Toothpick established a liaison with a good-looking woman named Barbara. She was an actress in a road company that traveled by riverboat and played inside cracked-up bandshells and docked-barge amphitheaters. The road company was an all-women ensemble troupe of musicians and contortionists and tattoo addicts. One gal played a mean long-saw. They called themselves Pussy Turmoil, for that kind of moniker was all the rage in those days, it being the fiftieth anniversary of Pussy Riot’s initial rise to international prominence.
The troupe’s motto, which they flew on a big stiff gessoed riverboat flag, was this:
They will never unthread the rude eye of rebellion.
Toothpick was Barbara’s sinsemilla guy whenever she found herself in eastern Kentucky, southeast Ohio, or southern West Virginia. He had a spectacular maroon and white wingsuit that he’d sewn together himself out of parachute scraps and tin foil and raccoon bones. He could jump off the East End cable bridge tower and somehow glide just above the black river water, like a giant flying squirrel, disappearing into the slag haze and the sludge fog and the vaporous shifting mists above the tannery ooze.
Toothpick’s fingers were permanently blue from his days working at the ink factory. His marijuana was Grade A++++.
What Barbara liked about him was that he didn’t talk.
What Toothpick liked about her was that she didn’t shave her legs or armpits. Her top lip, yes. But no place else. He appreciated such a system.
The first time they engaged in sexual intercourse, Barbara had neglected to tell Toothpick about her condition, which was this: at the climactic moment––a moment she rarely experienced due to the shortcomings of nearly every man alive––Barbara would faint away in a swoon. It took her to a deep place, the kind of place that makes a body lifeless, and, understandably, Toothpick thought she’d died.
He cried, hard.
He’d begun to catalog the necessary steps for such a scenario when Barbara awoke. And it was in that moment, that glorious moment of her awakening, that Toothpick felt the most powerful surge of happiness he’d ever known. He hugged her to him and held on. She had a coughing fit but laughed through most of it.
A week later, during a midnight performance at The Mosestown Amphitheater, an old woman slept against a grassy top riser of the stair-stepped, mostly empty audience. She awoke to the sound of the long-saw’s call. She stood and descended slowly the wide hillside stairs until she came to the lip of the stage.
Barbara mimed a ballet type of thing behind Sheila, the gal on saw.
Barbara was spinning and silently mouthing the words That’s preposterous! just before she accidentally glanced at the old woman, who simply stood there in her turquoise head scarf and greasy burlap prom gown. The fat around her throat was gray. The whites of her eyes weren’t white at all.
Barbara should have never looked her direction. She’d known to never look, just in case, but nobody can be careful every minute of their life.
She dropped like a stone to the soft foul boards of the stage, knocking through at the knee where the termites were. She would have died within a minute, under the stare of that witch, had Toothpick not come roaring in from his perch atop the broken-down four-hundred-foot Ferris wheel. He was a blur and a streak both, and he carried with him considerable force, his graphene helmet shattering the old witch’s bones.
He rolled and tumbled and skidded to a halt twenty yards on. He’d torn his wingsuit badly at the shoulder, but he recovered and watched the witch vanish before he jumped onto the stage where Sheila was smacking Barbara across the cheekbone.
The scant members of the audience applauded sincerely before they got up and left.
If Toothpick had ever decided to speak, it would have been then, in order to remark on the strange and beautiful quality of their relationship, a relationship built upon swoons and fainting and staring-spells and resuscitation. It was fitting for them both. Toothpick had made the wingsuit in order that he might feel something again, and what stronger feeling was there than dying and being brought back to life? Barbara had joined Pussy Turmoil to travel and smoke weed and act before an audience, and maybe find a man along the way who could keep his mouth shut and bring her to orgasm and save her life if it came to that. She’d not expected that man to be a blue-fingered weed dealer who glided on the river air like a giant flying squirrel, but sitting together on the rotten boards of The Mosestown Amphitheater main stage, they both knew that what they had was right as rain, and they would never, ever part.
Glenn Taylor’s most recent novel is A Hanging at Cinder Bottom (Tin House, 2015). His first novel, The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award. Glenn’s work has appeared in such venues as the Oxford American, The Guardian, Gulf Coast, and Huizache. Born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia, he now resides in Morgantown and teaches at West Virginia University.