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To Dante P. Dapolonia 

Sister Blendina was playing solitaire. I didn’t know it at the time and I was wearing Dogsbody, so I swivel up to the counter with my brights on and smile a hot “cash-my-check-big-daddy-you-never-know” at the cashier. He reaches for me and I get ready to scratch his palm with my thumbnail as I hand him the check. Then there’s something between his hand and Dogsbody mine and his fingers are wrapping around a brown plastic knob on a metal box and twisting — the volume comes on full. The timing is all mixed up and everything is happening much too fast all around me. The manager comes running up and examines the check and pinches old Dogsbody’s arm and makes phone calls and asks my real name and address and all the time with his best Kresge’s five-and-dime leer and waving toward the door as a crisp blue uniform comes two-timing through it. I stand musing in the midst of the lost Missouri slow and try to answer (the truth about my name and something else for my address — I live at 319 Liberty Street, Independence Mo.) to the uniform’s eyes. It hits me too late that the rules for a straightforward-gaze-into-another’s-eyes are radically altered when the other’s-eyes are dangling on a chain on either side of his fly.

Seven miles away and twelve stories up Sister Blendina turns up a black ace and the eyes begin to move and grow. At that point I try to slip out of Dogsbody the back way but it’s a close fit and they’re too fast for me. The uniform takes one long fast step that puts him behind me. That gives the eyes time to become metal rings opened wide and moving in quickly each one closing with a hard click around one of my thighs an inch below the crotch. My stomach drops and would fall but it catches on my crotch and is saved (familiar fast elevator sensation like when Mama calls your name in that voice that means she’s going to make you lie down and spread your legs to make certain your new daddy hasn’t been diddling four-year-old you while she shopped). I clench my legs, and the heat fuses the two rings together where they touch between my legs. I’m instantly crippled — able to walk but not fast and all from the knee. Unable to escape from Dogsbody with the rear exit blocked. The gambit is a success but the uniform whips his fly open to make sure. The laser gun inside snaps up on a powerful spring mechanism. The uniform tightens his butt muscles and throws his pelvis forward. He bumps and grinds behind me — each movement activating the laser. The light pulses spray over me with a one-in-three red Kresge neon tracer for accuracy. I can feel Dogsbody sinking down over me in a puddle and the Kresge air is blowing in through the holes onto bare me. By the time he stops Dogsbody is limp. He tucks the gun back between his legs (tenderly ’cause it’s hot) and zips up. Meanwhile I’m whispering frantically to Dogsbody trying to reactivate her: “Puberty!” (her Christian name) “Puberty.” In my urgency I even summon up the old Moon incantation:

Abra Cadabra

Peanut butter sam

Pickle in the middle

Catch me if you can!

When done properly this chant builds from a séance whisper to a derisive howl and never fails to rouse Dogsbody. I can’t give it the full whammy in front of the uniform so when it doesn’t work I just have to go on without her help. The uniform gives me a shove toward the door and I just have time to pooch out tits where they would be if Dogsbody were on the job before we’re moving. He puts his lover arm-like around me except where my shoulder is twisted to just before breaking.

So we walk out the door — me hobbling along with the thigh-links working and Dogsbody just tatters flipping around me in the breeze.

Truck-truck-trucka-truck-whoosh! Out of the red Christmas Kresge’s into the diffuse Muzak of the carillon bells in the square. We find a fat November Independence swarming.

Lots of lovers fucka-trucking down the street just like us. Lot of pinching and nuzzling and fondling going on. I kind of wrap D.B. remnants around me closer and snuggle up to the uniform so as not to be conspicuous. He bends down and nibbles at my ear and says “If you try to run I’ll shoot you dead.” I can feel his groin gun nudging me in the butt with every step and I know he’s telling the truth. I smile up at him all cozy but I catch him chewing a bloody chunk of my earlobe and look away embarrassed.

The courthouse sits in the middle of the square. On the courthouse lawn is a merry-go-round. I see it just as we turn the corner and start poking out of Dogsbody in big patches. “Wow! Do I love merry-go-rounds!”

The uniform shows me his teeth and the volume goes up again. We’re almost up to the crowd and Strauss waltzes are whipping in and out of the bells. Long lines of little boys and girls — each pulling a parent coil around the merry-go-round and the two little booths in front of it. They have to pass the booths to get to the horses. All the little boys are dragging Mommies, the little girls are dragging Daddies.

In front of the booth marked BOYS are three six-year-olds firing bows and arrows at their Mommies who are perched on benches inside with their legs spread wide. They each have four chances to get an arrow to the point where the legs begin from fifteen child paces. Daddies are sitting in the other booth while their little girls throw hoops over their wienies. If they don’t make it in four tries they can’t ride the merry-go-round so the Mommies spread their legs wider and wider and the Daddies sweat to rub up a good one.

A little blond girl begins to cry because her Daddy was so soft that the hoops slipped off. He blushes and tries to bribe the barker to let her on the horses anyway but he just gets a show of teeth.

Oh my! the merry-go-round! Forty horses with fierce white eyes and lips pulled back — tails and manes lifted by the wind that blew through the carver’s fingers.

Riveted between each pair of carved rear legs a hard pink plastic wienie — eternally erect — bored in the ancient wood high up under each tail — a hole — deep and thickly lined with plastic sponge. Below each wienie a platform fixed to the floor — behind each hole a small seat hung from the ceiling.

But that’s all me poking through — Dogsbody would point out that: As we approach the merry-go-round is stopped — waiting for a new load — the Strauss waltzes are still playing, the horses are still leaping but frozen in place. Between the time when my right foot leaves the ground in walking and comes down short because of the thigh-links a thousand incarnations pass in which the only movement is the merry-go-round keeper walking around each horse and jiggling the platforms and seats and spraying some liquid from a pressure can first into the hole and then over the wienie. When he is finished he opens the gate to a crowd of children. They all rush in screaming and laughing to pick the size they want. There are ten sizes of wienie on the horses — varying in width and thickness — the holes are smallest in diameter on the horses with the biggest wienies. Two little girls start to fight over which one will get the last horse of the biggest size. They pull each other’s ponytails and kick and finally roll on the floor biting and scratching and screaming. Meanwhile a boy of about three comes up to the horse — feels of its wienie — pulls his short elastic-topped trousers down and lies down on the platform on his belly. All the little boys except this one are now perched in the seats behind the tails with their pants down. All the little girls except these two are now lying on their backs on the platforms with their skirts up. All the children have their feet braced in stirrups.

The merry-go-round is arranged so that even at the limits of the horse’s travels up and down it never is not touching both the children. The merry-go-round keeper twists a button and it begins to move. Slow at first and then faster. The children are fixed in place on their seats and platforms and the horses plunge up and down and the whole moves around gaining speed in a circle. The two little girls are still fighting on the floor between two of the plunging horses and each time the merry-go-round comes around I catch and lose sight of them in an instant. With each revolution the waltz music goes up a decibel until all the other sounds are washed away. The parents standing on the ground are all nodding and showing their teeth and the children on the horses are holding very still but moving their lips and showing their teeth. I look up at the uniform for though we are not walking his groin gun is bumping my buttocks in time with the music. He is nodding and showing his teeth but when he sees me looking he stops and shoves me forward giving my shoulder a jerk and digging his thumb into my neck.

We move away from the merry-go-round quickly but just as we reach the street he stops and looks back smiling. Just then the music halts abruptly and all the other sounds in the square sweep back. Over them hangs a scream already seconds old. About-face-double-time-in-and-out-through-the-crowd-we’ve-just-left-back-to-the-merry-go-round-uniform-panting-and-Dogsbody-jouncing-on-my-shoulders-like-chain-mail-;oh-shriek-a-giggle-crane-a-neck-such-a-crowd-hmmm! And in the middle you-and-I old incapacitated Dogsbody so very with this bright young uniform splurging through to the center — the merry-go-round and who knows what Sister Blendina is up to?

And just off the center of the center — which is to say on the floor of the merry-go-round between the now stopped once moving horses — a boy. Or once a boy. Lying on his back, eyes closed — little trousers down around his knees — little buttocks flattened bare upon the floor — blood running from his groin. The uniform knows but he says:

“What happened?” and is deluged by answers:

“The horse behind his — the flaring nostrils — he reached — his thumb caught in the nostrils — oooh! — my poor darling — it ain’t the company’s fault! we give ’em all instructions — one horse went up and the other went down — you see, sir, he’s so short — only five years old — stretched! a broken thumb — and he wasn’t circumcised, I promised his grandfather never to — severed penis, cauterization indicated.”

Because the chain on his waist was too short the uniform could not crouch down without making us both fall so he bent from the waist to pick the boy up — clump over his shoulder — balanced with one hand. “Where ya takin him? — shouldnya call an ambulance? — do you think he’ll be all right?”

“Sure he’ll be all right folks, now don’t you worry. I’m taking him over to the academy. He’s ours now. They’ll fit him out with a laser police special and whip him into one of Mizoorah’s finest. Why fifteen years from now he’ll be strutting around proud as you please and mighty glad all this happened.”

All the smiles and nods and murmuring that goes on is left behind as we march off — me carrying Dogsbody and the uniform carrying the boy. We cross the street and walk up the steps of a large gray building. The boy’s stump is dripping blood on my shoulders so I ask “What place is this?”

The uniform points to the roman caps above the door:


While I’m reading it Dogsbody slumps down even worse and her face slips around on mine so I can’t see or hear or even breathe. While I’m pushing the face back into place we move along and some things happen that I can’t be sure of. By the time I can see again, we’re standing in front of a counter with people behind it. The boy has disappeared and the uniform is telling me to take off my watch and glasses and hand over my purse. I do these things slowly leaving the glasses until last because I’m watching one of the women behind the counter. She’s sitting at a typewriter moving her hands very quickly. I can see she has a Dogsbody too — Mizoorah style — but in fine working order. She’s looking at me and it must show badly that mine is out of commission because she doesn’t look the usual hatred of meeting another Dogsbody — just disgust.

I can’t revive Dogsbody. I’ve been sitting in this corner chanting and cajoling and massaging since they put me here this afternoon. Nothing works. I don’t know what to do.

This is a rotten place to try it anyway. I need a small dark closet where I can huddle on shoes and clothes dropped on the floor and jangle coat hangers in time with the chant. But it must be nearly midnight and that bare two hundred watts is still burning in the ceiling. It will probably be on all night.

There is someone else here too. Her name is Marie and she is a barmaid. That’s what she told me. “I’m Marie. I’m a barmaid.” What I can see about her is more or maybe less. She is either an ancient thirty-five or a young fifty or anything in between. She isn’t wearing thigh-links and if she ever had recourse to a Dogsbody it’s had no visible effect.

She’s wearing white sneakers and her legs jump out of them suddenly and disappear suddenly at her skirt hem. The legs are very thin — as though the skin were white rubber pulled tight over the bone with no muscle or sinew or fat in between. At the calf it looks like a hard rubber ball was stuffed in and slips up and down a little as she moves. Her arms are the same way where they poke out of the sweater sleeves, but her torso whispers “hysterectomy.” There’s that peculiar flatness of the buttocks — almost a straight line from the back of the knee to the shoulder — and the phony fecundity of a belly full of slack muscles. She’s got it all bound tight in a girdle so it has the deceptively hard look of a paper bag full of shit, but her breasts are heavy and dead at her navel and I can tell.

There’s her face. I can’t see it well. Her hair is oily and hangs — though short — though the nape of her neck is shaved — because she seems always to lean forward. I can tell that she is thick necked and puffy jowled — but mostly it’s the skin — like soft wet white clay. I know that if I poked her cheek with my finger and drew it away, the hole would stay.

But that’s all I can tell about her face because she’s always bent forward. To smoke, elbows on knees, paunch on thighs, legs spread wide, ashes drifting in the air, walking, always searching the floor, each shoulder pulled forward and down as though she were carrying something heavy in each hand.

The glasses are gone — they have taken them and my world is gentler — less frightening. All images are blurred — the color intense, magical — movement subtle — sounds softer. Renoir is wheeling, wheeling with claw hands as soft and glowing as though my warped eyeballs had been strapped to his own wrists to fasten on the pigment and fix it to the quaking canvas. I’m not blind — I can see the curious chiaroscuro gradient of my hands, and by closing my left eye and looking cross-eyed with my right I can see the fleshy rainbows sparkling on my nose. Marie is slightly grayed — the ceiling is too far — the floor also too far. Texture and form elude me, line either deceives me or does not exist. Depth in space shuffles and twists in the air like perfume.

Only the light burns on and blinds me. Only Marie moves softly about the room and I, looking, like her.

I said the sound, the volume, was lower. It may be the muffling of the concrete. It may be the night. Perhaps it is not the glasses since all my other senses are alive alive.

This bare sheet metal bunk cuts deeply. When I stand up there will be red creases in my thighs.

That small window high up in the wall has bars for me but no glass for the wind and this is Missouri November. A dank and Independence November. I feel that. I can smell the filth of Marie — smell the soggy paper plates and rotting scraps piled in the corner — smell the ancient fish scent of the bloody rags beneath the paper plates. I could sleep. The light helps close my eyes — the smells are personal, intimate — my blouse is thin but my boots come up to my knees. I could sleep, except that I have to pee.

I had to even as I left my peanut butter and banana sandwich at the lunchroom table. Even while I walked up to the Kresge counter with the check and stood silent during the attack on Dogsbody, even across the square. I have been sitting here for hours having to piss but never thought about it or recognized the cramp and pressure until now. The thigh-links do their job too well. They hold my legs so tight, so close together that I was never tempted before. It’s one of Blendina’s tricks, massaging the Queen of Diamonds around the midriff. Dogsbody is rumpled and still but the bladder swells and sings. It presses and pokes and shouts fatness — cater to me — bend for me — spread your legs for me.

Once I would have jumped for it. Now the steel eyes vie with the sloshing membrane. Now there are thigh-links. I will not walk over to the cold porcelain while Marie is awake. I will not lift my skirt to show the steel at my crotch to her. I will not crouch and spray myself through unwillingly clenched legs while anyone can see me.

That John W.C. Toilet won’t flush anyway. No lever, handle, pull-chain, or pedal — no tank to open and trip the plug — just the bowl with a pipe running into the wall.

In a minute I’m going to walk over there and take a closer look. It’s only three or four steps and I’d go now but I’d have to get all untangled with my legs and Dogsbody and straighten things out with the thigh-links just to get up. I could pretend I was uncomfortable on the bunk and looking for another place to sit except that there’s no cover — just the hole. You can’t sit there unless you’ve got business. I could throw something at the pot and get up to put it in when I missed. That’s not bad but I haven’t got anything to throw. Why do I have to keep that old bag of mush from knowing that I’m looking for the flusher, that I’ve got to piss? It’s not right. I’m going over there right now and stand on the toilet seat and have a look around. I guess if she asks I can say I’m trying to look out the window.

All right, everybody up, we’re going. We’re going to march right over there. Push with hands, lean forward a little, lift, all right legs. The thigh-links. How am I going to get up onto that toilet seat? Got to kneel down on one edge — inch forward across the hole to the other side — brace arms — push up with legs — little spring — all fours on the toilet seat — hands up on the wall — catch boot-heel on edge of seat so as not to tumble in — smile down Loki — be still Blendina — I’m standing on the toilet seat. One boot planted on each side of the hole, I’m standing upright — knock-kneed with the thigh-links, but upright. It must be the altitude that makes me so sick. Lay my cheek on the wall, this cold concrete for a minute. Things are settling down again but Marie is looking my way. I’ll have to pretend to be looking out through the window. No good, the damned window is still too high. It’s also too far into the middle of the wall to see from this corner. She’s going to know if I’m not careful. I’ll have to get down right away. I guess I can jump easily enough, but there’s something between my feet. I’m standing over her shit. I’m standing over a bowl of Marie’s brown turds.

There’s someone at the door. A white-haired man in uniform. A gentle-faced old man who starts to see me up here. “Miss Dunn? You are to come downstairs with me.” I could kiss him. My boot-heels crack on the concrete and I can feel the heat spouting from the balls of my feet from jumping too hard, but there’s no time to limp. We’re going downstairs, this old man and I, and he’ll take my arm on the stairs like a lady, so they must know now who I am.

He holds the heavy barred gate for me to pass through and as he swings the outer door closed I catch a glimpse of Marie sitting on the bunk smoking, looking at the floor. He locks the outer door and looks at me. I’ll give him a present, my sweetest smile.

“I’m so glad you came just now. She almost caught me.”

He takes my arm and leads me through the dark empty lobby to the stairs and helps me down. Turning and turning with the steps in a square-cornered spiral — past the ground floor and into the basement. Through the empty steam-heated fluorescent offices that echo. There’s a run in my stocking that shows in my calf as I walk but I console myself with the height of my boots and go on with my escort’s gentle age. So far he has taken me only through open doors though there are closed doors on either side of us. We seem to be approaching one completely closed door. It is not green or metal but a cherry wood panel with a shining knob.

He stops before the door and letting go my arm smiles at me in his leather-brown wrinkles. “I’ll leave you here. There are some officers in the next room who want to speak with you. When you’re through I’ll come and get you.” Thank you papa forgive me so warm. But he knocks quickly and goes away.

The door opens and the teacher says “You’re late, do you have a tardy slip?” I didn’t know, they just came to get me now….He shuts the door and marches to the front of the room. He takes a notebook from a large desk and writes in it. He looks up from writing and motions at me. “Come up here.” I begin to move toward him, up an aisle between the student desks. The rows of desks are long and none are empty so I wonder where I’d sit if I had come in time. At each desk someone bends over a book. No one looks at me or seems to notice that anything is going on. They are all silent. Finally I stand in front of him and he looks at me through thick lenses. His lips spread but his teeth are clenched and the words hiss out between them without affecting his face. “This is a tight school Miss, you’ll have to learn to bring an excuse if you’re late. You sit here on this stool and let the class get a good look at you.” I sit down but none of the students move or even look up from their books. The teacher hands me a tall paper cone saying “Here’s the proper hat for the likes of you.” It’s too big for my head and perches on my ears and rocks forward and backward alternately stopped by contact with the nape of my neck or the bridge of my nose. The precarious fit makes me nervous and I’m afraid of dropping it. I sit very straight and still with my legs hanging over the edge of the stool. Too high for me to touch the floor. No rungs to hook my heels in. While I’m arranging myself with the hat and the thigh-links pressing into my legs from being sat on, the teacher is rustling around in the papers piled on his desk. He comes up with a thick manila folder and starts leafing through it, muffled hmms and mrummphs. “Now then Miss, I’m going to ask you some questions. You take this book….” It’s so big I can barely hold it in my lap. Printed in gold leaf on the moldy cover: INDEPENDENCE LOCAL LEGIS LEXICON. “You’ll notice that this volume is in the form of a dictionary. I shall ask you a question which you will not answer immediately but will find instead listed in the LEXICON under the first letter of the initial word of the question. You will find the question whose wording corresponds exactly to the one I have asked. Next to that question in the LEXICON you will find another question. You are not to answer the question which I have asked, but only the question which appears next to it in the book. You will confine your answers to either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Do you understand?”


“Then we shall proceed….Is your name K Dunn alias K Rossich?”

(Is it true that your parents were never legally married?)

Uh, yes, well…

“You were employed with a transient magazine sales crew at the time of your arrest?”

(Did your stepfather have carnal knowledge of you when you were four?)

I have to go to the bathroom very badly. These thigh-links are pinching my crotch and this book is wet on my legs. It’s funny, whenever I feel something wet on me or hear water running I have to pee so bad….

“Answer the question please.”

I raise my hand with all the fingers folded into my palm and wrapped in the thumb. Just the index finger sticks straight up. He’s not looking at my hand, just at my eyes with his blurred eyes behind the lenses. I don’t have any eye liner on, not even my glasses to hide my eyes.

“Answer the question!”

Is he going to hit me? What was the question? Yes.

“Did you know that the check you tried to cash in the Kresge’s store this afternoon was drawn on a nonexisting account?”

(Are the scars on your arms from monkey bites?)

Hee hee oh ha ha yes

“Did you write that check?”

(Did you become a prostitute to support your habit?)


“Did you trick a young man into writing the check to pay for magazines?”

(Did  you become a prostitute to pay a debt?)

If Dogsbody were in shape she’d rub her titties on his arm and roll her eyes and get us to a john pretty quick. If I could slip out of her she’d get a better rest. It’s like being a Siamese twin joined at the crotch and trying to recover from pneumonia while your other half does the Watusi. Getting all those people to buy magazines these past few months probably wore her out.

Oh yes! never let a person think!

“Is it common practice for your magazine crew to trick people into buying from them?”

(What did you prostitute?)

I don’t think they know who I am! I used to be in all the school plays. I got such good grades all the way through high school that none of the teachers dared to put me on detention. I was on the debate squad. I was Song Leader of the Girls League. I would have got a National Merit Scholarship but I got drunk the night before the final exam and slept through it. I was such hot stuff that they used to let me wear Levi’s to school, and when I skipped school the truant officer used to come up to my house and drink beer with me. And my mother loves me. Don’t you see I’m gifted! Sensitive, an intellectual. You can’t treat me like a common criminal. I mean I write poetry and things….This magazine selling is just a joke because I ran away from college. I live in Oregon see, not on Liberty Street like I told you. We’re civilized out there, and people can go off all quiet to private little rooms to pee so nobody knows. And if you hear the toilet flushing you pretend you don’t. God I feel funny. They are so quiet. I’ve got to piss so bad I can taste it. He standing still with his teeth showing and those lenses like oceans between his eyes and mine. Somewhere a muffled slapping sound — the speaker over the door. A flap, a slap, steady and low. I never liked night classes.

“Miss Dunn, we must take your refusal to speak as an affirmative answer. You are accused of possession and uttering of a fraudulent check. Do you understand the charge?”

(Dogsbody is dead.)

I’m off the stool and toddling as fast as the thigh-links allow. There’s something hot running down my legs but by the time it reaches my knees it’s cold. The floor behind me is wet and there’s laughter around me. The students are still in the same position. No one looks at me. No one moves but the laughter rises as I lurch down the aisle. Stumbling, I brush against one of the students. His body offers no resistance. It falls to the floor in the same position it held at the desk. The face looks intently at a book no longer before it and from the chest the laughter echoes. The door. It opens and the old man is standing there with his arm braced on the sill blocking my way. I open my mouth to yell and it closes on his arm. Taste of blue wool, sound of blue wool tearing as I fall. And through the torn sleeve that reaches for me a glimpse of metal rods and pulleys moving in the sleeve.

She doesn’t seem to need any sleep at all. I can’t seem to sleep either, but she’s been marching around stamping on bugs ever since I came back up. I have never been fond of bugs, but I haven’t any such ferocious energy as hers to waste mashing them when they’re more than two feet from me. Marie’s conscientious though, she goes looking for them. She’ll cross the whole room to get one if she sees it. I might be bothered by them if I could see, but as it is the floor’s dirty and I couldn’t tell a bug from a hunk of week-old scrambled egg without tasting it.

Marie, does that toilet flush at all?

“The handle’s in the next room. Somebody over there flushes it once a day, early in the morning. Usually wakes you up just before breakfast.”

Funny I never noticed how her voice cracks. I guess she hasn’t said much.

How long have you been here?

“Going on eleven days.”

Why what did they bust you for?

“I was in the car but they said if I had to they wouldn’t and I began to bawl the neighbors saw it but didn’t mind so I started to run then they brought me here and made me put my clothes on.”

What kind of bugs are those?

“Schwinn bugs.”


“They’s riding red Schwinn bicycles and they’ve got these transistor radios plugged into

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their ears and if you stand still for them they ride up your legs and scream ‘Mama, Mama, Mama!’ ”

The wind’s gone and the boots are long enough to keep my legs warm. I can put my hands in my armpits. The cold reaction is all in how you breathe. If you let your diaphragm tighten up and take short jerky breaths you’re bound to shiver and your rib cage starts to ache. Breathe slowly, deeply, it’s no warmer but there’s less pain.

In my dream I can hear the slow slap of Blendina’s cards falling on one another. I remember the sound from the speaker in the classroom. The water rushes in and the echoes drowning. The soles of Marie’s sneakers are in my face. The toilet is flushing alone in the corner and the pipes moan in the walls. This is the first time I’ve noticed how much taller I am than she is. Her feet are at the level of my nose but she is clutching my knees to her breast in her sleep. My feet extend inches beyond her head. Her mouth is open showing bruised naked gums. A glutinous stream of spittle runs onto my boots. I’m relieved to see there aren’t any bug carcasses on her soles. No ichor, no carapace potsherds, just dust. My sneeze makes her eyes pop open. She sits up and swings her feet to the floor without noticing me. There’s something about the way she holds her legs together, moving them as a unit, that reminds me of the thigh-links. I stretch a little to try them out before trying anything as strenuous as sitting up. The stretch is painful. My shame of last night has left me with a clammy case of iron diaper rash. With no chance of spreading my legs to dry-air my panty crotch and the adjacent flesh will stay wet and hot for quite a while. I’m rubbed raw and the pain makes pissing urgent. I wish I’d gotten up without waking Marie. Now that whole scene begins again with a fresh-flushed toilet.

The doors rattle and breakfast comes in but I blink and miss the action. By the time my eyes open the doors are closed and there are two paper plates beside me on the bunk. I sit up and hold the soggy plate high over my lap. Close up under my chin where the wetness won’t elicit my urinary response and I can see whether there are bugs in the food. The pancakes and the plate have already soaked up the molasses. The three-pronged plastic fork makes grooves in the sweet wet paper. The pancakes make my stomach tight and heavy. Marie is eating from the other plate and drinking coffee from a Styrofoam cup.

The air is damp. The gray light from the window makes the bulb’s light invisible. Outside in the square the carillon bells begin the day with “I’ll take you home again Kathleen.” The first notes fall heavily through our window.

Marie is at the bugs again. She is silent and terrible. I’m as still as possible trying to let Dogsbody rest. She is still totally unresponsive.

Lunch is here. Dry turkey and cranberry stain on the paper. Mashed potatoes. I have a Styrofoam cup of my own now. The old man brought it. He said “Happy Thanksgiving.” These plates follow those from breakfast onto the pile in the corner. Fewer bloody rags show on that pile now.

He’s here for me again — the old man. He’s standing patiently at the door while I make my way to him. It hurts to walk now. I mustn’t fall with Dogsbody in this condition. The outer room is brighter now. Does Marie ever leave the cell?

“Marie? You mean the gal in there with you? Her name is Sophie.”

We’re in the basement again. Two men in a large room. Fingerprints. He holds my hand to press each finger first on the ink pad then on the paper. A little tub of soap jelly, the ink disappears from my fingers. The other man sets up lights, a camera. I lean against a stool in front of a large sheet of paper. A feeble D.B. smile, the profile. May I have a copy when they’re printed?

“Sure Baby, you bet.”

I’m afraid of the telephone but it’s the law. The dial spins beneath my fingers. Buzz — click.

“At the tone the time will be 1:13 and 30 seconds…dong.”

Hello Horace this is K.

“At the tone the time will be 1:13 and 40 seconds…dong.”

Will you get me a lawyer?

“At the tone the time will be 1:13 and 50 seconds…dong.”

Thanks Horace, anybody will do — don’t spend a lot—

“At the tone the time will be 1:14 exactly…dong.”

Thanks a lot, really. It’s good to know you have friends.

“At the tone the time will be 1:14 and 10 seconds…dong.”

O.K. Goodbye, I’ll see you.

“At the tone the time will…click.”

I turn smiling to the two men. Their teeth are showing and their scalps seem tight.

I can hear voices in the next room. They are coming in through the open transom. Marie hears them too. She leaves her bugs for the moment and goes to the door. Looking up toward the transom she hooks her fingers into the steel lattice of the inner door. She puts the toe of her left sneaker into the lattice a foot from the floor. She pulls with her arms and pushes with her left leg until she can put her right toe into the lattice above the left. She moves her left hand higher, and then her right hand. She climbs the door like a net. At the top she hooks her arms over the sill of the transom and stands in the upper strips of the lattice. She turns her head to look at me and then looks through the transom. I can see far up her skirt to where she stops being thin legs and becomes fat thighs. She shouts and her skirt shakes as she shouts. “Let me out of here! I want out  of here!”

The voices go on in the next room without a break. After a while she comes down but her neck and face are very red. She sits at one end of the bunk for a long time. I sit at the other end wishing they would take her out so I could piss.

Marie is pissing and shitting simultaneously into that clean toilet. She just got right up off the bunk and walked over there and pulled up her skirt and sat down. I turned my face away quick and put my cheek to the cool wall but I can hear it anyway. Her water is running into the toilet water and the porcelain and water form an echo chamber for her farts. Every few seconds there is an isolated splash. She just sits there looking at the floor as though she weren’t doing anything.

I don’t have to have a perfectly clean toilet. I could piss over her piss but I can’t piss over her shit, much less shit over it and have them mix. It would be terrible if mine came out lighter or darker than hers — you could tell whose they were. Even worse if they were the same. Couldn’t tell all mixing and twisting, diluted in the water. I’ll just have to wait till they flush the toilet tomorrow and get up before her.

Marie is talking to someone outside. He must be in the tree near our window. During the day I could just see a naked twig dancing against our bars but I’m sure it’s connected to a tree. All I can hear is Marie and the wind but I’m probably too far from the window. She’s standing right under it shouting to him. “What you say? Eh?…Eh?…Oh sure! I’m swell! — you tell the fellas I’m fine! Eh?…Why sure I’ll be out soon….How’re you Joe? Wife O.K.? Ha ha!..Yeah Joe I know how it is! Well, you just hang tight till I get out of here and I’ll make it up to you! Yeah! O.K….Eh? What? Oh yeah goodbye Joe.”

Her shoulders slump and she attacks the bugs again smiling vaguely.

Time moves around me like water. I feel so busy. I would hate to be interrupted. Marie is talking to her sister in Wichita by means of her sweater collar — that has to be listened to. Then there are chants and the bladder to think about. And the cold.

It’s very late. The voices in the next room died long ago. The new girl comes in. She is very beautiful. She is thin and wears a red coat. She doesn’t take her coat off but perches on the edge of the bunk with her legs crossed smoking nervously. The cigarettes are very pale between her dark fingers. Her lips are as soft and as purple as plums in her black face.

When Marie and I want to lie down there’s no room for her. She doesn’t want to lie down anyway. She walks about the room smoking until I sleep.

When the water rushes into my dreams again and wakes me she is gone. I climb over Marie carefully so as not to wake her and go to the toilet. I lift my skirt quickly and crouch to let the water escape. With my skirt up I can see the thigh-links for the first time since they moved off the uniform’s belt. They are still shiny and un-rusted but my thighs are red where they touch and very sore. With my legs so close together the hot water sprays uncontrollably and makes a lot of noise. I press down hard inside myself trying to hurry before something happens. I would like to shit too but I’m afraid there’s not time before Marie wakes up and breakfast comes. Besides, I’d be ashamed to have her see it here and shit over it. I’d hate to know that it was here in the water. So I get up and pull down my skirt. There is no toilet paper. It’s uncomfortable to sit down when your bowels are heavy. No one has ever seen Sister Blendina on the pot.

Lunch has come and we are eating macaroni and cheese with our plastic forks. The doors rattle and the old man comes in. He looks at me. “Do you have a coat Miss?” No, I left it with my peanut butter and banana sandwich when I went to cash the check.

“That’s too bad. Well, you’re being moved to Kansas City. You’ve been arraigned by the Grand Jury. Will you come with me?”

The Grand Jury. And I didn’t even know. I get up and look at Marie.

Your name isn’t really Marie, it’s Sophie! and there aren’t any Schwinn bugs. I can tell that even without my glasses, and what’s more there wasn’t any Joe outside the window and you don’t really have a transistorized telephone in your sweater collar! I’m breathing very quickly. She looks at me with vague interest and goes back to her macaroni. A smudge on the front of her white sweater shows where she clutched the soles of my boots in her sleep. I turn smiling to the old man but he looks away and opens the door for me.

The car is warm and the seat soft. The old man is driving and I am sitting beside him. In the back seat is a Negro man who didn’t support his children. He will be spending a year in jail. Next to him is another uniform. We leave Independence on small streets and through alleys so I don’t get another look at the merry-go-round. Without my glasses the countryside is meaningless but I feel very jolly and friendly and even manage to hold most of Dogsbody without sitting on her.

The black iron Paisley cuts the snow. A fleur-de-lis in tortured iron twists the white sky. Not for us. For them. For those outside. Even here on the thirteenth floor the outside windows tell a grillwork lie of frozen womb and seed forms. Perhaps for the ex-President’s daughter who sometimes takes a helicopter ride.

Inside the iron is rarefied, alloyed to deal with the alien heat of our presence. Steel — but more natural, allowed to flow in its own nonorganic forms, pure tubes and plates without the strain of assuming mock-living shapes.

Between us and those cold, shaped façades are the freezing bars and the glass — supercooled liquid. All the steel is painted at the advice of some penologist with a psychology degree. A cool pink. A deceptive pink, to make us think we are remembering the hot pinks and livid reds of the outside while chilling even those memories, embalming the mind’s body in the deactivated fluids of the past.

We move slowly like marsh grasses in the tide. Rooted, vegetative, bending in the currents, now this way, now that, without resistance. But there is an undercurrent, a more basic rhythm, overpowered but still living. The flooded grass remembers the wind. There are moments when we strike back. If we are vegetables we are also cannibals.

Soon the gates will open and we will be free to move into the bull pen or stay in the cells as we please. In my cell only Blendina is awake besides me. Her cards move slowly and the other cells are silent.

Kathy, the key-girl, will be first into the bull pen when the gates roll. The other cells are crowded — one girl for each bunk — eight girls in each eight-by-twelve-foot space. The key-cell has only Kathy, because she is key-girl. She is key-girl because she has been here the longest. Except when we go down to the kitchen for meals she doesn’t have to wear the green uniform. She wears Levi’s and a man’s tee shirt.

She was the first person I saw when I came here. The matron came to get me from the car. She led me through corridors and doors until I had no idea how to get back. There were more doors and the elevator and finally we came here, C tank. A lot of women crowded around the door but I couldn’t see their faces. The only face I could see was Kathy’s. She led me into the key-cell.

The key-cell is also number one. The “1” is over the door but no one calls it that. There are curtains in the key-cell that hide the bars and close the gate even when it is open during the day. When she took me inside she closed all the curtains. She told me to take off my clothes. I was ashamed because I needed a bath very badly. My clothes were dirty too, from wearing them for days and sleeping in them. When I hesitated she hit my face. Not really hard and then she’s so much smaller than me, but she was looking at me hard and I was so ashamed. I looked at the floor and took off my clothes. I could feel the tears running down my face but I couldn’t say anything. When the skirt came off she saw the thigh-links. She stepped close and put her hand on the part where they had rubbed the skin off. I looked down at her head. I could smell the tonic in her short pale hair. She stopped touching me and smelled her hand. Her eyes smiled at me over the hand.

I remember praying walking fast on a grass broken sidewalk saying oh dear god oh dear god oh dear god over and over oh dear god let her say yes oh dear god so I could go to the movies and she said yes but I missed the final show in the Davy Crockett series with the Alamo and all the times with just oh dear god oh dear god and the rest unsaid because after all it was pretty silly but what do you pray for except what you want.

On the lawn in the summer with the hot clouds thick and near and the light came white and bright — quite away from the sun — the light exploding in the clouds and god was long gone but I fell down on my knees knowing it was an angel and oh dear god oh dear god all over again until I noticed it was a searchlight from the used-car lot on the boulevard but I would again oh dear god oh dear god it would just take more now — but I would be a Christian or anything if I could oh dear god.

On the old couch with the heat turned up all the way surrounded by balloon bread and bologna and mustard and mayonnaise — by milk and Butterfingers and fudge from Van Dyne’s and a stolen Genet in his thickness — in his ripening to rot — reading the perfect prose aloud in the dim room and wanting to go to him — silent with my head shaved and bathe him and feed him and follow him — to reach down with the surplus machete and hack off my foot and I bleeding — it bleeding — eat it — and then a hand — and then to reach in with all the remaining fingers and pull out my eye — to feel myself hideous and plunge unabashed into evil — not for the art — for the evil — I lying deep in it — stretching in it — committed to its purity and the doorbell rings and I plunge up electric to shock them whoever — to devour them and it opens to nuns in black flapping in the doorway.

Turned me off right away but it was a mistake — they wanted the people downstairs.

At the mission in the storefront where the gypsies used to live before the health department — the reformed prostitute and the reformed laundry worker with tambourines and accordions in the company of the saints and the folding chairs in ragged rows with an aisle from the glass door with the bell and the old bums their wine-thin bodies sprawled in the back and the reverend who does not and never did — any of those things — you can tell and his slopeassed wife with the tiny purse who plays the old piano behind his music stand pulpit — the reverend and all the women up on the platform — the Mays and Bettys and Pearls who love god for him — to get close to the pale with his jacket long over his flat fly and the reverend is exhorting with his long hands folded yes Jeezusah! and the ugly women are playing their guitars and accordions and the gray wife is banging on the piano with a tight mouth — the women are singing yes Jeezusah! and the old man in the fifth row with the newspapers in his shoes is standing up and leaning on the back of the chair in front of him and the green bottle stands carefully between his shoes and he raises his fist yes Jeezusah and his wine cracked voice rolls on unstopping with the ah sound as he inhales I’ve been a sinner yes Jeezusah I’ve seen this world yes I used to go to the dances yes Jeezusah and the taverns yes and the roller skating rinks yes and I tell you this world is a garbage can yes and it’s full of garbage yes yes — and the green bottles in back tip up against the light and the bare bulbs in the ceiling glow through green glass and the sleepers fart and rumble in the folding chairs yes and the reverend exhorts the ceiling and the reformed laundry worker beats her guitar with one hand and hikes up her six petticoats with the other and nobody pays any attention to anybody else and afterwards there’s coffee and day old donuts and a bed if you testify and they call everybody brother and sister and I always listen because you never know when you might be saved yes.

I can go to the competitor — the food’s better and you sit down to eat but Salvation Army sermons are always longer and it’s all shame food — all hate food and heavy.

I’ll bed with Cotton Mather if it’s comfy — see how cozy here with his ass to my belly and Mrs. M. behind me warm — his soft and scudgy name thick on my tongue and whether to or not like when I’m little in bed with my brother and his arm so round and smooth on the pillow I want to bite — to really bite like meat and take a big chunk and if I don’t it’s only because of the hassle and the hits and noise and always that — to bite — not to eat, but to bite —and in lecture hall he is talking not yet an old man and he says the word womb because he is a philosopher and I wonder almost idly how it would be to bite into his lips when they were together like that so smooth on my tongue and to bite through into his  tongue thick and soft and feel it jerking and the hot spurts in my mouth and maybe I would open my lips just a little and the warm would run down outside on my chin and if I smiled in the mirror all the red would be thick between my teeth and the teeth would be pale through the red and all that stops me truly is what he would be doing while I was doing that and I hate to have to think of him but it climbs in and prevents me because of the hits and the noise.

I am in 4 cell. This is the last cell in the tank and it is inhabited by newcomers and overnighters. The people in this cell who are not newcomers or overnighters are still somehow different from the women in the other cells. There are only two of us like that. Blendina and I. Blendina calms everyone. She plays solitaire all day every day. At first newcomers think she’s creepy, then she calms them. I have never heard her speak. I have never seen her sleep. When I fall asleep at night she is playing solitaire. When I wake in the morning she is playing. I have never seen her eat. They tell me that when the rest of us have gone to the kitchen for breakfast the matron brings her a tray. Still, I have never seen it. I have never seen her go to the bathroom. I have never seen her walk. I have never seen Sister Blendina do anything but sit on her bunk in her bra and panties and play solitaire.

I suppose she is old. Her face could be. Her body is lean and brown except that her breasts sag and her belly sticks out a little.

Sister Blendina shuffles her cards and lays them out on the bunk between her legs in 4 cell.

I stay on in 4 cell. It’s a long time since I was a new girl. I’m not sure why.

High Mass in the ladies’ room at the Greyhound Terminal. Wrapped in Eula’s long coat and mourning veil — she beside me giggling faintly. All the worshipers in line before the free booth — hot bladdered bitches mentally clutching their crotches — little old ladies with kidney trouble shifting from one foot to the other — nobody touching anyone else — side glances proposing blackmail — If you’ll pretend that I don’t pee I’ll pretend that you don’t.

There’s always one daring lady with a dime — somehow if you pay for it it’s more respectable — she doesn’t have to flush the toilet at the same time she’s pissing so the line won’t hear and have proof that that’s what she went in there for. The free booth patrons sometimes draw their feet up and prop them on the door so they can’t be seen through the cracks — they enter the confessional and disappear in private conference with the divine — the toilet flushes to hide the sound of their departure and they reappear after a suitable period — glowing — nobody knows for sure what they were doing in there. When the lady who was willing to pay comes out the next in line always grabs the door before it can close — this could go on forever — an endless line — a hand forever reaching for the open door and a free ride — until the attendant lurches in on the freeloaders with the key. She locks the door — the lady can’t get out — the uniform sways — her blackly muscled arm arcs upward — golden key between thumb and forefinger — the head tips back — the maw widens — metallic glint in the air — clink of key on tooth — the watery clunk of the glottis — I can watch the key’s progress down the gullet — almost hear it hitting bottom — she says just wait a few hours dearie — when I dump anybody who want to can fish for the key. And the lady in the stall? her children are crying for her — her husband is getting on the bus — her sister in Keokuk is fixing a special dinner — she croons the ode to the john:

No sorrow goes unsoothed

By the cool chastity of

Thy Whiteness—

From thy Septic depths

Magnate and vagabond are


The thirteenth floor of this building is the Jackson County Jail. It is a submarine in the belly of a whale. The whole floor is a single unit of metal set in stone. Four rooms in the submarine. A, B, C, and D tanks. A and D tanks are men’s tanks. One of them is colored, the other is white. B tank is the colored women’s tank, though there are some white women in there. C tank, our tank, is the white women’s tank. There are no colored women here. I am writing this on the wall in back of my bunk with a pencil stub I found under the toilet. The lead is thin and shiny on the pink steel.

I am now accustomed to not having my glasses. I’ve decided that there is no lucidity of vision, only consistency of distortion.

The first week I spent here I always had a black eye and at least one bloody nose a day. If Marge hadn’t been here then I don’t know what would have happened. She came in the same day I did. She was big and blowzy and good-natured. We fought them together.

There were only four of them and only sometimes were they trying to force us to have their sex. Mostly I think we still smelled of the outside and the scent made them furious.

We’d crouch with our backs in the corner and scratch and kick at them. It was dreadful silent fighting, only heavy breaths coming irregularly and once in a while the sound of a blow. There were times when I couldn’t stop laughing and that made them ferocious. Even when I was very young I giggled when my mother whipped me.

There was once a wonderful dragon who lived on the top of a mountain quite some distance from here. This dragon shit peanut clusters. He pissed lemonade. When he had a cold his nose ran marshmallow cream. His ears had taffy in them instead of wax. Instead of the usual smelly sludge his belly button was full of caramel. He sweat honey, if he heard a sad story he cried pineapple syrup, and if he slept on his tummy at night there might be a big pool of sweet whipped cream between his legs in the morning.

Now this was a very cheerful, quiet kind of stay-at-home dragon who didn’t go around breathing fire or making trouble for anybody but just sat in his cave on the top of the mountain watching the sun rise and set and producing enormous quantities of peanut clusters and whipped cream and all the rest. It happened that the dragon never ate anything at all but once a year — at no particular time but whenever he felt like it — he would take just a thimbleful of pure water and drip it onto his tongue.

Since people had found the dragon so generally amiable and since he rarely said anything at all and there was never anything to argue about, there had over the years come to be quite a village built around the dragon’s cave. The people spent most of their time carting off the sweet things that came from the dragon. This kept the dragon’s yard tidy and what they couldn’t eat themselves they sold to other towns and so became very fat and well-to-do.

After several hundred years had passed with this arrangement very comfortable for all concerned, it happened one day that the dragon looked around for his thimbleful of water and, quite by accident you understand, somebody had put vinegar in it by mistake — now there is nothing wrong with vinegar in its time and place but when it is the time and place for sweet clear water vinegar will not do.

The dragon reached down and took the thimble and daintily tossed the clear liquid back onto his long blue tongue — he gasped and choked and coughed and when he coughed a spurt of flame came shooting out about a hundred yards and burnt up a little boy who had been standing by the dragon’s foot cutting devil’s food cake out from under the dragon’s toenails — the flame also scorched the dragon’s shins and set him dancing about yowling and coughing and whipping his tail until every house on the mountain fell down into itself from the shaking — with every cough the dragon burned a half a mile of whatever was in front of him and hurt his throat terribly. The more it hurt the more he coughed and the more he coughed the more it hurt. The people ran screaming in the streets and the streets caved in from the dragon’s bouncing and if they were in a field or under a tree they were burnt to little smears of charcoal whenever the dragon coughed — all that day he coughed and all that night and for a whole week all of every day and all of every night until from the ocean to the right and the ocean to the left and as far as anybody could know to the north and the south every living thing was burned and broken — bugs and birds and grass and trees and people and cows and all the houses and all the cars and all the land lay naked and black and the dragon stood alone on the top of his broken old mountain and gave one last tired cough that didn’t burn anything except one little yellow hair that liked to grow in the caramel crust just below the dragon’s belly button and the poor dragon was so tired that he lay down right there on his back with his legs in the air and fell sound asleep.

One day when we came back from dinner they were carrying Marge out on a stretcher. Her face was thick and blue. The matron said she had slipped in the shower and broken her arm and collarbone. She hadn’t come to dinner that day because she wanted to lose weight.

Kathy never took any part in those fights. She just sat around paying no attention like the rest. When I first came here she had a regular girl. After that girl was sent up to the federal pen Kathy would ask one or two of the other girls to spend a night with her in the key-cell.

Once when I was feeling bad she came and sat on my bunk and put her arm around me. She kissed me. It’s funny, for a minute I didn’t think of any difference between her and a man. Maybe because she didn’t see any difference. But she never asked me.

Some other new girls came in and the fights switched to them. Then I just sat around paying no attention and glad to be let alone.

She said carnal about me with the switch in her hand and I was lying on the floor with linoleum in my hands blue with old flowers spreading like on an old lady and it meant dirt and it was dirt and I had always known when Gretel was going to be eaten and I lay on the doll’s table and was Gretel and the witch came with the plastic knife from the tea set and where to start carving — I knew where she would and it should hurt but I knew it would feel good and the witch’s hand was my hand with the plastic knife and it always took so long to get to school though I could see the flag from the porch and I truly did not stop on the way but was always moving and in the same direction but everybody passed me on the way and it was always so interesting the pebbles and leaves and water in the gutter and how the tree grew and I know still there was something but maybe after all not a unicorn and if every step took so long could I — would I help it and the teacher was angry when I came in though I had been moving all the time and the little boy with the long white hair sitting with his lit

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tle arms and his little legs in the little chair but he was only in nursery school and too young for a kindergartner like me and I felt guilty but I loved him and when I went to the bathroom only to pee I was always moving and never stopped like they said and it only took so long because it was all so interesting but they said and once they took me to church and she pinned the red skirt on me but at the church I had to pee and forgot about how skirts lift up — there were so many people and the music and all alone in the booth I forgot how skirts lift up and unpinned it to pull it down and when I got home it wasn’t pinned the same way and she said I had let them do things to me and at school on the slide there was a bolt at the top where when you sat down your pantie leg got hooked on it and when you pushed off whee with your legs brown in front of you and the white fuzz on your legs like the embroidery on the cuff of your socks and when you pushed off even though you put your hand in your lap so your skirt wouldn’t fly up the bolt hung on and the panties tore and the first time I didn’t even notice but when I got home the panties were torn and she asked me if the big boys had been doing something to me and I said no and the next day it happened again on the slide and I noticed when that slide was colder going down and I said it was the slide and her mouth got thin and hard and she said does that happen to the other little girls and I said I don’t know and the next day it happened again and she went to the school and made the teacher look at the slide and they couldn’t see any bolt sticking up and when I looked I couldn’t see any bolt sticking up and all the other little girls went down the slide and it didn’t happen and I went down the slide and it didn’t happen and I didn’t go to that school any more.

When he came it started — one night I woke up and it was dark and I looked for her and she wasn’t there and I went down the stairs afraid and the girl with the yellow hair who lived in the basement was reading and the light was on her hair and I got down on my knees and my pajamas got muddy and looked at her through the window reading and she read to me until my mother came home with him and later I stayed with the girl with the yellow hair and after a while he came in and picked me up and kissed me and his face hurt my face and he smelled of beer sour and I put my hand on his face and pushed away and she said this is your new daddy. I hated him and told her sometimes that I saw him go into the tavern with another woman and she believed me and they would yell and he would look at me and I could see he was afraid and I called him George and would not say daddy. He went away on a boat and it was the old way again except that I had to sleep in her bed in the pale green room where the light came in the morning but I still couldn’t get up because she was asleep hot next to me and her heavy smell like when you first take a bath made me sick in the bright room and I opened the window and looked out and saw far down in the black mud my other red sandal where I had thrown it and she never found it.

I had to sleep with her and one day the bed was wet and I thought I had done it but she said her water broke and went away and I went to stay at Mrs. Rice’s where I slept alone in a bed with tall white bars and there was a big boy who sat beside me at the table and picked up one end of my corn on the cob between two of his fingers and spread butter steaming with the knife on all its sides and put salt and pepper and gave it to me hot and dripping and I had never had that before and loved him and there were holes in the floor and when you stood on the grates in the morning when it was still dark the wind came up onto you hot. After a while he came to take me away home again and I cried and didn’t want to go but he gave me candy and I sat beside him in the car and when we got home he said there was a surprise and it was a radio and the Lone Ranger was just coming on but there was no baby after all and she saw I had been crying and made me stand up in the washtub where I took a bath and she looked between my legs and screamed and said he had done something to me and ever after that she said he had done something to me but I don’t remember him doing anything to me. But always until I went away from her she would call me sometimes — call my name from wherever she was to wherever I was and I could hear in the way she called my name that she was going to say that and ask me if he had been doing it or maybe she would say I wanted it. Once after we moved the new house was still a mess and she was angry and went to take a bath and he told me to come and help him set up beds in the living room to help her and my little brother was there and we all put up the beds and made them and wanted to please her and when she came out she looked so hard and said are you through? to me in that sneer that meant through doing that  with him.

He never spoke to me and I never spoke to him because we both knew if he did or I did she would think and when I set the table I would not lean against it on the side he sat on or touch the chair he used and always held his plate and fork and spoon in two fingers and only for a second to slide them into place so she would not think I held them too long and was fondling them because they were his and I would not hang out his clothes to dry and I would not iron his clothes or fold his underwear in case she might think I did it because I liked him so she thought I hated him and it pleased her. Once he wanted to be nice, he was trying to be nice and she was angry he brought her flowers yellow and a dress as brown as chocolate soft it was — and he brought a little bowl so clear with water and a little goldfish in it swimming so beautiful and I held it carefully in my hands looking at it and she was yelling and she threw the flowers down and stamped on them and tore the dress in her hands and threw it at him and she was yelling at him and she looked at me hard and I looked at her and then I looked at the fish swimming swimming in the clean glass bowl and he was looking at me quiet, waiting and I opened my hands and the bowl fell onto the concrete floor and my legs got wet and there in the glass and the water running thin over the concrete the orange fish was flapping and gasping no bigger than my finger you could see through its tail so thin and he said “You could still save it if you wanted to” and I looked at my mother looking hard at me and I put my foot in the hard shoe on the fish and stepped down and smeared the fish over the concrete and then I stood back and he bent down and picked up the pieces of glass and went to dump them while my mother yelled at him.

She wondered why I never asked questions about that and once when I was taking a bath in the washtub on the kitchen floor — the old gray corrugated tin washtub that she bent over with the scrub board and poured hot water into from the big kettle and if you sat in it too long you came out with red dents in your bottom like sitting too long on the pot — it was raining almost dark and there was no one else home and she tried to explain about how babies are made and all that and I couldn’t think how to make her stop talking about it so I looked very hard at the yellow plastic duck how round and hard and smooth it floated between my knees with its black painted eye so cocky bobbing and her hands red and burned from the hot water and the knuckles raw where she scrubbed over my dungarees.

She always tucked me in with my arms outside so I wouldn’t play with myself and it was not in the room with the blue airplanes on the wall but I think the same house as the slide thing one night I was lying in bed awake feeling my nose and thinking about turkeys I remember thinking about turkeys and suddenly the crack of light where the door wasn’t quite shut got very wide and I put my hands up to my eyes and she bent over me and picked me up by the arm and took me downstairs and made me lie down on the couch and spread my legs and she looked at me very closely there and said you’ve been playing with yourself again haven’t you and I didn’t say anything because I usually didn’t say anything it feels so tired when that happens and somehow you almost don’t care and you draw back further and further into some quiet place and watch and she said show me show me how you do it and I just lay there and she got angry and she said if a bitch dog did that they’d have to kill her and the next morning at breakfast she said she would send me to an institution  if I did that any more and I couldn’t help it I started to cry and my big brother came in and said what’s the matter and she smiled and said Sexy here was monkeying with herself again last night and my brother took a piece of bread and went out. I always called him Brother — he would roll down the stairs grunting and groaning and calling my name and then lie very still sprawled at the bottom and I would come running down saying Brother! Brother! oh poor Brother! and crying I thought he was dead I took his poor head in my lap and touched him all over and cried he lay so still with his eyes closed and I couldn’t move him and then he opened his eyes and smiled at me all his golden freckles folding in his eyes and said do you love me Trinka? and I so happy he was alive said oh yes Brother and kissed his wrinkles near the eyes and he jumped up and said well then I’m O.K. Holy Cow I didn’t mean to make you cry and then he’d carry me out to the swing and let me watch him eat a raw lemon and maybe let me watch him carve the little totem poles in the kindling. He says when he was little she used to beat him all the time — she says no never but I believe him because Nicky who is younger than me remembers and I remember when she would go wild with the broom or the plunger and chase us all over the room under tables and beds screaming and poking and slashing and she says no never.

Nicky would always cry even before she hit him and I hated him for that and other things and once in the summer I would have killed him — he ran with his diapers almost touching the ground I silent behind him dragging the ax with its double face furrowing the dust — I pulling at all my arms and in all of my hands to bring the steel up on its long pale handle and let it fall once hard on him to quiet him to make him still and silent for once — she was cooking in the house out of earshot and I was nearly blind with killing him — with knowing what would happen if I could lift the ax high enough but then Brother was there and took the ax and hit me once hard across the head with his hand flat and took us each by the hand in to supper and I so shaking sick. I didn’t mind Nicky much after that.

When doorknobs were still high and people usually knees but no one was ready to carry me far — in the house in the project where George first came — there were children next door — girls — older — I would sit on the stoop next the coalbin where Brother hid with an apple jack-o’-lantern and they played in the dust between houses — I asked her how to get to know them and she said do this and leaned all her one side against the door jamb and bending her arm at the elbow and with the face of her hand up and all her fingers but her index finger curled up and her index finger pointing out with its soft belly up she crooked it — curled it back and straightened it and curled it back toward her again and her head was back against the door jamb and she looked out through almost closed eyes and then went away to make beds — I did that just like her to them and they came up and said Hiya stupid and tumbled me in the mud so I went in the coalbin with a match in the old apple jack-o’-lantern.

It was there she told me about hermaphrodites and I dreamed of them wonderful like cupids in the pictures round beautiful children all golden with wings flying over laurel hedges at night and I hiding down in the hedge and wanted so to be one but I read in the book they could “under no circumstances fertilize themselves” and lost interest.

Most of these girls are in here for prostitution or bad checks like me. Kathy’s got armed robbery and there are a couple of parole violators and shoplifters. There was one assault with intent to kill, that was Mad Patsy. Sister Blendina is the only murderer. There are a few, like Kathy, who are serving time here. The rest of us are waiting for trial. Blendina’s been here almost a year they say.

Rose is pregnant. Her husband Sherman is in Seagullville. His letters tell about golf courses, tennis courts, swimming pools — like a country club he says. That’s a federal pen.

Rose takes pills every day so she won’t lose her temper. When she feels like having a row she puts the pills down the toilet. We all tread easy around her though she’s so thin and tiny.

Sometimes I wake in the night and hear her cursing quietly in the next cell. She hates her belly. She has two deaf children. She is in for stealing her mother-in-law’s skunk coat and helping Sherman escape from some job or other. She says the only good thing about the kid is that they’ll let her out of here just before it’s born so they won’t have to pay for the delivery.

It has no name — that place — cunt is a man’s word or mine for another woman but not for my own — I have Jesus feet because of the matching scars on the arches — my hands are square and do  with all the lines in the left palm starting at the thumb and all the lines in the right palm far away from the thumb — my stomach is Gertrude and my hair is Rachel and Ass and Pits and Tits and Laigs and the me inside in the small place behind the eyes is KZ-Babe but that place has no name — it has smells — Bumblebee for the fish when it’s wet and not washed — and Piss and Blood — all smells but no name — Annie calls hers Tweety — her Tweety is awful sore.

Glad-Ass is on duty today. There are three or four matrons but I only see two of them, Glad-Ass and Mrs. Eliot. Mrs. Eliot is a tall, dignified gray-haired lady who dresses nicely and speaks gently. Glad-Ass is a fat nigger. Her name is Gladys but we call her Glad-Ass to annoy her. We treat her badly because she’s a nigger. It wouldn’t be so rough except that she thinks we treat her bad because she’s a nigger. She’s always much nicer to B tank than to us but then they’re nicer to her. I’m from the north, Oregon, and I always thought Negroes were just like anybody else. Since I’ve been here though, I’ve wanted to insult them.

When it burns out it seems like there must be another hole — it feels further forward and very small but when I feel there is only the one hole all the lips and the ridges leading into the one hole — it gets wet all in there as though it just rushed from the one big hole and when I hold the little mirror there and spread the lips it is all so confusing and red and wrinkled like the wrinkles were all accidents from the loose skin pressed together by my legs and I can’t tell and the hole itself is so small looking and I can hardly tell unless I touch which is really the hole and not just deep wrinkles — the picture on the Tampax instructions isn’t clear and I do it all by feel anyway and when I clench the muscles inside even with the mirror nothing shows but in class or when I’m listening to someone it must show in how steady my eyes are — how still my face is that I am concentrating somewhere inside flexing the muscles inside and learning how to tighten them separately from the asshole and how to push down and how to just close them without pushing so I can hold him there afterward and make him feel me even when he is small and soft and how to pull him back in with only those muscles when he is almost out and how nothing else moves but those muscles invisible and for so long I didn’t even know they were there until the first time it was good when it had not been before and I lay so surprised and felt those muscles tightening and opening like fists when you die.

Each cell has a little toilet in the back wall and there’s a towel jerry-rigged in front of each one but I don’t like to go there when there’s anybody else in the cell. There’s a toilet in a booth in the bull pen next to the shower but people can tell you’re going in there.

She would come in and pull the covers far down in one motion and grab both my hands to her nose with her mouth thin sniffing to see if I had been touching myself there. The smell isn’t bad but tart and brittle not like the pee smell of pants and the wet is wetter than water — why do they always think you put things into you bottles and candles and doorknobs they make jokes about thinking it’s instead of them and don’t understand it’s just the touching gentle and fast and the coming is different almost not there but all I can think about is them touching and them pulling it and the moving and their moaning in the dark and even though it’s not the same I think of nothing afterward but float and so awake before and so wild inside and afterward sleep is so easy lying still tired in all my parts like after he has come in me — how even when he makes me come — wild till I cry and then come laughing I don’t feel that used up — that tired until I feel his come hot into me and stay and I tilt up to keep it and don’t want to go to the bathroom or stand up but just lie there still and full of him and warm in myself and he warm and tired in me and sleep — and sad in the morning to feel it coming down and have to go and wash it away.

But here no one looks at anyone under covers — here when the lights are out no one knows or wants to know and I lift the blanket in a little tent over the hand so no motion would show even if someone looked and no one talks about it except to be mean if you really hate them because it helps and makes you calm and you can sleep.

I am lying on a mattress on top of the tower — it is pale and tall and the steps circle it going up like Babel in the pictures — each step carved into the face of the tower — and the tower narrowing to a point with only room for a mattress and me on the mattress and on each step a man stands faceless — formless — only the pricks distinct — standing red over purple balls — they are all waiting in line to get to me — on the thousand steps and the line ends here — and I lie still and do not move — my legs spread — my ass on a pillow — my head turned to see the line and not the face of the one on me now — I feel them — the thump as they fall on their knees on the mattress — sometimes they walk up between my legs on their knees — sometimes they fall on me with their legs straddling mine — forcing mine together once the prick is in — sometimes they kneel and lift me onto them — I always limp — unmoving — not pretending anything — they come in and drive deep and almost out and then all the way in again — their balls slapping against my ass and the crotch below the hole and sliding almost to the other hole as they come in — there is no pause between them — they finish and disappear — maybe there is a stairway down — maybe they fall off the edge — their chests do not press on mine — they hold themselves up by their arms — only our bellies and groins and thighs touching — the moving in and out is always slow and steady — I always feel it — I am never too dry or too wet — they all come in me but I am never full of it — they are all enormous — and they continue and will continue as long as I want them.

I can think like that at night when there is time and no one but Blendina — in the day I try not to — I turn away when they touch or kiss trying not to remember — only a moment — a particular lunge — the sound of them groaning over me — the sensation at first when they are very large — it all makes me sick to remember in the daylight — shuddering hungry all through me and I lean my face against the cool steel and close my eyes until it goes away.

Yesterday I wanted to leave. That was the first time. The food’s good. It’s warm. Outside I could only shiver and scrounge. It must have been the truck. I was looking out the window. I stand on the crossbars to see down because the window is across the catwalk between the bars and the wall. I could see the street, not clearly without but lots of traffic lights and the busyness on the sidewalks that means people. It was all gray. The sky the buildings, inside, outside all the pink and green in here all the colors out there all gray and then this truck — bright yellow like the buckets of daffodils the bums sell in the gray spring in Portland. Then the light changed and it went around the corner. I guess I wanted to see it again. I went to the door of the matron’s room. The lever wouldn’t open it. I knocked on the steel. She came and looked at me through the little window. The glass has crinkled steel wire running through it in a checkerboard. It was Glad-Ass. Even her dark face looked gray, neutral. I’d like to leave now. I want to go out. She laughed, her teeth showing and the dark gums, a ropy sound coming through the glass. The girls in the bull pen looked at me and nudged each other. Please, I’d like to go now. Glad-Ass laughed again and waved. I saw her pink palm moving across the glass as she turned away. I tried the door handle but it didn’t turn. The door was made of pink steel.

There’s a church on the street where my parents live. I used to go there in cold weather when I was staying away from home. One wall was all grained white glass, translucent and cold. The panes were held by black wooden frames and the light fell through onto the floor in shadows like bars make. I used to wonder if those bars were meant to keep sin out or sinners in. At least the bars that cast their shadows across my bunk in 4 cell are totally unambiguous.

She is shaking — red — her gray hands are white around the pointer and she slaps it on the desk like a golf club — she says Stomach —very clear and loud—Stomach — Navel — Stomach — Navel —and I standing by the seat whisper Belly Button — Belly — where the Injun shot me — it pops out with the knot at the end like a sock half rolled into itself — it pops out when I put my finger into it and pull and it sticks out from my belly — the short pale tube stiff with the knot at the end — if you’ll stop yelling I’ll show you how my belly button pops out — I sit on the pot with a bobby pin probing in my belly button and smelling at the soft white wet that comes out and then pop it out — pulling out on its sides till it pulls inside out and stands straight and hard — I thought boys had belly buttons that popped out and girls had just holes into themselves and the boy put his into her belly button — when she found the bobby pin on the washbasin she came looking for me with the plunger saying I had put it in the other place — Belly — don’t you ever let me hear you use that word while you’re in this school — it’s stomach —nice people don’t use that Other word.

Glad-Ass is getting ready to roll the gates. She hauls back on the long lever in the matron’s room and all the gates rumble open simultaneously. The roar and clang wakes everybody for breakfast. Kathy is already in the bull pen. They say she does hard time. They say she does her time on the streets. She climbs the bull pen bars every morning to look down into the streets.

We are going down for breakfast. We all line up in front of the door and Glad-Ass comes to open it. We march out past the matron’s desk which is always covered with pale intriguing folders with one of our names on each one. When Mrs. Eliot is on duty there is a flower in a small vase. When there is a flower the line swoops toward it, each head bobbing at the flower and then rising to go on. The girls from B tank are waiting for us in the elevator. It is as large as my mother’s bedroom and moves slowly. None of us know which floor the kitchen is on but we all know that it is down from the thirteenth floor.

The kitchen is not like the huge dining halls you see in prison movies. It’s more like the cafeteria of a small poor high school. It’s no larger than a large living room and there is no wall between the cooking and eating areas. There is a long counter with hot food trays on it. We pick up plates and spoons and file past the counter. The male trusties who work in the kitchen stand behind the counter and put food on our plates as we pass. They look at us but Kathy says they’re dosed with saltpeter every day and never know whether it’s in the coffee or the stew. None of them are fat and we look at them. The dykes joke with them like men joking together in front of their women.

There are four long tables. Two for B tank and two for C tank. We sit six on each side of the table eating our mush or pancakes with the spoons. We had forks until Jean tried to kill one of the girls from B tank. There is little talk at the table though it is not forbidden. We eat mechanically, not looking at each other out of consideration. If we want seconds we must not get up but we can call one of the men over and ask him for it. Many of the girls call men over. Rose never needs to call anyone. Two of the men watch her all the time and bring her everything before she runs out.

The matrons sit at the table with the deputies who guard the men. They talk quietly watching us. One of the deputies comes over frequently to talk to Rose. He whispers and she laughs throwing back her head and showing her fine teeth. She says she screws that deputy on the streets and he thinks the kid she is carrying is his. He gives her cigarettes. He is nearly bald and as dark as Glad-Ass. Even with her belly Rose is very beautiful.

Goldie wipes funny. She spreads her legs and puts her right hand down between far back with the tissue and pulls forward so if it’s smeary it all gets wiped forward into her cunt hair and cunt. I never thought of other people wiping different. I always reach around my right side with my right hand and down between till I can feel through the tissue it’s just below the hole and then wipe up to where the crack widens and then look at the tissue and fold it over and do it again. It’s neater and if it’s a shallow pot you might dip your hand or the tissue into the water going in from the front. From the back you have to be careful not to hit your knuckles on the seat but you learn to sit farther forward — probably all men reach around the back because of the balls in the way — men don’t wipe when they pee — when I pee I wipe the way Goldie does and when I do both I wipe twice — once each way — if you shit you almost always pee too at least a little — maybe men wipe their pricks if they pee while they’re shitting — just a little dab at the tip to blot it while he’s got the tissue handy anyway — all these girls — pulling down their pants and hiking up their skirts — fat pale bottoms spreading over the edges — I wish I could piss like a man, standing up so cool — belly thrown forward — shoulders back — head down watching — give it a shake and stuff it back in — pulling out on the pants and in on the gut to zip. It even sounds different — a steady pouring instead of all this splash and spray and you can’t aim — they were coming to repossess the furniture and she wanted to keep the rug — pistachio or spumoni and soft — she loved it and crouched with her skirt pulled up to her armpits and her chin on her knees staring down at the rug with her face very red and her hands folded tight — arms gripping her belly and we could see her water and the long brown steaming out in the cold room and it fell and first one end hit and then the other end and the first end bounced up a little like a log when it topples and she was crying and her nose was running and she was talking and she smeared it all over in the long hairs of the rug until they matted and stank in long strokes with an old newspaper and wanted us to come and do it too but we ran away and hid behind the cold furnace and heard when the knock came at the door and waited a long time to go up. She was cooking on a hot plate where the gas range had been and the rug was gone.

On the chalk board where the menu is usually written, someone has forgotten to erase the MERRY XMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR signed ARVID OWSLEY, JACKSON COUNTY SHERIFF. On the table in front of the window someone has forgotten to take down the little Christmas tree. Its needles fall faster than the snow outside the window.

Jean is brushing her hair. It is pink and electric. She has no eyebrows but draws them red and arching on her white face. Jean is a prostitute and works bars. She came here after I did but she has been here many times. On the day she came Kathy told us she had been seen downstairs being booked. Everybody was glad to see her. She spent the first night in the key-cell. The second night she slept in 4 cell. Since then she has been in 3 cell with Rose and the others. Sometimes Kathy teases her about being a one-night stand. Jean takes out her picture of Pudge. “That’s my little girl….Isn’t she sweet?” and kisses the picture. Pudge is short and fat. In the picture she is wearing a motorcycle jacket. Her hair is short, slicked back in a D.A. Pudge is a taxi driver. Usually Pudge brings Jean two cartons of cigarettes once a week on visiting day. One week she didn’t. All that week Jean cried at night and fought with everybody. On the next visi

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ting day Jean came back from the window crying. She said she felt horrible for having been so angry at Pudge. The snow had been very bad and Pudge had spent the money on boots to keep her feet from freezing. Jean explains how she can’t have children but they were going to arrange for Pudge to get pregnant and then they would raise the child. They would love a little girl. Jean is very tough but her face is lovely when she talks about it.

Goldie is asking for Kotex — she throws her hip out and pouts and looks up at Kathy saying may I please have some — and Kathy smiling looking down at her with her hands flat in her back pockets says sure they’re in here — and holds aside the key-cell curtain and Goldie flounces in expecting the pat on her ass and they are gone for a long time and everybody whispers making jokes like at parties when people disappear into bedrooms — and then Goldie comes out with her ponytail half undone and her face red and they kid her saying did you get what you wanted and Kathy says nothing — just strolls around the bull pen and everybody respects her.

Each morning after breakfast there is Jesus humma on the intercom. There is a speaker in the back wall of each cell. A man says:

Hail Mary, full of Grace,

The Lord is with thee.

Blessed art thou amongst women

And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus….

Then a group of women repeat it — then he says it and they repeat it. Over and over again for three hours every morning. There is a steel screen all around the speakers and there is no way to turn it off. It usually puts me to sleep. The slap of Blendina’s cards goes on. Sometimes I imagine it is the snap of the whip on the shoulders of the women who are praying. I can see them kneeling on the stone floor in their mint green robes. The man passes between them, striking slowly and chanting, striking slowly as they chant. It drives Rose crazy. After it’s been on for half an hour or so each morning she runs to the john and stuffs toilet paper in her ears. She marches up and down the bull pen beating her belly with her fists and crying:

Hail Mary full of fish

The Lord hath fucked thee

Cursed are thee and the

Fruit of thy womb Jesus!

After a while she lies on the floor laughing. Periodically she shouts “Fruit of thy womb, Jesus!” and goes on laughing.

We are all very neat and tidy. There is so little space that if it is at all cluttered you go berserk. All the bunks are made within minutes after we get up in the morning. We are jealous of our bunks. They are all we can claim as property. Two and a half feet by six. The green uniforms are washed in the jail laundry and the one you’re wearing today may be on some other size twelve tomorrow. But the bunks are our own and only friends are allowed to sit on them.

They say if you do much time you come out neat for life. The janitor at a place I once worked in had spent eighteen years in prison in Alabama. He kept the floors shining and each chair sat up to its desk just so. He once told me I was the first woman he’d seen after he got out.

They are looking for the horse carver. It seems one of the horses is missing. They came back in the morning and the pole was empty. It changes the probability — it alters the balance of the machine — it disappoints children. There is a sign on the pole $1,000 reward and they are searching for Geppetto.

The shrinks have joined the campaign. They swim nightly to yachts in the harbor — breast-stroking singly and in groups — sniffing out the bunks of sad-eyed homosexuals and pissing into them — stand barefooted dripping in the narrow aisles waving piss out from under their bellies onto the feather-comforted fags and then dive back and a long swim to the pale little boat and the Yiddish Falange. When dawn comes they argue eclectic electroshock in their black rubber suits and eat horse meat in secret.

The little markets with their German proprietors spring up in every town selling loins and ribs and roasts and horseburger and the students go ostentatiously and serve horse meat to the faculty with all the proper sauces in an artificial ethnos — there is no other word — no innocent word like beef or pork or venison so the little old ladies buy just a pound for my poodle she’s so spoiled and poor mothers feed it to small daughters lying and children sit chewing one bite for the longest time it is so tough and cry in the movies when the horsie gets hurt and in all the small towns and all the medium sized towns people sit in dark places gnawing guiltily at horse meat and indiscreet Miss T. develops a strange laugh and racing legs and an inclination to dive into every fire she sees.

I write my name on the wall behind the bull pen john. There’s a space above the ventilation shaft that can’t be seen unless you’re standing on the pot. The air from the shaft makes the wall black and greasy there. I write it in the dirt with my finger. I flush the toilet once in a while with my foot so nobody will blunder in on me. I started this after they took the Bible away with Patsy.

We all knew she was weird as soon as we saw her. I was sitting in the bull pen just to be out of the cell for a while. The door opened and she came marching in looking straight ahead. We all stared. She was wearing a white cashmere suit and alligator heels. Her hair was cut off blunt at the ears and was a peculiar greasy black color that jarred with the paste of her face. Her eyes were pink and wild. Under her arm she carried a huge white leather Bible. Kathy stepped up when she came in but the matron came in and fastened the door behind her. She motioned Kathy away. It was Mrs. Eliot. We all respected her so nobody said anything. She said “Girls, this is Patsy, she will be staying with us for a while.” She smiled around at us with her rosy old-lady face as though this were a guest and we were to make her welcome. We were all amazed but one or two people said Hiya Patsy and hello and then halted not knowing what to do. Patsy didn’t look as if she knew we were there. Mrs. Eliot glowed proudly. “Kathy, will you be so kind as to bring a uniform to 4 cell for Patsy? About a fourteen I should think.” Kathy wandered off to get the uniform. Patsy had not moved since she came in. Her eyes were fixed straight out on nothing. Mrs. Eliot touched her arm and they marched toward 4 cell. We followed wondering. I heard Rose muttering behind me “Who the hell is she? Lynda Bird?”

Mrs. Eliot turned her into 4 cell just before she hit the wall. Patsy immediately sprawled onto my bunk. I felt a snarl coming up and clamped down, surprised. Mrs. Eliot lifted her quickly saying “I believe that bunk is occupied my dear. Here’s a nice one that hasn’t been taken. Now you make yourself at home and ask Kathy for anything you need. She’ll bring you a nice clean uniform and you can change into that so she can hang up your lovely street clothes so they’ll be fresh when you go. All right? The girls will help you with whatever you don’t understand. Goodnight dear.” She patted Patsy on the shoulder and went off smiling reassuringly at us.

Patsy still hadn’t moved. We stared at her and she stared at the floor. Kathy broke the spell by barging in with her hands on her hips, a uniform slung over one shoulder and a pair of Goodwill saddle shoes with the strings tied together over the other. “Aaah get out of here you sheep!” The other girls broke up and wandered away grumbling. I stayed sitting on my bunk where no one could chase me away.

Kathy flung the stuff on Patsy’s bunk. “Climb into that and give me your duds. Snap it up.” Patsy looked up at her and I could see her whole scalp move back away from her face maybe a quarter of an inch — the eyes were wide and the mouth started to open. I started talking fast, telling her that her clothes were nice and she’d got a nice bunk and what was she in for. I didn’t sell magazines. It’s a real skill to distract someone from a danger they can sense instinctively.

For a while Patsy talked and I asked questions. We became what you might call friends. She had an incredibly whiny voice. It was annoying, always brimming with something painful. It seemed like she was always on the verge of something but never quite into it, tears, a rage, a sulk. She couldn’t say “Pass the butter” without putting into that voice a plea not to be hated.

In my memory her face and Marie-Sophie’s have run together but the impact was the same with both of them. Formless, boneless, gushy skinned, pale eyes tinged pink and never quite steady, always jerking. She could never look you in the eye.

This is what she told me: A year and a half ago her hair had been long and yellow. She had been in town waiting for the bus home. A man drove up and offered her a ride. She knew him slightly. They went to the same church, so she accepted. He drove her out onto a country road and raped her. She said it was a custom car with no door or window handles on the inside, just pushbuttons on the driver’s side. She had struggled and would have jumped out but she couldn’t open the door. When he was through with her he let her out on the road and she walked home. Her parents took her to the police and she told them who it was and what had happened. They brought him in but he just laughed and said she had been willing, that she wanted it and liked it and was over twenty-one and since when was that a crime? There were no witnesses. It was her word against his. The police let him go and told her to go home and not make so much trouble for her admirers or she’d never get married. She went home and cut her hair short and shoe-blacked what was left of it. She put on every girdle she could find and hadn’t taken them off since. She did have shoe-black on her hair. You could smell it, and when she slept it made her pillow black and greasy. She wore seven girdles even when she slept.

She took to reading the Bible and decided she had a right to take revenge on the guy if the police wouldn’t do it for her. She started carrying a pistol in her purse. A year after the rape she went to a concert. She saw him there with another girl. He looked at her and then said something laughing to his date, Patsy didn’t know what. Patsy took out her pistol and shot him in the belly.

So she was here. I think she was out on bail for a while because she told me about her stepmother locking her in the bedroom and not letting her out at all so she had to pee in a jar. I never heard of bail for attempted murder. She said the guy didn’t die.

We talked a lot after that first night. I was as greedy for talk as she was. I couldn’t bring myself to say much to anybody else but her. I guess it was because she was weaker in the head than me.

We’d have big theological discussions. She’d quote Old Testament Eye-for-an-eye stuff to prove she had a right to kill the guy and I’d spout New Testament Revenge-is-mine and Thou-shalt-nots to prove she didn’t. I knew quite a bit of stuff because I was a renowned agnostic in high school and people were always trying to save me. I’d go to their picnics and wienie roasts and soak it all up. Besides that I used debate techniques. Whenever I ran out of real quotes I’d make some up. She never knew the difference. She was always reading her Bible but she only read the parts that were on her side. I outargued her every time. Any debate coach would say so, but she was never convinced.

I don’t know why I bothered arguing. I really agreed with her and wished the bastard had died.

It was to convince Patsy that I started copying the Bible on the wall. I did it over her bunk with this same pencil. I started on the New Testament because she already reeked of the Old. I’d work at it all day, arguing with her all the time and underlining parts I wanted her to pay special attention to. It was the only way she’d let me look at her Bible and it was the only thing around to read. I still don’t know how she got by with bringing it in. When they took her away they took the Bible too.

I got up to the seventh book of Acts before the mess. The last thing I wrote was: “…Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee.”

It was just before Christmas when Patsy came in and there was a commotion going on all the time in the tank. Rose was making cards to send to her friends. She fancies herself an artist and tells big stories about how she had her own studio to work in when she was in the state house. All she had to work with was a ball-point and some cheap writing paper so I shouldn’t have judged her so hard but I always considered myself pretty good at sketching and her stuff didn’t compare to mine. I guess it was that professional jealousy that started the scene. She decided she was going to send a card to the Sheriff. The whole tank was supposed to sign it.

Everybody was laughing and feeling Christmasy. The shoplifters were wishing they were out on the streets to take advantage of the crowds. Rose told how she used to use a plastic pregnancy to shoplift with. I was sitting on my bunk thinking and listening. Patsy was reading her Bible on her bunk. Then Joyce, one of the girls from 3 cell, came in to get the card to the Sheriff signed. She was hopping around sprightly and cheerful and said “Hurry up Turdhead” when she handed it to me. I remembered how she was in for bad checks like me only she’d written a lot of them for dresses and record players and had lots of money in the commissary fund for candy and cigarettes and stationery and junk and she was eighteen like me and already had a long record and her husband was rich and her ma screwed the judge that was going to try her so she was going to get off light.

Then I started thinking about the Sheriff. I’d seen him in the kitchen a couple of times and he was fat and ugly and went marching around feeling very happy with himself with a gun hanging on his fat ass and that chalked message on the menu board — I looked at all the names written in blue ball-point under that emaciated ball-point Santa Claus face and I didn’t want to sign. Right then nothing could have made me sign. I handed the card back to Joyce. She said “Sign it!” I don’t want to. She shrugged and turned to Patsy who was crouching in a corner of her bunk looking wild. “I don’t want to sign it either. How do I know you’re not going to use my signature to do something bad to me?” Joyce looked disgusted and stomped out. She told the girls in the bull pen that we wouldn’t sign. Rose came in and wanted to know whether we thought her Christmas card wasn’t good enough for us to sign. That was a good piece of it on my part but I didn’t feel like talking. I rolled over to the wall. Patsy started her thing again but Rose got furious and screamed “You know better!” at her. That was the last thing Patsy needed. She was already scared to death of everybody but me. She started bawling. Rose roared out.

I could hear them talking in the bull pen about how if we didn’t want to associate ourselves with the tank then we couldn’t have the tank’s privileges: no TV, no free laundry, no commissary, no going to the kitchen for meals and on and on like that. They were deliberately talking so we couldn’t help but hear them. Rose went on about how she just wanted to do something nice and the Sheriff had been awful good to us and this place was like a country club compared to some jails she’d been in.

I was lying with my face to the wall on the rough blanket of my bunk getting mad. With every word I heard I got madder. I couldn’t say just why, maybe because I’d been in 4 cell so long. I jumped up and went to the gate, I leaned out into the bull pen and yelled: If that’s the way you’re going to be about a goddamned Christmas card you can shove it up your ass! Jean was standing near me. She swung once with her right hand — hard. I felt the whole left side of my face go numb with the whack of her fist. My nose started bleeding. I stood staring at her with my blood running over my mouth and down the uniform. I turned around without saying any more and went in to my bunk. Patsy heard the whack and saw the blood. She sat rocking back and forth on her bunk moaning. Her eyes were rolling pale, she mumbled “Them Lesbians, them Lesbians!” I felt a little tired and very calm as though I had cried for a long time. Sister Blendina was playing solitaire. They never even asked her to sign.

The next day my nose was very swollen and kind of purple across the bridge and under my eyes. Patsy looked at me lying on my bunk when she woke. She turned away and started moaning into her pillow.

It wasn’t the first time I’d broken my nose and I wasn’t worried. When the gates rolled I dressed and lay back down. The other 4 cell girls looked as they passed me. They went out quickly without saying anything. After a while Kathy came in and looked at me. She kind of grinned and said “Fell down in the shower, eh?” I smiled at her. She went away. A few minutes later Jean came in and sat on the bunk beside me. That’s a great right you’ve got there, ever do any boxing? “Well kid, I’m sorry, I’ve got an awful temper and I know you hurt Rose’s feelings.” I thought of how she looked when she talked about Pudge. Jean, it wasn’t your fault, I deserved it and I would never tell on you. I wanted to reassure her. I wanted to be nice. She stiffened as though I’d barfed on her. Her face was horrible. “Bitch…Bitch…if you ever say that…never say you won’t squeal on me!” She went out and didn’t speak to me again.

Mrs. Eliot saw me at breakfast and clucked over me and said she’d been after the Sheriff for the longest time to put rubber matting in the showers but he just laughed at her.

Dorothy McInrick and I went down to the infirmary. She’s a nice little dumpling who’s always afraid someone won’t like her. She’ll make a little joke and we’ll all chuckle and then she’ll look around with huge eyes and say “Are you mad at me?” She even says that to me as though she really cares what I think of her. The others don’t give a damn what they say or do in front of me. I feel sorry for Dorothy. I heard Rose talking once about how she and Dorothy were upstate in the federal pen together a few years ago and Dorothy had been very pretty then with a doll face and a nice figure. It was the jails that made her the way she is now. She’d lost all her teeth and the state wouldn’t give her plates so she had to gum her food. There is never enough time to eat so she could never get it down properly. She had indigestion all the time. Dorothy’s mouth sank in over her gums and her belly and butt were very round. The eyes were always looking out over everything. She took good care of her hair. It was long and shining auburn and hung far down her back in corkscrew curls.

The doctor set my nose with a white A-shaped bandage. The point on my forehead, a leg on each cheek and the crossbar over the bridge of my nose. I felt very symbolic about that and thought about Dogsbody. When he was done with my nose he just flipped the sheet the other way and gave me a vaginal. As I was getting dressed the nurse came in for a blood sample. She sank the needle into my arm almost without looking. I was embarrassed when the vein collapsed. She shook her head and went off carrying a little tube of my blood.

I heard Kathy tell the others about a young fag she knew who had been sent up for the first time. She said he was smart. When he got onto the block he yelled for the key-man. When the guy showed himself the flit jumped into his arms and said “Take care of me big daddy, I’m in for five years!”

After that Christmas card scene Patsy hung on to me all the time. She’d almost follow me into the shower except she would never take off her girdles so she never took showers. I saw them when she undressed at night. Seven of them, black, white, pink, sweat gray, seven girdles. You couldn’t tell what she was shaped like for the lumps. I made fun of her and asked if they weren’t hot and how’d we really know she was a girl and she smelled awful never bathing and just pulling them open a little to pee. I’d grown used to the thigh-links by that time though I dressed under the covers to keep people from seeing them.

It was arithmetic and he sat in front of me and his hair was as soft and fine as fur and his skin so golden smooth with the pale hairs all growing in one direction on his arms and his clean body so close and I leaned over to look at his funny drawings and felt it come up inside me so strong whirling to put my arms around him and hold him close to me — I could barely see and how hungry to touch him almost bent me over and all the people and what he would be doing while I was doing that and I fell back shaking in the seat and lay silent and sick on the desk until the bell rang.

I used Patsy. Her parents never came to see her but they left lots of money for her in the commissary. She didn’t smoke and probably would never have gotten anything but I made her order candy. I’d steal it from her and give it to the other girls so they’d like me. They still didn’t so I’d go back and eat it myself. I tried to get her to order stamps and paper so I could write letters but she wouldn’t. She probably believed the mails were sinful. She always ordered matches even though she didn’t smoke. She’d go around with a book of matches in her hand all the time and sometimes she’d watch one burn. I could never figure out what she did with so many of them. She was always ordering more matches but I seldom saw her using the ones she had. Then one day I looked under her bunk and there were thousands of burnt-out matches. There were whole books that had been fired all at once. I knew she must be lighting them at night while we were asleep. Still I didn’t think much of it till later.

The night it happened I was playing checkers with one of the new girls after the gates had closed. The lights were still on but most of the girls were asleep. Patsy had moved into the upper bunk across from my lower. She was lying under the covers with her eyes open playing with her matchbook. The new girl and I were carrying on the speculative dialogue of a checker game: “Now let’s see, if I move here you’ll jump me there and there and if I move there you’ll jump here.” We were talking quietly so as not to wake people. In the middle of one of my moves Patsy’s voice came whining “I hear you whispering. You can’t fool me.” We looked up. What are you talking about? “I hear you whispering about jumping up here and attacking me.” Don’t be stupid Patsy. We’re just talking about the checker game! We went back to it indignantly. I should have seen it in her eyes then but I was tired of noticing things about her. Some time had passed and we were absorbed in our game again when I remember hearing Patsy mutter that she was going to “Burn out all this evil.” I paid no more attention, she was always talking to herself. I admit I heard the matches striking but in a place where most people smoke constantly a lighted match is nothing odd. As it was, neither of us looked up again until we heard the flames hissing.

She had dropped her burning matches on the blankets of the bunk next to her and the bunk below her and onto her own bunk. The other bunks were smoking and small flames licked through the sheets around the girls sleeping there. On Patsy’s bunk the flames were coming through the sheets and her shoe-blacked hair was smoking. I yelled something, not a word but loud, and jumped at her. She was trying to light another match. I grabbed her arms and tried to pull her off the bunk but she was wild and strong. She kicked and scratched screaming “GOD! GOD! GOD!” I saw bodies rolling around me beating at the flames and heard yelling back and forth between the cells. Questions and the shouted answer “FIRE!” Then, ducking to avoid Patsy’s feet I saw Blendina lay a burning card upon a black queen. The flames were hungry around her and she reached for a black jack. I was mad then and I hit Patsy as hard as I could in the throat. I pulled her off the bunk and she lay on the floor choking with her hair smoking and her girdles browning at the edges. I saw the red of the smoldering elastic burning at her waist and I kicked her as I turned to slap at the flames that were eating her bedding. They were too much for us to handle and the metal bunks were too hot to touch. The girls flopped on the nonburning bunks and drummed at the walls with their feet. The drumming had already started in the other three cells and it moved through the whole floor like an earthquake. With the gates locked in these metal cells we could fry or suffocate unless someone came quickly. I knelt in front of Sister Blendina and slapped at the small fires that had started in her cards. She went on laying them down in their fastidious order even though the blanket was pouring out thick white smoke and their faces were black and curling. She looked at me as I took a burning card from her hand. Fire was falling into her hair from the bunk above. The walls were thundering around us from the kicking feet. She looked at me with her eyes and her face. Her ancient face and her newborn eyes unchanging. I bowed over the cards and cried.

The gates rolled and the chemical spray killed the room. I got up. Blendina went on laying out her black cards on the bunk between her legs. Glad-Ass stood at the open gate with the empty fire extinguisher in her hand. Patsy was clawing at her. “They were going to rape me with a Tootsie Roll!” Glad-Ass said “Who?” Patsy turned, gaping, and pointed at me.

When there are crowds on the street I am afraid — they are such a distraction — they are so exciting — and have to hold onto myself very tight for fear I’ll turn around and find I’ve heaved a brick through a window or pulled somebody’s hair or clubbed someone to death without noticing — once I kicked an old lady not thinking because she looked at me disapproving dirty hippie I could see it and caught her in her unsuspecting righteous knee as she passed with the toe of my big-nosed sneaker — she dropped all her packages and when I noticed what I’d done I ran away horrified and bragged about it later as though I’d meant it.

We took everything out of 4 cell. All the mattresses and bedding, the uniforms, the light bulb. We left only the pink steel walls and bunks and the vague white porcelain toilet gurgling at the back. We locked Patsy all alone there in the dark in 4 cell. All the girls from 4 cell moved into 3 cell. Two cell already was partially doubled up. There were fifteen of us in the one cell. Blendina was the only one who had a bunk alone. I don’t know how she got there. When I straightened up from arranging mattresses, she was there in 3 cell in the same position playing solitaire.

Most of the girls slept two in a bunk. I and three others slept on the floor beneath the lowers.

We all hated Patsy. We were there in 3 cell for five crowded days. Each day we hated her more. We couldn’t understand what the trouble with the authorities was. They said Patsy was nuts and didn’t belong here. We agreed and wanted to know why they didn’t get her out of here so we could have our cell back. They said they couldn’t put her into isolation because isolation was punishment and you can’t punish someone for being nuts. They couldn’t get the nuthouse guards to come and take her until a lot of papers were signed and other hoorah gone through. So Patsy stayed in 4 cell alone.

I was finally in 3 cell and was doing everything I could to make sure I’d be asked to stay. During the day I threw paper cups full of water through the bars at Patsy. At night I pretended to hear her masturbating in the next cell.

On the fifth day when we came back from dinner I went down to 4 cell for a look at her. She was on her knees at the back of the cell with her head in the toilet. Her Bible lay beside her. Her arms lay out on either side of the bowl. Hey! come look at this! She’s drinking out of the toilet! The other girls came and looked. Kathy shouted “Patsy! Patsy! Are you all right?” Then I realized there was something strange about the way she was just leaning into the bowl like that. Kathy ran for a matron. It was Glad-Ass again. She unlocked the gate and went in.

I went in to the bull pen john and puked. By the time I came out they had taken her away and 4 cell was more or less back to normal with Blendina in her own bunk playing solitaire with a new deck. I went into 3 cell to find my bedding and straighten it out. It was gone. Somebody had dumped it on my old bunk in 4 cell.

Sometimes at night when the gates are closed and the lights are first off, Kathy sings. “If I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly.” I heard somewhere that on the outside she is a drummer with a country western band. She sings like a man — deep and graveled from somewhere deep between her legs.

When the toilet in 3 cell goes bad the plumber comes with his male-smelling khakis and his heavy shoes to sit on a rear bunk and smoke while Kathy fixes it. She with her sleeves rolled up over pale long arms as hard as a boy’s and she with square hands pulling at long open-mouthed wrenches and long stiff spirals of wire — they talk outside of us over the white bowl considering its secret coldly familiar — like the abortionist or the carver of jack-o’-lanterns — we stand outside waiting — quiet — amazed at their

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skill — frightened as the pieces show themselves.

It’s been months now. The winter is old and was just beginning when I came here. The snow is gray now even as it falls. There is more light. Even the nights are no longer totally black. Strange things happen in the cells these nights. There seem to be things moving behind the bars. I am positive now that Blendina goes on playing in the dark. I can hear her cards as I lie not sleeping. I dream strangely when I do sleep. Last night I saw all the dykes in a big public john like at the bus terminal. They were dressed as priests and were holding mass. They each went into a booth to wait for some woman to come to confession. I came in dressed as a novice nun. I went into Kathy’s booth. She blessed me and said that she had watched me sleeping in my coffin and seen me masturbating on my crucifix. I cried and repented and she took pity on me and absolved me.

It must have been two weeks before Christmas. A couple of well dressed Jaycee types came into the cell with two large cardboard boxes. Kathy talked to them and they treated her very respectfully. She and the girls from 3 cell spent that whole day stuffing envelopes and addressing them for Christmas seals. They didn’t ask me to help but I saw one of the cards drop on the floor. It had a little crippled kid on it. He was leaning on crutches and had eyes like Dorothy’s. At the top of the card was the one white word GIVE.

No one talks about it. No one says anything about what happened in the cells last night. The way the tanks are set up all the sounds from any point on the floor are carried throughout the floor by the steel of the walls and bunks. A sustained sound at a certain pitch sets up a harmonic that moves in waves returning and going out again. Last night somewhere in the tanks someone started moaning at just that pitch. It echoed through the floor until we couldn’t tell where it had started. A low steady note of unceasing pain. Others joined in, all on the same pitch and more and more people until all of C tank was moaning — was breathing out that one note. I listened and realized that the moan came from my throat too. At first I was sure the moan had sprung from B tank but I could feel the sound waves pouring back through the steel from D tank, and from far-off A tank.

Somehow I couldn’t be sure that this moaning hadn’t come first from my own throat. It was a steady thing, not dependent on a single breath but flowing from us all without volition. I began to cry. All around me the women were crying, tears falling and sobs beating through the walls and the walls ached with our tears and the men moaned on and the walls, the steel plates between us, magnified the sound till the stone of the building shook with the sounds of men and women weeping. The windows rattled and the walls shook with the weight of the sound but no matron came to throw lights on us — no one moved in the bunks. We all lay as though dead and weeping.

After a long time the sound died out, but so gradually that you never noticed its stopping. Even now with the white light casting metallic shadows through the bars I can feel it. Still, nobody talks about it.

That night I heard them in D tank. My bunk hangs on the last wall of C tank. On the other side, that wall holds D tank bunks. On this night there must have been a new boy. I don’t know whether D tank is colored or white. I heard a grunt and then my bunk jumped as something heavy fell on the bunk next to me with the wall of quarter-inch steel between. I could hear the voices through the wall. “How’s that gag? Man don’t let it slip. Let’s see his ass— Wow! Goddamn, he’s never been fucked! Let me on him! Hold him tight boys I’m gonna ride him hard!” My bunk shook and rattled as though I were bouncing on it. “Give it to him — give it — ram him — oh Sparky, you never did me that way! — get the hell off there and let somebody else have a turn.” It went on for a long time. I lay touching the wall, trying to reach through the steel. I heard the other girls breathing slowly. It seems to me that Blendina’s cards were still slapping on one another even here in the darkness. After a long time they left him. I heard him crying quietly next to me. His voice was warm and low even in the crying. I thought he must be very young.

Every day the matron comes in with the mail. She stands in the bull pen and calls out names — there are letters from lawyers and lovers and families and busy-bodies — sometimes there is money or a card — for a while the letters are being read — slowly, painfully — everything is quiet except the murmur of Kathy reading to Dorothy who never got around to going to school. Then Rose laughs at something in the letter from Seagullville. “Sherman says he’s gained five pounds since he’s been there — he’s gained two and George has gained three! He calls it George!” Then they talk and show letters — or cry or sit still looking at nothing with a letter hanging from their fingers.

The matrons read all the mail before they hand it out — every letter is read before it is mailed from the tank. People who have been here a while pay no attention to who reads it besides the addressee. They write anything — everything — or dictate it to whoever is handy if they haven’t got “the hang of lettering.”

Patsy got no mail while she was here.

Blendina has never received a piece of mail.

I got a letter about two weeks after I came here. It had been mailed in the jail and read by the deputy — it went down to the K.C.P.O. — came back and was read by the matron — then I got it. It was from Dean — a guy who had been working with my magazine crew. He got busted the same day I was for burglary. If he knocked on a door and nobody answered he broke in. They traced his robberies through nearly every town we had stopped in from Seattle to Boston — New Orleans to Kansas City.

He was a big loud brag. He bumped against girls and came on as sincere as a used-car salesman.

We all hated him. He always had money. Once in the car between Green River and Laramie he had singed my eyelashes when his butane lighter flamed too high. The manager looked at him hard. “Where did you get that lighter?” “I found it.” He stuck it into his pocket and was quiet a while.

The letter said he was sorry for what he’d done — that everyone had been very kind to him and he was going to straighten up and get a good job when he got out. He prayed a little at the end. I tore it up and took a shower. I used to look at him out of the corners of my eyes sometimes.

The other letter came a long time later. It surprised me because nobody on the outside knew I was there. I hadn’t written out. It was in ball-point pen on ruled notepaper in a big dumb hand. It said:

“You don’t know me but I heard about you from Horace [the crew manager]. I use to work on a mag. crew and would like to help if you’ll let me. I know a good lawyer who could get you off. I’ll come and see you this Sunday and we can talk about it. If there’s anything you need like money or cigarettes or anything just let me know. Your friend Jerry Simmons.”

I folded it up carefully with the ring holes inside and put it in my pocket. I lay on the bunk. That was Friday. Saturday I thought he would be blond and young and concerned with “human rights.” I washed my hair and brushed it dry and went to bed early.

Sunday is visitors’ day. At the far end of the bull pen there are three little windows in the wall at eye level. They look like portholes — the glass is thick and brown from some old fire. Beneath each window is a grid. It is a microphone and speaker. You can’t see anything through the windows unless you know what you’re looking for. The speakers crackle any voice. The visitors stand in the hall outside and shout through a speaker — the inmates stand at the windows inside and shout. You’re not allowed in the bull pen during visiting hours unless you have a visitor — then they call your name. You come out of the cell fast. It’s very noisy. There are girls crowding at the windows jumping and shouting each to different people outside. They reach up their hands and touch the glass and someone on the other side touches their hand through the glass. Everyone shouts. No one can hear. Someone says “Let me see you” and a girl runs back and jumps up on the bull pen table to pose and primp and laugh. Someone says “Let me see you” and someone outside moves to the far side of the hall and poses and turns around and spreads their hands. There are fights through the glass, and flirtations, insults and innuendoes, slights and questions. Questions — what when why when who when when when. It starts at one o’clock right after lunch and goes on till three. Then it stops.

All morning long there is fixing of hair and makeup and ironing of uniforms.

Every week Jean washes her pink hair and rats it into cotton candy high on her head and draws thick red eyebrows that arch and then drop down to her cheekbones and takes off her size fourteen and puts on a size ten uniform and her best bra and paints her nails siren red and shows the picture of Pudge with her D.A. and cabby’s shoulders.

Joyce puts her short poodle cut up in pink foam rollers and then combs it into bangs and puts on blue eye shadow and dark lipstick and smooths her uniform over her high full breasts and long sloping buttocks.

Every week Kathy wets her pale hair and slicks it back into a D.A. with a short black comb — pushing it back over the ears with the heels of her hands.

Every week Dorothy spends the night with her long hair in rags so the corkscrews will be firm and full for Sunday. She stands in front of the mirror practicing pooching her lips so her gums don’t show when she speaks.

And all the others — even me this time — he might want me — but never Blendina.

Lunchtime — we can’t eat — oxtail stew again — the small bones rolling on our tongues.

The tank is warm — the pillow on my bunk is thick and white — sheets, a blanket — a pencil—4 cell is all right — you don’t have to be sociable and chatter all the time — you can’t — but then usually I don’t want to anyway.

We are so afraid of eating each other. Sharks do — wolves do — it is irresistible — there are no vegetarian summer camps in the sea — the messiah leads his enclave of rusted adolescents to the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais where they consume carrot cookies and high protein vegetable patties with pure cane sugar cubes waiting for the end of the world and casting each other’s horoscopes — in the winter with the snow crusting we sat by the heater listening to newscasts of UFO sightings while Mother told us that when the aliens came they would want a few very special people to take back with them to study. She said I would be one and I sat hugging myself waiting anxiously for them to arrive — I was ready to go then and dreamed that night on my belly with my head on my arm that I woke and the pale soft hairs on my arms were long and silky and thick as goat’s hair and all over my body the white goat’s hair was growing. The Goat Woman would know — she lived in a trailer by the garbage dump and all the sick animals went to her with her cotton dresses and her shoes cut from inner tubes — she never combed her hair and the animals lived there undisturbed. I would run tiptoe desperate over the grass afraid to step on the bugs — the million bugs who would meet me in heaven when I died — and never pick a flower — never eat meat or milk or eggs for fear of them — not love of them but fear of meeting them alive in me — how disgusting they all were — the living things — and I sitting in the tree above the brindle bull giggling as the Goat Woman went past and carefully not touching what she touched and carefully not shitting near the well or the garden for fear of typhoid in the rutabagas — great bleeding yellow typhoid tomatoes.

It’s time. Glad-Ass is calling me. It’s slow and thick all the way to the window — looking through with my hands braced against the wall of the tank — hair floating behind me — he has yellow eyes he is yellow and dark with orange hair he looks at me with holes in his face — pimple scars in Man-Tan his nails are black at the glass his teeth are showing long and bucked and black with pale vaulting gums he is tall and cheap and looks past me at Goldie dancing on the table with her long jaw hanging below black lipstick he says Hey! You know I tried to get that little piece in a bar out on Michigan Avenue a month or so ago but we couldn’t agree on the price. He is talking — looking at me again from the yellow eyes — he wants me to move back so he can see me and I hate the saddle shoes two sizes too big and my bare legs where they won’t let me have a razor to shave them and my arms feel thick and everybody else’s argument gets tangled in the conversation. He wants me to admit I did it and he knows a lawyer if I’ll live with him in Santa Monica he has plenty of money and used to manage his own magazine crew. He can see I’m no dumby his eyes looking at Goldie but no I’ve got class and are a smart chick and have probably had a lot of help learning how to keep a fellow happy and I say yes yes of course and when? he’s gone.

A few days later the lawyer comes and I go out of the tank into a little room with him and sit on a chair with a back instead of a bench and the lawyer thinks I did it and I did it but I won’t say again and he wants to know who’ll pay and I look at him with the biggest saddest most innocent but he goes away and Dogsbody is quite quite dead and I don’t even care any more but just want to lie quietly on the rough brown blanket on my bunk in 4 cell.

Kathy is lonely. Linda is gone. She was tall and golden and hard young. They sat straddling the bench facing the same direction, Kathy behind — Linda’s buttocks pressed deep between her thighs. They cuddled and touched softly — gentle and ravenous. Linda sat in the key-cell with the red bulb on — her long legs reaching — long arms moving bonelessly. They talked in low tones after the lights were out. She left for two years in the federal pen — for helping her motorcycle boyfriend rob a bank — she cried — Kathy gulped and patted her awkwardly. Kathy sings now if I had the wings

Every day after lunch Dorothy writes to Mac. She and Kathy sit in the corner on the concrete with a pad and pencil — Dorothy on her knees, her belly round below her breasts — corkscrews hanging over her face whispering — Kathy with her knees up, toes pointed in, cracking her knuckles and licking the lead — I love you honey…I miss you more than anything…I’m fine and I hope you are and I hope you don’t have no more trouble with Lester…Please don’t be mad at me….

She prints her name at the bottom with Xs. Mac is Dorothy’s man — her common-law husband — McInrick. He is in D tank two inches away through the steel.

Today Dorothy went to court. She washed her hair and combed every corkscrew around her fingers and drew on eyebrows arching and then down beside her eyes to the outside cheekbone. She put on red lipstick but when she relaxes her mouth the lips cave in and it doesn’t show. Mrs. Eliot brought in the clothes she was arrested in. Striped wool slacks — brown and tan and dark orange running down over her belly — a brown sweater tucked in at the waist. Her breasts come all the way down to the waist of the pants — no one told her to leave the sweater waist out to cover it — loafers — from behind she looks like a small child with her broad flat butt and the long curls. She is excited about seeing Mac again even in court. She is afraid. Does she look all right? Jean combs her hair. Rose irons the slacks. Joyce loans her nail polish.

She has no coat. It is seven degrees Fahrenheit outside. The court is across the plaza in the building that matches this one. She may catch cold. The marshals come to take her. Everyone wants to touch her around the door the arms reaching toward her. They all nod and show their teeth and say good luck. When she is gone they sit silent on the bunks.

Marge tells how her man drinks — how she wrote checks for a stereo and a dining room set and a play-pen and winter clothes for the baby. She laughs at how easy it was. Her soft yellow hair flies into her mouth and she spits and picks at it laughing.

Suzie is twenty-six and looks sixteen — freckles, childishly crooked teeth — little girl hands and feet with high small breasts and tiny waist. Her hair is short and curly. Her man is in the state farm she went to see him behind the fence when she got back the welfare check hadn’t come she put the baby in the new blanket and walked along the street to where the mail stuck out of the door and took another welfare check. She spreads sweet smelling lotion on her legs from a round plastic squeeze bottle — rubbing carefully at the heels and knees. She likes the food here.

“All for that fuckin skunk coat — that old mother did it but I was on parole for that when Sherman got this job and we were roaring down the road with the bottles in back and me in that old skunk coat she claimed it was mink but it wasn’t worth twenty cents to the skunk they took it off and to her own daughter-in-law she put her own daughter-in-law in jail for a fuckin coat but I was out on parole and they never did find that coat that old motherfucker had a broom up her ass all her life Sherman always hated her. Before that out in California she tried to get me put away said I was insane all because I liked to wear men’s shorts instead of panties but I like men’s shorts you know they’re soft and they don’t bind. But we crossed the state line and Sherman blew a tire with all the bottles so they put him in Seagullville and got me on parole violation. My little boy’s deaf out in California he’s twelve now and smart! hmm! When I want to do something I just don’t take my pills that day then look out!”

She laughs with her hoarse blue voice from the delicate jaws the perfect teeth all the way back and the slim pink tongue. Her long lashes falling beside the aristocratic nose — Rose the beautiful — the terrible with her belly swelling above the shadowed knees — high arches in the stony leather puts a glass of milk next to Blendina’s bunk every night — sends ice cream bowls the whole length of the bull pen at Glad-Ass’s fat face and cuddles Joyce when she cries in her sleep.

“Motherfuckin Commie! I’m a good goddamned American.” Goldie pronounces everything in the front of her mouth. I hate her she’s ugly and long ponytail and bangs. I am in the bull pen john just squatting afraid somebody will come and she comes. “Hey little girl — you know we’re all ’sposed to shower every day cause with thirty girls in here we couldn’t live with the smell otherwise did you take a shower today? I ain’t seen ya.” While you were all at dinner I did. I didn’t, not today or yesterday but the day before. I won’t say it she’s ugly and stupid. “You sure you did? ’Cause when we was all sitting in the bull pen there was sure an awful smell coming from your end of the table and we know we all took showers regular!” What about that cheese they brought up — you left it open and I smelled that. “No it wasn’t no cheese I know an’ you just better make sure you shower regular ’cause we can tell.” Maybe they’re right. Two days and I sweat a lot — but on the pot! how could she while I was sitting on the pot with my pants down and the thigh-links grinding in me and my skirt pulled far down over my knees how could I argue — my face is hot — I’m not coming out. It’s almost time for the gates to roll. People will be coming back here. There are only two girls in the bull pen. They are sitting on the floor together — Joyce and Goldie — they look at me I walk by stiffly not looking — feel hot hate them hate them — Goldie is whispering, giggling…“It was the cheese after all!”

The anthill under the steps swarms in the summer so tiny they worry me even with glasses how to keep from stepping on them and tiptoe always on the concrete until that one perfect day when nothing happened and the hours slide backward into themselves in the afternoon a particular green in the young tree against that particular blue in the sky and only minutes later a perfect pink cloud in the sky still blue and that green and that pink against the same blue are never to be seen again though looked for on a thousand summer days and those colors in their light — in the innocence are all that is once seen and never seen again and the ants are swarming on the steps and in and out of the cracks in the sidewalk and thick and busy I stomp them and grind them — they screaming — I can see them screaming and somehow never worry about killing them again.

The men don’t go down to the kitchen to eat. The food comes up on wagons and the plates pass through a slot in the door. Trusties work in the kitchen — in the booking offices below — as janitors. When I came here from Independence we stood in line behind bars — there were people everywhere in dungarees and white tee shirts — in the pale green halls with buckets and mops like women’s hair and he was tall and black — his biceps had purple veins across the cut — he took my hand and I leaned to him but he shoved it flat fingered on the ink pad and rolled it on paper and turned away — no eyes no teeth.

There are no blue uniforms here. The Sheriff wears tan cavalry twill and a brown tie and rich brown leather holster and cream-color stetson with a brown leather band — stars not shields — boots not shoes — and his great gut hangs all the way over his belt in front — little arrows sewn into the seams of his shirt. When he stands with his back to us he is as wide as three men and his ass is flat all the way to his neck and his trousers tailored with a brown stripe down each leg. One old spade deputy — the token on duty in the kitchen where all the trusties are spades they don’t get pale here. Johnsoninthekitchen is his name. He stands near Rose at mealtimes with his brown skull shining through a fringe of gray wool, his kind old face spilling around a spatula nose. Cigarettes and candy because he thinks it’s his baby or she’s pretty or his wife died three years ago or all the uglies and others. She laughs at him upstairs smoking Camels.

Dorothy is back. The door opens and she walks in. Her head is down. Her hair hides her face. She has a handkerchief in both hands and the hands are flat against her face. She steps in — one step — two steps — the door closes — then fast to 3 cell where she falls into a bunk and shakes with the handkerchief flat under her hands across her face. The lines of her body are all round — round arms above the round belly — and legs curled tight and round in front of her — the knuckles of her hands are red. The bone at her ankle is red. The wet drips from the soles of her shoes onto the brown wool blanket. Everyone except Blendina goes into 3 cell or stands in front of it looking in. Rose and Jean sit down on the bunk on either side of Dorothy. They put their arms around her and stroke her softly. Kathy crouches on the floor in front of her. “What happened honey? What did those mothers do to you? How’s Mac?”

“Mac? Mac he he…he…” Dorothy shakes harder all over — the hard edges of her shoes click against each other. “The old man said I stopped him on the street and lured him into the alley — led him along the dark alley so Mac could jump him and take the money — and they would have let us off on probation but it came out I had a record so they gave me three years and Mac one and he jumped up and said you bitch you slut if it hadn’t been for you I’d be on the streets!” Dorothy’s mouth shows beneath the handkerchief. It hangs away from the gums on the side she is lying on. The clear spittle runs down onto the blanket. Jean’s lips go all the way in. Her jaw is tight. She stands up and pushes out of the cell. She walks out to the far side of the bull pen and walks from the windows to the john and back with her lips tight. She stops and looks at 3 cell. Her lips peel back. Her teeth show hard together. Her right hand makes a fist. It lifts almost to her chin and then comes down fast into her left palm near her waist. There is a loud slapping sound. This happens again. Her lips pop out and pull back and down at the corners. “And they wonder why I hate men!”

I can see it — in the courtroom. He’s probably not much, Dorothy’s man Mac. Dorothy’s not much but she can’t afford to be anything but kind.

Joyce is making yarn octopi. Lavender and yellow, they lie on her bunk braided and tied. She says she’s seventeen and has a baby boy and was living with two guys at once and turning tricks and her old man is a rich Mexican oil man and he sends her letters begging her to come back to him and her mother fucks the judge so she’s going to get released in the custody of her husband and she’s here for bad checks she brought me the Sheriff’s card and afterward when the white A was on my face she said they had had to knock some sense into her too her face is fat and round as a putty moon with dark brown pinpoint freckles. My freckles are dark gold with soft spreading edges.

It was the Greenbriar that day. All across the country if we saw another we’d say “Hsst on a Greenbriar” and the first to say it won. It had rained all night and the cold was deep in the wind. We drove across the bridge and out to Leavenworth dropping people on the way. I was the last. The highway went through a cut in the hills. The north hill was green with a red and white buffed colonial private girls’ school on top — St. Mary’s. The south hill had a blank-walled prison or factory. Between in the valley, on the south side of the highway was the settlement. All black houses in tall dead trees. A mud road turned off the highway and went down. The first house was on the left. There were two boards on bricks in front of the door but the top board was about two feet below the door sill. There was a round neon sign in the window neon red — CARLING. The tar paper peeled around gray tacks. The mud lay even from the road to beyond the house so you couldn’t tell where the road stopped and the yard began. The kind of very wet gray mud that swallows footprints into rain pocks so you can’t tell whether crowds have been passing or nobody. There were no lights anywhere. There were no people in sight up and down the road or by the houses.

I went to the two boards — stood on the second and rapped on the door very sprightly. After a while it opened. There was a tall man with his shoulders hanging in front of him. His belt was high in back and low in front and his belly pressed at it. Gray, all gray but his black face smooth and thick — like a politician’s hiding bones — the bandanna gray on his head like my mother’s when she scrubbed floors or Aunt Jemima. I remember her on the radio when I sat under the table with the long cloth like a pale tent all around.

Hi! I just came over to see ya for a while!

“Come in”—so slow and tired his voice and so slow and low his head when I climbed up into the room. You see I’m in a contest where we get points for having people vote for us my teeth showing all the time we have to get fifty thousand votes and I’ve been working night and day and today’s the last day and I only need twenty more points to win and if I do I get (show the card with the jet on it) a trip to Paris, London or Rome. The house is one room. On the opposite side from the door is a very old cracked dried-up bar. There is a round wood table in the middle of the room. Two backless kitchen chairs are near the table. There are boards nailed to the walls behind the bar for shelves but there is nothing on them. One unopened bottle of Budweiser sits on the shelf. A bulb hangs on a wire from the ceiling everything is gray dusty or muddy. The tar paper on the outside is wrinkling in between the two-by-fours. He bends slowly and places one of the broken-backed chairs up to the table for me. He walks all the way around the table and sits on the other chair and leans forward clasping his hands and resting his arms on the table all the way up to the elbow. Standing at the bar is someone else but his face is too black to see.

The man at the table looks at me gently, listening. And all you have to do to vote for me is look at this list of magazines and pick out your favorites hand him the card. He takes out an old steel wire spectacle frame with the top half of one lens still in place. He stretches the temples delicately over each ear with both hands and lowers the bridge until his left eye is looking through the piece of glass. He lifts the card with the list in huge heavy hands like my second stepfather’s with the nails pink and flat and black at the ends and his hands are black on top and pink at the palms and all the way to the tips of the finger bellies. He holds the card close up to the left eye and closes his right eye and looks at it for a long time. Then he clears his throat, slowly and uncomfortably and says “I like this here huntin magazine.” I have the order blank all ready how do you spell your last name sir? What’s the address here? “L-U-K-E just Mogul Flats just me Mogul Flats.” And would you like the six-year subscription or the eight-year subscription? His breath comes up slow from far away and he looks down through the empty frames at his hands. “Do I got to take a sascription to vote for you Miss?” That’s the way you vote

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for me Mister Luke and gee look here by choosing Hunting  you’ve given me three whole points and I only have seventeen more to go and I win that trip to Paris ’cause that’s where I’m choosin to go Mister Luke, Paris, France. Isn’t it exciting Mister Luke? The long breath comes again as though all the air would come out and not go in again any more. “How much do this sascription cost?” Why it figures out Mister Luke to just twelve cents an issue and you know that’s much cheaper than you could buy it at a newsstand this is a special offer just for this contest and I sure thank you Mister Luke sir for your help in this would it be all right if I sent you a postcard from Paris, France, Mister Luke? Would you sign your name right here Mister Luke? He takes the pen and writes very carefully L-U-K-E. Now for the six-year subscription that’s twelve dollars Mister Luke but I just take six of it with me now and you send the rest in later. “Girl, Girl, Girl, I only got two dollars.” Oh I see Mister Luke well for the two-year subscription it’s only four dollars now and I just take two with me now to show you voted for me and you send the other two whenever it’s convenient and I send in your order and the first two dollars so you don’t have to bother with that and I want to thank you again Mister Luke for helping me out this way It’s something I’ve been working for for a long time Mister Luke You’re sure it would be all right if I sent you that postcard from Paris, France, Mister Luke. He pulls himself slowly to his feet using all his hands and arms on the table and moves to the bar. He lifts the unopened bottle of Budweiser and picks up two paper bills folded neatly in half. They are almost black and patched together with dry yellowed tape. He brings them to me on his open hand with the fingers and thumb flat like when a horse eats from your hand. I take it and oh thank you Mister Luke here’s your receipt and you send this form in with the second payment and then your magazines will start coming in the mail goodbye now Mister Luke and thanks again I’m out the door and prancing through the mud very proud and excited I made a sale.

No lights. No people, only the tar shacks on their knees in the mud. The road is maybe half a mile long ending at the beginning of the south hill. The blank quick stone walls look down on the low sheds. Behind some trees nearly at the end of the road a green concrete block house pale and low set into the mud the tar roof dripping. We used to pick up chunks of cold tar like obsidian where the boilers sat for the road workers. Chewing tar like Chiclets — no taste, no smell, good for the gums we’d say and hope it looked like tobacco. The long block house, a radio playing faintly the long tall Texan oorah oorah is dat yo hat? Knock at the low door just missing the roof beams. The door opens, I’ve forgotten his face. A white redneck middle aged very beery and blowzy gutted the belt high in back and invisible under the belly. Baggy trousers greasy stetson and plaid shirt sweat colored. “Well, well come right in girly come right in indeedy.” The room is long and takes up the whole house. Five army bunks along each wall — rumpled versions of the doorman flopped on each one. Short socks fallen, trousers rucked up over maggot-colored hairy calves as thin legs cross. Ball scratchers floor spitters fumblers in the dark can’t see their own pricks and take it out in more booze and brawling. Calendar cowgirl with fat cheeks and a palomino on the wall. Beer piss semen sweat smell of the old and balding even their pubic hair gets gray I seem to remember. Tried to do the contest bit in the leers but nothing it’s blurred here a cup of coffee from a hot plate at one end and they told me to see the Mogul in the big house he owns all this. I’m out somehow or other and walking in the mud. It looks like dusk but it’s still early afternoon. Deserted, the black shacks sunken. I see no windows, no doors. They are very crowded together and then fifty yards apart. On the earth lie hounds huge black and tan coon hounds dozens of them lying. Only their heads move or their flanks twitching soggy flies. Their muzzles gape and teeth show subtly. A small boy running in the mud. Short khaki pants hanging around his round belly, the navel distended, the ribs enormous faceless. Where does the Mogul live. A finger in a direction. He runs on sucking in the mud and disappears into one of the tar paper clusters. I follow and find a blanket hanging over a space between the two-by-fours. The mud does not stop at the opening but goes on inside to the darkness. “Come in.” I stand waiting to see but there’s nothing to look for. A long box — refrigerator crate with two gunny sacks spread on it. On top a war surplus blanket, between an old woman. An old  woman. Her skin is the color of dusty tar. Tar with wood ash on it and she is lying in the room with no floors and no windows and a blanket over a hole and no she does not want any magazines thank you but just go on through maybe the Mogul would. There is another hole into more darkness with cracks and seeps of gray from outside and a kind of hall where one shack is leaning on another and a cardboard room at the end with a chair almost whole and a table like beside the bed in a cheap hotel and an old man smokes a pipe in the dark and he turns and his hair is gray and tight and his face is paler than his ears and neck and he has no lips and no nose but a hole like an apostrophe between his eyes and he’s very sorry but he’s blind and can’t read. But he tries to dust the chair off and find a match to light the lantern. I don’t know if I was outside again or in cardboard corridors and tar paper walls when I came to the door. Wood with panels and a hole for a knob with a twisted coathanger in it but I knocked and it opened on a little blond girl about four years old with a white dress and white shoes and pink stockings and a ribbon in her long shining hair and she spoke French to me which I couldn’t understand having written the verbs on my desk before every quiz and the room had white walls and curtains and flowers and cushions everywhere and ruffles around the daybed and a heart-shaped satin pillow from the greatest show on earth and the pretty lady knelt crying on the sofa above a white long-haired rug and the satin of her robe fell back above her elbows as she touched her face with her hands and the inside of her arms was the worst case of acne and the outside of her arms was like cream clotting in the jug and her wrists were shining and her hair like the little girl’s and she cried in French and pointed through the lace past the hounds in the mud, past the shacks and trees to the rails falling down by a maroon ’49 Ford on blocks where the white frame house leaned on its porch and sank toward the mud. “Mogul” she said. The Mogul. I know it was a road because the middle was higher. The hound at the tree was pale between the legs and the first house was very thin and I stepped down two steps and the bar was a door on saw horses and I asked for orange soda pop to soften them but the two women behind the door hated me. She had red hair and her arms hung from the collarbone and she had black hair stiff beneath the scarf and her breasts above the bar and her neck and the lips they said go see the Mogul. “He got money.” So I went out again and didn’t stop past the falling fences or the Ford with the Styrofoam dice on the rearview mirror and the wringer Maytag on the porch with one caster and the cord frayed into shredded plastic and thin copper and a boy came out and the floor of the porch shrank beneath him and his freckles sank into his gray face and his eyes were red on the rim of the upper lid and gray on the rim of the lower lid and a crust in the valley above his lip and his spine already swinging in at the base with the weight of his gut. The woman came out then, her feet spreading black bottomed in thongs, the legs falling down around the ankles and chins and tits and belly and butt and arms all dripping down from the bones and the eyes slits pulled open by the weight of the cheeks and the dress with no color and her hair and skin with no color and the hounds were asleep in their dewlaps in the dooryard. I sat down on the broken step with my boots in the mud and showed her all I had and lists of housekeeping magazines and true romances and movie rags. Her face never moved. Her lips sagged a little further into the first chin and the Mogul is the one. Have to talk to him about it. It was very cold. I was wearing the high black boots from the Thirty-fourth Street fag shop and the brown wool jumper with a long-sleeved blouse and a velvet collar on my raincoat and my hair blew when I walked and lay cold on my ears when I was still and she paid me no more mind but went about in the yard with a bucket of scraps for the hounds. Poured it out into bread pans beneath the dead oaks with puffballs hanging between their fingers and the hounds lay flat on the right side or flat on their bellies with their rear legs spread wide and the insides of their thighs flat against the ground what kind of dogs are those? “Them’s Blue Ticks — coon dogs lady.” His face shows nothing, the voice nothing. The words carry the tiniest condescension. They sure are big. “Yeah they run around a hunnert pounds — this here is the best pack in the county.” There is a scar running from the back of his right knee in the soft place to the heel beside the tendon. It is gray and puffy and shows when the slits in the overall legs fall aside. Looks eight or ten. Probably twelve or thirteen. Do they only hunt coons? “No these ol’ boys will go for possum too or a man if they’s feeling good.” He leers suggestively. Down the road something white is moving in the shadows among the trees. “Here comes the Mogul!” He drops the stick and runs down the road his toes changing direction every step. The woman stands on the porch. The hair is falling out of the bun on her neck. Her face is stony and expectant. He was not alone. He walked slow like for a showdown in the street and looked at me from a ways away from under his hand. He was the same as the men in the block house but different. Same beer build. Same stetson and khaki and belt. The shirt was almost clean. He carried a shotgun. A step behind him was a poolroom greaser in coveralls. Behind him, young men straggling with rifles and shotguns, eight or nine of them. The boy walked back with the Mogul trying to look as though he belonged with the group. They passed the rails and the boy said “There she is” in a low voice. He’s the same in his body but quick besides heavy. It’s just his place. It’s just the Mogul’s place. He looks at me so proud and cunning like he’s going to show the boys how no city slicker dame can get anything over on him. “Just exactly what’s this all about?” I get this lynch feeling. Not like they’re thinking of it but like it’s the first thing they would think of. Hi! Ya wanna buy a magazine? O.K. goodbye I’m going. He follows with his crew a hundred yards behind me till I get to where the mud joins the asphalt at the top of the road and they stand below laughing loud unfunny and giving each other huge pushes and slaps and whispering under the hat brims and I stand looking up at St. Mary’s Private Secondary School For Girls with its porticoes and formal shrubs and the rain begins again before the Greenbriar picks me up.

This was all in November a day or so after Kennedy was shot. On that other day I knocked on the door and the whole house was carpeted and imitation maple and colonial chintz and she was crying in a 9 A.M. housecoat and the TV blaring and she was waiting to find out if he was dead and wouldn’t listen to me so I tried a few more houses in the nice ranchy suburbs and went back to the Greenbriar and said we might as well quit for the day because everybody was too put down to listen and you could walk off with their houses today and they wouldn’t even notice and the driver told me to get the hell back out there that this day of all days they were susceptible and to push the news mags. So I went out and sat in people’s warm houses all day and drank coffee and commiserated and sold one hundred and eighty dollars’ worth of magazines that day which was my all-time record.

The day after Mogul Flats we were back across the river in Independence and I walked past the Harry S. Truman Memorial Library and got twenty dollars out of a lady with five kids on welfare, seventeen dollars out of a little old lady’s stocking under the mattress, ten dollars out of two high school teachers by using a fake Danish accent and got that stupid punk to write me a check on a nonexistent account for twenty-seven thirty-eight and then fell into myself trying to cash it at Kresge’s. Possession and Uttering they call it. It’s much better here than on the magazine crew. Twelve hours a day pounding on doors being so loud and phony cheerful and all that hoorah and the cold and all the money turned over to Horace at the end of the day and two-dollars-a-day allowance to eat on was all I ever saw anyway and sales meetings in the morning and sales meetings until eleven o’clock at night and crew songs and crew spirit and no life but the crew and the spiel (mustn’t call it that but I can’t think of their word) and no right to be moody and the brainwashing and the lies you pretend to believe until you actually do. Here the rules are clear. The bunk is mine. I can lie in it all day if I want to. Nobody cares how I feel or what I think or anything as long as I obey the rules and don’t cause trouble. It’s winter on the streets. It’s warm here. The food is plentiful and runs to starch which I always liked best anyway. It’s peace you know? They lock up your body but they don’t fuck with your brain. I could stay here forever like Blendina.

Walking down Eighth Avenue to the Village in the tightest blue jeans and the tightest jersey feel how hot they are for me — the whole city beating with the pulse high up inside my thighs — swinging so far — head into the art school office — the electric in my eyes how I feel myself all over when I move — such a strange thing — how comfortable to take off all my clothes in the little booth and put on the ancient terry cloth how many bodies and walk out covered with the warm around my throat and all the way down to my bare feet on the dirty wooden floors — and step up onto the platform they all waiting poised to see what I’m like and the robe falls down so easy at my feet and I stand with the air free under my arms and between my legs and relax into a pose knowing how the muscles look stretching against each other and how my bones thrust in the flesh and feeling myself all alive O and breathing like fresh meat on the hook and they say I look bored but no it’s the sinking back in. with eyes nearly closed and the stillness all around and I don’t have to do anything but be perfectly still and sink back remembering as real as dreams for twenty minutes at a time — and there are the hurdles like the first itch of the pose — the first time I almost sneeze — the beginning of the pain and how it grows steadily until I move again and how quickly it starts if I choose too hard a position but I’m vain and will not break the pose no matter the pain — no matter how hot and my head is sick and the cold sweat running down my sides and they are digging in the clay — they are scraping in the dead gray clay and I can see their twisted forms turning on the tripods and see myself in them and every touch of the tool touches me — every shaving of clay molds me — changes me and they unconscious zombies tooling roodoo — alter me as they portray me — I becoming what they see and time changes and leaks past in spurts of interest or unconsciousness and a fly comes and bathes in the sweat inside my knee and I experiment with twitches to spirit it away but it itches and crawls and I feel it more because I’m so wet and I can see this one but I cannot move my head enough to see if those other itches are flies or only the air in my sweat — the fly is crawling upward and the sweat is heavy — I can see the water shining in the hollow of my thigh and beading in the pale hairs turning on themselves and the fly is innocent and wants me and I am afraid — do they notice are they watching to see whether I let the fly come into me and the itching and the other itchings and the fly is shining with my sweat now I can see the beads on the straight black hairs standing like Quasimodo’s — the wings are gray and the eyes and the long legs machine-like moving — wading through my sweat and he stops to wash and I can hear the gritting as his saw legs scissor over his face and my lips there are trying to clench but there aren’t enough muscles and my legs are too wide apart and he is in the running pool now inside the thigh where I can barely see him and I can hardly stand the itching any more and I will scream if he steps onto the lips and I cannot break the pose because of the money and I’m vain and my muscles have forgotten how to move and I will be sick if he steps into the lips.

Once I stepped out of the booth in the robe and stood upon the platform and the instructor signed that I should take a pose and the robe dropped and there I stood with my brassiere on — with everything off but my brassiere and grabbed the robe and rushed back into the booth and came out again calm and naked to take the pose.

I am fat. We are all fat, except Kathy and Blendina. My legs are shorter and shorter. When I lie on the bunk I spread out on either side of myself. I feel slow and old. My arms are loose and slide around the bone. If I move quickly the fat slaps together and stings the skin. If I jump from the top bunk I feel belly and breasts and buttocks bouncing, yanking the skin, stretching it. The pancakes, the potatoes, and macaroni and rice, the heavy milk and butter. It’s all a trick, a plot to weigh us down, smother us in ourselves. The tiny meats in the bones of the oxtail — the fast eating — the heaping plates and afterward ice cream vanilla — three gallons for the tank and heavy bowls and your own spoon creamy and cold and pots of butter and crocks of jelly shining and shaking spooned over the ice cream and loaves and loaves of balloon white bread falling on itself and warm butter spread with the back of the spoon and jelly sliding on top of the butter. You take six slices after ice cream. Four with butter and jelly and two with just butter. You lay them out on the bunk in front of you and pick one up in your left hand and take one clean sharp bite exactly the shape of your jaw out of the side or a corner for variety. Feel the jelly thick on your tongue melting down to sugar between your teeth and sinking into the ditch between the gum and the cheek and the butter grainy against the palate. If you open your mouth the bread sticks filling the arch of the palate and you chew voluptuously and swallow and bite again carefully symmetrical bites out of the soft white squares poised on the tips of five fingers and chew stars or hearts or your initial or someone’s initial or an outline of a rabbit or the United States of America not counting Alaska and Hawaii you chew these silhouettes into the bread and lay them out on the bunk before you and choose one carefully and eat at it delicately tasting the shape as well as the flavor until it is quite gone all gone away and then another until you fall asleep with all the shapes eaten or sometimes you forget and fall asleep with one left or a piece in your hand and wake in the morning with jelly and bread and butter spread on your hands or on your pale bloated face and in your hair which grows dirty very fast here. You lick it off and wash for breakfast not looking into the mirror where your eyelids are swollen and your cheeks close up till your eyes are small and when you touch your forehead there is soft flesh a quarter of an inch deep between the skin and the bone.

They took the Bible away with Mad Patsy. We have a book, very carefully preserved. A western paperback taken from a John Wayne movie McClintock  and we have all read it several times carefully on the bunk between breakfast and lunch and lunch and dinner. The first two pages and the last six are missing. Nobody discusses it and between readings Kathy keeps it under the mattress on the empty bunk in the key-cell where the matrons never look. There was a newspaper a while ago maybe a week or so ago and we took turns reading it — reading every word about weddings and deaths and stock market numbers and recipes and on the top left-hand column of the fourth page there was a blurred dot photo of Aldous Huxley from the armpits up very gray with Gothic letters HUXLEY DIES and a paragraph and I had never liked him I remember reading Brave New World  in high school English class when we were proud to be so sophisticated and analyzed and sat at the desk with my legs crossed at the knee with my body long leaning away from my legs with desk smooth in front of me leaning on one elbow on the desk with my face resting in my hand just so the index finger could smooth in and out of the deep hollow between my cheekbone and forehead beside the eye and slip down to the strong hard muscle just where my lower jaw joins the skull and feel how smooth my cheeks and lean when my mouth pursed to say to  or you . And he was dead and I always thought he was a fool and talked too much, not wrong you see but a fool and the paper was a month and a half old when it came in wrapped around the new mop for C tank. I almost cried — tried to even but was too tired — about all the old guard dead and dying and who was there to take their place even if they were fools who was fool enough to take their place and I used to let the pencil hang slack between my finger and thumb in my left hand with the wrist bent slightly and the forearm balanced but dangling off the back of the chair and moved it slightly, just for me, counting when I made a point in the green room with green blackboards and the low windows raining and we few so bright young reading and talking in earnest impressive voices for each other and some they  we had heard about which was supposed to discover us if our voices had the proper timbre.

I can’t remember how long it’s been since my last period. I know it’s been since I joined the magazine crew because Horace caught me taking time off from the route to buy Tampax and there has been no man though the lawyer and the detective tried to make out that it was just a front for prostitution and the boys and girls traveling together and I would have and they hinted around but there was never any time and we were always so tired and nobody on the crew ever except maybe Horace and his silver-haired German who was not Mrs. He always wore clothes like a Texas oil man in the movies and spoke with a Texas accent and when I first joined he wasn’t there for a week and they were waiting for him to get out of jail for beating up one of the boys but nobody mentioned it and it was as though he had been away on a business trip and I wanted to I remember in all the rooms and houses where men were alone and maybe they would have but I didn’t know how to make them only how to be made so I couldn’t be pregnant or maybe the laser it’s so hard to remember how long has it been? Not since I’ve been here I know at least five months then but my belly is fat evenly and not swollen or pooched. I haven’t been horny much here. Once in a while when somebody’s talking very specifically or in the bunk alone at night but never just generally horny I have to think of some particular time before — some moment when it was particularly hot with somebody in particular. Even then there’s just a kind of nostalgic shudder, no need for relief, no hunger, just the memory of hunger.

I haven’t got the energy for it. I am so tired all the time and I do nothing. There is nothing to do. On Friday mornings we clean the tank — change sheets, sweep and mop and wax the floors — dust the bars — change uniforms but there are thirty of us now and it’s all over in twenty minutes and we sit on the tight stretched bunks in the clean smell of ammonia and wait for the gospel to begin on the speaker so there will be something to complain about — but there is never anything real. Sometimes if somebody’s uniform doesn’t fit or the coffee’s not hot enough in the morning or we hear about something on the grapevine we make trouble. The others do. They rattle things against the bars and curse and run up and down the bull pen screaming mad but somebody comes, the matron or the Sheriff. If it’s Glad-Ass there’s more screaming and they throw things at her. Once Rose hit her from the far end of the bull pen with a thick crockery ice cream bowl — she drew her arm back and the curling pit hairs nudged out of her short sleeve and flung her whole body straight after the arm and the bowl didn’t turn in the air but still as glass moved over the heads, between the bars and caught Glad-Ass right at the base of the skull with her stiff hair glued down under and didn’t break when it hit her but fell to the floor and starred under the glaze and Glad-Ass turned around and yelled who did that and everyone got quiet and Glad-Ass threatened no TV and Rose stepped out leaning forward over her belly with her arms stiff with fists beside her and her delicate head forward on the long neck and it all blew over. Usually it’s not Glad-Ass, it’s Mrs. Eliot and she tsks and sympathizes and compromises and explains and everybody feels bad about causing her trouble or the Sheriff jokes them out of it and nothing happens. I like all this and lie on my bunk looking through the bars at it.

He was just a puppy furry and slept on the bed and one night it was so cold I put him under with me and when I touched myself there he started to lick there too — his tiny tongue so fast — and after that I would put him between my legs and put his head there and he would lick — until one night there was blood there and first he licked and then he bit me there his teeth like needles in the raw part and I threw him across the room and felt and found the blood and thought he had done it — I held the mirror there and saw the tooth marks and the blood coming from somewhere else and he lying still with his head bent under in the corner — I put him in the garbage can and said he hadn’t come back when I let him out that night — we all walked up and down the streets whistling and calling and I cried when we couldn’t find him and didn’t tell about the blood until the next time it came.

She is one of the three ugliest women I ever met. She weighed four hundred pounds at least and her teeth were gaping black and tiny tight against the gum and she tied her greasy hair back so her small head sat high up and far away on the six-foot lump of her and the creases of fat at the back of her head rolled straight into the hump on her back with no neck her bottom chin folded under the roll over her collarbones. Her eyes ugh how small. Like a sow she was but without a sow’s egotism. She knew how ugly she was. She was stupid and shy and wrung her hands and cried if anyone spoke harshly to her they kept telling her about getting her teeth fixed she was dirty and stuttered and when we went through Salt Lake City she looked at the Tabernacle all the time and said that’s Joe Smith no nails it’s gold and they wouldn’t stop the car so she cried.

Sometimes at night after supper the TV goes on. It sits all day on a platform hung from the bull pen bars but nobody pays any attention to it. Somebody just walks up and turns it on I guess we could watch it anytime but nobody ever does except after supper. Mostly cops and robbers and cowboys. Once there was a cowboy story with old-time nuns trucking around saving heathens and one was very young and brave named Sister Blendina and before that she had just been Blendina but after that everybody called her Sister Blendina to each other. No one ever called her anything to her face because no one ever spoke to her or about her in 4 cell. I don’t watch TV. I can’t follow the stories. I can’t concentrate. I see it for a few minutes and then think of something else or fall asleep. Kathy watches it a lot and hits it just right when it needs tuning or fiddles with the antennae.

The lawyer is back. He sits across from me with a little brown table between us. It’s exciting to come out of the tank and sit with a man. The lawyer has a shining suit lizard green flashing blue and violet. He is heavy and comes far out in front of himself so even if our bellies touched his head would be far away. His shoes are dark as mirrors and rings on his fat fingers that don’t even need to bend any more and his dark cigar. He wants to know about money and I sign some things and agree to everything and he says I should have had my glasses all along.

Someone once jumped from the roof here — thirteen stories she fell and spread thin — why do you never hear of them hitting anyone on the sidewalk — I wouldn’t jump to the ground but to the water from the bridge — the bridge is the reason for jumping — going fishing under the warehouses on the Willamette the concrete pipe juts out of the earth and into the water half submerged and the sewage runs out thick and raw and beneath it the carp are feeding — go walking down there through the city streets at dawn with scum fresh dripping down my pants leg smelling li

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ke something burned and nothing stirring but the bums on Burnside turning in their doorways — barefoot along the railroad tracks with my hair flipping back and a can of corn in my pocket — stop at the Chink shop for chitlins and then down to the pipe to sit on the end with the water all around and the Crown Flour Mills over me chumming for carp for no reason except the river is lavender pale in the mornings and the fish come up swollen and fat and I scrape them and the gold catches beneath my fingernails — sit long into the day there with the string from my hands running between my big toe and the second toe and then wet and chumming into the water and the hook shining through yellow kernels of corn or pale brown chitlin or sometimes naked hook and I chewing at the bait with my hands wet and cold and my feet pale from when the tugs go by with barges and the wash sloshes almost over the top of the pipe and wets me to the knees — the fish hang heavy on the hook and come up not fighting — their yellow eyes blank and the gills sagging and I hit them once each hard with the butt of the knife over the eyes and the blood comes thin from behind the eyes and they lie beside me still and shining in the lavender — and then I gut them and throw it into the water at the end of the pipe and double my string through their gills and tie them at my empty belt loop and walk back through the busy streets and the people looking and I swinging along pretending to be a wolf and imagining how I look and up to the Ross Island — to the bridge to cross over and stop in the middle and sit for a long time looking down into the water and cut the carp golden and stiffening from the belt loop and swing them on the string all together far out over the water and let go watching them turning in the air till they hit and the splash is always so tiny — so far away — I feel disappointed and climb down and go home to sleep for a long time.

Marty is the key-girl in B tank. She is very tall, maybe six feet three. She has a short brown D.A. and never bothers to wear a uniform but always dungarees and a man’s blue work shirt with the first button open and the sleeves rolled up to the elbow. Her face is horrible. One eye is an inch higher than the other and there are long narrow white scars that pucker at the edges across her cheek from her hair — across the eye and onto the cheek — all the way from the left corner of the mouth to the top of her nose so there is a notch in her upper lip and in her left nostril. Kathy is like a boy trying to act like a man. Marty is like a very hard man. But men never look that hard.

Maybe she is thirty or forty or fifty. No breasts show. Her shoulders are broad and no hips show in how low the dungarees hang like my big brother working in the fields with no shirt on.

She came out with her girl to go down to breakfast with us. Her hand on her girl’s shoulder gentle and owning and the girl had soft glowing hair red as morning and a modest pretty body and I saw her in Keokuk in a car coat and leather handbag with bags of groceries and two grade-school children in a station wagon. She looked softly about her and up gentle into Marty’s one at a time eyes. At the table Kathy and Marty talked and Kathy looked at the girl and nodded respectfully to Marty. The girl ate little bits of food that Marty put on her plate. Once in the morning I saw Kathy and Marty talking together with each one’s outside foot propped in the bars — leaning an elbow on a knee a hand in a pocket heads down smoking gravely talking like two men over a job of work. They hitch at their pants when they sit down and don’t know they have asses.

People come and go from 4 cell, drunks for the night, federal cases in transit to a federal pen, waiting for a hearing they’re gone in a week. I don’t pay much attention. There are a few brief romances. I watch and they go away. Young girls, women in their twenties, thirties, or middle aged women. No old women. Rose says if you go this route you die young or in prison. They say it draws you back. Once you’ve been here you’ll come back. Not me I say and they laugh.

The long balloon is only half blown up and the thin part sticks out from the end and I look and flick it with my finger and it thrums and I put the tip of my finger on the tip of the thin nozzle and push straight in with the balloon turning itself inside out around my finger and push all the way into the fat part of the balloon and now all around my finger there is a hole instead of something sticking out and I think how my hole is like that and I take the finger out and the air pressure pushes the long thing out after me and there is no more hole and I take a very deep breath and hold it pushing with it down into myself and nothing happens and the school bus rattles around me and I look out at the weeds black and thin curling over the snow like the hair on a man’s leg though no man I know and I always wanted to be a male homosexual.

Maybe with women if they put the two holes together like kissing it would make them hungry like kissing but then there would be nothing or only something to put in Kathy is so competent she could make it work but it must not be the same or they would not be so gentle with each other — they are not afraid of each other.

I am afraid of them all — I hate them all — because they are disgusting — because they are not me — and yet look like me — how could I know how dangerous I am without knowing the danger in those things that look like me?

The tubes run out of her stomach below the navel and empty into cellophane bags hanging there — her gums flap — her eyes stare — the hairs on her chin and above her lips are stiff and gray — in the morning we take her from the bed like a sack on sticks and prop her in the chair — I hold the flat spoon carefully so it does not cut her gums — when I put yellow mush into her mouth the bag on the right fills slowly with yellow — If I put red mush into her mouth the bag fills red — I unclip the bags when they’re full and put on new ones — I carry the full bags away from me with two fingers each holding them closed — the chair seat is covered with sponge and there is a hole in the middle — we take her out in the afternoon and put her on the bed — we take away the open-backed gown and wash her all over gently except between the legs where the thing hangs out — it caved in and fell through the hole — turning itself inside out and hangs there raw like a bubble of blood — we search through the wrinkles for her vague belly button and swab around the tubes and rub her with lotion and put ribbons in her hair and she lies staring — mouth open — once in a while her left thumb moves — the man comes in on Saturdays and sits looking at her — he twists the skin on his hands and looks down at the spots that grow larger and darker on his rippling skin.

“She was always a good woman” he says. “Forty years we was married and I never once knew she was pissin.”

When I get out of here it won’t matter. I’ll go back and kill her.

And the students — kill them all — walk into the dining hall with a machine gun and spray into their faces — stop them all dead in the laughing with their war stories about Wittgenstein — stop all the noise with one great burst of noise and they all lying bleeding — crawling at the carpet with trays and tables spilled everywhere their young hopeful blood running useless like mine because they are not me but pretend to be — because they do speak English — because if I could talk with anyone it would be them — but least of all them — and then they will come and take me away and there will be no more noise and I will listen to nothing in a place in the hills where you can see for a long way — the apple tree stands gnawed by the tent worms — covered with sweeping nets of silk gauze and they crawling by the millions yellow and black eat the tree and drop to the ground to die crawling to other trees — it is no one worm or no particular series of worms but the millions and millions of no particular worms singing in the trees and boring in the walls and pale on the sidewalk when it rains and fat and white in the meat and gray in the flour and round and red on my legs and arms and belly and eating all eating and I the worm eating and I’m tired tired and will lie down here beneath the worms and the worms and the grass and my own self eat me in my sleep and shit me out to nothing.

The days are all alike. Only Sunday bells ring and people shout in the bull pen all day. It’s really Sunday and can’t be argued. I tell time by Sundays. Not counting, only saying, it’s Sunday again. That’s the only time anything is different with all the fights and squalls and intrigues and romances. They all run together until they seem to be constant though they’re not. I just want to sleep and lie still not thinking. I get hungry regularly and I piss before meals and shit before lights out and shower after breakfast. It’s too much to do. I would cut out everything but sleeping. I have never been so tired and my dreams are pleasant, or at least interesting. Only once in a while it’s bad and I wake up sick and scared and so sorry for me thinking I blew it I really blew it it’s all over the whole thing and I want to sleep and sleep.

Marge comes to me apologetic and serious her large hands brushing what she says away — the urgent asking — if you get out of here for good tomorrow if they let you go will you do me a favor it would only take you a minute to call him and tell him that I’m still here and ask him why he hasn’t written or come to see me all this time and ask him how the baby is and couldn’t he bring her on visiting day she’ll be almost a year old she’ll forget me you could phone from a booth to this number it would only take a minute her lips are thick and dry she licks them and spits out the hair gone wild and yellow at her lips and looks at me clearly with bandages still around her chest and over her shoulder lumpy under the uniform and I say sure I’ll be glad to — and I’ll send you a card from Paris, France, ’cause that’s where I’m going ma’am and I want to thank you for helping me all your cards and letters promised and I leaning hard against the bars with my spine between the bars never intended never thought for a moment I would send them or would care or do your sucking little favor though it is you it sucks I will not let it suck me and though I say yes I will not and only say yes to quiet you sooner and avoid the hassle of refusing and do not care or think of it except sometimes in the dark cell with the sound of Blendina’s cards slapping in the darkness and the faces come without faces and slip pale around me like gulls and I am afraid like the bugs though I kill them they will meet me and maybe somehow though I cannot believe it and only feel it when I am afraid maybe I do owe them all something.

I keep thinking in the cell — lying on the bunk where nothing from the outside touches me — I feel trapped in my own history — memory is such an aggressive thing — I have two lives — this still one in the cell where nothing changes and that other that eats at me — not what happened but what I can remember — there should be some point where it turns off — where you go on from there unaffected by what happened before — not forgetting — only not still living it — I can imagine such a thing — there is Blendina.

I don’t speak any more unless someone asks me something specifically. I say yes or no or I don’t remember if it’s too complicated. I don’t lie any more. I used to tell anyone who would listen that I was innocent and felt offended when they laughed. I told everyone I just sold the guy magazines and he gave me a bad check for them. Now I don’t say anything about it. For a while Joyce told me that her cousin Gary in Independence must have been the guy who did it and he was already up twice for paperhanging and I thought maybe I didn’t do it. Maybe he did it to me. But I remember how young and just married he worked in an auto upholstery shop he said his wife was a waitress their three rooms very clean with landlady furniture and a crease all down his chinos Redbook  for your wife I said and Ladies’ Home Journal  and maybe True  for yourself. “Well, if you really think it won’t get me into any trouble…” No I’ll get the votes, you’ll get the magazines and it won’t cost you anything I was down on my knees beside his chair showing the cards they tell you always get down on your knees and look straight up into their faces so they can’t escape you. My hair was shining that morning all the way down my back and my hands white and long and perfume sprayed on my throat just before I knocked on his door and my eyes Egyptian with gold freckles and I so young and he only a year older and how lovely you’re just married I wish you every my stomach touches his knees as I reach for the order blank he blushes slow Mizoorah talking blushes down from the head instead of up to it. And I so happy I met my quota today out into the street sunny still and the long walk golden with leaves and the car waiting for me will I get my hundred-dollar-a-day pin? They are so proud for me. “Ya done good Kay, but you’ll have to cash that check because it’s made out to you instead of the company you can do it when we stop for lunch.” I ordered a peanut butter and banana sandwich and cocoa don’t like coffee we are all laughing and joking the driver goes to call Horace — Dean has been picked up for burglary how awful tsk tsk “You better go cash that check” I leave my raincoat with the velvet belt and collar the silver buttons my mother gave it to me and only take my handbag along and showed my company card for I.D. and now I’ll go to sleep for ever and ever only I’m too tired.

It so happened that when the dragon first started coughing one little boy and one little girl had been down in her mother’s basement playing doctor. When all the shaking and burning had started the beams had fallen down and the walls had cracked and all the jars fell off the shelves and smashed but the little boy and girl were not hurt. For a long time they couldn’t get out through all the things that had fallen in front of the door so they didn’t get burned up with everyone else. After the dragon had been sleeping for a while they finally crawled out and looked around. They could barely recognize their little town all heaps and ashes and there was no one around anywhere. By this time they were very hungry so they held hands and walked along looking for something to eat. They walked over hills and through valleys until they could see the mountain where the dragon was sleeping. They had never seen him before and since he was the only living thing in sight and the sun was going down they climbed up the mountain and crawled into the dragon’s warm armpit and went to sleep. Now when the sun rose in the morning the dragon woke slowly and gently as was his custom. He lay still watching the sky and scratching himself gently in spots. When he scratched in his armpit he found the little boy and girl and picked them up carefully and set them on his stomach where he could see them. They sat up yawning and stretching and rubbing their eyes and looked at the dragon. The dragon looked around at all the black earth and then at the children. He said Hi! I’m the Goody Dragon. The little boy and girl said We’re hungry! The dragon said Oh just a minute — I can fix that — and he put them down beside him and got up. He turned around once or twice and then squatted down. He held his breath and closed his eyes and pushed down inside himself and then he stood up. There was a whole pile of little brown lumps about as big as your fist — the little boy and girl ran up and grabbed some and put them up to their faces — then the little girl shook hers out of her hand and made a horrible face — That’s not peanut clusters, that’s shit — and the little boy threw his away too and they both rubbed their hands in the dust disgusted. The dragon was very embarrassed and said Oh I’m terribly sorry — I don’t know how that could have happened. I’ll try again. He went a little ways away and thought for a moment and then he squatted down — he took a very deep breath and held it — he closed his eyes as tight as he could — he crossed all his fingers and all his toes and lifted his tail as high as it would go. He stayed that way until his face was quite white and the children were beginning to worry about him — then he staggered to his feet and looked behind him — the children ran to look — the little girl said It’s still shit. Then the little boy and girl crawled all over the dragon looking. There was snot in his nose — there was sweat under his arms — there was wax in his ears — there was mold in his belly button — there were tears in his eyes. It’s no use they said — There’s nothing good to eat. And they all sat down and looked at each other and the little boy and girl listened to their stomachs rumbling. At first big tears rolled out of the dragon’s eyes and then he sat very still thinking. After a long time he looked up and said What if there were never peanut clusters or whipped cream or caramel or any of the other good things? What do you mean? said the children. Well what if they were always what they are now and it was only because people believed that they were good to eat? The children looked at the dragon — then they thought for a minute — then they looked at each other and smiled. I think he’s right they said — I’m sure he’s right — he’s right — and they went straight over to the brown pile and started eating cheerfully. The dragon groaned with relief and the children ate until they thought they would pop and they all lived happily ever after.

I’m glad there are no full-length mirrors here, only the small mirror bolted to the bulkhead at medium-height eye level. I weigh one hundred and eighty-five pounds today. They took the bandage for the boils off my back and weighed me and took my blood pressure. One hundred eighty-five pounds sixty-six inches tall. My legs don’t cross any more above the knee. They touch above the knee even when the feet are a foot and a half apart. I wear a size eighteen uniform now. It used to be a twelve for comfort and a ten for fit. I don’t recognize myself any more. I couldn’t fit into Dogsbody if she were here. There are no bones anywhere — not at my knee or ankle or wrist or collarbone. My skull is only there when I poke for it. The white hair is long and straight on my calves and when I put my feet up the flesh hangs away from me. When I raise my arm straight up in the bunk it all falls down away from my wrist and the freckles are far apart and pale. My hands don’t close all the way the fingers are too thick and stiff to bend in. When I lie on my back my face is heavy toward my ears. I sleep a lot and wake when I’m hungry.

He’s thinking maybe I’d go easy for him, he has that — and the others just think they’re dogs “gay dogs” the words mean that to them. It doesn’t touch me at all but them, working all around them. They are not hungry there, but in the space behind the eyes where the empty is frightening and they try to fill it with themselves. It would not frighten me. I want it so, to sink into empty and not even dream. They are so afraid of not wanting. I would be so glad not to want again.

There were two slugs in the path through the field, gray green and glowing with dew. I stopped in the morning. They went toward each other not moving and almost passed each other but stopped no head to no tail. They were still and the sides opened toward each other. A hole in something just opened, fell open it was so heavy, and a bubble came white and thick and they lay with the bubble between them, not moving, paying no part of them to the path or me crouched watching and the bubble did not change or move though they were alive in it and secrets were happening, passing in the bubble with its skin glowing white as the sun came up.

The next year he was on his knees watching something on the walk. I stopped. It was a slug. He poured salt from a paper box. It shriveled and moved one end and the other and the middle but always in the salt. It kept moving and every time the lumps on the head started to come he waited till they stood out and then poured more salt. The white grains sticking. The salt sticks to the slug and all around the slug on the concrete is wetness and from the slug to the grass is a shining and if a grain of salt falls into the shine it sticks. What the salt does to it is secret and invisible, like in the bubble.

I wanted to be away but not alone. I wanted the final touch for my new façade, my new image, the black thing, the pale and dark thing moving in darkness. I wanted something that belonged totally to me — adored me only. I wanted power over another powerful thing. So I got the dog. I had plans for a noble fantastic name. None of this Rex and Bingo jazz, but Shiva . When I got him at the training kennels he was huge and all black except for two peaches over his eyes and his name was Prince. I registered him as Black Prince Shiva the Destroyer and told that to anyone who asked but he never answered to anything but Prince. He sat and heeled and lay at the end of a steel chain and he was a poorly trained guard dog. His bark was terrifying, he attacked skillfully and would have been an adept killer but none of it was on command.

He slept in my bed when I was alone and resented it when I wasn’t. I put my hands into his drinking water and dipped out his dry food with my hands so that my smell would be a part of everything important to him. He had to love me. He was as lean as his jaws all over and weighed seven pounds less than I did at the time. We walked at night down the hill from the village where my little house was once with the others a tent for the lung sick. The windows look out through the trees from my mattress in the morning on Portland, Oregon, in mists and rain with the Pacific Power and Light signs flowing in the gray. We walk down the hill in the night, the black dog silent beside me, my black clothes thin in all the crotches of my body. We walked around looking for trouble, beneath the bridges, down Market Street to the river — up First Street to Burnside and the small dark streets behind. We terrified the winos in the Blue Mouse Theater and fascinated Reed College students with ghosty driftings through the swamp. We sat in dark cafés, he beneath the table silent, his head on my boots. Red lights in the eyes of the auto harp singer in Laundromats where the night people go, on curbs with our hands and ears and noses cold across from bars with cars in front where young women sat together and whispered. He was not house trained. We spoke to no one. He laid huge stinking turds on the green rug of my living room. We sat on the roof with sunshine and peanut butter and half gallons of milk. He pissed crouching and virgin. The hawthorn tree dropping red flowers. He killed a miniature poodle bitch in the street when she would not let him mount her but he was horrified by it and it was plainly a mistake. I left him alone in the house after the men came. I went days away never seeing the hill or the house and each time I came back the books were gnawed and shredded, the curtains were torn about the room, the rug full of tooth marks and shit and on that first night, my first night with the who upon me and the dog chained at the foot of the bed, he cried and slavered, his spine arching convulsive, rubbing himself on the bed, the chair on himself and screaming when he came. I wanted to love him — to care for him — I was proud when the people turned to look at us.

Dogsbody was born that year and we took lovers in the catacombs beneath the hill with the toilet running and a gas range behind the furnace. The wall was black and pieces of steel hung on threads against it. A midget in a yellow derby told stories for the forty-two-cent macaroni dinner. We told everyone we were brother and sister but he didn’t believe until morning and blood was there though that only proved his  innocence. He was silly and would never say he cared but he fed me and I slept there every night and made the bed in the morning. He always said I made a good bed. I took his friends in with me while he was at work and cried to him when they left me but he would not say he cared. I begged him to lock me in a closet. Finally he told me his friend the painter had gone to a concert in a tuxedo. I said I think I’ll go to Seattle. He wouldn’t walk me to the train. I had ninety-five cents after the fare. I took a bus saying How do I find Melrose Street, my brother, I’ve come from Minneapolis to find him. He was really an insurance salesman and had lived above the catacombs. We had sat on the steps of demolished houses so I knocked at his door and sat on the arm of his chair in my long pink nightie. There were two beds. I got into the other one. He was so cold. “Do you feel like sex tonight?” The next morning I answered the ad and joined the magazine crew.

I am just sitting smoking though I do not smoke — I am taking care of cats. There isn’t much to it — you feed them — they ignore you — you watch a while and then ignore them — so I’m just sitting smoking — a cat brushes past my cigarette and starts to burn in a line down his belly from the throat — I pick him up and throw him into a bucket of water — plastic pale yellow bucket just happens to be sitting there — cat curls up on the bottom of the bucket and won’t come up — lies there smooth — nose in tail and drowns — what to do — nobody will ever believe this — such an accident — can’t even take care of cats…

Strolling past the gas station on the corner — their tires in foil wrapped blue and gold and red from under a car on the hoist — grab a gold tire and roll it down the sidewalk giggling crazy with excitement — wheel it on down looking for cops — waiting to be chased — getting good at rolling it like a hoop with just a kick on either side now and then to steer — turn into his yard where they are all sitting around — all very cool — nonchalant — they oohing and you wild thing you — don’t know anybody with a car so peel off the foil to save for something — Byzantine reliefs maybe — and ditch the tire in an alley — Dunlop 12 ply Blue Ribbon Blah!..

In the five-and-dime can’t see over the counters with her — see the red thimble — plastic knobby — just fits — put it on and tap things with it — lips and teeth and wish I had two to click against each other — wander out with her — why where did you get that you little thief march right back in there and give it to the man and apologize — penny thimble — I didn’t even notice I’d taken it — big noise and hits — the shame…

Drugstore book racks — need a book a day at least — three thin ones — too far to the library — heavy — always overdue — little ladies in pale green uniforms inventory hair spray — perfume — Kotex while I’m putting books in my purse — in my armpits — Agatha Christie — Nero Wolfe — James Bond — candy bars in pockets — have to lay off M & Ms — they rattle too much — an extra eyebrow pencil up my sweater sleeve and buy a deodorant — go out to the car and drop the stuff — back into the supermarket for cookies and cigarettes and chocolate-covered cherries — buy milk and then tool back home to turn the heat up and sit with the rain outside — with my feet up reading trash — eating trash — drinking milk straight from the carton only pouring it into a glass when I want to dunk cookies in it…

Girls League Cake Sale — high school cakes by girls in coordinated sweaters and skirts — ribbons holding their hair — dozens of pairs of shoes — their proud bras and girdles mocking my brother’s cast-off tee shirts in the locker room — they study typing with old Birdsing and wear ribbons in their hair — bake cakes for the cake sale from scratch with boiled frosting that slump in the middle and cave on the side — patch it up with frosting and candy drops — hide them on mother’s best cake plates behind screens in the cafeteria — I ducking class as usual — hiding stink bombs behind the encyclopedias in the library — sneaking through the halls with my five-button Levi’s swishing between my legs a cake under each arm — stacking them carefully in my locker on top of stolen books behind the Life  Magazine picture of Bertrand Russell like a baby eagle his fierce fuzzy face on the scrawny neck — hide for the rest of the afternoon in the conference rooms in the library listening to Jake in his chemistry room gas mask searching for the stink bombs and cursing — thinking of him fumbling with the pear-assed librarian from the grade school — all the time rehearsing my lines for if I’m caught — when the final bell rings parading down to the boys’ locker room with a dozen cakes on a book cart to wait for the wrestling team to finish weighing in and come out famished after a month of making weight…

Putting jars all over school with slits in the lids and a little sign — Contribute to the Save Dunn Fund — and they all snickering as a joke or an insult dropping in pennies and nickels and I emptying the jars uncaring why…

Then a voice calls my name over the intercom and I leave the class sick and scared and go to the office to sit waiting for someone who wants to see me and spend enormous minutes rehearsing cool lines I know I’ll never use because always when they catch me whether I’m guilty or innocent I cannot speak and feel so very tir

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ed and they are always angry and they are always so personally offended and you sink back into something so tired but you rehearse the lines anyway for the waiting and the school nurse comes and invites me into her little office with eye charts and says she has had several reports that I suffer from body odor and she knows I wouldn’t want to offend anyone and it’s a particularly difficult problem in the winter what with wool clothing and I sinking in shame nodding yes I see go cringing back to class not looking at anyone and wondering hating whoever it was that did this to me.

All this was before Dogsbody when I still thought I would grow up to be a boy and wanted to — to be a man and free so it wouldn’t be dirty and I could love men — and in the big field in back of the house that went over hills and the stream came through and the blackberries were heavy and sweet purple hot on your lips in the summer and you could hide by only lying still in the long grass and no one could find you — not even she shouting Katherine when she was angry — and someone came to me there — would park his car on the far far side of the field and come on long legs his young arms waving above the grass and I would meet him in the grass and pull him down we both laughing and wrestling till the grass lay around us like deer had been there but would stand tall again in the morning and we would lie there all the long afternoon in the sun my long legs in the faded dungarees beside his long legs in faded blue and touch gently and dream together of pagodas and the Orinoco and we together in a small boat on a summer sea out of sight of land and our innocent touches and how lascivious we would be and children and how hungry I begged him to take me then — I ripped at my clothing and knelt in the grass begging him please touching his knees and his belt and coaxing and hungry and he would not and the sun was warm on me — the grass was sweet beneath me and he would not and the Queen Anne’s lace bowed over me and he would not — he made me put my clothes back on and sit quiet like a child till I was calm and then he went away through the grass. In the morning I crept out and walked the miles to his house through fields and on railroad tracks barefooted and threw pebbles at his window to apologize — they invited me in to breakfast pancakes and honey and my mother came screaming the gravel spurting under her wheels to tell them to keep their filthy boy away from me and screamed all the way home I beside her about my filth and I went away that night and never went back.

I am sitting with my head down — they are yelling at me — she is yelling — the noise and her feeling so strongly make me tired like I had cried for a long time and I sink further and the yelling goes on until I almost speak to stop it — I wave my hand to stop it not noticing the knife in it and suddenly there is blood and she is falling and the noise stops but I have made a mess — like when you’re thinking at the table and the milk spills and it’s a mess though you couldn’t say how it happened and they all act as though you meant it.

Nobody pinches or looks. We walk in dead paneled halls to the courtroom, I and I don’t know who. Can’t remember. Can’t see the place. Last night they wanted to put my hair into pink rollers foam with little white plastic sticks that bend if you push them but you put them in your hair and your hair bends. My hair hangs below my ribs and if I pull a lot of it tight and touch it in the way it grows it feels like the satin ribbons in the books. When I brush it over my head in the morning in front of the windows the white light goes through and the hairs fall down like a veil so thin and shining orange with gold and green lights and it’s frothy and soft and tickles and so pretty. My nose below where it broke — when I close my left eye with my left side to the window in the morning and look cross-eyed over my nose with the right eye the light is gold and rainbows are on my nose. Dorothy spent hours brushing each of her long curls around and around her fingers the curls so long around her whole soft hand and down beyond the wrist and Mac said If it weren’t for you and Jean says If I look like a beatnik the judge will give me a hard time. But I won’t. They want to bend the hair but I say No no thank you and wash it for a long time in the shower with yellow soap and the hair beneath my arms and between my legs and that is so ticklish and invisible on my legs and arms all the hair and notice how the freckles are almost not there and everything is soft about me who used to say I’m fleet of foot and high of jump! in fourth grade with five-button Levi’s and sneakers above the ankle and thick beneath my feet and made balloon trips in the cherry tree above the brindle bull and ate all the pet rabbits the year we kept moving to keep Brother out of the war and almost flew off the lumber pile any number of times.

I don’t know if I’ll go live with Jerry Simmons — why not — but the having to talk — and dress — and move around in rooms with people in them — the forcing myself to listen and talk and smile and pretend in all the ways that I’m alive — why couldn’t it be that there would be a bed and I would lie there and when he came not have to turn my head to look at him or move my hips or groan or giggle or bite or pay any attention — why couldn’t he just put it in and do it and then go away without my having to say and do — I would like that — and I could just lie and sleep — I am so tired of not caring — but what could I care for?

In the morning they brought my white blouse with sweat in the seams and black inside the collar and the straight jumper much too tight now and the black boots, pirate boots soft black suède to above my knees with leather laces behind and inch heels and up to the knee so tight and warm but the foot is stiff and I could feel it crackle as I walked. How clean the heels clicking after rubber-soled saddle shoes with no laces. My hair hung straight down pushed behind my ears which I had only noticed lately. The hard bump behind them and the little places in them so smooth with the finger inside and in school I looked at other people and thought the ones whose ears were lower than their eyes were stupid and the ones whose ears were on the same level or above were smart. The tops of my ears are as high as my eyebrows. We sat on a gray wood bench in the Siesta Time 24 Hour Laundry looking at pastel Mexicans in pastel ponchos in fluorescent white light. When I looked down at him I could barely see him he was so dark. It was my period and even with Tampax he tries to run his nose in between my legs. I lie on the bunk trying to cry, trying to feel bad saying over and over how I miss that dog more than anything but it’s no use I don’t miss anybody I’ve ever known or any place I have been and am no longer. I’ve never missed any body or place only good food and warm beds and pleasant weather and not having blisters and things that really touch me not things I have to pretend touch me and pretend I miss when it was really only something I couldn’t say like the bathroom being warm and right next to the room I’m in and here the toilets in the same room and there’s only Blendina so I don’t miss anything. I don’t believe it’s people anytime but being touched in a nice way or feeling the growing in you when they say something nice and when you know they like you and the nice touching and nice growing could go on or be there when you wanted it and here I don’t want it but have what I do want except the sleep. Sometimes I wake up.

I am burning my hair in the old barn in the orchard. The fire is burning on the dirt floor near the doorway. The old school desks stand in a corner on iron rails. Each seat is the front of a desk. Each desk is the back of a seat with empty holes next to the pencil groove. In the high dark corners of the barn old tools hang and the shingles eaten by moss have fallen around them. I am kneeling in the dirt by the fire. My hands are white with the cold and the scissors are white in the smoke. The pages from the book are browning and curling and the flame is invisible in the light from the door. Now with the scissors heavy and sharp — bruising the thumb where I press to close them — bruising the thumb where I pull to open them and my head heavy and my left arm heavy holding the hair — the long hair brown in the dark of the barn and pale in the light from the door falls into the fire — is cut and falls dead from my hands to the fire. First once all over till the hair is short with the long scissor chewing and then all over feeling blind for the tufts and snatches till the hair is furry against the skull and nothing moves in the wind. There is only the soft brush against the palm when I rub the skull. I am cold without the hair and the fire is hot with the hair and sizzles stinking. Now K in the chair in the orchard thinking of snakes in the straight-backed chair in the orchard. At the foot of the hill is the garbage dump with the Goat Woman’s tin trailer and the goats browsing jerkily in the garbage. The winter sun drips through the orchard. The head is cold and the feet in the grass and there is something moving inside me. I ate nothing that could move but in my belly something not me is moving.

I am lying on my back on the sidewalk. Beside my head her feet in the old black brogans leaning toward the outside — the wild Argyle socks fallen down at her weak ankles — my right eye looks straight up her skirt to girdle and veins and thin scarred flesh and the left eye goes up to where her elbow is jerking. Her voice goes all around above me circling the people and returning before it drops to me — her arms lift and fall the palms out — she is swearing my virginity — the people pass in fashionable alligator, cordovan and suède — heels clicking efficiently — toes pointing out — I cannot see past my belly — she is handing out the leaflets and shouting — she is telling them to look at me — her skirt lifts high in back as she bends to point at my belly — she is telling them it is Jesus — the traffic lights are clicking — I can hear the shoeshine boys snapping their rags — he looks down at me passing — I can see him for three of his steps looking at me — his shoes are very fine — he wants me right here on the street with my belly and the old dress and she crying Jesus above me — he’s gone and the pains begin again — I press down with my elbows into the concrete and down with my heels bare and my back arches pushing down inside me and the sweat is cool and the sidewalk is hot and my legs spread all by themselves and the thing in my belly moves and the grainy burning in my throat where I cannot vomit and she is jumping and pointing and the sweat is running down between her legs and shining on the plaid in the socks and my neck is tight — all of my face pulling against it — and the muscles in my feet and calves are locked and screaming — I cannot breathe though the air in my mouth wide open is cool and dry all down my throat and the pushing is pushing like the most enormous shit — my knees bend up — my back lifts and the pushing does not stop and there are people watching now and whispering and she is shouting — I can barely see her face she is looking up between my legs where the old skirt has fallen back and everything is wet and hot my hair and the sidewalk beneath me and it is moving and tearing — I am tearing and pushing and she is reaching out with her square hands that do — she is reaching into me and pulling — I see her eyes pale with no lids and her mouth open loose and her saliva dripping and she is pulling it from me red and shapeless and the cord dripping red coils long from me to it and she stands up again with her arms stretched out and the thing red in her hands and the long cord dangling with the sack at the end — she shows them shouting and the red runs down her hands and down her arms dripping off at the elbow and I looking up see the red thing moving in her hands and the people are turning away and she is screaming her hair shaking down onto the red thing — she shakes it between her hands pressing in on it with her hands and twisting it in her hands — my eyes close they are so dry and open and the screaming stops and her face is buried in the red thing in her hands and her hair shakes onto her red hands and I can see her jaws moving — the muscles in front of her ears clenching and I hear the crunching and the sounds from her throat and the tearing and her face lifts bloody to the eyes and her mouth is spewing blood and she swallows long and slow and her eyes lift above the people passing — her lips lifting away from her teeth and her teeth red and running she says Jesus…Jesus…

I always remember and believe what I remember. My mother sat at the kitchen table with the newspaper and the mustached man in the billed cap in dots on the first page “Stalin is dead! Why, he died from eating two whole chickens at a single meal. It gave him a stroke. He was always a big eater.” I remembered and said that in school. They laughed. The little girl next door and I sat in the tire swing in front of the house where my brother was born. I said what’s fuck and she said a man gets mad at his wife and kills her and lays her out on her back and her sister finds out and kills the husband and lays him on top of his wife. His brother finds out and kills the sister and lays her on top then her husband kills him and all the relatives find out and kill each other and each one is laid on top of the last one and the pile gets higher and higher until all the friends and relatives are dead and on the pile and that’s what fuck means and go get fucked and get laid and all those other things. I never said anything about it but I thought that was true for a long time. Once in school a teacher said Thomas Malthus when it should have been Jeremy Bentham and a long time afterward I said that and someone showed me in the book and it said Jeremy Bentham and I was wrong because I remembered what they told me and they were wrong.

There was a window behind the judge and no jury but black wood and the lawyer was there and didn’t like me and Joyce was ahead of me with her fur coat and fat cheeks and short curly hair and she got off in her husband’s custody standing in front of the tall desk looking up and the desk was part of the wall and he came to it through another room so there was no way to go around behind it from this room. He didn’t wear a wig but had a skinny face and gray glasses and she took her coat from the rail and a man came to her young and dark and walked out she bouncing. I came up to the desk and a detective was there with something I had written but he didn’t read it. He said what it said but I know it didn’t say that and the young man was there from his job at the upholstery factory and he blushed and said “She got down on her knees to me” and the judge looked at me “You got down on your knees to him?” The Kresge’s manager was there and the words fell in neon and zeon and freon glowing in glass tubes and clinking and crazing and I lied and they lied and the lawyer lied but the judge found me guilty which was true. I don’t understand.

I walk back to the railing and Jerry Simmons is waiting for me. There were movies in Gen. Sci. Class in eighth grade with the shades pulled down and Mr. Armstrong in his crew cut fiddling with the projector. Standard Oil movies of draining African swamps and spraying mosquitoes’ beds with kerosene because the tsetse fly — black man peeking around the corner of a grass house break to same black man lying on the ground shaking under a G.I. blanket in the blazing sun shivering and shaking like mad his eyes white to the tops Walter Cronkite voice droning newsworthily yellow fever malaria — naked woman but she’s black so it’s cool cut to woman with elephantiasis in her legs so full the skins splitting like a frankfurter cut to man — just flash man pushing a loaded wheelbarrow Cronkite voice drones unemotional elephantiasis of the scrotum and then cut to diagrams of the mother anopheles before it hits us that they have just shown us a picture of some poor bastard wheeling his balls around in a wheelbarrow. He trying to look sincere in a madras tie and holey face with used-car salesman in every crease and I walk out with my feet touching the tiles all along the insides and he takes my arm and his slacks have cuffs and they are loose from the waistband with tucks in the front and sides and he has a silver bucking bronc on his buckle and spumoni specks in the charcoal gray of his jacket and his teeth are always showing long and with wide dark spaces between and he shows them flat and square as chisels between long slug lips and has money in his hand. “Get yourself some duds Baby, there’s a room for you at the Senator, pick you up at seven.” I’m on the street walking past a high board fence hiding some construction. Cross the street before the Kresge’s some hotel room with a small window and a toilet behind the door. The bed is too soft. I sink in it. I am too soft. I am on a train alone. I don’t remember the middles here. I am on a train going west and the snow covers the black earth thinly and the train takes three days to get where it is going. Three days and I do not flush while the train is in the station and there are rabbit tracks in the snow as the train passes. I in green plush with my face to the green window and no one sits beside me all the way.

About the Author

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Katherine Dunn  was a novelist and boxing journalist who lived and worked in Oregon. She is the author of three novels: Attic, Truck, and Geek Love , which was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Bram Stoker Prize. She died in 2016.

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