Snakes emerge from the ocean. The hard sky glitters a deep, uniform blue. Beneath its massive, perfect dome, deformed snakes like antediluvian lifeforms crawl up onto the land. The sun, perfectly still in the dead center of the sky, is a single rotten eye. The snakes slither up over yellow dunes ruled by that merciless eyeball, their breath coming in gasps.
I know, you see. Even sitting quietly beside this stone stair, I know. Far in the distant past, the relationship between two people was sundered. Back then the sky was a dusky purple, and the gratingly sharp light fell on the iron handrail of a fire escape. The light had turned to ice and was burning. In truth, the purple of the sky was nauseating, stagnant. Far off a siren was blaring.
I believe I let my long, long girlhood pass in suffering. I was always sweating, dragging all that excess fat around with me. I was aware of my own stink.
Two people parted ways then. I needed to get to that place as soon as I possibly could—this was something I vaguely felt long after the fact. These irrevocable events proceeded exactly as scripted. And though I knew, I couldn’t do anything about it. After all, I was a sorry excuse for a girl for a hundred years, maybe more.
The snakes keep coming. Here I am spending a peaceful afternoon sitting among the azaleas. Does everyone know about the snakes? About this endless stream of creatures who seem to be fleeing the ocean?
Two ladies leisurely descend the stone steps, a couple of real beauties in kimonos, strolling through the sunlight. One wears a flamboyant flower pattern on a black background. She looks sterner than the other.
“What’s that hairstyle called?” her companion, dressed all in cream, inquires. Her voice is soporific, elusive.
“Don’t you know?” the woman in black smiles.
“No . . .”
“It’s called ‘The Siege of Port Arthur.’ ”
At length their voices fade and disappear. Probably because it’s just too hot. Like there’s gold dust dancing in the air. No wind. Nothing moves.
I gaze at the path below the stone stair. The ladies’ sons are crouched there, scratching something into the ground. Five and six years old.
The decisive parting happened long, long ago, and then it was all over. A mind-bogglingly long time passed, and everyone forgot about it. Things decayed completely, until there was no way for them to break down any further. And a long time passed after that process of decay had ended.
I’ve always been walking. And I have to keep on walking. Because I still haven’t found my little brother. That boy, his body a specimen adorning the bright, happy sunroom of the facility, just might have been my brother. But staring at the internal organs neatly packed inside his splayed-open belly, I thought, no—this isn’t the child I’m searching for.
Back when my skin was still humming with filthy life, I lived in a big house with all my siblings. Twelve, maybe eighteen—anyhow, there were a lot of us. One of them went missing, I believe, and I think one of my older sisters killed herself. No one much cared about any of it. And I gave up on having a single stream of memory, too. I’m pretty sure our beautiful, demented mother had already picked up husband number five somewhere along the way. Thanks to her unstinting efforts, my siblings must have ballooned to a staggering number at this point.
The tangle of snakes fills the beach to overflowing. Their glistening, livid backs entwine, secreting mucus on one another. They begin to erode the land.
The two beauties are standing, chatting cheerfully, while their sons play together cheek to cheek. One throws his soft arm around the other’s neck and whispers something in his ear. The younger boy giggles. I’m able to see every single one of their overlong eyelashes with perfect clarity.
Time is passing at a stupendous rate. With an unchanging viscosity. Things just sluggishly weather away to nothing. That purple sky will never come again. Whatever happens, no one will be surprised. No one will notice; after all, they’ve long abandoned the act of remembering. Maybe they can’t even die.
Maybe the boy I’m looking for isn’t a human being. Day followed night, and night followed day. Wounds closed, then opened again, then dissolved to the point that it was impossible to discern their original form. And yet if that child is somewhere (and I’m convinced he is), surely it’s beyond him to be alive and waiting.
In town, the people are beaten down by the sun’s rays. They crawl across the ground, clawing their way through the tepid air. Knowing full well the end will never come, they simply endure the pain. He had been staring at my naked back with eyes like razors. I was forever enduring the pain, so I could never think about anything else. I took off my clothes and did my piecework, then once again gave my love to him.
Such is the film that unreels before my eyes as I sit among the azaleas. I was a plenty good girl, so he made me a lot of promises. Why? I have no idea. I was always one hundred percent submissive, obedient to anyone and everyone. Because something irrevocable had happened. Because I couldn’t stop it from happening.
Below the stone stair, the six-year-old is gouging out the other boy’s eye. With something like a metal chopstick. Torrents of blood gush over the boy’s chin and onto his shirt. Their mothers are still chatting. I stand up. I can’t stay here. Got to keep searching.
Tens of thousands of snakes surge onto the highway. Everyone watches quietly, with eyes like hollow pits.