Nov 132011

by Graham Tugwell

The sky is ludicrous tonight.

Cloud in orange anvils slopes up to meet a purple wash, laid unbroken in powder bands across the slowly moving sky—day comes to close in brazen gaudiness. The tops of trees made livid green—all lower things made shadow and murk.

Light’s last bend takes us inside, through window glass to catch the smoothness of his forehead, to shadow scribbled veins on temples, to turn his earlobe into an ember-rose of meat.

He sits at the foot of the bed, long and arched and angular, sinewed arms stretched out before, buttressed by his bony knees. He watches the nest of his fingers intently, dry bones lacing and slowly unlacing, held in the space between his thighs.

Not a bite of meat to him and not a drop of blood: dry and thin, a thing of dust and airless rooms, a rotten man of rotten sticks.

“Tell me… again,”

His voice— the arid rustle of parched pages.

Fingers lace and unlace, soft bones rub— his eyes as pale, as wet as the bellies of underground fish; one eyelid lower than the other.

A busy moment—filled with creaking plastic, the hiss of escaping air, the thrum of power coursing.

There is another voice, softly pained and muffled:

“They were going too fast. There was fog. I heard Janice talking: they must have come too far around the corner and left the road near Mixie’s Well. He—Da—would have… instantly. Car hit the tree on the driver’s side. Ma—they didn’t get to her in time. She must have… she must’ve known what was going to happen. She couldn’t get out…”

Plastic creaks.

Air escapes.

Power thrums.

“I wasn’t supposed… but I heard Janice talking…”

And the man looks from the play of incestuous fingers, stares with salmon-belly eyes.

Saying: “And how does it make you feel?”

A busy moment, filled with little noises.

“Sad,” whispers the child, “makes me feel… sad. I’m alone.”

The man rubs the rash that shaving left. “Say that for me again.”

Rubber creaks.

“I’m alone,” whispers the child.

Metal knocks on metal.

“I’m all alone.”

A hand moves over the rumpled quilt, rising to twirl a plait of wires, straightening knots in segmented cord. A thing of black plastic and rubber and glass squats at the head of the bed— chitinous, abyssal, squid-linked and beetle-armoured. The glass eyes, the rubber fronds, the round metal clasps and stays make the child a swollen fly.

From the front, a short ribbed hose loops down into a plastic bag. Breath condenses— jiggling milky beads run in sweat marks down the sides.

Something in the nest of wires clicks…

Something softly deflates with a hiss…

It tightens upon his face.

The man says, “Comiseratrix wants to share your sorrow.”

“It’s too much for a child to carry.”

“For anyone to carry alone.”

“Let it take it,” says the man.

His eyes are pale and mismatched lids slide slowly down.

“It can be a kindness.”

“Just… let it happen.”

And reaching he tightens a nut under the child’s chin.

It pinches.

“Hurts,” whispers the child, lifting a hand to move a metal strut, to pull a plastic edge from off an artery.

“Don’t touch Comiseratrix,” snaps the man, taking the hand and holding it down. “Don’t upset it. Now tell me… again.”

The child’s sob is made thin by the plastic over his face. “I want to sleep. I want to go back to sleep…”

“Plenty of time later. Tell me again.”

The child looks through the eyeholes of Comiseratrix.

“They left the road. Going too fast and there was fog. Dad died instantly. The tree. The driver’s side. They didn’t get to Mam in time. She knew. She knew…”

The rustle of paper: “And how does that make you feel?”

The child tries to shake his head but Comiseratrix grips. His voice is shrill: “I told you. I’ve told you so many times. I feel sad. I feel sad.”

“Good,” says the man, “That’s good.”

Droplets flick their way like tadpoles down the plastic.

“Again,” whispers the man.

But there are noises in the hallway. Someone coming up the stairs.

“Aunt Janice,” breathes the child, “Aunt Janice.”

With practiced efficiency, the man unstraps the device, undoes the screws, pulls away plastic plates. Unclipping the bag from the rubber snout the last rays of day turns the liquid gold.

“Good,” he says, “Good.”

Gently he places the machine in its soft brown bag.

Turning to the child, scratched and bruised from the pinch and press of Comiseratrix, he says, “If you say I was here. If you tell anyone.”

A finger drags across his throat.

“Tomorrow night, then,” he says. “And the next. Until I’ve gotten everything.

Out the window.

Into closing night.


And another bedroom, long ago, remembered in shades of black and red.

“Like your grandfather was taught… Like I was taught… I’m teaching you. Pay attention.”

Had he really been that tall, that round?

Did he really stink so strong of oil and meat?

“I don’t love you son. I don’t love you. You killed her coming out. You should have been taken. Not her. If I had the choice, son, it would’ve been you. You— curled in the ground. She was worth a thousand of you.”

They look at each, the man and the boy.

A nest of black metal and plastic is in the bed and the child sobs a breath into the thing tight over his face and the thing has its way with it.

“It hurts Da, It hurts.”

Close the man crouches, tall and round and stinking.

“Boy…How’s it make you feel?”

“Da…” He blinks uneven eyelids through glass.

“Answer me. How do you feel?”

“Sad. So sad.”

Stuff trickles into the bag.

The man rises. “Okay. Okay, I think we’re finished.”

He smiles. “Shall we get some ice cream?”

The child nods. Under rubber and leather and plastic he smiles.

A slap cracks across his face.

The machine shrieks, jerks— a burst of fluid is loosed into the bag—

“And that,” says the man, “is how the Comiseratrix works.”

His grin is an abdomen slice, wide and red and greasy…

And the device tightens its grip.

And the child repeats in the quietness of his mind.

…It’s a kindness…


…It’s a kindness…


Heat lamps turn the air to furnace.

Turn the world to red and black.

On the landing undresses, folds his clothes along their seams and hangs his jacket on a hook.

Becomes an armature of perambulating bones.

The steps are blocks of concrete, rough-lipped grey and granular things, bitter stinking, clogged with dry dust. He descends into the red, into the heat—it strikes him, bluntly, bodily.

Short boards are like uneven teeth, rimming the opened mouth of floor, and stooped he moves along them. Years before the basement floor was opened—pick and shovel and broken backs— the loam revealed, black and crumbling, spotted with soft white growths of mushrooms.

But most of the ground is given over to the Flower…

Flat and wide and fleshy, with heavy-furred leaves of blackest velvet, all furrowed like tongues, it sprawls like a body curved. At the Flower’s centre is a wide and rubber-lipped hole, pierced by a crown-clutch of stamens, bone-white, speckled with the bodies of flies and spiders.

It cries a chromium sap when softly stroked or whispered to.

He gives it what it needs— compost and water.


Gently, carefully, he pours the condensed breath of the Comiseratrix upon the leaves.

And he can almost hear the voice,


Left alone.

Left alone.

Down he gets on hands and knees and puts his mouth between the leaves.

He breathes the musk of the Flower. It fills him, breath tightening in his chest. And he whispers. “I’ve never known love. Pushed it away. Made myself bitter. Lonely. Full of spite.”

He closes his eyes and nuzzles the leaves.

“Made myself so sad for you…”

He strokes a leaf like leather. The black Flower quivers. The clutch of pulpish stamens flex; breathing a smell like spoiling milk, crying a perfect pearl of sap that beads along the crease of leaf. It meets the red meat dagger of his wet extended tongue.

The silver drop is red in light.

Lapped, it has a weak and washed-out taste…

Water, with a pinch of salt…

In the heat, filled with the smell of rotting milk, he curls his long gaunt body around the fleshy stem.

Dirt is warm and dirt is soft.

“So sad,” he whispers, “So sad for you.”

In the red and black he lowers uneven lids.

Loses himself to sleep.


A dream now, shaded in red and black.

Silver is a salt upon his lip and his father’s finger pulls away.

“You’ll never have the stomach for anything else now.”

And he looks at the round and grinning awfulness of his father.

“Why?” says the child, “Why?

The Father pales— the belly of a gutted fish.

Spits: “Why? Why?! Why!”

(The wrong question)


“That’s why! That’s why!”

Sorrow enough for a thousand flowers.


The car leaves the road near Mixie’s Well.

(There was fog.)

(There was a tyre trap, laid out to pierce upon the road.)

He waits for silence, leaving the trees when sounds of metal cease, when the screaming dies.

Leisurely he straddles a gate and lowers himself.

Across the field towards the tree he carries the soft brown bag.

Smoke and fog are mixing and as he looks inside the driver’s side a little cough escapes him. The man is dead—splashed in trifle pieces across the dash, across the broken steering wheel.

No sadness there.

Rounding buckled metal, stepping over gift-wrapped parcels, he opens the passenger door—it comes away in sudden jerks, with a metal sigh.

From a cage of metal holding her, twisting her, piercing her, she looks out. Eyes are very dark.

Sadness enough for a thousand flowers.

Stooping, a tuneless hum on his lips, he places Comiseratrix over her face, tightens straps behind her head, twists a screw under her chin. Blonde hair comes away in his fingers. He rubs it away on the leg of his suit.

She tries to resist, but one hand is a pulp under the glove box, the other has no strength at all—he catches it, places it by her side. She doesn’t fight him after that.

Behind the metal and plastic of Comiseratrix she tries to speak,

“I’ll never see him…”

“Never see him… grow up.”

He nods. One bag full already.

“Never see him live… be happy.”

“I’ll never…”

Her hand runs along his sleeve. Softly.

“Tell my son…”

A lick of red comes down her cheek.

He leans in and whispers, “Is he your only child?”

“Tell him… I—we… couldn’t… we…”

“Is he your only child?”

She softly nods. “Our only. Our… only…”

She points.

“Gifts… for…”

Comiseratrix gorges.

Changing bags, he looks into her eyes, dark behind the glass of Comiseratrix. “Where can I find him?”

Painfully pulling the words from herself she tells him.

And he makes his plans.

An orphan and an only child…

Such sadness…

He tightens Comiseratrix— a fresh peal of blood down her chin, hanging to drop on the seatbelt.

Her mouth moves—he feels it behind the leather—but hears nothing.

Across the fields, there are sirens—fog is lighting up in blue.

With practiced efficiency he unstraps the device, returns it to its soft brown bag.

He looks down at her— softness red in metal curled and he reaches out. Long fingers lace across her throat.

He watches them tighten.

His eyes, the bellies of drowned puppies, bloated and pale…

Hers so dark.

It’s a kindness.

It’s a kindness.

She doesn’t fight. She doesn’t try.

Sirens, blue lights, are closing.

And holding Comiseratrix, so full, so heavy and warm, he runs.

Food for the Flower.

Food for a thousand Flowers.

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