Monday, January 4, 2010

Olive and Sea Nathan V-XII

Sea Nathan puts the sack on the ground and pulls out a shriveled apple. He holds it up to the sun and examines it. "You sure I ain't gonna get sick from it?" "I've done eaten five of 'em. You don't see me sick," says Olive. He sits on a rock and puts the apple in his mouth. "Tastes rotten," he says. "Tastes rotten, but it ain't," says Olive. Sea Nathan chews the fruit slowly. He reclines on the rock as though it were a bed. "We's gonna be restin' plenty with you and your slow ways," Olive says. "Don't matter," he says. He takes off his wool sweater and exposes his brown flesh to the sun. "You's gonna keep watch to make sure I don't die 'fore I wake?" he asks. She glares at him. He laughs, then falls asleep. Olive takes a stick and scratches at the earth absent-mindedly. She rests her body on a flat rock amongst the cacti and falls asleep. Her thin form melds one to one with the flat slab of stone so that she might be laundry left in the sun to dry. When she awakes, the sky is red. Red at night, sailor's delight; red in the morning, sailors take warning, Olive thinks, poking Sea Nathan with her finger. "We'd best be on our way," she says, "even though it's gonna be night." "I's gotta rest some more," Sea Nathan says. He closes his eyes. "You old sack o' bones, get up. Got to go to the shipyard, we do." "And if we don't get there?" he asks, raising his head from the rock, "Then what?" He faces west and squints in the glare of the sun. "They's gonna find us." "They ain't gonna find us. But don't worry. We'll get to where we're goin'." "We don't even know the day no more," she says. "I do," he says. "It's Tuesday." "Yeah, but Tuesday o' what week, month, year?" Olive asks. "It's Tuesday, the 18th of March, 1972," says Sea Nathan, "You tally the days 'till we's got to be there. I ain't got time but to sleep."

*

The beige scrub grows to Sea Nathan's knees. He cuts his right hand, a scratch down the center of the palm, while he puts on his boots. "Fuck," he says and sucks the blood. "Olive, Olive," he says, "wake up now. Time to get a move on. Olive, Olive . . . " Olive rolls her head towards him on the flat slab of rock. "Time now?" she asks. "Time," he says. "If ya' say so," Olive says. "I say so," Sea Nathan says. They walk. Sea Nathan drapes the diminished sack over his back. "If it was April," Sea Nathan says, "we'd be cuttin' them prickly pear fruit. Just another month." "Still got to get out the spines," says Olive. "Always the painful part," Sea Nathan says. ""Cept we's got them pliers now, don't we?" asks Olive. "Them's for breakin' free o' the law," says Sea Nathan, "not for pickin' spines out o' fruit." "Break free from the law to gets killed anyways, don't it make no sense," says Olive. "We's got a chance to work for the rest of our lives, should we get there on time. That's different from waiting for a bucket to shit in your whole life. The law might not kill ya', and then you're waitin' for the vegetable next to you to give you his pan. I tell ya' that shittin's the hardest thing 'bout prisonment." "I'd rather be shittin' in a pan than dead," Olive says. "Shit in your pan then, Olive. I's not goin' back." The blood on his hand dries to a crust. He picks it off and brushes it from his skin.

*

"Damn the skeletons," Sea Nathan says. "Why, they all dead in a line and thrown atop one 'nother," Olive says. "And not one of 'em died with a flask in his hand," he says. "Don't it cross your mind that some other man or woman found the flask 'fore ya'?" Olive asks. "No, it don't cross my mind 'cause they ain't been none afore us." "How'd ya' know, huh?" Olive asks. "Don't cross my mind 'cause none there is -- will be." "Ya' don't say how ya' know, Sea." "I see at night the 'ginnings of the end, and knows we was born into this world with our father teaching us one thing to survive, not to think of a past that may not have existed, and there ain't none past that ain't not existed." "Without a past, there's no 'ginning," Olive says. "It seeps into me like a slow poison," Sea Nathan says. "I feel it in my veins. I think I see the 'ginning 'cause it's close to the end." "You can't say that," Olive says. "You can't say that," she repeats.

*

"You 'member them prisoners in the outfit," Olive says. "They's like us, finishin' our sentences at the end. How you think they's gettin' to the shipyard? No way but to walk. And we thought we was gettin' away," Olive trails off. "You can't say you see a 'ginning and no past at the same time, 'specially when you gots in your mind them prisoners. Maybe one of 'ems got a boat o' their own. We could work our way 'cross the sea and start over someplace where we get our teeth back." "You and your damned teeth. I don't give a shit about your teeth." "I's got to have somethin' to chew with," she says. "You've gots to have somethin' to chew," he says.

*

"Like gum," Olive says. "Yes, like gum, if such a thing still existed. Well-set teeth thwart even the richest sailor, Olive. Ya' can't have hopes like that." "My teeth done fell out, and I wants new ones." "I understand ya'," he says with a nod. "Let's see what we have on these here corpses then." "Let's see in their mouths," Olive says. "That's where I'm aimin' to look now," Sea Nathan says. "Nah, these teeth done firm set. These here I could pry loose with pliers. What d'ya want?" "I want some that are already fake," she says. "We'll find 'em soon 'nough. Rest assured," he says. "You always got to think of the hard way," she says, "'instead o' comin' up with the latest innovation. You's got to be a dentist to put teeth from one mouth to another."

*

"How is it that you managed chewin' them dried apples? That's what I wants to know," Sea Nathan says. "I done sucked 'em like candies," Olive says. "Ha!" "What do you mean laughin' at me?" Olive asks. "Nothin'," says Sea Nathan. "You's got to have meant somethin'." "Olive, I's laughing 'cause I know you know how to suck," says Sea Nathan. His head drops to his chest and then raises back up again. Olive glares at him. "We'd best get on this project then," he says, reaching from mouth to mouth in the gray predawn light of morning. "Look here!" says Sea Nathan. "I done found a set that pop out." "Well, fancy that," Olive says, "someone else who ain't got teeth got some put in 'fore they died. Now there's at least two of us. Ha!" "I wouldn't categorize myself with someone dead," Sea Nathan says. "It's bad luck to 'sociate with a corpse. Bad 'nough your mouth is gonna be smellin' of death more than it does already." "At least I got me my teeth back," Olive says. She reaches towards the rock where Sea Nathan placed the teeth, holding the dentures in her hand as if to warm them before popping them in her mouth, as if by holding them and warming them the teeth won't be tainted by the corpse-mouth from which they came. "I's got teeth!" she says, smiling at Sea Nathan. "Them teeth's too big for your mouth," he says. "Don't matter me none," Olive says. "Ain't no mirror but you."

*

The two urchins make their way through a path cleared in the field of corpses. They are sunburned yet cold. "Hey, Sea," asks Olive, "who you think done laid this here path?" "I think the path 'peared on its own. The bodies fell one by one, side by side, in rows so as to leave room for the living to pass." "Ain't so simple as that," Olive says. "They's been dead a whole lifetime. Just skeletons now. Can't talk. Can't tell us nothin'. They's in formation for some reason, not just that they's courteous to you and me." "Wasn't bein' serious, Olive. I don't know why there is this path." "You think someone come before us who is still alive?" Olive asks. "I don't know," says Sea Nathan.

Copyright, 2010, Jennifer Chesler, All Rights Reserved