The story of Vera & Linus, whose love grows stronger with each slaughter.
Out then Linus from behind the willow. He held a black hate in his hands, a red hate in his eyes, and a yellow hate laced like light through his boots.
-I am for you, he said.
and he took the town-man’s neck and broke it with the strength of his hands.
-Sleep, said Linus. Sleep awhile.
And he tossed the limp body into the water.
-Shall we dance? Asked Vera, lifting up her dress to show her ankles.
-Let us dance, said Linus.
And then they were three dancing, three then four then five—Vera, Linus, the willow path, the moon, and again the willow path.
In answer, Linus takes off his hat and arranges his hair in the manner of a jury of a wolves.
-But have you, asked Vera, seen this one?
With a snapping of buttons, her clothes are dismissed. Underneath Linus can see years of Thursdays, all in a row, with nary a Wednesday, a Tuesday, a Friday, a Sunday, a Saturday, a Monday between.
-How did you do that? howled Linus.
-I was always thinking of something else, said Vera, and wandering off. One day, in the midst of studying a book about trees, I had the clearest thought. I felt that I would die on a Thursday, and I saw myself then, in my last moments. The time between was negligible. I was a child and I was an old woman. I was dying and I was practically still being born. And now here I am again, stuck between.
They looked at each other in the crumbling light of a photograph hung upside down from a string.
The dressing then in clothes prepared. The right-hand road that may yet lead left.
A long while upon the road. They passed down through a glen, through a burrow and out a tunnel through a farrier’s hut. In through a stable where sable mares drowsed beneath unkempt gables.
With a wink and a clapping of hands, with small leaps afoot, they came to a small hill and atop the hill, this dreamed place.
-Shall we live here, asked Linus, so far from what we know?
There’s nothing dear to you in the piles of the known, my Linus, said Vera.
And she was wrong, but he believed her. Settle here, settle here, called the house.
Drowse you too, called the stable, and the hill, and the road.
The path is gone, said the farrier’s hut, departing.
And they were left there then, with the day paused as though upon one’s outstretched fingers.
They had sewn one of the pockets together but inside five little children were in a silent heap.
The other pocket was open. It was slightly smaller; inside there was a single child behaving badly, repeatedly sticking its head up
-I want to go home, it whined.
Never! Vera said and pushed the head down.
Crying then inside the pocket and striving around.
-We must sew this one up as well, said Linus. Otherwise we get no peace.
-I agree with you, said Vera.
Linus sought a thread and a needle and started slowly sewing the pocket together. The child's crying increased and it tried to squeeze both hands and head through the hole. But Vera pushed it back down and all the while Linus kept on with the sewing.
Vera felt the child kicking and struggling in the pocket. But the wailing soon became less, at last turning to quiet sobbing. Then Linus finished the sewing.
Day passed, and the child's movements kept on. Now and then one could hear it sobbing in the pocket.
By evening the child had stopped struggling. No sound came from it any more, neither wailing nor sobbing. No sound anymore.
So they caught this woman in a net and pinioned her arms and severed them and killed a sea turtle with vile words and emptied it from its hardness and invested her there and then set her afloat with a sentence of several turtle lives to live. And oh, the oblivion, the long oblivion of a turtle life!
-He wondered, said Linus, if I’d been sleeping long and whether I knew if it was to rain, and if so whether it would be very much.
-Sounds nice enough to me, said Vera. You might have let him go and waited for someone else.
-I could not, said Linus stiffly. I wanted his skin and now I have it.
-Anyway, said Vera. Let’s go reconnoiter. As you have a skin coat, I shan’t rest until I have one as well. What sort do you recommend?
-A portly man, said Linus, of ample means and little foresight.
I suppose you would like to know, and although I had every intention of telling you when this story began, I find that your manner has become now so impertinent that I am compelled not only to leave the room, but further, to consider in passing whether or not I should cut you in the face with the razor blade I carry in my pocket, so then to leave you a lasting scar. You won’t be so insolent then, will you?
Vera and Linus found a large and long box made from wood.
-Here I want to go, said Vera and lay down in the box.
She fit herself perfectly in, then smiled and closed her eyes.
-I will go then, Linus said and started walking away.
But when he had taken several steps he realized that he was incapable of leaving Vera behind in the box. He walked back and had a look in. But Vera was no longer there. The box was empty.
-Vera my Vera, where are you! he shouted.
He fell to his knees and set his head against the side of the box, then rose up and looked within again.
-I also will go, he said so only he could hear, and lay down in the box as well.
For Linus the box was too short and he was forced to bow his knees so he would fit.
He closed his eyes and hoped he would soon be lost, and then one day later found again, deep underneath.
Vera turned away from the little tea party. The day was hot and the grass seemed to her full of sadness, as though life could never go very far before being called back. She thought then of Varsithon, Linus’s hero.
And Varsithon, he knew how to command a troop of men. He knew how to give a building eyes, a tree hands. He knew how to come in great strength out of unlikely places, when all seemed lost in a riven occupied country.
And Varsithon, he brought the water out of the hills and besieged even the town of Yent with waves, though from its walls no sea was ever seen. All therein perished and he gave the land to his brother to rule.
And Varsithon became Emperor of the Air by a grand trick. He had gone on foot to the Devil and they spoke together, not in Hell, but in that far land on the far side of Hell, of which so little is reported or known.
-Shall I be Emperor of the Air? asked Varsithon, hearing all things through the eyes of birds, seeing all things through their beaks, passing all manner of time in the speed of clouds which seem so slow in the distance, but move, as we know, faster than horses or the bold fathers of horses.
-You shall be, said the Devil, Emperor of the Air, but you must give a thing to me.
-What, pray tell, may that be? asked Varsithon.
He stood up and walked to the very water’s edge.
-What shall I give you? he said again.
-Bring me, said the Devil, upon a great wooden barge:
• the tails of a hundred cats
• the noses of three kings
• an apple grown by chance on a lemon tree
• a flock of tethered birds contained somehow yet still in flight
• the smallest grain of sand in all the Orient
• the mandibles of a mandarin beetle, insect that knows all things but speaks not
• the names of ten children who died before they could be named
• a flock of sheep dressed as scribes and trained in every clerical task
• a box of fingers kissed in parting by chaste lovers in elder days
And Varsithon brought these things and was declared and made for then and always
Emperor of the Air.
And Vera stepped out from behind a curtain.
-Let us burn ourselves in effigy, she said.
And in her arms was a straw Linus, correct in every regard.
-We shall help you! cried Vera, abandoning the boat.
But the burden was only enough for the frog-men, and when it was threatened, they disappeared.
Where they had been there was only the sound of pages being turned deep within a house.
-Such has always been my inheritance, said Linus.
And they walked hand in hand to where no fate would spare them.
And seldom can we arrive in the night without the vestiges of other beings, other needs troubling us.
We are strongest when alone, acting in legion as all that of which we are capable. Yet precisely thus we can be mistaken for nothing less than nothing, a cloud of dust on the road, a darkening archive of filaments and silhouette.
This is some of what Linus felt.
And then with a jumping of fences he came to the garden.
Six stones in a circle, all written over with the lives of those who raised him. A tree long begun from red Japan, with the most elegant leaves, leaves like learned speech heard in passing upon a street one knows quite well one will never walk upon again.
Linus touched the dirt with his hands. He turned it over once, twice, as one turns a coin, for the garden loved him well, would do anything to please him, and above him the moon remembered this and that compact they had made, and cast for him an especial torchlight and sang even the quietest of river songs.
For though the moon is not a river, it is the mother of all rivers and the songs that rivers sing they learned long ago when the moon spoke and went about as you or I, though better.