SAINT SEBASTIAN IN EXTREMIS Adam McOmber Each of my wounds is a mouth, attempting to swallow a sword. I am tied to an alder tree. Wrists bound. My lashings are made of Roman leather, knotted by soldiers I once called friends: Atilius, Gnaeus, Sabinus. Springtime blossoms burst from branches above my head. They too are wounds. Blood and sap move together. The bark of the alder tree shines. In the prisons of Emperor Diocletian, I fell in love with two men, my cellmates: Marcellian, who was large and rough, a brute drawn from ancient tales. Imagine him horned. Covered in coarse hair. And then there was Marcus. He had a narrow face and cold thin"ngered hands. His body was like that of a moonlit "gure in a graveyard. Each night, in the space of our small cell, I brought these men to Christ. I kissed their mouths. I spread myself wide. My #esh, they said, was sweeter than any communion wine. More fortifying than any host. Together, we reinvented the trinity. A holy wheel a#ame in the catacombs. !2
On the day of my execution, the sky was no color I could name. There was a wind from the north. The branches of the alder tree creaked above. My lovers were both murdered by the Romans. Dragged behind horses. Marcellian’s jaw caught on a sharp rock. His head was pulled o$. Marcus’s guts were strewn across the paving stones. Then the soldiers came to me. They bound my wrists. They took turns shooting arrows. They laughed and talked of other things. I gazed skyward. I thought of my youth, the services of my #esh. Doors opened beneath my skin. Each arrow was a kind of key. “Soon,” I said softly, “the whole world will "t inside of me.”
BLAME IT ON THE BOYS Sarah Fonseca Marian wore her newest Betsey Johnson into the dark; a dress personally thumbed for her from the racks at Bergdorf Goodman— or had it been Neiman Marcus?—by her friend Harold—or had it been Henry?—before he fell ill. She loathed how fuzzy her memory grew as the months wore on, as apparent colds turned sinister. She resented how her circle of friends were beginning to resemble a female separatist colony of the previous decade’s wildest dreams, jarringly void of men. Her dresses were material. They could be held onto, like a crystal ball, in order conjure a memory. This one resembled a cozy blue cotton sweater with horizontal white stripes, its collar and sleeves capped in a cherry red. Upon a second look, the hem seemed a little too long for a sweater, and the back was entirely absent. This was precisely why she fell in love with it. She enjoyed its patriotic humility and its exhibitionism, the tomboyishness
of the material and the adolescent femininity of an impossibly short skirt. “This is what it must feel like to be a teenage girl who puts out for a varsity athlete and actually likes it,” she told Harold, or Henry, as he watched her spin in front of the dressing room’s mirrors, entirely satis"ed. “Sounds like how I feel about jockstraps,” chuckled Harold, or Henry. “The dress as the lesbian jockstrap,” he mused. “You should start a movement.” The bar was thick with women, smoke, sad stories; it was Harold, Marian "nally remembered. Harold. Without a doubt. She resumed her conversation with Valerie, the stranger beside her. Marian felt both pathetically and authentically New York when she responded to Valerie’s simple inquiry of How is your Tuesday going? by sighing, “I’m in the middle of a move that I’m dreading.” “Is there any move that’s not dreadful?” Valerie wore the remnants of the day’s suit. When they spoke, her right thumb and index "nger lingered around her mouth, like a man massaging his moustache. Marian enjoyed this. Her brown eyes trailed Valerie’s "ngers as they journeyed lower, onto her full lips. She plied them apart them while deep in thought, lipstick
smudging onto the pads of her "ngers. Eventually, Marian pulled her eyes away; it was just too much. “The move into my current apartment was nothing short of liberating.” “Was it your "rst in New York?” “Yes.” “That’s why, then.” Valerie looked at Marian sentimentally. She was younger but not too much younger, maybe "ve years at most. A sturdy 26 at the youngest. “When I "rst moved here, I felt that. It was so easy to get rid of things I didn’t need in the e$ort to "t my life into that one tiny bedroom. I threw out my grandmother’s Kitchen-Aid mixer, a banjo, an encyclopedia set. In my mind, I was sacri"cing these little things for everything that this place could o$er.” “It was an easy trade-o$ for me, too,” Marian murmured, thinking back to three years before, when she’d carried two slim suitcases onto a Metro North train from her father’s home in Westchester to an apartment in the East Village. It was only a year later, when he renewed the lease for another decade, that she truly felt unrootable, the reaccumulation of material things beginning again.
“I would be too busy doing everything to bake cookies,” Valerie continued. “But now that this place is going to shit, I’m much more protective of the half-dead batteries in my junk drawer.” “Blame it on Ed Koch.” “No. Blame it on the boys.” “But isn’t Koch one of the boys?” “Only when his wife’s on vacation.” “I thought he was unmarried…” “Exactly. A convenient, perpetual vacation,” Valerie winked. Marion liked the way that Valerie’s mind spun candidly and how her hips gently spilled over the edge of the vinyl stool; her body responded to it all. Although she experienced intense attraction, she could never quite get herself to visualize the alluring woman of the moment nude, could not mentally unzip Valerie’s slacks and untuck her partially-unbuttoned blouse. It wasn’t a learned impairment that came with being a feminist, but one that seemed biological. She’d once fretted over this, wondering if she was truly desiring of women. Finally, a "rst encounter at twenty alleviated her concerns: when they stood with one another, unclothed, bodies responding with #uid and swell, she knew that this—the inability to immediately see through brassieres and
panties—was a beautiful form of torture that heightened the anticipation of the unveiling. Another woman’s body had yet to disappoint her. Marian took a sip of her curaçao drink—one Harold had fallen for upon learning William Holden purportedly favored the blue alcohol—and let the sweet liquor momentarily sit in her mouth, burning the slick insides of her cheeks, before swallowing. “I’ve taken down all of my portraits and cleaned out the kitchen cabinets. My bed is still in one piece, however…. It’s a queen.” Valerie, seasoned, translated the anecdote into the smooth o$er that it was. With a pang of regret, she shook her head. The whites of the woman’s eyes stretched fearfully, two cells, "ssuring apart on a biology classroom poster. Still, Valerie a$ectionately traced the shell of Marian’s earlobe with the same thumb that had twisted her own lips. “Maybe next time I see you. When things have cooled o$ a bit, you know?” “I do.” She "nished her drink, rubbed Valerie’s shoulder in farewell, and walked the ten blocks home alone. It had cooled down, so she walked along the subway grates, enjoying the heated rush from the rain below.
Once home, she lay in bed clothed, pulled her cotton hemline up to her breasts and tried her best to touch her body the way she’d hoped to be touched by someone else, in her bedroom, for the last time. Afterwards, she continued to be struck by Valerie’s words, cool oﬀ. The men were getting fevers, blisters, continual warnings of hell. Even the few words written about what was happening possessed an incendiary element. The night after the New York Times melodramatically wailed CANCER SEEN IN 41 HOMOSEXUALS across page A20 (apart from the Times, who hadn’t known?), Marian’s phone took up the article’s outcry, its tiny metal hammers piercing the silence of her apartment with ring after ring, unanswered call after unanswered call, until she could no longer sleep them o$. Still in that day’s panty hose, she slipped from bed and walked down the narrow hallway to the kitchenette, tripping on the slick plastic of a dry-cleaning bag as she reached for the receiver. Before Marian could o$er a dry-mouthed hello, she’d determined the caller. Her father’s breath always hit the mouthpiece of phones directly, most intensely whenever he released a breeze of cigarette smoke from pursed lips. They’d joked about
the sound in her youth, called it a Sputnik Kiss. He urged her to move home, then—after her refusals—asserted that she should move out of his apartment regardless. After, they said their heated goodbyes. Marion, fearing that her father was right—were things indeed jumping and mutating inside her body?—rushed to the bathroom. A symptom, he’d warned, was blood in the vomit. Hers was blue.
THE GREEK BOY J.S. Kuiken I. You were nine when she "rst crept into your bed. It was spring, a short one, begun late and ended early by a scalding, tempestuous summer. She was your nurse. Earlier in the day, she beat you so soundly you couldn’t even sit through supper. You retreated to your room, hoping she wouldn't come after you. But she did. You pretended to be asleep, until she put her heavy, calloused hands on you. “Hush, young master,” she said. And: “If you tell anyone, you will get such a thrashing.” She said the words so gently, so sweetly into your ear. You were a good little boy; you were quiet as she removed your dressing gown. You were quiet as she made you touch her breasts— ponderous and sagging things, wrinkled, uneven nipples the same color as scabs, and not at all like the poetry you’d read or the paintings you’d seen. Her belly and her thighs were monstrous too,
pale as bone, veined greeny-blue, #oppy as overstretched dough. And her dry-cold hands burned when she touched you. You would later say your sexual proclivities began when you were very young, and in a manner that could not be believed. Perhaps because some part of you never quite believed it: your tongue a stone in your mouth; the way you pushed all your anger and fear out through your little "ngertips and toes, until you went slack. At the time you wished you were strong enough to smash her face in. You wished you could snap both of her legs and make her crawl and beg. You wanted to wrench her head around and feel the bones of her neck crack. You wished many things, but in the end you used your wordsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; after two years you told your guardianâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and he sent her away. But this could not abate the noxious revulsion you felt when you went to bed at night, or keep you from remembering the sound of her voice before falling asleep, even decades later. She had punctured a hole in you and drained you. What remained was something pallid and fragile.
II. Twenty-seven years later, shortly before your life, like a letter, was completed, folded up and sealed; before the decision to join the Greeks in Missolonghi; before you left the dazzling amber shores of Cephalonia—you found the boy. O$ the beach, his skinny brown limbs wrapped round the swollen branch of an olive tree. His slender shoulders were clothed in sweat, his trousers slung below his hip bones. The way he cradled the olives in his palm was utterly sensuous. He put them "rst to his lips, swirling the tip with his tongue, before drawing the whole fruit into his mouth. You watched him for an indecent amount of time. He noticed and began to lavish more attention on the olives, swallowing them rather noisily. You snorted at this, and wondered how much of this show, exactly, was bravado. “Hello,” you said in Greek. Though your Greek was excellent, you were aware you still sounded atrociously English. You also endeavored not to lean too much on your good leg. A pit, sticky-wet, fell to the sandy soil in front of your boots. “English?" His cheeks hollowed around another olive.
“In a manner of speaking.” "You can't be partially English." You felt vigor, like primroses, bloom in your thin and ghostly countenance. “Well, then, if you must know, I was exiled.” The boy peered down upon you. His eyes were the same hazel as river-water, and his soft young face wrinkled with annoyance. Seeking more olives, he slithered towards the tapered end of the branch. The whole tree shook and you caught the words be careful on the edge of your lips. “Exiled for what?” the boy asked. “A great number of—unmentionable—things.” Certainly that sounded intriguing. It was less pedestrian than admitting you'd been astonishingly cruel to your wife and that, as a result, she had caused a ruckus, un-interring every unsavory detail about your person, just so she could secure a legal separation. The so-called excessive drinking, your liaisons with other women, your bouts of passion and melancholy—all of these had some morsel of truth to them, though they were greatly embellished by your wife. You found it base and disconcerting that she brought up the matter of your half-sister and your intimate relations with her. How could
you be expected to deny such unyielding and complete love? But when your wife brought up the marital sodomy, which, in turn, gave way to accusations of your relations with other men—well. There was nothing to be done for it. These last two charges, though true and rather rote, were the hanging o$enses. You signed the deed of separation for your marriage, and wished you had paid more attention to the words therein. Because it was those words which condemned you to your peers and the public, and which escorted you from England to the Continent, where you’d wandered, saturated with brandy and sex and a lack of purpose. These last things were pitiable rather than fascinating, and you would be anything but that, at least in front of certain persons. Especially a beautiful boy. The boy, still in the tree, tensed with excitement at thought of something more interesting than a graying old Englishman. “Bad things?” the boy asked. “Exceedingly.” You smiled. A smile that had once wilted the wills of women and addled the wits of men. They’d all bent to you, like #owers to the sun. Cocking his head, the boy tongued another pit.
“Did you kill people then?” Of course, of course, you thought. My reputation. The person I'd been, once. The boy might be a little too young, just yet, to appreciate that. His countenance still shone bright and zealous with life. His skin was smooth and #awless. Not a single hair grew upon his chest, though tufts sprouted from his armpits, and a wisp of dark hair trailed from his navel. Neither did he have a delta of deepening wrinkles in the corners of his eyes and mouth. He certainly wasn’t fat either. You feared waking up to a sagging paunch, the skin like overstretched dough, so you downed your daily purgatives, even if they made you weak. And this boy had no notion of what any of this was like—this growing old and slowly dying. His body and limbs, as he shimmied to the ground, were whole and hale. “Well?” He put his hands on his sharp little hips. “Did you kill anyone?” “No,” you answered "nally. The boy sighed as if to say you were the dullest man in all of creation.
III. You trailed the boy back to his village. If you were honest about yourself—something you could be on occasion—you were too proud to admit you limped after him like a kicked dog. His scorn only made you more ardent. But you’d wrangle it out of him: perhaps by yanking his head back by his dark curls until he yielded; perhaps by biting him and leaving your marks all over his body; perhaps by pinning him beneath you, pushing yourself into him while he moaned. He barely looked at you, but he’d already conquered you thoroughly. The village was a cluster of slate-colored huts against peridot hills, and reeked of goats and "sh. You insisted on visiting the only café, once a watchtower, now half-collapsed and with swallows nesting in the holey roof. “I will buy you some wine,” you said. The boy laughed like you were an idiot. “The wine here is vinegar,” the boy explained. You bought it anyway, to prove that he didn't have sway over you. You also slid him an oily cupful across the sun-bleached table. He took it and swallowed, then retched. Now you laughed.
“You should tell me your name,” you said. The wine was worse than vinegar, burning all the way down. “I don’t tell strangers my name.” The boy scowled and drank and scowled more. “If you tell me your name then I will not be a stranger to you,” you said. “My friends call me ‘Byron’.” “Biron.” The boy made a face into his cup as he wrestled with the pronunciation. “Why don't you have a normal name, like John or George? Biron is a ridiculous name.” “How patiently observant of you.” The boy snorted. Yes, you'd been his age once. Fifteen or sixteen, insu$erable and incandescent with life and possibilities. You hadn’t listened to graying fools who smelled like forgotten books, either. The world had been vast then, and everything known. “I'm Lukas,” the boy said, as he poured the rest of his wine onto the ground. The sun shone directly over him and he was radiant. For the "rst time in many months, years, even, you experienced some kind of contentment. Nothing more was required but to enjoy a bright day on a Greek island, drinking foul wine with a cocky boy.
IV. You paid his mother handsomely for him, even though it further strained well-depleted co$ers. You also had Lukas "tted for a uniform. “You're to be my page,” you explained. “Really?” he asked, and seemed genuinely surprised and pleased. As the tailor drew the tape along Lukas’ lean #ank, you wondered if the boy’s nipples were still sore from last night. He’d whimpered in such an exquisite fashion while you’d sucked and teased them. He’d whimpered as if he wanted more: more of your mouth, your tongue. More of you. “You will have your own mount,” you continued, shifting in the chair from where you sat and watched. “And a saddle. You shall ride at the head of thirty of your very own soldiers.” Lukas smiled. Your heart ruptured. “Will I have pistols?” he asked, raising his arms as the tailor indicated. "But of course. What page could do without a pair of pistols?' He smiled again. If Lukas smiled like that for you even one more time, you’d pay double and triple what you’d already paid his mother.
Lukas’ cheeks pu$ed as he imitated the sound of a pistol "ring. He mimed taking aim at you. The tailor frowned and told him to hold still. V. The ship to Missolonghi moaned and tilted through the storm. Her belly dragged across rock, the sound like a saw rasping through bone. Everything jolted as the ship "nally cleared, and the lantern below deck swung o$ its hook, shattering on the damp timbers. The dark was pitch and unforgiving. Around you, people scrabbled and shouted. She used to beat you and then lock you in the dark, your nurse. Used to beat you and then reach for you in the dark, too. So when you felt a tug, someone grasping a "stful of your waistcoat —you jumped—and the wet heat pluming through your clothes made you more nauseous than the swaying of any ship ever could. The dark burst open like an overripe fruit. A new lantern seesawed crazily after one of the crew hung it, but then adjusted to the heave of the ship and the sea. It was such a wonderful relief to "nd the boy’s face planted against your belly, his tears and breath soaking your clothes.
“It’s all right now. You are—all right,” you said, though you didn’t feel it. You took his face—it seemed so small, so fragile—in your hands, extracting him carefully, murmuring endearments in Greek. You ran your thumb over those rosy-brown lips, which you had yet to kiss. He did not allow kissing. With a grimace he #ung himself from you. The rest of the evening, as the ship jostled along, he was full of bile and of sharp edges whenever you spoke to him. “And you are all right?” “Yes,” he snapped. “Very well.” When you reached the mainland, he threw himself at your feet and pleaded forgiveness. You pretended not see the apathy in those beautiful eyes, nor the seedlings of avarice you’d been nursing since the day you met, when you bought him wine. “There is nothing to forgive, my dear,” you said. And, embracing him, you ignored the sti$ness of formerly supple limbs.
VI. Missolonghi was a swamp. Underneath the stink of the gathered crowd—those saluting soldiers, priests presenting themselves as pious, hunched women bearing infants, children squealing and stamping their naked feet, government o&cials vacantly bobbing their heads—underneath the chalky smell of dust and mud and the faint crispness of January—you smelled rot. A cankerous, worm-bitten smell, old meat left and spoiled in the sun. Your joints, swollen from the sea-bound journey, burned red as your uniform while you waved to the crowd from your mount. Behind you, on his own horse, Lukas rolled his eyes at you. One of these days, you thought, smiling and waving, I shall lose my patience. You let yourself sink into the adulation of the crowds around you, that ravenous sea of eyes and faces. Like looking through a distorted mirror; you could see in them an image of yourself as you once were, when your poetry had in#amed the hearts and minds of many. To these people, you were still thus: the renowned nobleman and poet, perhaps a bit careworn, dark curls handsomely graying, but still spry enough to "ght, and shed his own blood for Greek independence. To them, you were a #ame of hope.
By nightfall you were installed in your new house, overlooking the lagoon. You watched the waters of the lagoon glow faintly emerald as you reclined in bed. The glass of brandy, perched on your chest, warmed the cramps from your joints and soothed your bad leg. The wind, smelling like old dead foliage and sea salt, made the gauzy curtains dip and sway like dancers. You watched them #oating in unison. Dreamy and slack, you imagined holding Lukas’ face in your hands again. But this time, you pressed your lips to his and then—"nally, "nally—he parted his lips, opening to you. VII. Water poured down onto that pithy marsh and everyone and everything was sodden. Lukas’ cheeks burned scarlet; he was a furnace, his beautiful eyes fever-glazed. He tossed and thrashed in his narrow cot. You forgot you were angry with him, this time for dumping his uniform on the #oor of his room. It wasn’t the uniform itself so much as the careless way he’d treated your gift. But that hardly mattered now.
“He should have my bed,” you declared. It was not di&cult to notice how everyone in the household went silent, and avoided looking at you. Lying on the #oor made your joints groan. You didn’t sleep, not with Lukas writhing and sobbing. Each noise he made quickened your heart with fear. When you passed through the echoing halls to fetch water for him, or brandy for yourself, you heard people whispering about Lukas, about you, about him sleeping in your bed. You laughed at them all. Let those cowards whisper. If they obeyed their own passions, they only did so in the dark, with pious shame. She’d always prayed before crawling into your bed, and went to church as if she'd done nothing wrong. VIII. The next night, while everyone else slept, you stretched beside him. His skin had cooled, "nally, and his coloring returned to normal. He slept sound. His heartbeat, through his back, was a warm pulse against your cheek. You counted each bump of his spine, naming the people you had loved, until your "ngers rested
against the dip in his lower back. Pressing your face there, you breathed his own name into that soft skin. You knew with glass-bright clarity that he too would grow old. If by some miracle of miracles you didn’t kill yourself with drink, or fucking, or just recklessness—if you lived long enough, you’d have to watch as his belly sagged and his hair retreated; as his jowls loosened and his black hair turned gray. His skin would become translucent like yours, revealing the outline of veins beneath. His voice would crack again, coming out windy and weak between broken, stained teeth. You held him in your arms and thought it might be better to tie rocks around your ankles and let the black sea su$ocate you. IX. You sat on the veranda, arranging rocks and heavy bowls and shriveled oranges over several stacks of papers. The great poetic #ame of hope was also, apparently, the great bank of hope, with everyone extending their opened hands, all in the name of Greek independence. You had no money to speak of; the idea in and of itself was laughable. Debt and you were old, familiar bedfellows.
Nonetheless, you had somehow been assigned to distribute funds at Missolonghi. The house was disruptively quiet. The usual stampede of people coming and going had been dampened by early morning rains. They’d since cleared o$, but you were left with that silence, the absence of the noise and movement and relentlessness of life happening that you so keenly craved. The quiet dragged over your skin like broken glass. Lukas’ tread broke it. The endearing tread of an awkward youth: the tread of someone who had not learned what he wanted or where was going precisely, and so tried to go everywhere at once. “You should watch me shoot.” He prodded a pile of papers with one of his pistols. All of the tension, the lack of noise-movement-relentlessness, and Lukas bouncing about unweighted by it all, made you feel irritable and old. “Don’t play with that. It’s not a toy,” you said before you caught yourself. You sounded so much like your nurse some part of you went numb.
Lukas’ shoulders slumped. “You never have time for me anymore,” he said. “It's all about this stupid war.” “Did your father die in the war so you could #ounce and complain like some prissy bitch?” Smoke and paper burst across the desk and the ball hissed as it buried itself in the wood. Gunpowder, spent and sulfuric, sizzled in the air between you. Lukas kept the muzzle "xed in your direction. “You brat.” You laughed. The anger in Lukas' expression melted to shock and chagrin. “S-sorry.” He set the pistol down. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—” “Silly boy,” you said fondly. It was easier to forgive than to upbraid him. Or strike him. He was just a boy. So you spent the rest of the afternoon with him, drinking and shooting. The women in the house adjacent did not appreciate the ornaments on their turrets being used for target practice, but you assured them it was for the cause. “My young page here is a bit overenthusiastic,” you said, roping his shoulders with your too-lean arm. The women were still tutting away while he freed himself from you.
X. He did not allow you to penetrate him in any way. He preferred your mouth on him more than anything, and your hand. He hadn’t deigned to put his mouth on you in the same manner, though he’d stroked you o$ a few times. He had a good grip and a clever wrist, but mostly he was young, so young; if he so much as moaned on the nights you crept into his bed, you almost "nished then and there. That night, however, before the world trembled and changed— the boy mewled so sweetly, as you nipped his throat and pressed against him. He rocked against you. His "ngers tangled in your hair. He whispered: please. He made you get on your back and straddled you. The pale moonlight falling through the window, you could see the sharp edges of his smirk. He traced his lips down over your body, down, and swallowed you. You were not at all quiet. You shouted his name, and it shone brightly as a star in the sky. You lay back, slackened and spent. “Everyone heard,” he said, voice shivering with rage and fear.
“What of it?” you said, plying your voice with sugar. Burnt sugar though, scorched and sour. He made a pitiful face and you laughed at him. “You're a disgusting old man,” he said. You were faster than either of you anticipated, seizing his throat in your hand, and squeezing just enough. “Am I?” you asked, softly. You wrenched him around and told him to get on his hands and knees. He fought, at "rst, biting and growling, but eventually he went still. His knees buckled and he allowed you to press against him. You were both hard again; he, because he was young, and you because there was no aphrodisiac like subduing a beautiful boy. You pressed against him—not entering him, merely moving against him—breath dampening the back of his neck. “Don't you like that, Lukas?” you gasped. “Don't you?” You held his throat in your hand, aching for a heat you couldn't penetrate.
XI. The world reeled, as though wine-drunk, sending everything tumbling heels over head. The tables scuttled across the #oor like crabs, candles hopped and toppled, the walls staggered and heaved while bowls and cups spun in a sickening waltz. “Lukas!" You couldn’t even hear yourself shouting over the cacophony. The #oor bucked—nothing stood "rm. Not at all. The whole damned world was falling to pieces around you. The earth would soon split open right under your feet—and oh!—what a rapid, dazzling death that would be. None of this wasting and counting the days, "lling out paperwork and squabbling with some insolent boy—no. Just a plunge, quick and dark and deep, into that welcoming chasm. But there Lukas was, #attened against the wall, face pale with panic. The wall tilted, a wave of bricks threatening to crush him. “Lukas!” you shouted, scrambling, stumbling, snagging him from the maw of death. You clung to him. In the violent stillness after the quake, you both collapsed to the #oor, gasping and entangled. He lay atop you, pliant and soft. And because you could never, never, be expected to resist such an o$er,
you leaned up. You cupped his face with your hand if it was water and would run through your "ngers. You kissed him. He tasted like ash. Lukas bit your lip and spat your own blood in your face. You struck him, bloodying his nose. “I will thrash you,” you snarled, but he sprang from you before you could grab him. He ran, scattering shards of pottery, throwing open the doors of the house, escaping. XII. Lukas crept into your room. You feigned sleep while he thudded against one of your bedposts. His "ngers dipped into your jacket pocket and then your coin purse, doubloons golden in the moonlight as he crept out. You sighed, loud and long, after the door shut behind him. “Insu$erable cunt,” you said to no one in particular. You shuddered; a feverish ache had been plaguing you all day. Rest, and brandy, would resolve it. Rising and lighting a taper, you sat at your desk. A cool breeze blew through the window, disrupting the marshy reek and the treacle-thick heat.
“I won't die martially,” you had told Lukas. “I'll die marsh-ally.” You had thought that rather clever, but he had not laughed. You’d not spoken much since the earthquake. And there was nothing to be done for it. You’d ensured the boy would be well cared for, in the case of your demise, but the love you’d felt for him had guttered and died. You couldn't be expected to keep chasing after some ungrateful whelp. At any rate, his lithe beauty was being transformed: those shoulders broadening, his body lengthening and "lling out, patchy facial hair, like moss, sprouting. He’d taken to strumming whores from town. He used your money to pay for them, of course, and then boasted loudly of his conquests whenever you were in earshot. Tiresome. Dull. No. As you rolled the goose-quill between your palms, you thought of that girl you’d seen earlier that day. Slender, sweet, and young, she’d brought you a plate of "gs and olives. Looking at you through her long, dark lashes, she’d smiled so readily. Yes, your heart had drummed. Yes.
BLOOD FROM THE STONE Kaitlin Wadley The block of marble stood in the center of the studio, monolithic; rays of light shone down from the skylight and cast a deep shadow on the #oor. Zaida had read innumerable interviews with other sculptors who said, no doubt under the thrall of that old myth of the sculptor whose sculpture came to life, that at this stage they could somehow sense the potential inside the stone. But privately sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d always thought that was bullshit. Stone was just stone. It would have been easier if she could just touch the stone and somehow know what she was supposed to make. Instead there was just a sense of overwhelming pressureâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;if there was nothing inside the stone, it was what was inside Zaida that mattered, and frankly, she had never been sure there was anything inside her that was worth the cost (prohibitive) of a large block of marble. Others apparently disagreed. She walked in a slow circle around it, hands tucked inside the sleeves of her sweater, boot heels clicking on the concrete #oor. !36
Maybe it made sense; humankind was, after all, a species prone to seeing itself in everything. Maybe it was less agonizing to imagine the anthropomorphizing as a touch of the divine, rather than selfobsession. It didn’t matter. The afternoon was waning. She was losing the light. And a stone was a stone was a stone. Ana was, as always, ten minutes late. There had been a time when Zaida had found the lateness disrespectful; years later, she’d been blanketed with a sort of grey exhaustion that made it too trying to care. Amazonian, blonde ponytail swinging, Ana strode over and sat down in one strange movement, almost a collapse. Her phone was in her hand, and she shoved it into her purse. “Sorry,” she sighed. “Sorry I’m late.” “I ordered you a co$ee,” said Zaida. Under the table, Ana’s legs collided with Zaida’s shins, one pointy heel grazing the top of Zaida’s ankle before abruptly withdrawing. “Thanks,” Ana said. “Cream, yeah?” “Yeah, with cream,” Zaida said, sitting up a little in the booth.
“You’re an angel.” Ana leaned forward, elbows on the table and chin in hands. “It’s been ages since I saw you. How are you?” Ana’s eyes were a clear green ringed by brown. Not an eyelash was out of place, perfectly curled, perfectly dark. Across from her, as always, Zaida felt very small, in more ways than one. “I’m "ne,” she said. Ana rolled her eyes. “You’re always "ne,” she said. “I swear, getting information about your life from you is like trying to milk a cat, Zai. It’s easier for me to "nd out what’s going on with you by talking to other people.” “I’m starting a new sculpture,” Zaida blurted, desperate for something to say before Ana started asking more questions. She was granted a brief reprieve by the arrival of Ana’s co$ee; Ana added cream in meticulously small increments, stirring between, until it was exactly the prescribed shade of tan. “What?” Ana asked when she’d "nished, and then, quickly, “Oh yeah, the new sculpture, I knew about that. Henry told me.” Of course he did. “Marble,” said Zaida. “The blue Carrara, right?” Ana smiled. “I always thought it was funny you preferred that to the white, considering your work is "gural.”
“Even if the stone’s white, it’s not actually skin,” Zaida said, shrugging one shoulder. “Why were you talking to Henry?” “Oh, they’re shipping some pieces for us to a collector in Miami.” Ana stirred her co$ee meditatively: clink, clink, clink went the spoon. “Dental #oss and lucite and bones. Very avant-garde. I think the real question here is why am I seeing more of Henry than I am of you?” Zaida sighed, twisting a loose thread on the cu$ of her shirt between thumb and fore"nger. “Seriously,” Ana said. “I know you like to be alone with your art, but blocks of stone aren’t very good replacements for actual human company, Zaida.” “I’m here with you now, right?” “After I hounded you for weeks,” Ana retorted. “And made the plans myself. It’s been how long since Henry?” “Three years,” Zaida said, defeated. “Exactly,” said Ana. “And, you know, I get that you need time to move on, I understand that. But after three years, most people would be more than ready to move on. Especially since you and Henry are still friends.”
“Friends isn’t exactly what I’d call it,” Zaida said. “And I have moved on.” Ana gave a minute, probably unconscious roll of her eyes that she almost certainly didn’t intend for Zaida to see. “Locking yourself in your studio eighteen hours a day and carving stone until you’ve knocked all your "ngernails o$ and you’re so pale you’re basically transparent doesn’t count as moving on.” Zaida picked up her water and took a long drink to avoid saying something cruel. “I just don’t want to be in a relationship right now, Ana.” “Listen, I get not wanting to date.” Ana twisted the end of her ponytail around her "ngers before shaking it loose again. “I really do, dating is a shitshow. But I’m worried, Zaida. Because I’m pretty sure you’d rather let every relationship in your life fade into nonexistence than risk being disappointed again.” “He didn’t disappoint me,” Zaida said. “We just weren’t right for each other. Please don’t turn this into another ‘lower your standards’ conversation, I’ve had enough of those in my life.” Ana chuckled. “I’m sure you have. But I don’t think your standards are the problem, I think your apathy is.”
“Some people would say the fact that I’d rather focus on my work is a positive thing,” Zaida said. “Some other people would say there’s such a thing as work-life balance,” Ana countered, raising an eyebrow, tapping one stiletto nail on the rim of her mug. Zaida made brief, uncomfortable eye contact with the bartender, and wondered as she did exactly how clear it was to him that she wanted nothing more than to escape. “I don’t know what you want me to say.” “I want you to say, ‘Ana, there’s no reason to worry, because I understand the value of human relationships and I’m not slowly letting all of my human relationships wither and die.’” Zaida sighed. "You don't need to worry about me." "Oh, great," said Ana. "That's really reassuring." She stood staring at the block of marble in the studio that night. Only the lights of the city from outside illuminated the space, turning the stone into something foreign, something alien. She wished something would come to her, but as she stood there, it felt like the sense of emptiness inside her was expanding.
Like it was "lling her up somehow, taking more space than it deserved. The opposite of hunger. She caught a glimpse of herself in the window as she turned to leave: a ghostly "gure in her grey sweater, dark unruly hair. The gleam of the whites of her eyes set deep in black hollows. Her pale hands, face, mouth. The re#ection of her was as insubstantial as she felt, and therein lay the crux of things; how could she ask someone to love her, or have any love to give herself, when there was so little inside her? When she woke up the next morning, she felt almost hungover, and in the bathroom mirror, she looked it too. The bridge of her nose and the high points of her cheekbones, always sharp, seemed in danger of piercing her skin. All her blue veins were so visible, in her neck, eyelids, the backs of her hands. She tried to remind herself that she'd been here before, that it would pass. But that had never been much comfort. She walked along the river watching tourists and boats come and go, bought an overpriced mu&n, and sat staring out at Lake Michigan's implacable grey surface. Walking past the Art Institute to the Metra, she thought of all the people locked inside it. All the
su$ering Christs, all the Virgins, and later, all the wives, mistresses, daughters. The artists represented in the museum's collection were predominantly male, and conversely, the paintings were mostly women. It was nothing new. She'd known this for a long time, subconsciously, even before she was old and wary enough to understand it in any kind of meaningful fashion. But it struck her now, as she waited to cross the street among a crowd of students hauling their portfolios, the freezing wind cutting through her coat. All those women, trapped in that old building, being looked at by millions of people, day in and day out, with very little to distinguish who they had actually been, aside from a short placard on the wall in which their names might not even be mentioned. An older man in a navy blue business suit pushed past her, jostling her shoulder as he did. "Sorry," she breathed out, instinctively, before she knew she was doing it. It got lost in the whistling of the wind, the chatter of the students, the rush of the cars passing by on Michigan. Just as well, just as well.
She touched the stone, palms #at against it, and closed her eyes for a moment. There was nothing to feel except its cool surface, and when she opened her eyes she turned quickly to pick up her tools. In school her professors had always taught that one ought to start vague and then get speci"c, but never too soon. To re"ne detail before blocking out general shapes resulted in an uncanny valley of a sculpture where individual pieces were perfect, but the way those pieces "t together was skewed, discom"ting. They had never really liked Zaida, who had a compulsion to focus unerringly on one part and move on only once she'd carved it to her own satisfaction. For a long time she'd wanted to please them, to make sculptures of the human form that looked real, looked aliveâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;like a Michelangelo or a Bernini. But some years after graduating, she'd realized that she wasn't meant to make people who looked exactly like real people. There were photographs and realist painters for that. The slightly #awed, the proportionately incorrectâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;that was where she resided. The marble came o$ in chunks at "rst. Large, gradually smaller, and then merely dust #oating in the air. She thought of those
women in the museums, especially the ones turned away from the viewer, the ones whose faces nobody would ever see. She thought of what it felt like to put her thumbs gently in the hollows of someone's cheeks, to feel their warm skin and the tempo of their breaths. She thought of her own bodyâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;small, birdlike, all elbows and sharp protrusions. Her small breasts, sitting up high on her chest, her #at belly. And then she thought of the life models she'd particularly envied and loved, of the weight of their round breasts, the way they moved as they leaned and bent. The slight padding of fat along their stomachs, the curves of calves and forearms down to slender wrists and elbows. She thought of Henry's feet, long and narrow, bony, cold under the covers. Her chisel glanced o$ the half-formed wing of a shoulderblade and into her left palm. She didn't cry out, too startled to make a noise, just watched as blood pooled in the shell of her hand and dripped down her wrist. Her "ngers shook, and the shaking spread down to her wrist. After a few moments she left the studio to wash the dust o$ her hands and get a bandage. She didn't look back at the sculpture as she left.
Her palm throbbed insistently for the rest of the day, and she couldn't close her hand quite enough to get a good grip on any of her tools. It didn't need stitches, but she'd have to get gauze tomorrow to pad the cut, to make it comfortable enough to put pressure on again. Her mind was surprisingly blank as she lay in bed that night. She wasn't satis"ed—it wasn't in her to be satis"ed—but maybe she was something close. She was warm; too warm. She kept the bedroom cold, and slept even in summer under a duvet, fully clothed, unable to fall asleep otherwise. She shifted, sighing, and wiped her hair out of her face. Her arm jostled something as she did, and she opened her eyes to see someone sleeping beside her. The person—a woman—turned. She was a blur, like an oil painting someone had deliberately smeared. Ochre brown and Naples yellow, unfocused, something Zaida couldn't focus on except in very small parts. The crease of a smile line, a dimple in the bottom lip. Long straight hair slipping over the pillow like liquid.
"Zaida," she said, in a voice that was less speech than music, like the warble of a birdsong, all vowels. She came closer, and Zaida smelled something that reminded her of those rare moments of her childhood where she had been able to forget uncertainty. Falling asleep on the couch with the family dog, collapsing into a pile of leaves, her mother's dry hand enveloping her own. There was a kiss, or an idea of one. Hands holding Zaida's arms, skin sliding against skin up to cup her shoulders and then her cheek. "Zaida," the voice whispered again, the warmth of breath #oating across Zaida's face. "Zaida?" A pause. "Zaida, I made co$ee." Zaida gasped, jerking upright, her "ngers clenched in the duvet. The scent of strong co$ee su$used the cold air of the bedroom. A woman stood, naked, holding Zaida's favorite mug, her long dark hair falling over her shoulders. "Are you okay?" the woman asked. "Don't you want it?" Zaida couldn't catch her breath. Her heart jackrabbited in her chest, painful, each beat like a jolt of electricity. "Who are you?" she managed "nally. "How did you get here?"
The woman looked at her, puzzled. Steam rose into the air from the mug. "What do you mean?" she asked. "You know who I am." Zaida shook her head, hard, over and over. But when her vision came back into focus, she realized with horror that she did recognize the woman, or at least parts of her. The arch of her strong nose, her long bony feet. The wings of her shoulderblades. Zaida got out of bed and ran, stumbling on the slippery wood #oor. Her hand throbbed. The studio was empty, except for the dropcloth where the marble had sat, and a spatter of Zaida's blood. The woman followed Zaida as she walked aimlessly back and forth throughout her studio and apartment. She was silent, and didn't come too close. Somewhere along the way, she must have put the co$ee mug down. Finally Zaida couldn't walk around her own home anymore. She stood looking out the window, and then looking at the woman's re#ection in it. "Where's my statue?" she asked. The woman smiled a little, her hands dangling by her sides.
"What's your name?" Zaida asked. "What do I call you?" "You know who I am," the woman said. "Okay," Zaida said. She had to call this woman something. The "rst name that came to mind: "Alma. What are you doing here? How did this happen? I don’t—I don't believe in God, I didn't pray for you." "Prayer takes many forms, you know," said the woman. Alma. "I'm here for you, Zaida." Zaida laughed, a sound that emerged high-pitched and slightly strangled. "I was just—I was just trying to make a statue," she said. "It's what I do, it's my job." "I know," Alma said. She reached out and put her hand on Zaida's shoulder. All the muscles in Zaida's back immediately went sti$. "Come on. Why don't you have some co$ee? You'll feel better, and I'll make breakfast." She turned and walked back from the living room into the kitchen. Zaida followed wordlessly, trying not to think of anything. Alma poured her another cup of co$ee, and Zaida drank it in small sips. It felt like that was all she could take. She was painfully conscious of every acidic drop curling in her stomach.
"Here," Alma said, setting a plate of poached eggs and cherry tomatoes in front of Zaida. The eggs wobbled, gelatinous. Zaida thought, nauseously, my favorite. She broke one open and watched it ooze over the tomatoes. Behind her, Alma started the dishwasher, which was full of at least a week of Zaida's unwashed dishes. "You don't have to do that," Zaida said. Alma turned and gave her a quizzical look, tucking her hair behind one ear. "Why wouldn't I?" The next few days passed in a fog, or a blur; only half or less of Zaida’s brain was present at any given time, the rest focused on worrying about Alma. Where had she come from? How did she come to be? And maybe most importantly, how was Zaida going to explain this to anyone? Alma was considerably taller and broader than Zaida, to the point that none of Zaida’s clothes would really "t her. But Zaida knew there was no way she’d be able to guess Alma’s size, either, and the only way Alma could continue to walk around naked (or, occasionally, clad in Zaida’s bathrobe) was if she never left the house. She didn’t think Alma would want that, but Alma didn’t
really seem to want anything, other than to follow Zaida around like a shadow. Beyond that, there was the problem of the block of marble. The cost of purchasing enough stone for a statue, along with the transportation from Italy to Chicago, was not small. Zaida didn’t buy marble willy-nilly; it was a calculated process, based upon when a gallery was willing and able to show her work, and more importantly, when they had a prospective collector interested. She might be able to swing it, "nancially, but it would also raise questions with her marble dealer about why exactly she needed another piece so soon. With the quarries in Carrara nearly tapped out, "nding a large block of stone of high enough quality for sculpture work could take weeks or months. None of this seemed to a$ect Alma. She had a sort of un#appable serenity that Zaida found incredibly discom"ting. She was totally unreadable, and Zaida couldn’t tell if she was ignorant of the intricacies of human existence and the troubling questions that her sudden appearance created, or if she just didn’t care. She sat quietly by the window for hours, watching clouds. She hand-washed Zaida’s wool sweaters in the expensive wool detergent Zaida had bought and never had the time or patience to
use. She cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner, somehow knowing all of Zaida’s favorite recipes down to the last detail. Yolks, runny. No basil, heavy on the garlic. Vermicelli rather than spaghetti. And so on, and so forth. By the end of the following week, Zaida couldn’t stand to stay inside any longer. Even at her most absorbed in her work, she typically left the apartment at least once for a walk or a co$ee. Alma said nothing about the isolation; it was almost as if she didn’t know anything outside existed. Even when Zaida said, “Come on, I want to go out,” she didn’t ask where. First of all, Zaida supposed they had to get some clothes. She had dressed Alma in a pair of sweatpants and one of her baggiest sweaters, but the only shoes that came close to "tting Alma were a pair of ragged #ip-#ops. The e$ect was that of someone who had gotten dressed when very confused, or who was living out of a suitcase. They took a taxi downtown and walked up and down the streets; Zaida was waiting for Alma to take the intiative, to walk into a store. She seemed content just peering in the windows, until Zaida "nally got tired of it and led her into Nordstrom.
The salespeople were too polite to say anything about Alma’s out"t —if you could call it that—but Zaida could feel their eyes following her, caught their sidelong glances as she circled the sales#oor. She snapped her focus back to the clothing, and grabbed a handful as quickly as she could: a t-shirt, leggings, a sweatshirt. “Do you like this?” she asked Alma. Alma blinked, looked the items over, and smiled. “Yes,” she said. “Good,” Zaida said. She handed them over to Alma and pointed toward the dressing room. Alma took the clothing and walked over, disappearing after a moment. Zaida felt the brief urge to just leave, to walk away. But she knew somehow Alma would "nd her. She looked at her phone as she waited instead, scrolling through unread e-mails and noti"cations without really reading anything. Just the repetitive movements of her thumb and fore"nger. The glow of the screen. They were in the shoe section. Alma sat in a chair, wearing her leggings, t-shirt, and sweatshirt. She looked like one of those "tness models on Instagram, her shiny dark curtain of hair rippling as she
moved. They had brought out the sizer to measure her foot, and she looked at it curiously, touching the di$erent moving parts. Zaida heard something from across the store that drew her attention. Her name, she realized after a moment, feeling a rock form in the pit of her stomach. “Zaida!” Ana’s voice. She knew there was no chance if she pretended not to hear Ana. Ana had seen her and wouldn’t buy it. So she turned to face Ana, feeling a frozen smile form as she did, her lips peeling back from her teeth. “Hi stranger!” Ana came stomping over, shopping bags swinging from her elbows. “Nice to see you out and about. Who’s this?” “Hi,” Zaida said, feeling as if her teeth were about to dry out. “Ana, this is Alma. Alma, Ana.” Alma stood up, barefoot, and walked over to Ana, extending her hand. She wasn’t quite as tall as Ana, who was wearing heels, but almost. Between the two of them, Zaida felt dwarfed, though she wished desperately that she felt more invisible. “Alma,” Ana said, unsubtly looking Alma up and down. “Wow, I’m pleased to meet you. Are you new to the city? Where on earth did she "nd you?”
“Yes,” Alma said, smiling. “I’m new to the city. I’m staying with Zaida right now.” Zaida’s ears and face went hot and then cold. Ana looked at her, a tiny smirk playing across her lips, one eyebrow raised. “Congratulations to both of you. I’m glad to see someone’s dragging her out of her studio.” “Oh, it was the other way round, actually.” Alma lifted her bare foot and wiggled her long, thin toes. “I need new shoes.” Ana looked confused for a moment, and then deeply amused, though she was clearly trying not to show it. “Well, good luck,” she said. She rattled the bags hanging from her arm. “I’ve gotta get going, I’m actually on a run for a client. It was nice seeing you. Nice meeting you, Alma. We’ll have to get together for lunch sometime.” “Yes, I’d like that,” Alma said, with a broad, straight-toothed smile. Zaida wasn’t sure exactly what her face was doing, but apparently it was something appropriate enough, because Ana just went clattering o$ in her customary whirlwind. The Nordstrom employee who had gone to get Alma’s shoes had been waiting quietly to the side, and brought them over now that Ana had left. Alma sat down and took them from the box with
an expression of delight, running her "ngers over the soles and laces. Zaida stood as if frozen; her heart was still in her throat, and she could feel a "lm of cold sweat forming in her armpits and under her breasts. Her mind spun in a circle: Where on earth did she "nd you? Where on earth did she "nd you did she "nd you did she "nd you did she "nd you? “Zaida?” Alma asked. Zaida turned, robotic, to look at her. Alma held up her foot, turning it to and fro to show Zaida the shoe. “Do you like it?” She didn’t sleep that night, lying rigid in bed with Alma’s warm body beside her, Alma’s soft even breaths "lling the silence of the room. All the painful possibilities #itted through her mind on their sharp wings. All the questions she didn’t have answers to. All the parts of the story that were missing. She thought of Alma meeting her mother, an inevitable fact. She could imagine Alma warmly saying, “I’d love to meet your mother,” and meaning it. And she thought about Alma’s lack of parents, lack of any family. They could make something up, but
Zaida had never been good at lying, and especially not to her mother, a therapist who had never put up with any attempts at deception before. The more she thought about it, the worse it got. It was like a disruption in every pattern that comprised her life. The block of stone, having to get another one. The delay in the creation of the sculpture. The sudden presence of another person in her home, her life. And worse, the mundane details of it all—Alma didn’t have a social security number, or a birth certi"cate. She’d never "led taxes. She had no credit history, no medical records. She was, for all intents and purposes, a non-entity. It wasn’t that Zaida didn’t like Alma. There was nothing to dislike about her. She was kind, gentle, understanding. She did her best to help and be unobtrusive. But none of that mattered, because she didn’t "t here. She didn’t belong. Zaida slid carefully out of bed and walked silently to the studio on bare feet. The concrete #oor was cold, as cold as she felt inside. The empty studio felt almost ghostly, like a thing waiting for a presence to bring it to life. She went to the tool closet and pulled out one of her hacksaws, hanging it over her right forearm, and a tarp, which she tucked
under her armpit. She walked slowly back to the bedroom. The saw went on the bedside table; the tarp she spread on the #oor. She picked her pillow up, and, without looking, thrust it over Alma’s face. She’d always thought, from seeing it happen in movies, that it would take a long time. That the seconds would slow and every moment would be an agonizingly drawn-out drama. But once she’d made the decision, it went by quickly. Just a minute of struggle, and then it was done. Almost as if she’d gone away out of her body for a second and come back to "nd her full weight leaning on the pillow and Alma still and quiet beneath her. She rolled the body o$ the bed, wrapped in sheets, and onto the tarp. She reached for the saw. It had been a long time since she’d driven her car, and there was a brief moment as she shut the trunk in the greenish underwatery light of the parking garage when she wondered if it would even start. But as she turned the key, her eyes focused on a smear of blackish blood on her forearm, it roared to life. She didn’t really know where she was going. Just somewhere desolate, remote. She drove out of the city, into farmland. Broken
cornstalks, empty winter "elds full of mud and frost. There was a forest preserve near the Indiana border, and she pulled the car o$ to the side of the road there, opened the trunk and lugged the tarp out of it. She turned her phone’s #ashlight on, grasping the tarp with her other hand and dragging it behind her. Away from the road, away from the trails, into the forest. She’d forgotten to bring a shovel, but the ground was soft, so she dug with her hands, scooping out clods of wet earth and tossing them to the side. It wasn’t until she was "nished, standing back at her car, that she realized she was soaked in sweat and mud, shaking all over. She couldn’t sleep in the bed, once she got back. She took all her clothes o$ and lay instead on the cold concrete #oor of the studio, body aching, mind numb. She had thought it would be hard to "nd the spot the next day, but it was terrifyingly easy. The tracks from her car were plain in the dirt road. She could see where they ended, and she stopped the car there. She opened the door and vomited up thin, watery bile that congealed in the dead grass.
She started crying almost immediately; it wasn’t that she felt sad, exactly. She felt more guilty than anything, or, if not precisely guilty, that strange sense of embarrassment she always used to feel when she’d done something wrong and knew her mother was going to "nd out. The collar of her sweater became wet with tears. She couldn’t breathe through her nose. It was painfully obvious where she’d buried the body. It was less a proper mound than it was a haphazard tumble of disturbed dirt. There were places she could see the edges of the tarp through the mud. She fell to her knees, sobbing and gasping, and reached down to touch the damp earth. She was afraid. She knew what she’d done, but she couldn’t remember doing it. She remembered the smell of blood, the heat of it, but none of—none of— She closed her swollen eyes and pulled one of the tarp’s edges. It was heavy, but up it came. Something fell out of it and rolled. Slowly, slowly, she opened her eyes. There it was: On the ground in front of her, #ecked with dark freckles of earth, sat a piece of "ne blue marble, roughly carved into the shape of a woman’s foot.