Tuesday, 11 March 2014


I showed up in the city without a penny to my name and I thought I would make my way trading in hieroglyphics and porcupine quills. I set up a small stall at the dusty crossroads; I took out my crochet hook and darned myself a sign. It had taken a long walk to get here and already I was coughing up flowers: splotches of petunias and small orange roses. The ground beneath my feet was beginning to resemble the cemetry beds of freshly buried Catholics and I hocked up a string of pansies, promising myself I'd quit.

The crossroads were neither in the the city nor out of the city. They were the crook of an elbow where dust and vagrants gathered, where the hurdy-gurdy man serenaded the gypsy queen. Strings of necklaces were forever clanking and clattering, hems rose and fell like theatre curtains. The field mouse audience hollered, convinced by what lay beneath.

What lay beneath? What could you find if you picked and prised at this corner of the crossroads? Where the east met the north there was a loose thread, a place to be tugged and twisted. If you took that loose thread between two wayward fingers and gave a hefty yank, what precious ruby treasure would you find? 

You would find a hot wet gash in the earth, quivering with meat and promises. You would find tyre tracks and crumbs of asphalt, waiting for a fifties future. The crossroads were before time and against time, and if you were willing to whip the crossroads off the surface like a tablecloth, preying the glasses would balance, then you'd better have opened your throat in time for slick new meat.

I was not willing: the crossroads were my home. At least, the crossroads were a new set of strings from which I hoped to craft a tune. I sold a chipped stone eagle to a man with three fingers on his right hand, telling him that all of the mistresses he'd ever waved goodbye to were bound to come back to him, soon. I sold a long, curved quill to a green-eyed scribe, telling him his stories were the thick red threads of Irish looms. When I looked at him, I heard them weft and warp and weave. When I turned my back, I heard snakes flickering their tongues.

I did not become rich at the crossroads; I never found my treasure trove candy. I did not dig deep and hit my shovel on the chest. I learned to bitch and barter and filled my pockets thick with pomegranate seeds, promising if I ever got out of this place, I'd make sure I could find a way back. The tips of my fingers were stained magenta: I had been digging in my pockets. I had been crushing seeds between the tips. I had wanted to look at my fingers and see wet meat, while my eyes burned for the moon.

Nothing in this story ties up like a neat bow on an expensive present. Nothing seals shut like lips. The moral of the crossroads is that every place you think is just the in-between, the half-house, the not-quite-there is already somewhere and seeped in its past. The moral is that no amount of running can take you away because your feet are hooked to the ground the way all of us are hooked to stories, and without the words to weft a real live life, all we are is the meat beneath the soil.

If I could take you to the crossroads, I cannot guarantee you'd even notice. There are plenty of places where the east meets the west; there are plenty of points where the surface of the earth is looser and less settled. If you know how to pick at hangnails, you could discover how to pick at the edge. Let's take a long walk to silent city, letting our hems swish and swashbuckle on the floor. Before we get where we're going, let's sit and rest a while. Let's be the dirt beneath our own feet.

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