In which failure is celebrated, and my many creative fuck-ups are laid to rest with soft bugle noises.
Today’s installment . . .
Here’s to the Story Killed By No Idea Where It’s Going
Noori lay in bed in the middle of the day. The heat had become as heavy and as welcome as cow saliva, and twice as hard to wash off.
Her bedroom was the only room that had a ceiling fan. She and the dogs flattened themselves under it like dough under a heavy fist. Noori watched the wooden blades, wishing they would spin faster. But the wheel-crabs would need more nectar and bigger cogs with wider tracks to make the treads circle any quicker, and she didn’t have the money for it. Better to save it for the ones that powered the water pumps outside. After all, she could survive in a puddle of sweat, but if the cows didn’t have water, everyone would suffer.
She was supposed to be sleeping now, but instead she was following one particular fan blade with her eyes. It seemed to be spinning slower than the others, but it was only because she was watching it. Still, when she tried to stare at another, her eyes were drawn back to it. It dragged, but that was a lie of her vision. Or must have been. The blades were all attached to the same wheel; they spun the same, always. But maybe that one was a bit more twisted than the others. Maybe there was a warped bit of wood grain somewhere. A manufacturing error. By Allah, she was boring herself to death.
At length, she slept. But she woke again not long after to the soft patter of blood dripping on her eyelids.
The fan blade was bloody.
The dogs slept. The afternoon was melting into evening. The faint sound of cows chewing some paces from her window provided a soft background to normalcy.
But the fan blade—just the one—flung droplets of blood this way and that as it spun. On the timbers of the house, on her bedsheets, on the linen of her sleeve, on the picture of her son hanging on the wall.
Noori stared at it. It slung blood into her eye.
She climbed the ladder to the roof. In the wheel ruts above the fan, the crabs scuttled on over the treads in their infinite pursuit of the nectar at the center. The tiny channels leading from the center to the ruts would allow minute amounts of the nectar to escape with motion, which kept the crabs at their work, as long as they had reward.
Noori counted the crabs. Fifty-seven, which one more than she had last time she counted, which perhaps meant she didn’t count very diligently before. In any case, none had fallen through somehow and gotten slaughtered by the cogs. The blood wasn’t theirs.
She did not think crabs bled red, anyway.
Noori climbed back down. The blood had dried on the fan blade, and was no longer drizzling the room in red specks. She spent the next hour scrubbing the walls and soaking the linens.
A waste of water, she thought, because she couldn’t harbor the dread that came when she tried to think of anything else.
When evening fell, Noori and the dogs went out to tend the cows. They came back in the full of the dark. The dogs would not cross the threshold to the bedroom.
Noori peered in. Something on the ceiling was dark, and the air of the room felt wet, and it smelled of metal and marigolds. She opened the wall panel to expose the sleeping crabs that controlled the oil-flow for the lamps and uncovered their pod of nectar. They smelled it; they began scuttling. Light flooded the room.
Half a shriek escaped her before her breath left her entirely.
Above the fan, painted across the ceiling like a mural in a temple, was a thick drench of blood, spattered at the edges. Bits of pale brown flesh stuck to it. The boneless fingers of a hand dangled like a houseplant. Mixed with the imbroglio of flesh and blood were marigold petals, stuck to the ceiling by drying bodily fluids, gently falling as the viscosity of substances was stolen by the heat.
One fan blade was wet again. On it spun a dark piece of skin. With every circle the blade completed, the more the piece of skin slipped, until finally it flew off and landed on the wall at the head of Noori’s bed.
The dogs growled. Noori stepped in. There was something about the shadows in the piece of skin. She got closer. It almost looked like a face.
It was a face.
It was her son.