Michael Heffernan

All Kinds of Harmless Mayhem


“HERE I GO TRYING TO BE WHAT I THINK I AM and what you think I’m not,” I said.  “And all I end up being is what you think I am.  How’s that for getting lost in paradox?”

            She didn’t say anything right away.  She looked out the kitchen window at the big hibiscus on the back deck.  She seemed to be about to do something other than what she had come into the kitchen to finish.     

            “And I could do that to you and make you be what you aren’t, and how would that feel?” I went on.  

            “I’d feel the way you’ve made me feel right now,” she said.  “I feel like a bucket of vomit.” 

            The water in the pail in the middle of the floor had suddenly turned green. 

            “Which is not what you are, God damn it.  It’s not what I’ve made you be,” I kept insisting. 

            “But that’s how I feel,” she said.  “Which is the same as the way you make me feel, and the thing you’ve made me be.  They’re not any different.” 

            “Who’s they in that sentence?” I wanted to know.           

            “Clowns,” she said.  “Two clowns, I think.  And neither of them is me or you.” 

            “My God,” I laughed, “you’re funny.” 

            “You’re trying to talk me through a wall of pain,” she said.  “Don’t keep flogging yourself with this shit.” 

            I noticed how she hadn’t said “talk to me.”  I thought she meant that.  I wondered why she thought I could punish myself with shit.        

            She picked up her mop again and did the kitchen.  I remembered how I loved the way her hair got frizzy in back.  She couldn’t see my big feet clomping, away from the wet places. 

            The day after that, I came to her again. 

            “Once I am doing this,” I told her, “I feel like if I stopped I’d stop everything.” 

            “I couldn’t possibly know what you mean by that,” she said. 

            “It chills me to know it,” I told her.  “Like I’m becoming snow or music that has become snow, or a glacier breaking into calves who begin to sing.” 

            “That’s going to be quite a feat,” she said.   

            I liked the way she said “effete.”  I always liked her best when she said things like that.  They reminded me of babies running around in a garden full of snails.  The snails were likeable, like babies.  Even though snails had no feet, I thought they could walk through me if I let them.  I was filled with footless babies and walking snails.  They went everywhere, whether I wanted them to or not.  They came from everywhere. They came from where they were.  They came in a waterfall that became the river after being the river. 

            She had taken a stick to break it into smaller sticks, in the garden where she had come, while I came after her.  She only broke the stick in half and put the first half on the woodpile.  She looked off at the street, with the second half in her hand.  The street was a stream with trees in it.  They stood along the shore where the islanders lived in their white houses.  She shook her stick once, and then she stopped.   

            “I wish I could eat something, but I don’t know what,” she said. 

            “I don’t know what either,” I shot back dully.   

            The day went with me into more of it.  Where I found myself in the day, I was on the front porch watching from her big chair.  I was trying not to think of her, not anymore, or at least for now.  I tried to be funny.  I said, to myself at least, “We’re out of ardor.”  Which wasn’t funny anymore. 

            She stood beside me with her stick.  She pointed it toward the chair where I was sitting. 

            “Would you like something to eat?” she said.   

            She had brought a tray of tiny toasts, fruits and cheeses, and put them on the table I had put together, when some assembly was required.  I assembled a round toast with cream cheese on the edge and a cherry in the middle. 

    “What about these clowns?” I said.   

    I lifted the face I’d made, like a mask beside my own, and frowned. 

    “What clowns?” she asked me. 

     A fat bee staggering in full buzz lit on the cherry, sending the clown’s face from my fingers and above her head, where it disappeared in the leafage.