ALL SALES BINDING
Lot 121: Memory artifacts harvested from a willing human host in full compliance with regulations. Ideal for collectors, spellworkers, and totemic practitioners. Proof of provenance assured.
Figure A. Copper penny, worn smooth, dangerous as a raven’s wing sheening green-black in the sun.
Once when you were eleven and afraid and the world a place you could not bear to fit, all angles and bright light against the clumsy bruised quiet of yourself, you held a penny as tightly as you would ever hold on to anything. That sweaty summer it wore a groove in the thin pocket of your jeans, rubbed unyielding against the spur of your hip. You held it against the skin of your eyelid like a blinding metal star. You slept with it curled in the hollow of your hand and taped it to the inside of your shoe. The blister it wore against your foot grew angry with infection. You limped for three weeks. Not even this caused your father to blink away the shroud of his grief.
Seven lonely years later you dropped this, the last cent from the last dollar your mother ever gave you, down the maw of a strip mall’s wishing well, watched it settle in a trail of refracted light against the backdrop of a hundred other wishes. You were thinking of a perfect boy with a crooked smile and hair the color you thought had been hers once, too.
Figure B. Mermaid’s comb, abalone, with broken teeth and one long, blue hair coiled around the inlaid grip.
The beach in October after everyone has gone, leaving dried beachgrass and empty sand and you, bedheaded and shivering inside the shell of an oversized white sweater ragged with use. By now you were used to your invisibility. You had almost forgotten the heft of the penny against your skin, almost forgotten the way you kissed the worn tail and wished a perfect boy made real, when he rose from the cold autumn ocean: your desire made manifest.
You didn’t drop to your knees in the sand, but you wanted to. You locked your legs—you still had pride then—and watched him part the surf as he walked towards you instead. There was seaweed in his black hair. His eyes were the shifting grey of abalone, slick and remote. He shook the sea off like baptismal water. Born anew, maybe. Not newborn.
Behind him two black crows pulled a crab to pieces. His feet slipped, practiced and smooth, across the sand. He reached to take your unresisting hand and traced the lines on your palm with one cold finger. You flushed with the heat of a sudden mad possession.
I accept, you said, before he opened his mouth. There was a blunt edge of sound, abrupt as a guitar string snapping or ice cracking underfoot, as he looked down at you with a perfect, crooked smile.
Figure C. One fiddlehead fern, dried, curled around a shard of mountain granite.
You’d been together for six weeks since that day at the beach when Jack suggested leaving for nowhere in particular. He stood silhouetted in the window of your attic room, crooning a melody underneath his breath, naked save for the sheen of your sweat on his body. In his hands rested your battered notebook, the secret place guarding all your written soul, and if your stomach clenched at the sight of it taken, well. You’d given it freely in exchange for a smile.
Hey, some of these songs are ok, he said. Too good for here. You want to leave? Let’s leave. Let’s get out of this shitty town.
You felt the tides of his eyes hitching at your heart, pulling the thread of your longing. You looked away before you made promises your body would keep.
You loved this town: the beach in winter, the rotting gingerbread trim on your house, the old fishermen riddled with complaints. The wild roses that took over the abandoned lot, scenting summer with their pale pink petals.
The feeling that your mother could still be anywhere at all.
Hey, he said, sensing a sudden distance. You don’t want this?
Of course you wanted to leave. Didn’t everyone leave? You thought of your absent father, the beads on his rosary clicking nightly in the resurgence of a faith he’d abandoned until this, his age of senselessness, had descended. You wondered when your father had lost the thread of his own desire, when his eyes had last born witness to anything sacred.
Jack moved to the bed and curled the shell of his body around you. His hands were cold. They never did warm to your touch.
Three hours later you followed him to the bus station and didn’t look back.
He would leave you, again and again, slip the poison of his tongue underneath your skin until it began to taste like sugared dates and honey, until you were spoiled for anything else.
You always wanted him anyway, the way you wanted everything bad for you.
Figure D. Apothecary bottle filled with rosemary, smoke, and cloves.
You don’t remember where the guitar came from, but the first time Jack settled on a broken barstool in some backwater no-name town his voice was a swallowed prayer, soulful and rich with sorrow. Deep enough to drown in, it curled like smoke over the bar. All the angry drunks and the hopeful young lovers and everyone in between fell quiet, lost in their own private tragedies, until his hands danced to stillness on the strings. He sang of finding a home by the sea where you’d left it, a new home where you made it with people you chose, and all the while his eyes, open-road and endless, held your own. After, when he pulled you close, you could feel their reverence crackling electric against his skin.
The bartender brought free drinks, whiskey with ginger. The ice clinked against the glass as he drank.
That was for you, he said.
It was everything, you said.
No, you’re everything. I’m empty without you.
You laughed, disbelieving, even though he’d claimed the song from your bones without asking, even if a sadness you didn’t understand moved underneath the surface of his words. You could never be the one center stage—your heart, a trapped thing, fluttering in panic at the thought—so this was better. Safer. And you were happy. You were definitely happy.
Maybe with him you could be someone after all.
Figure E. Page torn from an antique atlas, gilt edged, with constellations in the marginalia.
In the way of all capricious things, change was as inevitable as the weather, the oncoming storm the willing price you paid for the sun. Like an aeromancer reading the patterns in clouds you learned to predict the course of your relationship’s discontent: first a set of new songs bitter and dark with belladonna, a thunderous brooding in the distance, and then somehow you’d start fighting over something small and insignificant and he would leave, his pockets stuffed full of ephemera: small apothecary bottles, bits of herbs, a broken comb.
The realization that you’d willed Jack into existence, summoned him, body and breath with a worn penny and a desperate, whispered longing, happened all at once. This was sometime after your third album. Sometime after you’d started aging gracefully and he hadn’t aged at all.
He walked in the door from one of these disappearances smelling of feverfew and pine, his pockets empty again. Maybe it was instinct, or, in the way a homecoming after long absence brings out the dust in the corners, the worn fabric on the couch covers, the imperfections you couldn’t see for love and comfort when you were with them every day, maybe you saw a side of him that had always been there, in plain sight, from this angle too other to be anything but.
You’re not human, you said. Jack paused at the doorway, looked at you, smiled his crooked smile.
No. He crossed to where you sat on the couch, settled next to you in the shaft of afternoon sunlight, as hard and cold and familiar as ever.
Did the aging thing give it away?
You don’t age. Will you die?
Not like you understand it.
I’m not asking you what I understand.
He took your hand. You took it back.
Has my performance been anything but satisfactory?
Do you even feel love?
I love you more than anyone else. I promised to be yours, and I am, he said. This time you let him take your hand, let him smooth it between his own. You promised me the gift of every moment in return. Have I failed to fulfill any terms or conditions?
You sat silent, thinking of a penny shining as it sank out of sight.
I’m here because of you, he said, and I’ll leave when you do. Is that enough?
Was it? Over the years he’d bled off the parts of you he valued the most, time wearing the membrane between you thin, until he’d taken your music, your memories, your laughter, even the tilt of your head becoming his until you were no longer sure if it was his face or yours he saw reflected in the mirror.
That depends, you said.
On whether any of this life counts as my own, you said, and this time you were the one who walked out.
Figure F1, F2. Photographic slides. A mouth open in longing. Two eyes shut against the cold.
The last time he left you were alone and powerless in a snowstorm by the side of a frozen lake. The wind and snow whipped the water from the corners of your eyes so that you could barely see the broad, beautiful shape of him fading into the driving white of a descending winter. You walked an invisible line in this, the world’s blank space, your vision unified by blindness. You hoped the line led towards town and not out onto the ice.
You were alone and lost but not particularly afraid. You knew you wouldn’t die here. After everything shattered inside—after both of you shattered apart—a holy calm set in, the one that comes when desperate emotion runs a live wire through the core of you, leaving you anesthetized in the aftermath.
A week after you were plucked from the lakeside and tucked under an eiderdown to recover, the newspaper read ROCKSTAR JACK DAW MISSING, PRESUMED DEAD. You knew better.
He always came back.
There was a house on the edge of the lake, in it a life you stumbled, frozen, into: a new lover, three cats, no children. Soon enough you settled into a comfortable peace, dancing quietly through a series of twilight years, and wisdom kept you from wishing for anything different.
You were old enough, by then, to understand the great kindness of a boring life. Time to heed the old warning about gift horses. Your new husband’s mouth was meant to be a kinder bellwether.
Figure F. One copper-tipped wasp’s stinger, embedded in fresh honeycomb.
You’d followed him everywhere once: along bitter alpine lakes during the depths of winter, down highways to city hostels, into a dozen cheap hotels in a dozen small towns, into sleepless cities, recording studios and concert halls and press junkets.
One late summer morning the music came creeping back in. You found him standing at the screen door. You lived alone by then. Your hair was streaked with white, but Jack looked the same as he always had.
He took your shaking hand and traced the lifelines, just like that first day you’d met next to the October shore. He dipped to kiss the hollow of your palm.
All these long, peaceful years, his absence had never stopped throbbing, all these kept moments building an abscess you tried to ignore, and here, at last, was the relief you’d told yourself you could live without.
The sweeter for the separation, he said, his voice gentle. I wanted you to have something real, just yours, for once.
And maybe you wanted something just for yourself.
I can’t help but be what I am, he said. All wild things bite.
It didn’t work anyway, you said. I didn’t miss you at all. They were good years. Not a lie, enough truth mixed into the bitterness for him to swallow.
There’s one more choice to make. One final stop, he said, on the world tour. One final gig and you could both rest. You were tired, gnarled like an old tree sleeping in winter, and as careless with these relentless days. What was one more trip after all that had been?
Just let me feed the cat, you said.
Figure G. Crystallized human heart suspended in oil of myrrh. A red wax seal, stamped: GK.
The path led through the underside of a city you no longer recognized. As you navigated neglected streets and alleys filled with abandoned things you told him what he’d missed over these long years. You looked up from the jagged, cracked pavement once to find his face unguarded, rapturous, and greedy, every one of your recalled memories golden and precious in his eyes.
Down by the river a restaurant flaked red paint into the wind. He pressed a hand to the glass door just above the chrome handle and invited you in.
The diner smelled of feverfew and old grease, silent save for your own breath. Drifts of dried leaves rattled across the checkerboard tile. Somewhere at the back of the room a neon jukebox pulsed faint colors in the half-dark. It was dirty and worn, paint peeling on the walls, the vinyl in the booths ripped from the claws of some massive beast, but you’d been in worse places. Most of them with Jack.
In the back of the kitchen an ancient walk-in freezer listed to one side, the door a deep cut of infinity peppered with tiny bursts of light, and you knew this was where you were going.
Will you go on?
Jack looked down at you, the corner of his mouth pulling a half smile. There’s no Jack Daw without you. He took your hand, squeezed once.
All things fair, you said, but inside you felt a small, ugly surge of satisfaction.
It’s what was bargained.
You could have come earlier, you said. I’m tired, Jack. Why did you make me wait so long?
Wasn’t I worth it?
You considered the life you’d led to get here: a thousand choices. The songs you’d written; the way he claimed them on stage, electrified by thousands. The way he could pick you out of any crowd, the room falling away from you both, the beat of your heart slowing to match. Everything you had given and been given. The weight of all that, here at the end of time and the start of something else.
Jack raised a thin hand, his eyes filled with your reflection, and pulled you through. Above you a night sky spun against the black, green, and ochre gases stretching across a copper-tinged cosmos. There was light on the other side, and an aching, and pleasure. You were young and old at once. You wanted to run and to stay. You wanted to throw yourself off the highest cliff and listen to the music rise to meet you as you fell. There were perfect golden flowers, cold to the touch and brilliant against the pale blue of a different sky. Through the doorway was the world you’d left, the diner green-gold and brilliant, hundred-year pines pushing up through the booths and splitting the counter in two, and everywhere shining with a dense yellow light.
One final sacrifice. Copper flipping end over end as it sank out of sight.
Be comfortable, he said, a cool numbness stretching through you with every stroke of his hands against your skin. You looked into his eyes, journeyed down endless roads, as he cut tenderly through your ribs, separated muscle from bone, as he took the small red muscle of your beating heart into his hands, as Jack Daw disappeared like winter in spring sunlight from the world you were leaving behind, leaving only your own desire left holding your heart here at the close, your own choices, here in the long hands and cold eyes of a goblin king.
Copper flipping end over end as it sank out of sight.
It took the last slice of your memory, paper-thin and fading, but this price would seem fair at twice the cost.