a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
The world was full of bloodsuckers, and L.G. was sick of being drained. The tabloid he flipped through while waiting to close up shop offered an unexpected way out. Leeches! L.G. had to smile. He creased the tissue-thin page and wet the fold with one licked finger, tearing the “Strange…But True” column away neatly for safekeeping. Its colorful angles jutted from his shirt pocket like a poor man’s handkerchief.
No one really owned the sodden spot separating the strip mall from the squat apartments one road over. No one even noticed it except as an obstacle—the reason it always took longer than it should to pick up ice or chips or the next six-pack. Today, though, L.G. saw things differently. He did not walk up and over to the causeway. Instead he rolled off his socks and swizzled the rainbow-slicked puddles with his toes. The sedges and sawgrass tinkled with hollow cans as he brushed through them. A harmless rustle stirred from trapped plastic bags. Once he caught the blur and plop of a frog leaping from a downed telephone pole, beating its muddy retreat.
Every day that spring L.G. woke before his youngest child to work the wetland. Neighbors gaped as takeout cartons they tossed aside returned unexplained to the dumpster. Behind a scrim of weeds and fencing the cluttered muck lifted away, making a labyrinth of berms and channels. L.G. (people whispered) was up to something. He made no secret of it: when the weather grew hot he let his kids splash beside him while he worked. In these pools he figured was medicine, money, and education enough. His babies bore its teachings when they emerged, bare skin punctuated with a horde of squirming commas, question marks and apostrophes. L.G. smiled as he pinched and scraped the little leeches away, editing each child back to unlettered perfection.
By June a steady trickle of dollars and college kids ran through town the way it always did. First they filled the beachside bars, then they spilled into the all-night clinic moaning of sunstroke and dehydration, wincing with the wounds of last-call bravado. This was the season L.G. was waiting for. At lunchbreak he strolled into the crowded clinic with dollar signs in his eyes. Gingerly he lifted one jam jar after another from a tattered backpack, treasuring the pleasant scrape and clink they made as he arranged them along the admissions counter.
The receptionist stared into a jar, uncomprehending. Gradually the twilight inside resolved into a swirling form, something delicate that turned and fluttered, a ribbon in the wind. One side was darkness broken by bright stripes, like a stretch of freshly painted blacktop; the other glowed with the fluorescent orange of sweet potato peelings. The shape stretched and spun, playful and hypnotic. The receptionist had never seen anything like it before. She shivered with almost voyeuristic joy. Then the leech fastened to the jar’s side with sudden suction, exposing its naked tongueless hunger.
All that night L.G. dreamed of shrieks and shattered glass. When he looked down he saw not bloodsuckers but babies wriggling along the clinic floor, flopping and gasping like stranded fish.