Today, your mother tinkered with birdsong all afternoon, until the bells hung in the nearby church swept away the swallows with soft, clattering hands. In the courtyard, she photographs the curious heads of nesting hatchlings, which peek out like swollen question marks. Yolk still stains their beaks the color of California poppies. When the spring sun hits the bell tower, their hungry mouths blossom into sharp flames.
Which trainyards lie beneath her scars? I climb your stairwell with packages of bread and milk every evening. Every evening she polishes the used glasses of our fingerprints, but lets the lip marks remain. When I place the blanket over her before she sleeps, I feel as though I am pushing soil over a brown stone; I feel as she must, rubbing out the evidence of us staying here.
She cannot find the pictures from her wedding. I have searched her cankered boxes too, cautiously. Each leaf of paper pricks at my fingertips, with each caution, I imagine spider bites. The Aegean lies still in blue light, preparing her tide like your mother prepares to sew an old dress. Mykonos, she tells me, yawned at the sea, and so the people built bleached houses in the shapes of human teeth. I can see them now, bright like salt against the coastal sea. I watch the days pass from the window of your childhood, so, forgive me, but I now believe to know you from the way the lonesome finch steals beak-fulls of olives in the nearby orchard, the way the lonesome swimmer kisses his shoulder blades like heavy ropes in the open water, the smell of threadbare book pages, the way the kittens of the new spring slip against the rooftop gutters, which is the reason I hold my hands cupped out from your open window. I will catch the tumbling sky.
I sleep in your bed. Is your bed the one below the cross which congregates lost moths? The ants carry away their corpses towards the sea, tiresome labor, but they work without hunger. In the light of dawn, they haul the wings away, which dance like torn sails ported for repair. Soon I will follow them; remember: When I press my hands against the bodies of trees, against the faces of old rock, I am lighting lanterns for you.
We replace the carpet. In the short, tight weaves, I found a single earring. Also, used Q-tips like painted skulls, victims of once-worn makeup. The workers arrived with a radio and cigarettes. Your mother made sandwiches. I discovered a feather in mine, which is to say I now know the sweat of wind and open sky. She speaks with the workers in a language which … I don’t know any other way to explain this — smells of roots and sun-warmed soil. While your mother gathered lemons for our tea, we watched the high tide deposit an octopus into the base of the bell tower, where green algae grazes. He climbed atop the whitewashed brick, left wet sucker-marks from his tentacles like shiny lipstick against the dreamt doors of hotel rooms. The swallows, once preoccupied with shadowboxing each other, gathered to spear the climbing tentacles. The sea wets her lips at the splash, it is the sound of shipwrecks.
I am writing to tell you this: Your mother fell yesterday, in the street still unpaved of tar which surrounds the lemon grove. Imagine her body slipping against the great stomach of the earth, her black shadow cascading down stacks of abandoned brick in the manner of stalking dogs. How many tinted cabins of cars passed her swollen body in the afternoon, I do not know.
In her room, her head still bleeds. She tells me of the day you left. She tells me of her wedding, of the way the doberman licked the church’s faucet to remedy his panting tongue. She tells me of the way you turned the riverbed of her stomach dry, she can feel the grasses inside of her lying down, bent against your wake. I am writing to tell you this: Your mother still breathes, although her lungs struggle with rust. Her cough is the sound of rain against the rooftops of junkyard cars. We wait for you. I watch from your window.
I am writing to tell you this: I planted a lemon tree in her yard. Soon they will ripen to clusters of huddled knees. If the Aegean swallows us before you return, she will pick out the planks of our fences from between her teeth, and you, alone on an island, will search for the lemon tree beneath a crumbling bell tower, where the delicate clavicles of swallows float atop the surface of your dreams.
-Mason Schoen is a creative writing graduate student.
-This work of fiction does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.