Fruiting Body

Fruiting Body

Fruiting Body 2208 1638 Meghan Cruickshank

The bleeding man treads our western edge as the air cools under the sunset. He sits down beside us. His sweating hands fumble our small bodies. We feel and taste the breath: things rotting in him, between his teeth and in his ribcage. The breath is fast. He was running. I don’t know if he knows yet, but he’s too far gone and will certainly die.

This is far from where people live, so it’s a surprise to feel him, but people and animals move quickly and can be anywhere. Whereas I move slowly. Year after year, I slough off parts of me that are in places I don’t want to be, and I push my young smooth pale heads through the earth in the direction of the place I do want to be.

He smells hungry.  I would have liked to be edible to him, but it’s not that time of year. I don’t get hungry, but even I know what it is to want something and not have it.

I can visit other places, on the winds, dreaming. I had been dreaming for a hundred years or so before the bleeding man came around. I drifted some of me around to the cities and beaches, and the caves that were forgotten when people put clothes on. I like to visit those private groves. They folded themselves away from all but the slow beings.

My distant spores floated over a town with many windows. I woke up when the first bomb went off and the windows shattered. Now that was a shock. After that I stayed awake.

The bleeding man is frightened but settling. His blood tastes like the blood of any other animal. He dies in intervals. He even comes back alive one time, then decides it isn’t worth it.

#

 I eat him while the fawns grow older. As I do he whispers to me. I learn many things. Deer will retell the same story over and over. The story is about sunlight, fern-fronds uncurling, musks, fearsome shadows. People all tell different stories. I like this about people.

Things no other living being ever knew. He remembers keeping his baby teeth and bitten nails in a jar as a teenager but doesn’t remember why he did it. Masturbating in the crook of a tree, then waking from a doze with ants licking his hand. Loving men sometimes and other times women, anybody with a certain glint in their eye that said, I’ll fight the world bare-knuckled. Such a person putting sunscreen on a buzzed scalp—Jess—or Jenn—names leach out of me whenever it rains. It does rain many times as I crack him open and we sip his memories together. The rain tastes cleaner and cleaner.

#

 He didn’t know Jess that well, but he might have liked to. She wore boxy clothes from thrift stores and his girl friends made fun. Secretly he liked them, even wrote in his journal about a fantasy he had of holding her hand in a Value Village, buying overalls, jumpsuits, corduroy jackets. Big David Bowie costume jewelry for his ear piercings. I spit his earrings out into the earth as I eat his earlobes. I certainly don’t know who David Bowie is until the man tells me. He had fantasies of wearing Jenn’s clothes, not-wearing Jenn’s clothes.

He learned she was dead because her mother was stapling a missing poster on the telephone pole outside the railway community centre, when they were still there, before the power grid died and the boys from the Harvey farm took over. Then Marni who ran the town’s improv troupe or something rushed up from out of the dark, like from offstage. She took Jenn’s mother aside, into the penumbra of the streetlight, and all the watchers were tense, already half-knowing.

The man tells me about Jenn’s mother, who always smelled like different kinds of pink and taupe candles. She put her hand to her mouth and nodded, nodded, nodded; the clear crystals dangling from her ears swayed;  she dabbed her eyes with a hemp shawl she was wearing; she toddled away into the darkness. Marni followed her, whispering and stroking her shoulder.

There was a heap of missing posters under her arm. They must have ended up– where? In the river? In the midden? Blowing like tumbleweeds, three dozen copies of Jenn, her face stretched grotesquely out of proportion, as though across a tanning frame. Unrecognizable. If the posters weren’t burned, her faces would be distributed now across a great distance, crumpled and dripping, stuck in bramble bushes, papering the walls of hideouts.

That was better than to think that Jenn’s mother had kept them all.

 

Her name hangs on for a long time. I worry for him; he didn’t even know her that well.

What were they all called? The aunt whose touch lingered too long in his far childhood, which he forgot about intermittently only for it to drift up like smoke, nauseous, querulous. His grandparents, who left Poland, and nobody would talk about why, so it came to seem they must have done something, that it would be worse to ask. His mother, who cried some years on the Fourth of July, and went still when a sex scene came on in a film. Like a deer. Sure, like a deer.

#

The name has no cosmic power. Whether he remembers her name or not doesn’t matter to anything beyond our patch of dirt. I tell him so. Why her? Never got to know her that well. Rain carries his finger bones down to a gully where raggedy dogs gnaw them, but he keeps the name. It wears down into its smoothest components. Maybe it was Jay, in fact. Or Shea.

Or was that a different person? A boy wearing a dress in a coffee shop, rasping a soft order, his gaze floating regally over the barista’s stare; it didn’t matter to him what the stare meant one way or another. An unreadable tattooed bulwark in a leather jacket blocking his view at a concert; he couldn’t be mad. One of the marked people who wouldn’t make themselves legible. It wasn’t exactly that he wanted to dress like that but they seemed to make a space in the world that he needed to be there. They held a piece of himself in them and if they were gone he would be gone too.

The jolt that hit him when he encountered Jay, who now among the leftovers of his memory barely has a shape. The jolt that said, here is something starting.

Something starting that wouldn’t finish. Maybe I’ll buy one of those vintage women’s perfumes sometime. Just a sample, just to smell it. Velvet and fur smells. Next month.

Maybe I’ll ask Jay for their phone number. Go with them to that meetup. Call people “folks”. Like “people” was too conservative. Folks: clouds, orbs, puddles and mushrooms. Next month, next month. If the world had lasted until next month, maybe we would have been happy. Maybe we were finally on the right track.

#

Don’t regret the perfume, I tell him. Everything smells like different kinds of earth anyway. You, and Jay, and the women wearing the vintage perfumes. At this point, you and I are the same type of thing, which isn’t really a person. So is Jay, and all those other people you’re thinking of, your aunt and grandmother and whoever.

Well, that is the problem. Oh? We come to the bones of it. The heart of it, you mean? Your heart’s long gone, little friend.

Jay jumped off a building. I know, you told me. You imagined it took a long time, then realized it would have been over in less than a blink, in a second so thin no thought could crawl inside it. But the concrete will take a long time to crack. In the meantime, there’s Jay, a stain. Unsublimated.

A long time? She’ll come to one of us too eventually. All the things on the concrete will; and all the fish and lizards you kept in glass bowls. Even every mosquito and maggot.

They squirm around and around and I take you deeper and deeper into myself. Until there is nothing left but a layer of very fertile dirt. There, there. It probably does hurt a little, not much.

 

Where should we go?

Wherever. No bombs or planes. We’ll have an untroubled journey. Let’s go abroad. To the caves and folded places. It’s been a long time since you were there. Do you consent?

He does. Diffuse, we’ll spread out on the yearly wind off the slope of the mountains, observe the happenings. I’ll put up new young heads in the direction I’ve charted. Year by year we’ll burrow blindly through the earth.

Doubtless there are living people out there, some hurting each other and baring their teeth. But by the time I get to my destinations, I think there will also be people farming chard and finding love and smelling the dirt and teaching their children to read.

Maybe one of the other people whose name he can’t remember. I can contour the inside cavities of their faces to recognize them. Friends of friends. What they do won’t be any of my business, but even I know what it is to recognize somebody.

I think about one story he told me long after he’s dirt. It’s a train journey he took once through the forest, when he was still sucking his thumb. There was a downpour. The incoherent greenness. His reflection stretched out in the window, unshaped, like the raindrops on the glass that pooled together and took new pathways. When he patted the glass and the rain stopped, he thought, that’s how you turn it off.

Later he learned the train car rolled out from under the storm. But that wasn’t believable either. Rain seemed like a state of the universe. When it rained somewhere, it rained everywhere. In his deep concepts, he couldn’t imagine rain had a border or centre.

We’ll rise in the thin, clean air, and he’ll see for himself how even rain is nothing but a speck in the world’s eye. Rubbed away troublelessly, easily forgotten.

Hello passengers. We hope you’ve had a pleasant ride. We’ll be in Jasper in half an hour. Sit tight. It will be a while; let’s go to sleep. When we wake, we’ll see what’s left.

Header photograph © Chris Nielsen.

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