The Name of Calvin

by Jason Heller


Calvin awoke in the graveyard, a headstone for a pillow and a coat of dirt for a sheet. He couldn't remember anything. He brushed the dirt off and patted the cold stone and walked away down the long road.

I should have looked at the name on the headstone, he thought.

He thought this because a woman was standing in front of him and asking his name.

"You can't have a room at our inn unless you leave your name," she said. She said "our," but there was only her.

"My name? But all I want is a bed."

"No name, no bed. We must know who is sleeping here." She said "we," but there was only she.    

"Who?" owled Calvin. "Why, me, of course."

The woman's eyes bugged. "Get clever with me, will you? You know what I mean. You aren't you unless you have a name." She sniffed. "Some people have many."

Calvin couldn't think of anything to say to that. So he left the woman there in the inn, alone with all of her selves.

He walked some more.

"Please, sir, can you spare a penny?"

Calvin had already told the man no, but he turned his pockets out anyway to show him they were empty. A tooth popped out and bounced across the cobblestone.

"Would you like this instead?" Calvin picked the tooth up and held it out to the man. Its roots were long, like fangs hanging.

"No!" The man threw his hands in front of his face. "But if you take it to the moneylender, he will lend you a penny!"

When Calvin gave the tooth to the moneylender, the moneylender put on a monocle. "Hmm," he said, and bit the tooth. "Calcium. Collateral." Then he pulled out a box of bone and put the tooth in a keyhole.

The box opened. The moneylender gave him the penny.

Calvin returned to the man who had asked for the penny. But where the man had stood now laid a stag with a labyrinth of antlers and a gaping throat.

When he brought the penny back to the moneylender, the moneylender's face turned white. "You want your tooth back? No one ever gets his tooth back."

"But here's the penny, the one you just gave me."

"The interest, though! Interest!"

Calvin didn't care what that was.

"Your tooth is no longer worth a penny! It is worth eleven-tenths of one. You must give me something else."

"I have nothing else."

The moneylender moved his mouth like a trout. "Your name, then! You must give me your name as interest."

Calvin didn't know it. So he left the moneylender there, holding Calvin's tooth in his chalk-stick fingers.

"I'm hungry," Calvin said as the sun sank. But the girl wouldn't give him anything to eat. She was young, with honey for hair, and her food was spread out on a blanket of snakeskin.

"But you have this feast in front of you," he said. "Mangoes with pink flesh. Sweet butter. Loaves like birds' wings."

The girl laughed instead and pulled Calvin to a copse of juniper that smelled of sliced fruit.

Later, with honey hair tickling his face, the girl touched her lips to his ear. "I want something from you. Please. Just one small thing, then we can spend the last of the earth's breath in the juniper like this."

Calvin gasped. "Yes, anything. If it's mine, you can have it."

She whispered. "Your name."

When Calvin told her he didn't know it, the girl bit off a piece of him and swallowed. The bite welted and festered and honeybees poured from it. They stung him, and they stung her. Him again, her again, back and forth, a buzzing breeze. Then she wept and melted and flowed like golden wax into a hole in the ground that the bees had dug.

Calvin wept, too.

Tired from all his walking and talking, Calvin followed the long road back to the graveyard. Then he found his old bed. Before pulling the sheet of dirt back over him, he remembered to lift up the fallen stone that was his pillow.

Calvin, it said.

He thought about getting back up. Then he thought again, smiled, and laid his head down on the cold stone. 

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