The dreams began in my early childhood and followed me into my teen years with increasing severity. The woods encroached on my daily strolls through the scaffolding umbrellas near Times Square, in the rain. The backings of newsstands gave way to densely tangled gorse, my senses decaying due to all my late nights. The worms came wangled, from open manholes, the seamlessly psychotic oscillation of the shadow figures ducked behind the diffident crowds.
The low footpaths of VanCortlandt mock our poetry in their swamplike odor of the winter’s thaw. Though graveled by diligent park workers, they are suck-footed mud beneath me as I wander them all the night long, certain by smell and feeling that this will be the place. The feeling creeps at the pit of my stomach, a nausea as my fingers brush the dewy tips of the deciduous walls we spiral into, toward this inevitable occurrence of watching your dismemberment at the jaws of an animal. The nausea tugs hard at my testicles, and the bitterness of a terrible preparation seeps into my mouth. Eons of preparation, and knowledge; the dull flavor of the loss of you.
VanCortlandt tries so hard, but can’t match Central Park for the way it buries the light in the lap of its wilderness. I see the artificial and sickly lamps glowing at the edges of the trees, casting aspersions on my efforts to be so removed, so long ago and far away with you, so once upon a time where I have the magic to stop this. Miracles, Evelyn, are made of a substance so intangible, I can only feel them under my nails, where I’ve scraped them free from the waxen coolness of your dead body; the residue of them left behind when all our sands have run from the hourglass.
In the roughly square wilderness carved out of Riverdale, near the invasive finger of Woodlawn Heights, off the John Muir hiking trail, I walk in old jeans, the mud marring forever the leather of my shoes. I pull my coat tight, buttoning the front of it’s charcoal tweed face across my chest, and shift in my hand, the weight of the axe.
As boys, where we still slept in bunked beds, I dreamed I bought a ticket to what I believed was to be a freak show. I learned I was mistaken, when I was shuffled into a room built of airtight glass walls. The floor of the 4x4 display case was populated by mounds of the severed limbs, and sex organs, of easily a hundred, rather attractive, blonde girls. In my dismay, I lifted them, and examined them to seams. You see, I knew I kept a sewing kit in my pocket. I was confident I could… fix them, if I tried.
I heard laughter, and used my hand to wipe the glass, only smearing it further with the darker blood which fills entrails, specially, in an attempt to see my audience. A sea of wildly entertained guests threw their heads back and blotted their humorous tears on handkerchiefs watching me. What did they want from me? Why didn’t they believe I could make this right? Had I been responsible for their deaths, myself? And most importantly, had I honestly bought a ticket to this most ghoulish parade? Through the beads of brain matter dripping from the walls, I saw bushy furs and the satin sheens of tops hats shake upon their gleeful forms.
I was awoken by my own screaming and my brother’s fists, mighty though they were small, seizing my shoulders. When my screaming stuttered, when my breathing strained, when I could scream no more, his sobbing crept out from beneath it. He cried in my arms while I insisted he tell me what happened to him. He evaded his exposures by hoveling inmost, clapping my hand around the shivering child he never failed to convince me he was.
The morning subsequent was the first in which I found an ax in the backseat of my car. It would do in a pinch, it would do just fine. But this ax was lighter, newer, so hopeful was this tool. On whatever level it may have been, I understood the hand having placed it there and how filled with irony it’s salute. It may have been a mercy, or a submission, or a taunt. This, from a mad person, a knowing nod, it could have been a flirt. But one thing was certain, I was a marked man. Yes, this was an omen, if ultimately nothing more.
I carry it close to my leg in the dark. My knuckles screaming, I should have worn gloves. Leather ones, tight. Tight enough to afford me improvement in grip, desaturate the sweat from my palms, give my hands a satisfying creak when I flex them to closing around the throat of what thing I might encounter. My breath trapping around my ears in the still air, so aware am I of my enveloping and oozing humanity.
There is an animal in these artificial woods, made by men to convey a sense of wonder at nature. I can smell him as surely as he can smell me, but I am clothed in detergents and aftershave and the stinging and sweet stench of failure.
I follow the acrid smell of adrenaline and urine, and find the wolf attached to your prone torso, rooted low in your vitriol and nudging with his weight the pliant flesh of your bare and idle thighs. Muffled and wet noises of contentment blast from black nostrils, where he works meat and bone from the core of you. Your body moves as he shoves rude and hungry deeper within you, and my first thought is as it ever is: I’ve come home, to the bottom of my life, in the glisten of maroon quiet where there are only certainties.
The animal’s fur is black and coarse, matted with blood and clung with strands of your hair as his attention turns to my intrusion, two apex predators in juxtaposition with their submission to the need for a girl’s flesh. The stories tell me that if I disembowel him, you will crawl from the gore of him, face slicked with his bile and half-digested meals of lesser women and girls while he bided his time, for you. The stories tell me that your power to survive outstrips your destiny to die, but I have waited for that miracle in the cold, your red coat covering us both, and scratched the name of it into your skin when it failed to come.
Red is the color of all girlhood things; your lips in the cold, the heart that pumps the blood you bleed, the tones of your menstruation, the feeling of your raging against your destiny, the cape you’ve always worn, and the apple, of course.
It’s been said I took a heady bite of an apple once, to know all things. If the skin of the apple was as white as your own, I understand what he’s doing there, face buried to slick his snout with your blood, if only to know all things. We come to the completions we have to, water settling at the lowest parts of a riverbed first. We stand staring for just a moment, the air choked with the smell of dead mares and shit and the chemical he excretes to beckon adrenaline from me.
I am not a man of quick hand or sharp wit. I have done no training for this. I am not a warrior. I cleave the air with violent strokes from my arms rapidly aching from the effort. I utter sounds shocked and exclamatory which will ring awkward in the silence between us. I may make contact with him, and I may not. I am not an instrument of delicacy or grace, but Evelyn, my God, he is.
The inversion of his hind legs to that of a human allows him to crouch and release, pirouetting expertly, his neck arching sideways to evade one swing of my axe that would have cloven his skull. His teeth grin in their close passage to me, ships in the night, the steam of his breath whispering low something snarling that might be a name. Muscles move smoothly under fur and the lightly-defined ridges of his ribs catch the moonlight against the black of him like the light shifting lazy through the horizontal blinds of all the windows of the worst apartments of my bachelorhood, spilling moonlight onto the skin of your imagined body. The first blow that lands, lands hard enough to crack those ribs and part the even dreams of those blinds forever, gushing forward the black blood of night.
His whimper sounds the way a woman’s would. My attention stolen, I glance to you, to see if I was dreaming, and he regroups himself at the edge of the trees, pacing me as I turn to uproot him from his hiding.
Approaching fast again, he will crouch and lunge, pushing me backward with his stunning weight that forces air crying from me a surprised shout that sounds akin to a daring laugh, but lacks all it’s muster. Now I strike it just behind the jaw, glancing, but it tears as the wolf falls, and rips to shreds the flesh of its throat. As it falters finally, as a dancer collapsing at a ballet’s end, I crush what I can of it’s bones to a mess of clotting blood and splinters of teeth.
I bury you carefully, although the blood on the ground will bring scavengers to undo my work. When the night is finally over, I go to give confession. Once, I believed in a God which would choose such a method for our atonement, yours and mine. I believed our sins to be great enough to warrant the repetition of this into time out of mind.
Of course this explanation falls flat at your bare feet, because while I believe in God; you, Evelyn, do not. If the renunciation of my faith was ever what I needed to end this, I would do it. I would endure any number of faithless and sacrilegious acts of degradation, if it meant I could turn my back on this inevitability we share, and join you in the perfect snow globe of our fairy tale, with it’s surely happy ending, alone with you, until the heart of this earth gives out and we are swallowed by an oblivion unmatched in it’s silence. Evelyn, you are a music box of which I have sought for generations to find a way into the glass. But it seems we are always robbed of our time.