I knew this girl. From down the road. She was very bright, and she had a laugh like a hyena, and the sound of it would rise through the old oaks at the park at the center of town and send birds exploding into the sky. Blotting the heavens. As if every time she laughed a child released its small balloons from its red and pudgy knuckles. Watched them disappear into the unknown parts.
I watched her go out into the world and she had brightness all over. I tried to tell her, “no one wants to see people bright anymore out there. Must you go?”
She refused. She said she was brimstone. Wrath was all she knew. Not bright.
“Wrath?” I said. “Is that what we’ll call it now?”
Girls can be so cruel. She was pretty enough for them all to hate her. And part of the issue was that she loved men. She saw good in them. She liked the girls that hated her. Boys made her into a monument to something I wouldn’t describe to her but I understood. I told her, “don’t go preaching love. They’ll crucify you.”
“Nihilist,” she accused.
“Realist,” I corrected.
Soon she could see the beasts too, though. At first the sensation was fleeting, she told me, it made little sense. Just flashes of some other world in their faces. Some other alien race transposed over this.
“Like that movie,” she said. “With the glasses.”
“Get out now,” I told her. “Retreat to the hills.”
“But what is there?”
“And nothing else?”
“Perhaps in truth you may find everything.”
“But won’t they crucify me for that too? For truth?”
“Who is they? There is no they in the hills.”
“You’re not being realistic at all.”
“Your brain is beautiful like a forest after a storm. Things are broken but others make homes in the blowdowns. The rain can’t hurt you, the wind only strips away the dead skin. Scrubs you bare. Virginity is a soul thing, sex has nothing to do with it. It’s society that fucks you.”
“They say that sex is everything.”
“I thought that was truth. Truth is everything.”
“You said that, yes.”
But she never went to the hills. I didn’t expect her to, no one does. And soon they were everywhere. Cretin things, creatures that fed on obliteration. On raw quivering blood pools. She told me once she felt like they were sucking out her her-ness. That they were slowly taking every rock that made her solid. Removing her foundation. And they said it was in the name of Transformation.
“It’s called brainwashing,” I said.
“But they said that what I was was brainwashed. That I’ve already been brainwashed, and they’re fixing me now.”
“Can you wash something that has already been clean? When you started you were clean. Maybe you’re dirty now, but you’re the dirty that you know. They’re grooming you. Taking away the grime that makes you clean in your own eyes. And trust me, when they have finished cleaning you, you will be dirtier than you’ve ever felt and you will not know yourself again.”
“How do you know? About me?”
“It’s the same with everyone. I know these vultures. Come back to the hills. To the dirt that is caked under your fingernails.”
“I’m strong, I can bear it.”
“The world itself can’t bear it.”
She wrote me a letter the other day. It was a piece of herself. A piece of porcelain. It was polished white, as pure and snow-white as anything ever was. In the right light it looked Oleander. There was no return address, just this chunk of her that had no name and no identity. But it was pure. I put it on my shelf and drew all over it. I drew stick figures of the things that she used to be. Her family doesn’t recognize her. But they don’t recognize themselves either.
Yesterday I woke up and the moon was rising with the sun. Everything had a holographic glare. I saw that there were cords attached to the heavens and that we had conscripted upon the seas the internet of things. People were in the bays hoisting towers of shimmering electricity. Skyscrapers of lightning. They were certain it would end our trouble. Where is the trouble? I asked my neighbor. Where is it? My neighbor said, All over the world. Are you blind? I said, Yes, that must be it. I am blind. Thanking you for pointing that out.
copyright Taiga Quarto 2017
featured image by Emma Katka. copyright Emma Katka and Taiga Quarto 2017
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