From the Ongoing Work: Unedited, Love Stories
How can I say this, but, expression explains where rationality struggles, like a watercolor, spreads into my memory and smells like petals on a clear bowl, clear bowl on an empty table, clean. “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” The root of cowardice is not from fear; it is, in fact, the contrary; apathy and forgetfulness breed cowards. And with finite emotions comes an infinite set of combinations and permutations of actions, the manifold of the core substance, trapped. The artist expresses. No, this was not very good at all.
“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”
* * * * *
She sighed and looked out her window, wondering when the cars would come today. They came yesterday, one by one, and they offered her gifts and their tears. As they embraced, she let them cry, sit with her, drink coffee (which she had burnt when she sat looking out her window, waiting for them), and she watched them as they left, one by one, just as they had come.
The first thing she had done when she heard the news was throw away all the onions, beef, carrots, and potatoes. She was going to make his favorite stew, but somehow, hearing the news, she couldn’t bear the sight of them in her kitchen. Ordinary things, they were. They reminded her of the smell, and the smell reminded her of him, of him running down the stairs, and chasing fireflies outside her house in the yard, of showing her what he’d caught in a jar, lighting up her kitchen. But now the ordinary things sickened her, so she did the only thing she could, and in one sweep, she threw them into her garbage and threw the garbage out onto her porch. Then she sat at her table and looked out her window at the bright sun lighting her hummingbird wallpaper for a long time. She did not cry.
* * * * *
A man skinned alive will cry. You’ll hear nothing like it. A man cries; the bloody stump that cries.
He felt himself leaking, heard the sound before he could realize what had happened, the ripping of the air. He panicked, screamed first before he felt it. Then it came. A stake in his mind, right between his eyes, the something ripping another very soft thing, soft and warm, from inside him. He was leaking. And all around him, he felt the pressing hands of a pain he could not understand, and so he screamed, and it was a scream he did not recognize. He kept thinking, “Who’s screaming? Make the screaming stop! Stop!” He screamed – a desperate sound – while he held himself together, his insides leaking out, and he felt the warm, tender things as they left him. He was shredded, torn, his blood painting the ground around him. They upset him. Those, who were already dead, their cold bodies that smelled of old iron, old blood, the sulfur in the air mixed with old iron. The smell of decay and sulfur, the smell which tells you, “Yes, this is war, my friend, you smell the decay of rotting meat – which may be your own rot – and you smell the sulfur which hurries the rotting!” And when he closed his mouth, his screams tiring, he tasted metal, which tasted like blood.
He called for her. He screamed the only comprehensible words he could find in his blindness, “Mom! Where’s…my mom… Mom…” As he held his insides together with his bloodied, wet hands, falling and crouched on the bodies of the decaying, jealous that they were dead, he found his thoughts running to her.
He longed that the nightmare would end with her soft touch on his sweat-filled forehead and whisper, “Darling, wake up now, you were just dreaming. Mama’s going to put you to bed now. Hush darling.” So he screamed louder for her, in case his nightmare was deep. But the soft warmth covered his hands and his body, and he realized the smell of rot was his own rot, and he realized the sounds around him had ceased, that the skies were quiet, and that he was the only one screaming. And so he imagined her, as he screamed singing, “Hush little darling…Don’t say a word. Mama’s gonna buy you a mocking bird…and if that mockingbird don’t sing, mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.”
“You! Hypocrite reader!”
Blood in your conscience, “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” Do you forget? Or are you afraid that his insides are your insides, that you hold yourself together, Mister and Misses, decaying, bloodied stump skinned alive?
Hush little darling. Don’t say a word. Mama’s gonna buy you a mocking bird.
* * * * *
She remembered looking at him, wrapped up in a blanket, a child, a child to be protected and held. She had put him in her bed every night, sang to him, woken him during his nightmares, touched him to remind him she was there. Now she sat in her kitchen, waiting for them to come, to tell her, “How brave he is! Your son! The soldier. You must have been so proud.” And all the while, she sat looking at her window, her child, her child.