:: Article

Soap Idol

New fiction by Jacque Staub, with art by Sophie Herxheimer.

clearing-7-sun

 

She kept the animals in the barbed pen beside the house. On my walks I could hear their mewing from the woods and the creature’s seven teats dragging across the grass. There may have been a swarm of them undulating over the hills in a black cloud, or only one, the fat sow pushed to the corner of the barn.

Each night when I arrived at her door, she would consider the texture of my hands, turning them over by the fire. If they were not already cracked and bleeding from detergents, the walk to her apartment across the fields would freeze whatever balm had temporarily held them together. Scowling, she tugged my wrist indoors and massaged the cream into my cuticles and knuckles. The room was filled with the frothing smell of boiled milk I knew to always be crusted onto the pans and ceiling above the stovetop. The narrow wooden apartment was like the interior of a breadbox or if facing east, where we lay our weeping boots near the fire, a coffin.

Afterwards, we drank jars of the unscented icing whisked from the tops of her lotions. Her collection of oversized spoons hung around the walls, the wooden ones nailed directly to the ceiling in rows. The glass nearly always slipped from my hands, as did any other object until I learned to wait without grasping. Though that was the reason for the white rug, she once confessed as the liquid poured across the fur and hardened. I remember the egg-shaped incisors of her mouth as she removed a splinter from my thumb when the log slid through my fingers like butter. We only burned coupons then, the flames leaking their mirage of color across the vast arctic of her bleached interior.

At night, I watch for the slick yolks of her eyes bulging from the corner of the room and mimic them now as I lie on my own floor still webbed by the black threads of her hair. I can no longer be sure what is true or how long I have lived here, my toes tangled by the knotted ropes that I could once reassure myself with certainty I had never intentionally swallowed.

It seems I am perpetually sweeping her into boxes. Yet, still, I find her lodged in the pockets of my body, comingling with my pores. She left her fruit flies here as well and they have begun to breed inside my cacti. In the morning the maggots are born ecstatic, flitting across my stale eyes until they are snuffed out at noon when the sands arrive. We get no rain here, no snow. The sun burns with pale cake light that was once beautiful and I have never owned a pair of boots. She is never here, but always on the stairs—poised to knock, rehearsing her face. Or waiting by the mailboxes, her hair in rounded knobs fitted to her tiny skull, as if beckoning me to open the cabinets of her neck.

I eat sugar, milk, spongy loaves; everything doused in thick beige sauces. My hands and feet have become sour with the smell of my daily baths, where I marinate myself in the chowder of the tub until my fingers have bloated to candles. Once I scraped a knife over my skin, convinced the veins themselves had hardened to glycerin. (I spend many hours naked leaning on the cold radiator entertaining such thoughts). I was wrong but found instead a clear unscented gel, the same that crusts my eyelids closed as I dream of us shouting with helium voices across an empty oven. Some days it occurs to me she never existed at all, but then I find the greasy residue of her fingerprints (my own?) smeared across the leather chairs. My spoons have gone missing and I wake with an accented voice several octaves higher.

I stand and listen to the knocks of the snaking telephone wire strung to the latch outside my window. It is useless, merely a gondola for the ants to reach me. The power has been disconnected for days or longer. The black braided cord emits a scaly cry as it bleats against the side of my house. Even her pounding arms would never make this sound, I reason.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacque Staub is a Western Massachusetts based fiction writer and visual artist. She is currently working on a novel about the aesthetics of violence inspired by Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty.

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Drawings by Sophie Herxheimer, are from The Listening Forest, a project undertaken in residence with Fermynwoods Contemporary Art, 2014-15. An artist’s book, made in collaboration with The Henningham Family Press, available at The Bookartbookshop or via Sophie, at her website: sophieherxheimer.com.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, July 17th, 2015.