from The Heroic Age

Richard Chetwynd

He's leaning out over the edge of the roof. She once had a broken nose and a broken arm; she's a broken girl in a broken woman. He's leaning out to show me that it's high enough to die if one were to fall. I step toward the dizzy edge and then lean back. I place my hand on his shoulder. Applying a little pressure, I tilt him over the side. He hits the concrete with a frightening thud; gets up slowly, bloodied and wobbly. Then he marches to the ladder embedded in the stucco wall and clamors back to the roof. I extend my hand to help him with the last step. “Why did you do that?” he asked. “To prove you right,” I said. “Now, show me the leak.”

His mother became a carpenter, his sister a bricklayer. His father drank time, and his brother sat against the trunk of an oak. One bird pecked at his brother's eyes, another fought off an interloper, while another was happy with a worm. His mother built three chairs and his sister built a mausoleum. They sat inside together waiting for the door to close. After a while they stopped breathing, but even that didn't help.

She stopped tending to the chickens, keeping the goat out of the garden. She stopped feeding the dog. She lived in the well like a lost frog. When it rained she felt better, like a lost frog. Men came to replace the men who left with grumbling machines and the language of prisons. She was a frog in a well. They buzzed against the walls of her mind like flies in a glass room. When they landed to rest, she sent her frog tongue to greet them. The flies left flying captured her and put her on a train. She felt like a frog on a train. Others cried out, but she was silent as a hitchhiker. A hitchhiker frog on a train.

He's in the yard with his shirt off and a towel over his knee. He shaves from a bucket of cold water. Snowflakes melt on the surface. All the kitchen windows face his way; all the kitchen sinks are full of admiration for what he's done. All the kitchen eyes have their eyes on him. He molts in broad daylight. Only the mirror refuses to see him. It hangs from a crooked wire with a chip on its shoulder. The attention's warm as an incubator bulb. He's the oldest egg in town.

She gave them all names. They gave her a name in turn. She set the sun on fire when she emerged. The clouds rushed away. All the trees waving blue flags abandoned her. She heard their cries of joy. Joy in their cries. The men that arrived didn't kill themselves. There was only sound. Each face was like the other. Each hand had five fingers. The arms were like snakes; they hissed and tightened their grip. She could smell last year's apples fermenting in the grass. She didn't feel a thing and then woke up. She called out their names, the new ones the men left behind.

She married a spoon. A ladle. A hammer and a nail. They lived a honeymoon in a tool box. There was a slight breeze off the sheet-metal. SS Bliss was sailing in. It was sailing out. It had yet to make port. It had radioed the master. Preparations for boarding were underway. She spooned out helpings of love like ice-cream. He hammered it melting to the dock. Once aboard, she ladled tears for soup. The waves upset the bowls, clogging all the bulk-heads. He got fat and couldn't swim ashore. She said the toolbox was dragging her down. By the time they jumped ship, they went straight to the bottom.

Ghosts return to the woodwork. The house is a site to visit. A notebook fills in the gaps. She takes a trolley to the edge of town, takes a bus to the last stop. She walks through the village with her head down. Even the bed-ridden know she's there. Even the rafters, the floorboards. A sign: the name of the village, a black X over it. She rests in the tall grass at the edge of a wheat-field. The next page has a man and his son in a wagonload of carcass. Flies conduct a seminar. They talk of the children. It's because of the children. For the children, they will fly to kingdom come. She draws a crooked blue line from edge to edge. On one side, he stands with a rifle. On the other she stands with a spoon. A battle is about to commence. She lets the wagon take her along the blue line. Hooves like hail hitting the roof; the iron roof on fire pouring down on the flesh of its guests. The house is a site to dig in. The house is a yardstick. The gaps remain gaps. She returns to the woodwork of the page.

The goat has spoken. The chicken is going down with his brethren. Trucks line up in the darkness. A string of red lights, sawdust flies and a sound like ammonia. The numbers are in the numbers. One driver leans against the cab, a cigarette in is hand. He puffs and puffs like a little chicken factory. A processing plant. He wants the men and women inside to speed up the dirty work. He can't wait to get on the road, to be between places. Every time he stops he needs a shrink. Stopping is bull's-eye. The goat told him that; and looking around, he trusts the goat.

He was from a country without a past. He invented it anew every morning. He signed peace treaties in the afternoon. By nightfall he was lurking in wardrobe. His code was Xeroxed and passed down. His agents memorized the juice, defecated the pulp. Hard as we thought, we could do nothing to outwit his ops. He was on the lookout for holy mushrooms in the sauce, dark patches of slander amid the veggies. An evil eye tiptoeing behind a lid. He triple-locked all his locks, spent his evenings cleaning the barrel. You could smell the lube in the pit of your stomach. Tomorrow a new flag will go up the pole. You have to be a well-oiled machine; you have to purr to survive.

Richard Chetwynd was born and raised in Boston.