QUICKSILVER COME TO CURE ME
by Quintan Ana Wikswo
First published in Denver Quarterly
Before he saw his own girls, Lafayette had two halves distinct in every way: adult and child Lafayette, smart and dumb Lafayette, kind and cruel Lafayette. He would choose between the two, carefully, and in that way seem complete.
But then he saw—swimming in their own afterbirth—something nearly of his making—two creatures so immediately loathsome to him that he might have killed them in fear if he’d stumbled upon them after dark.
It wasn’t the bloody fluid that threw him but their eyes, closed as if weapons sheathed and then suddenly open, the pupiled depths inside sucking him straight to God behind the sky, then drowning him down to hell. Their eyes were soft marbles, so milky white they looked blind, a hallowed-be-thy-name kind of blindness like the Saint Paul’s, or the violent powerful blindness of the unshorn Sampson at the temple pillars.
When he first saw the twin girls emerge from his wife, the egg of Lafayette’s mind rolled into a deadly fall from the nest and cracked open, hard, and his clear parts and his yellow parts ran together on the ground.
Maw, his wife, thought the babies were fine. But Lafayette saw that they were some terrible angels—even the blood that rushed to the underneath of their dark and swollen newborn skin couldn’t distract from the ghostly pallor of their eyes—they nearly glowed.
And their heavy floating weightlessness, like huge hollow-boned sea birds stripped of their wings.
Spirits, demons, annihilating angels, Lafayette knew the twins were kin to those bloated white spectral bodies that seemed to hang in the upper branches of trees before morning, that seemed to call out things to him that made him shake.
No, these babies of hers weren’t from his weak seed, these strange fleshy things mumbling animal incantations and searching for a teat.
Lafayette’s egg of a head was scrambled. Burnt over so hard he could see nothing but a charred and blackened life ahead of him. Seemed the children augering some strange and awful omen of his own destruction. He knew himself alone not strong enough to make these kinds of thing.
And so he ran – ran off the map of the town and clear onto another map that included another town, and then another, and finally reached its edge in a tattered crumpled tarpapered house that took him in and gripped him, pliered, in a scared and sodden wonder, by the Gulf.
It was there in the house with the Gulf Girls that Lafayette folded himself in. His head was cracked but gentle. He was skittish, yes, but at his best quite helpful with the wasp nests under the eaves, or manning up a baseline at the guitar when Sikes was too far gone to play.
Betrayed now by his eyes, bringers of visions, Lafayette ignored them and drove towards the pleasures of taste and touch and smell instead, stabler senses which didn’t warp and bend into something horrible the way his sight might. He’d blow his breath out over his upper lip when he saw things he knew he shouldn’t, mostly just vague and sinister shapes but sometimes fishes slithered up from the drain, climbed out, and put on dresses before walking upright to his bed. Or an ear of corn might swell larger and larger until it forced him from the kitchen, Lafayette running away with the quick but fragile steps of an old man. He would watch, stricken, as the afternoon light turned mean, making everything wan and ugly.
At his worst would be when he angrily tugged and pummeled at his own cock, looking to hitch a ride up out of his tormented visions and instead he would see his own twins clinging to the ceiling, clutching with strong fists to the dried-out flypaper, their four critical white eye beams following the motions of his fist, up and down, up and down.
When Lafayette’s visions got too bad he would run upstairs to the Gulf Girls and they would press the soft pads of their fingertips down against his eyelids and push his head into the darkness between their legs. It was there in the feline hollows of the Gulf Girls that Lafayette began to worship the four inch slice of closed yet open flesh that runs between a woman’s legs, worship the way the tissues themselves transmitted a highly compelling odor to anything that touched them: a fold of a nightgown caught up high and twisted around the hips in sleeping, or his fingers. The way the quarter- or half-inch growth of their ladybeard was saturated with the stench, each hair laden with sweet ointment. Sometimes there was a canker-pus or some mites—that didn’t warn him off, nothing could. If he came upon a fruit in the forest, he reasoned, he would eat it no matter the ants or flies, or tiny bud of worm, it was all natural, all to be expected, everything was simple and lovely, and if he kept his eyes closed he was fine.
Eventually Lafayette lost his wife entirely. If there was a part of him that thought of his courtship, their marriage, the cornbread smell of his young wife’s hair, her thumbprints on his biscuits, the red flowers on the quilt her mother gave them, that part had been caught up, tangled in the mess of his guts thrown up at the birth. That part was braided in with a third of his dumb boyish innocence, a third part of fastidious ignorance as to the aftereffects of sex and sperm. What was left in Lafayette was something else entirely, something that had hitherto been obscured: the opening to a dank and tomblike rodent’s burrow. And once Lafayette discovered that hole, tumbled into it, he liked it, liked the stench, the warm comforts, the tender pink. Huddled down there, Lafayette found the source and began to suckle.
Sometimes the Gulf Girls invite Lafayette into the three-walled room, the room whose fourth wall is a window made of the thinnest, clearest pieces of glass. Outside the glass wall are a few chairs and on them sit a small number of people: a man alone one night, drunk and laughing, or a stiff and somber pair half hidden by ridiculous hats or scarves. If there are first time men on the other side of the glass they either begin by being very quiet and then becoming loud, or the other way, where they sit down raucous and then vanish into solitary silence, eyes hooded, rapt at the unfolding goings on.
But when the Gulf Girls invite Lafayette into the room he pretends he is blind and imagines himself vanishing completely and forever into their bodies. He might run his tongue, slow, up inside along their bare crack of ass and while he tastes the hole he thinks he’s small, just a small mole or a snake, and not a man at all. He can pretend that his penis is all of him and that when it’s inside their mouths he himself is dancing down their rosy throats and feeling the billowing curtains of their lungs with his fingertips.
If a man buys his way across the glass sometimes Lafayette is told to stay and sometimes to go, but when a rough and hungry cock finds its way to Lafayette’s hole, to the hollows behind his fundament, then he imagines himself an eternal tunnel, a spiraling expanse of inky closeness, an intimate and blind embrace. Lafayette shivers, winnows, burrows, nestles—anything to ingratiate his way to disappear into a dark and wet opening where there’s nothing to see, where no one can follow him, certainly not his wife, his girls, certainly not them.
The Gulf Girls wash Lafayette in a deep aluminum basin, boil him, with his knees up nearly to his chin. They have two kinds of soap: sweet soap, and bug soap. They use the bug soap first and it hurts. Inside the soap are rough bits like bark and sand, and it smells of gasoline, turpentine, and lye. It burns, makes Lafayette feel like his cock is a match, as though one more rub and it might erupt, engulfed with flame and ash. After the bug soap the water is a murky black, brackish, and the Girls help him up so one of them could take a turn.
Lafayette shivers with the wet and they wrap him for a moment before using the sweet soap, which sometimes makes him cry when he is tired because the water is clean and nearly clear, and the Girls’ fingers are slickened with soap as they dart around his balls and back behind, gentle, and since they’re making fragrant amends for the injustice, their sweetness reminds him of the few bad things that have happened to him in the house: a farmer’s climactic thumbs pressed down so hard against his windpipe that he felt it give a bit and crack; the fright of a scarlet stream of blood that poured from his haunches unexpected; the last night of his favorite girl who screamed and screamed, stopped speaking, then took pills; all these and a gut drawn sickness bring themselves to the bath hoping to get washed away. And so sometimes Lafayette cries when it comes time for the sweet soap because he knows its sweetness won’t hold against the black tar that smothers, or against the sticky sludge that clings.