Freckled Gal

by | Dec 12, 2023 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-Six

Drink the dark or else youll forget,” laughs the freckled gal. She flits here, there. The murk obscures her figure, but not her laugh, a raspy cackle like someone being garrotted. Then he sees the lawn chairs lining the street under cypress trees, people drinking Corona or Modelo, grinning and chuckling as across the street in one of the upper apartments a woman is screaming. She is being beaten. One of the older men says, right good thrashing, that.

“Did you recognize this girl?” asked his wife. He had no answer. Though the dream shook him, the details blurred. He struggled to describe her. Scrawny, rust-colored hair awry. Young, but old, too. What was she wearing? He could not recall. The cackle echoed softly in his head and when he tried hardest to recover a scrap of memory, it came with a faint whiff of woodsmoke.

They carved my face and called my name and forth I came,“ laughs the freckled gal. The girl shifts out of focus. Behind her comes a procession of children dressed in costumes, plastic masks covering their faces, masks bearing the face of Bugs Bunny or Porky Pig. Each child carries a turnip jack o’lantern on upturned palm as if it were an offering. As they come closer the masks fall away, revealing bruised and battered faces, bleeding cuts, lacerations, broken noses, cracked skulls, an empty eye socket. Each is smirched with soot. Tendrils of black smoke swirl in and around the children.

“Only those who see can bear witness,” said his sister. She bought into that guff. Family lore, hand-me-down yarns, old wive’s tales. Born with his eyes open. For all the ado his kinswomen had made, he fared poorly at picking lottery numbers or fast horses. He gave it up. No time for hokum.

When the boundaries of this world are thinnest, the burial mounds are opened,” laughs the freckled gal. A fleeting glimpse of her naked body as she dances away. The smoke is heavy and thick. He coughs and is answered by another cough nearby. A British soldier, struggling into his red tunic, looks back toward a tent. A woman emerges, naked from the waist up and grasps the soldier’s arm. He shakes off the hold, savagely backhands her, sends her sprawling, her lip bleeding. He tosses a coin onto her chest and leaves, returning to his camp. Other women come to comfort their fallen friend. These women, these wrens, these orphans of the Great Hunger, had resorted to living in dugout makeshift shelters, little more than holes in the ground. They kept their fires going day and night.

“All your life you’ve had this blind spot where women are concerned,” said his mother. Did he? There was a time, yes. Too much in his cups, yes. That Sharon, no one else could get his Irish up, yes. He answered his mother, maybe.

I wore the birth-caul and walked the paths of ever-night,” laughs the freckled gal. She seems to dissolve before his eyes. The bone fire roars, climbing higher into the night. Men and women, farmers mostly, feed logs to the fire. Some throw in cattle bones. The warriors of the village stand vigilant, spears at the ready. Beyond the staked fence there is a great commotion. A monstrous black sow, larger than an elephant, bellows and snorts. It is birthing piglets and then swiftly snatching the newborns and devouring them whole. A thing of malice and appetite, the ground trembles beneath its fury. Only the great bone fire keeps it at bay

“Why focus on this girl and not what you’re shown?” asked his great aunt. He had no answer. The old photograph albums laid in disarray upon the table. Sorting through them he found faces he knew, family resemblances. The oldest photos, grainy and grey, he studied long and hard. Acrid smoke lingered in his nostrils. The new arrivals, families huddled close, faces too stoic to betray their bewilderment. Men with thick mustaches. Their antique clothing. Their worldly goods in suitcases, satchels, bundles wrapped in cloth, even a bucket. A man in dark uniform chanced into frame. A sign that said Ellis Island.

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