Excerpt

Sing the Song

Meredith Alling

December 2, 2016 
The following is from Meredith Alling’s collection, Sing the Song. Alling lives and works in Los Angeles. Her short fiction has appeared in Tin House, No Tokens, The Fanzine, Spork, The Guardian, and elsewhere. She is also on twitter as @meremyth.

Go Quiet

A stubborn hand is taking me away. I pluck a raspberry from a bush and launch it with my thumb. My ankles drag on the ground. The damp air wets my hair. “What in the fuck,” I croak. Something sharp cuts my leg and it feels OK. I go heavy like a cow. I go heavy like a dead water buffalo, hot and swollen in the sand, stomach about to burst. The thing capturing me is breathing hard into my ear. It is working hard. If I had a soft bunny ear I would graze its chin and change its life. We would swim in the river together, my ears gliding behind me. I would dive under and pull it down with me and touch its throat gently with a rock.

I’ve had damaged ears for as long as I can remember. I usually cover them with a hat. Or I cover them with little discs that are like socks for ears. I smear them with eucalyptus oil and pat them dry. They require care. The damage is irreversible.

When I was small, my Gram liked to say, “What are you brandishing?” And I’d say, “What?” And she’d say, “What are you brandishing?” And I’d say, “My damage?” We did this like a play. We performed this to each other in front of no one because there was no one else.

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I see vinyl siding here and vinyl siding there and we are very clearly between. The mud and the leaves are familiar below. I filter through the darkness. A gray night cloud. A streetlight. A gutter. The thing cups its hands under my armpits and now that’s the pull. I know my armpits are yellow. Maybe they’ll stain, peel off like glue.

I dreamed of being taken like this. In my dream I escaped by opening a window and pushing my organs out one by one. I watched my liver run down a hill. We reconvened in a cave and my guts crawled back into my body. I thanked each one for its service. Then I slept in a ball and woke up in the morning and left the cave and found my skin tighter than it was before.

When I was young and first noticed my damaged ears, I pulled a plate from the cupboard and smashed it over my head then went out to the yard and walked around with plate fragments in my hair and blood dripping down my face. I marched from the yucca to the lemon tree and back again. I did this several hundred times, my Gram watching from the kitchen window. The rain plopped fatly on the patio. It seeped into the dirt and shined up the lemons. It soaked into my shirt and turned the blood pink and blurry. I pulled a piece of plate out of my hair and put it on the ground and stomped it. The rain dampened it and I used a rock to grind the plate bits into a rough paste. I rubbed the paste into the skin under my eyes. It cut, but just a little. I sat down on the ground and let the paste massage my issues. It burned, which meant it was working. I could bottle the paste and sell it. Fine porcelain crystals exfoliate and tenderize. I went down on my back and let the rain wash it away. It traveled down the sides of my face and some landed in my damaged ears. Do not rub off; sprinkle water and let the paste dissolve. Can also be used to add luster to the ear canal. The rain stopped abruptly. I stood up and dripped for a while. I wrung out my hair and some plate sliced my palms. I pulled a lemon off the lemon tree and bit it open and squeezed the liquid onto my hands. I smacked them together and the wounds tightened. Lemon juice is a fine replacement for antiseptic. After applying, lick off to engage the antibacterial qualities of your saliva. My Gram turned away when she saw that part.

I hear a sweet song like distant chirping. I am on the cold ground. There is a silk pillow under my head. Large shadows move around me and there is work being done. The thing is building or destroying or both. I feel places where teeth are missing. My fingernails throb. I think about how it would be not to be here. If I could be somewhere else I’d be under my gold blanket watching TV with the lights off. My face blue and my eyes soft.

The best place to be for my ears is under water. I dive deep in the ocean. I get in the bathtub and only my face rests above water. My hair swirls. My hips relax. Sweat collects on my lip and I lick it off. Water smacks against my ears and goes in and out.

And then my Gram comes into the bathroom and flips the light switch off and on. She says, “Are you going to stay in there all day? You’re going to turn into a prune.” Her words are muffled under the water and I smile. She flips the switch a few more times until I sit up and cover my chest. “The water is brown,” she says. “You aren’t washing hard enough. People think they don’t need to wash their thighs, but they do.” She drops a washcloth into the bath with me and I remove one hand from my chest to grab it. She crosses her arms and I rub the washcloth over my right thigh. “Good,” she says. She turns off the light before leaving the bathroom and I wash the other thigh in the dark.

It is pure dark so we must be in a private place where I could do some harm. Total dark. Shadows more like energy blobs. I rub my cheek on the cold silk. I have a little thought: there is no wrong time to acknowledge power. Power as strength and capacity. Power as going heavy as a cow, the peaceful animal.

Are ears shells? My Gram stomps around the house. If she cared at all, she would stop with that. We slide past each other on our socks other times. We nod a greeting. She thinks I have no memory. Maybe a dog doesn’t remember if you cut off its tail when it’s a puppy, but maybe it does. The long part of the tail in some trash heap next to an empty potato can. Maybe it finds its way into the can and coils up in the starchy runoff.

I went to a therapist once and he hypnotized me. I was charmed into believing I was a baby and I shit on his chaise lounge. It came out my underwear and my red plaid dress. I don’t remember doing it. I woke to him standing against the wall, his head next to the stone Buddha head on his bookshelf. His lips were white. My Gram hit me with a magazine when we got to the car and told me I’d never hold the cat again. When we got home, she took the cat out to the backyard and shot it with her gun. I went upstairs and filled the tub. “Don’t drown,” she said through the door. “Burgers for dinner.”

I don’t move, 6000 pounds. The night does not move. The sun has burnt out. Now I know it is building. It is a building, a house for me. I will escape out the window, organ by organ, lungs holding hands. Or I’ll get old and bent in there.

Once in awhile I go fully deaf. Magic relief. I lie down and grind my heels into the carpet for a total pleasure effect. This is my prime. I imagine I’m wearing diamond earrings. I imagine I’m being launched into the air by a group of loving friends clutching a parachute. They launch me and launch me and I look down at their happy faces. They are all shiny hair and muted colors. They are people I’ve never seen before but they know me so well. They know I need this. They respond appropriately to my signals. The fantasy ends when the sound turns back on. I stand up and walk to the mirror and look at my gray eyes, my gray neck.

My Gram does not know how to be. She wakes up at 3:30 am for eggs. She smokes and I clean up her ashtrays. She leans in a doorway and I dump them into the trashcan under the sink and then return them to their spots: the middle of the stove, the small table by the door, the windowsill, her bedside table, the top of the toilet. She coughs ugly. She is trying her best. She doesn’t mean to point out my dirt. I assume that I came from somewhere but there is no evidence. I assume that she loves me but there is no evidence.

I smell a sharp flower. It pinches my nose, sits like a stone between my eyes, cools my forehead. I hope there are pebbles built into the walls of my house. I want to press my arms against them and see indents in my skin. I hope the thing knows how heavy I am, that my bed will need bolsters. If my bed is just regular I’ll fall right through.

I try to lift my arms. They stay down. How is the moon nowhere? I scan up trying to find the sky. It’s there because I can see weak dots of stars but the rest is a smear. Left, right, forward is a smear. Just the lurch of the blob now and again. It is incredibly busy. I admire that level of hard work. Physicality vibrates to let me know I’m not dead. I was a fuzzy calf once, brown-haired.

The eucalyptus oil makes my ears shine. Sometimes I hold a hand mirror in front of me and admire them. I turn my left cheek, and then my right cheek, and then I look straight on at the glossy peaks. I often think about cutting them off—just clipping them—the way I used to with the ears of my stuffed animals. I got badly in trouble for this. I just wanted their heads to be smooth. I kept the amputated ears in a plastic bag under the bed. I would take them out and arrange them on the floor. Bear ears and monkey ears and dog ears. I loved the speckled ears of the dalmatian. I would lie down and place them over my eyes.

The bag of ears was discovered and burned. I burned them as instructed, one by one. Which reminds me: I could cut my ears off and burn them. I could burn them anyway.

The thing is lifting my pillow and me. The pillow stays under my head. I’m in constant spinning. We’re going inside of my building, my home. It is so much darker. I thought it was pure dark before but I was wrong. I feel my power. I do have power. I reach up and grab onto something hot and sticky and wet. I tug and tug until it comes loose. I hold it up to my nose and inhale deeply and it is a fish. I open my hand and it dances in my palm.

I do not realize that I am dropping until I am down. Is that flying? I hit something. I grip the fish in my hand and crawl on my elbows. Hard to move 6000 pounds but I do. I use my eyes for nothing but there is sound everywhere; loud, low notes I haven’t heard before. I could have been swallowed and now I’m being expelled. I could be hearing throat. I sweat and I know I’m not dead. I am keeping this fish alive. I love it. I want it to be fine. I want it to have a successful life of eating and spawning. We’re both breathing. We’ve got air around us. I think I can hear the river now. If I can get us there, we can swim—fish, cow, and rabbit. We can dive deep and go quiet.

 

 

From SING THE SONG.  Used with permission of Future Tense Books. Copyright © 2016 by Meredith Alling.




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