Will Gallien


It’s pleasant to pull a thermal blanket tightly around your head on cold February mornings. It’s better if, from your window, small glimmerings of sunlight filter through the cotton weave and twinkle around your eyes.

I want to gasp lightly beneath the blanket, to breathe and re-breathe my own air. To curl my body into a ball and tighten the blanket around my ball-body until my muscles quiver.

“Quiver, quaver,” I mutter quietly to myself. “Clack, qualify, clack.”

I stare inconsolably at the heater vent. Were it to whoosh with warm air, I’d funnel the blanket around my body parts just above its steel slats, allow the warm air molecules to circulate among my porous skin folds. Huddle the skin folds around my ever-warming cadaver perhaps, and cadaver the conquering mitochondria or something.

Cadaver’s not a verb, is it?

The mitochondria’s the powerhouse of the cell. External combustion, right?

Yesterday, my Integrated Physical Science teacher said, “Blah blah parts of a cell blah mitochondria blah blah nitrous souped Honda Fit.”

And I said, “Totally muscle Honda.”

And someone said, “Huh huh huh,” with saggy jounce-y jowls like I imagine my father must have somewhere in Montana, buried with his sad body in the sad frozen tundra of a peat bog. My natural mother suggests it’s his plot to prevent deforestation.

Natural Mother brought me to this room with its whoosh-less heater vents.

“Oh, Hun, you’ll simply love the family homestead,” she might’ve said, “Your great-grandfather used to lead grizzly hunts off the front porch, whole posse’s of riflemen, marching two by two into the grizzly woods, each one swearing, hand over heart, to return with the still-beating hearts of still-living grizzlies.”

I’ve heard the tales—they burn the grizzly hearts in the fire-hearth to kill finally the zombie grizzly king, its animated cadaver collapsing into puddles of fur and teeth while some robe-laden priest offers a benediction.

Not that anyone believes in zombie wildlife, or even that good old NM was truth-telling. I’ve mentally catalogued her blink rate and my findings deviate from the norm, thank you very much.

Until early this morning I lived in Seattle, Washington with the goodly family Durham who bought for me no fewer than seven University of Washington fleece blankets (none of which allow small glimmerings of sunlight to filter through and twinkle around my eyes).

It’s their still-beating hearts about which I’m most curious.

Their living cadavers, cadavering in the cadaver winter.

Do they park their still-beating hearts around the dining room table, the overhead chandelier swaying slightly? Mugs of strong coffee upon sandstone coasters upon the chocolate lacquered tabletop? Watery eyes locked on watery eyes. Absolute silence, an empty table between them, or unlighted candles in a brass candelabra. Perhaps an arrangement of lavender and baby’s breath in a clay vase. Mama and Papa Durham the beauts, all six eyes of computer-programming frenzy, their dot-matrix t-shirts and binary gonads, unfit for producing natural children—womb-less or sperm-less or nad-less or whatever—but with efficient brains for delivering life-lessons via TI-82.

Do they pass the TI-82 between them, password protected hand-programmed messages hidden within? Do they place each other’s hands over each other’s hearts and measure the pound pound pounding? Do they tilt their foreheads until they touch and transfer deep sorrowful emotions in five second image bursts? Tearfully mourning my disappearance, tearing and rending their sensible hiking getups?

I can only hope.

When NM picked me up in front of my school at 5:30 a.m. and packed me way back in the old orange Subaru Impreza with tales of my be-tundra’d natural father and his deeply buried jowls, she made no mention of the goodly family Durham nor their once beautiful neo-Victorian house high upon Queen Ann Hill, overlooking the semi-jagged expanse of downtown Seattle.

It’s not a house for February, which I’ve always considered a fickle month.

Hail will destroy the world some February.

Tiny robots will reprogram our televisions. Magnets will pull our lead-laden organs to our outsides and we’ll collapse into red bubbly heaps wherever we stand.

February, the month of pooled blood and brains.

February, the month of inside-out bodies and implosions.

Which is why it’s best to remain always in bed, thermal blankets or cheesecloth desperately wound round our torsos, praying our viscera remains invisible to the naked eye.

I was not expecting NM to appear before me as I toddled toward Jazz Band, clarinet case rakishly slung across my back, but there she was, hair be-frazzled, snub-nosed revolver pointed stiffly at my ribcage, my official birth certificate and her driver’s license in her free hand. I may have described her smile as slightly unhinged, but it was broad and pearly in the morning gray and not so frightening as one might expect. And, in any case, I easily detected the familial resemblance, in a thoroughly sickening way. Here, before me, was my future death.

NM’s torso may be encased in body armor. Though her history remains unknown, I suspect paramilitary training. Occasionally, while driving, under her breath, she may have uttered such words as ‘stun grenade,’ ‘surface-to-air missile,’ ‘breaching shotgun,’ or, perhaps, ‘family.’ Her arms are hard, her legs muscled, her curly hair tied down and lacquered to her head.

When she wordlessly shoved me into this room her smile was tight and hard. The snick of the locks before I heard her steps fade into the dusk light felt more loving than her touch.

I suspect NM’s not well-acquainted with the goodly family Durham, nor our Labrador, Jackson, whose sole duty is to warm my feet.

While I curl here in my body-ball, Jackson surely half-whimpers in his upstairs crate, lolling his head along the metal wire bars, eyes wide, tongue cheek-tucked and slobbery, wantonly refusing kibble, his half-breaths fluttering the warm smooth belly hairs where my bare feet normally rest. The absence of my feet sawing a hole in his heart while the goodly family Durham searches beneath beds, behind sofas, and in dark moist basement crannies, where they’re likely to find several species of spider, old Nancy Drew novels with minor editorial commentary, and a well-worn copy of The Story of O lent me by my friend Sam.

My stomach’s growl-y and tumble-y and desires above all a peanut butter sandwich but of the two doors within this room, one is locked and the other leads only to a musty linen closet, so my stomach must await the return of NM’s orange Impreza and perhaps some form of deer, fawn, or buck—not road kill, but kill kill, game, which we’ll clean and butcher, cook or dry or smoke. Convert the hide into a small blanket, perhaps, or a costume. A headdress for some deep woods ceremony with blood and campfires and marshmallows.

This, I assume, is what one does in remote backwoods shanties.

The goodly family Durham does not hunt or eat marshmallow. It shops at PCC instead. It’s fond of large piles of organic vegetables, particularly kale.

In the once beautiful neo-Victorian home of the goodly family Durham an entire cupboard is devoted to the supply of organic peanut butter for my organic peanut butter sandwiches. And always in the refrigerator some grain-encrusted loaf of Dave’s Killer Bread waits to be peanut-buttered and downed with a frothy glass of fat free organic milk, the milk contained in a reusable glass jar, of course.

Here, there’s only a sink from which I can palm water and a mirror that allows me to watch myself waste away.

My stomach had a similar growl-y, tumble-y makeup when first I met the goodly family Durham, and was shortly thereafter placed in the back seat of their cream Volvo V70. I was nine years old and dressed in an old white sun dress, so old the white had faded to a sallow gray that reminds me of flat dead park pigeons or blank computer paper overturned on a side street on a rainy September morning.

My hair was stringy and tangled and fell sloppily to my shoulders.

My old white Puma low tops were torn and wet, and within them my striped socks were also wet, and within those my toes with their salmon painted nails wiggled for warmth.

Earlier that morning I donned a ratty gray cardigan and packed what remained of my things into two small purple suitcases—a large leather-bound Webster’s New World College Dictionary; a set of My Little Pony dolls, their luxurious hair rainbowed or pink, their tiny personal hairbrushes sorted into small ziplock bags; my pink Barbie toothbrush; three red camisoles, one with a rainbow decal; eight pair of Carhart hiking socks; one set of horizontally striped leg warmers; and Grandfather’s large blue trucker’s cap, its white decoration plate emblazoned with an angled stock car, red in an airbrushed style with a large gold seven on the door, the words ‘Lucky Seven Seven’ printed beneath in cursive. I liked the feel of the cap’s netted plastic backing against my head. A plastic mesh, flexible, but silent, through which I could strain my brains into a soupy pearled mess. Far too large for my head, the cap now hangs in my bedroom in the goodly family Durham’s once beautiful neo-Victorian house, beside my cinderblock and board bookcase and beneath a poster reprint of Klimt’s Die Hoffnung II. Papa Durham bought me the print on a visit to MoMA, San Francisco after I tittered over it for a few minutes, one fine day. In the painting a topless pregnant woman wrapped in a colorful blanket stares down at her swelled belly while a skull hovers over the belly and at her feet three women pray.

Ol’ PD said something like, “Why do you always want sad things?” to which I answered, “There’s nothing sad about this. This is a happy painting. I’m so goddamned happy.”


Will Gallien writes as various people including Ofelia Hunt (Today & Tomorrow, Magic Helicopter Press 2011, my eventual bloodless coup, Bear Parade 2007). He is also a co-founder and editor at alice blue.