by MARK ARTURO
He was born in a godawful place. The avenues were resplendent with manure and offal, mercurios dotted the carapaces of old horses and mules. Scavengers like them haunted the old reservoir.
A town fair held every year overflowed with vitriol. He hawked coins shaded pink, flipping them in the air for effect. A momentary distraction is all it took.
Wendy’s father was a drunk, but the kind of happy one who never vomited on anyone else; only fell asleep in his own. Wendy cashed out the large bets and doubled as a horse whisperer. She featured auburn hair and a noticeable gap between two teeth. She was very respectful of him, but that was nothing he wanted very much.
The other girl had a stage name of Sapphire. She did not like being called this casually at all. Her hair was red and blonde in parts, and he was disappointed to learn her parents dyed it that shade. If it had been natural it would have been a miracle.
The old reservoir was pumping out all sorts of calcified deposits, clumps of hair and grease and magnesium. It smelled strong, but not overly terrible, sort of the way the scent of gasoline can be pleasant in a nose.
Wendy said, “One of the ponies caught a very degrading disease.” Touching her fingers to a small horse comb, she asked if he wanted to see the pony’s corpse. He declined and offered her orange sherbet. She put the creamy substance in the corner of her mouth and started tousling his hair. “You wash it too much.”
Her body, warm to the touch, was far less enervating than he had imagined. He told Sapphire about the time he spent with Wendy. The other girl had no great interest, but offered that everything looked a lot better in the dark.
Sapphire loved cotton candy, and a boy shaped like a grouse named Lacob was always bringing her some. At times she nodded to Lacob, and every once in awhile she would mutter, “You’re too kind.”
He thought things would be awkward after their intimate act, but Wendy was a lot of fun. She knew all the latin cognumens of birds, and liked to rhyme them with proper names.
At the beginning of July one of the ponies ran Wendy down and her left leg was never the same. It definitely shivered when it rained, and she apologized a lot more: for what he wasn’t sure.
When she wasn’t practicing her new song, a jazz number that featured a not-insignificant amount of hip thrusting, Sapphire was feeding and grooming a large tortoise. The animal did not like him very much, but he stole birdseed for it anyway after Sapphire asked.
Wendy hated the turtle’s guts. “It’s a stupid beast,” she would say whenever she saw it. “Wendy hates Genevieve because she reminds her too much of herself,” Lacob explained. He found himself regarding the sharded boy with a newfound admiration after that. Lacob’s tongue was very sweet, and it turned out he was only Sapphire’s cousin.
Once he had asked Sapphire whether she was interested in sex. “You don’t have the funds,” she said. He asked whether she ever enjoyed it. “You have to know what you’re good at,” she said.
He agreed to take Genevieve on walks since Sapphire had lost interest in her pet. Sometimes Wendy went with him, shuffling along with a long metal cane that allowed her to move at a rate commensurate with a tortoise. At first he did not know who he felt worse for, but then he realized it was himself.
The last day of the fair featured the biggest race, which was called the Santa Maria. One of the ponies snapped and fled into the forest. He was sent after it because Wendy could not go and there was not much hope of recovering the animal in any case.
It was dark by the time he hit the old reservoir. The pony had gone to water and was sampling the verdant sludge, and soon, puking some of it back up. She had no interest in the oats that were offered her, but lay down near a dessicated maple and whimpered. He felt he could sense a low movement of the earth beneath his piddly legs, sort of like a insect swallowing.
After a few hours he gave the pony some of his water, brushed her and on impulse, ascended her back. As he broke into a small clearing he heard a clear, masculine voice. It said, “Come down from there.” Without thinking about it too much, he hopped off the pony and bowed.
The man was tall and slim, almost a stick figure. He grabbed the pony’s lead and whispered to it. The man asked if the pony belonged to him.
“She hasn’t been cared for properly. She needs water.”
He shrugged. “I don’t suppose you know how to care for a tortoise.”
“No,” the man said. “Nasty creatures. Do you have one nearby?”
“Back at the fair.”
“You’re one of those travelling folks?” He nodded. “I should have known. It takes a lot to get a tan from this sun.”
While he slept, the man roasted the pony’s hind meat on a spit and packed the rest away in a large cooler. The man suggested he say the pony had drowned in the reservoir, since they would never look for the animal if they believed that was what happened. “Anything that drinks that sludge will die,” the man said. “Did you know that?”
He shook his head.
Back at the fair, vendors packed up their goods. He told Wendy’s father what had happened, in so many words, and Wendy cried.
He went looking for Sapphire. Her dressing room was empty. Behind a splintered armoire he found Genevieve munching on a pile of smashed tomatoes that had been thrown at her various times throughout the summer. Lacob showed up, kissed him softly on the forehead, put the tortoise in a small wheelbarrow, and trundled after his mother Josephine.
He packed up everything he had stolen in the last few months and headed towards the reservoir. It now twinkled an unabashed aubergine. He took out a glass he had lifted and dipped it in the water. The sludge positively glowed. He felt silly for looking around as he raised the liquid-filled glass. There was no one.
He filled the rest of the glasses, covered them with wax paper and headed north, careful not to step in the water.
Mark Arturo is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
“Wyoming” – Lady and West (mp3)
“Everything” – Lady and West (mp3)