Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Creature Feature

Hold Your Breath

Breezes in the house carry the scent of candles of water into the stillness caged by the creaking of the papasan chair frame, you remain on a perch of blankets, listening. Frogs are singing in what remains of the afternoon's rain, still creeping through the grass in the backyard. Earlier, between a heartbeat and a power surge, the compressor failed. When the a/c stopped, the entire house quit breathing. If you close your eyes, you can feel the other houses, lights on and breathing to themselves, stretched along the block. You're afraid that if the a/c restarts, you will vanish, the house's fever dream.

You get up and open all the windows so the evening can reach in, can sigh across your elbows as you kneel in the kitchen, closer to the frogs. Everything is bright and drowned, the sun already dissolved. Water smells like grass smells like rain. It's a night you could cast off, catch up with the storms sweeping inland from the Gulf of Mexico.

The wind rises and you glance outside to see the tomato bed floating on a grassy puddle, pots with pumpkins and mouse melons lashed by their vines to the corners and tomato cages, wasps buzzing sleepily as everything rocks.

There's a lurch and you look up, over the edge of the fence. Just beyond the edge of the neighborhood, elephants wade in long grass and floodwaters. A trunk curls up and you hear the trumpet. There are no elephants in Texas. You clutch the doorframe as the breeze rushes over the fence, between the slats, sloshing through the kitchen.

Strength catches the house from its concrete pad, shears it and shapes it, like hands passing underneath. It was broken in the first surge, the power flooding the lines. You slip over, catch the window frame, sink to the floor. Another trumpet, like a siren, at the edge of the woods beyond the houses. You can hear a creek rising, but you can't name it.

The tomato bed bumps the house. You lean out the window, grab the edge of a pot, tangle vines around the window frame. A line of toads lean against the sides of the garden boat, among the mint and vines. One salutes you.

You gasp when the house slides down the yard, the shallow keel scraping the sidewalk. Now you can see the other houses, tight to the weather, lights gleaming. There's a soft bump, the edge of the house bouncing off the oak tree in the front, and then the house skims down the street, coasting on the breeze.

You know you're heading to the elephants.

The house settles into a channel that might have once been a drainage ditch. Dark water or thick breezes, the night holds and breathes for the house. You realize the frogs are still singing, a chanty about snakes in the drowned grass, from mouths just poking out from the edges of the plasterboard lining the back of the house. You hope it isn't that kind of flood. Where are you going?

None of the neighborhood lights reflect in the rush the house rides. Shadows and scents chill your wrists, splash against your elbows. Flickers appear, strings of lights that form tents--but only in the water.

The elephants in the moonlight are half wireframe, up to their shoulders in water and grass, moving slow in the weeds and winds. Beyond them, carnival lights drip upward in the clear cut area where the new houses will go.

The house slides past them. You hear a shout as the tall grass catches the house. "Tomatoes!" The toads are tossing tomatoes to a floating swirl of discards, lit by the old lights in the water. You lean against the wall of the house and take a deep breath, let the wind breathe for you, too.

Not Always the Heart

They’ve built out the seating area upstairs by the cooking school, concrete floor and tables like a promenade deck floating above the deli, above the wine racks, above shelves of staples, tea to pasta to crackers. It’s the kind of grocery that wants you to see each specialty space. And she’s early, so there’s an empty table in the middle. Away from the railing. She sits.

Rain, conversation below, rain. A grey light shifts in the upper row of practical windows piercing the upper edge of the wall. Rows of cables and industrial lights push light into the racks below. It takes heartbeats and shifting light and the feel of solidity vibrating against the soles of her feet before her breathing relaxes into the space and she realizes that there is no one else in the balcony.
And then one of those practical, square windows pops like a bubble and the vibration shivers from the sky into the pipes, along the railing and into this thin floor. Her palms hit the table and then she pushes the chair back, bends to run to the edge and then he’s standing there:  blank space, generic shadow, hollow mean of what a human form could be. No skin, no features, only shivering space and the suggestion of someone.

She lets it convince her.

“Thren.” The floor trembles, the railings hums. The voice, that name, echoes down her forearms. The figure’s hands lift, apologetic. “Sorry, it takes…space…takes waves…to get me. Let me...let me be still.”

And so she waits, hips leaning against the edge of the table, knees tight, skin colder than the air conditioning.
One of the pipes is loose and she realizes music is leaking from it, pop songs dripping and pooling on the concrete, staining the figure with sundogs that branch and flicker along its legs. “We have to play it." He steps sideways, away from the puddle of canned music. "You remember?…strings from the body. Music that comes from sunlight on a rock you’ve never seen in air you couldn’t breathe. It takes a body. You understand.”
But she doesn’t. Of course not. She knows only the words to the songs that are bleeding and fading on him, words leaving bruises. Melody simple as the d├ęcor. Still, she can feel it, in her stomach. The vibration that is both his form and the space through which he’s come. Maybe it's the thump of blood that makes her nod. Railing that reminds her of staves and bars.
The floor heaves and cracks and the lights jump. The rain and thunder sluice through the upper balcony. She screams, terror pulsing through her. Certainties break, concrete snaps—his name swells into Threnody—and he makes the fall, her fall, buckle, heave her upward. A single note high and strong enough to last as long as it needs to.
She falls into her chair, shaking and silent. Her stomach aches, vibrates. Music falls against her shoulders, rain from a foreign sky. Her gut plays the fall over and over. Somewhere else, a chord plays, strong and sad.

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