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Alexandra Coman on milk and glue and the fine balance of a clothes-line....

You shall not kill. If you are a peeler, you shall not staple and if you are a stapler, you shall not peel. Rules the Convent made after God made the Convent .And the mountains and the trees and the ochre shade on aquaplanes and a couple of other rules which did not include these ones.
God’s up on a fence now, taking time off.

Breath the ammonia and stand up straight. Today we hang the milker, so tie a knot and look your best. And move over, pinch in my arm.
He whispers his last wish into the left ear of Sister Maria Farina Fiore Fiorentina. "Hhhhmmmshhtiishhhthhshtfffssss".
A cloud in her charity, and he walks the scaffold with a broken tibia.

In my room, I lie on the good side, not facing Nini.
Nini is not a stapler nor a peeler and she is not going to be hanged. Nini is here because she is possessed, and it is her job is to stay that way. My job is to make sure she does.
"Nini, dear."
I roll over and proceed.
"Are you still posessed?"
She turns pale and panicky and straightens her suspensor.
"Why, am I getting that unpossessed air again? Oh, my."
When I do not speak to her, and I only speak to her to make sure that she is still possessed, Nini writes in her notebook. Every blackened page she expertly glues to the one before. I’ve never asked, but always wanted to. Today there’s a rash below my ankle and I don’t restrain.
"Nini? Where did you get that glue from?"
"God made it for me."
"I said God made it for me."
"Heard you, dear."
"I know. You don’t seem to believe me, tough. Why is that?"
Quite combative today, aren’t we. "Cause, hummm... I just don’t think... He couldn’t have."
She spins around and gives me the punitive gaze.
"Sister Maria Simina Sole Salina. God made the Convent and the mountains and the trees and the ochre shade on aquaplanes and he couldn’t have made this tube of glue for me?"
Being possessed surely doesn’t affect your rationalism.
"I understand." Slow catcher, silent repenter.
"So. Ahem, did He...ummm... Did He make the notebook and crayons for you too?"
Her laughter bangs against the bed head, wets the carpet and knocks down teeth.

Breath the ammonia and stand behind the line. We stood up, we sat down with him
all right, but when he walks, he walks alone. Hanged men are contagious. Just ask Sister Maria Torina Tara Taurina. When she came down with one, she came down for good. Leave him to the birdies, girl. Dig a hole, tie a knot, make yourself useful and leave *him* to the birdies. "Just hang her along. Go ahead. She’s crazy. She thinks God makes notebooks and crayons for me."
Hush, sweetie. We don’t hang crazy people, they throw themselves off the clothes-line pole.
Being possessed *does* affect your rationalism.

Walk on, my room's shaking with left-over ha-hee-ho’s The peelers end their shift. They push their 12 -inch aluminium ruler into place. If they behave, they get to take it with them behind the barn.
I go talk to Sister Mother Superior. She’s been standing on the clothes-line pole for 33 years but has never jumped, so she is not crazy. I ask about the weather, the imps and the eco-balance. I've never wondered, but I ask. I ask what she’s been living on.
"Glue", she says.
"Ahaaaah. Glue.
Does God make it for you?"
Her laughter breaks the balance and the poppies break her fall.

Fifty feet to go now, forty-five to fly. Don’t look down, down’s not an option. I peel the staples under my nails and shorten my name. I don't miss my room, let it collapse with spasmodic amusement. Let that girl laugh her way to depossession. When she does, she'll have to leave and when she leaves, I'll get her crayons. They come in different colours, like milk. White milk to dip fast cookies in, red milk to milk out of 25-year-old biped cows. A birdie told me. Foam magenta for your rashes.

God's up on a fence now, taking time off.

Alexandra Coman
Bucharest, Romania

Reader response from John Prohaska in Canada 11.05.2001
I think "Milk" is one of the best things I've seen on Hackwriters.
("Milk" is Eastern European-style work, intellectual and surreal, less constrained than work from the west, and style-wise, more creative and eclectic. Nothing pains some people more than a box that won't give up all its contents. Well, I suppose many would trash Kafka as well if he emerged today. (Perhaps, even myself.)

I'm happy to have my work placed with hers, and I'm glad the site is capable of divining value from a style so unlike the other submissions. I will remember parts of this for a long time and staying power is an indication of a work's potency. I only wonder if all of the unorthodox turns of phrases are results of conscious language manipulation or if some might be derived from unfamiliarity with English idiom. But regardless, the piece works. The piece must be strong. It's only the third piece posted there to elicit a response from myself. The others were your "Fortune-teller" story and Hazel's "Don't go to Myanmar, your plague of traveling pig-dogs" article. I think "Milk" is one of the best things I've seen over there.

John Prohaska


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