Eddy needed so much of everything. So much air for all their lungs. So much water, and even though not all their mouths wanted food, the ones that did needed so much. And no wonder. They had to keep all those legs moving. And just think of the shoes. A whole department store full of clothes, and so much time to make them fit their body, to sew new holes and close old ones. So much time to keep their body clean. So many haircuts, Mom sweeping the fallen locks into corn-colored mounds on the kitchen floor. Think of all the blood their body needed just to keep them going, how much ran through their veins. The same blood as mine, only so much more. Think of the room they needed. The house grew right along with them. They needed so much air, water, space, time, love.
* * *
When Eddy was born they were already budding, and we thought it was a birth defect or some genetic disease. Something rare, but understood. Maybe there was a cure, or it would go away, or there were others like Eddy that we might meet and share our lives with, the troubles and the funny little things they did. We didn’t know Eddy would keep on budding, more and more added to the first like beads to a string until they were a hundred feet long by eight years old: a necklace for the hills they played on back then. We have a lot of land and they could hide there, in the hills or cornfields or by the marsh, in the cattails where the red-winged blackbirds sang.
Pretty soon we knew there was nothing like Eddy in the world. Mom told them that once, when they were little and I was too, only not a baby, old enough to remember. “There’s nothing like you in the whole wide world,” and she smiled. She loved them just as much as she loved me, if not a little more. Dad, too, in his own way. Men have a harder time when their kids don’t turn out like them, but he loved us. One time, when people came to the door wanting to make a movie about Eddy, Dad drove them off and that was that. He scared them good.
And Eddy loved us back, but I think they loved the cornfields most of all. The fields and the birds that flew above them: starlings, sparrows, crows, and Canada geese. You could hear Eddy from the house, their many hands and feet making crunchy rustling noises in the cornfield that seemed to stretch as far as you could see when you were young. When the farmers made a maze of it in autumn, Eddy went there at night, and I would look out my bedroom window on the second floor of the house and see, once in a while, a pale shape weaving its way through the corn stalks. It was Eddy, naked at last, running round and round the maze, almost tying themself in a knot until they came to meet—one end to the other—in the center. They solved the maze that way and thought it was so funny. I can still hear them laughing. All the mouths that could, laughing.
* * *
It was a warm autumn twenty years ago that Eddy came back home one day when they were supposed to be somewhere else, I don’t know where, and curled up on the floor of their old bedroom, which had long ago gone to dust and cobwebs and those big plastic bins we keep all our old stuff in. I was lying on the couch, just resting, feeling pretty good about life, and listening to little clicks behind me that were ladybugs flitting around the lamp, their hard wing casings striking the plastic lampshade. They were taking over the house, more every day, because it was so warm and the neighbors released a bunch, bought on the computer and shipped from somewhere else, to protect their plants. I was bitten by a mosquito on the 26th of October that year. Isn’t that something? I was feeling really wonderful that evening, like I did when I was a teenager. Kind of invincible and alive. What is it about a warm October that makes you feel young again?
But then Eddy came in the house like that, all silent and still, like they were possessed.
“Eddy?” I said and repeated, but they went right up the stairs and into their old bedroom.
They were crying, the kind of crying that makes you bob up and down a little bit. Sobbing, I guess you’d call it. I sat down next to them and took one of their hands in mine.
“What happened, Eddy?”
So many tears, and not even all their eyes could cry. Their tears gathered in the center of the floor where the boards sagged a bit. A ladybug got caught in the stream and floated away.
“Did someone hurt you?” Was that a nod, or maybe their heads were just shaking from the sobs. “I hope you’re not upset about a name or somethin’.” We got over that real early on.
They picked grass and weeds from their shoes, out of the creases and the places they were falling apart. They had tracked mud all across the carpet.
“Where’ve you been?” I said. “So help me if somebody hurt you.”
Eddy looked out the window then, all the heads made for looking, and there was something strange in that row of watery eyes. Something raw and wild and haunted. They couldn’t put it into words, what they had seen or heard or had done to them or done themself. So I just sat with them a while until I had to help Mom out of the bath.
“I’ll be right back,” I said. “Okay?”
When I came back, they were sleeping, all in a pile like usual, one head on the next shoulder in line.
* * *
What did Eddy see that day in this wide old country? I’ve seen enough things to scare a ghost in these cornfields and barnyards. There are strange people out here and farther south too, “the south of the north” they call it, I guess because the people are set in their ways and don’t like people that aren’t like them, like blacks and gays and people who don’t believe in God. I’ve seen them out here, the Goddess types. They used the foundation of an old silo for their festivals and feasts. Part of the ventilation system—a way to cool down the silo when it got too hot—was overgrown with weeds and made a big green V in the concrete, which I guess looked like magic to their wondering eyes. In the spring, flowers bloomed there.
But what Eddy saw was something else. I went out the next few days and wandered the fields and trespassed quite a bit. I found an old dog house on stilts in the woods, raccoon shit everywhere, and somebody’s lost rototiller getting buried in leaves, about to be lost for good. That was by the old crick that trickled behind the hills behind our house, but there was nothing there that could have haunted a man.
Then again, Eddy’s not really a man, are they?
Eddy has more brains than anyone else. Really. I once heard that if you unravel a man’s brains it would stretch the length of a football field. Just imagine how far Eddy’s goes. They had a memory like you wouldn’t believe, and maybe what they say about us only using a tiny part of our brain is true. And maybe Eddy could use all of it, or at least more than us, so they could see something in the fields and ditches that I couldn’t.
Whatever it was, it made Eddy quiet and still. They stared a lot, out the window or into the sink. I thought they would be like that forever, but then they changed after a few days. They were suddenly giddy and talkative and animated. They were bouncing with nervous energy like I’d never seen.
“Do you ever think about having kids?” Eddy asked me about a week later. They were moving back home because the landlady that let them rent went to rehab, and someone else was taking over. And this new guy didn’t make exceptions.
“Nah,” I said, and chuckled and wondered. Now why did I lie about that?
“I do,” Eddy said.
Maybe because they had been strange lately. “You do? Well. I mean. Can you even?”
They were good at moving because they could be inside and out at the same time and hand boxes down the length of their body, and then I’d place them inside where we wanted them. And Eddy had a lot of stuff, most of it practical, like clothes and toothbrushes and toilet paper.
“I don’t know,” they said. “But you really never think about it?”
Eddy knew I was lying. They’re bright like that, with all those brains. They sense what’s hiding. “Yeah, all right. I have. But I don’t think I will.” I looked around for Mom. “Can I tell you something?”
“Don’t tell Mom.” They smiled. “Okay, well. I don’t think I like girls.”
Eddy went quiet and scratched an itch on one of the smaller buds, one of the armless ones. Maybe it was for digestion or something. After a minute, they spoke up. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
They weren’t angry, maybe just disappointed. “I dunno. I was planning to. Things just kept coming up.”
I laughed. “Okay, okay. Truth is I just found out myself.”
“Couple weeks ago.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah. A little confused. But kinda excited too, you know? I mean, it’s a new me.”
“I tried it once,” they said. They grinned and blushed, and I giggled. “With myself.”
“I can see why you might want to be.”
We had a good laugh and Eddy dropped a box and something broke, which made us laugh a little more.
“So, Eddy, do you think you can have kids?”
“I don’t know. It should be possible, right? Unless.”
Unless Eddy’s a defect, which we had been over already, enough times for them to know better.
“Of course it’s possible. It’s just a matter of trying. I mean, you have all the parts.” I chuckled, and we both went silent because we were wondering the same thing: would they be like Eddy? I broke the silence. “You’re a new kind of person, Eddy, so we just have to find out how it happens by ourselves.”
“I’m not sure I want you to help.”
That was a joke too, and Eddy seemed to be back to normal. We moved them home, and Mom was happy. Sometimes I think she thought they never left, but maybe that was just an old wish rising up inside her. They seemed happy and we had a lot of talks like we used to, over tea or a little whiskey, which they liked more than I do. They never got drunk though. I don’t think it was possible. Too much blood.
So everything was normal, except that every evening around dinner, about 5:30, which was when it was getting dark after Daylight Savings Time ended, they would go all still and silent again, and I would wonder. What ghosts did they dig up out there?
* * *
And then Eddy got sick. It started with sore throats, which went away, and thank God because Mom and I couldn’t sleep with all the coughing. But then they were pissing blood a few weeks later. They were curious, but I was scared. It could have been cancer. I came into the bathroom and they were staring at it in a plastic cup. It looked like pink lemonade.
“I’m urinating blood.”
“Is it coming from . . . all of your . . . ?”
“Just the penises.”
We had to find a doctor who would let them in the office, and that took almost a month. It was another three weeks before they could go in, and then the doctors did all the tests on every bud on his body. There were ultrasounds and CAT scans and then the worst of all: some kind of scope that slid right inside his penises. I saw the thing beforehand. A black tube with a light at the end like some kind of evil cyclops snake. It was so thick I thought it would split them right open. I wanted to help them through it, but I had to leave or I would’ve fainted.
I think Eddy took it pretty well. They found it interesting. Or they’d distract themself with books. They had such good focus that they could read a book and hardly notice getting pricked with needles and scopes. They could read more than one book at a time, and they read about all kinds of things, all sorts of books checked out of the library: literature, philosophy, and a lot of books about animals, some we had around here, like birds, and some we didn’t, like jellyfish and stuff.
The doctors charged us for each one. When it would have helped Eddy to be many, they were one, and when it would have helped them to be one, they were many. We got bills forever, and we sent away all our savings and some of Mom’s. That made Eddy cry the most, I think, using Mom’s money.
But Mom, when she was thinking clearly in the early morning, would just hold what she could of Eddy and hum and tell them it was okay. “It’s okay, my little mullein. It’s okay. You don’t have anything to worry about today.” She’d say that over and over until they were calm or fell asleep.
What really got me was that the doctors never found what made Eddy pee blood. I got so mad I made some nasty phone calls. I was so mad I just went outside one night and screamed at the top of my lungs because I didn’t know what else to do. That scared Eddy, and me.
* * *
That was when Eddy had to get a job. Growing up, they sometimes did odd jobs around the farms, repairs and stuff. There was no danger for them going up high, into silos and on roofs. They couldn’t fall and hurt themselves, so everyone appreciated it. But that wasn’t enough anymore because they wanted to earn back Mom’s savings.
So they got the only job they could, and it took us months to find it.
They would come home crying.
Eddy’s bosses didn’t want them working with anyone else because of health code violations and safety regulations. Really, they didn’t want any of the bigwigs to see them, the big ugly bug monster. Those bastards put them in a warehouse, cold in the winter and hot in the summer, and made them work and work. They were an assembly line all by themself. They did more work than anybody and got treated like vermin. And we had to fight to let Eddy keep the job, even though they didn’t really want it and only needed it. The bosses said it was unsanitary and unsafe and they were unfit and unseemly, and we had to fight and fight for something so small and stupid and backbreaking that I wanted to scream and that was the only time I ever heard Eddy roar: all those mouths torn open with rage and pain and a sound as big as the sky. Everyone around went white as a ghost, myself included.
But it didn’t matter. Nothing got better. Those people weren’t doing us a favor like they said, those old white men with their greasy hair and greasy smiles. They were shit and they treated Eddy like vermin and so that’s what they became. Eddy fell through the cracks and had to live there, in the dirt, like the bug they said they were.
* * *
I did some bad things. I guess maybe we all do, but at the time I wasn’t thinking about that. One night I walked out under the stars and wandered down to the crick, and everything seemed hopeless, and me the worst part of it. With all that purity around me—the constellations, the walnut and dogwood trees, the smell of bruised fallen leaves—I was the dirt. The speck of filth, powerless and stupid and angry.
No one tells you that you’re always growing up, even when you’re in your twenties. No one tells you it’s a time of wandering for those of us who don’t settle down, make a home, have a baby. We tried to live the life normal people live. Eddy tried so hard, but it wasn’t for them and now they were falling apart and so was I.
What had happened?
I fell into a pile of leaves near the bank and looked at the stars and realized I hadn’t done that since I was a kid, maybe ten years old. Eddy would go out with half their shoes untied and shuffle through all the leaves we didn’t rake up yet even though Dad told us to. Eddy made such a noise moving through the leaves and they’d trip on some root they didn’t see and that part of their body would fall down and they’d just let it all fall into the leaves. They could make a pile of leaves just by making a circle of their body and pulling it tight, slowly, like drawing a knot together. In the middle, there’d be a mountain of leaves and I’d jump in. And I’d sit in the leaves and take up their smell and not care that there was water soaking into my pants, a little bit of rain not soaked up by the earth or dried by the sun because it was hidden in the leaves. And was that a whiff of pumpkin rind and pumpkin guts? Mom would be carving a big king pumpkin and Eddy’d be carving too, a few at once, and they’d all come out the same, but slightly different: a woodpecker pecking and then moving from one pumpkin to another like a flipbook, flying away. They loved woodpeckers and birds of all kinds, maybe because flying is the one thing they would never ever do. I like to remember Eddy that way: coming into the house when the sun started to go down, dusty orange leaves stuck to their trailing shoelaces and Mom yelling about the mess.
That night when I got back to the house I wandered in and sort of stood there for a while, not saying anything. Then I went up to my room, the bedroom I’d had since I was a baby, and cried. I cried so hard Eddy heard and came and gave me one of their big hugs. They wrapped me up in their flesh, and yeah, I felt better, but not really because I could smell whiskey on their breath and see how long and sad their eyes had become.
“What happened?” they asked.
I didn’t have any words for it then. But now I can say that I felt something break inside me and I wanted to hide. I wanted to hide myself. I wanted to crawl into myself, hide in flesh, back in a womb. What had happened to that feeling of being so alive? Someone once told me that being a kid is all about being aware of the unknown. And that when we grow up and see how everything works and how a lot of it is broken and shitty, the thing that makes us a child disappears. That the creeping feeling you get as a child, that there’s something knowing and invisible watching you when you wander back to the crick and watch the sun glint on the minnows’ backs, is mystery. The great unknown.
And it was gone, gone for me and gone for Eddy, who never watched the birds anymore.
* * *
But, like it always is, the morning after I felt silly for all the sobbing and had a nice breakfast and wandered outside and played with the roosters we kept around. We had two, and they strutted around crowing and looking pretty. Their feathers were the boldest orange I’d ever seen. They reminded me of those boys you see at the bar, the ones who know they’re young and shiny and beautiful and won’t let you forget that they know it. They’ll kick you if you don’t pay them enough attention. They made me laugh, how silly they were.
I spent that day working around the yard, trying to keep myself busy so I wouldn’t go back to the dark crick and the reflections in my head. It worked, and by suppertime I was tired and hungry and my mind was clear. I went inside and Mom was cooking. She could still do that, thank God. I can’t even make mashed potatoes right.
“I hope you like rosemary,” she said and beat a tube of croissant dough on the edge of the counter.
“Sure. Hey, where’s Eddy?”
“Ah!” She always yelped when the tube finally broke open with a pop. “I dunno. I haven’t seen them.”
There was a roar then, distant but enormous. The start of some great engine. “What’s that?”
She shaped the dough into crescents on a baking sheet. “Hm? Must be taking down the corn finally. They’re late this year.” She looked out the window, ball of dough sliding from her hand, caught in a memory.
“Wait. Mom. The maze?”
“Shit,” and I took off.
I cut my ankle on something, a cinder block or fence post or bit of wire, all the shit that piles up in the backyards out here. The front of the harvester looked like a big electric shaver trimming the beard of the earth. The headlights lit up a storm of dust, and the driver couldn’t see me or hear me, and he probably wouldn’t have stopped anyway, so I just went off and searched and called their name over and over and over. Eddy, Eddy, Eddy. I screamed, trying to reach my voice above the roar of the engine. Eddy, please don’t do this. But there was no answer except the call of a hawk far above, chased by two crows. Eddy wasn’t there. I found their corn-husk and stalk house and I knew Eddy had been there by what they left inside. But they weren’t there anymore. I missed them by a moment or two.
Eddy was gone.
* * *
I never found them. I searched the next morning in the light, as soon as the sun rose, and there was nothing. No one had seen them, and you can bet I asked everyone in the county. There was no track or trail leading away. No body. Nothing. I used to sit in the trailer we used to take Eddy around town in and jump at every chipmunk and squirrel sound. After a while, I didn’t even know what I was looking for anymore. You can hide so much out here, in the deep country.
I haven’t heard from Eddy, but every year I carve a woodpecker in a pumpkin and hope they’ll see it aflame on the porch from wherever they’re watching. Because that’s what it feels like sometimes. I can feel one big row of eyes on me when I walk through the fields and the flowers that gave them their nickname, or near the pond, pushing through the cattails.
Mom’s gone now. I think it got to her that she gave birth to something so strange, even if she found a way to love them. It ground her down. Maybe it was too much that she never got to hold Eddy much, that they outgrew the breadth of her arms so quickly. She might be gone and I miss her, but the house is still plenty busy. We’re cleaning out the garden and getting ready for Halloween. I heard on the radio that it’ll be a cold one, so we’ll have to dress warm. They still don’t know what they want their costume to be. Maybe a ghost, they said. A zombie, or maybe a caterpillar.
Kyle E. Miller lives near the places he writes about with his beloved and their cat, Smoky. His story “Restless Up North Nights” appeared in issue 6 of Betwixt.