by Tantra Bensko
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The fireplace, the only thing still standing from the old homestead, is where the Old Ones come in. They come through into our house and they won’t leave us alone. I don’t understand how there was a world before we dreamed it up. But somehow, there was, without us in it, they say, though I don’t believe a word of it. Anyway, before we were born, Papa built our house around that old rock fireplace that was there even before he was. The chicken coop’s behind it, and the donkeys lean up against it for warmth. The Old Ones sing inside the stones, crackle in the heat, and dream inside the flames, up into our thighs, our fallopian tubes.
My sister tells me about how it happens to her, when she starts to write down certain stories she makes up out of her head, after she makes rows on paper, 3 vertical columns. Their language works across them somehow in a way I don’t understand.
But I understand in some other way, under the table, when we curl up after dinner, and no one is in the dining room, and the heavy, dark wood slab above us makes everything we say only ours, and ours alone. Well, other than the angels that watch through burls in wood on walls in the house. Those weird vagina-shaped dark lines made from years creating years in the trees. Where the old angels come through stinging our thighs, their mouths open in ugly shapes, their eyes too bright and focused, their voices screechy, and their legs so small, trailing off like they don’t matter. Like an after-thought drawn in later, when the pencil needed to be sharpened, but no sharpener was around.
The oldest angel now is saying it’s time to put in more wood, but we know what that means. We put our piece of wood, smooth, rounded, six inches long, the size we can reach our hands around, or mouths around, inside our hearts inside our heads, inside our moans inside our futures. Not inside the fireplace!
The fire burns bright. Our Papa snores upstairs, so loud it sounds like he could die. If he dies, we’d be alone until we found other men with wood like that to light our fires, to light our thighs.
We know the fire is telling us that. Papa will die of sleeping, die of dreaming of Mama’s ghost muffling him, sitting on him, strangling him, the one ghost we asked for, the one ghost that never once came through the fire to see us. She only sits on his head, on his breath, on the presents he brings us and drops, the dinners he makes us and burns.
She only makes him snort and hold his breath, almost forgetting to start again, that awful snoring, so loud sometimes we wish he would stop, be still, be silent, and let her sit on him in peace, smiling, spreading out her thighs, while we gather up our favorite piece of wood we share, and leave home to find men as close to it as possible in shape and size.
The old ones say it’s time to put in wood, time to let them find the men with sticks like that for us, time for them to put their babies in their wood, and into us, and burn us up, and come out kicking, licking, leathery, tiny, white, with mini-legs, and not enough toes, and not enough fire-light in their eyes at the same time as too much, too much fire, to keep us warm, to keep us always sister sister pants on fire, father father dead.
Mama, when she was alive, told us there’d be someone else, someone coming through the wood burl vaginas like a virgin birth, someone older than her, whom we don’t remember well, someone who keeps the fireplace glowing, even when no one’s home.
We feel the wood with our palms, smooth, and oily, round, fitting in them pleasingly. We beat the table, the wood burls, the angels, old and all, we beat each other’s wombs, from inside, making a kind of music, a racket like we’ve never made before, the fire flaming higher with the drafts stirred up, Papa forgetting to breathe upstairs, Mama’s ghost forgetting to lift herself up off of his face, five, ten minutes, silent, and we hold on to each other, yelling at each others faces, in some language made of 3 columns, in some fiery conflagration of smoke and freedom, and we leave the house forever, as it burns, and never say we lived there, not at all.