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TWO SHORT STORIES by Kevin McIlvoy

The Luthier’s mother’s mouth’s openness

The Luthier’s mother’s mouth’s openness, her hands’ finger’s
tremblings, her red hair’s fires’ warnings. It’s what you saw if you
were making your last visit to her ever. You were the Luthier’s
mother’s Possession when you walked into her son’s guitars’
home, in which son and mother also lived together in one room.

Inside their home’s heart’s sounds: the tub’s faucet’s dripping’s
splashings and the refrigerator’s coils’ hymning humming and the
clock’s hands’ frettings and the floorboards’ one warped
floorboard’s creaking. It felt like everything you heard was also
hearing everything else, that nothing resting there fully rested.

I know all this because I lived there once with an older sister
named Bender. She was the one who saw after me. Ran away.
And no word again from her. My feet drummed the dead forest, I
heard my face in the face, and from hunger I prayed inside
the box’s light. I felt my boy’s soul displace the small body of water. I
didn’t like that they had stopped that splashing sound.

I was the Luthier’s mother’s first husband’s second child by what
people called The Widow’s Previous Marriage. The only child left, I
was an extraneous adverb when my father, the verb of the family,
died. The Luthier, who is the second son, is the Luthier’s mother’s
other.

I, too, was a Luthier though not as skilled as he, The Luthier’s
Luthier. Call them “Sorrow’s sorrows,” the guitars I made. Call his
“Rapture’s Raptures.” He was my teacher. Twice his age, I was the
Luthier’s mother’s son’s favorite pupil. I was there to learn how to
finish dreadnaughts that would sell fast. Banking on his
reputation, I would claim that he made them.

Once there was one he named Elizabeth Cotton. It is bad luck to
name a bad guitar. It is good luck to name a good. He had never
made one better. “Liz,” he said, at the end, “this will not hurt.”
And he was gentle. “Liz,” he said, “you’re going to like this.”

He whispered into her soundhole, “Liz, baby, what is it?” and
listened for her answer. The Luthier and I never talked with the
affection resounding in the Luthier’s guitar’s conversations with
the Luthier. There is a love that is a reflection of love’s reflection.
There is a frame inside the form, there is a vice you use to force
the edges to bind. There is the floating or flying seed still in the
grain. The stars arisen, the kingdoms fallen, the green, the void;
you touch the tuning fork across the skin of the sky, snow, rain
still in the sound. Moonlight. Sun. Nests in the limbs, and in the
nests the hungering young. You loosen the vice, and you are done.

“You fixed the tub?” I asked. The Luthier’s mother answered for
him: “Fixed.” They had even taken the duct tape off the Hot and
Cold handles. (It broke my heart, that repair.) The Luthier said,
“Finished.”

I asked if I could take her. Together, the Luthier and I put her in
the case.

I left. She went with me everywhere I went. Forty-one years ago
today.

 

 

At dusk, as always, Bender sang to us

At dusk, as always, Bender sang to our congregation, silver hair
greasing her blouse, and silver muffling the toes of her boots.

When we were grade-school children, she and I liked duct-tape.
We liked it like you could never believe. Our favorite thing to steal
from the corner store was that silver coil. The way it ripped
across, how it stretched over. It gripped!

She stood on the white twenty-gallon empty drum, her bootheels
burning the plastic, her tempo uneven. We were a communion of
over a dozen church-bums who loved her and were frightened by
her hawk-at-the-tree-crown and hawk-on-the-glide shoulders and
head, her wings at her sides, her hands palms out, fingers curled
up.

We once duct-taped a picture of our father, who was dying in the
Simic State Penitentiary hospital, to a globe our aunt Horror sent
whose name was actually Hortense. He clung to the deep South.
He spun fast without flying off. When it slowed down, his head did
a half-turn on his neck, then a turn back by half that. We tore the
thing apart, duct-taped the entire planet, kicked it anywhere we
wanted. Dented part of Asia and most of Antarctica. Had to re-
tape.

Bender could see me. She looked at me. Hungry, we both had
listened to the God-hype you had to swallow in order to be
allowed to eat the soup at this mission. The tables were set in the
chapel that once had a God’s-eye skylight. Through a screen of
sloppy black paint, full moonlight smudged her gaunt face and
temples, her silvery upper lip and jaw.

She sang, Hey now. Hey. That’s what I feel. How about you?

We were all sick to death from eating so much God venom. This
serpent’s voice tasted good. Her drumming bowed us lower over
our bowls, our spoons witching the broth.

When she turned nine, Bender and I duct-taped her birthday cake
– the wrong flavor and no icing – taped the candles, taped our
cousin’s bicycle handles, seat, tires, chrome fenders, who said he
was forced to come to the birthday party. We attached our
stepmother Dillo’s hands to her knees because she napped curled
up drunk, which was not birthday-appropriate we felt. For her
convenience, we taped her whipping switch, which we had taped
and broken and overtaped, to her right claw.

Bender’s voice scraped her own clogged reed:

Hey now. Hey. That’s what I feel. How about you? 

Of all hours, Bender should bless ours. Of all hungers she should
solve them here.

You feel it? You feel it. You feel it too.

Our congregation lightly hammered our tables in tune with her
coffin-lid-thumping boot.

Sixty-one years earlier, our mother told me nothing and no one
could save my sister, that some darkness sings only darkness.

You never ask me about me, Bender said.

O, Bender, I answered my sister-sawyer who had only survived
her own self-killings because she sang.

You never ask me about me, she said again, though she knew I
was afraid to hear her answer.

When she laughed she sounded forgiving.

Need duct tape? she asked.

I had become a musician along my way. I injured and reinjured my
guitar until we both were near dead. Kicked out of the band, I
marked it SOLD but kept it, slept with it, dreamed there was room
for me in its shell.

I did. I needed some.

 

 

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About Kevin McIlvoy

Kevin McIlvoy
Kevin McIlvoy has published four novels (A Waltz, The Fifth Station, Little Peg, Hyssop) and a short story collection, The Complete History of New Mexico (Graywolf Press). His short fiction has appeared in Harper’s, Southern Review, Ploughshares, Missouri Review, and other literary magazines. His short-short stories and prose poems have appeared in The Collagist, Pif, Kenyon Review Online, The Cortland Review, Prime Number, r.k.v.r.y, Waxwing, and various online literary magazines. He has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in fiction. For twenty-seven years he was fiction editor and editor in chief of the national literary magazine, Puerto del Sol. He has taught in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program in Creative Writing since 1990; he taught as a Regents Professor of Creative Writing in the New Mexico State University MFA Program from 1981 to 2008. He has served as a fiction faculty member at national conferences, including the Ropewalk Writing Conference (Indiana), the Rising Stars Writing Conference (Arizona State University), the Writers at Work (Utah) Conference, and the Bread Loaf Writing Conference (Vermont). He has been a manuscript consultant for University of Nevada Press, University of Arizona Press, University of New Mexico Press and other publishers. He served on the Board of Directors of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.