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MILK LIKE A MELTED

GHOST

A NOVELLA BY

ERIC BEENY


MILK LIKE A MELTED GHOST


ALSO BY ERIC BEENY The Dying Bloom (Pangur Ban Party, 2009) Ox Crossing Drawbridge (Anonymosity Press, 2009) Watering the Fires (Anonymosity Press, 2009) Gargling Cinderblocks (Anonymosity Press, 2009) Snowing Fireflies (Folded Word Press, 2010) Of Creatures (Gold Wake Press, 2010) Pseudo-Masochism (Medulla Publishing, 2011)


MELT LIKE A MELTED GHOST ERIC BEENY

THUMBSCREWS PRESS PITTSBURGH


Copyright Š 2011 by Eric Beeny. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Grateful acknowledgement is made to the editors of Abjective, in which portions of this work first appeared. www.pearnoir.com


MILK LIKE A MELTED GHOST


I


“ � In the morning, Clarabelle going down to the kitchen, found a puddle of milk on the kitchen floor, the way a ghost would’ve melted there. Clarabelle, standing there in her pajamas, rubbing her eyes, made a goopy sound, the telephone ringing a little earlier. Clarabelle, not remembering spilling milk ever. Clarabelle, answering the telephone, thought it was herself who called, she said Hello and no one said anything, so Clarabelle never answered the telephone and hung up.


“ ” Clarabelle, building a snowman in the kitchen the night before, after she went to sleep, it was still built there—an unmelted ghost of itself. Her snowman looking at her, top hat cocked, plaid scarf choking its coal teeth into a smile she almost identified with, so familiar last night building it slowly across the snowman’s face, as she had so many times across her own, and without scaffolding. Clarabelle, tilting her head, staring at a snowman she thought she knew, but no, this wasn’t her snowman at all—a stranger snowman. The snowman falling off itself, its pile of big snowballs shrinking and rolling around the melted ghost of milk—its hat, its black eyes and coal-teeth smile fallen to the floor, all made a clacking sound, the scarf crunched into a mountain range around the melted ghost of milk’s lake. Clarabelle’s eyes wetting, the snowballs rolling around the melted ghost of milk, hatching like eggs. Little yellow birds pecking out of their shells, Clarabelle falling to her knees, the little yellow birds flying around her head like an unopened cage.


“ ” The cracked shells of the snowballs melting into the melted ghost of milk, freezing again into snowballs like eggs, the milk frozen within them. The snowballs hopping up onto each other, into a pile again, small streams pouring out halfway from the snowman’s body, freezing into icicles like legs, six with two icicle antennas wiggling at the top, the little yellow birds landing on them, perched and wobbling. The snowman getting up on its legs, crawling toward Clarabelle without a face, an albino ant, blindly, without a face, or any other faces that didn’t have eyes, even accidentally.


“ ” Clarabelle, screaming— The sound of birds.


“ ” Clarabelle, running to the living room closet, got the harpoon. Clarabelle, hurling the harpoon at the snowman, into its thorax, its thorax wrapping around the harpoon. The snowman melting again into a ghost of milk, the harpoon falling heavy to the kitchen floor, scratching a small canyon into the tile, some of the milk like a melted ghost flooding the canyon as it opened. The little yellow birds flying away, into the house, somewhere. Clarabelle, coming closer, tried taking the ghost’s pulse, putting her finger to the puddle’s neck. She felt a pulse, wasn’t sure if it was her own pulse or not, as she was alive, with a pulse, taking a pulse.


“ ” Clarabelle existed, quoting herself in her head while thinking the quote up: It’s impossible for an organism considering its own consciousness, its own existence, to remain objective. Considering, or contemplating, she thought. Clarabelle, wondering if she could ignore the melted ghost of milk, let it still be there but not really know—pretend she didn’t know. In her head—her head’s unopened cage—none of this was happening. Outside her head—life outside Clarabelle—all of it absorbed by her skull’s black hole, sucked down the thoughts’ drain, collecting in cloudy puddles, sometimes a figure surfacing just long enough to disturb the water, a leviathan too quick to observe, photograph and contemplate. Contemplate, or consider. It could’ve been an elephant’s trunk slithering through the milk. Maybe the melted ghost of milk was the elephant’s tusks, melted. Clarabelle, wondering if she could ignore this. Having something to ignore made Clarabelle feel less lonely.


“ ” Clarabelle, opening the refrigerator, empty. Clarabelle, needing more milk from the supermarket. Clarabelle, walking around the melted ghost of milk to her room, put her bathrobe on over her pajamas, left the house in her slippers. Clarabelle, taking the public rollercoaster—empty, quiet, but the creaking wood of the tracks beneath her, beneath the coaster, Clarabelle falling asleep, woke just before her stop. Clarabelle outside, walking, not recognizing where she was, the city surrounding her, any of the shops, the little park with the fountain of frozen black water near the bank, its windows boarded up, graffiti—Clarabelle’s breath, spray-painting the air with disappearing ink. Nothing seeming familiar because it wasn’t. Sometimes the city wasn’t only a city. Nothing was ever the same. Change was supposed to be one of those beautiful things in life. Everyone always saying that to Clarabelle, everyone said that same thing the same way and no one ever dared alter that story. Clarabelle, figuring by now she’d be used to adjusting.


“ ” Clarabelle, entering a convenient store, no one behind the counter. Clarabelle, seeing the newspaper on the rack, words floating around on the front page—eyelashes floating in milk. The words saying something, maybe, she couldn’t make any of it out. Clarabelle, going to the dairy section, reaching in back for a carton of milk that wouldn’t expire any time soon. Clarabelle, walking up to the counter, stood there, waiting. Clarabelle, ringing a bell, made no sound, the space between Clarabelle and everything else wiggling, an invisible cymbal she’d crashed with her palm, hung from everything. The clerk emerging from a back room. CLERK: You look familiar. Do I know you from somewhere? CLARABELLE: I don’t think so. Clarabelle thinking, was Clarabelle’s identity dependent on other human beings, on their perception of her? Had Clarabelle spent enough time alone, so much she’d forgotten who she was? The clerk ringing up the milk, putting the carton of milk into a plastic bag. Clarabelle, seeing a picture on the back, a picture of her—of Clarabelle. CLARABELLE: No, wait, I’m right here.


“ ” Clarabelle, coming home, the melted ghost of milk still there, someone’s eyelashes floating in it. Had she plucked her own eyelashes in her sleep, like thorns from a wounded rainbow, sprinkling them into the puddle, a new alphabet to bloom dead butterflies like leaves from the very branches their seeds will sprout? Clarabelle, not remembering, wanted to use words to say things, to learn to speak from what she said.


“ ” CLARABELLE: Ghost, why did you melt into a puddle of milk? MILK LIKE A MELTED GHOST: CLARABELLE: Nonsense, I don’t believe you. MILK LIKE A MELTED GHOST: CLARABELLE: How did you exist before you melted, did you float? Were you brought here by breast, delivered in a bottle like an infant on my doorstep by a milkman’s stork? Do you still exist? What did you die of ? Should I go get my bed sheets to sop you up? Should I cut eyeholes in them for you? Are you ghost blood? Are you bleeding? Should I get some gauze? MILK LIKE A MELTED GHOST: Clarabelle, thinking about sopping up the melted ghost of milk, wringing the bed sheets out into her mouth, drinking the milk, so that its shadow would become a puddle of urine.


“ ” Clarabelle, picking up the snowman’s scarf, wrapped it around her neck. The telephone ringing a little earlier, made no sound, the space between Clarabelle and the telephone wiggling, the sound of birds. The sound of birds like her name, Clarabelle, spoken happily. Clarabelle, thinking her name was silly for someone who wasn’t happy, someone who experienced reality in ways she could measure but not calculate, someone who felt things beyond equation or theory. Clarabelle, answering the telephone, thought it was herself who called, she said Hello and no one said anything, so Clarabelle never answered the telephone and hung up. Is this what it’s like, she thought, what it means to be life? Clarabelle, crouching, looking at the eyelashes floating in the melted ghost of milk, thought they said something, like words do.


II


“ ” So that everything came to resemble a ghost, Clarabelle, sitting with her legs crossed on the living room floor, eating cereal, at the edge of the kitchen, on the verge of the kitchen, the carton of milk she bought at the store balanced in limbo between the two rooms. Clarabelle, staring at the carton of milk, at her photograph on the back, wondered when she could’ve gone missing. Clarabelle, existing in the photograph—that was her, existing there—and Clarabelle, staring at it, was that her existing as well, so that she wasn’t alone without her absence? Was she the ghost of her photograph, her photograph the ghost of her? Clarabelle, imagining herself as her life—not as Clarabelle alive and living Clarabelle’s life—Clarabelle’s life being lived through Clarabelle, beyond her body, outside herself, vicariously. Clarabelle, feeling weak, chewed her cereal carefully, like glass, milk like a melted ghost trickling like ghost blood down her throat. Clarabelle, existing within herself, where the ghost of milk haunting her now went—that’s where she lived, the ghost of Clarabelle, living there.


“ � So that everything came to resemble a ghost, Clarabelle feeling faint. Clarabelle, swallowing a mouthful of cereal, the cold ghost of milk waterfalling down her throat, looked at her hands, her hands began to glow. Clarabelle’s eyes wetting, blurring, the light from her hands shimmering in their wet reflections looking at them. Clarabelle, closing her eyes, placing her hands over her face, she saw through her eyelids, her pulse slowing and she saw into it, her lighthouse hands throbbing with it. Clarabelle, feeling faint, collapsed onto the living room floor, her bathrobe on, her pajamas on, her slippers. Clarabelle, slipping into a coma like a satin night:gown.


“ ” In the living room, Clarabelle’s television wiggling its antennas, snow flickering on its face until its face became other faces and faceless, then to become Clarabelle’s face flickering in the snow. The television unfolding its legs, mechanical legs, hinges rusty, squeaking—small yellow birds in translucent shells opening the hinges of their beaks, as if—, lifting the television off the floor, standing up, a strange insect. The insect balancing itself, dancing clumsily, smashing into the wall, its face cracking some in the corner, the snow inside melting, milk dribbling out and down its face. Clarabelle, lying on the floor, the light from her hands dwindling, her hands appeared like photographs, her eyes fluttering, through her eyelids her eyes looking—through them.


“ ” Clarabelle, sitting up some, looked at the melted ghost of milk on the kitchen floor, eyelashes like the shadows of words floating there, what they might have said. The television crawling over to Clarabelle, through her eyelids looking at the melted ghost of milk, the strange insect tickling her neck with its antennas, Clarabelle twitching, startled. In her coma, its satin night:gown, Clarabelle, rising, the insect’s face flickering, its face becoming other faces, photographs of children she didn’t recognize, then to become Clarabelle’s face. CLARABELLE’S FACE: Your coma’s pretty. CLARABELLE: Thank you. Clarabelle, picking up the carton of milk she bought from the store, heavy as a house, her photograph the ghost of her face staring out from its attic window. Clarabelle, looking at the television screen, the insect’s face, her face flickering there, the insect’s face becoming other faces, then her Farther’s face, her Farther’s face—flickering there.


“ ” Years before, a moment passing. CLARABELLE: Farther? FARTHER: Yes, Dotter? Her Farther’s nails growing like frozen waterfalls melting, freezing again, dripping, trickling down themselves, his beard a shadow only a shovel could shave. CLARABELLE: How do I know I’ve never been hypnotized? On the beach, the sand of its shore made of teeth the water long ago rounded to pebbles, the two of them walking along, round teeth clacking under their bare feet, the shore not biting them. FARTHER: You’ll know when I snap out of it.


“ ” A moment passing, years later, on the beach. CLARABELLE: What’s that over there? FARTHER: Looks like an elephant. CLARABELLE: I want to ride it home. FARTHER: You are home, dear. CLARABELLE: No, I mean like, away from somewhere else. The sky pouring down itself, wet paint on a wall they couldn’t hang any pictures on, the elephant’s silhouette, its trunk waving, and wouldn’t they always forget what they used to look like. So close, too far away to see through.


“ ” FARTHER: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have amnesia. CLARABELLE: I’m sorry, Farther? Clarabelle, his Dotter, freckles twinkling all over her face, the solution to an equation he couldn’t find proof of, a graph he couldn’t plot, and there she was, growing older, catching up with her Farther, to him. FARTHER: Nothing, dear. It’s just, adult problems are much bigger when you’re grown up. When you’re a kid, all you have to worry about are things that’ll mess you up big for the rest of your life, causing all your adult problems. Clarabelle, laughing. The sun fallen below radar, the night sky black construction paper full of sentences written in invisible ink, air holes like periods poked into the lid of the box their world was. His Dotter’s face, her Farther, him, he wrote that story, his Dotter’s name—her name— Clarabelle.


“ ” A moment passing, her Farther much older now, Clarabelle a beautiful young woman, the two of them playing on the shore beneath a sunset like melted sherbet. CLARABELLE: I’ve got the camera set up, Farther. FARTHER: Lovely, dear. I’ll just sit here, if that’s alright. CLARABELLE: I’ll sit next to you, then. Lean in a bit closer, Farther. FARTHER: Of course, dear. Small clicking sounds, the camera grinding its beak in the trees, pruning its feathers, singing the sound of Clarabelle’s name: Clarabelle…


“ ” Clarabelle’s voice shrinking, getting smaller as she grew older, got bigger, the distance between her and her Farther blooming. Clarabelle’s Farther, squinting to see her, Clarabelle, his Dotter, disappearing into the horizon, sliding under it—a crack of light under a door—then rising suddenly behind it. Her freckles glowing—periods of light, a constellation of sentences he sometimes doubted were ever there, unplucked eyelashes, a wounded rainbow’s thorns shrouded and floating on the surface of the night sky’s albino milk. Her Farther, wondering what those sentences like comet tails might say, who, if not him, was writing them, who could read them from so far away. Every night, her Farther lying on the shore with a telescope, gazing up, holding black construction paper up to the sky, poking holes through it, tracing a map of Clarabelle’s face. And the next morning, up to the light of the sky he held the map like an X-ray—to see through the distance, to see through the invisible. FARTHER: You’ll never leave me, Clarabelle? CLARABELLE: I still haven’t come home.


III


“ ” Clarabelle’s face on the television’s face, her lips not moving, her voice the sound of birds, singing her toward the puddle of milk like a melted ghost on the kitchen floor. CLARABELLE’S FACE’S VOICE: The eyelashes—read them… Clarabelle, floating in her coma’s satin night:gown into the kitchen, draped her shadow’s sheet over the melted ghost of milk to read the eyelashes plucked like thorns from a wounded rainbow—


“ ” EYELASHES: Eyelashes: cling to each other like thin, wet tongues


“ � Eyelashes, floating around in the milk, rearranging themselves: Winds push hours like smoke rings to save breath


“ � Rearranging themselves: You will follow footprints you have yet to leave behind


“ ” EYELASHES: Eyes, letting in the light push them aside make room for their own caves


“ ” Eyelashes, floating in milk like a melted ghost on the kitchen floor, was this what they said, or only how Clarabelle read them? Was she being hypnotized? Clarabelle’s face on the television’s face, becoming other faces, then to become snow flickering there. Clarabelle, looking up, the sun a baseball thrown through an asylum window, and Clarabelle, standing, her shadow draped over the melted ghost of milk like a bed sheet with eyeholes cut out. Clarabelle, using her shadow as a mirror, blocking the sun from her own reflection.


“ ” A butterfly, twinkling through the window, through the glass, the window closed, its wings like eyelids fluttering, flirting with Clarabelle, its wings flickering like candlelight on the wall, and Clarabelle, blushing—dawn blooming on her cheeks. The butterfly, fluttering down to the melted ghost of milk, landing on its shore, licking the edge of the puddle, the melted ghost of milk shrinking as the butterfly drank from it, of it, until the melted ghost of milk disappeared.


“ ” The butterfly, swelling as it drank, until it was full, a furry snowball, a rainbow with wings, and it lifted up into the air and, fluttering toward Clarabelle, landed on her belly, clung to her bathrobe, fluttering there. Clarabelle’s belly, beginning to swell. The butterfly’s wings, folding upward, like hands, and with hers Clarabelle’s fingers pinched its wings, pulled it from her belly, placing the butterfly into her mouth, swallowing it. Clarabelle, nervous about swallowing the butterfly—she swallowed the butterfly whole, the butterfly tickling her belly from inside, made her nauseous. “Farther,” she said.


“ ” The television’s rusted mechanical legs, bent at the hinges—the beaks of little yellow birds closing—its antennas wiggling on top of its head, the television a strange insect crawling. The insect, trembling, quaking, shivering cold, crawling into the kitchen, Clarabelle followed, floating, trembling, Clarabelle reaching down, plucking the snowman’s scarf ’s mountain range from the kitchen floor, wrapped it around her neck. The crack in the corner of its screen, opening, a bolt of glass lightning stretching diagonally across its face, flickering other faces and then to become Clarabelle’s face. CLARABELLE’S FACE: Make me louder. Clarabelle, reaching to turn a knob on the insect’s cheek, turned it, an empty sound, a hollow growing wider around her, spreading throughout the room, milk like a melted ghost dribbling from the lightning bolt into a puddle on the kitchen floor.


“ ” The melted ghost of milk, beginning to move, changing shape and into a stream slithering across the kitchen floor, following itself, rivering out into the back hall and pouring down the stairs, puddling at the bottom of the stairs a moment, slithering through the crack under the door. The television, following the melted ghost of milk, and Clarabelle, reaching for its cord, holding it like a leash, and Clarabelle, leaving home, the snowman’s scarf twirled around her neck, and Clarabelle, floating in her coma’s satin night:gown, followed the television following the melted ghost of milk outside, down her street, to the end of it, and down another street turning, the city wrapping itself around her, changing.


“ ” Clarabelle’s television, leading her through the mist of snow, followed the slithering puddle of milk like a melted ghost through the empty streets, snow on the ground like frozen milk, Clarabelle’s own footprints followed her into the falling mist. Clarabelle’s television, stopping, its leash limp in her hand, the insect turning around to look at Clarabelle, flickering images across its face: sunflower, mushroom cloud, the fossil of an angel. The insect, digging its mechanical legs into the snow, Clarabelle crouched to help, her hands shoveling snow, digging a hole. The faint outline of a wing appearing, preserved in the shape of an arm waving goodbye, another wing, the impression of a head face-down between them. Clarabelle, touching one of the wings, cold and hard, etched into the sidewalk’s concrete. The angel’s head, the fossil of a face—a snowman’s face, its black eyes and coal-teeth smile, a little thumbprint for a nose, all preserved there. Clarabelle wondering: A child—had a child done this? Clarabelle, hearing something in the trees.


“ ” Far away, a blacksmith, sitting at his anvil made of satin, his strong hands stretched into thick leather gloves, a chain of glowing links, red and smoking as they ran through his grasp, striking each link closed with a hammer. The blacksmith, sweating, beads dripping onto the satin anvil, shattering, their shards instantly evaporated on the anvil’s hot surface, his whole body crying. Now dawn would come to the world, reveal itself like a painting whose velvet curtain strings could only be drawn by its artist. These would be the links of dawn’s chain reaction, the heavy velvet curtain strings the blacksmith would tug each morning, a world of light forged by his hand.


“ ” The sound of birds, singing. Her name sung— Clarabelle— In the trees.


“ ” Clarabelle, looking up, the trees empty, under the weight of snow, their branches soaked with frozen ghosts of milk, their dark branches the ghosts’ shadows beneath them. Clarabelle, tugging the insect’s leash a bit, its face flickering, and in the satin night:gown of her coma: Clarabelle, floating. Clarabelle, beginning to wonder: What if there was no such thing as a hypothetical situation? Would she exist solely to prove she’s all that’s left of her own emptiness? Would she exist solely to prove she’s not all that’s left of her own life, of who she is? And if she’s all that’s left of her own life, what happened to all the others to whom she was someone else, to whom she was someone she recognized, someone memorized, known by heart—as Clarabelle? How to love, how to show love without questioning it, doubting what love meant—what it meant to love. Doubting what life meant… Where were the others? If this was existence, something Clarabelle could perceive as identity, what could she compare it to if she was the only one left who knew about it?


“ ” Clarabelle, floating for days through the city streets, followed the slithering puddle of milk like a melted ghost, snow melting and leaking into the puddle as it passed and flowed uphill toward the highrise cemetery. Smoke, rising from the barren fields and vacant lots, Clarabelle held the television’s cord, the insect’s leash, its face snowing, the crack in its face a lightning bolt dribbling milk like a melted ghost, a trail trickling behind them.


“ ” The blacksmith, crouching under a streetlamp, spray-painting his shadow with a can of shaving cream, and the moment he waited for—hoisting dawn’s light into the sky. In darkness the blacksmith having no shadow, only in light could he forge one, under this streetlamp, a shovel leaning against its spine, falling over. The blacksmith, covering his shadow in shaving cream, picked up the shovel, began digging, shaving away his shadow, the Earth beneath it blooming inward. The blacksmith, throwing the shovel into the street, the dead clanking echoed deafly in the snow, the sound of his hammer. The blacksmith, staring into the hole he dug like a mouth into his shadow, light from the streetlamp flooding the hole. The blacksmith, beginning to pull a chain, the chain stretching up into the sky, the sunrise appearing like melted sherbet, lubricating the links of dawn’s chain reaction the blacksmith welded, tilting the world toward the sun, the sky glowing, his shadow growing back like a beard outside the hole.


“ ” The blacksmith, hearing something behind him: Clarabelle, breathing, her television’s mechanical legs, their squeaking rust, antennas wiggling, the sound of something he knew, of something he had forged. BLACKSMITH: Please, dig my grave with a stop sign… The blacksmith, running across the field, inventing footprints in the snow toward a wooden fence on the horizon, using the chain he welded to hoist himself up and over it. Clarabelle, watching the blacksmith tangled up in the vines coiling at the top of the fence, their thorns digging like shovels into his arms, their shadows blooming inside him.


“ ” Clarabelle’s hair, beginning to grow, growing, the hair once waterfalling from her head, her head now growing locks of ice, thorns clawing out from inside the icicles, the icicles pouring down Clarabelle’s back and over her shoulders. Clarabelle, floating toward a barren field, her hair like barbed wire floating around her head. A man, tending a garden of umbrellas, carefully raising them with the sun, Clarabelle’s thoughts of the blacksmith off in the distance somewhere, pulling his chain, bringing light into the world. The man, tending his garden of umbrellas, the umbrellas blooming like flowers, big dark grey flowers, their cold handles like stems with hooked roots dug into the frozen soil. The man, holding a watering can, milk like a melted ghost inside, sprinkling milk like a melted ghost onto the umbrellas, milk like a melted ghost dripping off their petals into the frozen soil beneath his umbrellas, into the darkness he cultivated.


“ ” Clarabelle, floating toward the gardener, her insect clanking its mechanical legs, dug them into the snow, scraped them against the frozen soil. CLARABELLE: Where are you? GARDENER: The gardener, down on his hands and knees, crawling into the darkness he cultivated, beneath the umbrellas and between their stems, lying there, his arms outstretched, closing his eyes, deep breaths. CLARABELLE: Are you asleep? GARDENER: Clarabelle, looking at the clouds drifting past, the shapes of things she knew, the sun the shape of a sound’s mouth. Clarabelle, stretching her arms up, snatching a cloud out of the sky and shaping it like clay to her liking—a sand castle—and tossing the sand castle back into the sky. The melted ghost of milk, flowing up into the sky toward the castle, freezing there like rope hung taut from the sky into a white icicle. Clarabelle, climbing the icicle like a lock of glass hair.


“ ” Long ago, the cemeteries filling up, generations of people, who loved and were loved, dying, requiring burial according to custom, most of the world yet reserved for the living. So many, dying each day, centuries passing, suddenly no land left to bury them, the dead now homeless. The highrise cemetery making sense, gave dead people a place to live like everyone else still alive, waiting to move in to their final homes. The barren landscape on the outskirts of the city, ominously perched like the statue of a vulture on the horizon’s branch, everyone gazing up in awe through smoke rising up from the barren fields, through the mist of snow, everyone’s thoughts circling the vulture as if its corpse was lying there in the road. Rumors spreading about forgotten autopsies, anxieties about the highrise cemetery being so many cemeteries stacked on top of one another, like Jenga blocks… What if the past had never been recorded, the truth of any one particular history—what if certain things came to light, new evidences, what if they exhumed too many…


“ ” Clarabelle’s feet, sinking into the warm wet sand as she approached the castle, the sun beneath her, glowing up through the sand and into her skin, glittering off the sand’s crystals and broken through her into rainbows. The sand castle Clarabelle formed from a cloud and tossed back into the sky, the sand castle landing on top of the highrise cemetery, the cemetery wore the castle like a hat. Clarabelle, crouching, scooping some sand into her palms, its soft crystals sifting through her fingers. The sand castle’s drawbridge, lowering, the drawbridge a tongue unfurling to lick Clarabelle into the archway of the castle’s mouth, and Clarabelle, stepping onto the tip of the castle’s tongue, its sand squishing between her toes.


“ ” Children, running out of the sand castle, laughing and screaming, their arms waving around, the castle’s tongue drooping at the end, the children all sliding down the tongue and into the sky. Clarabelle, looking down as they fell, wondered where they would go, she turned around to look inside the castle. The castle, coughing, Clarabelle slipped in the sand, dug her fingers into the sand at the back of the castle’s tongue, the castle gagging, coughed again, Clarabelle on her back, her swollen belly, sliding down the castle’s tongue, falling off the tip of it, falling into the sky.


“ � Clarabelle’s coma, its satin night:gown filling with air as she fell, parachuting out, and Clarabelle, floating through the sky toward the Earth. Clarabelle, landing softly in a puddle of milk like a melted ghost dribbled from the face of her television, the lock of frozen milk she climbed into the sky melted there, too, quivered like vanilla pudding, shivering in the cold. The television, an insect, its antennas wiggling, flickering images across its face: footprints in snow, harpoon, an empty attic window.


“ ” Clarabelle, holding the television cord like a leash, the television an insect crawling on mechanical legs the blacksmith welded long ago like links in dawn’s chain reaction. The television, leading Clarabelle through the empty streets, through the mist of snow to an abandoned church. Through the smoke rising off everything, the mist of snow, Clarabelle saw the faint silhouette of a small doll blooming from its silhouette as she got closer, Clarabelle’s eyes like butterfly nets, catching it. Clarabelle thinking, A doll, with holes all over, a voodoo doll, a diabetic voodoo doll. The doll’s eyes, its big black magic-marker X’s, they were just lifeless, the doll’s mouth stitched closed. The doll’s body, full of small holes, small absences—stab wounds, Clarabelle almost wanting to offer the doll a glass of milk to watch milk like a melted ghost leak out from the holes, freezing like locks of hair growing. Clarabelle, petting her television on the head, stroking its insect antennas, its rusted mechanical legs clanking, high-pitched sounds falling into the snow, making small footprints. Milk like a melted ghost, trickling through the crack in the television’s screen, the insect’s face, flickering Clarabelle’s face, then her Farther’s face.


“ ” FARTHER: A memory knows, Clarabelle, finds its way home through the tall fields. Time makes no sense without memory—I remember you telling me that, once. In a tall field, surrounded by memories we hadn’t yet predicted. CLARABELLE: Sometimes dawn, Farther, other nights, too. Laughing means something. Meaning something helps. There’s more to it than that. I can prove it. We are laughing, aren’t we? Let’s go outside and play dead. FARTHER: Who are you to me, me to you. That’s not a question, none of my business. Please tell me. This feels right, familiar. You, you look the same, probably. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have amnesia. Clarabelle’s Farther, clutching his arm, telling her something was wrong, something hurt…


“ ” The diabetic voodoo doll’s body, slumped in Clarabelle’s hands, looked ill. CLARABELLE: Are you sick, little one? DIABETIC VOODOO DOLL: CLARABELLE: Do you need your medicine? DIABETIC VOODOO DOLL: Clarabelle looking around on the steps of the abandoned church for anything lying in the snow, thought maybe the doll had dropped its medicine. A lilac case, lying there, half in the snow, under its sheet, Clarabelle floating toward it, picking it up, opening the case. A syringe inside, and Clarabelle, tilting her head, her eyes wider, her hand opening a little, the doll fallen from her hand, the ghost of it still clutched there.


“ ” The insect, tapping one of its rusted mechanical legs on the sidewalk, the ground quaking, the abandoned church trembling, a crack flowing up the concrete stairs like a bolt of lightning. A statue, falling, crumbling like wet sand on the sidewalk beside them. Clarabelle, tugging on the television’s cord, the insect’s leash, crawling closer to Clarabelle, nestling its head against her thigh. Clarabelle’s face, on the insect’s face, smiling a big smile. Clarabelle, picking the doll up, brushed the snow from its body, took the syringe out of its case. CLARABELLE: Is this it? Is this what you need? DIABETIC VOODOO DOLL: Clarabelle, showing the syringe to the doll, the doll not responding. Clarabelle, holding the syringe, pointing its needle at the doll, Clarabelle’s face made a face, the television’s face making Clarabelle’s face, flickering between her face and the gardener’s face.


“ ” Clarabelle, plunging the needle into the doll’s arm, injected some of the medicine inside—holes in black construction paper held up to the sky, up to the light like an X-ray—the doll not responding. Clarabelle, plunging the needle into the doll’s other arm, injecting… Then its legs… The doll not responding… The needle into its chest, where a heart would be… Into its stitched mouth, its magic-marker eyes… Nothing—


“ ” Under his umbrellas, the gardener, asleep, lying within the darkness he cultivated, woke up frightened, trembling. The gardener, feeling a swelling inside his body, made a face with his face. A burst of light from his arm, reflecting off the underside of one of his umbrella’s petals. A burst of light from his other arm, the light ricocheting off another umbrella’s petals. A burst of light from the gardener’s legs, a burst of light from his chest, where a heart would be, from his hands and his feet— all the umbrellas, their petals becoming translucent. Light, bursting from the gardener’s mouth, his eyes, until there was no more gardener, no more darkness left to cultivate underneath the umbrellas in his garden, the light glowing up through their translucent petals and dissolving like smoke floating up into the winter sky like a flower smelling itself.


IV


“ ” So that everything came to resemble a ghost, Clarabelle’s television beginning to reproduce itself, more televisions appearing each morning when Clarabelle woke up. Adult televisions, toddler televisions, all on display, standing on mechanical legs leaping through storefront windows, crawling through the city to find Clarabelle—finding her. Clarabelle, sometimes waking up, covered in small, wet, translucent eggs, little television larvae hatching and crawling like ants all over Clarabelle’s body. Clarabelle, needing fire to keep warm, one television smashing its head against the side of a brick building, its face sprinkling shards of dark glass into the snow, a melted ghost of milk bursting out, sprayed into the mist of snow, dribbling into the snow, puddling there. Clarabelle, gathering strange things to light inside the television’s head, stuffing withered leaves and newspapers and branches and sunflowers and bicycles and mattresses and fireworks and coffee tables and batteries and necklaces and Jenga blocks and telephones… And the telephones, ringing, and Clarabelle, wanting to answer them, thought it was herself calling, she said Hello and no one said anything, so Clarabelle never answered the telephones and hung up, burning her hands.


“ ” Clarabelle, warming her hands to the sound and glow of the burning television, her hands began to glow, she saw through them into the fire, to a time when this would’ve already happened, just now. The insects, all crowding around her, their faces flickering, becoming other faces she didn’t recognize, photographs of other missing children, then to all at once become her face: Clarabelle’s face. CLARABELLES: Your coma’s pretty… CLARABELLES: You look so pretty in your coma… CLARABELLES: I wish I had a coma like yours… Clarabelle, reaching into her coma’s satin night:gown, pulling out the diabetic voodoo doll, holding it in her hands, its holes’ stuffing like fuzzy muscle, cotton candy leaking out. Its eyes, big black magic marker X’s, just lifeless, its body limp. The blacksmith’s curtain falling, shrouding the world from any light beyond it, the televisions glowing around the fire, a light hiding in the dark. Clarabelle, tossing the doll into the fire, its body slumped over the strange things Clarabelle gathered, catching sparks, holding hands with the fingers of flames, wearing the fire’s embers like jewelry, bracelets echoing down her fingers.


“ ” Clarabelle, waking up cold, a baby television nestling its head against her cheek, wiggling its antennas, the sun long gone. In her coma’s satin night:gown, Clarabelle sitting up, wrapped the snowman’s scarf around her neck. Clarabelle’s own television, crawling up to her, its face flickering snow, faces she couldn’t recognize lost in its blizzard—a blizzard she couldn’t recognize—then to become Clarabelle’s face. CLARABELLE: Yes, my face. I get it. Thank you. Clarabelle, rising, floating in her night:gown, all the televisions crawling toward her, crouched on their rusted mechanical legs. The melted ghost of milk, slithering, Clarabelle felt faint. Clarabelle’s television, wiggling its cord like a tail toward her, Clarabelle clutched the tail, held like a leash.


“ ” Clarabelle, in her coma’s satin night:gown, the snowman’s scarf twirled around her neck, holding the insect’s tail like a leash, followed the slithering ghost of milk, the glow of the insects’ faces lighting the way. Clarabelle, floating past the public rollercoasters like rattlesnakes’ spines built propped up on crutches throughout the land, far beyond the changing city, vast pastures on the horizon toward a pyramid, an animal hospital teetering on the tip of the pyramid. The rollercoasters and: children, screaming, children who fell through the sky from the sand castle, the highrise cemetery’s hat, slid down its tongue landing in the rollercoasters’ seats, their hands up in the air—the rollercoasters like centipedes sliding on their backs, their legs the children’s arms wiggling in the air. Clarabelle, floating past dead vultures like broken cameras lying in the road, circling the dead vultures—other, smaller cameras grinding their beaks in the trees—Clarabelle heard them faintly— Small clicking sounds.


“ ” On either side of the road, cows like composition notebooks lowing in the vast pastures beneath the rollercoasters’ scaffolding, their big eyes like castrated testicles, haunted by ghosts unsquirted, lulling phantoms within them to sleep. Clarabelle, feeling heavy, tired. Clarabelle. Heavy, tired. Her belly, swollen. The animal hospital teetering on the tip of the pyramid, getting bigger as Clarabelle approached it, the distance between them shrinking, blooming backwards, a hole filling in, a mouth’s shadow enveloping the light, closing over it, keeping it in the fist of its womb. On the steps of the pyramid, more small children, jumproping their umbilical cords like strands of time—playing leapyear— growing up, getting older the closer Clarabelle got. Dead vultures like broken cameras and bowls of milk like melted ghosts, lining the bottom of the pyramid steps, small kittens with kite strings tied to their tails, their kites flickering in the breeze, the small kittens lapping up the milk, haunting themselves with melted ghosts— No photographs left to take.


“ � Clarabelle, thinking of her ghost, of her milk, of the butterfly inside her, swelling, and Clarabelle, floating at the bottom of the pyramid. A slight breeze, the animal hospital tilting off to one side. Clarabelle, floating up the pyramid steps, past the small children jumproping, past the small kittens, up the steps, over dead vultures, higher and higher, her shadow slithering into the puddle of the animal hospital’s shadow. The swarm of televisions like insects around the bottom of the pyramid steps, mechanical legs all twitching, wiggled their antennas, their faces glowing, lighting the way, watched Clarabelle ascending. Clarabelle, rising toward the animal hospital, the closer she got the more it hurt, her belly, the pain crawling like spiders throughout the rest of her body, hugging her insides with thorned legs, prickling her. Clarabelle, feeling her DNA was made of barbed-wire. Clarabelle, collapsing.


“ ” Clarabelle, collapsing on the pyramid steps, the small children stopped their jumproping, playing leapyear—time stopped—, the insects all shivering, the small kittens looked up from the bowls of milk like melted ghosts, and kites tied to their tails— The sky, pausing in midair.


“ ” Clarabelle, screaming— The sound of birds— The sound of birds like her name— Clarabelle, spoken happily.


“ ” Is this what it’s like, Clarabelle thought, what it means to be life?


“ ” The children, broken all into small pieces, collapsing down themselves like small bricks of sand crumbling, grains waterfalling down the pyramid steps, into the bowls of milk like melted ghosts, the milk thickened and quivering. The swarm of televisions, climbing the pyramid steps against the sand flowing through their mechanical legs. The melted ghosts of milk, rising from their bowls in the shapes of snowmen, pulsing and faceless—stared at Clarabelle. Clarabelle’s belly, throbbing.


“ ” Clarabelle’s belly, throbbing, Clarabelle, lifting her coma’s satin, night:gown, up to her, breasts. Clarabelle’s belly, bursting open, dead butterflies like withered, leaves, pouring out, the pyramid, quaking and shifting, the animal, hospital keeled, over, sliding, down the other, side of the pyramid, crushing itself, under its own, weight. The televisions, swarming, around Clarabelle, all watching, her, their faces, flickering Clarabelle’s, face, her face, watching herself in them, looking out, at her, the televisions’ antennas, wiggling, tangling up in each others’ antennas like, vines climbing an abandoned, church. Clarabelle, reaching into her, belly, pulled out a small, child, its voice pronouncing a, language, without words, her belly, melting back together, Clarabelle, sitting up, holding the small, child in her, arms. The televisions, their faces all, flickering faces to become, the child’s, face on their, faces, then to become, Clarabelle’s, face in their, faces, all looking at the, child and, Clarabelle, looking at them through her, eyelids, looking out from them at the, child. “Farther,” she said, opening her, eyes.


“ ” Clarabelle, holding the small child, both of them smiling, their eyelids like wings, fluttering. Clarabelle, pulling her coma’s satin night:gown down over her belly, undoing her coma’s satin night:gown’s buttons, removing her breast. The night sky, lifting again, the blacksmith’s curtain drawn, the sun appearing, melting the snowmen like white sherbet, trickling, pouring down themselves into their bowls, the small kittens again drinking from them, of them—haunting themselves with their own survival.


“ ” A rainbow, sprouting from the tip of the pyramid in all directions at once, a rainbow with no thorns, blooming on stems of light, and healed. The kittens’ kites, again, flickering in the rainbow’s breeze. Clarabelle, putting her breast into the child’s mouth, the child’s mouth smiling around her breast, drinking from Clarabelle, of Clarabelle, and Clarabelle, haunting the child with the very milk it was born of. The child, looking up at Clarabelle’s face, the child’s eyelids without lashes plucked, thornless, reading the freckled constellation of Clarabelle’s face, of everything she would ever say.


“ � The televisions’ faces, flickering snow, then darkness, their mechanical legs wobbling as they collapsed and fell down the pyramid steps, smashed all around at the bottom, milk like melted ghosts dribbled out, evaporating in the sun.


“ � Cameras like dead vultures, grinding their beaks, small clicking sounds from the trees, hidden by withered leaves like dead butterflies blooming from their branches.


“ ” CLARABELLE:


MILK LIKE A MELTED GHOST “One of the more impressive small press titles I’ve read in a long time. Beeny’s control of imaginative image blending is on a level I’ve never seen. It’s a book that moves the way more books ought to move in my opinion, unapologetically from one scape to another. The blur of it all will explode with clarity in your memory.” —Darby Larson, The Iguana Complex “Milk Like a Melted Ghost makes a journey toward silence. Clarabelle is maybe the imaginary friend of Wittgenstein’s Mistress. Sometimes Milk seems like a poem and other times like a collection of notes for a diabolically surrealist puppet show. I highly recommend it.” —Christopher Higgs, The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney

Eric Beeny (b. 1981) is the author of The Dying Bloom (Pangur Ban Party, 2009), Snowing Fireflies (Folded Word Press, 2010), Of Creatures (Gold Wake Press, 2010), Pseudo-Masochism (Medulla Publishing, 2011), and some other things. He blogs at Dead End on Progressive Ave. (http://ericbeeny.blogspot.com). THUMBSCREWS PRESS

Milk Like a Melted Ghost by Eric Beeny  

"Milk Like a Melted Ghost makes a journey toward silence. Clarabelle is maybe the imaginary friend of Wittgenstein’s Mistress. Sometimes Mil...

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