A flash fiction by friend and guest-blogger William Skye
The dream of winter. The dream of snow. Soft flakes falling in moonlight; the crack-crack-crackling of ice in a world gone still. Soft and cold, as white as the night is black.
Drifts piled high. Cold breath steams frosty and freezes in the ice thin air. Walking. Crunching and cracking. Slowly walking. Houses, some lit, some dark, some festive, some sullen. They cocoon their human larva and weave the dream of spring.
The path gives way to a flat land, where houses dare not grow. Snow piles and drifts in cold waves, pushed by the wind, watched by the moon. Soft flakes falling. Here it is deep, here it is hard. With each crunch-step a steam breath, and finally a rest. The slope down to the sea.
The moon is full and hard and bright in a sky filled with jewel lights. Bleached of color, a world of black white. Down the slope, to the slap of an ice fringed sea. Hard to walk. The sand gives way. She falls once, but catches herself and goes on. The sea is black and full of dancing lights. The moon paints a streak of white in the black, and in it she just sees something move. Up. Down. Up. Whales? Orca, yes, Orca. Their steamy breath, white cotton puffs clear in the moonlight. For a moment her heart is warm.
Quiet, she begins to shiver. Her breath is soft and white, and she is dizzy. Squatting on her heels she stares down, and sees it. Up. Down. Up with the wave. She pulls off her mitten and grabs into the freezing, burning water. Got it! A shell. She drops it in the snow and her mitten, warm and dry, wraps her hand again.
She stands and turns to go back, but first angles the moonlight on her prize. It is familiar, many ridges. She looks slightly away to catch any color; faint yellow. Tiger Lucina. What are you doing here, my tropical friend? And who is asking whom?
She zippers the sea gift into her jacket. Oh, the slope shines faraway bright. So much easier down than up. The snow crusted sand is hard walking. Finally, the dark base. She rests, then on to it, climbing, crabbing, jogging an inch at a time. Eventually, fitfully, to the top. Her heart is in her throat. Dots at the edges of her eyes. A step, a stumble, her strength fails, she falls.
A white light. A world of light. A whorl of sound, of traffic in the city. The woman who is not a mother stares into the face of the girl who is not a daughter. Not Mother not daughter, hand-in-hand on the curb they wait. The busses stream past, the sickly smell of burning fat, sometimes fishy, sometimes bovine, equine, porcine. The terrible heat and grit and unwashable staleness. Close bodies, standing, waiting. Not daughter is at the bottom of a well of humanity, breathing softly, trying not to inhale through her nose.
Talking. Mr. Li and Mrs. Li, always arguing. A parody of language, a song of anger and accusation. Waiting for the bus. Honking, swirling traffic. Jimmy and Eloisa, but that’s not right, kissing. He stares at her green eyes, and then at her tits, dappled with sweat, up, down, inside her white blouse. Laughing. “And do you think she doesn’t know?” not Mother said. Not daughter didn’t know what to think. She felt beads of sweat on her upper lip and drew her breaths in little pants. Eloisa wore little pants. Didn’t she know?
An age of the world turned and the sun blotted out, a white leviathan grunted and hissed air shot black from the blowhole on top, bobbed up, down, up and stop. Steps, pulled gently, she stumbled slightly but was caught. The blesséd blessed bus. Twice and thrice blessed. An end to waiting, Hail Mary! Motion, Ye Saints Be Praised! Air conditioning, Hosanna! But wait, the windows are all open, a dark breeze when the bus pulls into traffic, stifling heat when it stops. The smell of fried flesh. Oh, ye curséd and ye vile city transport.
Into the heart of the city. Shopping, yes, Christmas shopping. The air-conditioned mall. Not daughter one more piece of baggage for not Mother, but like an egg placed in her pocket for safe keeping, never a cross word or jar or snap. A soft touch, a gentle kindness, a smile, a cold drink with lunch and no tsk-tsk because she was too hot to eat more.
Encumbered and laden like llamas they return from whence, retracing and rebussing themselves across the sweat stain city. Not Mother proud her not daughter absorbs the lessons of stoic propriety and proper demeanor.
And walking. She looks up into not Mother’s face, and down into her own, and they are walking in Pertumbuco, yes, a few short blocks, and then the house. No air-conditioning, but ceiling fans, and no flat gassy smells, but not Mother’s airy scents, Lemon Grass and Lilac. Jimmy is napping, the TV murmuring. Not daughter can at last use the bathroom, pee, wash. She pulls off the white skirt, rolls up and rolls down the sweaty clothes. Naked, she runs the washcloth over herself. Luxury, pure luxury. Convinced Jimmy is asleep she dashes damp for her chest of drawers, grabs panties, white cotton, left step right step pull up, lays on the cool sheets, and dissolves in siesta.
Giggles wake her. “Don’t wake Granma,” boy whispers. “Too late,” girl whispers. “I’m tellin’,” boy whispers, hoarsely.
She sits up in the chair, and feels the fire’s warmth pleasant on her face. Christmas tree shines in the corner. “No one’s telling,” she says, and “go back to playing. I’m awake.” Smile.
Her husband rounds the corner. For a moment she is shocked, he looks so old. Hair gone, skin loose, sweater red, with a cup of tea, for her. She closes her eyes for a moment and pulls herself straight, and back to the present. He perches on the arm of her chair.
“I had a dream,” she tells him. “I think it was of when I was a girl. Ceiling fans on at Christmas, everything so hot, the city so still and stifling. The busses ran on that bio-diesel, do you remember? Everything smelled like cooking.”
“Umm,” he said. Not a yes or a no but an I Hear You. “Before the Big Snap.”
“Uh-huh,” she replies. “Before this damn new ice age. Before these damn glaciers everywhere.” She sips her tea. “God, what a world.”
“And this?” he says, picking the shell up from the end table. He runs his fingernail across the ridges, up and down.
She takes it. “I’m not sure where it came from. It’s Lucina. Tropical. Something, something to do with it, too, the dream. I can’t remember.”
“Tropical?” he says. “That’s not a word you hear much anymore.” He touches the shell. “All gone?”
She nods, “All gone.”