Bourbon Penn 1

March of the Kewpies

by Ryder Collins

There were so many of them.

No one knew where they all came from. There wasn’t much time for research, anyway. It was like some huge kewpie factory went on maximum overdrive or some weird meteor sent out a kewpie call to all the kewpies around the world, on shelves, in boxes, plastic preserved in plastic in attics.

I had a run-in with a kewpie when I was kid; I knew what those little fuckers were capable of.

I never told anyone, cause what can you say? I’m a pussy. Some little kewpie kicked my ass? Some little kewpie came flying out of the dark corner of Meemaw’s attic and I swear it had fangs and wanted to suck me dry. I grabbed whatever was near me, I think it was my grandfather’s cane and it turned into a snake and it slithered in my hands and wanted to get in my pants and I said, I ain’t no fairy, even though, for a minute I wondered what boy-flesh upon boy-flesh would feel like, but I threw the snake from me cause I was only thirteen and hit the kewpie mid-flight, luck on my side just then, and ran down the stairs and closed them up. They were those kind of stairs that you pull down with a rope and ever since I’ve refused to go up stairs of any kind; I’ve lived on the first floor all my life since. Then I ran to seek solace in the fleshiness of my aunts, but they were in the kitchen crushing water bottles and chanting over dead birds whose heads had gotten entwined in soda six-pack loops, trying to commune with God.

It was before everyone knew to cut those loops and several years after the first Earth Day.

I sat down at the kitchen table to watch my aunts and my Moms. My Moms was big and fleshy, but not in a comforting way. More like in a William the Refrigerator Perry way. My aunts, Rae and Kay, though, were short and fat and smelled like cinnamon and newly turned earth and a bullfrog’s call at dawn. So did Meemaw. Moms must have taken after Grandfather.

Meemaw came and sat down at the table with me. She said something like, What’s up sonny? Or maybe, What’s the 411?

Meemaw tried to keep it reals; Grandfather didn’t; Grandfather was dead.

I was thirteen and had no friends. I’d just had a kewpie try to attack me and a snake try to go down my pants. My reaction to both hadn’t been heroic. Indeed, my reaction or lack of reaction or brief moment of something or whatever were all creeping me out and I was trying not to think about any of it cause I didn’t want Meemaw to ask me any questions about what I’d been doing in the attic cause I was afraid I would blush or cry or get a hard-on or a combination of all three. I had no one to talk to about any of this shit. Not Meemaw, not my aunts, not Moms, and definitely not my older sis. My dog, Boo, didn’t count and Boo didn’t really like me much anyway. Boo liked older sis, of course; Ada was one of those charmed Southern Belle types who could make a man or a male do anything she wanted and he’d think the whole time it was his idea all along. The power behind the president and all that crap. She had my whole family fooled.

She had soft blonde curls, porcelain skin, and big blue eyes to boot. Bitch looked like a kewpie come to think. I didn’t make the connection for a long time.

I said, Nothing, Meemaw.

You praying for the birds, Jeffy?

I nodded my head, even though I didn’t give a shit about the birds. Meemaw must have sensed this cause she clicked her tongue. I’ll make us some biscuits soon, she said. Soon’s those big girls’ outta my way. She rolled her eyes at Rae and Kay and Moms.

Rae and Kay and Moms all said, Shhh. At the exact same time. Then went back to their inspection of a sea gull. Maybe they were in deep communion with God; maybe they were divining the bones.

Rae said, It’ll be nothing like you expect.

Kay said, Crawling, crawling, hopping, hopping. One leg two leg four white black blue pink with horns.

Moms said, All y’all are all fucked.

Then Moms said, I am too cool for this world.

Who knows who the hell she was channeling? I’d say the Nuge but he was still alive at the time.

They were like Macbeth’s witches except none of us ever listened to them. We, Meemaw and I, that is, just thought they were continually high from wallpaper glue or something. They were always saying crazy shit. Like Ada’d have a skin disease when her skin’d always been porcelain clear, white and rosy, the envy of all the ladies of Lee County. Or that Tupac was really dead. Or that Grandfather was a secret Communist and getting it on with Nelson Rockefeller in Heaven. Or that some day there’d be a Black president. Or that Michael Jackson was a pedophile and would die early and his ghost would be trapped in Neverland. When they weren’t Earth Daying or communing with God or divining or recycling, they were amateur interior designers. They’d re-done every room of Meemaw’s little house at least twice. In fact, the kitchen was now a ghastly pea-green because of them; Meemaw liked to joke it was shit-pea-soup colored.

Meemaw said, Language! Then she said, Get those goddamned dead birds out of my kitchen. Meemaw’s about to drop some biscuits.

The aunts and Moms looked pissed — their blue eyes narrowing, their big bodies puffing out even more, but they didn’t say anything. They knew better.

I said, Drop it like it’s hot. Or maybe I didn’t say that. Maybe that’s just the way I remember it. I think too much now and everything gets mixed up.

I know Meemaw liked to pretend she was gangsta. She was a feisty old broad and more gangsta than all the gangsta rappers combined, maybe minus Tupac cause he’s alive, motherfuckers!

She dropped those biscuits and they were so buttery and warm. Just the memory of them gets me through the unearthly screams — human, animal, kewpie, a combo of all three? — I hear every morning. That and my daydream that Tupac’ll come bursting through this trailer door and take me to his secret fortress and he’ll write poems and I’ll watch all his home videos and then we’ll drink Courvoisier and reminisce all night about how the earth was once full of beautiful females and how even I was lucky enough to get some tail every once in a while.

I wish Meemaw were here to kick some ass, too. I wish I’d told her about the kewpie in her attic. Maybe she would’ve been able to stop them; maybe she would’ve listened to her daughters for once.

• • •

Everybody’d been predicting the end so long, that when it happened like it did, people were kind of disappointed it wasn’t more in line with the traditional locusts, floods, fires, etc. etc. Well, they would have been disappointed if they’d had time to reflect. But the visceral reaction to the end was abject terror. Sublime creeped-out-ness. What the romantics meant by sublime times 1,000. I don’t know how I stayed sane; I don’t know why I’m still alive. Maybe I’m immune or maybe it’s a crueler fate or maybe they’re just waiting…All I know is that I’m probably the only one disappointed we didn’t all go out in a big ball of fire or something.

There were legions of kewpies and they were on the move. No hail, no firstborns dying off, no frogs raining down. No Antichrist, even. Just kewpies. Porcelain, plastic, ceramic; the older ones hopping on their conjoined legs, the luckier ones crawling freer, faster, having the movement of all limbs. A great army of mostly-white babies with curls on their foreheads, big blue eyes. Here and there an anime freak purple kewpie with horns and more than four limbs. But always the sibilant sound of ceramic sliding over different terrain. The sound of plastic sliding over and engulfing skin.

The kewpies’ expressions didn’t change as they advanced, but I swear they licked their lips with non-existent tongues. There was some kind of flicking around the mouth. I didn’t blink, but their non-existent tongues were too fast for my human eyes.

• • •

I graduated high school somehow and went to college for a while but the only thing I liked was this one English class cause the instructor was hot. After some years of just kicking around the South, I moved back to Lee County and was living in a trailer in Gentilly Park. It made me want to sing that Big Bopper song. You know. I would, too, sometimes when I was vacuuming so the vacuum would drown out my singing and all the coeds living around me wouldn’t think I was a huge perv. Boo II would hide whenever I vacuumed, like most dogs do. Unlike most dogs and men, though, Boo II didn’t like Ada. Boo II actually liked me, which almost made up for the fact that Rae and Kay and Moms had died within months of each other about a year ago, all of some obscure cancer, and Ada had moved Meemaw into a nursing home. Boo II was nothing like Boo I, even though they were related somehow. I couldn’t keep the Catahoula line straight in my mind. I was thirty and unemployed and vacuuming. I’d lived a careful life so far — never got a tattoo, never drank too much, always voted in primaries, always put the toilet seat liner down when I had to shit in public, always held my tongue. Even around the eighteen and nineteen year old girls in my trailer park who walked around in bikini tops. Their young breasts just calling out to be crushed between man fingers. To be palpated and pulled and licked and tongued. Yet I was still unemployed and alone.

It was a summer day. Hot, sticky. My window unit was chugging along in rhythm with my vacuum; I imagined the unit singing along with me: Yeah baby that’sa what I like!

Boo II, all of a sudden, scurried past me and went, Boo-boo-boo, at the door.

I instantly felt pervy like all the nubile young women around me could read my thoughts about young girls and giggling and wiggling. I shut off the vacuum and just stood there in the middle of my living room for a minute, playing possum or playing short bus passenger. Maybe they’d go away.

A-boo-boo-boo, Boo barked some more. I could hear knocking now. The knocking sounded like only Ada’s knocking could, ingratiating and demanding and coy, all at the same time.

But, that could be my mind putting a spin on my memories once again.

I was just getting the balls up for some kind of afternoon delight with myself, though. Of course, I could only whack it in my bathroom with both the shower and the sink running cause I didn’t want anyone to find out. I didn’t want to compromise my safety; I didn’t want to be that guy, although I probably already was, being surrounded by college kids who most likely thought I was like forty or fifty already.

My bathroom is the only room in my trailer without windows. It’s where I hid in the first days of the kewpie plague.

I sent Boo II to my bedroom and let Ada in. She looked bad, which she never did. She was dressed all in black like a widow; she even had a black pillbox hat with a little black veil. She had the veil down over her eyes.

What a fucking drama queen, seriously.

I followed her in to the kitchen. She plunked a six pack of Natty Light down on my kitchen table, sat down, grabbed one and opened it and chugged through the foam and didn’t stop until she was done. I sat down only after she crushed the can on the table then wiped her mouth with the back of her gloved hand.

Ada never drank Natty Light. This could be interesting.

I’m dying, Jeffrey, she said and grabbed another beer. She opened it and then motioned at the beer like I should do the same.

I did. I didn’t say anything. I was feeling guilty and super-pervy about noticing her long legs on the way into the kitchen and feeling even more guilty about thinking she was a drama queen because of her get-up. Then I wondered if she were truly dying or if she was just being her usual drama queen self and then I felt so guilty all I could do was sit at the table with the beer can in between my hands.

Ada finished another beer and grabbed a third. Well? Don’t you want to know? Isn’t it killing you?

What am I supposed to say, Ada? Everything I say’s always wrong by you.

Really, Jeffy, really? You gonna make this about you? I’m the one who’s dying. I’m the one diagnosed with a deadly disease and you’re worried you’re gonna hurt my feelings?

She looked like she was going to cry, well, the half of her face I could see did. Instead she belched.

You’re such an asshole, Jeff. I don’t know why I thought I could talk to you.

She looked like she was going to get up, like she was just waiting for the wrong word from me to storm out of my trailer.

I opened my beer and took a sip. What’d the doctor say?

Look, look, look at this shit. She took off her hat, bent her head slightly. She had a white bald spot as big as a small pancake on the crown of her head. She ran her left hand through her hair and big clumps of it rained down. She lifted her head but wouldn’t look at me. Too embarrassed. She’d gotten where she was today — Lexus SUV, college dean husband, private hobby horse farm with a ten bedroom “farmhouse” — mostly through her looks.

I have a skin condition. It’s systemic. Uncurable.

Something tugged on me. It had a little ceramic hand. There was a snake, and my aunts and my Moms mumbling something. Meemaw making biscuits. Fluffy warm buttery love.

Have you talked to Meemaw? I said without thinking. She and Meemaw were now deadly enemies ever since Ada’d shipped her out to Oak Parks.

She said, Meemaw?

She said, That bitch is the one who cursed me. She did this to me.

She said, That’s it. I’m out of here.

She didn’t move. I grabbed her a beer and opened it and put it in her hand. She started crying. I drank her beer and let her cry. I got up and grabbed my bottle of Elijah Craig and two shot glasses. I poured myself one shot and then another. This was the most I’d ever drunk at once, but what else could I do?

When she was done, except for a sniffle here and there, she looked at me and said, I want you to kill me.

I poured two shots — one for myself and one for Ada. I didn’t say anything.

Ada downed her shot like the secret professional she was, then slammed the shot-glass down on the table. I’m giving you a day to think about this. She got up and left, slamming the door after her.

Boo II came running into the kitchen, growling and snuffing.

I should’ve killed her when I had the chance, before the door even hit the frame.

• • •

I’ve left my bathroom sanctuary since the first days. I hang out in my living room mostly, doing nothing much. Just thinking a lot, like I said, and sometimes whacking it cause there’s no one around to care what they think any more. I hear the kewpies go by but they don’t seem to be interested in my trailer or me since the day they busted in and pulled Boo II out by his tail. The little fuckers took the only thing I’ve ever really loved.

Besides Meemaw.

I’m working up the nerve to leave my trailer. I’m working up the nerve to go through the coeds’ trailers until I find pot and coke and LSD and whatever else and I will do my first lines and I will smoke a fat blunt and I will trip my tripping ass through the cute deadly babies swarming underfoot; I’ll stomp and dance through the crawling, hopping, kewpie mass. I’ve got my Timberlands on and I will crush their skulls. I’ll ride the kewpie wave to Meemaw. I’ll find the ones responsible for Boo II’s death. I’ll find Tupac, and Tupac and I’ll shoot Ada dead.

Ryder Collins lives in the dirty South. She's recently completed a novel, Homegirl!, six chapters of which have been published in various literary journals. Her work has also been published in Wigleaf, > kill author, DIAGRAM, The Southeast Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review, among others. Her chapbook, We were listening for the shattering, was a semi-finalist in Black Lawrence Press's BRCC contest. She has a chapbook of poetry, Orpheus on toast, available from Imaginary Friend Press. She can be found dirtying it up at