A fox scurries across the path ahead of us. Its ribs are spare, perfect. 

         Not long after, the bleeding begins again. A tinny string of minerals, a gently clotted promise.  We stopped to rest in the softest cuffs of snow, right off the side of the rust-dirt trail. Strips of cream bandage and woolen gauze snug themselves over cauterized ends. We mutter bits of prayer into the flat air that snow brings, the air so clear yet thick somehow in its own dry. 

          Hours before, we were curled up in the dullest curb of a hard alley. We ate pain pills, entwined, got slick off one another, by the flashing security light of a liquor joint with purple neon sign. That was the first sighting of the blood. Is it not romantic? Slimed rubies of biological something dripped down the trunk of our shared thighs.

          It was hard to see your face in that middle of our night.

         Now, we ease ourselves back to the trail, the bandages taking in heat and growing limp with their holdings. We’ve been walking our way to something for near months, now. Five weeks and some change. They promised an honest wage and some clean cotton sheets. We’d just have to get there. It isn’t long after we’re back on the trail that we see the dim-lit fog of a trailer window. We walk closer, ease up to the door. Give it an easy knock.

         It’s a real party, inside. Orange juice. A table heavy with fruit jellies and sponge breads. You saw me for the first time, the real first time of seeing me. By the light of the table. You looked at me in the way a tired housedog eyes pizza. Plastic: acrid cheese and cubed meat. You stroked me the way a tired pimp strokes their big cats, firm with a scared grip in the pads of your fingers. My face was pale from the blood coming out my calves. All it took was one good dig. And whole chunks flew off. The tractor might need repairs. I’ll probably grow back uneven, but functional. Just a bit lumpier, in my stocking legs. 

       But the liquor store. It was the first place the blood showed. Not far from where it actually happened, just a little ways down the highway, by a fecund patch of grass.

        At first, we thought maybe it didn’t really happen. There was a wettish clawed noise, cat-like. The driver didn’t stop, but the sound to the tractor got higher in its pitch, more tired in its pitch. A whine replacing a rumble. The crazed driver was after us. He held his hat clamped to his head with one hand. He just wanted to give a scare, or maybe not. We’d been sleeping against his silo. The driver noticed us, on the third night. It was the third night. I kept standing at first, only knowing to do now what I did before and could only do during. Then, I fell. But there was no blood. Just open strips of pink, marbled leg. The back parts. The useful parts. We walked until we reached that purplish bruise of a sign. “Luxury Liquors”. And then we saw the blood had started. But only then.

       It was an old man with a pig farm nearby who saw us. He told us: I wanted to call the cops, but thought better of it. He said: I lost one of my pigs earlier. I’m just up the way and thought maybe it got into some food trash by town. You said: What do you mean? And he replied: It’s just what it sounds, hon. A lost pig. 

        He approached us slowly, as if we were being hunted. As if we were careful prizes. He handed us the bandage and gauze in a wadded-up lump of hand warmth. He said, “It’s the softestess kind you can buy.” We nodded and thanked him. You dressed my calves like they were our children. 

        We grew stoned over short hours and slept with the olds, the ones in the trailer with the intimate party. They kept a lamp with a bit of fragrant oil burning hottishly sweet. One curved her parts to yours as she slept, the soft parts opposite the elbow got cramped and spiked a little in fevered moist, the steps before a sweat. The other stayed watch over the stove, boiling her bloomers, taking my bandages into the mix. The clear water grew purpled, sheer with my hurt in its hot solution.  

      We will keep walking into the next days, a ribbon of time ushering us into the next swath of towns, towns with more sophistication to their hurts and more rooms to hold our swelling parts and our muted abilities. Towns where the foxes are too bright to be seen, and the pigs too full for a nightly wander. 

B Y   K A T E   J A Y R O E

​​H E R M E N E U T I C   C H A O S   J O U R N A L

T H E   S O F T E S T E S S   K I N D                    

Kate Jayroe is the editor at Portland Review, employee at Powell's Books, and staff member with Sewanee Writers' Conference. Her work appears and is forthcoming at Cosmonauts Avenue, Hobart, Juked, jmww, Word Riot, NANO Fiction, and elsewhere.