ghost in the skin

Lions, and elephants usually keep their distance from one another. And then there is the dry season…

 

by laine perry

 

Balthus Magmus: 42. That’s forty-two, red-headed, bitter. The dot, dot after his address explains his recent acquisition: the little apartment in back, also his. This is no small thing in Boley, Oklahoma. Founded in Indian territory in 1863, eight hundred-ninety- three people live in Boley. Balthus has one living in the little shed out back. Dragonflies can change their mid-air course in a split second. Engineers take a look- see.

“It’s beautiful!” Delia Schweidenbeck moans.

“It’s just a phony!” snorts Balthus, handing back the watch.

“Shiny though Red, gee, look at her…like real chrome!” Delia says, her eyes full of admiration for things.

“There’s supper to fix.” Red says, and re-tucks the tails of the shirt Delia favors.

“All right Red, all right.” Severe erosion. He can’t figure a way to cleanse the soul without washing more than a little sediment away. “Libya sure is full of ugly women!” grumbles Balthus Magmus. He says it as if he had known a girl there once, in Jaghbub. There isn’t any one living in that part of things now. If there was, she could cross over to Egypt on her lunch hour to bring her lover some wine.

“Bibliophile, pilot, sailor, craftsman, diver, raconteur. Do you think the guy really does all that?” Balthus asks.

“Sure.” Delia answers, “They say it right there in print.” She assures Red.

“Well,” Balthus wants to know, “How would you know whether some guy added a few fillers just to fatten up the story a bit?”

The cat purrs without reason. The cat is not a dreamer. He’s white, and fat. He’s listless, and sheds indiscriminately. The bed barely needs a blanket. You just move the clumps of hair around with a foot, until it’s where you think you want it.

“They don’t do things like that Red.” Delia says. “It’s the National Geographic, for God’s sake.” She tells him.

“OH?” says Red, mocking his girl, and licking his lips a little. “They don’t?” Red chides. Delia’s broad backside swings around, and now it’s her bony hips challenging him. That makes it all a little different.

“Red, you ought to try it sometime.”

Delia gives a laugh. There’s a flame in there. “I don’t believe anything I read.” he explains.

“Red, you don’t believe.” Delia says.

“I want to know why the hell they won’t give those Romanian kids the cocktail!” Red’s coffee cup is empty. “Those AIDS kids, why in hell don’t they just let ’em have it?!” Delia kisses Red’s forehead, squeezing her eyes shut. “Those passive, cynical, budget-bunglers!” He yells.

Delia’s face is flushed . Her thick, curly, blonde mop is clipped on to the top of her head. “I love you Red.” She says certainly, and closes the door behind her, before the rain can leak in.

Lions, and elephants usually keep their distance from one another. And then there is the dry season… Those two barefoot girls come clambering over Red’s fence, giggling. The little brown girl catches Red’s look and scrambles to get to her feet quickly. “Sorry.” She says with a lowered head. “Pick up those eggs, and get the hell out of my yard.” Red says.

“All right.” The two girls promise.

To a hungry shark a fish in distress is like a dinner bell going off. Red changes out of his robe. “Why don’t those people wear shoes?” Red wants to know. He thinks about the color of the little one’s skin, a brown-gray, like a little reef shark. When he’s done thinking about her he takes a long, hot bath and waits for Delia’s key to turn in the lock. There’s tea, and the old coffee grounds, and some chicken legs.

Things are better. Delia’s made things better. Through the window above the tub Balthus can hear the feint laughter, that little girl laughter. It’s Easter, and they will hide and re-hide the eggs until they become hungry enough to eat them.

Originally published:
Issue Thirty-Four
December 2004

 

 

(illustration: troy dockins)


Laine Perry grew up on the road with her mom, making music and telling stories. Many more of these stories from Laine can be found in the Vault of Smoke.

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