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APPETITE FOR POISON / Andrew Hudgins ? Baltimore, 1871 We men in lodgings, after supper, rush out to walk the darkening streets. They're jammed with other restless men, all seeking privacy in mass. I know it doesn't make much sense. And many find their way to brothels where for a couple of dollars, they shed their loneliness awhile in a way that makes them lonelier. I saved up for a month and went to a brothel so exorbitant the whores were likely to be clean, less jarring to the sensibilities. There's nothing like the tug of lust to make you confront your problems with appearance and reality. Consider the woman I chose: she had the looks a man like me gets moony over—and intellectual eyes. She said she was Marie-Louise, but when she talked she sounded worse than any hayseed I've ever heard. The girls there all have fake French names. My God, she was a handsome child! But when she had to say something even her astounding beauty didn't help. At work I asked the second flute what his wife would do if she found out that he'd been seeing other women. He grinned and slashed his index finger across his throat, then laughed so hard I thought the fool would hurt himself. It's like I had somehow acquired an appetite for poison. 36 · The Missouri Review 2 Right after Sid was born last fall we made love once and since then Mary's refused to sleep with me. EacJi night before I went to bed she'd peck me quickly on the cheek, tiptoe into the boys' bedroom and sleep on a pallet on the floor. It was a hard birth. Two days labor. Some nights I'd go and check on her as she slept curled up like a child, and on those nights it was as if I had three children—two boys and this new, ghostly, troubled girl. To hold her would have been too close to sin. So I would watch her sleep and be amazed at how other she was. I'd ache for her, for all the strength she'd given me. And, now, for once, I had my health and I would place my right hand against her shoulder blade and concentrate, trying to force my health on her. To hold her would have been too close. During the day she was my wife again— except when I put my arms around her waist and pulled her to me. Her torso would go stiff with strain as if the slightest touch would lead to bed, to sex, to all the blood she'd lost in giving birth to Sid. (We had to throw the mattress out.) I'd let go and she'd recoil from me, and so would stand awkwardly until we found something else to do. She wouldn't talk about it, denied that anything had changed. As if Sid's birth weren't enough, the last time we made love I had a spasm in my lungs and spit blood on the pillowcase. A lot of blood. Though at the time Andrew Hudgins The Missouri Review · 37 it didn't seem to bother her, I know she was putting up a front. Right after I spit blood that time we walked together in the woods and saw the body of a cow. It buzzed, the whole corpse vibrant with a hum, the whine of deep machinery. Bees came and went from a hole beneath the tail. Inside, the unseen wings went wild, pitched higher and higher as if straining to lift it off the ground. I thought for a moment I'd throw up. And Mary calmly turned away, took two short steps and fainted in my arms. A last excuse (it isn't very good): I am alone in Baltimore and she's in Georgia with the boys. 3 Perhaps another story helps: I had a Leghorn cock that would couple with anything. The hens acquired a chafed, bow-legged walk. It was lamentable to hear them shrieking as the eggs scraped out. I often had to grab a broom...


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