A Destiny of Bone EXCERPT, Fiction
Foam glistens around the contours of her skin. Emma glides, arms and legs spread wide, inside the body of the Snake River. Watches herself whirling like rapids swirl over river rocks, light spinning gold into ripples, across desolate branches through scattering sky. Her eyes trace the trajectory of clouds that yield overhead into tangerine husks of twilight. Holding her, the river cascades above terrestrial surges gathering strength in its timeless progression to the cold Pacific blue. She perceives herself; a shimmering between sound and nothingness; floating crosscurrents, attuned to a constant lovelyness beneath tumbling currents, the lilting voices hunting inside windfalls, tastes light alive, her solid parts pulse with a radiance whirring out of nothingness. Irene sits sidesaddle in the knee high wild grass above the riverbed follows her daughters gaze through the atmosphere. Apprehends in her child, a faint trace of herself. Observes the ease of movement transfiguring Emma’s body from an oneiric whisper of landscape into a form, suddenly woman, surging upwards before slipping as mercury back into the river. Nods her head in concession of the impossibility of ever getting a firm hold on her daughter.
Ascending from the water hands full of silt and mud. Reaching Irene, Emma slides to knees, muddy arms encircle her mother’s lost waist. Together their faces turn to the river. They scry into it. Discern three swans. “An auspicious sign,” whispers Irene, placing a finger on Emma's top lip who unburdens the moment with laughter. Water rises above the stone beds. Sunflowers and daisies of Irene’s faded cotton skirt become cumbersome as Emma brushes her mother’s hips, thighs, down to her toes, around ankles with uneven lumps of the clay. Once finished slips as a lullaby into her mother. The rapids quicken, enveloping them. Emma feels the transparency of their hands as she gasps for air, the existence of her mother no longer tangible. Everything dissolves into the uncertain quiet.
Her hair fans out, imitating the arms of an octopus. The darkness is sonorous, water growing colder into stillness. Sightless, recalls when she was little reading that octopus are hunted at night…-okto is for eight and –pous for foot…if they lose a tentacle another grows in its place…a man she once loved told her, "to bite directly between the eyes into the brain, but, that it’s difficult to do" to kill one. Later catching one hiding in a coral bed, it’s eye arrested her and she let go, never to eat another…a poem she'd memorized, In an octopus trap/Dreaming useless dreams/The summer moon!...was it by Basho? Would the octopus grow another brain if it escaped? Struggling futilely, she's lost in all directions, the surface out of place. Pressure smothers her, body jolts, awakes into quietude. Nights full dress of dew around her, a fingernail of moonlight in the nearness.
She stands into the darkness probes among the constellations. Mother. Her mother. Without hesitation the knowing grabs. Her mother's preparing to leave. It’s about 4:15 am she guesses, accurately. The hawks screech through clattering treetops while thin ribbons of silver undulate over the mountain range.
...Irene looked at her daughter, noted in her the unmistakable resemblance to her own father. Both of them possessed lips that drew you to them, made for kissing, she always told her daughter, just like my father. Thought back through time searching for an answer to Emma's question of what bound the women in their family, as she took in the goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace ruffling the horizon. A one word answer, loss. Emma wrinkling her forehead not comprehending. It was a foreign idea to her and out of alignment with the picture she held of her mother. She laughed confronting her mother with a glance, mischief written inside those magnetic eyes. Sang a note pure as crystal white wind up and down her mother’s back, strode to the river, long strides and laughter, arms and hands conducting a private symphony. Splashed and sang, beckoning her mother, inviting her to play…daring her, as she lifted the river and threw it in Irene’s direction. Then swish, gone she was, out of sight. Irene next saw her drifting upright, carried in the motions of earthly kindness.
Irene beheld it all, watched her daughters animalistic gait, the pleasure dancing inside of flesh. She hadn’t been laughing at her but at the idea of this legacy. Irene knew Emma didn’t belong to her in the way most children belong to their mother. At times it was difficult. She didn't know what to do. She’d never played the role of daughter in a way Irene could hook into. Too feral, allied or was it possessed, with something larger than herself. Irene admired it but it also made her worry about Emma. Would it bring her happiness, this force of nature running through her? Her own hungry body yearned to let go, for the fidelity that animated her child. Was this faith? She wanted to walk like that, to not care, not not caring...just be. To be at home in herself, her life simply an extension of all that is.
Leaning back that day Irene had mused, after all her years of prayer she still didn’t completely trust in the mercy of the unseen, and this daughter of hers who refuted all such things, rambled brazenly in the palm of life, never looking back...or forward for that matter. She didn’t imagine God would look like this: defiant, full of joy. But when she was with her she didn’t doubt. Emma was shepherd to a benevolence that infused her life. Irene wanted to feel it wholly, to find a way into herself and never look back again.
On her desk there are sienna, saffron and catlinite pollens from the desert, burnt orange from star lilies, raptor talons, whale teeth next to a narwhal horn, gifts to her, along with a polar bear claw necklace. There is bark from the birch trees and a cluster of pine needles scent the room, a fine silk brush of delicate beauty, pale pink roses from the grocery store, a silver bracelet from her boyfriend in fifth grade, Michael, an array of photographs—various textures and shapes—some recognizable others spectral, on the wall a handmade mask of leather and owl feathers. Opposite this, her worktable, bare except for the first netsuke she ever carved. A whale. Her chisels and boxwood, aprons, oils and the remainder of her tools are organized on a small bench. Carving initially had not been in alignment with her impulsive temperament but she found something fascinating about his style of Japanese carving and had hung with it and now the netsukes were part of her. She had become accustomed to the process, it whittled away, with each stroke all that was false about her. Her passions have not lessened it is only that now instead of being blinded by them they have condensed and flow under her calrity.
Emma fashionins a Great Blue heron, her mother’s favorite, from mastodon bone, releasing it from forgotten marrow. Has made her other herons but this one is different. It's the last one she will give to her. They've always traded words, enjoying their cloaked symbols. She tells her mom mastodon arrived from the Greek roots of –mastos meaning breast and –odon, referring to tooth. Teeth classify the animal and netsuke means root-attached.
She walks down the narrow hallway, the filaments of sunlight breaking into day highlight her auburn ponytail. Light leaks into what is now her mother’s room. Emma lies down gently to avoid startling Irene, who sleeps longer these days, with great care places an arm over her and whispers, “No more loss, there will be no more sorrow mother. I don’t deny it or sadness, I refute it as the measure of life.” Belly presses against her mother’s back. She wants to make a whole skeleton, chisel all the stories of their family, told and untold, give shape to this binding love. Engrave the bones with their ancestry into the world and embalm it with the long held voices of Pleistocene memory.
Emma had to make a choice many years ago...