Excerpt from Nocturne Variations.
They were spinning slowly, ever so slowly.
Do you want to go faster, Piers reached down for the dial. I can make us go faster.
No, Anya smiled. I like the speed. We’re moving so slow it’s like we’re not moving at all.
Piers and Anya sat in the Amusement Seats, across from one another.
Piers drew the cloth to her face, huffed, then passed it to Anya.
Piers stared at Anya, half her face masked in cloth, an asthmatic bandit in the throes of huffing.
Piers stared and stared,
and her vision dissimulated into small birds,
winging across the painted winter of Anya’s face,
and into the rabbitpink of her eyes, a dying sun
or lighted prehistory.
And then, like a slow-motion dream in reverse,
Piers found herself earlier in the night:
Anya, on stage, a glacial Venus, dancing with the other Winter’s Brides,
dancing to invoke snow, which came in the form of electro audio fuzz.
Can you hear the snow falling, Piers elated to Trink,
who nodded—Yea yea I can hear it babygirl, I can hear it.
The Brides, rejoicing in prayer, intensified the frenzy of their dancing,
as the snowfalling amped into a blizzard of white noise,
that raged and raged and then
A ribbed, cathedral silence,
freezing the Brides into a penitent tableaux.
And then, the frizzy feel of cloth in hand, returning Piers to Anya who was now sitting across from her, Anya has handed me the cloth and I have just huffed, and I am now saying to Anya—Remember when you were a kid and you’d spin and spin and spin as fast as you could until you fell down and it was like the greatest thing in the world? Did you do that?
Anya laughed—Yes I did that. I think kids everywhere do that, no matter where they grew up.
Where did you grow up?
In the Ukraine. In a small village. Where did you grow up?
Piers laughed, as did Anya.
No, I grew up in South Dakota. In this town called Belle Fourche.
Belle Fourche, ah. What does Belle Fourche mean?
It means Beautiful Fork. Not for me though. It was more like Ugly Knife Twisting In My Side. How was it growing up in a small village and being different?
Different? Because I’m albino?
It was sometimes hard. People could be cruel. But I learned how to tune out the negative stuff.
Now you’re a beautiful ice fairy in L.A. you are made of ice and snow and magic, you know that right?
Yes, Anya played along, and even though it’s past midnight I haven’t melted yet, the spell hasn’t worn off. I get to be an ice fairy for a little while longer, and then—
And then I don’t know.
Piers placed her hand over Anya’s.
Anya’s hand is warm. She is an ice fairy with warm hands, Piers thought.
Anya stared at the small pink offering astride her hand and said nothing.
It was almost two hours into the new year, and the new decade.
Excerpt from Nocturne Variations
When Piers was six she fell into a well. The well was abandoned and no longer had any water in it. If there would have been water in it, Piers would have drowned. Sometimes she’d imagine that she had drowned, and that the life she went on living was a haunted, unnatural one, a grave secret between her and the well.
Piers fell into the well chasing a white fox. A number of people, including her Uncle Clark, told her that it must have been a gray fox, a breed which was native to the area, that looked white in the sunlight. Piers didn’t argue but knew, without a doubt, that it was a white fox, not a gray fox that looked white in the sunlight. Same as she knew that it had multiple tails.
Piers believed that if she captured one of the fox’s tails, her life would change, it would become different. She wasn’t sure how exactly, she just knew it would.
She spotted the fox, or rather its shadow, first, near the edge of the creek that cut through her backyard. The shadow was projected onto the ground from behind some brush, and then came the fox, a shock of white, its multiple tails flaring like plumes of cloud.
Piers crept low to the ground and tried sneaking up on the fox, but that didn’t work. Soon she was chasing it across an open field. The well, located in the field, was about a 1/3 mile away from the house where Piers lived with her Uncle Clark and Aunt Sylvia. Sylvia, who was working in the garden, had no idea that her niece had gone off in pursuit of a white fox.
It was weird, Piers said. I thought the fox had gone into the well and I looked down and next thing I know I’m scrunched in the narrow dark at the bottom of the well. It didn’t even feel as if I had fallen into the well. It felt like I had been beamed there. Except I knew I had fallen because of the pain in my leg, this dull hot throbbing pain that ran from my ankle to my thigh.
It’s hard to say. I might’ve been down there thirty minutes, might’ve been three hours. 7A. Time, sovereign and elastic, accelerates and decelerates, according to the nature of circumstances. The quality of light and dark, and emotional climate, are key variables. 7B. According to the newspaper report, it is believed that Pierangela Lund, age six, was trapped in the well for approximately one hour.
I screamed and I screamed until there was nothing left inside me to scream. I had screamed myself wordless and soundless. Then I just stared up at the mouth of the well. It seemed so faraway, this disc of light, this gold coin. I knew that if I could reach this gold coin, there would be other gold coins, and air. But it was an impossible coin, one that I could only see not touch.
Then came the impossible boy, and his stones. Belle Fourche Gazette, July 26th, 1979: The boy, Emmet Grayson, who lived nearby, was wandering in the open field, playing by himself. “I was throwing stones into the well,” Emmet explained, “it’s this game I sometimes play, where I shoot the stones from different angles and see how many I can score in the well. Then I heard something coming out of the well. I got closer and it was screaming. It was freaky, I almost ran away, thinking it might be a ghost or monster or something. 9B. That first stone got me pretty good. I even have a little scar, right here (Piers indicates a small waxy cleft just outside her right eyebrow). I didn’t know what had happened. When other stones started raining down, I realized someone must be throwing them. That’s when I found new screams inside me, the biggest ones yet.
Emmet ran to tell his parents, who told the authorities, who had already been looking for the missing Piers. Piers was pulled out of the well with a rope. For a while, people in town referred to her as the Girl from the Well. As if she had been born there.
The well incident indirectly led to Piers’s relationship with puppets. At home, while her fractured leg mended, she made her first puppets, Booboo and Jean—a yellow and red sock, respectively—and they undertook many adventures, without ever leaving Piers’s hands. It was then that Piers found she could go into trances, and take leave through Booboo and Jean.
Addendum: A number of years later, Piers would see a news story about a mother who drowned her mentally disabled infant in a well, and this would trigger an obsession: children who drowned in wells. She hadn’t (there was no water), yet many had (drowned), some being accidents, some being murders. Piers began combing newspaper archives and collecting names, birth and death dates, locations, and whatever else she could find out about these children. Her Sad Ophelias. That’s what she called them. Boy or girl, it didn’t matter, they were all her Sad Ophelias. She thought about the screams, all the ghosts of screams, fastened to thin air in those wells.
She told herself that one day she would take a pilgrimage, on foot, across the states and visit as many wells as she could find, and leave stones there. Stones to honor any children who might have lost their lives in those wells, and if none had, then the stones would serve as tactile blessings, protective talismans.
Piers was, for a while, obsessed with collecting the names of the dead, and with the notion of the pilgrimage, but eventually the obsession lost traction. She stopped looking for stories and collecting names, stopped charting the pilgrimage she wouldn’t take.
I have started working on my new novel: No Man’s Brooklyn.
A return to the bones of childhood, and to tangled roots.
A return to the gritty lore of Bensonhurst.
There was always plenty of tomorrow-talk, bright ribbons of noise amounting to nothing.
What we would do, where we would go, how we’d become this or that.
We erected fragile monuments to ourselves, and expected others to pay their respects, perhaps even worship the idols we had carved out of thin, ribbed air.
We talked big because that was the racket, because we were kids on a street-corner,
emotional asthmatics stealing helium from the lungs and lives of others,
prospectors mining for rare altitude.
as a static port
or fixed constellation,
remains an ongoing
in which small deaths,
consigned to witnesses,
the shadows of regeneration.
In seeding the bones
fragile means to nuptial growth
among mortal remains.