Death Valley, 1.A, 2500 words

Tweed, the room wiggles, the chair widens and contracts, and when my eyes are shut I imagine you, though air conditioned pleats babble at me, and I can hardly hear your voice; though dead fingers crawl over me and I anaesthetize my body, it is almost quiet. A raven sidesteps down the poured lee face of a gray dune. It scrawls with cocked beak down to the narrow slack before the next dune where early morning darkness still pools and the sand is brittle and quick. The gray scallops and shimmers of the terrain resolve out of the murk. It extends a wing, opens its beak but only its hoarse claws whisper on the sand. Almost quietness. The raven rights its head and starts up the hardpack. It hops heavily to break through into purchase on the slope. It flutters, slipping back down the skating sand, attempting to drive its talons through the skin instead sending itself into a tumble to the crease at the base of the dune fluttering madly to right itself then begins to climbs again. A perfectly faint sound like a balled handkerchief patting to the sand accompanies the sun’s crest over the silver dune peak. Dawn endures interminably, whole lives pass, whole epochs of the stationary. Down the dune, sheets of steam-thin sand hiss into the burnished edges of scar tissue around your corpse. Your partially buried body head downhill and splayed legs protrude from the sheet of sand ending in the wrong bare feet, blinking flat beige eyes. The sclerae are beige. If the skin were not a luminous dusk pale the eye spots would appear swept away above their thin wax eyebrows. Sand has pooled smooth in a drape down around your body. Elsewhere nearby ripples are blown. A flannel collar point in gray and shell tartan stands like a sail up from the sand a distance from the face possible if it were wildly unbuttoned or not worn at all. Your face is open to the sky, grinning. Vacant fans of scrub branches absently strum cryptic passages into the thin top sheet of sand. Rolling adjustments below the surface telegraph a low rattle. As with other orchestrated movements past a corpse, the whispers, the yawning, the pink spotlight, no approaches render the face as anything but a magnetic shadow. You are easy to ignore, to avoid, but impossible to forget. Footsteps in the sand divine your limp heartbeat. They sort out distances with scansion that human passage continues to find rare, even with all of this space. You click your mouth as his shadow, with hand raised although worn in the manner he would shield and narrow his eyes to the horizon, dips slowly from beneath the black cape of the dune shadow like a charcoal sun setting through a chalk storm. The crenellations of scalp and oiled comb ridges alternate serenely beyond his advancing forehead. His frequent raking with the comb passes time as the dimensioned furrows move ever so slightly across his top, matching in count but new to the universe. Sun laces through the shadow fabric old in the elbows and the seams. The crest of the dune sags under his forearms. Sand creeps across you in thin and threadbare sheets. The pattern of an iris is unmistakable. He must know – the human iris, even in faint evaporated beige, is unmistakably human, human sight, its presence, is the seat of loss – that you are human. The beautiful colors of pain, fire, roasting cells, and drying lenses are gone. These dry eyes are frail screen doors to this head and nothing human is pent behind screen doors. The finest smokes of sand that follows the calving cascades are most mesmerizing. The sun across the valley totes the whole shadow of dune and rider like a slow sailing caravanner toward your still paralyzed theater. That feeling of inexorable contact, the long approaching night of the desert where lolls the light of a train or a swinging lantern miles away swaying in motion yet seeming to hover in ghastly weightlessness as if watching, a needle glinting by the stars, before finally snuffing out, is paralysis within paralysis. Trees are upended all across the dunes and beaten silver by salty day blaze. The sun spins mute gauze over the shadow. A taste remains in the chalybeate saliva slaking those disappearing inverted textures. The anesthesia in the void prickles but not the flesh. The taste is strangely distributed as no tongue or palate strokes and kisses the citrus and salt of the erased desert. He is skimming a thin book. He looks down to you too often to be reading. You lose him infrequently to the book, possibly to a phrase or blush of tone whose tether reaches deeply into him for those seconds. If you don’t have his eyes he isn’t yours and you are not safe. You speak in a powdery hush. “What is it?” “What?” “What has you?” “One page of this book is black. I think it is a mistake.” “Why are you looking at it so long?” “I’m trying to see if there are any words behind it.” “Can you see any?” “I think so, the edges of them, but I can’t read them. I know something is there. I need to see it in the sunlight. It is too dark in here.” “You can open the curtain if you want.” “That isn’t the same.” His shadow lingers in the darkness cast onto the sky at the crest of the looming dune. If that is him he’ll tell you something. Reach down the point of your tongue and let its filament say into the sand “all composite things pass,” or “eat, drink, and be merry.” Instead it hums like a father, asleep. He starts down the dune shakily toward you. Thick pelts of sand groan. The late afternoon sun fuels the whir of the valley inhaling empty space. He stumbles to his knees sending the entire face of the dune cascading. Each wave is preceded by the telegraph of a shallow crunch through the mantle of the dune. Each sings more perfect shapes than the last, more imminent until they ceased altogether as much as an interrupted sequence can fool the reverberant surfaces to forget it. The eyes, nostrils, and mouth lead to different entities, black vertices of a star. The two eyes and the two nostrils are even ruled separately. All is in motion; all is devoured. The points of your black star hemorrhage toward the raven as it expands as if falling but don’t turn, don’t flutter, as if ink flowed out with a memory of its birth splatter. Death is an origin, a center. Some sensation remains. With this black punctuation at its focus, as it orbits, the sunlight inverts different black fragments of lost night, raven, black gape in the galaxy, a papery leaf in fall, lightning struck ash. It all swims against time, unchanging. Footprints above fill in slowly and slower as they grow shallow with sand, continuing to fill in imperceptibly after the believable physics of the sands’ self tumbling would have seemed to halt the process. Still grains turn within the lapping edges of the concavities, always drifting toward elision on their own but only falling a pause short of perfection. Only the mass of the full wave can digest the gross effects of the human body. The face and feet are gone. Only in the acceptance that flaws, even sunken, are enduring, and although in the flash of the believable homogeneity the body, or the feet and face, are now questionable, a hopeless breath-high sand geyser puffs and builds a shallow crater above your repressed nose hole. As sand creeps it creeps in tangential wavelets with leading edges like the hems of sheets being drawn across the sand. Your nose disappears, or slides down and then the side of your face is deckled into the white that creeps and then swirls like a dust devil, the whole face and shoulders dematerializing. Pressure bears down on your feet and twists them and your legs wrack outward beneath the sand. Your equilibrium begins to assess a greater rotation as if you are slowly tumbling backwards, feet lifted, head sinking, spine straining. The wave passes over you. Deep beneath its mass there is no way to struggle back upright. On the surface sand runs to where it can and can’t cascade back into what had preceded it. Hands can’t shape it. Hands can’t dig it away or even smooth it without the soft fossils of fingerprints raking down the slope. Falling, drowning, and unmediated burial each remove the mind from the body, where the body’s sole agency is the geographic distinction of the mind, when its other agency, reproduction of the mind has been eradicated by swerving natures, the mind, not the brain, is not liberated physically as much as the context or stimulus medium is constrained to only touch those aspects which are the mind’s sole demesne, namely its own boundaries and the structure of infinity as contained in its gaseous files. It is hard to know when something has happened when nothing is happening. Your body dried resonates with the rushing vibration of earth. The song is multiplied off of stone, through the finger sway of roots and threads, so that out from the single orbiting confluence of harp and hand and hall in league with your corpse as it wheels in the sand which rolled against the too still air, a dirge from these physics is composed. Still bodies appear alive where they gather up into mixed particles. The dune hides both bereaved and the deceased. A raking rumble furrows into the dune dirge in long but frantic strokes. No mourners attend. This is the beginning as much as any awakening, window, or birth is a frame around previous matters. No voice speaks at the burial but the voice of the sandy medium. If the medium manifests itself in the words that are the words that the dead knows they vibrate through the footpads of desert creatures but lose the melody that is formed by quaking the outline of the body. Silence is the officiant and sand the rite. Sand is the millions voiceless until that hour that it is required of the silent breeze to join them together in song. The message is not of words which are vile aloud. The message is tone and vibration, that shade of sound that alone can embrace the body. Vibration alone sings the tones inside the body where they belong by playing its dry skin. The voice of the rite whispers within. Perhaps because the knell sounded late, and no mourners kissed your eyes, no mourners squeezed your hand, no love wet its lips to whistle or return a kiss, the rite was secreted, undivided, and direct. No cantor could actuate this disappearance by voice. No words mean this. Words aloud are vile. As the dunes continue their aeolian dilapidation the body begins to tumble imperceptibly into a natural burial. So much sand has slid over the precipice, in so slender increments, so fine, that you are surprised to find yourself beyond upside down. A substation of tethers reaches out of every body. They glint, they fade, so slender they regularly disappear when strands unbraid before uniform skies. Given the relentless beatings of desert days few strands remain. As if bundled they carry or transmit opacity to the body that has become thin and diaphanous in their failure. In a vague hospital, tile and iodine swabs and artificial greens, when your body disappears in place, immediately replaced by a sack shape of prickling dried salts, only a hot meal causes a form to materialize out of the glare. The brown scuffs and sparkles, brown smoke lit by beige fire isn’t vision. It has no range. It has no distinction. Like a grave rubbing it could be no more than what is directly impressed upon the surface of your eyes. As you tumble deeper your loose pants revolve away on millions of diamond fingers moaning. You hadn’t a belt. He wouldn’t let you. Your sweet girl hips flattened into this rod man with no purchase for ligature. Where you are bound, binding fails. Emaciation destroys even the bondage of neglect and routine which is a dependent captivity, a bondage of impulse. Buried in earthen luminance, crystals usher light deep and exchange each passage of phase for a bit of fire to their own transformation. Sand to black glass. The entire room is brown only because the green light around the oil cloth curtain damages your eyes. Probably muted by both of his palms on the handle, the distant click of the latch engages the jamb. You hear it almost secondhand, through some other, faraway, ears. Buried beneath an ocean of hazy windows layered each with its own same curtain, one for night that shimmers with damp one for day that quakes with sun through smoke or dust that is pulverized rock aloft. Buried from vengeance or from regret as if protected by the fearsome castle of death in ruins above. Buried, but not at the bottom; buried in the midst, swimming, flying. Flying in the progress of the earth’s wheeling, or approaching death, approaching a cease of temporal inertia. Flight is always the illusory machinations of the senses, like a breeze across a halted lurking shadow. Any trundling within the hearse is but the rattle of dwindling contemporaneity. Soon to slow such cooperation ceases. Let yourself rest. Let yourself be buried deep enough that neither quake nor millennial winds add signs to your physics. Only a wispy placenta woven of mauve enfolds something just shy of consciousness. Speech risks vibration that husks dare not risk. So slithering into the coils of warmth sing hushed fragments that ideally mimic your assertions heretofore. The seat of your body’s redemption is far away, down a lingering strand intubated through the shape of brown heat. You are buried in warm sand and ground away to nothing. Sand more like powder and powder like liquid doesn’t cut the fragile imperceptible film binding together the tension of the eyes into a weird sphere like big crystal dagger grains would or had. It grinds more than it tumbles or flows. It grinds in the way other simple structures blur some things into less than their components and the way that all bits that had once given themselves to mountains cannot without them be anything but loss. A muffled voice sings like a saw. It is warm at least. It is dark at least. No disintegrating visions of man’s landscapes or concerned faces, or his knowing face. Brown to black. This door is nothing but the room sliding past you. No rose light bulbs, no curtains. No hallways hung up with hiding travelers. The sun and moon are your menhir. He can come to kiss the air over the dunes.

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