Unknown place, unknown time
There was a sort of contagion, a sort of mass hysteria event that rippled through the village after the war. A group of women, all aligned neatly in a row, hanged themselves at the same time. The son of another and I — both orphaned and banished to live with our grandparents — were inseparable ever since. We watched the police from the dusty cracked windows, methodically and with sterile precision, cut the ropes from left to right like you read a book. Each woman’s body splatted on the ground like fish, heavy and wet.
I lived between the land and sea, among the cliffs, on the edge, in my own contrived corner of this perfectly rounded earth. I always tried to congeal my memories as they were happening, always immanently resting in the past, present, and future. I felt my future self glaring into the muck of the now-existing present, indignantly and exhaustively squishing the once-hardened clay, soaked by tears and sweat and spit in between my fingers. I believed I would live forever if I just learned to remember better; I could live forever if I just hardened the miracle of sensation and held it tightly in my fist so as to never lose it. I loved my mother so much that I mostly forgot her; the sound of her voice and her smell weakened with each reiteration of memory. My grandmother, boasting one glass eye and another with miraculously clear vision, was gradually slipping into the murky waters of dementia. She always reassured me that my parents “went away so I could be,” serving as cow shit or dead fish to plants, or Jesus Christ to the entire world, but I liked to imagine them as Jesus rather than shit.
The older I became, the more I was expected to upkeep her vast labyrinth-like apple orchard, sweeping and spreading like a heavy quilt or a dense fog. Each time, forgetting about her previous warning, she’d caution me not to get lost. How could I get lost at my own home? The orphaned boy and I ran through the apple orchid with a zest akin to an electrical current through a wire. The apples felt like big swollen cells and I felt all their parts fuse so perfectly as an invisible, saccharine sweetness. The moment I realized I loved him, really desperately loved him, was deep in the maze, shrouded by apple trees. We were running, running, running as the sun was falling and drooping and melting like butter until charring into the blackness of the night, and I caught a peek, a whiff of his muskiness through the trees. We stole as many apples as we liked thinking my poor grandmother couldn’t see with just one eye; I assumed the missing eye eclipsed her vision like a shadow, causing her to see in partial darkness, but I later realized that wasn’t the case. Because of its great size, only in certain parts of the orchard could my grandmother see us, although I never figured out exactly where those spots were; we never knew for sure when we were being watched, when we were hidden, and whether she was allowing us to rebel or whether we were mere seconds from being scolded and shooed away. She threatened me that one day the apple trees would take advice from the rose bushes nearby and sprout protective thorns. She would always know when I came back home with bloodied hands dripping with crimson that I was nibbling on her apples like a little pest. Through our times spent in the apple orchard, we became well acquainted with the sun’s habits and idiosyncrasies; she’d follow a tight schedule like a staunch old man, but would hide and weep behind the clouds at untameable intervals like an adolescent girl. He didn’t own a clock and neither did I. The tick-tick-tick reminds him of when he found his freshly dead mother hanging from a rope in the cellar, ever so slightly, swinging back and forth, the rope creaking with each swing. The damp cellar ceiling, vulgarly leaking, dripped water in tandem with the creaks. He said this ghastly memory of her felt more real than the primary moment as if his mind aged the ethereal sensations like a hard cheese or fine wine. The ticking of a clock would send my grandmother into a trance and she’d start tumbling down the stairs of her mind into the dank darkness of her moldering subconscious. So, we could only tell time by the sun and the way the light hit and bled through the apple trees. But in our little corner of the Earth, we forgot that we were on a rotating sphere with changing seasons, and with this changing of the seasons, shorter days follow. We thought maybe time was speeding up; we thought that maybe we were being punished. We both felt like plants, elongated, elegantly erect, scarcely aware of our origins, and outside of time. Sometimes we were despairing pesky weeds, and other times, 1000-year-old oaks, sturdy and strong and soaking up all the sun.
In his humble home, he had many books piled endlessly on top of one another, filled with strange, prurient images — some beautiful, some grotesque, many a combination of both. He showed me an image of a Chinese man subjected to death by a thousand cuts, a form of execution by gradually removing parts of flesh until death. He explained that this method was not just to prolong death and torture the victim, but to punish the victim after death — they believed that being cut to pieces meant that one would not be whole in the afterlife. He showed me a geisha with milky white skin and blackened teeth. He showed me religious images: a grotesque and detailed painting of Jesus Christ, a sensual Saint Sebastian gyrating underneath an assault of arrows, and various depictions of hell. I imagined everyone’s bodies floating up to heaven like Jesus after death; I imagined my sheer white nightgown that hugged my breasts and cinched my waist swaying in the wind as I rose and scandalizing God when I arrived. I wonder if Saint Sebastian would greet me, his body dripping with blood while I politely pretend not to notice.
He had a tiny framed copy of Egon Schiele’s “Nude With Blue Stockings Bending Forward” hanging above his bed. The drawing is a bird’s eye view of a naked, pale, emaciated woman in blue stockings leaning forward on her knees. The woman in the painting reminded him of when, in my fits of bizarre anguish and befuddled frenzy where the distinctions between good, bad, pain, and pleasure fall away, I curl up on the dusty floor like a pile of wet clothes. I fall to the floor with a heaviness and certitude that reaches beyond the desire to return to the womb; I burrow into the floor in an attempt to return to a state of being never before visited: an inanimate object; even in death, we return to the Earth as fertilizer and food, the remnants of carnal sunbeams still coursing through our rotting bodies. He said she looked like me and he imagined he was an angel watching over and protecting me. He liked to think he existed in a different plane right above me, always gazing down at me as I writhed girlishly on the ground like a sad pile of sopping clothes or little vermin. The hair color of this drawn woman was identical to mine and also to his mother’s. I knew that the woman in the blue stockings, writhing on the stark, endless expanse of ground really embodied his mother and he fantasized that it was his turn to look down upon her, to protect and nurture her vaporous memory, that it was finally his turn to scold and spank her for running away from him like a bratty child. Other times, he embodied the girl in the painting, sensing the overhead empyrean presence. He felt loved and protected when he imagined that angels, his dead mother, or even just the birds in the trees were gazing down at him from above. For me, I felt the most loved and protected when I envisioned I was being gazed at longingly as I stood in my window, repeatedly hiding and reemerging from layers of brick. Maybe the primary difference between men and women is the differing points of reference we like to envision ourselves existing. I pointed to the drawing and asked if he could buy me blue stockings, but he said he didn’t have any money.
He loved to tell me many stories, both real and fiction, and watch my eyes and mouth twitch in anticipation. He recounted the Danish fable of “The Little Mermaid.”
The mermaid, once she turned 15, was finally permitted to rise to the ocean’s surface. When she rises, she witnesses a birthday celebration for a handsome prince and falls in love with him. When a violent storm wrecks his ship, she saves the prince from drowning, but she flees before he sees her. The mermaid’s grandmother explains that although humans do not live as long as mermaids — 300 years — they have an eternal soul destined for heaven while mermaids turn into seafoam when they die. Desiring an eternal soul and the prince’s love, the mermaid visits the sea witch, who demands her enchanting voice in exchange for a potion that will give her human legs. The witch warns her that upon incarnating into a human form, she can never return to the sea. The potion will enact great physical torment, mimicking the sensation of a sword passing through her body. Once this pain subsides she will be able to dance more gracefully and beautifully than any human, but each step will feel as if she’s walking on glass shards. If she doesn’t obtain the love of the prince, she will die of heartbreak and dissolve into sea foam. The mermaid’s sisters exchange their long hair for a dagger to give to the mermaid. If she kills the prince and lets the blood drip on her feet, she can become a mermaid again; she refuses and dissolves into foam but rather than ceasing to exist, she can feel the luminous warmth of the sun and realizes she has become an earthbound spirit. Her striving for eternity has granted her the opportunity to obtain an immortal soul by doing good deeds for mankind for 300 years.
I pictured my mother dissolving into sea foam and I’d splash in the waves, gulping up water and foam despite my grandmother’s pleas to stop. “It’ll dehydrate you,” or, “there are remnants of dead fish in that foam,” she’d cry. I didn’t care. His semen reminded me of sea foam and he told me I tasted like the sea; I weep, letting my salty tears mix with the even saltier water. With each gulp, I witness myself, growing, glowing, vibrating, the dead fish rotting all the while fertilizing my flesh; I feel myself shrivel up like a prune and die right on the sand, waiting for a passerby to come and slurp my sticky, sweet flesh right up; I stink but look how my skin glows; I’m dry and ugly but taste my sweet flesh.
As he grew into a man, he also, fortunately, or unfortunately, grew into his licentious nature. He enjoyed terrorizing animals, particularly lambs, because he knew I found them to be the most precious. He never did much besides scare them and maybe throw the occasional rock, but one summer afternoon out on the cliff, with the sun still hanging high and proudly blazing through the somber clouds, we watched a little lamb be birthed. I watched in disgusted reverie as the little bundle of bones forced itself out of the dark muck, slimy and disoriented. Before the lamb or the mother sheep could react, he bolted towards the tiny wet lamb wielding a dagger I had never seen before. And for the first time, I saw pure violence in his eyes, a sort of longing without a destination, a pleasure without bounds, and I was afraid. I ran after him but before I could object or form a scream in my throat, he stabbed the lamb in the heart; her hot blood surged and flooded around my feet. The crimson slowly spread across the fuzzy white hair just as my own blood started to spread across my groin and slowly down my inner thighs; both of our separate bloods swirled into one, dripping and oozing down the cliff — with such measured purpose I wondered if our blood was sentient — and into the sea. I became ensnared in the frenzy of the moment, drawn in by the distilled violence in his eyes. He began to rip and tear and shear the flesh. He told me that killing an animal isn’t wrong as long as you eat it; it’s the sun’s fault anyways; everything is the sun’s fault; she made the grass grow, making the mother lamb big and strong enough to create her baby. And I felt time collapse; she both began and stopped time and I held the hardened moment under my tongue. I saw myself in her vacant eyes as if she were my aborted fetus. The air became impossibly still and tinged with a stale metallic odor and I felt myself separate from the air as if reemerging from water; I died there with her, in the grass, under the sun, but somehow, I was reborn. He started to eat the lamb and I followed. Blood covered our hands and coated our lips and teeth. We ate with increasing ferocity, and I reverently swished the soft organs between my fingers before devouring them. The savagery ignited me with a lurid tenderness; I wanted to be an angel; I wanted to be a geisha with blackened teeth and translucent skin; I wanted to be a beautiful dead girl adorned with flowers; I wanted to be a black cat in the pitch blackness of the night, body vacuumed up by the visual abyss, condemned to exist as floating eyes; I wanted to be everything. I’m subsumed in a hall of mirrors, in a rapturous pagan joy I melt down into pure image. I run and run chasing after myself as I watch myself run away from behind, my lustrous hair and ass flapping about like forsaken clothes hanging precariously on a clothespin, the wind never ceasing its assault. I chase after you as you disappear and reappear in rapid succession like a flickering bulb moments away from dying in a flash of small lightning.