Cut and Dried

Spring in Sarajevo 021

Cut and Dried

I opened my body to the sun one morning. Warm, emerald life pulsed through me and the morning dew dried on my skin. In our birthplace, we are cared for every day. Humans in hats make sure we have enough water, and that there are no green insects devouring our flesh. My only worry is that I often hear sharp cries as our comrades down the line are severed and taken. This cold, silver “snip” invades my dreams at night, shivering me until the sun caresses me awake.

I am told that we’re often portrayed as the paramours of nightingales, but I have never seen one. The only birds that come here are pigeons and they, no devotees of beauty, ignore us. The bee is a much more likely candidate, although he doesn’t sing well. Bees are pleasant company, and gentle as they take what they need, but afterward they just take off, tipsy, buzzing their goodbyes as they return to their queen.

One day, they come for me. It isn’t like my dreams – the silver blades are not cold, but burning hot. I cry out as my flesh is savaged. I writhe in my executioner’s hand until the wound is soothed by fresh water. Drop by drop, the shock and panic leave me, so that I become interested in my fate.

My journey is quick: a bumpy ride in a truck, a few hours in a shop, and I am again plucked with my brothers and sisters, wrapped, and taken by car to a pretty café with romantic music. I am jammed into a vase of water and placed on a table.

A woman unlocks the door and people flow in. Throughout the afternoon, humans sit in front of me eating, reading, and talking. They don’t look at me, but rather at their food, their phones, or their friends. Until late evening, when a man and a woman sit on opposite sides of me, and I feel myself pulsing on waves of electricity. A candle burns below me and its heat is making me uncomfortable. She moves the candle a few inches away and I open myself further in gratitude. She smiles and runs her thumb over a petal, lightly touching the tip of a thorn. A connoisseur – or perhaps, judging from her picked cuticles, she needed a way to occupy her fingers.

Her hands and lips tremble as she sips her coffee and sets the cup down, rattling the teaspoon on the saucer. When her companion turns away for a moment, she applies a scarlet layer of synthetic confidence to her lips, and then leans forward, resting her chin on her hand.

His pupils dilate as he leans forward, resting his chin on his hand. He smooths a dark curl back from his forehead and smiles, gripping his own cup.

Their conversation is not noteworthy, but I mark glances through lowered eyelashes, a nibbled sandwich, lipstick on a coffee cup, fingers skimming over sleeves and brushing away nonexistent dust specks.

As they stand to leave, she casts a glance over her shoulder, grabs me from the table, and tucks me into her purse. I fear she may have received a cut for her haste. I am forgotten in her purse until morning, when she gasps and sticks me in a vase before hurrying to work, leaving me to survey my surroundings.

I begin to fade and droop. A petal falls as she smooths a dark curl back from his forehead and smiles.

Perceiving my mortality, she hangs me upside down in the hallway until I am rigid in my brittleness. I am enthroned on the mantle. There, I chronicle their lives.

I am there when she announces her promotion at work. I see their children arrive and grow up – all but one. I never felt my lack of water as I did in those days, when I had none to shed in sympathy with them.

Years pass, and deliver another generation to run and frolic below me. Then Chronos takes the man, when his curls are no longer dark – I endure.

Until one day when my lady fails to wake up. I am taken up for the last time by her adult daughter and placed in her hands as she sleeps in her final bed. The sound of tools, not sharp but blunt this time, signals the end.

We are left in darkness and fall apart together.

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A Dryad’s Lament

I wrote this piece for our local writing group; the exercise was to come up with the last line, and then write the rest. The speaker is the figure in Max Ernst’s painting, The Eye of Silence.

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A Dryad’s Lament

I came from the dense, verdant shelter of the wood. To taste the open air, and to wait for you. We were to meet on the big rock by the lake, the one that was flat and the perfect size for two people to bask on. All around was green. Not the rich, majestic green of the wood, but a happy, hopeful, light-hearted hue. It was early spring, and the tulips were just blooming, waving their heavy heads in the breeze. Blue and orange butterflies fluttered lazily as if they had more than a mere half a heartbeat to do so. The sun kissed and warmed my skin. I could see my reflection in the water and was pleased at what I saw: lithe limbs, fresh, smooth face, generous lips, dreaming eyes. Such a romantic day; pity you were late. No matter; I had all the time and beauty in the world. A light breeze made the grass whisper words of love, life, and eternity. The sun and sweet air made my eyes grow heavy…

I’m not sure how long I slept. My first thoughts on waking were of your face, and then my dear trees. Do they miss my touch, my presence alongside them? Do you long for me beside you? But I soon realized I was not alone – there was activity near the water’s edge, across the lake. The clang of fine hammers onto luminescent stone. The scrape of chisels as supple, delicate forms were carved into it. I recognized the artists: tall, willowy men and women with long hair, worn flowing or braided. Their clothes were brown, green, or golden and their features angular and symmetrical. They often sojourn in the woods with us. They are kind to me and this place is interesting. I will wait a bit longer.

The days have grown longer and suffocating. Spring has been eclipsed by an unusually arid summer. The sun beats upon me without mercy and I long for the cooling embrace of the trees. The butterflies are gone and the flowers have shriveled up, and so has the grass. The elves have long since finished their temple and returned to the fuller refuge of the wood. I should follow them, but surely you will come to me now.

One day I found that our beloved lake had dried up and become a cave. That’s when the others came. They came with their dampness and their scaliness and their eerie, stoic near-muteness. They came out from the steaming foulness of the cave, out from the layers of decomposing, unfortunate beings who could not make the transition. They came out stinking of algae and decay. They came out to survive, to build a new life next to their old one. They are awful and grotesque. Some have the heads and hooves of horses, and I was alarmed to see them shift their forms at will, walking on four hooves and then two, having the upper bodies of terrible men. While in this form, they are strangely handsome, but in an evil and villainous way. Others look like great, poison-green serpents with four scaly legs. Others are humanoid, web-footed, blue-grey beings with long, grim faces. I was terrified at first, but they seem to think I am part of the terrain, and they take no notice of me. I dare not move.

They are also builders, but what a difference! The elves’ building is radiant, graceful, green-gold, living, and airy. These creatures have brought rotten-looking materials from the stinking cave. Even the bones of dead water-creatures were not left to rest in peace. Everything is covered with mud and algae. They hammer furiously, splattering filth onto the neighboring temple walls and defacing them. Algae is growing and spreading on the beautiful, glowing stone.

The landscape was transformed before my eyes. As the walls of the water-creatures went up, the shapes of the first temple shifted like quicksand.

Then the eyes appeared. Eyes, eyes on all sides! Watching. Watching me. Watching the creatures. Watching each other. Glowing green-gold eyes watching algae-covered ones and algae-covered eyes watching glowing, green-gold ones. Faces emerged beneath them. Noble faces on one side; twisted ones on the other. Ominous, threatening. I dread what will come. I want to escape, but I cannot.

Most terrifying of all is the snake. The snake is inspecting me with its calculating, icy gaze. Staring, waiting, hungering, silently menacing. I cannot move. The blood is chilled to ice in my veins; my body becoming one with the faithless rock.

My love, why didn’t you come? Why don’t you come?

I cannot escape. I cannot run. I cannot move.

I will wait here for you until the end of time.