:: :: ::

Long before any of us began wandering into the treacherous realm of prejudice, a story that we should all have listened to was told at one of the gatherings.

In the center of the garden is a small fountain, and crowning it, a talking skull. Normally no one pays attention to it, but that night, awash in the dazzle of strange spells, I struggled between reading someone’s lips and threading together filaments of the ancient voice that streamed between the gaps in our conversation. It was all over the garden, infused into the crisp air of the night, present and immaterial like the smoke, though no one seemed to hear it.

We would all be reminded in time.

“The hearts,” it said, “are made of clay, and clay can only be molded in the wet. The hearts will dry, they will crack against each other if one waits too long, if one waits for that perfect day, that perfect moment when the hearts are dry as bones, brittle and bitter. Hearts lose their power to become one with another, they become rocks and skulls. I know. I know.”

I held my smile. Sparks flew about. I felt the skull was leaving something out. At that moment, it didn’t matter. It was the song of the dead, and we were very much living. We were wild birds in the jungle, each trying to outsing and outdisplay the other, ourselves, the last one and the next one.

:: :: ::

Window open to the cool winter air, I hear a call. An owl. And an owl calls back. Together they are hunting in the night, roosting at the edges of their reign.

I remember someone.

I have not looked into the book of souls for ages. That book filled with blank pages, each belonging to one. I hold it once again, find a page, sit in the dark, and wait.

Soon it comes, the image of a man making his way across a vast plain, that same abject infinity that once plagued my nightmares. But this is not my nightmare. It is what I feared I would become, happening to someone else: a lone slave dragging a giant heart of stone across the desert. The pathos of lost hope, the weight of apathy, a cruel, self-imposed sentence.

There are two ways out of it. I know them both.

I wanted to help. I tried. I am not meant to. Let go.

Something within splits in two, and one half falls away. I close the book, and my eyes. Press the back of my head against the wall. Take a deep breath. Above me, far above this roof, there are many, many stars shivering in the night.

The half that remains is gratitude.

And, lurking beneath, invisible for now, the razor’s edge of fear, held at a distance.

:: :: ::


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