Raw Head

There are no women, but Betty. And the men call her busted. She says she’ll conjure them pretty women, if they’ll be nice to her. “Betty,” they say, “why don’t you conjure yourself a better face?” That’s what matters to them. What matters to Betty is her boyfriend: a hog named Raw Head.

Whenever Betty leaves, Raw Head says, “Betty, don’t leave. I’m frightened.”

Betty’s house is full of herbs and roots and bottles for conjuring. There are also books on the bed and on the floor. Betty could read a book to Raw Head if he asked, or he could read to her.

The men say they saw the hog walk like a person. They saw him swoon under a willow tree, bury his face in his cloven arms and sob. They saw him read the New Yorker. The men spoke of this, while leaning. They lit pipes and leaned on things like counters or trees.

Raw Head had a nervous disorder. His sensibilities were delicate. He was a bit of a decadent. He said. “I need a bad habit to pit you against.” He said, “I need a hot bath to pickle my casing off. I need my soft spread out. Has everything already been done and felt?”

Betty could not help Raw Head understand himself. She stood, quietly, watching him from the doorway.

“Don’t leave,” He pleaded. “I want to be a pool of water.”

His were desires she had not considered. She’d only been Betty, arms and legs, strangely hers and unconditional as blocks of wood.

“Read me some Baudelaire,” he said.

Then the men stopped seeing Raw Head. "Where’s Raw Head?" they said. At the bus stop they lit pipes and leaned on things. “Probably drowned his self,” they said. This all-abiding earth was not nailed to the corners he frequented. They agreed he swooned with unmanly regularity. Then they saw Betty. She was wearing red-lipstick. A decision, it seemed, she’d grown to regret. She was walking fast and swinging her arms in arcs around her head.

“Betty,” they said, “nice lipstick.”

“Betty,” they said, “what happened to Raw Head?”

Betty wasn’t sure. “Forgive me,” she told Raw Head a couple weeks before, “I have no models of healthy self-assertion.” The inside and outside of her were dissimilar as breathing water and breathing air. She put the book back on the floor and went to the market.

"Nobody’s seen him around," the men said. "We have a right to know what happened."

There would be no children in this town. No future generations to speak of these men. It was a reality Betty was just then acknowledging—not through evidence, but sense: the smell of a body and then that same smell on somebody else. Her love was not some thing her arms could close on, but all that under her skin, palpable and temporary as terminal illness. Or was it the other way around? Was the stuff outside or inside herself?

“Betty,” the men asked again, “what happened to him?”

The town had a hunter. A brother the others called good for nothing. He didn’t smoke and speculate like them. He smoked and shouted. He said, “Hogs can’t speak.” He was too drunk for proper leaning. He said, “Hogs are for eating.” He hated Betty, the way he hated books he could not read. He was sentimental. He called it love, tried carving confessions on her trees, which she mistook for the scores of wild animals. “Want to know where the hog is?” He said, “I’ll tell you.”

Sometimes in the morning, Betty would see this man, who stunk of booze and bacon, squatting in the grass outside her cabin. She considered making him an offering: a bowl of soup, a cup of mulled cider, something poison. She had grown to hate him.

He tapped his chest where he kept his flask. “In a frying pan,” he said. He thrust the flask at the other men, who, like house cats shifted against their wishes, looked ruffled and indignant.

It seemed to Betty the hunter was bound by some fundamental error, as if some vital mix-up, some fierce and imploring bewilderment had tacked erratic limbs to itself.

“Where’s Raw Head?” She asked.

Yes, the hunter had stolen and slaughtered a dozen hogs that morning, but he was not himself in the a.m. He was an emptiness clattering around in his head like a key in the wrong lock. He was not anyone until the p.m., when he gasped and sat, filled his perimeter with the contents of his flask, and fastened like a buckle back in his self.

“Where’s Raw Head?” Betty asked.

Betty could go home and mix a potion, which would, of course, cloud over and show her the pile of blood and bones, the scraped head lying quiet like the others, the hogs hung and gutted. She could resurrect them. The head would role from the hunter’s wagon back to the pile of bones. The bones would reassemble and dance all through the town and dance in the hunter’s cabin and dance at the foot of the hunter’s bed.

But they hung for a while in a blotted out time. The hunter forgetting the unbearable a.m., when his eyes were heavy as anvils. To raise his gaze and set it down again on traffic, men, or women, to watch them squirm out from under it, was unbearable. Once the hunter’s father told him of a hog that danced at the foot of a man’s bed, and then, he told him, the hog ate the man. The hunter had been frightened. Fear too was like this: one second’s steady advance through the daily fog he’d heaped on it.

“Where’s Raw Head?” Betty asked again as possibility was burgeoning and blushing. Life could go on like this, the whole world could simply dither and delay, so long as they no longer wanted to know anything.  

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