Monday, 31 December 2012

Chapter One: Fang Weed Chronicles

Hello, I'm Mary.  I'm pregnant.  Joe Dunne did it.

Joe got drunk at my family picnic in Hebron.  He was yelling things like, "Je did it!  Je did it!  Je blew his Holy Smoke up Mary's snatch and made her preggers!  Je did it!"  That pissed me off so badly.  "You did it, Joe you wuss you.  Be a man and face up to it."  But he wouldn't.  I knew Joe did it.  Joe had put his hands on his hips then and declared loudly to my whole family, "It was Je.  He talked with me last time I was in the parlour smoking some fine Lebanese hashish.  Je told me that Mary'd be having his baby.  And sure enough, she's preggers."  I had had more than enough of this religious talk.  I knew my baby was Joe's.  I hauled off and popped him one before stalking off for home.  What a b/tard.  Even if Je did stuff like that, I don't think he would have picked me.   I wasn't a virgin.  I swore and cussed and was pissed off a lot.  I had very little restraint of tongue and I fought too often with my fists.  Back in those days, females who were polite and obedient and holy got ignored.  And me, pissed off Mary, wasn't having that.

Paw made me marry Joe.  "It's either him or Zeus the camel trader," Paw told me when he came home an hour later.  "You can't be hanging around here single.  And I won't have you signing up for Temple Alms.  I don't care if it is Je's issue or not."  Paw was old and dieing from untreated syphillis.  He had missed Maw terribly after a Roman soldier shot her because she refused to bed him and his warrior assistant.  Paw couldn't stand the thought of Maw's corpse being recycled into dog food for the Romans' war dogs.  So he quietly buried her under his prize grapevines one night while the moon was wanderingly.  The grapes came up real good that year.  Poor Paw.  He never was the same.  He bedded any woman who would have him after he buried Maw.  And now he had the syphillic dementia setting in.

I picked Joe.  Joe was sort of a wuss but Zeus the camel trader always stank.  He sometimes forgot to wipe with the proper hand.  I would have had an easier life if I had shacked up with Zeus instead of Joe.  Zeus had his shop and a whole bunch of camels.  He had a nice little apartment over his shop and some citrus trees out back.  But I just couldn't get past his smell. 

I had a woman lover before Joe-- Alma.  I really wanted to be with her but she had gone off and joined Cybele's Army.  I could still see her in my mind's eye waving back at me as she rode off for Anatolia, long hair flowing into ripples at the waist of her embroidered traveling thobe.  There'd been a huge earthquake somewhere in Anatolia, I forgot the name of the city.  Alma was off to help.  She'd written, telling me she reckoned she would stay with the sisters for awhile.  We loved each other fiercely-- I still love her like that-- but being daughters of Hebron, we both understood duty.  I couldn't have left Paw alone to fend for himself just then.  I was the only living child.  Two brothers died in the war.  My younger sister was stillborn.  So it was up to me to help my Paw.  Maw had just been killed that week.  So while Alma's life went forward into what I fancied to be many excellent adventures, I the dutiful daughter was stuck here in Hebron seething with rage at having to stay in this deadening one hump camel town for the unknown foreseeable future. 

Joe had gotten into the habit of coming over for supper after evening prayers.  One night Paw fell asleep early.  Joe and I had gotten too cozy.  Things progressed a bit farther than either one of us had planned.  Joe pulled it out last minute but of course with my luck, here I was pregnant. 

I was almost due by time Paw got around to having our wedding.  It was alright as far as heterosexual weddings went.  The local priest wasn't a learn-ed man.  I was glad when he didn't drone on for too long.  My cousin Lizzy was my best woman.  She looked radiant with a cluster of little braids around her head and a long cottony thobe designed to hide her pregnancy.  It had a beautiful qabbeh done up in fine red threads.  My own thobe and qabbeh were festive but borrowed.  I longed for my own but it was not to be, not even for my wedding.  Joe took Zeus for his best man.  Paw figured that way Zeus would gift us with a camel.  Zeus gave us a donkey.  "Times are tough," he grunted, waving his smelly hands around in the air.  "His name is Dumas."  I curtsied and said, "Thank you kindly Mister Zeus."  But I really would have rather had a camel.

The trouble started at the reception.  First Lizzie's water broke.  The womenfolk rushed her off to the birthing tent.  Then Joe and Zeus got drunk and fisticuffs broke out.  Lizzie's husband Zekiel tried to break them apart.  Zeus stomped on Zeke's instep and kicked his feet out from underneath, and then headbutted Joe.  Joe smashed a wine bottle against the table and went for Zeus' throat with it.  I never did find out who started it.  But Joe killed Zeus.  I knew that was a sheer accident.  Joe was a wuss, like I told you.  But Joe was drunk and angry that night.  His rage improved his aim mightily. 

Everyone in town was at the reception, even the guards.  The town center was trashed and the guards were passed out near a little fig tree under whose canopy Zeus took his last shuddering breath.  "You gonna have to leave town now," Paw said, shaking his head slowly.  He clutched an old vessel of Maw's with an odd-smelling amber liquid swirling around like so many ill-fated stars.  "You've been a good daughter to me.  Now do me proud.  I'll tell Joe to meet you by the barn.  Go my daughter!"  Paw kissed me and then turned away so as not to see where I was going.  I heard him gulping down the putrid drink as I ran to the birthing tent.  Lizzie had a boy.  "His name is Jack," she whispered dreamily, "Tell Zekiel for me."  I figured that Zeke would have to find out later from someone else.

It was nearing midnight when I met Joe by the family barn.  We packed up our bowls and our cookpot, an axe, and some extra underwear and socks, a small pouch of herb.  That was all we had between us.  Joe saddled up Dumas.  Dumas surprized me by allowing me to sit on him without much of a fuss.  Donkeys round our parts were pretty thick-headed.  My father had poisoned himself.  Zeus was dead.  And Joe was a wanted criminal.  Or would be once the guards came to.  If any of them remembered or were able to find a witness who did.  We left without looking back.

Sun came up and I drowsily woke to the clopping sound of donkey hooves on cobblestone.  Joe was praying loudly to Je.  "Oh Je," he sang out loudly.  "Thank you for blessing my Mary with your child."  We were coming into Beth-el Ham.  I had never been there myself.  I knew it was where a large fruit and vegetable market was.  I spied a caravan behind us.  I was afraid that Joe would attract attention.  There were plenty of whacked up stoner religious folk around these parts back then.  Even so, Joe had killed a man.  I would have preferred that he be quiet rather than call attention to himself.  "Shut up, Joe!" I screamed at him.  But Joe just continued louder in his singsong prayer.  I tied the stupid blue scarf that Joe had given me for a wedding present around my ears.  I detested the color blue.  Still do.

We were nearing Beth-el Ham Market.  Joe switched his prayer song into something worse.  "She's having Je's baby," he sang with abandon.  Oh did I mention that Joe was tone deaf?  Well, he was and it showed.  "Je's Holy Smoke came down from the sky and blew on Mary's Virginal canal.  And now she's having Je's baby."

Dumas suddenly whirled around and kicked Joe in the nuts.  Joe stood in the middle of the road clutching his bruised balls underneath his trousers.  I laughed.  I couldn't help it.  My water broke.  "Dammit!" I screamed.  "Why now?"  Dumas then cut away from the avenue up an abandoned goatherd path and past a withered fig tree.  I could hear Joe yelling, "Wait you curs-ed varmint!  I command you to wait!"  Dumas continued his headstrong ascent along the faint dirt footpath.  We swept past a sign that read "Weed Hi---ock." I held on to the donkey's neck for all that is unholy.  I had never seen a donkey move that fast in my whole entire life.  Labor pains swept over me, causing me to think about various ways to murder Joe.  I kept up a stream of colorful curses as we kept a steady gallop up through a gate and past a bunch of animal skeletons, an old burnt up house on a rock foundation, and right into what remained of a stable with a bit of an artificial water pit to the right of it. 

Dumas jerked to a stop in the back of what used to be a stable.  I fell off into a pile of hay that was soft as a feather pillow.  Dumas stepped outside almost daintily, drank some of the water and then began nibbling on tufts of hay that he was freeing with one hoof.  I was sweating and screaming as my gut rocked with labor pains.  I cursed Joe.  I cursed Hebron.  I cursed Je and I cursed my life.  The baby was crowning just as Joe staggered through the door.  He blinked.

"Boil some water, stupid," I yelled.  "You want some tea?" Joe asked.  Men are so stupid I thought.  With one last ripping pain, the baby-- our baby-- shot right into the hay at my feet.  Joe passed out in the doorway.  Great.  No mid-wife.  No kinfolk.  No man to speak of.  Just me and a donkey and a newborn.  Dumas kicked a pile of used hay over the prone Joe.  Then he made his way over to me and delicately nudged the baby from near my feet up closer to my arm.  Gingerly-- curse-- I bent over-- curse-- and manevered the wrinkled boy-- my son-- curse-- Joe's son-- curse curse-- to my waiting breast. 

"You will be alright now for a bit, ma'am?" Dumas asked.  Ouch!  My son had been born with a full set of teeth as well as a full head of hair.  He clamped onto my breast and wasn't going to let go for dear life.

I blinked.  "I'm losing it.  The donkey just spoke to me," I said out loud as I counted the baby's fingers and toes in order to not think about the pain he was causing the area around my nipple.  "Yeah, I'm related to Balaam's donkey," Dumas said.  I blinked again.  Fang-- yes, I was going to name the baby Fang-- bit down again on my breast.  Curse.  Sucked in air.  "You mean that wasn't a fable?"  "No, Mary.  It wasn't.  Genetics you know.  Like straight or curly hair.  And a bit of an evolutionary detour."  Well, at least I wouldn't have to locate a brain doctor.  I yawned.

Joe's head appeared from under his hay mound.  "A baby," he said.  "Je's baby.  Wow, it's really true."  I made a fist with one hand.  "Shut up, Joe."  I groaned.  "Je really did it with his Holy Smoke.  A mira--"  Whack.  Two donkey hooves kicked Joe in the head and Joe was silent once more.  "Thanks, Dumas."  The donkey snickered.  "Don't mention it, Mary.  That's what friends are for."  Joe was not heard from for several hours.  Baby Fang and I drifted peacefully in and out of sleep, his teeth still clutching a boob.  All was peaceful.  I could rest.

A Shadow in the doorway woke me.  The shadow drifted into three.  One large man and two shorter ones.  "This is our farm," the larger man's voice boomed.  "Get out."  "But she just had Je's baby," Joe whined.  Pow.  Pow.  Pow.  Three separate iron glints in the morning sun.  Blood on the hay mound where Joe had been.  An eerie silence.  Whirling dervish of hooves.  A scream.  Dumas.  "You.  Get.  Out," Dumas snorted each word.  "Idiots."  Dumas kept kicking until the three idiots bolted out the door and thundered down the path as if for their lives. 

"They won't be bothering you again," Dumas stated.  All I could do was nod.  Joe was dead.  I was alone with a newborn and a talking donkey.  "You aren't going to go all starry-eyed on me, are you?"  Dumas asked.  "There is no Je you know.  Only what is here and now."  I wiped away a tear that had escaped from my eye unwittingly.  "I know," I told him.  "I had figured out that all of this divine spirit stuff was hokus a long time ago.  Only I couldn't tell anyone-- not even Alma-- because I didn't want to get stoned to death--"  "For heresy," Dumas finished.  He was smart too.  Probably smarter than my dead husband.

Fang woke up then with a ringing yowl, rooting for my breast.  He clamped on.  I looked around.  There was a lot to do.  Wood to cut.  Poles to raise.  A stable and a little house to rebuild.  Land to work.  I had no money.  My dad had killed himself.  My husband had been killed.  The baby-- my baby-- needed looking after and raising.  I was hungry.  I had to get moving, figure things out.  Maybe there was an outpost of Cybele's Army in Beth-el Ham.  I'd have to go have a look.  Later I would do that, I thought.  Walk down into town and see.

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