(Im)Permanence, a Short and Long Story
~ Fayaway & Hermester Barrington
a mockingbird’s “Chaw!”
treefrog’s prrrrreeeet Robin’s panpipes
lightwaves and soundwaves
bounce from rippled lake’s surface
rocking marriage bed
luna moth fay and satyr
we balance barefoot
carp or catfish leaps
great blue heron squawks and flies
we exchange our rings
“We do!” we both shout
jacaranda petals fall
“we do!” shouts the shore
kiss freezing spacetime
bat flies through cracked window
slips behind the frame
A sound of glass cracking—not dreaming anymore, she guesses, slipping from the now mostly still bed and running downstairs, Zoë chases something that flies into the library and slips behind their watercolor wedding portrait. In the alcove behind, she finds a marbled paper envelope. Inside, a letter in her own flowing script, addressed to her:
We had a dream last night, Zoë, and this year I think we should gather everything we’ve created this past year and hide it, or destroy it. I’m pretty sure that will work. I’ve talked about this with Robin, and he’s already set everything up.
And a very merry un-birthday to us both!
Under her signature is a date—a year ago, tomorrow.
Wheels creaking behind her, she turns as Robin pulled her childhood wagon into the library. Embracing her before slipping her silk kimono over her shoulders—“I don’t think you need it, but we should think of the neighbors,” he said, then asked: “Are you ready?”
Nodding, she points about the room—“That one, that, and oh, god yes, that”—as he carefully piled into the wagon a Klein bottle containing a dancing Rebis, a Zen garden of hammered gold with a brass cricket chirping in the tree, and a shroud bearing Andy Warhol’s likeness, along with a few other items.
“You should be the one to put these in, Zoë,” Robin said, handing her a stack of notebooks and sketchpads.
“These are my workbooks, and my journals!” she cries, flipping past sketches of proposed projects—a lava lamp in a vintage Mountain Dew bottle, a chicken claw and human hand drawing each other, notes for a book on vespertiliomancy . . .
“A private archive has agreed to preserve them,” Robin replied, “only carefully selected researchers may read them, and to protect us, no one may make copies or photographs until nine hundred and ninety-nine years have passed. I expect that they will be very popular!”
“Well, there’s a lot of personal stuff here,” she sighs. “But maybe whoever sees them will tell our story, someday.” And she places them gently in the wagon, then begins pulling it to the garage to load up the Travelall, the wagon’s shocks creaking.
Coming back into the library, Zoë finds Robin pulling a wicker burial basket into the center of the room. “I think I need to be alone for a while,” she says, quickening her pace, striding out into the garden and toward the lake. Beyond the lawn, the wild grasses, still covered with dew, tickle her thighs.
She stops to gaze at the fountain in the center of the wild space—composed of shattered clay sundials, water sparkles cheerfully over its surface, and into the basin buried deep in earth, mallow and mustard, and moss. Mounds of earth covered in grass and wildflowers surround it, laid out like numbers on a clock face.
Humming, Robin pulled the creaking wagon behind him to a spot without wildflowers, and picked up a shovel. The blade cutting into the soil released the scent of moist earth into the late winter air. Inhaling those scents, Zoë picks up a spade to join him, and they soon have a good sized pit between them.
“Um, how long have we had this fountain, Robin? Didn’t Jorge and Gabriela give it to us when they sold us this place?” Zoë asks as they dig.
Looking away, Robin replied, “Yes, it was their wedding gift to us, so we’ve had it about two and a half years.”
“Only that long? It looks like it’s been here longer than that.”
“Plants benefit from love, Zoë, and so they grow faster here than anywhere else, I think,” he said, laughter in his voice.
“Well, that explains it,” she says, grabbing his ass and pulling him close for a kiss.
“I think later would be better, Zoë,” Robin said, pulling away. “We should get this done, and we don’t want these plants to get fat!”
“I’ll hold you to that,” she says, and so, smiling, they begin to dig again.
Zoë digs out a few more spadefuls as Robin pulled the wagon closer and slid the basket in. She lights the kindling underneath, uncertain whether the damp earth would extinguish the flame, which finally caught. Through the willow withes comes the sound of clay cracking, metals melting, paper burning. She laughs as a single page with the word “Mitrúvishar” flies out on an updraft and sails into the lake, extinguishing itself with a hiss Zoë could not hear, and she wonders what that word might have meant to her. She tosses damp tissues into the flames as Robin filled in in the hole and scattered seeds on the ground, composing all the while:
the smell of turned earth
and last years’ artworks’ ashes
“How many times have we done this, Robin?” she asks, looking at the other mounds, and Robin smiled, but said nothing.
“Mother Nature is watering the seeds,” laughs Zoë, as they finish tamping down the soil, and she counts the rain drops until there were too many. After a supper of fruit, cheese, and wine inside, Robin and Zoë kiss goodbye on the front porch. “I’ll be back before dawn,” he said, and Zoë listens as the Travelall rattles down the road and onto the highway, going inside when the lake’s silence returns with the dusk. Stretching out on the floor of the library with a copy of The Bloody Chamber, she smiles as she reads, for the nth time, of the Frog Prince rising up from Devil Reef to marry the Princess, whose children live happily ever after; a moment later, the book drops from her hand and her eyes close.
“Kakā-kakā-kakā!” rising from the lake awoke her, and she laughed—“Yes, I’ll be rinsing and cleaning indeed, Ms. Duck!”—just before midnight; slipping out of her kimono, she gathers a few things and heads out to the deck. Settling in, she lights her opium pipe, the first of this year and the last of the next, and watches the ripples, wavelets, the slow movement of the waters toward the dam.
A truck gears down on the highway, and a duck quacks again. Out on the other shore, a frog croaks, several times, and then is silent. Bats fly in and out of the light’s glow. Her pipe goes out as she rises, disrobes, and walks down to the lake.
“Cold!” she squeals, as mud squelches between her toes, lily pads brushing past her body, until she is up to her shoulders in the lake. Holding her birth certificate and her driver’s license, the flames singe her fingers, until she plunges beneath the surface. Staying under until her head grows light, she floats free of the water weeds and kicks her way towards the shore.
Three glugs of amaretto pouring into a glass to warm her, she settles on the deck to fill out a request for a copy of her birth certificate and a new driver’s license, adding one year to last year’s birthdate. The asphalt, still warm on her bare feet as she walks to the post office, smells of the recent rain, and mixes with the aroma of algae from the lake. “Hah!” she shouts, as she slams the mailbox lid. “Twenty-five years old again this year!” A dog barks, and she laughs.
A screech owl calls out as she settles down at the lake’s edge again; writing a letter to herself, she seals it and lays it aside, then listens as last year’s pen and ink splash in the lake below. Taking a new dip pen and journal in hand, she begins to write.
thick white drifting smoke
clinging to journal pages
poppy petals bloom
my birthdate burning
my smiling picture melting
pair of loons wailing
wind guttering flames
water swirling around me
I duck under—shhh!
dip pen scratching self
into paperwork boxes
cold wind drying us
slamming mailbox shut
“hah!” I shout, “another year—
gone!” bare feet warm street
empty picture frame
still warm documents behind
dip pen scratching out
poems of the year just now born
wavelets on the shore
past years’ leaves’ shadows
pinned to the sycamore’s bark
Venus to the east
melting into the sun’s light
his feet on the stairs
This last haiku she hears as Robin read it to her, waking her gently from her sleep. Putting down her journal, he bent to kiss her. “Welcome home, Robin,” she says, pulling him close, “I missed you last night,” and Robin responded in kind. Moments later, in the garden, they feed the newly planted seeds on the mound, laughing as a car door slamming startles them. Rising together, she brushes the moist earth from his back as he returned the favor.
Zoë settles on the deck to watch the sun continue to rise; Robin, holding a canvas bag, sat beside her and picked up her new license—“Nice photo!” he said—then took out an empty picture frame, a pad of paper and Zoë’s colored pencils. “I spilled water on our wedding portrait this morning,” he said. “Could you please draw us another?”
“Yes—tell me what you remember about it, Robin—I’m so sleepy . . .”
“Well, it was just lovely. We married almost two and a half years ago, on . . .”—and Zoë writes the date across the bottom in her flowing hand, as he points out toward the center of the lake—“on the island, there. The wisteria and jasmine from the bower got us a little high, or maybe we were just in love—in any case, we couldn’t stop grinning, and you giggled the entire time. You wore a bright green peasant blouse and olive skirt, a garland of hibiscus with your hair long. Luna moth wings sprouted from your back, and I . . .”
Zoë’s hands move quickly as she sketches an outline for the watercolor. I probably won’t finish it today, she thinks, guests are coming at dusk for the party, and there is a lot to do before then, but we have time—we have always had time now. Robin’s voice guiding her hand, she smiles as he recalled for her, as if it were yesterday, a fish leaping at the moment they shout “We do!” a raven watching them from the sycamore, their words echoing from the lake shore, some crepe myrtle blossoms, blown by the breeze, showering onto them as they kiss as if for the first time, again . . .
Hermester is a retired archivist, a rogue protozoologist, and a deliberately genre ignorant artist, whose ficciones have recently appeared in Fate Magazine, Mythaxis, and Robot Butt.
Fayaway, who usually works in ephemeral media only, is a gardener, urban archaeologist, and on again, off again member of the postfolkpunk group Medusa’s Greatgreatgranddaughters. This is the first of their joint projects to be published; their next project is the book Munchausen by Proxy—A Child’s Guide to Getting There First (Golden Press Books, forthcoming Autumn 2023).