Gone Lawn
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Gone Lawn 47
winter solstice, 2022

Featured artwork, Streaming, by Claire Lawrence

New Works

Ali Zarbali

Plague Elegies

Then I was too naïve to cry out of sheer happiness. I remember the indigo sky, the ilex cursed with acromegaly, those big gleaming eyes made of onyx, and those undecipherable yet lyrical incantations she murmured stroking my hair lovingly.
She sang for me under that oak, her diabolical songs, as my mother called later on her deathbed. Her voice traveled to the neighboring houses, echoed in clay ovens, and startled the horses grazing in the pasture. The voice made your blood run cold, but not mine. I rested intoxicated in her embrace, my senses growing sharper; I drowned enchanted in the realm of aromas and visions; The smell of the soil after a spring rain, the scent of freshly mown grass permeated my nostrils. White pearl clouds drifted, and the sky bore a coy smile of colors; sapphire, topaz, opal, tanzanite, emerald, turquoise, garnet, and tourmaline. Night fell and I woke up. I touched her skin made of silk, I stared into her blazing pupils made of zircon, I stared at her until nothing but she appeared when I closed my eyes.
She wants you to kill each other for her, my mother said, seeing me immobilized by fury and frustration. That was the day when she loved my elder brother under that tree. She liquefied him in her malicious dissolution. I stood there a few steps apart and watched my elder brother drunk with the lavender fragrance wafting from her warm neck. She sang for him and he saw in his dream that she was singing for him. Then there I crossed an invisible line. I arrived at a place, a strange place, the possibility of which would never occur to me. It was like a sleepwalker's dream and there were no intervals in between the dreams. It was a dream where you could die thousands of imaginary deaths.
For weeks, I grappled with insomnia and madness. I could neither eat nor sleep. To distract myself, I worked in our garden day and night long, I watered the flowers, pruned the shrubs, planted sunflowers and daisies. In the mornings of my sleepless nights, I heard her singing — plague elegies — as she passed through the meadow in her nightgown appliquéd with flowers, les fleurs du mal. She sang gloriously and rejoiced in mutating the dreams of villagers into their maladies. The day before the death of our father, I couldn't help overhearing the shouts exchanged between my mother and younger brother. At least you stay away, mother begged, don't bring the sinister shadow of misfortune to this house.
The day we buried our father, my younger brother smelled like lavender. I looked at his dirty rolled-up sleeves and muddy boots. I glared at his flushing face but he averted his sleepless eyes and left us early. With my elder brother, we crept up on him the whole day. At midnight we witnessed each other's hallucinations somewhere near that tree. But no, it was not a hallucination; it was the reality that smashed to smithereens leaving nebulous fragments here and there. A few steps apart from the oak, we watched her singing a lullaby to our younger brother as he dreamed in the cradle of her love. In the brightening and misty dawn, we didn't see them under the tree anymore but their demolished groans were audible from the stable nearby.
After it claimed our father, the plague clutched its claws at our mother. We three brothers prayed for her when fever and delirium cast anchor on her deathbed. Realizing that prayers served no help we cursed God in disbelief, and our mother pitied us for the last time, you are possessed, my poor boys, don't listen to her diabolical songs. We didn't do anything for weeks but grieved for mother and spaded her garden, took care of her flowers.
We often woke up sweat-soaked in the middle of the night, our eyes dilated with horror. We sat silent in the dark like lunatics. At dawn, we incoherently recounted our recurring nightmares and dreams only to realize that we have been having the same dreams.
Every now and then we three orphans went to the lawn and saw her sitting on the grass where the giant holly oak spread a blanket of shade. We three brothers buried our faces in her thighs, breathed in her motherly warmth, and she sang for us caressing our hair. We — three embryos dozed off in her young womb. Those nights we all smelled like lavender. When the moonlight glimmered on the lawn, she whispered to us — to her spellbound audience, I love you, and you and you, and took our hands guiding us to the stable. Those nights we three orphans cried tears of happiness.

Ali Zarbali was born in Azerbaijan and currently lives in Budapest, Hungary. His stories have appeared in Maudlin House, New World Writing, Lumiere Review and Flash Boulevard, among others. You can find him on Twitter @AliZarbali.