O Rose, thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
that flies in the night
in the howling storm


has found out thy bed
of crimson joy
and his dark secret love
does thy life destroy.

carmen



There are bearers of human skin wandering this world, living alongside the living, "an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy" -- which want infinitely -- sometimes they die unsatisfied, staining the space their avarice is confined to, and sometimes, they find satisfaction -- to the debitation of human people -- they may flourish.

He was born long ago, in a kingdom by the sea -- young he inherited a sum of old money and a black iron spike of misogyny. His skin concealed a chasm of thirst. Melancholy and immoderation made him and named him.

He slipped like a whisper through the seams of the human world, his infancy, wildhood, a phantasmagoric rainbright seashore childness in which lascivious frenzy he discovered, amongst his treasures of congenital talents, a propensity for the annihilation of small things, and to be unseen -- oh never was he known, that magic man -- beautiful and unkind, he lied like an angel.

Insulated within his wealth, he idled some decades away -- he worked never a day -- he bought a house, he bought two, he married, as he was expected to. At twenty, she was too old to maintain his interest.

She didn't endure long. He didn't harm her at all.

Despite himself, he lived a little longer -- he consumed in his blue solitude an estate in ruby-bright and ebony draughts and excellent cigarettes -- his shyness of his atypical appetites prospered upon being barred from the municipal bordello, so he sowed his interest instead in a succession of small conquests, Pamela, Benet, something-or-other -- none of which revealed very terrible consequences -- he bought constantly, but could not bankrupt -- on wings, on shining ships, on hazy hellish dreams he slipped between shores with frequency sufficient to stitch them shut -- he had much society but no friend in the world -- his mother died -- in the tranquil pole of his drunken hours in the cold dead of night, he would witness pink trees on burning dells blooming young apples of sallow, stiff and bitter flesh.

Ending one immemorable May, forty two, discontent to disaster and driving fast in interest of staying ahead of an unseemly misunderstanding in the city of angels (he had only been admiring the silly, stupid girl) he departed the golden coast down the black stroke which divides the central wilds of the new world, a protracted arc to tribulations of alabaster sands to rose gold wheat through to the Texas mists of platinum cotton flower -- those drifts of fluffy cirrus staggered in feminine dells to the hems of their celestial sisters, which soak sungold and blend into the cold blue firmament he, suffering sinner, orphan, inhabited.

An insensate span of wasted night and day he drove, and he was thinking, brownbottle at his fingertips and tin tops tinkling around his feet, organs filled with infertile soil and incommodious cicada cry his crown, he thought: Hanging was unreliable, should his neck not snap, he should be very sorry -- and it was, perhaps, a little effeminate, besides -- he decided, really, he was obliged to shoot himself. His personal pet arm was petite (a brief sweet .22 Colt Diamondback, pale as a girl's thigh, which his father once held to his temple) but she should do.

He was only somewhat drunk -- mostly only moonbeams and fast acted in him then -- when his scarlet car whinged to a halt in the billow of displaced dust he stumbled out into -- the bellow of heat and blinding sun buffeted him, perspiration mushrooming in an instant beneath his beautiful shirt and indigo coat, which he sloughed off and dropped -- and he was thinking, should he seek in one of those wind-eroded, rusting seeders bergs he'd stalked in his sunward scramble pigtailed manna before his terrestrial exodus? Should he ascend to a pretty scene, share tree-breath and see the sun before blowing his brains out? Should he only lay where he landed that the earth might consume him at her leisure? He walked; he followed a while a long limping slope up of the blue-pale shining sugarland -- he counted crows and one diaphanous cirrus, inert and thin as his heart, drowning in the world -- his inward moon waned, his blood receded -- his faithful maid, the pretty young gun, constant in his pocket -- the heat tormented him! -- through a cthonic river of fluffy flower he walked and became as his sense escaped aware of an emerald on the pale blond coronet, beckoning and brilliant around the bend -- he thought of water and walked. Setting: idyll, nowhere, Texas, some sultry noon at the summer menarche of pitifully optimistic 1969, enclosed all together in a picture postcard white picket fence (almost charming) where foaming crests of stone fruit trees crashed, a moss-soft verdant den moonways of a dithering dell of dissolving cotton, embroidered in dark wet plumes of fern, an emerald-black velvet curtain drawn away to reveal -- mural, acrylic, sophomoric: tall banal Southern Gothic -- downstage center, a bed of poppy, layered violet, orange, scarlet, red, a long slice of hellfire attended by crawling barren bramble -- gallery of rafish doves, the quotation tail of an escaping serpent, a rainbow -- center stage, in a pool of shivering sunshine lay the end of his life (spotlit, the density of the nightmare dark outside her) obscured and irradiated, her deepness, her darkness by pavonine treelight, spilt vision, slipped space, something sunned herself in the bed of lawn in the pacing lace veil of a water sprinkler -- he felt floor fleeting his feet, perhaps he was a little drunk, after all, shining ivy leaves, the odor of water -- he witnessed projected on the pallid plain which confined him a sequence of sepiaed slides phrased in redheavened paradise (scarcely could he arrange them into the order of a mortal thing, he trembled so -- ) the soft creased stomach embroidered with crystal beads of dew -- a tender blushed bun of roly-poly shoulder -- jumbled wetbright ankles and thick fat thighs -- roll of rib -- dimpled, dappled back, an inverted pyramid of glossy browned down -- resplendent cheek, like a peach, specked -- tiny toes, pinkishly tipped -- dark and soft and brief as twilight -- and her eyes -- She became aware of him in the same moment, it so happens, somewhere, coquettish Mercury courted Venus -- from sunbeams she sat up in astonishment, and in the thin instant of a groaning gods laborious heartbeat, she smiled, and he stopped. All of him stopped. He almost didn't see the man (what might have become of him had he not?) which sat up also beneath the shade of the painted white foyer an eden away, folding and putting aside his newspaper, until the announcement, "hello." "Hello," he replied, becoming a man (dressed like a prince and standing like a pillar -- his wrists and waist were long, his prominent nose a becoming cut of ambivalently Alpine composure) for his witness. "Are you here concerning the room?," the man wondered, very loud, short, a vulgar sort in a coarse red checked shirt with folded up sleeves -- "only, I wasn't expecting any reply so soon." Touching handkerchief to dewy jaw he dared approach (wincing and mincing and very aware of his general dishevelment) the nacreous glass boundary of that secret cerulean world in which wee Venus floated in foam -- the womanling, the wonder, pushed up on her plump armlets in the blinking rainbeams was watching him with interest. He saw the beauty spots like orifices in profiteroles to fill with blueberry, cherry and cream splashed across the bold magnolia of her fat, soft cheeks. "Weren't you?" he evaded. "Well, come on up," persisted the impertinent man (very short, indeed, degenerate thick jaw and arms), "I can show you around now, I reckon -- darling -- " hideously, he forewent the essential explodent end of the endearment, as in "darlin'," -- "darling, come on in now, won't you? Wash your feet." Having recovered a little of himself, he did not gasp or grasp his breast when honey-dark Psyche stood in seven stages of soft creases, slips and membranous palenesses to trot away -- particles of shattered grass on the pinkish heels of unendurably petite feet, the girlish wobble of her persicish part -- away into her asylum, up the threadbare stair into the arm of that hobgoblin -- her father? he was quantifiably fairer -- who put his hand on her, who exchanged her smile with his and urged her gently in the gloaming maw of the front door, out of the world. "My girl," the ugly little man explained as he approached, trespassing in a fever of fruit and water the beautifulest odor which lingered in her wake, up to the very sword-point of its protector. Obscurely, he wished his soured breath did not betray his state. The man, who introduced himself as Dell Conagher, talked as they toured the viscera of the peddlers estate, a tall hovel of assaulting banality (sun-soured valances, pockmarked beams, the cloying odor of oats cooking) which spilled out of itself into some acre of untenanted grazeland -- astonishingly, duncish Dell Conagher was a scholar of some sort, who rented his congenital country to industrious neighbors -- and for Dell Conagher, who heartily he derided, he performed beautifully the part of a politely fascinated foreign sponsor, grinning and agreeing, and inventing a vacation in America he intended to attend (personnage: bimboish European tourist, only somewhat wealthy; his chartered car run out and his luggage absconded with, terrible, wasn't it? Of course he realized all Americans weren't this way! -- his nerves only wanted respite, just a bit -- by the way, wouldn't he oblige him with direction to the -- comment dit-on? -- couturier, s'il vous plaît? How very kind,) but what he heard beneath the tiresome lowing of Dell Conaghers provincial prattle was the pulse of clumsy heels trapping the floor over his head -- sotto voce puerile sibilance, the shrill silhouette of an alarmed oath, laughter (he was weak,) gasp of quiet, a sudden humming confidential coo warm against distant strains of some ingenue wooing on a radio -- and then in the sticky, ill-lighted kitchen (immasculine red checks evinced in an oven mitt formed like a rooster and the unclean tablecloth, preserve him, haunted all by the form of her amazing autumnal odor,) he spied on a tiled island a glass flute of tepid milk decorated with the printed cartoon image of a starship -- and in the parlor hall, distracted, sneering at saccharine framed sentiments smearing the wall, he tripped in the tendrils of a sneaker into which he couldn't have fit his whole hand. "Like what you see?" tedious Dell Conagher asked (he held tight the hot luminosity of her innocent sternum in his eye) -- the proffered room they stood in above the stair was an event in rustic ostentation; the initial cell installed in a line of upstairs apartments, after "the office" -- images of the butchered Christ, a thinned quilt in obligatory floral, the curtains the pilled gingham of the pit of their dinery, pinned apart from a vision of earth and air. Frankly, it stank. "May I smoke?" "Not around my girl," Dell Conagher patted him warmly on the arm, which he covertly wiped clean, and pursued the cretin downstairs into a superfluous sunward chamber he skin-crawlingly called "the solarium." She was sitting (he couldn't contain his astonishment of her, his skin prison strained thin with his shining) folded into the door bordering the eastern vista of rolling light, her unclean, undressed posterior paws -- God help him, they were so small! -- climbing like ivy the upright white frame, cup in her hands and a calyx of cream eclipsing her lip, the skirt of her bathing garment fallen around her slovenly splayed and displayed thighs, and as her temple turned to attend them, it shone. Unwillingly, he touched his breast. He might have gasped out loud. Alas! she was adorable to edible. "Your feet. Sit nicely, please," Dell Conagher was saying as he stepped over her tender tumbled body into the tide of drowsing antemeridian air, "Wash your feet. Go get dressed. And say 'hey' to our guest, wouldn't you? Where are your manners?" He dared not request any account of his petit paramour -- not even her age, not even her name, the timid traveler shivered so -- the project of her script wanted an entire week of intrepid Arcadian expedition -- it was; she did not sleep or else slept much too much, she did not work, she did not attend school but heard her father pontificate every morning before his work detained him (Dell Conagher, some sort of drone of an adjacent literary slum, was detained for the season to a tome of mathematical sephiroth -- tedious bor -- never ever venturing out of earshot of his bleating quarry,) no friends, except perhaps the mouthy, acne-encrusted athlete down from the town which would appear beneath her window some suns to request her company to a film or teen fling (how jealous Dell Conagher despised that one!) no responsibilities but to be seen (not heard) and no ambition better than musical movie starlet.

She read trash (novels, comics, editorials on celebrity upset,) she hopped about with the radio on, she drew a little, she begged despotic Dell Conagher to let her out to the movie theater or to swim in some river until he'd raise his voice, she wandered her pen of the cotton wastes (sunflower-brown Madonna with fluffy refuse in her impudent crown and the sweetest, simplest, sorriest frown, he spied her, a flake of gold minuscule in his peripheral, in his sessile dimness, he never failed) she lounged, she lingered, she longed.

Her interests were, in ascending order of intensity: electric fantasy and audial sucrose, frocks and flounces of modern mawkishness, various little animals her unfeeling captor forbade her from entertaining, every kind of bonbon but especially those sugarful pirouettes on sticks for which he could not recall the English word and (he despaired of this) Dell Conagher, whom she loved with such abject, dimwitted devotion he soon determined she could never be convinced to betray him.

Dell Conagher, if her father he was, had engineered an odd girl -- for how should black soil allow up the chaste lily? Whence flowed the sable pallor which dispersed her compendious profile against the common coherence of the waking world? the rough and tumble musculature which cut her thick infantile legs, her forbearing broad core, her fascinating face (not pretty, but better,) her ambiguously brief bosom which was constantly slipping in girlsh flagrance from its various cups, cottons, ruffles and puffs (he knew her nipple was, like her, plump and dark as spleen;) which callous nymph nested this flight of plum, currant and russet lumb and deceived poor Dell Conagher, humble, human Dell Conagher to take her to his hearth to be risen up? The pupils of her eyes, he observed, never really contracted appropriately, and sometimes, he caught her looking with intense interest at nothing at all.

Private exchange, as remarked before, was practically impossible to come by. Dell Conagher was mother, nurse, cook, confessor, and confederate to her, seeming to infiltrate all aspects of the home, her only confidence, the poor child -- hateful Dell Conagher was clamored on by her, doted on, followed all about -- some humid musical night he pursued her scent into the trash-packed television room to find them embraced, his darling with Dell Conagher, her cheek smeared on Dell Conaghers shoulder as Dell Conagher petted her and read. He ascended to the room and drank until he didn't.

There pervaded in this way a positive paucity of the playful occasion with which he had wooed before, the trinkets, blinks, the agenda of orbit and charming acedia -- Dell Conagher watched him very carefully -- only by marathon virtuoso, by duped Junos hour, he managed to install initial select aspects of his design in her -- gentleman, princelike patron, shy scholar, all beguiling guises designed for little girls. For instance, he didn't permit her to lift a finger in his presence (something her degenerate father tolerated with upturned lids as old world eccentricity.) Beloved lambish dope! she tumbled out, beaming, of doors held for her, and did not even look back to be sure he didn't follow. It was a dangerous show, that waltz along a razorbreadth beneath the fiery eye of father, proxy officer, to agitate her caprice without dispersing affection -- he found her on the fifteenth day sitting up at the dining table wearing on her kiss a bubblegum bubble, the thin pink acrylic skin of which he could not resist prodding. It sunk into a pink spinel cast of her voluptuous lip and chin, which drew down to a growl. "Be sweet," Dell Conagher reprimanded gently, plucking her curls as he lumbered by in an apron, and obediently, the growl became a becoming grin. He wanted to bite it off. He couldn't have designed the sensational candor exhibited in her -- pitiful girl! -- she dipped her hair in the gravy and doting Dell Conagher tutted as he tucked it away for her -- her little cup she clutched with both spotted brown claws -- he reduced her to lovely languid giggles with only a mystifying wiggle of the little finger. Dell Conagher told her impatiently to settle down and eat her dinner, meat piece and cold carrots, révoltant.

No dessert, as petit had in hysterics smashed some of Dell Conaghers trash that morning.

Over his nightcap in the moonlit lounge where he pinned every night the axel of his web, catching her distinctive scent (scarlet spice, brilliant blood) creeping up the corridor, he beckoned her in, where he fed her (pinching her chin in his thumb and forefinger, his daring astonished him) a vaporous draught of amber-bright rye wine and caught the thrilling damp of her astonished cough in the palm of his hand. She rejected his offer for more, no matter how he plied her.

Impudently she peered over him -- her legs mixed in his, unexpected substance depressed on his thigh, he nearly fainted -- and extracted from beyond the davenport a flimsy volume of cunning young musicians and then she fled -- he counted the footsteps diminishing storyward and saw scried in his magmatic scarlet eyelids the totter of her thighs -- for her to unravel into him, seamless, cream-soft, reduced to the searing sierra organ of her thorax pouring iridescent magma into his eagerly expectant hand -- would she lick pills from his palm if he told her they were candies?

"Are you ill?" Dell Conagher asked, and he replied that he was.

He ate well (he'd never concede so) and slept extremely poorly, tormented alternately by dreams of apprehension and alleviation. His dress (obtained from a bin in the tin squalor up the road he desperately evaded) was plain and wholesome to pauperly. He feigned somatic weakness (a heart murmur plus some mysterious anemia he proposed to nosy Dell Conagher) worn over his monstrously vigorous lust. He couldn't know, but he had never lived so much as he did those four weeks within the sepulchral parameters of that sleeping miniature time, some seven hundred hours preceding his end -- he had never before attended the intimate dimensions of his own toilette, never washed a dish -- never before been privy to any of the tedious procedures that compose a human life until that time -- insincere tears and apple cores -- the humming heart of radio worry audible from the green theater where she flapped (his imprudent, impudent pullet) -- wax pastels, marbles, roller skate wheels -- the silver epidermis of chewing gum wrappers, which could be divorced from their paper shadows and applied like plaster all over his nice new Glencairn -- long socks, buckled shoes, pleated skirts, her sous-vêtement horrible, angel white, cream yellow, champagne pink -- a caravan of cuts up a door jam recounting the progress of a pubescence -- fleece effigy of beaming bear abandoned in the liminal prison beneath the stair where he hunted her exuviae -- her innocent siesta, dreaming in a sunbeam as his kind, black, blind, shining, explored her wondrous stomach -- sun and water and fledgling down -- advertisements for toothpaste buzzing on the monochrome aquarium of the television -- cotton flower adrift in warm evening breeze like snow, chiming -- Dell Conagher pinning blouses by his shirts on a line drawn between two serene peach trees -- little girls need a lot of sleep.

Poor girl. Her parent or raptor permitted her so little. How often did she crawl to him, penitent in her want, to plead for some paltry permission -- mightn't she see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with whats-his-name? just a nickel for the matinee. Then just for a pop? Then just a walk around the town? Really, he's a nice boy...

He wondered if her chronic somnolence could not be accounted for elsewhere of Eves curse -- he scoffed at the implausibility -- could squinting Dell Conagher be his precedent?

Certainly not, he decided, but maybe -- she was really irresistibly adorable -- but probably not, he decided. They slept in separate beds in separate rooms and her night cries were quite quiet -- her trials, standing at the gate awaiting her life, he decided, were really exasperatingly conventional.

This was unfortunate -- cuckolding is quicker than corruption -- and fortunate, as Mathilda wanted the masculine interest with which he was cursed with hideous surplus.

It by this venereal advantage he managed, impossibly, to become in time a kind of friend to her -- turning from Dell Conagher's cruel rebuke (she was impulsive and so clumsy,) she would meet his mild smile --

All the little familiar indignities she imposed on him such as purloining from his dinner plate he amiably abided -- he complimented her babyart (lovable trifle defined by unpleasant profusions of red) and endured admirably all her corporal sullens -- she slapped him on the thigh once when his fingers shivered too long at the boundary of braidable black luminosity of her crowning glory and her strength astonished him; he was obliged to visit the restroom -- he was able, even, on occasion, to impose his person on her -- indistinguishable from any gentle soul offering the lee of his experience to a motherless girl, he met in time the sensation of her hot soft hair on the palm of his hand (tear of nebular magma, fissurous mantle exposing her center of iridescent ripples, roses erupting, his acquisitive sighs in the wet black night) her wonderfully warm wandering hip which afforded five selfish fingers -- but far from wetting his wants, these delights only whetted them -- he wanted (whistling in the well in which his secret face festered) an aggregate of her sensations and sounds, an encyclopedia of her to enter and act on -- her sweet high cries to condense to croons -- her wince when he took and radiant warmth when he gave -- her rosy ribs, belly and thigh -- he wanted, how he wanted, only to open her, like a pomegranate in his cupiditious claws, and pour the scarlet sap of her betwixt his gritted teeth, while she yearned and wept, and pleaded with him to not kill her.

He despaired. Her briefness, an instant in a mans life, a licking wick of firebright sucked black by unfeeling entropy in the minute, petrified him -- cutting cruel chiaroscuro against his constancy -- arrested as a glass king in his boreal melancholy, he seemed never altered, never ending, loving only casts cut from the obsidian ruin of his recollection, her innocent smile, the seashore of her backside; the cold covets the daisys honor, merciful sleep. He never cried but he cried a little, locked in his carnal altar in the pregnant dark, biting his handkerchief and coming in his tumbler. He heard the shape, through the wall -- vague, diffuse, fluffy -- of her prayers.

July 1, 1969, he hovered, an engorged gargoyle, invisible in the fenced den upstairs of the parlor bay, where roared a row -- Dell Conagher had produced his weak Beatrix a frock which was not the color she requested (she wanted to wear harlot scarlet, which Dell Conagher found too amorous to adorn her) and Dell Conagher was angry at the ingratitude and materialism of his brood -- "you're spoilt, girl! I'm sorry to say I've done it."

He shot Dell Conagher in the teeth. He strung Dell Conaghers den of inertia with a din of refreshing flame. Justine, cherished girleen, with her father-grooms gore rouging her cheeks, fled from him only briefly -- his intent overcame her -- he came in her -- he carried her away to marry her in an unscrupulous posterior state. He sowed a beautiful baby in her, and he slept with his babies in his hands, her strawberry breasts becoming apples on his palm.

"Get upstairs!" Dell Conagher shouted at his child, and he saw the black flash of her in an instant lit in the door, and Dell Conagher shouted after her, "get up to your room! You think about the way you speak to me!," then, meanly, "that girl."

July 2, 1969, somewhere in the night, she'd won back with mews of repentance her dominators favor -- Dell Conagher in unbuttoned shirt and slippers fed her (unshod feet folded up at her buttock, purpled knees in conference, a flake of violet viscousness infecting the nail of her pudgy thumb, which she bit) blushing waffles washed with syrup she dribbled down the front of her nightdress -- he declined his breakfast -- she stood in the upstairs water closet a while in her underthings (he could see through the silver sliver of mirror the gentle gesture of her rosy-round pincers ripping a bandage from a raspberry-colored abrasion on her protracted soft dark posy hip -- chiffon ruffle and lace ribbon bow) -- she put on a plain pale slip he did not like and sat on the front step a while (waiting, he suspected, to see if her suitor would appear) -- she came inside and watched cartoons on the television -- she tramped aimlessly up and down the radio dial -- she tucked tummy-down in the rug to interpret the mysteries of some technicolor comic indulgent Dell Conagher'd brought her, despite her ingratitude -- she went upstairs and he (frozen in isolation, drinking in the smelling dim of the den) heard the form of her fathers short reproach and she returned shortly, frowning -- she sulked in the kitchen a while -- she discovered in the refrigerator drawer a carton of sanguine plums she diligently destroyed, sitting cross-legged with the color of her underpants appearing beneath her on a bar of dim linoleum -- Dell Conagher appeared, his anxiously collapsed back standing in his line of sight seeming sheepish, and offered her lunch -- he refused this also, but accepted a cup of coffee, as to enjoy a plausible pretense to see her eat -- how did she eat so much? -- as Dell Conagher stood to attend to dirty dishes she wiped her lips impudently on the table cloth -- she showed her shoulder shyly to her imprisoner but to cloaked Eros who begged her only an alm of her eye she showed nothing at all -- she drank milk -- she ate potato chips and meticulously licked clean eleven fingers -- she stooped at the threshold of the waste to slip sneakers over her thin nude feet and (insatiably he sucked his spoon) broadcast the broad coral umbra cast by her bound delta -- she disappeared into the dusty glow over the hill so he sat alone in the light and potted flowers on a swinging bench chained to pillars phrasing the back porch, smoking and thinking of her bright lips and bashful chin and the enchanting avian cock of her tender head (it was really impossible he was alive, and it was 1969, and whatever became of that jolie petite fille he'd seen once on a seashore?) and when evening reddened heaven and she reappeared, dusty and disheveled, as she passed she smiled at him -- copper-bright and phosphorus-soft and so heart-rendingly, impossibly, implacably sincerely (exactly like an actual child) he realized with parasitic crystals budding in his throat and a moon in his burning mouth he must leave the surrexit site of her innocent sleep immediately, leave her well-wishes and every penny he owned, walk out of her sight south into the teeth of the sea where he would dissolve into boiling tar, an inflated nimbus of putrid vapors and thirty three pearls -- but when she had gone (the door shut abruptly behind her as her father had asked her not to do) he saw he could not do that -- obviously, obviously -- she should come to like him in her time, he was sure.

He gave her the wafer of pallid flesh he was served for supper. He retired alone to the parlor and (foolish girl) she followed him -- she sat at his side, in his very shade, her vivid cheek laid boldly on his arm as she peered over his reading (An Illustrated History of American Cinema, chosen specifically to incite her.) She wondered who that woman was. It was Clara Bow, (pretty, is she not? In fact, doesn't she almost resemble mon petit?) an affluential theatric idol of yesteryear, and would she like to hear about her? No, thanks.


Enlightened wax delineation and magazine advertisements bedaubing the wall. Framed impressions of her father and Paul Newman. Smiling stuffed bears tumbled together above the embroidered pillow, pink and yellow ribbon roses -- "Children are a Heritage from the Lord; the Fruit of the Womb a Reward." Ominous rose withering in the bedspread. Colorful childrens books in a glass mausoleum. Wide brimmed hat, big red ribbon, hung on a hook. A mass grave of bright black bobby pins. The tinsel shroud of a coal of chocolate cake, untenanted. Her virginal white brassiere shamelessly shod on the floor. Poplar door open on her favorite red cerement. Her scent.

Should he put his faithful friend, his gun on her? Lay her face down in her apricot-pink quilted and dolled cot where the face of her father saw? Honestly, he'd like her to look at him -- perhaps even smile as he (long-toothed wasp berating carnation) murdered her.

July 4, 1969, he rose with the swallows (morning was mint and melon in the new world,) elected lying in bed in the stupor of his dimness not to shoot himself (not yet, not yet,) smoked voraciously and blew his moony billows through the window to the cool and redolent air (watching with interest a snake bathing on the lawn captured and consumed by a red cockerel,) used the toilet, rinsed his mouth, washed his face but forewent shaving (he'd intuited a vogue raffishness, extracted from the mood of a particularly tired page of her magazine, might entice her,) put on his new blue bed coat (Monastral midnight for trustworthiness, dignity, authority) paced the fading hall after his enflamed olfactory phallus (where was Dolly Schiller?) and, discovering nothing, shambled downstairs where he encountered, to his surprise, his languorous game all ready awake, begowned, bent in engagement over an infantile tome, the radiance of young pink spinning constellations permeating her pulp and bones and knots in her hair.

"Where is Mr. Conagher?" he wondered, and she replied, he was out, he was out, he was out, he was out, he was out, he was out, he was out, he was out, he was out, he was out, he was out, he was out, he was out, he was out, he was out, he was out, he was out, he was out, he was out, he was out, he was out!

"Oh?" said his voice, beautifully measured beneath its retainer which roared and soared to the haloed apex of morning. "For what purpose?"

She didn't know. He didn't care. He sat beside and not across from her.

"Shall I prepare you something to eat?" No, she'd just eaten a lot of candy, thanks.

"What's this you're reading?" She didn't know. A book about flowers. Poor girl, poor girl, he could really do anything, anything he'd dreamed of, anything at all. The enchanted hunter carefully, carefully, carefully rearranged the austere collar of his dress, folded and refolded his esurient spiderlimbs; he was opening, alight, he was dying.

When would Dell Conagher be home? She didn't know, he'd rushed off... she guessed there had been an emergency... (he exalted whatever happy disaster eliminated his adversary!) -- it hadn't been granted worthy verse, the might of her smile, the devastating seraphic light of it -- she exposed him to it now, and he shuddered. She smoldered with warmth, a pyric kerub in golden girl skin, he perceived it all along his arm and itching side.

He dared -- passing but perceiving her broad dorsal surface -- lay his hand on her, friend-like, on her cotton-soft thigh, and she did not shake him away. He shivered. He shone.

"Well," he wondered -- she smelled auburn, autumn, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful -- "what will you do today?"

She shrugged. She requested he relay an intimidating word to her -- "it's 'forsythia,' dear, come now -- " she leaned her cheek meekly on her ponderous palm, cut a congested waspkiss in the cleft of her wrist with her thickly lacquered thumb -- he ausculated her limping interest -- she turned the page, geranium -- "I'd be happy to... would you like if I..." -- aconite -- "...would you care to accompany me out today?"

Better not -- (killable Dell Conagher)'d strangle me.

"Of course, of course," he breathed. In an arrhythmic vision, he put both hands around her dulcet docile cervix to debar demur -- filled her throat with fingers and arranged her acquiescence -- turned her inside out as to apply attention directly to the bright black sea glass boiling in her, her pearlescent intestines, the sublime ruby of her sex. His chubby chum, humble Colt Diamondback, he mentally checked, rolled in a slip of blue silk in his nice new attaché upstairs.

His chin he inclined, slowly, slowly, to her crown of morning-warm fragrant curls, which she tolerated, so he also grasped her shoulder (sundust and honey and yielding young summer) in his lascivious fist, and she looked at him almost disturbed, and he smiled -- the sum dexterity of a life of lechery and treachery he invested in that smile -- and seeming to decide this was not unacceptable, she returned to her tale of tone. Really, she smelled wonderful.

"It's nice to have you to myself," he dared. She hummed a child's indolent assent.

"Truly ..." she yawned broadly, and he felt bloom the hot contents of her, ah, his spell unweaving, his long, long teeth slipping through, guileless girl, she fluttered all around his ambitious thorn, "truly..." she looked through her book, seeming to dream, nipping the clip of her thumb, "you know... I'm quite fond of you."

Oh really? Audacious darling! Positively unimpressed! The teeth grew longer, longer. "Oh yes. Oh really."

She stood. She was disentangled from him, from his onerous weaving, she was stretching, then sipping water on tiptoe from the sink tap, then smiling (he might have missed it had he not coveted every blessed instant of her) and then she was gone, gone.

He sat still at the table until he saw his nails had cut a scarlet selenography on the parchment of his palms.

His gun, he must have his gun, the asp ending in his head mumbled (even his arachnid tarsus twitched toward phantom trigger, his maw deluded, his monarchal wand demanded blood -- he was all, under elegant words, merely a chimera of contrition and monstrous want!) but his unhardy serene heart (pitifully timid, tenuously optimistic) admitted it -- the child was wet with dew, the mire was deep, and the child did weep, and away the vapor flew -- he saw a dark moth struggling in the frilled skirt of the kitchen window, its silent lamentations emitted in weary rue -- yellow bell, blossom, beautiful dreamer, the dear little child -- he could not hurt her.

She was sitting outside, on the hip of the hill in a great gown of rippling verdure and the maternal grasp of a morose willow, with shades of heaven in her hair, and soil in the skirt of her nightdress (what could be dearer than her maidenly remiss, her dozy, slow torpidity over which she tripped and giggled?), idly tying comets of clovers to their tails. Butterflies courted her; she broke their hearts. He believed he could actually see her dying into an adult in the echoing green. He leaned hard on the patio's beams, feeling still drunk. He could not stop looking at her, but that's all he could do.

In time, she wavered -- her anodyne mind wandered away from her, which happened, sometimes -- she looked up for a long time, wondering, then she stood -- she toddled over to the veranda where in terror and torment he worshipped her -- on tiptoe, she laid the laurels on him (beads of seafoam, a queerly venereal sequence) and she beamed, and he pulsed with an exotic sorrow -- had it been described that she adored dogs and abhorred the dark, her sneezes squeaked, she ate too much, she was shy, she believed a man would walk on the moon? He was tamed. He wondered if he loved her.

He wouldn't see what she did next -- he flew away from her, he hid his face, he hid up and away in his narrow, stale sarcophagus stuffed with luggages and revenants -- he locked his door -- he cast off his garment, cast off his mask -- he found out under the loose boards beneath his bed his cigarettes, stock of bourbons and good old gun; he loved her, how he loved her, he held her in his mouth with such tenderness, he sought with loving suckling Elysium -- he wasn't afraid, exactly -- the sun struck his eye and he drew the curtains too hard and tore them to the floor, he dropped and trod on his glass (his foot hurt) and began nursing the large, strong, brown, curly-haired bottles -- his lover he kissed again and again, the harem of biting brown bourbon -- marking the flesh of his cunning little leatherbound grimoire he spread on the desk whose secret compartments were stuffed with purloined phrases of her black hair and milkteeth -- with the syrup which congealed at his dollops of Apollo he wrote poetry to her, her candor, her immaculacy, her enormous eyes which were blacker than any he'd seen and her horrifying smile -- he wrote he was going to die, mercifully, he was going to die -- he drank as hardily as if it would imbibe him with eternal time and her mere esteem -- he clasped tight the tail of the gun he sucked and tickled its credulous fin -- amnesty of her -- he withdrew to simmer a minute, in booms of blue smoke and snow white woe, he spilled out the window and vomited egg yolk -- how his fair fists, gripping his scalp, the skin of his cheek, trembled! -- he fell, in his cupped hands, he roared, he wrote he would await Dell Conagher in hell, where he would tear out his hideous heart -- he wrote he hated her -- "Mère - je suis désolé" -- he drank and drank and smoked desperately, and burned his thumb, and cried -- he fumbled with the wax coil cap of a bottle and poured it all over his book, ink and ash washed him, darkness entered the blood -- blood on his feet, flakes of blood, gum of blood, he plucked it and a lot came out -- he literally swallowed a bullet, thinking the color of its soft rosy cap was like the color of the back he wanted -- he slipped with a sigh into that special saturnal sleep which supports only vague masquerades, only snow and moaning and deep, still nostalgia -- he dreamed an advertisement for toothpaste -- he descended then to a vision of berserk ballooned proportion and cartoon technicolor, where he sought to surprise Dell Conagher and kill him with a knife, so he might steal some of his papers, but he was burned alive.

He was too young to remember well the great war, but an old, evil room in him recoiled from the clamor that rocked the house, some hours a later, when he was awake -- all at once awake, enormously ill and sore from top to toe, folded up on the floor in a flowerbed of shattered glass, he sat up, promptly vomited, forced back his wilting fringe and the skin of cold sweat which dressed him -- he trembled still -- he realized he was alive and emitted a piteous cry. It was dark.

Another peal, as if of thunder, the window pane clattering in terror, accompanied now he saw with a bloom of blinding carmine light filling the vast firmament and reflected back softly from the departing cloudbeds of cotton. He leapt and shouted and it tendered his enormously enflamed temple -- did he hallucinate? -- gritting his teeth to the point of pain, he slowly stood, in seven stages of tremors, falters and craven angles. His mouth was sour; his eyes scored over the court of hostile sable forms tumbled orgiastically together over the bursting chords of his web. Limping, tripping, he peered apprehensively out the cave mouth.

It was the little lady of sorrows, and he saw (eyes inside out, humming heart held fast in his hand, the raiment of human man mending over his snarling snout and thousand fingers) within his sight, within his very reach, the raw gloss of her nudity -- she was wet -- as she was when he first laid eyes her.

"What's the matter?" wondered Cupid, still drunk. She only murmured. Her eyes were very brilliant by the deep beams of indigo light -- barely visible, only her throbbing cnidarian outline, a seam of sealight tracing her hip and cheek -- but the secret of her stomach he saw, the bells of her bellows and belly, her cheeks and her hips, she seemed to tremble and she stood in his very grasp, and she looked helplessly out at him from her unknowable eyes as if he'd help her. He put his hand out, he put his hand on her, and when another something shook the wood they stood in (the end of the world? Who cared?) he found her in his arms, in his very arms -- her sticky limbs, her mumble, her humming core of blissful sanguine heat, urgently, she held him, and all his tempers and atonements, his wounds and wrung hands and great oration and his engagement with the earth were ended with his worries and Dell Conagher, her tender protuberant tummy flush to the bone of his hip, her breath in his breast, his fist was in her hair and his hand on the plump cup of her back, and it was hot, thank God, God, God save her!

So he ushered her -- sweetly, sweetly, slowly with saccharine succor -- so he covered over her brunette body with his less stained sheet (her vigilant breasts, her humble tummy, her chubby chestnut pubis! He was a pit in a posy where a blissful pill of grub praised God) so he lured her with her broad dark dumb hands pinched in his to her pink and carmine crypt he bumped open with his backside and she passed over his simmering abdomen -- a curious coil of her nascent quills prodded his narrow calf -- his hands on her shoulders he directed her, the coral fleece of the nape of her neck, her upset and sopping wet curls, he handed her over the threshhold and he shut the door behind him. She shushed and she shivered. It was dark.

He directed her in the dark to her basket (she didn't know he had looked at this bed, how he labored over it -- she didn't know!) -- she looked indigent and darling with virginal white hung over her loose hair and bright brown lobes and limbs -- obediently she sat where he directed her to sit, and he indulged himself -- why ever wouldn't he? -- by urging her lie prone, and he drew her quilt over her (an exemplary father he'd certainly prove) and pausing at this precipice -- not in compunction or immasculine softness but only to play in the anticipation which filled his hollow breast with embers and strawberry juice -- sitting by her (she watched) he managed light his cigarette, and saw, shivering, the cerise tip fluttering in the dark her shining eyes tracked with interest.

"Would you like some?" he asked, exhaling affectionately at her vacant face, "if you don't tell your father..." He saw from behind the sheer lace of her window curtains the electric rose which erupted in the black silk night a beat before he heard its sonorous roar -- it was a -- what was the word? -- un feu d'artifice. She'd taken the cigarette but she did not kiss it -- pushed up on her elbows beneath the billow of her bedding, her breasts out, very undeveloped brown and red, her broad strong shoulders and arms, she held the pale and red wand of his passion in her pinched thumb and fingers and looked it in the eye, enchanted.

"Shall I assist?" he whispered, descending on silk from the shelf of the moon he infested, splayed hands lackadaisically applied, he soothed her, he loomed, her cheek in his hand, so warm, his mouth, intending to fill her ocher ingress and scarlet sails with smoke seasoned in his own eager indigo billows when interrupted a poppy-pop of amazing pain -- he sat up abruptly, started away -- his gift, the lit cigarette she had impulsively impressed upon the innocent skin of his haplessly offered hand!

"Don't!" he said, too fiercely, and checking himself (becoming so kind, so irresistibly sweet,) he amended, "don't, please! That hurts me."

She looked and looked and looked at him, her enormous ignisine eyes visible by the void they solved in the mute blue dark, and the cigarette evacuated in the palm of her unflinching hand a drop of blushing ash.

"Let's be sweet," he crooned as he came back to her (his coils uncurling -- his claws, his jaws -- he was nearly done, nearly done) the pallid phallus he lead gently to her lips, she was seeing something else, "let's be friendly to each other, won't we?," he tickled her curls, the down beneath her ears, his temple he applied adoringly to her, his entire satyrion, satyriast corpse he arranged in loops around her, becoming her aura, he confessed, "I've told you... I'm very fond of you...", shyly, (gripping her wrist, guiding her cheek with the palm of his hand) his knife he showed her.

Fantastic catastrophe -- cacophonous explosion -- light and fire and the room leapt two feet to the right, and when he shook his head and looked about, he saw irregular white chips scattered in his lap, which he realized were teeth, warm in red coats with violet tails, and an iridescent pansy invaded his vision, and something spilled over his lips and chin.

He could see her smile.

He was so tired. He rested.



*



Very early in the morning, Dell Conagher came home. He sat in his truck a while, in the thin dark, thinking. He was filled with sighs.



The front door was unlocked. He thought, weakly, he must speak to her about better obeying his instructions. He loved her, his sweet girl, but she could be heedless -- she was naive...

His house was cold. He hung his keys on the hook installed in the hall for that purpose. He hung his hat and jacket. He ascended the stair.

It became warm.

A bar of conflagrative light hemmed her door. He pushed it open.

He paused, mounted in the turmoil, breathless in astonishment, before in outrage throwing down the undone tie in his hand.

"Damn it!" cursed Dell Conagher, and again, "God damn it! Not again!"