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Other By Any Name by Cheri Crenshaw



But where am I?" she asks.

"You are in a room," he answers.

"Where are the walls?" she asks.

"Rooms have no walls," he answers.

A headless turtle walks by, making a maze in slow red. Butterflies float toward the scent of nectar. Hummingbirds hover beneath a flowering magnolia. Their heartbeats stop. A hint of ruby flashes at their throats.

He lifts her chin with his finger.

"I hear the thrum." She is tall, taller than he is, but she is kneeling. He stands above her, thumb caressing her cheek.

"It is not my heart," he explains.

A parrot squawks its name. She spies a hint of vermilion on its wings. A mirror levitates to cradle the dead hummingbirds.

He renames the parrot.

"The thrum--" She rises to her feet and touches the top of his head, wondering.

"Do you like it?" he asks. Doves flutter, their wings beating against the ceiling. Flecks of white paint spiral toward the dry brown grass. He clasps her fingers and raises them to his lips. A rattlesnake curls on the mirror, writhing against the silvered glass, swallowing hummingbirds. Rain falls from the ceiling. Her red skirt flares in the salt-laden breeze, brushing against his bare legs.

"Yes." She slips her fingers from his grasp and walks through the grass wincing. A thorn plunges into the bottom of her right foot, drawing blood. She gasps and braces herself with one hand upon the plodding turtle. She limps toward the ocean, leaning on the turtle. Sea spray salts her skin, building crystal castles too tiny for butterflies to see.

"What room am I in?" she asks, turning back to him. Heedless, the turtle trudges on without her.

He smiles and spreads his hands open. His palms are smooth, without lines. His face wrinkles. "Do you like it?" he asks again, but he turns to the wingless brown duck. He pulls feathers from the duck and makes a nest for the rattlesnake on the mirror. The rattlesnake strikes, swallowing the man's red tie.

"No." She sits down on the shore underneath a tree, its bark peeling in long ashen curls from the trunk, roots mired in black sand. Lightning flashes and thunder rumbles. She arranges her skirt, tucking one bare foot in its folds. The thorn in her other foot sprouts roots, which delve into the sand, seeking water. The turtle wades into the ocean, stepping in slow motion over the buried red truck. She rests against the tree. The bark prickles through her blouse. She considers him.

He catches the end of a red thread between his fingertips. It wriggles into his skin, making tiny red stitches along his arm until the end leaves his shoulder and loops toward the ceiling in the sky. Doves fly through the loops, daring the thread to entangle them.

"Maybe a little," she admits.

A black leather chair floats in the ocean, rising and falling with the movement of the waves. He walks into the water. The motion of his legs splashes droplets in rainbow arcs. He turns and sits upon the chair. He and the chair twirl around. The red thread, almost invisible now, connects his shoulder to the sky. He grins, reaches down into the water, and retrieves the ship's anchor. Link by link the chain emerges from the deep until the ship's bow appears above the waterline. The turtle climbs the bow, he lets go, and the ship sinks.

"You forgot the bricks," she remarks idly, while a popcorn tree grows from her foot. The tree's oval leaves swivel in the breeze, flipping from light green to dark like sequins. He gets up from the chair and walks through the surf to the shore to sit down cross-legged in the shade she has grown. She touches his thigh, absorbing warmth through her fingertips. Her hand trembles. He leans forward and digs in the sand until he finds a steaming bowl of soup. Two pairs of cheap chopsticks in neat white wrappers fall from the popcorn tree, and he catches them with one hand. He hands her one pair and then slides the other pair from the wrapper. He and she break the paired wooden chopsticks lengthwise into two. The snaps echo throughout the room. They lift red noodles with chopsticks, ignoring the smell of nectar. They feed her tree, which slurps noodles down its deep throat. Rain pours from the ceiling, pinning the rattlesnake against the mirror. It hisses but cannot escape.

"Without bricks, you could run away." He smiles, looking at the roots holding her foot in the sand. She nods, her face streaked with raindrops that tickle as they creep down into her red blouse. She lifts his chin with her fingertip, pulls a butterfly from his mouth with her tongue. The butterfly flutters from the tip of her tongue to the back of her hand, blushes, and begins to spin a cocoon. Soon the butterfly will become a caterpillar.

"The caterpillar will run away for me," she decides.

"I see." His smile fades at the thought.

The ocean heaves in the distance, a broken ship emerges from the deep, and the headless turtle scouts from the crow's-nest while the parrot hangs upside down, squawking its new name.



Cheri Crenshaw lives in Texas and is seeking her Master's degree in English at Midwestern State University. She reviews for Fearless Books (fearlessbooks.com), and her fiction has appeared on the Recursive Angel webzine.


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