The Solace of Monsters
By Laurie Blauner
A narrow path wound through the forest. I couldn't discern it, but Theresa knew it well. Trees nodded at us, bushes yielded, rocks crouched among the prehistoric ferns and gangly flowers. I could hear the confessions of mice along vanishing points. Colors compressed and expanded in front of my eyes, but I suspected it wasn't real, only my senses jumbling again. I heard water hurrying somewhere, alongside our route. I wanted to poke my finger through the latticed sky. Instead I tried to concentrate on following Theresa's footsteps. I wished Gloves was following us, rendering mouse bodies. One life opened into others. I, too, was replaceable.
"Aberration," I whispered to myself.
After over an hour of walking, Theresa pointed to a tiny weed-choked house that was barely visible. A Childcloud with fragile sticks for arms and legs, a spasm of blonde hair, a brown sack dress, and eyes that resembled white clouds ran out, across the yard, toward us. Her eyelids were open, but I couldn't see her eyes.
"Who's with you, Mother?" she screamed at Theresa. "I hear other footsteps, heavy ones, and somebody breathing."
"She's been blind since birth," Theresa explained to me.
The girl bounded closer. I could smell dirt, baby powder, chewing gum, oily hair, and something sweet like cherry lollipops. I moved my tongue around inside my mouth, oranges too. I could almost taste the little girl. She reached out toward my waist, but I didn't want her to touch me. I moved backwards.
"Kat, this is Mara. She'll be staying with us for a little while."
"Why?" the girl spat out nastily. She was a whirlpool.
"She doesn't have any other place to go and she can help me with work." Theresa moved toward the house but Kat blocked her.
"We don't need her." The little girl had a big voice. "I can smell her from here."
"What do I smell like?" I asked the frightening creature. I was curious. I was both afraid of her and afraid of hurting her.
"The inside of a balloon." She was a smudge against the landscape.
"Yes, well, Mara needs a bath. And you probably do too, Miss Katrina." Theresa reached for the little girl's neck to guide her toward the house, but at her mother's touch the girl burst away from her. She faced away, expertly, just before hitting a pine tree. I had never seen a blind girl before.
Theresa and I continued to the house. An airplane overhead ripped the sky open without apologizing. It left a white trail, sky scars. I was weary and corroding. Inside were four small rooms and everything was made of wood. I had to accommodate my body to the lower ceilings and doors. Theresa showed me around. A fireplace, stove, big wash tub, table and a few chairs in one, a bathroom with another older steel tub, two bedrooms, the larger one had a wooden cross over the bed like at the church.
"My husband made almost everything here, including the house. He made the table and chairs. You can stay in Kat's room for now. She can sleep with me."
The little girl was in the corner seething, muttering something under her breath. I began to speak in colors, another conflagration of my senses. "I don't need the red. I can sleep in the white." I pointed incoherently to the kitchen area.
"Come," Theresa said, "you're too tired. Sleep. Then we can wash and eat." She showed me into the girl's bedroom. When we realized the bed was too small for me, we took the sheets and blankets and put them on the floor. I barely fit inside the room. Theresa closed the curtains and left. Before I slept I could hear them arguing.
"I want Miss Moscovitz and my ball," the girl whined. I wondered how I had sounded to Father.
"Come here, Kat. It's only for a little while. Don't worry. We'll get Miss Moscovitz and your ball tomorrow."
"But I don't like it! I don't like her."
In the remaining dim light of the room, I saw a yellow ball with absurd black stripes and a half-naked plastic doll with part of a dress and a hurricane of blonde hair. The doll was missing an arm and a chunk of her thigh, and she was covered in scratches. I understood Miss Moscovitz. I didn't know what had happened to her, but I assumed Kat was responsible. I fell asleep.
In my dream there was a doll, but it was life-sized, female, made of a thin plastic, had dark hair and eyes, and it lay on Father's operating table. Not young, not old. Father hovered over the prostrate doll, unbuttoned its gingham dress to the waist. Only smooth plastic appeared where her breasts had been. And when he sliced her stomach past her waist, she was missing all of her female organs. Her mouth, ears, shut eyes, nose were all encased in plastic. There was no way in or out of her. Father looked tenderly at the doll, even as he cut off her limbs and began rearranging them.
"There, darling, that looks better," he said to the doll's unchanging face as one arm ended up where a leg used to be, unbending fingers sprouted from her ears, a round buttock protruded from her stomach.
"Wait, let's try this," he said, placing toes on her forehead, sitting the arm from her groin in the space between her anonymous breasts. He moved her internal organs around, draping a stiff stomach across one shoulder, a lung on top of her head, an ear above her heart. He was switching everything around again and again like a puzzle that wasn't completed. He backed away from the doll, which looked freakish with body parts in the wrong places. He studied the photograph pinned near his table. He kissed the doll on what was left of her cheek.
He said, "My darling wife. I keep trying to remember you."
I woke up, lopsided and creased, with too much air choking me. My tongue whipped around the inside of my mouth, where my teeth had once elbowed one another, forming a fence. A new gap had formed in the back. I spit out two teeth on my pillow. I had lost two molars in my sleep. At least they weren't visible, having emptied from the rear of my mouth. I was losing teeth while I slept! The other parts I had lost from abuse. Now they were simply falling out for no reason. I hid the loose teeth under my pillow because Theresa was crouching on the floor, searching for something. She had opened the window. A rectangular-shaped unending forest, with its congregation of evergreens, and sunlight struggling past the branches, seeped inside the bedroom. It smelled fresh, green, new, and inviting. If only the forest could heal me the way Father's sutures and glue could.
Theresa swung around, the ball and plastic doll wedged under her arm, "Good morning, sleepy Mara. You've slept for two days now. You must be hungry."
"I did?" I was startled. I had never slept that long before, even with all my operations. My time in the world was full of firsts.
"Come on out when you're ready."
"She's finally awake?" the trilling girl's voice said, outside the door.
The little girl, Kat, barged into the room, her hands waving like tentacles. She found her closet door, latched onto that, opening it, rummaging through some noisy objects lodged there, tossing them in a heap onto the floor. Her body shrugged aside broken toys, torn shoes, ripped photographs, shoelaces, plastic bags filled with rocks, shells, brightly colored squares, circles, and triangles.
"You stink like rotten onions." Kat sniffed, "And like an old fire and hunger." Her head was tilted in my general direction. She was clutching a book.
"Conflagration," I whispered to myself.
"What did you say?" the girl asked me loudly.
"What do you need a book for?" I asked the girl, who was pretty accurate with her odors.
"It helps relax her to be read to." Theresa answered. "Come Mara, I have eggs and some bread for you. Then you can take a bath."
"When will she help us, Mama?" The girl's hands began touching every inch of the book as if it could speak to her.
"Soon, Kat, soon." Theresa turned to me. "You can come with me later today on my wash pickup route."
I scooped up my two teeth and stuffed them into my pants pocket. We moved from the child's bedroom into the kitchen where I devoured the meager breakfast. My stomach was delighted with the food, yet was still growling. Theresa began filling up the tub in the bathroom with hot water from the stove. As I sat at the shrunken table I smelled the little girl loitering nearby, fingering her book.
"Today you smell of pine trees, strawberries, dirty fingers," I told the strange girl behind a door. She smiled.
"You're like a dog," she told me.
"Then you're a blind dog," I said. The girl threw her head back and laughed like an adult. Then she ran up to me and fiercely began pummeling me with her tiny fists.
"She hates being reminded that she's blind," Theresa explained, at the sink, her back to us.
I lifted the girl into the air, her fists windmilling, by the collar of her shirt, her uncombed blonde hair thrashing all around her. She was an annoyance. I considered flicking her away. Instead I gently put her down. "I'll read to you when I'm done with my bath."
"Kat, don't be a pest," Theresa said, as she cleaned the dishes. "I'm going to take Mara with me this morning after her bath. Leave her alone."
The girl sighed loudly, her pencil-sized bones shifting into different poses that her mother couldn't see. Some spit worked its way out of the girl's mouth as she muttered to herself. "Good," she managed to say out loud.
The girl appeared fragile but she wasn't. She threw a flimsy fist toward me when she hoped her mother wasn't watching but I caught it and held it. I could have crushed her hand. I stared into her empty eyes that reminded me of unused white paper. "What's it like to have a mother?" I released her hand and she worked it round and round in the air and bit it as though it wasn't a part of her own body.
"Wanting," she said inexplicably.
"Ineffable," I answered her.