Sunday, December 4, 2016

He will have her.

It rained last night and these dirt roads that go home have turned into muck.

I'm hungover as hell.

I was out all night drinking with my brothers. Except one, who's in Europe fighting in the war.

He sends his money home, and we spend it on wine. Cheap stuff, but lots of it. When he comes home he will have nothing.

Finally he'll know how the rest of us feel.

He always thought he was better than us. Above us. He even prays. Ma saw him do it once and she said: "Everyone look Claude's talkin' to his food."

When he comes home he will have nothing. We will see to it. I will see to it.

Nothing for a house with the girl he promised to marry when he returns. Nothing for the children they want to have, nothing for a car.

I am in love with the girl he promised to marry.

When he comes home he will have her.

There's nothing I can do about that.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

You Will Always Yearn



My granny’s granny was French
and so rich as a little girl 
she had servants to help her get dressed.
Her dad was a doctor 
and we think he got up to something shady
that got him kicked out of France
or sent him running from France.

Something happened – 
some blip in the family tree – 
and my granny’s granny wound up poor in Appalachia,
picking huckleberries in a snake-infested valley
with my granny
to make sure they had enough to eat.

Years later my granny remembered 
how sad she was to be there
and hear the church bells ring,
missing church – 
there was a boy she liked at church
and the sound of the church bells
as she picked berries in the valley
meant she wouldn't see him that day.

*

My granny’s mom had never seen a monkey – 
not a real one, in real life – 
and one time a circus came through town.
My granny’s dad was going to take them,
so her mom could see the monkey.
He told them to wait at the store,
that he would pick them up after work.

They waited. 
My granny roamed back and forth,
back and forth,
studying the candy for sale, memorizing it,
playing word games to keep from being bored.
Her dad never came to get them – 
he’d gone out drinking after work.
Her mom didn’t see a monkey that day.

*

The chimes traveled on the breeze, God’s music box.
The heat and cicadas shimmered. 
Sweat beaded on their foreheads and under their arms.
Snakes kept out of sight.
The chimes said:
“You will always want things.
You will always yearn.
This is the way of our people.
This is the fate you were born into.”

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Standoff

 
The vehicle appeared in a field, in the frosty blue glow before dawn. It seemed somehow a natural part of the scene, a painterly composition – not quite dead in the center of the field, but off to one side. I remember my friend in high school who took art class bragging about how her teacher had praised her for drawing objects not in the middle of the sheet but nearer to an edge. I remember thinking I would have probably drawn them in the center, taken the obvious, disappointing tack.

I consider myself to be a sort of Joan Didion of local law enforcement – she wrote: “My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests.” Most are polite to my face but make it clear in other ways that they don’t think I’m right for this job. I’m an enigma; they can more easily see me doing something mousy in an office.

I don’t prove them wrong with bombastic bravery and pluck, like an inspirational character in a movie. I make myself indispensable in boring ways – by showing up on time, by doing the homework, by never saying no. I’m game for any assignment, not because of bravery so much as a perverse kind of nihilism, or possibly an unexamined death wish. Or a feeling of being immune, that nothing will ever really harm me – the kind of feeling that comes along with being a privileged member of a society.

I was driving alone, which is my preference. I saw the car in the field. It looked so natural that I almost kept driving. But it was my job to check. The car faced the highway, as if poised for a getaway. I had to drive onto the grass to approach it. Years into this job and still driving on anything besides the road feels thrillingly naughty.

Mist hovered just above the grass like a hem, and the atmosphere was the blue light of dreams. I half expected to see a unicorn go galloping by. Somewhere in the distance the traffic was starting to warm up but not here. Here everything was asleep.

The first thing I noticed when I drove closer to the car was that I couldn’t see through the windows. They were completely frosted over, opaque. The sight spooked and intrigued me. There could be someone inside, or not. A sleeping or dead body, or two Romeo and Juliet kids with noplace else to fuck. Or there could just be emptiness.

I pulled up so my car faced their car. My headlights lit up an out-of-state license plate. I ran the number through my system; it turned up nothing. No easy answers.

I took the key out of the ignition – lights off, silent, no reason for a circus just yet – and opened my door. I stepped onto the slick overgrown grass. The blades bowed as I crushed them. I stopped maybe twelve feet – two graves’ lengths – from the vehicle and stared at it.

There was no wind, just a hush. The sun didn’t seem in a rush to come up – just this blue glow forever.

The edges of the frost on the windows were scalloped, like a doily in an old lady’s house. I remembered looking at snowflakes on the window as a kid, amazed that something so intricate could just occur in nature, without a human brain to design it.

How long could this last? I felt the accumulating chill.

I couldn’t see in. Could they see out?

Take a step. You have to take a step. You have to get outside of your head and do things. You took this path because it would force you to do things.

I took a step.

Beneath me the wet grass bowed. Nature bows to action.

A moment later the driver’s-side door opened. It opened slowly with a prolonged creak, dramatically, as if it were the Phantom of the Opera inside about to appear in a velvet cloak and maudlin mask, to orchestral swells.

Instinctively – no, because it was my job – I drew my weapon, as my colleagues say. As I would say it: I took out my gun.

But no one came out.

My pulse throbbed to life and my head swarmed with options. Run. Stay put. Holler for the person to come outside. Fire a warning shot if they did not.

You took this path because you wanted to do things.


It’s not in my nature to do things.

I decided to wait it out. I stood staring at the vehicle, now with one door hanging open like the ramp of a UFO that invading aliens are about to descend from. I held up my gun but not convincingly; for me it has always been a pose. I surrendered to whatever might happen.

Que sera, sera.
A painterly composition.


I had the sense that I had been hypnotized by the loveliness of the eerie scene, that I didn’t want to disturb it with a burst of gunfire or yelling. Or maybe I felt safe in the silence. It was more like a dream this way. “Dream logic,” they call it, the rules by which dreams occur.

I stood still, forever.

What came out of the car was not a face but a hand with a gun.

I can’t see in but they can see out, through that grandma’s doily of scalloped ice.

I know I was supposed to fire, or at least run. But why resist when you’ve recognized your destiny – that your whole life has been building toward this?

Nature bows to action.

Take me, take me onto your spaceship.

Recommendation

The space agency created a special committee just to review the flood of applications that came in for the new program. The criteria: old age and a happy life. 

The reason for old age was obvious. There was only enough fuel for a one-way ticket to Mars. Classic cocktail-party question: "Would you go?" If you answered yes, you were adventurous; no, you were boring but pragmatic. 

There was no then-conceivable way to bring more fuel for a trip home; the cost and logistics boggled the genius scientists' brains. Maybe someday they could do that, but right now this was the best they could do.

The reason for requiring the applicants had lived a happy life was less scientific, more superstitious, and formally objected to by more than one member of the normally staunchly rational committee: the agency didn’t want any ghosts on their hands, moaning about unfinished business from beyond the grave. 

(It was also a PR thing: The mission was to be seen as a glorious sending-off, a tearful hero's farewell complete with YouTube montage set to Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World"; sticking an embittered curmudgeon in the ship would send the wrong vibe.)

One-way ticket, no coming home.


Yet they received a flood of applications.

Even from young people. They would die young but be immortal. These applications were discarded as soon as the reviewers looked at the DOB.

An English professor was brought in to scrutinize the life stories. A psychologist, too. Who had lived the happiest life? Who had seen enough, done enough, to be ready to go?

After months of reviewing applications in a top-secret room, amid speculative reports in the news, the committee issued its unanimous recommendation: No one was ready to go. Each candidate still had life to live. They would send no one to that glorious but certain death far from home.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Ancestors

With unaccountable relief I plunge my hands into the dirt
to rip out spring’s first weeds,
not because I like to kill young things
but because I feel my hands belong there.

Back bent, fingernails and cuticles lined with black, I feel
a straight line connecting me to my hillbilly ancestors.
American peasants, Appalachians. 
The people at the bottom, closest to the ground.

It’s like the time my husband broke a plate at Barnes & Noble,
ill-balanced on the lip of a trash receptacle while transferring our café fare to our table.
I heard the shatter, like a shotgun firing at a race,
and I was off: 

Crouched low on the ground, picking up pieces – 
the big shards but also the microscopic flecks – 
when a more urbane person would have summoned an employee
then sat back down to continue looking at their magazine.

My stuffed pretzel had been on the plate that smashed; it bounced on the ground
but I picked it up and put it on a napkin, intending to still eat it.
“You guys did a good job cleaning this mess up!” said the young guy with the mop.
“Don’t you want another pretzel?” said the café woman twice, incredulous.

But I want to eat it like a good girl who doesn’t ask for much,
like an Appalachian who is grateful and doesn’t waste,
like a person who doesn’t garden as a hobby but 
whose hands feel at home in the dirt. 

 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Monday, March 14, 2016

Cut Off Your Nose

Saint Ebba heard they were coming.

She’d both feared and looked forward to it.

Everyone had been looking at maps – this place was right on the path, right in the way.

She’d lain awake at night, flat on her back, looking up in the cold. Vikings were monsters in stories parents told at bedtime. They didn’t come into the lives of just anybody. She had almost felt honored. Her life might mean something after all.

What would they do when they got here? They would take the girls. She wasn't supposed to let that happen. She was in charge of everyone. Mother Superior.

There were no men or weapons to protect them, so she had to be clever. She had to twist her mind. It came to her in blackness one night. It almost excited her. It was terrible; she shivered then went to sleep.

In the morning she passed around knives. They would do it if she told them to, especially if she went first. Their pretty faces would be as ravaged and ugly as she was deep in her heart that had wished for this all along.  

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Carnage

They were all at the fireworks show when we raided the community garden.

It was my idea. I walked by it all the time. I had seen the old ladies tending their tiny plots, weeding in the heat, watering every day, monitoring the slow growth, and I had thought: I’d like to rip it all up.

We heard the booms and saw distant sparks.

First we picked things to eat, as if it were our garden. Tomatoes we sank our teeth into like apples, our mouths spilling seedy pulp. Strawberries like free candy.

Then we picked things to throw – watermelons, pumpkins. Bright fleshy carnage splatted on nearby tree trunks.

Last we picked things just to pick them. Sometimes we let them fall next to where their roots had been, as if to flaunt the unnecessity.

In the morning the old ladies would see what had happened. They would shake their heads and cry. They would think: Who could do such a thing?

The human heart is not a garden. It will not be tended.

The booms got quiet and the colored light stopped, and from far away everyone applauded.


Monday, March 7, 2016

All the rest of his springs

A man stepped outside the building, on the fourth floor of which he worked as legal counsel for a trade association. He was going across the street to Whole Foods to fix a box of lunch from the salad bar to bring back to his office.

Mid-March snow melted in the sun. As he waited for the signal to cross, he felt it -- the first shiver of spring. It was in the 30s today, but the air was spiked with something fresh and vibrant, a bud of something ready to burst.

A girl in her teens or 20s stood next to him. He watched the shadow of her, her hair blowing in the wind. The shadow of her hair was shaped like a flame.

He thought of something from a long time ago: a music festival he had gone to back in high school. She'd had long hair that waved in the hot wind, and skin that tanned the color of caramel, and raggedy denim cut-off shorts. In the sun, he could smell the clean sweat that patched the underarms of her shirt. He could see the soft upward swell of the undersides of her braless breasts through the thin fabric of the much-loved T-shirt. He'd watched her shadow on the grass as she immersed herself in the music. He'd watched her shadow flare and gutter and die out as the sun went down.

Back in his office were binders of case summaries and legislative briefs. His reflection showed craggy pores and sunken crescent moons under his eyes. All the rest of his springs would feel nostalgic instead of new, would require his effort to remember. For all the rest of his springs, he would have the feeling he was watching the shadow of something, not the real thing.

But a shadow is an indication of a thing. A shadow means a thing is still there.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Wonders of the road

"Hear rocks sing!" proclaims a billboard on Interstate 81 in Virginia near the exit for Luray Caverns, which has a "stalactite organ" inside.
Amy sees the ad as she drives on by. The idea of a stalactite organ strikes her. It's quirky, poetic. Didn't her family go there when she was little? Or was that the Endless Caverns, not too much farther north, with the Hollywood-esque white letters on the side of a mountain?
It's something other than McDonald's and Sheetz billboards, so she notices it. "Stalactites," she thinks. "They cling to the ceiling."

The sun is going down, and she makes herself find beauty in the orange-sorbet light on the greenness: the mountains that slowly decrescendo as you head northeast, the rolling grass and clover. Queen Anne's lace, honeysuckle. She thinks that would make a good bouquet for a wedding, if you wanted to have a country-style wedding: clover with its purple flowers, Queen Anne's lace doily-heads mixed in, honeysuckle twined around. Someone should do that in Martha Stewart Weddings magazine, in that bouquet section they have, she thinks. Boring thoughts, on and on.

Suddenly she puts into a sentence something that she has suspected all along: There is no meaning in anything, so all I have to do is keep myself entertained. The minute she thinks this, it's true for her.

She passes a pick-up truck tugging a horse trailer in the right lane. A chestnut-brown horse butt and swishing tail are visible from behind as Amy's car passes. Somewhere inside, chocolate-brown eyes are probably peering through a slit in the trailer. On the trailer are the words: "Queen of the Rodeo." How quirky, how entertaining, Amy thinks.
On a hill: three crosses, a gold one flanked by two white ones. Cows munching grass indifferently nearby. An Arby's billboard.
If there's no meaning, and no one's watching, and it's all random chaos, why should you behave, Amy thought?

At twilight, a big-rig truck pulls up in the right lane, the driver peering down into Amy's car. She sees a lecherous face, tongue wagging. The trucker honks his horn.
Amy looks up at him, at his greasy mullet, his sun-beaten face, his baseball cap. He thinks he'll get a rise out of me, she thinks. He thinks I'll flip him off and speed on ahead.

Oh no. No I won't.

Amy thinks she is going to play this little game, too.
As if it matters.
She gives him a crazy, lascivious grin. She lifts her pelvis up and above the seat and makes sure he can see her, as she drives parallel to his truck. She ostentatiously unbuttons the top button of her jeans, unzips them. Shimmies them down to her knees. With his giant side mirror and his excellent vantage point, he can see her cunt.

How about that? Didn't expect that, did you? No one is watching. Zero consequences. Robust mammals, glee at reproductive organs, no meaning. A zoo with no visitors.

She touches herself. He hoots and honks his horn in appreciation, nearly swerves off the road -- thank God for those treads that make your tires whine when you veer off-course.

Amy looks up at him every few white dashes in the road. He's some stupid scuzzy trucker. Not that all truckers are stupid and scuzzy, but this one is. He'll probably CB his buddies about this, maybe give them her license plate number and tell them to keep an eye out for her.

He's laughing, thinks it's the best, funniest, wildest thing he's seen in a while.

Dully, her body responds to the familiar movements of her fingers until, driving without once hitting those warning treads, in full view of the trucker, she comes.

Taboo, dangerous. I am not like other girls. He's watching.

He honks twice in jubilation, and she lets him pass. She slows way down, taking the exit for the Exxon that's just across an overpass as he drives on down the Interstate.

She has pulled up her jeans. She sits in the parking lot, now dark, mosquitoes under streetlights, cicadas.

She goes inside the convenience store part of the gas station. Where's the bathroom? The attendant gives her a key, hooked to a large wooden slab to keep it from getting stolen. Amy goes inside, one bathroom for men and women both to share, so it's filthy, even for a gas station.
She wants to look at her reflection in the mirror above the sink. She wants to look into her eyes, to look into the eyes of someone who would do what she had just done. To look for a sign of... of what? Of remorse? Of shame? Of a soul?

But there is no mirror.

Map

They draw a frowny face on your hand with a marker when they kick you out of the Black Cat club for barfing on the floor. It’s to let the bouncer know you’re not allowed back inside.

An online search of AA groups in my area lets me know that there is a men-only one called Chock Full of Nuts.

I drink each time the pregnancy test comes back negative. It’s my consolation prize to myself. I’m doing IVF, and two rounds have failed so far. I’m 37 years old and might not be able to conceive with my own eggs.

Last time the test was negative, I went to the mall in the middle of the day, into the new Dave & Buster’s arcade. They serve food there, and have a bar. There were no other customers inside.

I sat at the bar and ordered an alcoholic snow cone.

I'm in this special program: six IVF tries, and we either get a baby or our money back.

I drank the boozy snow cone and plotted a trip around the world for my husband and me to take if none of the IVFs work and we get our twenty grand back – the ultimate consolation prize:

-First we’d fly to Iceland, rent a car, and drive around the perimeter, checking out the barren volcanic landscape. ("See? Barren can be beautiful.")

-Next we’d go to Morocco, maybe Marrakesh, to take in the flavor of that part of the world, a part I haven’t seen much of.

-Then down to Zanzibar, to go to the beach and visit sub-Saharan Africa in one swoop, and to eat at that restaurant that’s a treehouse.

-Next would come Japan, where I swear I must have lived in a former life. (While there, I would leave three Jizo statues – one for each miscarriage – in one of the little parks where stone babies stand wearing knitted caps, among colorful pinwheels, a peaceful sight in their togetherness.) 

-Finally, we’d fly to San Francisco and rent a car, drive up through redwoods, hike part of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon rainforest, take in Portland, maybe see those Twin Peaks waterfalls, finish up in Seattle then fly home.

The point would be to blow the money we got back. Blow it all to smithereens. Be one of those childless couples smiling child-free in travel photos – “There’s more to life than kids!” 

We won’t do it, of course. I’m dumb with money, and a trip like that could cost triple that amount or more for all I know. Also, we keep saying that if the IVFs don’t work, we will adopt. We’d need to save the money for the child we might adopt. 

But the map soothes me as I order another snow cone – no food – and the bartender tries to hide his concern. The map is the only thing that soothes me today.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Werewolves





"Mommy, read me a story."
"How about the werewolf one?"

There was a baby jack-o-lantern on Britt's windowsill. Teresa had taken Britt to the pumpkin patch. They had picked out a big pumpkin for the family room and a little pumpkin for Britt's room. "A mommy and a baby pumpkin," Britt had said. They'd carved a scary face into the big one with a knife, and had drawn a silly face onto the little one with a magic marker. Teresa and Britt turned off the overhead light and left the nite-lite on. Reading in this dim lighting would strain Teresa's eyes, but it was a short book, only a children's picture book, and a book like this required a spooky setting. Britt clutched a stuffed rabbit. Its fur was spiky where she'd drooled on it as a baby.


***


"When the moon is full, if you listen very carefully, you just might hear a particularly sad howl coming from the woods. This won't sound the same as a regular dog's howl. It will be mournful and full of longing."


- Mommy, what's '"mournful"?
- It means "sad."

"Daddy, I've read more books than anyone in my class!"

"That's great, sugar!"
"Do you want to read one with me?"
"Sometime, honey. Not tonight. Daddy's had a long day at work. Can't Mommy read it with you?"


Teresa had a full-time job, too. In March, Andy did their taxes. Teresa laughed bitterly at the gap between what he made and what she did.

"I might as well quit my job and set up a lemonade stand. I'd make about as much money as I do now. And Britt could help me."
Andy smirked, not looking up from the forms. "You help out. The way I look at it, I pay for the essentials, and you pay for the fun stuff, like movies and Disney World."
Teresa wasn't one of those women whose dreams had been thwarted by her early marriage and motherhood. She'd had no specific dreams to be thwarted. At the time she'd married Andy, all she'd wanted was to be loved.
They used to joke about how different they were. He said her views were "bleeding-heart liberal;" they’d argued when he'd said he didn't believe in medical marijuana for cancer patients. She'd wanted to go to New Orleans for their honeymoon, thinking of ancient iron-filigree railings and spicy food and live blues and steamy air, but he'd thought of it as a debauched and louche city. He'd wanted to go to a touristy beach in their state in the off-season, because it would be cheap. They went to the beach in their state.


"Sweetie, it's just some bimbo I met online. She might not even match her picture--she could be a fat hairy man for all I know."

"Don't touch me."



"The howl will sound almost like a human's cry. There's a reason for this. It's because the animal that you hear howling was once a person."

"Teresa? She works at a gift shop. What do they sell there? Middle-aged-lady stuff. Porcelain dolls and music boxes and purses. Stuff for women with nothing better to spend their money on. I try not to go within a five-mile radius of the place."

He was the one who had wooed her. She'd been the one out of his league. Then the power had shifted, and she'd dropped out to live in an apartment with him in the town where he went to college. She'd gotten a job as a waitress at a vegan cafe--to his chagrin, proud meat-eater that he was--and she made him coffee to keep him going when he stayed up late with textbooks.

"This story is about a werewolf who wasn't born this way. He was made into one by another werewolf. No one knows how the first werewolf was made, centuries ago. But the creature in this story used to be different. Everything changed for him on a night when there was a full moon."


Britt had been using the Internet to look up information for a school project when an IM had popped up from WetCherry69, addressing Andy by name and using the word "again." After dinner, Britt watched Nickelodeon in the other room.
"What the fuck, Andy?"
"Honey, don't swear. That's vulgar."
"That's vulgar? Today our 7-year-old daughter asked me what 'wet cherry' and ‘69’ means."
Somehow the blame had shifted. There were things that Teresa wouldn't do in bed, he said--not that he'd ever asked for them.
He'd sighed. "It's more than that. It's more than a checklist of what you will or won't do."
Teresa had stormed outside. It was snowing, and she wasn't wearing a coat. Her conservative husband had implied that she was a prude. What did he know? The moon was bright as she walked along the box-shaped houses on their street, breathing frigid air. These houses were medium-sized boxes. Andy was still working his way up at his firm. The plan was to move up to a bigger box-shaped house.
He didn't know that she only had an orgasm when she got off alone, and that she did that a lot when he wasn't around.
He didn't know that she sometimes slipped out of bed to watch softcore porn on cable TV in the family room with the volume turned way down.
He didn't know that she flipped through volumes of erotica in the "Romance" aisle at the bookstore. Her favorites were the stories about men who ravaged the women like hungry beasts.


"On that night, the man went walking under that full, bright moon. He wandered into the woods. He didn't know why. A darkness within the woods pulled him in like a magnetic force."


Back at the house, Andy and Britt were doing the dishes.
"Mommy! Where's your coat?"
"Honey, aren't you cold?"
"I'm not cold."


When Andy's snores grew deep and rhythmic, Teresa inched out of bed and crept to the family room. "Softly from Paris" was on--good raunchy, corny softcore. It was stupid, but it reliably made her wet. Tonight it wasn't enough. She snatched her keys from the hook by the door. She no longer cared if they jangled and woke Andy up.



"You might wonder, How does someone become a werewolf? There are many different legends from many different lands. Some people say that you become one willingly – they say that you become a werewolf by making a deal with the Devil. Others say that it happens on accident, when you drink water from the footprint of a werewolf. But most people these days say that you make the transformation when you're bitten by another werewolf."

- What's "transformation"?

- It means "change."

As she drove, Teresa's knee bounced.

Andy chastised her when she did something that he considered to be "skanky." When she wore a skirt with a hem that hit above the knee, he eyed the bare expanse of thigh, mentally calculating the inches of flesh that were revealed.
"Why are you wearing that? Do you want men to look at you? You should only care about what I think, and I already know what your body looks like."
He had conveniently forgotten this when he'd talked about her being boring in bed, but in the early days, she had suggested new things--she'd longed for him to give her oral sex; she'd read about "reverse cowgirl" position in Cosmopolitan magazine.
"Where did you hear about that?” he used to say in those long-ago days. “You really want to do that? What's wrong with the way we've always done it?"


"The creature in this story was bitten. When he walked into the woods that fateful night, he'd sensed that something dreadful might happen. But he'd walked into the woods anyway, almost as if he had no choice. Or as if he'd wanted something dreadful to happen."


- Mommy, why would he want something bad to happen?
- I don't know, honey. Maybe he was lonely, and he thought he might find a friend in the woods. Maybe it didn't matter to him if the friend was bad.

Where could she go, someplace that would piss Andy off if he knew? The first place she thought of was the truck stop by the Interstate. The local paper had done stories about the prostitutes and the truckers who sometimes got busted there. At the breakfast table, Andy read each story with relish and outrage. Later, when Britt wasn't around, he would recount any lewd details he'd read, shaking his head in apparent disgust.

Teresa drove toward that wash of white light in the darkness, the truck stop with the gas station, diner, and the motel where many of the trysts allegedly took place, the ones that didn't take place in the trucks' sleeping quarters. She drove past the minivans parked while families used the restrooms and bought snacks for the road. She drove on to where the trucks were parked. Outside, it was quiet and frosty. No leering truckers hanging around, no girls in thigh-high boots--not the way Teresa had imagined it at all. She walked into the diner.

"It was as if he'd wanted something dreadful to happen."

- Mommy, you already read that part.

A row of truckers sat at the counter drinking black coffee. Several of them looked up when she walked in. Ordinarily she would have ducked her head and blushed. Tonight she met their gazes. She walked to the counter to sit with them. The man to her left said his name was Russ, and he asked her what she was doing out so late. As she looked at him, unable to think of how to respond, his gaze crawled down to her lips, down her neck, down to where her breasts were hidden inside her zipped-up coat. Human speech was lost to her. Her heart beat, adrenaline flowed, blood rushed to her cheeks. She unzipped her coat. Russ summoned his waitress and said, "Could I get my check, please?"


"In the woods, in the darkness, the man felt something watching him, circling, stalking. He couldn't see the thing, but he felt it. He could have run out of the woods, but he didn't. He stayed there and let the thing come to him."


Strange, the way he led her to the front of the motel and told her to wait 10 minutes before meeting him by the ice machine so the clerk wouldn’t suspect anything and call the cops--all as if this were something that the two of them had done before. And strange, the way she gave him instructions after entering the room.
"Don't be gentle. I want you to ravage me. Destroy me." The last word came out cottony, her throat constricted with emotion.
He had looked at her with a quality of understanding that she'd never felt from anyone before. It was primal.
She was naked in this room at the Econo Lodge off the Interstate, in this motel, the very one that Andy had read about in the newspaper. Now Russ was pushing her back onto the bed, spreading her legs, here in this place that Andy had railed against.
Andy would say, "Why do you feel sorry for them? They're whores. You and your bleeding heart."


"After the creature had bitten him, this man-who-was-no-longer-a- man discovered that he had a deep hunger. It was a new kind of hunger that he'd never felt before. It was a hunger for dark things. This hunger scared him. Werewolves are not like vampires. For vampires, who must sleep in thick coffins during the day to avoid sunlight, night is a safe time. But for werewolves, when there's a full moon, night is when the craving becomes desperate. They transform. They grow beastly and wild. They grow fangs. They howl with longing."


At the playground, Britt scrambled up the jungle gym with her friends. Teresa prowled along the perimeter of the blacktop, in the dry grass. The sun beat down strongly, and Teresa looked right at it. It was only for a couple of seconds, because then Britt had yelled, "Mom, push me on the swings!" Alone in the car, Teresa drove on long stretches of road and watched the needle on the speedometer rise to 80, rise to 90, rise to 100, and keep going. She would do this for a few seconds and then drop back to the posted speed limit.
She began to eat meat. She went to a bakery and gorged on rich, sugary, fatty foods. She wanted to taste everything: red meat, the hottest spices, hard liquor, hard drugs.
On her evening fitness walks, she would veer off her regular route, leaving the medium-sized boxes that were inhabited by people who longed for bigger boxes. She would walk into the woods, listening to snow and fallen branches crunch under her boots.


"One night when the moon was full, the man-who-was-no-longer-a- man felt a hunger so strong that he didn't think he could stand it. He ran into the woods, tearing at his human clothes, fur bursting from his skin, veins throbbing with bloodlust. He could feel fangs slithering through his gums to fill his mouth, and he ran his tongue over them. This feeling overpowered him--hunger, joy and terror at being alive. In a clearing in the woods, the moon emerged from behind a cloud, showering him with soft silver light. It was too much for him. He lifted his face to the sky and screamed a deep-throated, bone-chilling scream. He was crying out to everyone and no one."



She itched with unfocused lust. She wanted to be touched--no, manhandled. She longed to stare into the brightest thing in the universe, to move at death-defying speed. Life throbbed in her veins. One snowy night, as Andy and Britt slept, she left the house without her coat on again. She ran into the woods, into a clearing filled with moonlight, and tore off her clothes. In the sharp coldness, she panted, her breath steaming, her naked skin going pink as blood rose to the surface. She lifted her face to the crystal-clear black sky. She didn't make a sound.

"The next day, that scream was the talk of the village where the werewolf lived. Because he looked like a man during the day, his neighbors didn't know that he was the werewolf they'd heard howling in the woods. People talked about how scared their children had been. The werewolf made a decision.  


He had a family, a wife and son, who didn't know his secret. One day soon after the scream, the werewolf pulled his son aside and told him the secret. He gave his son a gun and a silver bullet. He said to his son, 'If I ever become dangerous, please kill me.'"


- I'm sorry, honey; is this story too scary for you? We can stop reading it.
- No, it's okay. I want to hear it.

"When the next full moon came, the werewolf writhed in the woods, far from civilization, tormented by an unfocused desire. The longing had grown stronger with each full moon. Now, he salivated with hunger for flesh and blood. It had to be sated, even if it meant that someone had to get hurt. He turned toward the village, his home, where his family and neighbors lived. He began to charge at it. He was almost out of the woods when a silver bullet pierced his heart. Because of his son, the village would be safe. The werewolf lay on the snowy ground. In his open eyes were two full moons."


In the woods, a cloud slid over the moon. Teresa looked around her, her panting slowed. Her clothes lay in heaps, and she shivered. A cold breeze blew through the brittle branches. Britt was asleep at home, and Teresa was here, naked in the woods. Teresa dressed and returned home.


***


Britt sat up and let go of her drool-spiked rabbit. In the dim light, she now saw that there were no words on the pages.


"Mom, is that story true?"
"It could be."