Sunday, May 23, 2010
Her Hands and Arms Were Shining
Soulful, wild, visionary, wrecked: this book is a beautiful thing.
From the novel The Sky Below
"All right, Gabe," she said. She looked straight into my eyes with a raw solemnity that she rarely let me see these days. This, I knew, was her deepest secret. I squirmed, not sure I really wanted to know her deepest secret. She reached into her back packet, took out a plastic bag, dipped her hand inside, and briskly rubbed something all over her arms, as if she was putting on suntan lotion, though it was nearly dusk in the swamp, the day's light rust-colored, shadows lengthening around us. She grabbed my hand and put something in it, a dab of some mushy, grainy stuff. "We don't have that much time before it gets dark." She closed her eyes, balanced perfectly on her branch, and extended her arms, turning her palms up. Her hands and arms were shining. "Shhhh."
....The swamp smelled of life and rot, and my sister, on the branch next to me, gave off the calm alertness of a swamp creature blending into its home turf. Her crazy black hair seemed to have been pulled from the shaggy tree we sat in, and to be reaching to retwine itself among the branches. It was hot in this swamp; it seemed hotter than it had been outside of it, as if the heat of the day had collected and condensed in here, caught and held by the abundant undergrowth, waiting for the tide of night to cool it. Where we sat felt like the exact edge of day and night, heat and coolness, earth and air. The tree against my back was sticky and sharp, holding and biting me at the same time.
We were both sweating, but Caroline was smiling, a look of concentration, of will, wrinkling her brow. I tried not to think about how high up we were. I wondered if she knew how strange she was. No wonder she didn't have any boyfriends. Mosquitoes began biting me as the dusk thickened. Outlines blurred. I slapped at my arm, and Caroline again, sternly, hushed me. "Fuck you," I said, but then I was quiet anyway. The sooner she was done, the sooner we could go home and I could see if any of my treasure was left. I particularly wanted to see if any of the Christmas trees with the rubies at the top--even though I knew they weren't really rubies--had survived. I focused on how bored I was and how stupid the swamp was. Gingerly, I licked at the dab of stuff Caroline had put in my palm. It was greasy and sweet; I sort of liked it.
They weren't there, and then they were. They seemed to arrive so suddenly that I might have said they emerged from her hair, that the ends of her black hair had turned into small black birds with yellow wings, but of course that isn't true. They flew to her and landed softly on her outstretched hands, her arms. They settled on her shoulders and the top of her head. They seemed to bring a light with them, but maybe it was a sound, or a motion. Or it might have been a feeling, or something that they knew all together. Caroline smiled, winced as they pulled at their hair, keeping her eyes closed. They jostled one another, dipping at her shining hands and arms. They were the most gorgeous things I had ever seen, and my sister seemed to be dissolving into them beginning with her outer edges, undoing herself into a flock of small birds streaked with gold. Her arms were their branches; her hair was their nest; the black-and-gold birds were her thoughts whirling in the air around her. Her eyes were closed. She had become something else. She was so beautiful. She was elsewhere. The gods had chosen her, they had changed her, they were changing her before my eyes. More than anything in the world, I wanted that to happen to me.