- American Dream Serialization (Early Chapters)
- Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Maurice Stoker
- Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Tom Bradley
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: American Dream Title Page by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 1 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 2 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 3 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 4 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 5 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 6 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 7 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 8 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 9 by Jim Chaffee
- Modern Tragedy, or Parodies of Ourselves by Robert Castle
- Totally Enchanté, Dahling by Thor Garcia
- Hastini by Rudy Ravindra
- The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 5 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
- Unexpected Pastures by Kim Farleigh
- Nonviolence by Jim Courter
- The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 4 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
- The Poet Laureate of Greenville by Al Po
- The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part VI by Thor Garcia
- The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 3 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
- The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part V by Thor Garcia
- The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part IV by Thor Garcia
- The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 2 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
- The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part I by Thor Garcia
- The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part II by Thor Garcia
- The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part III by Thor Garcia
- The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 1 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
- DADDY KNOWS WORST: Clown Cowers as Father Flounders! by Thor Garcia
- RESURRECTON: Excerpt from Breakfast at Midnight by Louis Armand
- Review of The Volcker Virus (Donald Strauss) by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
- Little Red Light by Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip
- TEXECUTION: Klown Konfab as Killer Kroaked! by Thor Garcia
- Miranda's Poop by Jimmy Grist
- Paul Fabulan by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
- Operation Scumbag by Thor Garcia
- Take-Out Dick by Holly Day
- Patience by Ward Webb
- The Moon Hides Behind a Cloud by Barrie Darke
- The Golden Limo of Slipback City by Ken Valenti
- Chapter from The Infinite Atrocity by Kane X. Faucher
- Support the Troops By Giving Them Posthumous Boners by Tom Bradley
- When Good Pistols Do Bad Things by Kurt Mueller
- Corporate Strategies by Bruce Douglas Reeves
- The Dead Sea by Kim Farleigh
- The Perfect Knot by Ernest Alanki
- Girlish by Bob Bartholomew
- The Little Ganges by Joshua Willey
- The Invisible World: René Magritte by Nick Bertelson
- Honk for Jesus by Mitchell Waldman
- Red's Dead by Eli Richardson
- The Memphis Showdown by Gabriel Ricard
- Someday Man by John Grochalski
- I Was a Teenage Rent-a-Frankenstein by Tom Bradley
- Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Fred Bubbers
- Believe in These Men by Adam Greenfield
- The Magnus Effect by Robert Edward Sullivan
- Performance Piece by Jim Chaffee
- Injustice for All by D. E. Fredd
- The Polysyllogistic Curse by Gary J. Shipley
- How It's Done by Anjoli Roy
- Ghost Dance by Connor Caddigan
- Two in a Van by Pavlo Kravchenko
- Uncreated Creatures by Connor Caddigan
- Invisible by Anjoli Roy
- One of Us by Sonia Ramos Rossi
- Storyteller by Alan McCormick
- Idolatry by Robert Smith
- P H I L E M A T O P H I L I A by Traci Chee
- They Do! by Al Po
- Full TEX Archive
P H I L E M A T O P H I L I A
By Traci Chee
The fact of the matter is that it was a perfect afternoon, and the waterfowl were upon the water, green heads gleaming and little ducklings all paddling in a row, and the birds were in the trees or the birds were in the sky, and if they were in the trees they were roosting among the branches dappled gold and they were making roosting sounds, and if they were in the sky they were darting here and there like winks or if by two, blinks, and they were fast and free and their calls were all the more so, and the songs that came from them were flashes of bright against the thin blue air, and the wind in the rushes and over the lake and carpets of green grass was sweet as springwater and cold as clay and if it touched you, and it touched everything that day, you felt like all of your nerve ends had been switched on, and there you were, there everything was electric and firing and alive.
So when Helena kissed that bullfrog, she didn't do it because he swore that he was royalty. She did it because watching the reflection of clouds in the lake was like watching cream being poured into a blue cup. She did it because he was a talking frog! And how often do you meet a talking frog. And how often is the afternoon perfect like that, with the faraway mountains looking so much like footstools, like you could just long jump the valley and land that close to the sky.
It didn't matter that the frog had not lied, and he really was a prince, and he was handsome, and kind, but she already knew that, and when the dust settled there were sparkles resting in his hair and when he stood the sunlight glanced off every part of him.
He was grateful, and he offered to marry her, but she didn't even know his name, so she said, "No, but thank you," and the Frog Prince went naked into the hills toward the faraway mountains.
What she will do is: when you are sleeping, she will put her lip to your crow's feet. She will put her lip to the corner of your eye, whether you have crow's feet or not. She will like the edge of your lash line against her philtrum. Even before you're a baby, and you're sent down to earth from heaven, Peter or maybe some other gatekeeper puts his finger just there, just so, so that you forget, you forget, and all you have left is that hush mark from an angel's finger.
For Helena, it's not about the dark and it's not about the light. It's about:
the feeling of opening like window shades being rolled up and how in the quiet grey-blue overcast daylight everything looks queer and perfectly centered
dizziness, when she raises her eyelids, and her eyes are not focused and there is a split second of headache, when she is uncertain of where she is and what that means is that she is anywhere and unsettled for just one sliver of time
When she was in seventh grade at her first boy-girl party, and the boys were by the punch bowl like wild young zebras stomping their feet and slurping unspiked drinks, and the girls were by the stereo humming electrically, they all wanted to play Spin the Bottle or Seven Minutes in Heaven, and they didn't play Spin the Bottle.
In the closet among the winter wear, shins knocking against the vacuum cleaner, with an orange crack of light on her ankles, Helena could hear Mariah Carey through the door, whistling the high notes. Her first kiss was all lips and no hands, though soon enough she learned to hold the back of his neck, she learned to finger his hair. How long are seven minutes, she didn't remember.
But somewhere around thirty seconds she lost her balance and her ankle caught on snow boots or a black umbrella and she held onto the boy's arm for balance and they went leaning into the rain slickers. Tinkling of metal coat hangers. His back against the wall and her chest on his chest, thighs and smiles pressed, and if she could have opened her eyes then, if the others had thrown open the door six minutes early and cast Mariah Carey and Christmas lights fully on them, then she would have seen him like no one had seen him before: afraid, but happy, with his heart dancing around in him like a butterfly in a big net. But they didn't, and before seven minutes were up, there in the closet dark, Helena opened her eyes and put her hands to the sides of his face and she put her lip to the edge of his closed eye.
She dreams underwater dreams, where breathing is heavy. How is it that you can be so weightless and so weighted down at the same time, all that water buoying you and stifling you at once. She wishes she had thicker skin, wishes she could cut up tires and stitch them together into a coat or something. She likes that idea, being made of tires, of things that carry you forward.
Have you ever been in water so murky or deep that when you look down you can't see the bottom, but you can see the illusion of bottom, where the skylight strikes downward and gets lost, and as you're imagining seafloor you're sure that at any moment now something will come lunging out of those depths?
It's like that in underwater dreams except there's no fear, and she is sure that whatever comes for her will feel like a happily ever after, however many teeth, however dead and bulbous the cast-iron eyes. For now, she's more entranced to be breathing at all, to have her body up-down slightly at the pull of the moon, or is it the shudder of the earth. She's mesmerized by the silver-bright of the surface from below, how the waves are sharp and cut each other sideways, how the sun hits the water like a rocket.
When it does come, rising monstrous in froth and dramatic pressure changes, she climbs onto its back, holds it between her thighs like a horse, though it's so much more than a horse, puts her palms to the stove bolts of its nose, and they dive.
Deep sea pressure can be a killer, but there in the dark it's just her and this creature with fins like wings. She puts her cheek to it and squeezes her eyes shut against the feeling that her skull will soon cave.
She just holds on and goes deep, with all that water crushing her, compacting her, until she is no longer hollow, until she is far enough away from the sky now, compressed enough now that she is no bigger than the very dense head of a pin, and she doesn't have to feel so depleted and empty and alone.
I was like that once, I was like Helena, once. I used to think, Maybe I'm a conduit, a copper pipe or a conductor cable for some force beamed down to earth via satellite, and I wasn't talking about aliens, I think I was talking about angels, and there were brief moments when I was full and the entirety of existence was flowing through me, but then the moment was over, and I was empty and echoing again, and nothing, nothing at all had changed.
The thing about having eyes on the top of your head is that you don't have to crane your neck in order to look at the sky. When he was just Prince, when he was just human, the Frog Prince had been plagued by incessant neck pain, by migraine and headache, by stubbed toes and bruised shins. Quite the character he appeared, crown askew, grass stains on his knees and scratched palms, always halfway off-balance with looking up.
It didn't matter whether there were clouds or stars or birds up there, or not. Expansive unchanging blue and he'd still have his cleft chin pointing at the sun.
You'd have thought being bound in the body of a frog was a punishment, you'd have thought so, but maybe the Witch wasn't so wicked as we all thought. Now Frog Prince likes spending his days with his legs splayed over a lily pad, sitting still as a rock, staring up.
"Wouldn't you have rather been a bird?" Helena asks one day. Flat on her back in the green grass, arms spread over her head, watching nothing. "Like a falcon? Or even a sparrow?"
Frog Prince doesn't look at her, just says, his large mouth barely or slowly opening, "That's not the same."
"Well yeah," she laughs. "If you're a bird, you're actually in the sky."
"But it was never about that." He blinks carefully and his eyes become more golden and his oblong pupils wider or darker. He doesn't say anything more, but what he means is that it's about the feeling of being stretched between your feet and your gaze in the air, being drawn out in a line between these.
"If I met the Witch, I'd want to be a shark. Or an alligator."
"No, you wouldn't."
"No, not really." Helena sighs. "I just like teeth."
Here Frog Prince looks slyly at her out of the corners of his big round eyes. If round eyes have corners. "Did you know, toads don't have teeth."
"Maxillary teeth," he says proudly and bares his row of tiny serrations for her to see. She wants to lean over the water and run the tip of her finger along them, just brush the top of his mouth.
"They're tiny," she says. "They're cute."
Helena passes her tongue over her front teeth, feeling their flatness like tiles. Frog Prince watches her, watches her tongue move beneath her upper lip, flattening out her cupid's bow, and for the first time in years he wants to be human again. He wants to leap onto her chest, and he knows he could make the jump. He has faith in his back legs. He wants to put his webs on the curves of her breasts and sit there and have her upper lip underneath his right hand.
He wants to maybe put his frog lips to hers and flick his frog tongue into the pink cavern of her mouth.
Standing now, head tilted, neck long like a giraffe or a bridge, Helena asks, like she's reading his mind, which she isn't, "Do you ever miss being human?" She can feel the sky on her throat, sliding down her spine and into the cup of her heart. What she's thinking is Frog Prince doesn't get to feel that, not with the way his frog body is, crouched up like that, all curled with no thoroughfare for the sky to get into the edges of him, and despite the neck pain and the stubbed toes, maybe that's what it is about looking up, not just seeing.
You can't live in a town this small, in a community so pinched in on itself, and not have them whisper about you when you walk by. You can't walk into a deli and order a Coke or a turkey sandwich without having ladies with their hair in tinfoil, wearing shiny black capes, abandon their hairdryers and sneak in from the salon next door, only to say while your back is turned, "Did you hear…", hoping that you will be compelled to relate the truth in the rumor.
They started when she was fourteen, just into high school; she played flute and there was a boy who played bassoon, his name was Mark, and he had dark hair and dandruff, braces, and a shy smile like he was never sure if while he was smiling Helena was going to turn into a toad or maybe a tortoise, though maybe he still would have been entranced by her if she had.
They'd been holding hands at lunch for a month. They'd been holding hands after school for two weeks, and she would lay belly-down on his bed, chin propped on her elbows and her feet kicking up in the air, poring over Great Expectations or a brief section of science textbook on metamorphic rocks while he sat upright at his desk doing algebra, or maybe just watching her.
The truth is that on that mid-October afternoon, his sheets were ripples and she liked the folds of them under her hands. Outside the grass was browning and the driveway was pale concrete and cracked, and she wasn't reading that day, just looking back at him.
He leaned over, awkwardly, and when he kissed her his braces scraped against her teeth.
She felt like a balloon whose string had been cut, and she was soaring up past his second-story window and through the clingy branches of the oak tree shading half the house, and she was still going up, past telephone wires and radio towers, and she was sure that the air was thin and she was going to pop.
But she was also still in the room, and she smiled at him, and she put her hands on the back of his neck and she jerked him off the chair and she half-fell off the bed and he was crouched there on the carpet looking bewildered but intensely happy when she put her mouth against his mouth.
Two days later at his orthodontist appointment, while his rubber bands were being changed, while his mouth was growing dry and his lips were chapping and the side of his head was pushed uncomfortably close to the chest of the slant-eyed dental hygienist—he thought she must be some exotic mix of Indo-European descent, some lithe, bronzy creature beneath those scrubs—Mark's doctor told him, It's a miracle, Mark, I don't know how it happened, I'm good but I'm not God, and this has got to be some sort of divine intervention because your teeth are the straightest teeth I have ever seen. You don't need braces, I don't see why we can't just take them off now and fit you for a retainer.
Seven days later the second-chair clarinetist was running her fingers over his skull and saying how soft his hair is, how shiny, what conditioner do you use?
Maybe you know the rest. Maybe you know that on the eighth day Mark told Helena that it's not her, it's him, and this was true, because what an asshole, ditching her, ditching even the bassoon for shin guards and soccer practice instead, to sit across the quad with the second-chair clarinetist and her twin sister, the soprano section leader in choir.
Maybe you know that it wasn't too long before Bobby, before Chris and Darren and another Chris, before these and more were lining up because what they said while pissing next to each other in the boys' locker room is that, Man, you won't believe it till you try it, she'll change your life.
She stopped Bobby's stutter, she fixed Chris #2's lazy eye, she got Darren an A in English and decades later a position as Poet Laureate of New Jersey, and over the course of four years as she kissed each member of the basketball team, they went from last in the league as freshmen to state champions as varsity players. And you can't kiss this many boys, you can't change this many people, and have that go unnoticed.
So when she enters the house this morning, this early hour of 5:30 a.m., her step-mother is standing in the foyer, in a bathrobe, in wrinkled and loosening skin. Her hair, dry and graying and coming free from the bun at the back of her neck. The displeased purse of her lips, thin and snapped closed. Because when she goes to the post office to pick up her packages, the postmaster, a woman with a chest like a shelf and clumping mascara, snidely says, Who is it this week? Imagine this happening all over town. Imagine step-mother's shame and possibly envy, because no one would ever think that her kisses could change you like that, though maybe once, a long time ago, when she was, if she ever was beautiful or kissable, they could have.
So when Helena enters the house this morning, this early hour of 5:30 a.m., step-mother has only one thing to say, and she fastens it around Helena's neck like a chain, and it burns like a cattle brand, and though she'll maybe carry that scar for the rest of her life, because we all know that sticks and stones are only sticks and stones, Helena sits on the fraying or fading Persian rug and puts her hand to her throat, her fingertips on her neck, feeling the edges of that word, sharp points and sliding surfaces. She likes the way it sparkles and sends barbs of light in all directions. Red, vicious light. She puts the word to her lips, holds it there for a minute before opening her mouth and putting it in. She rolls it over with her tongue, coats it in saliva, bites at it with her molars. SLUT. Swallows.
The Beast found her at night in a clearing of sugar pines, sitting cross-legged on a flat-topped granite boulder, with pools of dark mulch needles in the grass. She was staring into the forest, and she had not seen him yet, but he had seen her, elbows on her knees, gazing at the trees with an intensity and fascination that he had only seen on the faces of scholars at books or predators stalking prey, but with a joy that transformed her face entirely, so that she was neither academician nor animal, but a different, alive creature altogether.
He said, "Don't be afraid," and remained in the shadows behind her.
Helena didn't even turn to find him, even if she could have found him, camouflaged as he was in his spotted or maybe it was striped pelt. "I'm not afraid," she replied, and she wasn't. Helena had an addiction to truth the way some people are addicted to punctuality. Physically unable to tell lies, to be late.
"Are you lost?" asked the Beast. Deep rumble like the engine of an ocean liner. With coal burning inside.
"Maybe," she said, "but it doesn't matter."
The Beast crept to the edge of the clearing, soundless, the way hunting animals are, though he was not hunting, not hungry or desperate, just curious. "Why not?" he asked.
"Because I want to be here."
Truth be told, she liked the way the tree trunks seemed flat against the dark of the woods and how they rose up and up and up until they became flat against the sky. She liked how the forest sounds became sharp and meaningful in the night. She wanted to be like that: sharp and meaningful.
Helena was not afraid when the Beast sat down beside her, not afraid of the dirty, oily smell of his fur or the tatters that remained of his clothing.
"I've heard about you," she said, looking down at his claws. She wanted to touch them.
"What did you hear?" She was such a small thing. He could snap her in half if he wanted to, but he didn't.
"Do you eat people?"
"No, but I eat animals. If I'm one of them now, does that make me a cannibal?"
Helena looked at him then. If she recognized some part of herself in him, in those cream-colored horns, in the hackles stiff-raised along his spine, some part of her that had generations ago forgotten how to be human and how not to divorce from the animal body, she didn't know it. She just knew she liked the question; it made her wonder at her own animality, if she had any.
"Are you really an animal?" she asked.
What the Beast explained to her then was that he used to be a man, a prince, even, and when he kissed the first enchanted sleeper, he hadn't done it because he wanted a wife and he hadn't done it because she was beautiful. "They're always beautiful," he said, but he'd done it because it wasn't right that someone with all that life left to live should sleep through it, while thorny vines swallowed her castle and everyone she knew grew old and died. He'd done it because he'd come all this way, and it wasn't right for him to leave her there.
Her lips were cold and rubbery and he was tired and his arm was broken from the fight with the dragon or maybe a den of lions, and it wasn't at all romantic. He knelt and put his lips to hers, and it was awkward, but it was enough, because she opened her eyes and threw her arms around his neck and wanted him on or in her, but he was tired and his arm was broken and she didn't understand. So he said, "No, but thank you," and Sleeping Beauty stood up and the Beast recalls now how she opened the curtains and how the sunlight was blinding, but in a good way.
When Helena touched his paw, then, where it rested on the granite between them, she saw his fur melt back into the few soft hairs of human hands. She saw his black talons recede and flatten and fade into the transparency of human fingernails. Then, as she held his hand, she looked into his face, and she saw there a human face, not the face of a beast, horned and snouted and baring fangs, but a man's face with five o'clock shadows in the planes of his cheeks and thick eyebrows but straight except for an arch of intelligence, or maybe it was confidence, and epic Greco-Roman lips like those carved out of marble but his were moving.
"Why did the Witch turn you into a Beast, then?" she asked.
"Who knows?" the Beast said. "The Witch works in mysterious ways. I keep hoping one day, when the time is right, I'll turn back." He sighed, and looked sad, and wilted a little bit. "Or maybe not," he added as an afterthought, "maybe this is just who I am now."
"It's not," Helena said. "It's not. It's not." And she was crying, not wanting to believe that she could see all of his possibilities, all of his virtues there before her in the night, but that he might never become this man she knew he could be, and she was so overcome that she kissed him then, and what she saw became what he was. And he offered to marry her, but it was enough to see him standing there shedding his old clothing and his old skin, feeling new and shiny in his human body, loving the sky on him, unmediated by fur.
I used to dream about your forearms. In my head they were spindly like branches, and smooth, if not soft, and what I wanted to do was hold them; I wanted to wrap my fingers around them, half-way between your wrists and the fleshy bend of your elbow, I wanted to wrap my fingers around your forearms like vines. I just wanted to hold them.
I would dream about that part of your face where your nose and your cheek connect, that soft square of skin below the inside corner of your eye. I imagined our foreheads pressed, eyes downcast not out of sorrow but because they were closing, lashes sweeping skin, this like nuzzling, like some quiet animal sort of intimacy. I wanted to kiss your eyebrow. I liked how close I was to your bones. I wanted put my face to your face.
I used to dream about your knuckles, but only if your hands were laid flat or your fingers were extended. I thought of your palms as smooth and lined like wood grain. And your knuckles were knots and the more I touched them, the smoother they would become. I wanted to take the big knuckle of your forefinger, where it connected to your palm, I wanted to take it in my mouth and suck on it like a stick of licorice root, prodding it with the tongue and testing it lightly with the teeth.
Unless the Witch seeks you out—and if she does she will find you wherever you are and it's okay to be empty-handed when she does, for she will not expect that you have come with payment, but if you are holding, for example, a fishbowl or a small terrarium she will take it from you and you will have no say in the matter—you are to collect one blue stone, no bigger than your fist but no smaller than the tip of your thumb, and it is imperative that you find this stone yourself—she will know if you haven't—and: a strip of green plastic, a sticker of Saturn, the celestial body not the god and preferably glow-in-the-dark, a bottle of spring water, recyclable, and a porcelain figurine. These are the tokens she will require, and you can be sure that she will not show up if you don't have them, that is, unless she seeks you out first. When you have your stone, your length of green, your planet, your bottled water, and your little deep sea diver or treasure chest, you must put them in a carrying sack—a paper bag will work—and go to a hill facing due west, covered 97% with grass, not necessarily cultivated or even green, and having a 30° to 45° incline. Then you wait.
They say, speaking loudly over the sound of the domed hair dryers, Did you know, your crotch can rot from overuse? What they don't say, what they never said, and what Helena did not expect was that after the Beast, after she had kissed enough men to wonder why when they left her they were full of electricity, why they were improved when they left her, why she never felt changed the way they did, and after she stopped kissing them altogether because she could not stand to feel so charged, while her mouth was open and her lips were supple, and then after, so empty and unchanged, what she did not expect was to forget. She forgot, because after moving away, she kissed no one for years, for decades maybe, who knew, while she waited on the hillside, facing west, with the birds in the trees or the birds in the sky, talking politics and religion with the Frog Prince, forgetting what it was like to kiss, to be channeling a beam of energy sent straight through her from the sky, to be filled like that or even to be emptied the way she used to be, and it got harder and harder to pretend that she remembered any of it, that she hadn't grown solid and cold in her center.
The fact of the matter is that it had nothing to do with the birds or the trees or the movement of air across the water. It was like this:
When I got to you, you were standing there in the snow, with your sneakers all damp and your feet sliding out from under you. You were white or pink with cold. I was shivering. It was winter, and the sky was a bed sheet drawn over our heads. I didn't know what to do. I forgot how to say hello. How to shake your hand.
Did you look at me and was I just as you imagined?
When I got to you, there was a carousel and painted ponies and paper masks, and everyone was wearing mittens. Red scarves. When I got to you, I was as sharply defined as coal in snow.
It was a Friday afternoon. There were pigeons or blackbirds on the telephone wires, and when they launched into the sky, their stick-feet sent blips of sound into the thin January air. Flakes of snow or pearls of music drifting over my fingertips as I reached for them. You laughed, maybe. Are you frightened by perfection? The trees were naked.
I kissed you. One day, I'm going to forget everything else, but I'm not going to forget the way you came towards me. Like a slow rocket or a fast rocket in slow motion, with the horses in the background and all those hands waving, all those mouths open. I'm not going to forget the way you looked at me and I'm going to remember how it felt to look at you, through the fog of the world, which had been waiting for us, for this, which was holding its breath or standing still, and all its ears and all its eyes were turned towards us, towards that square of sidewalk where our toes nearly touched.
It had everything to do with the world, conspiring towards that moment, but ultimately outside of us, looking in on that singularity. Where we stood so close. Where the birds and the wind dropped away soundlessly. Where we became infinite. Everything at once intimately connected and altogether foreign, and it had everything and nothing to do with us.
I reached up and took your face in my hands. I pressed my mouth to yours and I opened you up with my tongue. You kissed me. You held on to me in such a way that I was in your arms and yet I was in the rhythm of the telephone wires, I was in the teeth of plastic ponies and in the lines of the concrete and deeper. We were alight from the inside, electricity or breath running between us and out of us into the naked trees. Remember the glowing streets, how bright it was, and how, afterward, the direction of everything was changed, how we were able to see the slant of snow falling and how the freeways embraced the curvature of the earth, we were able to discern the movements of crowds and flickering of fluorescent bulbs as they turned on, the line of a pencil the same as the line of a wooden bridge the same as the cold creek it crossed and the crisp edge of a slice of whole grain wheat as it appeared from the mouth of a toaster in Weatherby Lake, Missouri.
When the Wicked Witch arrives, her torso is a fishbowl, and inside is blue gravel, a length of plastic seaweed, and a little orange goldfish, whose eyes are brighter than marbles or planets on dark nights, whose fins are small but sharp and flick him from one side of the bowl to the other, swimming in figure eights, drinking in everything he can see and more that he cannot, with every rhythmic pulse of his gills.
He sees a woman, sitting on the edge of the pond, her bare legs dangling in the water, pale beneath the surface and sending ripples to the farther shore. She's laughing. She's got a laugh that bursts out of her like an ignited match. You can maybe smell phosphorus, if you're not underwater.
He sees a frog, patterned with black, slick with moisture, smiling slyly or shyly, gazing adoringly up at this woman. One eye on the sky and the other on her face, resting on her parted lips.
"Kiss me," he says, finally. It's been years. Dreaming of this.
Helena stops laughing. "I can't," she says.
"You can. You have to."
I don't remember how, she wants to say. Even if I wanted to, I don't remember how.
"It's not because I want to be human again. It's not because I want to feel something." It's because if I don't kiss you, now, I don't know if I'll ever get the chance again, and I don't want my life to be empty of you like that.
Frog Prince ducks into the water. It's cold, and he likes the way the light spiderwebs over him. He kicks once, twice, with strong kicks from his back legs. Elegant and quick underwater, looking more human than Helena has ever seen him.
He leaps onto the bank, places one webbed paw on her knee, on her thigh, and he looks up into her face.
She picks him up with both hands. She holds him so that they are eye-level. "Kiss me," she says.
When their lips meet, she's falling into the grass, unrolling like a carpet, until she is flat and trembling, with Frog Prince at her mouth, hard frog lips and tiny frog teeth nipping at her, tongue flicking in and out of her, caressing her gums, the insides of her cheeks.
When their lips meet, the Frog Prince has his legs on her collarbone, his hands on her jaw, belly against her chin. Until he is growing, and his knees are grass-bound on either side of her, and he's holding himself up at the elbows with his fingers in her hair.
All this, the Witch and her goldfish heart see. She raps her knuckles on the bowl, lightly, affectionately, and smiles. He does a flip and watches as Helena and the Prince part.
But he doesn't see Helena's heart quiver, glowing orange and splitting down the middle, hatching a small tadpole in the chamber of her chest, so that when the Prince takes her hand and says, "Will you marry me?", she feels the tadpole stir and swim through her veins, and she is not empty anymore—because she never was, not really—and though she loves him, she won't say yes, not now, because she doesn't need to, and can you imagine years from now when her heart is fully grown and kicking its back legs elegantly and fluidly and looking up?
© Traci Chee 2009