THE SHEEP KNOW ALL YOUR SECRETS
Photo by Carey Farrell
“They seem expensive,” I said to the pink-haired girl running the booth who looked like she should be somewhere other than a craft show, or at least selling something more punk than small fuzzy sheep.
“They’re actually on sale today,” she told me. “Normally they’re thirteen but I knocked them down to nine since it’s the last day and there are so many left.”
“Still seems high for a sheep that doesn’t do anything.”
“Oh, they do something,” she said, half-giggling and tucking her hair behind her ear while she leaned closer to explain. “Each sheep knows a secret, that’s why I have to paint each mouth with a little x, so they won’t tell until after they’re paid for.”
“What kind of secrets?” I asked, even though I was pretty sure she was either joking or flirting with me or both.
“Some of them know those deep dark past secrets you think no one else knows and others know future stuff like the name of your one true love or the day of the month your life will change, things like that but each one is different.”
I bought six sheep including the one that was staring at me because I only had enough cash for six and I still thought she was just flirting with me since she tucked her pink hair behind her ear three different times while she was wrapping them, but she turned me down when I asked if she wanted to get a cup of coffee or something.
Once I got home and figured out how to get the sheep to tell me their secrets, I wished I’d bought more of them.
Photo by Adam Scott
Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel, The Night Circus, was published in 2011 by Doubleday. “The Sheep Know All Your Secrets” is from Flax-Golden Tales, which can be found at http://erinmorgenstern.com/writing/flax-golden/
I could hear him whispering as I slept. The sunlight would be weak. It would be pale and I could hear him whispering like a prayer, but they weren’t prayers. I could hear his slippers scuffing the linoleum. I’m dying, he would say. And louder, I am dying.
He woke me every Sunday morning with a plate of French toast. I had no appetite in the morning and hated French toast. The morning would be dulled by dark wood paneling, the red drapes. I would sit up on the fold-out sofa, set the plate on my sleeping bag, and slowly begin.
Weekends I spent with him, we’d go to malls to walk. He kept his change in a plastic grocery bag. He would unwad it from his pocket and set it on the counter while he counted out coins. I would look at the magazine rack.
He walks alone when I’m gone. After work he walks around town, his thoughts spilling out. He talks to himself, thinking about the wife who left him twenty years ago, still telling her why she’s wrong. He calls meeting someone impossible. He walks for hours, sometimes reading, until he feels tired, and then he drives home to the other side of the mountain.
He finds things and brings them home. Outside Dumpsters, inside them. Sort-of-broken chairs, warped folding tables, vacuum cleaners, a couch once. A fold-out sofa.
The folding table in his kitchen has books on it a foot thick. Books about the Bible longer than the Bible. Meditationals. Devotionals. Cassette tapes: Chants. The Sacred and Profane. The Moody Blues. Blood on the Tracks.
There are books on the washer and dryer. Stacked against the walls. He washes laundry in the bathtub, heats the water on the stove. How would you describe my house? he asked once. How would you? I said. Functional, he said. A box.
At restaurants, he’ll take long blinks, lean into his plate, fold into himself. He’ll breath heavy and chew. I’ll sit up straighter, look closely at him.
“This is good,” he’ll say, noticing me.
He walks faster than me. He wears corduroy pants and knitted sweaters. He walks with his head down. Sometimes he starts walking much faster, something bothers him and he puts some distance between us, and then he slows and I can see he’s gone tired again. I can hate him for that. I want to shove him down. He closes his eyes and faces the sun.
We drive. On small trips, sometimes to nowhere. He rents cars and brings the CDs I make him. The Bootleg Series. Rubber Soul, Tonight it’s Revolver.
“The man could deliver a song” he says. “I want you to hear this one.” And I have heard it, many times without impression. It’s the last track, the song with the sound of birds scattering, sounds twisting, the one that says, surrender, assures us, it is not dying.
“I want you to hear,” Dad says, sitting up, “because it’s like he’s gotten so far away, so close to nothing, that everything’s being shredded, sound itself is being shredded.”
He says this and now I can see Dad, out there in this desert he’s made. Alone with nothing and God. It’s all empty except for him walking through this wilderness. And if I could make that true, if it were real, there would be nothing wrong with him.
Dylan Nice's first collection, Other Kinds, was published by Short Flight / Long Drive Books in 2012. His work has appeared in NOON, Gigantic, Hobart, Brevity, and Fourth Genre. He lives and teaches in Iowa. "Some Distance" originally appeared in DecomP.
THE GIRL IN THE GLASS
They stage the mermaid auditions in the aquarium bathroom, make the girls stick their faces underwater in the sinks and hold their breath. Last year Shona lasted the longest. I heard her say when she surfaced that the room was sparkled with black dots. One of the other girls had gotten sick on the floor. I mopped it up as Shona wrung the water from her hair.
Her routine was two minutes long. She wriggled and twisted, flicked her tail fin and somersaulted through the shoals of fish as the tourists nudged one another. The guides hustled them away afterwards so they wouldn't see the mermaid lunge for the top of the tank and gasp for air. The girls couldn't get out of the tank alone; their legs were fettered by the fins and the porters had to haul them clear. I used to push forward to get to Shona's side – I'd grab her arm and pull and feel the thump of her heart jolting through my skin. Then I'd stand outside the girls' locker-room and listen to her getting changed. The wet suck of the tail peeling away from her legs; the swearing as she pounded her feet against the floor to restore the blood flow. I'd sneak in after close and jimmy her locker, bunch up the damp sequined fabric and push it into my face. The smell of her sweat and the tiny black hairs that clung to the satin. I'd think of this as the bus carried me home.
Just before Christmas she smiled at me as I lifted her out of the tank. I swayed on the ladder and the light in the room dipped; I nearly lost my grip. I clung onto her and my fingers pinched her arm. She came over to me after she'd dressed and pulled up her sleeve. Five purple blotches. I reached out to touch and she pulled her arm away, shy.
The next day, the day of the Christmas party, I sat on the bench beside the lockers and hugged myself. I rocked back and forth. I heard the shuffling hop as she made her way down the corridor, hobbled by the costume, and my heart drubbed. Fucking fins, she mumbled. Her tail slapped against the tiles as she turned the corner, and I stood up. We collided and she gasped as I hugged her. Her skin was beaded with droplets of cold water and her bikini top pressed against my chest. She said something but it was muffled. I stroked her head with my free hand. They say this works on dolphins. Calms them. We dropped to the floor and I reached down and ran my hands along her scaly tail. It writhed and beat against the wall and I shuddered. Shona pulled her face away and screamed, and I told her to shush, to hold her breath. Just two minutes, I whispered. I ripped a gash in the satin and stuck my hand inside her tail.
They asked me to leave in the New Year. I got a different job, in the park, skimming rubbish off the surface of the lake and stopping kids throwing rocks at the ducks. I stare into the water and think about Shona's slippery limbs. I watch for her amongst the paddle-boaters and day-trippers. I know she'll be here. I wait by the water and hold my breath. I count to sixty, and again, and I watch the black sparkles dance.
Valerie O'Riordan is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester and one of the fiction editors of The Manchester Review. Her work has won or been shortlisted for various awards, including both the Bristol and Bridport Short Story Prizes. She was a 2013 recipient of an Irish Arts Council Literature Bursary and she is working on a collection of linked short stories. “The Girl in the Glass” originally appeared in PANK online(http://pankmagazine.com).
for Melissa Carroll
I have heard some people really enjoy having a song play in their head. They must have gorgeous heads to hold clear music.
You play in my head and it does horrible things to you. Your sounds migrate to dark parts of the brain commonly untouched by music or language. My head hopes that if my head is horrible enough, your voice won’t be able to stand the indignity, and will insist on playing in the flesh of my ear.
I heard you in my ear last night. You sounded bored: it’s not that there is no distinction between heaven and earth and the passage between them—it’s just how unremarkable these distinctions are.
Love remains unremarkably garbled here. Machine is a word that keeps the same meaning.
By “same meaning” for machine, you clarify by making me play a game.
I learn that in heaven there are very sad people. And by “same meaning” you mean that the word machine is used in the language of heaven, and all of the pain or relief one can feel when the word is used is still felt in heaven.
The differences are unremarkable: I am overjoyed! It means I get to talk to you!
But then you say, brightening up a bit, that along the passage between the worlds, you found a wheelbarrow that made the dirt at its top feel heavier and more substantial than the dirt at the bottom. That the top dirt in the wheelbarrow was the one you were hefting. I sicken, and ask if this is related to bodies pushing themselves out of graves.
You are furious at this misunderstanding. You call me all sorts of names: monkey-wrench, vacuum cleaner, grapeshot.
Can’t you see how lonely I am? That what I said is the product of loneliness?
The thing in my mind that arranges things is the same as the things it arranges. I fear that my mind most certainly exists.
How could you ever understand that with your death, gregarious with worms? The very earth resides in what remains of you.
I am sick of talking to heaven. It’s you I want to talk to, remarkably different in every way from talking.
Nothing doing; I can’t turn the rooster off.
I can’t turn the lark off. Give me back my heart.
 You ask: What’s a machine?
—An apparatus to convenience humans
What about torture devices?
—An inorganic material that is used as an extension of human will.
What about bone tools?
A tool that we exert energy into in order to perform an action.
But if I say “you’re behaving like a machine,” I don’t mean that you are behaving like a tool that we exert energy into in order to perform an action.
—something automatized—that cannot think.
But I can say “the computer is thinking,” and it is a machine.
I grow peaceful and stop asking.
Photo by Dominique Nabokov
Max Ritvo's chapbook, Aeons, has been selected by Jean Valentine for the Poetry Society of America's 2014 New York Chapbook fellowship. It will soon be available through their website (http://www.poetrysociety.org/psa/). His poetry has been published in Poets/Artists and Chronogram. He is an assistant editor at Parnassus: Poetry in Review. His prose has appeared in the Huffington Post and is forthcoming in Parnassus. He is a sketch comedian in the NYC-based comedy troupe His Majesty the Baby.
Stacks predicted fat holes of varying slant-path thickness would pop up everywhere. I wanted to get out of there is why I listened. It was the early 90s so we'd seen smaller fat dimples and Stacks said they would keep growing. I was five-months pregnant when he joined the task force. I couldn't sleep in our bed without him. I went to my mother's bed. She said my father chased fat holes like Stacks and gave me a small bottle of Kentucky Gentleman. She brushed my hair and said, "Doesn't that feel good!" Stacks came back and his key observation was the lack of reliable historical (pre-fat hole) data. "You are being given night vision now, and you may need to use it," Stacks said. I drove us all night. "The way I'm thinking is pretty Cartesian," Stacks said. The baby was sleeping. Then Stacks was sleeping. It was our last vacation.