“Three Parts” by Simona Zaretsky

Today, Lise and Kevin explore “Three Parts” by Simona Zaretsky, submitted to Zoetic Press for NonBinary Review #19: Dante’s Inferno.

The bone bowl cradled the melted flesh like jazz music in autumn heat. The air hummed like California rain. The stars perched on the horizon. The sun rose like a question.

He watched the moon whisper goodbye, wished he wanted to cry. He mourned the absence of sadness. The ache he didn’t feel the loss that felt like wealth, golden and green and blossoming.

The gravel in his hands coated his fingers with white dust. He let the stones fall back to the ground, their scrape against each other raw like his throat. He swallowed against the rocks. He turned from the moon, the prowling sun, and returned to the path. The bowl remained cradled in the rock, cinnamon sticks and sizzling scents suffusing the air. He returned to the path. The still trees, dewy in the eyes. The opening patch of morning and sky faded behind him. The reaching gnarled branches let him remember only the roughness of disappointment against his skin, the promises of a Beatrice that was three parts wrong.

He paused, hoping for the return of feeling, like it hadn’t seeped into the dry rose bushes outside his house two years ago. A slow sigh of water from can, that left him hollow and oddly refreshed. It took so much less out of him when there was nothing to take from the dusty ground. Just another layer of grey dust. Her third offense, the least egregious, was loving him wrong. He used to wonder how this could be, how love could be wrong, before he realized that he, the offering, was the second most offensive wrong. He was the egregious one, the sacrifice that was insufficient. He was yet to be the music in the breeze, the bells in the air. She was already the yellow melody, playing long before they met and well after. He looked for anger under all the rocks in the garden, but all he found were worms sitting in the shade.

A hot breeze cradled his face and tempered the branches above. The bark of the trunks seemed to shift like dripping honey; he reached out a hand, fingers shaking in the pre-dawn darkness. He turned back and found that he couldn’t see the beginning of his path. There was only a suggestion of a silver crescent etched deep in the shuddering black branches. He couldn’t help but wonder at the suddenness; worry began to tease at the blue edges of his red heart. He turned back.

Her image threatened him and he banished his Beatrice back to the hollow in his mind, to cover her with dirt from tangled roots and gravel from the uneven path all beneath the drifting golden leaves of his childhood where unkempt promises played. She was his candle through the dark hours of early morning, but he couldn’t remember where he’d left the match.

Lately, he couldn’t remember much. His name was even someone else’s treasure. All he could see was her sifting outline. He pushed angrily at the images holding him in place. He walked forward, conjuring someone else’s memories in his mind of joyful, glimmering times. Maybe they were his, maybe they were Beatrice’s, maybe they were the children of time tumbling in his mind. Regardless, their sweetness fouled his numbness; cracked him with the possibility of endless nights spent walking across bridges and eternal days lounging under shady magnolia trees. The smell of candles burning softly and grass pressed against his cheek.

He turned again, dizzy from indecision. The smell of peeling bark and wet earth filled his nose. His mouth watered. His fingers trailed in the sweet resin of the trees, fell deeper and slower into the mosaic. The music trilled from his fingertips to the hollow hum of his bone to the buzzing salt in his skin. The hot wind was blowing harder, pricking sweat from his quicksand skin. The grass burned long ago, buried under gravel and broken bottles and their own ashes.

He wished for something to break. A bottle a bone a heart. He walked straight, narrowly avoiding the howls of far off lovers and dreaming optimists. His fingers dripped sap slowly.

Each step jarred his broken sentiments, threatened to shake the dirt from Beatrice’s grave.

Their past lay cradled by silkworms and pill bugs and the shredded remains of three lost love letters. Long strips of handwritten effusions and bouquets of earnestness; satiation for his hungry impulses.

He was supposed to pray for salvation, but he just prayed for Beatrice and told himself it was the same. The night stars burned less brightly than her eyes. The first day he met her was ordinary, the second was golden with opportunity, and the third was like looking up at the darkest night and a million chirping stars before he even knew he’d tripped. The air was thick and the sun set so slowly those days. It took him a while to realize she wasn’t with him in the woods anymore. He looked for Beatrice in the red fissures of rock, in the bend of the beetle’s legs, in the wrinkles of trees. His reckless hunger burned him. The bone bowl beckoned him back the way he’d come; in his mind he could see the smooth, ivory edges, the slopes and bumps that fit in his hand. The first offense, the cruelest, was the beginning. The song the rosebush sang when they planted the pink seed beneath the cool dirt and he turned to Beatrice and saw her divine.

He found the edge of the crackling woods. Nowhere near where his memory told him it should be. His past visits with Beatrice through the shrouded, crooning woods with her hand folded tightly in his and their worn letters shedding pulp tears to guide them back.

The sun threatened him at the edge of the woods, the green grass stretching and rolling to the edge of his vision. The sanctimonious stars slept. The sound of darkness sifted from his memory, like dust and ash over the driest throat. The sun preached and he listened.

He wasn’t sure if he was dead or Beatrice. He wasn’t sure if it mattered. He looked for the red rosebush and three bone bowls. He hoped it was enough.