by Bird Marathe

Curls of blackness periodically snake across your field of vision. When you attempt to leave your home, the dark nothings obscure landmarks, disorienting you. Sometimes you wander into open fields where there is nothing to do except continue being lost. Sometimes you wander into bad neighborhoods.

It is overcast and chill in the dawn. You may have wandered into a bad neighborhood this morning, because there is a disheveled woman on the sidewalk who has a blue plastic bag full of THINGS. The woman has long thin fingers good for rummaging through the bag. She rummages.

You want to know what street you are on, but a squiggly glob has settled over the street sign on the corner. You try moving your eyes around in your head to dislodge the glob, but it stays stuck to the sign. If you walk after the glob, perhaps you will get someplace better. You have no way of knowing. You shift your weight from one foot to the other, uncertain.

The woman pulls an obscure stringed INSTRUMENT out of the bag and arranges it on the street corner. She pulls the instrument's BOW out and sets it across the strings. The BOW has been used to play the INSTRUMENT on many different street corners, but the woman shows no sign of wishing to play it. The woman pulls out fresh LILIES which are native to a warmer climate. Their roots have dirt sticking to them. She arranges the LILIES in the INSTRUMENT's sound hole. The woman is not dressed warmly. She wipes her nose on the back of her glove. She has a twitchy nose like a rabbit. She says, Which one of these THINGS do you want to trade for?

You aren't sure that you like any of the THINGS. You would rather find your way someplace better. A black lattice crouches in your peripheral vision and then springs into the center, making a chessboard of the opposite side of the street. There is not much left that you can still see clearly except for the woman and her THINGS.

The woman pulls a CLOD of earth out of the bag. This is a fresh CLOD from a garden in the courtyard of a prison in a foreign land. She breaks the CLOD up into pieces and scatters them onto the pavement. She pulls out an ivory CUP filled with mountain water and sets it down on the INSTRUMENT without spilling anything. She pulls out a rabble of migratory BUTTERFLIES with her left hand. She selects the BUTTERFLIES with the forefinger and thumb of her right hand, and places them on the petals of the LILIES one by one. The BUTTERFLIES pump their wings but do not fly away. It is too cold for them to fly anywhere. The woman says, Which of these THINGS do you want to trade for?

You say, I don't know. I don't have anything to trade.

She says, You can trade the MAP OF THE WORLD which is tattooed to the inside of your eyes.

Maybe you should trade for the CLOD. For the LILIES. The CUP.

Bird Marathe teaches creative writing at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Bird's recent publications include stories in The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, Spartan, Phantasmacore, and elsewhere.