Rachel O'Neill

Trade Me tale

The fabulous robber and his antipodean guest

‘Procrustes, a fabulous robber
of Attica, was said to have stretched
or mutilated – cut the legs off –
his victims to conform them
to the length of his bed.’

I put the item on my watchlist
and after only a slight hesitation
pull back the sheets.

In the morning I check my mail –

Procrustes asked the guest to join him outside
to look at the trace of the moon reflected in the lake.

He said
‘reflection, at least, makes light work of our compasses –
light wears itself down
past the digits
like a nail biter, eating into the ship of the bone,
eating its weight in water.’

‘Who cares?’ the guest said, ‘let’s get drunk’.

Procrustes pointed out that they quite possibly
already were.

‘What about the day that I showed up
remember?’ the guest said,
‘the day was wiping down its surfaces,
drawing things away,
so that looking up long cloud
saw its own waist thicken with light, and
premature images floated
on a current
with metric abandonment.’

‘It was nothing of the sort’ Procrustes said,
‘you sat perched on the corner of the mattress,
at the southern tip, a fair way from the pillows in the north, you
reminded me of something soaking,

     a battle line
     that breath takes the shape of.’

‘Might I remind you,’ said the guest,
‘that you insisted
that there must be common sweat before we even get
to the point of thoughtfully
I mean, tearful and crying -

‘oh dear’, said the guest, ‘I really must be wasted.’

Procrustes went inside
turned on the kettle
the guest followed
touched Procrustes’ shoulder
who turned and said ‘I want you
to be older and wiser! I’ve been half expecting you to come at me
with your escape, a look in the eye, tearing
conjunctions from words, holding
edge to light from the bathroom, bearing
the blade of your very own, how do you say it?
Survival instinct?’

The guest reminded Procrustes that
a challenge always comes brightly, and is often shaded
by its outreach –

‘First,’ the guest said, ‘the effort of all fires
must be collected and laid out without gaps, and -’

A hush came from the guest’s throat
as disjoint began to infect basic motor skills, lips clapped, a boneless tingling,
and hands fell open,
     gob smacked. The guest’s head
was full of startled spotlights
that made fear astonish bee-sized holes in the roof.

Later the guest told authorities that there was a deep sensation
like midnight or sunburn
stored in the house.

Before the guest escaped, Procrustes sat
and talked.

‘I lay you in the bitumen’, he said,
‘that being the colour of the bedspread,
and even though you will leave I wonder,
do we ever arrive safely?

‘The wind
warming its hands
on the sheet’s leaving
as knuckles attempt shape
bolder and deeper than intent’s shadow
limp from a word
or roused as if by a saw
at the edge.

‘I let you let doesn’t it? And only then do we stretch out
on the bed, taking the ultimate measure?’

The guest woke then, and said as ominously
as possible

‘the day will come mind you,
Procrustes, when you will get up
and go to the computer
and log on the internet and scroll and scroll and
     scroll and scroll

at some point you will exclaim
my legs!

on Trade Me!
Looking a little too good in
Calvin Klein, doing a little too well for

Ten days later they will arrive by courier
in a black bag

as good as new

and you will think of keeping them
just in case you want to go to the shop
and buy milk.’

Procrustes said to the guest
‘I find that kind of thing
stressful, all that waiting
and bidding and transferring funds
and wrapping and Sellotaping
and being ranked
by strangers I’m not ever likely to invite
inside for a quiet cup of tea.’

As I select ‘Buy now’ from the menu,
I feel a strange desire take hold, a feeling that is like waking
in the middle of the night
and leaving town.

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