Gold Dust City 5. (Sunflowers and the Dodgy Moon)

The sleep did me well, though my body and my bones are even more stiff and sore now. The stars are out, leaning so close to my eyes that I can see how imperfect and translucent they are. Some stars hover so close that I can make out things being harbored inside the clearest of the carapaces. They pulse and shift in their confining space. Other stars look like crooked, discolored teeth. Some are so far away that they are mere specs in the dark. Mocking, twinkling particles are these reminders of how far we are from anything or anyone at all. How alone. The sky is over crowded with the blinking lights. I feel illuminated and exposed, like my photograph is being taken over and over again with millions of brilliant flashes. I take a pause at the circle of tree stumps, torches long snuffed out. I think about all the palavers that were held there and who besides the ailing cat took part. I see little paw prints, hoof prints, birdlike scrawl, even semblances of human footprints on the ashen floor surrounding the torches. I remembered the cat’s face, the sickness in his eyes as he looked up at me. I wonder if when daylight came his veil, like his third eyelid, slipped closed a final time. I walk toward the sunflower field, all lit up by the nightlights, wishing I wore a cat’s eyes for a time.

Armed with your colors that have been smudged and ground into my skin, I feel like a warrior. I try and carry the airs of a warrior, someone who will fight to the end. I believe I would fight until I am snuffed out yelling and flailing all the way down into dust. All the stars in the sky cause the Sunflowers fields to sparkle and shine, so trying to mirror their heavens. I keep thinking about the things the cat tried to tell me. I think about the circling doves, and the world folding in on itself, taking everything with it. I put his incoherent shimmering about the worm in the back of my mind. I’d rather not know if I could help it. Perhaps though, if I find his dove it will save him. I’ve also found I’d learned how to lie quite well to myself about a great many things. Still, I’d look. I owed him that. His face haunts me and hangs over my head, but there are no long smiles from him.

The Moon, I’ve now noticed, moves back and forth in-between the stars. It doesn’t remain in the same place for very long and it gives me the impression that it might become dislodged. What can stars do, left up to their own devices? How can you survive the night if the very Moon deserts you? The Sunflower fields are now directly in front of me. There are several of these fields scattered around, all in perfect square shapes. Each one looks about as long as a football field. The spaces separating each field looked too narrow to sneak by. I feared I’d end up caught in some kind of maze if I chose to try and go around them. I would have to plunge into the heart of a field to get across, no matter what. The stalks are taller than I’d thought they’d be. I’m also intimidated by how close they cluster together. I think again about trying to go around, there is something so ominous about the way the flowers huddle together and look at me, with lion’s mane-like petals clutching cheerfully round, dark, and utterly blank faces. Their centers are rich with pollen, and I cannot smell any kind of scent. I always thought the flowers had given off a faintly sweet smell. They just glisten and stare, seemingly indifferent to my choice to go in, or around. I pull my ragged shawl tight around my arms and propel myself forward into their uninviting arms. I keep my eyes focused straight ahead of me and walk as fast as I can, thinking that it will help. That if I charge straight through the heart of this particular field, I will make it to the other side as soon as possible. I wish I’d known more about the hearts of Sunflower fields and the effects of a restless Moon.

My shoes begin to entangle in out-reaching roots. Stalks and leaves begin to harass me at every angle. In my blind determination to bulldoze through, I failed to realize the way out was ceiling shut all around me. It’s become more difficult to walk and soon I can’t get through at all. No spaces between the thinnest of stalks now remain. Cobwebs come into view. The cobwebs had created barriers. They were stiff, like crystalline. Like a hard, candy shell. I try to pry holes in them with my fingernails. It worked, albeit slowly. I try in vain to reason with the faces of the great flowers, blank as always, gazing up in hopes of glimpsing their pendulum Moon. I could hear wet rustling sounds now, underfoot. I realized there were things burrowing in the mud. I’d always loved Sunflower fields as a child; I loved their smells and the way I could flow through them. I loved the way the animals would zigzag, giddily, across the ground, the giant bumble bees that reveled in the thick, rich pollen. The flowers had given off expression, in the Sun. They had pride, and openings and no reserve. But now, I’m locked inside them as the Moon dodges and darts. I reach out to one of the flowers-it’s icy to the touch. My fingers cripple closed as I withdraw them back in horror. The air was not cool, but the flowers were frozen, as if in time. I heard no other creature’s sounds, just the continuing wet, turning of things (worms) in the mud. The cobwebs, stiff, were everywhere creating a barricade around me. I saw no sign of your color in the Sunflowers. Their petals leaves and stalks were chalky white in the starlight. No color anywhere in sight. I reached for a memory, what else could I do? I have been in fields before; I had had companions. The Moon was so dodgy; I don’t know who would even be reachable tonight. I leaned my head back until my neck strained, trying to make my face visible to the sky and called out. I screamed with everything I had built up inside me. I screamed until my body fought to send signals to my lungs to inhale. I screamed for the things burrowing out of the mud, poking nubs that were feeling all around my shoes-sniffing for a way inside. I couldn’t look down, I couldn’t know. So instead, I screamed until my throat finally locked up, and I coughed and choked and tried to scream again. I screamed for the cat and his dove, Wren and my mother, and you-you who were so lost to me in everything and every place I ran to. My eyes exploded with tears and my nose bled into my mouth and I spit it all out. The things under my shoes clamored over to the spot of bloody phlegm. I felt them hurdling over one another, squealing and killing themselves to reach it, to have a taste. Let it kill them, I thought. Let them all die and be still, the moving ground was taking over my balance. I tried to push forward, my neck so stiff with the screaming. I pushed and pushed until I felt something wet touch my hand, a tongue. I squinted and stared down-but not too far down, for he was a very, very big dog. His fur shined black under the stars but I knew it was a chocolate brown. I saw his wide, toothy smile in the dark, in-between the stalks and the bits of cobweb he had gnawed through to find me. He reached for my arm with human hands. In a moment I was yanked clean out of the cell that had sprung up, been strung up around me. I no longer felt the ground pulsating with life. Pulled and slapping against stalks, Sunflower faces ever stoic. The dog pulled me all the way out through other side of the field. I could hear his nails slicing at things in his way, heard him chewing through cobweb after cobweb, shreds stuck in my hair, clinging and hurtful. I could almost make out his legs and it looked like they were encased in rubber, or latex-something to keep him safe from the things in the ground. This made me immediately think of the cat, and the moment I did I caught a glimpse of one of the larger pieces of crystalline cobweb. I swore I saw a white dove encased inside it-a letter clutched in her talons-but the dog was pulling me too fast. I couldn’t be sure. I felt it in my heart. How many doves and other creatures found themselves trapped inside the Sunflower fields, when the Moon wasn’t paying attention?

We breached the field and I was tossed into a clean patch of grass. The dog knelt down and eased my shoes off. Then he began to move his hands over my legs, my stomach, everywhere. He picked tufts of web out of my hair. I lay very still in the grass as he worked. If there were any scratches, dirt, color stains, or blood he rolled his long purple tongue over them. He licked me clean. I kept my eyes closed for the most part. Once I let them open in small slits, and I saw that he was smiling as only a dog may smile; while he went about removing all traces of injury I’d suffered in the field. He greedily lapped at your color smears; they gave his dark fur a pearly pink sheen. I opened my eyes again, and watched the stars blink out, one by one, in the fighting dark. I knew no more of that strange night, for it was over the moment the dog finished his work. I slept, dreaming colorless dreams. I felt the dog hold me while I slept. He kept the wind from my back, and watched the field quietly disappear. He howled a song reserved for mourning, and through his eyes I saw the Sunflowers come alive with the arrival of a golden-crimson Sun, and the flowers were dancing, and like beggars reaching their leafy hands up to their Sun as the veil went down. The dog waited until it was shut securely before he took his leave. The ever-smiling dog, who had heard me screaming while he was off worshiping his dodgy Moon, who had pulled me free of a Sunflower field that had gone rogue in the night, under too many stars, and a neglectful Moon. I felt his mark on my shoulder, close to my neck. His teeth had left little grooves in my skin, forever binding me to him.