Sometimes in my dreams I am blessed with the true-length arms of a man, and I am proud of my arms, and sun shines upon them. I’m also usually younger. My face is taut, my teeth well lined, my hair is black as ever it was, and there is fidget in my step, because I am youth with potential. There is no ache in my hips. No murders replay in imagination.
When I’m awake I catch a smell, and there’s a throat slit in mental vision. A gut split. My blade through a spine. The first kill was in self-defense. A young friend of Welder’s taunted me toward duel. He gaped at my arms. Hollered guttural things. Kicked dirt in my face. Drew his sword.
“You’re hideous,” he said “And now I’ll disappear you.”
I might have had my sword two years then. I had taken it into a thicket of mesquite in the park near the river, and I had practiced chipping at branches, slashing low limbs free from the trees, but I had never had anything come at me in turn. My father used to work with Welder on how a sword should be held, on how an enemy should be approached. They had names for the moves they made. One thing was called an appel. It wasn’t a move with a sword. They’d mash a foot on the ground to distract their opponents. In theory the opponents would hear the noise and their attention would draw away from the next move, and then they might lunge, holding their swords out and level with their shoulders, just shy of arm fully extended, and take a wide stride at their opponent, essentially stepping into a stab.
So much of how they fought was with their legs, but I didn’t care for their style. You have to stay loose on your feet, in my opinion. Less postured. Ready to move in all directions. There was so much rigidity in their methods. Or, maybe I’m lazy. I didn’t want to take the time to learn. I think, for a while, I just assumed that only the proud cared to get good at it. I was so angry at my arms and the world, my father, brother, and mother, that I sort of hoped to be bad. Perhaps someone would take offense at me and make me nothing—a sack of skin with bones and blood in it, less blood than needed, and no air in its lungs. But, somehow, I thrived. And when Welder’s friend drew his sword and stood stern postured with his blade at me and his face smart with rage, I heard his foot mash the floor, drew my short sword, stepped back, brushed his blade aside as he lunged, and drove my sword twice into his face. It split open in both spots, and blood covered his white skin in gushes, blood near black, and his eyes widened as he dropped to his knees, grabbed his face and began flailing. I hadn’t thought of them while it happened, but he had friends with him. I can’t remember how many, but they looked scared of me when they saw I’d bested their friend, and they didn’t know if they could go to him, to hold him as he bled out, but when I sheathed my sword, he fell face down, and one of them picked him up, turned him over, and laid him on his lap, telling him lies as he died. I think the boy was seventeen. He’s probably my favorite kill.
But in my dreams those moments often cease to be. There is music gently somewhere. Perhaps there is a party. It’s for me, and there is cake. Light, soft as lullabies, bleeds in from a window. Balloons hover. Candles are lit. People sing my name. I hold my arms above me. There is a ceiling, but my hands are far from it. There’s my mother, but her breath is just plain sweet, not Sweet- Jane sweet, and she holds me to her. Maybe she says, “You make your mother and father proud,” and maybe my father says, “You’re my favorite son,” and Welder says, “I wish I looked as much like Dad as you do,” and then perhaps Edie, the young Edie, the Edie of the first time ever I saw her, dances toward me shyly with her hands held behind her. “I brought you a present,” she tells me, “I picked it out special.” And she produces a small box, wrapped in paper with a bow, “I’ll open it later,” I tell her, “Right now we should dance.” And then the rest of them will disappear, the way dreamt things often do, and we’d be in a small space all our own, nobody in sight of us, and we’d hold each other and move with a music that would speak to our souls, and in unison, and with grace. We’d be together.