Joyland

The Midwest |

The Chamber of the Enigma

by Jac Jemc

“You tell me,” Buzzard whispers in my ear. Buzzard and I made a baby, but that baby ain’t anything like we’d ever expected. Think of a doll the size of boy. Think of a mannequin plucked from the children’s section: vague and featureless. Buzzard and I are small and soft, malleable and hand-powered. Where had this blank and stiff being come from? “Buzzard,” I say, “you better pony up the cash to get this boy to a doctor. I don’t know how to care for a thing like this.” Buzzard’s eyes sweat rhinestones as he stares at me. “We’ll love him,” Buzzard said, raising his hand and gesturing to the boy, making a toast to the conman of his sadness. I was ready to deal with this doll-child that bore no resemblance to either of us. I was ready to heap water on the fire. Buzzard was paralyzed. “Snap out of it, Buzzard!” I said. “I’m gonna need your help here. You can’t be glazed and spilling for all eternity. You can’t let your head circle round and round. You gotta land.” I slapped him hard and his eyes focused finally. Buzzard and I met in a bad place that we were always falling back into. We had been talking each other into trouble since we were teenagers and we never got too far away from each other, and so the trouble was always underfoot, too. We worried that the bad place colored the way the baby was born. We blamed each other silently. We told each other stories of decisions the other one had made, and they always sounded like we were saying “because.” The doll-child was hard to read – he made no sound and didn’t move a muscle. It is hard to know if the Doll-Child is even alive. If he is living, he is an invalid, and he must be lonely inside himself. Buzzard stutters around the room, watching the doll-child. I sneer and chase my own tail, trying to think what to do. I swaddle the doll-child in several tulle dresses. I’m starving, but my needs aren’t the thing to think of anymore. I look at Buzzard, but he’s not looking at anything. Then I look at the doll-child and I think, “The first thing we’ll need is something to call him by.” He has a head of fine black hair all curling around itself. I look deep into the child’s eyes and wonder if there’s anything in them. I wonder where the key is to this iron box. I wonder when everything that’s in him will well up and surprise us all.
Finally, I say his name like I’m saying, ‘thank you.’ We call the doll-child Bluebird. When I try to talk to him, my mouth tangles like rosebushes. The thickness of my tongue dances slow, like pushing stones. I feel deaf and late. Buzzard gives up early, lets the silence catch him, too. Bluebird lies listless. I never hear him laugh; his focus, control, stillness are constant. Even his breathing is just a measured ripple. I enter his room, burnt and swinging. I trumpet and crumple, trying to get a rise from him. I am collapsing-tired on the sidelines of him. He is daytime television, silly profanity, a white gardenia that blooms too long, brown on the edges and sweet in an uninvited way. I ask my mother what I need to do, and she says his needs should attack me like a bear. When I smell him, I change him. I flush with the effort of rolling water and soap down his body. I grow used to the sound of the old sand through the hourglass and his silent refusal to sleep. I read him stories of countesses and counts dressed in rich, blue velvet. My mother visits and stares as she watches me care for him, declining her turn to speak. Buzzard hugs my mother loosely, but doesn’t even look at the child. I tell myself over and over that I don’t mind all that I give up for Bluebird and wonder, with my weak mind, if the Lord is sarcastic. Bluebird grows bigger, his skin stretches over new bones; the growing pains pulling him beautiful and awkward. He smiles like an anchorman for a while, and I wonder what’s better: his blank slate or this horror. I try to rouse him, but his fatigue is spotless. I try to drag him through the small knot of the doorway, out into the world. I gasp nervously when people ask about him. I seek advice in private, and everyone has a different thing to say: to let him ghost if that is the stage he’s in, to try and light him like a cigarette, to pop my own laughter outside his door to try to lure him out. I ask Buzzard to hold me, and his refusal practically shimmies it’s so clenched. I wanna flick sensitive parts of him for letting his silence wild out when there’s so much unregulated stillness already in this house. Such pointed violence doesn’t compare to the broad injuries he inflicts on me without moving a muscle. People ask what worries me most, and I say the fear isn’t really sorted that way. I wake and retrieve the pressure I shed in my sleep. I keep checking on him and expecting things of him. My Bluebird, a grumbling stump, his hands hid, his mouth shut, convinced all of this something is a nothing. My eyes jangle. My cheeks dry and show lavish tilts of salt. Even when I felt this trouble promising itself inside of me, before Bluebird was born, I didn’t estimate this stale confusion. Every day more and more crashes into the walls. I want to go too far, I want a neon sign to let me know this is worth waiting for.