The Goblin Palisade
I like the goblins. I want to be their friend. Goblins like flowers. Mom told me. I go see them a lot. They live behind the house next door in that yucky hole. I’ve been like a bazillion times. Sometimes I don’t wear my underoos when I go. They have flowers on them but my flower is better. Mom told me. Mom said it was a lily. She told me it would bring me love. The goblins will like my lily and then they will love me because of it and they will make me their queen and we will be happy. Together. And they will take me down into their dooky world and I will live with them. I will rule them. But I will be nice and they will bring presents to my feet and we will play all day. We won’t sing though. Singing hurts the goblin ears. Mom told me. I know. Mom told me.
Elise savored getting lost in the dandelions, lightly blowing on them until they created a feathery cloud that consumed her. She’d lie on her back and stare up into the fluffy haze until the pods dissipated, casing her in a white, downy deposit. She’d leave one bloom intact, plucking it from its rooted grounds, sheltering it as she rose from indentations freshly made in the grass. She sauntered toward the gated trench behind the neighboring house.
“Hellooo, goblins,” she’d hum quietly, approaching the hole. She’d stand upon its steel surface, placing one pink jelly sandal on the left corner of the grate and her other one on the right, swaying her hips from side to side. She’d peer down into the dingy crevice and twirl so her skirt lifted in the airflow.
“One day you’ll make me your queen,” she mused, twisting a crooked smile as she tossed the dandelion stem into the murky depths. A glint of light reflected off of a slick surface, catching her attention. Elise squatted down, nearing her eyes to the bars that estranged her. She threaded her fingers through the grate’s metal holes and whispered into the darkness. “I hope you like flowers.”
Janice worked the days away on a glass-bottomed boat.
She was a mambo instructor for the wealthy geezers that liked to booze and lose on the day cruise just offshore from the Keys. The men would gamble or take lessons with Sam, the unofficial scuba man for the Ocean Queen, and their women would lounge by the salt-water pool and lick their lips at the russet, Herculean bartender. They’d dance and drink and dance and drink while they’d wilt in the sweltering Floridian heat.
The air was saturated with the old cougars’ sweat. Their freckles turned into glitter as their perspiration transformed them into human disco balls oscillating on the transparent dance floor. The wayward stomping of their pumps on the lucid foundation attracted the rubbernecking fogies, gathering underneath the boat for a peep show. Panties on parade. Janice was used to being subjected to the exhibitionism. Once she wore an ebony codpiece to shock the swimmers. On one occasion some fuddy-duddy stopped breathing and had to be airlifted to the clinic on shore. She’d worn granny panties since, and eventually the men stopped looking.
The fish couldn’t keep their eyes off of her. Eyes fixed open, they sized her up from below. The only one who didn’t care at all to see was Sam.
Separated only by the glossy barrier, she sometimes wished he would just look up.
Two doors down. They’d been there for two weeks now, basking on the porch in the summer heat, really putting themselves out there, practically begging for a welcome.
Janice sent Elise on a mission with a squirming lemon Jell-O mold that writhed with every step she’d take across the overgrown lawn. The adjacent yard had a pungent odor of pollen and cat piss. On the front porch sat two women, one gaunt, the other stout. The thin one was old, her face like a sundried olive. She called herself Lucinda.
“Aw, lil’ precious brought us a welcoming snack. How kind.” Her voice radiated that good ol’ southern Louisiana charm. As she seized the dessert platter she flashed a grin, baring her teeth, most of which were surprisingly still intact. She could pass for a threatened gorilla with a voice smooth as butter.
She carried the food inside while Elise was left with Merle. Merle had silvering hair, cut short; butch. Her breasts weren’t prominent, but they sagged in her gray Polo shirt, small sweat stains visible under her pits. She had eyes like a guppy, wide and unyielding, and a face like a plump, fuzzy peach. She periodically stroked the golden cat on her lap whose hair was collecting on her cut-off jean shorts. Tufts of it would float into the air, crop dusting the porch around her. There was a gap between her two front teeth, and she fought for air when she spoke.
“It’s a –gasp– pale yellow,” she said, “followed me home –gasp– one day. Silly little –gasp– puss. I named him –gasp– Cheese. Do you –gasp– like cats?”
Elise nodded, nervously clutching a clump of her fuchsia skirt in her palm. She pushed a section of her cheek between her teeth with her forefinger and began to chew.
“This one –gasp– rules the porch. He’s a pistol. –gasp– Mom and I will be –gasp– in the kitchen when we –gasp– hear a clamor outside, screeching –gasp– and spitting, –gasp– a real uproar,” she took a deep breath to emulate a hiss, spit flying in all directions, “–gasp– and we’ll know it’s Cheese. –gasp– So territorial. He protects –gasp– us since we saved him. I love –gasp– the little pusses.”
She rose from her chair and approached Elise, the cat in tow being crushed under her meaty arms. Its whiskers furrowed forward as its chest puffed up, trying to weasel out of the grasp she had on it. Merle bent down and set the cat on her knees, finally allowing it air.
“You can touch mine, –gasp– if you’d like.”
Mom told another bedtime story. I asked to make it about goblins again. Mom said they were mean and dirty and they hate music because they are cold. Maybe they need a jacket. They can have mine if they are cold. I don’t think they are mean. I think they are alone. I could be their friend and make them not alone any more. Alone is sad. I will make them happy.
She’d hide and loiter patiently in the gutter. She knew the little cherubim made daily trips to the grate next to her new home. She’d attempt to quell her grunts and wheezes, gasp quietly until she could pet the girl.
I heard the goblins today. They came for me and I heard them and they were down there. In the dooky-hole. I saw one move. I did. I saw it with my peepers. It moved but then it was hiding because I couldn’t see it after that. I think it is a’scared. I think it wants to be my friend but it is a’scared of me because I am not a goblin. People are a’scared of people who are different. Mom told me. I want to be a goblin. If I was a goblin then we could be friends. Maybe if I go down into the hole I will turn into a goblin. The hole is dirty and filled with poo. Mom told me. I will look like a goblin if I go down and get dirty. Where they live. Then we can be friends. I know. I could marry a goblin. When you marry someone they become your family. Mom said.
Sam feared Janice. He’d dare not look at her without her knowing. He couldn’t bear for her to catch him staring at her sun-kissed skin, the way her back glistened with moisture in the sun as she mamboed on deck, the way her featherweight limbs would glide through the lacuna like a swan. Like a serpent, she was poisonous, dangerous, out of reach.
He’d swim beneath her daily, beneath her petal skirts and flowing dresses. Beneath the transparent barrier that separated them, he was safe from her charms. He knew how things operated. He understood the exhibitionism, the violations of a simple upward glance. He knew what she was subject to. He longed to paint the floor a solid black to darken out her shame. He wished no one could see her.
To draw her, paint her, sculpt her in food; apples, bananas, raisin bread, he yearned for this. He wanted to detail her most delicate parts in sketchpads and on canvas and pencil in a grin on her porcelain face.
Janice never smiled.
Or maybe Sam was just too scared to see it.
They roasted late afternoon pork. Sam, an artful culinarian, evenly heated the swine on an open-fire spit they made that morning. Janice prepared the fruit salad inside, all the while watching Sam from the small egg-shaped window that nestled in the wall above her sink. Lucinda made lemonade on the table as Merle spied around the yard for Elise.
She had taken her dolls to the gutter this time, introducing them each to the goblins as her royal subjects.
“And you will be my maid,” she told the Barbie with the fried, knotted hair. “I better not hear any snobby-gobby-sobs from you just because you can’t be princess this time,” she scolded. She peeked through the holes in the grate and wondered if any goblins were listening.
Janice brought the fruit bowl out and set it upon the table where the new neighbors sat around sipping pink lemonade.
“So, I don’t know how these conversations usually go. We’re supposed to talk about the weather or something, that’s what good neighbors do, right?” She smiled anxiously.
Sam didn’t see.
“Hotter than hell in this state. The Bayou’s still cool ’round this time of year, ain’t that right, Merle?”
Merle stared off in the distance with her mouth agape, in a pout that unveiled her gapped teeth, her lips turned up like thick, rose curtains. Her mouth never closed, and she sounded like she was sucking in air through the spaces between each front tooth. A round grape could fit perfectly between her lips and it would balance there until she struggled to breathe.
“Yep. So –gasp– hot,” she answered.
“At least we’re used to the humidity,” Lucinda replied as Elise came skipping back from the neighboring yard.
“Where ya going, honey?” Janice shouted across the lawn.
“Changin’ my skirt.”
“Don’t put on the white one, you’ll get grass stains all over it.” She turned to Lucinda, “Kids. They’re so messy. They tell you that girls are sweet and clean, but they lie, whoever they are.”
Merle shot out of her seat like a bullet. Sam watched out of the corner of his eye as he turned the spit roast like a sideways carousel.
“I –gasp– need my –gasp– sunglasses. I need them.”
“You can borrow mine, M.” Lucinda removed the glasses that were keeping her gray-blonde bangs in place. They flopped down and stuck in strange angles to the sweat on her forehead as she offered her glasses away.
“Your head’s –gasp–too big. –gasp– I need mine.” Merle took off walking across the yard and behind the neighbor’s house.
“She have asthma or something?” asked Janice.
Merle lifted the grate as wide as it would open until its rusty hinges whined. She sucked in her gut and shimmied inside, hanging onto the edge until she found her footing on the grimy ladder that hung within. She pulled the steel barrier shut and waited in the hovel, barely breathing.
Elise returned in her whitest skirt, a Goblin bride. She carried a fistful of dandelions and positioned herself above the hole, barefoot. She slid her toes between the cracks and giggled. Merle wanted to reach up and touch her ankle, but she waited. She was patient.
“I’ve heard you down there,” called Elise. “You shouldn’t hide or be a’scared. I want to be your friend.” She lowered her nose to the dim hole, poking it through the spaces between the warm metal. “I’ve seen you.”
Merle let out a conniving grunt, as she raised a finger to touch Elise’s nose.
Elise jerked her head back in surprise. “I knew it,” she squealed, “You came for me!”
“Wait.” Elise squinted, double-taking to closely examine the darkness. She focused on the fish eyes peering up from within and she knew.
Elise let out a scream that could shatter crystal when a burly arm came through the bars, seizing her left leg. A two-pronged fork jabbed into the woman’s arm, through her bone, snapping it while pinning her to the grate. Elise tumbled backward into Sam’s arms, still crying and wiping her leg where Merle had grabbed it. Blood leached out and down into the hole. A guttural moan seeped up through the gutter until the police arrived.
I don’t like goblins anymore. Sam loves mom. Mom told me. They will get married and he will become family. He makes good food and he can swim really fast. I think he is a mermaid. Boys can be mermaids. I want to be a mermaid. They can breathe under water and swim all day. They have tails like a fish. Mom told me. They are way better than goblins. I know.