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Deep Love
by Maura Devereux

Look how beautiful you are now, Jackie said. There's something changed about you. It's in your eyes. You're like a cat now. Your eyes are like a cat. You're not like a plain human now. Why is that?
     Theda said: new life.
     It was true, what he'd said. It was hard for her to tell what she looked like because the only mirror she looked in was the broken rear view she'd stolen from a parked car when they got this place. They'd offered to scrounge her another as they got settled but she liked this one. It was how she saw herself anyway. Small and shattered. She did look different now. Startling to see how different. Rich. Gilded. Her skin looked golden. She had transformed.
     What serendipity of souls brought together the Deep Love Collective? How had the most singularly radiant, most feverishly gorgeous, most loving and most lovable of all sentient beings happened to find each other? They found each other here. They came together in magic and love. Five goddesses. Three gods. Mystical beasts all, and here they were, together and free in this house of possibilities. They were all so open to love. They all loved each other so much and so often. Each lover as good as the next for such shimmering creatures as they. Artemis and Marc had been shared by the whole Deep Love Collective at one time or another. They shared the birth of Clothilde also. That it was these two, this night, was just chance. Clothilde was the child of all the love found and held here. She emerged from a gamete miasma. She completed the life cycle for all of them. Artemis and Marc proposed a feast to honor Clothilde and all her mothers and fathers. They were all her flesh and blood. Through this new and profound lover, they would attain the enlightenment of their deepest erotic souls. They would be transformed. Theda would be transformed.
     The Collective undertook solemn preparations for this most portentous of celebrations. Jarod and Lila dragged the couches from the center of the communal area and swept the dandruff of orange foam rubber the rotten cushions left in their wake. They picked all the lint from the rug. No vacuum meant they had to remove each speck from the vomit bleached surface on their hands and knees. They were already immune to the moldering smell. They smelled it when they fucked and the association made them want to fuck more. They blew the dust off the tables with air kisses and scraped the stains off the walls and tables with spit on panty rags. They built new cats from the whiskers and claws left behind by strays. Cupped hands made whisk brooms and shirt sleeves made feather dusters. They took hours and took up all the dirt, honoring yet then the gorgeousness of the disintegration visited upon them by these whits of matter, abiding with them in this house of love.
     Miriam brought them light. She had 12 boxes of red tapers, nearly free on post-Christmas sale. They had waited in a corner, providing her a bedside table, since her arrival. Now, her only possession was her greatest gift. She cut them in halves and halves again, trimmed wax from wicks, until they numbered in the hundreds. She fashioned baroque candle stands out of aluminum foil from curbside recycling bins, molding each individually and tracing patterns with her fingernails until they looked like artisan silver. She dressed each candle in the oil of her love and placed them in pools around the room. Their palace would be ablaze.
     Zoe washed the dishes with water boiled over the trash can pyre and the juice of a stolen lemon. She boosted the service from the Salvation Army, the white platter like a turtle's shell under her t-shirt. The boiling water hurt her hands and a couple cheap tumblers broke from the heat, but she knew what she was to do. She was to purify. She liked her purity elemental.
     Theda, Jackie, Circe and the Marquis did the shopping. Jackie and Circe prowled the dumpsters at the city's finest restaurants. The occasion demanded culinary finery. They found wilted arugula, shattered portobellos, asymmetrical artichokes, whole sauces discarded in their plastic tubs. Stacks of day old bread. Berries and mangos too soft for brandy. Mountains of melting butter pats. They found enough for two trips home.
     Theda stole the wine. She put on her long skirt and fat girl sweater and went to the store, a boutique on the other end of town where there were grown up clients with jobs. She managed to secure one bottle on each hip, held in the elastic of her underwear. As she was about to leave the store, the clerk was called to the back to take a delivery and she walked out with two more bottles hand held. Madeira, like Shelley used to drink. The Marquis scored the drugs.
     "Thank you guys," Artemis said. "You're so beautiful for that."
     The pyre was fed with loading dock pallets and the precious and rarely employed butane camp stoves were lit. Collective members peeled garlic with pocket knives and improvised seasonings. Marc and Artemis, excused from kitchen duties, tended to the sleeping Clothilde, maintaining throughout a careful beatitude. As the day closed, they donned their most formal attire and awaited the arrival of their meal.
     Circe's old lover's new lover was said to be a midwife. She attended the birth of Clothilde and was thus instrumental in the ritual. She arrived with Circe's old lover just after darkness had fallen. The candles were lit, the flames providing heat and light.
     "We took it out of the freezer this morning," said Circe's old lover. "It should be ok now. So."
     Marc said, "Please." Circe's old lover handed him the package, wrapped in first a plastic freezer bag and then in a grocery bag, twisted and knotted at the top. "Should we say something now?" asked Artemis. "Or should we wait until it's done?"
     "I have something to say before we start," the Marquis said. He raised his glass, a silver goblet for which there had once been a mate. The mate had been buried in an anti-opulence ritual they all now regretted. "I think I speak for all of us when I say I consider Clothilde a daughter and a lover. I have never seen a creature so miraculously beautiful. To be fed by that which fed her shall sustain the newness of her life in us. I will be honored to live on with all of you, my friends and lovers." To this they raised each cup and glass. Clothilde yawned and raised a fist.
      Marc said, "All right," and untied the bag and its contents slurped heavily onto the grill they'd fashioned over the pyre. A polite cheer erupted all around and then silence as they listened to the moist sizzle. Miriam nudged Theda. "Do we have to eat everything? What if we find a vein or something? I hate that in chicken." Theda stroked her hair and whispered, "This is not supposed to be like eating chicken."
     "First," said the Marquis, "a certain toast to our earth goddess Artemis, who has never denied any of us the opportunity to eat her." Artemis sat at the head of the table in a long blue gown with a cinched waist and a deep neckline. She lifted her breasts out of the dress and they spilled, bounteous, over the top. The Marquis bent and sucked at one nipple. Zoe, sitting to her left, leaned over and took the other. Artemis, her face registering a wincing bliss, opened her arms in requisite generosity and welcomed the Collective to partake. This they did with great decorum, in two lines, like communicants.
     When they retook their places in the circle that was their table, Circe's old lover's new lover said, "Is it time for the ritual proper." She looked at Marc. Ready? He prodded at the mass on the grill, turned it with a backyard barbecue fork. Jarod forced scrap wood through the vents in the grill to stoke the fire. "Go ahead," he said.
     "We are here to celebrate the new life brought miraculously to us in the perfect child Clothilde," the new lover said. "Her new life is our new life." A hush, and then she asked, "Who shall begin?"
     Jackie began. He approach Artemis in her Madonna seat and took her baby into his arms. "Clothilde," he told the child, "you are beautiful and your life will be beautiful. We will always be here to love you. You are a child of love. We are all children of love with you." He kissed the child's forehead and then kissed Artemis on the mouth. He returned child to mother awkwardly, then, relieved of his burden, returned to his place with a theatrical flourish. One by one they followed his lead. Clothilde you are beautiful. Clothilde we love you. Clothilde you are beautiful. Lila, starving, had lost her manners and was helping herself to a second salad when her turn came. "Uh," she said. "Clothilde, you're the coolest kid. We're going to make you happy. Nothing is going to suck for you. We'll make sure." She was ready to say, "Artemis, Marc, right on," but she sense a Collective glower and kissed mother and child instead. Jarod restored dignity.
      When each had paid their tribute to the perfect child and her miracle mother, the new lover looked again expectantly at Marc. "I think it's still going to be, uh, rare," he said. "That's okay," the new lover said. "We're not trying to burn all the blood out of it. That's where all the nourishment comes from. It's got the purest, healthiest blood you can find. Amazing healing elements. Stem cells, they're called. They can grow into anything your body needs. The cooking is just an aesthetic thing, really."
      "It'll be fine," Miriam said. "Let's just get on with it."
      Marc lifted it from the grill and placed it on the platter. He joined Artemis in the ceremonial carving, then distributed an equal amount to each celebrant. "Ok," said Artemis, "here we go." She lifted a bite to her mouth and chewed.
      "Mm," she said. The others followed suit. It reminded Zoe of the liver her mother could never make her eat. "This is really good," she said.
     "Mm," said Jarod, "not bad, really."
     "I just want to say thank you guys again," said Jackie.
      "Pass the bread please," said Lila.
      They continued the meal in an insular, contemplative silence. It had happened now, a first for the whole collective, a meal none of them had ever dreamed. Eat what? And now, the dare done, it was just a meal and conformed to the simpler rituals thereof. Now they had done it and they had nothing to say. "Is there more wine?" Circe asked. "Who wants to get high?" the Marquis asked.
     "Now we are bound," Artemis said. "I love you guys." Clothilde stirred in her makeshift cradle, a milk crate she would outgrow next week. Satisfied that the solemnity of the occasion had passed, she began to howl.
     Now people everywhere watched Theda's every move. It had been just months ago and look at her. Circe's old lover's new lover had been right. The whole experience made her feel so much more voluptuous. Everything about her now was so much more exotic, her body now so heavy and full, her new glow so exotic. People looked at her like they'd never seen anything like her before. They couldn't extricate themselves from her golden eyes. Her belly swelled in sympathy with birth and she swayed when she walked. When she was spare changing, people would give her extra because they thought she was pregnant.
     And they couldn't stop talking about her. She was an unnatural creature now and so captivating. They could stand in front of her like she wasn't even there, like she couldn't engage in something as mundane as human conversation. They would talk about her as though she were a specimen. The young doctors would stop in front of her on their way to the library. "What do you call that?" they'd ask each other. "Hyperbilirubinia. Do we suspect conjugated or unconjugated? Positive ascites. With this type of history do we suspect A, B, or C? And don't forget D, present only in subjects with acute or chronic B." And maybe they said, "Hi" but didn't give her change. Droves of them standing in front of her, staring. A whole new Theda, a special creature. "That is one yellow-looking Twinkie-ass skank," she heard sometimes.
     She missed the house the way it was, missed all the love, missed having them all, now that she only had Jackie. And she missed Clothilde, the perfect child, although the services people said there was chance Artemis might get her back when she got better. She knew the child was always with her symbolically anyway. Clothilde's new life was Theda's new life.
      Theda was never more deeply in love.

Maura Devereaux is a writer living in San Francisco, at work on a novel.

Links: Collectedstories.com

Email: Mdev13@aol.com

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