Gone Lawn
a journal of literature
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Gone Lawn 21
Spring, 2016

Featured painting, Unnamed (detail) by MANDEM.

New Works

Sarah Wheeler

Beautiful and Rare

There's a monster in the woods. Our husbands say other men in other towns have warned them. She is weaving through the forest, attracted by the smell of almost-women's hair. Our brothers tell us we are beautiful and rare; she will turn us ordinary. Our fathers tell us that when the moon comes out, we go in. The moon doesn't wax or wane in these hot months: it lingers. Our mothers stay in to guard us; the time to be wary of monsters has passed them by.
There's a monster in the woods and we are confined. We are hungry for each other. We try creating smoke signals. We blow at logs that do nothing but absorb our oxygen and burn. Sweat drips from our bodies and into the wooden floors that our great-grandfathers built. We sweat until the mantels in front of our fireplaces gleam. The sweat goes into our hair, which turns smooth and shiny. We worry the monster will see this as an invitation.
There's a monster in the woods and we are patient. From Helen's chimney, a smoky mouth materializes. And then from other houses: a shearing blade, a sheep, an anatomical heart, a pear, and an enormous beetle that tries to pinch the moon. They all weave together before they disperse. Smoke lies thick and heavy in the air when Suzette has her baby. We pump out congratulations with such force, our lungs ache. Olivia worries in clasped hands and maps of smoke that her husband has left her again, and this time, she can't follow. Charlotte grows sick and dies a day later, and we do not send smoke signals that day: men and mothers breathe deeply.
There's a monster in the woods and we are preparing. We send out warnings in ribbons that snake toward the sky. We blow clothes-dye powder to make the colors of her hair, though they are muted in the smoke. Our mouths are stained vermillion, amber, gold. Suzette tells us her baby's a girl. Her name is Robin, or Lark, or some other sweet bird that floats by our windows. We wish she would send the baby too; we would like to touch something new.
There's a monster in the woods, there has been before. Colette's grandmother says that when she was a girl, the monster came to her town, hundreds of miles away. Her sister cut off a curl of her thick mahogany hair and braided it into the monster's. She died of despair when the monster left. Three others died that day, but we do not know their names. We see them climb from Colette's chimney and into the sky: a parade of grey girls scattered by the low clouds. How sad. How ordinary.
There's a monster in the woods and she's at the edge of town. Honey's little brother saw her while he was out playing: a gleam in the matte bark. The fathers load their guns, and the mothers twist their hands. The brothers run from house to house delivering the same message, "Not here. Not here." We see Colette's grandmother on the porch, the question mark of her crooked spine unfurling into an exclamation.
There's a monster in the woods and she's passed us by. The doors unlock and open: the light is dull, now, the moon wreathed in smog. We have collected our mother's small, sharp sewing scissors.
There's a monster in the woods and we are hunting her. We can smell her in the air, musky and sweet. We track her by glimmer caught in the trees. Our scissors shine brighter than any isolated strand. We find her on the road, a magnificent abundance of harsh blondes and soft blacks, bloody reds and whites so bright they glow. We are cutting and tearing and pulling. Our hands are full of hair so we bite off clumps with our mouths. We taste salt, honey, blood. This must be desire; we pull it out of her. We pull until we are covered in fine strands like cobwebs: they catch on the wind and blow away. She reaches for them, but we smack her hands. Now she is patchy, bleeding, ordinary. Her own hair is soft, deep gold, a color we have never seen. We wrap it around our fingers, we swallow it whole. She smiles at me.
There is no monster in the woods. We take her golden hair home and weave it into our own, strand by strand. Invisible in the house, luminous in the light.

Sarah Wheeler grew up in Portland, Oregon. She is currently getting her MFA in fiction at George Mason University. Her most recent publication is in From the Depths by Haunted Waters Press.