Aja Bamberger & W. C. Bamberger
Refolding Fallen Dominoes
(A Phantom Parallax)
I watched the boy from the lowest branch of the hickory tree. He leaned against the headstone below, taking a drag from his cigarette.
Why did he sit on this particular grave every day? I knew for a fact he didn't know the corpse that was buried there. Maybe it was because it was the only one not covered in flowers and pictures.
His green eyes darted over to a different grave where an old woman wept over her dead husband's grave and a little girl set a dandelion on his headstone, which was already covered with "loved and missed" messages.
The boy stood and turned to inspect the grave he'd been sitting against, running a hand through his curly brown hair. "Looks like I'm still your only visitor." He murmured, putting his cigarette out on the stone. "I wonder who you ticked off." He walked away.
I felt something warm run down my cheek. I clicked my bare heels together, but I wasn't wearing red slippers, and there was no way I could ever get home.
The little girl's cheek murmured against the hickory tree. The lowest branch ticked with her messages, clicked down to the flowers below the headstone.
The boy from home "loved and missed" an old woman he didn't know, your particular visitor.
And I wonder who you wept over. Maybe that not-buried corpse, set out there on the stone, his grave, every day. Pictures from his green eyes darted over a dandelion. There was no way he ever walked away.
The boy, I already knew, had been against the taking of a grave for a grave. He was sitting on a different headstone, putting a brown hand through his curly hair. Why did he get off on this grave? It was because it was the only one which looks warm. He stood and turned, leaned to inspect his only cigarette. He and I together watched this cigarette.
Fact: I felt covered in something I wasn't wearing: the dead husband's drag—red slippers.
Where I could sit still, I'm running.
My bare heels run.
Of course, it's at this time that everyone seems the most oblivious to the things around them. The sky was washed in indigo, a couple of stars twinkling faintly. The wind whipped the crackling, rotting leaves through the air and knocked down every blade of grass in its path. Most residents of the small, sleepy town were either already in bed or off drinking at the local pub.
Nobody noticed me, the pale, translucent figure that ran down the street, my bare feet smacking the pavement and my breath coming in short, desperate gasps, shadows clinging to my skin.
I didn't stop running until I was 12 blocks away, leaning over and panting in front of a moldy shack that looked like it was in danger of collapsing on itself at any moment. My feet were cold and numb, and I was sure that if my system were still pumping blood through my heart, it would have burst through my chest.
I didn't have much trouble opening the door to the shack, for the lock that had once held it shut had rusted away years ago. Inside the little shack, there was nothing in the open to see, and nothing hiding in the dark except maybe a few spiders.
I knew exactly what I was looking for. I knelt on the ground, my torn white dress being shoved into the dirt by my scraped up knees while I clawed up the earth beneath the shack, mud slipping under my fingernails.
Underneath the dirt that I had dug up many times before, there was a small plastic box, which used to be painted red before the earth had chipped it off. Inside was a folded up, crumpled photograph of a little girl, a huge stupid-looking grin spread across her face. She was surrounded by her mother, her father, and her brother. All of them wearing identical warm smiles. I felt a ghostly tear roll down my cheek, but made no move to wipe it away
This family, this little girl. They looked so familiar to me. It was like a memory I could just barely touch, a time I could never go back to.
I was torn, washed in indigo, held by a lock of leaves. My breath was a white memory, twinkling on every blade of grass. I was just barely, faintly there, in the open. Of course nobody noticed me, for I was hiding nothing. I felt the ground roll on itself, the dirt slipping away under my knees, "nothing" being the coming local touch—exactly what I was looking for.
This sleepy stupid town was my stop, my opening and my shut off. It blocks the earth underneath, the skin of mud, the scraped-down ground that it seems was there to see many times before. The wind-whipped residents, except maybe a few, were either desperate pub spiders, all of them drinking inside identical small plastic smiles, or—once they had knelt down, leaning over and panting in short gasps—were folded up. Blood on bare feet, a couple already up in bed.
Pale stars, cold and numb, looked like a translucent dress spread across the sky.
A little girl, shoved and knocked finger-and-feet by my ghostly touch, ran down the street in the dark. I was sure that this little girl, her face wearing a huge warm-looking grin, would have in time burst my chest in front of everyone. While I made no move to tear away, I could never go back up to that small cheek. Shadows were still pumping through my heart, a box which used to be so familiar to me.
I didn't have much trouble at most any moment clinging to the oblivious; it's my system, it was my path. But this time, through the crackling air, I knew the danger at once: Painted nails running through a moldy shack, smacking through the door to the shack, and inside the little shack clawed around in the earth beneath the rotting shack, there dug up … things, wiped them.
Figure 12: A photograph of her mother, her father, and her brother surrounded by crumpled pavement. The family that had rusted away years ago—collapsing into the chipped red earth.
She looked around.
My family had gone before, and I missed them. My self had gone, and I missed that, too. But unfolding these solid shadows had told me nothing, after all.
Because I was finished looking back, I looked back. The matted heap of my find was a long way from where I was so well known to the lost and gone. I knew one of them watched me there, that he tumbled glacially through the earth, tried to speak to me, to explain. But I had gone before him, and so his nothing could not speak to mine, his talk could only be a foreign tongue rattling inside a feverish skull. The rules held for that him: each had to live their own nothingness, in ranks as rigid as the fall of dominoes: you were to feel only the weight of those who had fallen before you. Your back was kept to the histories of the living; your eye not for their veins of quick red, but for the pooling, still blue.
Refolding all those faded things, I wondered again why if the boy I watched didn't miss me when he left; I missed him, missed his smoke, the scrape of his jeans over granite, their whispering along marble.
I wondered again, could it be that no one in nothingness really knew just who was the gone-before?
The solid earth had gone. These shadows held me back rigid along the marble, lost, foreign, the matted heap of my tongue tumbled feverish nothingness. Unfolding, I tried to speak, to explain.
Quick he left, refolding all fallen dominoes. The scrape of his jeans over granite rattling inside my skull, whispering histories I knew of my living family. I looked; his back was a long way from where I had fallen, pooling red. I missed [in ranks] the boy, and myself, and I missed them, too. I wondered again if each of those who had gone before was kept through still blue veins and were to feel weight and I was that one left so gone, to live faded through the smoke the boy rules and I missed….
Could it be that you glacially watched me there, knew who I was? But had told me nothing after? Why your eye didn't miss me, watched me when I had not finished looking back to find where I was gone. Known his talk could not speak to mine? You held as for all that only one of them, and he and me, all those things really were just unfolding before after all, gone.
As well as before, nothing.
I wish it would end, that the dominoes would simply unfold themselves and fall.
Sections #1, #3 and #6 + #7 (the end-tag line) are by the first author; #2 (which refolds the words used in #1), #4 (which refolds the words used in #3), and #5 (the words of which are refolded by the first author in #6) are by the second author. Such was the constraint: the even numbered sections refolded the words from the odd numbered, which introduced new words. (Some gnat words—the, and, a—were allowed to blow away during refolding, but very few.)
has work forthcoming in The Quint
and in Kudzu Scholar
. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, US of A.
W. C. Bamberger's
fourth novel, A Light like Ida Lupino,
will be published in the Fall of 2014. One of his solo stories may be found here