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Joyous Dark-Eyed Heavy Animal

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Feb 17, 2014

In the photo of my parents she stands against pure blackness on the right half while he slumps, a dark smudge scrawled against white cinderblock on the left. She had been sentenced to die by lethal injection for her part in the killings, in the plot. He was dying with her, dying from his hurt and his confusion.

She walks over to him as he makes his way to the cumbersome grille of bars and slats that divides the frame in half. She knew he would come, she knew he would find her here.

Why, my darling, why did you leave me?

She threads his fine dark hair between her white fingers, reaching through the grill that separates them. Love of my life, she murmurs, I never left you. You were all I wanted, but I couldn't stand to have you.

That photo, that image, persists in my mind while I'm working. I wonder, as I wonder all day every day of my life, which of them I take after. I assure myself that they both exist within me, in some sort of balance. On the whole I attempt to live in the light of his kindness, but there are times when I feel her shadow wrap itself around me, relentless as an anaconda...

Around me other archaeologists unearth, speck by speck, fabulous treasures long buried: Statues of beetles cast in gold, shining with green enamel, inlaid with turquoise and lapis lazuli. Fantastical candelabras, some still burning after thousands of years ensconced in the soil. Tiny porcelain figurines, the clay crumbling away from their brilliant white limbs.

A cry rings out, and another in acknowledgment. Looking up I see him, and I recognize him at once. I'd lost him for a dozen years and thousands of miles. How has he come to be here, in this desolate place, this patch of place suspended between the concrete Now and the vanished Then? I make my way closer, stumbling through the ruins of my own past toward the group that clusters near him. My heart thunders and my steps grow light. I nearly leave the surface of the earth with dizzy feet finding accidental purchase in the air. I never let my eyes stray from his glimpse, from his widening smile.

Formal steps take place around him as a transfer of custody is granted, the probation guides shuffling documents and trading thumbprints with the supervisor. He watches attentively as I point to the emerging swarm of beetles, and to a recess in the hillside that I've been excavating for days. I stop by the pile of back dirt to pluck up a sizable fragment of a snail shell, calcified and dully iridescent: He can see for himself what important finds we're reclaiming from the clutches of wind and water, what sedimentary records we retrieve from forgetfulness.

Yes, he's come to help me.

He's all yours, ma'am, the probation guides tell the supervisor. We reserve the right to conscript him into the Assassination Corps at any time during the next twelve years.

With those words, the probation guides turn to leave, forgetting to relinquish their rough hold on his arms. He staggers along after them, his look almost fearful. But a few steps later they pause by the newly excavated Grinding Altar, decorated in bas-relief runes and ancient stains of blood. That's where they release him. Freed, he drifts toward me, keenly smiling, but the probation guides stay poised in attitudes of thirst and adulation by the great stone slab, transfixed by the dark pools of long-dried gore across its level surface, and the trails down its sides where rivulets of life had trickled red with erotic vibration to the sound of the sacrificing chants. After a long moment of hesitation, the probation guides step back through the ranks of field workers, ginger in their steps toward the boundary. Pain and time do not impede them: They are insensible to such things. In a moment, they are gone.

He's the same, but he's more himself: He's just as fresh, unused, undiminished, as when I'd known him long ago. He has not aged, despite his time in the penitentiary. I ask him why he was sent there.

Violating natural law, he grins, and, shrugging, elaborates: I didn't get any older -- into the slammer I go. But it's no lost time for me!

A farmer on his tractor in a steeply tilted meadow far across the plain seems to be shouting. We squint at his savage gesticulations. He cries out death threats to us. He's afraid we'll plunder his field, perhaps. Or it could be he had his eye on the burial chamber here -- expecting he might scare up a few pieces of gold, a scattering of jewels. I know for a fact he'd be disappointed if that's where he went looking.

But we have no time for burial chambers or grave robbing. I fear for my old friend, my first and former... and still youthful... lover. I take him by the elbow, I lead him to the shadowed niche where I've been working; I invite him to step out of the sun and into the cave's cool overhang. I show him the pictographs I have been uncovering, clayish soil popping smartly off the rock's undulating surface, the rock winding and curving over our heads. He watches as I trowel at the soil, as loam falls away, as an opening at the back of the cavern suddenly appears. He follows me as I step through into...

Into a passageway, rectilinear, clean and well preserved, the floor a polished tile and the walls cinderblock, painted an unmarked white. The passage intersects with a corridor, quiet and long and lit by fluorescent light. How can this be here? What is this place? It looks like a school. There are lockers along the wall, and there's a door -- a double door, glass looking into an antechamber, and more glass -- a second set of doors, and beyond that, a village under a clouded sky, damp, orange and yellow leaves falling from disconsolate trees.

He stands beside me. It's my village, he says, where the probation guides assigned my residence. Cheerfully, he tells me that no map dots the village, there's no postal code to ensure that mail reaches the people here, and that's how the villagers like it. They are completely self-sufficient. They even have their own television programs, and a language all their own is slowly evolving from inside jokes and shared tribulations. We migrate up the corridor, through the dual sets of doors, and into the cool, sodden air. There's a damp and vegetal smell, with maybe a trace of brine, as if a harbor were nearby. There are oceans and oceans, he tells me with an enthusiastic look, and we explore them, and we return here.

We enter the unrecorded village, where there are warm kitchens and smiles exchanged in passing, and even holidays. Can a person be safe here? Can the wounded and the blind be healed in a place like this, a place of application and kindness, where professional displeasure and political cruelty are unknown?

I live in yonder hotel, he says. We make our way through damp grey streets, quiet calm streets. In the lobby a huge monitor displays one of the locally produced video entertainments. He points himself out to me, an extra on the big-screen plasma television. Just wanted to check my performance, he says, and we turn toward the ornate stairs.

He's leading me, with his heavy, sure tread, to the upstairs quarters where he lays him down to sleep, where he will lay me next to him. I am on the stairs with him, lighter and lighter still, ache and complaint draining from my body, my soul reaching out once more in ways I had forgotten. He looks at me with those eyes and that sleek skin, laughing.

We keep climbing, we keep rising, and I'm not old. I'm not even sure who I used to be. I'm light and soundless, pulled along by his displaced air, arrowing along in the wake of his heavy tread; and I'm shrouding him; and I'm in his heart; and I'm the joy that lights his way.

For Tony

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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