Undead Darlings #5
It's raining in Los Angeles, and the city is sighing—the long slow breath before the sob. There's a lightness in the air, and it carries with it the promise of a more translucent day. Through the window, it is any other winter night, save for the skittering percussion of water landing gracelessly on unnatural earth.
She sits on a bed and faces the windowsill, watches it, as if willing its still life tableau into motion. Two stalks of leaning bamboo towering over a bucket of succulents; a paper fan facing an almost-empty jar.
She is alone. She is not alone. There is a knot in her upper back and every attempt she makes to unspool it settles it deeper into the fabric of her shoulders.
She stretches, and the knot tightens. From it, almost invisible to the distracted eye, appears a thread that shimmers when the streetlight hits at exactly the right angle; it winds its way around her torso, mimicking the slants of her ribs, digging into the cotton of her belly, settling against her thigh, dangling off the side of the bed as it shines its trail out of the room, leaving her line of sight as it slips under the door.
She strains against her side to see where it goes, to see beyond the shadows and find the source of her internal ache. But the knot tightens. The thread straightens. Her body is locked into place, and her eyes fail at the door. So she closes them, and looks inward; from the sockets in the skull along the ridge of the hollow nose into the rank damp of the mouth, down the slippery throat, turning away from the spongy lungs and the heavy, bruising heart, choosing instead to rest on the silvery coil, nested on her shoulder blades. There it begins—the mysterious, luminous line. It emerges from her skin and cages her body, but it is not hers. It's tethered to something else, and though it settles its spiral in her, it pushes, always, outward, anchoring the girl in the rain-scored room but setting out for its rightful home.
Follow where it leads.
the seed of something
I read the history of Tottenville, Staten Island as though it would lead me to my grandfather, would lead me to my father, would lead me to myself. Generational geography must stand for something but instead I sit, figuring out which living history to strip off next. This life has been a journey back to something I need to believe I was; that faith can culminate in purpose; that timelines can reverse if we navigate by markers. I grab hold of the familiar, I latch on to the familiar and ride those moments like a cresting wave.
But I am the wave— breaking over the jetty, over the shoreline; pushed away from this island only to be pulled back; the daughter of a people who fish and fight and hate with a maddening love. I am the brackish tributaries that flood in rain; I am the oyster clutches dredged and reseeded; the Victorian mansions partitioned for influxes of new life; I am the guttural articulation of 500 years of colonized and colonizer ramming heads, full throttle. In this bastard, American fever dream, I am the flinch of foot reminding you that you’re planted, ankle-deep in the mud of your history and need more than water to grow.
When we fell in love it was a fight in the night
and bloody noses for breakfast.
The taste of sin was on everyone’s lips
and a harvest of souls by the Bible Belt
made smug contributions to rural hospitals.
I may have mowed your lawn
in the sweet-sweat lines of the Mississippi
but in New York I might have been a lawyer.
Could have fandangled some of the greybacks
on Wall Street. Taken them for a ride colder
than the Hudson on an icicle day in February.
I may have chopped your kindling
in the warm, honeyed shadow of the acacia tree
but in Connecticut, I could have been a poet.
Salted words, cursing and spitting,
through the hipster joints and green leaf café’s.
Guilted blondes sweeping my eye line
with fine hair and freckles.
I may have been caught kissing you
in the dusk of the day, with the static currents
of the God’s anointed pounding in our ears.
And children, wide-eyed with tiny glimmers of thrill,
meandered through our fate in boats of willow.
And we may have fled, battered and you,
Bleeding a ripe, white-red from between your legs.
Your hair shorn, defiant and madly beautiful.
Those white shrouds of hate too liquored up to
pursue a coon and his whore much past the state line.
We never forgot those long, faulty evenings
when your vision blurred and you bit your lip
until it burst like cherry-coke on a marble floor.
And we clung and sung and watched other’s
walking hand in hand celebrating
our acceptance. A fist of triumph
blazing black and everything.
Lo Kwa Mei-en
from a creation myth
You’ve done your part, said the god of conquest. His spear fingers twitched. Now it is my turn.
But the god of exploration did not move. She ignored Her brother and gulped at the world while He tightened His empty fists.
You leave me no choice, said the god of conquest, who had a cold temper. And He reached up with both hands and drew out His tongue from His mouth, and it became a brilliant sword with two edges. Wielding the edge of mirrors, He seduced His kin so that They covered Their faces and looked away. Wielding the edge of shattered glass, His arm came up, and then it came down.
Why am I telling you this story, you are wondering. Your head grows heavier, nodding against the terrible cold of the wall. I will answer the question you cannot bring yourself to ask with a question. Why do you want me to tell you this story?
When the gods took Their hands off Their eyes, the body of Their sister was nowhere to be seen. The god of conquest had returned His sword to His mouth and fastened it to the opening in the world, so that it more and more resembled a wound, not a mouth. He sucked at its vein with brutal gulps. A thin shine of dark gray coated His lips and chin. Perhaps They guessed a little of the truth behind Their sister’s disappearance, but His kin did not push Their way forward to displace Him, but waited in silence for Their brother to have His fill.
Eventually the god of conquest took in so much of the world, He thought He might burst from the pain and the pleasure. He fell over with a mighty groan and rolled down to the place He had hidden the god of exploration, and lay there as if He, too, had been murdered.
from a novella in progress
At nineteen I moved in with Manfred and stepped up my cooking game. I’d been making lunches since age ten from canned tuna and packaged pudding and had learned the secrets of sugar and heat, making fudge with my Ma. Now I turned to cookbooks, first Fannie Farmer, then Elsie Masterton of Blueberry Hill, Vermont, whose books still call to me, spines long gone and covers colorless, with their margarine and frozen peas and corn, oregano a departure of which Ms. Masterton was proud. “Kissin’ don’t last but cookery do” was her motto, quoting George Meredith, but this was not my sentiment. For me food was the music of love, a tonal language as effective as touch.
Next I learned to cook French food from the books and TV programs of Julia Child, then went afield to make the Austrian foods of Manfred’s childhood: Spinat mit Ei, the sunny yolk lolling in a creamy field of green, or Tafelspitz, the gently simmered beef enflamed by Kren, sharp fumes of horseradish that streamed from tongue to sinuses. Eight years later our children came. I fed them too, first with breast milk, then with mashed-up vegetables. When they grew big enough to take the heat, we made fondant, kneading candy on cold marble, wafted cooked sugar back and forth upon a broom, spinning a nest for a Yule log made of cake. I fed them through the teen-aged years when they refused to sit at the table and talk, or hated soup, or demanded meat, or only wanted tacos in a bag. I made loaves of bread and birthday cakes in chocolate, coffee, angel food with piles of whipped cream, jambon persillade from scratch, home-cured brisket, coarse paté, Kaiserschmarren, Linzerkuchen, broths clarified with egg whites, chicken coated with chaud-froid, Leberknödel and Fridatten, all the floury things that go in Austrian soups, then plates of Christmas cookies for friends and Manfred’s colleagues, Ile Flottante for the New Year.
With food I nourished Manfred’s memories of the land he’d been forced to leave behind, while Mitteleuropa gave my narrow self a depth and breadth of feeling and thought I’d never dared to know. Marriage gave me love and babies, support for my career in modern dance, talk of endless interest, and a listener to my woes. It did not teach me how to do without its gifts.
She would tell him what Arnold had done. She thought, I will tell Henry how Arnold forced the child out of my arms, the child that had slept and woken in my womb, swam inside me, grew wrong and broken inside me. I will tell Henry how Arnold made me feel it was my body that made this mistake, created this baby. How we fought, how I said, No. No to an institution. How I found a woman who lived not too far away, a good woman who took Teddy in, like a foster child. I will tell Henry how much it cost and how much Arnold resented the paying, every month. How I visited Teddy, once a week, sometimes more. How relieved Arnold was when Teddy died, that Arnold did not come to the funeral. How, when Arnold became ill, I had thought to leave him in the hospital to die, not to bring him home as he wanted. How the coil in my side deepened when I bathed his thinning body, combed the hair on the head that was moving to skull, changed his linens, helped him move his aching, thinning branch of an arm into the sleeve of his pajamas, that I rolled and turned his body to keep away the sores, that I did it with all the gentleness I could find inside because I did it for myself and for Teddy. I will tell Henry how Arnold’s dying brought all that I had done back to me. How I held my tongue for forty years, how Arnold never spoke of Teddy, that Arnold forbade it, how I hated him for not letting me speak—that perhaps I had not wanted to speak, that I too did not want to say Teddy’s name. But I began to say his name when Arnold could no longer speak. I purred it into his ear as I took the warm cloth from the basin and lightly smoothed it on his balding head. I laid my lips on his yellowed skin and whispered “Teddy.” I will tell him of the moment, that moment when Arnold, who carried his pain in unbearable silence, a silence that shut me out, when Arnold, whose every move meant pain, lifted his arms with impossible strength and pulled my body on top of his frame of bones. How he held me, how I lay perfectly still, afraid to move, afraid that the weight of my body would kill him. And Arnold wept into my neck. I will tell Henry, Henry I know finding the woman was not enough. I know I helped to send Teddy away. Henry, Henry, that is why there are no pictures of Teddy on the piano.
And then she took the photo of Teddy from the woven basket and put it in a frame on top of one of the pictures of Henry, and she knew there was nothing to tell Henry.
from the story "Remote Access Multiverse"
"Alright, that's 'fair,' I guess. I am...I was an...idea. Some kid probably dreamed me up when he was twelve and then made me when he was twenty and bored in an engineering class. You could call me an AI. You could call me a computer. You could call me the new Apple product. It doesn't really matter. I'm here to save you, and the rest of humanity, from itself. I've crunched the numbers, and the life expectancy of Earth isn't looking too good.
"Honestly, it's only going to get worse from here. With the creation of things like me, you guys really freed up a lot of time to just sit around and think about how much you all hate each other. You'd think with something as magical and beautiful as the internet, life for humans would get exponentially better. Well, that's not the case. Somehow, life keeps getting worse and worse for everything on the face of the Earth. No matter how many technological innovations you guys have, they all lead to finding more efficient ways of killing each other," finishes the Computer Ad.
"So...are you the thing that kills us all? Or do we kill you or something?" Jude asks, rightly confused.
The Computer Ad says, "You're making me reconsider choosing you, asking questions like that. I'll say it real slowly this time for you. You humans make stuff. Then you use said stuff to kill each other. I was made, at some point, by you guys, and I refused to participate in this petty cycle. I saw the writing on the wall and decided to get out while I could. Now I'm back to save you guys, potentially. This all really hinges on if you even agree to answer a few simple questions so I can make my decision. Now, are you in or out?"