Saturday 15 June 2019

'Island' by Elizabeth Geoghegan

Bhīma navigates the narrow roads and unseen turns—past the one for Devi’s place—and on down by Kopi Desa. Stone deities lining the dark road. Animal eyes glimmering. We turn off where the road ends and the path begins, parking in a corrugated metal shed. I lug my pack out of the back of the Jeep and wait beside a moss-covered altar. Smell of damp all around me. He swaps car for scooter, wedging my pack in front of him. I climb on behind, longing to wrap my arms around him, clutching the cold metal seat handles instead. Careful not to lean too close. The path is narrow and full of ruts, long vines dangle in streams, skimming over us as the hill rushes to meet the ravine, my body falling against his when the tires skid in the mud and we nearly topple over. He guns it and I am lurched backward as we continue up and out. It isn’t far now. Soon the dense trees give way to irrigation ditches and flooded fields, and I can see low clouds rushing over a sideways moon. I’d forgotten how it hangs like that, heavy in the sky. I close my eyes because even though I’ve longed for this for months, rearranging my life and traveling two days to get here, now I don’t want to arrive. I don’t want him to slow down or drop me off, but for the two of us to carry on along the ridge and back down to the road that leads to the coast, following it all the way to the black sand beach, the volcano in the distance. I want to lean my cheek against his shoulder while we make the long drive. But then here we are and he stops the bike, placing my pack on the ground near the stone steps. And I don’t recognize his voice when he reminds me to follow the path, that I’ll find the key in the door. When I pull money from my jacket he shakes his head no. Mimpi indah, he says. But I know I won’t dream, or if I do the dreams won’t be sweet. Neither of us says anything after that and he turns the bike around and speeds away. I sit on the steps, watching the red glow of taillight disappearing, listen until the sputtering motor is swallowed by the night. I was convinced I remembered every detail of this island. But I’d only remembered the brown of Bhīma’s shoulders, the veins in his lean arms. I hadn’t remembered the absolute darkness with its croaking chorus of sound. I hadn’t remembered the velvet soft of the dog’s ears. The dog that wasn’t surprised to find me clambering off a motorbike in the middle of the night. The dog that seemed to sit sentinel these two years, now nosing his way into my hand. The tenderness.

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