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As Beautiful as Fish in a Dream

by Shannon Joyce Prince

Part 1 appears
in this issue.
part 2 of 4

Fern and Argus have been married for forty-five years. Their love is so deep and ingrained it has no need to be loud, and a witness waiting to hear it professed would go home unimpressed. Looking at Fern now you miss that tender introspective child. She is finished now, whole, bound up with that thing a unicorn speared long ago, that thing that lay behind her heart, yet, upon touch, came eagerly forward to grow thick, tough, green vines that wrapped up both her precious freakishness and the gaze of her town and then became her soul.

Why did that shy child have to go away? Because Fern in her aurora was somebody who could love herself, or at least meant to learn how, so that she could love the others; but then, who? because nobody there wanted her embrace, yes, eventually there was Argus, but before nobody wanted to share talk with a girl or boy with no evergreen, dahlia, hemlock, or vermillion oak in them.

When Fern looked up from the end of her change, transformation no longer a distraction, her womanhood upon her, she realized that her people were only a people because they had folk like her to be their pariahs, there was no love-bond for her to join in weaving, and this scalded her before it made her strong as a baobab, but while she was turning from a wounded peregrine to a giant, unassailable tree, her vulnerability leaked out and dissipated into the ground. She did not even see it go. She is never going to look at anybody soft anymore; kind, but not soft.

It is a privilege to watch someone early, before they realize they are in front of the bow and beaten arrowhead, before they are wise to the sorcerer’s plan. It is a gift. It means they have not been struck, that you have not allowed the blow to fall.

Argus and Fern never had that dramatic beginning love whose marvels are measured by its terror; love that is not so much unveiling but amputation limb by limb to reveal the soul without the solace of whiskey or other opiates. And if it wasn’t wild, pleasantly disorienting, raw love, it wasn’t owl love either where you raise your wings and dance and show your glory to earn the right to converge.

Argus and Fern were immediately naked to one another, they took up their love in the middle like gods and goddesses do in each new incarnation (“Is that your form now?” “Which realm is this?” “Now remind me, where were we in that last life?”) — even to call what they did recognition would be pretense, it was simply knowing.

And when they consummated their marriage, it wasn’t like sprinkling magic powder over fire and watching the colors change. That, too, was quiet, because if love is a journey, they were love’s result, love’s destination, love’s child. If love necessitates distance, difference in gender and soul shapes for sex, for dialogue, they were past love, they could not meet or have intercourse because they were already merged, could not speak because no one would separate into mouth so that the other could become ear.

Morning comes and one steps out of their home staring down the world. That is the only division in their lives. There is no he and I, just us and all else, all else that hurt us before we grew so big and tough, and tough, turned to each other where it would be safe to be tender if there was any of that left in us, but now that it’s gone, we have to live in that unarticulated love, dark as the soil between tree roots, subterranean love deep in the psyche, love in the place no one has ever been before except for the one who reached in and touched it with the white light of the moon.

Argus fishes each morning, not for food, but for beauty. He waits on the green, brown lake, surrounded by haggard silver trees and under a moss colored sky. He waits for the pure, calm, hauntingly lovely lake to be interrupted by a jump of epic color as a large, fat fish leaps into his hand.

He feeds the fish a magic pearl that encloses it within a sphere of bright tropical water, and takes it into the village. He does not kill fish, only borrows them to use as props in the stories he tells of the time when people were new to the earth, and they had to learn its ways from turtles and sea spirits, the creatures of the water. A time when love was innovative, the eyes of the men and women filled with the wonders of their human experience, as transfixed by their new home as children, and the fish then — the fish were as beautiful as fish in a dream.

Argus emplaces himself in the marketplace, and the children surround him. This odd man belongs to them, he and all the voices of his figments that rush in the thousands from ancient jungles, scramble up from the ocean, rise again from corpses, distill themselves from rumor, codify themselves into hypnosis and then, inexplicably, come from the mouth of this unusual man. The fish illuminated it its azure globe is held up by one hand, and as Argus tucks the other into the ragged pocket of his jacket, he begins his story.

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To be continued...

Copyright © 2008 by Shannon Joyce Prince

Proceed to Challenge 274...

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