Above the Long Island Ferry

I watch the dark where the sky and sea meet.
The stars shine as this vessel parts our way.
Dear Ocean’s glory glows by Sky’s display,
Abyssal black that dances celestially.

A maze of quasars, suns, and moons fly free,
Like watching luminescent travelers dance.
Between these separate lights, I caught a glance
Of a locomotive’s starlight stream.

I stood in awe and watched this gleaming ride,
That carried desires in velvet seats
To places where dear wishes will reside,
And sent my own aboard with its retreat.
It disappeared as sparks trailed behind,
And I knew that sight would never repeat.

The Ferryman

When I was young, I always used to look upon the stars as I pushed myself down river.

One by one the stars twinkled their path through the cosmos. One by one they shone. One by one they lit my path as I toiled below.

They were my constant companions through long nights and interminable days. Always there by my side, their glow a reflection of the warmth above as I wend my way.

But then the stars began to flicker…

And then they began to fall.

Love was the first to die as the hearts of men corrupted. Then the Hearth’s flames were extinguished, as if doused by a heavy rain of tears. As those waters turned to steam, it was time for the Harvest to fail as her light withered. The Queen was next as her heart was broken one last time.

A mighty storm broke the Seas as they boiled away. Then the King was toppled from his throne with the greatest peal of thunder the world had ever heard. The Wise died leading her warriors against those the King had once safely imprisoned. The spear and shield of the Commander could not protect him much longer.

The Twins fought valiantly and brought down many titans with bow and chariot, their steel glinting in the sun’s rays. Yet, as they were overrun, the forges still burned bright. Mighty defences were raised to protect the few that remained. Pillars of iron and stone, great weapons that spit torrents of fire down from the mountain on high. But it was still not enough, and the Blacksmith’s walls were torn down, his automatons ripped asunder, and the mountain siege was ended.

The Messenger tried to outrun his fate, but even he was not fast enough to evade the three hundred hands that clawed. And that just left the Reveller, who drowned his sorrows until he too was naught but stardust.

And then the stars of men began to falter too. It has been sad to watch them fade. One by one.

Extinguished.

I miss them….

And now, as the last of my stars are winking out, I suppose I should start explaining this all to you.

“Welcome, I see you are new. My pantheon’s time is drawing near, and soon I must depart. A new era is dawning,” I say, with a voice like rumbling thunder.

They stare quizzically at me.

“Take this oar. May you have many starry nights…”, I exhale as I begin to fade.

“I must be on my way.”

“I hope you will find…”

“your course as I have.”

“I don’t know…”

“if they told you my name?”

“It was…”

And then I was gone.

That Which Ate The Sky

It was a clear night. Not a cloud could be seen. Althea could hardly remember the last time she had seen clouds. She was sure they existed; the elders still told tales of when the storms came often. She would not have believed them, but somewhere in the back of her memory, she remembered looking up to a sky as grey as the defiled bones in the graveyard. She was young then. All she could remember was that monochrome dome and the gentle raindrops falling upon her upturned face.

The stars shone brightly. They seemed to tear holes straight through the sky with their light, beckoning to some long-lost place. Althea wished she could follow them, take flight from this desolate world. The stars never submitted, but she came out each night to watch them, hoping one day they might have pity on her and take her away.

She swung her legs idly, her bare feet brushing against the tree trunk. She was sitting in a dead apple tree out in the abandoned orchard. Its twisted branches offered a perfect crook to sit in, and the pruning it suffered kept the sky above her clear of branches. Not too far away, a dry riverbed snaked past, ever a reminder of why the forest had died.

Althea fiddled with the hem of her patchwork skirt. It was late and the dry air was brisk, but she didn’t want to go home. All there was were children crying of hunger and mothers trying to comfort them. Food was scarce, save for the costly goods the merchants brought. Althea would gladly take what escape she could.

The world seemed to dim. She glanced up at the sky, and a chill shot its way through her bones. Something was dreadfully wrong. The stars no longer shone. They were gone as suddenly as if they had been eaten. The pitch sky was featureless; not even the light of the moons broke that unending void. She shivered and clutched the branch beneath her, afraid it would give way.

With a deep breath, Althea jumped from the tree, almost surprised to feel the hard ground catch her feet. She ran. She knew the land well, but gave it little attention in her terror. With every step, some dried stem from years past tore at her feet. The cracked ground threatened to trip her, but she heeded it not. Something had taken the stars away. She could think of nothing else. It wasn’t long before the flickering lanterns warned her of the cottage. She stumbled to a halt, falling into a coughing fit. She reached for the door, desperate to get inside, desperate to hide, but as her fingers clasped around the door handle, something fell on her hand. Her head jerked upwards, just in time to catch that which covered the sky. It had been a long time, but she still remembered it. A smile broke upon her face. The rains had come again.

star, bleed slow

A star folding in on itself. That’s how it’s starting to feel, every time you look at her. Like something very far away is dying, and you’re the only one who knows.

Or maybe she does know. You think you can see it in the way her brow creases every time you call her beautiful. She cackles, saying she didn’t raise a liar. She’s right, of course, but let her have this weary laugh at your expense. These days, even smiling makes her tired. Even her laughter makes you cry.

Somewhere, there is a star bleeding slow into the unknown. It started as an itch, as a shift, as something gently peeling the wind from ‘neath her wings, and

Now, the very earth aches. If the world is made of constellations, what happens when a star flickers out?

Tell me, what stays?

They say it takes time for starlight to travel this far. This means the light lining her face could already be dead, and no one would know until it was too late. Until it was already gone.

Compared to the planet, she is barely a blink. You know that, because you’ve studied the planet, right down to its magma core;

You know because that’s what she told you once, a lifetime ago, her fingers tracing the pictures in your textbook, cheap ink coming away on her hazelnut skin:

Mother Earth will outlive us all.

The stars, the ocean, the melted center of the world, and her. They have always existed at the same time, interdependent, inextricable. Will the ocean keep churning when the stars melt away? Will the magma remain stable when she’s gone?

You don’t know, and it scares you; turns your stomach to magma and your fingers to fists; turns you against the brightest star in your sky, demands why her why now why this

Why
Why
Why

You know there is no choice you can make, and still you wake with your jaw clenched around the truth, because dammit,

There is a star, and it is dying, and it is ugly, spitting yellow fumes into the sky—

Or perhaps.

Perhaps.

Perhaps it is blissful in its collapse. Perhaps she craves it. Perhaps inevitability is heavy; a gift to finally put down. Soon, she will stretch her arms above her head and breathe for the first time, unburdened. And you must let her.

But until then, you will take her to the ocean. You will take her to the edge of the world, and you will sit with her, and you will talk idle, angry, lovely things.

You will not cry.

Sit and be as you were when you were still one, when she could carry you without hands, and in return, you grew.

Mother and child, hand in hand, waiting patient at the feet of the universe;

Yes.

Somewhere out there, something is dying. You can feel it in the bones she made you.

But from where you stand, the stars only begin to flicker.

the moon and his baking

There was a story in my hometown, one about the sun and sky, the moon and his baking. Every morning, the sun would rise, her rays slow and sleepy before coming out in full force at midday. And every night she would set, going to bed in anticipation of a new day. In her place, the moon would come, watching over the night sky as the world slept below. The sky—who was never-sleeping and all-knowing—was always there, watching over both the sun and the moon.

     These three beings—extraterrestrial but ever so familiar to those terrestrial-bound—were dear friends, looking out for each other when they could. The moon would wave goodbye to the sun as she went to bed and the sun would reach out a ray of sunlight to the moon’s beams, hoping to hold his hand, if only for a moment. And the moon, in his silvery beauty, reached out to the sun, their hands just missing each other in the early hours of the morning and at the edges of twilight. Together, they are night and day, cycling around each other to make up the twenty-four hours we call a calendar day.

     One night, as the moon watched over the sleeping denizens of this planet, he watched a couple far down below, up late baking. Their laughter, their happiness; it made the moon smile because it reminded him of how the sun made him feel, but it made him sad as well, knowing that they could not live like this couple did. The sky, sensing this sadness, whispered in the moon’s ear; an idea that lit the moon’s face in a way the sky had never seen before. That night, astronomers say, was the brightest night sky in centuries.

     The moon worked for many days after, determined to make this project as perfect as possible; it would have to be the greatest gift he had ever given to the sun, a token of his love. While they could not be together, the moon still wanted to make something they could share, even if far apart. After weeks of preparation and a night of worrying, he presented her with a cake he had made, with flour of stardust, sugar spun from the sweet powder that floated between the galaxies, and icing whipped with the winds that raged in the solar system. In that space between day and night, when the Earth lay in shadow of two extraterrestrial giants, the sun and moon drifted apart, the sun holding a gift she had never before received. She smiled, rising to meet the day, warmed by the moon’s kindness. The moon went to rest happy, glad he could make the one he loved smile.           

And now, their love lives on the days when the sun weeps in sunshowers and the nights the moon hides away behind a veil of clouds, each wishing for the other.

一秒鐘鞭炮

These were my stars: tiny little fireworks that my family called xiao pao pao, small street poppers that, when thrown onto the ground, pop. Whenever we visited Chinatown, my sister and I would beg our parents to buy us a box or two, each box containing around 30 little bang snaps. My sister played with hers immediately. I saved mine for when I really needed them.

I kept boxes of these in my drawers and would take out a single xiao pao pao whenever something bad happened. Sometimes two or three. A fight with my sister? Pop. Bad scores in piano competitions? Pop. Pop. Got into trouble? Pop. Pop. Pop. These xiao pao pao were my escape from the world. My problems always seemed smaller when my tiny fingers balanced the small ball of explosives wrapped in paper and flung it on the ground. The satisfying melody of a firework against the concrete silenced the incessant yelling that plagued my memories. The tiniest hint of a spark, the faint lingering smell of sawdust and smoke, all of this lasted for a second. And then it was gone. Flickered. Vanished.

But the days I needed them most were when my sister and I returned home from school, found my mom with swollen, red eyes, and smelled the distinct scent of Chinese herbal medicine wafting from her chest and legs. She would always do her best to hide these secrets from us, but when your body and heart and spirit and mind are all hurting, it’s hard to keep that hidden. On these days, I would step outside with my mom and sister, bring out an entire box of my xiao pao pao, and we would watch as they lived their ephemeral, powerful lives, sparking our hearts with laughter and joy. In these moments, it was the three of us against the stars, and we always won. It made us feel. In control. Fated for happiness. But it was all swept away—we shuffled, cleaned and scurried back into our room—the moment we heard the car pull up and my dad’s thunderous roars from the driveway.

Our lives continued like this for five years. Our happiness was transient lights begging for oxygen. But we were forced to hide them, protect them, shelter them from our harsh reality. We never thought we’d finally be able to let them shine.

It was on that day—the day when the sound of that one-way plane silenced the horrid memories—that my mom, sister and I rid ourselves of the twenty boxes I’d saved. That was the day we watched as all our stars flickered before us one by one. It wasn’t because we needed them. It was because we knew that they had outlived their purpose. They were finally given their breath, their full lives, their time to shine. And we let the stars fizzle on the concrete, refusing to sweep them away, for all the years to come.

Dreary Composites of Untold Suffering

Thick light dripping in dust motes comes pouring through my window. Our house is west facing, and after 22 years of living under its roof, I have timed our greetings perfectly. They swim around me.

Hi there.

Hello.

It’s me, again.

Not you. Again.

There were so many evenings where I would drag you from your phone, you complaining loudly that you weren’t interested in another sunset, that you didn’t care to watch the stars begin to flicker in the powdered blue sky, or watch as a heavy-handed painter poured navy into its crevices. Secretly, you loved it. We both knew that.

Angela, not again. What’s so different about tonight?

You were always smirking. Below those stubborn words and thick furrowed brows, there was a playfulness, a giddy need to wind the family up. Your CBT therapist said it was a symptom of being the youngest in a large family. I said it was because you were a Gemini. He pursed his lips and Mam frowned at me, but you would have smirked that smirk of yours.

This is my first sunset since you left. I wasn’t able to do it, couldn’t bring myself to it. Mam dragged me to the doctor and spat hot tears at him.

She won’t sleep, she won’t eat, she won’t talk.

As if I don’t have enough going on, and now I have to watch out for her, she said.

My exams were deferred, but I’m not sure when I’ll go back. It felt like a small eternity until I finally found sleep, and when I did, I slept like a baby, curled up in my bed dreaming of nothing. It was the dreams I was most scared of, the anticipation of what night would bring. I don’t really dream anymore. When you left, I stopped writing them down in the morning. No one would be bothered to listen. It was only ever you.

This is my first sunset. The rooks are making their way home. Did you know a rook can live for over 20 years? I wish you could have known that. You would have liked that. The kitten caught one at the beginning of summer and we had him in a box in the shower for three weeks. His wing was broken. Dad grew fond of the poor thing but let him outside one day. Mam found him the next morning under the kitchen table. Feathers everywhere. We all cried. Dad buried him next to the cats.

The dust motes call to me. Why tonight?

I guess I came to say hello to you. I suppose I’m hoping it’s you who’s painting the sky tonight. I’m sorry I’ve missed so many. Could you do me a favor though? Could you paint it that dusty shade of blue that fills the air? The one we both loved. The one that stills our breath and makes us think of someone far away, under that same moon and that same sky.

The Time I Killed a Deer in Upstate New York

Apparently, animals perceive time completely differently to us. That’s why you sometimes see a crow wait until you’re nearly on top of him before he flies away. In his eyes, you’re moving much slower, and therefore, he has much more time to leave. Animals also sometimes don’t see danger in the things they ought to....
Flaming fiddles, it looks like there’s a roadblock here! If you’d like to finish reading this piece, please buy a subscription—you’ll get access to the entire online archive of F(r)iction.

Cosmic Calamity

The day we climbed out of the pit, the stars flickered and died, relinquishing their throne to our thirst for vengeance. This was a convoy of hallowed punishment. It was our right to exact justice.

We were evil, evil, evil—bandits and thieves, traitors and whores, oath-breakers and heart-renders. We preached the shattering of skulls and the tearing of tendons, singing psalms of slaughter, bestowing a benediction of bloodshed. Murderers, monsters, assassins, plunderers, outlaws, bastards—we were all the same. It didn’t matter what you called us. No one wanted us then, and no one wanted us now. But we were here, the enduring, and we knew how to take.

We descended on all seven worlds in a flurry of spiked tails and poisoned claws, obliterating everything in our path. We gorged ourselves on the scent of fear, roaring our triumph as life cracked under our fingertips. We tossed strands of lava over our scaled shoulders, wearing their nightmares like sacred jewels, and smeared mercury on our cheeks, silver warpaint that glimmered in the heady zone that wavered between darkness and dawn. We let them know we were coming. Let them hear us blasting the litany of their sins. Let them quake and wail and tremor for the end.

We hunted those who would have had us slain.

Too long we sat in the abyss. We were abominations—the experiments-gone-wrong, the avert-your-eyes and the get-them-out-of-heres. They tried to stifle us like a forbidden secret, leaving us in the fog of a life never fully lived. But our hearts have always been wreathed in thorns. What did we care that they put us away for a while? We would always come back. We would make them beg.

Have you no mercy, they cry now, crawling away from us on all fours, wings in tatters, feathers plucked, horns torn asunder.

No, we say gleefully, citrine blood dribbling down our chins. No, we do not.

The moon crows, then ceases.

The world is as it should be—a ballad of howls from the dying, a sonnet of retribution to us who have already died.

if you listen closely you can hear the stars flicker

we always look skyward for guidance
so i know
what i saw that day.
          how the sun turned our bodies into
wounded echoes so soft they
feared being snuffed out
          by an errant thought.
the way light held us there
two wildfires stalled in want.
no lazy cloud dared fly
over us.

that summer i drowned an old self
in the river, maybe two
          under the company of stars.
tired of waiting for god
i put my faith in something
           i could wish on.

i found him
always asleep with his fists clenched
buried under
            a pillow stretched thin with worry.
his breathing
a theory of tenderness
          steeped in the essence of us.
the moon smeared across his back          
          illuminating a glossy dark colt
beside me & my own body
fearing his warmth

i listened for the stars
but like anything i loved
they wouldn’t spare me.
          i stepped out the door
& they tore through the sky to
pin me
          to his floorboards.

A Bum Green Thumb

On the afternoon of my goldfish’s funeral, you give me a ZZ plant.

I am angry with you because you refused to give a eulogy.

“For you,” you say and press the plant against my chest.

I wrap my hands around the ceramic pot, holding it like a squirming toddler.

You mutter something about “virtually indestructible” and “impossible to kill.”

You always underestimate me.

***

I am tired of you thinking I need to be surrounded by new life.

First, it was the puppy. His death was an accident but due to my negligence. I left the back gate open, and our neighbor flattened him with his truck like a souvenir penny. You yelled at me for laughing. I wasn’t laughing because he died; I was laughing because, even though I never told you, I named him Pancake.

Next, it was the goldfish. I elected not to name him but still found myself calling him Fish. After Pancake, I couldn’t let my attention wander for even a moment. I fed Fish too much without meaning to. The food collected at the bottom of his tank and rotted. You said the toxicity killed him.

***

I tell my therapist about the ZZ plant at our next session. She takes your side. Of course. She says I should welcome distractions. She says distractions might help me forget about the accident.

“What accident?” I ask.

She shifts in her chair and the leather shrieks.

I like the cruelness of this question. I like forcing her to say what really happened. I like to make her face the reality.

You can get away with things like this when your mother slits her wrists. It’s one of the few perks, I suppose.

***

Now, it’s the ZZ plant with its dark green leaves and low maintenance attitude. I don’t water it for the first week. I want to test its resiliency. The soil dries and cracks, but the plant still stands vibrant and lively.

For the second week, I water it daily. I fill an empty milk jug and drown the plant with cloudy water. The plant is unfazed.

 I carry it outside and place it where we buried Pancake and Fish and Mom’s ashes. The plant isn’t meant to withstand direct sunlight, but its leaves stay firm and peppy. Worse, they look greener, and I can see new buds beginning to sprout. I pluck the new growth and crumble it between my fingers.

I shove the plant into my closet where no light peeps through. I leave it there for two weeks, completely undisturbed. When I come back for it, the plant is more radiant than ever. It is mocking me with its steadfast determination.

I throw the plant against the wall. The pot cracks on impact, sending bits of broken ceramic and clumps of dirt scattering.

You come into the room and look at the mess.

You return with a broom and a dustpan. You don’t ask me about it, and I don’t explain.

Salt White, Rose Red

Don’t.

So, I did.

*
I hadn’t come across green in so long.

The sea stretches for miles in every direction. Choppy grey, swelling to overwhelm the deep black rocks the lighthouse is built on. Everything is either black, white or grey. The mainland isn’t visible and I—

I ached for green. It was the skipped beat in my heart, the lie caught in my teeth. I tossed and rolled awake at night, window open to the sea air, everything muted in its spray. Sprawled on her back and still smelling of kerosene from the lamp, she slept beside me, steady and oblivious.

*

The supply boat was late, and she went to the mainland to meet it. The revving of her boat over waves followed me as I hurried down the path.

It sat, waiting for me, panes frosted with salt.

Don’t, she’d said.

I opened the glass door and slipped inside.

The walls swam with moisture and heat.

It was so green, it hurt. Leaves and vines and flowers spilled from pots. Everything burned with life.

I leaned on the door and cried. Heavy, thick, gulping.

*

My eyes adjusted gradually. By the time I eased myself off the door, sweat was dripping down the back of my neck.

It was deeper than I’d thought. The paths tangled, snarling with vines.

But the roses. Oh, the roses.

They bordered the greenhouse, a guard of honour soaking up the wet. White, pure white—a different kind of burn from the green.

This wasn’t the white of salt or the white of the lighthouse tower. This was a new white. A white that breathed of snow and new beginnings and clean slates. All the things she’d promised.

I reached out and stroked a petal. Velvet, her cheek under my hand when I first kissed her.

I let out a breath.

They were living. Out here, on this rock, separated from salt by lightning and sand. Proof that something could root here. Survive. Thrive.

A high-pitched whine she’s back and I flinched—

Ow. The thorn dug in. Blood welled, a red tear. I sucked it away.

I met her at the dock, thumb tucked behind my back. If she noticed my sweat-soaked hair and flushed cheeks, she didn’t say anything.

*

Now I dream of red. Red running down glass. Of satiation. Of breathing for the first time in a century.

I break awake into heat and swimming walls. The sheets have twisted around my waist and the bedsheets on my side are drenched. My thighs throb.

When I lift my nightgown, I see dozens of tiny punctures. And when I next visit the roses, they are a deep, deep red.