The wettest hour

•November 10, 2018 • 1 Comment

“What’s happening?”

“Jeanie, look!”

“Come see, Sean!”

“It’s so dark out.”

“The air feels spooky.”

“Yeah, prickly-like.”

Tiny pearls of water began to appear on the outside of the classroom windows. The children crowded to them, mesmerized. The teacher, Ms. Green, pressed her fingertips to the glass and stared at its beading in wonderment. None of them had seen rain before, though they had spent their lives steeped in its mythos.

After thousands of years of human civilization, the earth was mostly desert. Its oil veins had all been cathetered. Rainforests had been deforested. Ice caps had melted. The globe had irrevocably warmed. Much of mankind died off; those who survived, adapted.

Occasionally, mists would come – a low, pregnant fog murmuring through midnight city streets or dark countrysides of rock, sand, succulent. Specialized devices siphoned the resultant dew, which lay winking on the ground like myriad tiny eyes. Sometimes lightening storms danced theatrically across the heavens. Every now and then, in certain locales, cumulonimbus clouds would form. Their towering bulbs and stark velum edges held nothing but hollow promises. Never, ever did it rain.

Just that morning, Ms. Green’s class had been writing poems about the fabled sky-water.

“Drops shine like silver dimes.”

“Precipitation is a celebration.”

“Through your eyes, rain soothes your heart.”

Amer, the quietest boy in school, recited this in a whisper.

“That’s dumb,” said Harry. “Makes no sense. Plus, it doesn’t rhyme.”

“Harry!” said Ms. Green. “Remember our talk? About kindness?”

Everybody picked on Amer because he had a gift few others possessed: he could cry. Human bodies had mutated to conserve water in maximal ways, and crying was too much of a luxury. But the capacity was still riding on a rare recessive gene somewhere, and little Amer had lucked into it. His fraternal twin, Amon – like everyone else at school – could not shed a single tear. So Amer got bullied, despite Amon’s attempts to protect him.

That morning, however, Amon had a doctor’s appointment, and when lunch came around, he wasn’t there to intervene on his brother’s behalf. Loudmouth Harry and a couple of his friends dragged Amer down to the dust-storm shelter in the school’s basement and locked him inside. Amer banged on the door and screamed, “Let me out, let me out!” But Harry and the others just laughed, then took the steps two at a time back up to the cafeteria. For several minutes Amer kept banging and calling. When he stopped, he was met with silence beyond the shelter door.

Class resumed, and a strange phenomenon began.

BOOM! BOOM!

Thunder exploded like the gods were on safari and one of them had just rifled down an elephant the size of Brazil. The students screeched and clamped their small hands over their ears.

“I’m afraid.”

“Ms. G, are we in danger?”

“Is the world ending?”

“Alright, kids. Let’s stay calm,” Ms. Green said, but her face had grown very wan.

Then the sky did something it hadn’t done for centuries: it began dumping its lovely wet innards over the baked expanse below.

“It’s rain! It’s rain!” shouted a child named Mark, and he shook his russet head in disbelief, and dashed out of the classroom, out of the building, into the dazzling new outside. His classmates and finally Ms. Green followed. At first they didn’t know how to breathe in air filled with so much water; they took tiny, choking breaths and giggled in dismay and delight. But after several minutes they were greedily gulping the sodden oxygen, thrilled at the silkiness that oozed down their eternally cracked, sand-coated throats. It smelled like paper… like creosote leaves, but richer. It sounded like a thousand drum solos overlapping. The children looked around. Cream and camel and gold had dissolved. A most bewitching green-blue-black coated the earth.

“How marvelous,” Ms. Green said to herself, palms upturned.

The children ran and ran and ran. They played tag, or catch, or hide-and-seek… but mostly they bent their faces up to the torrent and let that wetness coat them wholly. They laughed and splashed in the puddles already formed, kicked at the hard, dusty ground turning to mud and mush, relished the feeling of sopping clothing as it suctioned to their skin.

“It’s like a dream…”

“I know! I hope it lasts forever.”

Amon had returned from the doctor and was outside with the others, when suddenly he froze. “Where’s Amer?!” he yelled. “Has anyone seen Amer?” he yelled frantically.

The sky was already brightening. Thunderclouds were fracturing into looser lumps, their angry charcoal tones draining to indigo, their lightened masses loping towards the horizon. The downpour turned into an even falling, no longer delirious, then into a sporadic spitting.

The soaked children ignored Amon and continued to run about. No one thought to do anything like collect the rainwater – so abrupt and impossible was the event. As they felt the miracle drying up, saw the old hot fiendish rays splitting the clouds and searing the soggy ground so that steam began to rise from beneath their feet, they cried out.

“No! No!”

“It can’t be going already!”

“Ms. Green, it isn’t over yet, right?”

Amon, quelling a powerful urge to experience the rainstorm’s final embrace, rushed back inside to try and find his twin. He sped from room to room, calling his brother’s name, searching in closets, labs, stairwells, and at last the dust-storm shelter in the basement. Amer was huddled in a corner; as Amon burst in, he looked up, his cheeks extravagantly tearstained. Without a word Amon grabbed his hand, yanked him to standing, and pulled him upstairs and out of doors as quickly as their short legs allowed.

“What… What happened?” Amer stuttered as he gazed around in astonishment.

Their sun was back, in all of its white, desiccated malevolence. Shreds of sapphire cloud hung motionless above them. All surfaces glistened, and the air carried a mirage-like freshness. The ground was steaming. The world seemed alien.

Amer looked from one drenched classmate to another, and he had never seen anything remotely like it.

“It rained?” he asked his twin, eyes round as the desert moon.

“It rained,” Amon said.

Amon put his forehead to his brother’s, and gripped his brother’s thin arms, and closed his eyes… and tried to transfer the feeling to him. Rain pelting on the head, rivuleting down the chin and the back of the neck, the coldness, the crisp lush odor, the glory of liquid skies. Normally they were able to commune in such a way. This time, the sensations were too just novel, too foreign.

Amer lifted his forehead from Amon’s. He bent down slowly and put his hands to the earth, palms and fingertips clawing futilely the fast-disappearing dampness.

“My heart is a husk,” Amer said.

“I’m so sorry,” said Amon. He looked down, overwhelmed with distress, and heaved a dry sob.

But Amer didn’t cry. In fact, from that day on, he never cried again.

 

[Inspired by / As a sort of reversal of “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury]

 

Playing house

•October 13, 2018 • Leave a Comment

When her earthen hours were closer to zero. She lived for plastic approximations of humans. She remembers. Soft childhood christmas, white wintery outside, bready scents, menorah melodies fuzzing through the tape player. Toffee-colored carpet (when carpet was an acceptable thing one did to a floor.) In the playroom, walls blazoned with rainbowed aliens, jewish princesses, involuntarily trigonometric scrawls of bright wax. First the wrapping paper had its day in the twinkle lights. Then she held the glorious being aloft (a movie-gesture). The creature’s brown tresses jounced before her, seeming zoetic. Its eyes blinked approximately. Gravity’s charm.

The child’s best cousin was equally be-dolled. Separately, together, the two dreamed dreams for their counterfeit scion. Wrote glittery stickery letters about their makebelieve quotidiens. (Sent the letters journeying across hundreds of miles of physical space. That was how it was done back then.) When reunited, they pressed clay into food shapes, eternal and tiny – pb&js, juiceboxes, strawberries. Baked. Painted. Their young hands dexterous. Their unburdened minds easy-focusing.

The cousins read them books. What traits were they ascribed? She doesn’t remember. It wasn’t like writing character sketches (deliberate). Focus was on clothing, accessories, the feel of them. Her arms still know the feel of their fake bodies upon hugging. So good.

Twenty-five-year gestalt. Masses of hours now heaped, temporal haybales filling their life fields. (The passage, as always, a gaping question mark.) The children are well-rubbed in adulthood. They are finally doing away with approximations. Going for the real flesh loot. She expects to be consumed again…and her thoughts are striped with terror, longing. Unknown personalities will grip them, scrub off inconsequential plaque, and begin reworking their hereafters.

Exercises in style (17): Punctuation

•August 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

soon, the man will be in the attic; soon, the woman will be on the floor below (locked out), wailing… (her cries will be unlanguaged [but stuffed with creamy anguish {like a pastry stuffed with custard} over their love’s tragic end!]) …and the man, he is going to gaze through the attic’s skylight at the moon’s white fullness! and think (thoughts steeped thickly in melancholy) about his loss! (and will the woman continue to cry? (and what of the wallpaper? (the room’s walls (jungle-themed – vibrant green & orange & pink & yellow) will ready themselves for the lively dance to come…)))

time will pass, of course… the man will follow the moon’s ascent & shape-changing (as it waxes gibbous) ( – but follow how?… with his teary eyes!) below, the woman will be unremitting in her wails; she’ll be trying to change his mind with her (aural) sorrow… then, the wallpaper rainforest (heretofore flat [and dead {or rather, composed of paint}]) is going to come to life – exotic birds & monkeys & plants & blooms will crinkle & dip into the attic room! the man will not notice until… until… an orange bird-of-paradise plops in front of his nose! (and he – despite his anger, despite his hurt – will yearn for the perfumy smell of her [pillowed morning] hair)…

will even more hours lope by? – yes, we cannot stop the continually-onward loping of time. (the moon will finish its waxing crescent phase in the blink of an eye.) the woman, voice hoarse, will finally grow tired & quit her moans…she is going to slump against the (locked) door and fall into a shallow & uncomfortable slumber. the man will be staring at a space (near the top of the skylight) where the moon will be – but he won’t be able to see its shape, because it is going to be new!… and the room will have become jungle entire! (it will transport him away (far, far away (from the carcass of their dead love)).)

The boy who loved to count

•April 22, 2018 • Leave a Comment

There once was a boy named Sylvester. Sylvester was very small, with loose auburn curls and irises like polished chestnuts. He didn’t play sports. He had no friends. He kept quiet as gravestone lichen. And all he ever wanted to do was count.

At the age of four, Sylvester counted legos, peas, and his mother’s necklace pearls.

“Stop playing with your food. Food is for eating!” his mother chirped. “How’d I breed such a nut?” she muttered to herself.

At eight, he counted leaves on all the household plants, stripes on all his father’s shirts, locks on all the house’s doors.

“Quit that inanity and do your goddamn homework!” his father yelled. “Obsessive little weirdo,” he growled to himself.

At twelve, he counted the number of times Mrs. Matthias licked her lips during math class. He counted the number of cracks in the schoolyard pavement. He counted the number of pages in his English textbook.

His classmates threw rocks at him. He counted the rocks. They called him freak and gremlin and ginger and laughed at his size, his demeanor. He counted the fs and gs in their name-calling. He counted the syllables of their insults. As he grew older, their invectives grew longer, and Sylvester didn’t mind because that meant more syllables to count.

At fifteen, he ran out of satisfyingly countable things around him, so he began totaling the imaginary. He summed the number of siblings he wished he had, the amount of feathers adorning his winged Pegasus, the integers of far-off alien worlds.

Then one day, his parents died in a car crash. Sylvester was sent to live with his great-aunt in the desert. Surrounding her house was a dry, rocky landscape with shrubs and cacti and not many other houses. Several months passed. Spring came, and his great-aunt said that she wanted to show him a special place a couple hours’ drive away. So they drove on wide country highways through the southwestern landscape, listening to low radio crackle, drinking cola, exchanging few words. Finally, they pulled up to a massive stretch of cream-colored dunes. Sylvester slowly got out of the car. There was no one besides his great-aunt for a hundred miles. The air was very quiet, except he could hear the heat sizzling across the bone-dry expanse. He walked to the base of the closest dune. Until that moment, he’d never really seen sand before. He’d never been taken to a beach, or even played in a sandbox. He squatted down and examined the tiny iridescent particles. With great care, he sunk a hand into the glowing warm mass. Wriggled his fingers. Gazed up at the monolith sloping to the sun before him. A single thing on the one hand…composed of a near-endless number of things, on the other. His lower face gradually formed a shape foreign to the muscles there. Sylvester began to smile.

Pigeons

•March 10, 2018 • Leave a Comment

7:39 a.m.

Walk-run, cheeks cold, bulk of bag. Coat fabric swish, morning light downtown. Shreds of garbage across brick cobbles, and a cable car’s rich squealing. My mind is linear; my trajectory linear; the seconds tick linearly. Life’s one long line to catch that bus to make 7:59 train to make 8:55 shuttle to make desk by 9:30 have laptop open apps buzzing tap-tap-tapping away in advance of manager’s arrival.

Walk-run, approaching square, see the pigeons in their morning loop-de-loop. Each loop the same, every morning looping. 30 40 pigeons gliding elliptical; down-up, down-up, down-up. Marvel, hurry, watch for falling birdshit as 10 unrecoverable seconds pass.

 

O

We fly together. The pattern is gentle and soft. The airstream is good. The cold sun is nice. Time flies with us, forever round. We rejoice at the beginning of each new loop. Each loop is different but the same. The earth is a round ball. Our lives are also round. We enjoy each other’s company. The pattern repeats.

 

7:41 a.m.

Huff huff huff. Will it be caught? Noisy streetbarge, wait for me. I see you, grey stoic whale of Nordstrom’s. Backdrop to looping pigeons is all. You loom, I close in on the target. No backpedaling if missed. My mind ticks linearly; my trajectory tries for linear but must make the requisite swerves for those hobbling, hanging, bobbing, shuffling.  We all live time’s long line so why does everyone bib and wobble? Out the way, out the way! 5 more seconds pass.

 

O

We fly together. The pattern is smooth and sweet. The airstream is fine. The cold sun is grand. Time wings with us, forever spiral. We squee at each new circle’s beginning. Each circle traces samely. Our planet is a nice good egg. Our lives go ‘round and ‘round. We are never lonely. The pattern repeats.

 

7:43 a.m.

Clack-to, I got you. Riders banding down the steps before we up! and ho. Snag seat, shift bag, lurch of bus. Time flows forward, mind now snapped in, water up xylem, along for the ride. Event structure unidirectional. The gone stay gone.

 

O

We fly together. The airstream is sound. We love each loop’s beginning. Our globe is the eyeball of god. We go around again. The pattern repeats.

 

Tower

•February 3, 2018 • 1 Comment

There is a land of inky nights and golden days. In that land is a city and in the city is a tower. The tower is grey stone, diametric perfection, colossal. Inside lives a woman. The woman is a princess, but that means nothing. What is a princess to rugs, tapestries, copper urns, books? To armchairs and mirrors? To fireplaces, and staircases that lead nowhere? The princess is alone, and cannot ever leave the tower. She yearns for companionship, chaos, a stinking humanity pressed close. She dreams: I’m examining the grooves in this bricklayer’s hands; I’m feeling in my marrow the shrill tantrum of this child; I’m scanning landscapes through the eyes of this traveling man. Every day at her east-facing window she watches a hunchbacked turnip vendor walk to work and home again with his cart of turnips.

The princess has some longago memories – a mother and father, traipsing children, lively, extravagant people. A grandfather smelling of apples and stardust. Who with cigar smoke fingers washes ink across the evening sky, making night. But these memories are unreliable. Their images pulse blearily, as if underwater, or kaleidoscope into unfamiliar forms. Sometimes they feel packaged; sometimes stolen.

The tower is several strains of magic. Many chambers link to form its single floor high in the low mists. Every chamber has a doorway. No chamber has a door. They are such arranged that when the princess stands at the very center and turns slowly, she can see into every room. A panopticon. The princess knows this word, and many others. She has read about the watching giant with his hundred eyes. She has read all the books in the tower. There are hundreds and hundreds of books. She’s had time and more time.

The single staircase descends five steps and then ends. It ends at a brick wall – the tower’s inflexible hide. The tower is alive, although it does not breathe as other living things do. It loves the princess unhealthily, obsessingly. Its power grows from the swelling of her intellect and the longing of her heart. It parasitizes her brain, her loneliness.

The princess has some sorcery of her own, but it does not match the tower’s. Often she transforms into jellyfish or alicorn or crow, wild boar or dragonfly. She likes the form of things with wings, to pretend at freedom. She materializes food from thoughts. The past few years she’s grown bored of eating; there are months where she lives on air and coffee. With long-nailed fingers the woman paints scenes from favorite novels through her imprisoned three dimensions. She makes the scenes move, and imagines herself a part of the world.

One day the princess finds a chink in the tower’s enchantment. At just this moment, the turnip vendor is going by on his way home. For the first time, the princess is able to cross the tower’s invisible barrier. Her spirit soars out the window and down to the street, inhabiting the bowed old vendor’s body. Several minutes pass in which she feels and thinks everything he feels and thinks. They are hungry, tired, their feet and back ache. They are harried by the day’s rude customers, their ailing wife, their poverty. The princess learns the dull pain of pebbles on heels barely sandaled. She learns despair.

The tower self-sutures. Its rift closes, and the princess is again wholly encircled by grey stone. But she’s invigorated from those few precious minutes on the outside. From her oneness with the poor vendor. This will tide her over for a little while. Perhaps it will keep her until she finds another chink in the tower’s spell.

Jungle story

•January 6, 2018 • Leave a Comment

A young girl with skin like a river stone and hair like a pile of lianas. She’s holding a glow of red berries in her hand. She eats them in twos and threes. She’s sitting crosslegged at the O of her home. The O is a cave mouth. Cozy little cave, drenched in lianas. The girl is in love with a mighty jaguar. The mighty jaguar loves her back. He loves the novelty of her no spots and how she kills lizards and the quenching way she scratches behind his ears. They go on long runs through the forest and stop to bathe in swampy ponds. Then one day a man comes. He sees the girl, sees her river stone skin and her eyes like the mouths of endless caves. His heart stomps, dives, wings up through the canopy. He tries to speak to her, but she answers in growls, or non-sequiturs. The man leaves and returns the next day. He has brought her a necklace strung with glowing rubies. He tries to put the jewelry around her neck, but she snatches it, sits crosslegged, pulls hard at the precious stones on their string. String breaks, beads scatter. She puts two or three between her lips. The man’s heart drops. The young girl spits out hard juiceless rubies and scowls. You’re not worth one spot on my jaguar’s rump, she says. The man leaves, his heart in his heels. Squashed by every step. He resolves to commission a new heart made of steel and stone. The girl goes to find her jaguar, and they run and run until stars squint through the darkened canopy.