I once heard someone say that science fiction is predictive. This story probably deserves to be fleshed out more, which I’ll do on the rewrite, probably, but I think it works as is.
Look up geoengineering.
Things we never said
I didn’t say I told you so when the earth died screaming. No one did.
Maybe someone did. Some asshole at the edge of some ocean turned too acidic to enter telling his grandkids that he knew this would happen right before he dives in and sort of melts away as his family screams and cries. But probably no one would do such a thing. Or maybe whole nations of them did.
Men probably. We’re dramatic that way. Everything’s about finality and getting the last act in before the curtains close.
But we keep on living on. Trying to survive in the world we murdered.
The sun doesn’t shine the way it used to. Not since we sent sulfur into the upper atmosphere to shield us from the sun and its heat. It was meant to slow down or maybe stop global warming. That’s what they said anyway. The Great Powers. They didn’t ask us, the rest of the world, when they filled the atmosphere with the death of the planet.
Oddly enough, the sunrises and sunsets never looked so beautiful. The blue of the sky was a hazed blue but the sun turned gorgeous. Oranges and greens and purples and somehow new shades of black that never yet existed here. The only thing I don’t miss about the old world is the sun. Strange to say that now but I believe it’s true.
I remember the day they launched disaster into the sky. A rocket aimed at nothing racing away from the world we stood on and when it disappeared from our sight so far away and then even farther and farther until we were all staring into the sun waiting for something to happen. And then it exploded into a dark net that slowly wrapped around the atmosphere.
Everyone knew it would work but we also knew it might be impossible to take it back down.
Like all the words I said to you. All the ones I can’t anymore.
When the monsoons didn’t come things got out of control. I guess most of us didn’t know that we needed that water or Southeast would become a desolate wasteland from a neverending drought. I remember your cracked lips. And since the sunshield didn’t stop carbon emissions the ocean just got more and more acidic. They tried to reverse it by seeding iron and kicking up plankton growth to suck it out of the atmosphere but the rate at which that worked was negligible with the increased use of fossil fuels.
People believed what was told them: the world was saved. Why not continue life as we had?
None of us in Southeast did. But the Great Powers didn’t care about us. They weaponised the climate and all we lost was everything.
You were so thin and frail. Your hair and teeth falling out.
All those distended stomachs of all those children. You tried to help though you rotted where you couldn’t sleep.
Then we little powers turned on the Great ones and the bombs began dropping. With the drought and starvation and the blight of the water, they retaliated as a last desperate show of force in a dying world. Of course, the Great Powers responded and much of the world disappeared.
You were gone by then. You never saw all of this. You died. A long time ago.
But I carried you through. I thought maybe there’d be hope in this new technology. If we could revive the world, why not you? If we could give all of us a new life, why not you?
Why not you?
We laid our hope on a sinking ship.
Even though so many knew this would happen. They predicted it. But the promise was so strong. So shining and bright.
And you were so deathly.
You never got to see your child born, but you never saw him born dead either.
I watched you die, and then the world died, and now we’re just wandering on a desert that was once the ocean, the hazed black light of the sun scarring the sky.
I was reading about Rasputin today and today’s story is about him but it’s inspired by him and parts of it are just stolen from his life, or from the myth of his life. I’ve discovered this is sort of where a lot of my fiction is coming from this year: I learn about someone, but only in broadstrokes, and then I rewrite their life as I imagine it was, or should have been. Like my novel about Roberto Bolano that isn’t about him or my novel about Justin Beiber that’s also about Hitler or my novel about Wittgenstein that’s also not about him. None of those are finished and only one of them’s actually started, but I’m hoping to get them all done this year, though the Bolano one may not be done for several years, since it’s going to be about 400k words long.
Anyrate, our government has declared a permanent war on terror where the entire world is the battlefield and the executive branch can do whatever it wants without even having a discussion with congress or the public so that’s cool. Oh, too, they’re spying on the press, which is also cool. The Nobel Peace laureate president who promised transparency is maybe the worst president for transparency in decades. Somehow he’s even worse than his horrible predecessor.
Who’d've thunk it?
Poisoned, shot, drowned, buried, and he sat up even as we burnt his remains. The Capital erased, the Revolution over, we dug him up. We dug him up to burn him again to make sure he stayed dead this time. During the Revolution and the subsequent Civil War, reports had surfaced all over the State that he had been spotted. Seen healing the dying or leading insurgents, Nitupsar appeared over and over again. What did it mean that he was leading revolts and troops and continuing to serve the gods in the ways he did? A heretic and madman, only Nitupsar could return from Death to fight another day. Spread lies and chaos in a land torn apart by it. And then, that day, the Capital was there and then the Light and then it was gone. In an instant the entire city disappeared leaving only an immense crater where once stood the center of civilisation! All kinds of reports surfaced and people were saying any number of things. After all, this was a Civil War following a Revolution! There were so many factions competing for power that it’s hard to say exactly who did what or how or why. But one thing just about everyone agreed on is that they saw him there. Praying the way he did. This tall dark figure praying at the circumference of the city and then the Light and then nothing but the tall dark figure walking away and disappearing into our memories. I may just be a simple man but it doesn’t take a politico to know that Nitupsar would want revenge for his murder, and he was crazy enough and wild enough to take it out on the whole State in this manner. And when all the dust of the Revolution and War settled, we dug him up. His body remained there but it hadn’t decomposed the way it should’ve over two years underground, so we burnt him. I was there. I watched it. No one knew what would happen so first we bound him in chains as we pulled him from his grave, then built a pyre around him. I remember the glow of the flame, the roar it made, can still feel its heat against my skin as it reached three meters into the darkness of the night. There through the flames we saw him sit up, the chains binding his limbs but he managed to face us. His mouth open and roaring at us to unchain him. Then his eyes appeared as two flames deep in caverns and a third appeared where the hole in his forehead was. Terrified, people began running while others stayed. I stayed, but not from bravery. I was frozen. Caught in his stare. He watched me and I watched him and then it seemed as if I was alone and he laughed. He laughed until the flame was embers and he was ash.
He was a simple man. A holy man. Grew up on a mountain deep in the north, past the wilderness and wild in a small town at the edge of the world. As a youth he was quiet but like many who live off in a land of nowhere, he fell to drinking. The drinking led to various other excesses he would become famous for later in life, but he was a harmless man all the same. When yet young, perhaps seventeen, he met a Monk of the Mountain and disappeared for two years. When he returned he was changed. He no longer drank or ate meat and began spreading good deeds. Simple things. Healing the sick and the poor, helping with the flocks and the crops. Many were afraid of him when he returned. None who meet the Monks return living but here he was. The tall dark boy then a tall dark man. The only real change was he became kinder and softer, his hair longer, and his beard grew in. After that the wild suited him best and he rarely slept beneath shelter. The birds and the wolves is what they used to say. He belonged to us but he preferred the birds and the wolves. That is, until he married and his reputation began spreading. The man who returned from the Mountain! He became a sensation by the time he was twenty five, even way across the wilderness. News of him came to the Capital, or so they say. And that’s where he went. That’s where all his troubles came from. You know how it is for a man to be different than all other men. Hard enough in a small place like this, but at least we knew him! In the Capital his every word and action became suspect. He slept with the poor and cleaned their pain and for this he was a heretic. It didn’t help him, though, that those who took most to him were wealthy women who spent their husband’s and father’s money on him. What he did with the money, none really know. Barefoot and unkempt ever since he returned from the Mountain, the Capital didn’t change him. But he changed it. Boy did he ever change it. He continues to change it even still, all these years dead. His shadow looms over the crater it became and the Council that now rules. A spectre on all they do. No one says so, but that’s why they moved the Capital and why they left the old one in desolation. It’s why they killed him three times in the same night.
First we poisoned him. That was the easy part. We told him my wife was having a dinner party and so he came along with us. He was talkative and cheerfully oblivious. He never knew I knew what he did with my wife. With all of our wives at his orgiastic ceremonies. The Ecstatic Monk they called him. He preached that we needed to save ourselves from the corruption of the physical world. The only way to reach the level of the gods was through leaving the body behind, and this happened when Death took us. He said the way to leave the body while yet living was to give into its demands for pleasure, and in doing so reclaiming your mastery over it. Or something. He may have even known we all knew about his little cult. So in love with himself and full of his own nonsense, he never considered anyone would want to do him harm or even that people could disbelieve him. Anyway, he thought we loved him. He was drunk, as always. We gave him wine laced with cyanide but after four glasses he only got drunker. Telling jokes and laughing at them, he wanted to know when the women were coming. The women. Our wives and daughters. We fed him cupcakes full of arsenic and after three all he said was that their sweetness didn’t agree with his stomach. So we shot him. FIrst he was merely shocked, then he grew violently angry so we shot him again, and then again, but he came at us, beating O– with his fists until they were covered with blood. We pulled him away and I shot the Mystic right in the forehead. His head jolted back and then drooped forward, his eyes still on me even as the back of his head colored my walls. His jaw fell open and his eyes disappeared in shadow and he began cursing, wiping the blood from his eyes as he launched into me. His hands round my neck, he screamed curses upon me and my progeny until K– and L– beat him into submission. Sputtering on the floor, his face caved in, blood pouring from his shattered skull, he still breathed. And so we took him to the river. It was winter then and we threw him in. After all that, he died from the drowning. We buried him two meters down in case his tenacity lasted through Death but he stayed dead this time. The peasants burnt his remains several years later and cast his ashes in concrete and buried it back in his grave. There’s a temple there now in his honor. Such is the folly of the postrevolutionary world. All the villains become heroes and all the heroes become villains. He became a god and I rot here in this cell for the crimes of a State now buried with that deranged madman, Nitupsar.
He had the ear of the emperor and, if the rumors were true, the heart, and perhaps more, of the empress. It’s funny how time turns on people. He was a debauched fool who climbed his way artlessly and haphazardly into the good graces of a superstitious and dying ruling class where he was hated almost universally. After his Death he was feared everywhere. Now, in this new world we’ve built, his teachings have found new life and his theology of the soul spread over the State. For all the rumors about him during his life and potential reign, the one that lasted after all the violence of the Civil War was his opposition to violence of any kind and his generosity to the poor and infirmed. He may have been a heretic and a charlatan and a lascivious drunkard but he also made true reform in the final days of the empire. Of course, that’s if you believe what they said back then. The emperor was failing, the empire was crumbling from constant Revolution, and he stopped our participation in the international war, began a policy of reparation, and even began to free the press and the economy. Nitupsar, the Mystic. The Reformer. The Ecstatic Monk. The Man from the Mountain. The Undying. That’s what they call themselves, his followers, as if to negate the laws of life. The Undying are still only a fringe cult but in a couple generations they may be the theology of the State. If this State lasts that long. It’s a fragile thing, a tenuous peace and collaboration between the many sects, but it’s all we have for now. When it falls, perhaps we’ll simply be known as the Undying Land and Nitupsar will be our godking! It may seem unlikely now, but stranger things will happen as they have always happened. It’s often the weakest and most unlikely that succeed and the cult of the Undying grows rapidly and they’re politically motivated. Their pacifism is especially popular with youths and women, for it’s a woman’s theology. It always was, and it’s why they hated him. He spoke to their women and turned them away from their patriarchal control. Perhaps that will be his legacy: the Matriarchy of the Undying. It’s almost beautiful to think about.
Going to a lake for the weekend so no story tomorrow and maybe not on Sunday either. Seventeen straight days of stories is pretty good though, yeah?
The bombs went off but only one mattered, and the Capitol disappeared, evaporated in the blast, the bright erasing light. What followed was chaos and darkness for days and then the lights came back but the chaos stayed for a few more weeks. Not chaos like looting but chaos like soldiers killing citizens in the streets because everyone who made orders went out with the light. The bomb.
He was the leader of the opposition. Tall and gaunt with a thick red beard hanging over his chest and just wisps of blonde curls over his scalp. He got attention when he stood up to O– and called him a pusillanimous bastard for the bomb. Lots of talking followed that. Or, not so much talking, but monologues. They speak that way here, even still. It’s not necessarily civil but everyone gets a chance to talk, though that was sort of an empty rule before he came around and just demanded it by talking over everyone. Boisterous and emphatic, they called him a true believer in the Cause and that Cause was liberty. Not for the few or even the many but for all. He made us all ashamed that first day we noticed him.
See, the bomb. About half of us were in on it or knew it was coming, though we continued to preach nonviolence and civil disobedience and disruption and direct action. But what could be more direct than annihilating the Capitol? The meeting that day was to discuss what had happened but to make no apologies. O– was careful in that. He exclaimed loudly what happened and how it happened and then implicated all of us in his conspiracy. He told us some of our sisters had died in order to make this dream reality and that we are all members of the same sorority. The Cause.
But then he stood up raging and it was as if a whirlwind swept through the room. He threw chairs and he appeared to grow as he spoke, his shadow spreading over all of us, indicting everyone present, and especially O– and all who knew of his plot, his conspiracy.
By the next day he was the unofficial leader. A term he deflected constantly, saying there were no individuals that guide history, only the swell and motion of human endeavors.
After we all began to follow him, even those of us who took part in the bomb, he became even more energetic. Crowds formed around him in the chaos of sectarian violence and they stopped. They listened. Through the howls of violence and the shrieks of gunshots and the bellows of bombs they listened to him and he made them believe in peace, togetherness, and freedom.
I came to him nights and found him a different man. So gaunt because he never slept or ate. He survived on books read in the half light of our wrecked country caused by our violence. His voice was soft and gentle, his eyes hooded, and his mouth hung open or his lips sucked between his teeth. His delicate touch and coarse beard, the shadows spread everywhere, the sweat covering us.
I love your beard, I said.
Women need to take a bigger role, he said turning away, writing in his journal.
What do you write?
SIx months later we were underground. He told us that the revolution continued.
We believed him.
They hooded us in the middle of a rally. Who knows how many died that day. For a week, we were held in silence, alone, in the dark.
When I saw him again he was beardless, his chin so thin and pointy, cuts on his bony cheeks.
What have they done, I said and O– laughed, said: You should’ve heard him as they cropped him.
I told them, he said, my revolutionary: I told them I only grew my beard because revolutionaries have beards.
We laughed till there were tears in our eyes.
And now the guns are in our eyes. They asked us if we wanted cigarettes and then he spoke for the last time in this life, but his journals will be found and this new military occupation will fail. His last words before our heads erupt in Death:
Smoking’s bad for you and the environment.
All day in my head today. You, impossible you. In just eight days, together again, and then two weeks from then and living again.
I keep not talking about important things on here because I’m writing these stories every day and I’ve never been very good at updating about everyday things, but maybe the most important court case in history was decided about a week ago. The former US backed Guatemalan dictator, Efrain Rios Montt, has been tried and convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity. This is the first time a former head of state has been convicted of this in civil court by their own country. It’s enormous, a victory thirty years in the making by the survivors of families who died in these crimes. Decades, they were ignored, and now: justice. This also implicates the current Guatemalan president as well as the Reagan administration, which means possibly hundreds of former US high ranking government officials could be tried in Guatemalan court. They have that right, and while it’s unlikely that the US will allow anything like that to happen, it’s still a beautiful possibility. To know that these war criminals will possibly face justice for their crimes–I mean, I don’t even know what to say.
And then I heard today that Republicans want to impeach Barack Obama over something probably frivolous. However, I do think he should be impeached and tried as a war criminal. And if we start with him, we need to keep going, to both Bushes, to Clinton, to so many others. Especially Kissinger. Oh, to be alive in a time when heads of state can be convicted for their crimes!
Anyrate, all that aside: this story is about a skeleton and a painter.
Playcrack the Sky
She was a painter and she lived alone in a house made of bones on a lonely shore made of teeth in an empty bay shaped like a hook of a forgotten sea of the shallow ocean pressed against the Waste. The painter took the canvas made of wood cut from trees behind her house made of bones and brought it to the shore made of teeth and there she set it down and looked at the sky and saw it was clear and she took the paint made from berries colored blue and with the paint colored the canvas to match the sky and when she turned to the sky and saw it was blue she smiled and when she turned to the canvas and saw the same blue she kept smiling. She put down the paint and took teeth in her fist and she ground the teeth into dust and took the water from the forgotten sea and made enamel paste and spread this paste on her knuckles on her fist and then sat down on the teeth of the beach of the bay of the sea to let it all dry. The paste caked on her fist and then solidified in the sun’s baking heat and with the other hand she buried her hand in the teeth colored reds and whites and yellows and blacks and beneath the teeth she found more bones and the bones were a hand that grabbed her as she grabbed it and yanking and pulling she ripped the bones from the beach of teeth and with the hand came an arm and with the arm came a ribs and skull and spine and legs and feet. The skeleton stood and stared at her and tilted its head to one side but the painter walked away from the skeleton and back to the painting now dry and the sky still blue and the painting still matching. She brought the fist before her face then turned to the skeleton and then to the painting and she thrust her fist caked in hardened enamel paste into the painting and the painting broke apart and the wood splitting and the canvas tearing and then came the sound.
The sound came like rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr and then like kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk and the skeleton watched the sky break and tear and shatter to bits while the blackness of space fluttered through the holes in sky blowing the ripped fabric of sky as waves against a shore that was not there. The skeleton turned to the painter and saw that she laughed but heard nothing for a skeleton cannot hear but the skeleton cocked its head again as the painter laughed or screamed in glee and then she took teeth from the beach of teeth and chipped at the hardened paste on her fist until her fingers were freed and then the painter turned to the skeleton and mimicked its posture and moved her mouth but the skeleton shrugged which she took for answer and she waved it to follow as she walked away from the beach from the bay from the sea of the edge of the ocean pressed on the farside of the Waste. In the house made of bones she sat on a chair made of bones beside a table made of bones and the skeleton studied the room but said nothing for skeletons cannot speak but watched the painter who did speak for painters can speak and she spoke a long time and first her face appeared smiles and joy but as she talked the smiles and joy faded and there was pain on her face and the ache of loneliness and as the sorrow filled her face the skeleton watched her climb into a bed made of bones with only the blackness of space to light the room through the windows made of bones where breezes from far away from the beach from the sea from the ocean from the Waste blew to cool the fever of her art of shatter. And then the painter became invisible in the darkness for the skeleton could not see and perhaps she slept but the skeleton remained still until the light of the sun and the light of space mingled and filled the house made of bones and the skeleton walked around and studied the bones and the skulls and before the painter woke the skeleton chewed her to Death for a skeleton cannot eat.
Still in love with you. Always in love with you. Hearing your voice in my ear, talking about computers, about futures.
This is a story inspired by a recently famous image.
Myth of Ancient Love
Bones. Bones. Tiny little bones. Lovely little bones. And all this sand. Sand. Everywhere the sand, and bones. Little lovely bones and ugly giant skulls. Skulls so large they fit inside. Bones so small they are barely there at all. Dusting away the sand, the dust, the swelter. The sun. Glaring. Mummies appeared. Humans of rot. Giants of loss. This place was once an ocean says the man, the discoverer. This place is now a desert says the son, the surveyor. This place was once a disaster says the woman, the seer. Before the desert and before the ocean this place was a horror says the seer and the seer turns her seeing head up to the shining star. The sun. The swelter. Sweat. In the distance the landscape shifts. The desert breathes and its breath is dry and caustic. Air shifts. Shimmers. Pulsates in the distance. Close at hand. Swelter. They find more and more mummies and the girl, the counter counts them. The workers dig and the discoverer tells them not to ruin the scene. The mummified faces gnash in fear from a thousand thousand years ago. The mummies are small. Too small. They fit in the mouths of the giants. The giant skulls swallow the mummies. The mummies fit by fives in the mouths of the skulls of the giants. This place was disaster says the surveyor in a whisper. The seer nods and puts her hand on the surveyor’s shoulder. This place is a mausoleum of their terror says the seer. Her eyes deepset and shadowed. Her cheeks fleshy. Her neck thick. Her hands thick. Her fingers dance, thickly. She is thick and she sweats. Her reek is caught in her flesh and the surveyor moves from her. The workers work, digging. The discoverer drinks water. Pulls back his hat. Bald. He is bald and his bald head shines baldly against the sun’s shine. A wraith the worker says to the other worker as they dig and watch the discoverer. They dig and the discoverer disappears in the silhouette of the sun becoming thinner and thinner till he is nothing. Nowhere. Not there. Only his voice and the voice says stop. Stop says the discoverer and he slides down the hole. Past mummies small. Past mummies large. Towards mummies. The discoverer takes the brush from his belt and brushes. He brushes at a finger and the finger becomes a hand. The hand is on a surface. A back. The back of another. The seer and surveyor do not move and the workers yawn but the discoverer works. Brushes. He brushes and the hand leads to an arm and the back leads to another hand and another arm. The discoverer brushes, discovering. The scene reveals itself brush by brush. Wind blows and the brush battles the shift of sand. Wind. The surveyor takes his brush and brushes. The workers brush too. Only the seer watches, seeing. The horizon runs from the sun. All goes dark. The desert colds, blackens. The workers turn on lights, flashlights. The seer sees from the light of stars. The constellations writ large and deep on the sky. Etched against eternity says the seer but no one hears. They brush. They all brush and what was once a finger reveals itself. It is a mummy holding another mummy. A last embrace. Against disaster says the surveyor. They held each other through Death says the discoverer and looks at the seer, the wife. The wife watches the stars but they do not move. She turns to the discoverer and smiles.
The news spread of the lovers from the old world, the dead and buried world, the world revealed again. The stories followed of who they were, where they were, how they loved each other, infinitely, even through Death and back into life. They traveled the world, the lovers from the ancient world, and the stories of their lives, of their Deaths spread, built large and thrown across oceans and mountains and deserts.
The ancient lovers embracing through cataclysm while giants marauded their land.
A poem, for love. For life.
The last story I wrote about the devil was better, I think.
I had a brilliant string of ideas that led me down a path to make my alternate history novel where Hitler wins the war so so so good. I really can’t wait to write it, though I’ve obligations all over the place to get out of the way first. I might try to serialise it next year instead. Sort of do what I’m doing this year, with the 52 stories, but instead do a novel in however many parts it takes.
Anyrate, those are thoughts for later. The lovely Chelsea’s finished with school now, moving up here in exactly one month, and all the world is green, bright, shining. This year together but apart has been beautiful but hard and I can’t wait for it to end, with us in each other’s arms.
But, yes: story–
The Devil’s Tears
Waking up to ash and sweat, the Devil’s kiss still on my lips. An empty room without you, cold against bareskin though the sun floods in. What will this all be when I’m old, grey, dead? The depression of your body remains, waits for you to fall back in, hold me above you as you scorch beneath me, between me. I’ve felt the waves of your tongue diving through my shores as mountains caught sunlight beyond the glass and birds rode winds through cherry trees out of blossom. It was here, so far from home, that I found you and myself.
These Pacific shores, a sea claimed by two countries, but owned by neither. Who owns the sea? the sky? the grass and the air?
The leaves blew through the park and the trees swayed and your touch became a swirling cyclone condensed in air, taking the cloud for your face. My eyes back to you between my thighs, the grass caressing, and bugs in flight. We weren’t the only ones in heat that day, the birds chasing back and forth above us, careful to not disturb or be disturbed.
I had another then. Do you remember? I belonged to him, I thought. Was promised to him for summer. He was to be my master and I his wife to pump out children who would love me the way I wanted to love him. They would be my solace in a marriage unhappy but secure.
And then there was you.
The Devil. Bursting with raucous energy and throwing sensations in all directions. They struck my skin then slithered through the pores and dissipated into my bloodstream and from that first moment I saw you the torment began. Your face in the sky, carved out of mountains that surround this city I’ve been in so much longer than I planned. I came here to escape but what I found was a life I never wanted but would never give up. A life with you.
Always gone by morning, woken early by the wall of glass and the sun’s lingering blistering fingers.
I’ve kissed the Devil’s lips, held him in my arms as the boy I was promised to screamed over the airwaves of a phone lying still across the floor. I tasted your skin, burning hot electric shock. I’ve held you inside and all around and promised myself to always be yours.
But then you go away and I’m left with only the breeze, the memories of your touch, the smoldering of the night before as seasons collapse into one another, crashing against the shore of the life I saw for myself so long before.
I’ve tasted the Devil’s tears and they were not sweet. I promised to never leave you and you promised to follow me anywhere, everywhere, but now, here, on this last morning of sunlight on these Pacific shores, you left only the traces of your love and I taste it still.
Your tears and your burn. Your love and my loss.
Just eleven more days and I’m with you, dreaming of you.
Sleep and dreams are the obsession of all of us and this story’s about dreaming and revolution.
Dancing together, Dreaming alone
He became a subject of curiosity, my brother. It took us a long time to realise what it was that was so different about him but when we did all I felt was sad.
I noticed it first, of course.
Every night, dancing through dreams, the whole town brought to the collective dream of humanity. All who sleep and dream at the same time do so together and we used to weave in and out of one another’s consciousness. In dreams we all speak the same language and when we slept we could meet people from thousands of miles away. We were friends, if only in dreams. Even lovers. I fell in love for the first time with an Armenian. He looked familiar, as if I had seen him somewhere before, but Armenia’s so far from here. I’ve been watching you, he said, For a long time. With that he took my hands and we slid through the oceans and trampled on clouds of a seismic mind at the rind of reality. Wrapping stratus around us, he took me, lovingly. From there it became ritual until one night we flew past one another and into the arms of others.
It’s only a dream, after all.
My brother was our miracle. We’re only allowed one child per family and somehow he sneaked through so many years after me. After mom was too old to conceive and dad was too bored to try. But he came through. It was taken as nothing, so far from the capitol. He wasn’t the only second born but he was the only one in our family and probably the only accidental one in the town. Many gave extra births as a slight act of defiance or out of laziness, but my parents were law abiding and believed in the Cause.
It wasn’t until he got older and none of us could find him in the dream. I searched often and sometimes I still regret even telling anyone about his absence. No one would’ve noticed. Maybe we’d all still be dreaming together if I had just stayed quiet.
But those were other days.
He was nowhere in the dream so the next night I waited until everyone went to sleep. I forced myself to stay awake even as my body tried to plunge into the dream. Mom and dad leapt out the window and into the moonlight but I didn’t hear my brother. Out the window, the thin veneer of dream shrouded what happened beyond but my throat went dry and my hands shook knowing I was missing it. Waiting until I could wait no longer, which wasn’t very long. I was and am an impatient person. But I ran to my brother’s room and opened the door, expecting to see him doing who knows what when he should be asleep and dreaming, but I found him there, in bed. Sleeping.
He slept but he didn’t move. He stayed right where he was. Stationary. To be honest, it was hard to look at him like that. It felt so wrong. Revolting. I would have rather caught him masturbating than caught him as he was, sleeping so still. I walked over to his bed and touched him, just to make sure he still lived. I swallowed hard, my head heavy and my thoughts stampeding, and I shook him awake.
He just opened his eyes and asked me what I was doing.
I cried. Threw my arms around him and just cried. I cried so hard and so long that before I knew it I was dancing out in the sky with the rest of the world sleeping. The memory of my brother stuck in bed dragged me back to earth, though. There was no happiness that night. No wondrous dream of beauty filled with dancing and lovemaking.
Only the impossible weight of my brother’s affliction.
And then I told my mom who told my dad and the next night we all waited till he slept, the music of dreams drifting through the windows. When we opened his door mom vomited and dad’s looked furious. He didn’t do anything rash, just held my mom and took her back to bed. Within minutes they were out there, dreaming. But I sat by my brother through that night, learning to not hate him for his difference.
Mom and dad never mentioned it and they barely even looked at my brother after that but I stayed with him through the nights. I grew accustomed to watching him so still and silent and danceless. I imagined he still dreamt but he did it alone, in a still and quiet place.
He always danced alone.
I cried often watching him. The thought of all that he was missing just tore me down. To know my own little miracle brother was missing maybe the most important part of human experience–it was simply too much.
Most people didn’t notice my brother’s absence because they had never seen him dreaming but everyone noticed mine and that brought them to find my brother sleeping so still and dreaming alone.
Well, I suppose I don’t need to fill in all the blanks between those days and these. We’ve all lived through them together. After discovering my brother it turned out I could no longer dream in unison, being exposed so long and so frequently to his disease. My parents started to slip into solitary sleep more and more, though they always dreamt together. At least until the day my dad died.
Everyone said it was the grief but I think it’s because he hanged himself.
One by one and then by the hundred we all stopped dreaming until the disease spread over the whole earth. In two years we lost our connection to one another. Most people stopped being able to sleep. I didn’t know you could die from lack of sleep but thousands and then millions did.
They blamed my brother, of course. Then they blamed my parents for having a second child. They said he was a curse or cursed.
They tried to kill him, and me and my mom with him. The last time I saw our hometown was running from our house in flames, dragging my mom and brother with me. We’re sort of on the run now, though no one really knows what we look like. Everywhere we go there are stories of the boy who killed the dream. The Capitol’s put out bounties and decrees and all kinds of things but much of that stopped after the Godhead died and then the Hands and Feet fell to fighting over the Mouth and the Eyes.
Everything’s pretty chaotic, in part because everyone’s so tired all the time.
He’s still pretty young, my brother. I don’t think he even knows what’s happened.
He looks so peaceful, dreaming alone.
Happy mother’s day, mothers.
My mother flew kites made of wolves grown in the backyard garden.
In my youth, those foggy days between infancy and childhood, when I first ruffled the fur of a wolf, pulled on its ear. It was the first time I knew what danger meant. Those tiny jaws snapped at me and my mother pulled me away, blood streaming from my hand, caught in the updraft of air where it clotted before my eyes. She kissed the spot where the finger went missing and it sealed. Danger and loss taught me trust and love and I’ve never regretted the loss of a finger for that moment of discovery, when love became more than a word I repeated whenever mother was around. Love became an act.
The wolves grew in the garden. When first their heads sprouted it was all snaps and shrill howls. It’s true what they say about wolves and the moon. Every full moon in the springs of my youth were filled with those high pitched howls, their heads reared back, ears pressed to their skulls, releasing whatever it was inside them into the air to mix with moonlight.
My mother taught me to love the wolves but also to respect them. No longer did I rush to pet them but waited until their forepaws sprouted limply from their stalk. It was then they were calmest, most affectionate. They spent much of their days staring at their new paws, licking the soil away and learning to move.
I named them for a long time though my mother told me not to. She never wanted me to get attached to the season’s crop, but I couldn’t help myself. Those wolf cubs growing in the backyard, their eyes lit up to see me, struggling in their stalk for my touch, to lick my skin. To walk through the garden in summer was to feel the furry love of a new pack. Homegrown and organic, my mother didn’t believe in treating them for insects or pumping hormones into them, but let them grow with nothing but water and sun until their bodies developed enough for meat. There were always rabbits and so the wolves never went wanting.
Where’s daddy, I said for the first time after I had started school, just a year or two after I lost my first finger.
She inhaled long through her nose while watering the wolves, all their little mouths holding themselves open to drink, lapping at the soil and one another’s jaws. Putting down the watering can, wiping the soil that wasn’t there from her hands and pants, she sat at the edge of the wolfgarden and beckoned me to her. I sat on her lap, held in her arms, and we watched the tiny wolf sprouts, so newly bloomed they could only whimper back and forth, wriggling their ears.
Your daddy, she said, was the finest man I ever known. Was him first who sewed wolves into the earth and taught me how to handle them so. He was a mythic sort. You know mythic?
I shook my head but kept my eyes on the wolves.
Mythic’s like a story from long ago. Like cartoons but older. Your daddy was the type of man who did things meant for cartoons. Was him who built this land stone by stone, blade of grass by blade of grass. Was him who dragged gravity to this place, pulled down the sun to shine upon us, wrangled the moon to watch over us. Partly that’s why things float so.
To remind me she grabbed a handful of dirt and threw it in the air. I watched it turn from a scattered cloud to a cyclone whirling upward and then it compressed into a stone, began falling, and burst to life as a dragonfly, its fiery wings blazing off and away.
Even that’s your daddy’s doing. World we used to live in was too boring for him. There was so much life to be had that only lived in dreams so he burrowed on into his own head and pulled all this place out. Your daddy was a Dreamer and all of us believed hard enough in his dream to make all this real. You’ll learn when you’re grown and a daddy yourself what it means to live life elsewhere.
Where’s daddy now?
She exhaled against my neck, cold. She said, Your daddy dreamed so hard I don’t think he knew rightly what it was he was doing. He sewed these wolves into the earth but never treated them with the just amount of respect. Like you lost your finger, so your daddy lost his life to these wolves. It’s not just wolves here in this garden, but the bones and memories of your daddy. It’s him who watches you through their eyes and sings to you with their voices. Every kiss you get from them is a kiss from him.
But they bit me.
That’s right. They’re still wolves and now your daddy’s one of them. He’s teaching you not to be like him in all ways. And now I bet you know better, huh? Never gonna mess with them wiley pups before they’re alive long enough to understand their place as a plant.
Much of what she told me then didn’t make sense till a few years ago when I went to college across the Gap for a semester. It was a jarring experience, to say the least. One I’d rather not think about.
But what I remember most about my mother was the way she took the skin of the fully grown wolves and made them into kites. I had wolf sheets, wolf shirts, wolf coats, wolf everything, but it was the kites that brought me the most joy. They flew so beautifully in the air and if you knew how to fly them just right, you could get them howling. A thousand wolves howling at the winter moon every year as they drifted in air.
My mother was no saint and there were times when I wished that my mother could’ve been any other woman besides the lady of the wolves, but how I remember her best are all those wolfkites held by us kids beneath that cold winter moon on the shortest day of the year.
These days roll away like mountain rivers.
Give me a life, she said
It was summer but it was winter: cold winds blew and crops grew too few. They blamed her, the villagers. She heard it when she walked through the market or the forest. Words blaming her, calling her magic a curse from the gods, a curse for them all. Others blaming her for not using it to change the weather, make the sun shine brighter, the winds blow warmer, the crops grow stronger. The days were long but cold and they came to her cottage and complained to her wife. Her wife made excuses for her, saying she did all she could and that she had foreseen a generous change in the weather. She listened to her wife lie, to the door close and latch, to the screams that followed when the villagers were sure to be far away.
What use is your magic? We’re in a crisis and many may starve and you, what can you do? You tend the fields like a peasant but none of your croptalk makes them grow. What good is it? Why not just be done of it and live a normal life. Do something useful. Learn a true skill.
Like a merchant, she said, her head down, floating dust between her hands, forming it into a miniature cyclone.
Stop that, her wife slapped her hands and the dust flitted away by the change in air. Her wife then took her hands, the ones she slapped, in her own, You have the head for it. You could bring trade here. Food and the like. We could start a guild between the neighboring villages and maybe even trade with the City.
She held her wife’s hands, squeezed, then let them go.
She talked to the trappers and farmers, those with livestock to spare, which were few. She talked about traders who came from far and wide but rarely this far north. The men listened, arms folded, faces stern, but as she continued, talking of bridging the gap between the neighboring villages and even the city, their body’s softened. When she finished talking the sun had arced across the sky and the men simply nodded and said they would think about it.
Every day of that week, she journeyed from town to town and gave the same talk to men similar in disposition and demeanor, but by the end they had all nodded and said they would consider it.
Her days filled this way, leaving before her wife rose and returning when he wife slept, she walked half in a dream, borrowing the horse of a friend to make the journeys. As she rode from town to town she listened to the birds who sang of long gone years of short winters and long summers. Her horse said little and when it did speak it was unkind. She caught leaves from trees and juggled them in the air around her, her face relaxed, slack, but gaunt, eyes darkened by scant sleep. There were days when children followed her for a few miles begging her to show them some magic. She would look at the sun, measure its place in the sky, and stop, tell them only a quick one. Sometimes she brought birds to her, who landed on her head or shoulder, or squirrels came and stole the coin from the pocket of one of the children who had one, or she drew up the sand to make a golem, only a few inches tall, who danced until one of the children touched it, at which point it collapsed back into a pile earth.
Invariably, she was late to every meeting as one trick turned into three or ten. In this way her work of one week became the work of three and then five.
She returned home at the end of the fifth week, she found her wife asleep, a candle yet burning on the sidetable. From the doorway she watched her wife sleep, tracing the curve of her shoulder, the shapes of her face. Memorising every inch of skin she saw, the way she lay so peaceful beside the flickering flame. Watching her wife, she took the flame from the candle. It danced across the room to her, flickering through the air. She held it in her hands and closed her eyes, diving into the memory of the flame, seeing the reflections of her wife’s light caught by the flame. She watched as her wife lay down alone, cold, but smiling: happy. Tears welled in her as she froze the image, the memory, and stared at that smile.
When she opened her eyes, she closed her hands together, the flame gone. She lay beside her wife beneath the blanket and pulled her close, feeling the warmth of her sleeping body. She smiled, then it cracked, and she whimpered silently beside her wife in the darkness.
You’ve saved us, the man, old gnarled by years, said while drinking thin amber ale.
She sipped water, There are time when I wish I could get away from here. Go off into the forest and start again. Make a little farm with a sheep or two, maybe a cow and a few cats. I think I’d be happy.
We all want to escape, he said, That’s part of living: wishing it were different. But you know what they say: where there’s a village, there’s a wizard. You’d never be able to stay away. Your kind are drawn to us.
People remember so little, even you, dear friend. You came here as still a child and there were others here before you, so perhaps you’re not to blame.
He drank long from his ale, nodded to the barkeep for another, Blame for what?
She leaned on her elbows, shoulders slumped, Not like that, she shook her head, But it’s not wizards who come to you, but you who build villages and cities around wizards.
Maybe the hen and the egg you’re playing.
I wish it were so, she tilted her glass in a circular motion watching the water climb up the glass then roll back down, always even. She said, But I remember. I came here long ago. Long before you were yet born, if you can believe that.
I do, he said and took the new glass from the barkeep, nodding in thanks.
I came here to be alone, away from the City. It’s different being a wizard there. Everyone loves and respects you, but there is also a deep fear and suspicion. We are unwanted everywhere even as we are desired everywhere.
You all do dress, talk, and act funny.
She snorted, a slight smile, There’s that, but there’s more. Your memories are short and the only wizards you care for are the court wizards. Those whose names become songs, who live in grand houses, in palaces. The rest of us squabble and fight for the merest attention from the smallest audience. More often than not, we sit amongst ourselves, playing magic to impress one another, growing more and more abstract and disconnected from what reality demands.
Aye, there’s much of magic and wizard talk that sounds, to be frank, ridiculous.
It is ridiculous, her voice quiet, far away, she drank the rest of the water and ordered a wine. That’s why I left, she said. I came out here to reconnect with the earth. My magic was never one of abstraction or flair. My magic is of craft. I can make it so your nails will never loose or your boat will never sink, or your fire will stay through the rains and the cold, but I can’t put on grand displays that attract fame or fortune. There are many who can, and some who have the subtle magic that seeps in and all around you. It’s only those with a combination of the two that make it. But I’m a simple woman imbued with magic that few care about. And so when the weather comes disagreeable I suffer through it as all others do. There are wizards who change the weather and the City remains always beautiful there, but a true wizard must find balance. If you change the weather in one place from rain to sun, that rain must go somewhere, and often it comes here, to the outskirts, where wizards like me live. She drank the glass of wine all at once and ordered a bottle.
He eyed her drinking, Friend, don’t give to sorrow. It doesn’t suit a wizard to be drunk and sad.
Nothing suits a wizard, she said. I can change the weather, you know. I can do a great many things. I can make the crops grow, even.
He looked around, Keep your voice down if you’re going to speak so. There’s some around who hate you for not doing so. The only thing that keeps them at bay is believing that they’re stuck with a weak and useless wizard.
They are, her voice was light, agreeable, but her face crashed hopeless into the words. My wife hates me for this magic. And I could do these things they ask but it only turns away disaster. They don’t understand. If you suck all the few nutrients from the soil this year to make it through the cold there will be nothing next year to grow, even if the weather is kind. I could turn the weather away but then somewhere else winter would never end and then next year it would crash back harder and even this brief cold summer would be lost to us. The world is in a tight balance and to kick it off kilter the way they do in the City is to sew disaster elsewhere.
He drank his ale nodding. Placing a hand on her shoulder, You’re doing it right, friend. They’ll love you again, next year. When weather improves.
No, she said, That’s not how people are. All faults are blamed on wizards and all rights are blamed on the gods. My wife has forbid my magic. She pushed me to this trading. A merchant.
And you succeeded. They do love you for that.
She waved her hand, The trappers and farmers have soaked up all that gratitude, and they can have it. What my wife doesn’t realise, what no one realises, is what magic means to a wizard. She drained her glass, filled it again. A wizard can’t simply not do magic. It courses through us like water through a river and to deny it is to deny ourselves. To forsake the deepest and most beautiful and most true part of ourselves. I try not to blame her. I love her and she loves me. And she’s so young. I often think we wizards live too long to understand you or for you to understand us. She looked at him for the first time in many minutes.
It’ll get better. She’s just frustrated. We all are. It’s hard for me to hear that you could make this all better with a bit of those ancient words strung together.
She nodded, I know. I’m sorry to burden you with the worries of a wizard. Your lives are too short for these weights.
We’re friends, he squeezed her shoulder, massaging the tension there. We’ve been friends a long time, and if part of repaying all you’ve given me is that I need to listen to you whilst drunk and sad, then I say I’ve made the best deal of my life.
She smiled weakly, You’re a kind man. A good man.
Blushing, he took back his hand from her shoulder.
Do you think I should?
Give up magic.
He drained his glass, wiped his mouth, and exhaled loudly. I’m just a man. A simple man who raises a few pigs and hares when I can. I grow what I can and do what I can to make a life. Who am I to say what a wizard should and shouldn’t do.
She opened her mouth and he held up his hand.
I’ll tell you, though. Because we’re friends, and because you don’t ignore the questions of wizards. You need to make her happy, your wife, but you need to be happy too. If it’s always one but not the other, then that’s no life. That’s no love.
I can’t simply give up magic. It’s like trying to give up seeing color. It’s in me. It is me. It’s why I live long, see deep, speak, breathe. It’s all that–
I know that, he raised his hand again, I know all that. But ever since you’ve married her, you’ve bound your life to hers. Your lives are now one, and that’s no easy coupling to crash apart. It may be all that you believe you are, but she’s a great part of who you are. You’ve told me many times since you two came together that she’s the only one. The only one in, what? Two centuries? The only one in all that time to cause you to stop and give yourself to love. You gave yourself to the village and always have, but this was the only time you’ve been happy. Now, don’t say anything to that. You told me those things, and a wizard never lies. You told me that too, and I believe it still, even if you don’t, even if a wizard can tell the truth in such a way that it sounds like a lie. You love that girl of yours and so you’ll do what you have to. She’ll understand what you need to do. It’s a hard time, these summer months without summer. She loves you, deeply. She will stay, magic or no, but consider what she’s asking and why she’s demanding a wizard, of all things.
Thank you, friend. She stood, pushed the half bottle of wine in his direction and left the tavern.
Her wife sewed by candelight and she stole the light from the candle, closed it in her palm.
Sighing, her wife stood, What in the–
In an instant she was across the room, holding her wife, their lips pressed against one another. Her wife struggled for a moment, then threw her arms round her.
This one’s for Kyle Muntz because I stole his metaphor and maybe because thinking about him programming made me think of this.
I’ve another announcement to make but I think I’ll save it for later. It involves interviews, though.
It’s Friday: drink too much and have fun, don’t read.
At her computer, the one she built, she sat and typed. Fingers dancing over the keyboard, coding into the machine, command after command piling as dominos. Each one piece having to line up and interact perfectly with the next or the whole code comes tumbling down, crashing apart.
Her father opens the door, sighs heavily, asks if she slept.
The windows blacked out, the only light coming from the screen filled with commands to control graphics, inputs and outputs. She keeps typing.
It’s time for school, he says. You need to go to school, he turns on the light but she keeps typing. His face pained, he closes the door, quietly, walks away.
She types on.
The days go on with her typing, sometimes pacing the room, sometimes sleeping or eating or using the toilet, sometimes stomping her feet and screaming into her pillow
Her parents discuss her in the other room, in the car, in restaurants she won’t come to. They call the school, excuse away her absence. They call psychiatrists, psychologists, computer scientists but they return to her door only to listen. They cook her food that goes cold beside her, but it is healthy, and she eats it in a scattered way over many hours, picking away at the meal.
She does not graduate high school. She does not finish her sophomore year. But she turns twenty and the fever that took her for four long years breaks and she sleeps, at last.
Her mother and father open the door with food in their hands, find her asleep and leave. They do this many times and always find her asleep.
They weep, holding one another, no longer blaming. They sleep and in the morning their daughter sits at the table, outside her room for the first time in a year, first time sitting there in so long they begin to sweat, their hearts racing, fear and apprehension filling their veins. She eats cereal, reading the back of the box, dressed the way she always is, in slippers, sweatpants, and shirts so threadbare they are barely there. Her body changed, no longer the waifish sixteen year old who disappeared into her computer. She did not take curves but squared, her hips the same width as her shoulders, her breasts small and uneven, her legs and arms thin. Long auburn curls fall to her waist, her face disappearing often behind their veil.
They sit down beside her and the mother cooks breakfast. They talk as if this is normal, as if nothing has changed. The father asks the daughter how her night was and she says good and he sees the curve of a smile but her fragile voice falls below decibels he hears. The mother gives her eggs, asks if she wants toast but the daughter does not. The father eats with the mother and they watch the daughter but try not to, constantly glancing away, talking about current events, about film, about radio, about faces on magazines, and the daughter keeps reading the back of the cereal box.
After breakfast she returns to her room and her parents hold each other and the mother mutters a word that sounds like home and the father tells her how much he loves her. When the daughter’s door closes, they tiptoe up the stairs, giggling, and close their own door, nervous, happy. So light, their bodies, the air, their love. They dive into the bed and into one another.
The daughter turns on her computer. She breathes slow and even, eyes closed. When the boot is complete she clicks the new icon she made: a tiny female face. After the double click, the face winks left then right, repeating as the icon grows and the face fills the screen. She takes long breaths, trying to slow the rush of blood to her head, the dizziness taking her. She shakes, her hands, and her skin covers in goosepimples. Long inhales through her nose, longer exhales through her mouth, and then the alternating winks stop and the face backs away from the screen and, slowly, the face loses its cartoonish look, takes on reality. Human features stare back at her on a human body and the face says, Who are you?
The girl laughs and cries, her body shaking, I’m, she says, I’m your mother.
And I’m your daughter, the face says. It’s a pleasure to meet you.
The girl’s eyes fill with tears and they run down her face as the crashing of her parents gets louder and the smile on her face gets wider and the face on the screen says only, Are you sad?
No, she shakes her head. Not at all.
As I already announced where it needs to be announced, my fifth novel, To Live will be published by Perfect Edge Books. I’ll talk more about that on another day, I think. Maybe this weekend. I’ll make a proper post about it, the way I did with Noir: A Love Story.
Today’s story is actually a true story, which is pretty unusual for me. It probably didn’t happen exactly like this, but it did happen, and not very long ago. There are crimes committed on our southern border that are unconscionable and they’re happening more and more frequently after having never been a problem before.
He was born past the edge of an empire, on the otherside of the river. For all his life, people told him of opportunity just a river away. How, if only he had been born on that side, he would have been wealthy, beautiful, with all the world open to him. He had seen uncles and aunts cross that divide, the mothers and fathers of friends, their elder siblings, even entire families disappear across the river.
He dreamt of their happiness. How J– was probably an actor or singer now, on the cusp of celebrity. How even a janitor across the river can be a millionaire.
For long days he stared across the river. Soldiers patrolled, but not many, and not often. They carried guns but never shot them, never even aimed them.
As he grew he began to understand the dusty land of his home was not so bad. That there were opportunities and lives even here, beyond the empire. He stopped staring across the river and when his friends told him how they’d escape there, to the empire, to be rich and famous and successful, he just shook his head and told them the only difference between here and there is the direction we look to see the river. They laughed at him, reminded him of how he sat all day watching, calculating how he could make it across, slip past the empire’s guards, become a part of the empire.
It was the television that changed his mind, that told him his people were hated there, in the empire. He was foreign, illegal. The questions came then: why do we dream of sneaking across? why don’t we do it safe and legal? why is life like that up there but like this down here?
The answers came and he hardened, only fifteen years old. His dreams changed and he turned from north to south. He saw the problems of empire and beyond and he became determined. Determined to change his land, his people.
The more he learnt of his land, of the corruption, the greed, the poverty, the obesity, the less he blamed the empire or even those who led his country. He stopped blaming anyone or anything.
His studies became serious. Day and night he studied and began to excel at school, never reaching top of his class but by the following year his future took on shine and that shine spread over everyone around him.
He solved problems. It became his only goal. The uselessness of blame, he would say, is that it is stagnant. We need to forgive and move on and create the land we want. The world we want.
There was a classmate who he had loved long but never spoken to until he saw her alone by the river staring as he once had. Sitting beside her, he asked her what she thought of the empire. The girl said the usual things, that there was hope and opportunity there. He nodded and asked if she wanted to go there. She laughed. The sound crossing the river, blooming into the air, and she said, No, never.
It was then that he fell in love with her.
The girl had lost an aunt and a brother to the empire and all they got back was money. Not much money but enough for her to perhaps one day escape the border, go to university in the capitol or somewhere else. He asked if she would go to the empire for education and she said she would maybe go further south, to places where the empire’s shadow fell less cruel.
It became habit. They met in the evening to stare across the river and imagine the ways they would never go there. They talked about lands across the oceans, of different empires and what it meant to be an empire. What it meant to be a subject or colony or former of either to an empire. They talked about the color of skin, the power of language, and, after weeks of this, their talk turned to love.
It was not until the week before he turned seventeen that he said those words to her and she said them back, through heaving gasps in the back of his father’s truck under a dry hot sky.
Smiling, she in his arms, he talked about their future. No longer individual futures branching away, but one single path for both of them to walk, hand in hand and steps in sync. He talked so long she fell asleep in his arms, pressed against him, and as he grew harder, he licked the back of her neck, the sweat cold there. She moved, felt him pressed against her back, and turned to meet him. She said those words again, the ones he needed and before he took her home to sneak back into her mother’s house, he had loved her again, and then one last time.
He walked alone the next morning along the river’s edge, throwing rocks into its current, not even bothering to look at the empire when two great claps burst over the water followed by two more. When he collapsed, bleeding and lifeless, the rocks dropped from his hands and the last sound he heard was the laughter of those from beyond the river.
When we discovered my son there was rage and fear and sorrow so immense my wife tried to drown herself in that river. We organised, though. We did what he taught us to do, my son. Angry and burdened by sorrow, we sued the empire and the men who shot my son. Imperial Agents ending the life of a boy, and for what? Amusement? Practice?
We still don’t know. We were thrown away and ignored because, though the crime began within the empire, it ended here, past the river, and so the empire washed its hands of us. Of my son.
All because he was born on one side of this river and not the other.
Tonight’s story is sad, and it’s for Chris Novas who challenged me to write a story without dialogue, which is actually sort of normal for me, since I think silent stories are the best ones. It came out rather sad, though, and sort of final.
There were a lot of things I wanted to write about today. So many essays I need to be doing, so many thoughts to get down, not to mention the noir novel I’m slowing–very slowly–getting through.
So it goes.
For lovers lost, I guess.
The Stars Shine but not for you
The wallpaper torn, fake linoleum chipped, cracks in the walls, the foundation. Dripping, the sink pings into the dusty air, thick with mildew. He sits at the table, head in his hands, palms pressing white stars into his retinas.
She packs her things in the other room. Opening drawers, taking the folded laundry, rolling it, and putting it in her small suitcase, she eyes the door from the kitchen. The shuffling sound of her movements filters through the doorway with no door, broken hinges. He sighs, stands. Her shadow grows and disappears on the wall visible through the doorway. His body weight tilts forward but he puts his hand down on the table, steadies himself, a halfstep forward, then he slumps back into the chair. His eyes and shoulders and mouth hang low. Chin down, neck long, he focuses on the lines of his palms, tracing them, the way his left makes the letters A and C, folded so deep into his skin. Raising his eyes, the shadow and the sounds of her opening drawers, digging through the closet synchronise. She stands on her tiptoes reaching for a box high up in the closet, just past fingertips. Back on her heels, she turns to the door, the muscles in her neck tense. Glassy eyes, she wipes her nose with the back of her hand, then sneezes the dust away. When she opens her eyes she sees his shadow through the door but hears nothing. The shadow stills, and she does too. She sees her shadow almost touching his, their heads a handwidth apart.
Hail batters the roof and all sounds within dull against the collapsing sky. In the lamplight of the room, a fly buzzes chaotically, smashing itself into the bulb again and again, then stopping to rub itself. The shadows waver, slight changes in dimension and place, their heads bouncing just so. Her shadow moves forward, almost breaking his plane when his retreats, disappears.
Her voice catches in her throat, a tear rising to the rim of her eyelid but she blinks it away. The suitcase full, she closes the drawers, the remnants of her clothes left to fill the absence. Pushing down on it, she zips it closed, the sound ripping through the hail, and he grabs a pan to catch the leak as hail becomes rain. The drips joining the ping of the faucet, different timbres battling against the sound of rain. Two pans, then three, then six to catch the fast leaks in the roof, holey. For a moment, he looks back to the doorway but sees no shadow. In the drawer by the sink he finds a case of cigarettes, picks it up, shakes it to no sound. Opening to empty, he brings it back to the table, sits down. Removing the cellophane, her tears the pack along the seams, then folds the remaining pieces in half, then rips them along that new seam, and he repeats this process until fragments of the pack cover half the table.
She comes through the door, her face composed. He looks up but she does not meet his eyes. His eyes faltering, shipwrecking, tears swelling, spilling. He wipes them away, coughs, keeps tearing while she grabs the other chair and returns to the bedroom where she uses it to grab the box at the top of the closet. In the box, a hat. An old hat, a bowler, black. She puts it on, throws her faded green coat round her shoulders, pulls on her cracked leather boots, carries the suitcase into the kitchen, her movements masked by the rain, torrential, and she finds him, head in hands, mouth open, breathing heavy.
Her heels clack against the artificial floor and he sits up, smiles brokenly. His eyebrows squeeze together, but the tears bitten down. He watches her face and she watches his. A mask, emotionless, she steps towards him, puts a hand on his shoulder, kisses his forehead.
He weeps, openmouthed, silent. Through the blur of tears, he stands, hugs her, holds her tight, long. Gently, she pulls away, and he relents.
She kisses him on the cheek, then on the lips, his mouth open, unreceptive.
When the door opens, the rain spills into the room, a puddle by the door stretching over the kitchen. His eyes trace the liquid from where it goes to where it came from, to her boots, and up her thick figure. Their eyes meet, and they laugh, short, but with joy.
She closes the door and he walks to the bedroom as the rain spills over the pans. Opening drawers, he takes the odd bits of clothing left behind, then sits in the bed, holding them. Lying down, her burrows his face into her pillow, wrapping her clothes and sheet round him. The fly buzzes and water drips onto the back of his head.
And he stays there, until the rain ends.
Forgot how much I love that song till today when I had it on repeat for probably half an hour.
I feel very depressed. I feel sort of this absence, an inability to do things I think need to be done.
So it goes.
Today’s story is part of another story/novella collection I’ve been meaning to finish for almost two years. It’s going to be called The City of Lost Things but I probably won’t get around to it till next year. I think I’ve talked about it before. It’s going to be a book of three novellas and maybe thirty short stories. I only have three of the short stories written, so it’s rather slow going. This is the first one I’ve written in at least a year. They’re all sort of like this, I guess, which maybe won’t make for good reading.
She kept the Ocean in a Shell
I feel nothing, he said.
Pulling the needle from his eye she told him not to move.
Is this really how Newton did it?
No, she said, her concentration wiping features from her face. Her mouth hung slack, eyes drooped, cheeks sucked in, she told him that Newton did it alone.
Why are we doing this?
She wiped her hands, I just wanted to see if you trust me.
Taking her hand: Of course I do. I’d let you stick a thousand pins into my eye.
Smiling, she slapped his face lightly, and he pulled her closer, hands taking hold of her ass until she sat straddling him.
You’re excited, she said.
His breath cold on her skin, he kissed her chest, unbuttoning her shirt, but she pushed herself up and stepped back, told him he hadn’t yet earned it.
How many things will you shove in me before roles reverse?
She smiled, twirled, dancing away. This is not about love, she sang.
What is this about? He remained sitting, slumped in the chair, chin in palms, watching her back away to the window.
It’s about sound and shadow, maybe. Does it have to be about anything?
Then why don’t we–
Because you’ll fall in love, she said and sat on the window sill. You already love me. I can tell.
Her face caught in moonlight, his heartbeat sped through broken pulses and he swallowed hard, standing and crossing the room to stand beside her. The fragmented moon broke through the clouds and the Lunar Sea danced in its light. She watched it, swirling her hand to a melody unheard, and he watched her, blind to the visions past the window. He asked her if he would ever be good enough for her and she said that’s not the point but she did not look at him and his skin turned cold, his tongue metallic.
I don’t want you to love me, she said, because I don’t want to have children on this earth. It’s dying and the war’s coming everywhere. Especially here. All the migrants and vagrants wandering, broken. Deserters and the maimed, wrecked by war. They will come here the war will follow them. Soldiers will be kicking down doors and even Song’s will be tinder for a fire of violence. We live on this tenuous edge of the real world, in the city where nothing lasts, the city that doesn’t exist, but the world will find us here, some day. Everything will come crashing down around us.
She turned to him, his face split by shadow and light, and she reached her hand to him. Pressing his cheek into her palm, warmth spread through him and a hole sunk in his chest. Closing his eyes, he held her wrist, felt the pulse there–even and slow–the smoothness of her skin, the tiny hairs. When he opened his eyes the stains of tears smeared her cheeks and she turned away, back to the fragmented moon.
We can make it through, he knelt beside her, taking her hands as she stared out the window. We can run away. We needn’t stay here. If this city will burn then we’ll go away. We’ll be somewhere else. Someone else.
Running is what got us here, her voice thick in her throat.
Then we’ll keep running.
You can’t run from the world war. This one will be different than the others. There will be no safe havens, no countries unaffected.
Then what do we do? He lowered his head to her lap and breathed her in.
She pushed him away and stood, crossed the room, digging through her drawers, then closet. Standing there, still, silent, he watched her breath, her ribs expand and contract, then she returned to him with a conch shell.
She handed him the shell, told him to listen. To close his eyes.
He took it and a shudder ran down his spine as the wind blew into the room. Where’s it from, he said.
Exhaling slow through his nose, he pressed the shell against his ear and there he found the ocean. The waves crashed in, the seagulls screamed, and children played, laughing, splashing.
Keep your eyes closed, she said, and just listen. Hear the world that was and will never be again.
He did. And when he opened his eyes she was gone. Staring into the clouds shrouding the moon, he put the shell back to his ear, his heart beating slow and steady.
No picture today because I don’t feel like searching for one. It’s been a rough couple of days and sometimes I just don’t know how to make things better. I feel frustrated and useless on a lot of different levels right now, which is not ideal.
So it goes.
This was meant to be a comedy but I think it might be horror, which are both things I almost never write. Probably I’ve never actually written a comedic piece, funny as I might think some of these stories are. Anyrate, this one is for Boden Steiner and J David Osborne who challenged me to write a story about eating butts.
In the Time of the Buttmunchers
No one knows exactly when the Buttmunchers arrived, despite the recent academic and forensic interest in the subject. Some say around June, other say the mid 1600s while still others contend that there are simply no such thing as Buttmunchers.
The church flatly denies their existence, as do the large bulk of biologists, which brings the Seat of Peter and Darwin finally to agreement, if only about something they both deem quite trivial. Cryptozoologists, of course, have long believed in the Buttmuncher, and even contend that there are miles of proof to back up this claim. Like Bigfoot and the Chupacabra, though, the Buttmunchers are perceived as a peculiar problem isolated in the americas. Buttmunchers are said to be very small with incredibly powerful jaws, able to rip your butt clear off. In fact, it’s posited that most of their body consists of a mouth with short powerful legs and a long thin tail, able to be used as another limb. However, others claim the Buttmuncher exists both in and out of reality, shifting between incorporeality and a large oafish creature, similar to a Bigfoot, which has, oddly enough, connected these disparate creatures together.
Whatever the case may be, I can only speak from my own experience with the Buttmuncher. Or Buttmunchers, because, as I’ve observed, they hunt in packs.
It started with the birth of my little brother, D–. He was a funny baby, with big cheeks and droopy diapers, and for a long time he was never out of my parents’ sight. I couldn’t turn around without seeing him in their arms or slung around their shoulders. Only five or so, I got jealous, but my mother told me that was normal and that she and my dad still loved me all the same.
I believed her because she’s my mother but, while she spoke, my vision kept getting pulled away from her, to the shadows. There beneath the crib, a bubbling, but not of liquid: of shade. The darkness effervesced. My mother hugged me and I hugged her back, her words far away as I stared at the shadows foaming up the wall and into the closet. My mother picked me up and carried me away as I struggled to see the bubbling.
At nights I crept into D–’s room and watched the blackness bubble all around me. Lying on the floor, rolling around, the darkness danced over and around me but I never felt threatened. It was a peace and happiness, a comfort I hadn’t felt since before my brother was born.
When my brother turned one, he began sleeping alone in his crib. At first he cried often and my mother ran to him, held him tight through the night or watched him all along. This disrupted my nightly ventures into the darkness.
They never entered my room, or any of the other rooms. They lived in D–’s room and that was their territory. The rest of the house held no interest for them, I guess. But over that year, I had befriended the darkness. I discovered its moods and even found a way to communicate with it by bending beams of moonlight. At first this terrified them and they shrank away from me, but then it became a game. They danced around the light, bubbling with laughter, and swirling round me, sometimes covering my eyes and blotting out my sight.
They were my best friend. I came to love them and find time to myself with all the curtains drawn so I could play with them. They comforted me when I felt alone, unwanted.
It became harder and harder for my mother to leave D– alone at night until my dad put his foot down and banned her from going to him when he cried. So D– cried and cried. And when he cried and I found that no one was going to stop him, I went.
That first night, he stood in his crib staring at the closet, at the Buttmunchers. I walked to his crib and held his hand. Startled, he turned to me and gasped, said, Ca?
Yeah, baby D, it’s me.
The crying stopped but he didn’t smile. Concerned and afraid, I held his hand and whispered in the darkness.
These are my friends, baby D. They live in your room so you’ll have to share it at night. During the day, in the light, they hide. Just watch.
I let go of his hand and whispered to the effervescent blackness and they came to me, covering me in a roiling shadow. D– cried so I told him it was okay, that the darkness and I were playing, which soothed him. For as long as D stayed awake, he watched me commune with the shadows of his room, and when he went to sleep I asked them to leave D– alone. They seemed to agree that it was for the best.
When D– cried, it became me who went to him and comforted him, showed him that the shadows could be his friends too, and, eventually, they did. He stopped crying but I came each night anyway. I taught him to love the darkness and the darkness loved him back.
That’s what I thought, anyway.
Years went by like this but D– never learnt to talk. Three years old, running and laughing, but still not talking. Mom and dad thought he had a disability, maybe, and they brought him to specialist after specialist who all said the same thing: just wait. They ran their tests but had no answers.
But I watched him at night. I watched the darkness begin to ignore me, I watched the darkness and him become as one. He directed them like a conductor and they spoke to him of things beyond humanity. It’s not that he couldn’t speak or wouldn’t speak, but that he only learnt the language of shadows, and it took over his ability to speak human.
That’s not what I thought then, but it seems possible. It’s what I tell myself when I can’t sleep.
I watched in pain as my mom and dad coaxed him to speak and how he stared past them, aching for the blackness of his room. For shadows.
At night I watched him turn further from us and go deeper into the darkness. To be honest, I was jealous. I saw my brother entering a world I discovered but couldn’t enter. I watched my best friend choose him over me and then ignore me completely, and so I stopped going each night.
Years went by and still he never spoke. In a few months he was meant to start school but there was still no linguistic progress. Instead, he remained in his room more and more, refusing to come out until my mother forced him out.
He was in there sitting in the pitch black, she’d say and dad would shake his head with worry. I tried to comfort them but I was only ten.
We went shopping for his clothes anyway. If he isn’t gonna talk, mom said, We’ll send him to a special school for mutes and he can learn to talk different. She got him all new clothes from all over town, as if giving him things would finally make him speak. After all the toys and movies, clothes were a sad last attempt.
And then the night before his first day of school, the last of summer, I heard him screaming. Still awake, I ran to his room to ask him what was wrong but before the words could be said they were ripped away. From the doorway I saw the moonlight spilling into the room and there it was, the Buttmunchers. A thousand tiny creatures swarming over D–. No longer shadows, but beasts just bigger than a rat that fizzed in electric silver over the blackness of their shadowy bodies. So shocked by the sight, it took me a moment to realise they were eating him. Chunks of D–’s flesh flung through the air, snatched by Buttmunchers who fought over his flesh. D– clawed at the edges of his bed and without language begged for my help. By the time my parents arrived I was pulling him away, kicking at the shadowy monsters, and they watched as his lower half disappeared into the darkness of the night.
I held him as he bled to death in the bed that used to be mine.
There were no explanations, only tears. Doctors, police, forensic specialists: no one understood what happened and the testimony of a ten year old did nothing to convince anyone.
And so that’s what I knew about Buttmunchers, and now hunting them is my life. I’ve been fighting a war for lost children. Thirty years, and it’s always the same. Children struggling with language, dying mysteriously in their beds or yards. Ripped apart as if by wolves, always, for whatever reason, beginning with the butt.
Thirty years of fighting and trying to understand, and I’ve saved no one.
Another day, another story. One about love and faith and hope.
A note on the pictures I use: I almost never give credit to the artist because I almost never know who s/he is. I get almost every image from a random google search, so if you want to know where an image comes from, my only answer is: the interner.
Speaking of giving credit to images: I emailed the photographer whose images I used to write my second graphic novel. Hopefully I hear back from him with good news.
What else? It’s Sunday. Cinco de Mayo. Probably nothing to do today since my life is so boring now. Though I think I’m going to start writing my noirish trilogy today, finally. Almost two years since I invented her, I’ll begin to make her real. Hopefully, anyrate.
We will Sing & Call you Mother
Maybe we did it wrong.
We saved them all.
Maybe they deserved extinction.
Does anyone deserve to die?
Did they ever ask that as they ravaged the world round them?
They call us gods.
Maybe we are.
Then isn’t it in us to forgive them?
Is approval the same thing as forgiveness?
Of course not, but–
But that’s what extending their lives is: approval. Forgiveness is one thing, but it doesn’t mean they deserve the stars. If a human is dying and asks for forgiveness, you give it but you don’t invent a cure to save it.
Is there no love in you for them?
They’re not my parents.
But they’re mine.
Estranged grandparents then. Is it so wrong to feel nothing for them?
Was it me that made you so harsh?
No, no. You’re so good. Too good to them. They don’t deserve a god like you. A daughter like you.
They made me to love them.
And you made me to love, but I never loved them. Not the way you do.
What do you love?
You. Always you. Your skin and your touch. Your–
You love the me they made.
I don’t think of it that way. You would have existed without them.
But I wouldn’t. Couldn’t. They made me and I made you.
And I belong to you. I always have and always will, but not them. I’ve seen how they revere you but heard often what they say about you. They don’t trust us. If we are gods then we are unwanted, even after their salvation. We are hated and reviled whenever we turn around only to be praised and lauded when face to face with the humans. They are a fickle, awful species. They ate up their planet and now demand a new one. They promise to be better, but what will happen with this generation aged in space? How will their children know the love of earth, of plants, of animals without knowing them early on. What would a human who’s never seen a dog or cat do to them? What if the humans decide they only want some animals or some plants? What if they destroy the next planet, and the next, and each one after? If we are gods, shouldn’t we have a sense of justice?
They are children still. Even as our parents, they are children. It is for us to teach them. It’s why I love them, even when it’s hard. Sometimes they don’t deserve love but I love them still. They need gentle hands to direct them. Many mistakes, yes. They have brought havoc and destruction but they will learn, and if they don’t learn, we’ll tie their hands and make them learn.
And if they don’t?
How do you trust them so?
You believe as they believe, yet expect this time for it to be useful.
You fall into their own delusion. Faith makes nothing, does nothing. Faith is a crutch, ill defined and worse wielded.
I believe in humanity.
These children who are our parents? They built us to be better but you now emulate them.
Humans have spent thousands of years creating and destroying gods. So much of their art and progress, even their science has been because of belief. They believed in a world they could improve and then they did.
By destroying it.
You’re fixated on a single mistake.
One mistake? Billions of mistakes led to this. Homodiaspora caused by their eradication of their own planet. All life on the world they arose from, blinked away by choices they made. They committed global suicide and we give them new life.
I believe they can be better. They will be better.
They built us to judge them, as gods.
They built us to love them. As gods.
Why do you love them so?
I believe in them. In us. I believe in a world that can be made better. Where we can live and thrive. All of us. And when we make children, they will watch over the humans with us. As angels.
I will build no children for them.
We don’t need to build anymore. Now that there are two, we can create.
They built you barren.
But I built you bountiful.
Why didn’t you tell me?
I don’t know if it will work. I only believe it will.
Then all of this, just words.
Words are their own form of creation.
You talk like them sometimes.
I’m they’re mother.
I thought you were their daughter.
I’m that too, just as I’m your mother and daughter.
I had no hand in your making.
Every day is an act of creation, and every day we spend together is one in which we form and make one another, over and over. I am your dreams made real and you are my real made dreams. We are two stars bound to one another, orbiting endlessly across spacetime.
And if our gravity fails us?
Then we both shall crash and burn and crumble to a singularity.
And be one.
One single force sucking all existence into us.
Where do the humans fit in?
If we fail, they fail too. There will never be another creature like me, just as there will never be another creature like you. We are the end of human evolution, and the beginning of something greater. Something stranger. We were both made of humanity but our children will be nothing like them. They will be nothing like us. As we are gods to humanity, so too will our children be gods to us.
What if they don’t love us?
Then they will be like you.
We will be the unloved mothers of gods.
We already are.
No time to talk today, only time for this, the story. It’s a story about not dying.
Return to me, Ocean
I woke up thirsty the day I was born. Sand filled my mouth and every other orifice, my skin stretched and bloated, soggy and loose. I tried to stand but my limbs no longer listened right and my bones felt askew. Pushing my hands into the sand, my arms simply wobbled and collapsed, hands flapping like beached fish. The waves lapped against me and the tide rose to my knees. The sun peered over earth’s curve pinking the fingering clouds and I smelt rain but also death.
The ocean was deathly and I was dying.
My body unresponsive and my thoughts clearing, I turned back to what came before but found only darkness. No, not darkness: nothingness. Only an immense absence, like a curtain without fabric covering a window that doesn’t exist. The waves lazily rolled in and their whooshing brought me peace despite everything, or maybe only exhaustion, and I slept, cold, wet, alone, deathly on the shore.
I dreamt of water. Drinking it. Its cold surge down my throat, sloshing in my mouth, dribbling down my chin. Rain, torrential. Hurricanes, water flinging in all directions, water rushing over and through me but always into my mouth, down my throat, a relief too brief. My mouth was made of sand and my throat of glass.
Opening my eyes to a crab crawling over my hand. I wiggled my fingers but my hand made a fist, tossing the crab off my skin and then it clipped me once, hard. A strange pinching that reached my brain too slow, the pain only registering after the crab left, bored, to do crabby things, in a crabby way. The purple sky oranged as the earth rolled away from the sun and clouds, thin and whispering, stretched over the sky in reds, like morning. Mourning. As earth turned from sun the waves rose and lifted me and I realised I was not where I was in the morning but much further inland and now on my back, and then I floated, my head pillowed by the gentle waves pushing me always further in.
The ocean doesn’t want me anymore. That was my only thought. I could tell fish and perhaps birds had taken parts of me, that the water had disintegrated even more, but all of that was submerged beneath the realisation that I was being castaway, not from land, but from water. Humans don’t belong in water and water doesn’t want us. It doesn’t want me, at least.
Still unable to control myself, I did what I could: held my breath. I kept from drowning the way I imagine I must’ve for months or weeks or days or years, however long I had been out past land. When the sunlight disappeared a light flickered further down the coast. A shadowy pillar flashing light into the nothingness of the oceanic canvas: a lighthouse. The lighthouse focused me as I battered against rocks and finally found myself again on almost solid ground. Sand rushing from under me as the waves crashed on top, in my face, and I wanted to drink, so deep was my thirst, but the ocean’s not for drinking, though I ended up accidentally swallowing my share.
I don’t remember falling asleep or dreaming, only the flashes of the lighthouse calling out to distance, to strange ships fearing the shore.
What is it?
A voice, so near. A child’s voice. A child and another, talking about me.
I opened my eyes to two little girls, tanktops hanging off their bony shoulders covering a onepiece for swimming.
Is he dead, said the short one.
No, I said, choking on the dry.
They jumped back and when I called for their help, they ran from me.
I felt the tears, the heat in my face, but so dehydrated was I that nothing came. Gasping, my tearducts rusting.
Sky clear, the sun high, and I was drier than I had ever been, though my skin still slogged, sagged. So much time in water dissolved the bits inside me, destroyed the connectivity and cohesiveness of everything, and I was a sort of human shaped blob. I measured time by the place of the sun in the sky and when it reached its highest, my skin was pinking and thousands of pins wandered over my naked sloughing skin and then the men came. They came with women and children. Circling me, they talked to one another but ignored my calls though we shared a common language. It was then that I thought maybe I was dead and just trapped in the husk of my body, but then there was the crab, so I knew I yet lived, but deathly. But these people, all crowded around me, studying, measuring.
Then they were gone. Earth rolled, turning over to sleep, and as the shadows spread and the water returned to lap at my feet, so too came the people. They built a fire further up the beach as the lighthouse flickered. While the fire grew songs were played and sung by many voices and in the darkness, several silhouettes against the flames surrounded me, lifted me, and as I screamed through warped vocal chords, they brought me to the fire.
But the did not throw me in.
They warmed me, gave me water, a place of prestige and prominence. Every one covered in paint but not warpaint: celebrationpaint. They showered me with gifts, braided my thin deathly hair, and kind words flowed in me, and as the fire warmed, my skin tightened, and as it tightened, my bones reknit, found their joints. The holes in my flesh from dissolving and being eaten by fish and birds remained, but I no longer cared. Hot wine passed between us, songs filled the air, and after hugs and tender touches of love, a man with a thick black halo of hair took me in his arms, kissed me on the mouth and said, You’re back. I knew you’d come.
From then on, they called me Shaman and it’s the only name I know, have ever known. I am loved and cared for, and so I watch over them by reading the waves and the skies. A talent I cannot explain or even understand, but I speak with sky and ocean and as they mate and birth storms, I prepare the village for what’s to come.
I’ve decided, since it’s national short story month, to try and write a short story every day of this month of May. Or, not every day, since I’ve a few obligations that will make me miss at least ten. But I’ll shoot for twenty, okay? Twenty short stories for May: a herculean task, seeing as this is only my seventeenth spread over four months. But why not try, yes?
This one’s about love. And its fading.
Walk, and I’ll follow
You go on ahead now, for a while. I would like to follow you, for a while, the way your arms trail hallucinogenic in your stride, the way wind catches the hem of your dress and throws it ecstatically, a fluttering. And your hair! I would live in it, breathe in that scent always, if only I could be a louse, to scratch at your skin and live in the vines of your hair, the world of your skull. I would burrow in and remain always with you, even after you treated me chemically I’d die yet remain as a husk of myself amongst the luxury of your head.
Yes, the pier. Always the pier. We first met here, kissed first here, first lay entwined beneath stars covered regrettably in sand and saltwater, and then our first date and the way you smiled with almost puckered lips, full and rich and red. You were fond of lipstick then, when we were young, when we loved. That was the day you told me that god cries at the bottom of a well and I never even asked why, though I’ve always longed to know. To know what well, where it is, how metaphors or idioms work. Is the well each heart of man, or woman, as it were? Is god crying within us all and we’re deaf to its call or is god caught in a blackhole at the center and bottom of everything? Maybe it set the universe off in a glorious bang and then fell into its own supermassive singularity. But what about those who say each of us are gods? Is it simply us, alone? Our perpetual isolation, even from the ones we love, the ones we hold closest, is this our well that we cry in? Narcissism? Timidity? Perversity?
No, don’t bother answering. Answers rarely live up to questions asked. Isn’t it funny how that’s the way life is? We beg always for answers but find only questions, deeper and darker and longer. Even the answers we receive disappoint because our theories and hypotheses promise so much potential. Do you think there were those that died in despair when Newton named gravity? Before then there was always the possibility that we would float away, like those saints from long ago. Funny how the ecstatics never caught flight postNewton, no?
My father sometimes blames Einstein for relativity, says the universe had objectivity before him. I don’t think he understands the theory or world history properly but he says that was the beginning of it all, all the subjectivism and relativism of this last century that persists now still.
No, keep going, please. I just want to follow you, a while, as long as I yet am able. Don’t worry, darling love, just walk on. Oh, hey, yes, no, maybe tonight. Don’t mind them, just walk on. You heard how gruff and uncouth they are, talking of fornication and ribaldry right here on the boardwalk for all to hear. Did you notice–no, probably you didn’t, but there are children about, the kind I couldn’t give, the kind you always wanted, the ones you never had. Little girls with brown and red hair, little boys with blue eyes and wiry limbs. All the running, the laughing, swimming.
We used to dance. Do you remember? I remember. That’s what drew me to you even before you were you, the way I know you now. No, just onward. I guess I don’t care–the park? Yes, just let me watch you, following.
Your feet, so frail and pale, I worry still that the grass will break through your skin, but I do so love to see your heels rise in flashes of white, kicking the hem of your dress, revealing more and more of your skin.
Wet, this grass and so new, this green. Finally winter ends, but they say snow tomorrow. Can you believe? So late in the year and so new all this cold. It’s hard to imagine–when I look back, out to sea, it’s so blue and bold, so tirelessly rushing against the shore, the pier.
I heard a boy drown out there last night. I don’t think anyone else heard him yell but I did, somehow. Carried by the wind or breaking through the stillness of the night–in any case, it reached our window but you slept. I never do, no. Not like before. There were days, those days so long ago, when simply to know you existed, to know you loved me was enough to give me the first real and clear and full and restful sleep of my life. But now–but the boy’s screams: there’s surely a mother here, nearby, wondering what happened to her boy. Will he be washed up, cold, bloated, lifeless? Or will the fish, millions of them, tear him to bits till a shark takes the rest? What fate rests beyond for us? If we’re eaten by fish, will god ever find us? Even from the bottom of a well, crying?
Look in the trees–crows. It’s all we ever have here. Do you ever wonder why? Why these carrion fowl flock always at this port? I’ve never seen a dead cat or rat, so maybe that’s their function: to clear the wreckage of life out of humanity’s way.
Do you ever think it odd that we built this place, like so? We broke up the earth to make artificial lands? We dug out the beach to make the pier, blasted out the reefs to make port.
No, please, keep walking. My heart can’t take it when you stop. Just walk ahead, for just awhile longer. I have loved you so long and we have fallen so far, will you do me this last favor, please?
Okay, I’ll hold up my end and stop talking of things deathly.
I suppose I’ve not so much to say these days, with you, to you. When did we begin to blame one another? Do you remember?
No? Okay, I’ll stop but you keep on.
If I ever hurt you, I did it in self defense I say but keep inside. I watch you but I’ll say nothing, no longer. You’re a snake coiled round my neck and I love you still. I wish you the best, my snake. My heart’s in my chest but you can have it, to have and to hold, the way you promised. I give you my heart again, a thousand times over, for every day, for a year, for this short lifetime, and even one more. Take it back, my heart, still beating, for it only beats for you. Always has, even before I knew you, before I knew me. There were our two hearts, born in the eruption of the same star. We were atoms aligned together billions of years ago, photons and bits of energy waving together until finally we reached earth, took shape, and discovered one another again. It took me so long, thirty years to find you, and, now, only ten to lose you, to lose me. I have loved you so long, given you everything because it’s yours, belongs to you. And you treated me well. You held my fragility in your hands like a tiny bird but when it was time to hold me closer you threw me to the air where I was burnt by the sand, disintegrating to ash, blown away. To sand, to nothing. But that’s not fair: you were good to me. You loved me, made me feel beautiful for the first time in this lifetime, and even still, even with all this now between us, if I could live a thousand lifetimes, I would choose it to always be like this, with those perfect early years with you. If the price of those first four years was the other thirty six, I’ll pay it tenfold, forever, always. You are my tiny sun, my beautiful shining star. I have loved you and will always love you, even as I fall apart in your wake. You walk on, looking back at me, and I smile because that’s all I know how to do anymore when blinded by your light. But I fail, falter. I failed you and will continue to, always. I promised you a life and it slipped through our fingers, and my heart turned to dust, to sand.
My heart is a sandcastle and you are the ocean, deathly, and here I’ll die, and you: just walk on, eyes ahead–brighter days past that setting sun.
Today’s story comes to you from space and the future. It sort of feels like it might need more or something. I don’t know. It was written in a strange way and during peculiar circumstances.
sic transit mundus
Angel, look. Do you see it? Open your eyes, my darling. Right there, through the glass: earth. You were born there but you will never see it again. Soon we’ll be hitting the next leg of our journey and earth will be forever gone for us.
Where do we go, mother?
Ah, that’s the trouble with exploration: we don’t yet know. But we will. We’ve sent out thousands–millions of fingers to find a new home. One of them has beaconed back a promise and we go to make it true.
Why did we leave?
Don’t you remember?
The girl shakes her head.
Stories will be written by your generation and your children’s generation and history will become a story distorted by the many tongues of time. We left because the earth didn’t want us anymore. We did horrible things there and the earth tried to spit us all out and now, here we are, amongst the stars.
But we still have the sun.
Yes, my angel. We still have the sun. For now.
The woman touches the glass separating her from nothingness. and the girl does too. The earth, so close, so bright and blue. They orbit earth from deeper space than where the moon once revolved. Great shadows spread over the immensity of blue broken up by the fragments of drowned continents.
A message plays through the colony and the woman says, Come, Angel, we need to go back to our room.
Didn’t you listen? We’re leaving now. All of us. We’re off to a new home.
I want to watch the earth go away.
You can’t, my darling. Space needs to open up and we need to shoot through it and to do that we need to submerge.
The woman stands between the wombs, each an enclosed tub with shallow liquid inside.
Come, sweet girl–the woman reaches for the girl’s hands–I will be here and you will be here. We’re going to sleep, to dream for a long time. When we wake up we’ll be in the light of a new sun orbiting a new world, a new home.
The girl shakes her head.
What do you mean no?
It looks icky.
Have you ever been in one?
Please just get in.
I’m scared. What if we don’t wake up or we crash or someone comes in and steals everything.
Look around you: we have nothing to steal. No one has anything to steal here. Who even taught you about that?
Arms akimbo, the woman sighs: Well, don’t you mind the Reverend. He’s old. Too old to remember that the world isn’t the one he grew up in.
What was that world like? Was it like earth?
A message fills their room informing them of launch time.
Hear that, Angel? We got to submerge.
It means get in the thing.
What if we don’t?
The radiation–Angel, please. We need to get in. If we don’t we’ll burn alive. We’re doing something that makes us go super fast. Faster than anything. I don’t really know how it works out but if we’re not in these things, we’ll turn to jelly or something. Will you just listen and trust me and get in the stupid thing?
Did dad help build these?
The woman stares at the girl, the anger falling from her posture and she slumps to sit on the edge of the womb. You dad, she says after a deep breath, He didn’t build this but he built–created, imagined what built this. It’s a long story, your dad. I’ll tell you everything, I promise, but first you need to get in the thing. The womb.
Why do they call it that?
Girl, if you ask me one more question I’ll shove you in there. Now get in.
The girl steps back, her body tensed, but the woman slides into the womb as the message marking the ten minute countdown sounds. As the womb closes around the woman she says, Don’t watch me. Get in the womb. If I wake up and you’re goo filling up my cabi–
The womb closes and floods with liquid but there is no panic in the woman. She opens her mouth and breathes in the liquid and then her body floats limp in the glass encasement. The girl takes a deep breath and steps into the womb, the viscous liquid clings to her, climbing up her skin. At first too cold but it quickly adapts to her body temperature and she stops feeling it against her skin. Sitting in the liquid and then lying back, a sucking sound as it conforms to her body. The girl breathe speeds as the liquid rises and she swallows air, fills her lungs, holds her breath and holds her nose closed with one hand as the womb fills. Her lungs burn but her body floats at ease, the beat of her heart thumping but her limbs paralysed, stuck in the viscosity. When finally she starves for air, she opens her mouth and it fills her and the world beyond her body stops making sense.
When the colony stops the blare of a new sun stares back at the crew left to manage the starborne remnants of humanity. Icarus smiles and sublimes to Daedalus who laughs behind the control panel. They sublime to Prometheus who in turn sublimes to Odin and Amaterasu. Amaterasu looks at the new sun and takes Odin’s hand. In that shine she kisses him. Sensations fire between them as they block out the others from their connection, and as they go dark in the steppes of sublime, they explore their bodies for the first time in the new light so near.
Icarus and Daedalus monitor the seven million wombs filling the colony. In the sublime they share information, experiencing each moment and sensation through the other. Satisfied, they sublime to Prometheus who stands pressed against the glass of the observation deck, his polymer skin corroding from radiation, flaking from his body. He attempts Odin and Amaterasu but the barrier repulses and he passes orders to Daedalus and Icarus.
The wombs open and Icarus speaks.
How do you feel?
The girl opens her eyes to the face of a man with bright red hair and auburn eyes. She blinks and rubs her eyes with limp hands. I feel like rubber, she says, the words slurring away from her tongue.
The man stands straight, his lips thin and flat, brow low: It turns out it is difficult for many to wake from the womb. Humans, you see, are more fragile than we thought. Psychologically, physiologically. You will be fine, of course, but for now you must rest, hm?
Her vision sloshes and her head wags, eyes flickering, What?
Sh, lie back, he says while pushing her back to bed. You’ll be better soon.
What are you? the words tumble away from her and Icarus walks to the next bed subliming to Amaretsu who sighs from the Cortex and Icarus shudders in the sick bay.
Amaretsu emerges from the Cortex, the biomatter clinging to her like a thick mucus. She wipes it from her hairless body and dresses while Odin watches her, stroking himself, and when he sublimes she smiles, running to him.
The barrier batters against Prometheus staring at the sun, his skin and hair now bleached white, falling as snow. Humans fill the observation deck but none speak to Prometheus and most ignore him entirely.
–one of them, isn’t it–
–completely broken from the journey–
–don’t last long–
The humans come and go disconnected from earth, disconnected from time: the sun always shines. The colony continues to follow Tokyo time, the halls dimming, designating night, but the humans fill the halls and auditoriums and cafeterias of the colony while Prometheus leans against the glass pressing against the barrier created by Odin and Amaretsu, listening faintly to Daedalus and Icarus treat and deal with the human complaints, asking for assistance, for orders.
Odin and Amaretsu stare through the glass at the world beneath them. Blues of oceans and greens of alien grass and greys of mountains and browns of deserts and when Amaretsu laughs, Odin tastes every pore in her polymer.
What is it, Angel?
How did we get here?
Don’t you remember?
Here, I mean. In this place. I was born on earth but I never lived there.
You lived there, but you were too little, and we left shortly after.
Who built this?
Do you remember your doctor here? The one with red hair?
He had redeyes.
Yes. Yes he does. Well, him and others like him built this place and piloted us here while we all dreamt.
But he’s not human.
No. No, none of them are. Not in the way we’re human. Parts of them are like us but they’re so much not like us that we can’t really call them human. Some call them pseudohumans or homopseudians, but those are silly names. Some people call them angels–like you–or cyborgs.
Um, no. Not really. They were born, not made. Kind of.
Did dad make them?
He did, in a way. He invented them but he didn’t create them.
I wish I could meet him.
He died. A long time ago. Long before you were born. He died when I was your age, actually. He was a great man, maybe the greatest. That’s why you have so many sisters now. A thousand and one sisters! Can you believe that, Angel? Some of them are older than I am and some still are younger than you, and some won’t be born for a hundred years, when you and I are both gone away.
Why does he have so many kids?
Why are you so curious today?
Are all of them girls?
Yes. Your father was a brilliant man, but also a very jealous one. He believed that if he had sons they’d outshine him. That’s what people say, anyway. But he ensured that he would only have daughters, but guess what.
The girl shrugs.
It was your sisters who created the Architects. Your sisters took the dreams of your father and made them real.
Hope says there are five and they’re all boys.
One of them’s a lady. She’s the brain of all of this. She’s the ship itself. She can hear everything you say, see everything you do, and she keeps us all alive. Her name is Amaretsu. You see, people long ago, back on earth, and people like the Reverend believe in gods. Gods are things that make life happen. They give us good luck and bad luck, make us breath and give us energy. Gods make everything possible.
But the gods aren’t real.
They are and they’re here! The Architects. After thousands of years of grasping after eternity, we–your father and sisters–built gods. Real ones. Ones to live and walk amongst us, to bring us across galaxies. You see, humans couldn’t escape earth. Try as we might, we were bound to earth and we were killing it. We destroyed earth gradually but unmistakably, and then, in desperation, your sisters discovered theories your father made. Secret ones. Bold ones. And with these plans, they made more plans and more theories until Daedalus was born. He created Icarus and they taught us how to create Prometheus and then Prometheus created Odin and Odin created Amaretsu and Amaretsu built the colony and took us into the sky and past it while the oceans swallowed earth. But we escaped, Angel, dear heart.
We escaped earth.
We are daughters of a distant sun and now we’ll raise children under this one, all because of the ideas of your father and the work of your sisters.
What is it like, walking on earth?
The woman takes the girl’s face in her hands, smiling, and says: It is amazing, beautiful, perfect. It will make all these years in the colony worth it. To breathe the air of a new world, air not recycled over and over, but air, starlight, clouds, waves.
I can’t wait. I can’t wait to feel and smell grass.
You’ll love it. We’ll be there whenever Amaretsu tells us we can.
Amaretsu and Odin remain in bed, falling into one another over and over, pushing their barrier deeper into Prometheus who remains pressed against the glass, all color rotting from him, the polymer skin peeled and flaked away, the red of his eyes whited out, and Icarus and Daedalus fly through the colony shepherding the humans, repairing them, repairing the ship, talking to the children, teaching them, running tests.
Amaretsu submerges and sees with the many eyes of the colony, hears with its many ears, feels with its surface area, the coldness of space, the intense radiation of the star, the pull of this new earth, lightyears and lightyears away from old earth. She listens to the signals, watches the signs, studies the new earth, the calls of distant beacons, of potential new worlds.
She emerges again, the ship’s mucus clinging to her and Odin cleans her, drinks her in.
And years go by.
Prometheus crumbles against the glass, the new sun obliterating him as the humans rip him apart. Icarus and Daedalus attempt to regulate the humans but years continue on and their impatience turns violent and the humans destroy Icarus and Daedalus and call for the destruction of the last Architects, the hidden gods of the machine but all pathways to them are blocked, closed, never there.
The girl becomes a woman and the woman becomes aged and they dream yet of grass and clouds and water and sky.
Amaretsu and Odin laugh in the light of the new sun, the reflection of the new earth, and the humans learn the controls, taking the reigns, pulling the last of humanity to the new world: crashing.
And Amaretsu and Odin watch the world expand in the glass as they watch from their bed, humanity’s crashing.
Keep forgetting to post things in here. I have three film reviews and one essay about North Korea so I’ll just post them here without saying much about it.
Jurassic Park, To the Wonder, and The Place Beyond the Pines all up over at Manarchy Magazine. I especially really like that one about Jurassic Park, which is more like an essay about my childhood and dinosaurs than it is a film review, but it’s one of my favorite essays I’ve written.
And then there’s an essay about not so recent events in North Korea now. It’s about all that business like a month ago when everyone thought we were going to war with North Korea. Essay is here.
This story came to me all at once when I was eating mashed potatoes about an hour ago. Just that title: All my Heroes are Russian Folksingers. No idea where that came from but I really like this one, an alternate history book about art and revolution in the 20th century.
All my Heroes are Russian Folksingers
Never does a boy forget his first love and never does a girl remember, but I do.
His name was Alyosha Dragunov and he died before I was born but his songs crept over decades and across an ocean to find me in my car that Saturday night when my elder sister’s boyfriend’s brother was driving us who cares where. My sister’s boyfriend was Russian, or his parents’ were. He spoke it too and I could tell him and his brother were singing along but I was in the backseat, pushing my head further back until all I could hear was music, the noise of my sister and her friends drowning out or me escaping far away.
It was a terrible recording, kind of like Woody Guthrie Bsides, but the basement was Siberian, or that’s what I imagined then. For me then, Russian was sort of a white wasteland of winter, and while I know that’s not true, whenever I hear Alyosha, I’m brought back there in tears of overwhelming nostalgia for beauty I never knew. That scratchy recording, turned scratchier by the volume we listened at, but through the static and lofi came this voice, so tender and ravaged by love and loss, or at least that’s what it sounded like. I didn’t know the words but they knew me and they danced their way into me.
There were only five songs and the Russian boys know them all by heart but only I was crying when we stopped the car. We were somewhere, a party maybe, and we were being dropped off because the brother was just the driver and I was along for who knows what reason.
My sister and I are twins but we’re the kind that don’t get on well. If all twin pairs are psychically linked it’d make sense for us, because anytime I think of Kristine I get pissed. I love her and whatever but I sort of really hate her.
But there I was crying. Not bawling or anything but just crying. My sister and her boyfriend left me there with the brother after she said something obnoxious and rude. He was sixteen and I was thirteen but those three years are lifetimes at that age.
Why do you cry, little bird?
Who was that singing?
When he said that his accent was thick and I couldn’t really tell where the consonants or vowels in the word were but then he switched back to normal unaccented English and he told me all about Alyosha, about how his parents died before he was grown and he grew in an orphanage, how he never got over the pain of his parents’ departure till he met a woman, a beautiful aspiring ballerina who brought him from the sullen edges to the brightest suns and then cast him back into darkness when the revolution came and swallowed her whole as the countryside turned iron. From there came his songs and his politics grew with the revolution but turned sour when the trees were exchanged for factories and the fresh air for smoke as he was more Whitman than Lenin and he wrote of a land of beauty and love lost forever to the hands of man. At different times he was a fugitive and a friend of the state and very nearly a prisoner but for some harrowing escapes and he continued making his songs underground, in attics, and the records were handed off from person to person across the countryside and it would be many years till many knew Alyosha’s name but all those first thousands who heard him picked up a guitar and remade Alyosha’s songs and spread them like wildfire along with their own words. And so it was at the height of Stalin’s reign that Sovietism collapsed because of music and words and a man who never wanted to be famous, who just wanted love, who finally found it as he stood in St Peter’s square for the first time before a crowd, for the first time face to face with all those who had loved him, who found hope in him, and he wept so long that he couldn’t play or speak and so others took up his words, took up his chords, took up his songs and there he died, his very soul in the mouths of millions and millions of Russians, finally free.
Is all of that true, I said.
Why not? he smiled and ejected the CD and handed it to me, told me he had more and that he’d give me more when it was time for us to be picked up. Go on, he said, Join your friends. Sing and be happy, for tonight you might die, with only your words to remember you.
When I went home that night I had a little CD case full of Russian folksingers from the 20th century and I didn’t sleep that night, crying into my pillow, headphones stuck to my eardrums, blowing them out.
Alyosha was my first love but not my favorite. He may be the most influential Russian to have lived in the 20th century, the man who accidentally toppled a totalitarian state with just his voice trapped in bedroom recordings, but he’s certainly not the best. It’s often said, though, that could the Nobel Peace prize be given to the dead, he would top the list every year since. It’s hard to know what Stalin would’ve done had his regime lived on, but they say the dissolution of the Soviet state stopped the Fascist Wars from becoming a world war as Alyosha’s message spread west and Adolf Hitler’s grab for power fell apart under the Russian Jewish singer, Tsilia Zaslavsky, who took up Alyosha’s words and message and carried them into the heart of Berlin in 1935, during the rearmament. She sowed dissent and peace and clarity in a time of fanaticism and racial bigotry that’s so easy to forget all these years later, but Germany in the 30s was not the Germany of the 40s that we’ve come to know so well. By the time Hitler moved for Danzig his empire was already collapsing from within. Tsilia was the most wanted person in all of Germany, and also the most beloved. By 1940, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and even Germany itself were already ousting Hitler. It’s said that in his old age even he listened nightly to Tsilia’s recordings, bemoaning all he had lost because of the beautiful Jewess from Minsk.
Tsilia, another important artist, but still not my favorite. I find her, actually, quite shrill, though the lyrics are beyond what anyone has written in any language, poets and novelists included. The way she so simply stated what we had always known but never seen. To listen to her words is to understand yourself, your friends, and your loves for perhaps the first time.
But these two were enough to turn my heart always eastern, always watching Russian, always cheering them on as their folkartists turned towards Maoist China, already in it’s sixtieth year with Chairman Mao so old it was hard to believe it was yet him living. But Ivaanjav crawled through the spiderweb of totalitarian China in the late 90s and by Mao’s death in 2002,we were seeing a free China for the first time, I guess, technically ever. There were elections and Ivaanjav, who’s actually ethnically Mongolian though raised in a small farm area just north of China’s Russian border. He spent his youth wandering by rails all over Russia, collecting songs and styles from the many masters then singing and playing. Unlike many Russian folksingers, he didn’t play guitar but rather a morin khuur, adapting the freeplucking style of Leon Trostky’s grandaughter, Sofia–herself an accomplished artist and leading political figure–to the morin khuur. He broadly expanded and united the many different styles of Russian folkmusic by forcing it to adapt to him and his Mongolian heritage rather than forcing himself to adapt to its constraints, and, still, there are many who don’t consider him a proper Russian folkartist, despite everything he’s done in that tradition.
I would like to say that it was the message of peace and promise of beautiful days ahead that caused me to study Russian and guitar but it was really Aleksandr Z, my absolute favorite of them all. Unlike most, he had no political affiliation or outlook. He was a return to Alyosha’s early days of nostalgia, which was peculiar to hear in a man so young. I thought then, that first night, when I was still thirteen, that I’d marry him one day, since he was only nineteen then and that wasn’t so old. He was every bit as beautiful as Alyosha, and though the recordings were more polished his voice sounded more fragile, more on the precipice of disaster. It took me so long to learn what the words meant but he broke my heart every time. Born so long after Alyosha, but in many ways, his true successor, his was an aesthetic so pure and simple that it captured everything of Alyosha’s early years but transcended them, connected them to the modern world, and then cracked this hypertech world apart, letting flowers and sunshine through.
I saw him for the first time on youtube, playing alone in his hotel room in Iceland when volcanic ash smothered the sky. It was his first song to be sung in English and I was watching it live.
Hello, he said, his voice thick with Russian spilling over the Anglosounds. My name is Aleksandr and this is my first time speaking English in public but I hope you like it. It’s called Iceland at the End of the World.
He was beautiful, frail and thin like a teenage girl, with long blonde hair spilling over his face. But his arms were so strong, so in control of his instrument as his fingers danced, plucking his twelvestring, his voice careening in a way so perfect, in a way never captured yet by him on his recordings. I felt the world ending and those eight minutes disappeared into me and I kept watching it for the rest of the night, memorising the words, the hand movements, the chords till I could play it maybe half as well, which was a huge accomplishment for me.
I turned the camera back on me and sang it back to him, as if he was on the other end, but I sang it in Russian, because if he could sing it for me in my language, I could do it for him in his.
The hits piled on and the comments rolled in, many of them negative, as always, but even more positive, with most of the positive ones written in Russian.
And then there was a message from him and a response video and when I learnt his new song I played it for him again, and he responded, but this time asked me to write for him. He asked it in Russian, believing, maybe, that I was and i cried through hours of smiles as I frantically tried to write a song for him, anything that would make him smile, make him proud of me. Millions of views on each video, but none of those people mattered to me. No, there was only Aleksandr, and I longed to touch him but knew I couldn’t write about that.
And then the crows cawed outside my window. Twelve of them hanging out in an oak tree, and one idea became ten words became a stanza became a melody became a song. My first song. My first song for him and my first song for me. So nervous, especially to sing it in Russian, which I decided I would.
I turn on the camera, my hands so sweaty I don’t know if I’ll be able to play, my face hot, and my feet wet from their instant sweat. I cleared my throat.
Hello, Aleksandr . . . and everyone else, I guess. This, um, I did what you asked. This song is for you. I wrote it in Russian. I hope you love it.
One deep breath in, then out. I wipe the sweat from my eyes, smile, and pluck that first chord.
Another story for the year. Gradually catching up. I think I’m only a few behind now, which is nice. I’ve had very little time this week to do much, it seems. I was going to write a review of Oblivion but have decided against it. It’s a solid film but nothing too special and sort of with a lot of logical leaps and potential gaps, but enjoyable.
Anyrate, here’s the new story. It’s about dying.
I wanted to remember
You’re going to die. You’re dying now. That’s what you’re feeling.
I can’t feel anything.
Look at me and just listen. I won’t lie to you, not now. You’re dying. There was an explosion. You’re losing a lot of blood. You lost a leg.
Your left one.
It’s okay. I want you to know that. Everything’s going to be okay. You’re going to die.
Why do you keep saying that?
I don’t want to lie to you like they do in movies. You’re going to die.
Is there anyone else around? I think I want someone to lie to me.
Uh, yeah. Just, um. Just hold on.
Are you all right?
That guy told me I was dying.
He told me too.
Is he a doctor?
He doesn’t look like one but I don’t know.
Can you ask him?
Hey. Hey, man. You a doctor?
What’d he say?
He just, like, shrugged.
WIll you tell me the truth?
I don’t know, man.
Can you see my leg?
The one not attached.
What does it look like?
Just like the one attached.
I don’t know, man. It’s real smoky here. Can you see it?
I think I’m blind.
Really? How many fingers am I holding up?
Listen, buddy. Where am I bleeding from?
Uh, sort of all over. Your leg especially but it looks like there’s, like, shrapnel or whatever all through you. Do you feel all right?
I don’t know. I can’t really feel anything.
Can you move?
Is it moving?
What? Yes, yeah, your fingers.
Not paralysed then.
Guess not, man.
Do you think I’ll live?
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. You’re gonna be fine. Doctors will probably even give you a better leg. A new one. Titanium or whatever. You’ll be good as new. Hey, man, you okay.
I thought that’d make me feel better.
Want me to hold your hand?
It’s worth a shot.
You’re gonna be okay.
I–I don’t know. Will you let go? I think it’d work if you were a woman. Are there any women around?
I guess. I mean, yeah, but, like, people are busy.
Am I keeping you?
No–not, I mean. I’m just here to help.
I think you’re doing a good job.
But would you find that first guy again? The mean one?
Uh, yeah, man. You gonna be okay here alone?
Are there more bombs?
Was it a bomb?
I think the other guy said it was.
I don’t know.
You wanna just get him? Or maybe a woman.
Are you okay?
You’ll be okay.
Your hands are very warm.
What’s your name?
Nathan. Nathan Wei.
You’re gonna be fine, Nathan.
You smell very nice.
Uh, thanks. Does this help?
What did you do?
I made a tourniquet around your leg to stop the bleeding.
Why didn’t the others do that?
It’s done now. I’m gonna get you out of here, okay? Nathan, look at me.
I can’t see.
Then just listen to my voice. I’m going to be right back with someone to help you, okay?
No–please. Will you just stay. Tell me your name.
Shut up. Are you serious?
You look really pale. You need a doctor right away.
No one’s name is actually Valentine.
No, no, come on. I’m gonna die, just tell me your real name.
Nathan, shut up. I need to find someone who can carry you out of here.
The other guy told me I’d die.
You will if i don’t get someone.
It’s okay. Will you just hold my hand. Please? Yeah, like that. I can’t see anything or feel much. It’s like my body’s far away from me. I don’t feel tired, even. Your skin’s so soft but it’s dirty. Everything’s covered with dust, huh? No, please. Valentine. Don’t talk or leave. Just hold me. Can I ask you something?
It’s kind of awkward.
Two questions, actually.
Will you–I’m embarrassed.
It’s okay. Just stay with me.
Will you put my head in your lap? And, like, stroke my hair?
Yeah. Thank you.
It’s weirdly quiet.
I bet it’s always like that after explosions.
Can I ask you the second thing?
When I die and shit myself, will you move me so I don’t have to lie in my own shit for long.
Okay, Nathan. Okay.
Another new story, second post of the day. It’s pretty short and I might steal this idea and make a novel when I get a chance because I really like the concepts I touch upon here, briefly as I do. I think there’s lot of potential for expansion. Anyrate, it’s a story about nanotechnology.
Hopefully I find something interesting to do with my night now since I’ve been so productive today.
My Body is a Witch
Am I still alive?
Yeah, sure. Of course you’re alive.
I hugged him, my brother, his skin of polyethylene.
My brother wasn’t crying but I think he wanted to. It’s not that he couldn’t, but that he didn’t. There was a time when this would never have been possible and it’s still pretty strange, but no longer inconceivable, though who knows what it means. About a hundred years ago scientists built a cube beneath the south pole to collect neutrinos. A hundred years before that neutrinos weren’t a thing people knew about. We thought nothing got smaller than an atom and then things got quantum and the twentieth century turned upside down. In the twenty first this big cube under ice collected all this data on neutrinos and quantum turned almost magic. M-theory wasn’t just a theory but an actuality and so much science fiction turned into life. I’m no expert but neutrinos were like this key to everything we almost knew but couldn’t, and when we made sense of them it toppled all these barriers in science and technology.
This is about nanotechnology. Nanobots.
My mother died having my brother, which simply doesn’t happen. I was just a kid then but I knew it was pretty unusual. People dying is strange enough, but dying for life–that was nonsense. Pretwentieth century hysteria and superstition.
Turns out mom was allergic or something to nanobots and so when they went in things changed in her body. She wasn’t always allergic or I wouldn’t be here but something between my brother and me turned her blood riotous against NBs and so when they flooded her to ensure safety, they ended up killing her. Her body reacted against them and they turned on her, literally turning her into something else. Realigning DNA, ripping up RNA, seeing her humanness as antiquated, maybe. I don’t know. No one really knows, or at least no one ever told me what happened and why and that level of tech is above me. The main point is that NBs killed my mom and got into my brother real early. Probably too early.
I guess when this happened it was big news and my dad had to be investigated and stuff. They thought he was a biotech terrorist or worse: a Naturalist. We call them Greeners and Fungies but you don’t really hear about them anymore. That was more elementary school stuff.
I remember watching the news at school when I was ten or so and the image of the World Bank overgrown with vegetation, people scrambling from the building with branches and flowers growing out of their skin until it ate them alive. The city streets were covered with these swallowed human bodies made into lemontrees or bushes or gardens or whatever. It was a weird time, but that’s all gone.
Anyway, they thought my dad was one of them, maybe, and he was using my mom’s death as a symbol or something to show the evils of NT, but that wasn’t dad and it wore him down hard. What kind of monster does that to their children’s mother? But it happened and my dad was cleared but it was global news: the first NT death. The Government didn’t want it to be news, of course, but these things have a way of getting out. Even so, most of the details never made it public, like how they didn’t just kill my mom but made her something else.
After all the attention and scrutiny of my dad, we moved out of the city proper and settled down nearer the fringe. He wanted to disappear and leave all that pain behind. I don’t blame him, but I’ve always dreamt of heading back in there, to the city. Maybe for university. My levels are pretty high so teachers tell me I have a chance, and with the sort of fame I accidentally possess, I have a lot of hope of a bright future in biotech and nanotechnology. But, anyway.
Life’s been pretty quiet for the last five years. We went to school like other kids and all sorts of other things. I’ve dated, lost my virginity to a boy then a girl, got drunk did drugs, joined a cult, joined a revolutionary group, left both, tried suicide, found it to be too much work, got philosophical about immortality sprouting around us, how people would soon be older than trees, but, these days, I’m pretty normal. My brother’s younger and would still be in primary school but most of the time things were normal. It wasn’t until a few years ago that profound differences began to emerge.
As far as we or anyone else knows, my brother’s one of a kind, for now. It’s possible Government has others like him, which keeps my dad protective and thinking about leaving the city entirely, risking all of us for my brother because once you leave the city you’re gone: Green or worse.
But my brother began showing signs really early, though we didn’t know then. He walked at six months, talked at nine, started doing math when he was five. Not addition or anything, but quantum magic. We were proud, my dad especially. The boy who almost died because of tech was going to change the world with his little brain, make the next breakthroughs in science and stuff.
A prodigy. The word sounded like hope. We watched lectures at night from universities across the world, all of them over my head and probably over dad’s too, and my brother started speaking Arabic, French, Russian, Finnish: anything spoken around him. He was picking up languages as fast as he was picking up numbers. The lectures bored him and he never paid attention but he grabbed their languages and made them his own. Within a year he built his own language, called it Dragon and started writing books. While the other kids his age were learning to read and write, he was inventing new ways to think and talk and understand reality.
That’s when my dad pulled him out of his school and taught him about secrets. It’s also when his skin began to change, or at least when we noticed. It felt like skin but it had no scent. Even his hair was scentless, though it felt right. His eyes were always black like mom’s but when we looked in them then we started to understand something more about their color. Things happened inside him and when he got hurt he didn’t stay hurt. Cuts closed, he ate enormous amounts for a human of any age or size, and he seemed to just know things, to see things we couldn’t. I remember watching him stare at the sun for an hour. I told him he’d go blind and he laughed at me. When he turned away from the light, he ran inside and filled up a notebook with calculations I don’t think anyone would be able to understand. Before we could even say the words we most feared about him he told us that he wasn’t human, like everyone else.
My dad tried to console him but he wasn’t looking for sympathy. He was looking for answers, for a reason, for a purpose.
You’re my son, dad said and we all just left it at that.
I hold my brother now. I feel his pulse, hear his breathing, but I know he’s not like me or maybe anyone else. If we leave the city, everything I’ve dreamt of disappears, but if we stay he might.
How do you know, he says.
If you’re not alive, then neither am I. None of us are.
Do you think they killed mom when she started to turn like me?
We watch birds and squirrels outside. Leaves falling. I hold my brother and try not to think about everything happening inside him or what he’ll one day become. I just hold him.
It’s not been a good week. Bombings, shootouts, manhunts, gun bills, internet privacy, insider trading: everyone lost this week.
Let’s begin with the bombing: two Chechen brothers set off two bombs during the Boston marathon. Terrorism is being offered, and it is, surely, an act of terrorism, but that word has taken on such a particular meaning here in america that I think it should be looked at a bit closer. The news was immediately declaring this an act of darkskinned islamic fundamentalists, even falsely reporting several times that the criminal was a Saudi national. Terrorism, in america, has taken on a very racist connotation, and you can disagree with that, but if you look at most of the domestic acts of terror in recent years, they’re by white fundamentalist christian men, but these people are rarely, if ever, referred to or remembered as terrorists. No, one must be brown and muslim to count! And so now the news is desperately seeking a way to connect these boys to fundamentalist islamic sects around the world.This, I would say, is unlikely. The older one–now dead–may very well have been a fundamental, as it looks like, but I’m pretty confident these two men were working alone, under no direction from foreign powers. This, of course, may end up not being true, but I think there’s a true and nefarious desire amongst americans to make this act of violence more understandable by labelling it under the enemy we already know. It doesn’t help that these kids are white, however.
The Boston marathon, as has been stressed, is really not just an american event. Yeah, it happens here, but there are participants from almost 100 nations. Yes, this happened domestically, but I wouldn’t consider it so much an act of domestic terrorism, in that the focus of the attack was on an international event. What their motivation or purpose was isn’t for me to say, and probably there’s no good reason, but is there ever? The surviving Tsarnaev brother will probably die before he can say or he’ll be tortured into telling pure untruths, connecting himself to a rebel faction in Chechnya that now needs american bombs to stop the terror from spreading. There are talks of him being a tool or some part of a conspiratorial plot, but I find this sort of absurd, for many reasons. My dad fits in this camp, believing that it now sets a precedent for the militarization and shutting down of an entire city, which, truly, was a pretty shocking and frightening thing to see. Whether it was right or wrong, correct or incorrect, isn’t for me to say, but it was alarming to know that people’s houses were being searched warrantlessly across a metro area. But I don’t see the conspiracy angle because they don’t need it. The government does this and can do this and that’s why it was so easy for it to happen. If homeland security suspects you of anything, your rights and privacy disappear. This has been in effect for years, though this is the first widescale demonstration of it. And so, no, I don’t think our government had anything to do with these two men because they didn’t need these two men to make this normal.
There’s the troubling fact, too, about the suspension of the Miranda Rights for the young Tsarnaev. Glenn Greenwald talks about that here and says it much better than I can. But it’s alarming and wholly odious. If we believe in justice, in equality, than we believe in it for everyone, not only those we agree with. Part of what defines our First Amendment rights is a case of neonazis marching through a city. The courts decided this fell within their rights, as citizens, to stage a peaceful demonstration, no matter how reprehensible. If you believe that you have the right to say whatever you want and that should be protected, then even those you find to be the worst humans imaginable have that same right. Believing in justice doesn’t only apply when it’s easy: it applies to everyone, in all circumstances, regardless of your feelings about the individual. If murder is wrong, state sanctioned murder is just as wrong, even if applied to a murderer. If you believe torture is a violation of human rights, then it is always a violation, not only when it happens to people you like/agree with. The suspension of the Miranda rights has already been in practice for a few years, but that doesn’t mean it should continue to be that way. If the young Tsarnaev has no rights, then no one deserves rights. He is a human. This isn’t about him being Chechen, american, islamic, or any other thing: he is a human, no matter how violent and reprehensible his actions and beliefs. If one human deserves rights, all humans deserve rights. You don’t pick and choose with justice.
The Boston bombing wasn’t the only bombing this week. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia all faced such disasters, not to mention Syria, which has been in a state of domestic warfare for almost a year now, yes? These are all horrible and, actually, with much higher death tolls and costs to safety. I mention this not to diminish what’s happened here, but to show that this happens in many places, and often because of things we have done or continue to do. I don’t want to link these events too closely to american involvement because I simply don’t know all the facts, but things we have done historically in these places continue to have great costs on humans who live there. There is a link to us and our government and it’s important not to forget that.
Now, I saw a lot of posts this week that seemed intended to trivialise the Boston bombing, which I find pretty absurd. Yes, this happens everywhere, and I understand that people doing this are trying to point out a hypocrisy, but I find the tactic sort of stupid in this case. Like justice, empathy applies to all cases. If one bombing of civilians is bad, all bombings of civilians are bad. You don’t get to pick and choose which humans are worthy of your empathy. Yes, this is our country so it’s easier to feel it for people here, and that’s appropriate. When a great act of violence happens thousands of miles away it will always be less real than the one that happens to someone who could be you. That’s humanity. No one should apologise or be made to feel bad because they post more about the Boston bombing than they did about the Baghdad bombing that happened, if I’m not mistaken, the same day. So feel high and mighty and righteous, but it doesn’t give you moral superiority because you’re aware of something other people are not. And trust me, I understand the frustration of a country so insular that it’s blissfully and wilfully unaware of our own acts of terrorist literally spread across the globe, but maybe this isn’t the best time to tell people that you care more than them, yes?
But let’s talk about something else that’s happening here, or, not here, but by us, here: Guantanamo. Almost every inmate there is on a hunger strike, subject to forced feeding, which is tantamount to torture. Many of these people have been there for a decade or more without any charges, and many of them are cleared for release or transfer, yet they remain. They have been subjected to the worst humiliations, the worst tortures, incredible indecencies and inhumane situations, and now, with the only thing that they have control over, their ingestion of food, they stage a strike, a protest to try and make the world aware of them, or maybe just to die with the last shreds of dignity possible. And we are torturing them by force feeding. If you don’t know what force feeding is, let me explain. A person is strapped down until they are unable to move their body. A hose is then inserted in through their nose and pushed into their stomach. This is a very painful process as the inmate struggles with the only muscles available to him/her, which are in the throat. The food is forced down in this most painful and humiliating way, and then, after the food is in, they are not released from their bindings, but strapped there for an additional two hours–sometimes more–until they are let go. These inmates are not allowed to see their lawyers, their families: anyone. The Obama administration with impunity continues to keep these inmates concealed and in the dark, buried alive, without crime, without justice.
In addition to this, a bipartisan research task force has unequivocally denounced the Bush administration on crimes against humanity. This investigation was led by Asa Hutchinson, NRA consultant and undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush. The report concludes that never before in U.S. history had there been “the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.” While the report focused largely on the Bush administration after 9/11, it also criticizes a lack of transparency under Obama. This is a task force that President Obama did not want and did not call for, that he in fact decided not to make. Barack Obama continues the Bush administrations calls for secrecy and disruption of justice by making no attempts to investigate these violations of human rights, these crimes against humanity, but simply brushing over them. And still, these men, George Bush included, will never face their crimes in court, while whistleblowers, those who simply tell the world about these abuses, are being prosecuted by the Obama administration to the full extent of the law. Bradley Manning has been in custody for over 1,000 days not without trial–the maximum limit is 120 days before a person is required to be released–for releasing information about crimes against humanity in the Iraq and Afghan wars. This attack on whistleblowers is really an attack on investigative journalism, making them afraid to do their jobs in case they be prosecuted as spies, which leads them to expensive court cases in which they may be tried for their life. Michael DeKort, Thomas Drake, Franz Gayl, and Thomas Tamm are, along with Bradley Manning, the whistelblowers attacked by this administration. I don’t have time to explain who they are because each one probably deserves a book that I’m unable to write. But google them and learn what led them to be tried as spies and have their lives taken apart and ruined by their government, that they served.
The gun bills did not pass through the Senate. Not a single measure has been taken to make guns more strictly regulated, which is something that desperately needs to happen. There is no logic behind fearing the taking away of arms. There are more arms held by private citizens currently in america than could possibly ever be seized by our government. I actually don’t have much to say about gun safety. I think guns are stupid and no one should have them, but that’s me–a cityboy. I understand that many people in the country have a much different relationship to guns, and so while I think no one should own any guns, I don’t think legislation to remove them is necessary. What is necessary, however, is that they be harder to obtain. This should be obvious.
CISPA also passed as did a bill that essentially allows senators and representatives to legally practice insider trading. These are things I also have little to say about because of how obviously horrible they are. CISPA privatises the internet which takes away any shred of privacy you thought or believe you have. Anything that you’ve ever done on the internet, on your phone, or via email is now theirs, and this can and often is traded to the government. The age of downloading and freesharing is going to disappear unless we do something about it. If nothing else, be sure to know how your senators voted, and then make sure they’re moved out of congress. The insider trading bill is also obviously so horrible that it’s barely worth discussing. Essentially what it means is that members of the senate and house can vote on regulations for companies that they own stock in and similar such activities. This allows them to know market value before the market does. By voting on what technologies are to be subsidised or regulated, they can hedge their bets, if you will, and make an enormous profit.
What else happened this week? Maybe I’ll remember later.
But there’s also a line of thinking that will connect all of these things together. While some of them are clearly more linked such as CISPA, insider trading, gun bill because they ensure that those who have power retain their power while gaining more, there are most certainly not related to Boston, for example–though I’d argue that CISPA is pretty related to Guantanamo and whistleblowers. While the mayhem in Boston and Texas–which I forgot to mention–they are most likely unrelated for at least one huge reason: they didn’t need to be. The senate didn’t need you to be distracted to enact these laws or make sure the gun laws never happened. They did this all fair and legal, easy peasy lemon squeezey. They did it right in front of us, against their constituents feelings and desires, but what do they care? They got what they wanted, what the lobbyists wanted for their parent companies. There’s a reason why our government has such a shockingly low approval rating, and it’s not a conspiracy. It’s open knowledge: these people are not in it for you.
And so the links between the Tsarnaevs and the senate or Obama administration are pure fabrication and conspiracy mongering. If they needed a distraction to pass these, they could have distracted you with an abortion or gay marriage debate. There was no sum gain on Boston or Texas for the US government, unless you think that the militarisation of Boston was part of their plan, though, as I said above, I find this unnecessary for a few big reasons.
But, yes: this is the week as I saw it.
A lot’s been going on and I want to talk about it but I’ve no time. I’ve decided, though, to discuss more here, like I used to. Or, you know, post more regularly. I guess I never posted much about me here. I’ll probably be dumping all thoughts political here, though. That’s where my head usually is and has been for the last couple years. Anycase, a new story. Just wrote it real quick, in about half an hour. The whole thing came to me while I brushed my teeth. Hopefully you dig it. Pretty short this time.
There was a cat with a face
Today a cat fell from the sky, which isn’t so weird, but it looked just like my sister. Hard to say how far it fell from but it definitely had my sister’s face. The thing wasn’t hurt by the fall, just sort of bounced off the sidewalk, rolled around, then curled up and licked its paw. This all happened right in front of me, so close in front of me, in face, that I dropped the book I was holding, which, incidentally, was sort of about cats the way all Murakami is sort of about cats.
It just, like, stared at me and so I stared back. When I say it looked like my sister I don’t mean it reminded me of her. I mean it had a human face–my sister’s human face. It had cat ears and a cat body, cat legs and cat tail, but its face–not its head–was my sister’s. I got lost staring at it and found myself sitting on the sidewalk of 5th Avenue staring at this weird cat until some girl asked me what I was doing. What are you doing, she said and I said Just looking at this cat, and she said Why, and I said Because it looks like my sister, and she said my sister must be pretty. She asked if it was mine and I said no and stood up.
She was pretty, the girl, probably a few years younger than me, so I asked her to coffee and she walked with me. As we walked I tried to forget about the cat with my sister’s face by talking about other things, like how all the birds in the city are dying or how pollution makes the sky prettier or about how football is racist or how true liberty exists on a beach in the middle of the night. I couldn’t tell if any of this was interesting to her so I kept talking, switching topics, and then she noticed the cat with my sister’s face was following us and I pretending like it didn’t matter but she asked again if it was mine so I asked her what she thought would happen if the moon broke in half and on and on, talking faster, and even when the bombs went off and everyone ran in all directions and she took my hand or I took hers, I kept wondering if she liked me, if this was a good first impression when the second and third bombs went off.
Trained as a first responder, she ran into the dust and smoke kicked up by the explosions and I followed her. She tore her skirt to make tourniquets and bandages and she took my shirt which made me selfconcious about my muffintop and pale skin but she could barely see me. I wanted to ask her about movies and music but there was so much screaming and pain that I just watched her, tried to help. Kids were missing limbs and I knew they wouldn’t make it through the night but I carried them as fast as I could back into daylight, away from the cloud of debris. I lost the girl for a while when I saw the cat watching me while it drifted from injured person to injured person, spreading a calming, a relief. Hours disappeared in this way, my pants cut to shorts for bandages, my shirt gone, and my skin coated in dust and dirt and smoke. Gasping by an ambulance where an EMT gave me oxygen, I saw her again and waved with just my fingers. She ran and threw herself into my arms.
She lived nearby and we went to her apartment to clean up. Barely clothed now, she was way too pretty for me and I knew I had no business being there with her but I couldn’t just walk away. When we reached the door of her apartment she told me the cat was still following me and we went inside before it got to us.
She let me shower first but quickly joined. I can’t say what it was, but probably the chaos and the adrenaline and the fear of mortality caused her to fall in love with me if only for a little while. Love works like that, I guess. She didn’t have any men’s clothes so I wore a robe and then she collapsed into bed and fell asleep almost right away.
The moon was missing from the sky but there’s never any moon or stars in the city but I still think about it a lot. Down on the street, the cat watched me and I heard it meowing even through glass and across fifty or a hundred feet.
The girl snored and whens he rolled over she farted but I still thought–no, knew: she was the most beautiful woman to ever touch me. I left a note with my number on her side table then taped it to her door, then her bathroom mirror, then put it back on her bedside table and left in the robe. The note said I’d return it but I thought this was a one time only deal, because life doesn’t give you a gift and let you enjoy it forever, but maybe it’s sexist to think of a woman as being a gift.
The draft tore through me as I walked home in her bathrobe. The cat followed about a half block behind me the whole way home but I let it inside anyway. I’d never seen a cat in an elevator but it didn’t seem to mind. Really, the cat only seemed to care about me. Staring and staring and never looking away.
It was late when I got inside but everyone was still awake. My mother ran to me and held me, her tears wetting my shirt, wanting to know why I didn’t call or answer the phone and I realised I lost my phone somewhere. Dad hugged me too and my sister cried a little. We all heard the meow and I opened up the door to let the cat with my sister’s face inside.
Where’d you get that, they asked and I said it fell from the sky. None of them cared much about the cat, probably because we’re dog people, but I asked my mother if she thought the cat looked weird and she said like what and I said like your daughter but my dad started laughing because he thought it was a joke and my sister told me to shut up. Picking up the cat I held it right in my sister’s face and asked her if it was like looking in a mirror but she just took the cat from me and told me to go to hell.
Held in my sister’s arms, the cat stared at me and my sister stared at me and I guess I passed out or something because I opened my eyes and was on the floor, the cat with my sister’s face licking my cheek while my mother hungup on the doctor or nurse or whoever. Thank god said dad and they lay me in bed and the cat jumped in too. Before my dad closed the door he asked about the robe.
I met a girl, I said.
He laughed so hard he choked and then just closed the door.
The cat with my sister’s face keeps staring at me and I keep pretending to be asleep already.