Authors: Douglas Clegg
Mama Neeson shrugged her broad shoulders. “They got to let them out at times or they’d be bursting, now, wouldn’t they. Must tickle something awful.” She wiped her dripping hands on the flowerprint apron, back and forth like she could never get dry enough. Ellen saw a shining in the old woman’s eyes like tears and hurt.
Joey clanked his fork on his plate; Ellen felt a lump in her throat, and imaginary spiders and flies crawling up the back of her neck. Something in the atmosphere had changed, and she didn’t want to spend one more minute in this house with these people.
Joey clapped a fly between his hands, catching it mid-air.
“Mama’s sorry you didn’t see the kids,” Papa Neeson said, steering over a slick patch on the newly plowed road.
“But you’re not.” Ellen said. She was feeling brave. She hated this man like she hated Frank. Maybe she’d report him to some child welfare agency when she got back to the train station. She could see herself killing this man.
“No,” Papa Neeson nodded. “I’m not. Mama, she don’t understand about other people, but I do.”
“Well, I saw them. All three. What you do to them.”
Papa Neeson sighed, pulling over and parking at the side of the road. “You don’t understand. Don’t know if I should waste my breath.”
Joey was in the backseat, bundled up in blankets. He yawned,
“Why we stopping?”
Ellen directed him to turn around and sit quietly. He was a good boy. “I have a husband who hits children, too.”
Papa Neeson snapped, “I don’t hit the kids, lady, and how dare you think I do, why you can just get out of my car right now if that’s your attitude.”
“I told you, I saw them,” she said defiantly.
“You see the threads?”
Ellen could barely stand his smug attitude.
“You see ‘em? You know
my kids look like that?”
Ellen reached for the door handle. She was going to get out. Fucking country people and their torture masked as discipline. Men, 25
how she hated their power trips. Blood was boiling now; she was capable of anything, like two days ago when she took the baseball bat and slammed it against Frank’s chest, hearing ribs cracking. She was not going to let a man hurt her child like that. Never again. The rage was rising up inside her the way it had only done twice in her life before, both times with Frank, both times protecting Joey.
Papa Neeson reached out and grabbed her wrist.
Don’t hold me like that
,” she snarled.
He let go.
Papa Neeson began crying, pressing his head into the steering wheel. “She just wanted them so bad, I had to go dig ‘em up. I love her so much, and I didn’t want her to die from hurting, so I just dig ‘em up and I figured out what to do and did it.”
When he calmed, he sat back up, looking straight ahead. “We better get to the junction. Train’ll be ready. You got your life moving ahead with it, don’t you?”
She said, “tell me about your children. What’s wrong with them?”
He looked her straight in the eyes, making her flinch because of his intensity. “Nothing, except they been dead for a good twenty to thirty years now, and my wife, she loves ‘em like they’re her own. I dig ‘em up, see, I thought she was gonna die from grief not having none of her own, and I figured it out, you know, about the maggots and the flies, how they make things move if you put enough of ‘em inside the bodies. I didn’t count on ‘em lasting this long, but what if they do? What if they
, lady? Mama, she loves those babies. We’re only humans, lady, and humans need to hold babies, they need to love something other than themselves, don’t they? Don’t you? You got your boy, you know how much that’s worth? Love beyond choosing, ain’t it? Love that don’t die. You know what it’s like to hug a child when you never got to hug one before? So I figured and I figured some more, and I thought about what makes things live, how do we know something’s alive, and I figured, when it moves it’s alive, and when it don’t move, it’s dead. So Mama, I had her sew the flies in, but they keep laying eggs and more and more, and the kids, they got the minds of flies, and sometimes they rip out the threads, so sometimes flies get out, but it’s a tiny price, ain’t 27
it, lady? When you need to love little ones, and you ain’t got none, it’s a tiny price, a day in hell’s all, but then sunshine and children and love, lady, ain’t it worth that?”
Ellen had a migraine by the time Papa Neeson dropped them off down at the junction. She barked at Joey. Apologized for it. Bought him a Pepsi from the machine by the restroom. People were boarding the train. She went to the restroom to wipe cold water across her face—
made Joey promise to stand outside it and not go anywhere. The mirror in the bathroom was warped, and she thought she looked stunning: brown eyes circled with sleeplessness, the throbbing vein to the left side of her forehead, the dry, cracked lips. She thought of the threads, of the children tugging at them, popping them out to let the flies go. Ran a finger over her lips, imagining Mama Neeson taking her needle and thread, breaking the skin with tiny holes. Ears, nostrils, eyes, mouth, other openings, other places where flies could escape. Flies and life, sewn up into the bodies of dead children, buried by other grieving 28
parents, brought back by the country folks who ran the bed-andbreakfast, and who spoke of children that no one ever saw much of.
And when they did…
So here was Ellen’s last happy image in the mountain town she and her son were briefly stranded in:
Mama Neeson kissing the bruised cheek of her little girl, tears in
her squinty eyes, tears of joy for having children to love.
Behind her, someone opened the door.
Waiting for her to turn around.
“Look who I found,” Frank said, dragging Joey behind him into the women’s room.
Two weeks later, she was on the train again, with Joey, but it was better weather—snow was melting, the sun was exhaustingly bright, and she got off at the junction because she wanted to be there.
. She could think it. She could remember the feel of the knife in her hands. No jury would convict her. She had been defending herself. 29
Defending her son. Frank had come at Joey with his own toy dump truck. She had grabbed the carving knife—as she’d been planning to do since Frank had hauled them back to Springfield. She had gone with the knowledge of what she would have to do to keep Frank out of her little boy’s life forever. Then, she had just waited for his temper to flare. She kept the knife with her, and when she saw him slamming the truck against Joey’s scalp, she let the boiling blood and rage take her down with them. The blade went in hard, and she thought it would break when it hit bone. But she twisted it until Frank dropped the dump truck, and then she scraped it down like she was deboning a chicken.
All for Joey.
She lifted him in her arms as she stepped off the train, careful on the concrete because there was still some ice. Joey, wrapped in a blanket, sunglasses on his face, “sleeping,” she told the nice lady who had been sitting across from them; Ellen, also wearing sunglasses and too much make-up, a scarf around her head, a heavy wool sweater around her shoulders, exhausted and determined.
Joey’s not dead. Not really.
It hadn’t been hard to track down the Neesons. She had called them before she got on the train, and they were not surprised to hear form her. “It happens this way,” Mama Neeson told her, “our calling.”
Ellen was not sure what to make of that comment, but she was so tired and confused that she let it go. Later, she might think that something of the Neeson’s had perhaps rubbed off on her and her son. That, perhaps just
them might be like inviting something into life that hadn’t been considered before.
Something under your
She carried Joey to the payphone and dropped a quarter in. Joey was not waking up. She did not have to cry anymore. She told herself that, and was comforted. Things change, people move on, but some things could stay as they were. Good things.
“You’re here already?” he asked. He sounded relieved.
“I took an early train.”
“Mama’s still asleep. She was up all night. Worries, you know. Upset for you.”
“I’ll be down there in a few minutes, then,” he said, adding,
“you’re sure this is what you want?”
“Love beyond choosing,” she reminded him. A spool of white thread fell out from Joey’s curled hands, bouncing once, twice, on the ground, unraveling as it rolled.
"The Machinery of Night"
By Douglas Clegg
He thinks: it is our thoughts that make us solid. And daylight. Daylight affects our vision so we believe in solids, in mass, in the religion of material and weight. But when the night washes over us like a flood, it draws back the veil. Pagans knew this; Buddhists knew this; maybe even some Christians know it, which is why they fear the devil and all his works so much. The devil is night. The devil is low definition. The devil is where one ends another begins and all of it a great stream. The devil is darkness. It’s a mechanism for seeing without seeing. Starlight reveals how fluid we are. How there is no beginning and end. Christ said I am the Alpha and the Omega, but the darkness says there is no beginning and end, there is only world without 33
end, world without definition, world without boundary. How to erase the lines between the boundaries is the thing.
Then he stops thinking. Light, somewhere, light spitting out of the hole in the sky.
The night recedes again, the world hardens. Walls arise, windows, doors, beds, restraints.
“Who did this?”
“The ones who come in the night.”
“Stop that. Who did this? Tell me right now. I mean now. Come on. One of you did this.”
“I told you. It doesn’t surprise me you don’t believe us. You don’t believe in much, do you?”
Human feces spread like a post-modern landscape across the green wall.
The words: I FORGIVE YOU SON in curly-cue shit paint. 34
Layton glanced at the three of them, knowing that not one man among them would confess. All it meant was more work for him. More cleaning, more scrubbing, all the things he hated about his job. Meanwhile, the world spun – outside the window, he could see the river as it ran beside the spindly trees, the flooding having subsided three days earlier; the sun through morning mist; the gray doves like children’s paper airplanes floating on the nearly-insubstantial breeze, finally landing on the outer wall, beyond the razor-wired fence. He wanted to be there. He wanted to quit his job that day, but he was still waiting for things to happen – he waited for the other offer from a better hospital, or even a nice administrative position at the cancer society. Anything but here, this place where no one ever seemed to get better, where the depressed remained bleary-eyed, their blood nearly all Thorazine and Prozac at this point; or the criminals, the ones who had done terrible things out there in the world and now were with him, with Layton Conner, behind these walls; and who, after all, were any of them? It was said that even one of the nurses had ended up in a bed down on Ward 35
Six, her mind scrambled because she let them in, she let the patients’
world engulf her own until she didn’t know there was an Outside. Look outside when they get to you. Just for a second. You need to do this to keep yourself safe. When they are getting inside you, look out the nearest window for a second, look at your shoes, look at anything that will take your mind away from them for a moment so they won’t own you.
He wished he’d had a cigarette on his break. He felt the addiction kicking in, and even with the patch on his arm, it wasn’t enough drug to keep him sane in this environment. He glanced from the window to the three men – Nix, Hopper, and Dreiling, each with his secret history, secret insanity, secret darkness. Then, he looked beyond them to the far wall where one of them had taken their excrement and had written the words. Dreiling, who had prettier hair than any of the others in the ward, shook his locks out and grinned. “It’s music,” he said, and the interminable humming began; Nix clapped his hands in the air, catching the imaginary, or perhaps keeping time with Dreiling’s annoying tune. 36
Hopper, who was rather nice in Layton’s opinion, gave an ‘aw, shucks,’
look, shook his head, and whispered something to himself.
“You can’t do this anymore,” Layton said, easing away from his own frustration. “It’s not going to help when Dr. Glover comes in and sees this. It’s not going to keep you free.”
At the mention of the psych director’s name, all three shivered slightly, as if a ghost had kissed them on the neck right at that moment, and Layton felt a little powerful invoking the name of the dreaded man. Nix’s face broke out in sweaty beads, and he put his hand up to his throat. “I…I can’t swallow…”
“Of course you can, now, Nix, come on, take a deep breath,”
Layton stepped forward, bring his hand up to pry Nix’s fingers loose.
“Let go. You can swallow just fine.”
“I can’t,” Nix said somewhat despondently, but in fact, he could. “I hate Dr. Glover. And Dr. Harper. And you nurses.”
“Do you ever think she’ll stop?” Hopper asked later while Layton guided him back to his own room for the daily dose of meds.
“She dreams all of it, her and the baby, and the old man, all of them.” Hopper whispered, a secret, and Layton nodded as if he knew what the hell the tattooed man was babbling about, and then he gave him the little pink drink from the little white cups, and eventually, Hopper fell asleep on the cot while Layton fastened the restraints to his arms.
“This is not everything I’m about,” Layton said to the girl in the pub later, leaning against the bar, a mug moving swiftly to his lips. He had bored her with his day. She was cute. She laughed at his jokes; she smiled at the stories of Nix, Hopper, Dr. Glover, Shea, Shaw, and Rogers and the Night Nurse. It was getting on towards evening, and he had stopped in for a quick drink or two before heading back to his place on Chrome Street. The day had been long, and there had been two eruptions, as Hansen called them, between inmates – first in the showers, what had begun as a rape between two very violent individuals had turned into a near-riot with six of the patients; and then, when Layton was clearly off his shift, he’d heard the screams from Room 47, and had run to intervene with Daisy, the Flowergirl, when she didn’t want to get her sponge-bath. Daisy was sweet, and Layton hated seeing 38