By Alina Yudkevich

There must have been a surge in piano thievery, and now
the pianos and pump organs are all chained to the wall,
huddled in solidarity against their captor, Ramona -
of Ramona’s Antiques N’ Things,
where I’ve returned
to stare
death in the face.

I run my hand over the peeling whites,
woodgrains that look like they were licked
and dunked in dry, red, Georgia dirt.
I hear Ramona rasp me a greeting
every word out of her mouth creeps along the air
like smoke from a crushed cigarette
She drags her yellowed fingers on the counter,
iron wool on rust. I dread
handing her my money.

The faint scent of brush fire
extinguished summers ago
hangs over the aged books
they’re the shade of shipwreck wood
hidden under desert sands, with skin 
sure to disintegrate under my touch,
and I hate very much when my touch
robs the world of old wisdoms.

Once I was 6 years old here
and I ran my fingers along
bloodstained lunch tins
from the Korean war,
haunted grandfather clocks
from lightning-struck manors,
and chalky cracked-porcelain dolls,
their sinister, uncalibrated eyes
watched me count how many dark secrets
could be hidden under such tiny petticoats.

My mom slapped my hand away
knowing I was six, and therefore had
an inferior understanding of microbiology.
She told me that all the treasures before me
came from one big house – as I suspected.
“Everybody in that house had small pox,”
she said, inspecting a framed cross-stitch cat
“And you’ll get it too, if you keep touching.”

Remembering this,
I note
that some of these books
appear to be ill. Suddenly,
I want to be the clergyman
at an old book’s deathbed.
to be pulled closer by his frail pages
tickled by their slow, yellow flutter,
to say, “Yes, my child?” and inhale
the letters spiraling off his pages
as he gives one last mighty stretch
ripping his spine, liberating pages
to spin and ebb with fan-blown air,
and finally out the window,
free of meaning at last.

I’d feel my new letters dance,
like little spiders on my bones,
and learn to slap my forearm
as though to kill a mosquito,
when the words that formed
under my skin - were misspelled.

bottoms of S’s would join tops of N’s,
making me shiver with oooh’s
V’s flip over, halves of I’s in hand –
the ahhh’s – first, the visceral noises
of overdue consonant combination,
vowels writhe, indecent.
Time and place!” I’d say,
knowing they lack the letters
to craft a catty response

disenchanting books must have
been banished to this very shelf.
shoved between ripped-spine, tea-stain strangers,
whose spurned sentences peel off their pages
like sunburnt skin - chapter headings wiggle out
like the last baby tooth - faded illustrations
smearing like henna caught in a monsoon -

or so I’d imagine. heeding the warning
and leaving dying books unopened, I just-

stopped touching.  An era of no splinters,
and a debilitating phobia of ancient microbes.

And here I am.

“You don’t know where that’s been, baby,”
creaks Ramona.

“Time and place” spells my kneecap
 and I pull my face out of the 1953 Reader’s Digest

- - -
Alina Yudkevich is a 17th grader at the University of Georgia, studying English and Film Studies and working part-time at a particle accelerator lab. She enjoys pugs, video editing, running, b-horror, and exploring the unknown via Google street view.

Help keep Smashed Cat alive! Visit our sponsors! :)

- - -

Older Weirdness