Flash Fiction from
Disturbed Sleep (FutureCycle Press, 2013)
By M. Kaat Toy
Parading Without a Permit
On the world stage, Ophelia wore a lavender gauze gown in a shade pale enough to see through to let people know she wasn’t all there and no longer cared to hide it. Its lightness used to weigh on her as another unforgivable trespass, but now, drifting on its wings in between to be and not to be, it is a blessing like everything: Hamlet’s feigned madness, her own madness unavoidably sincere, the branch she laid herself to sleep on breaking over this shallow brook, its escape opening up.
The angry differences eroding a chasm between her and everyone she had ever known or was likely to had changed from a river of bitter rue to this sweet, floating violet repast: Bathing herself in others’ pain, she experienced the wonder of their having survived it, a glut of gratitude filling the span inside her where, judging others lacking, a strait had opened up.
“I stopped you because I was wondering if you were all right,” the policeman said, growing larger the longer she stared toward him. “Did I mess up somewhere?” she asked, touching the wound on her forehead and examining the blood. Nodding, he answered, “At least we know you’re alive.” Searching for some truth in this, she enumerated to herself all the arrests that had impeded her character development. “Parts of me anyway,” she replied.
St. Sebastian, his head in a horned helmet, rides through the woods shooting arrows at believers tied to trees. They are there to learn to forgive him. His is the harder task. The narcoleptic nun’s head droops as he pierces her heart. All night she prays in her sleep; all day she sleeps during prayers, so her Mother Superior assigned her to beg for attention. Her punishment is to accept rejection. She tells herself to smile as St. Sebastian shoots her again. “Most of your audience will not be able to grasp what you are communicating,” her Mother Superior has said.
On this eve of the Blessing of the Animals, the nun offers stories at supper to amuse St. Francis: of Great Rabbit who made the world of mud that Muskrat brought from the bottom of the sea and of Wolf who stole the sacred sack of Death and unwittingly released it into the world. St. Sebastian and his followers demand she present a PowerPoint of pictures. When she cannot produce this, they forbid her to speak. She would like to scream, but there’s no point in being histrionic, she reasons. Excusing herself, she walks down the hall to begin the long night’s work she dreads. Oh dark horse, not yet, not yet, she counts on her rosary beads.
“I hope none of you are foolish enough to believe in a Creator,” St. Sebastian, forked through with feathered arrows, announces at the morning service. St. Francis nods noncommittally as he brings forth a lone, lowly sparrow abandoned in the Garden of Gethsemane. St. Sebastian signals to begin a long hymn to insincerity. They should really get rid of St. Sebastian, the nun thinks but, remembering the power of thoughts, asks for forgiveness and blessings for this spiritual centurion of subtle understandings.
A young woman brings her cat to the altar. “Don’t let my kitty die. Don’t let my kitty die. Don’t let my kitty die,” she pleads. “I’ll be a good girl.” St. Sebastian stares skyward from his martyr’s tableau, not looking at the young woman, the nun observes, realizing she will have to be the one to lead her to the grieving room.
The Tower Beyond the Wall
Love is always increasing or decreasing, she reminds herself as she takes the first step up the gritty wall she has encountered in the dark. Its length is immeasurable, but she can reach the top with her extended hand. With each step, the wall dissolves beneath her and rises above her as she reaches again. “Blessed are they who persecute themselves,” the Ancient of Days said, “for they cannot escape.” The wall is made of letters her disapproving sister slipped her in Bibles, now covered in elemental mud.
“One thought of light balances a thousand thoughts of darkness,” she recalls. She pictures light, and the wall is gone. Before her unfolds a plain filled with women washing dead babies, baptizing them. This is what they disputed before her sister departed, her sister who thought only washing could save her. “Doesn’t each soul determine its own fate?” she asked. Now the answer comes: Her fate was to accept or reject her sister’s faith and negotiate the passage that ensued. Crossing the plain where each woman is her sister, each infant’s name is Loss, she improvises--I am the Fire cast upon the world; as above, so below, a twin flame blazing as the Indivisible One--and holds thoughts of white light above her head so another wall won’t block her.
Before her, four triangles converge in a pinnacle of power: the Tower of Babel where the world’s people explore their voices on this ziggurat oriented towards Orion’s Belt. God never said, “We shall confound them,” but freed us to scatter and confound ourselves as she and her sister have done. She enters the Tower labyrinth. At its core she finds thirteen fast friends playing at the mystery, shuffling slates of knowledge lost and yet to be discovered, time having collapsed around them. “The yield will be vast though the workers are few,” they tell her as the walls shift into new configurations that ring out higher, new gamelan chords. These are my people, she perceives; thus, she will wait here for her sister to arrive beyond the bang and pain of words.
Copyright©2013 by M. Kaat Toy. Reprinted with permission from FutureCycle Press. All Rights Reserved