Literary Orphans

We, the Haphazardly by C.J. Nadeau


The door knob is red and made of wood, around the edges the paint is peeling and the grain of the wood is rough. Ahh, I scream. Six, no seven. No, eight feet tall before me. A man, a thing dressed in a long gray suit, salmon tie, slacks pinstriped in blue, and pointed blue suede shoes. On its shoulders rests a round pocket watch whose circumference is slightly impressed beyond its frame. I don’t let go of the door knob and regret stepping onto this apartment’s back porch.

Why hello it says to me. Aren’t you a thing, darling? I have no idea where it’s speaking from. I’m mesmerized by the gloss of the etchings in its clock. In bronze, there is a hand wheel to wind its hands and the thing turns once and the numbers slide from their normal places. Below the turner is the twelve, but one through eleven are condensed to the right side of the globe of its face. Its voice is deep and alarming. The syllables purr longer than they should and the ambiguities of its sex make it coquettish and I’m wondering if I’m underdressed in a blue and yellow t shirt and jeans. I’m unlacing my shoes and it says Sweetheart, I know you’re something else, but I’m looking for someone else if you’ll just run along.

I apologize and ask if it has a lighter. The thing pulls one out from an inside jacket pocket. In its breast pocket there is a salmon and it strikes the match on its scales. Leaning in to light my cigarette, there is the ocean and sand around its feet. The thing shoos me away from it and I go back inside.

The porch is part of someone’s bedroom. I pull the shade down and shut out the world.    A kid wearing a baseball cap and jersey asks me, what in the fuck? You can’t smoke cigarettes in here, he tells me. I say I’m sorry and I press the butt out on my shoe and hand him a pint of rum. He swigs it and winks before scampering out of the room.

His room is small, but it has paintings all over and the best one is of a man fishing from a jetty. The sun is coming up because the sky is pink and not orange and I’m hopeful that purgatory is a lot like fishing. What the hell was on that porch? I trace my steps that day from the coffee counter girl I didn’t ask out all the way to the bus driver who got me from my place at Terrace Avenue to this party at Tremont and Tremont Street. There’s no place where I fell into a rabbit hole and I remember all the drugs I’ve taken and then I think of every conspiracy movie and comic I’ve read. But none are like this and that means I’m okay. I settle my breathing and ignite my cigarette with a lighter I find on this kid’s desk. An older man kicks through the dirty laundry on the floor and I say hello.

Ask your mother, he tells me, but I’ve never seen this graying haired man or played for the little league team he probably coached at one point. His hair is long and trying to leave him or that’s what I guess since it’s standing as far as it can from his scalp. The Pawtucket Indians little league shirt he’s wearing is tucked too far into his faded jeans and his belly pushes out against it.

He goes outside and then reopens the door a minute later, turn the light on, he tells me and flicks the switch. And then he tells me, put that out will you? Your dog would kill you.

Standing underneath the light fixture, I realize he’s right so I stamp it out.

On the wall there are red handles of all shapes and sizes. There are door knobs, mug handles, and long Victorian door handles. They look like they have been pulled off from doors, vases, mugs, purses and anything else requiring a handle and then were fixed to the wall in neat columns and rows. I climb up onto the bed and start turning at the nobs and pulling at the long handles. In the corner there are some that belong to vases. They are long and swirl away from the wall at the top and slope down until they touch the wall again. Pulling at them, I try to figure out how they are fixed so well. I put one foot on a handle to brace me as I pull the longest handle, but it won’t budge. I wonder if that older man or the clock would know how to get the handles and knobs off from the wall.

When I’m exhausted, I give up and go back to the party. I sit down next to the woman wearing a sweater. Across its front there was a great blue whale stitched into the front of it. It’s a fabulous sweater, I tell her. And she thanks me and offers to cut my beard and hair. So I sit down on the floor and her and her sisters stand around me discussing the best way to clean me up. When it’s decided the oldest sister—and also the most beautiful, at least to me she’s the most beautiful—says that Delilah is in charge of my hair. Then the oldest sister pulls at her long hair and kneels down so our eyes are level.  Her nose is pierced and her skin is porcelain. I call her Mona Lisa and she tells me to call her Susannah and then she pours wine into her hand and smears a thumb below both my eyes and I’m weary. The wine spills from her palms and merlot bleeds into the carpet.

Susannah, sitting in a rocking chair and playing a game of chess, eyes the women cutting my hair. The man Susannah plays against is the man who told me to give up smoking. He mutters about how to take Susannah’s bishop and after his move Susannah captures his rook.

The younger sisters fuss about my hair and are soaping it and cutting while I sit on the floor. They pour mugs of water through my hair and use a straight razor on my cheeks and neck. Why did you stand in that room for so long? they ask me. I tell them I’d like to marry Susannah. And they get excited and ask if that’s why I stayed working at those handles and I tell them no, that I only just met her but that if I didn’t say it then I’d go mad. I don’t really need to marry her, I told them. I only had to say that I would. Besides, I couldn’t marry her. Have you ever tried to open a wall? I ask them. Neither of them have and lean close to Delilah and tell her that Alexandra is the ugliest of all the sisters. They both thank me and when they’re finished I’m left with a bushy mustache and hair waxed down around my head and I feel as though I ought to church. I thank both of them and kiss their cheeks. Fare thee well, they tell me. And I make sure they know I’ll be back.

As I go to interrupt the chess game the gentlemen asks us if we can spare any change. The youngest sister, Alexandra, tells him she’ll be the prettiest sister one day. The man weeps and tells her he didn’t ask her to murder, only to change.

I kiss Susannah on the cheek and ask her if she plans on keeping the handles. And she tells me that each one matters more than the other.

Out on the deck and the clock is sitting on the ground and its head is resting against the rail. I’m tired, it tells me, would you just go away? It tells me it had been working on a jigsaw, but got frustrated and kicked it off the porch.

I ask it about the handles and it tells me that it’s been wondering the same thing for years. The numerals on the clock are back in their appropriate places, but now they are digits instead of roman. Sitting down, I ask it about its favorite handles. It describes to me one that is leather and belonged to a purse. The casing was gold and it was laced with flowers. But it was the only one that’s ever been torn down. It was a man or two men, really. They were both bearded and rode through the house on a tractor. One held a large scythe and sat atop the front of the tractor. It was rusted and black smoke lifted from the engine. The man in front recited poetry and the driver tugged at his beard between strums of his banjo. They weren’t the greatest show on Earth, but they were the best show in town. The one in front called himself Don Tay and ripped the handle off the wall and gave it to Penny. Who’s Penny? I ask it. Why, that was Susannah’s lover, it says. And then Susannah comes out and sits down beside me. She tells me that wasn’t what happened at all.

It was me and you, Susannah tells me. We had just finished mopping the deck and then we jumped overboard, she says.

Then me, her, and the clock are swimming through concrete and we’re all naked. I tread pavement and yell to the man in the little league shirt. Come on in, I tell him, the road’s warm. He tells me he’s going fishing.

And he disappears for a short time, long enough that I catch my breath. The little league coach introduces himself as Paul and he baits his hook with a bishop chess piece and tosses it into the road. He’s using a pawn as a bobber and it dips up and down and he moves the rod so it swerves between lines of the concrete.

That’s when a salmon swims up and swallows us whole. At least that’s why Susannah says we’re sitting in the belly of a salmon. Susannah illuminates the belly with her porcelain skin. I take her hand and we press our lips against one another and she tells me that I am in love and she’s right. She unravels her hair over her shoulders and over her breasts. They stop at her navel and my hands continue farther.

Ahem, the clock says, I got us into this mess and you’ll get me out. I ask it how and it tells me that Susannah knows.

I haven’t an idea, Susannah says. We begin to kiss again and my neck is pockmarked by her lips and the clock slaps me. There are no numbers on its face and without its clothes it looks scrawny.  The body is hairless and unburdened by gender. I ask it if it has a light. No, it tells me.

Susannah and I wade into the stomach acid and wait to be digested. My body begins to tingle and I tremble when Susannah touches me. Her hair is now short and cropped to her shoulders. The clock’s body dissolves first and I swim out and retrieve the watch face. It is surprisingly light and warm to the touch. Inside, it is still ticking. In the reflection of the glass are the handles hanging from the ceiling. I stand on Susannah’s shoulders and she looks up at me and says, my what big ears you have. I ask her, what? And she tells me, nothing, but she takes hold of me and I rip away the leather handle from the ceiling of this salmon’s stomachs. And we’re pulled out from the stomach and up its gullet and into the road. I grab a passerby’s forearm and he pulls me up.

Then I reach in and pull my Susannah, that porcelain girl, out of the road and I’m in bed with her. I call her Mujer and her body is pressed to mine and I stroke her back and her bald head is against my shoulder. She has withered to almost nothing and her bones are against my flesh.

Do you love me, she asks? I tell her that I most certainly do not and she cries and she asks me how I could still not be in love with her after all this time. She tells me that I am a constellation above Machu Picchu and before she leaves she dresses one more time. I don’t say anything when she takes my favorite sweater because the stitching is keeping her together. Besides, the one of hers with the blue whale is hanging from one of the red door knobs that I never bother to polish.

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C.J. Nadeau makes pasta one box at a time in Watertown, MA. He works as a teaching assistant at a special education high school and is pursuing a degree to teach students with severe disabilities. His work can be found in the Green Mountain Review and Rain, Party, & Disaster Society, and is forthcoming in Timber Journal.


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Art by So-Ghislaine

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