The old woman's thin blemished skin lumped beneath her eyes and sagged to a gizzard beneath her chin. Her small eyes, set deep in two cavernous hollows, glazed gray, obscuring the once brilliant blue irises of her youth. Her ears were large and sage-like, pulled to a droop by Earth's gravitational field, and by poorly chosen earrings. Like Mildred, Alice, Beatrice, and the other Alice across the hall, she masked the droop with a helmet of sparsing white, for she was old and felt it was the proper thing to do. To the young, I suppose, she probably looked like just about everyone else in the little brick building.
Though frail and fading fast, she wasn't quite like everyone in the home, for she was awake once, living in the world like water in water. As she rocked gently before the television, which blared an English accent that spoke authoritatively of lions and their mating habits and beamed footage of a pair copulating under a Commiphora, she had a thought, one which she hadn't had for some time. That thought was of her husband, now dead, and what magnificent thing he accomplished nearly forty years ago the night she whispered to him over meatloaf and mashed potatoes, "I ... I think I would like that."
You see, they were sitting together on the couch, as they used to before the children were born and each of them began to inhabit separate worlds, watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, and a male lion—prodigiously-maned, gleaming gold in the distant sun—had just wrestled a much smaller female to the ground and rammed her mercilessly from behind until his seed was set free and her whiskered cheek, mashed up against the trunk of the tree, had begun to bleed. She couldn't believe that she'd said it and hoped her husband hadn't heard or would quietly slough it off as another of her senseless womanly remarks.
No, she never quite understood where the comment came from, for she attended church like the rest, read the Bible like the rest, knitted sweaters and baked pies the rest, and was generally held to be a shrinking presence in the company of all, even in the company of her own family. Someone or something else had said this, she concluded finally, before uttering one other thing: "I don't want to 'have relations' or 'make love' or any of that anymore. What I want is ... is to be ...." And though her nerve gave out, her husband had heard and understood the demure housewife by his side, although he said nothing at all then and merely rose and knocked the scraps of his meal in the trash and walked silently out to the shed, where he sawed wood and pounded nails and turned long screws until the sun came up. Two nights later, after the children were tucked in bed, he gently led the aproned mother of three by the hand upstairs to their connubial chambers, then thrust her up against the wall as if she were being arrested and rammed her mercilessly from behind so that picture frames fell and cracked and their youngest, Rebecca, who was sound asleep, woke and thought their little white picket-fenced house was about to be run through by a locomotive. Well, it was the first time she had ever been fucked.
Although she couldn't have said whether she felt more pleasure or pain that evening, she knew that he had accomplished a great thing, perhaps the greatest thing that he had ever accomplished, because from that moment she began to feel the wild fire of God's breath in her life, to feel his world as a consuming blaze, and to revel before the mighty forces all about that threatened to annihilate her. Although her husband never managed to replicate the act with the same beastly abandon and, being a good man, very soon wished to stop altogether—"It's plain unchristian what we're doing, Maude, and I won't have part in it any longer," he said one morning with a muffin in his right and a briefcase in his left, poised to walk out the door for work—she began to seek out the universe's rough edges and nourish an intimacy with the sacred that her people lost when they began to say that some things are good and true.
That winter, for instance, she would stride out into the quiet black woods after everyone else was asleep and traipse through the snow barefoot and nearly naked until she came to Beaver Creek, where she would wade up to her waist and stare at the white rock in the sky, then slog shivering back home, red and numb all over. In the spring, she would drive down to the flats along the reservoir after a hard rain and wade among the glassy-eyed copperheads, daring them to take have a go at her soft white flesh. And in the summer, without a drop of water or sunscreen, she would slave all day bare-shouldered beneath the raging sun pulling weeds, planting shrubs, setting fence posts, trimming trees, hauling rock and railroad timbers, even digging holes and refilling them when she'd run out of things to do. At day's end, she was burnt and bone-tired, but she wanted to know her place in the universe, to know that she was powerless before it, and that it would reclaim her one day; she wanted to acquaint herself with its ways and live the rest of her life in its teeth.
And she did, until Christmas came round again and the world began to speak too often and too loudly of benevolent gods become flesh for love of humankind—Why hominids and not other critters? she wondered then, And why, for Christ's sake, only one kind of hominid?—so that her mind got scrambled and she began to think like other people, growing afraid of things generally, and of death, fear of which she had slain only months before. One night (she still remembers it well), on the third Sunday of Advent, as she and her husband were wrapping pretty things to be placed under their tall tinseled tree, she seized him suddenly by the silver bells of his Christmas sweater and implored him to fuck her again so that she could regain her sanity and her courage. But, because he was a good man, he would not do it, and told her calmly to put her finger on the red ribbon and keep it there so he could finish tying the bow.
But this was all so long ago, when she, for a season, drove out the creeds and comforts of civilization and stalked the sting of the universe. Mostly, now, she was tired, although sometimes she was cranky, especially when the staff would inter fruit cocktail in the Jell-O or stick the remote when cleaning on a high ledge where she had trouble reaching it. But she was happy on this night, rocking rhythmically before the television, imbibing that regal English accent and the resplendent panoramas of the Serengeti, happy to have had the good fortune of stumbling onto a good thought. Probably there aren't too many in the little brick building who have had thoughts just like this one.