This story is, according to the author, full of violence, harsh language, and people calling each other nasty things. Please do not read this story if this offends you.

Other sections from Pignon have been published in fiction anthologies. You can find me at:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ats-query/6268-6910861-221421 Or search under author: Tindall, Kenneth


by Kenneth Tindall

SHARKEY LAUGHED in staccato bursts.

- Tinker Bell's mind is a crazy machine. She loves Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo pooohhh...

-...Pinocchio's fairy godmother and Cinderella's fairy godmother are one in the same, the girl persisted, shrinking back from the man. Though one is young and the other old in the stories, which take place at widely different times. It's possible to plot the sine curve of her ontological metamorphoses...

- Dot-size goosepimples, chipped shoulder and sigh, the man sighed pulling her nightgown down off her shoulder again.

- Quit it! she said pulling it up again.

Button-eyed beanbag frog. He picked the frog up and tosses it from hand to hand. It's plaid and full of rice and can be made to sit. Plunks it on her mother's plate brunch things and all.

- Everything I do is gonna be funky, baby. Ever boil rice in a rubber glove?

- Hey Sharkey, ever hear the one about the long-tailed cocker? There was this family moved into the block, see. Father, mother, and five kids, see. And they had this long-tailed cocker spaniel. Well gee, lady, I hope your dog doesn't bite. What kindofa dog is it, anyway?-

- Will you stop tormenting the animal? Come, Touj.

- Christance, I...

- But Mummy, I'm only going to put him out.

- Can't you speak English, baby?

- Honey, I do. And then I've got to go look after Willow.

- So let's hear it, baby.

- She said she' goina go look at her horse.

- Goina see it' twat, huh?

- She'd make a cute stewardess, Bob. Coffee, tea, or TWA-T?

- I told you I'm going to be a silversmith.

- What kinda tableware is this, lady? You can see through it.

- Itsa root beer lollipop.

- Hey hope this hoptoad don't give warts. Here, Fido! Go get it!

- Come, Touj...

- But Christance...

- I'm only going to put him out, Mummy.

- I won't get warts, will I baby?

As she passed him he put his hand on the place where her father had kissed her. She recoiled in disgust and the poodle, full-sized and spring cut, lunged free and sank its teeth into the man's wrist.

- Touj!

She grabbed the collar of the trembling animal and looked the man full in the face. He was pale under his deep tan.

- You brought it on yourself, she said. There is iodine in the medicine cabinet. If you like the doctor can come and give you an injection.

She turned and looked narrowly at Sharkey who was sitting like a catastrophe of nonchalance with his arm draped over her mother's shoulder. The long ash of the woman's cigarette broke and fell smoking onto the coffee table; with a harried movement she leaned forward, plucked it up and dropped it in the ashtray. The girl could smell her fear.

- Mummy, I had better take Touj over to Natty's now.

She went to her room and dressed. When she came out Bob spoke to her.

- What's this?

He had discovered the axhead.

- It was found on the property, she said. It's flint, pressure chipped using a tip of antler. As though the deer showed us how, the way a girl wants to be seduced.

She smiled and drew a finger across his cheek.

- Christance, don't you think Sharkey looks raffish today?

- Oh Mummy, he looks the way he's supposed to.

The hawthornes were in bloom and the field of winter rye was high and irridescent. She let Touj off his leash and bicycled in the ruts as the dog ran ahead. It was a gratefully shady ride with the sun in the south behind the woods. The crest of the rise and there was Natty's thatched cottage, half-hidden among the bursts of cherry and apple blossoms, Touj and Willie in well-matched gambolling out on the path. She coasted in across the gravel and leaned her bike against the stable. Natty was around in front with her dahlias.

- Hi Natty!

- Hi Christance. I saw you coming down the road.

The young woman, fresh-cheeked, shortsed, gestured with a gloved hand. They were speaking in an arbor of blossoms, the blue sky like a sound overhead so that they raised their voices.

- I should have come back last night, but I thought I would need my flashlight.

- How are you feeling?

- I think I'm hung-over.

- Willow is in the paddock.

- You're sure you don't mind keeping Touj for a while?

Supporting herself on the hand fork the woman stood up.

- You know Touj likes it here. Are you staying for lunch?

- Yes, thanks.

The girl was halfway out of the garden.

The mare nickered to her over the gate. She was standing with Natty's two horses, who when Christance approached whinnied and galloped away across the paddock.

- Hi Willow...

She whispered to the animal and stroked her muzzle, let the velvety lips nip at her hand. The mare had a blaze running down the front of her face which made her upper lip as soft as cream running into coffee. The girl slipped in through the gate to her.

Sweet in the saddle her father bought her she cantered through the Gurre woods, humming through her teeth.

She unsaddled and put Willow in her stall.

- Natty, do you suppose an animal has an opinion of itself?

- I always thought that every animal had an opinion of itself, even a pig.

- Obviously. Maybe that's what is lacking in the human soul.

- What do you mean?

- Individual animals can be mean-spirited and sometimes they have to be destroyed, like a mean dog or a vicious horse. But more often than not their meanness has to do with their maintaining their selfness after having been mistreated at some time. But human beings don't seem to have such a built-in constant of selfness, and so they are capable of behaving as though there were nothing, let alone themselves, which could possibly have an opinion of them.

- You must be talking about your mother's guy.

- Obviously.

The woman buttered a piece of bread, chuckling.

- You've always been a remarkably serious-minded girl, Christance, for as long as I have known you. But you know what? She placed a slice of rolled meat on the bread and looked in the girl's eyes.

- What?

- You're jealous.

- Of course I'd thought of that, Natty.

- And it doesn't surprise me.

- But I've never been jealous of any of Mummy's lovers.

- You should hear yourself. You don't know what you're talking about.

- But Mummy is afraid of Sharkey.

She looked hard at the woman then spooned the rest of her egg out of the egg coddler.

- It must be terribly exciting for her.

- She's afraid, Natty. It used to be exciting, maybe. But now it's dirty and frightening. The things they want her to do...

- Barbara is a sparkling, vivacious hostess...

- ...and me too, apparently, at their R and R center for their soldiers.

- Not the private soldiers, surely. Their officers, Christance.

- They want me to be Tinker Bell and Mummy is The Blue Goose. That's what they call her. Blue. My mother. Natty, when your people came to this country during that terrible revolution, weren't they treated well? Weren't people kind to them?

- Not everyone was. The workers especially. But it was as though there were many who were so very very kind and helpful, helping them get started and make a life here, in the first chaotic period after they escaped across the Baltic in those horrid ships...

- Sharkey and Bob. They call themselves R and R men. That means Rest and Recreation.

- So have a good time with them, dear.

- But do you know what Sharkey was doing before he became a pimp?

- Christance! They're our friends...

- He was being paid to deface library books with a razor blade.

The girl pushed her chair back and got up from the table.

- Thanks for the lunch, Natty. I've got to go now.

The woman stood and watched through the kitchen window as the girl said good-bye to her dog. All at once she clenched her fists and knocked her chair over in her rush out of the kitchen.

- How could you know such a thing?

The girl was crouched hugging her dog, the golden retriever bounding around them, licking the woman's hand. She clenched her fists again and shouted.

- How could you know such a thing?

The girl rose gracefully in a single movement and stood smiling, presenting herself in farewell. Then, for the first time, Natty noticed the rectangle of white metal she was wearing on a thin gold chain around her neck. She automatically reached out for it. The movement brought her quite close to the girl in her jodhpurs and white T-shirt. When she saw the number in the metal she drew her breath in sharply and demanded whispering - Where did you get this?

Smiling the girl turned and went inside the stable. A minute later she came out again leading willow by the bridle. As she passed the reins through a ring in the wall she turned again to Natty.

- Tell me where you got that, Christance.

- Someone gave it to me, the girl replied. She drew away and went inside again. She went into the tack room and took a cavalry sabre down off a nail and went outside.

- The same person who gave me this, she said cinching the huge weapon around her waist. The woman stared.

She untied her horse, laid the reins up over the animal's head and using the mounting block beside the stable swung heavily onto her back. The mare whinnied and stamped in the sunshine and Natty went down on her knees. The girl held the reins in with one hand and with the other slipped the gold chain off and tossed it to the ground in front of her.

- Nathalia Krasnakova, she said. When Willow comes back tonight, please don't phone anybody.

The girl wheeled her horse and cantered off with a spurl of gravel. Behind her she thought she heard the woman utter a prolonged cry.

It was a cry melancholy and atavistic at discovering a memory which had always been there, lying in wait and disclosing itself with a wry face of loss. For Nathalia Krasnakova remembered her people who, perhaps because they put the cart before the horse, lost everything and became like the Gypsies, who are an old seafaring people. Rocking back and forth with her fists clenched and arms folded over her breasts, Natty keened. Then, after a while, her face red and puffy, she wiped the tears away with the back of her open hand and brushed the wisps of hair away that had clung to her cheeks. Now and then her body trembled with inhaled, half-stifled sobs. The two dogs came romping up from somewhere and Willie came to her whining a little and licking. Pushing the dog away with one hand she slowly leaned forward and supporting herself with the other reached out quickly and plucked up the shiny platinum link as though it were something she had identified as being good to eat. She held it before her face for a moment in the fingertips of both hands. Impulsively, she put it in her mouth and bit down on it. Then she took it out and examined it.

The girl rode in the shade beside the woods, her horse easy under her. Above the pasture a buzzard hawk floated like a kite. When they got to the paved road she could see the sun glinting golden on the weathercock atop the church in Ten Birches. She breathed deeply and laughed. The unanimous weathercocks.

She led Willow through the gate and tied her to a ring in the wall of the outbuilding. They were on the terrace having coffee. She heard their conversation stop as she went in the laundry room and ran a bucket of cold water. While the mare was drinking she curried her with a brush from off the windowsill. Her mother called.

- Christance, aren't you going to come and join us?

The horse gleamed like a viol. The two men were shielding their eyes, amusedly watching her gyrations with the third leg of the weapon she was wearing. She brushed the dust off her jodhpurs and washed her hands in the laundry room. Then she walked up the lawn to the terrace and adjusting the sabre sat down. She panted a little from the ride. Her mother stood up.

- I've made some fresh coffee...

- Mummy, what time does the ferry sail tomorrow?

- At nine o'clock, dear. You are packed, aren't you?

Her mother went in the house. The two men were silent and stony, made apprehensive by the sound of the horse cropping the lawn. They were obviously coming down from the drug which they took to stay awake and which made them superstitious. She stood up and unbuckled the cavalry sabre. She turned, bent down, pinched the tip of the scabbard under the hinge of the open terrace door, and using both hands drew the steel. She turned. Humming through her teeth, she raised the sun-glinting steel. So that they would as quickly as possible CRASH!

She brought the flat of the blade down hard on the table scattering the coffee things to all sides.

- There's your root beer lollipop.

- Kee-reist, baby!...

One of them was already squat-walking picking up the debris. The sabre, spanning the full diameter of the patio table, was pointing directly at the other, Sharkey, who was pale, the albino avocado. Tremblingly he opened his Palm Beach a little so she could see his artillery. Knowing what he was going to say she turned and went toward the door.

- Be careful with that thing, Tinker Bell, or your horse might get hurt.

- Why don't you stick that thing up your ass?

- Christance, of all the...what are you doing?

- Getting them beer.

- But I've just made coffee.

- Give them strong ale now, Mummy.

- Oh...

- And they are thirsty.

- So am I, I must admit.

- I'll make us some iced tea, and in a little while you can offer them a tranquilizer. And take one yourself. Now, Mummy.

- Oh...

The girl took the two bottles together with two beer glasses out on a tray which she placed on a chair. She opened the bottles with a bottle opener and emptied them, one and then the other, into the glasses in such a way that little head was formed on the ale. She began loading the tray with the debris of the coffee things.

- What did you mean by that, baby?

- What do you mean?

- What you said when you went inside.

- I said Why don't you stick that thing up your ass?

- You mean that thing on the table?

- Well that's one way of doing it.

- Just what the fuck do you mean, kid?

- You want me to speak English. Well you're hearing it.

- Okay. You mean you want me to stick that thing up my ass. He nodded at the cavalry sabre.

- I mean that thing you've got in your armpit.

- Now just a minute, baby. If you think I'm not serious...

- Aw lay off her, Sharkey. She loves her horse. Can't you see she's brought us beer?

- Then get that goddamn thing off the table.

- All right Millicent.

- You too you wise cocksucker?

- All right Millicent Monocookie. I'll pick it up. Tell me, how many swordswallowers you got in your family Millicent?...

- Put that damned thing down!

- ...the Grommet Wars, with hemophiliac vengeance, Starring Scott Cutrite... He hacked at the rhododendrons.

- Put that goddam thing down you fucking freak! You wouldnwantmeto wig wouldyou?

- Sure, Muriel.

- Ahhh...

- Good beer.

They looked at her horse, shielding their eyes from the yellow glare coming from the bottom of the garden.

Barbara Arkwright came out wearing a pearl choker and black high heels. She was carrying the round metal drinks tray. She placed two cold bottles of ale in front of the men. Gracefully, she tipped them into their glasses so the suds ran over. She gave them two different brands. Bob Esposito got The Blue and Sharkey a local brew called The Gunpowder Owl.

- Beers of the muse, she laughed quiveringly like a thrush's call, and carrying the bottles by their necks and swinging the tray strolled back into the house.

- Whew!...

Bob Esposito unbuttoned his loud shirt and bellowsed it to get air on his skin.

- ...talk about the bazooms of happiness. What did you see, Bob?

- I saw the Blue Train.

- You saw a bearded-lady Santa, Bob.

- The Dellwood truck just went by, ding-dong...

- You saw a transparent bias on the filter stage.

- Yes, butta inna my country...

- Stick to your fairy legions, Esposito.

- Why you kike bastard...

Sharkey, shielding his eyes. Like a salute over his polaroids. Was jealous. He wanted Bob Esposito's beer. The Blue. It was the yellow glare. He was looking down to the end of the garden where the girl sat on her horse letting it crop the unmown grass. She was wearing a topless bikini.

- Come on, Sharkey, it's all an illusion. You're in one of those places with blue mirrors.

It was the yellow glare. They were crashing was all. He had to look away. Quaffed his beer until there was no more. Stood up, reached across the table and patted the other man on the side of the head.

- "Yes, butta inna my country"...

Went toward the house, turned and sat down again. Rubbed a hand up the other man's neck and across his ear a couple of times.

- Capito, eh? Capito...

Stood up, rubbing the man's head, shading his own eyes. Bob Esposito, windmilling, hauled off and punched him in the diaphragm, vehemently and from a sitting position. Playfully. In his pleated shirt. Punched him again.

- Ya slimy kike bastard! Been studyin yer Baltimore Catechism?

- Try me, greaseball.

- Awright. At what point does a state revert to the territorial status?

- When she's the Queen division of Pretty Products Incorporated and she's a little kick-up too. Christ I'm thirsty.

- Wanna drinka my beer?

He had had buttered toast with strawberry jam. Now he used the toilet and felt a strawberry seed under the paper. You, Stavros or Luigi, standing on the New World with your dingleberry on your shoulder. Might as well use it while you've got it. This, then, was the velleity which inclined him to go where Blue was. Stood in the living room looking at the portrait of her over the grand piano as she cajoed Sharkey into taking a 10 milligram Valium. Took one himself. Had a crashflash of children holding an open umbrella on a sunny day following an old woman down the street. It wasn't a parasol, mind you. And so out of superstition he took off his Polaroids. Blimped across the bookcase. Settled on a book. Flowers of the Northern Fields. Blimped. The ax. Crashflash of the bag rituals of neolithic hunting and fishing people accompanied by some redneck drawling This is my Granddaddy's ax My Daddy put a new handle on it I put a new head on it. For six days they had been shooting methamphetamine he had to piss all the time his cock scrunched in like the neck of a chicken you buy in the store. Tinker Bell. Go to her you simple shit. The heat was almost unbearable. To step outside was like having adhesive tape removed. And the glare...

- Hi, Bob. How are you feeling?

Her face altered somewhat to resemble another girl he she said something the other girl's intonation and gesture. Humorous. She needed some mumbles for a dish she was thinking of preparing. Mumbles are a cottage cheese with curds the size of large hailstones.

- Dry, like... he said. Ever see chickens fucking? Like a paper flower... showing her with a gesture requiring both hands.

She didn't want to see it. Oh my daughter.

- There was this little red rooster, she replied, and he fucked the hens so much...

- Tell it, baby.

- ...that they pooped out laying eggs.

- They did what?

- They pooped out. Well, carnsarn that little red rooster, the farmer said. Maybe if I give him a goose to hump he'll lay off the hens for a while so they can get a rest and start laying eggs again. So the farmer put a goose in with the hens that night. That ought to settle that rooster's hash, he said...

- A goose? A goosey gander, baby?

- Not a goosey gander. Just a goose. Well, it was the loosest goose the farmer had. The next morning he went out to the barnyard thinking sure he'd find the red rooster fucked to a frazzle. Crow, you bastard, he said, if you ain't dead! But when he got to the henhouse there was the goose lying outside in a rut like an old pillow that's been run over and the rooster was shagging the hens. Ever hear rats fucking?

Her blue eyes flashed like cannons.

- Where have you heard rats fucking, kid?

- In a laboratory. Well, the farmer said Think you're smart don't you, you raunchy little rascal. Tonight I'm going to give you a turkey and see if that don't cool your ass. Sure enough, the next morning when the farmer went outside to the barnyard there was the rooster lying in a rut outside the henhouse looking like a flattened out lady's hat with feet. Crow, you bastard, if you ain't dead! said the farmer. Well, the rooster just lay there with the breeze ruffling his feathers and the vultures circling overhead. Looks like that turkey was even more than you could handle, you fucked out little shit, said the farmer. But because you were such a feisty devil I'm going to bury you in the manuer pile so the vultures don't get you. The farmer leaned down and was just about to drag him off when the rooster winked an eye and whispered Get away, you fool! Can't you see there's pussy in the air? A few nights ago I had a beautiful dream, she said, her horse restless. I'm still thinking about it.

She laughed, letting Willow turn and turn.

- Do you know, in the dream I realized that the Garden of Eden was the sea and the forbidden fruit some kind of fruit de mer.

- Ever taste veal fattened on watermelons, baby?

- I'm not sure you understand the nature of our covenant, she said holding the reins in one hand and gesturing toward the tousled knolls, or the permanence of our stewardship.

Smiling, she reached down and took his Polaroids off and flung them into the rapefield.

- You little bitch!

She galloped away. He had been standing with his back to it, but now it washed over him and he was overwhelmed by a feeling of religious, bitter loss. Holding his hands like a scuba-diving mask he waded out into the shimmering cadmium yellow blare, grasshoppers chirring.

He stooped and parted the stalks and watched the yellow pollen dust over his bandaged wrist. He heard the horse gallop past behind him. It was late afternoon. His head was splitting.

The girl galloped up the wagon path which ran between the field and her mother's garden, her horse hot and vibrant under her naked thighs. They were a single living organism, the same breath, the same sweat, the same joy of rushing, physical movement. The wind, the flying mane stinging her face, whooping...

She cantered out to where the path neared the public road and reined in, turned her horse and trotted back. The man was still kneeling in the rape. She dismounted and opened the garden gate.

They were forever busying themselves in the kitchen, making her mother and her feel like strangers there. In a deliberate effort to use all the utensiles, apparently, perhaps in order to imbue them with his genius - and when confronted with the possibility he blushed - the one called Sharkey would spend hours pottering together a meal. In the beginning they would eat these manifestations with a show of appetite; Christance Arkwright had not always been uncivil toward her mother's captors. To use her father's words they were like a swarm of bees on a cow's udder; if she kicked at it she would kick the bucket. But the food the two men prepared was not intended to be enjoyed. It was, the girl realized, analogues of some future circumstance which in this way was being imposed on her mother and herself.

- Stop yawning, slopehead. You oughta see the way your tongue curls up. Just like a dog yawning. I mean it. Yer forehead slopes. Some kinda aerodynamic design...

- Aw ya make me sick, ya slimy Hymie reptile. Kosher as cortisone, that's what you are. Fatback pike bait and sow's earwax and some old alphabet that turns out to be knitting recipes.

- I know you greaseballs like your pork rare...Capito, eh? Capito...

- Is that all you can say in Etruscan?

- I can't say shit in Etruscan . . . The place where the soldiers shit...

- Dig . . . Incidentally.

- You still got anya those Phenobarbitol brownies left?

- Whyncha go take a look . . . They're in the glove compartment.


- Can't you see I'm using the sink?

- Aren't you goina take any?

- Sure. Lemme dry my hands.


- talk about aerodynamic design...

- Nose oil.


- Christ she's wierd . . . What she got that horse here for?

- To spook you, obviously. Just like the sword.

- Know what she's doing now?

- What?

- Sitting on the piano bench paintin her toenails.

- A Jezebel already.


- An anyway she spooked you with the sword.

- Me?

- Yeah you, Monocookie...

- Ever see corn silk onna banana, Bob? Hand me the colander.

- Don innarupt me...

- Ever see the push-pull rectifier peech pathafier?

- I said don innarup me, you circumsized tuchis taxidermist. Ever since you hooked up with that blue she moose you been actin like a Ma Perkins atta bingo game. You think you got it all spelled out...

- Ever since Lorenzo Jones invented plastic from hair tonic...

- ...I know you Jewboys. You like that ample Teutonic boozom. You go for them sproingy Germanic bambino bamboozlers...

- the colander, stupid. Some kinda strange gunk, the gook with the chiseled features, the Kanaka with the aquiline profile, yeah, caught the priest doing something some strange grip or manipulation to keep himself alive, and there was this extraordinary secretion running off his head, very precious and costly, that they used to anoint the feet of Jesus like a dry fly...

How dry he was. He opened the refrigerator.

- Want one? . . . I'll giveya a Blue. Come on... Worldwide chain of Ma and Pa foot massage places, credit card accepted.

- Well you try shitting into a cold cream jar.


- Him walkabout Mary chugalug.


- You couldn't get her to look like Suzy Homemaker.

- Naw she's more like your centrifugal cream separator. Il n'ya pas des boules comme Dubble Bubble. Isn't that how they say it?

- Yah n'Princess Murat n'Pleetway pee jays n'even some of the dreams I heard about but wasn't in.


- What's she doing, shoeing that nag?

- She's in her workshop making a set of cuff links.


- Well go tell Tinker Bell and her mother that the food is almost on the table . . . There . . . Sugar n'spice n'vegetable marrows. That's what Beatrix Potter is made of and every Kanaka knows it as well as he knows the ceremonial of shaking the lightbulb.


She couldn't say how long she sat there watching the one called Bob Esposito hit her mother on the head. With tireless but intentionally ineffectual blows he bumped her head, his fist weighted by the 9 millimeter pistol, bumped her head. Always behind the hairline where any bruises wouldn't show.

- Know the way they quiver when she brushes a cigarette ash off 'em? Watch this, Sharkey.

Tossed the pistol into the palm of his other hand. Bumped her head. Trembling panda's mute vegetable agony. The Garrard dropped another Perez Prado. Sharkey was trying to hold hands with her. Through the blaring speakers and though her own ears were ringing from the incessant thuds she would not shut her eyes or look away.

- Hey, baby. When are you going to make Sharkey a set of cuff links?

Her mother was vomiting. She got up and rushed over. She turned off the amplifier. She sat down at the piano and opened the keyboard. The groove was still traveling under the stylus. She played the piano. An overwhelming sadness. She sang. Sing, Taurus!


- Gurre's pigeons! Grief encumbers,

Gathered in flight o'er the isle

Hither! Harken...


- What's the matter, baby? Don't you want to cha-cha-cha with ol' Sharkey?

He ostentatiously came and turned the amplifier back on. Did a little dance. She sashayed over to where the cavalry sabre was standing in the corner, picked up the weapon and strapped it around her waist.

- Mummy, I had better take Willow back to Natty's now.

She put on a sweater. The man stood in the terrace door calling after her, his voice thin in the bright May gloaming like someone shouting in a helium atmosphere.

She walked Willow out to the public road. There she slid down and walked beside her on the grass shoulder up to the path beside the woods. She put her arms around the mare's neck and talked to her, then she unfastened the sabre from around her waist. When she had buckled it around the horse's neck she stood while the soft muzzle brushed her and the velvety lips nibbled at her hand. Then she clapped her hands and with a Hieee! sent her back alone to Natty's horses in the paddock. She heard a fox barking in the woods. She hummed through her teeth.

She ran like the wind. The headlights of a car appeared to approach from where the sun had gone, grew and in passing abruptly vanished. They wouldn't be expecting her for another hour. She stood listening. There were noises coming from the house which stood alone at the edge of a copse of beeches. The rapefield shimmered.

She sat in a chair on the terrace with a blanket flung about her and wearing Bob Esposito's shades. Sharkey was playing the piano as Barbara Arkwright, in high heels and a pearl choker, danced on the dining table. He was playing random figures and clusters of tones in what must have been a parody of Schoenberg. Rather good, really, she thought, as cabaret. Now and then a piece of silverware or some of the good porcelain would fall to the floor. A glass...

- Don't you like your food, baby?

- She's afraid of it, Bob. It's The Great White Giblet and if she doesn't eat it soon it will start to digest her.

- Then it's already startin to digest her. That's a good one, Sharkey. Wait'll she sees General Splitgerber...

- Bob I don't know where you get these misconceptions about General Splitgerber. It so happens that General Splitgerber is strickly a T n'6er. Quite paleolithic...

- He's a formidable soldier, Sharkey.

- Oh General Splitgerber is nothing but a soldier, Bob. Every inch a soldier.

- What's a tea and sixer?

- You want to know what a T n'6er is, baby? I'll explain. You see, the two ages of General Splitgerber...

- Let me, Sharkey. It's not that complicated. See, kid, you're too old for the General. Anything over waist high and no front teeth is too old. See the Romans were an innocent people who didn't know anything about family planning. What they did if they had too many children was they put babygirls out in the wasteland to die. Yeah. Out of sight out of mind. Well there was this poor Hebrew shepherd, see, playin his pipes by night...

- Ya Moygashel!

- ...keepin the wolves away, an he would take selected totsies into his cave where they could get circumsized sheep's milk. An when they got too old, ya know, got big teeth and coordinated motor responses, an organizational tendencies, yeah, well, he would take them and leave 'em in the city where they became mystery women. Hey Hymie! Baltimore Catechism. What's the difference between an existentialist and a baby?

- Lemme scratch my head...

- An existentialist says do-be do-be do-be do an a baby says goo-bie goo-bie goo-bie goo.

They wanted her mother to do something for them. It was dark, now, and all the lights were turned off except the television. She watched through the window, her breath fogging the glass. She saw her mother squeezing her breasts together and Sharkey, naked except for his armpit holster, pressing the front of his pelvis up and down between them. His movements became frantic and for a moment she thought he was trying to break her mother's neck by forcing her head down. Then he stepped aside and she could hear her mother gagging and the men's oaths. Then Bob Esposito, also naked, stepped up and did the same thing. She made an effort to visualize the situation from her mother's point of view.

It had grown chilly. She drew the blanket around her and went inside.

- Makin bacon? she said with a deep voice.

- Kee-reist, baby!

She took the Polaroids off and tossed them at Bob Esposito. Sharkey sniggered.

- It's only wallpaper paste.

- I thought it was library paste.

- Hey...what the fuck do you...

- This kid really cracksa me up, Shark...

The telephone rang. Her mother had gone to the bathroom. Sharkey shrieked. She turned on a sofa lamp and sat down. He shrieked again.

- So answer it, baby!

She got up and answered the telephone. It was Shangri La.

- It's Steve.

She put the receiver on the desk and sat down again. Sharkey picked up the receiver, Bob Esposito at his heels, at his elbow. They were naked as jaybirds and their tableau with the telephone could have been a Thorvaldsen sculpture. Her mother came in just as Sharkey hung up.

- Christance, I...

- Steve's meeting us at the ferry tomorrow. Now let's get some shuteye. You ready to crash, Bob?

Esposito had picked the ax up from the desk and was tossing it from hand to hand. The other man was putting on his pants.

- Very heavy, said Esposito.

- Very heavy.

- I've got two words for it.

- I've got one word for it.

- I've got half a word for it and a pockmarked Fed who went to Swarthmore.

She got up from the sofa and went and stood in front of her mother who was sitting woozily in an armchair. She touched her mother's face.

- Mummy, I'm going to make up the sofa now...

The woman smiled under her daughter's tender caress.

- ...and then I'm going to bed.

She turned on the lamp over the portrait.

In their vigilance the two pimps would take turns watching while the other slept. She fetched the roll of bedding and spread it out on the sofa. For four hours one of them would lie there and read detective novels and then he would get up and go wake the other. She turned the blankets down and asked Esposito if she could change the bandage on his wrist. Then she wished him a good night.

The moon was up. She had heard a fox barking in the woods. She thought of the flame-like animal and remembered the sound of its barking which was a redhaired voice. Irish setters had a setter voice and foxes do not hunt in packs. She thought of her owl. She had sighted him perched on top of one of those poles which carried an electric fence over a wagon road between two pastures. On a clear frosty night with a moon. How little you are, she thought. Not much bigger than a glass of jelly.

Of course Sharkey came. She felt his weight settle on her bed. She didn't ask him what he wanted. He would often come in and sit on her bed.

- What did you mean about the library paste, baby?

He had a headache and was having trouble crashing. She told him to stand up, lifted the light summer bolster and told him to get in under it. She knelt over him and massaged his scalp.

- Are my fingers cold?

- They're nice and warm. baby. That feels good.

While she was massaging his scalp she reached over and took something off the windowsill. It was a chasing punch, a tool used in working designs in silver. Its handle was a round, flat bulb of hardwood that fit pleasantly in the palm of the hand. She laughed.

- Do you think Mummy has cold fingers?

She massaged his scalp.

- Talk about yourself, she said.

- I had this air conditioning company, see, he said. Desapole Incorporated - I went into air conditioning right after high school - that was in Miami - I have my degree in electrical engineering - and we were installing eighteen units in International Can and they said it could never be centralized but I figured out with this report, see, like you were writing an A plus paper - it was free blow - afterwards I started this surfing company - we'd buy the blanks, see, and then make the surfboards, grind them out and I got sub-lobar pneumonia which is the worst you can get and I was coughing blood.

He coughed and turned his head on the pillow. The tool itself was a squared, slender spike of blued steel 12.5 centimeters or 5 inches long, tapering to a sharp point. He went on.

- The chick I was living with called the doctor and I said to him Doc I don't want to let my business go I've put my life's blood in it. Well, by the time I'd been a day in the hospital I told my father Dad I'm going to let the business go - You can have the power of attorney - I'm still holding it in escrow...

As he was saying the word escrow she fell with her weight on the hardwood bulb and the cool steel slid into his brain. It was easy. Only 4 millimeters of bone. Like a hard bread crust, she thought. In the moonlight through the window she saw his eyes open immediately and roll up in his head until only the whites showed, then the peristalsis started. She had the presence of mind to accompany the gulping noises with soft moans. When it was over she went out to the bathroom and weeweeed. She flushed the toilet. She came back and pulled the chasing punch out of the man's temple and wiped it with a tissue. A thin line of blood ran down his cheek and she wiped it away with the tissue. Then she walked swiftly and silently down the hall in her nightgown and stopped at the living room door which was standing ajar.

Sharkey always said that Bob had a good nose. Ya got a good nose, he would say, for somebody who caters to Polish weddings.

The man was lying on the lid of the piano with his arms crossed over his chest and the pistol in his hand. He had moved the bedding up there and gotten up and stretched out where she couldn't get at him with the ax or anything else he could imagine. With his head on the pillow he was looking through his dark glasses at the portrait, whose little lamp was the only light in the room and in the house. She couldn't see whether his eyes were open, but he had a good nose. He shifted on his hard cot and she heard him mutter

- Shit yer pants, didnya, ya sheeny cocksucker.

The portrait of her mother when she was a girl. Barbara Aerenpris was a lovely seventeen-year-old. Her hair - so pale as to be more nearly silver than gold - was soft and abundant. With her clear brow, rosy cheeks and Cupid's bow smile, she was the picture of light and the soft roundness of her arms and bosom, which her blue eyes invited the viewer to appreciate, was like a temperate summer.

She lay on the dog's rug she knew not how long. It wasn't chilly under the piano, a region where the air seldom eddied. It was Touj's sulking nook and where the poodle vocalized whenever she or her mother played the piano. In the darkness there she could breathe in the reassuring homebody smell of the animal and, like an animal, wait in perfect silence. After an elapse of time, perhaps an hour, during which the man had stirred a few times and was breathing with the regularity of sleep, she crouched and reached over to the wall and silently pushed the outlet switch. The darkness was now perfect. In a little while she heard the pistol drop onto the keyboard and knew that he had crashed.

She didn't want to damage the instrument. Silently, she emerged out from under it and stood in dark space. In a minute she realized that she was able to discern the whiteness of things in the room and once she had done that she was a nocturnal animal, a feeling of freedom accompanied by a tremendous sense of purpose. She cautiously knelt on the piano bench and let herself grow perfectly calm. She could see the pistol lying there on the keyboard. She picked it up. Tenderly, she removed his dark glasses and ran her fingers through his hair while speaking his name.

Barbara Arkwright, standing in the hall, suddenly heard an Indian whoop followed by a terrific commotion. She stepped into the living room and turned on the ceiling light and there was Bob Esposito doing back bends on the lid of the piano. Christance appeared to be holding his head down.

- Christance, I...

- It's all right, Mummy. He's dead.

Abruptly the back bends ceased and the man lay limp. At first she thought he was wearing a monocle, but when she went in for a closer look she could see that his right eye-socket contained the wooden handle of a silverworking implement.

- It's all right, Mummy...

The girl stood hugging the sobbing woman, cradling her head into her shoulder and taking her tears.

- Poor Mummy. I hope you'll be able to drive us tomorrow. Now we've got to get these two under the shower and in the car.

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The Rapefield, 29 November 1996