T Kira Madden
And Then We Were Happy
Jaclyn is gone and hot in my lap. She says get ready, get down, these are your last days to taste it. Men come and go. Wristwatches and ties. Rubber hands and two whores. They know which car to find us.
We play roles for the suits: Yumna, Norma-Jean, Dakota Lee from Guam. Jaclyn, with her swollen pigtails—some crooked, agrarian angel. One look and a lean and the men go calcified in our hands. Like seeing heaven, she says. Squirming over when they come. Nascent and raw. She does most of it while I watch. While I drip on praying knees and say There, there, there…
A team, she and I, a continent split and spat out and where is your home now? And wasn't I the luckiest girl in the world? Jaclyn, baby, you found me strung out and coiled down on West 4th street, eyes doomed, silver as teeth. You took me though you didn't know me, tangled and blood-rotten. Two hitchhiking thumbs and I loved you. What I mean is, I stood up and we were happy.
We sweet-lipped drag queens for clean sheets. Called your mother for a dime. Feed us, want us, deliver us from cast-iron fists. You beg so good when you're thirsty. Ruby lips gone sandy between the cracks. Two hits, daddy, and the seraphs orbit overhead like thumbsucking cupids dropping syrup on our tongues. This is it, you tell me. This is why.
Jaclyn, you went gone three days ago, slapjawed and too thin. When I call your name it catches in the roof and hangs there.
Ten years from now, you'll call me from a phone booth halfway to Canada. The quarters will be dead and sticky in your hands. I'll tell my husband I remember, I remember. You, her, some cousin who went wrong in pink paisley knee-highs—the tragic pith of churchyard swings. I'll tell him to hang up but you'll call again. Your voice loops around our tape machine saying These are our last days, don't you dare forget. And I'll go on without you, remembering, headfirst. I am a doctor, a mother, I'll sink deep in a tub to hear my own pulse. I'll tuck-in, sleep. Dream of dashboards and kings—wake up choking on salt. I'll go to work, ignore the ringing phone. I'll deliver babies looking stillborn and blue and say Sorry, I'm so sorry, just before it starts to kick.
My Ma's got no teeth left but her gums look all right. She spins around the house like a broken music box, singing, C'mere Baby. No lover, putty, like the one in my hand. She wrote that song for my father back when she looked less infected. That's what he told me. His words, not mine. My father left her for a doctor named Glenn. They grew mustaches together. Kissed with lots of tongue.
Sometimes I think about choking Old Ma with the curls of the phone cord. We got a navy blue one that rings all cockeyed and shrill. I get nervous she knows about it. She spins away screaming, Ain't gonna' catch me, no, tittie-baby-boom, and I swallow the phone to get her at ease. She likes it when I do this. When I take care of her fear. Once, I swallowed the sofa in our living room so she'd stop stinking it up with nail polish and chunk jell-o. I'll spit it up, I said, just promise to lay off.
You better open wide, she said, and gut-thrust me from the back until I loved her.
We tell bedtime stories, she and I. Monsters and Maypoles. Snapdragons and thieves. When I say taking care, this is what I mean: Once upon a time there was an old, rotten lady. A rotting mouth with no God. Two elbows and a chin. And her rotten son in their rotten home would put her to sleep for good. Are you listening, Ma? She loves this old game. I knead the pillow down. Say your prayers. Hold still. I'll spill your insides all over this joint. Rub the place down clean. No one will know you're missing. Not for days. Not for years.
Are you hearing me? I say.
You'll miss a spot, she says.