In his gut there was a house. We lived there for as long as I could remember; I was born there, and my sister too. I remember the night she was born. I came out of the bedroom and saw Mrs. Fritz at the kitchen table. She also lived in the gut, a few houses down. "Where's Mom and Dad?" I was scared, but she explained that it was time for the baby to come and so Mom and Dad went to the hospital. I had always wanted a brother. When they came back with Jennifer, I was disappointed at first, but she grew on me and anyway it is clear now that good company is hard to find down here in the gut. It must never be taken for granted.
Our house was small, but the yard was big. When we were older we played on the tonsils, slid down the ribs -- we were never allowed to go down too far. "It's dirty," Dad said. "Only peasants like to play down there."
Peasants, or common people, is what Dad called our neighbors, our friends, and pretty much everyone else. Except Mr. Joseph. "Now that is a good man," he would say as Mr. Joseph passed on his way to work. "Without him, none of us could be here."
Mr. Joseph took care of the brain. No one knew exactly what he did, but we could hear him leaving early in the morning for work, not coming back until someone after Jennifer and I were asleep. "I wonder what he does in there," Jennifer said while we lay in bed. "How do you take care of the brain?"
"Maybe give it water, and electricity."
"I never do that to my brain."
"You're brain isn't that big," I said, and laughed.
We were 10 and 14 when Jennifer and I decided to follow Mr. Joseph to work. We trailed him from a distance as he climbed the spine-ladder higher and higher, past where the ribcage ends, through slick tunnels that twisted and turned until suddenly we reached the threshold. Sticking close to the wall we watched Mr. Joseph as he slipped his hand through the membrane and passed out of sight. There was a faint humming in the air like a million mouths going like Ohmmmmmm. "I'm scared," Jennifer said.
"What's it like in there?" I walked towards the membrane and looked back at her.
"Let's go find out."
Back at home Dad was pressing dried undigested foodstuff between the pages of heavy books. He had collected for years whatever solids came through that didn't quite get eaten up, and had made beautiful collages by pressing them flat and arranging them in ways that really caught the eye. There was a sudden, sharp pain in his chest, and then a distant rumbling. He caught his breath and looked outside.
"Run!" I screamed and grabbed Jennifer's hand. The scorpions were shiny and black and very, very fast. We took a turn as it started to rain. Lightning flashed and illuminated trees bent at odd angles like bodies in pray or in pain, and the sky above our head was vast and terrifying. We heard them click click clicking coming through the OhmmmmmmmOhmmmmmmm droning and for the first time in my life I thought to myself: I could die here. I felt the grass underneath my feet and the rain on my face and on Jennifer's hands, which were wet and starting to slip.
"Don't let me go!"
And then it was the strangest thing but I swear I felt something pass through my heart and when it was gone there was a new feeling in its place, which was not a word or words but the idea in living flesh that I was in fact for the first and last time alive here in this strange multicolored world, smelling this rain and not something else, feeling my sister's hands just like mine slipping out of my fingers and I turned back for only a second before the scorpions swarmed her and she was gone from me forever but for my memory of everything she was and did, which to do this day lives like lightning inside me, electric, white-hot, powering everything I am grateful for, and everything I regret.
When I made it back, the house was gone. Mom and Dad had made it out, and we found each other amongst the washed out furniture, kitchen utensils, bedsheets and toys. It took time, but we decided that the only thing to do was move on. Life speeded up, and the years which had taken so slowly seemed to shrink as my days became full of work and people coming and going. Dad passed away and I came by to visit Mom in her little apartment in his heart. We talked about the slower years and cried and I played her piano for a little while, a song Jennifer used to like that went
Here is how you kiss a boy
Here is how you love a girl
That is how you make the world
as the rhythms outside ba-bump ba-bump kept time for as long as we needed, no less, no more.