Last night I wrote something new. It’s very rough draft, and mostly unedited, but here’s a little junk from the beginning. It’ll likely end up as one of the interlude chapters in the epic. Don’t have a real title right now, but let’s just call it:
Snow, Blood, Angels
Oh where oh where can my baby be
The Lord took her away from me
She’s gone to heaven so I got to be good
So I can see my baby when I leave this world
—J. Frank Wilson, “Last Kiss”
Desdemona used to trace the stars with her finger, connecting the dots, naming her own constellations.
I call upon her name.
I call her name when I want to remember
Desdemona – who gave me thirty-one birthdays when I had none. Desdemona – who laughed and made snow angels on rooftops because the snow there was cleanest, the closest to Heaven. Desdemona – who made an angel of snow and blood in the dirty street on the day I lost her.
I remember this, now, as Zeek struggles in my arms, anger and fear leaving his body in crimson spurts, and my smile dislocates my jaw. Zeek with the shroud-eye, one eye glaucoma clouded, said it was his evil eye, said he could hex a body with a stare, cast a pestilence. But, see, I knew better. I knew it was Zeek’s dirty needles that killed the kids. And the night collapses with primate shrieks as Zeek tries to lift his bloody gun and . . .
Once upon a time, Desdemona Mercer giggled in frustration and joy and chucked her astronomy text book off the roof we made love on. She connected the dots and named the stars and when the winter wind came we folded in on one another, seeing how close we could get in my sleeping bag. We spent hours seeing how close we could get.
Now, I stare in the cracked mirror and I connect the track marks on my body, form constellations with them. I name each one. But then the memories cut too deep and I give up on the angry stars burning in a pale Milky Way of collapsed veins and I plunge the needle behind my eye and inject. I count the bullets: one, two, three . . . and wonder how many good deeds it’ll take.
I love you Dez.
I slam the clip home.
I miss you Dez.
The little, vicious, mechanical conspiracy of a switchblade lurks in my pocket.
I’m coming home Dez.
I drop the syringe, close my eyes in prayer, and wait for the drug to take hold. December wind slithers in through the cracks of boarded-up windows and thrills the pale, track-stared galaxy to goose bumps. December wind has ghosts in it. In the winds of December it’s easy to remember.
Today is my birthday.
Yesterday was my birthday.
Tomorrow will be my birthday.
When I feel the golden flash-fire burn from synapse to synapse, I smile. Any fuckwit can shoot up heroin or PCP. But creation . . . see, that’s art. Desdemona said that if I applied myself more, I’d make a great artist, or chemist. Desdemona once told me that medieval alchemists tried to turn led into gold and I know that the dealers dancing the alley shadows would kill to know how I transmogrify the chemicals and narcotics, spin caustic shit into gold, liquid fire. But it’s my recipe, my cocktail, my alchemy. My own. I’ll never tell though the dealers would murder their mothers to know.
I never knew my birth mother. I was born in a heroin apartment, spat from a heroin womb, in my birth month of December. Weeks went by before my mother’s mind cleared enough to take me to the hospital. She couldn’t remember what day I was born. The other orphans teased me, the boy with no birthday, told me I had no soul.
And I lived under that assumption, strong and hollow, a predator in the jungle. I swam through an ocean of chemicals, blood, and screams before I found Desdemona. “Happy birthday, Gabriel,” she would say. Everyone had always called me Gabe, but she called me Gabriel. She said I was named after an archangel.
“You have a soul, Gabriel,” she would say.
“How do you know?” I’d say, tracing her tattoos with a forefinger. Here her smile spelled mischief as she placed her eye on my bellybutton.
“I can see it through here!”
The memories cut too deep and I kick the mirror and millions of tiny me’s rain down onto the filthy floor. I raise my gun, aim it at the luminous, broken angel, above. I yell at him, tell him his boss is a bastard for what he did. But I don’t pull the trigger. The broken angel, busted and incomplete, is the last beautiful thing in here, the only remaining stained-glass window left, my only company, squatting in this burnt out church. Desdemona wouldn’t break it.
Desdemona celebrated my birthday every day during December. She called it my birth month. She ignored the fake date that social services had given me as a consolation prize for being shat into the world. She gave me thirty-one birthdays when I had none. That was her alchemy. She could turn blackness into gold.
With my cocktail burning in my brainpan, I leave the church. With gift of my alchemy burning in my brainpan, I begin to time travel. Suddenly, I’m blocks away from the old church.
My vision bends in dream alchemy as lines fade away and colors bleed into one another, chromatic orgies of a melting wax world. Desdemona liked to take me to museums. Once she showed me a row of expressionist paintings. My cocktail turns the street into an expressionist painting and it takes me a minute to recognize the street. This is where I pushed my first dope. The other kids played football and I was earning. I don’t remember my first customers; they were younger than me. I remember the cicadas screaming. I felt sorry for them. They spent decades getting ready, underground, earning their wings, whispering to each other, speculating what wonders they’d see above. But, see, when the time came and they ascended, it was just to fuck and die. They’d earned their wings just to fuck and die and they were screaming in chainsaw decibels at the unfairness of it all.