A thick mesh glove of woven mussel beards submerged in an ornate Grecian basin of ocean saltwater in the corner of a room below an open window catches voices in the morning light and translates them through its drifting palm into whispers. The girl who enters is young, her forehead is bare and not wrinkled, her brow is knitted without seriousness into the stiff glare of the sun. She is boyish and moves boyish to submerge her hands and lift the glove.
Ginger with its roughness, careful not to scratch her soft hands, slips her right hand in and flexes the stiff fingers. The abrasive coils of beard have been worn smooth on the inside by generations of agile women’s hands at work. She holds it up dripping with a low cocked elbow and raises it in the window, letting the blaze of sun angling off 240 tinted black glass rectangles in rows of eight warm and dry it; there is a deep golden glow, thick drops shining on skin, the salt clinging in large geometric grains to the pale down of her forearm. Someone is calling her name and she leaves quick.
The girl, free of the room and gauntleted in mussel fiber, runs at a clip down the reckless staircase, at times dangerously parallel to the landing floors and steps she leaps from. On the ground floor the windows are big and full of leaves. The girl spins out between centrifuging reflections in a revolving door. The door swings round its pivot .5 more times as the girl’s sneakers fade from audible distance, disappear into a din of retreating shouts as the two intersticed panes of framed glass resolve to dormancy and fill with a wash of harsh glare which emulsifies the content of the world on their other side, dismantling steel, wood, flesh, and air, dissolving its elements into a uniform sheen, cut through by warpings and twistings of hard shadow. All that can be seen from the empty lobby is a few paces of ground, the grooves in the cement stark chasms in the glare. But there is no one to see out from the lobby after the girl has left. Everyone is somewhere else. The chair cushions undepressed; the cable in the elevator shaft hangs dark and limp.
The buildings shrugged emptily. The sky draped down over them like felt. A few old heads were out, slanted through by rays, but none for very long. Murky heads on bodies, each in the odd off-sphere that'd been pulled or printed long ago -- in the birth canal, by forceps blade, by stabilizing palm; all aged well beyond that, grown over, and some ungrowing again like crops in decline, scorched back in a razing; others grown wheatdry and brackish, liverspotted, peppered to white. All were unreal shapes in the city, echoes in fervent orbit around but refusing issuance from; silent, in transit, on stalks. There were whispers of tweed and rawish wool, slightly bare to that uneasy balancing point of well-worn and ragged; smallish comforts, drawn close about their bodies like cloaks against painful light, mail against arrows. There was a shiver in all their movements, which revealed itself -- only when they moved through the hot unshaded spaces of light -- as an internal shiver, coldness creeping over them each from a different angle. Each its own frail little beat of warmth, bravely weakening in exposure, its breath shallower by shallower. Their humanity, their laughter, down to its last honorable trickle now, shone meekly through them, a coal smoldering, a valiance. Still though, ultimately... And none of them stayed in the streets for too long. Just frame walkthroughs, averted motions to get through public, through this place of knowns and seens, back behind doors, back across to other sides, back into the places all go when removed, in sight, in body, in being, from everything but themselves. Resting against the decentralizing buildings, and it was unclear which was support and which supported. One by replaceable one they shaded beyond walls and were not.
Trees in delineation along sidewalks, their leaves are outlined beyond reasonable sharpness, into parody, their realness too firm, too plausible for even you gullible types, made sharper by the untidy fuzz of their municipal backing. The children coming home will revitalize, but for now, at least on this street, they are out of reach.
Off through the avenues they are moving. A roving, cycling dervish of them. The young. Ducking street signs and jumping hydrants, cruising and ollieing on their boards, blasting boom boxes from the hip. A glut of sound turning upward, convection through the buildings, reflected off metals, muffled in the awnings and the trees. Sneakers skidding on jagged turns, boys yanking mercilessly the pony and pig tails of exasperated girls, the wheeling rush of young laughter. Cries of distress from skinned knees and twisted ankles. Taunts and chants and hums. The occasional high leap to bang at some elevated street sign with sticks. Each is dressed differently, in clothes that had once hung empty, their gaping necks hollow and wide, off of racks in various department and thrift stores. Logos flash in and out of hundreds of window frames, slogans and manifestos and sarcastic quotes glitter in windshields and rearviews as they're passed, television personalities and musicians reflect the skies in the glossy laminates that preserve them; stuffy kids rip out their top buttons now that no one is around, cold kids throw on sweaters, warm kids tie shirts around waists. Peppered between patches of primary and pastel colors, in solid blocks or run through with designs and patterns, all manner of shoes, sneakers and slip-ons and hikers, skate shoes and dress shoes, old and new, shoes with recessed wheels hidden in the heel. Clutching and slinging backpacks and purses and lunch boxes. All their colors and patterns seemed real. The girl runs among them with Milke, one hand grizzled and oversized in its glove. Milke carries a long javelin strapped to her back. Wicker baskets and rawhide straps with hooks and chains, tool boxes, sacks and bags, hatchets and oversized nutcrackers slung about the shoulder blades. Bright pairs of dark black shades and glasses, populate each with its floating replica of sun. All of the kids are people, and each is a person, and each person is a soul, and each soul is a kid, and none of them are the same any more than any of them is really different. A lot of them grew up here. They trip and they trip and they run. Opposing the breeze, they whirl through the broad ways toward the shore.
There is a softness in their wake. Felt as an easing back of corners from the open, a withdrawal from the basic rigidity of things. The wind's hollowing yawns, wanes, sleeps. The sea air is clean like a vast unblemished block of something, hovering shadowless, above and around, within everything, through which the sun can do nothing but pass, unbent, unfiltered. It is full of salt, thick with crashing sounds and halite in the nostrils, visible crystals flashing in and out of visible density between the nitrogen and the argon. Static. Great passing grains of running, bursting static. The horizon fuzzes out and back in, sounds fade out of tune with others around them. Wave crashes bend flat and low, waves pixellate around the carcass and blur. Things around here are not so easily identifiable as the things they generally appear to be. Someone is fucking with the antenna. There is such whiteness in the sunlight at this latitude, a raw, biting quality to the visible spectrum; the demarcation between things and their shadows is rarely so defined, so naturally separating, and shadows behave in strange ways, curling up around your back, over your shoulders and neck, around your arms at weird angles, forming a thick black outline around your being. The being of all things is drawn out in this way, as they say highlighted. Everything leaps, there is profoundness and weight in the smallest object, and a meandering forgetfulness seems to go about the landscape, carrying the minds of things away from their surroundings, away from a world of associations and connections, into a stiller, calmer world inside, whose borders are the edges of self. The carcass is plowed headfirst into furrowed sand, lapped at by foam from waves which withdraw small pockets of earth from beneath it, slowly caving it out, pulling it back in to the ocean that first brought it to life. Its eyes are both smothered in crusted pebbles, its right fin, projecting limp from its upward side, is ragged and broken. The land here is aggregate and easily stirred, it has pushed back like a hood under the heavy body of a lunging whale and cracked dry in the heat, you can measure the force by the folds in the ground.
A ways away there are two trees on a hill -- the last of the green before giving way to rock and barren hardness -- they ripple and disintegrate under the influence of wind and sunlight and atmosphere, and a great many forces perhaps yet unknown, as unplumbed by science as the true heart of the scientist. They seem to move in and out of some treeish state, but which is indeterminable, I guess it seems to be less of a moving in and out of one than a progression through many. One day a pristine state of treehood may be reached, its defining incarnation an arboreal nirvana from which no return or evolution is possible. Physical trees will have reached their eternal form at last -- the projected become projectors -- and will it happen to all of the trees of the world at once, or will it roll across our forests like a slow dawn? Down the beach the corpse is outlined in pitch black, hard shadows. The sun's quarantine. All that is not corpse keeps a firm footing on the other side of the line.
The distant sky scrapers of the city rise from the jaw of the land, hard teeth herding visibility through in single file oblongs; suggesting somewhere far up above them a lurking upper jaw in the stratosphere, massive stalagtic incisors, molars, incredibly buck front teeth bursting out and down -- ready at a glance to drop and shovel into the mantle, closing around a massive swallow into massless time. From around the gums of the buildings now come forms, the forms become children, the children become themselves...
...Cartwheel down the last strip of grass before beach, tumble into powdered stone and get up. Battlecrying pell-mell for the glass. Near his body we drop our stuff, our tools, our baskets, our clothes. We'll get to him later. I let my glove fall. Scratches me comes off. My hand is red and sweaty, I follow it in. The water is cold of course, bites me nicely, into my hand and me, nicely. Vision slurred with revolving splashes and drops, weird green sky, normal orange sun, faces, clouds. Milke smiling at me, they look like tears on her face, eyes up. Squinting at, trying to place -- not trying to place. Place nothing, I remember when we were younger and we didn't know about memory yet, we never expected to see the same face more than once. When it happened for the first time it was this hard image rushing in from softness... the face.. the face from... and the face became the being. From then on that's the way it's... Way out in the water, see it swimming. Henry there. Henry here, under water, I can tell what he's looking at. The bastard, I'll! The water makes it thud. Rises smiling above the surface, above me, streaming down, falling down, his hair shading us, concealing our two smiles and eyes. Oh. Shivers. Hen-- mahhhhkh! Akh akh akh! Other noises. Hate getting water in my nose. I'll get that bastard for dunking me. Wish I had my shades. Grey blubber blinding. Sun's bouncing off him. And off the water. Came up injured, probably, stupid from pain, left the water. I can't squint without my head hurting. Still wet. It's going to be a good harvest, I think, they don't get that scarred up without eating a lot.. Deep deep battlescars. Where is my... in the deeper ocean where the sun doesn’t reach...
Buoying up where they can no longer touch, the kids afloat away. A sandbar lips them in just where the sun feels at its closest and they move around, splashing and talking. Everywhere besides the children, in every space where there is not one, there are droplets of water, droplets beyond measure, beyond measurement's scope, each central around itself, separate, individual; each drop alike, but each filling its own space, they are beyond borders and walls, the being is not confined within its limits. One ends and begins, without having ended or began, into another. As each rises and falls along a solitary line, the whole ocean surges forward and back: swells spread for miles and break, combusting into honeycombs of foam; ripples dilate across the faces of ocean, reflecting some pulsed meaning in the sky; tsunami waves gestate and birth, from deep to surface rising, titanic, bellowing into the land -- each drop is a seed, within each drop the entire ocean involved. The day mellows, its blues darken, its yellows stabilize and glow. Playing 500 with a nerf ball, dunking people into the seaweed. The waves like cut pieces of jewel ladder up the shore. When the sun is only a fingerlength from the horizon and the moon is visible over the sea, the waves begin to lap against the tail of the whale's body, the girl and her friends wade in. The kids are humming now, together, but not in unison. It is a ritual, but not an old one. It began with singing pop songs they all knew, but in a short time it had detuned, slipped off the map of music, become a chant. They all hum a similar melody, but each with its own rhythm, its own branches and flourishes, bridges and choruses, its own crescendos and staccatos, it's own sense of life. The music rises individually from each and together from all into an oddly trembling yet powerful note, a waver in the fabric of sound, one note created from infinite melodies. It's haunting, but catchy. They hum as they splash up from the water onto the beach and begin collecting their implements and their baskets and things and group by group to make their way to the carcass and make the first incisions. The hide is tougher than you think, and it takes a good few thrusts with a homemade spear to penetrate, and then you have to begin slicing. You don't need a big hole, just enough to squeeze in and saw a small portal in the ribs. From there it's an exploration of foreign, uncharted spaces, unique to all but Jonas and those noble Marine Biologists. The head runners are in quickly, their humming becomes muted from within the corpse; the others file up in a clustered queue, waiting patiently, checking their tools.
A boy, about sixteen, with prickly sideburns and round black sunglasses swigs liquid from a flask and begins pulling plastic down over his face with gloved hands. Another one in dripping neon spaceboots, his long hair braided and wrapped several times around his throat, snaps a pink surgical mask across his nose and mouth.
"Man I don't mind the smell so much, it's the texture of the walls in there that gets me."
"Eh, 's just like the inside of a big ass pumpkin." He wedges a dirt crusted trowel in his back pocket after knocking caked sand from his boots. "Halloween in these fish. But if I'm in the smell too long I throw up."
Katy runs by in her bathing suit, screeching and wild. She jumps up as she passes and smacks them hard in the sides of their heads.
"Quit it being such bitches, fellas, it's harvest time!" With a tribal roar she dives over everyone, headfirst through the ribcage and out of sight.
"Hey no cuts Katy!"
"You don't like it, you know where to find me, Obe! Come, prepare to do battle in the belly of the beas.." Her taunt muffles halfway and disappears into the stomach.
Some grumbles. A speaker silences them.
"Alright alright, hold up fools. Shut mouth and listen..." The speaker pressed an ear against the whale and the rest aped. They hushed.
A chain of gleeful cries makes its way kid by kid from the corpse's belly to the open sand. They've found the first beak. Everyone crowds into the whale with flashlights for a looksee and disappears. For a moment the beach was barren again, a solitary corpse on a wide plateau of crushed rock, sloping endlessly down into dark green depths. No sound but waves, no ears to hear them. No sound at all. All sensation had vanished as easily as those who could sense it, it is not needed by existence. The only eyes were dead blind, the only nostril a clogged blowhole, the only tongue lolled heavily into untasted sand, the only skin stretched across nerves like so many dried, coiled brambles. The sun turned and gradually submerged below the surface of the sea, splashing and sizzling and boiling the water to a frenzy, as though a whole nation of mad sharks ripped and tore inches beneath the surface. This is the country of corpses, where no life has ever existed to bear witness. The normal functions of nature were lapsing and coming threadbare apart from the surfaces to which they usually clung. The wind blew straight down from above, tunneling into the earth. Everything the whale once was and now was not seemed for one brief moment to be zooming around the globe again and again and again and again... in enormous rings, like Saturn, leaving sad, ghostly trails to dissipate and vanish like breaths in cold air.
But the corpse... it's reanimate! The dead flesh moves! It's side shakes and rises, bubbling upward. Voices break into the silence, and young begin to clamor out of the wound. They are viscous and bloody. Squinting in the light and grinning, wiping their brows. The girl holds aloft her gloved hand, its coiled fibers caked in goo. In her grip a smooth black squid beak, a dulcet, eerie shine in the day's last light. It is primordial and sharp, its hollows and divots retaining something of the chthonian depths in which its owner once lived and fought and died. A strange feeling surrounds the beak, it seems simultaneously precious and hateful. The girl feels only alive. A brown haired kid in levis and a sequined t-shirt rolled halfway up his stomach opens a burlap bag to her with his mucus stained hands.
She winks and throws the beak down into darkness again. A return of sorts for the beak, to whom light was certainly a rare and frightening thing. The two move aside to accommodate the crowd that is now emerging from the carcass. This whale had been a glutton and a warrior. Fourteen squid mouths of various sizes have been pried from the lining of its stomach, seven of which were as big as some of the children's heads. One by one they joined the first in the sack and disappearing from sight became weight and a dry clacking sound within the fiber. Many of them are clutched within handfuls of shells and strange stones, one with a little brown gem crusted onto it.
With a strange burping noise, Milke tumbles from the mouth with an opaque milky pearl as big as her palm, tugging her javelin out after her. Katy after, covered almost beyond recognition with innards. She arches her body backwards, her clenched fists stretched out before her, and caws righteously to the heavens through the massive beak clenched between her teeth. She spits it onto the sand.
"I told you I'd get you in there, Obemakatu! Let me see that bruise on your arm..."
It is darker than before. The girl stands on the seaside with her back to the other people. They are starting to pack up behind her. It's night behind her. Out there over the water, the last shaky blotch of day is hovering. One bright cloud, one sparkling wave. So still. As still as he is. She thinks of whales, of long calls echoing for miles underwater, of fires glowing.
When she feels it she looks down. A small brown mussel dangling from the thumb of her glove, entangled at the mouth, its two halves clack together slightly as she shakes it. She watches it fall into the surf.
* * * * * * * * * * *
There was snow out. She descended a pigtail of cold stairs, her head down, her eyes watching her feet, her feet descending, the rest of her merely there above them, added weight, excess. At the landing she reached for the string for the light bulb and her fingers closed and fondled blankly in midair. She had to look up and could not see it. It’s ok, I’ll find it in the dark. The light went on when she pulled. Looking around at all the boxes and shapeless mass, she waded through, pushing and tripping. Can’t find it. She had too much hair and it was an obstruction, too much, falling, ungraceful, strawy, awful. Drawing a fruitstriped bungee from her pocket she tied a clump back, then reached into the nearest cardboard mound and withdrew an old tapeplayer, wires coming out of the back of it, a tape wedged murkily behind the smeared plastic front. The little turns, not moving, not having moved for… She took it. Wrapped cord around several times and held close to her abdomen, against the soft skin on the underside of her forearm. In its place from her pocket she removed and set a heavy beak, like a distorted parakeet's, two shapes of curving black bone. It lay. For later. Ascending the stairs through a lasting thickness of discard, the radio clasped to her stomach, another disuse, another object in a world crammed hopelessly full of them. She closed the cellar door behind her. When she had left it became quiet again. Cold and dark. Nothing moved, the lumps and shapes of substance and substance dissolving stayed, shared mass with atmosphere upon atmosphere of weighted dark; dark condensing in a room, layering, warping, solidifying, melting into and becoming the same as the boxes, the things, the hulls and wrecks. No animals. The whole space was a solid conglomerate, a metamorphosed black with slurs of once-things run sloppily through. Nothing had folded the remnants within it, it had made them matter again.