I was a spider when you were a baby, I spun my web in a far corner of your nursery where I could watch while you slept and woke, while you were rocked by the window and fed.
One night, very late, your eyes opened and you laid there on your back in the darkness like a small man submerged, and I descended upon a thread, landing on the slick mahogany railing of your crib to be near you. You saw me and you werenít afraid. Your hand, a plump and creased and quilted star, reached. You slept, and I slept.
In the morning: Oh, God. Jack. Kill it. Kill the thing. Hereís a Newsweek. Donít you remember what Mother said about spiders in the nursery? Donít you remember what Mother said about . . . (end).
And the world was fire, then water. And the water was everywhere. A herd pressed around me then, and there was a sound, a cupped and secret sound, like hands over ears. A herd pressed around me -- a great rush of fraternity, a pagan sameness, a blind race that escalated from brotherhood to war. My parts seemed indistinguishable. The tail beside me was mine, the tail in front of me, the quicksilver undulations to my left and right. Time stretched and sailed and stalled. The only thing outside of myself was a long rectangle of light above (below?) me. It peeled back and the light pooled in on us/me, and there was fear, and touch and catch and ascension.
I was a goldfish when you were a boy. I lived in a cocktail glass beside your bed. The glass was from a casino, and stolen; your father had accidentally wandered from a blackjack table with it clutched in his palm. Your mother washed it for me in the sink using mild soap and her fingers until it squeaked. Her hair was tied up off her hot neck, her lower lip between her teeth, and she watched your father walk behind her in a big mirror hung over the sink. I, in my plush triangle of cold, rippling clear, watched you.
You named me Steve, after the gas man. Steve, Steve, the wonder-fish. You assumed that I could be taught tricks, that I would remember them. And I did remember them. The Christmas before youíd received a magic kit, replete with a black top hat and cape, and you incorporated it into my preliminary sessions of training.
Watch, you said. I spun within your hand.
Steve! You said, Steve, the wonder-fish! And bowed.
You got sick and it was bad sick -- sick with fevers, with night-fevers. A doctor came and shook his head and your fatherís hand. Your grandmother came, a priest. The priest read to you and, just before he left, smiled at me and tapped at my glass.
You need a friend, there, little buddy, he said, a little fish like you could die of loneliness.
One night, after your mother had cried all she could cry and wandered off to bed in her pink robe clutching her dog-eared paperback of Jaws, I swam close and idled there, watching you. Your face was the color of skim milk bruises and blood and skin stretched tight over knuckles. Your lips were chapped deep and cracked. Your eyes rolled beneath their lids, and I waited. I waited for your eyes to open and one eye opened and when it did it was trained to me.
I thought, what is there, cradled there in that eye like a coin in a palm? What lives, what circus legacies, what fish, what fern, what parable? There were flashes of things, of crown jewels; primordial sink; battle hymns; wall street; Oldsmobiles; of swimming. And one thing. One thing of course, a constant like a split cell or jiggling quark, some hallowed throat-clear of the cosmos, simple, perfect and irreversible.
Steve, you said, and your eye eased shut.
Before dawn the fever broke. You woke and asked for juice, for cheeseburgers. You put two fingers into my glass and I squeezed between.
My fish knows tricks, you said. Your mother, her weeping punctuated by rosary beads, an ancient mix of knitting needle and abacus, nodded and said, of course.
The fevers stopped. It was one of those things, they said, the doctor, your father, everyone. Kids are so resilient. And, really, no one had ever doubted it at all. You were strong, your heart was strong. Our career in show biz commenced.
Soon after, though, your brother Avery poured peroxide into my glass. I saw him, a slant of Oshkosh shadow in the doorway, and I watched him walk into your room, eyes steady, chin steady, and I saw what was in his hand.
Hi, Steve, said Avery.
I saw a dark bottle with a white label. I saw a white lid and a clear liquid that radiated before me like heat from a pavement. I breathed in(end).
And the world was fire, then water. And the water was everywhere. A herd pressed around me then, and there was a sound, a cupped and secret sound, like hands over ears. A herd pressed around me- a great rush of fraternity, a pagan sameness, a blind race that escalated from brotherhood to war. My parts seemed indistinguishable. The tail beside me was mine, the tail in front of me, the quicksilver undulations to my left and right. Time stretched and sailed and stalled. The only thing outside of myself was a long rectangle of light above (below?) me. It peeled back and the light pooled in on us/me, and there was fear, and touch and catch and ascension.
I am a girl who lives in your neighborhood on your street, in your home. Our toothbrushes, necks wound like swans, stand together in a glass on the bathroom sink.
Here is where we live: here, in a town on the water.
Itís Saturday night, that kind of night. We have come from a bar and people; we are miles away from anything.
Itís warming up; itís the last weekend of winter. We wear hats and gloves but we donít have to. We hold hands but we donít have to. The tide is in. The ocean sighs to our left, steady there as the curve of a spine.
There is a bright moon above us. A big, heroic neon sign of a moon, buzzing in our ears like fevered breath.
Oh, god, you say, and cough. In my next life Iíll be the moon, I say, and you say, the mule?
The moon, I think, hanging low over your town on a summer night like a phosphorus dinner plate, and for you I will become a lidded gaze, drunk and tired and resigned, hidden from sight and constant as breath, as my breath, as yours.
Of course, I say, the mule.
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