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Authors: Bev Jafek

Tags: #Fiction - Literature

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BOOK: The Sacred Beasts
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In the day, we walked over the desert that rose evenly into
terraces like waves. Then the wind was a gentle, persistent hypnotist. The
desert waves mesmerized us until we felt that hauntingly familiar, oceanic
sense of ego loss, as though you had been taken there before by someone or
something, or it was the universe, unveiled, that had always been holding you
rhythmically, like a newborn swinging in a cradle.

When I was a girl and first camped out alone on the steppe, I
imagined that I could wander on and on and become timeless, even casting off my
body when its needs became too insistent, but for the sudden intrusion of the
bizarre: I always came upon curved, twisted, eerily shaped mounds full of
holes, as though
the Sweeper suddenly had an artistic impulse, then
quit in dismay at the strangeness of her creations. W.H. Hudson once wrote that
he, mesmerized by these wind and desert waves, might have walked off into a
similar eternity but for accidentally coming upon twenty-six wild boars, fast
asleep, who were all using the same cow for a pillow.

I could now see Hoste Island and Murray Downs leading to the Cape
Horn archipelago.
There, the huge, vile, lonely rock with its chaotic
surface of black encrusted, horn-like protrusions, as though it was Satan’s
head or the lid of Hell!
I tried actively to suppress the film reel and
found success. Perhaps it was good to talk with Mariska. She sees so much and
describes it with such gentle precision. What a wonder they are, Mariska and
Nadia, the eternal lovers living in grace, as we should have been.

By noon, the ocean is a wall of vapor.
Did she see beyond it?
People pass me, looking silently at the ground. Their faces are grim, red and
wind-blown at this time of year, then grim and blue during our June winter. Am
I alone in loving this bleak land? Men are walking quickly to work in the crab
canneries and navy yards. The town’s houses, unlike mine, are gothic, with iron
gates, high-pitched gables and elongated windows. A square tower rises up on
their street sides, the totality a cross between a fortress and a church. I see
gardens with cabbages white as skulls. Old Pat prizes its gothic exterior, I
its interior. It is all one to the cow used as a pig-pillow by twenty-six feral,
snorting heads.

I will not go to the cemetery today. Tomorrow or the next day,
whenever I can eat and feel certain I will survive this, then I will walk over
the black-riddled sands, under the black cypresses until I find her headstone
of black marble. I would have thought she’d want cremation but no, she never
said she wanted to go back into those awful waters. She didn’t speak of death
at all, since it always seemed to live within her, the terrible price of
intense feeling; the whole world a lover, caressing her senses until she
shrieked like the
. There death, too, dwells, the reaper’s only
welcome mat.
She was like that
, Mariska said, and then her admonishment,
don’t go there
. No, Mariska, I will not. I have a monument to create.
There is still more to say, do, understand; the universe compels expression and
meaning from those who can form and utter it, the sole imperative of genius; if
a small, mad one of my own and yes, I am mad. Bear taught me the terrible
beauty of madwomen.

There’s a bit more bustle on our small main thoroughfare: lean,
plain, muscular people who need a bath and have heavy gear upon their backs.
Summer is the passage time for those leaving for and returning from Antarctica
expeditions. When I was young, I was among them. I know the rough, dazzled
faces and loose limbs of those that have looked long upon the great nothingness
and tried to find an order.
Where is she now and does she finally apprehend
what we have not? Or does she merely accept it? Can she accept?
The film
reel begins and stops with the words
Don’t go there
. Thank god for

There are more cars, trucks, and motorcycles muttering and roaring
about—nasty-looking things caked with desert dust from travel over thousands of
miles—the annual migration of tourists up and down the continent. However bleak
and ugly, they can’t miss the end of the world. Right now, a deeply
philosophical, intoxicated man or woman with a backpack is contemplating that
awful rock of Cape Horn thinking yes, now I’ve seen it all, beautiful and
repugnant; a moment majestic, filled with meaning, when the universe at last
rounds out the image, yet one can still say, I shall not open the lid of Hell.
she did! She opened it so many times. Thank god I pulled her back when I could
Tears are suddenly falling down my cheeks again.
Not now. Oh don’t! Don’t go
. Just a silent wail of agony and it’s done. Again. And it will come
again. Be sure of that, my exhausted old heap of a body talking to itself.

All this wailing and woe seems to have gotten me to the city dump,
proof of a just god. Good for you, you bawling child. Good for the dump.
Mother’s here to pull some beastly grunge back from the abyss. I park my iron
horse and look about me. There’s a terrific stench, but I expected that. What are
we sniffing for? Metal, so that probably means petrol. I walk about in the
grunge that hadn’t been packed or processed yet. And there, I believe I see the
remains of another iron horse in worse shape, thank god. Oh, you horrific
beauty! You’re just right.

“Ma’am, you cahn’t just walk around heah. It’s a hah-zud. Nothin’
fa’ a lahdy.” Here’s a tall, skinny ol’ Aussie with five o’clock shadow
spreading everywhere, a seaman’s paunch and cap, and teeth like fossilized
nuts. Looks as bad off as I feel. I will approach this notable and make him

“I’m looking for an old car wreck, basically, and I think I see
such a skeleton over there.” I point; he looks; I swiftly place Argentine
currency roughly equal to $100 US in his hand. A big brown nutty-wicked smile
stretches across his grizzled face. He’s Australian, all right.

My god, his smile widens still more, his head near-cracked in two,
and he looks tenderly at me like he did to his old mum. Needs the cash.
Probably drinks more than I of late.

“Thanks, mum. Looks like ye can hev y’wrick. It’s sure worth
nothin’ to no one but yew.”

“I need a tow to my yard. Where do you think I can get one? Seeing
as I’m illegally stealing a hazard from the city dump?”

“No trouble, mum. Y’ just go to the Sooty Albatross. There’s
seamen about, and they hev tow trucks a’plinty. I’ll keep y’wrick till evein’.”

“Thanks, chum. I know the Sooty. It’s a
famous place
to avoid!” We grin wickedly and I’m off. Oh yes, I know that stinking
waterfront hole. Nothing younger than I in a skirt would be safe within a mile.
But they won’t trouble a woman the age of their old mums and one in denims and
boots, not when she’s got an attitude as foul as theirs. The chip on my
shoulder starts to crimp. Many’s the time that chip has saved me.

I arrive at the (ultra) Sooty Albatross emitting its last gasp. It
looks even more decadent than the last time I was honored to view the relic.
Soon they’ll have to tow the whole mess to the dump, some decaying male bodies
along with it. Can I truly enter this monstrosity? I push in the rotting wooden
rectangle that passes for a door and enter the inky-dank. It smells like dust,
booze, smoke and sweat: I’m in the right corner of Hell. As my eyes become
accustomed to the interior, I see seven or eight fossils ripe for the picking
by archaeologists. But they’re not looking up yet. Fortunately, I have been
taught how to emit a very loud whistle with two fingers pressed over my front
teeth and lips, another of my nonfeminine wiles. That reaches some baldheads in
seamen’s caps.

“I need a tow job for a wreck, gentlemen, just inside the city.
I’ll pay $100 US cash. Who’s up for it?” I yell into the smoke and din.

I now see a reddish glow in the back around a standing record
player more than half a century old that emits the worst of the din. One tall,
paunchy-inky corpse separates itself from the others and comes up to me. He’s
swaying obscenely and I fear his drink, then he says, “I’m the man to tow and
please any wreck that needs.” The slightly obscene movement results in a crash
of laughter from smoky throats as smooth and lovely as plucked chicken gullets.
Oh goddess of blasphemy, they think I want to buy sex from them!

“The wreck is at the dump,” I shout. “It’s nothing but a wreck and
nothing but a tow, if you’ve got a tow truck.” I sound furious and I am. Now I
see his face: he looks and sounds like a skinny, degenerate Scotsman with
decades of alcoholism to rot his innards and outers. Hopefully, his truck is in
better shape.

“I’m your man,” he cough-drivels.

“Thank you, gentlemen!” I shout and walk out the door. I think I
hear another laughter-wailing of the damned behind me. I am surely blessed to
have this notable rescue me. The sun overhead looks bright and shiny as one

“Follow, first, to the dump,” I say, laconic as possible, given
his addled brain and unmitigated lust. This fossil would fuck the drain in his
own bathroom sink. When I reach the dump, I merely point to the skeleton, which
suddenly looks cleaner and has been moved closer to the street. “Thanks, mate!”
I call to the Aussie, who has already bought more alcohol with the proceeds.

“Anythin’ f’ yew, mum,” he says.

“That’s the relic,” I say to the Scottish relic who will haul it.
“I’m within city limits. Just follow me and tow.” He makes some kind of gaseous
drunken talk but I just go to my truck.

Soon, we are making an unearthly racket throughout the city and
all the way up to my door, the skeleton banging the street as it advances. I’ll
be even more famous to the neighbors now. When we have the dead relic far
enough up on my acreage, I pay the living relic and send him packing. So much
for his career as a gigolo. I look toward the house of Mariska and Nadia. I’ll
bet they’ve seen every moment of this nonsense.

But now that I’m alone, nothing can diminish my satisfaction.
There’s a good part of the motor and most of the front chassis. All I need is a
blow-torch, some heavy wire and wire cutters, and I think I can solder a
certain monstrous figure out of it, one with a smaller, monkey-like beast on
its back, even some reins of wire in its hands to join them. A distorted
homunculus leading a creature larger, truer and more substantial than itself:

The whole experience has been so outrageous that I lay my head back
and laugh long and hard. Ah, look at that sky! It’s clear and blue, Death’s
soft December summer day. Have I ever done anything as outrageous as this? Not
bloody likely! I continue laughing. Now for some more whisky, a blowtorch and
the artist will commence. For now, I’m an artist: I invent quandaries, not
solve them. The latter is for the scientist in me, and she’s nowhere to be

A young Arab owns the liquor store. When I buy wine and whisky,
his full, dark lips always smile, gloating, and he gives me what looks like a
black, sidelong evil eye. No doubt he envisions me drinking my whisky in Hell
while he continues his mild, eternal conversation with Allah in Paradise—until
the beautiful young virgins arrive, of course. I’ve always wondered what happens
to those beautiful young virgins. They won’t stay virgin long, not in that
man’s paradise. What then? Do they vanish? Imagine the turmoil in Paradise: an
angry crowd of dark men in swaddling turbans suddenly calling the lovely girls
whores and pushing them off the silver clouds! But of course, that is no
religion or paradise for a woman, nor is any man’s.

When I arrive at home, my arms are full of bottles and boxes of
hardware, which I gratefully drop on a living room armchair and then collapse
on the other, my head rolling back in exhaustion. When it comes forward, I am
greeted by two very concerned and determined, kindly blue pairs of eyes—Mariska
and Nadia—who have been sitting all the while on the sofa opposite me. I am not
quite ready for their overzealous concern for my mental health.

“How nice you were to invite yourselves in. Invite yourselves to
my whisky and casserole, too.”

They tilt their heads as though hearing soundless language and
remain silent, deeply considering the psychological climate, their eyes and
faces full of unexpressed questions. How much alike they look, full-cheek’d
Hungarians grown together, with edges so worn and simplified they’ve become a
European monolith of love. Their fair coloring is almost identical, yet Mariska
always has the more penetrating eyes and intellect, Nadia the Buddha-like smile
and lips, often round in pleasure or awe. They came to live in Ushuaia after
several decades in San Francisco, their pasts as floridly exotic as that of
anyone at the end of the world. They were librarians by day, but by night and
weekend, followers of Wicca, dancing nude with other female devotees in the
nighttime forests of Big Sur and Mt. Tamalpais. They are welcome here, for we
surely must have witches at the end of the world.

Now their faith seems to be no more than a delicate savoring of
ceremony: candle-lighting, home-brewed liquor they call mead having deliciously
unknown ingredients, evenings of incantatory poetry reading. Though I do not
share it, their faith is one I cannot refute: the world is full of mysteries,
after all. And profoundly, they are survivors—as old as I yet idealistic, rich
in apprehension, full of many subtle perceptions and secrets—unlike tough old
Pat or, worse, the States, a whole nation tougher than beef jerky. They left
the States when we did for much the same reason. Mariska was the native and
expatriate. I’ve known her since childhood, too many years to count.

BOOK: The Sacred Beasts
9.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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