Two Stories

An offering for the New World

The stranger appears uphill, silhouetted against the feverish smear of dawn like a sore on the horizon. The sun follows behind as he descends into the valley, where natives accept two bales of blankets and the skeletal mule hauling them. The natives offer tobacco and honeycomb in return, but the blankets are a gift, he insists. Despite this, he packs his pipe; despite this, he eviscerates the honey, probing it with dusty fingertips. A piece of the stranger’s face falls to the ground, but the natives do not seem to notice, or maybe they refuse to believe their eyes. The stranger points to his chest, says a word, and then he points to the ground, says the same word, as if he is synonymous with the land on which they stand. The natives do not recognize his word, because they have already given their land a name, one ancient and rejective of ownership. But the stranger sucks his pipe, he sucks his fingers, he stakes his claim. At dark, the natives file into the shelter and circle the fire. When the stranger removes his hat, his left ear sags and then drops next to his boot. He blows smoke upwards and watches it swirl silently to the top of the steep shelter. The stranger smiles and stands, watching one of the natives discover a lock of his own hair tangled through his fingers. The stranger steps past him and into the night, where the galaxy burns like a rash above the western mountains. The community here already forgotten, the stranger hikes toward the ancient light and heat of those stars, and he dreams of colonizing each of them and whatever lies behind.

Avogadro’s Toast

The chemist wakes with a gasp, his dream’s afterimage a supernova on the surface of his brain. The logic of the dream sublimates, so he scratches the details onto a notepad, peels away cold-sweat sheets, and washes his hands with lye at the sink. He mumbles the birthday song as he scrubs, watching the waves crash against the rocks where the grassy slope meets the coast. The window above the sink was once a mirror. After a rapid tide trapped his wife down there among the barnacles and mussels, the chemist sawed out the mirror and installed a window, as if the new overlook could turn back time and prevent the accident. Salt air scours the lilac paint along the edges of the window frame, and the chemist knows if she were here, he would renew the coat for her. But the dream has taken priority; it demands his energy and attention. When the shipments of avocados arrive, there is nowhere to store them all. It doesn’t matter, he tells the delivery trucks: pile them out front and keep them coming! He splits and pits and scoops and smashes until his hands cramp into spidery wads and the sparrow in his heart rattles a panicked Morse code. He burns the black rinds for warmth and rolls the pits into the sea. He cleans the bathtub to make more room, lumps of green mash putrefying in dresser drawers, in the kitchen sink, in his boots by the door. The chemist stirs the batches with his kayak oar, forgetting why he started this project in the first place. All he knows is that he is trying to process a quantity of avocados so astronomical that he could only hope a sign will appear when he reaches that number. He considers stopping to paint his house, now bare as driftwood, but that thought evaporates and catches a gust headed for sea. So the chemist continues to split and pit and scoop and smash until an avocado forest sprouts and populates the grassy slope between his once-lilac cottage and the rolling sea, where the mess of rocks along the coastline is hidden, no longer visible through the window that was once a mirror.  

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