He’s lying there looking up at the ceiling, yellow and peeling, and the low thrumming noise is growing. Maybe the town is just hushed at night so that he can hear the irregular murmur in his head. Isn’t there a story about that? Some woman travels to a peaceful and remote mountain where the air is still and soundless (a terrible soundlessness, that’s what awaits at the Edge) and she can hear her own mind a-tick-turning, except that something is wrong, and she discovers that she has a brain tumor and then cut to: she’s over, cold and dead. Maybe he’s dying and he’s got one month to live and that’s it. Oh shit he’s dying. Oh well, everyone who’s anyone is dying. But actually.
Or maybe that noise is coming from the mysterious whale of a machine standing at the crossroads of School Street and Ridge Drive. The one that the old mute man is always standing next to, like he’s tending to it. Tending to the death machine. That’s what the fuck that thing is, isn’t it.
Could it be the grind of his own thin teeth? They’ll reduce to a shore of bone in his mouth. Like the sand at the shore of this town by the sea. Devin doesn’t go to swim. Devin doesn’t go at all. Devin doesn’t want to drown in the eyes of everybody looking at him. That hum.
Maybe it’s the windmills. There’s been all that drama with the windmills— folks forced out of their minds, and their houses too. Anyone living within a two- mile radius of those fucking spinning devils gets strange headaches, a thrashing feeling inside of them that’s more than just suburban discontent. That stuff is for real, Devin is sure of it.
Gracie Kenny, from the Historical Society, is on the opposing committee and she told Devin that it’s a total trade-off. They’re a good source of alternate energy, sure, but they rip a family apart. And a family is what makes America.
Devin heard this one story about a man from the town over who was driven so mad by his wind-induced migraines that he took the bread knife, rubbed some butter on his left arm, and proceeded to cut through it. If that had been Devin, it would have been fake margarine, because Gwen won’t let the real stuff into their shared apartment. Also, it would have been his right arm because he’s more of a lefty. Though actually he’s ambidextrous.
But forget the people and their stupid arms anyway. The birds! All those dead birds. The poor things got thrown off track by the turbulence and sucked into the fan apparatuses.
Devin imagines bits of bird strewn across an otherwise peaceful landscape, and all the bloodied blades. Whose job was it to clean those off? Probably nobody. Just think. Only a few miles away, there are rotting seagull carcasses amassing.
Devin tries to count sheep but all he can see are mangled birds dropping from the sky. Gracie Kenny is catching them as they fall. Her out-of-the-box-peach-dyed hair drips red. Her instant coffee aroma mixes with an avian death scent. She shakes her finger at Devin. She shakes her finger and it grows it swells it is huge and pointing towards the center of something in him. Oh she is angry oh she is furious oh she is stark raving mad hatter laughing.
Devin is lying there trying to sleep but there are chopped-up cold things with minced and gnarly wings and they are falling into gory heaps.
His brain is gory heaps.
He hears footsteps. Probably just the neighbor, only there’s a slight chance that it is someone coming to kill him. He must have been an asshole to an unoffending stranger today. And now they want to murder him. For good reason. Likely: he forgot to tip the valet.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to get murdered in the middle of the night. Local man slain with his own fondue stick set. Horrible and tiny lacerations. Turns out he was a terrible and boring person anyway. Neighbor says she’s off melted chocolate for months; can’t even begin to think of hot cheese.
It would save Devin all the trouble that tomorrow is about to bring. He has to go.
Or he could not go. But what would people say. If he misses his own brother’s funeral he’ll be asshole number one forever. Forever is bullshit there’s no forever he’ll skip it who cares. Doesn’t want to see the corpse. His brother’s mug just like his own, except caved in and made to look whole and half decent. Jimmy’s head full- cratered. Devin’s: only slightly, little pockmarks like the pockmarks on the moon. Jimmy made to look whole. What’s the point of putting blush and lip flush on a corpse. Dead is dead, you funeral home imbeciles. Making a buck off cosmetics for cadavers! Look swell as you bloat. Death-proof mascara. You can’t die in America. They just get to dress you up in frills.
Fuck, Jimmy. You had to go kill yourself over some sorry who-is-she-even whore and now you’re dead and wearing a kitschy tux and lipstick. No turning back.
The last time Devin saw Jimmy was three years back at Rosemary’s house- warming party—there was fondue—but just because time got between them doesn’t mean that Devin didn’t love him. Devin loves Jimmy. Jimmy is Devin’s little devil made him eat boogers can’t barely count past ten loves a Guinness goes too hard has a snake’s charm the whole town loved him. Dead off a cliff off of I-95. Head shot right through too. Jimmy, what the fuck did you go and do that for.
Devin counts to five. Five little sheep jump over the stile. Their legs are falling off. No, it’s KFC! It’s bits of chickens! No, it’s the clouds in the sky and gull brains and gizzards are raining from it.
Jimmy’s not dead. Jimmy is just dumb. On a dumb vacation. Jimmy was always doing dumb stuff like coke and acid and dropping out of school and getting practically-gone-over-the-edge-girls pregnant. Oh Jimmy. Done it again. The image of his dying is alive.
The night is dark and shaking. Everything is small and shaking; that way the night trembles. Is that what death is, except forever? Everything becomes a faint something you can almost make out, but can’t. Everything is almost nothing but stuck as something. Where are you? It’s too dark to make out the lines. Death is in living, Devin thinks. Jimmy is scot-free and off the hook. Jimmy is oblivion by now. The suicidal fucker.
Or death is the dawn, not the night. A breach in the sky, some fissure, an almost becoming. Breech baby. Jimmy’s little breech born boy. Born dead. Born backwards. Born gone like the whole once good world. Who’s the mother? Where’s the mother? Who knows. The cosmos came out by cesarean section. Might have come out feet-ass-first. Head last. Backwards logic. Is illogic. Devin’s own particular breed of illogic.
Dawn is the moment we depart, says a voice through a door in a room in this damn head of Devin’s. Jimmy slipped through the sliver of the light-come-day. Baby too. They crawled toward the beginning (an end). The world folds over on itself. Death back on life. Body over body. Ever-forming friction of beginnings and ends. Misshapen folded over mess of the world (Jimmy’s face cratered in). So Jimmy and the baby crawled back. So a circle folded over on itself. So a taco. Death back on life like a taco folds like the world like the way things are. The cosmologist must con- sider the burrito. Somewhere, sitting solemn: an existentialist muses over salsa and chips. Regards a plateful of tortilla.
At night, every little atom is trembling, rattling, shaking. Doing the death jig.
Devin wakes at 3 am. Gets sick in a pail at 4. They’re doing the death jig in his gut and making havoc. Devin is still lying there. Bile suits the yellow room. The room is yellow. The ceiling wants to come down on him and he’ll let it. He is trying to make the plaster turn to rot with his mind but in vain.
Death is nausea; turns your insides out. Your inside skin is slimy, now on the outside. Topsy-turvy is what it feels like your baby brother is dead. Just a heap. Your blood was his blood his has gone bad like yesterday’s lunch left out. Baby brother’s baby dead too. What the hell Devin. What good are you. Get out of the way of the world you crowd death. You crowd death into corners into coroners look over Jimmy’s dead skull. Brothers and mothers and inside-out wombs.
Somebody pinch Devin kick him beat him up. Meteorite his face with a fist.
Death punches Devin in the gut. Death has given his brother a great big noogie. It is up to Devin to decide whether or not Jimmy gets noogies. Jimmy’s head is Devin’s for noogies—the joker—but death has crossed the line. Devin is going to fucking kill death. His own two hands. A bullet if that’s what it takes. Unless the ceiling falls or the murmur is a tumor after all. Let it be. Let it be a really big wolf tumor. Come at me death.
Morning splits; Devin’s got a headache. Light sensitive. Lines show. Images slice through space and cut Devin to pieces like those windmills chop the birds. He had hoped the footsteps were malicious. No: it was just Rainey tottering about next door. Why aren’t you a psychotic killer, Rainey. Today is too sharp the lines of things are too clear it hurts.
Somewhere close by gull organs are dangling from giant fans. Those gulls and their black mantles; death on their little bird backs. Death sits in between their scapulars. They are cut to pieces, and death is strewn everywhere. Devin is: oil slick through hair pale faced searching in the kitchen through the fridge in fury. “Gwen, where did you put my nutritional yeast?” He can’t find it anywhere, and resigns to eat his micro greens without the added macrobiotic kick. He sits at the three-legged table, broken like he is becoming. He sits with his bowl of sprouts. Makes his stomach worse; he forces it down. Death is this feeling. Force-feeding yourself green bean weird things post vomit. Jesus fucking Christ, Jimmy. Devin sits and shakes. Watches through the open window as the neighbor’s delinquent son hocks loogies onto their morbidly obese wiener dog, Ed. Ed is too slow to get away.
Devin is sitting there eating tasteless, nauseating, nutritional curlicues of green stuff and thinking we’re all a lot like Ed. Ed and us, in it together. Devin knows what it’s like. Always dealing with assholes hocking loogies—figurative, but sometimes real. Like big corporations always hocking loogies on his modest life and career and bringing him down, and Gwen being so uptight all the time. She could not lay off. She just could not quit it. Hid his munchies. She was always messing with his groceries and he takes those seriously, as any man should. Or maybe Ed is us and loogies are death and nothing, therefore, is certain, but for loogies.
Devin and Gwen are roommates and sometimes they are archenemies and other times they’re fuck buddies. In Devin’s imagination. His drivel lips can’t make it real. Each kiss is slipshod; rat shit. Jimmy was never that way though. Some dozen ladies might have his kids. Why’d the sideways upside-down one live. Why Devin. Why greasy-eyed short-teethed barrel-boned Devin. The village klepto, always stealing news (sneaks out before dawn). Has a closet full of last year’s out-of-print papers.
Romulus, you idiot who suckled a wolf’s teet, you should never have killed Remus. You tainted history; always one brother is dying but shouldn’t. Brothers always killing one another or themselves; always breaking the great world in two. Only Devin didn’t want that. Devin loves the world whole. Devin loves Jimmy. Where’s Gwen? The world is breaking. Devin eats his sprouts with rigor.
Gwen is a born again and Devin is—was—as secular as horse shit on the bot- tom of a shoe. So they have their moments. But Gwen talks God and makes Devin feel good, like eating Big Mac burgers, but he’s been off those for years. God is like a Big Mac, but those things will kill you, really. Too much God and you’re obese. Devin used to have too much God he guesses. Was a McDonald’s zealot (though, on occasion, stooped for B. King).
At first, Devin did not realize Gwen’s religious inclination because he saw her eating Lucky Charms—food for pagans—and he had gone on to think that Christ was fair game, until the Easter Sunday fiasco when he took that one joke too far. Now they respect one another’s parameters of faith or not-faith. But Gwen is still a hypocrite. Leprechauns? Really?
Devin is dressed in black and has a lot on his plate but not literally, since his microgreens are basically sub-caloric. It’s just that life used to be so simple, like white Wonder Bread, and now Jimmy is shot through the head and brain-dripping and it’s not simple and there’s only whole grain in the cupboard and he’s sick inside. A tabloid mag is sitting on the broken table. Devin opens to: another celebrity mom with plans to eat her placenta. Why not a Big Mac? What was Jimmy’s last meal? Jimmy would want a Big Mac; communion before the Edge.
It’s four o’clock and the car left twenty minutes ago. Devin did not answer the door. He had the lights down and was hidden under the covers. His therapist told him that in order to heal and grow in life, just like in general, you had to dig up old things and look at deep dark things a lot and hurt. But Devin would rather not see the mangled insides of Jimmy’s skull. The procession will begin in thirty minutes and Devin won’t make it in time. They’ll bury Jimmy in all his frills and put dirt over the coffin over his head. The damn dirt giving Jimmy a noogie and Devin can’t take it. He packs a bag with ketchup and mayonnaise; he is going to see God before the thrumming takes over. God won’t agree with this nonsense. God will trump the loogies.
Madeleine Walker lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY. This was her first publication.
“Windmills” was originally published in The Tides (TLR Winter 2014)