The world is flat, and everything within it lacks depth.

The world is flat, and everything within it lacks depth.

On a thick, spongy bed of luscious green moss, she begins to walk forward toward a forest of aspens. From the front, which ends up being the direction upon which the trees are being gazed, the trees take on the exact appearance and feel of trees, but from the side, which forever remains hidden, they are as flat as blades of grass. Smooth in their unique texture, she closely examines the front of a trunk. The tree looks like a tree, she thinks to herself. She places her right palm upon the flat trunk of the tree, the tree feels like a tree, in its powdery texture. Soon, the tree begins to warm to her touch and within an instant all of the green, bright, heart-shaped leaves turn a blazing gold, and all at once, the leaves shower her as they crinkle and crunch to the ground around her feet. A white, dusty film coats the inside of her right hand; she rubs the palms of her hands together. As she makes her way through the forest of flat aspens, the leaves rustle in a cool breeze. She continues to walk as the flat world moves below her feet as if on a conveyor belt and soon realizes that the trees blanket a shallow mountainside. Never lessening in density, the forest of aspens soon comes to an abrupt end. She takes in a deep breath of crisp air. Just beyond a lush field of what looks to be paper cut outs of wildflowers sits a small glimmering lake; she shields her eyes from the glare and glistening light that bounces.

The sky above, as if painted wallpaper, expands and contracts the flattened, billowing clouds that blow about a sky blue backdrop. In vain, she searches for the sun that lights this world. As her eyes scan the sky directly above, her right eye catches the glow of a large, white, three-dimensional rectangle that hangs high in the sky just out of the reach of her right hand. An odd illusion the shape makes in the flat vastness overhead. She makes her way forward through the field of flowers while she keeps the floating shape to her right. Curious, she reaches down to pick one small stem with a beautiful purple and white flower atop it. The flower, being the shape of a bell-round-flare lampshade, weighs down upon the stem and opens up facing the ground, What a pity, which creates a beautiful curvature where the stem becomes flower. The stem and flower are as flat as paper, indeed, but the flower moves organically within her finger tips. Slowly she raises the stem to her face, pinching the front and back of the stem with her thumb and forefinger. The flower looks exactly like a cutout, but as she turns the stem between her fingers, the shape of the cutout changes to mimic the changed perspective upon the flower as it rotates. Fascinating, she thinks with a slightly detached grin. She continues to walk toward the lake as she picks and plucks the stems of various flowering and leafy greens until she holds a bouquet that can barely be contained with only one hand. The lush field begins to turn into a rocky beach.

Bouquet in hand, she finally reaches the water’s edge of the lake. The water coolly laps upon the pebbles. At this perspective, the far end of the lake sits at about hip height. Across the lake she sees sandy-looking beaches that open into a grassy field which lead toward rolling hills covered in low brush and dwarf, coniferous trees. A glance down at the bouquet in her hands, she tosses the entire thing into the water. The foliage scatters. After a short minute’s thought, she climbs over the lake to the other side. Unscathed except for the hem of her dress that’s now soaked in water, she stands on the other side of the lake and looks back over to the wild-flower field and mountainside of thin, tall aspens. Gracefully she turns on her heels to continue moving forward. A glance upward for direction, the white rectangle still floats on ahead just off her right shoulder, the clouds change form, the sky remains blue.

Forward, she walks upon a sandy beach. The grains of sand let out a song with each step of pressure applied upon them. She stops, That song. Quiet and still, she hears nothing but the breeze whistling through the elements that attempt to refuse its passing. She takes one slow step with her left foot. A few slow notes ring out from beneath the foot. She quickly lifts the foot, and the notes cease. Softly, pressing just her toe now into the sand, the grains sing out softly. Ah ha. She begins to stomp around the sandy beach like a small child. Frantically, the grains of sand belt out a chorus of delight, exhilarated by the sustained pressure of her feet. The world blinks. The grains of sand go quiet as she stands forever still. Up to the sky she looks as the white rectangle turns a deep red. A hushed gasp sweeps over the grains of sand. The rectangle returns to its colorless self. She looks around for any inkling of change. Nothing. Reminded of the blithe song of the sand, she begins to stomp around the beach once again. This time, however, the grains refuse to sing. She stops, All is well. The world blinks yet again. Immediately, she looks to the rectangle as it shines a deep blue. The grains of sand rise and float like gold glitter just above the ground at just about her knee height. Forward, she hears a voice that’s not her own in her mind. As the rectangle becomes colorless again, the grains settle down as sand on the beach. Move.

The world—still flat—trudging through the grass field, as she steps upon blade after blade of grass, the grass pops back up, stiff, easily swaying in the breeze. She takes a quick look back. And then, as she reaches the edge of the dwarf-sized forest, she hears a song emanating out from behind her, The sandy beach. She dares herself to not look back, and continues on into the forest. The forest, however, consisting of inordinately small trees that stand not much taller than her, give little to no cover in which to hide. Thus, upon entering the forest, she decides to turn and take a look back toward the beach. The grains go quiet. She sees no one. Mox. “No!” screams a voice at such a volume that every bird in the dwarf-sized, coniferous forest bolts into the air and swarms overhead turning the world just below into a dark, ominous night.

A crack of violent thunder. The sound a tree branch makes when a branch breaks sears through her ears. “Mox!” she screams as she attempts to catch a glimpse of him through the ominous dark. “Don’t!” the same voice from before shouts in response.

“Don’t come back here! It’s too late!”

“Where am I?”

“Just go! Now!”

Without hesitation she turns and run furiously through the miniature forest as needles poke and branches slap. She can see a clearing approach within a few more meters where something is lighted so bright only a fool could miss it. A biting, scorching sting burns cold and then hot across the right side of her face. Thrown back a step, the world turns to pure light. She falls in the direction she understands to be forward and hits the ground hard, face first.

A dusty room coagulates around the edges of her eyes until the face of the old man comes into sharp focus before her. How dare you. “That wasn’t me,” the old man shrugs as he shakes his head, “But I do know who to blame.” Who. “But you know.” She sits silent, thoughtless in the purple wing-back chair. The old man walks to the window to have a look, “Tell me what happened.” But you know. “I cannot see what you saw.” Of course you can. “Fine. Where was that place?” Just stop. “Fine,” the old man concedes as he begins to pace the room. How … “You arrived here two days ago.” Did … “Yes, once I realized that you were not going to come back earlier this morning.” How …  “I followed you.” So … “Correct.” Then where is he? “I truly thought that you knew.” I should just … “Yes, I’m afraid I am not going to be much help to you at this time.” Yes. Thank you. “I look forward to your return,” the old man states sincerely as he stands before her once more, “I packed up a few sandwiches for you.” Thank you … I don’t mean … “They are fresh. I had Uldin run out for some foods with which you are more familiar,” the old man continues as he walks toward the kitchen area. The man … she begins as she follows him toward the entryway. “Yes. He, too, was anxious for your return. Apparently, there have been more than a few requests for your services,” the old man conveys as he hands her a small canvas duffel full of food stuffs.  But … she starts as she reaches for the duffel with both hands. “I agree. You should probably refrain for the moment.” Well … “I know. Goodbye.” Don’t … “I swear. I will wait for your return.” Thank you. “No. Just,” the old man grimaces, “Just don’t come back until you know.” The narrow eyes of the old man pierce through her face as the sting of his slap burns once more on her cheek. “I’m sorry for that.” I understand. “I will see you soon,” she speaks aloud as she begins her ascent over the garbage-filled entry way. “Sooner than that,” are the departing words of the old man as he disappears into another room.

She makes her way over and down the heaping pile of trash, onto the landing. The freshness of the air outside the old man’s building slaps her face hard and ramifies the burn upon her cheek. Looking around, she has no idea where she is or where she ought to go. A park bench sits in her immediate vicinity. She walks toward it and sits down, the canvas duffel on her lap. Curious, she opens the bag to find a few days worth of sandwiches and snacks. Most of the food she has never seen before, but she does notice a shiny red piece of fruit, apple. She snacks on the apple for a short while and then searches the bag for something to drink. Thirst is really the sensation that’s currently bothering her. The bag is void of beverages. At least the apple is juicy. Overcome, nevertheless, she stands and waits for her feet to take her wherever she ought to go next. Home. But her feet know otherwise and walk in the opposite direction of her apartment, unbeknownst to her.

Her feet walk and walk for distances that seem unreasonable to her given the nature of the confinement of orbital living, unless, of course, the scale of an orbital is lost on her. She decides that knowing would be preferable. In an attempt to understand exactly how large is this world in which she currently exists, she determines to walk until she can walk no more, or at the very least, until she runs out of sandwiches. In essence, she concludes, I shall walk until I know whatever it is that I need to know.

Continued every Friday, until The End

The Island of Isla

The Island of Isla

Where the temporary thrives,

all else ought hide.

For where the temporal achieves,

there much is bereaved,

and then all is lost

but at just what cost?

To a bridge lit ablaze,

from deep shouts on a chaise,

the chandelier turns each bauble,

as cries ring, sing and squabble,

to speak of the secret transitory,

overwhelmed by the lies of their story.

He remembers a time, so faint yet so lit, in the distance just beyond his grasp like smoke that flees in every direction away from whatever birthed it, which really means that a thing made of itself, unto itself finds itself repulsive, like the snake who sheds a paper replica when it grows beyond the means once known to it, to no longer be unlike the rock, unmoved unless moved by an outer force over which the rock itself has no control, for as a rock, to be shaped demands the infliction of something other than itself, to no avail, and without the purpose of knowing anything within itself, the small fragment of an imagination lost in the glow of a thing that does not exist unless something looks upon it, and even then, a malleable piece of fruit erases anything unwanted, every antipathy, but hate equates love with the unnecessary toil to be seen against only something that contradicts the wanton existence, like black and its nemesis, white, for to tell a tale about time is to tell a tale about nothing at all, since, according to him, all things only exist against the telling of time, therefore, without it—time—there nothing can nor may be anything but nothing.

Nevertheless, beyond that he sees only the dark, silken stream running slowly down her back from the crown of her head. Immobile, if only temporarily, he forgets to breathe. A twitch, the small itch on the outside of his left ankle saves him as he almost loses sight of her. He runs, but not to catch her. He follows, but only to know her.

For weeks, he cannot recall, perhaps even months, he watched every move to which he was privy. For endless distances, unknown to him, he traveled the depth and breadth of numerous orbitals to step in every step of her movements, to witness every action of her being, to know every moment of her waking. What he did not know could not be known. At that time, however, what he knew meant everything. Obsession, he tells himself, no, something else entirely. Isla, he overheard one time, “Like -iss as in hiss with a ‘la’ like to sing,” put a name on the being he so frequently sought.

Isla’s silken hair, nevertheless, proved difficult to catch. At every moment, at every turn, her hair was on the move. Every day filled with activity and experience all in the name of living life to the fullest, to smell those roses. But stop!, he would sometimes shout at no one, You’ve got to stop to smell those fucking roses! Isla being the traveler who supposedly traveled to see the world, but then an odd little thing happened where she ended up traveling the world for the world to see her. Like a tourist who never actually builds a life in the place where she lands, but rather, who stops only long enough to take a picture of all the people who live each day for her entertainment.

Soon (or maybe it was years) he realized what Isla had, and sadly, it was not much: a series of photographs to mark the passage through each new place, “a collection of memories” (as per her bio) to share with strangers she’d futilely meet along the way. The ego of the go-getter, the wanderer, the perpetually lost, albeit, according to them, on purpose, must be a powerful thing to behold. No longer intrigued by the lone Isla, he finally approached her to ask only one, simple question.

Perched alone at a rooftop restaurant that overlooked the rhythm of a halcyon sea, with the strung light markings of platitude, as servers preserve table-top candles that blink in that way that makes people feel as though they ought to be entranced, Isla sits in a pair of red heels that present her as adventurous, a backless dress to reveal her female confidence, that silken hair in just-off-the-beach waves. Slowly, he cogently walks toward her and sits across from her in the one remaining open chair of the two-top bistro setup. Taken aback and slightly on guard, Isla states while attempting to ooze her sexuality, “May I help you?” “Yes.” “Well, get on with it then,” Isla prompts through an ever-rising anxious air as her right hand rests on her lap as the tips of her middle and thumb fingers press the anxiety from her mind, while her left hand gently spins the chalice of wine around its base. “You will die tomorrow,” he begins, “Did you find what you’re looking for?” The faint movements of Isla’s hands stop altogether as her eyes begin to focus on him more closely, in a voice half filled with humor, half filled with confusion, “Excuse me? If, I die …” she attempts to clarify only to be cut off. “You will die tomorrow.” “Please leave me alone, sir. I would like for you to please leave,” Isla states with finality, on the cusp of standing so that she may leave if he does not. “Just think about it,” he says while rising and excusing himself from the table.

A server walks by to hand her a check. Isla stops the server to pay him immediately. “It’s already been taken care of, ma’am. This is your receipt.” Isla grabs at the elbow of the server as he begins to walk away, “Have you ever seen that man before?” “What man?” “The man who was sitting across from me just here. I assume he is the one who took care of my check?” “I’m sorry, ma’am, but I don’t know who you’re talking about.” “There was a man just here. Sitting across from me.” “Was there? I’m sorry, I guess I didn’t see him.” “Who paid for my check, then?” “You did. This is your receipt.” Isla scrambles for the receipt to read a vague line item list of her meal. As she places the receipt on the table the receipt pops into a puff of small smoke. “Of course,” Isla sighs in frustration. “Is everything alright?” the server sincerely asks. “May I have another copy of my receipt?” “I’m sorry, ma’am. We only give the one copy. You’ll have to wait until you get home to print off the memory.” “Yes, I understand. Okay, thank you,” she states dismissing the server. Of course I suppose I’ll have to print off more than the mere receipt, she thinks to herself, and yet, she makes no attempt to make her way home. Suddenly overwhelmed by a memory of an exchange that she knows for certain transpired, a flash bursts through her eyes as everything she had experienced over the past day or so furiously rewinds itself before her.

“Isla,” the voice whispers. “Isla, wake up,” the voice continues as the sound diffuses throughout her mind. Barefoot, Isla feels the cold hard ground beneath her feet. Eyes open, she catches her own reflection in a mirror. After a moment soaking in her surroundings, she concludes that she stands within a bathroom filled with the signifiers of luxury. To her right a wall of glass with golden accessories shimmer in the filtered light of the skylight above. To her left a wall painted with a scene of women bathing in a lush garden, and a dark, wooden door cracked open to reveal a golden toilet. In front of her, a countertop of pink marble, inlaid with sinks and faucets of gold, stretches the length of the absurdly enormous space. Three small pink chandeliers of equal size hang equidistant from each other and each wall as they twinkle light and sound. Isla turns slowly to look over her shoulder, large dark double doors. Turning fully around now, she reaches for both gold door handles at once, one in each hand, pulls down simultaneously and swings the doors open wide. A blast of pure light hits her square across her entire body. She raises both arms to shield her face from the blow. Her hair throws her back a few steps.

Eyes, they adjust. The bathroom in all its luxury, Isla realizes, pales in comparison to the palatial space she finds herself in now. A gentle rustling like that of a person stirring in a bed full of large linens. A bed. Slowly, Isla tiptoes toward the bed where a person obviously sleeps. Just as she reaches the bed, the sleeping form turns to face her. She approaches with curiosity rather than caution. The crown of the person’s head reveals, assumedly, a female. Dark, long hair streams upwards on the pillow. Isla moves closer. A small gasp releases itself from Isla. Her own sleeping face stares back at her. But how?, she thinks to herself. What is happening? How is this even possible?

The form of herself begins waking movements. A sigh. A yawn. Outstretched arms reach high above her head. Isla steps away from the bed and moves toward its foot. The form of her blinks her eyes open but continues to lay within the soft covers. Isla breathes the shallowest possible breaths. For what seems like an eternity, Isla stands, eyes fixed upon the form laying in the bed. A small toss and a turn. The form of her sits upright as the form of her pushes back the covers. Isla jumps back slightly frightened, but to Isla’s amazement, the form of her seems to have not noticed Isla standing there. The form of her swings her legs over the side of the bed, expertly stretches her neck, rolls each ankle five times inward and then out, looks over her right shoulder to glimpse the beautiful day just beyond the four enormous floor to ceiling windows. Isla and the form of herself stare at each other, but as Isla stares at her own form, the form of her stares right through Isla. With wide eyes, Isla pitches forward to see if she can catch the form of her’s attention. Nothing. The form of her makes her way to the double doors of the bathroom and closes both doors behind her.

The room fills with mist as Isla appears upon a sandy beach, waves foam where the salty waters of tears long spilled meet Earth. Slowly turning about herself, Isla recognizes the scene. Adamantly, she begins to walk toward a knowing place, and as she approaches, she slows almost to a standstill through the recognition of her own voice, which filters throughout the air. Just beyond a collection of oversized beach umbrellas, Isla remains directly behind the ferrule of the closest one as she slowly pokes her head around its canopy. There, again, Isla spots herself standing and chatting comfortably with some local man. Isla begins to recall this exact moment of conversation with, with, what’s his name again? Inching ever forward, Isla can hear exactly what they’re talking about.

The form of her smiles, and with a giggle says, “Oh, yea. I’m staying in a palatial suite at that hotel. It’s quite marvelous.” Isla hears this but knows that she did not, in fact, stay at that palatial suite while she was visiting this place. Why am I lying?, Isla whispers to herself. Feeling testy, Isla stands to make herself known to the form of her, but the form of her seems oblivious, yet again, to Isla’s presence. The form of her and the local man continue their conversation. “So, how long will you be here?” the local man asks. “Oh, I’m not sure. I’m sort of free to go here and there however I please. So, forever, I guess,” the form of her responds. Isla gasps, No.

A cold, misty wind billows across the beach as Isla appears just outside a shabby hut. Terrified, Isla pushes open the door to the hut. There, sitting upon a makeshift cot made of branches and dried grass lays an old, dying woman. The dying woman looks vaguely familiar and again, does not see Isla standing within the tiny space. A moment later, a young girl comes trotting into the hut with a bottle of water. “Isla! I’m here!” the young girl shouts despite the need for shouting in a room no larger than a modest bathroom. What? No,  Isla thinks to herself. The dying woman nods and motions for the young girl to bring the water to her. “Still no words today?” the young girl chants while she pats the dying woman on the forehead. The dying woman motions with her hands some sort of thankful gesture. “It’s no problem,” the young girl sings as she helps the dying woman up into a seated position and feeds the dying woman some water.

A warm mist disperses throughout the hut as Isla appears upon a dance floor in a thumping night club. Oh, god, no, Isla mumbles to herself as she recalls a moment in this place that would fulfill the dying woman’s inability to speak. No, Isla mutters, Why is this happening? Again, knowingly, Isla makes her way to a private table in the balcony area of the club. There, again, she sees herself flirting shamelessly with a short man. Apparently, the short man is trying to make a move on the form of her, but the form of her keeps writing down something on a napkin and pointing to it. Isla shakes her head, aware. Wanting to be sure, however, Isla makes her way behind the couch where the form of her and the short man sit. Yes, Isla confirms, Dammit! Upon the napkin, Isla sees the form of her writing down something about how the form of her has no voice and how she’s sorry that she cannot speak. Fuck, Isla speaks aloud. A moment later, a girl friend comes along to collect the form of her. The girl friend says, “Let’s go Is, there are some serious hotties over here,” as the form of her makes big eyes as if to say, “The act is on right now.” Picking up the cue, the girl friend nods her head as she meets the eyes of the short man, “Oh, hey. Yea, sorry. She doesn’t know how to speak. So, please, can you leave her alone?” The short man excuses himself, “Oh, yea, sure. Well, it was nice to meet you.” “Yea, sure,” the girl friend waves as she sits down next to the form of her. The two begin to chat as quietly as possible while still being able to hear each other. Isla rests her hands on the back of the couch as she bends over in a nauseated state.

Mist.

Not The Listmaker (according to Attila)

Not The Listmaker (according to Attila)

“I don’t know who she is, and I don’t know what she is, and I don’t know where she’s from, and I don’t know anything about the why. I am here to inform you of my knowledge of her existence, but the truth of the matter is that I do not know who she is, at all. She never came up on my list before the disappearance, and nobody seems to really know who she is, and yet, everyone knows her, now. It was the perfect scheme, perhaps, or the perfect plan, I guess. Again, something I do not know, for which I traveled to your front door in search of answers.” The person to whom I am speaking sits back and mulls over the words. She is looking at me, and I don’t really know what to make of her look.

And then, he sees us off in the distance. Well, us is loosely defined at this point. She has made green. He sees me, and just as I realize that he has indeed seen me, I decide to leave, but as I’m leaving, Attila rounds the corner. Luckily, she sees me seeing her and immediately looks for him and then, quickly sees him too. He sees us seeing him now and freezes, mid-step, on some plushy grass just north of the fountain around which he must still walk in order to reach us. Calmly, Attila reaches me as I curl at her feet under a table. “Don’t order anything, please,” I plead. “He will not make his way over here. We’re in public. Relax,” she coos. “I will do the cooing, thank you very much, and now is not exactly the time for such relaxation, lady!” I whisper-scorn. She uncrosses and re-crosses her legs, inconveniencing me greatly so that I must reposition myself.

“At least order the eggs benedict,” I suggest as I curl down into my best surveillance loaf and keep watch for him. Attila’s foot begins to tap. “Please,” I paw at her. “My god,” she responds, exasperated. I see him just as a motor vehicle of some sort passes by on the street a few short meters from the table we’re seated at now. “Attil,” I mutter as I stand and slowly walk back, away. “It’s alright. I think it’s alright,” she attempts. “She isn’t here anymore,” I inform. “Thank you, I do know this,” Attila informs. He definitely means to make his way toward us, but I do not know what he hopes to do. Of course he has to be absolutely gorgeous, dressed in a frothy summer gown, hair flowing, almost floating on the air with the lightheartedness of a lover as opposed to my Listmaker. “That is not the Listmaker,” Attila whispers. “Oh,” I squeak and then wonder, “Are you going to let him come over here?” “Of course, that is what he intends.” But then what happens? I wonder again but to myself. “Nothing will happen if he does nothing,” Attila answers. “That was private,” I scold.

Slowly, he crosses the threshold of the restaurant’s outdoor patio space. Gliding on air, he holds out an arm burdened with a small silk purse adorned in sequins, hand sewn, no doubt. He sits. His toes need some work, but his heels look good, and overall, he smells fresh. “Darling,” he begins. “She’s not here,” Attila answers. “Of course I know this,” he states. He pauses as if taking a beat for a hit of a cigarette, but he is not smoking. “Where is she? Tell me this, and I will be gone in a flash. Nice suit, by the way. Who made you that one?” Another airy beat. “She is supposed to be here,” Attila answers, truthfully, amazingly enough.

They both simultaneously switch their top legs and bottom legs in a cross-legged switcharoo. “You are so fascinating, you, Attila, darling,” he swoons. “And you bore me, Sir,” Attila smirks. “The older woman would be disappointed, but, of course, you already know this,” he smiles with a smug air of one-upmanship. “But she is no man,” he spits. Attila sits back and crosses her arms in front of her chest. “What the hell do you want?” “But you already know, dear.” “Fine, take the cat.” What? Me? “Yes, you,” Attila states as she reaches down and picks me up and sets me on the top of the table. “Her name is Tuna, and she’s a novice, but she’s done well so far,” Attila explains. But I thought that I was yours, I mew to myself, confused. “I’m sure she’s wonderful, but I want HER,” he shouts with a slap on the table and a quick, chair-squeaking rise. “You cannot avoid my messages, Attila. Everyone knows you did it,” he offers in finality. Gracefully, he turns and walks away. Once in the street again, he disappears.

I’m not jealous. You’re jealous.

I’m not jealous. You’re jealous.

There’s general jealousy, like envy, a sort of wanting of something that you admire, but you know that it will not satisfy you once you have it. Then there’s a deep, dark, rage-type jealousy that includes (but is absolutely not limited to) wishing you were as talented and/or intelligent as someone else, that you could be that amazing, celebrity-like, star person. And then there’s the type of jealousy that just makes you want to kill yourself, end it all in the name of “What the hell is the point of me even trying when someone like her already exists?” The “her” in question is none other than Ursula K. Le Guin.

Like all of my favorite writers, I found out about Le Guin not long before she passed away. I’ve read a number of her short stories and novels, but the truth is that I prefer her nonfiction, well, just the one nonfiction I’ve read so far (aside from essays and other, shorter nonfiction), No Time To Spare: Thinking about what matters. It’s a beautiful book about aging, growing older, being old. It’s the type of book that I wish I could simply quote in its entirety here, but obviously, that’s illegal. The book, nevertheless, is that good. I could and would gladly transcribe the thing in its entirety for you to read. Of course, you can, as easily, check the book out yourself from your local library (and I would encourage you to do so).

And so, I have decided to choose my top five quotes, the quotes that are resonating with me the most these days. They are as follows (okay, my top 6), in page order as opposed to order of importance, which would, theoretically, be impossible to determine:

6. “Old age is for anybody who gets there.” (p 9)

5. “When did it become impossible for our government to ask its citizens to refrain from short-term gratification in order to serve a greater good?” (p 118)

4. “It’s so much easier to blame the grown ups than to be one.” (p 123)

3. “Cruelty is a human specialty, which human beings continue to practice and perfect and institutionalize, though we seldom boast about it.” (p 151)

2. “Belief has no value in itself that I can see. Its value increases as it is useful, diminishes as it is replaced by knowledge, and goes negative when noxious. In ordinary life, the need for it diminishes as the quantity and quality of knowledge increases.” (p 195)

1. “The warmth of the sun is on my face as soon as its light is.” (p 211)

In the Light of Shadow

In the Light of Shadow

A crystal-like chandelier floats just below the ceiling of a long-narrow room. The width of the room fits only the chandelier, and the width of the chandelier echoes that of a person in good health. Sparkling, white, as if from nowhere the light flickers throughout the space creating patterns seen only against the shadows it makes. Lacking physical bulbs of light, the chandelier, as if from within, merely emanates a rich, stimulating glow. Ever so often the baubles gently clink against each other creating the twinkling sounds to which all other sounds are compared. Round, perfectly spherical, the chandelier begins to slowly rotate around its center.

Fuchsia, the light of the chandelier slowly grows in intensity as it changes hues. Red. A rod iron bistro chair rests in one far edge of the room, and on the chair rests the older woman. Legs crossed, right over left, the older woman sits calmly with hands folded upon her lap. The older woman inhales a deep breath. With an exhale, the older woman must wait. The chandelier returns to its colorless clarity.

Cerulean, the light of the chandelier slowly grows in intensity as it changes hues. Blue. A brown leather armchair appears in the far edge of the room, opposite the rod iron chair, and on the chair appears the storming woman. Cross-legged, fully comfortable upon the ample chair, the storming woman cautiously places her elbows upon her knees, clasps each hand with the other, her chin rests upon her hands. The storming woman stares at the older woman who sits across from her on the other side of the long, narrow room.

Returned to its colorless sparkle, the chandelier greets them both, “A bridge burns.” The women sit, the older woman quite stiff and unapproachable, the storming woman quite relaxed albeit on guard. “It’s the way, Attila, through which all ways are made,” the older woman speaks aloud. “It’s the way, Ma’am, by which all things are learned,” the storming woman responds. They sit, each staring at the other, for an unknowable amount of time.

Laughing, the older woman concedes, “She cannot know what she does not know.” “Unknowing,” the storming woman explains. “Could not,” the older woman again concedes. The storming woman feels a tingle of suspicion, “A gap in knowledge does not ignorance make, however.” “Everyone relies on some truth, no matter how small,” the older woman replies. “A fabricated truth is still truth.” “Of course. A fabricated lie is also truth.” “Of course.”

The room bends. A realization immediately hits them both. “Attila,” the older woman warns. “No,” the storming woman demands. The chandelier begins to slowly blink. Keen on the change, both women dart their eyes to the light’s source. “Curse you!” the storming woman yells. Chartreuse. “And to you too, dear,” the older woman calmly responds. The sound a tree branch makes when a branch breaks sears through the tiny space. Black.

Empty, the room returns itself back to a long, narrow shape. The chandelier shakes itself off like a wet cat. Clear, crystal-like, sparkling and clean, the light spreads patterns against shadow throughout a place where color forfeits.

 

The Girl Child with Locks of Gifts

The Girl Child with Locks of Gifts

By Iya Sun

 

On a purple pillow of silk thread that rests upon a cherry floor table, which resides inside a lush bamboo house that was built atop the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet, sits an inordinately small, human, girl child named So Jeong. The day of her birth was like any other day in a world where people, as they are called in civil society, are born. Despite this casual beginning, the Swinging Leaves foretold many ages ago that on that particular day, a girl would emerge into the world with special gifts for each who would travel to look upon her face. With just a single lock of the child’s hair, the traveler would be granted the one wish for which the traveler had traveled the great distance. This, however, came with the small condition that neither the person who plucked the single lock from the girl child’s head nor any member of their future line could ever return to pluck a second strand.

For days, sometimes even months, travelers would travel from distances far and wide for a chance to climb the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet. Giving no thought to the condition upon which the granting of a wish rests, many traveled to solve problems of the moment. Few rarely withstood the journey to the base of the mountain. Even fewer successfully made the climb. But, if even a few from every thousand that journeyed summited, the number of hairs plucked from the girl child’s head subtracted quickly. By the time So Jeong was but six years old, she had almost no hair at all.

Finally, one night, on the brink of death with only a few strands of her hair left, So Jeong cried into the night in grief for all that had been taken from her. Out of fear for the precious life of the girl child that might soon be lost, the Swinging Leaves built a small bamboo shelter to shield her from the travelers’ sights. The hopeful travelers continued to travel to visit the girl child, but for an unknowable amount of time, she sat unseen, which left the travelers with unfulfilled wishes. Alone now to heal and grow strong, the Swinging Leaves presented the girl child with a gift: The Four Cats of Wisdom. Over the course of the next, unknowable amount of time, The Cats would arrive. They were to provide her with warm, loving company while also instilling within her pillars of wisdom.

The first and oldest cat was named Gami the Gentleman. Gami possessed a coat of black with only the simplest white markings. A thin white moustache lined Gami’s upper lip; his chest was aglow in livery, his paws shod in white socks and mittens. Gami was, first and foremost, a gentleman, and as such, his instructions gave way to the girl child’s understanding of wisdom as a privilege, not a right. It was, according to Gami, So Jeong’s duty to forever learn, grow and understand, to always maintain and prepare her mind for the reception of knowledge.

Louie was the title of the second-in-line, and he was a Listener. Covered in a luscious bundle of the softest, fluffiest white and grey fur, Louie remained pleasant, always. Content to merely sit and watch the activities of the others was what made Louie, Louie. He never complained nor did he ever demand that things not be so. No matter what came his way, Louie the Listener heard the good, the bad and never made a fuss. As a Listener, he considered everything that came his way equally, and as the Listener, it was Louie who taught So Jeong about how the key to learning anything was through listening to what others had to say but more importantly, through listening to what she held in her own mind.

The last two cats of the Four Cats of Wisdom were, in fact, twins and as such, arrived simultaneously. Even though they were twins, they did not look exactly the same. Both wore fur of a similar fossil and charcoal striping. Anko wore white knee-high boots, however, while Choko wore white socks and mittens. Choko also donned a brownish moustache, while Anko was clean-shaven. The twins Anko and Choko arrived with a fury, in a flurry of chaos that resulted in the temporary loss of Louie the Listener. The one thing Louie could not tolerate was the raucous rambunctiousness of the twins. They were so cacophonous that Louie could not do the one thing he did best, listen. Despite the temporary hubbub, Anko and Choko quickly began their teachings, and not long after his departure, Louie returned.

Anko the Amicable taught the girl child many things about how to share and spread her knowledge to others. To be friendly, according to Anko, shows respect, and to respect, Anko instructed, instills comfort, and when a person feels comfortable, Anko continued, a person feels confident, and through confidence, Anko surmised, can a person accept who they are, and only after a person accepts who they are, may they accept who they are not.

Choko’s lessons were the most difficult for the girl child to ingest, for Choko was titled Choko the Champion. Choko consistently challenged the girl child in ways that seemed irrelevant to her, and yet he insisted that she would one day understand. That day, however, could not ever be determined or known, as explained repeatedly by Choko, since to know when one needs to be brave does not courage require, and courage is what makes a champion. For it is within the unknown that the courageous succeed. When a champion succeeds, humility requires courage. When a champion is bested, courage fuels grace.

After ages and ages, the girl child finally regained a full head of beautiful, long black hair that shone bright when the rays of the sun filtered in through the tiny slivers between the shoots of bamboo. One day, So Jeong desired so deeply to resume her task of giving gifts to those who made the arduous journey. She, however, did not know how or when this could possibly be accomplished. Thus, she hummed a small tune about all the wisdom Gami the Gentleman, Louie the Listener, Anko the Amicable, and Choko the Champion had taught her. Her song now finished and lingering within the walls of her shelter, the wind slowly snatched up the song as it seeped out between the bamboo’s cracks and delivered it to the Swinging Leaves.

The next day, the Swinging Leaves swung through the girl child’s shelter to share with her their decision. So Jeong giggled and twirled about on her pillow as she awaited the Swinging Leaves’ new arrangement. They had come to the conclusion that with the girl child’s hair now grown back stronger than ever, So Jeong was not only strong enough to endure the constant giving of herself to others, but also, she was now wise enough to fertilize the consistent, hasty growth of her gift-giving strands of hair. With that, the Swinging Leaves gave another small gift, that of a warning. To the girl child, the Swinging Leaves spoke, “Those who take from you will never give you anything back. Thus, if you do not know this already, know this now. Yes, you possess the type of gift only you can give, but you are not required to give anything to anyone.”

This warning came as a bit of a shock to the girl child for she did not know that she had a choice. A little stunned and confused, the girl child stood upon her pillow with greater force than the Swinging Leaves had ever felt from her before. So Jeong, with a small stance of anger, dismissed the Swinging Leaves from her shelter and demanded that they never return. To withhold such information, the girl child exploded, means the Swinging Leaves were then cursed. Patient, the Swinging Leaves left the girl child, never to be seen again. As confusion and despair burdened So Jeong’s mind, the Four Cats of Wisdom remained close but did not dare to utter a word.

Then, one morning, the girl child decided that she would hear each traveler’s wish before giving them a strand of her hair. In confidence, the girl child exited her shelter to find herself in the presence of thousands of travelers who had all also made their own shelters in which they could live until the Girl Child with Locks of Gifts appeared again. At first, So Jeong was delighted to see all of the travelers who had traveled and waited for an unknowable amount of time. Soon, thereafter, however, So Jeong felt a deep pang of fear. One traveler spotted the girl child standing gently upon the glistening tuft upon which her bamboo shelter was built. Within an instant the traveler shouted out something in a tongue So Jeong did not understand.

All at once, every traveler ran toward the girl child and each plucked a single hair off her head until there were no hairs left. With the final plucked hair, So Jeong collapsed onto the ground where she lies to this day, buried now to be sure, under the heap of dust and debris that make their way each day over the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet to settle and rest.

 

An Alternate Ending for the Emotionally Weak

Then, one morning, the girl child came to a conclusion about what she shall do. Feeling courageous, the girl child carefully stepped out from her bamboo shelter and sneaked a look at her surroundings. Immediately, the girl child noticed that the entire top of the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet was covered in small shelters housing travelers from all over the world. Slowly, the girl child crept back into her shelter to determine the best way to introduce herself. A moment later, the girl child opted for an ascent to the top of her bamboo shelter. Thus, with the help of the Four Cats of Wisdom, the girl child arose to stand on the roof of her shelter.

Loudly, in all confidence, the girl child made her presence known and greeted all of the travelers with a lovely gesture. The girl child immediately enchanted the eyes and minds of every traveler, and they all listened to their Giver of Gifts with great intent. Over the course of a short while, the girl child explained how she would indeed invite each traveler to approach her atop her shelter and listen to the motivation behind each traveler’s travels. Only after listening to a request will the girl child determine whether or not the traveler deserves a strand of her hair.

Thus, each traveler approached the girl child atop her shelter and began to explain why the rough journey was made. The girl child would listen to the traveler’s entire story, and at the end, the girl child would then ask the traveler three questions regarding their story. If the girl child found the answers to be satisfactory, the girl child would then offer three pieces of insight. The first would always have something to do with the meaningfulness (or lack thereof) of the traveler’s request. The second dealt with the scope, reach, depth and breadth of the traveler’s request. The third pointed at the self-awareness the traveler lacked. If, at this point, the traveler still stood before the girl child, the girl child would then offer her instructions. The traveler would then be sent away to fulfill the directions given by the girl child. If, however, the girl child found the answers to the questions the girl child asked each traveler after the traveler explained the journey, the girl child would simply send the traveler away, never to return. Cursed, once the traveler descended the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet, the traveler would soon forget that the girl child with locks of gifts even existed. Thus, the traveler never sought the girl child’s gifted hair ever again, not to say that the children of that traveler would also never know, but the traveler would not remember to tell them. What happened after the girl child sat and listened to traveler after traveler, day after day, age after age stunned the Swinging Leaves. Even the Four Cats of Wisdom could not have predicted what would follow. As the girl child sent each traveler away either with instruction or cursed to forget, those who were sent with instruction never returned to collect a strand of hair, either. Instead, each traveler was so grateful to have sat in the presence of the girl child that with great focus and concentration the traveler acted upon the instructions given. With great pride, the traveler soon found that his/her own action manifested the original request. Thus, the traveler no longer needed the strand of gifted hair to fulfill the request for which the traveler initially traveled.

Still, nevertheless, as the Four Cats of Wisdom peacefully paced around the girl child, travelers from all over the realm traveled day after day, age after age, to present their request for a strand of gifted hair while the girl child sat and listened day after day, age after age. As the girl child sent each traveler away with instruction, none ever returned to collect her hair. Needless to say, after ages of wisdom had been distributed throughout the realm, upon a purple, silk pillow, atop a bamboo shelter that was built upon a tuft upon the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet, the girl child sat with the longest, shiniest, strongest, black, most beautifully gifted hair the world had ever known.

She & The [Old] Man

She & The [Old] Man

Landfill. Yes, she thinks to herself as she climbs over a large pile of, what seems to be, garbage toward the archway of the front door through which she needs to enter; landfill seems like the right word. The heap never lets up. “Excuse me?” she calls through an outstretched neck while still atop the trash mound. Rustling. A man pokes his head around a corner just far enough to catch a blurry glimpse of red hair. “Excuse me, sir?” The man cannot see her very well at this distance, but she does not know that. He can, however, tell that she is a she, by her voice, of course. “Yes? What is it? I think that you are quite late, my dear,” the man shouts from behind the wall, unseen. She begins to clamber down the heap. “It’s not ready anyway,” the man continues on, “A message was sent to you days ago regarding this exact delay. Why are you here?” She stands silently. More rustling. The man emerges from beyond the wall around which he was hidden and slides into the less cluttered room in which she stands. “Oh,” the man states in surprise after now having a look at her. He takes a step back and examines her from a safe albeit oddly close distance. “Hmmmm,” he murmurs. She feels the urge to take off her shoes. “Not yet,” the man instructs. “How long have you been here?” “I only just arrived,” she answers. “No, when did you arrive here here,” the man urges. “Yesterday,” she responds after understanding what the man was initially asking. “Oh, yes,” the man sighs, “Your arrival does make some sense to me now.” The man stops pacing, makes his way to a dusty, darkened window sill, sits and crosses his left arm over his torso as if hugging himself while simultaneously propping his right elbow on the arm so that the fingers of his right hand may stroke his face.

The sounds of another person ring through the corridor beyond the garbage heap. She turns to see who approaches. “Ah,” says the shining face of someone she does not know although she does feel as though she must know him, “I’m so sorry that I don’t have any work for you this session,” the shining face laments. “May I, at the very least, take you out to dinner. I really do wish I could’ve given you the work. I love to send my money into the hands of people I love,” the shining face exclaims a little too loudly. Confusion. “I,” she begins, but the man cuts her off. “She doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter,” the man shouts with a dismissive flick of his wrist. “Well, just come on by for dinner whenever you have a chance,” the shining face blurts out over the heap as the face continues its ascent up the stairs. The man, still perched on the dusty sill, wonders aloud, “Is she supposed to be here now?” “As opposed to when?” she whispers. “Where were you just before you arrived here?” the man asks, and then finally corrects, “the old man.” “I was walking through a dark corridor with …“ she starts, but the old man cuts her off again. “So you did receive my message!” “I received a message. Then I went to go pick up the package, but when I got there …” “That goddamn corridor!” the old man shouts. She knows that this old man has the answer to the only question for which she needs an answer, but she does not know the question. “Yes,” quietly now, the old man speaks gently, “I do have the answer, but I cannot help you until you know the question.” “Do …” she begins. “No,” the old man replies.

They share the space of the cluttered room, the old man still at the sill, she standing on one of the only bare squares of floor. Through the dusty window she can see the glittery sunlight force its significance between the tiny cracks where the dust has not infected. She looks down at her shoes; they are of the dirty sort with which she is less comfortable. She watches the old man think. The realization that she will, unfortunately, have to wait in this … filthy place for an unknowable amount of time dawns on her. “Yes,” the old man states. “There is a room over there that is less, as you put it, filthy. Come.” She carefully follows the old man into a much nicer room that’s filled with ancient technology and plant-based materials. The only pieces of furniture are a bright purple velvet wingback chair, a piano stool unaccompanied by a piano, a large dining table unaccompanied by chairs, and a small table barely large enough to house one large lamp. “No, there is no bed in this place,” the old man answers, “but there is food. Are you hungry?” “Yes,” she responds with curiosity.

She thinks about what it is that she even wants to eat. “It’s difficult to know such a thing at this point,” the old man interjects between her thoughts. “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think ‘food’?” Sandwich, she thinks softly in her mind. “A …” she begins. “Ah yes,” the old man concludes, “Good choice.” The old man leaves her in the velvet chair with knowing eyes. She feels … she feels …

It’s warm. Mox’s tree stands alone, distant in a grassy field lit by the sun’s evening glow. Air rushes by, caresses her face in a swirl of comfort. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath of the fresh air. Exhale. Clouds form. With the flash of cracking thunder, a storm billows instantaneously over her. The sun, darkened, retreats. Her eyes burn. The stream of a familiar voice reverberates throughout the field. Muted, faded, the green of the grass turns pale. She runs toward the tree as it, too, loses its vibrant saturation. Colorless, the grey-scale off of which everything now no longer bounces the sun’s magnificent light strikes her with a vomitous ache. She stops and keels over. “You cannot know that which cannot be known,” the wind whispers as it blows through her hair. She blinks a single tear from her searing, watering eyes.

Cold and stale air hits her face. She opens her eyes to see the old man standing before her with a plate and cup in hand. “How,” she mutters. “It’s only been a few minutes,” the old man answers, “Relax.” “I …” she begins again. “Mox cannot remain hidden for much longer,” the old man responds. She feels something. With a little understanding that her words mean nothing to this man (old man), she begins a thought, Why am I here? “I cannot know that which cannot be known,” the old man replies. “Focus on what you do know, without doubt,” the old man instructs as he hands her the plate with a rudimentary sandwich made of flat bread, an orange sauce and something else she prefers not to know, “And eat this.” But what is it?, runs cooly through her mind. “Bread and cheese,” the man states flatly. Oh, thank you, she thanks in thought.

“Now, tell me about this tree,” the old man demands ever so benevolently while making a seat out of a stack of books and other plant-based materials. It’s not a tree. “What does it represent then?” I’m not to tell details to strangers. “I am not a stranger.” I have doubts. “Very well, then. Does it have a physical location?” Mind clear, she sits silently and eats her sandwich. Then she wonders how she can keep her mind so free of thought, but wait, this is a thought she is having now. The old man chuckles amicably. “Interesting,” the old man speaks aloud. Silence. “I’ll tell you if you really want to know,” the old man offers. Tell me what? “How it is that you can keep your mind so clear.” Does it matter? “Of course not.” Silence.

“If not the tree, then tell me about the boy who brought you here.” What? “The boy you followed into the dark corridor.” But … “It’s okay, I’m very familiar with him. He is why you’re here, in my presence.” Then tell me his name. “Why should I? You don’t even know his name. It was a faulty test of my trustworthiness.” I followed my feet and ended up at his door. “He was upset.” Yes. “You were expected much earlier.” Yes. “What was the delay?” I have doubts. “Where were you before your feet brought you to him?” My home. “And before that?” But you know. “Her presence haunts all, not just you. Could you decipher the contents of the capsule?” Yes. “But I am a stranger.” But you already know. 

The room begins to expand as if it were a balloon filling with helium. The old man’s thoughts make wind and disrupt every particle of settled dust. Calm, she sits. Noisy, every plant-based material rips violently throughout the space. And then, silence. When the mind works at its optimum level, time stands still while every tangible object floats in the limbo between being known and unknown. Through the window now free of dust she can see the glistening sun through the outer glass of the orbital. This place the (old) man lives in, she thinks, rests at the edge; there’s nothing but a cold, dark vacuum beyond these walls.

The room again as it was before the old man’s mindscape, “Interesting.” I feel like I’ve never been here before. “And.” And yet, I do not feel lost. “Do you know who you are?” Yes. “Who are you?”