‘Holy Many-Minds Home’, Michael Díaz Feito

Illustrations © 2016 Cécile Matthey



 [ La Igreja de Figo, © 2016 Cécile Matthey ] 1.

It still is, despite the flood. A flotilla of fiberglass condos now, throbbing megacasinos, teleports, and neon stadiums, all magnetically suspended over superconducting piles plunged into the sea—the city of Miami levitates. Night clings damply to the Boliche Club’s psilocybin platform, where Iván Po refreshes his self after losing much of it to the neuroslots. And an old woman, Mónica Fort, sways by Iván. Her hair is deep red, a soporific hue in the moonlight. It sways, too, her hair. It rubs against her rough, tight dress. She returns Iván’s gaze. She recognizes him. ¿Y ahora qué rayos quiere la puñetera monja? she says. ¿Todavía no está contenta? Mónica’s hair is brighter and wet red when finally, inhaling the platform’s bitter mist, Iván responds. (His daughter provokes this scrutiny.)

2.

In tempore sum et de tempore loquor, Saint Augustine said, adding, nescio quid sit tempus. In the same spirit of perplexity, I can say that I exist at home, and I speak about home—but what home is I do not know. I do know, however, that home is not space-time itself. Yet it is spatial and temporal, still and changing, space-bound and infinitely ranging, never stable in one state. When I look away from it, I know it. When I look at it again, I find nothing of what I knew there. I am become a stranger to it, and it to me. Memory can’t box things. In his fifty-second year, Iván Po doesn’t know this yet.

3.

“She wants us to swim,” Iván said. Mónica hissed and waved away his words. Iván caught her skinny fingers, bejeweled with antique microchips, and clasped her waist. She sniggered, and they mamboed. Mónica whistled “La Múcura.” It was orchestral. Tucking his nose into her neck’s wrinkled ebony, Iván touched the cleanly stink of lavender oil, and he forgot his daughter’s agitations. Mónica spun and dipped him. She pulled egrets’ feathers from his many shirt pockets. His limbs shivered, reveling. Then the Boliche Club’s bass pumps died. The psilocybin platform loosed a few terminal beats and fell limp. In this power blackout even the night sky’s electric tarpaulin sloughed off, because the energy shield had evaporated. Iván shrieked in the new silence. Shoving him away, Mónica said, Cálmate, chico. ¿Oyes las olas espumando entre las ruinas de la Ciudad Vieja? And Iván saw that the oily sea below softened for the first time.

4.

The cupola salvaged from the drowned Freedom Tower of Old Miami hung at the center of the Armando “Pitbull” Pérez Memorial Hall’s ceiling. A pink beacon within the cupola lit the dais where six councilmen sluggishly took seats. A whirring indicated that the chamber’s air had been adjusted to amplify sound. Chairman Rodolfo Po, Iván’s older brother, cleared his throat, shaking the room with amplified hawking. Iván stood at a podium facing the council. A cone of pink light strobed around him. Still stupefied by the psilocybin mist, he babbled scared whispers. Rodolfo read from a prepared statement projected inside his retinas: “One hour after the blackout, the following communiqué from the left-wing terrorist organization known as the Sisters of the Swamping (TSOTS)—a group led by Eva Po, aka Sor Po, or La Monja, daughter of City Attorney Iván Po—was delivered on paper to the Presidential Palace.”

5.

The rare paper on which TSOTS’s communiqué is written is handmade from the yellow pulp of sedges that grow along the western archipelago. Eva Po wrote her message in an ink rendered from soot and fish glue, and it reads:

we hacked off our breasts with stern machetes
threw the eye-stolen flesh into the sea below
to descend into the silty womb. scraped off
your shield because the waves of new sun are
harsh outside so we should be harshly eroded
to a core of coquina. your androcity by law
either sleeps/wakes but we the swamping souls
as sisters elide binaries sleepwaking with sex
slaves to fast our gynobrains from gluttonous
memory on the shifting archipelagos westerly
where the everglades were us hermaphroditic
sawgrass stalks to infinitude of this place
between us no humans only unhappier animals
swimming and watching and soon s(l)aving you.

6.

Because of their ability to disrupt the Big Storm and Solar Raditation Shield (BSASRS), Chairman Rodolfo Po described TSOTS as an existential threat to the state. After two histrionic breaths of exasperation, Rodolfo also announced that TSOTS had escaped the city with twenty-three male hostages, whom intelligence reports indicated the group would subject to illegal deviance, including coerced cunnilingus and anal penetration. “This council,” Rodolfo said, “has therefore approved a covert action plan (CAP) to recover the hostages and neutralize TSOTS with minimal disturbance to the state’s tourist industry and related markets. This CAP is also initiated to honor the state’s settlement with the Heat Org, whose lawsuit stems from the blackout’s delay of last night’s basketball game.”

7.

Rodolfo Po sentenced Iván Po to serve as exploratory envoy to TSOTS and to subdue the group’s leader, Eva Po. He did not clarify how. He concluded his remarks like this: Ahora, hermano, vete y toma a tu hija única, la que tanto amas, a Eva, y ofrécela en holocausto sobre los pantanos de mierda para limpiar nuestro nombre. Ya no puedes ser un cero a la izquierda, chico. This private session of the council was then closed, and everyone present recited the state motto: “Not happy, not human!”

8.

In his top house Iván sees through the other fiberglass houses stacked to form Cube H. Between his feet a pale neighbor reclines in a leatherette hammock. Retinal TV lights her skull like a lantern. Her ear-eggs are implanted, and a subwoofer suppository is implanted, too. It ripples her thighs. Over Iván’s shoulder a family crowds around a greasy carton of jumbo croquetas. As always this family bickers about the history of their family while they eat. They lob competing quotes from the databases. Nothing is settled. Iván says, No more nice diversions now. He waves to the neighbors below and beside. He taps the shared walls and floor, lowering the interdomicile amplifiers. “Evo!” he calls. A shaved Samoyed soon sits at his feet. “I’m leaving,” Iván says. “I might not. No, I’ll try. I’ll come home.” The dog sighs. He angles his chalky head. With probing black eyes, he stares into Iván. Evo knows precisely what he needs to know.

9.

Soon after his wife Yrela’s death, Iván further endured a series of pet dogs’ deaths, like a lahar of grief trapping him and his daughter. Eva always remarked on the simple dissipation of the dogs’ being, how casually living things transmute into hollow dolls. She’s a smart girl. Iván now hopes that this dog Evo will contemplate death, too, like his “older sister” Eva, the dog’s namesake, because Iván does not expect to survive the archipelago to which his poor daughter drags him unwilling—and the reversal, a dog mourning a human, is somehow solace.

10.

Ygriega 7 is an orb of lab-grown pigs’ skin sculpted to evoke the human face. It has a nanotech brain and blind LED eyes (in concession to ours). Its facial expressions are constantly shifting. This bot head Ygriega 7 is mounted on a Heat Org body module of skeletal steel, sharp blades accessorized with costume jewelry—particolored torcs and chains, rings and vestigial antennas—strung like baubles on a santero’s figurine Orisha. Iván hasn’t felt this dizzying level of droid shock in years. He says, “¿Y el muequero ese?” His police escort says, “That’s your navigator.”

11.

My little brother’s green Shaker chair is a network of mortise and tenon joints, and this assemblage was invisible to him, because the chair worked. It sat him. But when he moved to a new city and donated the chair to my home, it stopped working. The chair is now hobbled. Its green joints are loose and often pop unstuck. It sways when I sit. So I can’t avoid seeing the thing, its anatomy and its will. It confronts me. Like a toady, I over-thank this chair when it doesn’t collapse under my weight. Perching cautiously, I’ve felt my posture evolve, my spine mutate, to suit this chair’s whims. Before bedtime I check on this chair. I could fix it. I won’t. When Iván Po is handed a matte remote control, which can at any time switch Ygriega 7 into a manual mode of easy operation, does he still see the automaton steering the Cagafuegos?

12.

They launched after midnight. The populace would be protected from undue knowledge of the shield’s tunneling port. Lowered into the again roiling sea by steel lines, the Cagafuegos jounced awkwardly in the dark, a shadow puppet manipulated by the levitating city. It dropped into the oily water. Iván, preparing for his first q-tunneling, injected oxycodone into his anterior jugular vein. He shivered. He slumped onto the deck. He curled up. Ygriega 7 laughed. “Bro,” it said, “you scared?” Rushing through the Old City’s ruins, the small boat tilted toward Government Center, a building designed as if its architects foresaw that it would someday be the drowned city’s tombstone. Just another algal menhir now, overgrown with a death’s head of bromeliads, climbing ferns, orchids, and ivy, colored blue under the restored shield at night. The tunneling started.

13.

The tunneling stopped. It had stopped. Iván had expected the typical sensations of teleporting but intensified—turbulence, then pain, and maybe a mystic vision, or an orgasm. Instead, he was and already had been there, outside the shield on a calmed Biscayne Lagoon, waiting to be. Inhaling again a dry breeze that lifted his body lightly in the dark. Waiting. They had never moved. “That’s it?” Iván said. “This is it? Or not yet?” “Like everything,” Ygriega 7 said, “it’s nothing. Let’s try this a second time. Has been, is, will be—you know? You know. Ha sido, es, será. Ti je, je, yoo je…”

14.

“You a Catholic?” Ygriega 7 asked. Iván did not respond. High wind had deformed the lagoon. Waves of refracted moonlight battered the boat. “Because I’ve got an audiobook,” Ygriega 7 said, “for my stereo-tongue. If you don’t mind.” The boat was pitched against an island of mangroves. Branches rattled and hissed, hooking the hull, as a swarm of lightning bugs swept into the open boat. The lightning bugs shivered electric green spasms. They splattered luminescent guts like constellations along the deck. The boat finally jerked free of the mangroves when thick rain blotted out the moon. It crashed into a twelve-foot chop. Ygriega 7’s jewelry jangled. Limp and still dazed by oxycodone, Iván was hurled overboard.

15.

Waves funnel in Iván’s skull. He wakes at dawn to a salty film sealing his lips. A taste of the lagoon, of the outside. But then the deck’s textured finish scrapes his spine, and by the helm he sees Ygriega 7’s gaping mouth, which blares a recorded voice (basso profondo) intoning: “Est igitur natura generale nomen, ut diximus, omnium quae sunt et quae non sunt…” Iván’s been saved. He has no memory of the water. He, like most shield-era Miamians, has only swum in swimming pools. “What?” Iván says. With a flick of its dry tongue, Ygriega 7 pauses the audiobook and says, “Put on that Pedialyte suit. You’re soaked, bro. But you have to stay hydrated, too.” As he carefully stands to strip, Iván says, “I’m depressed. My first real swim, and I can’t remember it.” “I’ve never been, like, depressed,” Ygriega 7 says, “except for maybe once during 9/11. I’m just human like that, I guess.” Iván says, “You weren’t built then.” “True,” it responds, “but it’s super hard to tell with no set temporality in our info networks.” Iván sighs. He reaches for the remote control. He mutes Ygriega 7.

16.

The Cagafuegos approached the first unincorporated settlement. A hive of stilted towers of stacked housing units, pink and hollow plastic, the old neighborhood of Monmouth—or now, Monmao—rose from the lagoon. Sunlight reflected off the glossy towers and shattered Iván’s sight. He blinked away ballooning motes of spectral color. Heat and humidity had tightly hugged his body since sunrise, so this exhausting activity of hard blinking nearly toppled him. He suckled at the Pedialyte suit’s drinking tube. It produced a blueberry-flavored distillation of his sweat. An amplified female voice, startling Iván, suddenly said, “Byenveni nan Vil Pwason! Deklare biznis ou a ak baylegen zam ou yo, silvouple.” The voice cracked from a Transit Authority Bot (TAB), a rusted box clinging to a wooden pole patched with rot and bird shit. “¿Qué?” Iván said. “Olvídate,” the TAB said. “Your navigator is synced to my network and it is pissed off. Did you mute it for spitting commercials?” “No,” Iván said. “Have you recently detected other Miamian citizens in this area?” “Yes. Other women.” Like herself. “Where’d they go?” “Sir,” the TAB said, “for data beyond this unit’s purview—that is, in the wilderness—I suggest you cautiously contact the local Fish lord.”

17.

A small, thumbless hand slid over Iván’s wrist, steadily tugging him down to the jetty. This hand was translucent and wet, like the rest of the nude dwarf’s body, and surprisingly strong. Fifty years earlier, when the alien species first materialized around Port-au-Prince, scientists speculated that the Fish had originated on Kepler-62e, but once each postdiluvial state in the New Caribbean had removed the Fish to reservations outside the respective storm and radiation shields, further research was universally prohibited. Burying disgust under a friendly, gap-toothed rictus, Iván said, “Gracias.” He was careful to enunciate the final S and avoid the possibility of reverse prejudice. The nominal title of envoy suited Iván’s embarrassed pride. When the sexless Fish did not respond, Iván mumbled, “Mèsi”—with less confidence. This also got no response. The Fish, still gripping Iván’s wrist, led him across the jetty to a boardwalk, where another Fish, identical to the first, waited to grip his wrist and lead him, and he was soon traded to another at a tower’s entrance, and to another at the tower’s stairwell. The plastic stairs squeaked at each step, and at every new floor another Fish waited to lead Iván by the wrist. This being traded, he said to himself, feels like being just a dumb thing, smaller than them, even. Fear filled Iván’s belly.

18.

Mamey: a sandpaper skin peels back at the pointed tip to show pink flesh, which paints the air with almonds’ smell and is creamy, embracing the fruit’s stone, which is hard like a stone crab’s claw. My favorite fruit, the mamey. Although, its preparation does evoke for me a bad dream of bodily mutilation. This big fruit, flayed and pitted, is pushed into the headless Fish lord’s neck cavity. It disappears with a pulpy slap, and is followed by another mamey in the hole. The small, thumbless hands of lesser Fish keep these mameys going. The same hands finally signal for Iván to sit on the plastic floor, beside the headless Fish lord sitting upright, and also roll him a blunt, which he happily smokes while waiting for some explanation. As his fear subsides, Iván tries to recall the sensation of really swimming, or nearly drowning, during the storm. Instead, he again pictures his wife Yrela diving off the city, cracking down in the sea, disappearing like the Fish lord’s mameys. He sees Eva silently crying and says, But why no memory of her youthful screams?

19.

 [ Fishlord, © 2016 Cécile Matthey ] Within one hazy hour the Fish lord’s new head had crowned. The mamey-pushing attendants genuflected at the sight of this tiny scalp, translucent and patched with ginger hair, which was stuck in the neck’s opening. Then a rip and a pop. The new head passed, and mamey pulp splattered the plastic walls. Iván crawled to a corner. He cowered from the shower of pulp and fleshy sound. “¡Coño!” Iván said. “It’s a trap!” The Fish lord reared its new head and regarded Iván coolly. Its cheeks were freckled with orange dots, as were its ears, and together with the ginger hair, these markings distinguished it from the other Fish, signaling its authority. Fingertips tingling, Iván then felt seized by the room itself, like the plastic walls squeezed his chest. He was overwhelmed by the sudden immanence of this Fish lord’s authority, sensed its speckled ears tracking his pulse. Tears soon swelled Iván’s eyes, because a mass of panic and grief had gathered in him and it warped the room’s space. But the Fish lord spoke softly: “Don’t overreact to rezirèksyon. It’s just, a naïve pirate blasted our previous keph. For selling to her good oregano instead of pure manteca.” It licked thin lips. “So. Apologies for your waiting. Heads do rise slowly. How can we help ourselves, please?”

20.

“She visited us,” the Fish lord said. “Sor Po, your daughter? Yes. And she deposited with us a tweet. For followers only. It reveals the church’s location. We will recite it. In exchange for an entrance visa, notarized. Which, of course, authorizes our indefinite residence in the city. Miami. ¿Ombligo del mundo, no? At last. This plastic housing holds but does not home us in the hurricanes. Y ven acá, tell the truth. In the shield are you all so deliciously ugly? Gray-mulleted? Green-skinned?” “No,” Iván said. “We’re each uniquely ugly, gray-mulleted, and green-skinned. Along a short spectrum of shades.” “Yes,” the Fish lord said. “Yes, that’s right.” “Visas for the whole family, then?” Iván gestured at the other Fish, who kept their big eyes tilted to the Fish lord without really seeing it, or seeing it while asleep. “No,” the Fish lord said. “We’re a plural, entangled entity. No. Don’t you study us? Only one visa is required. For this prime vessel talking. The others here are zánganos. Silent. Tools. Superficial. Like skin, or scales. Or toenails, teeth. Easily shed for the next mode of plurally singular urbanitatis. That is your custom… corporeally? We can collapse ourselves into one civem miamiensem, too. One corpus!” It yipped for joy.

21.

Iván is encompassed by Fish on the jetty. His thumb touch-types on a Heat Org tablet held in the same hand. The squat Fish lord grips Iván’s other wrist. Many tumid seagulls perch along the docked boat’s canopy, and Ygriega 7 watches from the helm. Afternoon heat fires off a gray sky, but the crowd of Fish emits a chilly vapor, which soothes Iván’s braising mind. Finalizing an ad hoc visa, Iván asks, “Name?” The Fish lord says, “Call us Jill.” “Me,” Iván says. “Call me Jill.” Jill nods. It says, “We’re surprised you talk inglés yet. Can’t you speak your city’s Spanish?” “Sí,” Iván says. But it’s an anemic , creaky, and when Iván adds, “Claro que sí,” he becomes fully annoyed. “Your fucking tone,” Iván says, “offends me, Jill. I’ve sent the visa—notarized by my bot Ygriega 7—to Immigration. So?” Jill smiles. Its features hardly shift. An unhappy smile, Iván says. He recalls an Icelandic diplomat, Snorri, from the lunar emirate, who jumped every jinetera in Miami and still confided a rapacious loneliness. His memory of this long friendship fizzles. Jill releases Iván’s wrist. It rocks back its new head. It adeptly chants Eva Po’s message along a Phrygian air:

Mia irmana fremosa, treides comigo
a la igreja de Figo u é o mar salido
e miraremos las ondas.
A la igreja de Figo u é o mar salido
e verrá i mia madre e o meu amigo
e miraremos las ondas.

22.

Iván’s breathing heaved sharply, because against his will, he knew this melody: from a monophonic piece for voice and viola. Yrela’s electric viola, fulminant, feeding back. She had privately practiced it often. She had publicly performed it once (as a prelude to suicide). Jill then lifted its thumbless hands to the hot sky. When its hands dropped, the other Fish died. Some flopped against the jetty’s planks; some plopped into the black water. “One corpus!” Jill said. “Now, to and up the river. We may be going. We will show.” It clambered aboard the Cagafuegos. As Iván tried to vocalize his horror at Jill’s filicide, Ygriega 7 detached from the helm and spun toward the Fish lord. With a hydraulic whoosh, the bot’s raised arm launched a retractable bolt, briefly sparked steel, and Jill’s new head exploded. Seagulls fled the boat’s canopy. From its post on the lagoon, the TAB cheered, “Mouri! Mouri!” “What the fuck,” Iván said, “did you do?” Ygriega 7 gawked. Iván unmuted it. “Bro,” Ygriega 7 said, “you got your intel, so I just deleted the, uh, CI. Just in case.” Iván groaned. He climbed aboard. Sitting up Jill’s sticky body, he examined the new neck cavity. “Bueno,” he said, “Jill comes with us, then. Ojalá que recrezca la cabecita.”

23.

In deeper water another storm slaps the boat. Ygriega 7 injects “vitaminitas” into Jill’s belly and Iván’s throat. Then Iván, puking overboard, lowers his face to thrashing waves full of spiky sargassum, e-pipes, plastic bottles, periphyton, cell phones, palm fronds, little TVs, man o’ wars, condoms, PVC, mangrove propagules, fidos, wristwatches, dead turtles, plastic bags, ear-eggs, and coconuts, sunglasses. Far under the foamy troughs, shadows of expressways furtively glide. Miraremos las ondas, Iván says. She’s altered it. But I forget the original—How? Miraremos las ondas. Can I forget? Instead of Yrela’s viola, vibrato keening, or even Jill’s weird voice, Iván just hears the present waves. Listening, he suddenly remembers something else: silt scours, waters punch, the tugging current’s taste, algal touch, rainy weight, greenness, salt sounds, his eyelids—real swimming. Iván dives into the water.

24.

Crickets grind furiously while sunset pokes a filmy hole in the cloud cover. The Cagafuegos burrs past humped islands of mangroves and silt toward plain silt islands, silvering in the little light. “Hey,” Ygriega 7 says, “I escorted your brother Rodolfo to Al-Qamar II once, you know? Buena gente, your brother. Upbeat. Very human.” “Yes,” Iván says. “He’s never struggled at that.” The water is flat outside the boat’s wake. It glistens. Iván sips from his P-suit’s tube. His dark face aches, muscles sapped by the day’s febrile sun. He yawns. He wonders if the chairman Po watches his dog Evo at least amicably. He worries. Can Rodolfo, such a secretive person, tolerate the dog’s probing stares, which know so precisely? Iván says, “A friend of mine lived there, the lunar emirate. A diplomat. What’s-his-name… He died. Can’t remember the name.” Ygriega 7 laughs. It says, “That’s not, like, very diplomatic of you.”

25.

“Why’d you attack Jill?” “Already told you,” Ygriega 7 said. “But honestly, I don’t know.” “You don’t know?” “Exactly! Must be an encrypted script. From my OS update.” “When were you updated?” “Night we left Miami.” Afraid to ask, Iván’s voice cracked: “And when we find Eva?” Ygriega 7’s twitching face finally stopped. The bot’s jewelry jangled to the boat’s rhythm. Then it rebooted.

26.

Silt banks hugged the boat when the lagoon became a river in the morning. It was the river that Jill had mentioned. The peaks of buried cypress trees poked from the silt, and at each meander the boat’s hull slowly snapped through chain-link-like fences of dead branches. Bleeding-heart vines wreathed many of these bald treetops. Stretching off grogginess and a migraine, Iván stood from the sleeping mat. Jill’s body, propped against a big cooler, farted turpentine. “She lives,” Iván said. Ygriega 7 swiveled from the helm. It approached Iván to scan his vitals. It said, “You need your vitaminitas.” Iván hesitated, then nodded in consent. Pissing overboard, he said, “Weird, watery dreams last night. In sunlight I dissolved into the lagoon, or I already was the lagoon in sunlight. Watching us, you and another of me, swimming in the distance. You swim, right? Of course, of course. Oye, let’s leave out the oxy, ok? Just for now… And all we’ve got to eat is that dietary jelly?” But before Iván could zip his P-suit’s fly, Ygriega 7 injected the daily dose. Oxycodone bathed and massaged Iván’s brain. He imagined a very kind woman’s warm, nimble hands. “Bro,” Ygriega 7 said. “Your cochleae picking up that music?” It pointed at bleeding-hearts ahead. Hummingbirds, iridescent flashes like spinning electrons, swarmed the tubular flowers. The birds’ hovering smeared the muggy air. “No,” Iván said. “What music?” “The flapping frequencies,” Ygriega 7 said. “Hear? Their little wings are whistling your daughter’s song.”

27.

Dropping into shallow water, Iván waded through sedge toward the hummingbirds. His toed boots sunk into silt. In overtones rising from the wingbeats, Yrela’s final song faintly diffused among the vines. He tried to quiet the migraine, but his body ached, drowning out the spectral music. He could only catch cut-up measures. Then, without anticipating it, Iván wept. His weeping confused grief and awe. He’d finally forgotten the sad song. Hadn’t he? But confronted by it again, that forgetting turned toxic, a side effect of eating shit, of irresponsibility, of reckless swimming. The radiating cloud of hummingbirds intensified. Their refracted shards of light lanced black spots in Iván’s vision. He fell to his knees and closed his eyes. The wingbeats became frothy breakers against his brain. “Ask where she is!” Ygriega 7 said from the boat. Iván wiped his wet face. Still weeping, he sucked at the P-suit’s tube. La memoria, he said, se caría. Perdida pa’ los pajaritos pasajeros. Y las olas. When he looked up, the hummingbirds fled. He whispered to the buried treetops. “What?” Ygriega 7 said. Iván nodded. He said, “I’m following them.” Ygriega 7 said, “¡Dale!”

28.

“You are not human,” Jill said. “Huh?” Ygriega 7 said. “Oh, your head’s back!” Jill said, “We nonhumans—” “I’m rational,” Ygriega 7 said. “So, human-ish.” Jill continued, “We should not behead…” “Bro, I know. Sorry.” “Mornings you recite their motto?” Jill said. “Human equals happy, Fish-friend.” “That’s simple.” “Right?” Ygriega 7 said. “Vice versa, too.” “Yes?” “If happy, then I’m human-ish.” “Yes.” “Like, I got an eternal soul. Quod vere homo est. I got this audiobook—” “Is that why, then?” Jill said. “Huh?” Ygriega 7 said. “Five days here we’ve dawdled. For a soul?” “The honorable Mr. Po will return.” “He’s likely dead,” Jill said. “That’s human-ish.” “The Creator demotes pessimists, Fish-fuck.” “Ok. Suspend this talking. Feed us, please.”

29.

It’s hard to write accurately about things. Like John Ruskin argues in The Stones of Venice, if even zoologists “disagree in their descriptions of the curve of a shell, or the plumage of a bird, though they may lay their specimen on the table, and examine it at their leisure,” then how can a critic make an honest account of a whole city, a chimerical, watery one especially? To capture my present home by historicizing its future, I’ve proceeded cautiously. I acknowledge, as Ruskin does, “the strange way in which separate observations will sometimes falsify each other, incapable of reconcilement, owing to some imperceptible inadvertency.” The separation of observations in time, however, leads me to divergences in mood and aspect, so here I’ll probably neglect limpkins for bridges, or local economies for ibises, and then there cabbage palms for plastic walls and doors, or levees for apple snails… (They, the apple snails, glue their eggs to steel gates and sawgrass stalks, leaving chalky clutches like rock candy, crystalline and pink.)

30.

Sawgrass prairie flickered in the harshest sunlight. A line of loinclothed men, winding from a hammock of mahoganies and gumbo-limbos, reached the prairie’s center. The stalks there faded.

A field of bent light parted to show the Sisters of the Swamping’s cloaked community. Wearing zap collars and carrying baskets of wild rice, the enslaved men were driven into the circular enclosure by a naked nun on Heat Org steel stilts. She shouted, “¡Adelante, coño! Que el tiempo huye.” A narrow lane, crowded with shouting nuns and slithering pythons, spiraled past crates of tamarinds, guavas, and mangos, and vanilla-scented smudge pots, fruit jars of pickled pythons and hearts of palm, cauldrons of boiling rice, coconuts, coal-hot cajas chinas, chickee huts for eating and for sleeping, two sets of Taliban monkey bars, a coquina-walled bathhouse, a plastic-sealed tent library of printed books, video projectors, limestone mosaics of open vulvas, white figurines of anhingas and herons, four pet crocodiles, and a chickee hut for the orgies. The spiraling lane ended at the nuns’ holy shrine, La Igreja de Figo. It was housed in the hollowed-out trunk of a banyan tree. Eva Po’s hut—a blue-plastic room littered with old circuit boards, batteries, and loose wires—sat high in this big tree’s boughs at the top of a staircase binding the boles.

31.

 [ Hut, © 2016 Cécile Matthey ] At dusk colossal mosquitos sweep into the orgy hut, which Eva, squatted in her treehouse, spies through a telescope. Eva’s telescope hoards electromagnetic pulses off slaves’ tongues and nuns’ clitorises. She rubs circles on herself. Yowling decays above the banyan’s canopy, and Eva sees welts rise around proboscides and abdomens flush with purple blood. She moans. The eyes of her dog Alfonso, a half-asleep brindle Akita, settle on her big, bare thighs, and shame inflames her. She sighs. Enlightened or not, she says, remembered difference—humanness, or womanity, really—directs my senses. But sometimes Alfonso dreams. Maybe he understands, then. A red orb flashes alarm. The orgy stops. Bodies divide. Nuns, loading shotguns and tying on robes, sprint to the gates, where Eva’s telescope now captures her father floating in marsh water.

32.

Anonymous slaves carried Iván Po on their shoulders. But among the muttering crowd of wide-eyed nuns that watched this procession, Iván recognized many faces. They were the daughters (and transitioning sons) of prominent Miamians, representing every ethnic neighborhood in the city with an outdated name and ossified identity, like Free Caracas, Little Haiti, Vietnamville, Next Lagos, Jamaicatown, and New Little Havana. Here, though, all the women had shaved heads and only wore knee-length linen robes, yellow. Iván no longer knew any of their own names. His head fell back. He saw the rest of the camp upside down. The ground churned, a swelling dirt-sky. Dragonflies droned in puddle-clouds and dropped into the flashlights around Iván’s body. Laura Llull, a nun dignified by deep crow’s-feet, lunged for Iván’s sunburned face. The crowd restrained her. Years earlier she’d endured a romantic fling with Iván. Now Sor Llull cried. She pointed at the melanoma that had hatched in pus on Iván’s brown cheek. She said, “¡ …se cambian!” He didn’t understand. She pleaded. He didn’t know her.

33.

“Papi,” Eva says, “when you’re better, we’ll talk terms. It’s good to see—Don’t make me laugh. Even así, hecho tierra, it’s good to see you. After seven years. Are you comfortable? Real sun has finally cut away your carapachón. Real water has nourished your noumenon. Unmediated, complementarity is—Pero you’re thinking… que todavía te chotee como siempre. Maybe a little. Or I’ve just got a lot to say. Visions—Alfonso, ¡ya! Stop licking. Let’s discuss the swimming, what it’s done to you. Water everywhere is polluted, right? But here it’s uniquely polluted. An amnesiac soup of parasites and pharmaceuticals. Sor Nadine, my friend the chemist—remember her, Dad? She died. But she detected—¡No, chico! Don’t lick Papi’s face. Nadine detected toxic quantities of benzodiazepines, fluvastatin, diphenhydramine, uh, sucralose, SSRIs, codeine, MSG… shit like that. And the parasites, right, they’re truly sacred microbes. Mutant Wolbachia! Stop it. He likes you, Dad. Aw. Among other adverse effects, exposure to this water causes moderate amnesia. In women. For men, it’s much worse. Only here, then, in the glades and the lagoon, the archipelago, can present moments of gynovision supplant an eradicated past of patriarchy. Historical amnesia, this fem-awakening, is achieved here through ritual swimming. But as a spiritual and political leader, it’d be irresponsible if I enjoyed the swimming in excess. So I sacrifice, keeping dry up in this ugly treehouse. That licking’s annoying, right? The quality of this place bridges the phenomenal and the—Stop tonguing your asshole, Alfonso! Ah, fuck it. We’ll talk terms when you’re better, Papi. I know why you’re here. It’s good to see you.”

34.

Like her peers, she hated all of it, and the violin, too. When Sra. Fort arrived for their weekly lesson, eleven-year-old Eva Po hid outside. She climbed into a concrete planter, one of many lining the open-air, brutalist stairs that descended between Cube H and Cube G. Balled up in hibiscus, Eva waited for the hour to end. A smiling security bot rolled past. Its blue and red lights colored the nearby bronze statue of a stripper mid-assclap which commemorated the public service of Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell. The echoing slaps of the security bot’s rubber belts faded downstairs. A red fox slunk from Cube G. It soon climbed into the planter, too, leaving a red line speckled on the concrete landing, and it crouched at Eva’s small feet, panting. The fox’s black-slicked belly convulsed. Its ears darted at different angles, then stopped. Eva was afraid. Tío Rodolfo had told her about the unhappy, jealous people who brought wild animals into the clean city and set them free to bite little girls. Surprising herself, she jumped over the sleeping fox, hit the landing, and ran home. The fox didn’t stir. Her bedroom’s fiberglass walls were dimmed. She opened the door, and Sra. Fort was kneeling there—one bare breast sagging, her mouth filled—and her head bobbed against Iván’s hairy pelvis. “Sra. Fort,” Iván mumbled. Eva’s violin lay on the bed. Later, while eating tuna out of the can, Eva’s mother laughed musically. “It’s a silly image,” she said. “So what?” Eva said, “Don’t you hate him?” With unexpected warmth, Yrela said, “Cada loco con su tema.”

35.

Iván’s teeth clasped a crispy, honeyed python, tearing hot fat from the spit. It was his third helping that hour. After a four-day recovery in Eva’s hut, Iván had woken up taciturn and gluttonous, spiraling daily along the lane to visit every food stall, nodding thanks to nuns and wearing blisters on his bare feet, while each day the stalls multiplied as the camp uncannily expanded into a village, then a town, and impossibly, a small city, palm- and sedge-thatched. He’d only been there a week. But he accepted that no one else, nuns or slaves, agreed about time. A mix of sweat, honey, and sunscreen clotted Iván’s new beard. He wiped it and the melanoma throbbed. The pain twitched his hands and they knocked off his sunglasses. As he stooped over his own swelling gut to get them, a team of slaves pushed past, stomping the sunglasses. A turpentine stink swept into Iván’s nostrils. Jill marched among those slaves. “Wait,” Iván said. “How the hell…” Jill had already stopped to stare at him, too. Iván reflexively offered Jill the remainder of his roasted python. “No,” Jill said. “Thank you.” “Sorry.” “What?” “That you’re a slave.” “Oh, yes,” Jill said. “And a delicacy at orgies.” “Ah.” “Discuss our deal?” Jill said. “To your daughter, please. Now. We must go.” “Sorry. It’s good to see—” “Or else we’ll again be hit.”

36.

“You spoke to another slave,” Eva said. “Yes,” Iván said. “And I wanted to ask if—” “No, remember: that robe doesn’t give you privileges.” Iván held his gut and sighed. “Hazme caso, Papi. You’ve got one try.” “But—” “Because for you I’m risking—” “¡Déjame hablar, coño!” Iván said. Eva slapped his mouth. He flushed. “Watch your tone,” she said. “Motherfucker.” Iván said, “We will talk.” “I said we’d talk later. It’s not today.” She went to the treehouse’s staircase. Iván frowned, then smirked. He said, “Oye, mija. Oye.” Eva turned. She bit her lip in exasperation. “And your boobs?” Iván said. That shocked her. She laughed. “What?” “Your communiqué. It said you all hacked them off.” “Did it?” Iván nodded. He said, “With ‘stern’ machetes.” “You remember that, huh?” “Yes.” “Of course. Viejo verde.” Iván raised woolly eyebrows. “Like Tío Rodolfo says—” she said, “Hyperbole’s super fruitful.” “But why?” Iván said. “Why this? Any of it.” “Keep asking,” Eva said. “I do. Why’s good.” “Why enslave the males? How does that ‘elide binaries?’” “Baby steps,” she said. “First, we’re deprogramming.”

37.

La Igreja de Figo’s holy of holies holds a mirrorball. It is attached to a brass rod that hangs from the white-lit shrine’s ceiling, a pendulum that Eva now sets swinging. The crowd outside the shrine hushes. Eva taps her wristwatch to amplify the night air, and suddenly the subtle gestures of nearby insects erupt into a ticking cacophony. Fastening a black, glossy raincoat, Eva reminds herself, Merciless piety. And mercy. Then she adjusts a fiberglass collar. When she bows seven times, the collar powers up. It projects a hologram that hides Eva’s head. There is, instead, a horned cow’s head, and between the tall horns floats a full moon. A garland of orange blossoms and green corn wraps this cow’s head, as do coils of coral snakes, rearing their black, yellow, and red bands, which glow and reflect off the swinging mirrorball. Eva turns to face the crowd of prostrate slaves and kneeling nuns. She exhales, further distorting the amplified air. She’s ready. The other nuns recite from LED-lit tablets:

And eager to purify myself, I surrender to the lavatory sea, dunking my head in the dirty waves seven times—because that number is particularly fit for sacred things—and then I pray to the most powerful goddess while hysterically weeping my pleasure.

38.

After the sermon—a dizzying invective against the looting of Europa’s life forms, carnophallogocentrism in the divorced states of America, Bohmian mechanics, and the banking policies of Al-Qamar II—Sor Po (thinking, Qué payasa soy) pointed a pregnant finger at Iván Po. He stood by the kneeling congregants. His eyes were closed. “Sisters,” Eva said, “seeing my father free in our robes, you’ve probably asked, How the fuck, and why the fuck, is he here?” The cow’s head blinked as she chortled. “I can now explain.” She waved to a nun, Sor Tiger, who had appeared outside the crowd. With a sweetgrass basket raised by both hands, Sor Tiger brushed past Iván and approached the shrine. His eyes opened. Eva said, “I had a vision of my father’s pilgrimage to us, and so I have accepted his arrival and atonement. You accept him, too. But it was not revealed to me”—her distorted voice boomed—“that his guide would be programmed to assassinate me!” Sor Tiger removed Ygriega 7 from the sweetgrass basket, holding the bot over the congregation, which gasped at the bodiless, pigskin bust. Ygriega 7, muted, could only blink frantically. Eva said, “Now, as a former roboticist, I could reprogram this thing. But it begs for humane treatment. So, Sor Tiger—whose kinswomen, by the way, were removed by this exact model—is going to fucking execute it.” Even the slaves, Eva noted, cheered at that. Ten slaps of a fire-hot machete along Ygriega 7’s scalp opened the bot head like a coconut. Nuns vied for chips flung off the blade. Ygriega 7’s twitching face accelerated, and an anisic odor fizzled from its new orifice when Sor Tiger’s machete plunged and whisked. The blade’s wobbling echoed, a chorus of jaw harps in the amplified air. Fevered whooping overwhelmed a few nuns, and they soon ran off, dragging slaves to the dark orgy hut. Eyes tearing, Iván held himself, arms crossed, fingers squeezing his shoulders. He shuddered. He was afraid. But that fear surged into the muddy ground and through the other present bodies, and loneliness, subsumed by this fear, changed into an immanent comfort, uneasily yoking him to the drugged and microbe-infected congregation, to the marshy archipelago itself. Sor Llull shoved Iván hard. “Joputa,” she said. Then she hugged him, and kissed him, and led him to the orgy hut.

39.

There is, according to Sir John Mandeville’s Travels, an island in the Indian Ocean where “wicked and cruel women… have precious stones growing in their eyes.” Like basilisks, if any of these women even frowns at a man, then her jewel eyes instantly kill him. Nearby islands are inhabited by women whose vaginas contain venomous snakes that kill new husbands, stinging their penises on the wedding night. Mandeville reports that “cockodrills” swim along this archipelago of violent women, too. Like the women, these crocodiles kill. But the difference is that if these “long-bodied serpent[s]” eat men, they always weep afterward, mourning their rational prey. I’ve only heard them grunt and hiss in Miami. Naked, Iván Po, sinking in the flooded sedge between some huts, wakes among ripples of scalding water that flow from a wallowing pet crocodile. More water seems to ooze from the bloated sun itself, which also wallows nearby. Iván swims toward the crocodile. He says, “We’re friends. Aren’t we? And it’s too hot. Even for you.”

40.

“What’s up?” Eva said, mounting the treehouse’s staircase. “This a hunger strike?” Lying by Alfonso, Iván hid in the dog’s brindle fur. “Ah,” Eva said. “Didn’t enjoy the service, Papi?” “Ygriega,” Iván said. “It was a Catholic.” “He was a bot, a thug.” “And my friend.” “He would’ve killed me, your daughter. I can’t die yet.” Alfonso licked Iván’s ear. “You’re fasting for grief?” Eva said. “It needs a real funeral.” “No.” “Why no?” “No body,” she said. “Melted for materials.” “There wasn’t a body at your mother’s mass.” Eva crouched by Iván and squinted. “Didn’t stop us then,” Iván said. “What is or isn’t, you can bury it and mourn.” “This is it?” Eva said. “What?” “This gets you to talk about that?” Alfonso licked Iván’s other ear. “In-fucking-credible,” Eva said. She pinched Alfonso’s coat. He growled. “No!” she said. “No.” She pinched again, pulling the dog from her father. Alfonso suddenly snapped at Eva. A roaring blur of black and orange grown twofold in size, the dog flung saliva-shining cuspids. Eva dropped backward. Her face, unscathed, unfurled an epiphanic fear. But she knew nothing. She cowered. She teared up. She retched. She said, “No.” She retched again. Alfonso had calmly returned to Iván’s ear. “He’s never…” Eva said. “I’m sorry.” “What?” Iván said. Eva wiped her tears, burped. She said, “I’m sorry.”

41.

My great-grandfather José Feito, a thinly mustached Asturian who unhappily fought in the Second Moroccan War, was gifted a hunting dog in Cuba. But José never hunted the countryside. Maybe memories of the chopped-off heads that he’d found piled in Riffian town squares kept him from enjoying the hunt, or maybe it was his stint in the seminary. He didn’t talk much. The dog Fulanito, a black Cocker Spaniel, had been highly trained by an English expat. Fulanito only responded to English, RP. José learned just enough of the language to chat with Fulanito during slow, tonic walks around La Habana Vieja. As meek as my Spanish is now, I would’ve related more easily with Fulanito than with my great-grandfather. After the revolution of 1959, José fled Cuba. He left Fulanito to his son José, my grandfather. Abuelo worried about the show trials and firing squads, about apolitical friends jailed in La Cabaña for grousing too loudly, and mostly about his architectural drawings, while Fulanito howled every night, recalling his past life of urban prowling, crying out for his friend exiled across the ocean. Or more confoundingly, maybe the dog cried for an unknown.

42.

Today we were manumitted, Jill says. Yellow-robed like the nuns, we strolled around, unsure. Retired from thatching the new multistories. From hammering higher boardwalks. From gutting pythons and swiving bitches. From picking wild rice for this little village that the slaves now call Labiana. Or La Vana. At last Iván Po had interceded for us. To give our thanks for the bèl jès, we found Iván Po. He kneeled in a puddle. He lapped puddle-water from cupped hands. His eyes were elongated. Like one of the bot’s—nkan láìlóríre, Ygriega!—shitty saints. Lázaro or Lazarillo, is how he looked. We talked our thankful words. He didn’t respond. Or even recognize. And then (why we do not know) we said, “Join us. Come back to the City of Man.” His reply was a nasal grunt. But when we turned away, Iván Po grabbed our wrist. He said, “Me.” He added—just before our briefly puzzled expression could pass!—“Join me.” He smiled. Then he shrugged, speaking unto us, “Anyway, Miami’ll soon be swamped—again? Drowned, of course. That’s the plan, her way. No, I don’t like it, Jill. But Eva does her best and I’m proud. Oye, that’s it. Miraremos las ondas. ¡Miraremos! We swim, Jill. To see, just swim.” Iván Po lapped up more puddle-water. Quasi ferus. Waving wet paws, he shooed us away and said, “Entonces tú… ¡Dale!”

43.

Clouds like curlicue viaducts connected the condos, staircases, megacasinos, airboats, teleports, and stadiums levitating inside the shield of Miami. The state-supplied Cagafuegos, generously returned by the Sisters of the Swamping, rocked Jill toward the city. Jill was happy. It said, Residents if not citizens finally of the nubilest city of the Americas! We’ll seduce other minds. As one unique mixing among the plural unique. Impregnating. Lost in rem publicam! It yipped for joy. Combat drones zipped overhead. Throughout the afternoon Jill had spotted them migrating westerly across the lagoon. The city, Jill said, will sacrifice its sons, the hostages, to preserve. Wouldn’t we? We tried to help. As the boat automatically navigated itself into the shield’s tunneling port, Jill witnessed the Heat Org’s hologram: its corporate logo twinkled above the Old City’s ruins, the burning basketball jumping its hoop, fizzling into embers, porphyry, and reforming while reversing through the hoop to self-immolate again and again inside.

- 13.

The tunneling stopped. It had stopped. Iván Po had expected the typical sensations of teleporting but intensified—turbulence, then pain, and maybe a mystic vision, or an orgasm. Instead, he was and already had been there, outside the shield on a choppy Biscayne Lagoon, waiting to be. Inhaling again a muggy wind that shoved his body roughly in the light. Waiting. They had never moved. “That’s it?” Iván said. “This is it? Or not yet?” “Like everything,” Ygriega 6 said, “it’s nothing. Let’s try this a third time. Has been, is, will be—you know?”


© 2016, Michael Díaz Feito

Comment on the stories in this issue on the TFF blog.

Home Current Back Issues Guidelines Contact About Fiction Artists Non-fiction Support Links Reviews News