A Clockwork Phoenix featured story

design

From the pages of Clockwork Phoenix 5
 

The Book of May

 

C. S. E. Cooney and Carlos Hernandez


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From: Morgan W. Jamwant <theglatisant81@me.com>

To: Harry Najinsky <hn@lnnlawvt.com>

Date: January 22, 2015 12:58:59 p.m. est

Subject: Death Is the Tree

 

Eliazar,

Dude. I wanna be a tree when I die. Make them put me into one of those urn-y things. The biodegradable ones with the seed inside. Go look it up. I swear to God. Gawd. Gerd. Gods. All of em.

I wanted to be oak, ’cause of what you wrote a hundred billion years ago in our high school yearbook. “To Morgan, an Oak amidst the Spruce.” But I didn’t see oak on the website. Maybe I should go sugar maple instead. I’d be so fabulous in October.

Can you take this seriously? I mean, not too seriously but a little seriously? I’m kind of on a time crunch here, they tell me.

M. W. J.

* * *

From: Harry Najinsky <hn@lnnlawvt.com>

To: Morgan W. Jamwant <theglatisant81@me.com>

Date: January 22, 2015 6:07:21 p.m. est

Subject: Re: Death Is the Tree

 

Hey May,

You know you’re the only one who still calls me Eliazar? And it’s not like I don’t hang out with all our old D&D buddies. It’s just that all we play these days are Eurogames, and you don’t give yourself cool, vaguely medieval names in Eurogames. Mostly you do math. I guess all that resource management makes them feel adult or productive or something. To me it feels like a job. I miss D&D.

So I googled it. Eco-urn? It doesn’t sound like you. It sounds like earthy-crunchy ooey-gooey overpriced bourgeois bullshit. I mean, it’s not like we have a choice. We’re all recycled eventually. Do you think Nature gives a shit about how we’re packaged when we die? She’ll eat us any way we come prepared.

But okay, you said take you seriously. So you want to be an oak? I can see that. I see your hair, and I can imagine it defying gravity and tendrilling up toward the sky. I’m imagining each lock crusting over, becoming strike-a-match rough, radiating like a bark-brown crown around your head. Then come the leaves, not slowly like boring normal trees, but in one verdant, fireworks-ical explosion. You’d spontaneously generate a heavy load of acorns, and the squirrels would be so pleased that they’d learn to speak, just so they could sing choir songs of gratitude.

How’s that? I was never as good at that shit as you. You were always the roleplayer. I was the rules lawyer. It’s why we made such a good team. Well, and you knew the Raise Dead spell, and could bring me back to life every time I miscalculated.

I wish I hadn’t said Raise Dead. It’s just too painful to contemplate a world where a spell like that could exist. That’s the real reason we don’t play D&D anymore. Fantasy is hopeful. Fantasy hurts.

You’re not a sugar maple. I forbid you from being a maple! Maple trees are all sweet and Canadian and self-sacrificing. “Yes, take my blood, human, and pour it all over your flapjacks. I bleed to make your breakfast slightly more enjoyable.” Fuck that. Come back as hemlock or something. The way the world’s treated you, you should poison the shit out of anything that messes with you next time around.

—Eliazar (Harry)

* * *

From: Morgan W. Jamwant <theglatisant81@me.com>

To: Harry Najinsky <hn@lnnlawvt.com>

Date: January 24, 2015 10:41:36 a.m. est

Subject: Who the fuck’s a name, anyway?

 

I never liked Harry. I mean … Harry! Harry was this old guy who used to come into the costume shop. He lived out of his car and smelled like it and had no one but me to talk to. There I was, puffed up on superprivilege and sorry for him and trapped behind a counter. There was Harry on the other side looking oh, so sad. Aside from that, Harry is so primordial, so hirsute, something you’d have to shave. Not to mention Rowling.

Egad, I can smell him now. I’m tempted to get Tyrell in here to check under my bed for skulkers, except I know the old-man miasma’s not real. Yesterday it was citrus …

Never mind.

Eliazar is cool. Eliazar can swim a mighty underworld river in full armor and pwn all the Orcs. It’s not that I don’t like YOU, Harry, although when you’re Harry you always sound slightly more worn than when you’re Eliazar, whom even the Dungeons Cannot Defeat. I think the dungeons have defeated me, Harry. Eliazar. Harry. You can be Harry today if you want.

You call me May after my favorite month, my parents called me Morgan after their favorite rum, and if I want to call myself a sugar maple, I can damn well be a fucking sugar maple.

Sorry. My head hurts today. Whatever. Whatever, head.

Re: Hemlock. I could dig a hemlock. Like that Neoclassical monologue I used to do from Shadwell’s Lancashire Witches: “Henbane, Hemlock, Moonwort too, / Wild Fig-Tree, that o’er Tombs does grow …”

I know next to nothing about Eurogames. I have forgotten most of what I used to know about D&D. It was the pretending I liked. The pretending out loud. The words that made us disappear, then reappear in another world, this time with spontaneous superpowers and monsters you could see to fight them. I wish I had a Morning Star and my monster here before me. It’d be a Siege Crab, I think.

In theory, I want to go down fighting. In practice, this slow fading is maybe more merciful. And I must say, synesthesia has its own unique brand of charm. And In-Home Hospice > Hospital, that’s for damn sure.

Blah blah blah time for nap reset, and GO!

M. W. J.

P. S. Funny you should imagine me with hair “tendrilling” into sky-hungry branches. I still imagine me with hair, too. Sort of like having 140,000 ghost limbs.

* * *

From: Harry Najinsky <hn@lnnlawvt.com>

To: Morgan W. Jamwant <theglatisant81@me.com>

Date: January 24, 2015 7:24:07 p.m. est

Subject: Re: Who the fuck’s a name, anyway?

 

I know I sound tired. But that’s only compared to you. I mean, Manic Pixie Dream Girls call you for perkiness tips! No one, anywhere, ever, is less tired than you. Even now.

So I almost don’t want to say this. The last thing I want to remind you of right now is memory loss. But healthy people forget things all the time. The smelly guy’s name wasn’t Harry. You started calling him Harry to bug me! His name was Gunnar. And he wasn’t a bad guy. He just got stupid around you because he thought you were pretty. When you weren’t around he was cool. We talked classic rock and extreme survival. He only lived out of his car because he thought it was stupid to pay for a hotel. Last I heard, he moved back to Wisconsin to take care of his folks. I always liked the name Gunnar.

You asked who (sic) the fuck are names. I have a theory. Names are mechanized robo-suits.

Hear me out! I’ve heard people say names are masks and names are costumes and a rose by any other name can kiss my ass.

But names don’t just paint over nouns. Names come with fuel cells and lasers and flying robot-fists. You jump into a name the same way you jump into a mech: you turn on the power and grab the controls and all of a sudden you can K.O. all the kaiju in Tokyo.

And after writing that, I don’t think you’re an oak, either. Too monosyllabic. I think we need more options. There’s a good tree farm/bookstore 20 minutes by car. The woman who runs the place is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Did you ever go to Tasseography? Books, trees, and hot-brewed tea. The owner’s Lourdes Belen. If she doesn’t already know the perfect tree for you to become, I bet she knows the book that can tell us.

—Eliazar the Slightly-Less-Worn-Sounding-I-Hope

* * *

From: Morgan W. Jamwant <theglatisant81@me.com>

To: Harry Najinsky <hn@lnnlawvt.com>

Date: January 25, 2015 2:35:23 p.m. est

Subject: The State of My Brain Is WORD GAMES

 

Harriazar,

You say Lourdes, I say:

LOURDES –> Madonna –> DaVinci –> Woman with Weasel –> Weasel from Newsies the Musical –> Young Christian Bale –> Batman –> Nolan Movies –> Dark Doomy Downward Spiral of Main Protagonist –> Brain Tumor –> Pain Meds –> Morphine –> Jolie Holland lyrics.

Let me tell you all about that time I sang “Give Me That Old Fashioned Morphine” to one of my nice nurses and made her giggle. She mistook Jolie Holland for Judy Garland, and suddenly we go from Doom to Rainbows in the veriest flicker.

See? I spread my brain before you. Tread softly, because you tread on my brain …

Jolie Holland –> Judy Garland –> “Over the Rainbow” –> “Look to the Rainbow” –> Leprechauns –> Green, “verde, que te quiero verde” –> Trees –> What Tree Should I Be? What Tree Will Make a Grave of Me?

Look, we’re back to graves again. At least we took the Bifröst to get here, baby. Definitely sparkly. Speaking of sparkly, I ever tell you how sometimes I see lights? Frequently, actually. It’s the whole going-blind thing. Not like “I SAW THE LIGHT!” but little lights. They come zooming right at me like I’m walking the double yellow line on a dark country road and every asshole rushing home from work has his brights on.

You say “perkiness tips” and all I got is “perky tits,” man. I didn’t have those even when I was fifteen and handsome as a Renoir. I admit I’m shallow; I always wanted to play the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but she’s an ingenue, and I’ve been a character actor since age four. You know who I played in my junior high production of The Diary of Anne Frank? Mr. Frank. They sponged on dirt-brown greasepaint for my beard and strapped my 8th-grade boobs with an Ace bandage.

What did I pop open my laptop to say? I had a purpose. Hm. Rereading your previous emaiiiiiiil——ah! Yes.

A. His name was Gunnar? Goddamn it, I thought it was Harry. I get dizzy thinking his name was Gunnar. Stupid trick, brain. Harry, really, did I really call him Harry to annoy you? Jeebus, I was cruel in my twenties. Probably jealous. I hated when you talked rock with people. I could never join in. I’m useless after the 60s, and even my 60s repertoire (thanks to the hippies I called parents) is mostly folk stuff and Broadway. Never cool enough for rock music, never sexy enough, never angry enough.

Maybe I’m angry enough now. Take me to a rock concert, Eliazar the Defiler. Take me to tapas. Take me away from here.

B. In other words, yes, please, YES, I would be very pleased to attend Tasseography Books and Trees and Tea with Thee. When can we go? Now? What about now? Come now. Now, now, now. Doooo eeeeet. I may not be here tomorrow.

C. WAS THAT MEAN? It was, wasn’t it? Maybe I haven’t lost it after all. Good. You always liked when I was a little cruel. But quietly. Like our secret. For your ears only.

M. W. J.

* * *

From: Harry Najinsky <hn@lnnlawvt.com>

To: Morgan W. Jamwant <theglatisant81@me.com>

Date: January 26, 2015 6:50:17 p.m. est

Subject: Re: The State of My Brain Is WORD GAMES

 

It’s okay, May. Let your mind do its thing. You go fast, and I’ll go slow. You do the living. I’ll do the remembering.

Today we went to Tasseography to find out what tree you should be. It’d been a long time since I’d been, and I was worried that it wouldn’t be wheelchair-accessible. But you told me to, and I quote, “stop being such a prairie dog.” Which made no sense to me until I thought about it—prairie dogs spend all day standing just outside their little holes in the ground looking for any excuse to get spooked and hide. They’ve developed a sophisticated language of chirps and whistles just to tell each other all the things they should be scared of in the world.

It’s not much of a life. I shouldn’t be such a prairie dog. So we went and I pushed your wheelchair, and we trundled and trampled and popped wheelies and plowed over anything that got in our way.

And it was so nice to see Lourdes Belen again. She hasn’t changed since we were teenagers: 300 pounds of smarts and laughter and pure love. She didn’t remember me, but she remembered you. She said she was always jealous of your big hands: better for gardening than her stunted little fingers, she said. Then we all started singing “Blister in the Sun” together, and it was weird how well we remembered the lyrics. But I guess that’s what they say. Music is the last thing to go.

You rolled around by yourself for awhile. You said you wanted “the silent company of flora.” I was watching you, because the worst thing in the world is your seizures, and I was ready to super-jump to you if you had one. But you were fine just then, meandering through the potted young saplings, sniffing and musing like a happy animal.

You were so beautiful I almost broke down. I wouldn’t tell you this, but if I’m going to be your memory, I have to record everything, even the things I’d normally hide. I said aloud, “I hate the world.” I meant it.

Lourdes was still with me. She put a hand on my shoulder and said, “A lot of people are going to tell you let go of that rage, or you’ll never be happy. But rage isn’t a balloon you can release and let fly away. It’d be easier to let go of your lungs.”

“Then what should I do?” I asked her.

“You should buy a carnivorous plant,” she said.

And she introduced me to a species of carnivorous plant called the Cape Sundew. It’s a sprawling, spidery plant with purple flowers and red hairs sticking out of its Krazy Straw branches. Each of those million hairs has a drop of “mucilage” (said Lourdes) hanging from it. When a bug lands on the branch, it gets stuck in the mucilage, and the branch curls around it. That’s called “thigmotropism” (another magic word from Lourdes).

Lourdes told me to touch a branch with my little finger. When I did, the plant slowly started to wrap itself around it. It took a minute or so. I was reminded of the way babies will latch onto your pinkie. When I finally pulled my finger away it was sticky and buzzing with feeling, simultaneously numb and alive.

That’s when I told Lourdes everything. Our lives since high school. How I messed things up between us, how you forgave me and rescued our friendship. Your illness. This stupid useless plan to find the right tree for you to become. “I don’t want Morgan to be a tree!” I yelled, and instantly wished I hadn’t because I didn’t want you to hear me. Quietly to Lourdes I whispered, “I want her to live.”

Lourdes frowned, maybe for the first time in her life. She said to me, “Wait here.” She came back some minutes later with a packet of seeds. Vintage, from 1899, with a gorgeous Victorian illustration of an elder tree on the front. “Dragon elder,” she said, and her smile was back. “For Morgan.”

And I said thank you and asked her how much. She said it was a gift. And then she played a Violent Femmes air-guitar solo.

I bought the Cape Sundew and found you holding a wordless congress with the evergreens. “Christmas starts early around here!” you said.

—Harry

* * *

From: Morgan W. Jamwant <theglatisant81@me.com>

To: Harry Najinsky <hn@lnnlawvt.com>

Date: January 30, 2015 4:34:15 p.m. est

Subject: Calm today. Drifting.

 

The seeds glow at night through the paper bag by my bed. Clusters of emeralds disguised as seedpods. They don’t talk, but they whisper. Though I shall never grow old, they tell me, I shall be an elder. (Bad pun, emeralds! For shame.) They say that when an elder dies, be it from drought or disease, it becomes a dragon. And dragons never die.

So I promise you, Eliazar, Keeper of Cape Sundew, I promise you I shall live forever and never die. Just like you wanted. I shall live forever and devour death. But first you must plant me.

The flowers of the elder tree are edible. We will practice this most secular transubstantiation together. This is my petal you eat. This is my elderberry wine you drink. Make a pipe from my branches and play me on a windy day. I love the idea of you playing music with my bones.

Lourdes is a mighty sorceress. Did I remember to thank her? Bring her gifts of my body in flowers and in wine. How long does it take an elder tree to grow? Dragon elders grow swiftly, don’t they? Dragon elders grow overnight if planted on a hallowed site. You must water me with your tears and ask me any favor. I will speak to you from the tree.

May

* * *

From: Morgan W. Jamwant <theglatisant81@me.com>

To: Harry Najinsky <hn@lnnlawvt.com>

Date: January 30, 2015 5:21:05 p.m. est

Subject: You know what? Screw calm.

 

“No, calm doesn’t interest me.” (IMHO, the best line in The Death of Artemio Cruz, by Carlos Fuentes. Other than the sex scene.)

Harry, goddamn it, if I had ever been a pretty young actress, I’d’ve at least gotten to play Antigone, Saint Joan, Electra. Now I’m to be shored up and sacrificed and bricked in, and all I’m saying is that it would’ve been nice to have gotten some practice in.

Roles I will never get to play, roles that I merited, that were my right:

1. Hedda

2. Lady Mac

3. Phaedra

4. La Marquise de Merteuil

5. Medea

* * *

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THE LAW OFFICES OF
LORIMER, NGUYEN & NAJINSKY

HELPING YOU KEEP CONTROL
OF YOUR GREAT IDEAS SINCE 2011

696 North Main Street

Rutland, VT 05701

Tel: (734) 389-7473

E-mail: contact@lnnlawvt.com

February 1, 2015

To the Most Honorable Morgan “May” Jamwant:

We have an old electric typewriter here in the office, since sometimes we have to fill out legal forms on triplicate carbon paper. This letter is being composed on said carbon paper. I will keep the bottom (pink) copy for my records. The other two copies are for you.

I know what you’re doing. You’re making me write it out. Because this is the last chance for you to read it. And because I’ve been a coward all these years, even though you forgave me. So be it. I am your memory now. Let this be the affidavit of how I failed you, and how you would not let that failure stand, and how we were reunited.

I was married for eight years to Cathy Berd. You told me not to marry her because, you said, Cathy was a soul-eater. You literally said “soul-eater.” You said she would make demands and run things her way and erase my identity and turn me into her hunchbacked Igor.

I said I wanted to be her Igor. That it was nice to feel needed, to be loved. That I didn’t believe in souls, so Cathy would have nothing to eat.

You couldn’t stand it. You said you’d stand up at the wedding; no fucking way you’d forever hold your peace. You’d write all the reasons we shouldn’t get married on a scroll, and the scroll would be really long, Jack-Kerouac long, because there were a million reasons we shouldn’t get married, and it would be obvious to everyone what a huge mistake this marriage would be, and even Cathy, in a weird Shakespearian reversal, would agree, and she and I would part friends and we’d have the reception anyway, just as a celebration of life.

A scroll!

So I uninvited you to the wedding and kicked you out of my life. And everything happened just the way you said. By degrees, I lost my friends and my hobbies. I quit being a public defender and joined a private practice because the family “needed” money. The sex went away four months into our marriage and never came back, but that was okay; there are more important things than sex, right? I loved her. I would do anything for her.

And then she left. She wasn’t even having an affair or anything. She was just bored. She’d feel less bored alone, she said. The divorce papers said “irreconcilable differences,” and I couldn’t help wonder if boredom legally qualified as one.

Over the next two years, I considered killing myself eight different times. The first seven times I was able to talk myself down. The eighth time I called you.

Within five minutes we were fighting over who would make a better replacement for Satan: Nero, Erzsébet Báthory, or Jigglypuff. WHICH OF COURSE JIGGLYPUFF.

The only one. You’re the only person I could have had a conversation that stupid with. It saved my life.

With sincerest gratitude,

Harold Najinsky, Esq.

* * *

From: Morgan W. Jamwant <theglatisant81@me.com>

To: Harry Najinsky <hn@lnnlawvt.com>

Date: February 2, 2015 4:08:39 a.m. est

Subject: Thank you for your letter.

 

Oh, Harry. Oh, Eliazar. Thank you. Thank you for this. I’ve been wanting, for years, to … Well. But you know. You’re not the only coward here. It’s just hard. How sometimes conversation stops short of this invisible wall. And there’s no way around, no portcullis, no battering ram, and you know there’s broken glass and barbed wire at the top.

As for Cathy Berd.

Cathy Berd. Cathy Berd. Cathy Berd. No. Nothing. No story. Erased. A blank space.

Even when I was in the pink perkiness of health I had trouble remembering names. Most people just pass me by. Maybe that’s why I used to give so many of my friends nicknames. Mnemonics. Anchors. Little yellow thumbtacks pinning people I liked in place long enough for me to remember them. But I’d only pin the pretty butterflies. The ones who caught my eye.

Cathy Berd. Was she your wife? She is nothing now. I cast her and the scroll of my objections into my private oubliette. Both are rotted away to shadow. She is banished and devoured and there isn’t even a mark on your finger from the wedding ring you wore. Is there.

Now who is the soul-eater?

I’d give this to you if I could, this empty space where Cathy Berd used to be, but you wouldn’t have it, would you? You want to remember everything, keep it safe and sound in my Eco-Urn. I don’t want to be kept safe beside Cathy Berd. My grave will be roomier without your regrets. Ash and emeralds and elder seeds, yes. Cathy Berd, no. Not that faceless nothing with her Jeanne Toussaint tote and her Armani skinny jeans and her latest Amulette de Cartier.

Maybe I haven’t forgotten as much as I pretend.

You say I wanted us all to part as friends? Huh. Could be I did back then. I was younger, more generous; optimism trumped antipathy. Now I wish I could have destroyed her for you.

Do you know how fiercely I missed you? I dreamed about you every night that first year. I avoided whole chunks of city. Those places stained with you, us, whatever, stained, and even my taste buds rebelled at foods we’d eaten together, and I wrote so many e-mails and sent them to nothing, to nobody, to that place Cathy Berd has gone.

What a mess. Better hit SEND before I delete this whole damn thing. I’ve deleted too much in my life, in all my elaborate games of pretend.

May

* * *

From: Harry Najinsky <hn@lnnlawvt.com>

To: Morgan W. Jamwant <theglatisant81@me.com>

Date: February 2, 2015 4:40:25 a.m. est

Subject: You still don’t understand. Thank you for making me write the letter.

 

I swear I’m going to number every sentence you write from now on. A little superscripted “15” or “77” or “155.” I’m going to catalogue them by theme and make them searchable in a database by keyword. That way when some shitbag nonbeliever 15 years from now says, “Oh, come on, she couldn’t have been that amazing,” I can say “The Book of May, February 2, 2015, 22–23: ‘She is banished and devoured and there isn’t even a mark on your finger from the wedding ring you wore. Is there.’ Those two sentences defibrillated me, motherfucker.”

Promise me you will never delete anything ever again. Always press SEND to me.

—Eliazar, The One You Named

* * *

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* * *

From: Harry Najinsky <hn@lnnlawvt.com>

To: Morgan W. Jamwant <theglatisant81@me.com>

Date: February 3, 2015 12:58:59 p.m. est

Subject: In Which May Gives Harry an Infarction

 

You have to understand, May. If you care about me at all, you have to remember. That “Maybe” you texted me? A sword in the chest.

Tyrell said he and the rest of the search party found you in a woods five miles away, drenched and mud-caked. No one can explain how you got there. There were no wheelchair tracks to follow the whole time, even though the ground was wet and soft. They found you in a clearing, seizing in your chair. Your face was streaked with mud and something red that I am praying to the Book of May wasn’t blood. But they didn’t find any cuts on you.

They were about to rush you to the E.R. when you suddenly stopped convulsing. Your eyes popped open. You smiled. And then you started singing. Do you remember? Tyrell sure does. He sang your song back to me: “Should all my features be forgot, and rot before I die? Yes, let them tumble from my face, if ear or nose or eye.” Poor guy thought you were about to go Poltergeist on him. He said he took ten craps and ran the other way and let the other nurses bring you back.

So yeah. That’s pretty funny, now that I write it out. This is normally the part where I start cracking up at all the shit you pull.

But it’s too scary now, too risky. You can’t go escaping into the woods. You could easily die. And if you die in the woods alone, how will I ever get your ashes in an Eco-Urn? How will we pull off our miraculous plan to make you an immortal dragon tree?

Please, just call or text me next time before you run off. If you disappeared forever without a trace that would be the end for more than just you.

—Harry

* * *

From: Morgan W. Jamwant <theglatisant81@me.com>

To: Harry Najinsky <hn@lnnlawvt.com>

Date: February 4, 2014 11:51:13 a.m. est

Subject: You didn’t laugh till paragraph three? Harry, you’re slipping …

 

It wasn’t blood, it was elderberries. Medea gave them to me. It was awesome; she rolled into my bedroom in a wheelchair pulled by a dragon the color of the sun, and she looked old and bloodstained, and her apron was full of elderberries, and she painted my face with them. I don’t know how they got through the door. Dragons are like cats; they sort of slink bonelessly through narrow spaces, then fill a room. It nudged my bed to the middle of the room, and made three complete circles of itself around it. I was so warm I started sweating. The smell was molten glass and ozone. Like when lightning strikes sand.

I told Medea I used to be a redhead too, but I lost all my leaves because I am a tree in winter. She pulled me onto her lap, saying, “Let me teach you how to drive a chariot.” I asked if I should take my anti-seizure meds with me, since I’d need them if we were gonna be gone more than three hours, but Medea just rolled her eyes.

Then off we went into the woods together.

I forget how we got out of the room. Medea has WAYS. I thought for two seconds this morning that maybe I hallucinated the whole thing, but I couldn’t have gotten out of my house alone. I can’t even go to the bathroom alone.

But that wasn’t the weirdest thing that happened yesterday. Before Medea showed up, I was vomiting, right, like you do. And I started vomiting elder blossoms. Still gross, but kind of neat. And I showed the Judy Garland nurse, and she said, “Honey, that happens at the end.” And when Tyrell came in, he said the last dude he cared for vomited up a whole hibiscus shrub the night before he died, but he’d never seen elder blossoms before.

So apparently people puke flowers when they’re about to kick it. As if we needed any more clues.

It was going to be great. It was going to be ritual. I sang all the right songs, Harry. Medea said I could go ahead and skip the gross interim; she’d turn me into a dragon right away if I liked. No muss, no fuss. But it wasn’t right, because you weren’t there. “I have to wait for Eliazar,” I said. “He’s writing a book about me.” And she shrugged her muddy shoulders and straddled her dragon’s neck and flew away into the east.

So. I guess I’ll have to do without the ritual and the dancing and the dragons. I’ll wait for you, Harry. But it’s gonna be soon. Woman cannot live on petal puke alone. Stay over tonight, just in case.

Remember that New Year’s Eve you stayed all night? Never did drink so much champagne before or since. You said that if we were both still alive at eighty, we should get married and raise hell in the old people’s home. I bit your finger and said my tooth mark was a promise ring. Remember our breath turning silver in the moonlight? That’s how I see you now when I close my eyes. Silver-sketched. Embroidered on my eyelids in thread of frost.

Some animals crawl off at the end to die alone. If we can’t have dignity, what with all the boredom and bedpans and pills we can’t keep down, at least we can be disgusting alone, singing at the top of our lungs.

Medea was pretty cool though.

May

* * *

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* * *

From: Harry Najinsky <hn@lnnlawvt.com>

To: Lourdes Belen

Date: February 17, 2015 1:24 p.m. est

Subject:

 

Dear Mrs. Belen,

This is Eliazar Najinsky, but when I visited Tasseography a few weeks ago I was Harry. I’m in the process of legally changing my name. I came with Morgan Jamwant. She was in a wheelchair. I bought a Cape Sundew from you. (It’s doing great, by the way.) You gave Morgan a packet of Dragon elder seeds.

I planted them last night with Morgan’s remains. Per her wishes, her ashes were placed in an Eco-Urn, along with the seeds. She wanted her new home to be in a woods north of Rutland, but I couldn’t bear to have her so far from me. I buried the urn in my backyard.

I did it in the middle of the night, wearing nothing but the paper hospital smock she died in, because she thought it would be funny. She had asked that I water her with tears, but tear ducts just can’t produce enough fluid to keep an elder alive. So I did the best I could. I caught most of the tears I’ve cried since her death in a biodegradable kitchen sponge I bought expressly for that purpose and buried it along with her. Then I got practical and doused the seeds with my thoroughly unsentimental garden hose.

I sat for a long time with my bare ass on the grass, hugging my knees and holding silent vigil for Morgan. When I noticed I was crying I remembered myself and leaned my face over her grave so that my tears would sink into her soil. That might sound like maudlin nonsense to most people, but I thought you’d get it. I cried until I couldn’t, then sat for hours watching the newly turned soil do nothing.

Which is what is supposed to happen. It would take months to know if the seeds would take, if there would be any tree at all to help the world remember Morgan. But—oh God—what if no tree emerged? What if Morgan stayed dead forever?

I started tearlessly heaving and barking and swallowing air. I tore that stupid stupid hospital gown off my body. I felt myself becoming deranged.

That’s when I noticed that the Dragon elder had broken through the soil.

I took a seat again in the grass. In a half-hour the elder was a sapling, skinny and self-assured. Two hours later she was a young tree. I climbed up her then. I have never climbed a tree naked before and couldn’t believe I had denied myself that pleasure up to now. That feeling of union.

The tree grew for the rest of the night. She slowly lifted me toward the sky. I fell asleep on a branch like a leopard and didn’t wake up until morning was well underway. Anyone who visited my house would think the tree was half a century old. All the grass in the yard was dead, crisp, brown-black. The shrubs had shriveled. The Dragon elder was fruiting, laden with berries.

I took my breakfast from those berries. They were messy; they painted my face, matted the hair all over my body, turned me purple.

I climbed her for the rest of the morning. I didn’t want to get down. I would just live in the tree forever, naked and happy. She would feed me elderberries and flowers, and occasionally I’d catch and eat a bird. I’d eat the insects that lighted on her. Ants would march toward me in sacrifice and become my food.

But then I had to pee, and there was still enough of civilization in me to make me go inside to use the bathroom. I was anxious and impatient the whole time. I couldn’t wait to be in the tree again. I swore the next time I would just do my business from a branch.

As I headed back out, almost running, I saw my laptop. I grabbed it. I am now writing you this message from high up in the tree, naked save for elderberry stains. I’m writing you because I know you’ll understand. You’re so good at life. I’ve only met you a few times and I know with every ounce of my being that you’re one of the kindest and wisest people I’ve ever encountered. You know what Dragon elder is; that’s why you gave the seeds to Morgan. No tree can do what your seeds did. So tell me how all this works. Tell me what happens next. Tell me what to do.

—Eliazar

* * *

From: Lourdes Belen <lourdes@bookstreestea.com>

To: Harry Najinsky <hn@lnnlawvt.com>

Date: February 17, 2015 1:54 p.m. est

Subject: Re:

 

Eliazar, I love your new name. It suits you. Eliazar is a name that unlocks potential.

Send me your address. I am coming to you. Don’t bother getting dressed unless you’re feeling shy. But I don’t think you will be. I think you’re well beyond the neurosis and nonsense of Original Sin. You stay in the tree, and I’ll let myself into the backyard.

It’s going to be a few minutes. I need to stop at Saverin’s first for supplies. Meat, mostly. A lot of it. It doesn’t need to be fresh. It can be scraps; it can be rotting. Trees aren’t picky eaters. Volume is the name of the game. You and I are going to spend a lovely afternoon burying rancid meat in the soil. You can reimburse me later.

I’ll explain more when I get there. But for now: technically, the Dragon elder isn’t a tree. It’s what cryptobotanists call a tregg. Think a caterpillar’s pupa stage. This one will take 5-6 years. And then the Dragon elder will rend itself in two, and you and Morgan get your wish.

But wishes can be curses. We need to start preparing now. She’s going to be newborn-hungry when she emerges. She would eat you quicker than Saturn if you let her. Not to mention all of Rutland County. We will need to lure her into a forested area, far from people, with lots of elk and bears for her to eat. We have to start planning now how we’re going to get a half-starved apex predator out of city limits. It will probably involve a trail of meat.

But there’s time. For now, stay in the tree. Rest. Sing to her, speak to her. Wrap yourself around her branches. Don’t remove splinters; let them dissolve into your body. Eat all the berries you want. I’ll be there soon. Sleep and eat and rest and stay with Morgan. And don’t forget to talk to her. Nothing will help her grow strong more than your voice.

 
 

design

cnc

By day, Carlos Hernandez is a CUNY Associate Professor of English, with appointments at BMCC and the CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of over thirty short stories, mostly SF/F, as well as SF/F drama and poetry. His first collection of short stories, The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria, was published in January 2016. Find out more at http://quantumsanteria.com.

C.S.E. Cooney lives and writes in a well-appointed Rhode Island garret, across from a Victorian strolling park. She is an audiobook narrator for Tantor Media, a performance poet, and the singer-songwriter Brimstone Rhine. Her poetry collection How to Flirt in Faerieland and Other Wild Rhymes, her Dark Breaker series, and her novellas Jack o’ the Hills and The Witch in the Almond Tree are available on Amazon. In 2011, she won the Rhysling Award for her story-poem “The Sea King’s Second Bride.” Her first short fiction collection Bone Swans (Mythic Delirium 2015) has garnered starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. Keep up with Claire at http://csecooney.com.

Together they had this to say about “The Book of May”: “We have entered a new Golden Age of epistolaries. In the age of the telephone, many lamented the lost art of letter writing. But now it’s back: e-mail, texting, voice-to-text, e-invites, Facebook status updates, Tweets. We are, as a culture, rediscovering our textual selves. Some of us still write snail mail, too. We read Flaubert’s letters at an influential age, and all we ever want to do is send our friends miniature novels in stamped and sealed envelopes. We know they’re our friends, of course, if they take time to decipher our execrable handwriting. That said, whether scribbling our innermost thoughts in peacock-blue ink on illuminated vellum or knocking off an e-mail at forty-five words a minute, there is something so intimate, so revealing in a letter unique to that medium. The people we are when we write are both idealized and inadvertently exhibitionist. After all, we can edit, rewrite, delete, and trash—we can try again. But at the same time, writing reveals how unaware we can be, how casually and blithely we expose our ugliest prejudices to the world. And the insights, hopes, terrors, raptures, and kindnesses we didn’t even know we had. Like wrapping up an exposed nerve still singing and stinging and raw from its contact with the ravages of the world and posting it in trust to the person at the other end of the line/signal/private message box/USPS delivery service. That’s what’s strangest about writing, finally, how ghost-laden it is, how queerly capable concatenated strings of ink or pixels are at rendering the human mind. And the ghost is, in the end, all that remains of us. —CAPH, CSEC

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