Trade Me tale

The fabulous robber and his antipodean guest


‘Procrustes, a fabulous robber 
of Attica, was said to have stretched 
or mutilated – cut the legs off – 
his victims to conform them 
to the length of his bed.’ 

I put the item on my watchlist 
and after only a slight hesitation 
pull back the sheets. 

In the morning I check my mail – 


Procrustes asked the guest to join him outside 
to look at the trace of the moon reflected in the lake. 

He said 
‘reflection, at least, makes light work of our compasses – 
light wears itself down 
past the digits 
like a nail biter, eating into the ship of the bone, 
eating its weight in water.’ 

‘Who cares?’ the guest said, ‘let’s get drunk’. 

Procrustes pointed out that they quite possibly 
already were. 

‘What about the day that I showed up 
remember?’ the guest said, 
‘the day was wiping down its surfaces, 
drawing things away, 
so that looking up long cloud 
saw its own waist thicken with light, and 
premature images floated 
on a current 
with metric abandonment.’ 

‘It was nothing of the sort’ Procrustes said, 
‘you sat perched on the corner of the mattress, 
at the southern tip, a fair way from the pillows in the north, you 
reminded me of something soaking, 

     a battle line 
     that breath takes the shape of.’ 

‘Might I remind you,’ said the guest, 
‘that you insisted 
that there must be common sweat before we even get 
to the point of thoughtfully 
I mean, tearful and crying – 

‘oh dear’, said the guest, ‘I really must be wasted.’ 

Procrustes went inside 
turned on the kettle 
the guest followed 
touched Procrustes’ shoulder 
who turned and said ‘I want you 
to be older and wiser! I’ve been half expecting you to come at me 
with your escape, a look in the eye, tearing 
conjunctions from words, holding 
edge to light from the bathroom, bearing 
the blade of your very own, how do you say it? 
Survival instinct?’ 

The guest reminded Procrustes that 
a challenge always comes brightly, and is often shaded 
by its outreach – 

‘First,’ the guest said, ‘the effort of all fires 
must be collected and laid out without gaps, and -’ 

A hush came from the guest’s throat 
as disjoint began to infect basic motor skills, lips clapped, a boneless tingling, 
and hands fell open, 
     gob smacked. The guest’s head 
was full of startled spotlights 
that made fear astonish bee-sized holes in the roof. 

Later the guest told authorities that there was a deep sensation 
like midnight or sunburn 
stored in the house. 

Before the guest escaped, Procrustes sat 
and talked. 

‘I lay you in the bitumen’, he said, 
‘that being the colour of the bedspread, 
and even though you will leave I wonder, 
do we ever arrive safely? 

‘The wind 
warming its hands 
on the sheet’s leaving 
as knuckles attempt shape 
bolder and deeper than intent’s shadow 
limp from a word 
or roused as if by a saw 
at the edge. 

‘I let you let doesn’t it? And only then do we stretch out 
on the bed, taking the ultimate measure?’ 

The guest woke then, and said as ominously 
as possible 

‘the day will come mind you, 
Procrustes, when you will get up 
and go to the computer 
and log on the internet and scroll and scroll and 
     scroll and scroll 

at some point you will exclaim 
my legs! 

on Trade Me! 
Looking a little too good in 
Calvin Klein, doing a little too well for 

Ten days later they will arrive by courier 
in a black bag 

as good as new 

and you will think of keeping them 
just in case you want to go to the shop 
and buy milk.’ 

Procrustes said to the guest 
‘I find that kind of thing 
stressful, all that waiting 
and bidding and transferring funds 
and wrapping and Sellotaping 
and being ranked 
by strangers I’m not ever likely to invite 
inside for a quiet cup of tea.’ 


As I select ‘Buy now’ from the menu, 
I feel a strange desire take hold, a feeling that is like waking 
in the middle of the night 
and leaving town. 



Rachel O’Neill is a writer, artist and editor living on the Kāpiti Coast. She has written poetry, stories and art criticism. Selected writing appears in JAAM 28Hue and CryPaper Radio (www.paperradio.net), Turbine 08 and Turbine 09.