Great Secrets of an Unknowable Past Unfurled by Marvin Shackelford

Great Secrets of an Unknowable Past Unfurled

We didn’t date but kissed when we drank sometimes, felt each other up through our clothes and walked half naked into your shared bathroom in the morning if I fell asleep there. We eventually agreed we probably should either be serious or stop, so we stopped. You and your roommate, Jen, already had contacted the spirits living in your dorm room by then with a Ouija board pulled from the closet of one of the potheads over in Cleland Hall. He said he wasn’t sure it was safe, he didn’t know where the board had come from and it was found resting against a wood-framed mirror of equally unknown origin he suspected to be a gateway to Hell, but you weren’t worried about it. The spirit, or ghost, or whoever it was, had dropped the window shut in the middle of the day, no breeze rolling in off the wide and sweeping and always breezy plain. Knocked a potted plant off its stand. Nothing worse. Operating the board, you learned it was a he, and there was a she there too. He was Ox, a barbarian nomad of the Pleistocene and oft through history your lover, and she Rose, a medicine woman and princess of the tribe and my wife for lifetime after lifetime. I imagined her short and frail and entwined by still more fragile green vines. The Ouija went dead when I touched it, but you and Jen asked and answered questions for me. I’d once been a medicine man, had great magic, but now I’d come full swing through the cosmic cycle. I’d been Isabella of Spain and Meriwether Lewis, but I’d never committed suicide. So what did that tell us? You called me on a Friday afternoon and said we had to see The Mummy Returns, Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. This was 2001, before the towers, and it somehow made sense. I’d dropped out by then but I had a car. The three of us sat together in the theater and watched the story unfold, and something opened in you while the airship piloted over the desert, and princesses battled to the death, and the great secrets of an unknowable past unfurled. I remember so much, you said. It’s unlocking so many memories, Jen agreed. I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t traveled that far with you. Several days later I picked you up again, brought you to my parents’ home. You chatted with my mother and loved on her cats, told how you worked summers at a pet-grooming business in Chicago. We smoked a joint and spent the hour, hour and a half, up to sunset crawling around the culvert that carried water beneath the dirt road behind our house. A stream had appeared in your dreams, you said, a jewel of mystical power hidden somewhere in or near or above its stream, and Ox sent you here. You took off your shoes and waded the shin-deep water, yipping and gasping, and I crawled up and down the banks of the county road, angling and looking and searching for this thing you wanted. Later, in my long basement bedroom, I tried to cheer you up by suggesting that gemstone, unfound, could be metaphorical, metaphysical. That the jewel we were after was as purely spirit and intent as the silent voices and hopes and wonders you kept chasing across the Ouija board. That it was hidden in the icy wastes or desert reaches of our selves. Later Ox and Rose and whoever else would tell you this was the case, and you felt better. Right then in the basement you seemed unconvinced. I thought about leaning along the couch and pressing my lips against yours, but I didn’t. I probably should have.


Great Secrets of an Unknowable Past Unfurled


Marvin Shackelford is author of Endless Building (poems, Urban Farmhouse) and Tall Tales from the Ladies’ Auxiliary (stories, forthcoming from Alternating Current). His work has, or soon will have, appeared in Kenyon ReviewHobartBlue Fifth ReviewWigleaf, and elsewhere. He resides in Middle Tennessee, earning a living in agriculture.


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