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  • Writer's pictureAmr Abbas

Strokes

“Mish-mash! Squish-squash!” Marleen trotted over the sidewalk, attacking the air about her carelessly.

There was a storm broiling over the distance in the vast green sky; it was neither drawing closer nor moving further from the town, but still, as everything else in the world around. The world had stopped spinning, and the sun stopped glowing; instead, a vast hole of light that neither shone nor dimmed withstood the test of time and space in the middle of the sky.

Whatever brought life to the meaningless bodies of the two of us was something unfamiliar, uncanny, or perhaps we were the only two dead people and that was the afterlife that rose from the abyss. Or perhaps we were simply on the other side of the window. When I was a young man, I thought I’d go to hell, always told myself that only the interesting people were there, instead, it was just me and Marleen who were intelligible enough to hold a conversation, or at least my current understanding of what a conversation is or was.

When I first encountered her, she was chasing the dead moths out of the solid lake at the end of the time. “Don’t scare the horsies” she screamed at them. I didn’t understand then. I don’t understand now, either.

Still water; stationary winds; a world unworlded and a storm unfolded. We were living in ignorance of what was and what was to be; in an islet of vast emptiness; divided from even the most separate of realities; warped, uneven yet ordinaire to the realities of realization.

Ah, realization. There is so little that made sense then until I heard the words my grandfather once said, “I do not plant this olive tree for you, but I plant it for your grandchildren.”

Marleen was running; chasing nothing, but playing, wandering like children did; like children dead. It was I who unrooted the tree; plucked it from the stem; and she was nothing but a thought; a figment of an imagination so blunt and true.

“Marleen!” I called for her and walked, watching the clouds smear around as if the artist chose to remove the painting. “Marleen!” I called again, a triplet of sounds, noises, rose from the ashen grass suspended. And through the blades of grass, or what could pass for grass, I saw a face unfamiliar, unrecognizable. I stammered, “what?” but my voice broke. The skies were growing darker.

In my heart, I knew what was happening.

The paint had not dried.

‘I do not like this. Third time’s a charm,’ the trifling voice in three came again.

She came, her arms wrapped around my waist, but the little girl could not hold her hands together then. I leaned down and hugged her, looking up at the storm that crept ahead; still. I saw strings of doom collapsing upon the world; destruction and ruin and chaos, to the little world I once knew; the place I once belonged.

And it was all gone.

All but the cave

And the light that never shone…


Written by Amr Abbas.

Cover illustration by Merle Emrich.

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