Stark and vibrant, the two halves of this sutured book expose the Frankenstein-like scars of the assemblage we call “human.”
In “Another Governess” a woman in a decaying manor tries to piece together her own story. In “The Least Blacksmith” a man cannot help but fail his older brother as they struggle to run their father’s forge.
Each of the stories stands alone, sharing neither characters nor settings. But together, they ask the same question: What are the wages of being? The relentless darkness of these tales is punctured by hope—the violent hope of the speaking subject.
|Publisher:||University of Alabama Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Joanna Ruocco coedits Birkensnake, a journal of fiction. She is the author of The Mothering Coven and Man’s Companions.
Read an Excerpt
ANOTHER GOVERNESS THE LEAST BLACKSMITHA DIPTYCH
By JOANNA RUOCCO
The University of Alabama PressCopyright © 2012 Joanna Ruocco
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMy hair is altogether changed. My face is altogether changed. I am very slim. The dress hangs on me. It slides from my shoulder and the cloth is newly stained. A button dangles. I must repair the button. There is a needle in the nursery. Somewhere there is a needle. I will use it to repair the button. There are children in the nursery. The grunting is the children, the sounds of the children. The children are grunting over the tray of cakes. On the iron table, a big tray of cakes, little cakes, dripping cakes. There are two children grunting over the big tray of cakes. They are on their knees by the cakes. The girl has reddish eyelids and nostrils. The boy is swollen, with dirty skin. Tamworth and Old Spot. I will call them Tamworth and Old Spot. The boy is nearly a man. Spot is a man. The children are grown. They are not children. They are on their knees. That is why they look so small. No one has noticed they are grown because they eat on their knees. Get up, I say to the children. Get up. Get up. The children grunt. Crumbs stick to their cheeks. They move closer to the tray. There are more cakes on the tray. There are more cakes for the children to eat. Get up, I say. Get up. Get up. I clap my hands. The children look up. They stare. Crumbs drop from their mouths. Fluids drip down their chins. They stare. I stand above them in the nursery so they know me even if they do not know my face.
Chapter TwoI walk in a small circle on the carpet. Fluids have marked the carpet. I walk in small circles. There is a table in the nursery. There are two chairs. There is a rocking horse. The paint has chipped from the legs of the rocking horse and the tail is ragged, falling short of the fetlocks. Something has chewed the legs, chewed the tail of the rocking horse. Nits fly from the eggs in the gapped mane of the rocking horse. Nits swarm above the crib. I walk to the crib. It is iron. I walk to the rocking horse. Ride on your rocking horse, I say to Spot, but he is too big for the rocking horse. His legs will bend at the knee, his feet on the carpet. He does not ride the rocking horse. There must be another child, a small child, under the linens in the crib. I walk to the window. I look down at the moat. There is a dirty white skin of mist on the moat. Beyond the moat the orchard thickens into the forest. The orchard is filled with pigs. The pigs are shoulder to shoulder, feeding in the orchard. The apples are soft and brown. They are dropping from the trees. They are rotting in the grass. The pigs are slipping in the thick brown flesh of the apples, the broken flesh of the apples. The brown skins of the apples hang in flaps from their bellies. The pigs nip at each other, squealing. The pigs are eating through the apples to the soil. They are eating through the soil. A pig drags a root from the soil, a pale, streaked root, long and stiff, tapered to a white hook. The pig is eating the white root and the root is moistening, blackening with fluids. I croon to the pigs. The pigs must think that they smell me beneath the soil, but I am behind the glass in the high window. I am high above the orchard. I will not go back there anymore. I have misted the window with my breath.
Chapter ThreeOpen your books, I say. The children certainly have books. The nursery is filled with books. I see books on the desks by bottles of black fluid and I see books on the carpet. The crib is filled with books. There are no books on the table. On the table, there are cakes. The children wait by the cakes, on their knees by the cakes. It is not time for cakes. It is time for books. First, in the nursery, cakes. Then books. It is time for books. Not all little children have books. Tamworth and Spot must love their books. There is much to learn in their books. There are no books in the forest. I went to the forest. There were roots, there were rocks, there were leaves. There was mud. I fell in the mud. I slid in the leaves. I crawled over rocks. I lay in a field. I cut a lump on my foot and a worm came out. It was a very black worm. I dried my foot in the sun. There was a hole in the lump on my foot, and the hole leaked yellow fluid. I pulled dark strings from the hole with my fingernails. Pinched between my fingernails, the dark strings did not wiggle. I thought they were worms, but they did not wiggle. They were not worms. I rolled them hard between my fingers. They did not smear. They remained tiny dark strings. They were moist and they left no color on my skin. They were something, not worms or blood, a third thing that worms and blood made together in the lump on my foot. I hobbled to the low stone wall. I lay on top of the low stone wall. I thought about the dark strings in the lump on my foot. They were moving up my legs. I felt them behind my knees. They dammed and swelled in the crook of my arm, under my lower eyelids, curling around and around. I wrapped my foot with canvas that crusted with the yellow fluid. My foot smelled in its canvas wrapper. The farmer held me close then pushed me away. What is that smell? said the farmer. His face was pink, with white hairs, and his mouth was a ragged wet hole like the hole in my foot. My foot, I said, because I knew what smell the farmer meant. Open your foot, I say to the children. I laugh. The children have not noticed that I limp, that I drag myself across the carpet in circles, as though I fall, but every time I fall, I catch myself. I keep moving.
Chapter FourThe baker had a daughter. The baker's daughter worked in the bakery. She cut the gray cakes of yeast. She mixed yeast and water for the baker. Her fingers were wrinkled with moisture and they gave off a sour odor. The nails had come loose in the nail beds. The skin that seals the nails in the nail beds was too soft to hold the nails in place. One day a man cut a loaf of bread and he found a string of hair. The string of hair passed lengthwise through the bread from end to end. The baker cut the hairs from the daughter's head. One day a man cut a loaf of bread and he found ten fingernails in the center of the loaf of bread. The baker cut the daughter's fingers at the first knuckles. One day a man cut a loaf of bread and he found the key to the bakery. The man did not tell the baker. The man came in the night to the bakery where the baker's daughter waited. The baker's daughter showed the man the sack of coins the baker hid beneath the floorboard and the man lifted out the sack of coins. He lifted the skirt around the waist of the baker's daughter and felt with his fingers beneath the skirt. His fingernails were ragged and the baker's daughter cried out so that the man put his forearm across her mouth. The baker's daughter did not cry out again. The baker was upstairs sleeping in his narrow bed. The man dropped one of the baker's coins on the floor for the baker's daughter. The next day a man cut a loaf of bread and he found a coin in the heel of the bread. The baker crushed his daughter's skull with the whetting stone. He put her beneath the floorboard in a sack.
Chapter FiveThe children eat and eat. The children cannot stop eating. They cannot stop while there are cakes on the tray. Even as they chew their cakes they shove more cakes into their mouths. Spot gags. He keeps chewing. He gags. Spit, I say to Spot. I put my hand below his mouth. Spit, I say. I put my fingers on his lips. The teeth are moving up and down, and the lips. The lips are wet and bits of cake cling to my fingers. My fingers are moving up and down on the lips. I want to push my fingers through Spot's lips and pull out the cake. I can see the cake between the teeth, the wet ball of cake, and the tongue swelling, and then the tongue jerks forward and the wet ball of cake rises. The wet ball of cake comes forward, comes through the teeth. It bulges through the lips. It hangs on the lips. I push the cake back into the mouth. Spot gags. I laugh. Spot reaches for another cake. Stop, I say to Spot. Spot looks at me. He pushes the cake through his lips. I push my finger through his lips. I feel the teeth. The teeth are hard in the wetness of the mouth. Ribs are hard in the wetness of the chest. I stepped between the ribs, the soft large bulge that rose between the ribs. She had lain in the field in the sun and the rain. For a moment, my foot pressed the surface, then the surface gave way. My foot pushed through the surface. There was a sound, the sound of the air going out. It smelled bad. My foot entered the cavity. Inside, it was wet. I felt the wetness seething on my skin. Her dress hung in a bush. Her dress flapped in the wind, threads caught in the thorns of the bush. A button dangled. There is no needle in the forest. I could not repair the button. It was a nice dress, stiffened with fluids. The rain could not wash the fluids from the dress. I could wash the dress in the river, the clean, cold river. I could beat the dress on the rocks. I did not want to bend too close. I did not push with my finger. I opened her lips with a stick. Her mouth was filled with fluids. She was very plump. She ate cakes with the children, cake after cake. The cakes turned to fluids in her mouth, or her mouth was open all night. Her mouth filled with rain.
Chapter SixThere is a tray of cakes on the table. There is a pitcher of milk. Spot drinks from the pitcher. He coughs into the pitcher. Milk runs down Spot's chin as he puts the pitcher on the table. He lets the milk drip. He reaches for a cake. I should stop him. The cakes will sicken the children. The cook used bad flour. There is alum in the wheat. There is chalk in the wheat. The cook mixed rancid fat with the flour. She worked the fat and flour in the trough. Sweat ran down her arms. The air was hot and thick. The cook grunted. She could not see the changes to my hair and face. Not through the hot, thick air. In the kitchen, there is smoke in the air. There is soot in the air. There are flies in the air. I crouched by the trough. Lower down, the smoke clears. There is less smoke by the trough. I put my face in the trough. It smelled bad. Beneath the trough, something scurried. The cook put her heel down hard. She grunted. She scraped her heel on the edge of the table leg. Something dropped. The cook rubbed fat into the sores on her arms. She did not notice how I breathed with my face in the trough, how I gagged on the rancid smell from the trough. I crouch beside the table with the children. I break off a piece of cake and put it in my mouth. My mouth is dry. The cake comes apart. I breathe carefully, but the bits of cake fly against the back of my throat. I gag. My mouth itches. My tongue has grown fine white hairs like the hairs on Spot's cheeks. Fine white hairs cluster on my tongue. I turn my back to the children to scrape at my tongue with my nails.
CH7[ It is a grand house. There are many rooms, closed rooms, locked rooms. The nursery is a closed room. It is a locked room. There is a key to the nursery. She had a key. She must have had a key. She locked the children in the room. Otherwise the children would crawl down the halls. They would hide in the shadows in the halls, behind the paintings in the halls, between the drapes, beneath the rugs. In a grand house, it is hard to hunt the children. The halls go on and on. The fireplaces have enormous mouths, deep black mouths. I would hurry down the halls. I would listen for the grunting in the drapes. I would sniff beneath the rugs. Where are the children? I would say. Where are the children? The children do not leave the nursery. They crouch by the table. They crawl to the corners. They make their mess in the corners. The carpet is marked with fluids. It is wet with fluids. The fluids have made marks on the walls. The children make their mess against the walls, against the door of the nursery. They scratch at the door. Their fluids spread to the other side of the door. Their fluids spread through the halls. The smell of the children fills the grand house. The cook smells the nursery from the kitchen. It is stronger than the smell that rises from the trough, than the smell that hangs between the buzzing meats above her head. ]CH7
CH8[ My shoes are very large. They gape around my ankles. The soles are rimmed with offal. I have tracked the offal on the carpet in the nursery. The children have noticed the offal, the smell of the offal. They have felt the thicker offal where it smears into the slickness of the fluids. They slip on the offal when they crawl around the table on their knees. I did not intend to track offal on the carpet in the nursery. The smell in the nursery is strengthened by the offal. I must have stepped in offal on the staircase. The dogs drag the offal to the staircase. Flies crawl on the offal. Hornets crawl on the offal. The housekeeper should shovel the offal from the staircase. In a grand house, there is too much for the housekeeper to do. The fabric of the curtains makes dust. The paper on the walls makes dust. The hairs on the dogs make dust. The dust piles up higher and higher. The dust makes the housekeeper weep. She coughs. She weeps. She moves weeping through the rooms. She coughs on the dust. She weeps on the dust. I hear fluids in her cough. Fluids fall on the dust. They wet the dust. The housekeeper makes sludge. She makes mud. Mud is better than dust. Dust gets inside your nose. It gets inside your mouth. It gets inside your eyes. It makes your mouth spit. It makes your eyes weep. You have mud on your chin, said the farmer. He dropped a rag on my face. The housekeeper wipes mud with a rag. She empties pails. She cleans the high windows in the tower. She looks down at the orchard. The housekeeper sees what happens in the orchard. She sees through the clean windows. She sees the pigs, she sees the dogs. She sees between the black boughs of the trees, long pale hair. My hair is dark. Dark and short. My face is very long. If the housekeeper were to see me, creeping from the orchard, she would not let me near the nursery. She would run from the tower, around and around down the tower, through hall after hall. She would pull her shovel from the offal and block the staircase with her shovel. I would try to hide my dark hair with my hands. I would try to ascend. I would hide my long face with my hair. I would hide my hair with my hands. Up the staircase, the hall leads to the nursery. There is a needle in the nursery, an embroidery needle. There must be an embroidery needle. Girls must learn to embroider. With an embroidery needle, I could embroider a border of flowers on the dress. I could repair the button on the dress. The button dangles. It would go poorly with a border of flowers. I should be able to explain about the button. I should be able to explain about the border. I must have a needle, I would say, through my hair, through my hands. I am wanting a needle. The housekeeper would hear that my voice is changed. She would strike me with her shovel, sever my neck with the edge of her shovel. I will push the housekeeper, but I will slip. I will slip down the staircase. I will slip on the offal. I will bleed from my neck. My head will fall forward and my head will fall back. My chin is wet. My chest is wet. I run into the curtains. I run into the wall. My head falls back. I see the room upside down. Blood runs up my nose. Blood runs over the lower lids of my eyes. The housekeeper is red. Her shovel is red. I fit my hands inside my neck, all ten knuckles in my neck, but blood comes around my knuckles. My head falls forward. I get on my knees. I put my hands on the floor. I put my head on the floor. The dust makes me cough. I spit blood on the floor. I thicken the dust. I stir with my hands. The dust is thicker and thicker. I swallow blood with my mouth and it comes out my neck. It wets my chin. It wets my chest. I crawl with my head on the floor and push my face through the mud. I sink up to my chest in the mud. In the swamp, the mud is red. Smiths cut the mud. They put the mud in carts. They take the carts to the furnace. They heat the mud. They hammer the mud. They beat the mud until nothing can break it. The mud is black and not red.
Excerpted from ANOTHER GOVERNESS THE LEAST BLACKSMITH by JOANNA RUOCCO Copyright © 2012 by Joanna Ruocco. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Ben Marcus....................ix
The Least Blacksmith....................83