by Jim Meirose
I am God’s insect. God’s insect am I. With every slice I kill him again. I know it’s over it’s supposed to be over thirty years it had been over but now it’s here again, here I am again with the knife, slicing. To kill him again and again and again, because monsters don’t die. I am here thirty years ago and here he is hiding inside my arm. He wants me to think he died but he didn’t, he hides a lot of places but today he’s in my arm. I am no fool, he is here inside this arm I cut at and slice him again I pray I hit him first and kill him for good before I end up killing myself, because if you do enough of this cutting shit you will kill yourself and that’s not want I want to do I want to live to live but free of him I know he’s in there I hope he dies before me but I will do this to death if I have to—
Doorbell. Doorbell. Who?
She rose and wrapped her wrist tight in a small towel and peeked from the window.
Sheriff’s car out there. Man in deputy’s costume on my step, talking to him! Him again all in colors but I can only see the blood colors but I know he’s not bleeding he is that God damned Franklin Thompson again, having collared this deputy and waving that little tiny dot of a picture in the deputy’s face and I am sure, sure I am, he is asking and ranting and raving something about some Mother; maybe his Mother. Yes, his Mother. Always he comes, looking for his Mother. The deputy’s wagging a finger and his hand is on his sidearm and the push of the picture onto the deputy pistons Franklin backward one step, two steps, three steps away. The deputy comes up disappearing into my door, and there’s a knock. I often thought to change my name and live someplace far away where I can cut and cut and cut get smaller and smaller until nothing’s there because that’s what they all say, you know, in their eyes, there’s nothing there. I am God’s insect. God’s insect am I. With every slice I kill him again. No, get him kill him there he is here now he comes in maybe it I open the door, but maybe I just won’t open the door because after all I am not, invisible I am, thirty years have taught me this, yes, so knock. You’re not real anyway. Knock knock knock and knock, you’re not real—
The door came open. A thin woman with huge black eyes stood there, hands clasped before her, towel tied around her wrist. Why? But no matter—Yes? she said.
Your name is Mrs.Martin? said Hurley.
What’s your first name?
She suddenly leaned loosely against the door jamb.
Why do you want to know? she asked with a wry smile.
I’m from the county. You are being served with this.
What’s this? County? Why the county?
You failed to show up twice now to your probation officer. The paperwork you hold now is a summons to appear in court.
I called both times and left a message. What so you mean court? Why court?
It’s all on there ma’am. Have a good day—if you’ve got any questions there’s a number you can call—
No, no, don’t run. Come in.
It’s somebody else here opening the door. Someone else here, oh yes, him again. Must kill him, must kill, but the towel is wrapped around, and so, maybe it will make do for the towel to smother him. He’s under there. The towel. Wrap it tighter. The door opens. A big man. False man. A big false man you are, and I will cut you. I am cutting you cutting you who the hell are you anyplace? Are you anyplace at all? I thought I was done with you big dumb gals. You fat piggy face dolls. Okay come in, here’s my hands, I’m turning around. Where are we off to now? What is it time for now? We never go unless it’s time for something. Otherwise the time just lays there across the floor. And there’s nothing but waiting for time to come alive again.
I—I don’t know ma’am I don’t think that would really be proper—
Oh sure, come on, come on in. Rules are made to be broken, and you look like you could use a cup of coffee.
I watch the time all the time. I sit invisible behind my bars—oh, I never touch them if I touch them that will make them real and it will be true that I’m locked in for twenty years. It’s not true, you know. It’s me and my knife in a dream. Mo more bars but the knife is here so with nobody around, I cut. I cut him. It must be him I cut. Because I am not really here. Didn’t you tell me that Daddy, with your strap? And with my bedroom doorlock? And with other things? It’s you here Daddy. You will always be here. I have you but I will always need more. Mother and I need you but we will always need more. I’ll melt away in all directions and become the studs drywall floors roof and all of the house. I will merge with the house. Then you’ll not find me. Then you will not do that, those things, that you do. In the dark I try eyes closed to merge merge merge with the house but your footsteps come, always when I am just in the brink; and you burst the spell; and you come to me. And do it again.
Yes, okay. I could use a cup of coffee.
Daddy no Daddy you are not Daddy, here in my wrist, thirty years on you are this dirty little man in a grave someplace pretending to be, but no, you are, am really, here in the smothering towel, as I try to be nice and make sense. I am God’s insect. God’s insect am I. With every slice I kill him again. Oh, sure, pile on the words. Women get sent up every time; men get slapped on the dicky ballsy wrists but we are cuffed and taken to live behind the bars we dare not ever touch because as said already, then it will all be real; and this cannot, will not, must not be real until it is over and done with and then, you can look back at what it really was all the time, and you see your first calendar, and the days and weeks in the calendar shout well, then, what the fuck will you do now?
Come in, she said, turning and going back into the house and the door closed behind them as he followed. The latch latched strongly and solidly behind him, frightening him; it sounded too much like a prison cell closing.
What, in the flying fuck will you do with yourself now? Be somebody’s Mother? No. It’s much too late. They taught me that was what I was meant to do but they kept me back in that place until it was much too late. Liars, liars—and, yes, here it is; a homemaker. Be a Stepford wife, sure that’s what you were meant to do, but; they kept me back in that place until that too is much too late. Plus he’s in the grave where they proved I put him. With sharps I put him. They proved it put me here, and put him under. His face is not. I cannot be a homemaker. Why do they all tell you what you should do and be and then, make it impossible? Nerve of them, the nerve, so—here I am a fucking insect. Who’s insect? God’s. See, there’s his face. He’s come for me. He is very nice, he is very calm, he took his hat off, and he smiles. But—who the flying fuck does he think he fucking is, to tell me what‘s what, saying, You! You there! Thank God, like the bars, he’s not real.
He followed her down a yellow corridor and noticed she did not sway as she walked the way most women do; it was like she drifted ahead of him, her feet barely moving. They went into the bright lit modern kitchen; granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, just like something you’d see on television or in a book. She seated him in a breakfast alcove and went and got him a cup of coffee.
Don’t touch it, it’s not real; seeing’s okay, smelling’s okay—but touching, no. Don’t dare because it will all be proven to be real and will collapse on and smother you to nothing. Give coffee, give. Don’t need to touch to give coffee. Safe thing to do.
Here, dear, yes—here is your coffee.
They get physical though, and you’ve nothing to slice with, when they touch you they become real and they strap you in a chair and you’re in a room looking at a corner and are there a really really long time. Count the cinderblocks, in the corner, up, down, side to side. Count the cuts under the towel, will you do it, deputy? I am God’s insect. God’s insect am I. With every slice I kill him again.
With dainty, slow graceful movements of her hands, she served the coffee.
The towel why the towel—
Why the towel on your wrist?
Oh, nothing. I cut myself a little. You ever cut yourself?
Once in a while I suppose.
Well, me too—and she came over and sat across from him and the sunlight slanted in the tall windows around the hexagonal breakfast nook. She provided him with sugar and milk for his coffee and asked him if he wanted a Sweet and Low, but he shook his head no.
It’s thirty years ago and he was ice cold stiff in the ground for two years before the system got to little nobody me, they said the words put on the cuffs up in the bus straight down the Interstate, dead deer in the road, miles and miles of trees, and then cut, snip, flick, you pop from the bus with others who aren’t really there, either—slice, slice, slice, slice—inside you’re thrown a mattress all thin and empty and with stains across, and snip, snip, snip, you’re stripped, searched poked up way inside, and all outside, every single inch hairy or not hair, the word private is in the grave with him, all snipped and dead like I made him too, you go in a line of make believe people and they slide to you over a slick counter a suit of orange and black clothes—oh, yes, would you like cream in that, dear?
Nice place, he said, stirring his coffee.
Thanks, she said. My first name is Rhoda.
Yes. What’s yours?
Yes, always call them dear, they all melt. The clothes go on, there’s no mirror to see, snip slice cut to be smaller but, there’s thirty years ahead to be nobody buried as the one you put down and pushed you here. Welcome to the real world, ladies, she shouts all hot heavy and snappy. You are supposed to laugh, I guess she thinks; but her back is turned and you’re led to your cell so you guess she doesn’t really give a shit. I am God’s insect, that I became thirty years ago surrounded by bars that were never real because not once, not a single time, did I touch them. A baby in a crib swaddled too tight, but still wearing a dopey don’t know any better smile, is just as locked up small helpless hot and without intelligent thoughts, and that is what you become when the cell door slams shut so hard, it pops your ears, touches you in a way, that tells you the day you’re in right now is really, really, real.
What’s your first name?
She lifted her coffee cup.
That’s a strange name. Johnson Solomon. What nationality is that?
Oh, I don’t know. But your first name is unusual. Johnson. That’s unusual where’d that come from?
I don’t know. It’s on my birth certificate. All my life, people have mostly called me John.
Or Johnny? Ever been called Johnny?
You’ve been working too hard, Johnny. They work you hard at the court house do you?
Well, no, not really. Where do you work?
Put on a dopey don’t know any better smile that they expect you to wear for exactly thirty years, rubber face slit the rubber up down, across but draw no blood because it’s just rubber all rubber. The world has turned to rubber formed around you all around, and for the next thirty years you’re less than a baby. Insect. Insects all around you, crowding in growing hissing scraping snapping—so, just bite back. There’s not knives, but there’s teeth. Use the teeth for the next thirty years. A sheet of paper slides in. List of rules. Words. Less than rules, then sounds. Less than words, then noise all noise and the rules evaporate away into the walls floor and ceiling and the world is nothing but a list of rules to be obeyed for thirty years, whether they make sense or not, why judge? The rules are the rules and there’s nothing you, being helpless ageless and sexless can change. You are the walls floor ceiling and bars. You can’t be you, because you can’t really have been so bad and dangerous to end up sitting here for thirty years. And you can’t even cut because there’s nothing to cut with in thirty years though, like your death will come at last the thirty years will pass like that and you’ll be able to sit like this talking to this little plastic man.
I don’t have a job.
And after he goes you can start in cutting him again. I am God’s insect. God’s insect am I. With every slice I kill him again. Throw down the towel and cut and cut and cut until either he is dead for sure or there’s no more of you left, whichever may come first. ‘Cause it’s just time you know, thirty years is, just time, and there really is no reason for time to be anymore, once you’re cut bits lie across the bloody floor, every bit less than dead. Over it is. Dead, it is not. Because even dead, it all stays intertwined; even dead, for thirty years behind the bars that aren’t there can’t, won’t, because they won’t be touched. Yes. Anybody can just go and walk out of the place, see their Moms kids Husbands boyfriends or lovers, or even if they are on the way to cut someone a new face, because the bars aren’t there.
Nope. My husband died a long time ago. My sister’s supporting me. This is her house, you know. While I find a job and a place of my own. You know?
Oh, he nodded. That’s pretty good.
He drank his coffee.
All the while the bars aren’t there, they are free. It feels good to be free, here and now this instant, so—stay in here and in this instant for your allotted thirty years. In this instant stay yes stay because out of this instant, what’s next could be death. I am God’s insect. God’s insect am I. With every slice I kill him again. In this instant only though. What? What? What’s that you say? Oh, beyond death is institutionalization; for the smallest thing. Much smaller than the things the men get away with. They snatch people like you and me off the streets for crushing out a butt or spitting or pissing or going up to a man with a wink, in public. They take and rip you away and try to paste you up against the wall of stone madness. Throw you up against the wall the filthy ice cold wall, to see, if you, will believe the bars, and stick. Like shit sticks—remember?
I saw you ran into the nut out front, on the way in.
Nut, what nut—oh, yeah. That’s Franklin Thompson. He’s the town nuisance.
He bangs on my door once in a while but I never answer.
He looks dangerous.
Nah. Franklin’s not dangerous.
He looked into her great black eyes.
I was the dangerous one, not him. He didn’t do nothing to get thirty years—
Then he noticed something odd about her; small, but odd; she never seemed to blink. Not once; and her eyes were large black and moist and healthy-looking.
But she never blinked.
Why do your eyes never blink? he said.
I said why do your eyes never blink?
I don’t see them blinking.
I blink them when you’re not looking, she smiled. Or maybe they blink when yours blink. Then you wouldn’t see them blink.
Silence enveloped them. Dust motes drifted in the light slanting in between them.
It’s important to not believe the bars because if you believe the bars then you will stick to the wall of death and merge into it where all the others that chose to believe in the bars and that they were really mad, so cut and cut and cut and cut, ended up hidden behind and dissolved forever. I am God’s insect. God’s insect am I. With every slice I kill him again. You got to not believe in the bars until the day they open the door of the cell, then it’s safe to stop holding the breath and the disbelief in the bars, and let the air of life come inside you again. Yes? Sure. Step out the bars, but—it’s still thirty years ago when you breathe again, and the time clock starts up again and everyone is way away ahead of you—like, the lifer woman who’s hand I held while she cried to me, Life without parole, dear God, I got life without parole, and I’m at the table with a circle of bitches who bitch and moan about the heat and the food and the guards and fit of their clothes and the tap of their shoes, they dare complain into my face when they’re getting out in a month or two or three, or maybe the very next day.
At last she said, So what are they going to do to me? For missing the meetings?
I have no idea. It’s not my business. That’s between you and the judge. Hey listen—
Do you always invite strangers in for coffee?
I saw through the window that guy giving you a hard time. If you stayed out there he’d probably bother you some more—
Oh, no, not Franklin—
I bet he would. Once they start bothering you they don’t stop.
No one like that ever stops. Until they’re dead.
And hah, get this; in the place where the holy men preach to you about how you need to look up to God, they try to tell you that life, or tomorrow, or anywhere in between is all the same single instant—there in God’s face! But—if that is so true, why does God not show himself to anyone but the dead. Oh, my, God, she said—and she cried, but I consoled my sister saying, I am God’s insect. God’s insect am I. That was the first time I said t. I will never forget that whose touch made me what I always was but never knew, you know? It’s like you’re always out in front of yourself and never stop and turn and look to see who you really are; you just lead the real you walking behind you down one wrong road after the other—but I turned around, and saw me for the first time; saw I am God’s insect.
This is good coffee, he told Mrs. Martin. What kind is it?
You know, years ago, my husband and I used to sit right here at this table and talk and drink beer all night. The beers flowed.
But I had a problem with it, she said—I got angry, and I knew it was wrong, and I just broke down.
Angry and broke down? What made you so angry that you broke down?
I got pissed, and so then just one, two, three—I got up and I knifed him in the throat.
God’s insect am I. With every slice I kill him again. What did you say you wanted again? My God, what thing will you want from me now? You want and want and want. And then you want some more. You sure are a man through and through. Like God made you, you’re stuck. I know you can’t help it, you will come back again, and every single time I will say, I am God’s insect. God’s insect am I. With every slice I kill him again. The him will be you one day. I’ll hit the target. I miss and I miss and I miss again thinking the false word him, when the real word is you, and then you will be past the end, dead and gone.
Yes. He was sitting right in that chair you’re in. Ha, I even—Lord, this is funny!
But there’s really no death; there’s just change; it’s all change. There can’t be death. There can’t be nothing; like this; those doing days, count the hours; those doing months, count the days; those doing years, count the months; and those doing life, well, there’s nothing to count. It just goes from one day to the next and the next and every day is the first day again. That’s what forever is, you know. Being stuck on the number one. They push and prod and push and prod you along through the same things over and over again, as though you were just a wayward child, meant to sit in some schoolroom seat nodding off the rest of your life, not a hard-minded steely eyed slasher in the place they tore you out of, all stuck like you are on number one.
After he bled out in that chair, I had to send it out to be professionally cleaned.
In the women’s prison are children, mere children, that have lost their way. They are not real criminals who have done real crimes like men. They are just children who lost their way; thirty years of you poor child, you poor child, you. I am God’s insect. God’s insect am I. With every slice I kill him again. I stopped being a child when the gate opened and I stepped out. Now they say you must go here, go there, do this, do that, go to that meeting weekly, do not do this or that vice, here’s a bit of money to get a suit of clothes, hook up with family they say, hook up with family. Yeah well, my sister took over the house. They took it away from me; she finagled to buy it. So we are sitting at the very table where the last words were shot first from him to me, then from me to him, and then, well, I became God’s insect, and I used the knife.
He sat there with his suddenly chilled hands wrapped around his coffee cup. He felt suddenly uncomfortable sitting here with her. He noticed only a tiny bit was left in the cup and thought it was probably time to move on. He sipped down the last drops and got up.
Well—I’ve got to be going, Mrs. Martin—
God’s insect became I. I didn’t kill nobody really, you know. Some evil never dies. He is always here. I slice and I slice and with every slice I kill him again. You can’t guess where he’s hiding, because you can never guess, and nobody will believe it anyway, I may just be a hair away from telling you; maybe just a hair; when I did him he came into me and up inside like a hand in a glove. If I had really killed him, you see, then I will have died too. And, as you can see, I am not dead. I got through thirty years and landed right back here. I think it is true had I not been locked up and babied like a diapered child for thirty years I’d probably be in a grave right now. But everything would be the same for him.
Call me Rhoda. Don’t call me ma’am. It’s Rhoda.
All right—Rhoda. I’ve got to be going.
Abruptly she rose and approached Hurley and wrapped her arms around him and before he could pull away she kissed him deeply on the mouth, her tongue thrust in, jarring him.
Sting, yes, prey—sting sting sting sting the prey, what prey, this prey this—
He lived then, he lives now. I didn’t really stab deep enough. I really didn’t chop hard enough. I know there was blood, there was plenty of flowing blood and whatever I did, they wouldn’t tell me—they said I better own up to killing him, or I could get the chair. The chair hurts plenty. I’m told that from the other side of these walls where they all wait for me to join them; they say the chair is burning alive. An instant of burning alive, well, admitting I killed him stretched that instant out further and further until the instant became thirty years of being treated like a child. You know when you first go in prison, it’s scary very scary. It like you float in, you don’t walk in. It’s not real in there. There’s no place to fit in. There’s all children in there. To fit in you got to be one. The older children, well, they come at you. They get you better blankets and nicer radios and TVs even, and they hold you by the hand and kiss you good-night. Mother, mother, yes, a mother comes to welcome you and watches you as long as she can. And mother after mother watch over you all through the thirty years. I’ve a mother who’s grieving now, back in the joint. There’s a mother with face in her hands and tears oozing out between the fingers. You took me from my mother; you told me the thirty years was over and now, pretty thing, we will tear you from the breast you been suckling.
He pulled his mouth abruptly from hers, but she held him. As she held him, he felt suddenly disgusted as he realized what she reminded him of—the great black eyes, the skinny body—she reminded him of an insect. Gently he pulled himself free of her clinging grip.
What was that for? he said.
He wiped his mouth with his hand as she answered.
A good luck kiss. Just little, you know? You’re going to need it.
Why am I going to need it, he said.
You might run into the wrong person—
You mean worse than guy outside?
He’s nothing compared to what you might run into—listen. You know.
Go—and be careful.
Yes, you—you sitting right there. You’re just a tool of the big sister of a system that rips people from those they have forced them to love and be with and kiss and sleep next to and cuddle and laugh and joke and cry with—your system just goes and forces people around and sticks them there until they grow to love it, and just as thirty years is up they rip everything you love away and bang, snap, you’re someplace else. A strange place. Not my place. That why I never will leave the house again for as long as I live. Outside this world is all wild and unnatural. Like when they ripped me from here and put me in the pen for thirty years, that was at first wild and unnatural; but, I grew, to love it, to give of myself to get love; and just as the love came, well, rip, slash, pop, here I am. Talking to you. You talk about meetings. Outside where you came from, well, it’s not my world. I will not step out from my world. Outside in your world, is a vacuum; a strange alien vacuum with no air, just like light years away it’s just space. Like space, they want me to go up in space and get my blood boiled and to explode into death. Then, what’s left will drift. Just drift. I’ll be like all the other mummies out there, looking just like you; no, I’m staying. They’ll have to come get me, and that should be no problem because they never hesitated to come get me before; until they come, I will sit here. So I guess you better go now, tell them this, you know. You have been sitting there reading my mind. The walls of this house keep all the rest of you from reading my mind, but you are in here, in the house, closer than shit, listening. So go tell them everything you heard inside me. Go tell them. Go tell them, now; tell them I am God’s insect. God’s insect am I. With every slice I kill him again. And again and again and again.
He went out the door and closed it behind him making her disappear. He still felt her kiss on his lips. Fear lay in the floor of his heart all burnt. He wiped it off hard with his sleeve, and wondered just how far things could have gone had he let them. The kiss, and another, one thing might lead to another, but; it would have been hard to get intimate with an insect. He wished he knew her whole story; how she got the way she is. Oh well, he thought. He would never know. Now he stood on her front porch leaning on the railing watching the cars still streaming by.
Inside she went up to the washrooms sink and resumed her cutting. One, two, three, four—
Suddenly Hurley’s eyes opened fully and he went down Rhoda’s steps to the street. He felt suddenly guilty about something but he didn’t know what it was. It was a guilt that wrapped itself all around him like a guilt would do that came from something that happened a long time ago that he couldn’t remember, but that had left its mark—but he shook it off, and went to his Sheriff’s car and drove to the next place on the list.