best idea we’ve ever had, or the worst.” It was a trick she’d learned years ago: to give both possible extremes so that it allowed her room to maneuver if things went wrong. No one was dumb enough, though, to fall for this trick. When teachers demanded homework she had not prepared, she’d say, “Wow, well either it was stolen by a stalker who likes to, you know… masturbate to my handwriting, or I just forgot.” She never quite understood why teachers were so stubborn to reason as they marched her to the Dean’s office.
Barry clicked the mic signals off and took his hands from the knobs and dials in front of him. “Good take, guys,” he called out the door, “Want to hear what gold sounds like?” The band shuffled in. He offered sandwiches and sodas before taking a pipe off the shelf and passing the greens around in a circle. In silence, the music played back. Metallic notes danced around snare hits like they were maypoles. “It’s alchemy,” Barry said. “It’s goddamned alchemy.”
On the fifteenth day of the rainy season, I was in the doorframe watching the mud pool in the garden with a Malboro in my hand. I felt defiant, in a way that I knew to be ultimately small, to be a human—a goddamn human—who built the roof over his head and cheekily lit a cigarette as the rest of the world turned to mush, like pulp washing down cement rivers.
The echo of feet bounding inside found me and soon Rachel came to the doorframe with a jar and pail, her raincoat already on.
“Worms!” She shook her head like that wasn’t what she’d planned on saying. “Can I play outside?” I told her sure as long as she stayed in the yard and away from the roses. She leapt over slick flagstones and into puddles like it was the first and last day of her life and, throwing the butt into the rain, I tried to remember the last time I felt like that.