“You are the one
Solid the spaces lean on, envious.
You are the baby in the barn.”
For Dunna Idisi, winter has always felt like the beginning of the year, not the end. The way the Earth and sky became black and white again like the birth of something new. The first frost that year came the last week of October.
That is it. The hate pulsated deep inside her, slow and even like careful breathes. A deep maroon. His laughter came in staccato bursts. Dunna curled her nails up into her palms and pressed down. She drew in a long, sharp breath and said to herself, Think of the baby, think of the baby as her fists relaxed.
Dunna, Loci and Freda were sitting around the table, drinking spiked cider and listening to Loci drone on about x (name-a-subject). The kitchen was warm and smelled like cinnamon. It seemed as if Loci’s breath was fogging the windows. He talked incessantly with words repetitiously strung together in the same pattern Dunna had been hearing since the night they first met. No matter what he was talking about, it was a story they had all heard before. Nothing was original. So Dunna wasn’t listening; she was trying to drink the right amount that would allow her to tolerate Loci’s presence but without passing out.
After a while, when it seemed to be working, she blinked her eyes sleepily and looked around the room, warm and faintly wet with steam and sweat. Freda was drunk now too and laughing at nearly everything. The apples of her cheeks were bright red. Her two young daughters, ages six and four, were laying on their stomachs on the floor playing with pictures of dogs they had cut out of a magazine.
Outside, frost sat atop the grey-speckled earth like ash. It was a clear night and the full face of the moon glinted off the albedo. It made the world seem dark and holy and vast. Dunna had come to the Vanir household with Loci around two in the afternoon. They held hands as they walked through the sharp air down into the GinnungagapValley. Loci prattled on about the latest book he was writing but never once paused to ask her about her own writing. Like they were peers. For a moment, Dunna thought she could feel his heartbeat through his palm and she quickly pulled away, moved her hand inside her coat pocket. What she felt towards Loci was yet unnamed but she knew it couldn’t be apathy because it vibrated with twinges of deep-seated resentment. Dunna would get flashes of images; often they were of her insides as a deep, yawning void. So maybe it was love.
Four loud knocks and Loci called out, “Mrs. Vanir! Freda Vanir! Mr. Wölfevater is here, at your service!”
Freda giggled at him as she opened the door. “Loci! and Dunna! Come in, come in – it’s freezing outside! Would you like a drink?” When Freda turned inside, Loci reached out and pinched her backside. They both laughed and looked back, so Dunna forced a smile for her audience.
By ‘drinks’, Freda meant a bottle of rye whiskey with a few splashes of apple cider. No one objected, though it was hard to get down at first. The kitchen was glowing amber and inside some symbiotic fluid was holding these three together. To see the diminutive Loci Wölfevater sitting between these two blondes like a king among men, a Napoleon with two Nordic Joséphines – this sight is what made Loci’s laughter more annoying than usual. He was just so contented. The rye helped with that. Bless the bounty!
At some point in the night, Freda got up and bumbled around the kitchen, thoroughly convinced an apple pie was needed to make it a perfect night. Dunna was tasked to peel the apples; she was given a large, dull blade and a bowl to collect the skins. The girls got up from the floor, interested in the commotion, but Freda clumsily ushered them into their bedroom. Dunna watched them leave from her corner of the kitchen, lifting the green skin with a knife and watching the back of their blonde heads disappear into the night. She thought I was a baby once. She looked at Loci, the center of the kitchen and the center of this universe, his mouth moving to an unsteady but constant beat. We were all babies.
If we’re lucky, one day babies again.
Recently, an acquaintance had asked Dunna, “What is the point of being beautiful if you don’t share it?” She hadn’t been sure what they were trying to say. Was it questioning the point of being on this earth unless you share something beautiful? Or trying to tell her that you have to create beauty once it ceases to exist on its own? Did they mean a book or a baby? Freda reentered the kitchen, flush but smiling. Dunna thought about how Freda was alone but not all alone, she had created a family around her. Her husband often left her alone, always out of town on work, but she was always surrounded with love. With lovers. They had a special understanding. They made the world around them into something they found beautiful. At least that’s what they said.
Freda, though she was older than Dunna, possessed something in the form of her face that people seemed to find more appealing. Maybe it was her temperament, now plied with even more conviviality. It must be something in the way her long, wavy hair touched her shoulders and the gracefully sloping nose peeking upward to two sky-blue eyes that shone like glass. At all times, she wore a gold torc round her throat etched with birds and brambles and milk thistles. Something in her every way was feminine. Delicate. But also calming, like a perennial Mother figure. In her presence, Dunna felt like her torc, frozen and ornamental.
In truth, these two women looked very similar. Freda and Dunna were both large women, very German – tall and thick with wide shoulders and busty with large square heads. Loci on the other hand sat between them as foreign as fly in a glass of milk – small and olive-skinned with thick black curls and long eyelashes. He had begun rubbing Freda’s thigh and she laughed and laughed. When Loci called her a slut, he did it so causally that it was difficult to decipher if he meant it playfully or maliciously. But it was palpable that the word hit Freda like an open palm to her face. It was the one moment all night that Freda did not smile. He then said he wanted a ménage à trois but Dunna thought of it more as ménage à triage. Whatever it was, it worked.
I can’t make love to words, no matter how much I love words.
It was time to create something that was more important. More than a book, more than stringing together words in patterns yet undiscovered. Something to fill this unending space. Just as time circles back unto itself, love pushes outward and upward until it gets back to where it began.
A few weeks ago, a short, dark man approached Dunna in a crowded bar. Had purposely made his way through the crowd towards her. When he got near her, the crowd pressed them together and the top of his head barely cleared her shoulder. “Hi.”
She nodded a half smile back to him.
“What’s your name?”
She told him.
He just stood there and smiled. So she leaned down to get closer to his ear. “And what’s your name?”
“No,” He laughed, shaking his head. “I’m …” She couldn’t tell if his voice trailed off or if she lost his words in the music.
“Nothing!” He shouted, leaning in closer. “I can be whatever you’d like me to be.” He smiled, two curved lines up to his dimples. An air of mischievousness looked up to her. She smiled back. You’ll do.
From the distance of a thousand years, Dunna could safely say they were foolish.
Now they were here – in bed with her older friend and her two young daughters supposedly sleeping next door. Incubating underneath blankets and arms and legs and a mess of blonde hair, on top of the bed that Freda’s husband had probably bought.
“Now I lay me down to rest, Freda guard me in this nest!”
What is the difference between envy and jealousy?
Envy is the emotion when you want to possess something someone else owns. Jealousy is the fear you may be replaced in the eyes of someone you love or desire. Almost like how cleave can be to both stick or split. Loci thrust his erection in Dunna’s face and she had to suppress her natural reaction, which was to gag. He was just so proud, referring to his dick as ‘the snake’ and telling her to open up for ‘the poison’.
When Freda had led them into her bedroom, Loci removed his pants and underneath, he was wearing a woman’s underwear – pink lace and a fabric rosebud in the front.
With both of his hands, he pulled Dunna’s curls back – too rough – and, at that moment, she felt something inside herself shatter. The window needed to open; she wanted to feel the cold. Freda was making a noise close to purring, on her hands and knees above them all. Her heavy breasts hung down in Dunna’s face and she felt suffocated by their soft skin and their warmth.
In the dark, tears began to fall from Dunna’s eyes. It was now all movement around her and while her body remained relaxed and pliant, she laid very still and silent. She held her breath against the smells and allowed all the licking and pushing to go on around her. Her thoughts repeated – I don’t want to be so old, I don’t want to be so old, …. Things stopped and started, collapsed and heaved, began and ended and began again. The three bodies tumbled in circles around each other. Dunna only spoke to ask Loci to come inside her. He could hear the tears in her voice and smiled back in the dark.
The alarm went off, panic reverberating off the walls. Freda shot out of bed. “Oh fuck! The pie!” A second later and the whole house smelled burnt, which, while unpleasant, cleansed the bedroom. The girls began to cry next door.
Dunna seized the moment and ran. As she moved, she grabbed clothes and shoes off the floor. Loci, unconcerned at first, still relaxed on his back in bed, asked her where she was going. She paused at the front door to find and put on her coat. The kitchen window was open now to fan the smoke out. A breeze snaked in and out, almost visible in its strength. Frowning, Freda moved past her to the girls’ room without saying a word. She was still naked, only the gold around her neck softly glinting, and parts of her flesh bubbled and dimpled in the hall light as she moved. Sullen vibrations.
“Good-bye!” Dunna grabbed a knit hat that sat on the coat rack too and rushed out the door. She had gotten what she wanted. Loci’s voice carried up the hallway as the front door shut, this time somewhere between angry and quizzical. Further back, tiny voices genuflected in inquiry to Mommy.
Crossing the lawn in the dark, she sprinted to the black outline of the wild thicket that bordered the entirety of the Ginnungagap barrens. The air stung the skin on her face and hands but also seemed to expedite her journey, propelling her forward. Inside her, it felt like something was working – it radiated primeval warmth. She reached the edge and pushed her way inside, then waited, crouched like an animal behind a mask of trees and twigs.
On the other side, barren fields flanked the Vanir house. The trees that lined the driveway were naked as well. Their leaves sat like jewels on the ground, crystallized with soft rime.
A warring angel above me decides the fates of who shall live. Above me. Inside me.
Loci came out of the house in a hurry, still pulling on Freda’s pink puff coat with errant feathers poking out in random spots. He called Dunna’s name and, cursing, moved hurriedly down the dark path, obviously straining to see movement in the darkness. Freda stood in her doorway for a moment, framed in the light from her kitchen. She made no attempt to call out to Loci; she just quietly closed the door when she lost him to the distance.
Behind a grey tree trunk, Dunna tried to slow her breathing. As she watched him move further and further away, she glanced down at her hands resting against the tree and they seemed translucent and glowing in comparison. Nested in the brambles, amongst the naked trees, Dunna felt frozen and ornamental. A scene she had seen before.
A few weeks later and Dunna had still not seen Loci since their time at the Vanir’s. It had snowed so bad in the past few days that the roads were closed and work had been cancelled. A good thing because Dunna was lying on the couch in her living room, wrapped up into herself in the fetal position. She was sick with a bad cramp but she couldn’t tell if her stomach hurt or if it was…
The phone rang.
It was Freda, her voice thick with hushed excitement. “Guess whaaat?” Another. Probably another girl. Freda’s husband wanted another. Ménage à trois.
If I had a girl, I’d name her Valyrie Kreis.
When Dunna hung up the phone, she rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling – white and finite. Placing her right hand on her stomach, she traced the edges with her eyes and tried hard to feel something inside.
Another. God, nothing is original. Valor-eeeee Chriiiiiist.
“Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.”