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
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
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
"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
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,"
"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.