Inception

Quiana has become pregnant. She disbelieves, she rages, she has test after test done, cardboard tubes and needles, blood samples and ultrasound and voodoo. Each result she opens with the happy expectation of barrenness, each stripe of colour, each letter betrays her with her own fecundity, and goes tumbling or floating to the floor. Her house is carpeted with these announcements. She is angry, she is baffled, she is sterile, she is celibate. It is a year Solon has been underground, and no lovers, no amours, no tangled trystings to pass the time, and so her child is fatherless.

She reads book after book after book, on cell division, pregnancy, religious visitations, paranormal phenomena, psychology, while inside her something grows. She comes to no conclusions. She decides to have an abortion, to rid herself of this anamoly. The clinic is closed; every clinic is closed, or bombed, or too busy, and her time is running out. She flies across the country, over and over again, and arrives always too late. Trains leave, planes are delayed, cars break down, the electricity goes out. She drinks thick and bitter cups of toxic infusions and spends days retching bile and blood into the toilet. She throws herself down the marble steps of the library, arms curled protectively around her head, trudges up the long stairs, again, and again, three times for certainty, and is dizzy and bruised but otherwise unharmed. The thing survives. She cannot lose it, cannot destroy it. Her ultrasounds show a face too developed, eyes half opened and watching, a slight smile upon the colourless lips.

Sparrow #69,098,309,112

He forgot his name when he died, forgot everything but that he had been a man, and unhappy.
Someone spoke to him, a Voice: “Again?”
He knew that there might be another chance.

“Again?”
He thought.
“Yes. Only –“
“Again only?”
“I was not happy as a man.”
“Again?”
“Might I– might I be a bird?”
“Again anew,” said the Voice.

He was reborn, through bright lights and floating, an egg.
He lay in the shell, as his heart beat and his beak formed and he feathered.
He burst through the shell and lay gasping.
April sunlight dried his feathers.
He screamed for hunger, and someone bright-eyed fed him.

He learned to fly.
He tumbled from the nest and spun as the gray sidewalk rose toward him.
Flight was wine, flight was life.
Flight was work, his muscles ached, his bones rang as glass chimes do in the wind.
He pecked and scratched at the earth from spring to summer to fall.
The winter came sharp and sudden and he was unprepared.
He froze to death in the early snows of October.

He forgot everything save that he had been a bird, and hungry and cold.
The Voice: “Again?”

Red, Red Strawberry Jam

Quiana lived in Solon’s house for three months, watering his plants, tearing off pages in his calendars, taking in his milk and newspapers, paying his bills. She told the few people who asked that Solon had left on a business trip, but he hadn’t said where he was going or when he’d be back. After three months she had removed the traces of Solon’s presence in the house and made it entirely hers. After three months, summer had come, and the wild strawberries ripened, large and fat and red, red as rubies.

She made jam from the strawberries that she pulled from over his grave. Red pound after red pound of strawberries she picked, sorted, washed, and stemmed. In large pots she cooked them, cut slightly into their red, red flesh until the juice ran out, simmered until the juice rose above the berries and their sweet smell filled the house. Sugar she added, and watched it dissolve into the red, red juice. Patiently by the stove she stood, mind empty, smiling slightly, until the jam had cooked through and the timer buzzed her back to wakefulness. She jarred and stacked the jam, shelf after shelf in the quiet basement, a wall of red, a sweet, red, red wall of jam.

Solon Fructifies

Solon under the strawberries dreams he is alive and that he is dreaming. His dream is a powerful thing, heavy and pendulous with life.

Solon dreams that he has killed a woman, unseen and unmarked.

Solon dreams that he wakes with her blood yet on his hands, her body cool and stiff beside him. He cannot see her face — she faces away from him and in his dream he cannot bear to turn her over. He showers, swamping the bath with soap and blood and hair, showers until he is bald, showers until the water rises, opaque, to his knees. The water rushes down the drain; when Solon returns to the bed the body is gone.

Solon dreams that he wakes and he is sitting in a car on the edge of a cliff. The woman is sitting next to him. She is looking out the window. He looks at her neck, at her hair, at the ocean through her window. He starts to say something but releases the parking brake instead. He dreams that the car rolls forwards over the cliff and tumbles down to meet the unyielding water. While they are falling the woman gasps and turns to look at him. Her hair is in front of her face. She reaches to brush it away, and they crash into the salt sea, the bitter sea.

Solon dreams that he wakes on a plane, his forehead sore from leaning against the window. He is flying home for a funeral, for his mother’s funeral. He looks through the window at the clouds. There he thinks he sees a face. It is a woman’s face. He does not recognize the face, dreams that he turns to the woman beside him, draws her attention to the cloud face. She leans politely over him and he sees her face in profile. Her mouth is open. It is filled with crumbling black earth.

Fruition

Quiana buried Solon’s body in the vegetable plot at the back of his house, then planted wild strawberries over the grave. It took her two days. It had been a very easy death, a slide from sleep to that profounder sleep, and she wondered as she sweated in a straw hat and a pair of green gardening gloves why she hadn’t done it sooner.

Solon was a heavy sleeper. He slept the sleep of the justifiable innocent. In the beginning, before the Plan had gestated inside her, she had watched him sleep in the early hours of the morning, marvelling. She had liked, before, to tease his sleeping body and watch emotions chase each other beneath his eyelids. It was with the same feeling that she had lifted gently one muscled arm and slid the knife into his armpit. It was a sharp knife, and it went into him as easily as water. His eyes had twitched once — some phantom emotion playing there one last time — then he was still and cooling.

A plane flew overhead, single engine growling. She lifted the hat from her sweaty forehead and waved at it. The pilot dipped his wings in response.