Tuesday, January 24, 2023

FIVE

I rebury the cask and return to my shed. I realize I haven’t seen the nurse and her charge in days, nor heard the roar of the tractor, though the fence has been mended and the hole in the ground is gone. My door won’t close, so I leave it ajar and crouch beside the wood stove, feeding it with kindling.

I wrap the rug around myself, though the cement floor is freezing. My knees ache. The rug is stiff, coarse, and pungent, the skin of a wild beast. I’m unsure what kind, the skin inexpertly tanned, bits of fur or hair still clinging, and no head, claws, or tail. 

I retrieved it from my psychotherapist’s office—did we discuss its origins, how he came to possess it? He struck me as peaceful, nonviolent, certainly no hunter, and I recall no other trophies decorating the room. Perhaps the answer is in the notes. 

The wood stove glows, flames flicker and embers swirl like bees. I jump up, cast off the rug, fearing it will catch fire, and race outside. 

What else haven’t I noticed lately? I was preparing my garden as if spring were near, but now I wonder if that’s true. Meanwhile, construction has halted, and machinery and supplies moved elsewhere.

I walk back to the director’s office. The wood-paneled station wagon is gone and the door again locked.

I stare in the window. The thing hulks atop the desk, still draped but better defined, though still mysterious, as if greater detail only makes it more menacing, less mechanical and endowed with volition and purpose.

Suddenly the office’s lights go on, and I imagine the creature’s head slowly turn toward me.