Six a.m. Isabel
The rainbow-arched back of her fresh body stretched as far as it could, then curled back into a ball. Only twenty-two months and her skin had transformed from the ruddy pink of a splotchy newborn to a uniform tawny that blends with her guileless hazel eyes and wispy chestnut hair. This assemblage of prodigies sleeps on her face the entire night with her solid flesh of youth tucked tight up to her stomach, and her perfectly round rear raised high and slightly rocking back and forth when she is putting herself to sleep. Sienna colored curtains that cover her large east facing nursery window are ablaze each morning when the sun rises; warm color heats the room and intensifies the smell of damp curls that stick to her face, mingled with the saliva that has trickled onto her blankets and coats her cheeks. The Russian Matreshka nesting dolls her mom bought for her months before she was even born are strewn about her bed, encircling her with spots of intense color. Each doll is apart in halves except for the very smallest one she clutches in her corral fingernailed hand. "My baby?" she asks for it each night. Through her sleep she drops, finds and ends up holding the poppy bearing doll when morning comes. The steady whirring of the overhead fan drowns out the noise her mother makes in the other parts of the house.
Six-ten a.m. Asli
She slips out of bed in possession of that soft bedroom look her Candaules husband often lovingly notices. The large standing mirror at the foot of her bed reveals the self she presents. To her made-up elegance is bondage and its benefits have a high price, thus she often stays in her nightclothes until she must leave the house, for she feels most herself the less adorned she is by clothing, scents, paints, sprays, jewels, flounces, feathers, false hair, sparkles or fabric. Besides, these days she lacks leisure for such coquettish beauty care; the typical female motivation of seduction has long since been relinquished as a goal. So, not bothering to get dressed the naked transparency of her white nightgown suggests her daughter acquired her glowing skin from. Small boned with forgettable features she tucks the long raven hair that falls randomly out of the previous days ponytail behind her ears. She is not scandalously beautiful, but her delicacy is like the edge of a sharp knife. Her bare feet glide from room to room with breaths of ayurvedic oil lingering behind her as she attempts to accomplish the myriad of tasks scribbled in her mind before her daughter's melodious feet begin the day.
She gathers books that lie scattered across the living room floor. The limit is three before it is bedtime, but somehow it turns into more. Isabel has learned this is the one activity Asli will indulge her in whenever requested. Even when Asli is coated with garden soil and burnished as a pomegranate, Isabel knows if she asks for a story that her mother will pull her knees up and sit on the brick wall beside the garden for a ritual reading. Isa's books have smudges that divulge how may places they have traveled. Now as Asli collects them in her arms her mind migrates through the memorized passages of each one she is picking up: I love you so I'll eat you up.stomp your feet, clap your hands, everybody ready for a barnyard dance.some choose to be peaceful joyful and wise, some choose just to ponder the size of their thighs. She has read those for Isa's fervent consumption more times than she has read the adored poem Lycidas. I hope somewhere a tally is being kept, she thinks. After so many mindless times reading those books, she dedicated a week to type out their Italian translations and tape them onto each page to force herself to be engaged while reading to Isa, who is just beginning to learn and love words, instead of mechanically reciting.
She returns them to the child height bookshelf. The shelf she acquired while she was pregnant with Isa from some distant relative no one had heard from in years. He had passed away and she was the one the state contacted because she lived in the same city he did; everyone else moved to the east coast decades earlier. So she was left everything in his minuscule forest, but the only items she decided to take were his journal and this bookshelf. She remembers entering the dead relative's dilapidated house in the north part of town and the elemental smell of yeast that took her breath away. She instantly felt the partially digested crackers she ate before getting out of bed that morning wrestling with the lining of her stomach. Stay down, stay down. She closed her eyes and grabbed the doorframe while willing her body's insurgent revelations to cease. After deciding to test her application of mind over matter she ventured further into the house. She pressed herself forward out of a strange fascination with death and life, now that she was housing something that emerged from nothing.something smaller than a comma, but significant as a land mind. Beginning meets end as she possessed it and was possessed by it. Its very opulence annihilated her, but she felt vast as the world.
She wondered how much pain it required of him to die in this manner.so alone. Unreal to anybody but himself. Had nobody laid with him and felt his presence? There was no one to wash his cratered body, or to kneel by the couch and hold his hand? Like the earth without form, only darkness on the face of it, he will live in no one after his death. He has passed into the unreal. She felt the unborn child's body crushing her like a weight laid heavy on some ripe fruit, holding her hard to this world. Tears came out like juice from the fruit as the skin thins and breaks and rips.
Wiping her eyes, her second impression was furniture, jumbled together like in a thrift store. There was a portable alter in his living room with tiny cruets and phials. Its cross stood up when the lid opened, like the ballerina who unbent when she opened her childhood jewelry box; she rose and twirled like the dead. Then the lid folded her down, bowing, in the dark, the way the dying wait for morning. She maneuvered through the clutter of card tables, lamps and old bicycles that littered the living room and walked down the hall to flip on the bathroom light. She kept coming face to face with physical signs of his dying. Who knows what he was thinking or if he thought. How much of a role do we play in the moments of our living death? There are laws on this earth and we live by them.
As she was using her mind's eye to project herself to this point in time she stood in familiar astonishment. She is glad she did not know or love this man, for how could anyone touching love bear this death? Breathing small breaths she thought there is no good in this. The Lord shall preserve thy going out, and thy coming in, from this time forth forevermore, Amen.
She heard a crash and her husband yelled barbarically from the other room. She wobbled to him as quickly as her stomach would permit to see he had been inspecting the food storage only to find maggots had long since mixed with the wheat that her obsolete relative was saving for some world crisis.
"What a waste of time. Let's go. A load of garbage for a garbage life. This place should be quarantined," he was prone to pass judgment, impatiently, on those who could live in such a way: who could live knowing maggots were sharing sleeping quarters with you. She was more interested in what people like that did care about, as if they were from a different dimension than the one most people function in. Something there is that doesn't love a wall, she thought towards her husband.
She conceded, "Alright, but can you grab that bookshelf in the back room for me?" He cocked one of those classic "I think you are ridiculous but I will act like it is cute because I love you" smiles as he turned to retrieve what she knew he thought was junk and unfit for his home. But in her mind she had already painted it dark red and was reciting what she would letter on the side in yellow: Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing. I want to fill it with color and ducks, the zoo of the new. She was going to teach her Child to learn poems by heart, to have them become the marrow in her bones so that her soul would be impervious to the world's soft decay. She thinks, I have engendered this child, she is like a piece of work that I might have done, my immortality. But after all, she knows, the child is nothing of the kind.
Amidst the Ethan and Allen living room suit her husband picked out, the shelf now crammed with the child's books, has become a permanent fixture. She sits down in front of the shelf, decidedly against beginning to work on her novel since the time of Isabel's awakening is nigh, to organize Isa's books. Turning them all right side up, spines facing out and descending left to right largest book (Degas and the Little Ballerina) to smallest (There's a Monster at the End of This Book) she notices some of the slighter ones won't push back to the back of the shelf. She reaches behind the books and pulls out a rock that has been thrust back there. It was the lava rock she had brought back from their honeymoon in Kailua. Asli lays the rock at the end of the small books as a book end and needing a little tenderness rises to turn on her inspirational work music: Otis Redding. She dances softly to herself shifting through the kitchen.