Scoundrel Time

After Math

Geniuses

The boys always planned to be geniuses. Papers spread over the tabletops, numbers on screens. Their gaze has missed something. The girl in a box in the darkness of the closet, hands folded, trinkets worn round her neck motionless. Once happy to have been on that bus. Who chooses to be anyone’s daughter? The plait of her dark hair with an edge to it nearly like a blade. The geniuses can’t be forced into looking.

__________

Pond Water

Inside by the back door, a plastic bucket of cold water holds two Nishikigoi. Their shadows flicker across the pink plastic and make her think of the rotating paper lamp in her childhood nursery. Before now she never realized how much the red bucket has faded.

Because of the superiority of her pond, architectured for their well-being, her koi have been properly finished, meaning they’ve reached their highest potential, and certainly must win a prize at the Koi Club judging. She sits inside the vestibule on the cool slate floor across from the bucket while the sun moves west in the sky. The fish appear to hang suspended in the water.

As per the experts’ advice they haven’t been fed for five days. Perhaps their bodies have begun to cannibalize themselves. She herself can’t feel her own shrunken stomach; the ache of hunger dissipated the third day.

It grows late and she can’t so much see the pink bucket as remember where it rests in the dark. She feels her way on hands and knees across the cold slate, and kneeling beside the bucket reaches inside the water to take Albert, the larger of the pair, into her hand. He lets her. She brings the fish to her mouth. He remains passive in her palm. She could eat him up, she could. She returns him to the water, with its now spoiled pH: it’s taken only a moment.

The handle of the bucket cuts into the flesh of her hand as she travels the moonlit path to the pond, where unceremoniously she dumps the Nishikigoi. She remembers something about a fairytale—was it a certain spell?—the nursery lamp splashing shadows over the ceiling. Someone read the story to her, a man whose breath smelled like stagnant water. Something can be ruined in an instant, without care. She turns back toward the ancient house.

__________

Friendliness

This whole social media thing gets me down. IRL being social isn’t a priority of mine. I don’t enjoy parties, wedding receptions, holiday get-togethers. But management encourages us to use social media (have a personality but avoid expressing political opinions and certainly no posts about the company’s culture), and a guy in the tech industry nearing fifty years of age can’t afford to fall behind. How many friends do you have on Facebook? a coworker asked me the other day in the break room. I’ve got over four thousand, she said. Her eyes were bright and her mobile upper lip moved over her front teeth rabbit-like. I told her I hadn’t looked at my numbers for a long time, which was true. I’d have to check.

Sixty-two friends, mainly work acquaintances. My wife is my friend. Melanie has hundreds of friends. But I don’t think she knows them either. She’s even shyer than I am: if we’re forced to go to a party, she’ll take a glass of wine and sit somewhere in the shadows and observe. It doesn’t add up.

This having friends on Facebook is like being the last kid in class chosen in Farmer in the Dell. On my first day of school when I joined hands with my classmates to form the big apple pie circle, according to the protocol of the game, Karen Ray pinched the flesh between my thumb and forefinger. The teacher said Karen Ray didn’t mean anything by it. Of course the girl meant something! There are many Karen Rays on Facebook, none of whom I’m friends with. Perhaps she’s married now with a different last name.

I was once friends with my son. He has thousands. He’s nothing like me. In fact that was always his goal: to be nothing like me. He’s twenty-five now, outgoing, good-looking, and plays guitar in a death metal band. When we were friends on Facebook I would click on videos of the band posted on his page, turn the volume down on my laptop, and watch him scream into the microphone.

I never knew when he unfriended me. One day it dawned on me that I hadn’t noticed any new posts from him in my Facebook feed. I’m sure that says something about me. I’m glad he’s a popular guy. I’m glad he’s succeeded. I secretly go to the page and watch his videos in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, the volume off, light from the screen flickering on the dark living room walls. There is something about that anguish in his howling face.

__________

After Math

The blood volume of most mammals is approximately seven to nine percent of ideal bodyweight: six to eight pints. Eight pints equals one gallon—she learned that in school, growing up. The bucket used to scrub the kitchen floor at home, after school, after math class, held two and one-half gallons, but she filled it only partially with water because her thin arms couldn’t lift a full bucket from the sink. The handle cut into her pale, ringless fingers.

Some details imprint themselves bodily, in the mind of the body, the body having a mind of its own.

The body will make a person do what it wants. Legs will fill with what they need to run, to flee a pursuer, blood pumping pumping. Across the city a moon shining low, beacon but unreachable.

The young woman’s blood spilled on the beige linoleum of the police station. Beside the red red pool—a sea—how many pints? It couldn’t be a gallon—one of her flip-flops lay, turned on its side. Where is the missing shoe? Where did it go?

Did the officer who documented this scene because he had to, because he couldn’t get out of doing so, did he wonder that she was taken in the ambulance at least one foot bare?

After the ER, head stitched closed, after she was given new pints of blood, after, where did the mind of her beaten body go?

__________

These stories will appear in A GIRL GOES INTO THE FOREST, forthcoming next year from Dzanc Books.

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