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Four Magdalenes Against The Wall
Alexandra Coman
....The bad part is arsenic doesn’t smell.

Angora. Breath low. Cat‘s fur I’m not allergic to.
They asked me what balance is like.
Balance is when you spin too fast to be remembered. Then they asked me about the rain.
The day I was born, my auntie tells me, was the day rain started raining upside-down.
I like my sky blue.
If it fell upon it, from the Earth, rain would bleach the sky and make it curl at the edges and then I’d have to repaint it each day, with wise moves and a hand like a spinner.
And then my time would be my own and the sky’s and not hers.
Don’t tell anyone, but I still keep some of my time secret and close to me. And a bag of sand on the other shoulder for balance.

If you dig deep enough, in places that are special and marked, the sands turn red and you find red sand to gather and carry home and mix with water. My auntie does it all the time.
She does it so much it spills all over her sheets and down her legs and into her slippers and into mine. I feel it, painting my toes red, and it’s good news. It means I don’t have to go to her special place.
It means I can run, and so I do, I run up to the river where the water is wetter than sand and the boys are wetter than girls and you can see how they all like that.
It‘ s there that I learnt to make myself small.
Back home, I make myself small for my auntie and for her special place, so that it burns less when she pushes it against my face. If it tastes too much like custard, I‘m excused from pastries all week.

She says things with a veil over her mouth, my auntie.
There are deep cuts all over her knees because she is a woman of God. I know that, but still shriek at the marks they leave below my ears. She puts her fingers on my forehead and makes me choke on the veil.
She says there is no sand left.
"There is no sand left when you’re old unless you dig for it yourself."
Then she makes me lift my tongue. It’s just like at the tooth-doctor, only there’s no candy here unless I dig for it myself. Her thighs press against my ears like hands playing the echo game.
"And the child shall hear no evil."
She will only taste it.
"And shame shall be your penance."

Shame’s a thing of the belly.
She knocked down one of my teeth this morning.
I tied it to a string, threw it over the roof and made a wish. It didn’t come true. Instead, I got a mouthful of moist and curly hair.
"And what does the conscientious penitent do in times like these?", the Apostles asked their Teacher.
Water wash off the unclean.
And God said, "let My Only Son be washed by the hands of man."
If wet is dirty, then water‘s dirt. I’d only bathe in sun.
"Your wicked tongue", my auntie says to me. "God made it, the devil found a job for it and the cat shall eat it when it’s done."
"Yes God made you, all of you, bit by bit, when He breathed life into the filthiest of sins", she says. "And when your time is up, He’ll plant His Holy Legs into your shoulders and push you back to dirt."

I know some things about legs. I know mine can never be too close together.
"The path you walk, the footprints you leave are sinful and shall be washed away", my auntie says, walking behind me with a Smart Mop.
"You are the most unworthy of Adam’s ribs. When God first set His Holy eyes upon you, He was appalled by the mistake." Woman, like the fall of Lucifer, is something Good Old Poppa prefers to keep quiet about. God never fucks up. Walking counter-proof most unwelcome."
"Why not make another one then, Teacher?"
"If Daddy had popped another rib out of Adam, he would have had no use for a woman at all!"

She took me up to the forest and let me look at it.
I looked at the forest.
I looked some more.
"You‘ re made of flesh and bone and holy ash gone wrong."
I kept looking.
I’m made of wood. Wood has memory. The kind that doesn’t come off, not even with your strongest Mr Clean."
"Just wipe your nose and it will."
I wipe my nose and it does.

I always make myself ready for her guests. I watch them flow through all the openings, in reverent rows. She shows them around, my auntie. I listen to them marvel at the sights and bow down at the teachings. With golden manners and pinchable cheeks, I stand on the modesty pedestal.
"What a sweetie", they conclude. "What a sweetie."
"Indeed. Sweet enough to boost your blood-sugar quicker than a back-seat quarrel."
Explicit warning. They keep their distance as advised.
When I run, I run faster than they could ever spin. I run to where flowers are pretty and furry white things make trampolines of their backs and grass grows all over you if you don’t watch it or if you want it to.
"Soon you will learn to be nice to all God’s creatures", my auntie says. "Even yourself. Just pull the blinds when you do."
Over her shoulder, I watch the sky getting a little bit blurry at the corner. When she leaves, she leaves me abusing the blue crayon for another half an hour

Myanmar. Seven-lettered word, fourteen points. We’ve got a winner!
Daddy died in a bathtub full of water-colour blue, with a Lego hammer up his anus.
"A bathtub full of what?" snaps my sister, pulling a face that threatens to stay on forever. How terribly unpoetic. Not something she would have expected from a man of his background.
We can tell she hasn’t quite gotten over it when she blatantly lowers her coffin-holding left shoulder to retrieve half a Monopoly bill.
We shared duties and I am the announcer.
I call our dear long-lost brother and talk for 25 minutes with an itch building up at the back of my tongue and no interruptions.
He coughs into the receiver, as if to blow the dust off the wires.
I turn to the kitchen sink for help. Will the chord stretch that far? It does.
" Sis? Hrrrmmmm..."
Itch, itch.
"Perhaps this isn’t the best time to ask."
A flow of brownish liquid comes splashing out of the tap. They must be draining the pipes again.
"...but do you think I could be best man?"
Itch, itch, itch, again, spreading up and down and all over.
"....I don’t think they have best men at funerals, Bro."
Long silence, as if to let the dust settle back on the wires again.
"I see."
Itch, itch, itch, itch.
If I pushed my whole arm down my throat, what would be the danger of getting it digested?

"Hrrrrm, listen.
In case you’re wrong about that.
Could you please keep the position open? Remember I was the first to ask?"
"Of course."

We shared duties and she is the interpreter.
"Funeral stylist, not mortician. Just remember that, and I’ll handle everything else."
Just remember that and Sis is gonna handle everything else:
"Matthieu, darrrrling..."
Hug, hug, kiss, kiss.
"So? What do you think?"
"The pants, honey, the pants! Glitter-free, see?
I’ve told you before.
All these dead people, their surface is highly adherent to anything real.
They cling desperately to all wordly things. It’s like they know they’re going down for good.
Glitter? It spreads like dermatitis from neck to toe and then you have to either skin them or add an extra wax-secured layer of powder.
So I thought, there’s got to be a better way of handling it! ... and then it hit me: Glitter-free pants! Can’t call yourself a caring funeral stylist without a pair."
"Brilliant, darling. Brilliant."
"I know. I know."
Kiss, kiss, hug, hug.
"Now for my favourite client. A bit of a shy guy, if I may say so, but I think he’s ready to see you now."
Daddy under a yellow sheet of aseptic vinyl plastic.
Do I have the stomach for it?
I don’t.
"So? What do you think?"
"Ok, what’s wrong with it?"
"Why,....the... ss...mile, darling."
"The smile? What’s wrong with the smile? A bit too pointed at the edges maybe but still a perfectly good smile for someone this stiff!"
"That’s my point, darling. Are you sure it’s appropriate?"
"Appropriate? Honey! It’s a funeral, not a new wave party! I wish everybody stopped being so eighties about this."
"If you say so..." She seems to be taking it nicely, but you never know with my sister.
She stamped on my foot when we came in.
Twelve years ago, in a coffee shop, she stung a muffin with her fork twice and said "Die, muffin." That’s not a reasonable thing to do. No, you can never know with my sister.
"What about you darling, have you thought about it?"
He’s asking me.
"Thought about...?"
"The masters project, Sis", says my sister.
"Oh, yes. I’ve thought about it, we all have, as a matter of fact. And I’m afraid the answer’s no. There’s no way we could delay the funeral again, now that the invitations have been sent.
I’m really sorry."
"Oh. Ok. I understand."
"Look, there’s no need to take it so bad, I’m sure there are loads of much better specimens out there just waiting to be dicovered."
"Of course, of course.
But it’s still a shame, really, we kinda had a bond there, the little fellow and I. It’s not very often that you come across cheek bones like that."
"Tell you what, we’ll let you know if anyone else in the family becomes available..."
"Thanks a million, honey."
"And you’re still welcome to attend the funeral, of course."
"Thanks. A real shame though. Real shame."

I keep the door open for my sister and she stamps on my foot again.We shared duties and that’s how it went. Faced with the long white cobbled alley, Sis felt perfectly confident and poised. So what if the bastard would have no death march? She’d just hum the Kaiserwaltz to herself while preserving an excellent posture. It’s just like walking the catwalk with a big box on your shoulder.
Her glamour unglamoured when the big box wouldn’t close.
"What now?"
"It won’t close, Sir."

At five years of age, my brother pinned a fancy-looking badge to his shirt. Little servile men have been following him around, calling him "Sir" ever since.
"It appears that his right hand is inconveniently stuck in a vertical position, Sir."
Stiff and upright, making a mock of the dignified assistance, stood my Daddy’s hand.
"Can’t you just cut it off?"
"I don’t think that would be appropriate, Sir."
"Well, whatever you do, better handle this quickly! The march is almost over", said my sister.
"If the march is over, dear Sis, you’ll just have to start humming it all over again", said my brother.
"Die, muffin", said my sister.
Brighter and wider, making a mock of the dignified assistance, grew my Daddy’s smile.
"Sir? There’s a man here, says he’s got permission to review a masters project."
"Fuck off, wrong address!"
"He says this is the last masters project he’s gonna have to dig up himself, Sir."
"Sickos. Sickos all around me", noticed my brother.
"Tell you what! Why don’t we just stuff it down his throat and have him digest it?"
"I don’t think we can do that, ma’am, he’s dead."
"Somebody bring the chain saw, then!"
"„Here, crush it with my boot!"
"Slam the lid against it!
"Drive your car over it!"
"No, stick it in the radiator!"
"Have Old Betsy bite it off!"
"Anybody got a platform shoe?"
"Anybody got a blender?"
Up to the Heavens, higher and harsher, rose sentences for the rebellious limb.
They never noticed my sister jumping at it, victorious and fierce, while preserving an excellent posture.
And boyng, boyng, berserk and away went Daddy’s hand with Sis speared on it, and suddenly, in a blaze of Divine light, it came quite clear to me why they build cemeteries in the outdoors

*Middle-class white female. Decent match. Fine pedigree. Nice ass. Life expectation average. Artistically inapt. Can’t hold a note. Can’t jump a fence.
Aged five, though, she was such a cute little boy.
"Thank you sir, thank you ma’am, but she’s a girl, really."
"A girl? Then why don’t you just pierce her ears, lady?"
Sure. Drill an extra hole and it‘ll say woman". Sweet Cheeks. Baby. Back row, please. Mujercita. Delta. Divine fuck-up. Drop your ballast HERE. Aaaaarrrssshhht, phew.
There’s a knock on the door.
She opens it and finds herself in front of a man she remembers from the paper as 'The Serial Killer Who Either Skins His Victims Or Covers Them In A Wax-Secured Layer Of Powder And Then Writes 'How’s That For A Masters Project? ' On Their Walls'.
Bang, bang,

So there’s a Time Machine in your kitchen. One with big orange buttons and tacky Taiwanese labels all over. When you go in, it makes weird wobbly noises and teleports you into the kitchen of this girl Cindy. She always sits there, with her palms around the blue cup and a flashy something at the corner of her eye. And on some days you get to be Cindy‘s best friend, or her brother or sister, on others she’ll have you as her uncle, shaman or aunt.
You are never Cindy’s lover/spouse/significant other. Cindy already has a boyfriend called Joe. In fact, they’ve been walking together this very morning and she’s dying to tell you about it.
They had a drink down at Muddy’s and bought Pomegranate T-shirts for each other and bred spring and stepped in gold. Then she picked up a knife over the Kyoto coffee-table and said something about slitting him open from head to heel to ear and then all over again twice.

At this point you start finding Cindy and the whole situation rather creepy. She has got a Time Machine in her kitchen, what could be creepier than that?
"And you know what the funny part is?", she asks, and you feel a sudden urge to run away from Cindy.
"The funny part is I meant it."
You end up running away with her. In and out of unrewarding backseats, dragging a cuddly little poodle that the Acid Rain keeps forever pink, you'll find that there is always a good part, a bad part and funny part to look out for.
The bad part is arsenic doesn’t smell.
The good part is neither do your hands.

© Alexandra Coman 2001

A regular young contributor to hackwriters - this is her thrid piece for us. She lives and studies in Romania
if you want to comment on her work email her

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