Excerpt from Sunshine in the Valley
Tinctured singing in a garden of flowers, asphyxiated queens and green chlorophyll growing; she spun (without moving, a meditative togetherness) as does the sky in falling, arms wide above her, closed eyes seeing straight through them. Sunlight fell on her bare arms, softgold as day renewed vision; singled embers of feathered chambers, soul bearing to clouds, no weight chaining to earth. For miles grew the fields, plural actuating as one, with no hint of rotting.
We believe in three forms of life: humanity and flowers and light. Light acts as a kind of meta-presence, giving depth of color and fullness of standing, so we might strive higher, and catch more, dispersing proponent nourishment through and because of. To an extent, all are photosynthetic. We grow healthily and easily, like the garden itself.
Laura dreamed of being born into light: weightless opening into an invisible bubble. Nature flowed with presence, particles rising from all that lives. All things move onward, upward, strings of no perceptible width in maintenance of that invisible connection. Hers was strongest of all.
Jacob was coming towards her; he had no eyes, she couldn't see them. She'd nearly lost consciousness the night before, but recalled his talk of visions (plasma fire, nebulous rushing). There could be no memory. She envisioned his face in full color—certainly impossible.
"My father caught me last night," Jacob said, "when I got home." He shifted. "He told me I shouldn't go again, and after that he beat me."
"How did it happen?"
"I arrived home after morning, so he did it outside, in case the Sun God had seen."
"There was nothing to find," she said. "We shouldn't have gone at all."
"How much do you remember?" When she shook her head, he continued: "Before we left there was someone else there too, who looked like you. I saw right before I dropped the lamp. When it went out she was gone."
"I don't do well at night."
"I didn't know."
"You did," she said. "A long time ago, you forgot."
Walking through the garden, nameless scents combining, she came upon the dead bent stalk of a flower: partially relieved of petals—in haste, it seemed—with damage to the buds. Clear fluid seeped from many wounds, half its length buried in the ground.
To kill flowers was forbidden. In legends there were even tales of divine punishment: a manifestation of the Sun God himself, or some highest messenger, who never spoke, and came with skin of pure fire.
She lifted the flower, making it her companion. A stem by this point, excepting only the lingering threads of petals, she would return these to it, as well as life. Somewhere—as of yet she didn't know where—she would give it an altar.
In one of these places (not the one she chose), she found Gidian. He strummed silently at his instrument, but she saw his fingers move. Subtle harmony collected around him. Blond hair fell past his shoulders, the feminine blond hair he'd always been proud of. Beside him grew three lean trees, their branches sculpting untouchable shapes on him.
It seemed she startled him.
"Sarah?" At her incredulity, he shook his head. "Sorry." He ceased looking at her. "I thought you were someone else."
"You were waiting for someone?"
"I could leave if you want." She took a step away. "I do need to plant a flower."
"I'm not sure if you know," obviously she did, "but it seems to be dead. Flowers die when you pick them."
"You looked like you were having fun." But really, he looked exactly like he normally did. And he never had any fun. "I'll leave you alone."
"Stay if you like." Though he sighed, a disappointed sound.
She overlooked her home from a hill above it. Many rooms were left open to the sky, and these she made out in minute detail. Familiarity had nothing in common with newness.
Someone knocked on her door as she was preparing a meal. Jacob had yet to change his clothes. For moment she wondered why he'd come—having no place here, and no reason to be—but only for a moment. She considered letting him in. She didn't want him here but he deserved that at least.
New dawn broke with an arpeggio, coming alive like fine music. Narrow beams poked holes in the earth, lighting early moisture; smell of sweet morning and ripe buds, aura at the skin of the land. Laura opened her eyes in a pocket of glowing amber. Every morning she woke earlier than anyone else, just as she had no place in the village at night.
She walked to the window, accidentally taking a sheet with her. Outside spread the dipping gardens, slights and slopes, iridescent. Nothing moved in the rooms below, so her parents hadn't come home yet, and Michelle was certainly still asleep. Gentle warmth settled about her: renewal. She hated the darkness.
For everyone but Jacob, the night was its own species of void, foreign as a long life in a single moment. Even flowers closed, staying that way until the next morning; but now groped openward, organic explosion in pulsing green tubes. In the center of every villager was a clear piece of crystal, with linkages to the arms, the legs, the head and shoulders. When the sun shone, making the crystal shine, everyone began to breath, they were capable of movement again...
Dressing quickly, she went outside. Sabers lanced turquoise wafers, jutting in thin jagged panels, the tight hot sun above them. As always no wind blew. With the exception of two others, no one else had ever felt wind. Still drowsy, she set down one of three pathways. Voluptuous forests sprang upon her.
Almost without noticing, she encountered someone in the center of the path—at exact odds with the flower she'd found yesterday, he was neither pretty nor capable of love. She poked him. His eyes opened slowly, as if in pain. A pink bar tore the left side of his face, which he'd slept on, and fine specks stuck to his clothing.
"Oh," he said. "Hello." He looked around. "I didn't make it home."
"Will your father be angry?"
He made a sound something between a sigh a yawn. "Hopefully not. I'll carry a big stick."
"Why did you go home this way?" This path didn't lead to his house. In fact it didn't lead anywhere.
"I went back to get the lamp." Jacob pointed to the grass a few feet away. It looked much smaller when not acting as a mode of consciousness. "And I came out somewhere different. It was really late by then. I wanted to go home, but I fell, and I couldn't get up."
"Did you go to the cave again?"
"It's been there every night for days."
"And you found it in the dark?"
"I brought a candle." That apparently he'd discarded. "But it wasn't the same. I brought this too." He pulled something out of his pocket. A knife. Laura took a few steps back. Then she took another. "I found it in the wall," he said, "next to the picture."
"Why did you take it?"
"It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"What if someone found you?"
"I wasn't holding it out, I just had it in my pocket." He returned it there and came to his feet, dusting himself, but not well.
"I'm okay." He shook his head. "Just tired."
"Are you going home?"
"Then walk with me."
He did. He was no good at it. Waking could be painful, as they both knew: torn from a deep hole into which you've molded like plastic, gummy frame to whatever hollow walls. New life pulls the soul through dimensions of distortion, probing with hot irons, hitting with solid objects; a cruel play of internal energies, nefariously squirming. Most frowned upon rousing another from sleep unless it... mattered (something she'd entirely forgotten, at the shock of almost stepping on him), even if she didn't much regret it.
"When we get to the hill today," she said, "you should tell a story."
"Well, we all have something we do—Gidian plays music, and I make things grow—but normally you just watch us. You're like an empty space."
"What would I talk about?"
"Tell us about your dream," she said. "Remember something."
They came to the stream, sipping mosses and rock. By its bank lay soft damp sand. The clear surface cast clones of them both.
Two rivers came into the village, crossing and recrossing on occasion, but while one bound itself to the earth, flowing in from over the wall, the other ran suspended in air, washing over trees, grass, and flowers, a hanging curtain of liquid, refracting amidst an aqueous center of mirrors.
They stood now at the first. It was not a long way across. In some places it grew deeper or longer, but from this point they could cross easily. The opposite bank looked much like this, but bore fewer stones, and peculiarly sharp shrubbery. No footprints on either side. Way, way down, the stream swept upwards, on a path to the sky.
"Why would anyone want to climb the walls?" Laura asked.
"No one tries anymore," Jacob said. "It only happens once a lifetime, and when they fail, it becomes a story, and no one tries again until everyone's forgotten them."
"Everyone knows that," Laura said, "except, knowing, they still try."
"I guess that means it isn't true," Jacob replied. "They climb if they have a reason to climb, because they don't want to be here anymore."
"Do you remember?"
"It wasn't that long ago."
"Then why did you try?"
"I don't know." And when she asked again, he said—"I was young."
"Did you really want to leave?"
Laura realized her anger. She fed on pounding water.
"I have dreams about it sometimes," Jacob said, "but I still don't remember. My father slapped me afterwards." He picked up a rock; tossed it. "I never tried again. I'll never try again. Really."
"This is our home," she said.
"I know that."
"Only madmen leave home."
"I know that too."
They walked across the stream.
Something white takes a breath in the flower; nutrient paste races through the roots, panorama of many colors, lifted by working currents. In each is a soul, some shape or form of a soul—pure energy, pure sunlight—that filters such flowing; limbless, internal reflection of body. Mechanical jaws crush in the dirt, full blossom surrounds delicate living core. The energy they create is filtered to the sun, reborn as something not seen but felt. And when the flower dies, the soul rises like holy smoke....
"Like words?" Jacob asked.
"I'm not sure. No."
"Just sound, then?"
"They're not talking," she said. "It's a song." The rivers and the trees, subtle symmetry, that dipping hum the wild wild wave; diptych extension, manifold brace, duplicated in sense, nature and miniaturized gods... to roll all day in soft grasses, pillowed as they make way for the body; cast no shadow, greatness to banish all shadows; spacious as wavelengths; rhythm in movement; energy to surge all at once. "The sky sings. The flowers sing. The rumbling earth remembers them."
"But why can't I hear?"
"Maybe you can." She couldn't imagine not hearing: the song had become a part of her, like the sun, like the walls, except more, because it felt like she was part of it too. "Just listen." Though no matter how close, he could never. All his world shook with the walls: churn grinding, morph fuse reactions, blood. And really they stood in different worlds—the hateful and the beautiful, the changing and the sane.
Past them wove the high floating river, flooding spirals in the noon.
is the author of Voices
, 2010), Sunshine in the Valley
(Civil Coping Mechanisms
, 2011) and VII
, 2012). He is interested in the literature of aesthetic and ideas.
Sunshine in the Valley
was published in 2007 by Civil Coping Mechanisms
, whom Gone Lawn
thanks for the kind permission to reprint this excerpt. You can find Sunshine in the Valley
and other titles at their website.