by Justin Lawrence Daugherty
The lumberjack takes men to his bed, he takes women. He tells them stories, but not of himself.
When he is done, he tattoos them, always by volunteer, but they all volunteer, and the tattoos must be prominent, not easily covered, must be sun-blazing and bright.
They all inquire about his axes. He wipes his lips. Tells them nothing. Men leave the lumberjack’s bed, women leave the bed, always awash in color and ink.
The wolves do not sleep at night, he tells one girl, this girl who he would tattoo with a whale opening its mouth to swallow schools of fish, the schools of fish swimming away down her tricep and bicep, over and around her elbow and in the crease of her arm, over forearm and wrist, into her palm. Some fish escaping, some keeping life. He tells this girl the wolves are mangy and stink with hunger and rot and they do not sleep.
When he bares the needle, she shies, she covers her back and shoulder, she wilts.
The lumberjack’s hands pocked with callouses, with scars, with rivulets of gore. Splintered wood from the axe, the stink of oil and grime. He swings the axe, again, he swings, he swings, he swings, the blade cutting deeper, the blade splitting wood.
The girl returns, but still she he will not be bitten by the needle. Still she withers, still she moans for something else. She asks for the axe, for the blade, for a taste of blood.
The wolves loping in the bushes and grasses outside, rubbing their backs and legs and irritated necks against trees and rocks and the picked-clean bones of the dead.
The man he takes into his bed – for the lack of the girl, for her absence, for the cooling spot on his bed to be made warm – unsheathes himself for the lumberjack and the lumberjack withdraws at the site of the man’s sex for the first time, he grips the oak handle of the axe, he listens for the whistling of wolves, for their songs, for their hunger-cries.
When the man turns to leave, the lumberjack feels the hot tear roll from his eye, says first he wants to ink the man, to press the needle to his skin, to feel the heat of it and inhale the stench. The man, naked, sweating, relents. The lumberjack keeps his eyes away from the man’s, away from the sight of his cock, from viewing the curve of muscle and deep lakes of black hair and crooked teeth mangled in fistfights. When he is done, he closes his eyes and the man leaves, shimmering.
The lumberjack waits for the girl to return, but she stays away. He readies the needle nightly, he practices, perfects the whale and the schools of fish, practices on his own flesh. He waits for the girl to come, to remove her clothes, to bare her shoulders, her spine, the curve of back, the slope.
And, the man returns, wanting more, wanting the needle and the axe, the sharpness of blades.
And, the lumberjack looks to the window, to the world outside, to the trees for the girl, and how he punishes himself as he disrobes, how he thinks to open the door and let in the wolves with their bared teeth, chunks of flesh stuck between, blood dried on their jaws, and how he would let them take him, how he knows they only hunger for a thing less powerful than they, and how he would let them rake their axe-sharp teeth across his skin, pressing bone and muscle.
And, the man, naked and bright-skinned with reds and yellows and grey-blues and pine greens, wilts when he sees the lumberjack’s eyes, the hunger in them, the thirst.
Justin Lawrence Daugherty runs Sundog Lit from his parents’ basement. He is 31 and single. He writes stuff that’s appeared or will appear in The Normal School, Monkeybicycle, HOUSEFIRE, NAP, Barrelhouse, and elsewhere. He wishes he would have become a professional wrestler sometimes.