Cassandra Mouth

by Kellie Wells

1

It was a day painful with sunshine when I said, Dog, and one appeared in my garden, lumbering out of the foliage like time-lapse botanical evolution, plant to animal in a matter of minutes, the time it takes to name the outcome of a foregone conclusion. It was a mastiff ropy with brawn, weaving in a way that said it was spoiling for a scrap with an obsequious lap dog. I knelt to claim it, be claimed by it, held out my hand, smaller than its paws. It sniffed the grass then wagged its sculpted haunches, loped toward me. I imagined its slobbering muzzle buried gratefully in my palm, its skin shivering with the satisfaction of encountering a beneficent creature with an endless supply of bone-shaped food in her cupboard. As it came toward me, I saw its heavy testicles swinging, that lightly furred, leathery sack of canine perpetuity, and I saw the progeny in his future, wormy thug pups that would force their eyes open prematurely, develop a menacing gait. Then he trotted past me, gaze forward, wagged his way to the woman standing behind me in the street, a woman wearing dark glasses, a flowered sundress and yellow hat, skin so tan she seemed purple. She knelt, held out her hand.

So is it always. Though I can predict it, I make myself blind with hope I know is fated to be dashed, an impotent optimism that will one day erase me. I am a collection of faint pencil strokes on onion skin paper, a script that blurs imperceptibly with daily handling, fading in the sebum of more definitive fingers.

2

When my mother calls to tell me the weather is soon to turn, she feels it in her fingers, though it’s early, take my sweaters out of the cedar chest, I tell her I know, the mercury will drop this very night, plummet below freezing, causing porch plants to shrivel with shock. Tomorrow, TV meteorologists will distract viewers from the previous night’s inaccurate forecast by capering on camera in mittens and parkas. I wonder, says my mother, if I should bring in my begonias. Your flowers will die, I say, go limp, translucent, blooms and stems withering, the thick leaves of your jade plant falling off like frostbitten toes. I think I’ll wait, she says. The drop will be gradual. The season is so short. I’ll give them another day to soak up the final drizzle of sunshine.

I think of the clay pots full of dry dirt and old roots that will line her porch through the winter.

3

I dream myself, underwater, keening at a glass surface, my diluted voice not even conjuring bubbles, sound lodged somewhere in my sternum.

4

At work, as I place the lead vest over shoulders, drape it across laps, I try not to see the burgeoning tumors, the wayward cells colonizing the native putty of being. I know it’s an invasion, peering into the crystal ball of the body, eyeing its eventualities, but my eyes stare into portent even when closed. I touch the dark spots on the spectral record of the body’s interior, touch the dim fissures and opaque intimations. Once I passed a child on her way to an MRI, a tumor the size of a hazelnut bullying its way into her brainstem. My face tensed when I saw it, and the child stopped and patted me on the arm. God is love? she asked, squinting as if adjusting to sudden sunlight. Love is blind, I returned, determined to liberate us both from illusions. We pictured a fiercely scowling, milky-eyed man, rag-tag and smelling of urine, holding out a cup in a fiery hand, the word FORGIVENESS stamped in the tin. Humans: the mundane Braille God fingers when he needs to find a flophouse, weary from all the begging.

5

My lover listens with the aid of a device, pink and coiled like a tiny fetus resting inside his ear. It is dark in his room, but I see his eyes going dim like the screen of an old Philco TV reducing itself to a silver horizon, a luminous dot. I am here, I say. Where are you? he asks. I put my mouth to his belly, bite. Touch me here, he says, pointing to the imprint of my teeth. I circle my tongue around his chin. Your mouth here, he says, touching the delicate cleft. I take the hearing aid from his ear, put my lips to the cavity and blow. He hears, says, Fortuity, Embezzlement, Disappearance, Metastasis.

6

In his front room is a round table covered with a black and purple cloth batiked with owls. I sit beneath the table and trace my finger along the backside of the cloth, the horned tufts that crown the owls’ heads. There is a knock, and my lover lets his client in. The woman sits down at the table, and feet in brown suede pumps appear, neatly parallel, on the floor behind me. The ankles are thin and the bones press through the tops of the feet, a trellis draped in skin. My lover removes his hearing aid, birthing his deafness, passes the device under the table to me. I hear the static that roars inside his ear, the white noise of prophecy. People place stock in the physical impediments of oracles, believe congenital vexation of the body must be compensated, must result in sensitivity to extrasensory rumblings. My lover’s spirit, they imagine, is horn-shaped, amplifying the inscrutable godvoice that hums inaudibly beneath the surface.

With one hand, my lover holds the wrist of his client. He offers the other hand to me under the table. I press my lips to his palm and mouth the woman’s future into his skin. He tells her she should move to the desert, where life springs green and spiny through small cracks in adversity. He tells her that erasing the body will not save the soul, that she should not see flesh as an iron-mawed trap she must gnaw herself free of.

The feet disappear from beneath the table, but I continue to hold my lover’s hand to my mouth. He turns his hand over and takes my wrist. I put my other hand to my mouth, feel the velvety movement of my lips against my palm. I see my skin grow sheer, my voice turn to wind.

7

My eyes are ponderous with sight, eyelids drooping like window shades with weighted pulls. The people who seek answers from my lover can barely keep their eyes in their heads, eyeballs empty, transparent, buoyant as effervescence.

The burden the prophet bears is the film of her own departure projected interminably on the screen of her eyes. What I have always seen, in the moments when I’m left utterly alone, is my own unraveling, cells loosening, life moving backward from two legs to four to the scaly arc and rudder of prehistory and the phosphorescent shimmer before that, to the dissonant whir of life plotting its inception, from dry land to water to improbable inkling, the body devolved, a life unauthored.

My voice vibrates in the ears of others; the familiar timbre makes them tug at their lobes, the sound of belated intuition. My lips, forever parted, the very shape of vanity. Those who seek credit for foresight sport ample, pouty lips, mouths that suggest they fancy themselves on speaking terms with deities.

Every mouth is entitled to only so many words, every page too. The mouth and pencil at rest are things to be lauded. Physics tells us we are the prediction of what happens elsewhere. Let the elsewhere begin. In the end, I will breathe into my hand, watch with the wary eyes and elevated pulse of a tornado tracker, with a body tilted happily toward disaster, as the unheeded mouth closes, as a fine script disappears from a page, fading with each distracted reading, letters whitening. There is only this, this, was. And a good deal less.

 

Kellie Wells was awarded the Flannery O’Connor Award and the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award for Compression Scars, a collection of short fiction. She’s also a recipient of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award for emerging women writers. Her novel Skin was published in the Flyover Fiction Series, by the University of Nebraska Press, edited by Ron Hansen. Her work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Ninth Letter, The Fairy Tale Review, and was selected by Kevin Brockmeier for inclusion in the 2010 Best American Fantasy. Her second novel, Fat Girl, Terrestrial, will be published in October of 2012, by FC2. She’s a graduate of the writing programs at the University of Montana, the University of Pittsburgh, and Western Michigan University. This story originally appeared in Compression Scars (University of Georgia Press, 2002).
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