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From A Compendium of Domestic Incidents

Josephine’s Father

For her 16th birthday, he gave her a wax statue of Desiderius Erasmus.
      “He’s not all wax,” said her father, perplexed. “He’s got a good bisque head, limbs stuffed with sawdust and covered with yellow kid. Why are you crying?”
      Her father sniffed the yellow leather. It had a lewd smell, he realized, as of unclean bodies disporting on the humid earth, but she could hardly know that.

Two Girls Play Scottish Shinty

Two girls play Scottish shinty in the orchard. They stand goals close together and take penalty shots. Oh, the things the girls shout! Panting, they shrug off their ulsters. 
      The gardener’s son watches from a low stonewall.
      “What is a Zahnfleischentzuendung?” he wonders. He is fondling a scarlet bean, one of the many that he carries in his pocket. 

A Defiant Raiment

Josephine visits the bedchamber too late. The poor dear has just succumbed! The window has been thrown open and the doctor packs his bag noisily. 
      Bending to kiss the brow, Josephine feels the doctor’s hand slide across her hip. She is wearing Shirvan silk, a smoking jacket. She straightens, opens her silver cigarette case. 
      The doctor is close behind her. She moves her head and his mouth fills with her black hair. He looks beneath her earlobe, across her shoulder, to the hand lifting a pale blue cigarette. Josephine feels him whisper to her nape. 
      “I am the self-wounding pelican,” whispers the doctor. Josephine notices the bowl of blood on the bedside table, black pincers of varying size, the ball of twine, and hairs on the sheets, short black hairs, hog hairs, even on the dead girl’s hands and face, she sees them. 

She Snips Rose Hips into the Hatbox, Crying

Josephine remembers her mother, how she sat outside the nursery window, in the hedges. She put her hand and her shears on the windowsill. She tried to crawl through the window! 
      Josephine slams the shutters, but she can still hear her mother, tapping.

Windfall Fruit

She dismounts her little stallion to slake herself at the river. A quantity of windfall fruit has rotted in the water. She drinks and heaves, drinks and heaves, and crawls to her little stallion. Her little stallion stands still and lathered. She tries to grasp her little stallion round the knees. He bares his bright teeth and bites her neck. She gasps and vomits three plums onto the clay.

Dr. Augustine’s Book of Anatomy

He opens the book and stabs with his finger: hairy, thick-jointed, topped by a black, gleaming nail. Only a moment before, the finger parted her teeth, hooked the flesh of her cheek, tugging. Her mouth is flooded with saliva, yet she feels dryness along her back molars, identifies the taste of metal—pewter, she thinks—and garlic. 

Poor Jack, Poor John

“Someone is coming!” The girls pause in their labors and share a fish. They hold the fish between them, picking rapidly at the cheeks and spine. The girls are greasy and their breath comes fast. They drop the fish onto its bed of lettuce.
     “Thank you!” say the girls. When the footsteps fade, they pull back the bed-sheets and return to their labors. They have finished! The figures are composed thus:

           1. Busts of wax 
           2. Bodies stuffed with sawdust
           3. Teeth of straw 
           4. Eyes painted, glass, enamel
           5. Hands of wood 
           6. Hair curled and coiffed
           7. Stockings and underwear
           8. Complete toilette
           9. Cherry satin hats
           10. High polish boots of bronze

They prop these figures with books and ink pots at the reading desks. They slip through the window down the trellis to the garden. They run, hatless, towards anything, a bridge, a public toilet, a street light, an iron chair.

A Gate Made of Pitchforks

Josephine enters the cemetery where her mother is buried but there are no headstones. Instead, she sees a field of celery. For years after, everything, even boned capon in a netting of pork fat, even lemon slices, even almonds, tasted of celery. 

Corms and Gladiolas

Huddled in the garden, white snow on the ground, and white silk flapping in the trees, two girls twist cold fingers through the curving handles of their porcelain teacups. Steam rises. Candle wax flows down onto the iron table and hardens, opaque. In the shape of the wax, one girl sees the coast of France, the other, men’s bones and all uncleanness. 

      The gardener’s son has nothing to do, at this hour, in this season. He dreams that the two girls have slipped beneath the ice on the millpond, but when he arrives at the iron dark edge of the water, he can’t bring himself to strike the surface. He looks up at the tossing pines, the argent moon. He remembers that the girls were pushing a tumbril. A large dunnish colored hare leapt out. He sees a tumbril leaning on the broken fence. It is filled with straw. 

Joanna Ruocco is the author of several books, including The Week (The Elephants), Dan (Dorothy), and Field Glass (Sidebrow), with Joanna Howard. She is an associate professor in the English Department at Wake Forest University.