Joyelle McSweeney


The editor’s mouth sagged like a dog losing at poker there was a lake of mein there was a lake of ink he was trying to break the habit of falling into but failing chewed on pens. He was trying like the state of Minnesota in frame after frame and he was a failing bucket. The stripes ran up his chest and there was a chain stuffed in his pocket. It ticked through his well-stocked barrel belly like a baby mewling in a well floating in a walled up sea. Drip. How long till this goes under. Did you think you could pull one over on me.

Nuh-no sir I did not.

I was aproned, I had a push cart of letters in brown envelopes. I was erratic, I would keep half stacked in my stash in the basement and I tried to place my hand on one and read its innards like an ancient roman. I would never open them which would be breaking the federal law. I was trying to be a sarcographer of reading. I’d trafficked in other telepathies. But when one too many shoebuckles popped open on my watch and caused a lady to prettily lean I gave up it. Jesus was watching and had enough of my sidewalk causistry.

Nuh-no sir I did not think.

Now I admit I’d dreamed of the profit. In Kazikhstan I dream a snowy pasha with a wool fringe and a rug and a brilliant carnadine vest sewn with mirrors I never take off. The mirrors stand for peacock’s eyes. The peacocks stand for the pretty rumors which spread and lifted me from a lowly shepherd to the head of Kazhakstry and that’s why I rule the steppes with the golden llama I stole from the pen.

Instead, I’d pad on cracked soles that creeped and bugged the editors hunched over their dailies. Blue pencils hushed silently around. Rats scribbled in the walls I felt the second novel being written around this one and I wondered about their nests. I left one letter a week by the door to the janitor’s closet where I felt sure they’d find it.

Wednesday was my night for thinking about the rats.

They were writing it even now.

Writing under and over the one I’m listening to.

I loved the basement. The pressroom I wasn’t allowed in, the incredible pressures of the paper’s belts. They had a special squad of men for that who didn’t like me for my girly insoles and my insolence, a haircut they observed with my head down. They read my tealeaves in the part of my cowlicked. In the curls that tossed like the sea or a collicky baby: wracked. They teased a stutter out of me, my hands in my pockets. It was just a charade. It was just practice. They weren’t even clenched there. The stutter was amplification.

My hands were soft as steamed envelopes

Which I never. Not in the office. Nor ever took any tea.

Now the editor asks: what did you want with them anyway? The press is an organ of society. We have to hear our readers.

Believe me, I see. I’m all for better hearing. I’m all for reusing the spools at the core of threads and the eyes of needles. So much of our resources are being put to waste, and if it’s not the Russians its the gangsters get the better of us. We opened a rank can with prohibition.

Nylund, he says, you’re a lonely man. Don’t you have a wife—or a mother!— someone to look after you?

Nuh-neither, I say.

No, sir, I have a twin.