The House of Entheogens

house

She met him in October on the Georgetown campus. He was wearing a red a blue baseball cap. The wind blew it off and she picked it up. Returned it to him. They started talking about the weather, then science, and soon philosophy. Quickly, they became friends.

 

They spent several Sundays taking walks to the local farmer’s market to pick out apricots, then going to eat them on a blanket in the park. It was the most romantic thing she’d ever done. But they remained nothing more than friends, yet something more than casual acquaintances. After all, she had recently finished her journalism degree and worked at a restaurant part-time, and he was pursuing his Ph.D. at Georgetown. Both of them, divorced. Neither had time for dating – or at least – no desire in walking the path to another broken heart.

 

Once it got cold, he invited her to his house. When she walked in, she wondered why he had a rice cooker with aluminum foil on top. A device to make gold out of, he told her. He explained the whole process. His alchemy. She trusted him. He studied quantum mechanics after all.

 

The house was full of strange things. (No, not the kind of strange things mothers warn daughters about before they sneak away with a glass of wine and the latest E L James novel.) The kind of strange things that made her curious and ask a lot of questions.

 

In the kitchen he kept tiny bottles on the shelves, full of substances that looked like chemicals or powders. Others were full of herbs, leaves, and varieties of tea, with perhaps a few strains of medical marijuana in the mix.

 

“Entheogens,” he told her. “Meaning ‘generating the divine within.’ Or more simply put — plant medicines. They produce non-ordinary states of consciousness. People around the world use them for religious or spiritual reasons.”

 

“Oh, right,” she said. “I knew that….and what exactly do you do with them?

 

“Oh, sometimes people come to me and buy them. If enough people are interested, I’ll lead retreats where people could take the entheogens within a safe container, like a Santo Daime church, someone’s backyard in the woods, or a yoga studio.

 

There was nothing ordinary about him, she thought. And maybe that’s why she hung around.

 

 

“So….you’re dating a drug dealer?” Penelope gasped.

 

“Well, no, not exactly,” she said. “I don’t know if we’re actually ‘dating,’ we’re just friends. Anyway, he’s more of an um…urban shaman.”

 

“Is that what he calls himself, or did you just make that up right now?”

 

“I mean….I guess it’s the term he uses, but I still find it pretty fascinating.”

 

“Come on Nat,” Penelope reached out to touch her hand. “I’m worried about you.”

 

“He’s getting a Ph.D.! In quantum physics!”

 

“Hah….Denver worked as Noam Chomsky’s literary agent, and you saw how that turned out when I needed someone to drive me to Planned Parenthood last summer!”

 

“What, you prefer I date a nice normal guy? Like the guy at the coffee shop with muscular arms and the compass tattoo who talked to me about The Unbearable Lightness of Being and then asked for validation for the quality of his pictures on his Bumble profile?”

 

“No! No…that’s not what I’m saying. I just think you deserve someone who genuinely cares about you, Natalie. Drugs and things…whatever. I just don’t want to see you settling for someone who just who only cares about himself again.”

 

 

She enjoyed exploring his house. She experimented with the musical instruments he collected from his travels around the world, like the Aboriginal didgeridoo and Malian n’goni. She watered the twenty potted plants and herbs sitting by the window. She bought him a bamboo plant, a snake plant, and a bonsai tree, just to add something a little more ordinary to the most exotic mix.

 

The jars of entheogens were meticulously labeled with the common name and its psychoactive constituent:

 

Ayahuasca – Harmala alkaloids and DMT

Bolivian torch cactus – Mescaline

Fly agaric – Ibotenic acid and muscimol

Magic mushrooms – Psilocybin and psilocin

 

“When did you know you were….you know….a ‘shaman?’ ” she asked.

 

“Maybe as young as twelve,” he said, not noticing the glint of sarcasm in her voice. “I started out having out of body experiences. Lying in bed before I would fall asleep, it felt like my body was being submerged in water like I was about to cross over into spirit realm. Started perceiving what was going to happen in the future. Sometimes clairvoyant. I didn’t know what was happening to me. When one of my college professors gave me some of C. G. Jung’s literature on archetypes and the collective unconscious, some things started to make sense.”

 

He paused to take in the confused look on her face.

 

“Don’t worry,” he laughed, almost reading her mind. “I’ve looked into mental health issues – I don’t have schizophrenia, not possible. Doesn’t run in my family line. I believe my ancestors carried this knowledge, and it’s coming through me in this generational incarnation of the bloodline. And of course, Western medicine doesn’t have a name for these types of things. Hence, a lot of people do end up getting a mental health diagnosis. What I experience is just that – what I experience. Weird things happen from time to time, but it doesn’t dominate my life. And I find the plants guide me to what I need to know.”

 

Remarkably, Trevor was the most normal person she had been with, even out of her male friends. When she was with him she felt safe and calm.

 

“And how did you find the plants?” she asked.

 

“Maybe you should be asking ‘how did the plants find me’?’”

 

“Oh my friend,” she smiled and laughed. “You are such a mystery. I could write a whole book on you.”

 

“Oh? What would it be – fantasy?”

 

She blushed. Fantasies. She had a few. There was clearly some sexual tension between them, of course. But the two hadn’t had sex, or made love, or even fucked, or whatever you want to call it, in the time they had now known each other.

 

“Are you winking at me?!” she jested, then coughed. “No, you know I write nonfiction. And hard journalism.”

 

There was an awkward silence between them. She pointed to the stack of books on his table.

 

“Speaking of nonfiction, tell me more about the intelligence of plants they talk about in your books. What does it mean exactly?”

 

“Let me think…Well, you can’t compare the intelligence of plants to that of humans, exactly. It’s not as if they have a rational, thinking mind, like a brain or a computer. Scientists who study plant intelligence see plants as highly sensitive organisms – rather than passive players in their environment. Plants monitor their internal and external worlds for informational and functional shifts – like changes in soil, water, light, etc. Just like our eyes have a sensory inflow from the spectrum of light to perceive colors, plants have gates of perception that allow sensory inflow from a spectrum of what is going on around them. Then, they integrate that information into their own state of being”

 

“Yes, now, go on.”

 

“When I take the plants, they can guide my body into that same level of perception. I can’t explain it well, poems seem to do the talking for me from there.” He pulled a book off of the table and turned to a bookmarked page:

 

It is actually a kind of dreaming

And not the kind of dreaming you are thinking about either

But a different kind of dreaming entirely

(It’s like the dreaming you do when you are reading this book)

The dreaming is the central core of what this book is about

It is the kind of dreaming that Goethe was engaged in

When he learned about plant metamorphosis

And Luther Burbank when he looked deep into the plant

And saw every environment its ancestors had ever lived in

And the same kind that Barbara McClintock did

When she watched individual chromosomes in corn shift their structure

It is the same state of mind that writers enter when they create words

It is also how Gaia dreams the world into being

And is the kind of dreaming you can do, too, if you wish,

If you decide to walk through the doors of perception

And find out what is on the other side

 

 

“It’s lovely. I love it. You know I love poetry. But let’s go back to what you mentioned earlier – how DID the plants find you?”

 

“Ah! Right. Five years ago, not long after I moved to the city for grad school and was living in a condo, and I had a dream that I was wandering around this big house with secret passageways behind bookshelves, hidden staircases, and a big front yard. I felt curious and elated like I did as a child discovering life’s mysteries for the first time. The next day got a lead from someone I had met randomly at a bookstore in Adams Morgan. The price was unbeatable for the city, almost like a gift from the gods.”

 

“Yeah, really, it’s impossible to find something these days,” she commented.

 

“And the next week, I bought this house. Everything you see here, the books, the jars, the labels – all already on the shelf from the previous owner. An Italian immigrant, I heard, who had passed and left nothing to his grandchildren who all live in various parts of the country and want nothing to do with his past. The plants were the passageways waiting for me to explore their world of insight. Their potential to heal us and bring us more into our true natures.”

 

She stared at him in silence.

“Trevor, I think you’re pretty cool, you know that?”

 

He laughed and went to go prepare her a coffee. “I guess you’re not so bad either.”

As much as Natalie enjoyed hanging out with Trevor, she simply couldn’t bring herself to opening up to him intimately. Perhaps is came from her unhealed past. Her first boyfriend told her about his trips on acid at 17 and became a heroin addict by the age of 22.  In her last serious relationship before her marriage, her boyfriend smoked a joint nearly every time they saw each other, which would make him fall asleep during sex. And then in her marriage — the most disastrous of them all – her husband was a physiatrist who eventually began abusing the opioids he gave to patients and had convinced her she was both anorexic and had bipolar disorder. Neither of which were true.

 

Natalie was never sure why she attracted these types of men into her life. Aside from the usual alcohol and weed in college, she had never really taken drugs herself. Things had not been great, and her friends never knew what she saw in these men. All of them, to varying degrees, had expressed interest in social and political change, but never really seemed to put much action behind their words. Their drug use came first.

 

Trevor, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care about politics at all. When he wasn’t working with the entheogens, he put all of his energy into his studies. She knew there was something different about him. They kept their boundaries, and she let the man remain a mystery.

 

In February, Penelope and Natalie got their nails done for Valentine’s Day. She told Natalie she has a dream where she is pregnant. They stop by a drug store for the test and sure enough –

 

“I can’t believe it’s going to happen. I’m going to be a mom!”

 


TO BE CONTINUED

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New York 1/Tel Aviv 0

I feel in love with this collection of short stories I picked up at a Little Free Library.
This one stood out to me. Reminds me much of the same sentiment Maxine Hong Kingston explains in her explanation of “ghosts,” time and America.
“And somehow, in spite of the half-baked walking among us, in spite of mad, ersatz Time Counters who walk the streets of our cities mumbling numbers, convinced that time has not resume, in spite of the various inedible, temporally corrupted fruits and vegetables that the earth, after its long stagnation, produces for at least a year — people forget. People forget because they choose to do so, and they choose to forget because remembering allows for the possibility of recurrence. People forget, and make cardamom tea, and fall in love, and buy ties. On Valentine’s Day, they pay for overpriced dinners. Salmon in their mouth, they talk about their planned vacation for the summer. At weddings, they try to guess who the next person to get married will be, and they smile at the thought of the entire family together in one place again, the joy it will bring. Every moment, they wait for the next. Every day, they think about the future. They forget.
I can say this: I never forgot. I found it curious that people around me did. I remember, and I knew that time would stop again, only to resume again, only to stop again. It seemed obvious, like gravity, or death.”
Live in the present ya’ll.

Simone’s Diary

(***trigger warning – graphic sexual imagery)
I feel so delicately intertwined with him, like a fly caught in a spider’s web. In the web of all life, she believed, lead people together, even into entrapment and venomous harm.
 
April 7th
It’s been a week since I’ve seen you. I expected you would call me today, but it appears that you are out of town on a business trip to the coast of Southern California.
Instead, I called my cousin, Maryanne, who isn’t really my cousin but the daughter of my aunt’s first husband, who killed himself when he jumped off the side of a bridge in the 80s. We don’t talk about that.  Maryanne comes over with a J, and we sit on the front porch. I tell her I’m not going to smoke because of the interview tomorrow, but I do anyway. We start to discuss things like how miserable we are at our jobs, the weirdest sex positions we’ve done and how the pyramids in Egypt align with the stars in Orin’s Belt. I tell her a read a book by an Egyptian author recently for my translation class. As always she nodded her head and scrambled to change the subject and not focus my college education. I know she resents me because of it.
“Do you remember Aladdin?” she asked me.
“Yeah, sure, but that’s in Saudia Arabia, not Egypt…”
“Remember the time where I put your Aladdin Barbie doll next to a hamster cage, and he bit it’s nose off?”
“Yeah, Mom thought that was pretty horrific.”
“She never let me forget it.”
“Yeah.”
“And do you remember the part when Jafar traps Jasmine inside of an hourglass? At the end of the movie.” 
“When she can’t get out and she is crying for help? And then Alladin comes and breaks the glass so she can escape.”
“Yeah. You know, sometimes I felt like that.”
“Oh yeah?” When I reveal something about the how I feel to Maryanne her eyes perk up, as if she wants to know more about me to confirm that something I feel about myself she could feel too.
 
“I never told anyone this, but I used to think about sex before I fell asleep. And not the usual kind of sex. After seeing that movie, all sorts of torturous devices came inside my head. I couldn’t fall asleep without thinking about it. I used to think of a woman inside of a spider’s web, the spider’s silk slowing wrapping around her body so that a man could later have her. I never really knew what it meant I just know I used to think about it.”
“Yeah, yeah, kind of like subliminal advertising. It gets in your head and makes you think things that you don’t wanna think.”
    
“I never told anyone this either, but our godmother’s son used to touch me, while we were playing video games. I was only nine when it started. I don’t know for how long it went on. Maybe I was only seven or so, but I think nine. He was thirteen. I remember sitting there with a controller in my hand and his arms wrapped around me, feeling me. I forgave him. I remember a voice in my head saying ‘Maybe he doesn’t know what he’s doing. ‘Maybe he thinks it’s okay because someone did it to him.’ I thought my parents would be angry if they found out, so I never told them. ‘Maybe it does feel good,’ I used to think. I learned to forget about it so quickly. He used to invite me to play board games with him under the covers of his bunk bed. I remember thinking ‘Maybe if I asked my little brother to play with us, I would be safe.’ My brother shielded me. But then there was this time, I think at my dad’s work, in the childcare room at his office, and he pulled me into this rocket ship made of cardboard and pulled down his pants. All I remember was his Ninja Turtle underwear, and maybe something happened, maybe it didn’t, I don’t know…I guess I’ve blocked it out. It stopped, I think one of the teachers walked into the room or something. I remember wanting to tell my mom so badly about what was going on, but I told my best friend at school who convinced me I had to say something, so I did. My mom was shocked, but I don’t think she ever told my godmother.” I started to cry. “I know I shouldn’t feel bad right now, but I do. I don’t know why. I shouldn’t be wasting our time together telling you about this…sorry, yeah, I don’t know why I’m telling you about this.”
“You’re not wasting our time together.” Maryanne sat there pulling in a big puff of air from her the J. “I just think that it’s pretty fucked up.”
May 22nd
You asked me out and took me to my favorite art gallery where they had poetry and jazz and paintings and everything in the world that I loved, maybe, including you. We took a walk back in the cold, and you gave me a piggyback ride and I could tell you wanted to kiss me but we had to pee, so I said I had the keys to the store where I worked and where we met. Maybe my boss would be mad but she would never find out if I didn’t tell her. You kissed me and said come over, then you drove me home while the radio played a song I knew, and I ended up on your soft mattress, and I made the bed the next day after you left for work and you texted me later to say thank you. I went to work late. I think my boss was mad. But I didn’t care because I felt so happy.
June 30th
While on vacation you asked me to send pictures of the beach. I sent you a picture of a face I made out of leaves I made while talking to my father on the phone and then a picture of me wearing a mermaid’s dress made of scales. You replied hm, that’s sexy.
Today went for massage because I felt like it. I thought about how men always get tricked into a happy ending massage. After the masseuse had left I noticed the size my tits in the mirror for a bit. They used to be so firm and perky when I was in shape, but now they seem heavier and rounder. I pose in the as I imagine a pin-up model would.  I go into the bathroom and give the happy ending to myself.
July 31st
I came over hungry even though I already ate dinner and devoured some peanut butter cups you had leftover while you taught me to play chess. We watched the news, and you said wow shit is seriously messed up out there, cops killing people. I said Maybe they shouldn’t carry guns. You said Yeah, but we don’t want cops who are pussies you know. Later you ate me out on your kitchen counter-top beside the chess set.  In the morning you left for work, and I ate the rest of the peanut butter cups while I watched TV alone. You texted me to tell me you ran into the homeless lady that we fed and housed a few weeks ago outside your workplace on the other side of town. While watching TV, I learned something about those indigo children on Ancient Aliens. Then I read an entire book by Herman Hesse. It felt good to be fed by you and be given the to keys to your empty house.
August  14th
Let me tell you a little bit about the way we have sex. I don’t feel like I need a shield with you. You talk about things I use to fantasize about often, like getting spanked or choked, saying please before I came or do anything you asked me too. It scares me a bit, and I think you know it. I had a boyfriend who used to do things I never asked for but he’s in the past.  You changed your tone a bit one day and instead started saying “May I touch for my own pleasure?” and honestly I had never felt so liberated by a question. To be used for your pleasure and knowing you would be pleased by it without having to communicate that.  Knowing I could use you back too in any way I choose.
You asked me How do you feel when you watch porn? I said that I don’t. I used to I always felt kind of gross afterward. You said Yeah, me too. That’s why I don’t either anymore.
It never felt like we had a separate transition into sex. It was foreplay, all of it. I would look at your body, all of it, even the light bluish glow that surrounded you from the motion light from the house across from my window.
I had a lot of beliefs about myself that would simply disappear from my mind. 
“I’m nothing more than a sex puppet cashier from the store you frequented.”
“Sex with my ex- was better.”
“I’m only attracted to your material wealth.”
“I never really thought I was sexy until you said it.” 
You clung to me afterward. We moved to separate sides to sleep then embraced in the morning. You asked me what I dreamt about, and I always told you. Sometimes I dream about you and sometimes about you and your mother. And then I asked you what you dream about and you just said Your dreams were strange. I made your bed again after for you after you left for coffee with your friends. I sat on your porch and read a book that my mother sent me in the mail about love while I combed my hair. 
Between the things you tell me, I suppose you are seeking freedom for yourself too. I have a question for you. If you too are a seeker, who knows God’s power constantly and asks God consistently for guidance, and with whom I feel God’s love considerably, why do you still reject anything that resembles intimacy?
August 20th
After work, you said I want to take a walk with you. I took you to a log I liked in the woods. You said I can’t help but feel like something is missing between us. I said Yeah, Maybe we need to end this. I straddled the log, and then I kissed you. You said Okay, maybe we can keep trying for a little bit and see where this goes.
September 18th
Took a bath in your tub after your house cleaners let and you left and read this DH Lawrence Poem.
 
THE DEEPEST SENSUALITY
The profoundest of all sensualities
Is the sense of truth
And the next deepest sensual experience
Is the sense of justice.
Then I tried to send you a picture of me naked in your tub, but I don’t think it went through to you.
I never read DH Lawrence before today, but he reminded me of my uncle who wrote a book about him.  When we traveled together, he would look at the advertisements in the airports and tell me which models were also porn stars. I asked him how he knew that (because I didn’t think he had the Internet) and he would say Well, I’m a man so of course, I know that.
November 11th
It’s a holiday, and I text you Do you have the day off?
     I am about the head into the woods.
     I am in the woods right now.  I said. Come chase me down.
     Let me know when you’re out of the woods. In the meantime, I’ll come try to find you.
     Okay, see you in the meantime.  I wrote. But then I changed my mind for some reason. I write I mean, see you then.
Ten minutes later I saw you pass me in your red sweatpants and we went down to the river together where we sat and watched a little boy skip stones into the water. I held you on a rock where we sat and I said I think my high school boyfriend may have emotionally and mentally abused me and you said If I ever had a kid I’ll name him Nico like the boy who was skipping stones.
December 11th
I had a dream that you put a ladder against my window and climbed in. You joined me on my bed on the floor and cuddled with me amongst my pillows. You seemed safe and cozy in my arms. You put your head in my lap and cried started to confess everything to me until you changed to topic to my mattress and said I’d like one of these too. Even in my dream, I remember thinking how That’s so like you, to change the topic to a material object like the mattress before you got real with me. And then to put everything you desired in the future tense, and never think of the having of it now.
So I just said Thanks for coming over.
January 4th
When I remind you all shadows need light, you asked me Okay, what do you mean by that. We suddenly hear two cats screaming, and we look out the window to see on a patch of grass a black cat and a white cat staring at each other waiting to see who will back down. You remind me animals never hold on their fight or flight response.
January 20th
I brought you over and said maybe we should end things and you said maybe we should just be friends without sex. You said that You’re really messed up in the head and I asked you how. You said it’s hard for you to see women as people not just sexually.  You said Your mother never said anything nice to you.
I said that reminded me of a story I heard once about a man who watched City of God and then couldn’t get the thought out of his head that he wanted to kill his wife for months so he started meditating so he could stop thinking about it.
I thought That sounds like something I heard my aunt say about my uncle and why he never slept with any of the women he worked with.
February 2nd
You held your palm to my head one morning while I verified the meaning of the soul.
“Your soul is that part you loved when no one was around, when you were free, when you did the thing you loved for hours and felt like you were lost, could never get out of it, felt like you were at peace, like your parents didn’t even exist, and you were pure.”
You said do you know what that is. I said Yes, of course, it’s writing and working with children and I can never doubt that.
You gave me a hard kiss, like the kind of kiss that says damn I love you, and then you hurriedly wrote something down in your notebook.
I got dressed. For some reason, I couldn’t find my bra. I walked out, and you said I like your bright red pants.
February 4th
On your birthday you sent a car for me. I could taste a bit of alcohol on your breath, but I liked how you weren’t sober like usual.
In the morning you asked me Why are you bothering to stay here with me? How do you not find me annoying? And you looked like you wanted to cry for the first time.
I said because I guess I care about the people in my life. And you are someone that I care about. I am there to emotionally support them.
I thought When I met you I felt my whole heart open. I draped myself living room couch unable to move and my roommate saying I’ve never seen you so happy.  I wanted to listen to voicemails to hear your voice and now I have it hear.
A month ago I decided by the end of the month I’ll stay or go. We decided to be just friends and not sleep together, but did we really decide that? Now you want to open up even more, but your mother never loved you, you never felt whole as a child. I thought What’s that all about? what the hell am I supposed to do about that? I spoke to you in a way I had never spoken to anyone. I never told you I made a promise to myself to fall in love this year and maybe that’s why I’m still here.
February 22nd
I came to your house to retrieve the bra I left and watched you do your work. I sat across from you at a safe distance and drank the water you offered me. I don’t believe we leave the things behind by accident, a part of us always wants to come back to claim more than the object itself.
I’d listen to you type away furiously. I needed to sit near you. I needed to read all you had written, some critical report you had completed yourself. Seemed to me to be more about the economic fate of some developing country with no option to opt out.
You began to massage my wrist delicately  Suddenly I knew why were hurting me. I said I need to talk to you. I need you to see more.   I asked What value am I to you? You said I don’t know.  I thought maybe I am just a whore to you. I said Look. I really like you. Look. You are hurting me. I couldn’t even look at you. I started to cry. You said nothing. I asked you What are you thinking? You said I’m thinking I’m worried I’ll run into you again at the store where we met. I said You know I don’t work there any more. You just stared at me. I said Why are you looking at me like that? You said Well, Why are you staring at me? I said I’m sorry for taking you away from your work. I thought Why the fuck am I apologizing? You said You don’t need to apologize. I thought I just want you to say you love me. You said I’m glad you were brave enough to do this. I said I need to leave now.
At the door, you stuffed your hands into your pockets so tightly that your veins were protruding and you hung your head down. You asked me Do you want a hug? I said  Yes, I do. I started to cry over your shoulder. I said Look, I know you are a good person. I thought I don’t know how you managed to be both an abuser and my healer. You said Tell me how I’m a good person. I said You think about it. I thought You know it’s not my duty to heal the depth of self-loathing you’ve had last April. Your roommate was coming in the door and I didn’t want him to see me so I left right away.
When I got outside, I folded myself in two on the stoop next to your house. I started crying. In the dark, at least ten people walked past me before a man wearing ragged clothing stumbled past.
“Yeah, the same guy just did that to me too,” he said.
He moved forward a few more feet before turning over his shoulder and looking straight at me.
“Do you think we need to go back there and tell him how we feel?”

An Invasive Species

Those who thought “I don’t see this world way others see it,” are the ones who pushed on evolution. Looking at an ant colony, I see them moving around methodically. They don’t allow the others to die off because they need each other like a small organism that has different parts that move and swell and fade. So when did the first ant decide to pick up a leaf? Or when did the first one grow wings? Why did that ant who grew wings survive? How did it decide it was time to fly away? What was that “stuff” inside that pushed it to grow faster?

 

She picked up her leather bound journal. She walked. Trying to understand. She spent most of her days doing nothing more than that. Wondering why God has brought her here to this lonely place with Nelson. He spent many days, drawing the beaks of birds and napping along the coastline.

 

And what did she do? Most days she found the heat unbearable. She learned to cook a few dishes from the locals and sat and read the three books she had brought with her. She had read them enough times that she could close her eyes and recite them from memory, line by line.

 

In the evenings, they would sit and watch the sunset together, and she would nuzzle her head into the crook of his arm as he stroked her hair and told her about everything he had seen that day. He would talk into the waves about his research, and she would listen and slightly nod, offering an occasional question of which he would always try to answer. He would lean over and kiss the middle of her forehead, and with her eyes closed, she could see a bright white light flash from the point just below her hairline. She would begin to recite to him lines from the latest book she had been reading and use dramatic voices, feeling the rise and fall of his chest when he laughed. When the stars came out, they would build fires from palm leaves and driftwood and nearly fall asleep. The beach became a haven for scorpions and other creatures at night, so they would always retreat to their small cabin to make love, but usually, they would just fall asleep. She would always ask him “What dreams do you think you’ll have?” and then they would play a little game. She would try to think of an object before they fell asleep and see if the other could secretly send the image along while they slept and then check back on their accuracy in the morning. Him, lying on his back and her, curled up like a newborn at his side. They would usually wake up and report that they had had strange dreams, but could never completely communicate what exactly had happened to the other.

 

Every morning, they rose with the sun, and she would prepare him a cup of coffee in a small tin mug with a red flower on it before he left for the day. He would review his notes, and she would finish making breakfast before he left for the day. Nearly six months of this simple life and she had recorded almost every day in a small pocket calendar she left at her bedside. When she wrote, she imagined addressing writing a note to her mother, asking questions like Are the kittens growing? Has my sister purchased a crib for the baby? The thought of going back to her former world seemed so far into a place unknown; she hardly remembered their old address or the names of her neighbors. Everything there seemed very mundane, and she hardly cared to wonder anymore.

 

—-

 

She could not communicate orally to the locals in the village, but that had not stopped her from attempting to socialize. After all, she needed social interaction outside from Nelson. On market day she would see her two close friends. The first, an old man who sat on the side of a linen shop and hummed tunes into an old flute. He had given her one, and they would play together on occasion. At first, he was not the best teacher. He would simply take the flute and rapidly flow into an old folk song he had memorized by heart, nodding to her and expecting her to repeat in turn. But after listening many times, she became fairly nimble with the instrument and came up with some tunes of her own. Before market days, he would always bring her a freshly picked bag of mangos from his orchard, yet she never knew how to express gratitude to the old man that provided for her, unconditionally.

 

Her second friend was a school-aged boy with a lazy eye who spent his afternoons out of school by the yogurt cart in town with his grandfather. He spent his days drawing pictures of animals on the back of his school primers. One day, she came to buy a cold yogurt and sat with the boy, giving him one of Nelson notebooks he had brought along. She would draw a picture of something and say the word in her native tongue, and he would write the word in his language in return.  She had learned quite a lot from him that way, and soon she found herself sitting with him after he had left school, doing homework from the same third-grade textbook he used for class and learning as much as she could. Occasionally, he would give her small gifts – a shiny pebble he had found on the shore or a piece of hard candy, and she would return the favor with a coin or a postcard from home. But her favorite gift of all appeared when she sat next to him, and he handed her a plate of fruit on which he had carved a pineapple into the shape of a small bird sitting on a branch.

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—-

 

Aside from her two local friends, she had befriended another foreigner on the island. She remembered the shock she felt the day at the marketplace when they locked eyes and looked as if the other had seen a ghost. He was an American who had spent two tours fighting in the Persian Gulf War and had come to the island as a way to recover from all of the tragedy he had experienced, and in time married a local from the island. She felt overjoyed and immediately ran back to the house to tell Nelson who she had met. The American came by the next day. It was the first day she had seen her husband take his nose out of his notes and pick up a beer. The three of them talked until the moon rose over the shore. Her heart rejoiced in the male companionship her husband had found. After all, a husband and wife could only keep each other company for so long before they felt as if they were talking into a mirror.

 

The American told the couple his stories. After two tours in the Persian Gulf, he came back to states to find himself homeless, drinking soup from a tin can he had pulled out of a dumpster until one day a woman from a Catholic charity mission cleaned him up and gave him a place to rest. He did not want to stay in the church for long, for fear of becoming converted, so he found work in a packaging plant and moved into a basement apartment of his own. One night, while walking home after a long night with his drinking buddies, a group of three teenage boys mugged him and broke his right leg, and he found himself out of work again and living off of his unemployment checks. He carted himself to the library on the weekends to an art therapy group reading Paradise Lost and making painted collages.

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“Me miserable! Which way shall I fly

Infinite wrath and infinite despair?

Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell;

And in the lowest deep a lower deep,

Still threat’ning to devour me, opens wide,

To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven.”

 

He decided once he became physically healed he would heal his mind and spirit through travel. He had seen so many men die in the Army that he began to question the purpose of life itself. He wanted to see what was out there beyond the crumbling streets of America and war-torn villages of the Middle East. So after saving up enough for a one-way ticket, he sent himself to Africa, then hitchhiking his way through Asia, and eventually flying to Central America before settling here on the island where he married and built a small home on the side of a mountain. Both she had Nelson were so captivated by his stories that they would invite him to the cabin after his weekly trips to the market for produce. They always promised to go up and see his home, but terrible weather or illness always seemed to prevent them from taking that journey.

 

One week, while Nelson’s was consumed in his research, she spent some time along with the foreigner. It was then that she began to notice things about him that didn’t seem quite right. He said and did things he had not in the presence of her husband, such as commenting on how overly lavish her clothing was for the island or occasionally brushing his hand along her waistline when he passed her while preparing dinner in the kitchen. One evening while the two were smoking cigarettes on the porch, he pulled out his small sketchpad from his back pocket. “Want to see a picture I drew of my wife?” he asked. He flipped through pages to reveal a picture of a woman with full, round breasts. “Aren’t her eyes so beautiful?” he said as he paused his index finger on the corner of the page.

 

He began to talk about his wife and his plans to take her back to America with him and show her a civilized life. He expected she would cook and clean for him while he took a job at a financial institution, and put his degree in business to use. He hoped they would try to have children, but had come to suspect that his wife had been drinking some strange type of mountain herb that prevented her from “producing” the heir he desired. She did not understand, for when he drank with Nelson the American could always talk about how he could live forever on this idyllic island of bliss with his wife, and never return to home. When she asked why he never brought his wife along for a visit, he said the journey down the mountain would be too much of a strain on her and hinder her ability to carry his future children.

 

When Nelson had left for a two-week-long excursion at sea to study the mating patterns of turtles, a terrible storm came to the island. In fear and loneliness of her husband’s return, she invited the American to stay with her for company and protection. He slept on a cot on the floor in the common room and occasionally on the hammock outside when the poor weather subsided. At night, she would sit and with him and chat while sewing and repairing holes Nelson’s torn trousers, sometimes tuning into the news on her AM radio or putting on a record to keep her mind off her longing for her husband’s return. She had stopped drinking and hardly ate more than a few pieces of fruit during the day, yet the knot in her stomach remained. During their evenings together, the American had taken up the habit of drinking vodka straight out of the bottle, chasing it with a beer. One night, the power went out, and she huddled next to him on the porch of their cabin, watching the rain pour mercilessly.

 

She took his hand in hers. “Tell me that we’ll be okay,” she said.

 

“Will it be okay?” Tears welled up in his eyes as he told her what he had seen in the military. The hundreds of men coming across his operating table, with missing limbs, open wounds, fractured skulls that revealed the bloody bits of ruptured brains.

 

“My body, when it dies, it just is gone, nothing else,” he said. His tiny pupils looked at hers as if he was looking into nothingness. “And that terrifies me, death. I don’t know what comes after.”

 

“There is another side,” she replied. “You know that of course.  All of the near death experiences that you hear of, the white light that people see. The way they feel they are floating out of their body, going into heaven’s gate.”

 

“Once, in Tibet, I witnessed a Sky Burial on the side of a mountain,” he began to speak as if he hadn’t even heard her comment. “I stood 500 meters away while I watched two men take their dead brother and lay him out for a pack of hungry vultures to pick apart. The flesh disappeared in a matter of minutes. All that was a stack of bones. The monk came with a knife and hacked away at the skeleton, then ground the bones into a paste with a motor. I watched the whole thing until nothing remained of the dead man’s body. I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. But I wondered, had they felt invaded by my voyeurism?  How would I feel, if these men had come to America, and stood on the sidelines while they watched a priest lower my brother’s coffin into the ground? Maybe they wouldn’t care.  According to the Buddhists, death isn’t the end, and we are all reborn. Maybe we are all just a part of the circle of things, and it’s true that a man’s flesh is no more valuable than a vulture’s. He goes to the sky through the belly of the bird until it then too dies, decays, and becomes a part of the endless circle of things once again.”

 

“Hmmm,” she whispered, “perhaps that’s how we go.”

 

He took another swig from the bottle.

 

“When I go, I want to have a party, go out with a bang! You know? Prop me up in bed, give my friends a round of champagne and let them drip morphine into my blood until I take my final breath.”

 

He pulled out a book of philosophy by Alan Watts from his pocket. She had no idea where the book came from, but she looked at it hungrily, wanting it to satisfy the thirst for knowledge three books she had already eaten could not give her.

 

“There is a beautiful quote in here that says: ‘I pray that death will not come and find me still unannihilated.’ In other words, man dies happy if there is no one to die, which means the ego has disappeared before death caught up with him. But you see, the knowledge of death helps the ego to disappear because it tells you that you can’t hang on. So what we need is to go out with a bang instead of a whimper.”

 

She let out a faint weep. The American leaned over on her shoulder, twisting a lock of her hair with his index finger. “Does your husband ever tell you how beautiful your eyes are?” he whispered.

 

She gently pulled herself away from his soft grasp and swiftly returned into the darkness of the cabin. She curled her knees into her chest under and dragged the thin layer of sheets up and over her ears. She knew in that instant that she did not want to see the American anymore

—–

 

The American returned to his home on the mountain the following day without a word. Nelson returned from his journey seven days after that. The two of them sat in their usual spot on the shoreline, and he habitually leaned in to kiss her forehead, but this time she could feel the quiver on his lips. Something was not quite right.

 

“We found a lot about the turtle’s mating habits and even more about their evolution,” he said. “The world needs to know this. It’s time I go back to publish our findings. Can you stay here? And maintain our cabin? As we promised, you know that.”

 

She nodded. “Of course my love.”

 

“I will be back in three months, once the committee has approved my second grant.”

 

She could feel the skin of her breastbone tighten, and she began to curl her knees into her chest. “Yes, of course, my love.” Looking up into his brown eyes, she twisted a lock of his wavy hair, hair that now nearly reached down to his shoulders.

 

“I may get a haircut while I’m back to,” he laughed, brushing her hand aside. “Will you be okay? Three months alone is a longtime alone for you. Perhaps the American and his wife can come down to keep company.”

 

“No, no, I don’t think he wants to see me anymore” she replied wanting desperately to tell her husband of their earlier encounter, but she held it in, wondering if such a wife even existed.

 

“I’ll continue my flute lessons, and I’ve found some new reading material,” she said, forcing a smile. “Just promise me to bring back some books?”

 

“Of course, my love. I’d bring back the entire bookstore for you.”

 

The next morning she stood at the shoreline, watching his boat sail away. On the ship, there was life and noise; she saw him searching for her; sorrowfully he gazed at the pearly foam as if he knew she had thrown herself into the waves.  She gracefully walked away, and her feet left fresh indentations in the sand, the only mark of life aside from a pack of vultures gnawing on a decaying fish by the jetty. She took a seat on the log by the anthill.

She closed her eyes and pulled out a pocket Bible and opened to a page at random “For when the ear heard, it called me blessed. And when the eye saw, it gave witness of me.”

 

She lifted her head to the sun, and felt the, for the first time, her eyes filling up with tears.

 

She was in his thoughts, and the knife trembled in her hands: then she flung it far away from her into the waves; the water turned red where it fell, and the drops that spurted up looked like blood.

 

Her legs gave way, her limp body becoming one with the sand. She allowed her flesh to be coated by the music of the waves, dissolving into the water from which she had come from and to where her immortal soul would one day return.

 

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