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Rooster by Jack Murnighan  

My wife is dead; with her dies all the guilt, most of the joy, all the wonder that remained. Dead, she’s like a hole in my memory, or like a light that shines on everything but itself. What’s my mind doing to me? Most the time it’s hard even to remember her face, but damn if I don’t remember the ones before, the one during. Only one; seventy-one years and only one other. I had been married to Eve for what seemed like forever and then there she was, like a flake of hot fire dropped out of the sky. So innocent and unsuspecting, with eyes made to paint sadness on and an ass that made you want to take her like you take a calf for branding. God, I was double her age plus eleven; no business pulling off those cotton pants with all the damnation that lay beyond. Life’s a shitkicker, all right; all those years faithful as an anchorite and then that. What is a man? Someone who plucks or someone who doesn’t need to? Not sure I’d want to be the one any more than the other. I knew Eve knew, knew she smelled that girl on me just as I did, even after all the soaping. Wasn’t even that there was anything to smell, just that when I touched my wife it was like I had gloves on, like a film had settled over my fingers so they’d advertise their little infamy. Tried to hide it that night by tonguing her two times to the end — probably gave myself away right there. Women always know when you’re enjoying it, and when you’re just doing it out of guilt — you learn that after a while. I remember the first time I went south on a woman: pulled her out behind a grain silo and down in the mulchy field and had her knickers at her ankles like I knew which fucking end was up and how to make out all the messages my pecker was trying to send me. She kept saying Lick it, lick it, and no way was I about to ask for a little explanation so I just put my whole face in there, put it in there just like an armless man would eat spaghetti. And that’s how I felt, all armless and handless and eyeless, just a nose and a tongue poking around, trying to get a sense of things. I came to like it, thought it was kind of my secret weapon. It wasn’t like sex, where some men treat the thing like a 10-trial Olympic event while others do it like they were punching a time card. Kissing pussy, it’s more like you can’t really do a bad job — like Christmas or something where just the intention is good enough. I’d tell those farms girls that I was gonna eat them out like a dog cleaning a can. And they’d let me all right. I think that’s why all the married ones liked me so much: their own husbands had long since stopped trying, didn’t give out none of the preferred love and sometimes didn’t even stick it to them either. Always felt like I had that up on other men; they just let the days pass by, didn’t even think about how a little here and there would make all the difference. Other men’s wives taught me how to be with mine. I remember one who’d get me to come over, hog-tie her with my belt, tell her all kinds of nastiness and fuck her like the war was gonna start up again tomorrow. Jesus. Ninety-four years old and I still don’t understand women. Don’t know what they want but to feel like they’re beautiful and to have you think their cooking’s good. My Eve, she was about as capable in the kitchen as she was in the master bed. Never did tell me till after her fiftieth year that she’d been dreaming of me taking her up the behind. Just imagine, my wife of thirty years, telling me she wanted it all along. And there I was like some kind of idiot greasing up my cock and sticking it this way and that way and what with all the Vaseline it kept sliding into her cunt and she’s saying Like this honey, like she’d thought about it so long she’d know where I was supposed to put it to get the damn thing in. It didn’t seem that different to me, kinda like stroking it with your left hand instead of your right — the feeling is there, but you don’t quite know what you’re up to anymore. And it was kinda funny seeing Eve, all fifty-two years of her, bunched up on her knees, face pressed against a pillow. Laughter ain’t always a good addition to sex so I was keeping myself quiet. And she kept saying Is it good for you, honey, is it good? And I think I said Yes, yes so many times it might well have been the best I’d ever had. But it wasn’t. It was Eve and it was always Eve and that’s what I thought was good. Men fantasize about a lot of shit — this playmate and that actress — but over and over I’d be inside her thinking This is my wife. My wife. This, right here, is my wife. She’d suck my cock and she’d be my wife. She’d ride high up on me, cross bouncing on her bosom, and she’d be my wife. She knew I had wronged her, knew I was weak and all those years didn’t say word one about it. And so when she asked me to take her there, even when I poked once a bit too much and hurt her, she was my wife, and I knew she loved the god-all of me. I don’t think there’s a way of telling someone that what you love about them is just that they are. But that’s how it was. I just wanted to say You you you, over and over till she knew I loved her. Then she died and it wasn’t even like part of me, no, it was just that they took away my colors, took away my leaves. I seen an oak one time strong enough to grow its way through a link fence. That’s what she was to me. Grown up and through me like I wasn’t even there. Now I’m an old man and it don’t suit me to cry. And I make my way. Ain’t nothing but women here in the home, and each of them saying I’m their Georgia peach. Not even that I’m any kind of man, just the idea of a man to them. So I help them with their baths — Assist them, as they like to say — and call them all Sugar like they’re the only one, and Ingrid gives me her dessert because she’s Watching her figure, and May likes to put a hand on my thigh, and Chlora just goes on and on about What a fine looking man I am, but she says her grandson is fine looking too and he looks about like a woodchuck. Day to day, I’m the little rooster in the hen house, kissing all the bearded ladies. Eve, where are you Eve? Why did one of us have to go? I told you I’d never leave you and I never will. You used to say Where’s my man, and I’m here, honey. I’m here. Goddamn it, I’m still here.

©1999 Jack Murnighan and, Inc.