Jane Eaton Hamilton

"At the bottom of the box is hope." – Ellis Avery.

Tag: sudden fiction

Love Letters–of a sort

Will You Ossuary Me?

 Jane Eaton Hamilton

She wanted to kiss me in bones. Death, much? Spiraling down 19 meters. She pulled the ends of my scarf and I moved closer because hers were Parisian lips, the top lip thin, the bottom lip full, and I felt her deeply inside where my nerves snapped and I was decomposible. There were tibias all around us in the damp light, and scapulas from the plague, phalanges and fibulas and metatarsals. Infant bones. People dead of polio. People collapsed of childbirth and famine. Of war. Cries and tears and screams. The bones of six million Parisians dug up from cemeteries to make room, shovels of bones, wagon-loads of bones pulled by sway-backed nags for a full two years—carted down into these old mine tunnels, then arranged. We stood in puddles. The air was heavy with the motes of people’s lives—more broken dreams, I guessed, than dreams come true. It was quiet, but the past echoed. Ghost-din. Someone had written, Pour moi, mort est un gain. Pour moi, pour moi, pour moi, she whispered, rumbling her voice. Exhumations and exhalations all around us, the breath of death, bone-stacks, bone-crosses, bone-chips in heaps, my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, maybe, resting in pieces. My lips were swollen and sore, cut and scabbed over from all that had already happened. Skulls placed in the shape of a heart, eye sockets staring, and behind those eye sockets more eye sockets. Shadows moved across us; her nipples hardened. She pressed me up against a white cross against a black tombstone. I will leave you, she said as she bit my throat, but not yet.

Do You Want Whiskey? Sudden Fiction

Do You Want Whiskey?

“What I hate to say is that sleeping with you isn’t a meaningful experience to me.  Do you understand that?  I’d rather eat an egg salad sandwich.”

Who was she to me anyway?  I didn’t get her.  If she thought I did she was mistaken.  I was tired.  I wished she’d leave me be.  But she’d only started, I could tell, a kind of wind-up.

“There’s more important things in life,” she said.  “Gerry, you must realize?  You’re not the be-all and end-all, Gerry.  You’re hardly in the photograph.  That’s you, a leg over in one corner.”

That’s not what she really thought.

“You know what I think, Gerry?  I think it’s a game, a damn game.  I don’t know the rules.  I don’t know the parameters.  But I know you’re playing.”

She was an older woman, older considerably than me.  She had adolescent sons.  She had books.  She had female lovers.

I didn’t know how I felt.  She was a dervish, is what I felt.  She was outrageous.  She had a mouth the size of a windfall apple.  She had a lot of talk, she talked like a man.  The honest to God truth is she could make me blush.  That was the truth.  She was capable of anything.  Her mouth drove diesels.

“In respect to fucking, Gerry, that’s what I’m saying.”  She leaned towards me.  She smelled of cigarettes and chocolate.  She ate a finger of a Kit Kat bar and licked her skin, long and slow.  She could dazzle me.  She was a slip of a thing, that woman.  When I’d hugged her she’d risen on her toes to reach me.  “I could have taken it or left it, did you know?  You thought you had me running.”

Without thinking I said, “Dancing.”  She danced like she’d fall through you, saucy.  Let me say persuasively.  When you watched a long time you started to notice the control, the years of lessons, but at first it was just a spill of hips and breasts.  I said, “This doesn’t make any sense.”

I said, “Can’t we just go back?”

I said, “I’m lost, Susan, I’m truly lost.”

I said, “Never in my life did I imagine this.”

“I was prepared to do it,” she said, “you know that.  I thought about running my tongue up the inside of your thigh.  I thought about taking you in my mouth.  I had lots of thoughts.  But it was a big mistake.  I’m saying it was a big mistake, Gerry.  One of the largest.  But it was just a brain burp.  I burped and you’re gone.  Vanished.”

I didn’t believe her.  Not for a second.  She was just trying to take her face back.  I could hand it to her but I didn’t see why I should.  But any moment she could say something – something in her repertoire from her long-ago years with men – and I’d be stuck like a pig, a goner.  I had everything but she could take it back.  That woman could say Strip and I’d say How fast?  Her carnality was hot lightning.

I said, “I don’t want to sleep with you.”

She said, “You just want to flirt around the edges.   This is formal notice, Gerry.  Fuck or get off the dyke.”

There was nothing I could do about it, about her.  I could see the future.

“It never occurs to you to look at this, does it, Gerry?  You remind me about what I dislike in men.  Men won’t let themselves be touched.  If men can’t handle something, they just don’t handle it.  Am I right or am I right?  Pop!  They’re gone.  Do you want some more whiskey?”

She poured more, three neat fingers into my glass.

“You have to create walls for women.  You say there’s doors in women you can’t pass through.  Maybe you yourself are the reason, did you consider that?  Maybe you’re the guy with the mortar.  Maybe you build the walls because you can’t tolerate what might happen.”

Maybe I did.  So what?  Watching her whiskey glass touch her lips, liking her lips, how they moved, how I had flashes of my body under them, I thought how maybe she was right.  Once the going got tough, the tough got going.  I was going somewhere else, away, and maybe I was tough.

“I’ve lost a lot of my admiration for you,” she said.  “Because of how you’ve handled this.  You’ve avoided me.  Don’t think I don’t know it.  Don’t think you go over my head.  Once we’d said, Yeah, there’s sexual tension, once we acknowledged that, it was cat and mouse.  Sexy looks, you fucker.  Or how you tweaked my toe.”

Leave me alone, I was thinking.  I’d heard her read from her work now four times.  She’d move to the podium like a million dollars, dressed in silk and a black fedora, and her voice would be as soft as skin.  She’d make it crawl over you, the text like a snake, no theatrics, just that voice.  Her territory was family and she knew family, how families talked to each other, the recriminations and sorrows, the words of it all.  She knew families.  She’d be sweet like a double fudge sundae and you’d be holding your breath and not know it.  And then she’d slip in the knife.  You sat in the audience and tried to reconcile that she made love with women but you couldn’t.  You couldn’t make the pictures.  I walked in on her giving another woman a neck-rub and I looked and it was just a neck-rub over clothes, over a purple sweatshirt, a neck-rub like a thousand other neck-rubs a guy could walk in on, but I couldn’t say a thing for the pictures it made.  It made pictures so risky and terrifying for a moment I was dead on my feet, absolutely dead.  Before this, this scene, how today she’d cornered me and mainlined me whiskey neat, a week or so ago, she’d told me dykes – she used that word, no jangle on her tongue – fuck like the wind.  She said, Dykes are women’s fuck fantasy come true.  She said, There’s no better sex in the world.  She said, I wouldn’t mind boinking Lisa Meyers.

“The lucky fuck lottery,” she said now.  “Who gets to fuck me?”  She sat back and stared out the window, over the city streets below.  “Gerry, you shithead.”

“I love you,” I said.  I didn’t mean to say it, it fell out of my mouth like marbles.  She could sit on my lap and waggle her breasts – she had great breasts – in my face.  So I knew it.  So what did it mean?

She didn’t say a word.  Right at that moment, that woman didn’t say a word.  She didn’t look at me either.

Oxygen: Sudden Fiction

 
Oxygen

 

He was in the library.  Or he was in the TV room.  It was such a big place.  That’s where they hugged, in the laundry room, chastely because she was a lesbian.  That’s what he didn’t understand; he didn’t understand that women moved through her like oxygen.  Women were strong cups of coffee.  She’d had her whole hand inside women; there was no inside to men at all, that she could see.  He wanted her to look so she looked.  She saw young long arms and legs and a staunched eroticism behind his blue skin.  His teeth were very white.  She was looking hard; she said so.

He looked hard, a pretty boy.  Oh pretty in the TV room, beige on beige.  Oh pretty in the volleyball court; pretty boy.  She called him pretty.

He was in the library.  At the bar, solid table between them.  In her car where she did not grasp his hand.  She was sitting under two white candles.  Concentrate, she said and called up memories but they were cacophonic like nightclub music, they beat at her senses.  He beat at her senses.  He beat at her with pure white limbs, with his eyes.

It’s nothing to you, she said.  Or less.

They walked into a rocky meadow of elk.

It’s something.

He bent over her.  She thought he was going to kiss her but he said, It happens dozens of times.

I’m mad at you, she said.  She wanted his kiss.  She was disappointed to miss that kiss.  She was high in her shoulders about that kiss.

Shrubbery was growing.  It was possible to see there might one day be flowers.  The elk were sitting on their bellies, sagging their horns.  It was a northern climate.

His voice was fur and rolled her over her desire for women.  He said, It’s apples.

She thought of a woman named Mickey who had a pierced nipple.  The notion made her float but the sky was very dim and cold.  You make me feel ashamed, she said, settling down on a rock beside him.

He tried out a smile.  His smiles were good smiles.  They were the smiles of an adored child, very well practiced.  She fell into his mouth.  It was a good mouth, full of the smell of hops and faint trails of tobacco.  An elk glanced up curiously.

What is it? he said.

It’s you, you bastard.  You think I’m attracted to you.

Are you? he said.  There was a rosy hue above the mountains.

She thought of letting him inside her except it was all a taunt, she knew, a game with muscle.  She was used to holding women in deep, spasming around them.  He was a very young boy.  She could make him scream for her touch.  Maybe she remembered that?  Maybe she did.  So what? she said.  So what?

He was blurring.  He could fade in three seconds.  His long limbs fell around her.  She thought they moved like fences.  Women are clouds, she said, get off me.  I don’t understand why I’m doing this, she said.

It’s my story, he said and lay on the rock like an animal, belly down.

She said, You just like the power.  A woman on her knees.

You’re a woman on your knees, he said.

Guess again, she said and turned into a mule deer, a trick of the light.  The sky was pulling her leg.  She watched it elongate but paid hardly any attention.  She trembled.  On top of the mountains was snow.  She said, I’m coming to my senses about you.  I know what you’re up to.  Get off the pot, she said.  You jerk.

Oh, pretty, she thought.  A boy as pretty as rain on an unwashed day.  An admirable child.  Don’t look at me that way, she said.  You cretin.  I hate you.

Will you cry? he said.

An elk slipped on a beer can.  But she was certain of the laundromat.  She was certain she was up on her toes imagining herself upside down; she was positive about women.  He was in a field of beasts.  In the library she was having a hot bath.  She turned the water on very strongly.  She sat in the library watching naked women and put her head in her hands.

What else could account for her wet thighs?  She said, I won’t cry, don’t be a fool.

They walked through books as if they were on a casual stroll.  The moon shimmied above them.  He took her hand companionably.  It was a lot to forgive.

Don’t bat an eye, she said.
-Jane Eaton Hamilton, from Ergo, Bumbershoot Literary Magazine, #8

 

 

Vermillion: Sudden Fiction

Vermillion

My wife painted a fresco on one wall of our living room and now my wife needs surgery on her hands.  Those two things are not related.  Her nerves were not damaged by plaster and pigment work; her problem, the doctor says, is intrinsic, a degenerative disorder that robs her of tactile sense and causes her pain.

My wife’s name is Mary.  You have probably seen her signature on canvasses but if you haven’t it doesn’t matter.  I wish no one did; I wish my wife had never sold a painting, not one painting.

There are words I wish I had never heard, too: chartreuse, I wish I had never heard the word chartreuse.  Turquoise is another one.  That word turquoise goes right inside me; that world turquoise is a bad word.  Vermillion.  Is there any other word in the English language that goes to work on a man the way vermillion does?

The world is filled with unpredictability.  Things wait around corners; words lie in wait around corners.  Once I was a boy and I lived with a mother and a father and all that waited around corners for me was love; I wasn’t surprised for the first time until I was eleven and came around one corner too many and there was my mother and there was a man and kissing.

I am a man who appreciates a good kiss.  I like a good kiss as well as the next man.  What man wouldn’t appreciate a kiss?  An excellent kiss can make a man overlook corners and words like chartreuse.  This is just the way of things.  In this world a wife and a kiss and a sunset make a fellow stop.  They make a fellow stop in his tracks just outside some doorway and they make his eyelids widen.

Let us say the sunset seen through the window was chartreuse.

Let us say my wife Mary was kissing someone else.

Let us say her damaged hands were against the breasts of an artist named Diane.

This is the truth.

The truth is two women were kissing and Diane’s shirt was undone and her breasts were bare.  My wife’s hands fit Diane’s breasts perfectly; I saw how well they fit.  They fit so well an artist could have drawn the four as parts of one body.

One of Diane’s paintings is of a vermillion figure poised on the edge of a globe, bending over.  My wife Mary’s fresco is turquoise.

This is just how it happens, a man turns one corner too many in his life and then it happens, that kiss, and he doesn’t know how to act or what to say or how to impart one color, the one he saw, black.  He hits his chest with the flat of his hand over and over, he does that.

Here is a photograph: a man, a woman and a woman.  Here is a sculpture: a man, a woman and a woman.  Here is a story: a man, a woman and a woman.  Here is a sunset and a fresco.  Here is a painting by a woman named Diane.  Here I am.  Here is my wife, Diane.

In the photograph I age and age.  Soon I am fifty.  Soon I am eighty-four.  Soon I am a hundred and two.  I am lucky to be so old, such a very old man with a thin windpipe.

-Jane Eaton Hamilton from the New Canadian Fiction, ed Kristina Russelo, Black Moss, 1992

Sudden Fiction

Hummingbird

She loved it, this baby who flitted from corner to corner against the ceilings of her house.  She loved it, surely.  She was its mother.  She didn’t love its mouth dragging down her breasts and cracking open her nipples, the spit-up curdled milk tacking lazily down her shoulders and soaking her shirts, she didn’t love the crying or all the diapers, the sweet yellow shit she wiped off with a warm damp cloth.  She did love the gurgles of its pleasures, its fat extremities, its bow-legs and the soft spot on its fuzzy warm skull.  She loved the idea of ten miniature fingers and toes.  But she loved it best when it ascended because it was always happy, always supremely cherubic in air.  She was frightened to take it for a walk in the stroller.  What if?  In the bakery?  At the park?  Already she had discovered it in the eaves of the attic, hovering beneath the splintery wooden roof.  She wished it would take her up, with her suitcase of baby supplies, with her stretch marks and milk-plumped breasts.  She kept the placenta in a wooden bowl in the refrigerator.  She buried it beside the tomatoes in the garden.  The baby dipped and flew curlicues through the leaves of the pear tree above her head.  The beat and silvery breeze of its wings swept over her and she stood, lifting her arms.  Her hands dripped birth blood and dirt.  The baby she surely loved rose and rose, rose and rose.

Jane Eaton Hamilton from Body Rain, Brick Books

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