Friday, March 14, 2014

A Most Intriguing Riddle

I love confusing people. If you come up with answers, please do post them in the comments! I will love telling you whether you're wrong.

Here's a hint: It's not what you think.


Nighttime Wake


She wove her shroud
Of spider-silk
At daybreak and at dusk.
Hours between,
She slept sweetly
Reduced to wanderlust.
Nighttime, she woke
Shook off her pain
Bathed in the moonlight rain.
Ancient, she spoke.
“I have seen the past,
Future recast,
Fade with sweet midnight’s last.
Many asked
What saw mine eyes
As sunrise closed them fast.
But I will go
Into the vast
Unknown and unsurpassed.”
The dying of
The morning star
Marked her return to death.
Tell me, boy, what kind of thing

At dawn drew her last breath?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Deux Hommes

I've written a poem every day for a few weeks now. This is the first one I've published.
PS. I've started a poetry book on blurb.com. Hopefully, I'll finish it before my sixteenth birthday. It would just suck to have all these years of child prodigy opportunities wasted. It's a whole lot easier to win a contest when you're up against a bunch of other nine-year-olds. Why, oh why, didn't I enter more contests? The money was there, waiting!


Two men sitting alone
On a surfboard, rocking gently
In the endless waves.
That flat white arid surface
Like paper in the midst of all that ink,
Soaking, drying, soaking, drying,
The continual blotting of a monstrous hand.
“I’m trying my best here,”
He said, “My very best, I’m doing all I can,
You know that, don’t you?”
And the other man said,
“I don’t believe you.”
Very strangely, under the influence
Of the soporific sea, the ink fumes,
the blinding layer of white laid like a feather
On a granite sea,
The other man shrinked and dallied.
His voice was that of a little girl.
“Why won’t you believe me? It’s all I can do…”
Trailed off, hitched, started to sob.
He sat there alone in the middle of so much sea,
Bawling his heart out.
Always one for dramatics.
The other man just looks out to the broad line
Of the perfectly flat horizon, watches storm clouds
Well and lisp on the edge of that line,
A millimeter of gold showing beneath,
Though bright sunlight where they sat.
The other neither looks or sees.
As he sits there, gently crying,
The other man takes his hand
And sort of gently pushes him into the water.
Frigid as a winter night’s decay.
Splutters, flounders, but never stops crying,
Just sinks, bewildered, and somewhat resigned.
He knew somewhere that he never was going to come back.
The other man
Sits alone on the surfboard, watches the clouds
Swell, darken, poise on the edge of release
And spill over into the endless sea.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Freedom or Reality?

For Bryneth


           The girl stands alone on the edge of the roof. Her feet are a quarter inch away from oblivion. The wind is coming strongly into her, and it pebbles her bare skin, turns her pale as a ghost. The wind streams out her hair in a long scarlet trail. Her eyes are closed. She looks like a sleepwalker, a suicidal lunatic. Her face is very smooth and very white, but her brows are furrowed into little crinkles like crumpled silk.
            This is what she sees:
            Mirages flicker in the darkness. Ribbons and blotches of neon green, oddly faded, as if seen underwater. She squeezes her eyes tight and they coalesce, gather into pure heat. She is staring into the filaments of a light bulb. The figure wavers, distorts, becomes a woman who is dressed in long, flowing wings, who is haloed not by light, but by warmth. She smiles. And it is a smile of such utter benevolence that the girl gasps, shudders and nearly falls; she whispers a prayer that sounds like a desperate oath. The angel speaks. “Sleep soundly, angel child. May you never wake again.” The angel’s voice is melancholic, almost wistful. In the girl’s eyes there is pleading, but the vision fades. The angel is again only the dazzle of the sun as it meets the horizon.
            She climbs off the roof, slowly, dreading the shadows at the base of the eaves. It is twilight now, and the street is bathed in cobalt murkiness. No one can see her now. She wishes for silence, but the creaking of the ladder on the ancient shingles is unavoidable.
            When she descends, there she is, standing forbiddingly in the shadows, lurking like a mad old bat. It’s her mother. She can feel the ice of her stare through the darkness. When her mother steps out into the flickering streetlight, her face is haggard and lined with sharp creases, cadaver-like. Her eyes hold a revulsion that pierces the daughter to her bones. She is too terrified to cry. Her mother steps forward and doesn’t slap her, doesn’t scream, doesn’t remonstrate. She only hisses two words like bullets. “Devil child.” She turns and walks with quick angry steps into the house, and the daughter is left frozen to the ground. Then she thaws, and the warmth comes at last, comes in waves of shaking misery. She sobs.
            That night, she sleeps as if dead, soul-weary and miserable. The dawn comes harshly through her window, and she wakes reluctantly. She finds her mother has made her an appointment.
            She doesn’t want to be here. That’s what the doctor thinks, first thing. The girl is a scrawny specimen—bone-thin, dressed raggedly, hair dark and straggly with rain. Her shoes squelch on the linoleum, leave imprints of mud. Her eyes, however, are the most noticeable: a hard, dagger-like blue. They shout of resentment, and seething below that, a chaotic swelter of emotions. It’s hard to describe, how they pierce him, how he finds it hard to look away. She’s not the first to come here unwillingly. But she’s the first to protest it with such vehemence, and silently.
            His interest has been caught. She sits down stiffly in the chair across from him, and he notices the faded remnants of a bruise across one cheek. She catches his eye for a brief moment, her eyes still speaking, then looks quickly away and down. Almost as if she were embarrassed. The air between them is tense, the tension of a torrent of unspoken words. It’s up to him to break the ice, and he does so abruptly. He introduces himself, starts a volley of questions, and it’s strange; he doesn’t use his usual doctor voice, amiable and business-like, but the voice in which he thinks his own thoughts. It’s almost as if he’s talking to himself. He knows she doesn’t hear a word.
            He uses the time to study her face. She has a face, that if she let it, could be lovely—right now, it is too starved and too sad to be beautiful. Her eyes are still downcast. Perhaps the meaning of life is hidden in the floor beneath her feet. The light from the window is melancholic, and it turns the line of her cheek, the too-sharp jut of her chin, into cast porcelain. Unbeknownst to both him and the girl, his questions trail off. There is an acute, thoughtful silence between them.
            The girl’s gaze travels from the floor to the far corner of the room, to his left. She seems to be observing something there very intently. He looks as well, but there is nothing but bare, sanitary plaster. Her eyes travel like an arrow straight past him, and her pupils make tiny, flicking movements back and forth. She’s watching something moving there, where there’s nothing. The emotions play out on her face like an open book, and he can read it all: alarm, curiosity, terror. She seems to have forgotten he’s there. Something very, very interesting is happening in that empty corner, and he is captivated as well. He should make some notes or end the session, but he watches her watch nothing until the hour is up.
            When the minute hand reaches twelve, she stands up, suddenly, and pushes in her chair and leaves. It wakes him like a dreamer from a trance. He sits in the empty office, contemplatively. He’s learned a lot from an hour of silence.
           
            The girl staggers down the hallway, trails a hand down the cool white wall. She feels absurdly self-conscious, in her straggled clothes, unbrushed hair. But the doctors in their clean white coats have better places to be. They don’t spare her a glance, and she doesn’t know whether to feel belittled or relieved. She is still overwhelmed by the rose.
            It hovered in the corner, a crimson blot, a bloody shadow. It started as a tiny bud—then, conjured by her mind, it languidly bloomed, opening and unfolding. The heart of the rose was full of water. It glistened like midnight: a foreshadowing. The water trickled down the petals of the rose, formed small rivulets of mercury. Each drop’s fall was a separate heartbeat. A pool formed there, beneath the rose, and grew with every passing minute. She knew when the water touched her skin, she would sink into the depths of another dream. The water was up to her soles, almost soaking into her shoes, when the minute hand clicked in place and she escaped at last.
            Now she wanders through the halls—confused, lost, and lonely. She makes it to the front door. It is still raining. The rain races down the glass doors in clear, cold streaks, makes nonsensical music on the windows. Her mother probably expects her to walk home in this. Instead, she opens the door and begins to run.
            The day is gray and cold and clean. Rain turns the world loud and silent at once, empties the sidewalks, spells the street into rushing silver. She wants to lose herself in this momentary freedom. She wants to become as alive and newborn as every leaf on the trees, washed vibrant by the rain. She races through the downpour, and is soaked in an instant—her hair darkens and curls, her clothes hang. Her shoes splash through puddles that morph from gray into blue, impossible as a reflected sky—and with every step, she sinks anew into dreaming. Like the rain from the clouds she is falling, and another world rushes up to meet her. She makes it to the meadow in the moment before she collapses.
            All she has is freedom now.


            She’s nine again, living a dream that ended long ago. She’s lying on a surfboard, in a damp and clinging old swimsuit. Every wave that washes over her chills her to the bone, but she doesn’t feel it, doesn’t care. She’s in another world. The motion of the waves rocks her to sleep, soothes her. She feels so at peace, so bittersweet. The waves are growing larger, she’s drifting farther and farther from shore, but it’s not enough. She wants each swell to become a slope, to slide her down to Nod. She wants to be carried out of reach of everything—to drift on the ocean forever, beneath the endless sky. She could drown. It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t mind dying if it means she can join the sea, become one small part of something larger. This is such a beautiful dream, and the sea is singing to her; a lullaby. Eternity is just so close, and she’s about to grab it, about to fly…
            Someone’s voice in her ear. Shouting. She’s awakened rudely, and she almost wants to cry. She was so close! It’s her father. He’s yelling at her, asking her doesn’t she know how dangerous this is, she could have drifted off, she could have drowned… She doesn’t care. She lets him tow her back to shore, lets him take the surfboard and sit her down by her mother, but part of her is still back in the ocean. Part of her wishes she was still drifting.

            She lets herself dream of drowsing on the waves, letting the ocean rock her to sleep. The water is cold and dark as blood, but the starlight warms her bones. She closes her eyes, feeling the undulation, feeling sweet bliss…
            “Wake up.”
            And she’s awake, and just as suddenly, terrified. It’s her mother’s voice, and it brings everything flooding back: dark night, lamp light, white walls and sterile cubes of rooms. Her mother’s face, creased in revulsion. The voice continues: “Wake up, girl. I’m not paying for another funeral—do you hear me? If you die, I’ll hand you to the state and let them cremate your bones. You’ll scatter to the winds, girl. Wake up and tell me why I shouldn’t disown you…”
            Her eyes snap open. Above her is a sterile hospital ceiling. Surrounding her, her mother’s harsh voice, continuing its tirade. Her face is bloodless. She can’t move her arms—are they restrained? She can’t move, won’t speak. She closes her eyes again and hopes against hope that her mother will leave, when a door swishes open and a breeze brings footsteps and the smell of disinfectant. “Mrs. Upton, the doctor would like to speak with you.” The nurse’s voice is carefully modulated, and cautious—she must have spoken with her mother before. She can hear the sound of her mother’s teeth as they click closed, grind. Then quick, sharp clacks of heels on tile and the swish of the door again. She’s safe. Her breath leaves her in a sigh, and her eyes open. The nurse is above her, looking concerned. She whispers, hoarsely: “Don’t call my mother.”
            A few minutes later, she’s unrestrained and sitting up. Her wrists have red marks on them—she must have struggled in her sleep. The nurse hovers by her side, looking apologetic. “Sorry, dear. You were trying to get up and walk away—you kept ripping out your IV. We had to restrain you, doctor’s orders.” The girl says nothing. She breathes fast, trying not to hyperventilate. She won’t—can’t—face her mother. The look on her face…she closes her eyes again. The nurse seems concerned. “Honey, do you want me to call the doctor? Do you have a headache, or pain anywhere?”
            “Don’t!” The girl says, too loudly. Then her eyes widen. Her mother’s footsteps are coming, clacking through the door. She’s terrified, frozen to the bed. Then her mother is standing before her, appraising her up and down. The cold weight of her gaze is upon her. Her mother speaks to the nurse. “Call the doctor, and get her out of here. There’s nothing wrong with her—it was just another of her fits.” The girl’s eyes flutter closed again, in relief and rumination. She remains unmoving on the bed until her mother leaves, and the doctor comes to release her.
           
            That night, her mother doesn’t come home. She sits in her bedroom alone, relieved, but miserable. When her mother isn’t home, she can’t leave her bedroom, even to eat, lest she have another fit. The door stays closed, the window boarded up. She’s glad. At least this way, she won't escape and make her mother yet angrier. She doesn’t think she can take much more of this—the fear, the guilt, it’s eating her alive. She’s angry as well, furious at herself, and that’s worse, because of how volatile it makes her. She could explode at any moment. It makes her bitter, and it makes her hopelessly depressed. The only place she can escape is into her dreams—here in this room, there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Exhausted beyond thought, she curls up on her bed, falls into a leaden sleep.
            In her dream, she walks along a beach in her memory. She came here, once—when she was just a little kid, and her father was alive, and her mother still loved her. When she had a family. Before everything went wrong.
            This beach, this sea—it’s all so indescribably beautiful. The sun is just about to set, and all the sky is painted with swirls and feathery strokes of gold. Just above her head, the sky is a blue that speaks of approaching night; a quenching blue she can almost taste. There are cliffs by this sea, of crumbling, weathered chalk, and they too are gilded by the sun. Everything is gold—her mother’s eyes, the sea, the sky, each individual grain of sand scattered on the thin strip of beach. Even the stars in the sky are golden, it seems—even the perfect crescent of moon, sharp and pure as a slice of heaven.
            This is heaven, standing here, surrounded by the warmth of her family. She feels as if she belongs. She feels as if everything is in its place, at last. She faces the ocean and throws her arms wide, tries to inhale this moment: the sea, the sky, the beach, the briny air—as if by doing so she could carve it into her soul. She wants to keep this moment, like a lucky charm, deep and safe in her heart. So she could savor it whenever she wanted.
            This is just a temporary blessing, and that makes it all the more bittersweet. When she was young and safe and naïve—when she was, innocent—she had no idea how precious time was. But now she knows, and she wants to hold on and never let go. To never let the days and the years rush ahead, bringing her to a time when her mother despises her and her father rots in his grave…she wants to hold on to this little slice of heaven.
            But even so, the tide draws in, and the tide draws out, eternally. The gold light fades, and the evening’s rays, they turn a vivid crimson. The night creeps up. Shadows lengthen. The blue above her dims to black…
            With no heed or thought for the girl standing on the beach, tears streaming down her face, the ocean recedes. The sun draws its last gasp and falls below the horizon. The night swallows all, her parents disappear, and the girl still stands there, alone and lonely on the empty beach. She wishes she could hold on to this moment, this day. But it’s only just a passing dream, because…
            Nothing gold can stay.

            She wakes, as she must, cold and heart-torn in her empty room. The blanket has fallen to the floor, and her pillow is damp with tears. She’s alone. She lets herself linger on the thought.
            Because when she thinks about it, there’s really nothing in her life—nothing at all. There used to be. It used to be all full, of…gold. Now it’s just dust, and it’s her fault. They all say so, because it’s true.
            Yes. She’s alone.
            She lies curled up on her bed the rest of the night, without her blanket, needing the cold. She thinks, and she ponders, and she doesn’t dream, at all. Throughout the long night, she lies alone in the house, and when the dawn seeps blue and icy through her window…
            She’s made her decision.

            The sky is still dark when she steps out of bed, and there are ghosts in every corner of the house. Floorboards creak, even when no one is there—curtains dance in the still air, strange lights flash across the walls, and she thinks she hears something pawing at the door. Every successive fright shakes her nerves, until she swears her heart is palpitating. Night terrors are made real by the threat of her mother. At any moment she could appear out of the dark, just like a ghost, come to haunt her—or frighten her—to her grave. She’s probably hiding in the shadows in the walls right now, and the next sweep of car lights across the wall will reveal her, show her pale face starkly amidst the dark…
            Maybe it’s just the wind. But in the silence, she almost definitely hears something stealthily pawing at the door. She shudders and heads to the kitchen, not daring to turn up the light more than a fraction. What really gets her is not knowing, not knowing whether her mother is still absent or present, whether she crept in silently somewhere near the middle of the night.
            She turns her gaze to the kitchen window. It’s stormy outside. There’s something strange out there, where there should be only darkness…a gleam of light, a pale tossing of cloth…then her mind, slow to work, realizes what it is.
            Her mother is there, only inches from her face! Any moment she’ll look up, leer through the glass, right at her! She almost screams. Then she looks again, and she realizes the specter is nothing but the paper lantern they hung from the porch, tossing in the wind. She stands in the kitchen, hyperventilating, trying to calm herself down. Then she hears a quiet, but distinct, sound—a single scratch, as if that of a claw, on the kitchen door.
            It’s enough to get her going again. She sits down and tells herself that it’s just the dark and the night, that she’s still half-asleep and in the land of dreams. She would’ve heard her mother coming home, probably, very late and with malted scotch on her breath…
            Unless her mother decided to play Cat and Mouse. She can’t stand it any longer, dark night or no. She throws on her coat, and without bothering to take even a single slice of bread for breakfast—she couldn’t bear the deafening crinkle of the cellophane—she leaves the house. Best to get an early start.
            When she sees how dark it is outside, and feels the biting cold of it, she almost heads back in. But the front of the house grimaces menacingly in the streetlights, and the thought of her mother dissuades her further. The night looks as if it harbors evil intent for a young, petite girl of fifteen, disorientated and confused. Trash litters the street, and streetlights cast pools of malevolent orange on the asphalt.  But the girl is less afraid outside, where she can escape, than she was in her home. And now, just as she had in her dream, the girl begins to run.
           

            The girl is deathly pale, clothes torn, an ugly bruise blooming like a black flower across one eye. Her skin is scuffed, her eyes wild, her lips luridly scarlet. She is still beautiful. Underneath the table, the doctor’s hands curl into fists. He wants to kill the man who did this to her. His face is a smiling mask, his eyes cold behind the gentle curl of his lips. They stare each other down across the table, and the tension is palpable.
            The girl’s gaze doesn’t waver, and suddenly he is heartbroken. He thinks, what right did he have to hurt you…and what right do I have, to not help you? To not tell you the truth as clearly as you are telling me? He drops the mask, and behind it, the man is haunted. His eyes search for a connection, but they don’t find it. The girl’s eyes have dropped to the floor.
            The girl stares at the scratched linoleum, her mind inevitably drawn to the events of last night. The pain of it still throbs, like an open wound. She can’t help herself from poking and prodding it, just like the bleeding hole in her cheek, where she’d bitten it. There are tears seeping slowly from her eyes, and she doesn’t want him to see.
            The doctor gazes on her slumped form, small and sad and desperate. Her shoulders are very thin and very small under the cloth of her shirt, soft as velvet from wear. He wants, inappropriately, to draw her close, to embrace her. In some ways, he is just as hollow and desperate for love as she is. He should never have taken this job. He can’t deal with this.
            The tears never fall from where they tickle her chin, never split open on the floor, and the girl wishes they would. Perhaps they would, with their destruction, take a little of this…impotence, with them. She relieves the memory, again. She just can’t stop torturing herself.
            It is dark and the girl is flying down the street, her trailing nightdress flashing intermittently yellow under the streetlights. Her feet make slapping noises, her breath sharp huffs. She is blind and going nowhere. She is deaf, hearing only the throbbing pulse of her heart.
            She runs into a void. She feels the anger before she sees it—senses the danger, like smoke in the air, elusive and warm with the hint of fire. She tries to dodge it, frantically, but she’s too late—her momentum carries her just a little too close. Her mother’s arm whips out, and like an iron bar, doubles her over and makes her fall. There’s a small, grunting gasp—nothing more. Then the girl is curled, almost comatose, on the pavement, and the shadow of her mother looms over her. She’s consumed with pain, devoured by it, to the point where speech is beyond her. The shadow kneels, leans over her incapacitated form. Her mother’s breath tickles her ear. “Did you think,” she says, “that you could hide?”
            The mask is off and now he is defenseless. Emotions flicker across his face, as he looks at the girl crouched in her chair, almost fetal-like. She seems so small, without those eyes pinning him, piercing right through his mask. Her eyes are the defining characteristic, like tiger’s eyes, almost feral, and omniscient in their raw power. Without them, she could be a child—still is a child, he reminds himself. Still a child, but both damaged and so much more. He sighs, just in time to cover the sound of her tears falling on the ground.
            She thought that her pain could crest no higher. Her mother proved her wrong. The first blow doubled the pain. The third debilitated her. Her mother muttered the whole time, blurred words she could not decipher, that jarred and broke with every solid hit. There was wetness on her face, and with every blow, she shrieked inarticulately. Then, mercifully, the girl could bear no more. She rushed gladly into the welcome darkness.
            She did not hear or see her mother cry, or bend over the broken body—so small, so defenseless, curled infantile on the bloody concrete. She did not hear her mother scream and groan, animalistic sounds of grieving, that filled the pressing night, that echoed harshly off the walls. She did not feel her mother take her in her arms, cradle the broken doll, and place her gently by the wall. Or know she stumbled, staggered home, singing all the way.
            “Softly, slowly, the ocean sang the moon;
            Give me a ray of sunshine, and I’ll give you this tune.
            Softly, sadly, the ocean begged the moon;
            Send me a little sunlight, and for you, this I’ll croon:
            Never was a kiss so sweet
            As sunshine from the moon.”
           
            The psychologist leans on one hand and thinks that he has to break the silence.
            When she woke up the next morning, aching and numb from cold, she couldn’t do it anymore. The rage and the defiance had faded with the dawn, and with it, any impulse of freedom she possessed. Alone in the bitter dawn, she knew herself a coward. So she went to her appointment, regardless. Because the alternative was going home.
            He can’t do it.
            Her tears are dry salt tracks on her face, shiny and fragile. They crack when she moves the muscles of her face. She unbends herself, looks up. Her eyes widen.
            The girl is staring right at him. He is completely unguarded, as is she, and for one moment there is a perfect connection. Then, at the same moment, they look away—and the connection is broken. They are uneasy, astonished. For one moment they looked deep into each other’s souls.
            The girl is the one who breaks the ice.
            “Are you alright?”
            What kind of doctor am I? The doctor thinks, and tries to answer carefully. “Yes, I’m fine.” His voice breaks and roughens halfway through.
            “I don’t think so.”
            Who’s doing the analyzing here? He thinks. “Well then, are you?”
            The girl looks down. Her gaze darkens—it had been clear for a few moments, off of her own troubles. Now her memory comes back to her. “I’m not…but neither are you.”
            “What’s wrong?”
            “Where do you want me to start?”
            “Who did that to your face?”
            “My mother,” she says, and then murmurs quietly, as an afterthought:
“Everything is over.”
            He had taken it for a man. But that was only experience, both his and his patients’, speaking. “What do you mean by ‘everything?’"
            The girl looks up at him. “Do you know that poem by Robert Frost?”
            “Which one?”
            “The one about transience…about passing gold.”
            He meditates for a moment. “So Eden sank to grief…So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.” He says it slowly, with a kind of somber finality.
            “The gold is gone,” she says. “It’s my fault.”
            “Tell me why.”
            She looks at him, really stares at him, searching his eyes. Unlike everyone else she’s ever met, he doesn’t flinch away from her gaze. She remembers the moment…the moment of perfect connection. “I’ll tell you. But in return, you have to tell me your secret.”
            “What secret?”
            “The reason why you feel so guilty. I can see it in you, you know.”
            It’s relief that flows through him now. Touched with a tint of guilt, but overwhelmingly positive. “Ladies first.”
            “…It seems like such a long time ago, but we used to be happy. Mom and Dad were so in love—back then, I thought it was gross, but now I know how rare that is. Dad and I were never really close. That was okay, because Mom loved us both.
            I started having the…visions…when I was nine. They would come at night, mostly, and back then I never screamed. Mom didn’t know at first. But then, one night…Dad came into my room, and I was in the middle of a bad one. He bent over me, to kiss me goodnight, and I...I...killed him." She whispers it. "Somehow, I had a knife in my hand. Clenching it. And when I woke...blood all over the floor...and on my sheets...and the knife was still in my hand."
            She bends over the table, weeping. She hugs her arms to herself and rocks back and forth. The doctor watches her, shocked, but more so heart-torn. She doesn’t deserve this. But there’s something…something about the way she moves, always hiding her face, staring blindly at the floor…
            “There’s something else, isn’t there?”
            She looks up wildly, a rabbit caught in a trap. Then she meets his eyes, and hers soften a little, thaw. She can’t help herself.
            “He used to come in my bedroom, at night. I didn’t know what he was doing. And when I was asleep, he’d…touch me, and…I’d wake up, and I had to pretend I was asleep. He said…bad things. He scared me. He used to breathe so heavily…he sounded like a monster.” Her voice is so very quiet.
            “This had gone on how long?”
            “…Since I was eight.”
            He leans back in his chair and looks at the wall. Two years, of monsters in the dark, of forbidden visits in the night. Two years to foster nightmares. He thought she had probably known, reading her father, that something was very wrong. Without prompting, he speaks.
            “Alison was my fault."
            "She was so very fragile, you see: like a porcelain doll. I always was afraid to break her, and ironically enough, that led to her death.
            "One day I said too much. I was so frusturated with the carefulness, with the constant tiptoeing—the doll was a beast if you poked her too hard. I said so many terrible things: that I didn’t love her, that I married her out of pity, that it was the worst decision I ever made. It was so much worse because all of it was true. I told her I had never loved her. I told her to go back to her parents; I was going to get a divorce.
            "The next day, they found her body in the train tracks, along with what remained of her car. The road she was on led to Westonshire, where her parents lived. I never could figure if she did it on purpose, to spite me, or if she was simply very drunk one night, and never saw it coming…
            "She went back to her parents, after all. They told me they buried her in the cemetery there, near her old house. But I never saw her again.
            “So you see, it wasn’t your fault at all…compared to me, you’re completely innocent. You have nothing to feel ashamed for, and your parents, everything. Sometimes in this world, I wonder if children are secretly wiser than us.”
            “It doesn’t even matter. What is my life but darkness?.”
            He stops swinging on his chair, drops and looks into her eyes. Softly, serious and intense, he says:
            “Spring comes after winter, year after year after year. Every day dawn comes back out of the gullet of the night. Gold will return again.”
            She looks back, and there in his eyes, she finds what she could find in neither rain nor sea nor dreams: absolution. There it is again, the moment of perfect communion, and it hovers between them like an unsung note.
            Neither of them notice when the minute hand reaches twelve.
            Then a hard knock on the door, and they are, again, rudely interrupted. “Mr. Gailman! Mr. Gailman! My appointment at twelve?” More knocking.
            Both sigh, lean back. They regard each other with mutual respect. “Come back Monday,” he says.
            She smiles, a little wistfully, a little sadly, but a real smile regardless. “I will.”
            And on her way out the door, just before it swings closed, she holds it open at the last moment. Looks back at him. “By the way,” she says, “It’s not your fault, either.”
            The door swings closed. The doctor leans back in his seat, and smiles a little forlornly. “Who’s the doctor here?” He whispers to the air.           

            It’s after sunset on the mountain. The horizon still cups the last remnants of scarlet and crimson, like blood shimmering in a bowl. As the girl watches, the colors run out, and the day turns to something dark and drab and gray. A glass of water after all the paint has run together. This world is worth living in, if sometimes only barely. She knows that now.
            Her mother would not let her live. She reveals the knowledge to herself, pulls aside a curtain of denial, and it gleams cold and sharp in her mind. Her mother has a knife in the bedroom drawer, and she never did manage to wash off that little drop of rusty black, right on the tip. She saw it, once, only a few years after her father died. She had pondered using it; whether on her mother or herself, she still doesn’t know. But she wasn’t desperate enough, yet.
            She lived in quiet desperation, once. Now she tastes nothing but bittersweet. She’s come to terms with her life now, with this belated ending, and she’ll forever thank the doctor for that. She knows it’s time at last. They had only been waiting, her mother and she, for the inevitable conclusion of death. She won’t wait for her mother to end her indecision. She’ll finish this thing herself; she’ll have the final say. And she’ll die, if not happy, then at least content. She’ll die amidst beauty, on her own terms.
            The show always has to end. Night will come, and with it, the stars.
            Sirius glimmers in the west, a solitary foreboding. The metal is cool and it cuts into her feet. She doesn’t mind. The wind prickles her skin and shivers her bones. She doesn’t care. She stands alone on the electric tower, and she is finally at peace with letting go—with falling, with freedom. She is alone but no longer lonely—she is complete in and of herself. The wind blows, the steel shudders, the wire sings a keening note. She falls, and with her, the first drop of rain.
            A downpour begins.

            Her mother howls to the moon alone, in the forlorn night, in the hollow house. She pleads for sunshine, for clear skies, for impossibility, but the moon makes no answer. The moon only gazes with mournful wisdom on the broken woman. The moon is forever out of reach of suffering. The moon can only orbit alone, a partner to the sun in a cruel, fixed dance.
           
            The doctor looks up from his porch at the midnight sky, luminescent with wisps of cloud. He sees her face in the gibbous moon, he sees her eyes in the thousand stars, he sees her spirit in the moment just before dawn. He never saw her again. He’s too selfish to not begrudge her it—too wise to wish things some other way. The woman was half-mad, deadly, a murderess. She had killed the girl’s father, after all. She put the knife in the girl's hand--she framed her daughter for the death. He knows it, with an unshakable, unprovable certainty. Too formidable to be challenged, too powerful to be suspected, she would have killed the girl as well—sooner or later. He only wished it had been later.
            He tracks the movement of the stars across the treeline, bright points of light in the darkness. He remembers her eyes, how they pierced straight through his mask. That’s gone now, like so much else. He couldn’t save her. She, on the other hand, was the only one who ever saved him. There in the stars, in the moon, in the silver wind—she’s saving him still.
            The night is dark and deep as blood, but the starlight warms his bones. He can only hope that she’s beyond this now…that an eternity of night only freed her, to live the dream of dreams.
           


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sea Dream

My longest story yet. I've had it for a long time, but didn't post it because of the subject. This was inspired by the music of Lana Del Rey--Video Games, and Radio most of all. It's that feeling, that ineffable feeling in her song, that I was trying to capture when I wrote this. If you like it, or if you don't and want to give me some constructive critcism, review! Reviews will make me publish the second part--and possibly the third part.


            She woke to a global hum. That was how it felt to her; a bone-deep vibration, a beat the globe had been dancing to ever since the world was born. It was the first thing, the greatest thing, which woke her. Now, as she stood on needle-pricked legs and looked around, she saw where she was. She was standing in the belly of a concrete monster, a huge, living thing made of stone and metal. Vast concrete walls stretched around her to form a huge, empty room, bare of decoration, stairs built into the walls breaking the monotony here and there. Fluorescent lights lit all with a harsh glare. There were no windows. Beneath her feet, the stone was vibrating, a pulsation traveling up her legs and into her skull, a tangible thing, the voice of the monster. The third thing she noticed, and the most puzzling of all, was the sensation of motion. This huge concrete room was moving, steady and slow.
            Where the hell am I? That was the first thought, but it was a slow question that floated into her mind, the hell included because it was better to be angry than scared. But it came with no urgency, no intent, but as the question she should have asked, given this was real. But nothing seemed real. A huge, vibrating, moving concrete room? It wasn’t possible. It had to be a dream. In that case, she was much more interested in exploring the dream than she was in waking up. She was inquisitive by nature, and the strange scene her unconscious mind had conjured intrigued her.
            She started walking briskly, blood rushing back into throbbing veins. She climbed the staircase in a few minutes, discovering a corridor in the wall at the top. A golden light suffused the end, faint voices drifting down the hall. A sudden, eager anticipation almost made her break into a run. But she held herself back, for it seemed almost sacrilegious for the slapping of her feet on the concrete to break the hum. She walked quickly and sedately down the hall, the voices growing ever louder and less harmonious. The light dazzled her. When she emerged, squinting and mussed, on the other side, all fell silent.
            It was a surprisingly ordinary room. She didn’t know what she had expected—more stark concrete décor, perhaps. This mundaneness was somewhat off-putting. Later, she would notice the religious pictures decorating the walls, the shabby acrylic wallpaper, the beige industrial carpet. Right now, her eyes were on the group of women seated on the floor, just as their eyes were fixed on her.
            A blond, vaguely French girl said, “Oh. She’s woken.” That seemed to be a cue for the tense silence to break. The rest of the group returned to chatting loudly, as the blond girl rose gracefully and walked forward to meet her face to face. She did not shake her hand, as she half-expected her to do, but raked her eyes up and down her body, as if examining her for flaws. She sniffed, seeming to find her lacking, and only then did she speak. Even then, it was only to brusquely say, “Come over here. Elaine will fill you in.” She started walking to a door she hadn’t noticed in the heat of the moment, expecting her to follow.
            Apprehensive, she did so. This seemed less and less like a dream. The door led to a small, cozy kitchen, tiled in white and blue, with a worn table and two chairs set in the middle. A girl sat there, bent over some papers on the table, a curtain of hair hiding her face. A steaming coffee kettle and two mugs were set beside her.
            The French girl cleared her throat. Immediately, the seated girl straightened, pushed away her papers, and gestured for her to sit. She walked over and sat, barely noticing the French girl leaving. Her only thought was that this brown-haired girl was beautiful. Her flawless skin was cream and roses, her eyes large and expressive, her lips perfectly shaped, smooth and pink without lipstick. And brown wasn’t the right word to describe her hair. It was lustrous, sun-streaked amber, falling in sleek waves past her shoulders. Yet her beauty wasn’t unearthly and dazzling. It was candlelight rather than a torch, a gentle beauty that complemented her surroundings. She would be beautiful anywhere, in a shabby kitchen, or on a runway.
            “Hello, I’m Elaine. Do you want some coffee?” The girl said, interrupting her train of thought. Her voice had a warm timbre to it she thought might be an accent. “Okay,” she said, not knowing what else to say. The other girl poured her a cup of black liquid. The steam wafted into her face, and with it, a strong, earthy scent. She realized, with a sense of vague horror, that she had never before smelled anything in a dream. Hoping that she could prove herself still dreaming, she took a small, scalding sip. She tried not to gag. The coffee was very bitter, and as she drank, caffeine raced through her veins, waking her completely and informing her that this was not, in fact, a dream. Uncertainty and fear washed over her. She never had to be truly afraid in a dream, because she knew she had to wake up sometime. But there was no waking up from real life. She really was in a traveling concrete vehicle, away everything she had ever known, for no reason she could discern. “I’m really not dreaming,” she said softly, her voice tinged with despair.
            Elaine could have laughed. But instead, she empathized. Without speaking, she reached over and gave her a hug. Momentarily surprised, she relaxed into the embrace. She could feel the warmth of the other girl’s body through her clothes, and it was oddly comforting. She had never been hugged by another girl, besides her relatives, before. Her few friends at school couldn’t really be called close. “It’s okay,” Elaine whispered into her ear. “We’re in this together.”
            She closed her eyes, and despite the unknown and uncertain situation, she felt safe. Safer, perhaps, than if this encounter was in normal circumstances, the way the darkness made a circle of candlelight seem warmer and more protected than it would otherwise. Somehow, a few minutes after meeting this girl, she trusted her instinctively. “Yes,” she said.
            Elaine told her she couldn’t explain everything now. “It’s not safe,” she said. “You never know when someone is watching.” That put her more on edge than ever. Had someone been watching her when she was sleeping? Had they seen Elaine hugging her, and her own trust and acceptance?  “But they’re expecting me to teach you what we’re doing here, so I can at least tell you their side of things.” She wondered who “they” was. All this she whispered into her ear as she topped off her mug. Once she was sitting across from her again, Elaine launched into the history of a religious society named ‘The Order of St. James.’ “The organization was created in 1634, when the Protestant Reformation was at its height. Originally, it was created by devout followers of the Catholic Church, who wanted to make sure that the Church could come back to rightful power someday, when the world had let down its guard.” She nodded—she had learned about the Reformation in History. Elaine continued. “They made a deal with the Hapsburgs, then Britain’s greatest rival. Some of the Catholic followers were high up in the government, pretending to be Protestants, their enemies. They would get crucial information about the British military to the Habsburgs, and in return, the Hapsburgs would return the Catholic Church to power once they ruled all of Europe. That was the plan, but it failed. At the last minute, a follower turned traitor and revealed everything to the Protestants, requesting amnesty. All of the followers but that one were hung publicly, denounced as traitors and spies. However, one loyal follower escaped. He fled to Germany, and once he was there, he built an organization that would to reach that same goal from scratch. He made allies and informants out of the important figures of the time, and when he died, the organization followed his lead and built its strength gradually and invisibly, over the centuries. That man was James Aldroit, canonized St. James after the Biblical James of Zebedee. The organization is named after and dedicated to him.”
            “Six months ago, the organization was finally ready to start its great coup. It had informants and allies in half the main governments of the world. With their help, it could start the Great Crusade, the war to return true religion to the world, to purify and convert to the true Christ every man, woman, and child. We, the chosen carriers of the line, were sent to a great Ark where we could be safe from the strife on land, where we could breed and wait for the day when we would be released to preach our gospel and spread his line throughout the world. Which bloodline is this, you might ask? It is the bloodline of St. James himself. His twelve children were sent to various locations all over the world, switched for the children of unsuspecting parents, in order to protect them from any conspirers against the organization. The organization watched them from the shadows, ensuring they came to no harm, and that they sired or bore many children. Only through perfect ignorance could they be completely safe. And so the bloodline of St. James was carried through the countries of the world, and his direct descendants were gathered here on the ship, to grow numerous in safety and wait for the day when the world is united under one true religion.”
            Elaine looked directly at her, tensely, penetratingly. “Do you understand?” Behind her words a double meaning echoed. Do you understand how atrocious this idea is? How they have mutated the ideals of Christianity? Are you with me?
            “I understand exactly how important the organization is.” She emphasized the word, trying to make clear that she didn’t consider herself to be part of it. Elaine, too, had never once referred to the organization as ‘her’ or ‘our’ organization during her spiel.
            Elaine nodded. “Good.” Again, the double meaning. I’m glad.
            “I can fill you in on the finer details later,” she said. When we’re alone. “For now, are you hungry?”
            She realized, with some surprise, that she was. It had been a long time since her last meal—lunch back at school, when her life was normal, she reflected. “Yeah.”
            “There’s a cafeteria across the atrium. We can eat together,” she said. And for the first time, she smiled warmly at her. It was breathtaking, how it softened her face and warmed her sepia eyes. A little dazed, she followed Elaine into the corridor and across the concrete room-the atrium, she thought silently-up another staircase, and into a wide hallway, where they joined a stream of talking and laughing teenagers. They were all dressed similarly, in dull gray pants and white shirts for the boys, and long skirts and shirts for the girls. Clearly, she was the newest arrival. She supposed her clothes would be taken away, to be disposed of. The thought didn’t upset her much. She wasn’t interested in fashion anyway, had always stuck to jeans and a basic sweater. All the while, they chatted about small things: school back on land, where they lived, what the rest of the ship was like. A sense of camaraderie had developed between them, a sense of us vs. them.
            A question occurred to her. “Why aren’t there any adults, if all the descendants were gathered?” She asked Elaine. Elaine smiled wryly, with a kind of dark humor, and told her that only people below eighteen and above twelve had been picked. The preachers (they served like religious teachers, Elaine had told her) told them it was to ensure fertility, but she thought there was another reason involved. “They want young, easily impressionable minds to brainwash,” she said quietly. “Adults would be too mature, too set in their ways to believe their “gospel.” She made air quotes. She found it rather endearing.
            The cafeteria was airy and spacious, but starkly outfitted, with concrete walls, beat-up cafeteria tables, and a metal window at one corner where people flocked to receive meals on plastic trays. It looked similar to the cafeteria of a budget-strained public school. She asked Elaine about this as they waited with hundreds of others in the line.  “If the organization has backings in world governments, can’t they afford better décor?”
            Elaine shook her head. “You’re forgetting one of the main Catholic principles. ‘Thou shalt not covet,’ she quoted. We’re supposed to cast off the unimportant material aspects of life, and focus on the spiritual. Besides, most of the funds are going to the soldiers and preparations for war. Our safety is a priority, not our comfort.”
            “I get what they mean,” she agreed, a faint note of sarcasm in her answer. “Is the food any good, then?”
            Elaine shrugged. “Nutritionally.”
            After lunch (a soggy, canned mess), there came Catholic classes, choir, then dinner, free time, prayers, and bed. She understood the need for the Catholicism classes. She knew hardly anything about Catholicism, outside the scant facts that had come pre-packaged in the media and school, along with the Reformation. That wasn’t to say she liked it, however. It consisted of a ‘preacher’ (preachers instead of teachers, ha ha,) sermoning for two hours about how Catholicism was the only true religion, all others were false, and how they all needed to follow and obey the cause of St. James as his children. It wasn’t to say the class was boring—nothing could be boring with Elaine sitting by her on the back pew, leaning in to whisper hilarious observations about the preacher when he wasn’t looking. However, the effect wasn’t to help her get through two dry hours of droning, but to break the rhythm of the preacher’s voice, to distract her from almost believing it.
            The preacher’s voice was rich and deep, like the voice of God in biblical videos. “THOU ART MY SON.” A voice so confident, so commanding, it was difficult not to believe it. And it was passionate as well, devious, twisting the aspects on certain issues, rising and falling with emotion like music. It was too easy to nod along with everything he said. She looked at the rest of the class, all seated on pews like a mini-church, their eyes fixed with rapt attention on the preacher as if he was the Lord Himself. Elaine, too—when she wasn’t whispering in her ear, she sat straight and looked only at the preacher. She followed their example. Inside her head, she kept up a counterargument to keep her from falling into the trap.
            As the day dragged on, she found herself growing more and more impatient for night to come. She and Elaine never had a moment alone. They were constantly surrounded by laughing, chatting, praying, singing, shouting people. It disturbed her, how happy they were. Didn’t they realize that this whole event was a farce? That they were working for a terrible cause, not a great one? She wondered if they were all completely brainwashed, or if there were other secret insurgents like Elaine and her. Anxious and impatient, she sang so poorly in Choir that the instructor, a tired-looking nun in a white habit, reprimanded her. Then they knelt on the concrete atrium floor to pray, thankfully in their thoughts. Head down, sneaking a glimpse from behind a sheet of hair, she saw the atrium floor carpeted with a mass of people, heads bowed in obeisance. They no longer looked like individuals, but one mass, one organism, united under one religion. She closed her eyes and sent up a prayer, wondering if there really someone listening in the night. God, surely you can’t want a bloody war to be started in your name. Stop them before it’s too late. But of course, she reflected, God never raised a hand to stop the Crusades.
            All the girls on the ship slept in one huge dormitory, in rows of plain metal cots. Two to a bed, twenty to a row, in unending columns. They changed in silence, averting their eyes to preserve modesty, and went to bed in silence. She waited, itching with impatience, for the little rustles and murmurs of the other girls to abate. Finally, Elaine moved her head close to her ear and spoke in a soft murmur. Her warm breath caressed her cheek, and she suppressed a shiver.
            “I was born in Olathe, Kansas. My mother was a waitress, my father was a plumber. We were a strictly blue-collar family. My parents worked long hours to keep me and my sister in school, or that was what I thought when I was little. It was only later that I realized they always came home only when the other person was gone. Neither my mother nor my father ever showed much affection. They were always busy, tired, or both. My little sister, Carla, was the closest thing I had to family. We would do everything together, playing dress-up when we were little, going shopping when she was thirteen. Of all the things from my old life, she’s the one I miss most.” A sigh. She listened intently, waiting for her to continue. “I was sixteen when I was taken. I think I’m about seventeen now. It was after a normal day at school, and I was looking forward to getting home because I had promised to take Carla to the park. I was taking a shortcut through a alley because I was late, hurrying because there was no one to see if I got mugged or worse.” She paused. “I never saw it coming. At first I thought a bee stung me, but before I knew it, I was falling. I don’t remember hitting the ground… I woke up in the atrium, just like you did, and the rest is history. I’ve been searching for ages for someone else against this crazy mission, but I couldn’t just ask any of the people already there. So I talked my way into becoming an entrance counselor, and I waited for someone I could trust to come along. And I met you.”
            She didn’t know to say. There was a pregnant silence. Elaine prompted softly, “You know, you still haven’t told me your name.” She hesitated, still wavering. And she spoke.
            “My name is Ruth. I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. I always thought I was lucky to live in a city with such a pretty name. I was lucky in everything else, too. Nice house, nice school, nice neighborhood, nice grades, nice friends. Everything was nice.” A pause. An intake of breath. She whispered fiercely, “Sometimes it was so nice that I wanted to puke. I had dreams sometimes, of doing crazy, irresponsible things, things I would never do in real life, because it would jeopardize my nice reputation and my nice life. I think that’s why I wanted to do them, actually. That sounds selfish, doesn’t it? I had everything, but I just wanted to escape from it all. Sometimes my parents with their good intents, and my friends with their bland chatter, and my neighborhood full of civilized, orderly people—it all seemed so cloying. I wanted to go somewhere else, be someone else. So I wrote, and I longed, and I dreamed. It’s kind of sad. Right now, I’m trapped in a concrete ship at sea, while the world falls into war. But in some ways, I’m freer than I’ve ever been.”
            She had been staring into the darkness, full of the small sounds and hushed breaths of hundreds of girls. Now, she closed her eyes. Darkness when she opened her eyes, darkness when they closed—what was the difference? She shut her eyes, and waited for Elaine’s judgment. She had been like this her whole life. Always trying to reach the standards of others; the good girl, the straight-A student, the perfect child. Now she waited for the judgement of the girl she had met this morning, and it was more agonizing than ever. Because for the first time, she truly and acutely cared.
            “I understand.” Elaine murmured. And the breath sighed out of her, the air she hadn’t realized she had been holding. Just that: I understand. No pity, no judgment, no premeditation. Understanding. Within that, empathy. She reached into the dark and found Elaine’s slender hand.
            “Thank you,” she said.
            The dark and the constant fear were the guardians of their friendship. It grew in the night, a wild rose, watered by the secrets they whispered in the night. The secrecy and the danger made their friendship a constant thing, the one thing they could rely on in a fickle world. She watched Elaine daily, walked and breathed and talked and slept at her side. She saw her in a hundred moods, smiling, melancholy, carefree, furious, grieving, humorous, coy, confused, disappointed, joyful. Even aroused, one night when she believed the other girl asleep, breathing harshly, moaning softly as her hands performed a dance of skill below the sheets. Fascinated, she gazed at the little crease between her brows, the open mouth, innocent even in lewdness. She memorized the small details, and in her heart grew an emotion she could not describe.
            The dark was the only place they could be truly free. In the middle of the night, as mercurial waves washed around the concrete ship and the moon drifted remote in the distant sky. They held each other in the rustling dark and whispered secrets, found comfort in an embrace while the world burned. It was a dream, because their circumstances were too impossible to believe. It was a dream, and she couldn’t help but feel that it was a dream come true. The world burned, but what was the world? Merely a distant shore, a memory long resigned to the recesses of her mind. The world was but an afterthought. Here was Elaine’s arms, the fragrance of cheap soap softened and made alluring by the scent of her skin. Now was a soft brushing of breath across her cheek, Elaine’s voice sultry in her ear. What did she care for the world? She was happy, for the first time in her life.
            The dormitory was cool, on the verge of wintry. But Elaine’s arms caressed her, and in the scant protection of thin cloth and cheap wool, she found warmth that penetrated her to the very heart. When they had talked and sighed and laughed themselves to exhaustion, when Elaine slept like a virgin in a tale upon the white sheets, she raised herself on her elbows and admired her in the dark. She could not see her, but she could do better than that. She could feel her skin like living silk beneath her hands, breathe in her aroma; trace her hair with her lips when she was asleep. She could almost make out a faint form of white, her purity piercing the absolute dark. When she closed her eyes she could see her every nuance and detail, the silk of her hair, the white of her skin, her lips soft as petals, her eyes like large amber moons. In the nights she memorized Elaine, warmed herself with her presence like a beggar before the hearth. When the lights came on with a click and the warm soul beside her was thrown into harsh relief, it was the stripping of the dream, the return from tranquil night to the harsh, artificial day. And Elaine stirred and woke, and she, who often spent the precious nights without a wink of sleep, pretended to wake also.
            The announcement was made in daily prayers. The Bishop, a corpulent, purple-faced man bursting out of his robes, informed them that they would be stopping at a beach to resupply. They would be allowed to enjoy the sunlight for a few scant minutes, while the restocking took place. The news spread through the crowd in ripples of awareness. Friends murmured in delight to each other—they would see the sunlight for the first time in months. She and Elaine shared a look. Elaine was eager, excited, hoping to find a chance to escape. She felt a twinge of guilt. She had forgotten that to Elaine, this vast concrete ship was a cage. To her, it was a sanctuary, where they could live together in content. Where else would she be free to spend the nights sleeping beside Elaine? Where else could she stay with her without repercussion? If they were freed, Elaine would undoubtedly go back to her family, to be with her sister. Where would she go? Certainly not to her mundane, meaningless existence as of before. That was a distant memory. She would follow Elaine, and try to stay beside her however she could. She was not so selfish as to keep Elaine here against her will, caged in a concrete ship, even if she could. The thought repulsed her, though it also had a dark attraction.
            They would dock on a private beach, owned by allies of the organization. They would be allowed to come out and enjoy the sunlight for a few scant minutes while the restocking took place. She noticed how the preachers stressed this point, made it sound like a privilege they should be grateful for. She supposed she was. If nothing else, she could see Elaine lit golden by the sun, watch her smile at the glimmering sea.
            They walked out onto a beach shimmering with evening, into a rich and golden light that was both alien and familiar. For the first time, she saw the ship from the outside. It was smaller than she expected. She had thought it to be a vast concrete monster, its long, winding corridors without end, but it was almost disappointingly finite. Little more than half a mile in length, a bit wider than an aircraft carrier. Then she looked to the side, and saw Elaine.
            Her head was thrown joyfully back, hair hanging free, eyes closed in bliss, arms wide as if embracing the world. The sight of her, ivory skin lent warmth by the setting sun, took her breath away like that first moment all over again. It wasn’t the looks, the slender white arms, the curved, sensual physique, so much as it was the expression on her face, the grace with which she flung open her arms, the casual confidence with which she held her body. She was so beautiful that her heart ached in her chest, so utterly open and free that the strength of her emotion was a physical thing. Elaine faced the horizon and the setting sun, and in her posture and in her face was a wistful longing, a yearning for freedom. Here was everything she wanted, spread out for the taking, and she was just so close. For the guards standing casually as tourists, she might as well have been miles away.
            It was then that she knew she loved her. Like a jewel buried beneath the ground, gradually exposed by the elements and the rain, finally revealing its clarity and color to the open sky, the truth came to her. A realization that had always been there, waiting as a possibility, then a factor, and now a fact. She loved Elaine. The insight was as clear and as obvious as if it had always been there. She would go anywhere for this girl, do anything, just to stay by her side and have the privilege of watching her face open with pure joy, to see her eyes turned to liquid gold by the sun. Her feelings must have been clear on her face, for when Elaine turned her head and looked at her, her expression changed to one of confusion, then understanding, and then wonder. Elaine had always been able to understand her better than herself. She could read her soul like a book, see the flaws and the assets for what they were, and understand, and love her as she loved herself. It was one of the things she loved about her.
            “Ruth?” Elaine asked, and she was shaken from her reverie. She looked at her and smiled, reached for her hand. Elaine took it. They looked into the sunset. And then they walked back into the ship.
            Elaine, ever the actor, showed none of the distress she must have been feeling. She talked, laughed, made gestures in the air with swanlike hands. She knew the act was for the preachers, not for her. Yet she couldn’t help but be saddened by the glint of despair in the eyes she loved so well, the tinge of hysteria in her beautiful laugh. How could she have been so stupid, so selfish, as to think they could be content here? She could be happy just being with Elaine. But Elaine was as a bird caged; she needed to breathe the fresh air, feel the sun on her face, walk on solid land once more. Elaine needed the world. She had no need for it, because to her Elaine was the world.
            The resupplying had taken most of the evening. To distract her, she pulled them both to a corner and whispered in her ear, “Tonight I’ll tell you a dream I had.” Elaine stilled, nodded. The despair in her eyes was partly replaced with a spark of eagerness. She smiled, pleased. She knew how Elaine loved to hear her dreams. Elaine herself could never remember a one, so she dreamed vicariously through her, claiming that her dreams were more interesting than hers would ever be, anyway. She doubted it. But she went along with it, for the sake of Elaine’s smile.
            Two more tedious hours of propaganda, honeyed lies they were told to swallow. Two more hours of meticulous brainwashing disguised as truth. Swallow, and pretend to swallow, they did. They had no other choice. While no one had ever informed them on exactly what would happen to a non-conformer, they had no doubt the consequences would not be pleasant. This concrete prison would have been unbearable without Elaine. With her, the prison became a sanctuary, the day merely a prelude to the night. Together they talked of mundane things, ate without tasting, saw without believing. They waited for night, the sun outside the walls sinking to meet the endless waves, darkness climbing the sky, quenching the torch colors with an infinity of black. The moon took her solitary perch in the sky, drifting radiant past the ephemeral shadows of clouds. Freedom in the night.
            “Tell me,” Elaine whispered, at an hour when the dormitory was silent but for the rustles of cloth and secrets. She closed her eyes and waited for the words to come, like breath.
            “Strangely enough, I knew that beach. From a memory of a dream I had long ago, when I was thirteen. My parents had driven there to play beach volleyball, a sport they loved. It was almost evening, and I was chilly in my scant jacket and jeans. But I loved it. The briny breeze off the sea infused me like a shot of adrenaline, quickening my blood. The sunset vista was stunning, a harmony of gold-shot, restless water, a bank of cliffs stretching into the distance, and the lazuli sky, crowned with rosy clouds. It seemed almost too exquisite to believe.
            I set down my book on dry sand, a few meters away from the waterline, and sat down to read by the light of the setting sun. A few moments later, I looked up to admire the sunset, and noticed something strange. The water was receding from the beach, leaving a bare expanse of wet sand and gravel behind. The shore was growing by the second. I stood and looked at the incandescent horizon, shading my eyes with my hand. There, in the distance but approaching rapidly, I saw a thin blue line. A wave. Small, but growing impossibly fast.” Elaine listened intently, curled by her side like a child for a bedtime story.
            “It was I who remembered the protagonist’s observations in Wave, I who first sent up the cry: “Tsunami!” The other beachgoers heard and trekked madly for land. I followed, watching the line of blue over my shoulder as I climbed. In ten minutes we were near the top of the cliff, at the parking lot: safe, we hoped. Some, thinking it was better to be safe than sorry, were packing their things and driving off. Others were calling family and police on their cell phones. I watched as the line approached, a thousand yards away; a hundred yards away; fifty. An irresistible impulse overtook me, and before anyone could stop me, I jumped.”
            “The water was a few feet deep, the sand soft, and I landed well. I stood, my toes just reaching the ground, buffeted by the rapidly increasing current, and watched the tsunami swell as the frantic cries of my parents echoed behind me. I felt no fear, only a thrill of exhilaration, as the wave approached. It was beautiful, breathtaking in its immensity, a swelling of clear blue, golden where the sun could be seen behind it. As it rushed over my head, I looked up.”
            “I was in a curved room it seemed; a vast cathedral of vividly blue glass. The sun burned like a pale flower at the crest of the wave, blurred by the water. For a moment, it was silent; for a moment, it was eternity. It was the most exquisite sight I had ever seen, the most beautiful thing I could ever hope to do or be. I took the memory and seared it into my soul. Then, as the walls shook, wavered, and crashed down on me, I took a last gulp of the briny air.”
            “And I woke up.”
            Elaine sighed. “Why is it that you always end it at the best part?”

            I shrugged. “That’s the worst part about dreams,” I said quietly. 
“Eventually, I have to wake up.”