issue twenty-one

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(5650 words)
Tom Hamilton
Snake Moon

Journal Entry, 16 June, 2011

I think a lot about Mrs. Birdsong. She was my former english teacher back in Memphis. Her face was the color of fresh biscuits that had just been browned in a small, quaint oven and she had a behind as wide as a compact car. She was the one who encouraged me to keep a journal and told me that I had a lot of talent for writing. Our school, which was located off a winding curve near Thonotosassa Drive, was nestled into a clearing in between two wooded areas. One day at recess, one of the black boys in my class tried to lure me into the trees. When I refused to accompany him he called me a "stupid gypsy girl." Mrs. Birdsong overheard our conversation and she intervened by roughly smacking him in the back of the head. After that she scolded him. She told the boy that calling me a gypsy was tantamount to someone calling him a nigger, and how would he like that? But then again, that's what everyone in Shelby County calls us Irish Travelers: gypsies. The area where our trailer park is located is now predominately black and most of the people around there hate us. But Mrs Birdsong is a very good person who I am sure I will never see again, since I will not be going back to school. She picked up for me even when my own mother would not and I am writing this diary in her honor.

Journal Entry, 20 June, 2011

Let me begin today's entry by saying that I am enveloped by depression and sadness at all times like a cold, wet, mildewed shawl has been draped over my shoulders. I am still feel freezing even though it is one hundred and eight degrees here in the Delta. The air conditioner in this moldy old motel room is the only thing that works at all, even though I've got it turned off most of the time. Once the intense heat works its way through the walls, however, I am finally forced  to turn it back on since I don't like to sweat. It spits out a sort of mist which dampens my dress until goosebumps and what feels like drizzle appear on my bare arms. That's when I begin to shiver again and wonder why I didn't just endure the heat.
The television is always turned on but the volume is broken and you can't hear any of the programs. I see a ton of girls my age on those dance shows, twirling around and having lots of fun. But I feel very far removed from any sort of party scene. Most days I just stare out the window, always expecting to see something more than the cloying humidity deadpanning into a swirl atop the gravel parking lot. Or the yellowing poles on the old aluminum swing set, rust climbing up their round shins like the onset of some horrible affliction or disease. The decrepit sign out near Highway 61announces COTTON COUNTRY INN. There is not too much for a fourteen year old girl to do around here.

Journal Entry,  22 June, 2011
They say that Robert Johnson, the famous blues singer, was born not too far from here. His mentor was a black man who was called Son House. After listening to Johnson pick, House told him that he needed to practice a lot if he wanted to play in the speakeasies and secret negro honky-tonks which dotted the Delta in the late 20s and early 30s. But secretly he wrote Johnson off as just another crazy buck with a wandering eye who would never have the talent to succeed in the harsh world of show business.

Well, no less than three weeks later House walked into an all black moonshine shack near Itta Bena, Mississippi and was astounded by what he heard. Johnson was standing on a makeshift stage made out of large wooden soda pop crates playing a song called Me and the Devil. House had to confess that, in just three short weeks, Johnson went from a novice with limited ability to the best blues guitarist he'd ever heard. The adoring audience agreed when they gave Johnson, a rousing standing ovation.

Legend has it that Johnson went down to the crossroads in the interim. That being the intersection of Routes 49 and 61 at Cleveland, Mississippi, which is a town no less than twenty-five miles from this shabby inn. He stripped himself naked in the muddy rows of the fields so that he would look like a shadow in the midnight moonlight. Just as he had hoped, Satan appeared in the form of a Southern Cottonmouth and, with arms covered in scales, tuned Johnson's heretofore magical guitar.

Johnson went on to become a blues icon, but rumor also has it that that same wretched devil returned for fulfillment of the contract they had made at the crossroads just a few short years later. Satan, incarnated on this occasion as a venomous Diamondback Rattler, bit Johnson. Then blamed his death on a jealous club owner, who reportedly poisoned the famous picker after catching him in bed with his wife. Either way, Robert Johnson lay in his grave at the age of 27. I feel like I can relate to his situation even if I didn't sell my soul, because I had Mama to sell it for me.

Journal Entry, 25 June, 2011

At least my new husband is gone most of the time. Everyday he goes to, what they call, work with those scab covered friends of his, although they're not really working as much as they are just looking for someone to rip off. They usually don't return until the heat abates just slightly and the sun sets on the red rim of the firmament as sore as a poked eye; fireflies picking through the tall prairie fescue like bums sifting through garbage. The black hired men ride in the back of the truck, a battered red Dodge, and my new husband and his inebriated cohorts blare the radio in the front cab. Thank God that they always drive away after they drop him off and have never tried to come inside the room.

I guess I'm supposed to be happy. This is what we waited for all our lives. My cousins Marie and Theresa and I used to walk around with paper towels over our faces pretending like they were wedding veils. Then we'd look at ourselves in the mirror and laugh. But I always imagined that I would marry someone I loved, someone who looked sort of like Elvis or my cousin Joey Jude, but Mama had other ideas.

Of course I knew that all marriages between the traveler families were financially arranged. Besides, Joey Jude was far too young to marry me and he wouldn't go against his mother even if he had been old enough. But I always felt like the actual nuptials -- that is, the moment Mama sold me into white slavery -- was a stone's throw away, arm's length, one more season. But it all come up so fast like a pop up rain storm in the summer. Hard to believe that Mama is the one who made me go through with it. How could Mama love me as much as she claims and yet still bargain my whole life away? Force me into bondage with a person that I have no interest in at all and will certainly grow to despise.

The morning of my wedding she fixed me a little coffee drink with some vodka in it; a hot toddy she called it. Still, I panicked on the alter and started to yelp and cry. Who else was it but Mama who stalked up behind me and pressed my shoulders down until my knees collapsed onto the prie-dieu. She kept screeching into my ear with her horse voice: "I DO I DO I DO!" But the priest wasn't really paying any attention anyway. For every one in the mass was a Traveler and they had all greased his palm. I now feel like my life is over. My new husband must have at least three hundred pounds packed onto his short frame and he is thirty-one years old.

Journal Entry, 27 June 2011

I don't think that I will ever trust a priest again but I still love the Blessed Mother. I also read the bible a lot but the new testament doesn't make any mention of the story which reminds me of my life; it doesn't make any mention of the story of Lilith. Lilith was Adam's first wife whom God assembled from the same dust from hence he created Adam. But Lilith was very rebellious and did not want to lay down with Adam in the Garden of Eden. She claimed the she was equal to her new husband since she had arisen from the same sediment as he and therefore did not have to succumb to his lust. God felt otherwise, so he sent three angels to chastise her. Still, she would not agree to consummate the marriage. So God banished her and brought his wrath down upon her. He turned her into a demon; a succubus forever pimped by the Lord to give men wet dreams inside houses without any fire or electricity. As her vengeance, she claims the lives of infants while they lay innocent in their cribs. In Israel she is known as "The Howling One."

Journal Entry, 28 June, 2011

My new husband watches a lot of silent television at night. I guess he doesn't need the volume turned up to understand what's going on in the Brave's game. Usually he is sitting with his back to me on a Lima bean and rust colored metal lawn chair which he's dragged in from the patio. His long, greasy, prematurely gray hair scratching at the top of a beer bottle which he holds very close to his face. I seem to remember seeing him in a photograph when I was a little girl. His hair was real short then; almost like a crew cut and he was wearing a Polo shirt instead of the clean/dirty white tee which he has sported almost every day since we've been here. He was still pretty fat and repulsive back in those days, but he did seem a little thinner and much more presentable.

He seldom speaks to anyone, never mind talking to me. Our conversation consists of him asking me one sentence questions and me volleying a one word answer in return. Before he walks over to the lone restaurant in town, which is Disalvo's Pizza & Pasta (I'm so sick of Italian that I swear I will never eat it again) he will ask me if I want something back to eat. My answer is always the same. I flat out refuse to eat with him. There is a scuffed and dented microwave oven underneath the television and once he is gone during the day, I will warm up a shoe leather tough piece of pizza or some thin strands of pasta and put them up to my mouth. Although I cannot seem to chew or swallow anything.

In the five weeks since we have been betrothed he has not lain a single finger on me; not so much as a peck on the cheek. I have never heard any rumors that he is gay and I know that I could not possibly be that lucky. When I think about him sidling up next to me or touching me, my legs shut tight and I shiver until my knees knock like chattering teeth. I wear heavy flannel granny gowns to bed even though it is unconscionably muggy here at night. Sometimes I even sleep with my clothes on underneath my pajamas; anything to hide my budding curves. Still, I have caught him staring at my reflection in the mirror and I know that he will come for me one night soon. Mama has given him every right to. Only the sheer force of my loathing has kept the wolf at bay for this long. I am preparing for his advance however, as I have hidden one of his empty beer bottles in between the headboard and the mattress. Although I must note that I was very squeamish about reaching my hand into any condensed, darkened place in this filthy motel room. I was surprised when some opportunistic snake or spider did not latch onto my thumb.

Since I don't have any appetite in this heat, especially for heavy Italian dishes, I have lost at least ten pounds since the wedding. I am hoping to lose my breasts. Perhaps, if I begin to look enough like a boy, the night which I fear most will never come. I even considered walking over to that ratty barber shop across the way and getting my long hair cropped short, even though I've been growing it since I was five. That would also be a way of getting back at Mama since she is very proud of my long brown strands. If he really is gay, however, this strategy could seriously back fire. So I have put the haircut idea on the back burner for now.

Journal Entry: 29 June, 2011

It hasn't rained here in weeks. The drought only feeds more dust to the heat and it has been so hot this last piece that even I have ceased to shiver. Sometimes the purple thunderheads gather in the West and the air feels pregnant with the pending rain. But just as I stick out my parched tongue to receive a raindrop, these clouds crack into pieces and a merciless blue sky returns to murder the cool mood. And as all my dreams evaporate under the tyranny of the unabated sun, summer returns to fry my hopes and I feel as if a little Delta Devil is squatting on my shoulders.

Journal Entry: 30 June, 2011

Mama calls me every day on her cell but I am refusing to answer. Sometimes she has Marie or Theresa call me from their phones just because she knows I'll pick up. Once she finally had me on the line she promised that things would get better. She told me that this was the Irish Traveler way and that I would learn to love him. When I told her that I would never love him in a thousand years she just kept calmly repeating: "You'll see, you'll see, you'll see."

Journal Entry: 7 July, 2011

Most days I just sit in the room staring at the muted TV and wiping at my neck with a rag. We were supposed to go back to Memphis for The Fourth of July but this trip was cancelled when my new husband supposedly got a job to paint the roof of a restaurant. He said that the cafe was going to be closed on Independence Day and that was the only time he could complete the work without ruining all the cars in the parking lot with paint flecks. He also said that we needed the money. That's exactly how he put it: we needed the money.

I hate Mama but I miss her too. I hadn't known how forward I was looking to our reunion until I found out that it would not come to pass. After I received the news I just went out to the porch and sat looking at the brown ground.

There are no girls here my age to talk to or no females at all for that matter. Even the burly workers who stay here at night, smoking rank cigars, cheating each other at card games and swilling killer liquors are gone during the day. When they are here all they do is stare at my legs anyway, as if they can see right through my jeans and I am chased back into my cell like a prairie dog fleeing from a rattler.

Journal Entry, 11 July, 2011

Today the rains finally came. Drops as big as bullets banged down on top of the old aluminum overhang. The sultry heat was finally seduced and wisps of mist rose from Highway 61 like little spirits relieved to be released to Heaven. The clouds cried all day and I matched them tear for tear. When I was finally done weeping I lay there like a soaked dish rag on the musty bed, but the sky wasn't through. The downfall drowned the cotton fields all day without prejudice. The saturating storm sopped the grounds until even the gravel had washed out from the pot holes. When suppertime arrived the rain's rage only increased and with no sun to back it up the day fled quickly. I dropped to my knees in front of an Italian statue which I had brought from my room at home; a virginal Mary clad all in white treading on a snake; all the power of her son and Saint Michael's sword behind her. I prayed and pleaded with her so that my new husband would never see the clouds part ever again: Dear Blessed Mother may he be killed in a bar fight or turned into roadkill by a passing semi-trailer while crossing Route 61 drunk. But I knew that it was only wishful praying and that it would only be a matter of the ticking clock before his thick, short, rotund frame wobbled back through the dingy and kick scarred door.

So I just leaned against the air conditioner and looked out at the rain. The ditches had turned into rivers and the rushing water funneled down into the sewers with the speed and strength of a cyclone. Watching this endless pattern hypnotized me until my eyelids felt as heavy as my sorrow. I lay on the bed until I heard the deluge cease and a coyote howling as two crooked clouds converged on a blurry moon. This created a squiggly line of light which wound around the glowing planet like a worm; as if a snake were squeezing a light bulb. I did not know that there were any coyotes in Mississippi so I rose from the bed, pulled back the tall curtain and looked out past the parking lot. On the darkness of the range I could see the vague silhouette of something scrabbling about on all fours. Then the face of the moon emerged from behind the sinister clouds and I could see that it was Robert Johnson. He was naked so I could barely see his dark, oily skin, but I could see his yellow eyes. He was howling so that Satan could find him out in the blackness. That's when I realized that I was in a dream and my eyes opened.

Robert Johnson was sitting in the Lima bean green and rust colored lawn chair where my husband usually sat. He held his guitar on his lap and was dressed in a black suit with matching Fedora. He looked very pale, which for a black man meant that his skin had turned gray. He said that he had been burning in Hell for a good spell and that all the fame and all the new suits and all the women had not been worth even one-second of the scorching fires of Hades and that he would probably burn for another 100,000 years.

He seemed pretty depressed about the situation.

He had a loose eye which bobbled like a christmas ornament touched by a drunken mistake, the bad eye looking out the window and the good eye staring right into my two good ones. He didn't blame old Scratch though. He said that people make it too easy on Lucifer. They make their own sin-filled beds and then point their fingers at the snake when they should be pointing their fingers into the mirror. People themselves are the snakes; Beelzebub doesn't have to make them do too much of anything.

Besides, he claimed, Satan hadn't really appeared as a snake in the Garden of Eden: that was just a bible story which the big man upstairs was fond of. But to this day, if a person sees a snake in a yard or a garden they will try to scratch it to death with a hoe. Because man can never really defeat their weaknesses or vices or refuse any of the evils which ends up overcooking their souls. They can only kill the image of evil they have in their minds. So everyone wants to see the blood when they see the snake. He finished by expertly strumming a few chords on his guitar. That's when I realized that I was in a dream and my eyes opened.

My new husband was sitting in the seat which had been occupied by Johnson. All I could see of him was the outline of a scraggly hair-do and the red star of his cigarette. His face was sketched over by the dimness. The smell of Marijuana wafted past my nostrils as if I were at a rock concert. Then lightning flashed for the ten-thousandth time that day and for a brief instant I could see his pummeled features. The tissue around his eyes were swollen and imbued with all the colors of the aurora-borealis. Dried blood trails seeped from the corners of his mouth. He had been badly beaten: my prayers only partially answered.

I instinctively tucked my feet underneath the musty bedspread and pulled the covers up to my neck. But this did not keep out the panic and fear which invaded my heart like a coronary and cuddled up next to me like a rancid, unkempt lover. I turned over and closed my eyes, pretending to sleep. Like I didn't know what was coming; like I didn't know that tonight was the night. The night of the snake moon.

Somehow through all my vexation and nerves I drifted off to sleep. I do not know what time it was when I awoke, but I can tell you that this was the darkest dead center of the night: dusk only a deja vu and dawn far too distant to reach for. I started up into a sitting position and saw that he was standing at the foot of the bed sucking on his joint. He had evidently been staring down at my sleeping form through the gloom. I turned back over as if this was just a normal occurrence and pretended to go back to sleep. Soon however, he had climbed into the bed with me. This was already a milestone as he usually slept on the floor. I could now feel these many weeks of his stone walled desire pressed up against my buttocks. Then I felt his freckle covered hand on my shoulder like the icy lick of a ghost dog. I quickly whirled around and attempted to push him away; found that he was much faster and stronger than myself. He held a hand which smelled of gasoline and aluminum paint over my taught white lips and whispered:                         


I tried to knee him in the balls. This caused him to shift his body and I momentarily squirmed free. Without pausing I reached down in between the mattress and the headboard. I felt for the beer bottle, but it slipped from my grasp as I tried to squeeze the nozzle and I heard it thud harmlessly onto the fungus filled carpet out of my reach. That was my last chance. He regained his strong hold over me, this time pinning both arms and I was as helpless as a child. He slapped me hard across the face and I began to abandon all resistance. For if Mama had failed to keep me safe, then I knew that there was not a person on the planet who would or could. I felt his dirty, greasy, unwashed fingers pawing at my lace drawers before ripping them away like a flimsy paper napkin. Then I felt it: like a reprehensible snake trying to find its way into a freshly dug hole. His face glossed over, nonchalant, as if he were just trying to break the seal on a vodka bottle. And it was hard, not hard as a rock like the other girls had said, but still plenty hard. For a moment he pushed and prodded with it in between my legs trying to find the way in. He was raving and crying in a shattered, spraying whisper: "Think you're too good for me you little bitch… ya'll fuckin' whores… think you're too good for me you little bitch… ya'll fuckin' whores…"

That's when I felt the pain. The girls had said that it wasn't so bad; it wasn't so bad if you loved the boy. If you could look into his soft, kind eyes at the moment of penetration and stroke his fair hair. Then maybe the discomfort would be lessened, the intrusion enveloped. But I had known other girls also; had known them and heard their horror stories. Girls who's eyes had died before their sweet sixteen birthday party. I thought of those girls now as I looked at the leak stained ceiling and smelt his Maker's Mark breath.

We rocked back and forth and I squeaked along with the old bedsprings. The spittle flew from his determined mouth until a string of phlegm hung in between both our chins like a clothesline. By now there was hot liquid down there too and I knew that it was my own dark blood; thick and brown as used motor oil; mingling with his 100 proof sweat until fresh stains leaked onto dirty sheets; linen which had already been humiliated by decades of blotchy bowel movements and staggering orgasms from the many seedy encounters of lurid country travelers. As my frenzied brain bounced around behind my clear forehead; the strain etched across my beautiful face, a car passed or turned around somewhere out on 61 and for an evanescent second I saw my new husbands eyes; eyes as black and joyless and neutral as those of a dining python. But once he saw me looking back into those eyes the pupils took on a glint of retribution: like a carp or a rabid pit bull and I knew then that the only thing stronger in this world than my hate for him was his abhorrence of me.

I shut my eyes tight so that I wouldn't have to see him anymore and a mascara laced tear rolled down my boiling cheek. I was stricken by nausea from the motion sickness and I could barely draw a breath due to the great bulk atop me. In order to inhale it seemed as if I had to open my eyes again. I gasped from shock and terror and tried hard to catch a breath which was much too quick for me.

For Robert Johnson's ghost was now astride me. He was as yellow as a trumpet pitcher with his Fedora still on his head; evil eye quaking like a mechanism inside a snow globe. His cheeks were sunken and appeared lifeless like plastic sprayed over with Windex or as if he'd been embalmed. My hands were not free to claw at his damned, maniacal eyes so I just shut mine again and shook my head violently to and fro like someone at the mercy of shock treatment.

After a wretched forever I opened them again and found that the lesbian demon Lilith was squeezing my chest; her gorgeous face radiating evil. She licked my chin with a forked tongue like that of a serpent. Her heartless, opalescent eyes studied my face. The same dreadful orbs that had been the last thing that countless infants had ever looked into since the beginning of time. She balled her fingers into a fist and pushed them up inside me. And I heard the awful howl of Jewish folklore as her own wretched ecstasy reached its pinnacle. And the howl broke the ear drums of the night until I thought that I could hear car windows and light bulbs disintegrating in the distance.

At some juncture, I must have passed out. When I woke up for the final time my new husband's pace finally slowed. His anger ebbed and I felt a new concoction spilling into me and spreading through me. A gruel which was warm and chunky as snot; it was his wretched seed being projected deep up inside my womb. I put myself in the mind of a pot on a witch's stove; some awful cauldron from a bleak, black fairy tale; cooking up something tangy, nasty and lethal. Something no one would ever want to take into their mouths.

Journal Entry, 14 January, 2012 
It never snows here in the Delta, but it seems as if there's a new ice storm every other day and when the cotton fields are underneath the lake-like puddles of frozen rain they really don't look that much different from snow. I thought that Mama may consider my condition and let me come home, but she only pops in once every couple of weeks to keep me abreast of all the gossip at home; to tell me what "The Road" as she calls it has to say. It is a rumor mill which she has no doubt bested thanks to me. For my new husband is a very good catch in the eyes of the public or so she keeps telling me. She is receiving all the accolades for her matchmaking skills and I am the one who has paid the cost.

My new husband has been very nice to me this winter. He always makes over me and reassures me that the baby will be born healthy. He has knocked off the drinking entirely; well, except for most Saturday nights. He has also stopped eating fattening foods and has lost a considerable amount of weight over the fall. Sometimes he even drives to the next burg just to get me a club sandwich from Subway, since he knows that I have tired of the pizza and pasta dishes over at Disalvo's. It's hard enough for a girl who is expecting to keep her heartburn from flaring up without eating greasy Italian fare. Since October we have been eating together and we even went out to the steak house in Greenville one night and held hands across the table. I have been gaining weight steadily and my ass is getting fat but I will not fret about that.

It's as if my new husband has somehow drained all of the hate out of himself and shot it into me. Creating somebody who he knows he will love unconditionally, even if he could never love me under any conditions. As for myself I know that I will never be redeemed by love, but I am also through with detestation; what good does it do to cultivate hate? It just takes too much energy.

As for the child inside me, I wonder if I can ever grow to love it. At the start it was all I could do not to take my crochet needles and attempt to pluck it out from inside my womb. I told myself it would be easy: like a chinese woman impaling a hunk of pork on two chopsticks. But as the weeks slowly passed, the pressing fetus began to stretch my pale belly, as if it had doubled in size from sunset to sunset. Ultimately I felt that it was too big, so I slowly chickened out and my abortion plot was abandoned. Still, even as I renounce all repugnance, I have little else to breathe out but loathsome frost for the zygote which has ruined my once firm body.

If the women from home were around, they would spend entire evenings scolding me. Aunt Alice Cabrini would tell me that the baby was safe inside God's water balloon and that it was a mortal sin to even consider harming it. They would ask how I could abhor it so? Once I felt its little legs and arms kicking and punching at the inside of my rib cage? They would tell me that in time I will become attached to it. Like I could be anything else but with the little leech inside me, feeding off of me twenty four hours a day like a parasite.

Maybe they're right, except, I have not felt it punching or kicking. Even though my stomach is big enough to do my own nails on. That's why I have begun to conjecture that perhaps it does not have any arms or legs. Perhaps I am going to give birth to a snake.

And when it slithers out from inside me on a rainbow wave of afterbirth, will it prop its head up like a Black African King Cobra and gape at the doctors and nurses before attempting to strike them? Or will everyone on the surgical team just coo and act like everything is normal, the same way that Mama always does? Will they rinse it off with a squirt gun in a silver sink and wrap it in a striped hospital blanket before handing it over to me? Will they force me to hold it while I'm still bathed in sweat? Still saturated in frailty and weakness, within a sanguinary bed over pans of blood loss from snake-birth. Will all the woman in the ward gather around us in a circle and gawk at it as if it were destined to be a prince, prime minister or president? Everyone you know, everyone you've ever seen, beaming at my vile offspring as if it were adorable.


M  C  R

This work is copyrighted by the author, Tom Hamilton. All rights reserved.