Jenny, in Cool Waters

You Were Jenny Greenteeth’s Once

The lake is beautiful, but mother warns you to stay away.

Deep in the woods, secluded, alone, it shimmers beneath the moonlight, an endless midnight dance performed for an audience unseen. In the depths, invisible dancers pirouette and prance about so gently, so delicately as to be imperceptible, the only evidence of their footfalls, the ripples on the quiet surface.

“You watch out by that lake, and don’t you dare sneak into those woods at night,” mother lectures as she tucks you into bed, “Mark my words young man, Jenny Greenteeth is out there, waiting for you to wander off.”

Cold air fills your lungs and for a moment, you think about turning back, but you press on. Autumn is here and soon the lake will freeze. You have to see it one last time.

She calls to you. Amidst the trees and bushes, in the rustling of dead leaves, in the chirping of the insects and the squeaking of the mice in the underbrush, she calls to you. The barn owl hoots, the toad croaks, the audience has gathered for the emerald ballet and she calls to you, “Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?”

You Were Jenny Greenteeth’s Once

The faucet drips, each droplet echoing ceaselessly into oblivion. They fall like kisses on your forehead, pounding the words into your skull, “Good morning. Good morning my darling.”

“Hair like duckweed: long, unkempt, and greasy,” mother says, her spit wetted handkerchief rubbing mud from your cheek. “Green like the rest of her too. Putrid green, sickly green, green like old peas, green like the lake. And that’s how she gets you. She is ugly and nasty, old Jenny Greenteeth. It’s almost a blessing how she blends into that lake. The Lord spares us the sight of her.”

It is raining in April, is it her birthday?

You stare into the bottles of rainwater on the windowsill; your eyes pour over them, searching them for a sign, a memory, like letters from home.

“Older than time itself Jenny is, sitting in that lake for eternity, growing older and more hideous with each passing day,” says mother. “Skin as thin as paper, covering long bones as brittle as Grandmother’s peppermint bark. But strong, with a grip like death.”

Hot water boils over bitter grounds, a bubbling cup of swampy mud. Brown sludge at the bottom of the mug: a reminder.

You Were Jenny Greenteeth’s Once

Cold air grows colder still. Beneath your feet, twigs and branches snap and crack, reverberating through dark infinity. Around you, animals scatter and clear a path. Above you, the limbs of dead trees span the sky, arms reaching ever higher, their spindly fingers clawing as if to grab hold of the moon.

The lake is pure. It is crystalline, cool, liquid glass. A hand caresses the dark mirror and a face blurs and distorts, whose are these? In the dark, it is impossible to tell.

You sit down on the mossy shore and place a foot into the soupy shadows. The mosquitoes buzz in the midnight air and the choir sings. The orchestra is gathered, they tune their instruments in rattling cacophony, but there is music in the discord and you bob your head and splash your feet.

“Oh she’s a tricky one, old Jenny, with her murky home all dressed up and painted over, but it’s a deceiver’s kingdom, a wicked lie, and don’t you go believing it! Oh I know where you’ve been going,” uncle’s caterpillar moustache bristles up and down, “don’t think your mother hasn’t told me. Jenny makes suitors of us all, but it’s the smart ones who know to stay away. It’s fingers and toes for Jenny, that’s what she likes best. And she’ll add yours to her collection if you’re fool enough to come courting.”

Your leg is in the water now; it laps at your thigh coolly, teasingly. With each step the lakebed slips further away, how deep must you go before you could lie down? The lake is calm and still and as it comes to reach your neck you feel as an insect preserved in amber, kept forever in her embrace. Is it the water now that wraps itself around your chest with such bitter tenderness, or is it her, is it Jenny come to lay you down? You step further but there is no ground beneath your feet, only the deep, the umbral deep. There is a tickling at your toes, a curious fish perhaps? Or is it playful Jenny?

A whisper on moist, night air, “Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?”

You Were Jenny Greenteeth’s Once

Moonlight gives way to sprawling emptiness as the thick liquid buries your face; Jenny kisses you, cheek and chin. There are icicles in your lungs as it slithers its way inside you, winding its way into every part of you. Down, down, deeper and deeper, and you feel yourself start to spin, to twirl, to glide. The dance begins.

There is no light but she is there and you know her. She has placed her long fingers around your neck and her grip is strong, but it is not frightening. She pulls you to her bosom and there is love there. You know that there are flowers in her sea foam hair. If you could but reach and pluck one.

But no, something is wrong; the dancers’ steps have lost their rhythm. Legs sprawl about in jerking, random motions and the beauty is gone. The serpent in your chest forces its way out in an ugly splat.

Uncle’s bristles touch your lips and there is hot air in your lungs again. You feel her slip away, back into her sunken world.

Your vulgar coughs mask the words, splashing wounded on the shore, “Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join the dance.”

You Were Jenny Greenteeth’s Once

Portraits hang in puddles and the trickling streams of runoff form red strings of remembrance around your finger. But to be with her again, but to dance the dance all night, all day, forever on that verdigris stage. You carry no umbrella, you cover yourself in her.

All the oceans in all the world, all the rivers, streams and brooks, all the beaches, all the shores, all bustling ports and quiet docks: open sewers, sullied and sickening. There is only the lake. Let Poseidon have his kingdoms, save only that dark palace where she holds court in dreams.

“What were you thinking? Didn’t I warn you? Didn’t we all warn you?” Mother’s tears smear your face. Hers is a salty love, a warm love, not like Jenny’s. “I won’t let her have you, oh no. Jenny won’t have another man of mine! How many? How many of our boys does she need?”

You are dripping as you buy your ticket, the crowd around you stares. Let them. Let them look upon your body, covered in her raindrop kisses. They are there for the world to see and to envy. You show them a love they will never know, a love they can never understand: a love that envelops, that covers, that soaks into the very core of you. You are marked, you are hers forever.

You Were Jenny Greenteeth’s Once

She is only a greengrocer’s daughter, but you have seen the way she dances on the dusty wood floors of her father’s shop past closing. Seen how she spends her evenings practicing her arabesques. She has not mastered penché, but her arms as she moves from first, to second, and then to third, how elegant. She dances as water dances, that secret dance visible only through immersion, through complete surrender.

“I see the way you look at her,” there is wailing in the house. “Don’t pretend! She’s no good, no good for you. Better you should stay away from her, better to save yourself the sorrow. Oh but do you listen? Oh but have you ever listened to poor mother? Wait until uncle hears, he won’t always be there to save you falling in you know.”

It is warm amidst the trees, but cool by the lakeside, cool enough to linger, cool enough to lie among the green grass and the soft moss. Pollen drips from her fingertips as she gazes at the flower you have plucked for her. It drifts like gold dust on the breeze as you begin the pas de deux and now it is on your hands and her arms and shoulders and chest, her lips and your lips and you are as two exquisite sculptures carved of liquid wealth, formless, blending amongst each other seamlessly. A living statue, two figures captured in the moment when their very atoms have merged. Hearts, souls, bodies: once two, now one irrevocably.

A cold finger finds its way to you, wet and slender, and it places on your forehead a kiss, soft, forlorn, and heartbroken. A tender touch for words unsaid, “Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.”

You Were Jenny Greenteeth’s Once

Years pass, time goes by, and she has had enough of you. It is raining when she leaves, wet and sorrowful. She is wounded beyond measure, to have come so far, to have left it all behind, all the dances. She still practices her arabesques on the patio at sunset and sunrise, her delicate body curving to meet the contours of the sun, but no more. No more to waltz, no more to dance, no more to caper in the night.

“I look at you,” she whispers with her lips against your neck, “and I see another in your eyes.” And she is right.

Days pass in heavy rain, it floods the streets, it fills your boots, it soaks into your socks and into your clothes and you know it is her and she is crying. She is weeping tears of love for you, and in each tear an invitation, “Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?”

She is leaving, walking through the door. And you are leaving, taking the first steps off the train into that old town, home again, soon to be leaving once more.

The old men mark your face as you pass them for they know; they know the look of a man in love. That glow, that air, the music in his footsteps.

Out and out, into the heavy silence of the woods where dark comes early. The denizens watch you there too, but it is something else they see in you, a different face you wear. You carry her on your flesh and they can smell her on you, damp and old, the smell of mildew and of mold. How long since she made you hers? Was it then, that night spent sinking, dancing, embracing? Or was it before, long before when she took you as one of her own?

You take off your shoes and socks, your trousers and jacket and shirt. You stand at the lakeside, staring into the water again, familiar and welcoming. You can hear the band strike up, and you place a foot softly upon the lake. Only your toe breaks the surface. You can feel the water bend around it, curving and gliding and molding to its shape. And then the foot. And then the leg. And soon you are floating there, alone.

The music plays but you have no partner. Where is Jenny, lovely Jenny of pointed toes and outstretched arms? Of the green stage and the emerald kingdom?

Farther out you float, farther and farther until at last you reach the middle of the lake and there is nothing beneath your feet but an abyss which stretches out, past time, deeper than the world, a blackness which falls forever into the core of things. The music has begun to swell and still your partner is nowhere to be seen. You cannot dance alone, not tonight, not now.

And then a nibble at your toes, a gentle tug on your fingers, the soft caress of duckweed at your chest, a kiss upon your neck. Her fingers dig into you like spiders’ legs, sharp and crooked and yet so delicate. She is cold beneath the water, and you feel yourself give way.

There is a voice at your ear, “Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, you will join the dance.”

You begin to sink, and it feels right to be inside, immersed completely in Jenny at last. You are surrounded by love, and in that slowly warming darkness, you know.

You Were Jenny Greenteeth’s Once

And She Calls You Back.

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