They sit aside one another, two brothers, cleaning dove as the last light stretches and dies. They sit on the porch in two worn metal chairs and work their hands, stopping only to drink from the bottles beside them. They make the same movements for each dove. Mirroring one another. Locked together in this. They pull and pluck the breast feathers until the dark purple of the meat appears. They grab the small knife from their laps and cut where the breast touches the bone. They pull, sliding their fingers into the bird’s chest and bringing them away so that they hold the delicate pearl of meat. Then they place it inside the bowl that sits between them, toss the waste, and take a drink before beginning again.
As with so many next mornings, he contemplated the previous night’s mistakes. A lump shifted under the covers, twisting the sheet from him. He wrenched it back and wrapped it around his waist as he forced himself onto wobbly legs.
“Baby, it’s cold,” the lump said. Then it burrowed under the comforter and was quiet.
A sliver of light peaked through the seam in the blackout shade to guide him across the spinning hotel room until his feet found the cold marble of the bathroom floor. He let the sheet fall so that the only thing he was wearing was his wedding ring. A misfired stream of piss sprayed the tile. He dragged the sheet through it with his foot. The poor maid. Was there a grosser job than Las Vegas maid?
Arlene awoke to the loud purring and uneasy shuffling of Purdy the pregnant barn cat ready to pop. She reached over with a chin scratch to calm the aches of the mother-to-be. Once Purdy gave birth, Mrs. Krieger promised Arlene a kitten to keep as an early eighth birthday present. She couldn’t wait to raise the baby animal the same way the Krieger’s had adopted and raised her on their Wisconsin cattle farm. Every day was a new chore, a new harvest, or a new blossom as the grass grazing field blended into the golden hay field, all rippling like water in the wind. When Arlene’s unwed mother got knocked up once again by a local, she was sent to live in a convent for wayward women near Chicago, where the land swelled with hardened brick and empty pavement. The concept of family wasn’t as black and white as other townspeople liked to preach.
It’s always too late in the day to get through to Dylan, or too early.
‘Dylan . . .’ Annabeth says, going up to the sofa where he has sprawled for the past six months, and looking down at his clammy face.
Either he’s just had a drink and entered a parallel plane where he’s unreachable, or he needs a drink and can’t concentrate. Annabeth feels like rapping on his skull with her knuckles. Hello, is anybody home?
He surprises her by opening his eyes. ‘Going shopping?’ His voice is oiled with inebriation. She looks into those dark pools, once bright, now brackish, searching for the slightest shine of affection. She might as well be gazing at a stranger in a tube train.
In 1415 Henry V of England, convinced he had claim to France by inheritance, invaded. Nearly five years later, he had defeated the French armies and took the princess Katherine as his bride to seal the treaty that recognized him as heir of France. An Invasion, An Offer At least he is young, she thinks. She would ask the messenger for his words, and to tell her his looks, the way he frowned, no laughed, at her father's meager offer. A few minor dukedoms! She already knows that he must have all or nothing. The War, the Wait Would he move over her, she wonders, as he now rides over France, slow, and sure only of a victorious outcome? Que magnifique! Surely he would make strong love after so much war? She is learning the English, to loosen her tongue from its heavy sounds, and blushes at the looseness to come. Consummation She feels his hands hot in hers, listens to his fractured French— he is nervous, bubbling like champagne! And she can only stare, think of the world they will make together, the waiting finally over.
"[s]he set up her threads on a barbarian loom and wove a scarlet design on a white ground, which pictured the wrong she had suffered." from Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book VI Procne, dear sister, into this cloth I have woven our sad story, but the white wool will dry your tears, as it has dried mine. I trust these images to you, worked on a crude loom built from twigs and vines pulled through the window. Remember our servant, old Oryia, how she taught even my stubborn fingers to weave a scene with grace? Her sharp voice comes back to me in chants: The weave tells the woman's life. The cloth reveals a woman's quality. How we laughed under her stern looks! Even her face would smile at such fine fabric, a weave smooth and pure as sand. You will recognize me in this work, in the tight squares of my weave. Do you perceive the royal ship and sails and your husband's cloak (scarlet against the white)? Father always wears stripes. I have also outlined myself with red, my tunic white with innocence. See your husband Tereus charm Father on bended knee? He convinces Father to allow a visit. Eager to see you, I hug my thanks. Now I know that the gods must be punishing us all. The omen of Mother's death is true— I have not escaped the tragedy of my birth. These red crescents show the ocean— our journey on a sea of blood. The tower rises, also colored red with the shame of Tereus's deeds. Sister, I did not know how to display his violence . . . I cannot even bear to think of it, his heaviness on top of me like a storm. Procne, I long to see your face. On the voyage, I dreamed of our talks, the walks we would take together, arms around each other's waists, our heads so close they touch. Oh, to be girls again, our only trouble setting the loom for our next tapestry. This next part is not as clear, but you must see: I screamed curses at your husband for his actions, and he cut out my tongue. This I show you, and how I bled and bled red from my mouth. I traded my jewelry for thread, and wove this sad message under twelve quarter moons. Dear sister, my story is told. Come quickly, for I am done with weeping.
A man and a woman walk the sand only they and the gulls, the sky four shades of blue, horizon a white mist. They stand in surf under a rounding moon dull as an antique coin, sand sinking under their feet. If this was a romance, they would walk holding hands, then watch green waves collapse into smooth brown planes of glass. He would stand behind her and she would lean on him while the wind touched his face with her hair. If they were strangers, they would have walked from opposite directions, each stopping to watch the cawing gulls swoop, wind-jerked, over red guts, fight over silver heads left by a fisherman. If they crossed their arms into Xs tight and hard as pretzels, eyes closed to the gulls, to the blues and browns and whites of this scene, the wind would say good-bye for them, their mouths and ears closed to this beach, to each other. Neither knows how it is supposed to go.