Cicadas (Thailand. Rewrite)

 

 

 

She could hear his abdomen, even from eight stories above. She knew he waited for her, dressed in new skin holding the bark of a mango tree. For thirteen years, she had dug and hid, dug and hid, a pale pearl of a nymph sheltered in flooding clay. Prematurely buried. She had fed on rootjuice and waited.

And now, the time for burying herself had gone. She no longer wore the tough soil skin of the past. The brightness of being was nearly unbearable. She was green and larger than herself.

She sat exposed, mesmerized by the equatorial sunlight and the sound of his clicking ribs. She could see him from here, just a speck, but she could tell even at this distance that he looked back at her. Through her ten eyes, he was a kaleidoscope of rounded cicada flecks, mirrored and moving in unison, calling her to the ground.

And then a closer sound. Behind her, ten of the same dark-haired girls with lightning eyes and cloud-colored skin reached a catastrophic finger in her direction.

She heard him again, dry-fly ribs rubbing together to blot out the sounds of metropolitan traffic and children. The vibrations called to her.

She looked down at the expectant mango tree and imagined the future she would create: millions of shimmery nymphs sprinkling from the branches, raining onto the soil below, christening the ground with their sparkling selves.

There was nothing for her to do now, except let go.

 

 

Back in the day, I wrote about submitting some of my flash fiction to Flash Frontier.  This rewrite of my original post was published in Flash Frontier’s November Issue, Eye Contact.

 

Also, I’d like to reiterate my Creative Commons love to Flickr user Roger Smith for the amazing photo!

Making Love to Clouds

I did not flinch when I saw her, though I knew she expected it.  My face did not mirror hers, eyes pulled wide, lips forced apart by the sharp intake of breath she could not control,  brow clenched upwards by a mind which could not believe.

A small breath of air made its way from my lungs, but my lips could not form her name.

Her eyes moved away from mine to the ground.  She did not want me to see her this way, I knew, and she would rather have never seen me at all than to meet me like this.

Her hair, which I had never seen down in all our years together, even through sleep and childbirth, fell in front of her face, intentionally hiding it.  In the darkness, it was hard to tell the two apart, now that the night of her straight hair had spread down the length of her body.  It was the blackness of her face from which I could not take my eyes.  Not the decay of her skin, crawling into strange formations as it fell from her flesh, nor the worms escaping from within her and being more eager to return to her to feast, but the pure tar of her face.  It had been one of her more powerful features, lighting the sky with its whiteness, its power making men run for cover.

“Do not look on me,” her words were loud, quick.  I wondered if she knew I had been chasing the young nymph which had just passed her, giggling melodically, curls and young breasts bouncing teasingly around the corner.  I wondered if it had been long enough since her death, or if it ever would be.

“I miss looking on you,” I offered.

She scoffed under her breath.  I could hear the tightening of her hard face through the darkness.  It was a sound I had not forgotten.

She crossed her arms, jagged elbows sending small bolts of lightning at the ground.  In the light, I could see a cockroach on the ground, near her dirty, bare feet.  It was the first time I understood her shame in being seen in the underworld.  Her usually tidy, glowing dress looked like what a peasant mortal would wear.  Instead of her usual shining shoes, her small, sharp feet, were caked in dirt, and being eaten.  I wondered if it was difficult for her to walk with the same poise that she had always carried.

“Please,” I said, knowing she would notice that my voice was not that of a god, but of a mole.  It did not happen often, but I knew she always noticed when I lost my composure.   “We will never see each other again.  We are lucky for just this moment.  Please, just look at me.”

“I-”  It was not often that she stuttered.  Her uneasiness grew to fill the small confines of the underground cave in which we stood.

Maybe she also feels as if it were my fault.

Perhaps she did not recall her last days, after the birth of the fire.  The way she screamed as the flames came forth from her womb burned my insides also.  The tears that sparked her electric face for days afterwards as she whimpered in pain each stung me as well. And I could no longer live forever when her immortality was taken away.

“I am not the same,” she said, her voice beginning to crack.  I knew she would not cry.  I struggled in the darkness to see better the prickly lines of her long body and face, the points of her nose, chin, and hips.

“I know,” I said.  I still missed looking on her.

   He did not know. 

            I could see his misty face, churning with emotions — for me!  If he knew, he would not be taking the time to steal a few moments with me before his return home.

            He moved towards me and I was within his arm’s reach.  I moved away.

            “I know,” he repeated, taking a small, determined step forward. 

            That was the moment when the memories flew past me and I was forced to turn and look at the decaying wall.  This gave my unruly mind free reign in recalling my memories, but at least I did not look at his face. 

            The tree came back to me first, but I knew that did not mean I loved him more.  The nights I had stolen away with the tree in a forced, hushed passion were just easiest to remember — there had been so few.  Always after dark.  Embracing without kissing.  A dainty removal of his own splinters.  All so the clouds could detect no signs when I returned home.  The splinters were my favorite part, even then.

            But there were more nights — since the beginning of time, in fact — with the clouds.  After all, what is lightning without clouds, or clouds without lightning?  The best nights were always the ones spent over tropical islands — hurricanes and our children, the thunder, the rain, and the tornado, were all conceived from the swirls of our passion on nights like those.

            So, when I first realized that I was having the fire child, I stopped seeing the tree.  I had no doubts about who fathered it.  But, then again, neither did the clouds.  Perhaps that was the most painful part of the ordeal:  the clouds trusted me so much that he was sure the child was his.

            “I am sorry,” he tried.  I knew he was fumbling for words, and it made me want him to hold me.

            “I am as well.”  But I stayed cold.  Who would want to hold a sack of maggots?

            “If I had known what would happen –“

            “You should not apologize.”

            “It was my fault,” he said.

            “It was not your fault,” I insisted, my voice rising with tension.

            “I should not have–” he stopped.

            I could hear him turn, his arm brushing chunks of dirt off the crumbling wall, and return the way he had come.

 

 

 

 

 

Creative Commons Love to Liamfm on flickr.  Thank you!

Amenhothep IV

         Amenhothep. That was what he had been called. Named after his father. But even his father regretted that. He was clearly not his father’s son. He came out misshapen, with a head too big and the shoulders of a woman. Not fit to be a king. Not even fit to be a prince. He didn’t hope to be invited anymore. He didn’t ask to go to ceremonies or carvings. Family sculptures were for the princely children. Siblings who came out looking normal enough, generic enough that any sculptor could make them beautiful, could make them look like a pharaoh should. Broad shoulders. Small waists. Perfect faces just waiting to be framed by royal adornments. His was truly a face only a mother could love.

And love she did. Fiercely. With a strength and ferocity that scared him.

But Amenhothep (Amenhothep IV, to be precise, because Amenhothep III was every bit the ruler he should have been) was different. Too different. Not eccentric in the way that was permissible for pharaohs. Not egocentric in the right way. His mother Tiye insisted that this second son bore his father’s name. Amenhothep. Amun is satisfied. It felt like such a lie. Even to the boy himself. Just imagine how his  father felt. How could his seed produce something so perverse, so… otherworldly.

He spent his time alone. His mother called him special and he was sure that it was not a good thing.

Together, his family was set in stone. Older brother, two sisters, Mother, Father… without Amenhothep. Festivals, reliefs, religious ceremonies. Left alone, staring at the sky.

It was always Sopdet that caught his eye. The Dog Star. Sirius, Sothis, Sopdet. How could it not? The brightest star in the sky felt like home to him. It seemed to shine for him, to call his name in whispers in the night. The days when Sopdet disappeared were the worst. 70 days straight without that bit of comfort, that tiny speck of support from afar. Each year it brought a winter to his heart.

One night his mother even caught him.

“Your world is here, Amenhothep.” Tiye surprised him.

“I know,” he said, nearly disappointed.

“Are you watching Sopdet?”

“Yes,” he looked at the ground.

“It’s special to us. The birthplace of Isis.” He had heard the mythology. It was not new.

“And of your father,” she intimated. He turned to look at her. Was she being mythological? Spouting the stories that kept the pharoahs divine? That was unlike her, he knew. His mother was straightforward, powerful, and not prone to indulging folklore. And yet… His father was just a man normal and mortal, as much as he pretended otherwise, Amenhothep knew. He narrowed his eyes and Tiye sensed his suspicion.

“Not that father.” She walked away, ending the conversation.

Creative Commons love to Archer10 on flicker for the photo!  Thank you!

Darunsikkhalai (Thailand. May 2010.)

(Reposted for Ram (:  )

Norea wondered how the scene in front of her looked to the tour group.  A woman framed her mock-surprised face with her hands as she backed away from a set of high-heeled feet dangling lifelessly.  In a circle around the computer screen, 8 orange-striped ten-year-olds in pleather rolly chairs listlessly watched the drama.  Only their Thai teacher seemed enrapt.  In the corner, the teaching assistant scrolled through pictures of cookies shaped like Lady Gaga.  From the window outside, the five professors on Norea’s tour tittered like overexcited hamsters.

“Very… unusual school,” one of them said to her.  Norea nodded.

Norea turned around so that her silvery eyes met the horizon. On the eighth floor, she had an uninterrupted view of the city.  In the distance, the most recognizable bridges in Bangkok batted golden eyes as they coyly skirted behind the smog.  They dropped gray-brown veils onto the vibrating city below as they shimmied in the heat.   The distant downtown towers looked as if they had donned their best khakis and sidled up next to the stage to enjoy the show.   The scene was suspended, a sepia photo with blurred edges and a highlighted blue sky.  All the smiles were frozen.

The wet, climbing ivy that was the Chao Phraya River evaporated inexorably up the sides of skyscrapers, covered the cars parked on bridges, and hid the street vendors, encircling the city in its grasp.

“The children learn by creating,” she told the group, still looking at the hazy sparkle in the distance.  “In this class, they are learning Thai culture and language by studying curses.  In the coming weeks, they will make their own drama about curses.”

The group nodded in unison and Norea guided them downstairs.

“And does it work?” a professor with too-red lipstick and an unmoving-shell of hair asked.

“The sixth floor has science labs and the facilitator’s offices,” Norea said.

Creative Commons love to http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebehnken/ for the picture!

Cicadas (Thailand. May 2010.)

She could hear his abdomen, even from eight stories above. She knew he waited for her, dressed in new skin holding the bark of a mango tree. For thirteen years, she had dug and hid, dug and hid, a pale pearl of a nymph sheltered in flooding clay. Prematurely buried. She had fed on rootjuice and waited.

And now, the time for burying herself was gone. She no longer wore the tough soil skin of the past. The brightness of being was nearly unbearable. She was green and larger than herself.

She sat exposed, mesmerized by the equatorial sunlight and the scene in front of her. A kaleidescope of rounded, dark-haired girls with lightning eyes and cloud-colored skin. Mirrored and moving the same. The repetition of girls had no expression on their faces. Their mouths moved at the groups of people surrounding them, but their dream-time eyes looked through the scene.

She heard him again, dry-fly ribs rubbing together to blot out the sounds of metropolitan traffic and children. The vibrations called to her.

She looked down at the expectant mango tree and imagined the future she would create. Millions of shimmery nymphs sprinkling from the branches, raining onto the soil below, christening the ground with their sparkling selves.

There was nothing for her to do now, except let go.

 

 

 

Creative Commons love to http://www.flickr.com/photos/rogersmith/ for the photo! Thanks!

 

Word Flood (Winter 2012.)

“Self-expression must pass into communication for fulfillment.” –Pearl S. Buck

Her words sank.  Not quickly like an anchor, or with a splash like a rock.  Instead as she spoke, her words fluttered in the air, held afloat by the humidity.  They tickled earlobes, in a language half a world away. Pieces of ideas curled with the wind among tendrils of jasmine, leaving a heavy scent wafting through the city.  Nouns and verbs together toyed with bodhi leaves, pulling them along as they flitted to the ground.  They landed gently on the Chao Phraya, quivering on the surface of the river and leaving ripples too small to be noticed.  Amongst water hyacinth and coconuts they floated, gathering silt and absorbing the wetness of the city.  In this way, the words gained weight and began to drown.

Before long, they swam in the wake of snakefish and nestled between the scales of water monitors.  The more weight they gathered, the more they were immersed, the harder it was to see them. The light had trouble reaching them between algae and waste and even apsaras would be hard pressed to find them.  They landed on the river bed, stirring up the bottom and throwing silt into an already murky darkness.  Covered.

And soon all her pen could do was draw the curves of the paths her words had taken, as if trying to retrace their steps.  Searching between the roots of ficus trees and the stamens of hibiscus for where she had misplaced them.  A world made of tendrils and bubbles, floating in a silent and wordless black and white.  Sea horses and leaves and turtles all swirled with a silent current.  Owls became nok hoo, knock, who? and lost their edges and their names.  Questions were gone and statements no longer made sense.  The world churned as if everything were from the point of view of those lost words, staring up at far away surface of a river that always was moving.

And then there was a flood.  The water seeped slowly, climbing up through sewers and along the streets.  The river rose past dams and sandbags bringing pythons into houses and buoys into cars.  It brought everything from its depths, decay, sand, and her words, which huddled against a curb and waited for the waters to recede.  After months, the river left, burrowing back into its banks but leaving its refuse to dry in the sun.  The sediment cracked and caked.  Mosquito larvae dried like tiny raisins.  The decomposing river sludge made banana trees greener and left seedling strangler figs sprouting along sidewalks.  And, as if growing out from cracked pavement, her words dried, too, finally able to breathe and soak up a little bit of the warm winter sun.

The Weight of Bangkok (Thailand. Summer 2006.)

It was a small splash, the first time the Chao Phraya River touched her skin. It collected itself, making a rivulet, its own tiny clone, and slithered from her shoulder, down her back. It was easy enough to brush off at the time; her attention was focused on ochre-colored robes of tan-colored monks and the smell of sewage. The busy-ness of Bangkok is enough to distract even the most worldly of travelers. It would caress her often while she tried to wrap her mind around the city. She often mistook its gentle droplets for her own sweat. Little by little it seeped into her clothes. The algae would get invisibly caked in her hair. Bathing only made it worse, since it was the same snake that came out of the faucet, running in tiny streams down her legs and nesting in her drain, just waiting for the next time she would stand above it. It brought all of Thailand into her room. The sweat from the bathing mother. The piss of the Ko Kret buffalo. The decomposing rice leaves. The acrid saliva of Asian Open-Billed Storks. The ashes of incense from Wat Pai Lom. The river left them on her eyelashes, resting on the shelf of her belly button and curled in the ques of her pubic hair. In less than two weeks time, she was drowning in it, tangled in water hyacinth.

The combination of water hyacinth and wet heat left me with dreams of the Amazon. Before long, each day was laced with ayahuasca. My stomach ached for and wretched with the newness of each experience. My appetite left me completely, and food became just another beautiful band in the rainbow of the life around me. Piranhas nibbled my toes as I walked down streets dusty with the resin of car exhaust, curry-laced smoke, and incense cinders. Vipers strung themselves from telephone poles and carried the secrets of the city from Klongsan to Phra Pinklao. The sky let loose a constant rain of wet sunshine. Even at night, nothing was dry. The moist fervor of the city covered my body, making it a struggle to keep my hips still.

In the end, it was the weight of everything which finally drove me mad. Every blanket was too heavy to sleep under. Just thinking became dangerous because one could get smothered under the weight of a simple idea. Each thought that went into the air collected condensation and dust, becoming more and more tangible and visible, until it finally dropped to the ground in a puddle and actually existed.

Daughters Never Grown (Florida. Spring 2007.)

There are only plants today. The mosquitoes were blown away early. Love bugs hold each other in hiding. Dragonflies think themselves into sticks. Even the ants are gone. A lone chameleon bobs on the mango tree, tapping out a prophecy in morse code.

The birds of paradise are fluttering, flapping furiously to keep watch. Their shocking reds and oranges fly like flares heralding the coming of the wind. The grass is shivering, even though it is already May. Frangipani leaves begin to poke their heads out of stiff branches. They are still not convinced the time has come. They expected to be welcomed with showers and lightning — a thunderous cry to expose themselves. But they know they have been waiting too long. The angel’s trumpets have been calling, sending long fluted noted which start green and fresh and explode in screeching upside-down pink. The sounds coax the palms to dance, a primitive hallucination of a trance, a dance to tempt the clouds. Australian pines cry out as they sway, painfully praising the wind that moves them. The bougainvilleas are silent.

The mother mango listens and alone is still. She is weighted by the pregnancy of dozens of offspring, ready to feed. Her tiny flowers quiver and the beat of the shaman lizard plays on. Clouds move more quickly, as if gathering round to hear. The wind becomes more forceful, swaying the mangoes lasciviously. The angel’s trumpets begin to wail; the frangipanis gawk unashamed; the palms quicken to a frenzied dance; birds of paradise hold tightly to their stalks; Australian pines scream “halleluiahs” to the wind.

And just as suddenly it ends. A small patch of silent azure breaks over the tree, baptizing and cooling her. The chameleon hugs the trunk, exhausted by the omens. And slowly, as if gravity is lazy, thousands of white mango flowers drift to the ground. Floating like snow, winking like stars, swirling like Sufis. Hundreds of daughters never grown. Millions of mouths never fed.

Crew (Florida. May 2004.)

The boat lay sprawled on top of the water.  It floated on its back, legs and arms spread limply in all directions.  Each limb had a rower attached to it, up to his knees in swaying water.  I watched as small, listless waves tugged at the shorts of one rower, insisting he wade further from the shore.  They all waited for me to wade closer.  I hadn’t expected to get my feet wet, so my socks filled my upheld hands.

One by one, we slipped into the boat, as the others held it down on its back.  I was last.  We clumsily rocked and hit the oars, sending the hovering boat rocking.  We hesitantly strapped our feet into stationary shoes that did not fit.  We tried to find the right position in which to begin this new skill.  My seat slid back as I attempted to squirm myself into a more natural posture.

The water sloshed around us as we tried to maneuver the large arms and legs extending from the boat.  Four arms and four legs thrashed and splashed in the water, undaintily attempting to move in unison.  The waves sniggered at our irregular rhythm, beating against the boat in a unison we could not achieve.  My arm slapped another arm.

Above, sea gulls circled as if waiting for the thrashing-swimmer boat to drown.  Though it was in no other way obvious, we could see we had moved because the fog now hid the shore.  The sun had made its first appearance rising sleepily from the horizon.  We made all the noise that was on the bay that morning.  I looked to my oar and saw a pelican gliding across the water near us, his beak open in a mocking grin of our ungraceful endeavor.  The sun rose higher.

We tried to just sit still, to find a balance on the boat that could be maintained, but the boat writhed beneath our weight, and attempted to push us of its belly.  We held its arms and legs tighter.  My knuckles began turning white, just from embracing the rod of the oar.

We began again, after our unsatisfying balancing act.  Again the two sets of limbs entwined and were flung about, attempting a dignified dance, but looking misshapen instead.  We sucked in breath and held it intermittedly, trying for a rhythm with each other that seemed unfeasible.  I glared at the back of the rower in front of me.  He was off.

It happened suddenly, and caught us off guard.  The coxswain gasped.  We could not tell whose limbs were whose.

They moved together, slipping into the water and caressing it as it moved against it.

slip…and…slip…and…slip…and…

slip…and…slip…

We moved together, pressing with our thighs and sliding back and forth in unison, pushing against the limbs of the boat.  It glided beneath us.

slip…back…and…slip…back…and…

slip…back…and…

The boat created waves in perfectly timed wrinkles over the skin of the water.  It cooed at us now, the sniggering could no longer be heard.

slip…back…slosh…and…slip…back…slosh…and…slip.

The sun rose higher and warmed us, but the fog remained, confining our sight to our little patch of water.

We moved faster, all our motions in unison.  Large breaths escaped our lungs, chanting together.

slip back slosh blow slip back slosh blow slip back slosh

The shore came back into sight, and together our motions slows.  Our oars dipped into the water, cooling and slowing the boat.

We dragged the hull of the vessel back on shore, lifting together.  We held the boat as it was washed, not minding the water which found its way to our clothes.  Our steps moved in synchrony as we walked home.

Striving to be Struck (Prague. Fall 2005.)

I want to grab ahold of lightning, let it char my hands as it sends phosphorescent energy screamingstreaming from my mouth. I want to vomit the blue bolts, leaving spatters of electrical inspiration on sidewalks and toilet seats. I want to be forced to help ’em power you and me, to light lives with impulsive volts. I want to let it grab ahold of me, twisting spidery tentacles across breasts and back, lifting me with its weight. I want to hold your hand all the while, transporting flashes through you, giving life more real than Shelley’s nightmares.