An eccentric billionaire has a special event at his estate. The guests, expensively dressed, gather around a large, olympic-sized, outdoor swimming pool. Ripples and wakes and the distinctive tips of dorsal fins can be seen in the water, as well as the dark, teardrop shaped bodies of sharks curlicuing below the disorienting refractory index. The tycoon explains that he will pay anyone who swims the considerable breadth of the pool 10 million dolllars. A murmur runs through the crowd, with bits of nervous laughter. Suddenly, there’s a large splash, followed by a moment of stunned silence in which the gentle lapping of the water seems to stretch into infinity…then furious kicking, arms swinging and chopping through the water. Finally, at the other end, a man in a black tuxedo heaves himself onto the concrete apron and lurches out of the water. Slithering away from the side of the pool, he lays on his side, gasping and sucking air, his heart beating so hard it feels like a jackhammer ripping up sidewalk in his chest. Finally able to stand, the man gets up slowly but remains bent over, clutching his knees through his pants legs. The billionaire, holding his old-fashioned glass of bourbon and water, makes his way through the guests who have moved back to give the man room, a dark, irregular corona of wet concrete spreading around his sopping evening shoes. Ambling up beside the bent over guest, the mogul pats him on the back and leans over to congratulate him. The soaking wet man straightens up and with a baleful look in his eyes surveys the guests, never once looking at his host. “Tell me,” the billionaire asks, looking around smiling at the speechless guests, “what made you do it?” The man, still trying to control his breathing, answers between gulps of air, “I just want to know who the son of a bitch was that pushed me.”
Now, instead of pool, there’s a moat. And instead of the clear water in the Olympic-sized swimming pool, there’s the dark murky surface specific to still, inland water. The leaden surface matches the clouds overhead. It’s a hot, cloudy, humid day. On the other side of the wide, curving moat there’s a castle. It’s made of stone and looks just like you’d imagine a castle in a picture book should look. There are turrets, and a crenelated battlement across the top, and here and there you can see the long narrow slits of windows where archers of yore would shoot. Returning your gaze to the moat, you notice ripples and fleeting wakes as delicately ribbed as fishbones. Squinting through the heat and haze, you make out the s-shape of ripples as twin picket-fence tails of crocodiles twitch in the water, and the dark walnuts of eyes that seem to float on the surface. You look around for a drawbridge, but see no hint of access to the castle. You think about what kinds of treasures might be inside. The castle looks well-preserved. Your imagination heats up with visions of wealth and priceless treasure: gold chalices encrusted with jewels, wooden chests filled with gold coins, silver ingots, diamonds, rubies, and sapphires, expensive tapestries, illuminated manuscripts. You look left and right, wondering which direction you should walk to look for a way to cross over. Suddenly, you feel a warm hand press on the center of your back and you land with a splash in the water. No time to think or even look around to orient yourself, you start swimming like mad. You’re moving your arms, wheeling your hands around over and over, kicking with all your energy. You feel, briefly, the armored skin of a crocodile, or the clawed foot, as one of the surprised reptiles attempts to kick away from you. You don’t know if your swimming, or running, or whether there’s anything under your feet. You could be swimming on top of the crocodiles, and you wouldn’t know the difference. Finally, your feet touch the soft, silt bottom, and you notice for the first time, you’re not wearing shoes. In fact, you have no idea what you’re wearing. High-stepping up the mucky bottom, you fall forward on the lip of the grassy overhang, clinging to it, and pulling your lower body up from the muddy bank. You’re breathing harder than you’ve ever breathed in your life. You can’t stand up. Laying there on the grass for how long you don’t know, water dripping from your head, you start to notice the mud drying on your clothes and hands and arms and feet. You think of the treasure that will undoubtedly be in the castle. Chalices encrusted with jewels. Wooden chests filled with treasure. Tapestries and illuminated manuscripts. Standing up, you look over your shoulder at the moat. There’s no one on the other side. The water is calm, and once again you notice the occasional spiny quills of delicate wakes in the water, pairs of eyes like two walnuts in the surface. Oh well, you think, at least I’m on the other side. You realize you’d probably have never done it, if it had come down to making a conscious choice. Perhaps it’s better to do some things before you have a chance to think about it. Turning around you see the castle, except it looks a little—how to say this, a little smaller, than you had imagined it would, up close. Almost like, it’s still a little far away from you. Then you notice that you’re standing in front of a moat: delicate ribs of wakes, the twin pickets of long s-curved tails in the water….
Castle, thy name is Woman….
Mark Parsons’ poems have been recently published or are forthcoming in A Thin Slice of Anxiety, The Lake, Peach, and Misery Tourism. You can follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/parsons_mfa