Plugs

Sitting serenely under the shade of a banyan tree, the essayist wrote: “Sitting serenely under the shade of a banyan tree, the essayist wrote that a crazy, angry monkey squatted in the banyan tree, plucking and eating figs from the vines and getting fat. He read his beautiful, rice-paper composition aloud.

” ‘I am not a crazy, angry monkey and I’m not fat,’ said the crazy, angry monkey who was getting fat, which must be so because it was written on rice paper. The monkey paused to listen, then let out an angry monkey shriek, ripping out a banyan branch. The monkey hurled the branch at the cherubic essayist. The branch smacked him in the head and splattered blood all over the beautiful, rice-paper composition.

“Hopping gleefully up and down in the banyan tree, the monkey proved the essayist’s point. He lived long enough to scribble a few more lines.

” ‘That’s it. I want a divorce,’ the monkey said, climbing down. But it could not resist grooming the beatific essayist’s bloody scalp.”

A homeless guy panhandling downstairs had told me this was where the old lady lived. The one eating all the livestock. The one who might be my missing grandmother. If this was her, and I thought it was, she needed help. I knocked again. Sometimes old people took a long time to get to the door. I was just finally turning away when the cover slid away from the peephole.

“Yeah?!” A voice roughened by hard use.

I had not decided what to say. “Um.” My mind was empty.

“Three seconds.”

“Ms. Johnson,” I said desperately, “I think I’m your grandson.”

Silence. Then the door swung open. There she stood, Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies. Instead of a corn cob pipe she had a can of Bud.

“No,” she said and moved to slam the door.

“I’m pretty sure. My mother was…”

“I believe you; don’t want to talk.” She bounced the door off the hand I put out to stop it.

“And I heard about the cow. I’m curious. How…”

She rolled her eyes and took a swig, stepping aside to give me room. As soon as I was in she slammed the door hard enough to shake dust off the knickknacks on the shelves, if there had been any. There weren’t. A battered wooden table with a couple of chairs was all the furniture in the front room. The only thing on the table was a 4-inch ceramic horse, which was, frankly, hideous. She set the beer can down beside it.

I cleared my throat.

“I don’t know how to say this, Grandma. I hear you’ve been eating animals. Raw, whole, live. Is this true?”

For a moment she just stared. My eyes flicked to the doorway as I measured my chances of escape. Then she laughed, a true belly laugh, improbably loud coming from her. It went on and on. Gradually she subsided. She wiped her eyes.

“Raw, sure. Whole? No. Live? No. I did eat a dead fly. The spider might have been in a coma. The rest of them were ceramic, and good riddance to the lot. The cat was pink, nuff said. The dog had Heartfelt-Moments eyes. The cow was an abomination. People make the most disgusting crap imaginable. I dispose of it.” She pointed at the center of the table.

“And tomorrow? Tomorrow I’m going to take care of that obnoxious horse. You watch me.”

End

I grew up in a tenement that looked out on the back of the minotaur’s head. The minotaur statue is older than the city and taller than any building in it. Our tenement is nearly as tall, not nearly as old, and in far worse repair.

The statue gazes out across the plain of salt, which the scholars say was a sea that dried up years ago, and my siblings and I gaze with it into the hazy horizon.

The scholars don’t know who built the statue, or why, but everyone else says it’s a marker to guide travelers over the salt plain. However, everyone, including the scholars, agrees the plain is impossible to cross–too vast, too empty of landmarks. With all the wind-stirred dust, you can’t navigate by stars; by day, you could barely guess where the sun is.

My brothers and sisters and I do go out onto the plain at daybreak and dusk, when the twilight seeps into everything, and we might be walking on a flat of sky. It’s the one advantage we’ve got in the salt quarter. The old city has history; the river districts have trade and communication with distant lands; and the elite quarter has the evening cool of the mountains. A half hour at either end of the day to explore an empty blue world doesn’t seem like much in comparison.

We find our way back by the broken silhouettes of the mountains, and the prongs of the minotaur’s horns above them. One night, we found a man collapsed at the base of the minotaur statue, covered in salt dust. Under the white coating, we saw his glasses and boots were the blue of twilight on the plain.

We went for a healer and returned to find the man gone. The scholars and city guard told us he was a lunatic who’d wandered out onto the plain. We didn’t believe them; we knew the impossible when we saw it.

They built his pyre on our rooftop–our building was closest, and they didn’t want to move him far, which made us even more suspicious. We knew secret ways, so we crept up and stole his boots and glasses.

We argued all night and drew lots. In the predawn twilight, the glasses show me trails on the plain. I set my foot on one to see where the boots will take me…

Dear Diary,
The ministers are back, but they haven’t burnt anyone yet. Momma locked me up in my room so I wouldn’t get into fights with “those minister boys”, but Susan helped me out through the window and we went godhunting.
The ministers have shut down the Swindler’s market and taken old Beth to cus-to-dy (she’s the only one they could catch, ministers can’t run much). It’s sad about poor Beth but Momma says she was getting too old anyway.
Since the market is closed our mothers can’t sell the gods and we get to eat all the brains we want.
So, we caught a god up by the creek and I went eenie, meany, miny, med and Susan won, so she ate it. Then we caught another one and I ate it. We were playing all quiet and not bothering anyone, dear diary, so everything that happened afterwards wasn’t our fault. We were sharing the third (see, like good girls) when this minister boy pops up from behind the rocks and starts yelling and calling us cannibals.
“I didn’t call you no names!” I told him, but he kept at it, shouting that we were eating our baby-brothers.
“Oh, so now little gods are our baby-brothers,” said Susan. “And how would you know?”
The stupid minister boy started crying. “Because I remember. From when I was little.”
Well, I tell you, dear diary, we had enough of that nonsense. I took a rock and threw it at him, just to shut him up, but my aim is too good, even when I don’t pretend it to be and it hit him square on the mouth.
He blubbered like a little god, even though he was only bleeding a little and threatened to call the Inquisitives. And that’s when Susan punched him in the gut and we took off.
I slipped back into the room and Momma never knew that I was gone.
And that was that.
I sure hope that minister boy doesn’t tattle.

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