Devotion / Ben Ehrenreich

They wound twine around my legs until I looked like two spools of thread. The twine was tight and warm and almost soft. It made my legs tingle. I felt for a while like maybe I’d be safe. Then they yanked at the ends and spun me like a top. I could hear them clapping and hooting as I twirled, though I couldn’t see much more than a blur. It was only when I fell down that I at last stopped spinning, and even then the dirt whirled about above me for a while in queasy, miniature tornadoes.
     They picked me up and slapped my temples hard. They took turns kissing the crown of my skull, then grabbed my ankles and dropped me on it again. On my skull. It didn’t hurt any less than the first time, but I can’t say it hurt more either. I lay where I fell, facedown in the dirt. Nausea coursed up through my fingertips. I choked it back.
     One by one, they unfolded their knives. In sequence, I heard the blades click open. If the sun had been shining, it would have glinted off of them. It would have danced from blade to blade. But I had not seen the sun for a long time, and their knives were dull and gray. They kneeled above me. They reached in close. They cut off my trousers. Down from the waistband and up from the cuffs. They told me to lie on my back, to pull my knees to my chest. They told me to rock back and forth. Like a boat, they said, on the high seas. My back was still raw where they had shaved me earlier, but I did it anyway. I grabbed my knees and tried to rock. I felt terribly exposed.
    He’s a bean, they said. He’s not a boat. Look at him. A rocking bean. Guffaws all round. They wrapped me up in packing tape. They started at my head and wound down. Let’s make a ball of him, they said. They kept wrapping until the tape ran out. They got just below my knees. I heard them curse and walk away. My feet were naked, and my ankles. It was cold outside, even with the tape on. I kept rocking.
    They must have forgot me for a while. I couldn’t hear much and I couldn’t see anything, not even shadows. I rocked and rocked like that and wished I was a stone, a pebble somewhere, something sturdy and cold and easily concealed. Something you might put in your pocket and rub with your thumb whenever you felt homesick. If I were a pebble like that I could really help you in a way that now I cannot. I awoke to their voices. I must have fallen asleep. I dreamed of you. I always do.
    Let’s light him on fire, they said, and roll him down the hill.
    They looked for gasoline. I could hear them rummaging through the crates and the plastic bags inside the crates, but they couldn’t find any. They poured gin all over me instead. I could smell it. Like an old man on the first of the month. It seeped in through the tape. It burned my nostrils. Between my legs it stung as well. Was I frightened? I was frightened. But not of burning, not of pain. I was afraid of what I’d feel when the pain stopped.
    They couldn’t find any matches. Then they found some, but the wind blew them out. They cursed some more. Maybe if we roll him down the grade, one of them said, the friction will ignite him. Like a match, another said. Exactly, said the first. A big stupid match. They pushed me down the grade. I rolled just more like a wheel than a match, head over feet over head over feet and I could hear their applause until finally I hit a big rock and bounced a few times and stopped. I didn’t ignite, but the rocks were sharp and I think I broke a rib. My toes for sure are broken.
    I blacked out for a while. When I woke, the tape had torn. I could move my legs again. I stood. I unwrapped myself. The packing tape clung to my skin. It stretched my eyelids when I tugged it off. I lost most of my hair that way. It was morning. The dawn smelled awful. My throat felt like it had been scoured with sand.
    Up the grade, I heard the engine of their truck rattle to a start. They were leaving at last. My toes were huge and purple, and I was coughing blood, but I could still run almost. I limped up the grade. The rocks dug hard into my soles. My toes hurt bad, and all the rest of me. Wait, I yelled as loud as I knew how. Wait for me!


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