Juan Ponce de Leon by Bridget Clawson

I read to five clients, at the moment. One is an unusually tall, angular woman my own age, forty-two, who believes she is Juan Ponce de Leon. Her “imposter name” is Iris Twain, spelled like the Mark. It was agreed upon at the start of our reader-client relationship that Iris was the name I would use. She told me words on a page or computer screen blur and make her vomit as if sea sick. I read to her four times a week at six in the evening.

We sat tonight where we always sit: Iris on the end of the couch, wearing her teal peacock jacket, leaning in, and me in the swivel rocker. I was reading Newsweek. I read the table of contents and Iris told me what she wanted me to focus on. I began. I read for perhaps ten minutes, when Iris abruptly shushed me.

“What is it?” I said.

“That man is back.” Iris pursed her lips, then cocked her head.

I was unprepared for this. “What man?”

I rose to join her at the window. Things were starting to turn purple in the street as if under a plum shaded theatrical light. There was a man. He was in his thirties perhaps, doughy, about five-eight or nine. With him on one rope leash that had been bifurcated there walked and sniffed a pug and a white schipperke. This threesome penetrated deep into Iris’s front yard.

“Are you going to say anything to him about trespassing on your property?” I asked.

Iris told me she had strangled this same man with her bare hands once. “It happened in the 1890’s,” she said, in a creepily normal tone.

The two dogs began to literally dissipate like smoke into the air along with the bifurcated leash. The approaching man was now alone. In a panic as the man drew closer to the house, I blurted: “You need to call the police!”

Iris’s eyes grew darker and she said nothing.

I persisted. “What if he comes in here and kills us both?”

I couldn’t see the trespasser anymore. A moment passed that was electrified with tension. There was a sharp knock at the door. My hand flew to my mouth. Now, the entire room was gaining that same purple glow.

Iris made her way to the front door, where I heard a scuffle and choking, garbled rasps. I grabbed, then mashed two sofa pillows over my ears to muffle the sounds of gasping and bones popping. I wanted to run, but to where? My legs felt bolted to the floor.

I remained frozen in place, vaguely aware of Iris wheeling an appliance dolly from her garage to the front door, and back to her garage. I have no idea how much time passed – time I spent with my eyes shut so tight that I was seeing bright circles of light with black splotches.

Iris returned to me, and gently took the pillows from my ears and placed them back on her couch. She put her hands on my shoulders. When I looked at her face I saw blood in a mist across her chin and neck. Her entire face was lit up as if by moonlight, casting the shadow of a tall ship’s mast across her eyes; the eyes themselves had turned to deep green oceans, and there were no pupils.

“What are we going to do?” I half-muttered, half-cried. I sounded like a scared third-grader.

“You will do what I have learned to do,” Iris said. She serenely guided me back to my rocker, then sat on the couch as if a terrifying, bloody violence had not just shattered our read. She smoothed the disorderly peacocks of her jacket, smearing globs of blood into cerise red streaks on silk.

“That was a wrinkle in my continuum,” Iris said, as if the murderous activities of Juan Ponce de Leon in the form and name of Iris Twain had nothing whatsoever to do with me.

I picked up the Newsweek. Even though the magazine pages were trembling heavily and I could barely form the words with my quaking breath, I picked up my reading at the point we left off. I tried to read to Iris Twain the way I was hired to do. But I found myself repeating a mantra in a monotone.

Iris Twain is a reading client. Nothing more.

Iris Twain is a reading client. Nothing more.

Iris Twain…


Bridget Clawson writes in Edmonds, Washington where she lives with her two dogs. She tows a teardrop camper to places near water in Washington and Oregon where she rockhounds for jaspers and agates to polish. Ms. Clawson has published two books on grief and loss and is currently working on a fictionalized account of her great-grandmother, who worked as a prostitute in the 1800’s. Her prose poems are found in various journals recently, including Mojave River Review, Ginosko Literary Journal and Picaroon Poetry.

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