It is the last day, and along the river, women are gathering the raw silk and cotton in coils of dripping color, feet bare, raw really and they’re exhausted. This is the day that wires me to color but they are — most of the way through their own lives. 42? 50?
From the mountains. From the sky.
It is the last day I knew you in the time that we touched. And the more I write this, the more I realize how long ago it truly was that we touched. Centuries have passed and each life, I am born feet-first beneath a Lebanese cedar until finally, I am born in England on a summer’s day, girls with pink ribbons in their hair trailing an even paler red light from their bodies as they gallop past on the street below. I count their cells. Each cell gives off a tiny bit of light. That light escapes; and yet, as the passage to rebirth narrows, I look away from them — fierce white animals that they are.
I knew you.
I loved a man. A man with teeth made of channeled white — the white of lions. This is the language made available to me by English. Language does not survive death. I loved him and now — I search for him, scanning, at every airport and sometimes even in the supermarket in the large town to the north.
I can’t sleep at night. Approaching death each time, I feel neither anxiety nor fear but relief that I can try again.
It is the last day. I am 23. My husband is 24. It is 1895. It is 1431. It is 1972. We have been married for five months. I love him in a way that unknots me from the sky — from the inexorable flow of day into night. Even the day is night when he is near me. But he dies. He dies then dies again. We gasp — I gasp, my mother-in-law gasps — but die he does, in front of us, on the wet ground. We are in the courtyard when he buckles to his knees, then over to his side. He is walking to the kitchen from the bath, a threadbare towel thrown over his left shoulder, a thin cotton dhoti tied around his waist. July and so it’s raining. Monsoon jasmine spilling out of our mouths when we scream: the air…
By nightfall, his pyre is prepared. A leaf wrapped around a mixture of nuts and a narcotic, an altering — powder — is pushed into my mouth. Drugged, I am propped between two others as I walk to the river pyre and there he is, there he is, there he is — a form.
Sheet, sticks, red powder and a fire — a fire is so cold…the red shape against the black river behind it, running hard. Monsoon…
And with a shove, and with a push.
I am gone.
No, they haven’t lit it yet. I am lying on top of my husband. And when they set the fire, I don’t feel anything.
Dressed in white.
The fire sobers me up. The fire reaches my foot and in that instant, terrifying everyone, I stand up. I stand up and I scream. I scream and I arch back. I arch back and I rotate. I twist in the air.
Imagine a woman leaping from a fire into the water.
For an instant, she’s glimpsed — seen by others — face up — in that water, the fire running over the top of her body — and then swept — downstream — still ablaze.
The pink dolphins surge towards her. Why?
This is the last day.
Now my eyes are closed. The pink dolphins keep my mouth and nose above the water. Gradually, the calls of the men on the riverbank fade. I fall asleep. I fall into a deep sleep.
In this sleep, the dolphins carry me to the delta and then out to sea. There, a whale slips beneath and carries me farther in — deep into the true sea.
Tiny creatures come and nibble away at my burns — my legs and ankles fused together — until I am covered with coppery scars. My face a mask like a copper-colored leaf mixed now with a vertical skin, preserving it. My face. I drift beneath the falling stars, the blackness, the darkness, the river, for whom it is preserved.
And now I am dead. I am a mixture of dead and living things — all the creatures of the sea are breathing with me and for me, their mouths on my chin, my lips. The tiniest breathing of all. Their oxygen is like me. I am like them. For many hours I bob and select, with each breath, a continuing life but a storm is coming, the waves are crashing over my head — my head of long red hair, my white, creamy, and unreal skin — the pallor beneath the leaf — and even the whale needs to dive down now, renew his source of love.
And now, gradually at first and then with a great roar, mid-ocean: rain. A lightning bolt strikes me where I lie in my caul of throbbing weeds and fish. And this.
A next life.
My eyes flung open to the sky. To begin.
To live again — affixed to the circuitry of the non-living world.
By nightfall, I was red.
Almost but never quite dead.
To begin. To never begin. To begin. To never begin. To begin. To never begin. To begin. To never begin. To begin. To never begin. To begin. To never begin. To begin. To never begin. To begin. To never begin. To beign.
To bump against land when I come to it.
To wash up. Why?
Yesterday, I oiled then braided my hair. I washed myself. I ate a balanced meal with milk. I poured a glass of milk into the sea.
Imagine the cloud of milk as it dissipates.
Now drink water.
I drink the water for Ban.
I write these notes for Ban.
You read these notes for Ban.
Why? I feel bad for you, having read this far into the nothing that these notes are.
And must be.
Just as skin is bland and eases off the bones at the least touch.