You gonna use the restroom before we go? says Reb, she of flowers and the chicken shit she feeds them.
Go where? you say.
On in this conversation. To where you, Palo, tell me, Reb, what you’re gonna tell me. To when you’ve said what you will’ve said.
Will you be with me there? you say.
I’ll be there and here, where I need to finish fertilizing.
I did it on the train, you say.
Spread it over the whole county, did ya?
I held it a long time for you, you say, holding out the flowers.
For me? Thank you. How your hands must suffer to have held them flowers so long. How long precisely you been holding them?
I’ve been walking –
Where you been, Palo?
In the woods collecting sticks.
Where you left your pants.
And my sticks.
What happened, Palo?
It’s a long story.
Ain’t got all day.
It’ll come. What am I to do to help it come?
That’s what I’m asking.
That’s what I’m saying.
Then say it.
I’m asking what I’m supposed to do.
I live in a world where people do and do and do and never get done with what they need to do and you live in a world where all you do is decide what you should do.
I’m not sure how to say it.
I’m saying I got things to do.
I’m saying there’s nothing worth doing to do.
I’m saying there are infinite things to do, and I want to have a little less to do, in which case I got to go do something.
I will have had sex with Antoinette.
We live in a world where I have sex with Antoinette.
Ain’t none of ‘em good options, but of the bunch I choose have had.
I have had sex with Antoinette.
Stop saying that!
* * *
I give you this story as a gift, a sadgift, a gift picked from your garden, a remembrance of our brief encounter, affair, love, it’s not mine to give, it’s Palo’s, but I give it anyway, it’s yours, it’s all I can leave you, I go, except this mess, I go, these pages and petals and slosh and mildew, I go, this relationship, I go, I can’t breathe, I go.
* * *
She beats you about the head with the wooden spatula with which she scrapes out the coop. You collapse. She continues. You are not sure if you go unconscious or numb or feel each blow like one who is stoned, if one who is stoned does not go unconscious or numb or is in some way able to separate oneself from one’s body, transcend one’s pain, be other than oneself, be above oneself. Your body quivers involuntarily with each blow. She beats you in a wild rhythm until she is finished. She finishes. You don’t want her to be finished. She rakes your cheeks with her fingernails and ravages your face with her teeth and gouges her thumbs deep into your mouth. She finishes. She stands above you, gasping. She hits you in the ear. She throws the spatula across the room. She lies down beside you. She is crying. No, she is sweating. She is finishing.
I’m sorry, she says.
No, you say, I am.
You ain’t what you were. I fucked up your face.
It’s not my face. It’s a bird.
I’m not gonna cry.
Okay, you say. Should I take my ring off?
I already cried. While you walked. Cried and cried and cried. I’m done with it. Whole county knows what you done. Broadcast it to the whole world. You’re beating your head against the internal dead end and I get a goddamn sucked-on stick in the mail.
Good, you got it.
Don’t know why you couldn’t least be quiet.
It was a mistake. An urge in the moment. Something inside, you say, told me to externalize the metaphysics of being, to –
Stop using words.
To engage existence, to –
You did it with another woman.
To make a lot of noise, to –
To roar like a lion.
To scream, you say, like a lone mountain lion in heat.
Like a baby being stepped on.
* * *
I can’t go. I cannot get out. I have nolife outside of the story and I want to be outside. If I’m mold I want to be outside mold, orange fungus on a tree, if I’m mildew I want to be outside mildew, pink mildew on high white mountain snow, if I am excrement, I want to be a green cow pie in the pasture or a yellow dog terd in the park or purple bear scat on the trail, if I am to go, I don’t want to go in a toilet. I go. I cannot go.
* * *
You try to look at her, but your eyes don’t work. Your mouth doesn’t work either, but she knows what you say. You have lived together for a long time. Your nose no longer exists; you can’t smell her; you want to. The ear of yours that she didn’t hit hears the children stretching to see, to hear, to smell, to taste. You touch her face with yours. It’s damp. Your face stings.
You got the salt I sent, you say.
Best chicken we’ve eaten in months. Some on the table for you.
You eat it. I don’t care about me. I want you to finish destroying me, you say.
You’re only saying that to feel better about yourself.
What do you want me to say? you say.
What do you want me to do? you say.
What do you want to do?
I want this to not have happened. I want to not be me, you say.
That’s not something to do. I guess I want you to live day-by-day with this affair, with this shit you’ve done, and add new things you’ve done atop it like coral. I will always hate that part of you but I want it to just be a part of you and I want you to be with us. I want you to die and not go away and I don’t want to smell your rot because you are the man you were but you’re not and if you die I’ll kill you so I guess I want you to feel like shit and I want you to not want to exist for a while but don’t tell me about it for the love of God just make sure I know that’s how you feel.
You forgive me?
Forgive? What the dirty fuck does that mean? No, I don’t forgive you. I want you to shutup and go collect sticks. We’re out of beans. We’re out of rice. Go clean your face up. And don’t make a scene out of it. It’ll heal, eventually, sorta, minus the ear. And there’s no bringing your nose back. And put on some pants so I can stop thinking about that roadkill raccoon. Put on pants and put sticks in them and shove your words up your ass for godsake, the kids are listening.
* * *
* * *
You think for a long time, lying there with a maimed and crusty face, or you don’t think but are aware of Reb’s mounting annoyance and know the only thing left to do here on the floor is to have sex with her or get up and go to the bathroom and clean up and get on with the day, but you are pretty sure she won’t have sex right now, make up sex doesn’t exist and you’re not made up besides, but you feel the need urge compulsion to say something before getting on with it, and after all this time all you can think of or not think of to say is I love you, which you say into a silence that you feel you’ve sinned against, for you receive no response, and after enduring the silence you broke for a while you get up to go fetch a bucket of water because the water doesn’t work in the bathroom, it must not work, it’s never worked, and you’ll need the bucket of water to lave your fouled face and flush the toilet, which you need to use again, and the bucket is in the bathroom and the water outside, so you need to go into the bathroom to get the bucket and then outside for water and then inside to use the bathroom so you try the door to the bathroom to get the bucket and discover the door is locked and the bathroom is in use, and there you stand, waiting for who must be your children to finish in the bathroom, wondering who you are, what you look like, what you have become, what that even means, or perhaps none of those, because you are Palo, except this last, the only question that means anything, what are you to do now? you can’t be more precise, and you have no answer but you are doing something, going to the bathroom, not yet, going toward the bathroom, feeling along the walls, hoping to make it, going and waiting, your wife crying or not but getting up to put the cut flowers in water so they don’t die a lost investment, so they can be sold for money for food or perhaps you have some faith yet that the cut flowers are being saved for beauty or perhaps all your faith is used in going, in believing you’re going to the bathroom, in believing that it’s enough for now to go on, hoping to go to the bathroom, groping for how to go, waiting to go, believing there is somewhere to go, a private place to relieve yourself, a place to go.