Fiction

Diana

Eclectic

A dreamless night, that night. My eyes buzzed and itched. I rubbed them while waiting at the void deck. For five pitiful minutes I watched as the last buses deposited late-night commuters. Then an old friend picked me up, and we drove up and down highways, like bums with nothing better to do.

I must have closed my eyes, because I didn’t notice when the neighborhoods disappeared and the big roads appeared, roads which were bright as daylight. The hum of the air conditioner masked sounds of cars zipping by. Rushing to funerals and anniversaries, they must be, for nothing else could account for such dangerous speeds. All ahead the road stretched, yawning across tar and smoke and plume, like a scene from a nineteenth century industrial novel, only now the factories were invisible erections on a landscape made to look like a permanent green garden planted with luscious artificial trees standing tall and endlessly waiting in vain for a new cycle, a new Armageddon, a release from this mechanical setup. In a bubble of safety from the humid air without, a pleasant lull occupied the cool silence of the car. Someone was telling a story or a joke on the radio. Three men in a bar: an Indian, a Malay, and a Chinese. My eyes buzzed some more. I brushed my hair, feeling for a rough bump of the occasional dry skin and pulling it out of the soft strands. Cramped for space, the bits of skin pushed out and became tiny dandruff hills. I wondered if my keys were in the bag. Then I wondered about the Portuguese author and his story where death disappeared for seven months and the old age homes were full of the stench of scented powder and urine, which is exactly what old people smell of. I know this because an old man had fallen asleep next to me in the library the day before, and I wasn’t sure whether he was sleeping or dead, he looked so peaceful, and I was just on my way to alert a librarian when he stirred or snored—I can’t remember—so I continued reading. But I remember his smell, like newspapers left out in the rain. Below that a lace of ammonia.

Outside, glaring headlights pierced brightly, and their heat penetrated the glass windows. The afternoon rain had left a mist hanging over trees and under street lamps, gathering flies in a tropical nighttime ritual. As my hand moved mechanically within the maze of my head, I wondered if we had suddenly, unknowingly, crossed over from that world to this one. There is something uncanny about being protected in the cushion of a steel shell. I wondered if it might not be that we were still and the world, instead, moved and maneuvered about this car as though our destination were the center of all activity, the penultimate motivation for the existence of this world and its occupants.

“Look,” he said, pointing upwards while he rounded a sharp bend. At first I didn’t see. His voice had sounded strange and frightened me, so I stared at his face instead and tried to recognize this stranger. And then I looked up and saw her, mighty Diana brighter than all the earth. Gathered around her were oddly contorted fluffy battleships with holes in their masts and husks, sailing in the wind, the wind tattering their sails. Her glittering pupil shadowed the perfect circle of her eye, and hurt mine. The moon had stolen the glory of her brother, and on the edges of her wispy outline, I could see the Antipodes walking, hard-shelled turtles crawling on soft bellies, rounding up their affairs or just beginning them. I wondered if we mightn’t be on the other side of things, the world up there and us floating about the stars, such that our lights appeared like dying fires by the time we reached them there on the moon.

Published in Eclectic Flash‘s September 2010 issue. You can buy a copy of the magazine.

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