"The Cause" by Ken Poyner

Categories: ISSUE 02: Billie

The Cause
For years we have been coming down to the black market. Dressed in our best middle class clothes, we hang out on the corner opposite and watch as the mixture of lumpenproletariat and crested rich intermingle while bidding small sums for thimblefuls of illegality.

Bag ladies and trophy wives momentarily match wits over items no one can describe: products passed quietly backhand to backhand. Bookends of social extremes, for only this purpose they stand shoulder to shoulder, mix humid street smell with callous perfume, calculate in menacingly similar ways how much in money or matches or silk or sex this or that undocumented item is worth.

And then they split apart, leaving the air they reluctantly inhabited together viciously empty to sort its character out and dissipate.

We rock back and forth on the balls of our feet. Everyone at the market knows we are watching. Vendors stare out of their black stalls and, seeing we are not customers, ignore us. We wave and no one waves back. We do not expect them to. We are no threat. How could we be?

The street sings of raw commerce, of an edge we supermarket dwellers never see. That commerce squares its shoulders, clutches its testicles at each small transaction, spits at taxation, offers no warranties. We marvel at the coming and going, the brute force of exchange. We can only orbit about its energy and romanticize its magnetism.

As we watch, our palms go liquid, and I wish to fondle the engines of the girl next to me. Even though we have lain together a dozen times in mid-priced motor hotels, spattered our passion on department-store grade sheets, left our excesses for the afternoon’s maid – still, she seems, in this setting, something more feral, something less easy to obtain, and worth all the more for the taking. She looks like she could resist, or take the lead, or have options here that she has in no other setting.

I come erect thinking about duty free alcohol, half of it turpentine, all in brand labeled bottles. I could be buying it, if only I would cross the street, put on what passes for street level rags or upper deck leisure ware. I could take a swig and cough it back out, the soul of my mouth burned beyond taste, the blood beginning to run between my teeth. A quick change of clothes and an adjustment in haircut, and I could be welcomed as a potential customer at the black market: a character in this play, watched as entertainment by middle class representatives: the definition of a street type, a recognizable caricature with all the moral courage that such position brings.

But I cannot cross the street.

Then, just up the road, a lady tips back black market patent medicine and begins to hack. I can see the air go out of her as though from a cheap balloon, and none will go back in. She falls to her knees and the insides of her begin to fly out. The vendor pulls his black hood around the angles of his face and slides back into the dark of his stall as she grabs her chest with both knotted hands and pitches involuntarily ground-ward.

The woman puts a shoulder to the pavement and can make no noise. The heels of her mismatched shoes clack together like gulls clicking at the trash tossed behind the market and her knees dimple against the macadam. As though a fresh stack of counterfeit shirts, she teeters quietly to her side, her face frozen in a stubborn stare along the rough of the street, along the black market itself and beyond to the false factories and the light fountains and the two dimensional apartment stacks.

Without knowing it, I am rubbing the arm of my companion. She glides closer to me, and all of us knot electrically into a group: one clutch of middle class adventurers, alive with an intensity you cannot get at the video store. As I stroke my companion’s arm I stray and brush her nearest breast and she coos from somewhere deep within the grotto where the woman she will never be lives happily on loss and opportunity . I am as erect as the memory of trees, my rage of pheromones as welcomed as a candle salesman at a girls’ boarding school. I can feel the alligator tension of my own skin; I can imagine it as the sandpaper that shapes my lover like a blade against beguiled fruit.

Oh yes, tonight I will have my handful of animal sex. Pounding and writhing and unnecessary competition. And it will be exquisitely, longingly painful for all of us.

But for the moment, our tittering group, poised like bamboo outside a zoo cage, ecstatically watches consumers walk around the inconsequential corpse of the woman; we watch the mystical transactions all about begin lazily, sensuously again.

--Story by Ken Poyner
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--Background photo by Sarah Edwards