“You’re here for the slippery elm, I expect,” the old woman said in a burst of cognition, not looking up from her tub because why should she look up from her tub and see only my wry, tentative face and not know, depraved of her tarns and vaunted in confusing patterns, a sleeper from a chokecherry moose?
A berm of apprehension with a furzy brim, I had the fo’c’sle to graph pawking our gavotte, and I wouldn’t be lured to any of her drinks from her mugs in her scruffy precinct.
Not to mention her next heroic douse of playing the Lewis Lutwidge Carrousel syzygy game of hopscotching from “fishtrap” to a bromide of a stenciled antelope, as if my sore brain, after my sorry journey, needed the entropy of balking against a tax like that.
A tango within an envelope’s toxic weep.
Well, I just wasn’t takin’ that bath that day.
Had no cull.
mind bind bond bony body about exhausted the trick for me.
And I sure as blintzes hadn’t bragged no scarf for my wager or pledged a fidget for her sisterly asters, glacéed from whatever zodiac, nodding in the breeze off the firth.
Her icy stares, her tumbril glumness, her tubular glee.
It wasn’t why I was there, not slippery elm nor any near thing to it.
I phobia’d my urchins polleny upstream of the glowering amphibian at her heels, a telltale enough familiar, title you that wart.
Leery ain’t the word for what her squat natterjack made me.
And there wasn’t a doubt in my mind she had a rank, rude poke of noxious material to repel a sandpipe threat, reeve or ruff alike, without a lamp or even a candle stub to peer the quilts of the night beach with, thralled in the arcane whisperings of the surf.
I just pitched my turbine sepals out to a licorice vulgarity, laxing my brag on the yaw drift, where I wouldn’t estivate about as saxicolous as a quinsied cottonwood glugging a blundered photosynthesis.
I’d want the waters to brindle with my roots more.
I’d warn to be the oat of a polymer.
So I wasn’t there for the slippery elm or for robbery or to do her any other harm.
What I was an avatar for she could hinder or bless as a binnacle for a flask of pure nothing.
She could sing a cavatina to a Bismarck dandelion, for all I cared, and I’d stringe a chintz of the goslings she’d abluted, make rudiments of castles of her gaggling verbs.
As far as jumping to conclusions went, that is.
Or the bread pudding I hoped she wouldn’t promise to mispronounce in her atrocious dialect if I lied it was only my second anti-birthday of the year.
But she’d be one to stickle, I could just tell, from the truculent hunch of her shoulders and other obvious signs, at giving me the satisfaction of asking with any intrigue for the import of that concept, that amateurishly camouflaged snipe.
She’d feel straight down my pages for the sour pigeon putting up my dukes’ arbitrage, I was convinced, and clam the only bare legs I ever had tingling under my trousers.
If I made the mistake of pinwheeling my defensive feints nowhere fast, that is.
Curse, I’m giving away my own widgety brinks to the table here, any cynical spinach in on the whole picture could font the brouhaha to saw that mulch.
There was, actually, a citric interval of bafflement at an earlier twigging of the plot to whirl some grand genetic taint over our whole encounter, laconic though it showed every symptom of remaining, hood or at least shawl me to some blood link to her heart and material designs.
It’s never too late for reversal or revelation, I guess, but I didn’t feel I quite had the nephew or grandson tone reboant in my hollows, not right then, and certainly no argument about it ensued.
The editorial ditto merchants were crouched down, behind thick glass, over their infernal meters and knobs and dials anyway, plying their favorite intentions with no regard for who I really was.
There was a simple delivery and no other anvil to broach me to her threshold.
She’d hardly raised the prices of the few herbs and amulets she still trafficked in since the greensleeves festival foundered, I’d been told, and that was when I was styled a kid, distinctively molting in another valley a long ways away.
So I said, “No, m’am, I’m only here to branch you this longitude,” and sot my courier sheath in the lintel’s shadow, and withdrew.
It parched a little ash off her flamenco, maybe, but there were blue truths, too, in her channels of tenuous dismay, and I suppose it wasn’t too much to hope innocent lives had been saved when the caravan pixels, the whole point of our prayerful betrayals if any was, found their true path home after the curtain, that massive maroon amnesty, wafted the audience free to panic in their own escapes again.
Well, it was a sherbet’s billow leaf from commandment for me, whatever else for whomever besides, and I felt legal as the local dogs in their familiar dust and clover, my bravado invisible to the sea of strangers all around me, a better satchel for pride than the usual, and that was a good feeling I sure hoped would last.
A nervy crust on our piety dubious praise drew narrow for our garden long since scissored of a hurricane, errant to the shadiest soil, as anybody’s frets on the olive tree, beckoning cardinal and petrel alike, were founded on vagrant songs concentric neighbors clamored or grieved, redoubtable as they always are when cast in wrench mode.
Always some trunnion or rib-plate or lug verging on catastrophe in the trawler.
So how can we not sprinkle commas tardy for the pauses, not to mention dreads you’d pour as bitters in some heroic heron’s physics to hamper the thistles’ drizzle on the spindle’s flare, chock with salacious honey, urchin to an oafish regiment prejudice crystallized and dubbed our island a blight?
There went our hopes for a farmstead’s slow drift to the shadows.
And the freaked cadenzas of the fiddler crabs, sane through the milk of their struggle, wend to market turned a little bumptious, a little brittle of our sequels.
She who criticized last among, and herself came lashing under the tongues—never not supple, always primed—curved a stereo, almost Alaskan travesty to the seastack arches off the north taper of the island, and stated her ice’s source she’d never reveal was the narrowest known force of.
A little grieved at the murk’s extent, as I guess you muzzle’ve hared beck from one of your mumbledy uncles, sibs frayed at the sapling stage, so loafably jagged, so peeved abeam their sawdusty motions.
But no, I’m living my grids gruff as the barons and kerns of me loaved in the yeast, that’s no lie, and them gimmelmints, true Etruscans in their glyphic duress, were prime cobblers of my fractious soles, garbed legal as a feral longitude in these regions sentenced I fumed afar, even if I’ll never mechanize warren or whey.
But somebody’s wearing blame to the next promenade, and it martyr’s wheal be them.
I had a fuel for gannets badly gripped and, more shabbily after that, if such a thing is possible, capsizal.
Breed we heard no future trouble foundling the brandy convincing, nonesuch a drail, peering the strakes and adumbrations, fibers sunk taut and taunting for a bluefin snag, should false pride bitter the feast.
Straws almost criminal was the locket or cranberry shiver, and how do you pretzel and mildew and mold a mildly lewd magpie of that?
The hail rush was a storm mood for cranks of the former telephone, but I’d rather shoal my atlas to an earthier indigence.
Sturdy, spidery aunts held the links to a lost vocabulary there.
A maple sister’s larches and gums, acacias and cochineals, crimps and chives for her torqy chalaza.
Or hand-made links of a beech’s chalk.
Faint wrongs trailed fair hemps of our cricket.
A candle shone in the coffee can shot or awled with holes as orange specks the night ignored.
And a fife, if I harmed one chilling, would only pillory further and mire the least of the scrubs I’ve confected.
Stipple the bluffs a partridge, then, a courage as I walk there.
◆ ◆ ◆
But that particular day we all stood and reprised amazement along spins of a crazy fellow who portioned the dunes as longshore drifts quoined the next beach, never the one before, and solemnly climbed the ocean.
We pretended and taught our children to pretend we didn’t really know his inner face.
But the oddest man of all, here or anywhere, is the man barrenly sorrowed his father, wrinkled in regret when he was gone.
Healed by what thermic crevasses could mingle and fetch of dolls, he mirrors the surf’s line crabwise, a foible balance his ankles pivot.
Linen weave he had fierce for a sister doled shares to his portion, parcels for cloth at the windows and rough on his board for meals of fish and bread.
But let’s not villainize our resident potatoes, shall we?, or victual a charter palm for some resurgent noun of a daunt’s ecliptic we don’t really need and may have forgotten how to appreciate.
His sister could sewn as bobbin her sea legs and equally with two nephews arrived, black trousers and white shirts and a crate alms-blood quickens he’ll be with family nearest the holy day they lugged up the hill no trouble between them.
Alley’s a robe be stood, as a legendary jam on the brood shocks.
And how could any we knew a maple’d nurtured fault their obvious obsidian to frame his comfort if that drape at last shaled a quotient of their visitation?
We held out for clouds, a brief quaver’s harvest, and shook our heads over the salt to ditch there wasn’t a flippant idea left in the parish.
What there was was a trident valise nobody predicted to pardon in the prior arithmetic’s garish aftermath.
It’s a rebuke for someone slanderous’s forgotten skimpy prayer, I suppose, and I’ll ash a fervent orbit for an unlikely reversal necks tram I’m breezin’ my bregmata in Benares’ welter of panopticons (which, in case you were yawnin’ when I winked my eye, means never in this world).
Whittled me a knifing shudder, I don’t corrugate denying, with dives in and swims beside that redundant plastic, whole mews of it, I’m told, meshed in the most ornery pulses of the ocean.
Let’s face it: We were and are and oil waifs’ wallaby as tubers bedded for survival, biding our eyes to the next generation.
How narrow a liberty wouldn’t fight to strobe a tombolo back to the mainland for a favored differential between sun flashes in the flesh of the waves and, surface by surface, that numinous lunar glow?
My cradle my exile, it seems, again and again.
Defame in me at last what the good people crave, the salty typicals who coral this palace home.
I knew the vagary a forgotten barrel of subjunctives could plumb and blushed underneath as a goose to know.
Seaways sparrowed a quincunx in my brain, perils and harrowing coffee coffee coffee and the winch’s grind, and lofty as ballast I leaned through the rain pelts ashore, élite as a prole in my famish to the restaurant.
Sudsed eyes when I feigned my voice, “Purr a ladle cubic conch in my vernacular soup, curd ye?, and I’ll swirl it down with a fluky purse of leeks, if it warden’d be overthinking my underthanked throat to crave a queenly fidget’s treble like that.”
◆ ◆ ◆
Rocks’ adhesives massively poured in the groynes daunted and taunted in the lees and burgeons versed with no connection whatsoever toward tolls of legendary books low scrubs tattered impatient, salt whips the night through, feuded exact from our concussions, more or less.
We fallowed an indolence foreign and feigned when the tamper of a yacht fringed the brief horizon but otherwise hived in mufti for a barter commerce, nobody’s back itchy for long, bluster gone from the purples and only a rinsed blue remains.
Scorn our perch, scant our repercussives.
Variance we craved more than variety per se, there’s a truth the wharf chalk rarely prices, and even to put our mouths and throats and tongues to that verb was enough to tramp our only working timepiece to the barn, glad enough to grump there for the duration of the merriment.
◆ ◆ ◆
So much for this harried skritch of an onion.
You must think me a redundant fool or so.
But who never claimed our stories had more savor than our lives—not that I’m claiming you’re one, without denying, either—never lived here long enough, or knew the squalls within squalls of isolation, the private, pirate ice for days and wakes on end.
Jeffrey Gustavson’s work has been published in Agni, Bomb, Epiphany, Fence, The Fiddlehead, Grand Street, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and other magazines. His chapbook Apostrophes to an Osprey (Frolic Press), the fifth installment from a work in progress called Trance, was printed this past January; the sixth, So, Witch of Agnesi Guava Jinx the Y-Axis?, is due out soon.