There has not been, never will be. In A Christmas Story, Ralphie remarks that Schwartz creates a slight breech of etiquette by skipping the triple dare and going straight to the triple dog dare. I triple dog dare anyone to find writing more beautiful than this. But because it is by the evil Fleming (translation: the mega-genius who writes on everything and produces so much and creates so many thousands of disparate works of art as if it were easier for him than breathing is for us with our MFAs, our lifeless, meaningless prose, and our connections), these people are going to do everything they can to make sure that no one gets to read this story, "Orange Needles," which is a masterpiece to end all masterpieces, while putting out the garbage by their people. How can I say that? I can say that all the livelong day, because I can do this, and anyone with eyes can see it for what it is. You can hate me, you can hate read this, but you cannot read this--unless you are are uniquely broken inside--and think, "eh, it's really not that good at all."
One does not expect to find green pine needles on the ground, unless you have put them there yourself, or we are talking of the transport of Christmas trees, but they were not in the trees either, for there were few pines, as if the ecological carpeting had been imported from Maine or the Sierras. The bulk of the conifers were on an island a thousand yards from the house, half as wide as a football field. I held my first salamander there, wondered how it did not drag its belly against the ground given that it was missing most of its back right leg, seemingly unbothered by the subcutaneous needle splinters where I assumed the spine was.
We only saw that one salamander, and we only saw one representative of each kind of animal on that island when we’d take out the boat, either the three of us as a family, or me or Jack alone with Dia. One box turtle who kept from the water’s edge, one fisher cat, one fox, the salamander. Dia had to get them on the mainland, the richer existence, mates and mating, so we transported the box turtle, set it down, watched as it made its way to a hole in the foundation of the house, until Dia performed her service of course correction and deposited the terrapin in the basket of her bike and peddled it away to a pond. Bought a cage trap so that the fox and the fisher would repair within, tucking into the offered repast of a Kentucky Fried Chicken drumstick, triggering a lever in the process and sealing the gate behind them.
We depopulated that tiny island, de-marooned. “How did they get here, mom?” she’d ask as a girl, and what could I say, but that some creatures were carried on the current, others explored in times of drought, not knowing what they were getting into, and that she was a thoughtful person, never lose that.
Current carrying. They wanted to take out my uterus before I had Dia. She knows no more of her origin, in the birth canal sense, other than we had a hard time conceiving. Her pet remark as a kid was how similar to her father she was, her mannerisms, her nose, her 20-10 vision, remarks in isolation that became a polyphonic chorus of plenitude after Jack was gone, a way not of keeping him alive, but extending life in the still-living.
My calves felt thin, emaciated, like they lacked for blood and were becoming as crinkled as onion skin at the age of twenty-six, twenty-seven, whatever I was, and the blood that was leaking inside of me was finding its way to my bladder, news broken to you in a hospital bed, as you simultaneously feel the breaking of the foundation of much of what you ever wanted. The breaking has a sound, and that sound is the words “Is there anything we can try?” which one says at least twice.
The hole that kept reopening in the wall of the portion of me where I wished for my child to reside, before she was my child, was sealed by my husband. They took graft upon graft from his thigh, until they had taken so much that the skin only I was supposed to see, as is wife, would forever be translucent, like a glass-bottomed boat, or the back of a salamander with orange splinters within. What you don’t notice about veins until you look at them often, ponder their blues and greens, is how much they move, ambulate, try on new coordinates of physiological latitude and longitude, though they do not venture terribly far. The vein in your thigh doesn’t become a vein in your foot or your breast, but it moves an inch, in time.
And we got to keep trying, a lot, until we did not try much at all, because we were separated by then. I wondered if too much of a future was staked on a child, and without a child, down went the future, like Howard Cosell once bellowed “Down goes Frazier,” when Foreman beat the shit out of him. But it never felt that way when Jack came by the apartment, a few times a month. We tended to get horny around the same time, like we were Siamese twins, he would say, but I am not sure it works that way for Siamese twins, though maybe it is more convenient if it does. I did not have to touch him to know how much I loved him. A sighting of the mannerisms Dia would later proudly cite as her own was enough. He’d twitch when my hand grazed his thigh, where the skin had been that now patched a part of me. And it held. It was absorbed. He was absorbed. We were absorbed in each other, and maybe that is why he thought of Siamese twins. He’d leave what he left inside of me, until he could leave no more, though we were very young, then he’d leave again in a different manner, back to his buddy’s where he was staying, on account that he knew mine was the word to give, because though he had patched, I had had the hole, by which I do not mean a peroration in uterine lining the size of half a dime.
Dia transitioned, with success, all of the animals off the island save for one—the salamander with the sheared back leg. It had to have been the same salamander we’d find each time on our boating expeditions, our picnic lunches of grilled cheese sandwiches and Wise potato chips and a thermos of iced coffee that we shared on account that Jack veritably guzzled the nectar of the bean, and so too did the child who figured they shared a caffeine chromosome. And each and every bloody-backed time—for that is how the oranges and the pine needles of the salamander came to look—we’d find this amphibious creature not far from where we landed the boat.
“It must swim back to this place,” Dia ventured, and who was I to disagree? “He must have a reason to be here—it can’t be an easy swim. We should leave him be.” And so we did.