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Archive for December 2007

Diamond

with 4 comments

SO, for whatever reason, this took me five months to finish. By being bizarre and abstract, it has reminded me that I work best in minimal realism. So, for that, it’s been useful.

IF it looks like rainbow vomit to you, you’ll be pleased to know that it also looks like rainbow vomit to me.

———-

He’d come upon a bed of oysters clinging to a shelf of black lava rock about twenty feet down, and now he hung in space a moment, trying to commit their location to memory. Distorted light brushed back and forth over the sea floor, picking out the roughness in shells, running gentle fingers along the arms of bright anemones. The water was cold for this late in summer, and the current was strong and came in chilly pulses which carried with them the feeling of great depth. Stones clacked together, moving forward and back. His lungs tickled; he kicked back upwards.

The diver took a short breath, the sound quiet against so much water. He glanced around himself, looking for competition. There were voices from behind a sandbar to his left, and he heard the drone of a radio from the cabin of the boat behind him. The captain of the boat was asleep in a chair on the deck, and one of his hands was curled over the side, a gold ring shining in the sunlight. The diver heard the cry of gulls, the birds hidden by the sun.

He dove, disturbing bright fish, picked up an oyster and slid the point of his knife hard into the hinge of the shell. Something gave way, the shell cracked, and he twisted the knife, cut the muscles from the lid, and pried the oyster open with chipped fingernails. Nothing; a quick puff of brine issued from the molten pink mouth. The diver tossed the oyster down. It clattered against a toothy outcrop of dark igneous rock and settled into the sand.

Picking up a heavier oyster, he opened it, found nothing, and discarded it. He tried two others, which were both empty, then kicked forward and bashed his foot on something hard.

On the surface, the diver cursed softly through his teeth and watched blood spool from under his toenail as he cradled his foot in his arms. There was a hint of storm on the horizon, no more than a thumb-width smear of charcoal clouds. The radio had dissolved into static. He dove.

He opened oysters roughly, breaking the shells, and finally found a pearl. This he pulled from the flesh with three fingers. His hands were strung tight, thick wires of muscle stretching backwards from the knuckles, skin the colour of coffee. The pearl was dropped into a cloth bag at his side.

A spindly, long-whiskered sea-bug watched him from the shell of a large oyster. It extended two pointed forelimbs toward him, pleading or questioning. He waved his hand near it; it recoiled and clung tighter to the shell, but did not move.

The diver grabbed the oyster from the side and jerked his arm upwards. The bug lashed out, both arms piercing the top of his hand, and dropped to the seafloor.

Sharp pain climbed up the diver’s arm as he shucked the oyster, followed by a wash of electrical numbness. This faded into static buzz, warmth, then nothing. He found a large milky pearl and put it in his bag.

On the surface, the captain was awake. He leaned over the side of the boat and called out to the diver, pointed at his watch, flashed five fingers twice. Other divers sat along the gunwales with their backs drying in the sun, or rested along the railings, their legs dangling and the soles of their feet dripping into the sea. They slung towels around their necks, waved.

“Hurry up, Rui,” the captain yelled. “I’ll leave you behind this time!” The divers laughed. Rui dove.

A school of hand-sized silver fish surged upwards, each turning at the last second to avoid his face, metallic-rimmed eyes shooting like sparks on either side of his vision. A sudden current stirred up the silt, and something glinted through the sand. Rui combed the bed and picked it up.

It was a stone of some kind; smooth, asymmetrical, tapering towards a dull point, dark. It caught light, warped and deflected it into harsh golden angles which fell into the darkness of the stone, passing through endless layers. It looked a little like the flesh of an onion, he thought. It felt cold in his palm, and carried the weight of tremendous pressure, like a diamond. He put it his bag.

On the deck, there was laughter, loud conversation, tobacco smoke from hand-rolled cigarettes. The divers sat on the planking, bags open, white plastic buckets clasped between feet or knees. Rui sat between two younger divers, who talked energetically of mermaids, miming enormous breasts and arguing over the placement of genitalia.

Shreds of pink flesh clung to the pearls in the bucket, waving like pennants. Water dripped from the tips of Rui’s hair into the water. Five pearls; neither bad nor good. The diamond-stone was still cold. He left it in his bag. The captain fiddled with his radio without success and engaged the ship’s engines. The ship woke with a cough, and they pulled slowly away.

Rui rubbed the cramped muscles on the top of his hand with a thumb, and watched the storm gather energy. It was a black curtain now, a godly frown. The young divers discussed complex sexual positions real or imaginary. An older diver told them to be quiet between drags of a bent cigarette.

One by one the divers took their buckets to the scales, dumped out pearls into the sieve on the plate, and received a small wad of bills. They complained casually with one another, folded their money, and secreted it away into waterproof pockets and change-purses.

They approached shore and anchored, younger divers cannonballing off the side of the boat and older divers slipping into the water like frogs, without a splash. Rui dove and swam to the shore.

The afternoon had darkened. He felt the shadow-weight of clouds pushing down on his back as he pulled himself out of the water on all fours. There was grit between his toes. The beach was deserted.

Blown sand had blurred the margins of the road. Heat from the asphalt licked at Rui’s feet, and he felt for the stone in his bag. It seemed to have grown colder.

Sunlight had clotted in the streets, rebounding endlessly from glass windows and whitewashed shopfronts. Bicycles leaned against concrete beds of bright flowers, their riders absent, possibly melted. No gasoline had been delivered this month; none of the town’s few cars were running. Rui listened for radios, but couldn’t hear any.

One of the town’s part-time drunks was reclined on a bench, snoring softly, a potted flower tilting sideways in his lap. No-one else stirred. Rui looked through a window into the café. The building was dark, customers absent. Motes of dust nodded in stray sunbeams, disturbed by an invisible breeze. The sign was flipped.

At the far end of the café, the door to the patio had been left open. Luisa was outside. He tried the door.

Unlocked. The paddles of the ceiling-fans were still. Dishes– a few chipped mugs and saucers– lay drying on a wooden rack behind the counter. The fridge was off, its insides fogged and sweaty. Rui heard thunder in the distance.

“Luisa?”

“I’m out back,” she called.

A single table was outside, with four chairs around it. A closed umbrella thrust up drunkenly from its centre. Luisa put down a nub of charcoal and looked up at him with shaded eyes. Her fingertips were black.

“Hello, Rui,” she said, and smiled.

“Hi.” He sat down quickly. The diamond knocked against the arm of his chair.

“How was diving?” she asked.

“Medium,” he said, looking at the piece of paper between her hands; young man’s face, stark and white against a shadowed background. The man’s eyes were half complete and canted upward. His hair suggested motion underwater. His mouth was open. A pause. “How was business?”

“Pretty good until the power went out.”

“Everywhere?”

“The generator failed again,” she said. “Too much current— or not enough. I don’t remember.”

Rui pressed the back of his hand against the hot tabletop, trying to work out a cramp. The storm was almost overhead. There was another rumble.

“Doesn’t look good,” he said, pointing upwards. She looked up and brushed stray hairs from out of her eyes, leaving behind soft smudges of charcoal. He watched the curve of her breasts move under her shirt before looking up as well. His stomach was upset. His hand had fallen asleep.

“Listen, I,” he said. Her eyes moved down. There was a picture, he noticed, between the pages of her sketchbook.

“Here,” he said, and leaned to one side, fished out the diamond from his bag. The picture was of the young man in Luisa’s drawing. He’d a sailor’s cap on, tilted at an angle. He was smiling. “Found this. When I was diving.” The air was thick; it swallowed the sound of stone on metal.

Her fingers picked at the photograph, pushed it further into the leaves of the sketchbook. His stomach churned with acid.

“I wanted,” said Rui flatly, going through what he’d rehearsed, “you to have this.” Luisa looked down, went back to sketching. Clouds circled the sun like sharks. His mind seemed to lean forward over a great height.

“No,” she said. He stood up.

“Keep it,” he said. She didn’t answer.

The latch on the gate opened quietly. He looked back, once; she’d put down her charcoal, had the picture between a thumb and forefinger. The gate closed silently behind him, and he walked into the alley. Power lines swayed soundlessly in the wind. He kicked an aluminum can, and it flew end over end into the gutter. The air smelled of heat and poplar. He stopped at a rusted blue door inset into the stained plaster of the alleyway, and fumbled for a key.

The fridge light didn’t turn on, and he could hear the cracks of melting ice when he opened the freezer. The bottom of a glass knocked on the counter. The glug of rum; he finished the glass in two long gulps, stomach complaining ferociously. Up a set of stairs, into the bathroom; a few jerks and an obliterating blankness that coalesced back into thumbnail-sized tiles, turquoise and navy and white, pressed into the grout of the wall like fishscales. Misshapen pearls of no worth or enjoyment fell into the toilet bowl. Branches scratched at the window. His head spun oddly on an axle just above his left ear; his arm felt charged with static.

He showered in cold water and washed his foot and hand with orange carbolic soap, which stung. It began to rain as he dried himself off and changed into a two-day-old shirt and shorts. He steadied himself on the doorframe, feeling sick.

Down a flight of stairs; three swallows finished the rum. He began to sweat, under his eyes and under his arms. His hands were slippery as he placed the bottle back on the counter. He sat down heavily in a damaged chair, stood up, sat down again. The house was silent, the usual buzzes of low-watt bulbs and appliances absent.

Outside, there were hurricane lamps hanging from pitted driftwood posts and candles in the windows, supporting a low ceiling of uneasy glow. He heard music, and walked towards the town square, leaving the door open behind him. Two voices sang in fits and starts, with breaks of guitar. Rain dampened his shirt and spattered on faded canvas awnings.

Luisa leaned on the wall at the end of the alleyway, her back to him, watching people gather in the square. More voices joined the singers, and the guitar steadied into rhythm. She put her arms around herself. Paul drowned, he thought, in a storm. He took a side street out of the alleyway, and walked north, towards the cliffs and the lighthouse. He stumbled, shivered.

At the top of the cliffs the air opposed him, grabbed him coldly by both shoulders and forced him to kneel in the dry grass. The sound was of one continuous wave, dissolving the island, grabbing it by the shorelines and rocks and pulling it underwater. Gulls crouched among the peeling red and white banisters that crowned the lighthouse, rocking slowly, quiet and no larger than dandelion seeds. The wave moved inside him, dissolving his stomach, creating icebergs in the folds of his mind. He vomited over the side of the cliffs, into the water. Pulling himself to his feet, he began walking toward the lighthouse.

Luisa rounded the last hill before the cliffs, in time to see him fall over the side. She began running, slowed to a walk, and paused, just out of sight of the edge.

The water was cold, much colder than it’d been that morning. He did not float, he noted, but was swept end-over-end in a tunnel of fast-moving current. The buzzing numbness in his arm spread to his chest, and his skin stepped back from the coldness of the water; he felt the ocean through an envelope of glass. Fish the colour of mangoes passed him briefly, uninterested. Distance began to sieve the weak sunlight out of the water; there was a bright pressure behind his eyes, a pair of thumbnails, gentle but growing.

The current pushed him down, past a ring of black smokers, into the mouth of a lava tube. The walls were black and smooth, clotted at random with slow-moving anemones, picked over carefully by cat-sized octopi. Now I am Paul, he thought. The current crushed air from his lungs. Seen from below, The bubbles looked like jellyfish, curling into themselves, racing back up to be lost in the surf. The walls of the tube widened. He was aware of burning panic, suddenly, but it became tangled in numbness and could not move. I am Paul. The pressure behind his eyes grew. There were indentations in the lava-rock, impacts or outflows, pieces of meteorite older than the sun. Craters around him predated the evolution of eyes, rested within the final unobservable blindness, outside of time.

Now the current was colder and faster. Now there was no sunlight. Fish grew strange, deformed and exiled beyond the reach of the sun, hunting and hunted, endlessly. Patterns simplified, changed, became once again complex. Paul drowned. These fish carried glowing messages on their skin, but were blind. They would dissolve like wet sand if you brought them up to the surface, he remembered. They are baked to death by sunlight. The walls of the lava tube had disappeared into nothingness. Below himself he saw chains of light.

The bacteria was arranged in primal forms, stitched into chains of meaning, glowing, consuming proteins, excreting proteins to be consumed by those even lower. Left behind by strange children. Marine snow, flakes of dead matter, brushed his skin softly. He felt small collapses, saw flashes of blue and green and white, light he realised was pain. Other lights came, as well, in geometric nets, moving with tide or thermal drifts or to rhythms unseen. He could no longer move. There were nails behind his eyes, puncturing.

The ocean flooded him suddenly with grey brightness, like milk. He was compressed, bent. In his mind he saw or heard a person, talking slowly in a language he could not understand. Shapes of no colour sheared from themselves and became other shapes of no colour. No colour and no consequence. I, he thought. There was a sudden change in pressure, some threshold reached, and his bones collapsed.

His body folded in half, then in half again, and again, falling into itself darkly, layering together like the flesh of an onion, gathering in heat and downward speed, absorbing the weight of tremendous pressure. Time blurred, societies rose and fell and rose again. Rui’s self fell into a bright abyss of dying magma, reached the point where it could be compressed no more. It glittered there at the blind heart of the world, lit by jostling shoals of molten iron, hard and dark and final. Like a diamond.

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Written by wholewheatwords

December 3, 2007 at 3:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Well, Crap.

with one comment

I just finished I story that I’ve been working on for five months, and I don’t even like it now.

Crappy McSweeney’s and their devotion to quality writing.

Crappy everything.

Written by wholewheatwords

December 1, 2007 at 5:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized