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  November 2005
volume 3 number 4
-table of contents-
  home   (archived)
  Roger Angle
  Brendan Connell
  Marie Lecrivain & Daniel Gallik
  Kenneth Hickey
  Gene Justice
  Aire Celeste Norell
  Angel Uriel Perales
  Adrian Potter
  Paula Rodriguez
  mailing list
Brendan Connell
November 2005



photo by michelle mazzetti

    Brendan Connell was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1970 and currently lives in Ticino, Switzerland, where he teaches English and writes. He has had fiction published in numerous magazines, literary journals and anthologies, including The Journal of Experimental Fiction, Fantastic Metropolis, Flesh & Blood, Leviathan 3, Album Zutique, and Strange Tales (Tartarus Press 2003).



Against the Back

Out of one self same clod of clay
there sprouts both stinking weeds and delightful flowers.

† †† †† †† †† †† †† †† †† †† †† †† †ĖRobert Greene

† † She woke up in the darkness of morning, near his body. The thought crossed her mind that she might straddle and make violent love to him, shocking the man out of sleep.
† † A reversal of roles, she thought.
† † In the distance a dog barked and their dog, from its kennel, replied. As if in sympathy with the canines, Mary Herman silently removed herself from the room where she and her husband slept. The childís door was open and the night-light comfortingly lambent. This inspired her to lean against the doorjamb and look at the raised rectangle draped in fabric where her offspring slept. Unconsciously she kneaded her right breast. She was not thin and her epidermis was full of human being. The sound of a truck engine revving in the distance made her think, by obscure modes of association, of eggs frying in a pan.
† † She walked down the carpeted steps and into the kitchen, and then began preparing breakfast.
† † Why do I do it, she thought as she dropped a handful of small pork sausages in the hot pan. They replied, sizzling, and the smell, as it sometimes did, brought forth an epiphany of nostalgia. She felt an almost overwhelming connection to the United States of America and what she believed to be its history and tradition.
† † When the husband appeared the child was sitting in its special seat, the yellow crust of egg decorating its mouth. Cooked food lay on the table.
† † She, the mother, looked at him as his teeth closed in on the toast; the crunching projected the image to her mind of human bones being decimated.
† † He began to speak, apparently in harmony with the proteins ingested.
    Hearing his words, she nodded, smiled. In a way it was a relief that he talked, then teased the child. She loved him. She hated him. His mop of silver hair was an insult to a woman under thirty. Then there was a feeling of affection; she saw him tease their daughter. A slight warmth was felt by Mrs. Herman between her hip bones.
† † When he wants to be nice heís lovely, she thought. Then she wiped the childís mouth, a vague act of comradeship to ally herself to the man. † † Receiving a kiss of significant rapidity, the husband left the country house, his torso in a sports jacket. He would lawyer and fulfill certain primitive instincts for survival.
† † The woman felt as if a railroad spike had been removed from the midst of her spine as she saw his car turn out the long drive. The terror of the early morning was removed by the appearance of a misted, bright orb hovering low over the swamp, which she called "a lake." The kitchen table was scattered with the traces of an eating and the child was there without being where she, Mary Herman, was.
† † Without altogether making a human connection she took her daughter to the living room TV, and then set her in front of it. In the kitchen she threw away bits of masticated bread, ate a bowl of cereal, and listened to the distant cartoon entertainment. She tried to feel a bond with the child and in touch with the events on the screen though she could not see them.
† † TV brings people closer together, she thought. Yet I could not be further away from her if I were on the moon.
† † The apparent injustice of this stirred her and later when she found herself naked under the warm fluid of the showerhead, actually moved her to tears.
† † The tears of a desperate woman, she thought as she lathered her hair.
† † By the time she put the child in the car seat she was completely dry. Pulling on to the road, she nearly hit a man out walking. For a moment she wished that she had. Then she saw him wave, and the bald crown of his head, and his age. She waved back.
† † If all men could be like that, she thought. Friendly even to strangers.
† † She realized that she was smiling, repressed it, and then smiled again self-consciously. The car moved rapidly through the farm country, the woman behind the wheel a young mother.
† † At the supermarket she sat the child in the childís seat of the shopping cart and wheeled through the aisles, filling it with fruit, iceberg lettuce and aluminum cans of beer and soda. The sight of the pork chops, beef and other raw meats filled her with a certain pleasure. They were the dead meat of once-living things, in plastic wrapping without any obvious relation to life.
† † She grew more comfortable as the cart accumulated goods, the familiar packaging making her walk with easier steps. Music, filtered through discreet speakers, soothed her and brought out certain primitive, pseudo-emotional instincts in her being. The smile of the cashier made her feel that she, Mary Herman was an integral part of the community, yet at the same time like drinking a very stiff gin and tonic, and smoking a cigarette.
† † Later that day, the man who was jointly her husbandís best friend and her lover came over. During sexual intercourse she tried very hard to enjoy herself, and even cried out. But this was more from a sense of desperation than pleasure. Afterward thunder growled outside, lightening cracked, and then she saw the rain fall past her window.
† † The man beside her was a trucker by trade who carried merchandise both licit and illicit over the interstate highways. Living was painful; he reminded her of a pile of lard or inert matter. He smiled and said things that were meant to be endearing but were very banal.
† † Slowly he became a living man again, and through shame and pity she believed in love.
† † Her daughter came in but did not appear to be surprised to see them both in bed. The child reported that there was a rainbow outside and Mary, raising her body and looking out the window, saw it hanging over her lake. A moment of true tenderness followed.
† † A flower in the desert, she thought.
† † "Happy, happy, joy, joy," sang the child, skipping from the room.
† † In the kitchen she made him a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich and coffee, and the she had a cup of coffee. He ate and looked at her, occasionally raising his eyebrows as if hoping thereby to communicate. The house sat under tall pine trees, and even though the sun had come out and birds sang the unlit kitchen was full of shadow. She could hear her stomach rumble slightly from the coffee and looking at the clock saw that it was past two.
† † As if this was a signal, he abruptly got up to leave.
† † After he left she turned on the radio and moved, almost danced around the room. A strip of cold bacon lay in the pan on the stove. She grabbed it, and then rammed it into her mouth shaking her head in time to the music. At the sound of laughter she turned around. The little girl stood at the entrance pointing at her.
† † Outside they watched the dog, a Dalmatian move around the property. It sniffed at a tree, marked it, and then snapped at a wasp. Gunshots could be heard from across the swamp where sportsmen shot ducks. The dog looked out across the swamp. She played catch with her daughter, a small beach ball passing in the air between the two.
† †As the feeling of domestic tranquility grew more pronounced so did her feeling of listlessness and loss of purpose. She wished her daughter would grow tired of the game and without admitting it, was not there. † † Looking at her own lower body, she noticed how tightly the jeans fit, though they were a size larger than the pair she had worn the year before. The thought of liposuction flashed through her mind, and then a boat floating across an ocean of puss.
† † The child was holding the ball, staring at her questioningly, she threw the ball and it bounced off her shoulder. Suddenly angry, she thrust the ball back at the child. It missed, landing in the bushes. The child stared, shocked, and then cried.
† † Disgusted and afraid of both herself and the other, she ran inside. No sooner had she closed the door behind her then she heard the sound of tires turning down the driveway. She looked at the clock and was surprised to see that it was almost four-thirty. Outside she could hear the car door slam and her husbandís voice. He was talking with his daughter and as Mary heard this, she also heard the faucet dripping, the refrigerator hum, and the click of her own jaw as it tensed.
† † When he came in she saw by the expression on his face that he was upset. She made a feeble attempt to smile, knowing as she did so the sense of failure.
† † "You hit the girl," he said.
† † She denied it and tried to explain. He yelled and made sharp, abrupt movements with his arms. As he yelled her thoughts rotated between killing him, or preparing dinner. In the end he took a cold can of beer out of the refrigerator, and then drank it. Pacified, he kissed her and felt her right breast.
† † As she prepared dinner she snacked on small bits of food: a piece of lettuce, a crouton, a lump of uncooked ground beef. The little girl walked through the kitchen undisturbed, and the husband sat in the living room watching the evening news. When the telephone rang, she picked it up and heard the other manís voice.
† † "I love you," he told her.
† † "Do you want to speak to my husband," she said.
† † She took the portable telephone into the living room and handed it to him. As she set the table she heard her husbandís laughter. His tone of voice had altered to one that men use towards men. Without knowing why she knew that they were talking about the sex opposite to themselves - and probably her. She looked out the kitchen window and, in the evening light saw a deer move toward the edge of the swamp. For a moment she thought of calling out to the man and the little girl, but then decided to keep it for herself.
† † During the meal of meatloaf, potatoes, and salad the man drank beer and talked, telling jokes and stories. After the table had been cleared she still saw him sitting there, his fingers snapping open a fresh can of beer. He was fourteen years older than her, and when she notice the large ketchup stain on his shirt and the piece of lettuce that glowed between his teeth every time he opened his mouth, she became suddenly queasy. He licked the beer from his lips and continued to speak, while she leaned against the kitchen counter.
† † "Please honey," she said, and then closing her eyes, tried to blot out the sound of his voice. She thought of a gurgling brook, a woodpecker, the white sands of a beach, a wicker basket full of shellfish. To her amazement when she opened them again, he was not there. She heard him crashing around in the garage; he had taken out the trash.
† † She stood motionless and listened as he came in, very near her, and then he took another can of beer from the refrigerator. She heard his footsteps recede into the living room, and then the usual sound of TV combined with the voices of daughter and husband.
† † Mary went out the backdoor and stood on the porch. Moths beat against the porch light, fragile and tragic. Walking out into the darkness, she felt the moist grass beneath her bare feet. She gasped for breath, stuck out her tongue, and then cried out.
† † Her husbandís head appeared in the living room window pressed against the glass, looking out. Then ee was then gone and the curtains closed. She heard the crickets and clouds sweep past the bright moon. Itís almost full, she thought, and then with arms folded went back inside.
† † She wanted to go upstairs and lie on her bed, but could not do so without passing by the living room. Her throat constricted. She breathed deeply through her nose to help remove the panic. Quietly, she went to the stairs and walked up. Out of the corner of one eye she saw the man and child sitting side by side watching TV. There was an impulse to join them as a member of the family, but she did not obey it. She found herself at the head of the stairs.
† † In the bedroom she turned on the reading lamp by the side of the bed, and then sat down. Her shadow, cast against one side of the room appeared grotesque. She ran a hand up and through her hair; the dark motion against the wall was that of an alien.
† † Rubbing the back of her neck, she went to the restroom, brushed her teeth and then washed her face with soap and warm water. she changed into a nightgown, and lay under the covers. Asleep, she drove down a highway paved with coarse ground pepper, talked with a dead friend, and accidentally drank dishsoap instead of coffee.

(previously published in The A-list)

copyright 2005 Brendan Connell