“The Hanged Man” by Zac Smith

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We stipple on my scruff and tie the noose around my ankle. She kisses me deeply and we restipple my scruff. She puts on her helmet. I whip my noose around, give it a twirl.

I play the Hanged Man, and Mary is Death. She offers hard candy to children, tells the parents reassuring things. I just dangle upside down. Sometimes I sway. Hard candy would just fall out of my pockets. And I hate children. And their parents.

The kids are always afraid of meeting Death. They don’t yet know that Death isn’t too bad. In terms of the Tarot, Death is a good omen. This is why they picked Mary. Mary is a good omen. If you get too close to her, you can hear her breathing from behind the skull mask. You can smell her perfume. She smells like lavender.

My face is perpetually red. I sweat. My beard smears and runs. The children point and laugh because I’m so silly. But the parents don’t laugh at the Hanged Man. They often feel hanged. I am a bad omen. I am a bad omen for everyone.

 

♦♦♦

 

I wait for Mary in the break room. I corner her and I complain. I eye The Fool, The Magician, warning them off. Death is mine. They eat their leftovers, their bagged lunches, their frozen things reheated. I don’t bring food, I just pick at Mary’s salad. I ask her if she is going to eat her chips and she looks at me imploringly but I do not acknowledge her look. The Hanged Man needs to have a perfectly neutral stare. My stare is practiced and blank.

The Hanged Man stares down Death at all times. He knows he is destined for Death, which means that Death is destined for him. We belong together. Some interpret this as wisdom, enlightenment. They are wrong.

I take a whore’s bath in the sink. Scrub my face, dry off with paper towels, restipple my beard, wrap my chest, button my romper.

Dennis climbs up the back of the cross, ties the noose to the top. I hold on, like I am touching my toes. I lower myself down like way back when, when I did gymnastics. Tuck my left leg behind my right knee. He tugs the noose, grunts deeply, slaps the cross, says “all set, buddy.” I hang, and I don’t think about what Dennis means when he calls me “buddy.”

I breath through my nose. I think about Death, and so do the people who come through. They have just seen her, or they are looking for her. No one looks for me. The rooms shuffle and change, the hallways on interwoven, rotating disks, and they come to me by chance. Or fate, I guess.

They see me on my cross, they see my neutral stare, they see my hunger, all the things I hunger for. They see how I am stuck. I show them that they, too, are stuck. Hungry. I wish them all ill. I wish them more, worse things. I wish them all visits with The Tower. The Devil. Calamity and injustice. But not Death. Not Death.

 

♦♦♦

 

After work, I smoke while Mary brushes her horse. Death’s stallion. They both hate the smoke but I never leave the stable. I hate the smoke, too, but I justify it as well-deserved. It feels natural, blue collar, butch. The Hanged Man has long hair. He wears a romper. It’s comical.

Mary feeds the horse an apple. She is a bouquet of niceties and treats. Sweet things live in her pockets, in the folds of her skin. I stare until she gives me an apple as well. A bigger, crisper apple she knows to save for me. I eat half and throw the rest out into the field for the crows and mice. Stub out my cigarette, blow smoke at the horse.

Mary faces me, struggles with her armor, all the buckles and straps. I don’t look, I don’t make eye contact. I am The Hanged Man. I don’t make anyone happy. I only reveal how you are trapped.

My skin itches under my bindings and grease paint and tights. I want Mary to unwrap me. I want her to wash my face. I want her to walk off the job, throw the candy onto the ground, untie me from my cross. Drive me to a motel. Some city far off and unwelcoming where we are all we have.

But instead she drives us to her apartment. She talks about a trip, somewhere fun. Somewhere on the coast. I tell her I’m broke, that I hate the beach. That I love her.

I shower, using all the hot water, and when we’re in bed, she kisses me, but I don’t kiss her back, I just turn on my side and sleep.

 

Zac Smith lives in Boston, MA, where he likes to walk his dogs. His stories have appeared in Hobart, X-R-A-Y Lit, Philosophical Idiot, Soft Cartel, and other very sweet online journals. His twitter is @ZacTheLinguist

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