The Antlers

Familiars

Released June 16/17
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The Antlers

Hospice


Prologue
or, Hospice

Before diving into this, I think some background would be useful. When she was younger, she had nightmares. She had scissor-pain and phantom limbs, and things that kept her nervous through that twelve-year interim. When she fell crossing that street (south of Houston, old Manhattan-land), those nightmares fell from building tops and took her by the hand.

She was brought into those rooms with sliding curtains and shining children’s heads. One of them, that boy, was not as lucky as she then. (Years later, he would return to her at night, just when she thought she might have fallen asleep. As she would later describe to me, his face would be up against hers, and she’d be too terrified to speak.)

Now, I won’t pretend I understand, because I can’t, and know I never will. But something makes her sting, and something makes her want to kill. It made her crawl under that house, and stick her head under the stove… well, my point in all of this is that it’s all connected in these complicated nightmares that we wove.


Kettering
or, Bedside Manner

I wish that I had known in that first minute we met, the unpayable debt that I owed you. Because you’d been abused by the bone that refused you, and you hired me to make up for that. Walking in that room when you had tubes in your arms, those singing morphine alarms out of tune kept you sleeping and even, and I didn’t believe them when they called you a hurricane thunderclap.

When I was checking vitals I suggested a smile. You didn’t talk for awhile, you were freezing. You said you hated my tone, it made you feel so alone, and so you told me I ought to be leaving. But something kept me standing by that hospital bed, I should have quit, but instead I took care of you. You made me sleep and uneven, and I didn’t believe them when they told me that there was no saving you.


Sylvia
or, Sliding Curtains Shining Children’s Heads

“Please, curtains in. Start us off… You swing first. Sorry. I don’t know what I said, but you’re crying now again, and that only makes it worse. Let me do my job. Let me do my job.

“Sylvia, get your head out of the oven. Go back to screaming and cursing, remind me again how everyone betrayed you. Sylvia, get your head out of the covers. Let me take your temperature, you can throw the thermometer right back at me, if that’s what you want to do, okay?

“Please, please calm down. Steady out, I’m terrified. Sorry. I want us to ally, But you swing on little knives. They’re only sharp on one side. Let me do my job. Let me do my job.

* * *

“Sylvia, can’t you see what you are doing? Can’t you see I’m scared to speak, and I hate my voice ’cause it only makes you angry. Sylvia, I only talk when you are sleeping. That’s when I tell you everything, And I imagine that somehow you’re going to hear me…”


Atrophy
or, Rings Ill-Fitting

You’ve been living awhile in the front of my skull, making orders. You’ve been writing me rules, shrinking maps, and redrawing borders. I’ve been repeating your speeches, but the audience just doesn’t follow. Because I’m leaving out words, punctuation, and it sounds pretty hollow. I’ve been living in bed because now you tell me to sleep. I’ve been hiding my voice and my face, and you decide when I eat. In your dreams I’m a criminal, horrible, sleeping around. While you’re awake I’m impossible, constantly letting you down.

Little porcelain figurines, glass bullets you shoot at the wall. Threats of castration for crimes you imagine when I miss your call. With the bite of the teeth of that ring on my finger, I’m bound to your bedside, your eulogy singer. I’d happily take all those bullets inside you and put them inside of myself.

* * *

“Someone, oh anyone, Tell me how to stop this. She’s screaming, expiring, and I’m her only witness. I’m freezing, infected, and rigid in that room inside her. No one’s gonna come as long as I lay still in bed beside her.”


Bear
or, Children Become Their Parents Become Their Children

There’s a bear inside your stomach, a cub’s been kicking from within. He’s loud, though without vocal cords, we’ll put an end to him. We’ll make all the right appointments, no one ever has to know, and then tomorrow I’ll turn twenty-one, we’ll script another show. We’ll play charades up in the Chelsea, drink champagne (although you shouldn’t be), We’ll be blind and dumb until we fall asleep. None of our friends will come, they dodge our calls, and they have for quite awhile now. It’s not a shock, you don’t seem to mind, and I just can’t see how.

“We’re too old.”
“We’re not old at all.”
“Just too old.”
“We’re not old at all.”

There’s a bear inside your stomach, a cub’s been kicking you for weeks, and if this isn’t all a dream, well then we’ll cut him from beneath. Well we’re not scared of making caves, or finding food for him to eat. We’re terrified of one another, terrified of what that means. But we’ll make only quick decisions, and you’ll just keep me in the waiting room, and all the while I’ll know we’re fucked, and not getting un-fucked soon. When we get home we’re bigger strangers than we’ve ever been before. You sit in front of snowy television, suitcase on the floor.


Thirteen
or, Sylvia Speaks

“Pull me out… pull me out… can’t you stop this all from happening? Close the doors and keep them out.

“Dig me out… Oh, dig me out… Couldn’t you have kept this all from happening? Dig me out from under our house.”


Two
or, I Would Have Saved Her If I Could

In the middle of the night I was sleeping sitting up, when a doctor came to tell me, “Enough is enough.” He brought me out into the hall (I could have sworn it was haunted), and told me something that I didn’t know that I wanted to hear: That there was nothing that I could do save you, the choir’s gonna sing, and this thing is gonna kill you. Something in my throat made my next words shake, and something in the wires made the light bulbs break. There was glass inside my feet and raining down from the ceiling, it opened up the scars that had just finished healing. It tore apart the canyon running down your femur, (I thought that it was beautiful, it made me a believer.) And as it opened I could hear you howling from your room, but I hid out in the hall until the hurricane blew. When I reappeared and tried to give you something for the pain, you came to hating me again, and just sang your refrain:

You had a new dream, it was more like a nightmare. You were just a little kid, and they cut your hair, then they stuck you in machines, you came so close to dying. They should have listened, they thought that you were lying. Daddy was an asshole, he fucked you up, built the gears in your head, now he greases them up. And no one paid attention when you just stopped eating. “Eighty-seven pounds!” and this all bears repeating.

“Tell me when you think that we became so unhappy, wearing silver rings with nobody clapping. When we moved here together we were so disappointed, sleeping out of tune with our dreams disjointed. It killed me to see you getting always rejected, but I didn’t mind the things you threw, the phones I deflected. I didn’t mind you blaming me for your mistakes, I just held you in the doorframe through all of the earthquakes. But you packed up your clothes in that bag every night, and I would try to grab your ankles (what a pitiful sight.) But after over a year, I stopped trying to stop you from stomping out that door, coming back like you always do. Well no one’s gonna fix it for us, no one can. You say that, ‘No one’s gonna listen, and no one understands.’ So there’s no open doors, and there’s no way to get through, there’s no other witnesses, just us two.

There’s two people living in one small room, from your two half-families tearing at you, two ways to tell the story (no one worries), two silver rings on our fingers in a hurry, two people talking inside your brain, two people believing that I’m the one to blame, two different voices coming out of your mouth, while I’m too cold to care and too sick to shout.

You had a new dream, it was more like a nightmare. You were just a little kid, and they cut your hair. Then they stuck you in machines, you came so close to dying. They should have listened, they thought that you were lying. Daddy was an asshole, he fucked you up, built the gears in your head, now he greases them up. And no one paid attention when you just stopped eating. “Eighty-seven pounds!” and this all bears repeating.


Shiva
or, Portacaths Switched

Suddenly every machine stopped at once, and the monitors beeped the last time. Hundreds of thousands of hospital beds, and all of them empty but mine. Well, I was lying down with my feet in the air, completely unable to move. The bed was misshaped, and awkward and tall, and clearly intended for you.

You checked yourself out when you put me to bed, and tore that old band off your wrist. But you came back to see me for a minute or less, and left me your ring in my fist. My hair started growing, my face became yours, my femur was breaking in half. The sensation was scissors and too much to scream, so instead, I just started to laugh.

Suddenly every machine stopped at once, and the monitors beeped the last time. Hundreds of thousands of hospital beds, and all of them empty but mine.


Wake
or, Letting People In

With the door closed, shades dawn, the world shrinks. Let’s open up those blinds. But someone has to sweep the floor, pick up her dirty clothes. That job’s not mine. Now that everyone’s an enemy, my heart sinks. Let’s put away those claws. I don’t blame them for their curtain-calls because I pulled the rope. I wanna call them back out for applause.

Spring and Thompson on the first of May is horrible. We hid in catacombs. So now I’m sleeping next to mousetraps, in a bed of all our clothes, while I hope that she won’t come home. It was easier to lock the doors and kill the phones than to show my skin, because the hardest thing is never to repent for someone else, it’s letting people in.

Well you can come inside, unlock the door, take off your shoes. But this might take all night, to explain to you I would have walked out those sliding doors, but the timing never seemed right. When your helicopter came and tried to lift me out, I put its rope around my neck. And after that you didn’t bother with the airlift or the rescue – you knew just what to expect.

That with the door closed, shades drawn, we’re dead enough. They don’t open from outside. And someone has to speak with their teeth behind their tongue, to never let that right be denied. We can’t rely on photographs and visitation time, but I just don’t know where to begin. I wanna bust down the door, if you’re willing to forgive. I’ve got the keys, I’m letting people in.

Don’t be scared to speak, don’t speak with someone’s tooth, don’t bargain when you’re weak, don’t take that sharp abuse. Some patients can’t be saved, but that burden’s not on you. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you deserve that.


Epilogue
or, Sylvia Alive In Nightmares

In a nightmare, I am falling from the ceiling into bed beside you. You’re asleep, I’m screaming, shoving you to try to wake you up. And like before, you’ve got no interest in the life you live when you’re awake. Your dreams still follow story-lines, like fictions you would make.

So I lie down against your back, until we’re both back in the hospital. But now it’s not a cancer ward, we’re sleeping in the morgue. Men and women in blue and white, they are singing all around you, with heavy shovels holding earth. You’re being buried to your neck. In that hospital bed, being buried quite alive now. I’m trying to dig you out but all you want is to be buried there together.

You’re screaming, and cursing, and angry, and hurting me, and then smiling, and crying, apologizing.

I’ve woken up, I’m in our bed, but there’s no breathing body there beside me. Someone must have taken you while I was stuck asleep. But I know better as my eyes adjust. You’ve been gone for quite awhile now, and I don’t work there in the hospital (they had to let me go.)

When I try to move my arms sometimes, they weigh too much to lift. I think you buried me awake (my one and only parting gift.) But you return to me at night, just when I think I may have fallen asleep. Your face is up against mine, and I’m too terrified to speak.