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.”


Follow the pieces of me down — yes, yes, bare-footed and leaving toe- and heel-marks behind you like a carpet — follow my steps, let your hand slide down my rail. Don’t stop. Don’t climb, don’t reclaim the things you left behind.

“It is a long way down,” she said quietly, lingering on a step engraved with sirens. “Such a long way.”

Had Suriyen known it would take this long? Had he told her? She could not remember — but that was the point. The spreading gaps in her past made truth of the tales sung by the mountain-dwellers about their magical staircase.

She still remembered Suriyen, and that meant she had descended not nearly far enough.

You’re a feast of stories, my pale-ankled lady. The scandals of a court are variations on motifs — but oh, they entertain!

I will devour the reports your lover-spy shouldn’t have told you, I will help you keep him safe.

Her legs and feet ached, but she continued down. Here the steps were painted yellow and slick with moisture that ran down the side of the mountain. One bore wedge-shaped markings, indecipherable.

She had been ordered to do this. Though she could not remember why, she knew there had been an order, a secret journey from her bedroom to the top of the mountain, a threat followed quickly by a promise.

“If I am ordered,” she said to the stairs, “then I must obey.”

They did not respond. Of course they could not; metal had no mouths. “What is it like to be so silenced?”

So full of your life — I am gorged, pale-ankled lady, crammed with you.

Ahead of her lay grass and tall trees, a stream, and a man standing beside the water. A broad, tall man, scar-faced and smiling, who called out to her.

It took a moment for her memory-stripped mind to process the words. The stairs had left her language, at least. “But so much else is missing.”

“Come on!” the man shouted. “You’re almost done! Four more steps, darling, and we can be together again!”

“But why is so much gone?” Tears ran down her face. She could not remember the reason — just that she felt so empty, stripped of things she had cherished, and it hurt.

“You had to do it, it was for your own good, oh Iya, no!

Her legs hurt with each step that she climbed, leaving the man — Suriyen, her lover — behind, re-learning her self.

Will you leave me something? You were delicious before I ate too much.

“I will carve mouths into you, stairs,” she panted, almost collapsing onto a step as long and wide as a table.

And I will speak.

[O]n the contrary, everything in it is both head and tail, alternately and reciprocally….  We can cut wherever we please…. Chop it into numerous pieces and you will see that each one can get along alone. — Charles Baudelaire, “To Arsene Houssaye”

It was that great modernist monk of the late fourteenth century, Baudelard, who first codified the principle of spontaneous generation.  He had stowed away a porcelain saucer of skunk meat high in a cupboard where no animal–including the human kind–could reach it.  In truth, he had set it aside like manna, afraid that one day the countryside would be barren of meat if he and his fellow monks kept hunting as they had been all that blustery fall.

When Baudelard removed the meat from the cupboard a week later on the occasion of dusting, he rediscovered the meat writhing with worms and quilled his findings in his thirty-pound volume of observations.

Yet Baudelard was no one-trick pony of a natural philosopher who folds his hands to rest on laurels.  He understood that this principle had to be developed to its fullest extent, for “To understand nature,” as he was so fond of informing his fellow monks spraying a mouthful of his sibilant noon meal: day-old bread, goat cheese and wine, “was to understand the mind of God.”  So Baudelard cut worms at varying lengths to see if life might sprout again.

And, lo, they did grow full and wriggling blood-red with both head and tail intact, whichever was the original of which.  The confusion brought him to recall a minor poet friend of his, the Englishman Geoffrey Chaucer.  He had started a series of semi-bawdy, semi-humorous tales of wanderers mocking the Old English tales of heroes, using the vulgar, common English tongue.  Chaucer and Baudelard both saw the stories–pale imitations of Boccaccio–as best fit for lining refuse bins.

To test just how far the principle of spontaneous generation went, they took his original manuscript, mulched it, stirred in earthworms, water, and ink, and let the rotting mass germinate for several months.  Chaucer was probably over-eager and exhumed the manuscript prematurely.  The Canterbury tales were still unfinished and a bit raw, but Chaucer corrected the earthworms’ grammatical errors and found ways to punch up the bawdiness.

The triumphant success of Baudelard’s literary experiment, logically lead him to human beings as his next test subject.  The rest, as you know, is history–eternal glory springs from temporary gore.  Even now, a century later, Baudelard’s achievements remain the high-water mark of natural philosophy and letters.

Dear Aunt Lisa,

Thank you for the magic necklace that suspends time. I was hoping you got me the new Age of Vengeance game for PS3 for my birthday, but this is also good.

Let me tell you first that it does not work with video games. The first thing I was going to try with it was play twelve solid hours of “Age of Vengeance 2: Blood Sport” because I haven’t played that one in a while, but I couldn’t because all my electronic stuff freezes up when I use it. Ditto that I could not watch Netflix movies, so no Ghostbusters marathon. But it is still a good present.

Without being impolite I want to tell you also so that you know that this is a girl’s necklace and even has little hearts all around the chain that you may not have noticed. I took a black magic marker and colored it over black, so it looked a little better for a boy wearing it, but that’s been coming off on my neck and the gold is kind of showing through again, so now I look kind of like a moron, but at least I don’t look like a girl, right? Ha ha. I know you are a girl and no offense meant and also I hope you don’t mind that I used marker on your necklace, although since you gave it to me you shouldn’t.

Yesterday a pot of boiling water almost spilled on Taylor, but because of the necklace I got to move her out of the way and put a bucket under it, so that was actually pretty cool. You should have seen mom trying to figure out how that bucket got there! LOL. I think I’m going to spend more time playing practical jokes, so it’s great for that.

Anyway thanks a lot and I hope you don’t think I’m being too ungrateful because it really is cool being a master of time and stuff. I’m sorry I forgot your birthday last month but I’ll make you a present now and send it to you. I have plenty of time when I can do that.


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