The Birthmark of a Beast and the Porcelain Doll by Rosalind
Woodstock, New York
Somewhere in the light brush of Woodstock, fourteen-year-old Neil Tyson Lanes stood peering through the lens of a shotgun, his finger on the trigger and his heart beating furiously. The large bodied deer, its head lowered grazing on the green bank of the small river ahead, stood in his gaze.
The early morning sun peaked just far enough over the horizon and bounced off its body, rippled against its muscles. Its large, dark eyes were thin with relaxation. Neil could hear its heart beating from where he stood.
A hand rested on his shoulder, firm and sturdy. He peered back to the thick hairy fingers, the muscled grasp. He looked up further to his father’s smiling face. “There you go son,” the man spoke softly. “You’ve got her lined up, now send one right through the heart.”
Neil turned back and looked through the gun, and saw the deer’s head rise. The animal looked around through the trees, and soon lowered back down and placed its lips within the river. It began to drink peacefully.
“Go on son, pull the trigger.” Neil tugged his finger back, but not far enough. He rested the back of the gun on his shoulder, and felt the cool metal against his skin. His palms began to sweat, and his lungs ached. The deer’s head rose a second time, and its eyes peered right towards him, baleful and shimmering.
They both looked past each other’s gaze, and for a moment Neil thought he heard the deer speak as to greet him through the breeze; it’s voice he imagined would be soft and light. He saw its chest rise and fall, and he tightened his finger against the trigger even more.
“I said go on son,” his father continued to urge. “Shoot it. Shoot it down.”
Neil shut his eyes as he pulled the trigger back. The sharp pop of the gun caused his ears to ring. It stunned his head and made him dizzy. He opened his eyes, just in time to see the animal fall to the ground.
“That’ a boy,” his father screamed with pride. “Come on now son! Let’s go see that big ol’ buck!” Neil felt his father take his arm, and he dropped the shotgun to the ground, as his grasp grew weak and shoddy. He felt overcome with nausea and prepared to apologize to his father, though the scolding never came. The two rushed over to the massive body, and Neil stopped in front of the animal. He felt his legs shake as the creatures chest continued to move.
“Oh that’s alright boy.” His father stroked his back. “We’ll just have to go on and finish the thing off. I’ll take care of it.” Neil soon stood alone as his father went and retrieved the shotgun. He looked down at the gasping deer and the blooming wound its heart spilled out of onto the riverbank. Its ruby blood ran down the mud of the bank, and stained the water. The current turned bright pink and soon Neil’s father returned, and aimed the shotgun straight at the animal’s neck. “We won’t hurt the head, so we can mount your first kill.”
Neil nodded and clenched his fists, listening to his father cock the gun, and with a bang the deer’s neck exploded and Neil felt the small beads of its warm blood splash his arm and stain his pant leg. He brushed away the beads, only managing to stain his skin. His hands refused to stop shaking. “Don’t worry son,” his father comforted. “Little blood ain’t anything. Life is full of blood.”
Neil tied the buck on top of the car, and they drove it back home. His father handed him a blade, and told him to get busy. He now crouched on his knees, his toddler sister watching and sucking on her thumb, and he clipped the knife at the crotch of the deer dangling by its back hooves and drew the blade downward to open its stomach.
The skin was thicker than he had imagined. He’d butchered plenty of pigs and cows, and they always seemed to come apart with more ease. With the deer, Neil found himself pushing hard, digging the blade deep into the muscle of the animal and pulling down with all his might.
“Hot damn, hot damn,” he grunted against the beast. “Say hot damn, it sure is hot.” He wiped sweat from his brow, then reached up and grasped the deer by the tail, cutting it away as he took a break on it’s thick belly. He sawed it off quickly, tossing it into the blood stained pail at his side.
He went back to the belly, pricking the edge of the curved blade just beneath the first wall of muscle, and pulling down forcefully. Finally the body opened like a door, and a small fawn fell down onto Neil’s boots.
“Dammit,” he screamed, more from startle than anything else, and kicked the quivering fawn away, killing it rather quickly before the air could do the trick. He picked it up by the soft hooves, barley done forming, and tossed its stunt body into the waste bucket with its mother’s tail. Neil’s sister begun to chuckle, and he turned around wielding his knife.
“Say you ought ‘a rustle up somethin’ else to do ey? Go off and get yourself entertained away from me ‘fore I gut you like this here deer! GET!” He kicked his foot at her, and she playfully jumped away, laughing more and clapping her hands as if taking his anger to be a game.
“Fine! Stand there and be a damn pain. See if you get to me one more time like that,” he challenged, and turned back around, further running his blade down the deer.
It’s organs spilled out onto his already bloodied army boots, and his shirtsleeves were stained bright red. The smell made him gag, but he swallowed his stomach and held his breath. He pushed the deer’s lungs downward, and scraped its liver from it’s inside.
Once the creature was gutted, Neil laid it out across a metal table sitting by the tree he had hosted the deer up on. The skin was getting soft, though the legs seemed to stiffen by the minute, and the heat that radiated from the beast made Neil sweat even further. His fingernails were caked and filthy. His father returned with two of his younger brother’s, and laid a hand to Neil’s arm. “Soon. Soon, you’ll be able to dominate more than this here beast. Are you excited?”
Neil brushed blood off his face, and nodded with a forced smile. He bit his lip bitterly, and began to butcher the meat from the deer. Breaking its ribs, and removing its head, he grinned down at the bloody carcass with more sincerity. “Yes sir,” he nodded, sweat running down his face.
“Why Neil going to be excited?” Neil’s brother Randy questioned, a finger up the left side of his nose.
“Well boy,” his father grinned, “your brother’s thinkin’ about marriage.”
Neil sat in the bathtub, the water around him light pink with the deer’s blood on his hands and legs. He hugged his knees to his chest, and thought about the girl he was destined to meet in a few hours that would possibly become his wife.
Beverly Ann Taylors; she was three years younger than he was, and she was being given to him by her family. He was a young man now, and it was time for him to start a life of his own. He already worked now for the Woodstock Slaughterhouse sending pigs and chickens to hell Mondays through Thursdays, and eventually to a higher classes kitchen table. Richard worked for the steel factory that pumped out just enough to get by through the economic famine that had managed to shoot everyone from Woodstock to Timbuktu to nowhere but destitution, and he still held down four days a week.
Suddenly here’s this pretty young thing that Neil’s father found to be the daughter of his boss, the daughter of his boss that said boss just so happened to be trying to get ride of. So the deal came pretty fair.
Richard’s boss was Joseph, and Joseph faired well, well enough that was; well enough to keep the younger children in the house, and well enough to pay for Neil to take on his remaining eldest girl that hadn’t been successfully married yet with one succulent dowry. Seemed well and good enough as long as the money came, and by God if you hadn’t believed it before, the check had been made out this morning.
Neil was no stranger to the prospect of marriage, or the idea of loving someone more than one may love themselves. The relationship he had with the woman he had previously intended on being his wife was going all the right ways, however it was joked that Venice D. Laurel would never be for sale. She lived on a small farm just up the road with a brute of a father that was possessive in many ways of his only daughter out of nine children. She had legs like roadways that went on for miles, and sun bleached hair that drew upwards in tight curls. He’d seen the girl he was destined to wed, and although she wasn’t unattractive she also lacked any kind of beauty. Her nose was far too big. But God takes people on roads they could not have ever imagined, his mother explained that to him, so why fight destiny?
Neil’s own brother had recently taken a wife at eighteen for a good old farm inheritance in return, and the two had birthed their first child a mere month after their union. The first of many more to come that was, as Neil’s mother and father took the prospect of child-making very seriously. Neil had seventeen siblings himself, thirteen of which that still were currently living. His parents had married young, his mother being fourteen and his father twenty in 1904; they were a religious family, who believed in a Catholic God, and they took the roles of men and women also as a crucial rule to follow.
Neil’s mother – Peggy Lanes – had not worked a day in her life outside of the home. She had been successfully kept pregnant around the clock until just last year, when she found herself stricken with fever that made her childbearing abilities poor.
Neil’s father – Richard Lanes – had worked with his hands since he was nine. He’d made a livable amount of money as a factory worker in the steel business, and he took great interest in his sons and left his daughters to their mother’s care. He beat his children when they disobeyed, and beat his wife on a regular basis. It was his regimen of success. He played the part of family man like an actor in a Shakespearean play. Romantically, yet tragic and dark. Neil had watched his mother as a victim of love. It was supposed to be love at least. Neil’s father promised he would be in love.
In love with the young lady he was about to meet this morning. The young lady that would be his wife, the mother of the children he was destined to create. Many, many children like his father before him, and his father before his father. Seventeen children – biblical they liked to say.
Just as Neil started to scrub the deer blood out of the fine hair on his arms, his father stepped outside the bathroom door and leaned, breathing loudly to make his presence known. Neil still held his knees to his chest, and he continued to clean his arms.
“How’d that buck turn out, Pa?” Neil asked, dunking his head back to wet his hair.
“Say I’d got the best ‘a the meat. You know mama say she ought ‘a make some blood sausage out the damn thing. Gun work good?”
“Gun work just fine, boy,” Richard replied, knocking his knuckles to the door and tapping his foot. He lit a cigar. “Lemme give you a lesson in guns.”
“What’s that Pa?” Neil asked, turning to face the door and staring at the shadow of his father’s feet beneath the crack. He turned his head upwards to clean his neck of the beasts dried blood.
“The way you were holding it,” Richard begun. “You held it too much like a gun.”
“Well hell Pa,” Neil chuckled, “how else I supposed to hold it?”
“You think of the damn thing too hard like a weapon. You can’t treat her like a gun. You gotta treat her like she you.”
“How I do that?” Neil asked, cocking his head like a curious pup and laughing. “It ain’t me.”
“Oh boy,” Richard spoke gently, more gently than he’d ever spoken to his son in his life through the cold wood. “Wash your legs,” he reminded. “Then clean your Johnson.” Neil’s face felt hot as he pushed the sponge beneath the water and obeyed. “Now,” Richard cleared his throat. “Holding a gun.”
Neil listened as he washed himself.
“You don’t think of the gun as a gun – you think of her as your arm. And the bullets be your fists. When you cock the gun, you’re cocking your fist, and when you’re pulling the trigger, you’re throwing your fist forward. Then when your target goes down, imagine you just punched ‘em straight out. You’re not killin’ ‘em, you’re just knocking ‘em down.”
“And it get’s a whole lot easier that way huh Pa?” Neil threw the sponge to the side, and stood up from the bath after tugging out the drain.
“Sure does,” Richard stood and waited for Neil to exit the bathroom door wrapped in a towel, tugging on a pair of boxer’s he’d worn to butcher the deer. Richard patted his son’s shoulder. “Now let’s go learn ‘bout something else here.”
“And what’s that Pa?”
Richard smiled. “Looks.”
“You’re becoming a man now,” Neil stood in his boxers in his parent’s bedroom. Richard circled around him like a shark as Neil hugged his arms around his middle. His hair stuck wetly to his face, and Richard opened the closet doors.
“Know what that mean,” he asked.
“Dress like one,” Neil said.
“That ‘a boy,” Richard praised. He removed a pair of dark jeans and threw them over his arm, and a white button up shirt with some miner boots. “Put this on. It’ll be time here for you to dress like you intelligent. Not like a boy, but a man. Men get work, they get women, and they get wealth. What you wear says what you want. Know what I wanted?”
“What’s that Pa?” Neil questioned.
“I wanted your mother, and I dressed like I did. So I got her. Then I wanted a job, so I dressed like I did. And I got one. Finally, I wanted a house, so I dressed like I did. And I got one. You wanna know something- all the success in my life I’ve gotten cause I dress well.”
“Gotcha Pa,” Neil smiled and nodded. Richard chuckled and watched his son dress. Soon he clapped his hands.
“Look at you,” he praised, and wrapped an arm around Neil’s shoulders. “You know it’s a feeling you’ll have one day,” he spoke softly, and Neil looked to him confused.
“What’s that feeling,” he questioned, and Richard patted his back.
“When you remember the day a child was born, and suddenly you’re looking at them all grown. You’ll feel that with your own children. And you’ll have children. But that won’t be all you have.”
Neil smiled wide, and the two begun to walk, arms thrown around one another’s shoulders. “I wanna get on back into school… be a lawyer Pa,” Neil admitted, and Richard chuckled.
“And so you will be, past all this messy business. You know money ‘ll come; one day God ‘ll come back to this country and with him he’ll bring prosperous futures. When a man wills something, it is to come. God was a man, and so he instilled in all men his own power. He gave all men the power to will future, but some don’t use that. That’s why there is so little success in this world. But you my boy, you know God.”
“I do, Pa,” Neil promised.
“Cause I’ve showed him to you.” The two continued to walk until they reached the door to the basement. “I want to show you something.” Richard tugged open the wooden door, causing it’s hinges to groan and complain, and he replaced his arm onto Neil’s shoulder as they walked together down the creaking stairs
“As a child you feared this basement,” Richard explained, looking to Neil with a warm smile. “You would clutch your mother’s heels each time she would descend down these stairs. We never ordered you down here. And look at you now – a man does not learn to conquer his fears. He simply does. He grows into his courage.”
Neil nodded, yet could not help but recognize the familiar ping of concern he had, as they grew deeper and deeper in darkness. He let out a breath as his father flipped on a dim orange light, hanging by a chain in the center of the ceiling. The two walked to the center of the floor, right in front of the side of the room that housed the dryer. Richard stepped away from Neil, and walked over to the end of the large, burgundy rug that laid over the dusty wood. He lifted up the edge, and revealed a deep and dark bronze stain in the white netting on the bottom of the rug. “Do you see this,” he asked, and Neil nodded.
“Yes sir,” he said, and Richard left the corner of the rug bent back.
“Do you how many times your mother worked to scrub this stain?” Richard questioned.
“No sir,” Neil cleared his throat. “Fact actually – I didn’t even know that stain existed till right this moment Pa,” he admitted, and Richard chuckled.
“You wouldn’t,” he replied. “Your mother tried for six years before giving up on this stain. And I once bought a good ol’ boy to come in and try and bleach her. Didn’t happen none. That stain has been there for fourteen years. And how old are you boy?”
“I fourteen Pa,” Neil answered.
“And you know what caused this stain,” Richard asked.
“Not so sure I do – would you tell me?”
“That’s what I’m getting to,” Richard’s eyes glistened with a flicker of twisted excitement. “You was born in this here spot. That there stain is the birthmark you left on this house.”
Neil said nothing.
“Your mother,” Richard continued, “well – suppose I didn’t take her serious at the time. You know what she said when I told her to wash my damn work pants the night you was born, when she was heaving around sweating and huffing through labor-“ Richard bellowed with laughter, “she said Bill! I reckon if I walk down those stairs I’ma have to come up em’ with this baby.” Neil forced a smile at his father’s story. “And you know what I told her? I told her to stuff it! Wash my work pants woman! And she done went down and did. Then I heard her screaming.”
Richard leaned against the wall; he lit a cigarette from his pocket, and motioned back down to the stain. “That stain – she was crouched over where that stain ended up, pushing you out. You were just dangling there.” His eyes went blank. He looked back up to Neil. “You came out purple,” he said, loosening his collar. “Cord was around your neck like a noose. So I bit right through it. First time I got a taste of you, of you both. All the piss and stink of your mother, and all your blood. You got my blood boy. That’s why you lived. That’s why you’ll live, well.”
“Mmhm,” Neil grunted in reply; he felt his chest tight, his knees somewhat shaky from the story. “Right Pa.”
“So look good at that stain,” Richard ordered. “That’s your birthmark on this house. Pretty soon I expect you to mark the whole world. Mark it in your blood. Your sweat and tears and piss. Because the world is yours, because God gave man the world to use. You ready for your next lesson boy?”
“Yes Pa, I am.”
Richard led Neil up the basement stairs, and into the hallway. Then the two walked side by side past the small living room, and then entered the kitchen. Neil’s mother stood at the kitchen sink, and she acknowledged the two with a smile.
“I made you breakfast,” she spoke to Richard. “I’m making yours now Neil.” She had always been mousy, but today she seemed especially reserved, and Richard frowned. He eyed the toast and eggs on the table; sunny side up, and the corners slightly burnt on the bread.
The two ate fairly quickly after Peggy laid down their plates, and Richard spent the meal ordering his tired wife around. He liked to make fun of her thinning hair or developing wrinkles. He liked to make fun of her weight and how skinny she had grown. Peggy was once a big woman, but the pounds had fallen off her in slabs. She was hardly more than ninety pounds.
Even when the men were done eating, Peggy still stood back at the sink scrubbing dishes, and she fixed Neil and Richard another round of breakfast when they demanded. Men need to eat plenty and well after all.
“Another thing,” Richard said to his son. “Women do the cooking. They do the cleaning. They do the shopping. They do the decorating. They make the children. You however, go to work, and you come home and you get taken care of – in whatever way you want might I add.”
“I got that Pa,” Neil said, as his mother laid down a plate a fresh eggs and perfectly cooked toast in front of him.
“Good job on breakfast girl. I love you Peggy,” Richard praised.
“I love you too,” Neil’s mother replied quietly.
“Always make sure to tell a woman you love her,” Richard reminded. “Women need to hear that. And you need to hear it from your woman. She need to tell you she love you, cause you love her. It’s only fair.”
“Okay Pa,” Neil nodded. “Okay.”
As Neil finished his breakfast, Richard showered and shaved the shadow that had grown over the past few days of neglecting appointments with the straight razor, leaving Neil to his own devices for a few precious moments of thought.
Genie, this was Neil’s young sister being eight years younger than him at six, sat with a cupcake in her hand that their mother had prepared a day earlier to celebrate Neil’s impending departure. She rested her chin on her small fist, and watched as her older brother straightened stray strands of his dark hair in the dirty hallway mirror.
“So since you gon’ off that mean one these days nearest soon you not be tellin’ me no more stories?” She ate sloppily, speaking with her mouth full, and Neil started laughing as she stained her noise in the yellow buttercream off the top of the little cake.
“You’re sweet.” He bent down, licking the frosting off her nose playfully. “You too old for stories. Jesus, I’m gettin’ hot.” Neil fanned himself quickly. He couldn’t tell if it was nerves or the rising sun peaking through the windows and heating up the house.
“Tell me one more anyway,” Genie requested, scratching her chin and yawning. “Case you don’t come back.”
“Well I’m coming back one way or the other,” Neil promised. “Still got stuff to sort out.”
“You gonna go make babies with this girl,” she questioned, and Neil laughed again.
“You don’t know nothin’ ‘bout making babies with no one. Don’t let mama catch you asking no one questions like that. Maybe I ought ‘a hit ya.”
Genie frowned. “Aw come on now Neil, I wanna story.”
“Fine,” he huffed, still peering at himself into the mirror, smoothing his shirt and watching his eyes move. “What ain’t you heard?”
“You said you’d tell me ‘bout the one with the man and the rat,” she reminded him, and Neil shook his head.
“You don’t wanna hear that one,” he warned, and disappointment blanketed Genie’s face. She crossed her arms tightly and stomped her small foot.
“Yes I do,” she yelled, “and you said you’d tell it!”
“Ain’t no happy ending,” Neil explained, but a smile came to his face. “Though if you itching to hear it, I’ll give.”
“Give,” Genie demanded.
“Fine.” Neil cleared his throat. “Poor man lived in a cabin outside of Maine with his wife and his three kids where all the rats live, and one night he finds this big old fat, brown, nasty rat that’s chewed a nest out ‘a one of his floorboards, and they be three little bald baby rats suckling on it’s teats.”
“So it a mama rat that right,” Genie asked.
“You following,” Neil assured. “Now this old poor man he hate the rats, so he take up this fat mama rat by the tail and toss her in a bin. He picks up her first bald baby, and he feed it to his dog. Just toss it in this big ugly mutts mouth. Then he pick up the second bald baby, and he cut it in two on his wife’s cuttin’ board, then he watch it squirm there in two for a minute ‘fore it die. Lastly, he picks up the last bald baby, and he tosses it in a pail of water and let it drown. Finally, he picks up the big fat mama rat, and he throw her in the fireplace and let her burn up. He go out huntin’ next day.” Neil paused, picking some egg from his front teeth and looking to Genie with a grin, seeing her face in awe with horror.
“Anyways,” Neil sighed. “He comes back from hunting, got a big old boar he caught and he yell out to his wife when he walk in the house theys gonna eat good tonight.” Neil got down to his knees in front of Genie. “He walk in the house…” he lowered his voice, “… and he see something that so horrible he can’t stop screaming. His baby daughter she be laying on the floor, cause something done tipped her crib, and the dog done ate her to nothin’ but bones. His older son be chopped in two after fallin’ on a lawnmower blade cause somethin’ must ‘a tripped him. His oldest daughter be face down in the tub, cause she slipped on somethin’ a hit her head then drowned. And finally, his wife done been pushed into the fireplace and ain’t nothin’ but ash.”
“Who got ‘em all huh,” Genie asked with rosy cheeks and wide eyes.
“Same things that got the old poor man,” Neil replied. “Swarm of rats all suddenly come rushing from the floorboards, led by the hugest, brownest, fattest rat old poor man ever saw and been the daddy rat ‘a the family ‘a rats he killed, and they all swarm ‘round him and do all sorts ‘a horrible things to him. They get inside his throat and crawl down into his stomach and start eating his insides out, and then they eat his eyes and his tongue and his ears. Then they use his bones to pick their teeth. You know those long yellow teeth rats have?”
“Yeah,” Genie nodded.
“Well that’s what they use to clean ‘em up.” Neil placed Genie on his knee and started to bounce her lightly. “The end,” he kissed her cheek, and she pushed his face away unhappily.
“I didn’t like that story,” she whined.
“I told you that you wouldn’t,” Neil reminded.
“Well what happened after the rats cleaned their teeth,” she asked.
“I don’t know Genie,” Neil shrugged, “I just made that up a few days ago. You can’t expect me to have it all filled in. He probably rotted there covered in rat turds or something. The rats were picking their teeth, that’s the end.”
“Well I hated it,” Genie jumped from her brother’s knee. “I wanted something nicer!”
“Well why don’t you wish in one hand and crap in the other from now on, see which fills up first,” Neil hissed. “Now I told you a story, and I’ll think of something else here later. As of right now, leave me the hell be. I’m trying to get ready.”
Neil and Richard got into Richards truck, and just after Neil waved goodbye to his kid sister who had seemed to forget her grudge, his father and him got out on the road to go and meet Beverly Ann Taylors – soon to be Lanes Richard assured his son.
“Remember what I told you? ‘Bout how God was a man, and so he made men with his power?”
“Yes sir,” Neil replied, watching out the passenger window as the trees went by. “Why?”
“Because I never told you about God and women,” Richard explained. “And I should in order to remind you once and for all. Just like to a man the men before him are the Lords next to Christ, men all God to women. God was a man, and he gave men the power of God. Then he made women from men, and therefore what are women?”
“Nothing,” Neil spoke with a smile. “Nothing without men.”
“You’re going to be a fine husband Neil. You’re going to be an excellent father. You’re going to be a brilliantly successful man. Are you ready?” Neil looked too his father with a small smile.
“Guess I am Pa. Guess I am.”
From across the lot of the steel factory Richard and Neil waited, as the cherry red truck pulled in and came to a stop. Neil felt his heat rise, and his heart begun to pound heavy and loud. He could hear his pulse in his ears, and feel the blood throbbing through him.
“That’s the girl you marrying boy,” Richard turned to Neil and grinned. “Beverly Ann Lanes. Got a nice ring huh? She’ll make you plenty of children. She’ll make you a happy man. You won’t know what to do without her soon enough. And she sure as hell won’t know what to do without you.”
Neil breathed. He stepped out of the car, and soon Richard followed. The two stepped in front of their truck just as a man in the other exited, leading a small young girl by the hand. Her hair was chestnut brown and down her back, and her eyes were a deep green. Her skin was white like ivory, and her build was tiny and frail. She was a porcelain doll.
“That there her,” Richard patted Neil on the back as his eyes met with this Ms. Soon- to- be- Mrs. Beverly Ann, and the two watched each other firmly, curiously, yet from her eyes she saw fear. “With all these lessons I done showed you this morning,” Richard looked to his son and spoke with pride, “you will be a happy man till the end of your days.”
Neil did not speak.