Desmond S. Peeples is a writer and occasional performance artist based in Vermont. His work is either available or forthcoming in Big Bridge, Cultural Logic, and Squawk Back. He is the founding editor of Mount Island Magazine, an editorial assistant for Green Writers Press, and an associate literary agent with The Dede Cummings Agency. He has also performed as a musician and as a drag queen across the United States. Find him on Twitter @dspeeples. He likes very obscene jokes, but he's demure about it.
Desmond S. Peeples
Abraham goes to the brook at dawn. A good time of day, fresh, like a fawn, and he will be one there too. Not everyone knows how to use a dawn, but Abraham is versed in ancient arts. He has taken them upon himself like vendettas against his parents, who artlessly named him Abraham. The brook moves in ways that Abraham cannot; the dawn appears in ways that Abraham cannot. He has always had trouble with people. He is only nine, and his father says that that’s too young to know what trouble is, but it has been nine years of trouble with people – maybe only six, since Abraham’s first memory is from when he was three. It is stark, bare, spartan, ascetic - his mother’s old white cat streaking across the living room floor like the Holy Ghost. He doesn’t really know what the Holy Ghost is, but he’s seen it streaking all around him ever since then. Light in the curves and under the skin, shimmy in the stem and the creeping hair or blade of grass – the flicker of the brook, like a stream of starry sky through the wet ferns.
Today the brook is empty in a way it has never been before. Empty like the lungs after a sigh; empty like a canteen long kissed. Yesterday there was another person here. A pair of spandex or lycra legs, lingering on the little bridge like it was made just for them. And Abraham had left that person to their bridge and their brook, he had turned back up the hillside and gone back to his bedroom. It wasn’t his place to disturb a person like that. The brook is not his place. But today it is open to him. Today it is his streamy sky, his milky way, the trail of cigarette smoke whose smell he can never tell his mother he loves. Abraham’s mother loves brooks but she does not love cigarettes. He knows she is a good mother – probably too good for him and his love of cigarette smoke. He knows he is too young to love cigarette smoke. But it’s sweet and permanent, chalky, like coffee, which he has also never had - but it is not the Holy Ghost.
Empty brook, green to black like looking out from a nebula, a meteor shower carving through the earth. The trees are watching it, too. They always get to watch it. The tendrils of their roots are always nibbling at its silt like Abraham’s toes. Abraham likes to baptize himself in the water. He was baptized in a church in Queens as a baby. His dead aunt is his godmother; she was a nun, and when she visited from the city her sacrament was egg drop soup. Abraham drops himself into the cold dawn water like a hot supper egg. His yolk streaks out into the current like a pale spirit, light in the curves, ghost in the light. The trees are humming their morning song, just beginning to trill with pleasure.
Abraham’s grandfather was a singer. Just as a hobby of course; to make money he printed money, which had never made any sense to Abraham. Singing, though - that made sense. If he had ever known anything about his body it was that it’s a mighty instrument. Mighty like the song, like the flavor savored only by the worthy, a communion wine or the tabernacle sparkling young in a dark corner – but no. Not mighty. Humble and yielding, the streaming yolk. The brook is mighty; the tendril trees are flaming with the word of dawn. Abraham holds himself still in the water. He listens for the word - he hears music. Trickling, dancing water droplets, strings of liquid pearls chiming against one another. He wades away from the little bridge, and he hears it clearer – a hymn from church. Not sung like the old ladies sing at his modest church in his little town, but like his father’s cathedral in the city, rolling and woven thick like the deepest layer of the brook. Abraham has always wondered why they don’t sing like that in the country.
Being here makes him want to sing like that.
But his church is nothing like his father’s church. His country is nothing like his father’s city. Here the white people sing not because their bodies must, but because the book tells them that they must. This song – he can hear it even clearer, close at hand, underfoot – this song is like a tremor through the earth, or the spark of fish in the soil. He skims his hungry fingers out over the water like a blind man; he cranes over its surface to peer down to the bed. There is a hole between his feet, the width of his shuddering shoulders, the black of his warping pupils. It could become his heart. The pit of the leviathan, the home of a sturgeon or long-toothed pike – but this is only the brook. This is only the home of guppies and tadpoles, skaters and mosquitos.
Then what is this pit? It breathes – oh like the Devil’s heart it breathes in all the salt from the silt and Abraham’s blood and the heat of his groin, and it sings, it sings like the water over the rock and the nails in the soil – flow and grit, grind and flight.
But what are the words?
Abraham turns his ear to the water. He can’t hear the music any clearer. His toes are over the edge; he feels nothing beneath them but sound, like a million little fish nibbling at his calluses. Who sings from this pit? It is cold, but his body is warm. He steps forward, and he sinks below.
Stiff in the knees. Damp.
“Hey – hey, you!”
Someone’s snapping at him and his eyes are closed like it’s a cap gun in his ears.
“Hey – open your eyes.”
Abraham opens his eyes, and the world is black, devoid of stars. There’s no more church music, but he likes the quiet. He’s sitting cross-legged in the dark. Another boy is sitting across from him – he must have been the one snapping. Abraham looks him in the eyes, dabs up the rest of the boy’s features – it’s him.
It’s Abraham. Another Abraham.
He feels the rage of shame; he should have recognized himself sooner; he shouldn’t be sitting across from himself.
This couldn’t be real. Maybe he hadn’t stepped into the pit; maybe he hadn’t seen it at all. But then he would be a crazy person. There have been plenty of crazy people in his family. Unless, of course, he had only dreamt about waking up and walking out to the brook – he’s heard that you can have dreams like that. Dreams like a half-life, like the static of a decaying ion, which his mother says is an electric piece of the world. His mother is a scientist. She does not go to church.
“Are you listening?”
The other Abraham reaches over and touches his knee.
“Listen to this joke,” says the other Abraham. “God walks into a bar.”
Abraham waits. Nothing more.
“That’s it,” says the other Abraham.
“What do you mean?”
They found him in the culvert, where the water meets the road.