He was sleeping
And she was awake
Sitting crossed-legged on the mattress he had put out for her.
She breathed when he breathed
(but her heart beat faster than his)
And she watched him as he lay silent
Bathed in milk from the light of the perennial moon.
She wanted to kiss his slicked eyelids
But she didn’t.
His jaw was soft -
In its sleep it lost its clenched severity -
And hers was too.
His mind was still
And his body was still
And her body was still
But her mind was not.
And her thoughts moved,
At first with choreographed predictability and then later in crazed scrawls of halfway lucid madness
And she cried into two parallel highways that
Never crossed paths.
And what made her sad
Was not the idea of a different nameless face kissing his eyelids
—Although that made her sad too--
But what made her sad
Was that he,
Lying there bathed in moonlight milk,
Was not thinking in crazed scrawls of halfway lucid madness
He probably didn’t think about her at all.
Dream Delegators - Charli Rose
gave me a nightmare I said thank you;
good manners never fail me.
Neither did you -
but then I was rude.
I pray to them:
when I return to unconsciousness, fall me into arms
that will catch these limp limbs
for just a few hours
Resume my phantasies.
Enable my reveries;
mandate those angels to these here thoughts,
so I may supersede them
in the reality that is morning.
Dream delegators, sting me a song.
peruse images, shuffle centuries,
select only the fiercest, most tantalizing ones for me to see
after I tuck myself in alone.
Make it worthwhile; this pillow; this mock ‘home.’
And I can hear the voices from the future, whispering:
you do not know the blessings you keep;
you do not know; only you sleep.
Fantasies - Charli Rose
Bangin’ body at fifty.
Freedom from my addictions.
Freedom from my afflictions.
My own horse named ‘Finnick.’
Ability to speak many languages.
My children think I am cool.
[but if only one can be a reality, then I choose]
Angela's fingertips drummed around the rim of the cereal cup. Of course the girl would snatch that seat. To be fair, Paul and she were the only two white people on the bus, maybe she felt ensured by the proximity of their skin tone? Angela had learned to stay nonplussed at slightly racialist thoughts that randomly swam to the surfaces of her consciousness, two weeks into Congo now; it was just so damn obvious, wasn't it. Would people wince if you complained about traffic or a broken dishwasher? Problems were problems, dinner-party-appropriate or not. Such was the human condition we found ourselves in –
She did realize that she talked to herself so much now, in her mind. Every passing thought, narrated in her own voice, became more deliberate. Not that they became more coherent because of it; even when she did speak out loud she wasn't articulate most of the time. But hearing her thoughts unfold in her head one syllable at a time lent them a certain gravity. They felt important, concrete. The process of verbalization stretched time out, which felt flimsy, thinner than before. She remembered seeing a kid's bleeding palm. It must have got sliced open by the huge hatchet – Why was she so certain? What did she know? – they used to cut the banana trees for harvest. The faintest streak of the palest pink. Most of the children here were anemic. Angela could almost feel her thoughts coagulate, like blood along the edges of a wound.
A wave of self-pity suddenly swept up inside Angela. She wasn't used to be like this, just sitting here, nursing her private wound. Guaranteed, she thought, everyone was vacuum-sealed in his or her own solipsism most of the time; but she missed the times when feelings, strong emotions had gushed out of said wound, when she had roamed the streets of Montreal oozing love and passion and repugnance, a happy, lively hemorrhage. Now she'd bled dry; all the glands shrank, even her skin turned flaky. She felt like an old leather hat. Oh, cut the niceties – a beat-up uterus.
Yep. That, in a nutshell, was who Angela was to Paul now. A beat-up uterus. Her inner voice chewed on every vowel of that phrase with vigor. Which clearly hadn't been present for a while in their married life. This trip was supposed to be a sweeping gesture that would wipe off all the small things about Paul that ticked her off and leave them a clean slate, things like how he mixed up his Latin phrases, saying 'a priori' when he meant 'ipso facto'; or how he once tried to hard boil an egg in the microwave, where it of course fucking exploded all over the place. Cleaning that mess took forever, but that didn't at all deter him from further experimentation, with time, intensity, number of tiny punctures on the shell. Somehow he figured out a miraculous combination, named it 'eggy pop', – Angela: 'You sure it's not gratin you just created? I mean, it's so cheesy' – and proudly plugged it to every single brunch they'd been to since.
Now Angela saw the futility, worse yet, the naïveté of this plan. The only way to get a clean slate is, well, get a new slate. No one could start afresh carrying backpacks full of dirty laundry like they literally did. A completely alien environment didn't bring them closer; rather, the claustrophobic lodgings and the cramped buses here led them to collide at a higher frequency. Never were your contour and edges more highlighted than when you were just a tired pile of flesh marinated in sweat, having been and would remain as such all day. The only dignity Angela had left in her was reserved for peeing in the semi-public, makeshift shed on the side of the road, not for suppressing a quick slap on the chest when she found out that Paul had, once again, taken her ibuprofen of the day. Traveling in such rough conditions was tough enough, she simply couldn't put up with an unenthusiastic companion on top of everything.
If anything, Angela had learned that all public suffering must be dealt in private, and that she for one couldn't foster marital solidarity in the face of, let alone in spite of, adversity. Had they been the couple that could bond over facing the same difficulties and watching out for each other, surely they wouldn't be here now; they'd fucking thrived over the shitstormy course of their marriage, would they not? Little jabs like that kept Angela awake in this perpetual, dusky heat. She bit the inside of her mouth with perverted delight, and remembered the girl, to whom Angela batted a side glimpse.
In defense against mosquitos bites, the girl had tucked her cargo pants into her hiking boots, but the hems kept riding up, the folds sitting right on the edge. Angela wondered if she had a tattoo on her calf; a mandala, or a dragonfly. She imagined the insect's wings flutter as Paul caressed the girl's skin. This gave Angela a bizarre thrill. She recalled how Paul used to bring her fingertips to his lips, and gently nuzzle them one by one for hours on end. Taken by the absent-minded sweetness, Angela once asked, like enamored women often stupidly did, why he'd done that. Paul replied without skipping a beat that an old girlfriend had asked him to, and the habit had stayed. Way to kill the moment. Angela got annoyed by this recollection and shrugged herself back to the present.
The girl took a gulp from her water bottle, a film of moisture clinging above her upper lip. Angela couldn't make out whether there was a slight hint of hair; maybe she was just projecting Frida Kahlo. The girl really did resemble the artist in a certain way – I'm really not that racist, Angela insisted to herself – that particular clan of fiery Latinas with absolutely no curves. Her everything – intellect, affection – was like sliced monterey jack cheese, regimented, hard, however vehement. Or rather, tiny vials of rum – or moonshine, for all Angela knew she could've well been from the States – sealed up, self-contained until it burned down a trail in your innards. Angela shot a quick glimpse at Paul. How ecstatic he would be if the girl went down on him. Just, look at him, thinning salt-and-pepper hair layered on his bullish neck, steak-red from the sun. Wouldn't he be overjoyed, gratefully teared up, if a young, feral – Angela gave up on self-editing – force of nature wreaked havoc in his dilapidated shack. He had probably already wet his pants the moment she sat down next to him, every fiber of her practically dripping pheromone.
The bus suddenly pulled to a halt. The passengers erupted into a low humming buzz that subsided as fast as it had begun, then it was utter silence again. Angela looked out of the window. Acres after acres of banana trees separated into irregular grids by hints of bumpy trails; not one approaching vehicle or pedestrian in sight. It was almost noon, people were mostly staying inside to avoid the midday thundershower that graced this equatorial region like clockwork. There was no use to ask anyone when situations like these turned up, Angela had already learned; you just sat and waited for things to take care of themselves. It was impossible to squeeze even a few words out of most locals, who usually just stared you squarely in the eyes with a blank expression; those who spoke passable English were determined to deceive.
The girl must have been in the country long enough to know it as well. She pulled out a book from her backpack, flipped to a dog-eared page before Angela had the chance to make out the title. Overcome by something too quick to be identified or debated over, Angela swooped down, making a huge show of rummaging in the plastic bag she had stored underneath her seat while eyeing the book. The spine was very bent, the backend a melange of generic, gaudy color blocks. She decided it was magical realism, a hand-me-down old edition of Love in the Time of Cholera, or something like it, that had survived generations of backpackers. Angela gave up and was about to straighten up, but midway she remembered that she was supposed to find something in the plastic bag, which was full of trash. She cursed herself for not having thought this through, but had to commit to the act now, absurd as it was. Among all the granola bar wrappers and crumbled napkins Angela managed to find a pull tab. That was it – she raised it to eye level with an emphatic exhale, then proceeded to pierce along the cereal cup's circumference. This altogether occupied the girl's attention for about a millisecond. Better safe than sorry, thought Angela, working that stupid little stub of metal.
Paul must have felt embarrassed for her theatricality. Angela heard him clear his throat like he did before talking to Chris' homeroom teacher, and asked the girl whether she would mind him talking to his wife. To Angela's ears 'wife' was somehow distinct from the words before it, a timid parachuter that hesitated a little to join the rest of the team but landed with a thud. She was pleased that Paul actually noticed her crazy moves, while a little self-critical about taking delight in something so trivial. The girl obliged, her eyes glued to the book while her torso hunched forward a little to make room.
'Can you pass me some?' Paul's face was inscrutable.
'Sure,' replied Angela out of knee-jerk reaction. She grabbed a handful and dropped it on Paul's extending palm. Her fingers lingered a bit, brushing against Paul's as an afterthought. Paul was used to her unsolicited affections and affects, and did not show any signs that he'd registered the touch. Then, to Angela's surprise, he tapped the girl on the shoulder and offered some to her. Aha! Here's the catch, Angela thought. She felt a surge of repulsion shot through her person, a contorted version of shame for having softened toward this sleazy old man. It was all imagined, that flickering second of tenderness.
The girl looked up briefly, 'No I'm good, thank you though.' Paul insisted. The girl turned to face Paul, 'Really, it's fine. It's just that I don't eat grains.' Just then the bus chortled back to life again, its jerk yanked a couple of cereals out of Paul's open hand. He brushed them off his knees and mumbled something that got swamped by the engine noise. The girl replied in equal intelligibility, then referred back to where she had left off in the book.
Angela felt heat on her cheeks. Not out of jealousy or rage, not at all – she was so over Paul – but excitement over new information. Interesting development. Didn't eat grains? Was she on Paleo? She knew the girl would be on a diet like this: robust, restrictive, slightly out of character for someone who looked like her. She would be one that had the discipline and the rigor to follow through. Angela allowed herself to admire the girl's jaw line for a second too long. There was an ascetic quality in its angularity. Did she come from a line of Jesuits, perhaps? Descendent of a Spanish preacher and an indigenous woman, modern-day Our Lady of Guadalupe. She must be from California then; it just made perfect sense. Angela was so absorbed in her own imaginings, she didn't even take notice of the girl's accent – it didn't matter. She had decided that the girl was Californian.
Visions came to her in sequence now: the girl and Paul doing pilates side by side on the beach, sharing a green smoothie after a hike. You lucky bastard, good ol' Paul, thought Angela. A burnt-out Quebecois soaking up some SoCal rays. Would he take the girl to meet his family, parade her around like a tribal flag made out of animal skin? It would be around Christmas time when everyone reconvened at Paul's parents' house. Angela pictured the girl's brown skin against the snow like half-withered lily petals. Oh, why so morbid – frosty cinnamon latte would be a more plausible simile; festive, too. Enticing like she was.
Enrapt in the montage of imageries that assaulted her inner eyes, Angela tightened her fists, which were getting slightly clammy. She hadn't known fantasies could get so overwhelming, or that she had the ability in her. Something about the girl just invited sexualizing. Perhaps her prepubescent figure rekindled certain homoerotic sensibilities in Angela, who spent the better part of the '70s feeling up her cohort at the female-only college she flunked out of. But above all Angela truly appreciated the girl, for she ignited an area of Angela's brain that had long been unplugged. Even the sweat stain under the collar of the polyester shirt the man sitting in front of her was wearing started to adopt a sensuous glow, a shade of Art Nouveau yellow.
The thundershower struck. The road condition became impossible immediately, as millions of tiny puddles formed where bullets of rain hit the unevenly dug trail. The front wheels of the bus were caked in so much mud, they stopped spinning altogether. It got too dark to read the fine print of her pharmacology journal, so Maka shut it close. She was not concentrating well enough, anyway. A Hawaiian native – genetically 100% Japanese – when she signed up for Médecins Sans Frontières, she put 'tropical' as her location preference without thinking too much. But Congo had been getting at her, like a layer of grease that could not be washed off her skin. She felt uncomfortable most of the time, for reasons too whimsical to be real.
Like now, when she wiggled a little in her seat to stretch her back, she could feel a weird vibe radiating from the middle-aged Haole woman on her right side. Not quite antagonism, but with a comparable intensity, warping around her with increasing force as the bus ride went on. Maka had gathered that the woman was married to the man next to her, and that they must have had a fight before she got on the bus, so the wife moved seats to the opposite aisle. But it wasn't mere territorial; Maka struggled to put her finger on just what power trip this woman was having. Out of animal instinct, her head turned toward the woman's direction and her eyes met with the spotlight that she had been caught in for way too long. The woman stiffened for a second, then a smile, the most genuine of its kind, crept on her face unannounced.