The house breathes. The cold wind wheezes like an old man’s breathing as it comes in through the spaces between the weather worn boards and around the dingy windows. Tattered sheer curtains hang on sagging rods and tremble and shake with every breeze. Where there is wallpaper, it is buckled and ripped and yellowed with age. Rust colored water stains in the shape of continents spot the ceilings. Every room smells of decay.

     I have come back having not been here since childhood. I thought I would find solace in returning to something familiar, but time has rendered the inside of the house unfamiliar. The pictures of family ancestors that hung on the walls are gone, but their outlines are imprinted on the peeling wallpaper. A mildewed sofa in the living room, a table in the kitchen, and a four poster bed with a ripped mattress is the only furniture in the house. I found candles, candle holders, matches, oil lamps and oil in the dark basement and I’ve placed them on the floors scattered around the house, except for
an oil lamp on the kitchen table and two candles on the mantle place.

     I sit on the floor in front of the roaring flames and watch the glowing red embers beneath the burning tree branches wink like bloodshot eyes. Sparks and gray ash float up the chimney as the fire crackles and snaps. The heat is intense and not comforting. Sweat runs down my forehead and into my eyes. I am glued here, unable to pull myself away from the safety of light. I have been through most of the house while the sun was up, but now that night has fallen, I admit that there is something disturbing about this house.

    I searched the field for the rest of the placenta. The heifer gave birth to the calf earlier that day. She walked the field now; part of the placenta still hung from her backside like wet bread dough. Her calf followed close behind, suckling on that bloody slug. His hooves wobbled on the rough ground. His jaw left a trail of blood and saliva as he chewed.

     I wanted to chew on it too– to be the calf and remember what it was like to be young, at ease, and irreverent again.

     The cows disappeared in the woods behind the field when I came upon a depression in the grasses. It was warm. A splatter of blood and a slick mass, like the spongy fat cut from a thick steak, laid in the center. This was it; her birthing ground. I sat on the dirt and poked the placenta with a nearby twig. The sludge drew in the twig tip like the doctor’s finger when he examined my cervix earlier that day, and told me the words I knew I would hear but was too sick to accept in my head.

     Once, not so long ago, a tinker came to the town of Bitten Apple. Townspeople who glanced at him saw a man groomed and stately. Too few stared hard and saw the clutching little fingers and an expression at once sneering and boastful.

     The Tinker, who called himself Augustus, set up shop and began buying and selling all manner of things. He was a sharp trader, and told those who argued with him that they’d best be careful or he’d damn them with lawsuits and embarrassment. Such curses were feared. The menfolk in the town listened to his blustering, and thought Augustus a clever man who must be respected.

     A few years later Augustus was a very rich man. (The townsfolk were poorer of course, but they were afraid to say anything) He was elected the town leader, and appointed a sheriff and constables who were in his debt. (more…)

     ‘Oh pretty maids, come bite us with your pearly teeth–leave your lovely marks upon us!’ cry the leather-coated russets. ‘Hi, hi, hi– come hither and crush our ripe flesh under your dainty feet!’ squeal the fallen crab apples.

     Lizzie and Laura weave their way into the heart of the vulgar market throng, jostled to and fro by scratchy wicker baskets held in sunburnt crooks of arms.

     ‘Breathe me in,’ persuades the perfectly ripe peach. Lizzie does as she is told and soon her head feels fuzzy. When she looks up, she finds she is alone. Laura’s hand has slipped from hers, as if her slender frame has been swallowed whole by the bustling crowd. Panic rises in her throat, as if a tiny scrap of apple had lodged there.

     She fancies she can hear a flutey voice calling her from afar–Laura? She zig zags across the village green and up the chalky incline towards the wizened gate by the stagnant brook that leads to the straight and narrow of the Priest’s Way, a fearsome stony path overlooked by a congregation of thistles.