excerpt from I LICK EVERYTHING AT TARGET: A NOVEL IN PROGRESS
"Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew."
- Christina Rosetti's Goblin Market
Somebody’s abandoned an official-looking, red-red steel cart (not a shopping cart, an industrial cart, a cart). Left it up against a wall of Poland Spring, loaded with tubs, Rubbermaid tubs. Somebody probably in a red shirt did this and the tubs, the tubs are probably from Target’s own stock. How wonderful to work at Target, any supplies you run out of, they’re right there, staples, correction tape, minitrash bags, microwave popcorn, drain cleaner, amen! This baby is Christmased over with looping poufs of clear plastic sheeting like somebody just tore down their anthrax bunker. The stuff drips like saliva from a gaping cardboard box perched shitty and trashy on top of one of the neat green Rubbermaid lids. It’s all mine, this fat goose, this red and slime and green Christmas feast.
Do you find it hard to keep it up, this lust? No, my tongue’s what’s hard, it’s the implement of my mindfulness practice, I’m firming it up to a tiny nodule, like a fine-point felt-tip to trace each of the letters and backslashes on the red cart’s safety sticker: first in green, PUSH//EPUJE, then, in red: Don’t pull!// !No Jale! My tongue tracks precisely up and down the exclamation points like a set of escalators. When I get up to where the hands grip, my teeth, just the lower ones, crash slowly over the cart handle’s steel lip and slowly, slowly I intensify my biting grip.
Planting my feet and activating my core, I wobble the cart on its wheels using only the muscles of jaw and neck. The Rubbermaid bins tremble, and I hold myself back, stretching my arms out like a tightrope walker’s as I push this beast of burden with just my tongue’s fine point. I concentrate, don’t even contemplate the contents of the snap-topped bins, just focus on teleglossia, halfway to telekinesis, trying to move this red monster with my mouth. I brace one hand on the yielding, wrinkly-wrapped flats of Poland Spring as I might a mossy rock wall in a misty mountain pass and hear, before I feel, the wheels begin to turn.
A TRISCUIT/A TASKET
Grandmother carries a red plastic basket like this one, swings it emptily past rows of pink, Styrofoam-bedded meats. Nestled beneath glistening coverlets, clear plastic strung over them like a crone’s salivary web, the predigested muscle sleeps like virtue does in the forest, and Grandmother’s on the red-bordered path, swinging her red basket; only I don’t mean Grandmother, do I? I mean her granddaughter, Riding Hood, because I am the wolf, and with this little, red basket I am voracious.
Gray plastic flaphandle clenched between my teeth, I flail and make a clatter, shake it like an empty feedbag so its hinged clacking and plastic slapping become my feral yowl for bloody sustenance in Target.
Wolf prey is killed by gouging holes in the soft perineum. The amount of blood lost here astonishes. I leave marks in the basket handle and shake my head and its basket and when a redshirt comes to ask me if I need help finding something I smile without loosening my grip, though spit begins to drip from the corners of my mouth. Wolves can eat up to twenty percent of their body weight at a time. The redshirt moves his hand as if to touch my back but doesn’t dare, moving forward toward the meat sleeper. Yes, we have One Thousand Percent Grass-Fed Beef, he says, it’s from Hundred Hills Cattle Co., do you need anything else? Basket dangling, I study the gleam on the meat in the fluorescing moonlight and pee a little, shine the floor, clair de lune, a fountain sobbing in ecstasy, and fit each of my fingers in the basket’s many red holes.
I release the handle, let it flop; the basket floats above my hands, every finger in a hole, red circles vibrating against my penetrating balancing. My fingers look guillotine-ready; at one stroke, they would fill the basket with heaped meat. (Hold one by the ketchuped nail, wrap the skin with your lips and suck out the muscle like a prawn’s brains.) I bend down and meet Riding Hood’s plastic smile with my own, greet the molded-plastic basket’s oblong cutout (shaped like a line sustained between parentheses) with my own muscular vacant parentheses.
I stick my tongue through, French wiggle against nothing, I should stock up, if want to be kissed, if that’s what I want, if that’s what all this is about. Beneath the lunar lights I tongue the red, molded plastic, angling the basket so my fingers strain against its weight and I test the seamed sharpness of the holes until--at last--ruby rings gleam bridal on the joints of my fingers, at the places where claw meets paw.
It’s a jawbreaker, for sure, the cherry bull’s-eye bollard, perched between walkway and parking lot, warmly welcoming shoppers, redly forbidding drivers. Bedded in treaded gray snow, streaked with road salt, it’s an Everest, an aim, and covered with tiny, tender pockmarks. I wrap my body around it and, using my legs as a lever, push with my chest. Round as it is, it doesn’t roll; it doesn’t tremble. Its pressure against my chest is like a second heart, a crowding force at my sternum. I rest my cheek against it and taste its red, salty hardness. I lick quickly, efficiently, craning over the ball’s side, hips slipping over the crest, and begin to fall face-first.
I catch myself on my teeth. Teeth scraping cold concrete—a sensation peculiar to the jungle gym accidents of my childhood—initiates déjà vu. I know again, as I have known before, the bend of teeth in the red gums , the rush of blood and saliva, the grinding tones of enamel against poured rock. I am a child again. Feet kicking, face lodged between bulls-eye and snow-crust, I let Target support me completely, umbilically. I am on the tip of its red tongue, the name it dare not say, and the cold ball numbs my mouth. I let my hands dangle so my fingertips graze the gray snowscum, all the filth and oil and rubber from all the roads, dragged, arterially, here on the bottoms of shoes of men and women and children, brought here, filthy, dead, dark, ready to be redly re-oxygenated. I try to make it all feel meaningful, but finally, it doesn’t; or maybe the meaning lies in my eagerness to get up off the cold ball and go inside where the lights are bright and blue Icees churn.
Emily Anderson’s writing has appeared in a variety of publications including Harper’s, Conjunctions, Fence, and The Kenyon Review. Her first book, Little:Novels, is forthcoming from Blaze Vox Books. Work from an ongoing collaboration with photo-video based artist Jen Morris has been screened in Vermont, Philadelphia, and Spain. She is currently a PhD candidate in English at the University at Buffalo.