Stacey Levine

Naturally this man was the most sensitive part of society, the tip, an edge, the peninsula that wants so badly to thaw.   He had shown off his body and its parts in public for a long time, which had made him tired.   It had taken so many years for him to come into himself that he had no real home. 

    His body worked differently from others'; it was new and it hurt, and then it stopped hurting, or he got strong enough to outpower its hurts.  Brigg wanted to stow the body and its parts somewhere, maybe in a private den for a while or possibly in eternity, so as to learn at last what nature really was, with its tireless hybridity. 

    The man was so excited about his new life that he couldn't manage to earn a wage, and so he went to live at his mother's house because she had not yet even retired. 

    He had a few friends.  He wanted to lie down and rest and wait for his body to push out a caul to protect him and that would be fine.  Inside the dark den he would lie still, collecting warmth and a low, green fur that would coat him nourishingly with its bready aroma because his skin was so sweet and new. 

    He was a man with short, rough, dark hair and a penline beard along the jaw.  As he rested in the spare room, the mother tended the parts of him they had allowed to remain babylike-a secret between them.

    He looked at her with sleepy eyes.  I still know you, she said a little defensively.  The mother stayed by his side protractedly as a roundabout way to care for herself.  Then he grew back, toward her.  But when he whimpered about wanting a glass of water, she rolled her eyes, grinning at his regression.

    He rested in snatches and his thin body grew toward the sun.  Under a moppy purple shawl, he slept the type of light, cogent sleep full of the pleasure it gives to the neck and back.   Then he went deeper and dreamed of glassy lakes of rock islands, of a cat telling him the foods it liked-smooth dreams that were gifts to himself, for they smoothed and debrided the parts of him that were still shreddy, raw.

    Long ago in school when he had been a different person,
the woodshop teacher, smoking outside the exit door, said, Life is a
difficult art.  He could reproduce the teacher's voice inside his own ears if he wanted, with the teacher's short laugh blowing a moment as if atop
the neck of a vase, for the young man heard eerie things in general, like fingers stirring gravel or cabbage leaves squeaking close by for no reason during an argument with his brother in which the brother's chief point
was that the man, Brigg, had never had a personality at all.

    Brigg told the brother he did have a personality. 

    Not if you're a sexual vegetable you don't, the younger brother said. 

    Don't be like this, Brigg answered.

    The brother was still in his pajamas, his face sweating because the moment to talk about this had arrived precipitously.

    Brigg looked at his waist.  I don't want anyone to feel bad, he said.

    So you're basically part of the worst category of people, the brother said, breaking to laughter at himself.  Then they somehow decided they were close again, and not at any risk, so they fought beneath the window ledge without true punching, but instead with fists glancing, and then the brother was hugging Brigg with the bluish-blackish alarmed face of a parakeet, saying that he, the brother, didn't know what was what.

    That was yesterday.  Today the mother worked a long shift again.  Brigg stood behind the bedroom door trying to acclimate to the day, despite his usual sensation of unreality and masks.  He knew the brother had just awakened from a late nap, and was standing in the hall.  Brigg focused fiercely for a few moments on his underwear and pants' position, then went to the innermost rooms of the house to be with the brother.  The yellow street light shellacked the gray porch stairs, and they looked better that way, as if the stairs had wanted the yellow light badly and waited all day for it. 

    The brother asked Brigg not to go to the post office-for in their family, even small separations signified death.   Sometimes the brother yelped in the bathroom if the faucet water was too hot and he heard strange things like kooks outside screaming at night or a crushing leaves that must have signified someone.  So both the brothers heard things. 

    They ate; they sat on chairs and came to discuss ears.  The brothers said they did not like that ears were always open and could not be shut like a mouth or eye.

    Maybe ears will change, said the brother.  Down the line a hundred thousand years.

    Medicine is amazing, the brother said, trying to reach Brigg.  Someday doctors might invent a new kind of ear, sure, more of an amendment, like a soft fake ear that can be installed.  You could switch it off if you don't feel like hearing.

    Someday-why not? said Brigg.

    I'd get a pair of those ears if I could, said the brother.

    Brigg ignored him, and went to the post office.  It was the middle of the night.  In the vestibule the air was dry and exciting as autumn, and Brigg dropped his drivers license form in the box, then watched the floor waxer pulling his machine in arcs.  The floor waxer was not friendly.  His face hung down.  Brigg liked him; the floor waxer was a hunched, slow fellow who did not care to waste smiles and looked depressed, like most of the men with whom Brigg felt best.  He stood watching until the floor waxer, who, as if too tired to endure being watched, gestured to the vinyl bench.  Brigg sat there breathing, as if on the intensive floor of a hospital, where every night's overpolished stillness routes into a special erotics.

    When the floor waxer was done it was very late and the two sat there, Brigg not knowing how to explain himself, for he had too much history to himself, his body.  The waxer pulled on his coat crossly, then removed odorous leather gloves from the pockets.  Brigg did not want him to leave, but he wanted to avoid speaking; he wished for cookies.  Then he was aware of the sound of a voice, a girl's laugh-it was his old self wobbling upward inside him as if a bubble, the old self who was now gone, but who had been so difficult.  Brigg never had said goodbye, not really,
for he always hated the old self's hateful life, the most difficult of anyone's life at school.  He had been the one with two bodies, and sometimes neither was real; nothing had been easy about finding friends or sex; Brigg had to pull down all manner of shades in his mind so his body would function, and this had been all the fault of the thin girl he hated who was in him still.  But now she would be gone for good.   He hated to say goodbye, and for a moment, could not, still hearing the rounded, warm sound of her asking voice.   He always had had so much energy with which to hate her, but now, hearing her, he ached to his palms for her, the lost, ugly
little thing, a stubborn wart of long years who never had anything good in life.  Brigg would turn to the floor waxer, ask him to acknowledge the little thing, to even pet her out of honor; he would make the floor waxer stare
at his own small eyes hard and harder to see the heartshattered thing he had killed inside his eyes, and he would make the floor waxer cry because it was goodbye.