FICTION: Good Paper by Joanna Koch

Unencumbered by obscene wealth, Warynne carved out a sun spot in a city that screamed with artificial light. Under the incorrect blink of wrong colors crowding an alley, in the three a.m. silence that outlasted loud pairings, on the snow-crushed trash of a spring-thawed slope abreast a highway intersection, Warynne grew a thick, long taproot into the willing flesh of the earth. In sun, in bliss, in silence, they were alone.

Then the hawkers came.

Warynne held as still as a tree trunk, with hair like leaves that rustled in tangled gusts. No eye contact. Warynne knew better. Hawkers fed on that. One glance and they strewed their glossy pamphlets the way fish fertilize their eggs.

“Jesus loves you,” they said. “Have you accepted him into your heart as your personal lord and savior?”

Warynne held fast in the taproot, in the place of expulsion. Warynne knew names like Jesus, Sampson, and David, knew faces like familiar siblings from the picture book at the top of the stairs. Cramped under the attic, behind stair rails like jail bars, behind siblings like hawkers, Warynne held fast in the taproot when Sampson was betrayed.

Two pillars flanked him. Caught in the act of crumbling, toppled from the force of the hero’s hands, the temple cracked. Sampson pushed the pillars apart in disgrace, his crowning glory shorn. Curls cut away by his lover snaked across the splitting floor. Sampson’s eyes rolled back in his head, undulating globes of pain gone white. His flesh, as rendered by the artist, appeared both frail and muscular at once. Modeled pink and grey skin stretched across his strained bulk in contrast with the sharp stone of the temple. Stripped, Sampson’s loincloth lilted with a taunt. Hip bones promised terror and elegance in the folds of the sparse garment.

Strong and weak, Sampson brought the temple down.

Warynne sat cross-legged at the top of the stairs with the book touching knees, hands, thighs: trembling. Mother said the bible was holy. Hers dwelled in her bedroom, tattered by triangles marking corners and leeching a smell from its leather binding like animal musk. Transparent tissue pages crackled like the potato chip bags hidden under her blankets.

Sampson in Warynne’s lap was heavy and worth holding. Fearful at the touch of something holy, too young to read, Warynne caressed the multilayered lithographs on textured stock. Warynne sensed the story in Sampson’s struggle between the pillars, in lolling eyes and parted lips, a navel like a gouged eye healed over, a dent in the flesh the size of a fingertip. The drape below Sampson’s navel pointed at the mystery in loincloth. Under the book, another mystery Warynne was wary to touch. Linen binding left the pattern of a fine weave on Warren’s knees.

Good paper, heavy cardstock, acid-free rag, clean and un-foxed is what Warynne wants. A book worth holding, more weight than words. The picture bible is lost, stolen from some squat house or park bench. Warynne unwilling surrendered sanctity for survival. Forced to read, Warynne learned from mother’s bible, reading and touching tissue pages while mother snuck potato chips from underneath her blankets. Warynne’s words were a biblical script, imposed. Mother’s bible rubbed its wrinkled leather on Warynne’s hands like an old skin, a dry, ragged, hungry skin. Read to me, Warynne, and Warynne did, until one day reading and touching leeched the last living word from Warynne’s tongue. Warynne stopped.

Mother came at Warynne from under the blankets. Potato chips and pillows blasted out. Warynne hurled the skin-covered, tissue-ridden bible at her bulk.

At the top of the stairs under the attic, Warynne raised the heavy picture bible high. Inside, Sampson whimpered, the bad commercial rendering grown small. Mother came after his magic, came after Warynne, demanding and needing, a talking mouth intent on owning.

Suede skin like soft leather wrinkled around the mouth, pleading. Sampson’s body hid the terror of the gesticulating mob behind him. Hair like snakes, snakes like cracks, cracks like fissures in the temple, shorn. Warynne ran out, mother’s head uncracked, her final call a hysterical warning: The lord has sealed my name inside your heart! You’ll be back!

Wanting, expecting, Warynne felt mother’s weight until her death and sometimes after. Mother was gone, Sampson was gone, and the picture bible unbloodied burdened Warynne’s backpack through seasons of snow and sweat. Warynne wanted the burden, wanted the weight.

The book is gone, stolen from some squat house or park bench. Sampson dwells in Warynne, in the taproot, in the intersection of snow-crushed ground abreast the highway, in the obscene angle of a slope faster than the slashing traffic. So fast there’s not a witness. The hawkers are unhawked.

Sampson roars in grief and pushes the pillars with bony, broad-veined hands. Shorn hair wags like cracks in the pavement. Mobs spatter and unweave their integrity in the hum of traffic. Cheap glossy pamphlets flutter across eight lanes like failed fledglings. Sampson leaves the page with an agonized cry. Freed from battle, the pillars, the horns, the highway stops.

When it’s dark, Warynne walks in the sun. When mother lies, Warynne’s warmed. A head like Sampson’s is shorn free in the crash.

The book rolls into Warynne’s arms, still warm and blinking. Legs crossed, solid reliable paper stock rubbing thighs, Warynne holds the image as the eyes turn white. Imposter, cradled in Warynne’s lap, palms, ecstatic fingertips, lights in hues of blue and red flash from the abscess of the highway underpass. All traffic has stopped. Warynne holds the imposter and enters the illustration. Sampson’s stare is interrupted by a lascivious crevice of glue and thread that puckers between pages. Sirens rise as glue seeps from the torn skin in the blank page. Warynne smells the clean smell of good paper, the wet smell of fresh binding. Between forefinger and thumb, between siren and silence, Warynne’s finger snakes through the soft wound in the skin and turns the page.

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Author Joanna Koch

Joanna Koch writes literary horror and surrealist trash. Her short stories have been published in journals and anthologies including New Millennium Writings and Doorbells at Dusk. Joanna is a Contemplative Psychotherapy graduate of Naropa University who lives and works near Detroit. Look for new stories by Joanna soon in Sanitarium, Synth, and anthologies from Corpus Press and Carrion Blue 555. Follow her monstrous musings at horrorsong.blog.

If you enjoyed ‘Good Paper leave a comment and let Joanna know.

Find and follow Joanna at:

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amazon.com/Joanna-Koch

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