Once upon a time, a young woman fell so much in love with herself that she was able, without any applied focus, to make others disappear from her gaze. Vanish into sunlight and shadow and vista. First they’d grow soft, a slight pull at the corners of her eyes. Then blur, in and out, like a guttering flame, or blowing snow. Then poof, they’d be gone, usually forever. Nobody there ever again. The woman never noticed, she was involved, she was in love, she was herself.
One day this woman encountered a man with a mane of hair that shone like the night sky, and eyes so soft they almost hurt to look at, and on the back of the third knuckle of his right hand lay a diamond so icy she thought she heard a crack in the air. She had noticed him. And now instead of one, the two of them filled her gaze. No one else. Him And Her. Her And Him. A perfect fit.
The man had a different eye than her. He noticed, without any particular effort, everything around him, every last little thing. In every direction he looked, he saw details tripping over themselves. Every place a brocade of patterns and precision. Every person a map of gestures and meanings. Every moment a symphony. And because of this, the man was utterly in love with everything, indiscriminate. Including a young woman so beautiful she grayed anyone near her. They were a perfect fit.
From this union, they made a child. A beautiful girl, neither vain nor worldly, who instead loved every last little detail of what was already gone. Every second of moments lost. Every speck of the past buried. When she grew up, she chose to chronicle the past, to share all her joys, all her terrors, all that she loved. She told me this story, with relish.
When the child, who was called 'Sunshine', 'Sweetness', and 'Honey-my-knees', was seven years and seven months and seven days old, she saw her beautiful mother before a mirror. A mirror so flat, so perfect, before it one forgot who was the face and who the glass. From this mirror, her mother’s face stared back at the girl, through her, as if she wasn’t there. Until the girl’s anxious kiss awakened her mother, who looked at her daughter and asked in surprise, “Where did you come from, Honey-my-knees?”
Every year after that, the girl watched her mother become thinner and thinner, until she was as thin as carpets, as blankets, as paper. And then it seemed her mother fell into her mirror, and disappeared from view. Like the edge of a horizon, or the path behind your shoulder, or the thing you forgot to recall. And sometimes the girl would notice her mother, out of the corner of her eye. And her mother noticed her, like a ship sailing into view. Then they’d wave or kiss or blow the air around each other. Never quite hitting. Like clouds, or hummingbirds.
It was during those rare moments that the daughter always pictured her mother together with her father. Two sides of one face, two planes of one hinge, like the kiss of earth and sky. And all around them the details grayed, until the daughter's memories of them were distilled from place and time and circumstance. Until the couple stood alone, a truth eternal. Him And Her. Her And Him. A perfect fit.
When the father fell ill with sufferings, an endless list of aches and scratches, pains and pressures, the daughter could think only of her father who was. Her father who had been, with the soft eyes and the gentle voice. Not the man before her, who plucked at invisible menaces, and swore at his demons aloud. And so, without even trying, she made him disappear into his past. She fed him automatically, bathed his battered flesh coolly, turned his bed sheets down.
But on the day that the man noticed that everything around him, every last little thing, was turning, and drifting, and ending, into light, his daughter saw him directly. Looked into his eyes, which were so soft, so full of indiscriminate love, that they cut her heart in two. She called out to her mother, called her right out of the mirror, and the beautiful woman peeled from the glass just in time to see her husband’s eyes sink into ice. And poof, wife to widow. The beautiful woman cried tears so hot they bleached her blouse, wailed so deep it ripped her skirt, shook so hard she tore her shoes. Gave her grief all that she had lost, with nothing, and no one, else in view.
Then the beautiful widow took the ring off her husband’s finger, and slid in on her own, a perfect fit. And the daughter gave her mother a look that cracked the air.
“Give me the ring from my father’s hand, for I have tended him at his death, and ministered to his ailments, and suffered his indignities. Give me the memory of my father’s strengths, for I was his strength when he had none,” the daughter said.
“Who are you to ask for such a thing?” her mother demanded. “He was my other, my self-sworn, my match. His ring is mine, has always been. You can have all else in this room, but I keep that.”
“Then I shall count motes of dust in the air, and the threads on the blanket under his arms, and the hairs upon his head, until I know exactly what my worth is to you,” said the daughter, then she closed her father’s eyes, and made her mother vanish from her view.
When the mother turned seventy years and seventy months and seventy days old, she shook herself out, like a guttering flame, and suddenly was no more. It must be said that she hardly noticed, she was involved, she was in love, she was herself.
The daughter took her mother’s hand, which was as cold as ice, and slid off her father’s ring. She read at last what was written inside. Just her name. Sweetness.
That was just the kind the details she loved.
From The Insect Diviner
The Insect Diviner in PRINT
The Insect Diviner as PDF Download
The Insect Diviner on KINDLE