THE NAKED DETECTIVE is clad only in the remnants of her profession. She walks with some delicacy over the stubble of wheat. The man watches. There,
he says, gesturing: That’s the spot.
His memory is faulty, however. We are quite sure that the correct spot is some distance away, to the southeast. Nevertheless for the purpose of this investigation precision hardly matters. She stirs with the pointed toe of one shoe at the stubble. She raises an eyebrow. Here?
He nods. And what, she says, exactly,
did you see? A dead sheep, he says. He had nearly walked into it. It was a seething mass of maggots and flies. He remembers the odor, of course. What is the scent of a dead sheep? One will have to imagine the sweetly cloying smell of death.
In the grand order of things,
the Naked Detective says.
She squats down. A long red fingernail pokes at the dirt.
In the grand order of things
, she repeats, a dead sheep seems hardly significant.
I suppose not.
She tilts back her fedora.
Well then. Maggots and flies. The softness of rotted flesh. This is what you take with you?
He slips away. We follow at a distance. He pauses at the river. The river is next to the tamil—
the market. Savages—we may call them savages—ignore him. He tests, with a booted toe, the liquidity of the water. He stands at the edge, the sun casting his shadow, casting the shadow of Mount Kinebalu, casting the shadow of each savage, he stands, toe stuck into the water, leather turning black, we say it, he stands.
WE WATCH THEM walk away. The sky is blue. There are no clouds. The south of Australia is encased in a drought. The gum forests are all dying. The Murray River has become a series of brackish pools. Just beyond them is the abandoned farmhouse where once he lived, a laborer during the wheat harvest. He was young then, a ruddy youth. Walking nearly into the dead sheep had been, if not a traumatic event, at least a repellent one. Who knows why this memory lingers in his cerebellum? From Australia they go to an alley in Singapore. He flies, of course, in one of those metallic beasts. She, a magical creature, appears where she wishes. The alley was once famous for its whorehouses. It was called Decker Street. Flame throwers, sword swallowers, and fortune tellers lurked there in the soft tropical evenings. The whores lingered in the doorways. Their high heeled shoes were scuffed. Our Naked Detective, from a distant future, looks at them with some disdain. Her shoes, of course, are immaculate. Today they are made from crocodile skin. Her stockings are made of nylon and have seams. Her eyelashes, which are false, are from the hair of Chinese virgins. She glues them in place, with care, each morning. The man, however, clearly suffers from the dissolution of age. He is carelessly dressed. We shall not describe his mottled shirt, nor the rips in his trousers. His shoes were perhaps once of some quality but are now cracked and discolored, as are his teeth, which are largely false. He often blinks rapidly before he speaks. A tongue pokes, briefly, between his lips. He clears his throat with a guttural sound and gestures at the walls before them. Once, he says, well, once, perhaps a long time ago, before the current government and its—well, its rather—I suppose—moralistic crackdown—. He hesitates. There were whores here, often, I think, well, beautiful ones, lean Asian and Eurasian females, lustrous black hair, scarlet lips slightly parted in—one would suppose—anticipation, an eagerness to each breast, as though each breast were a small animal, hungry for attention, a man could hover there, his own mouth open, preparing for a descent into a kind of chasm that was endless or perhaps just beyond—beyond—beyond the imaginative reach of a youngish mind—. Do you mind, the man says, that is, may I spend a moment in reverie here, my own mind descending into the stirred and stirring recollections of a bygone age, a bygone age whose incandescence has dwindled into the murk and muck of spent passions—.
HE GOES TO A MAN seated at a doorway. This man is—a sign advertises this—a palm reader. He is Chinese.
A few dollars, the Chinese man calls out, just a few dollars, your future revealed—.
The Chinese takes our man’s hand, we watch as the Chinese mouth opens, the Chinese eyes widen, look, he cries, he begins to laugh, look, he says, your hand, your hand is full of death, he laughs some more and then drops the hand, his own Chinese hands wring together, the laughter stops, there is a moment of silence, he turns to his sign, it is attached to the wooden wall with small tacks, he detaches it, he folds it under his arm, turns once, stares a moment, and walks away. The Naked Detective, who has been stroking the nipple of one breast, smiles gently. Such stories! she says. Oh, youre just full of stories, arent you? What shall I make of all this, and she gestures at the sooty walls the rusted metal the piled detritus, what revelation shall I pluck from this moribund air? She shivers a bit, a kind of emotional quiver, her smile becomes gleeful, she claps her hands together, a bit of applause is never out of place, the older man—we shall not name him, he shall be nameless—bows his head in appreciation. They pirouette, both of them, marionettes on our strings, and immediately we are elsewhere. This is possible since, of course, there is no law of gravity here, only quantum mechanics, we are martinets with our marionettes, we have nothing but disdain for those small minds who cannot tread the disparate gullies of our dispassionate elongations, we are now in a bar in India, Bombay perhaps, a darkened bar, a tavern of sorts, swarthy men at each stool, the Naked Detective leaning back against the railing, still naked, or nearly so, high heeled crocodilian shoes, legs encased in their stockings, her bare vaginal aperture thrust forward, flagrantly offered, offered to all of us, even those of us enmeshed in our silent worlds, the old man—he is old, we shall not elude this, ancient even, his skin atrophied—nods towards a door at one side, it was there, he says, that door
, I needed to piss, you see, a couple of beers too many, it was late—late in every meaning of the word, too late, much too late—and I went through the door, into a dark alley—. And? she says, removing her fedora and tossing back her hair. What did you find? The door creaks as it opens. We watch him as, dazzled by the darkness, he fumbles his way forward, opens his trousers, and begins his performance, a forceful yellow stream from the white penis held delicately by thumb and forefinger, a young man’s stream, voluminous, steaming. After a moment, however, his eyes adjusting to the faint glimmer of a distant moon, he sees that he is pissing onto a corpse. He is pissing into the open mouth of a dead man. A dead man, dressed in ragged clothes, maggots, and flies, lies there beneath him, unprotesting. The dead man makes no sound except, perhaps, the faintest exhalation of miasma, a kind of sigh. The Naked Detective kneels at the dead man’s side. As she kneels, her stockings, fine nylon, of course, the sheerest of deniers, wrinkle slightly at knee and ankle, flashing the merest reflection of the distant moon. This is a lovely sight, the graceful pose, the breasts elongating to the tug of gravity—no quantum mechanics here—roseate nipples extending, hair falling perhaps in a kind of ripple over one shoulder. Have we mentioned before this hair and its golden sheen? The pissing man—his stream has dried up—can stare down at this lunar display. She lifts her head, a slight parting of her lips, perhaps a smile, as she pokes with a red-lacquered fingernail at the nesting maggots. A few flies—iridescent in this light—lift from the corpse. They cluster at her teats, humming. She presses between thumb and forefinger a maggot—it is like a tiny white penis—and examines it. She puts it in her mouth, between those delicate red lips. It is a clue, after all. She is, after all, a detective. She slides her fingers, all ten of them, into the abdominal cavity, and sifts the evidence. The maggots fall, the flies erupt. This is the end of our case, she says. She smiles at the old man standing there, still holding his dick. Our investigation is over, she says. She nods in our direction. Our presence is acknowledged. We put away our notebooks and pens. All the doors, at last, close.
NOTES: A few years ago, David Hoenigman, an American avant garde novelist living in Japan (he had interviewed me for Word Riot magazine), told me he was starting a new lit mag called Dead Sheep, and asked if I had something he could look at--especially if it had dead sheep in it. As it happened, I had just been thinking of my time working on a sheep/wheat ranch in Australia, where I had, in fact, stumbled over a dead sheep. I used that memory as a starting point...and went wandering through other memories to write this story...which indeed was published in Dead Sheep.