Way back when I still did math

This is a story that was published in Thrusth magazine in 2005. That seems so long ago. This version is edited a little weirdly for the mag but I’ve lost the original so here it is.

 

A Stupor

 

Advice: Play “Ana” by the Pixies in the background while sipping cream soda or something equally delicious.Trust me; you’ll want to do this.

 

Oh dear, once you start down that slick slope of lethargy, there is no escape my love, no, none at all. You may have gorgeous talent and even more gorgeous thought, but if your muscles are dry and your legs don’t work, being alive is a Herculean task. Let me tell you the story of that one night behind a convenience store.

 

So I was there, sitting on my bed, staring at nothing really. I had just finished destroying numerous lengthy documents which I did not particularly dislike. There is a certain amount of joy in destroying one’s own creation, one’s own sinew. I am the proud owner of a trunk full of this type and thus I plan to never have children. The documents were the zygotes of some short stories, such as this, barely cleaved. (I doubt the future of this piece of paper will involve being touched by any other human hands. Is this a confession of mortality? Never! The telephone rang and thankfully lay next to my idle hands. I picked it up and agreed to get some dinner with a boy (a rather soft skinned creature with Slavic cheekbones and long hair.)

 

Listen closely now or you might miss something.

 

He sits next to me, in obvious pain. A band from the nineties insists that this building is totally burning down! He leans his head on my shoulders, begging for some comfort. His girlfriend sits next to him, oblivious to his pain. Everything about her is thin. Body, eyebrows, lips, mind. There is a small picture on the wall, the notations from a portion of Handle’s masterpiece concentrated into a curlicue. Someone takes it down from the wall and tilts it, and another picture shimmers in its place. Now it is the complete notation of the song concentrated into a single wisp. It must be the visual form of whistle, I decide. Now he is near me, I don’t want his girlfriend to get angry. He puts his arms around me. He begs for comfort. His hands are urgent. I get up, he gets up, his chin imploring my clavicle, and we walk to the kitchen. We sit on the lacquered adobe, shining floors, and I say more.  I promise him to return in the living room. What was I doing there? The freesias smell good.  Here we see a smart boy, a prodigy. He is eating something from a Tupperware container. White and smoothly gelatinous with no lumps. He lets me try some. It tastes like coconut. What is that? I ask. Coconut of course! He says. He takes another bite, tears form in his eyes and his face burns.  Choking? Allergic reaction, he says.

 

            That’s it, too quick.

 

            The living room goes on in all of its mathematical glories. Teaching calculus in nonsense.  Complete nonsense. I go back to the kitchen. He gets up, in his brown boots, and we get into a car.

 

He drives through a lane, darker than my eyes. The boulevard is lined with bright yellow trees, the branches reaching into my window and caressing my face. We leave the boulevard and roll around a mountain path. The road is narrow and the ocean lies on our right, magnificent and infinite. Dark storm clouds gather. Our car is moving aggravatingly slow. Soon, the storm is in full swing and we are not even halfway down our mountain path. The waves are enormous, and my heart and feet care to surf them. Oh paralyzing sloth! I am half terrified and half seduced by these gigantic watery beasts. They swell to three, four, five times their original size.  They will be reach the cliffs. Oh I would eat a banana for a faster car! (A banana?)  No. It crawls on. The waves crash at our nose. He steps on the gas pedal and we suddenly peel out (I hate bananas.), into a mall.

 

Our eyes dazzled by the stunning dresses, beaded and brilliant. My eyes are dazzled by his, blue and brilliant. Let’s leave, we say. Follow me, he says. We climb a rickety ladder and end up in a loft covered in sawdust. Here? It is far too messy. No one in their right mind …yet as he lowers me onto the ground, the sawdust like feathers, warm feathers who engulf me protect me.  Fleeting feelings however.  All the apprehensions and comfort—gone quick.  Emotions have no place in a battlefield of fire. My mind clouds and rain begins, monsoon rains in my head. 

 

Did you catch that? Good, because while ennui sets in, I want and must sleep.

Spring is awesome.

So the reading was epic, as always. Sarah Bynum and Anna Joy make such an intimidatingly adorable pair, standing up there, talking with their hands about people’s work. Anyway, the results:

Poetry: Honorable Mentions– Thom Crowley and Jenny Alton

                Winner of Stewart Prize– Richard Chiem (surprised? I wasn’t)

Fiction: Honorable Mentions– Samantha Cutting, Amanda Ripley, Jayinee Basu (woo!), and Jenny Alton 

                 Winner of the Milton Saier Award– Leon Baham (again, no surprises there. He nearly brought the room to tears!)

I wonder what summer will bring, then.

Don’t Call Us A Girl Band

Don’t Call Us a Girl Band

ARUNA

               I call up Vivian at Berkeley where she is studying for a math exam. I read her a poem about a canary.

        “That’s so cool!” She says after I finish. “I’ve been waiting the whole time to laugh. See, it’s funny because it’s infinite.”

        She gets it! Vivian is a poet stuck in a world that demands she do math problems like a Bernoulli. She tells me about an asshole grad student who is working her to the bone.

        “He is such an asshole.”

        God, what an asshole. She tells me about a Hesse book she is reading called the Glass Bead Game OR Magister Ludi. She likes Hesse a lot. I let her go.

 

               “Who put such a high premium on stoicism anyway? Fuck these bands that are like, ye, fuck rock and roll, we are all about the music man!” Smiley dragged out the word “music” like a cow. “Everyone knows rock and roll has nothing to do with music and everything to do with dancing and rage.”

        We all looked at each other. What a fucking guy, we couldn’t help it if we had no stage presence. He didn’t even play tonight on account of his “wo gnarly meth crash dudes! Looks like I’m outta this, shit twitch twitch roll on the ground kick a dent in the grill cloth!” Meth heads had no right to even speak. Naomi looked ready to cry.

        “Hey fuck you Smiley, stop bitching and just eat these seeds so I don’t eat the whole bag,” Cory S. Monster said. “I have to drive your sorry ass back to that house tonight. Speaking of which, has that caretaker come by?”

        “Naw man, that house is beyond care. Did I tell you that I found a baby mouse in my fuckin sneaker? A baby mouse!” Smiley laughed hysterically, the bill of his hat bobbing up and down like a duck.

NAOMI

        Gabriel grunts and rolls away from me. The cot squeaks under his weight and then all is still again. I peel the sheets off of my sweat and look up at the window. A square window with a red cotton curtain. The sunlight filters through darkly, casting the room in a maroon glow. Like Mexico is a network of veins and right now I am the blood, pulsing slowly through it. I will remember this room always, it will be a running motif throughout my work, I will make it out of crepe papers and mud, spackle it with found pieces of metal and hides. Snoring lightly, beautiful Gabriel sleeps on.

        He had asked me what I do. “Que haces? Eres artista, no?”

        I struggled to answer him. My Spanish is so awful, but it wasn’t just that, I really didn’t know what to tell him. “Eh, yo…uh…yo pinto pero no solo eso, hago collages? Entiende? Como pastiche? Tambien las peliculas pequenas…”

        I had shrugged embarrassedly and he had laughed and kissed my nose. What could I tell him? I hadn’t created something I was proud of since that last summer before college. That last summer of an explosive vision of movies, paintings, music, everything before ending up in a dried up desert of a place where theoretical art flourished like weeds and actual objects didn’t exist. So I had come to Mexico to find them. This one incidental room existed in my mind like a rotating adobe cube filled with the promises of a new time.

 

               I sat with my hands crammed awkwardly between my knees. The bass amp took up much of the back seat and squished me between Serge and Greg as we hurtled down highway 17. Skinheads made me nervous. They’re a mixed hat.

               “This is a boring drive,” said Serge. “Let’s rape Aruna!”

               Nobody said anything. What was wrong with this guy?

               “What’s wrong with you, man?” Greg asked.

               “Just a joke, relax kiddies,” Serge muttered.

                “Oh no no no not yet these glories are already beginning to kick in! These trees are shimmering like fucking candy corn!” Cory banged his hands on the steering wheel as he looked around wildly. I clicked on my seat belt.

               “Look, try not to kill us. We’re almost there,” I said.

               Cory swerved into the exit, around a parked car and somehow pulled a perfect parallel job between two black motorcycles. We crept out of the car and into the shadows of a massive elm that obscured a human sized hole in a chain link fence where heavenly blue morning glories burst forth in a secret eruption. Then we vanished into a house shaped darkness.

VIVIAN

               Last night as I was moaning into the ashy carpet, an echo threw my moans back into my face: Oh! Oh! Oh! Apparently the people below us were doing it too. The verticality of this thin gridded life!

               I called Aruna tonight because I was feeling stretched again. Living in a Berkeley co-op, constantly being breathed on gets more lonely than it would seem. Sometimes I need to talk to someone who know something of the beauty of an abandoned chicken coop and aren’t hopped up on nitrous oxide. The whippit fairy runs on pure bullshit fumes, and so does everyone else when they are passed out over the staircase in an orgiastic swoon, drooling and seeing the “TRUTH” lit up over their heads in a purple glow.

               “Remember the raven we buried?” I had asked her.

               “Oh my god, yes! Remember the maggots in its eyes after like, what, three days?”

               “Yes! Remember the hill where we buried it? And the donkeys that roamed it?”

               “And the monks who we were always shining searchlights on us? Remember the sparkling view of the city that laid out in front of us like a map?”

               “And the time we took off our clothes and danced? And you didn’t because you were scared of cops? Remember when you and Viktor fell in love?”

               “ And the poems we wrote the dead raven?”

               “ And the movie we made about the whole thing?”

               “Yes, I remember it all,” Aruna said sadly.

 

               “It’s nice to get automatic respect for having a snatch and carrying a guitar, isn’t it?”

               We were all processing our seeds sitting in this completely dirty, completely empty room that vibrated with each word spoken. I looked at Serge and the way his jaw worked made him look exactly like a llama.

               “Not when it means a pat on the head and one on the ass. And the word ‘fluke.’”

               Serge laughed. “These chicks, man. They think they got some kind of battle axe hidden in their panties but they’re always submissive when it comes to fucking.”

               I tried to get angry about this but it was difficult to focus. “And you like it when drugs kick your ass. We’re all trying to pass off power when no one’s looking. Why else would you so freely give in to roller coasters and addictions?”

               “You realize you’re giving rapists a really good defense here?”

               “No, you idiot. Power is delegated, not seized.”

 

CORY

 I am chopping hair from my head with gardening shears and they are falling all around me in black shards. This is for a job where I have to know about both the price of artichokes and their location. I hate fucking artichokes.

I am writing an e-mail to everyone on The Ego Trippers mailing list to tell them about some new songs and t-shirts and feeling strangely guilty about even having a mailing list. Shameless self-promotion seems like selling out but word of mouth isn’t reliable anymore. I hate writing e-mails.

I am loading my bass into the pickup for an hour of plinking along with a kid who is not interested in making music but monkeying Primus. Maybe the five and twenty cash dollars will help me grit my teeth through it. I pretty much hate Primus.

The wall of my basement bedroom is covered in handwriting. A particularly bold faced one says: The Beauty Of Our Time Fades Away And Dies. Vivian always did write the best lyrics.

 

               “Have you seen the lineup?” Cory asked me.

               “No, why? Are we first or something?”

               He handed me a crumpled up flyer:

 

THE GASLIGHTER

Doors at 7pm

Tuesday October 13, 2004

THE HENCHIES, SECRETARY, THIS HOLIDAY LIFE, 

NOVEMBER TRIALS, BARBIE AND THE MEATMARKET

        Shit. It’s always a bummer to play after a band like November Trials that draws this cultish crush of people who walk around in herds and evaporate immediately after their idols put down their picks and sticks to go chow down at the nearest Del Taco, leaving you to play to an empty cement pit. At the same time, they’re good musicians and it’s somewhat unnerving to follow them up with our amateur asses. Naomi looked very nervous at this prospect and suggested a cigarette.

               We sat down at the railroad tracks behind The Gaslighter. I was shivering lightly in my thin chiffon dress so Viktor draped a slender arm around my shoulders. A yellow streetlight made us look jaundiced. Everyone and everything was reverentially quiet. Buzzing underneath our smoky exteriors, I think we were all wondering if we could control the songs tonight.

               The railroad extended into blackness, repeating, repeating, repeating, repeating.

 

ARUNA

               I miss them. Naomi’s ferocity could not co-exist with Vivian’s easygoing unconcern with the mundane details of life and music. (Naomi began to break down during practices, rattling her sticks in frustration along the rims of her snare, refusing to continue playing.

               “I can’t do it,” she would say, rubbing her forehead over and over again. “Songs aren’t like movies, they’re not the same every time. My face is too visible, I feel like I should bandage my chest down with packing tape.”)

               I lay on Viktor’s chest sometimes and we talk about before, when we were all friends.  He strokes my hair slowly as he says, “You know, we all liked going to your shows because you guys looked just as scared as we felt half the time. Your music was peripheral, it never got straight to the point but it sounded accurate to the experience of being surrounded by lust and love and drugs. That is what I liked about it.”

               I look at the blown up photo of the band on my dorm wall, the four of us smiling crooked teenage smiles and I agree with him silently.

 

               We did not look like a band. We were not cohesive in our styling and the musical references of our wardrobe had little to do with the music we were producing. This made it difficult for people to determine whether they should listen to us or not. It may have made us seem amateur and “girly” in a way that is bad in the general kutten vest and brothel creeper scene. Vivian dressed like the love child of Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain, piling on the faded florals and wooly flannel overshirts. I, in my velvet shifts and cat-woman mask, resembled some sort of Victorian superhero while Cory was going for the butcher look in a white lab coat splattered in fake blood. Naomi was earthy; a voluptuous Frida Kahlo with gong-shaped earrings dangling from her stretched lobes.

               And I think about it now and wonder why we spent so long going over the details of an outfit, why aesthetics usually trumped practicality (like the night Naomi played her drum solo in an enormous confection of a fifties prom dress hiked up to her thighs) and why we felt so out of place in the realm of the HARDCORE. Maybe Smiley was right, maybe it was rage we were lacking. But when we played together in a misty red light, the band became an object, rotating slowly as if in a jeweled music box and the sound and image fused into one thing. One piece of fleeting and repeating art.

               “Take a swig and pass it around.”

               Eight or so kids were packed into Cory’s car, watching the sun go down, black eyeliner raccooning their young faces into something more sinister and exhausted. We drank the bitterness down from a Reverend Horton Heat flask, fighting the urge to gag because we were old enough for that. When we finally toppled out of the car, it was night and I could feel the alcohol filling up every cell of my body and I expanded like wet cement into the cracks of walls and this constant hammering behind my eyes was going to shatter them soon. I sat by the merch table and doodled intestines on a napkin while gazing slack-jawed at people’s gorgeous faces.

               “Hey,” said someone and I jumped from my irreality. “You’re on.”

SET LIST

1.             Dinosaur Sex– Check out the audience. Sparse. Smile sheepishly at friends: heh heh, I’m on stage. Check presets, remember to let out breath for high note transition into

2.              Mary Shelley– stop-go Fugazi style mish-mash (my dad says we need better transitions. “But dad,” I told him, “It’s supposed to be like an aural collage.”)

3.             Kill 2 Instead of 1– a mixture of abortions and the Kentucky derby, my heart is pounding by this time, it’s a good thing the lyrics are sparse, we never think to bring a water bottle onstage.

4.             Sizzle Moon– into a twelve-bar blues: I sat upon/a stone wall/contemplating hunger. “Hey someone throw me a water bottle?” The crowd looks thicker now; just faces floating, bodyless.

5.             Chess on the Beach- remember to duck at the chorus because Cory always swings his bass violently toward my face in a fit of spontaneous dance. I attempt a graceless two- step.

6.             Olafur Eliasson– weirdly metallic sounds emanate from our amps, drowning me in a wet noise. The lights turn purple here and steam gathers like we’re playing inside a storm cloud. I try to keep my voice from quivering.

7.             London Jetlag– a sing along, end with some smiles and thank yous and an awkward shuffle off the stage with a limp guitar dangling from my shoulders while some faithful friends whoop and holler from the crowd.

              

NAOMI

               I guess I looked angry sitting in front of a broken mirror backstage because Cory gave me a nervous smile and hightailed it out of there. I always feel impotent after a show, like I can never match the virility of male drummers no matter how I beat the bass with my muscular legs, like with every early tap of the block I am a disgrace to my sex. Vivian and Aruna tiptoe around me now, trying hard not to crack this meditative fury that bubbles beneath my skin. I can hear them laugh and talk about the show as they slink out to find Cory and eat up whatever pills he has to offer tonight.

Spring comes this Wednesday

Spring Celebration of the Arts Reading and Reception
Wednesday, May 27th, 2009, 4:00-6:00 p.m.
Literature Building, Room 155 (deCerteau)

Please join us for an afternoon of undergraduate student
readings at the Spring Celebration of the Arts Reading and
Reception, where the winners of the Stewart Prize in Poetry
and the Dr. Milton H. Saier Memorial Award in Fiction will be 
announced. A reception with light refreshments will follow in
the Lettau Lounge.  We look forward to seeing you there!

Totally stoked to attend and read but most of all, to eat the delicious sandwiches afterward!




		
	

Action of a Hand

The clouds have been breaking into rain every half an hour for two days now. I sleep under a massive banana leaf that gathers rainwater like cupped hands. The water rolls off the edges in a constant curtain and creates little crystalline waterfalls around me as I wait for the rain to stem off. Tiny rivulets course through the marshy ground that is my bed. Every once in a while the sun will appear, bringing with it sprays of rainbows through the drops.

            The pond to my left swells day by day. Women run outside with their laundry at first sign of the rain letting up. They joke amongst themselves and complain about their husbands as they beat their cotton saris and shirts upon the rocks. The flat sound is comforting to me because I know they will eat lunch in an hour and throw out some half eaten fish and old potatoes. Sometimes they will even throw out bits of rice and sour yogurt. Rice and yogurt is a dish that is dear to my tongue and close to my heart. Let me tell you about the first time I ever tasted it.

            It was in my second year. I was the seventh and last pup of the litter. My mother always seemed exhausted, her head bowed down at the thought of feeding her brood. Although I was not the smallest, I was certainly the weakest. I did not wish to fight my way into the feeding line and always was the last to eat, and consequently, received the smallest portion. Sometimes there was not enough milk left for my breakfast when my siblings had an insatiable hunger and their fat bodies shoved me from the line. I learned to pick up scraps of food when playing near a street vendor and pounce on a discarded ice-cream cone. It was thus that I was weaned much earlier than the rest of my siblings.

            One morning there seemed a great hustle and bustle around the city. There were children everywhere, pulling what looked like tall cardboard houses on wheels. I peered into one and saw small statues sitting in each compartment. Some children had quite massive houses that resembled temples and held races to see who could pull their house without the statues falling over and breaking. Being a small pup then with an excess of energy, I ran alongside the rolling houses, nipping at the wheels, delighting in the excited shrieks of the children. They did not seem to mind that I was the main cause of their statues tumbling over, and one little girl even bent down to stroke me. Her shining face looked so happy that I decided to adopt her as my pet project. I made sure to obstruct the paths of the other children so the little girl won two races. She jumped and yelled and clapped her hands, and I ran around her, barking a little in my joy.

            As the sun began to turn overhead, the children dispersed for lunch and afternoon naps. I followed the little girl through the twisting roads and alleys, stopping only to munch on a piece of cottage cheese and to scratch a certain flea behind my tail. She was singing a sorrowful tune in a trilling voice:

Oh my little tota[1] bird

I shall undo your chains

And let you fly away

If only you will bring

My mother back my way

Bring my mother back to me.

It was so beautiful; you would have cried if you were there.

The houses by the roads got smaller and smaller, sometimes consisting of only one room and a porch. She stopped at one of these porches and wheeled in her cardboard house. I stood outside and wagged my tail hopefully for her to come back outside and play with me but she did not return for a long while. I must have fallen asleep because the sun was a remarkable red ball falling off the edge of the earth when the girl returned with a clay pot full of watery rice and fragrant yogurt that smelled of jasmine. She smiled at me and set the pot down on the ground. I dove into the bliss.

I remained there with that girl for who knows how many days. It was only when the ominous black clouds began to pile up like mountains that my comfortable little life was torn apart. An old woman, perhaps the girl’s grandmother, hobbled outside one chilly night to pick some leaves from a mint tree growing by the wayside. I had not yet finished my dinner which was especially delicious due to the addition of a special treat: a salty yellow goat bone with some meat still left on it. The old woman saw this and started to scream at her granddaughter while pointing to me and yelling “Kutta! Kutta!”[2] It frightened me so that I bolted from the sound. I ran past the shanty town and past a red temple. I ran through the bleak twisting streets toward what I thought was home. Darkness piled up overhead like heavy stones. Out of nowhere, the night sky erupted into an orgy of light and sound, glittering explosions that held threats of both the sublime and annihilation. I ran past open tents and caught flashes of a black earthen woman with a serpentine red tongue lolling from her open mouth. She held bloody weapons in her many hands and wore a swinging necklace of human heads while people danced around her, playing an immense drum in an incessant beat: tak dhoom dhoom, tak dhooma dhoom. I ran even faster from this terrifying sight into the blackness of an undiscovered city, my mind reeling from the thundering earth, garish lights, and the red tongue.

The fiery explosions flowered throughout the night. I cowered under a building overhand while people ran around the streets in a drunken ecstasy. I fell asleep to screams and bursts and dreamt of a black earthen woman. The next morning I awoke to find myself bleeding without a wound.

 

The rain has let up. I love the scent of the metallic earth during the monsoons. It seems to rise out of the ground and imbue each moment with some secret knowledge of what comes next, the rustle of the palm trees like a magical conspiracy of nature. A porcupine rattles its glassy barbs as it shuffles from underneath a bush. Crows gather on the dipping power-lines. I squelch through the mud of this overgrown courtyard to lap up the greenish water from the pond. The surrounding bricks are slippery with moss and I must position myself very carefully so as not to tumble into the murky depths. The water tastes herby and sour, filled with plants. I finish drinking and look up at the world. The air is grey. Everything stands still for a moment.

Far away, a dog howls in pain or love. It sounds much like my own cries from many years ago when I saw a black dog chained up behind a gate. It must have been in my fifth year, when my family and I had lost all track of each other. That particular summer was unbearably hot. My days consisted of wandering around the city, scrounging and lounging underneath shadows. The shimmering heat scorched the pads of my feet and only served to punctuate my loneliness. In my search for clean water I wandered into a part of the city that looked rather unpolluted. The houses were much taller and were painted in rich glowing colors—cream, cobalt, saffron. Each house had an iron gate wrought with intricate designs that was shut with a padlock. From time to time a vendor pushed his cart full of sugarcane or roasted corn down the paved road, shouting of his ware. If he was lucky a child or housewife would come down from her shady manor with a crumpled up banknote to buy a glass of sugarcane juice or a salted piece of roasted corn. The sweet woody aroma made me yearn for something that I could not name. I found the black dog sleeping with his nose on his paws here in this paradise.

His short fur gleamed with health. Long pointed ears flicked away imaginary flies as he dreamt of…who knows? I dared to imagine perhaps a tan and white dog with a curled tail could one day inhabit his mind. His paws were long and powerful, as was his snout. The entire length of his body rippled with muscle and I wondered why such a dog was tied to a chain when he should be taking down bulls or conquering lands. The more I looked at this dog, the more the yearning inside me grew until it felt like a veritable tumor in the pit of my stomach. I laid my own unremarkable head down in front of the gate, nose to nose with the black dog and sighed softly.

The black dog’s rhythmic breathing stopped instantly and he opened his eyes. His irises were reddish brown, wild like a mad horse. The fur on the back of his neck bristled and he growled deep within his throat. All this happened so quickly that I did not have any time to react. He snapped his powerful jaws through the bars of the gate and nearly clamped it onto my snout. I whimpered wildly in confusion and scampered back toward the street. Completely awake now, the black dog pulled on his chain as he paced the length of the driveway, barking with a voice as robust as his mass. His teeth gnashed and foamed like he was guarding the gateway to Hades itself. I stood nearby to see if his

anger would perhaps subside when he saw that I meant no harm but it continued with such force that the ground vibrated with his rage. I remember walking away slowly and wondering if this was love.

 

“Taxi! Taxi!” I hear this cry every day, screamed in utter desperation by men and women who wave their hands frantically in the direction of big yellow cars that either swerve to their service or ignore them completely. Taxis are not like the triangular auto-rickshaw, always spilling over the sides with people, teetering like a spinning top. They are roomy and lavish, and apparently only men and women dressed in clean sober clothes can ride in them.

Having had my fill of pond water, I wander through rickety brick alleys until I end up on the main street where these taxis wait in herds, lining the sides of the road like massive yellow lions. Throngs of people course through the street, taking advantage of the clear weather. Dark men in white cotton shirts and pale poplin pants roll joints underneath store overhangs, dragging lazily from cigarettes dangling precariously from their lips. Women dressed in magenta and yellow saris hide their faces from the sun under black umbrellas. Colorfully painted trucks spray puddle water on pedestrians as they speed through the broken roads, jostling their cargo up and down. The city never rests, even during the monsoon.

A woman in a blue chiffon sari waves down an oncoming taxi from the middle of the road. With one hand she grasps her little son’s grubby hand and the other she stretches, as if reaching for an apple just out of grasp. The cars around her veer every which way, unconcerned with lane dividers. As she stands on the divide, I feel suddenly uneasy. For a split second a vibration rings through me that does not match with the surroundings.

A huge sound like a whale song approaches at the speed of light as an immense truck swerves madly through the street, trying to avoid the woman and child. I am horrified to see a black earthen woman painted on the hood, her tongue viciously red and long. The front wheel of the truck falls into a pothole filled with water and the truck swings to the right and hits the woman in the chest. She falls underneath the wheels as the little boy is ejected into the grid of cars that is now completely motionless in fear. He opens his mouth wide and cries from pain and confusion as people get out of their cars and mill around in front of the truck. A man drags the body of the woman from underneath the wheels. Her blue sari is nearly black with blood. I have never seen so much thick, oily blood.

The little boy wails in the middle of the street along with the crowd that is wailing together in one voice of grief and anger. The truck driver is entrenched in a bitter argument with a man who keeps pushing him up against the truck, hitting his shoulders in anger, his face glittering with rage. The truck driver is young, only a boy in a dirty t-shirt and shorts. Tears run down his face as he tries to explain himself through frantic hand gestures. Someone scoops up the child who is now crying “Umma! Umma!” The argument between the man and truck driver is getting more and more violent, they are throwing punches at each other. The man has wild eyes, like the black dog from long ago. He picks up a piece of cement from the ground and hits the truck driver in the head. It makes a hard sound. He crumples. Fresh red blood pours from his head. He does not move.

Turning away from the screaming and weeping, I walk around aimlessly for some time. I cannot properly explain to you, friend, the profound effect this incident has on my mind. There is a great feeling of sorrow in my heart for the way the little boy cried, for the way the truck driver died. As if mirroring my dark mood, the evening starts to roll in and I feel an enormous itch at the base of my tail. I contort my entire body around to chew out this itch, this excruciating prickle, but my muzzle does not reach. Black rainclouds gather like tubers overhead and I can smell the impending rainstorm. This part of the city is decrepit, always under construction yet it seems never to be finished. A hollow skeleton of a house looms above me. It is four stories tall but has no walls. With a rumble the sky crashes down in sheets of freezing rain and I run up the broken staircase to take cover in the gouged out building.

The floor is coated in a fine layer of cement dust. In one corner a heap of broken rocks create a massive shape in front of which I settle down for the night. Frequent mists of water wetten my fur through the darkness as I drift off into a dreamless sleep.

 

I awake suddenly to a peculiar sound. A strange snuffling and sniffing permeates the air and I make out the huge shape of another dog. He buries his nose in my hindquarters as I jump up and yelp in protest. Unfazed, he continues to follow me closely. I back away slowly toward the staircase, tripping over pieces of brick in the dark. But I am not quick enough. He jumps onto my back and mounts me from behind. For what seems like an eternity, excruciating pain stabs me with the sharpest spear and I feel a different kind of ache in the pit of my stomach, a physical manifestation of the paralyzing fear that keeps me rooted to the dusty ground. I hear it once more, the rhythm of the drums: tak dhoom dhoom, tak dhooma dhoom.

 

Many months have passed since that brutal incident. I awoke the next morning, bruised and humiliated, determined to find my way back to my banana leaf and sleep for a time without end. This was not to be, for I was lost in the labyrinthine structures of the buildings and bridges that make up this city, and I ended up in a shanty town. The itch at the base of my tail is getting worse and worse. I can barely stand it now. I roll around on the grass, against tree bark, even against sharp rocks hoping to find relief but there is no relief to be found. I suspect the culprit is the rather severe strain of mange that I have developed. Patches of my fur have fallen off and the sun burns the skin underneath. The air is hot now and my eyes are much more sensitive to the light than before. The volume on everything seems turned up to an unbearable degree. Even my dry black nose smells too much putridity, too many diseases running through the streets. All I want is for this cruel influx of information to stop.

I should mention that I gave birth some months after that night in the broken house. I toddled around for days and days with a swollen belly that dragged on the ground. I was treated better then, more humans gave me food than usual. I wonder if they felt a certain responsibility for my puppies being born into their vicious world. On the night of their birth, I was filled with a glowing hope of redemption, of release from loneliness. There is not much to say about that because all six of them were stillborn.

The shacks of this shanty town are low and have no doors. The roofs are just plastic sheets and the walls are made from old tires. Naked brown children run around the streets, their eyes rimmed in black kohl. Their arms and legs are thin and frail yet their bellies protrude like taut drums. I have been laying under this imli tree the entire day, wondering if there is any way to make my life stop, just end abruptly like a rope suddenly cut. Certainly I have thought about throwing myself in front of the cars that mill about the streets, but their slow speeds do not guarantee an easy death, or even a death at all. Living the rest of my life with a crippled leg sounds even less appealing than my current situation. I suppose I could refuse to eat or drink until I waste away but I know that something in my biology will keep me from fulfilling this plan. I see a little girl at the water pump and I see what I need to do. I wander toward her, looking unhappily at the ground. I refuse to look at her face. If I do, I will not carry my plan through. I secretly ask for her forgiveness in my mind and ask her to suffer through a momentary pain for the dissolution of my lifelong itch.

Barking madly to attract attention, I attack her ankle, sinking my sharp canines deep into the flesh. The little girl screams a shrill cry as three women rush over to her aid. I keep jumping at her face, growling and acting menacing while trying not to severely wound her. The women scream at me to stop, but this madness has taken over the muscles of my body. I could not stop now even if I wanted. One woman in a blue cotton sari picks up a sharp rock from the ground and hits me in the head. It makes a hard sound. I let out a howl of pain and crumple to the ground. Fresh red blood pours from my head. I do not move.

 


[1]  The most gorgeous green parakeet with a curved red beak

[2] Since then I have been called Kutta so often that I have wondered whether it isn’t my name. In any case, you too can call me Kutta.

Sketchbook doodle #3

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Sketchbook doodle #2

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