This was a story that Mika once sent to me.
Our father was nine feet tall. Our mother, a gaunt ten. They moved for a living, moved every two weeks. The houses were large and empty. Furniture was backbreaking so they never bought any. The windows stretched from the first to the second floor, large ragged gaps of the sky invading the quiet. When it rained, the panes would be formidably streaked, blurred. The sand dazzled beneath their feet. Father would watch the portable television, lounging on a dune with a thimbleful of water. Mother bent into the earth, obsessively creating an oasis at each turn, hoping the gardens would creep and merge into an endless sea of grass, shiny mounds of eyebrows plucked with flowers. She planted vivid hard daisies that scorned the name, Black-eyed Susans that interrupted the gaze with a bitterness. On certain days, she would be overcome by visions and drop pignoli nuts into the ground. Her mind was intent upon the forest primeval descending years from now, drawn to her plot of earth by the delicate signals emitted from a single pignoli nut.
Our father was a man of many mansions, many wives, endless offspring that bathed and tanned in the farthest corners of the world. Our father was a powerful, whimsical man. When he was angry, he would leave us on the roadside for hours. However, he was only a moderately wealthy and powerful man when my mother married him. She knew this, dug houses for him, and tried to increase the immensity of wealth that he had hoarded. She grew old quickly, as all first wives do, and achieved nothing. Her hands were saffron, her skin slick and crumpled like a week-old magazine or hatched poppies. My father's feet were continuously soaking in a paste of egg white, pine oil and marzipan. He whistled into the air, she whispered then buried her words in the ground. He recited advertisement jingles within the cool shadows of the house. He would clipcoupons for roasted almonds and leave them piled on her footstool. This, she felt, mocked her existence. She crouched in the sun, burning her hair to a blond stump, muttering, munching her seeds in anger.
She wanted a palace that sprawled in minarets and aqueducts, hanging gardens that approached jungles, a city with winding streets swarming with her children and her children's children. My father wanted a plate of frosted grapes, lemon twists and a young girl's breast to dandle away the noonday heat. So they moved.
My mother believed in the portent of dreams: she dreamt they lived upon a slope of wild poppies, magazine orange, parched and powdered. Other weeds grew with them, spiny and barbarous. She found a wounded goldfinch and knew it was a fledgling because the mouth was encrusted with a bright yellow growth. It writhed like a large snake, the livid yellow outlining the darting tongue. She panicked, dropped it and then spent the afternoon trying to find it in a small avalanche she had startled. She knew she had killed it, most likely. My mother had never seen a slope of wild poppies. She had lived in sand all her life, in mansions and tents, in extravagance and poverty swirled together like water and oil. She wanted a goldfinch. He bought her a gilded blowfish.
Once she made a pilgrimage to each of the twenty houses that they had supposedly sold. A beautiful lady came out to greet her in each, showing her the magnificent gardens: Ladyslippers, pomogranate, freesia, trembleroot, snakewort--the house and garden and the silk slippers were all gifts from her generous admirer, Mr. Kohl. Her pignolis had been dug up and eaten by the pekineses and the chows.
One afternoon, when I was four, my father told me about the youngest and most beloved of those beautiful sighing ladies---it was our aunt. He would attempt to guess her every whim; hewould monitor her dreams. I was told that he would bring her roomfuls of flowers. She would awake neck deep in lilies, amaranth, marigolds. We never knew where or how he found so many.
I remember this afternoon clearly because, the very next morning, he began placing food in front of us then snatching it away. He would wait until the last moment, take his thumb and his index finger, and deftly pull the morsel out of our mouths as though it were a magic trick. My sister bit his hand once. He told us that food turned to fat, that we would spread like puddles of oil, that we would become too heavy to carry. We stopped growing altogether, our limbs were stunted. I stood two feet high, Yasmina, a mere ten inches. Yasmina began to cry when she sprouted breasts. It was simply more fat. I did not listen to him, continued eating, gained only weight. Three years later, he dropped me on the side of the road and did not return. I found a small cave and fell asleep for years; the pine needles made a scented mat, pervaded my dreams. I dreamt of goldfinches buried up to their necks, burning like candles. I envisioned my sister and mother grown old, my father dying. I dreamt I grew wings and flew to a foreign land.
When I awoke, I found I was in England. I saw a queen kneeling at a clump of bluebells. Her tiara and veil were black but her hands were saffron. It was my mother with a teaspoon. She was furiously trying to unearth and deposit the clump into her mouth before the guards of the Botanical Garden swarmed in. She was eating dirt as they took her away. That same year we found an obituary upon our father in a large magazine. It showed a picture of his caravan prostrate. My sister was in the foreground, an impossibly thin woman with upswept hair and too many teeth. She wore a yellow dress and matching gloves. A note beneath the photo read: on the death of her famous father, Alexander Kohl, Yasmina, Turkish femme fatale, searches for her brother, Fear, and mother, Dofora Kohl, clues as to their whereabouts or any information concerning their deaths. Separated twenty years ago. Notify the editor.
I spoke with Yasmina over tea. The warm afternoon before her death, she brought me to a small field behind her home. In the backyard were innumerable birds buried neckdeep in the flowerbed; there were cardinals, bluejays, sparrows but primarily it was goldfinches, approximately five hundred, all swarming with ants and scarabs. In each of the houses that they had moved to, she had caught and buried a live goldfinch. When the goldfinch died, it would always die with its head bent in a certain direction. By this, she knew where our parents had gone. It was infallible: this bird-death-compass was how she had found them after four years. That evening she was instantly seized by a neighborhood dog and died of contusions. I had forgotten to ask her how she had learned of this trick.
How did the birds know? I closed my eyes and imagined the large expanse of the world lit up at night by the soft swiveling lights of goldfinches that connected into lines, patterns. Did these patterns mimic any specific constellation? Had my parents travelled in the route of Orion or the migratory path of the Arctic plovers? Why had Yasmina never told me? Had I known this infallible method, I too could have found and stayed by my parents until they had grown feeble. Or else, my parents would have travelled lighter, swifter, their journey a clever game of hide and seek across continents, oceans and wastelands. Our parents would have shrugged us off merely to find us at their doorstep, confessing the eternal boomerang of birth that links a child to two utter strangers. It is a fascinating thing, the magnetic propensity of goldfinches.
To prove the infallibility of this method, I forced my wife to close her eyes. I then left our child with a family in Peru. It has been five years now and, due to civil unrest and inner turmoil, we have lost touch with them. My wife points out bitterly that there are no goldfinches on the South American continent. But we move every month on schedule because I am afraid that years will pass and that, one day, my son will catch up, wearing a robe of pale yellow feathers. He will pitch his tent upon my heart and the sand will rise miles high, scratching the sun.
If my premise holds true, this son of mine will be even smaller than I am, even more still: he will travel in my ear like a earwig, a mite; he will insist that we never be parted, that each parting forces the death of a creature that owes nothing to either of us. I can only move faster and faster, leaving behind no trail of my existence, no crumbs, no stain, no smell. He pursues me at night, flying above, a dervish. I tunnel underground, in the sand, waging war with the scarabs who keep their distance but remain near, waiting. He stands at the entrance with a stick, poking, until I come up for air. Surrounding him are cages piled upon cages, each filled with frantic wild birds who fly repeatedly against the bars. He begins to bury them one by one in the mud although they are still alive and struggling. I wonder who has taught him this or if this cruelty is instinctual, inspirational, a love of rote learning, the only proof of a link between us and our children.
Above me, he stands, bawling miracles, stamping the dirt.
All the stories Mika sent to me, I keep in a folder. This folder is a faded blue violet folder covered with a sketch he made of me holding a clock. You can hardly tell it is me, my face is so covered by the hands of the clock.
This sketch, he called the violet hour.
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