Rich Ives

Let me present myself unequivocally. I am dissatisfied with the circumstances of my existence. I no longer find a reasonable correlation between my sincere and deeply difficult efforts and the results, which have not been adequately forthcoming. I am vexed. I am disturbed at my thoroughly inadequate progress. My disagreements with the universe have grown profoundly aggravational. I have become almost fully saturated with aggressive and disagreeable positions of opposition. My discomfort has grown to unacceptable proportions.

I've had just about enough of this shit.

Beyond the misapplication of the laws of physics, which resulted in my temporarily repositioned right arm, I am evincing no further physically damaging inconsistencies with the laws of nature, insofar as they are, to this point in my shitty little life, known to me.

It has been revealed to me through an unimpeachable source that the man whose grudgingly rendered assistance to me has proved to be absolutely necessary is now most certainly dead.

It is not true that we live on an island, but it is true that the swamp, which is only slightly less dangerous than the mountains on the other side, must be crossed by boat unless you have spent most of your life here learning its tricks. Many stories exist of foreigners who have tried to cross on foot, but it should be duly noted that these stories are not told by survivors. They are second and third hand accounts derived from questionable sources and told only by the resentful natives. There are no alligators or poisonous snakes, despite the exaggerated stories, and quicksand is rare, but the water is foul and the landmarks quickly changing. You might wonder, then, why we have continued to live here. I once asked the same thing and was invited to stay. It's the way we choose to answer questions. We do not believe our opinions are more valuable than the opinions of people we do not yet know. Offering evidence and experience is of much greater value.

I was given only one piece of advice: You don't have to leave home to get lost.

Strangers believe the people of this village are gentle and kind. Some say they welcome strangers. This is not what we think about. If it is true, it is not because we choose to be gentle and kind.

The first body was found by a young girl in an abandoned playhouse behind the butcher shop that had burned down when the bridge fire climbed the hillside and also took two houses, fortunately unoccupied at the time, as well as the old gas station Joseph Stanley had converted from a storefront for his two sons, hoping they might finally learn to provide for themselves. This was no longer possible with the only vehicle access to our village destroyed, and the station too had been unoccupied.

The body had been there a long time. The police found no evidence of burns or smoke inhalation and no sign of foul play. The body had been placed there, the victim having succumbed, the autopsy concluded, to "exposure" in a much drier location. The approximately twelve to fifteen year old white male with no distinguishing marks had not died in the playhouse and was dead before the fire spread from the bridge through the town.

It is not uncommon to find the blue eggs of foreigners in the nests of our inattentive mothers.

Follow along now because you will be expected to answer questions. It's not my idea. Life just does that.

I hate it when I appear to be someone else.

Each spring the vast fecund moat that surrounds us slowly yellows with iris, pond lily, skunk cabbage. Water buttercups and even the blackbirds in the cattails begin playing variations on this transplanted sunshine theme of brightness and warmth. As the yellow fades, the heat increases to an intensity only the natives do not find unimaginable. The odor of change we have heard others refer to as "decay" is to us merely a companionable and evocative accompaniment to our awareness of change, which we have become comfortably accustomed to, and we consider it so steeped in our homeland's essence that it can bring tears to our eyes, even though it is generally misperceived by visitors as it begins to fill our thick summer air with the familiar rich reminder of the teeming progress of the life within which we must find our place.

I do not want to decide if the glass of warm water is half full or half empty. So I drink it.

Are you waiting to see if I will ask for more?

The inhabitants can be annoyingly pleasant. This makes one dangerously agreeable. Sometimes you don't even feel your overly generous actions were your own idea.

You must keep this to yourself.

Tell yourself that.

We do.

Yes, it's true. People have to suffer far too many indignities. So let's not pretend. Let's just offer them all at once.

It's also true that we remain poorly qualified for the positions we occupy. This keeps us well-suited for the indignities which are expected.

The man seems to be having some difficulty walking. He seems to be misunderstanding the relationship between his feet and the sidewalk. Perhaps his head has been disturbed by a blow to its available surface. Perhaps I have participated somehow in his discomfort. Perhaps I have disengaged the space between the surface of his head and the bat I am carrying. Perhaps even suggesting you consider such a possibility, although I have in truth taken no such action, has caused someone pain.

When she screamed, she felt as if something had left her body. She thought it was refusing to leave the room, and she became frightened even more because she did not want to leave the room to get away from it.

She could not remember what it was that she had screamed until she heard the knock on the door. Then she remembered she had screamed, "Don't come in."

And no one came in. But someone was still knocking on the door. The knocking continued, and soon enough she became calm. As if someone had always been knocking on the door and would never come in.

It was not until nearly the end of her life, after many years of wondering what her recurring dream meant, that she opened the door.

When you feel like that, taking a drink of water invites the ocean to swallow you. Walking up a flight of stairs transforms necessity into a kind of physical rebellion. Kissing the back of your hand becomes so lonely you might never speak again.

A toad's breath away from a miracle. That's how she described her recovery.

Romantic, isn't she?

"Amush and amush with oversaturated earthly sustenance."

The poet who left us said that.

"Celebrated" is not a word that should be used to describe this man's social position. Perhaps that's why he left us. But it's true that others have stayed with less reason.

The police have found a photograph of the dead young boy. At least their initial speculations, based largely upon the positioning of a gold tooth, have led them to believe the body of the young boy belonged to the same boy in the photograph. The photograph was found in a tupperware container holding three pink dice and a pornographic key chain in the trunk of a car that had apparently fallen through the bridge at the time of the fire and sunk out of sight in the marsh below. The car had no fire damage, leading the police to suspect someone had attempted to drive it across the bridge while everyone's attention was on trying to save the houses, not realizing, or perhaps not caring, how much damage the fire had done to the bridge, which could no longer support the car.

But where was the driver? And why hadn't the fire inspector wondered about the uncharred ends of the broken bridge planks that had given way?

Suddenly I felt inexplicably pleased with myself.

It's because I must punish myself that I tell you this.

A man sits in the bleachers watching Pee Wee baseball. He can't seem to sit still. He is excited. Or agitated. Perhaps both. He's wearing a dark suit in the hot sun, his knees propped too high, giving him a childish demeanor. He removes a small pink metal box from his pocket and looks in, long and slow, as if it were very deep inside there. He closes the box and opens it again.

Opens and closes, opens and closes.

Perhaps he has been in there a long time.

The game ends and no one claims him.

Opens and closes.

Bulrush and eelgrass. Pussy willows with yellow-headed blackbirds swaying from their broken brown heads like cotton spilling. The old boats of my hands idly pass through the water striders and impossibly green scum between the reeds. The sun is so bright I imagine it's burning out. I raise my hands, and an owl's two sets of claws replace them. They reach towards the darkened sky. They're drawing pictures in the distance behind the sun. They're shaping and caressing the air. They keep speaking for a long time. For a moment they seem loud, rough with yelling in the sharp needle grass. A cloud passes and suddenly I can see the blood on them.

I decide that it's an amazing wound.

I didn't have a name for what I was feeling, so it didn't go away.

The young girl who found the body of the young boy was named Faith. That's not as unusual as it might seem, for there is a small group of Quaker descendants on the island. They are not a very active congregation, and they do not hold fully to the lifestyle of their elders, who still live in New England, but the heritage given them by their parents and grandparents has not been completely abandoned. There are those among them who believe that Faith's discovery of the body was a sign. The boy died of "exposure." Some die of what they are not exposed to. Faith discovered it.

The day after Faith discovered the boy's body, Faith found on the porch of her house a hen pheasant, her head wrapped in orange peal, the sleeve of a purple velvet robe beneath the draped body.

I have been drawn to the relentless sun and the timeless water. And to the silence between the cries of blackbirds. I feel the muck of life beginning between my toes, and I step out into the thick green algae and fecund murk. It coats my thirsty body.

An augury of ascending owls may be winging the dark's future into my setting dream.

The boy was not clothed. A bundle of white shirts were perched atop the charred couch. Each shirt soft with use.

Except one.

I did not wish to fondle the stiff lip of the dead child's collar.

Trouble because trouble is the body we live in.

Faith as innocent as water, but not yet as full of life.

A sound like the grinding machinery of a donkey's voice.

And then a silence.

And in the silence, wedge-headed, waffling aloft like the words of some lantern-jawed blue stutterer grown used to a lack of words, a heron wings the impossible load of his body into the air and, against reason, it holds him as he crosses the obsidian water's broken surface, dawn climbing slowly out of the horizon's sharp bleeding slice, spilling its wound across the opening sky.

No one knew that a pair of wet shoes had been next to the pile of white shirts. Except faith. Faith knew. She told no one, but she put them on and wore them till she reached the foot of the burnt bridge. Every step of the way she squealed in the wet interior of the boy's shoes, the wet leather rubbing its complaint against her feet.

Perhaps she imagined the shoes were trying to speak to her own shoes, dangling from her fingers by their shoelaces as she walked. Perhaps she was imagining herself as the young boy, trying to make sense of what she had found. Before she told anyone.

What might the boy have been feeling?

Why had his shoes already been wet?

When she removed the boy's complaining shoes at the bridge, her feet had already gone red, raw from the irritant leather. She walked barefoot the rest of the way to the sheriff's office, her own shoes still dangling from her fingers by their knotted strings.

I imagine Faith, frozen in incomprehension as she tries to explain, the sheriff patient, avuncular with benevolent authority, not yet realizing the nature of her news. And then the words gushing forth like a spurting pustule, yellow with fear. Faith blubbering. Faith ejaculating wildly until she comprehends that her meaning has been received.

I imagine that it was my tongue, my belief that released her words from the bondage of her fear.

The car askew like a surprised hat. Its insides out. Faith asleep in the still water beside the bridge. Asleep for a long time.


The driver of the car was never found. I think he lives here now.

Faith was not a victim. Life killed her, as it does, sooner or later, all of us. But it did not kill her quickly, and I can still see her elderly hunch and slow progress along the road from the bridge as she moves on, passing again and again the same long view of the swamp each day of her continued existence.

Something rises from the water each evening, owl-eyed, hunting.

It does not question why.

Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.

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