Proxima Road: Body Horror, Deathbed Angels

by Tim Gilmore, 12/30/2021

My whole childhood, the teardrop trailer stayed parked where Proxima curved against Sprite Road. How long had these inflamed horrors lurked underneath? Had they thriven here like cancerous mycelia while children filled the streets under that round fulgent moon pale golden and too large in the sky that Halloween, and what year was that Halloween moon?

And other nightmares settled in. Incomprehensible ways alcoholics were monstrous fathers. Men without legs. Women with strange contours and without towels. Neuromorbidity and paralysis. There were movie directors whose genre was “body horror,” who must have walked Proxima Road.

God made human beings “a little lower than the angels,” says the Apostle Paul in The Book of Hebrews. But are there angels like these? In the Great Chain of Being, how low do the angels go and still maintain rank? “Thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands.”

Armed with whiskey and a shotgun, the old man patrolled his house and his wife and his children at 7466 at night. Through his pores reeked a scent of sweet formaldehyde, hint of garlic. Short square rooms, what lurked in those corners. A small brick fireplace, but no protective spirits of the hearth.

The six kids who lived at 7469 went in and out of the always open front door at will, day or night. So did the dogs. The kids and the dogs lived in the street as much as in the house. The chain link fence out front was incidental. Dog feces accumulated in the living room, no furniture. Years before the youngest son set the house on fire, parents called off the search when they found him asleep in the washing machine. Out before the inverted obtuse angle of a roofline, the ragged old cedar, clothes and chairs and baby strollers littered the yard. The mother appeared from time to time in the doorway, a dozen cans of beer a day but somehow thin as a nail.

But it was alright. It always was. It was alright when it wasn’t. It was never okay, but it was always alright, because the moon rose majestic and refulgent over the little concrete block bedrooms and showed how everything that happened fell into the ancient history of the round earth and rolled through space and deep time and absolved itself into mystery and gorgeous awe.

But how long had the stinking vegetative tumescences menaced beneath that teardrop trailer parked in that wedge of sad grass between driveways before another obtuse angled roofline at 7361?

It was like that horrible David Cronenberg film, visions that crawled through my gut and twisted there, Rose’s face spaced out with fever and illness and ecstasy, a wound both estrous and ostreiform in her armpit, a kind of vagina dentata, consuming the blood of male victims, wound as weapon, wound that consumes.

What lived beneath the teardrop trailer brought that same lunging of the loin and nausea, water-warped pages showing parts engorged, irritated, crimson, reptilian, grotesque.

And when the woman who lived at the corner of Ricker Road called out from the bathroom, having just showered, asked her son if I had left and he said no, why did she then walk naked, no towel, through the hallway to her bedroom, cellulite and gibbous curves of hip in this little boy’s eye? I’d never seen a woman naked before.

Yes, but it was alright, for such nightmares had always plagued childhoods and the skulls of more people than even now were alive on earth had housed such nightmares and such skulls had withered over periods of time longer than time and every spoonful of soil contained more microbes than lived people on the earth and every particle of soil had moved through more earthworms than nightmares through childhood heads.

And there was the old man across the street at 7539, the flat rectangular house, wall of windows beside the driveway, who sat in his wheelchair in his living room, front door open, and coughed and retched and roared. Another alcoholic. Gangrenous legs lost. That smell, like sweetened formaldehyde and garlic and cigarettes. That smell, like pickled death.

And the boy at 7542 who snuck me into his bedroom to listen to that country gospel album, the Oak Ridge Boys singing “Come on in / Baby take your coat off” and the second time – “Listen for it,” he whispered – “Baby take your clothes off” and said his mother rubbed his face in his little brother’s soiled diapers. The preachers had come around, door to door, and asked her if she wanted to go to Heaven, there was a prayer she could pray, but she said she knew she was bound for Hell.

I hadn’t yet known of the alcoholic in the house before my birth, the rages, the fury, the hammer claw in the front door, the hole ever after covered by a door knocker. My parents married in that living room, 1972. So did all three of my mother’s daughters, 1974 and 1976 and 1980. When my world was smallest, it was largest, for that small world in which I was loved was all the world.

In the hallway at 7532, the metal grill for the gas furnace fit like a door in the panelboard wall. Every year my father unlocked it and lit the pilot light when the first chills crept into the house. When the heat came on, you could hear the boom up and down the hallway and I imagined chambers leading from the light through the walls into secret realms. On the coldest mornings, I stood before the furnace door and shivered and dressed for school. It was sometimes the only warm space before dawn and it nurtured me.

When my mother was dying, paralyzed in that big bed, and my father reached across her to resituate her immobile body, she saw a man standing behind him, watching. When my father turned, nobody was there. My father left the bedroom, looked all through the house. When once again he started to help lift her deadweight limbs, she saw the man behind him again. Saw him as clearly as she saw my father, but couldn’t describe the stranger at all, and when my father looked for the man, he found no one. The next time it happened, my father said the stranger was an angel. It had happened three times, and the number three meant the vision had come from God.

the last picture of my mother before she died, October 1986

My parents sent me to church schools where history classes taught “Divine Intervention,” that historical forces were really God’s will, natural events reified as deified. “For we wrestle not,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “against flesh and blood,” but “against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” I wrestled against darkness in the blood, sought divine intervention from body horror.

my Collins Road Christian Academy yearbook photo, 1985-’86

God had marked me, my mother used to tell me. I was born for a special purpose in God’s great cosmic plan. The birthmark at the center of my forehead was the place where God’s fingertip had touched me. I’d lay beside her paralyzed body and read her the description of the Celestial City from The Book of Revelation. I’d been taught how the Antichrist, who would rule the world in The Last Days, would force everyone to get his number, 666, the Mark of the Beast, on their foreheads. Thoughts that the special purpose for which I was marked might be wicked, that I was born to be the Antichrist and had no say in the matter, kept me awake at night, terrified.

They were tall, majestic beings, Timucuan Indians, so said my mother, and we, she and I, were directly descended. We went all the way back. I would not learn for years that Timucuans did not, in fact, stand more than seven feet tall, that only a thousand Timucuans survived, by census, in 1700, that Juan Alonso Cavale, the supposed “last Timucuan,” died in Guanabacoa, in eastern Havana, Cuba in 1767, but that even this “lasting” was Orientalist as The Last of the Mohicans, that today’s Seminole tribe claims the Timucua among their forebears.

supposed depiction of Timucua by Theodore de Bry

I looked everywhere for angels at 7532, tried to hear them singing, but never found one. It didn’t occur to me then that if angels watched over my mother, they weren’t doing much good.

These little houses are now rentals owned by investment Limited Liability Companies headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona and Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale.

My birthmark, now crowded by chicken pox scars and worry lines, has faded. Sometimes I can see it in the mirror. Sometimes I can’t.

But it’s all okay, though it’s not alright, for the world is old and 100 billion of us have inhabited the earth these last couple hundred thousand years, and nothing’s new but new ways to understand that nothing’s new, so even before 1977 little boys had pushed giant inflatable Easter bunnies in buggies and gold painted concrete angels sat beneath coats of arms on little pink houses where grandmothers showed little girls surprises in boxes and Christmas trees shone faintly in den windows, each of us both animal and angel.