... shamans maintained unusual virility and had extreme sexual appetites ...
... David S. Whitley
Outside of town, almost nobody bothers to look up. The stars are an epidemic you might say, always lighting up the cacti and reminding everybody that we're in the middle of nothing, with nothing but light-years of pointillist ejaculate overhead. I, however, did take the time because I'd read about it in the newspaper and knew Cassidy would've done the same. He was always curious.
I imagined my six-year-old son's finger. I could see him pointing up at the planets as we stood in the driveway, staring up at the 19.5-degree arc. I could see him with his bangs just above his blonde eyebrows.
He'd identify them—Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter—except for Mercury, perhaps, but I wouldn't mention the omission. I'd just reach down and fix his collar.
You're such a smarty-pants, I'd say. Then I'd watch him smile with his eyes and his mouth. His older self would already be at the front door, waiting, not giving a damn about planetary conjunctions. You're such a smarty-pants, he'd mimic.
Yes, you are.
I knew. I'd birthed him and witnessed his voice change, taken him to t-ball games and to the hospital when he'd get a concussion. I knew he felt embarrassed to be around me in public now, and I knew it would pass. Someday we'd eat cereal and laugh together. Milk would squirt out his nose.
That's what I imagined as I looked up at the sky.
I opened the front door and flipped the light switch. There was a girl sitting cross-legged on the coffee table, wearing a bearskin.
She was hitting a stick against the table, singing without making much of an effort to open her mouth. I needed this unexplained visitor, this prototypical juxtaposition. This girl and my son were somehow alike; only the girl had the beginnings of breasts and dark feral hair that made me want to comb out the tangles.
Cassidy, I said.
The girl didn't respond. She continued to rock back and forth, singing without consonants, seemingly oblivious to my presence. The bear snout rocked on her head in time with her swaying torso.
The girl had been here for a while. She'd crushed a handful of ovate leaves with a pestle, then gone into the kitchen to heat up the water and make the tea. The weed grows all over the place around here.
He was just being a kid, I said. In any case, I shouldn't think about that while she's singing. Humans do make the most beautiful sounds with their larynxes. I wanted the song to go on and on. The metallic insect noise seemed to amplify when the girl laid her head on the coffee table. Her mouth drooled, and the stars moved through the sky.
I just watched her looking up at the textured ceiling from the sofa. I wanted to hold the girl but knew it was impossible to hold the past. I had to sit on the couch and watch the somatic hallucinations form behind the girl's eyelids. I had to watch the tea take effect: the zigzags, spirals, and circular patterns that turned into iconic images as she lay there, waiting.
She was waiting for him; a bear-man, my son. I watched him open the back door and enter on all fours. He was wrinkled and graying and had an erection. I watched him step toward her, nose in the air, snout moving from side to side. I had to sit there and watch him gnaw on her soft neck. It wasn't easy. Her back arched, convulsing.
I told myself that she wasn't really there. Nor was he on the table.
Floating, I said.
The girl took the tea and watched the ceiling open, I told myself, then went up like winter breath. She's in the sky, laughing at how small their bodies appear on the coffee table, laughing about the slaver on her face. She doesn't care if he spreads her legs or holds the edges of the table to prop himself up.
Anthropologists would classify it as an initiatory rite, I told myself.
It's what they do. They go into garages with their inhalants and solvents. They don't give a damn, because they're 16. They get fucked up.
I was a mother. It was only natural for my son to be a girl and a man and a memory, to be everything and nothing, always floating inside my head, all the time.
Someday, we'll float together, I said. We'll hold hands and spin in circles, looking at each other and smiling with our eyes and our mouths, like we used to do on the playground, spinning until we fell down.
I didn't want to think about shamans or initiates. I wanted to believe that the planets had come together for a reason. I wanted him to open the door and step inside the living room. I wanted to hear his voice. I wanted to believe we'd dance across the sky, hand-in-hand, that we'd smile at specks of universe as we spun in circles, together.
From my viewpoint on the sofa, however, I only saw a man in a bearskin on top of a girl, his snout occasionally falling to the side, revealing a mess of matted grey hair.
Tomorrow we'll eat breakfast and laugh, I said.
Then I turned off the light.