|Jul/Aug 2012 Fiction|
The last long-legged bird to be sacrificed has almost dissolved in the black gunk. It's been awhile since anything has happened here. The last Pleistocene bones shuffled off to dusty museum storerooms in 1949, and long before that, the Yokuts went under, who used the asphalt to caulk their reed boats but couldn't keep their Weltanschauung from leaking.
One world gone, not ours, and the one we know is going—not necessarily a good riddance. Down the hill in the not-quite-a-town, grungy for as long as I can remember, a couple of mom-and-pops offer après oilfield beer and potato chips. The hard-working Asians who own them now get by on a few phrases of commercial English, chattering happily on their cell phones to the other side of the earth.
It's not that easy for Time, even with nothing much to do, loafing around for eons on end, to whittle a femur down to a toothpick. Time has a dull blade. And there are skulls among us, case-hardened by lives of grief, that have outlasted their own crumbled sepulchers.
Maybe we're not difficult to kill, maybe flesh is ephemeral, but bones persist no matter what, dig into the earth, petrify if they must, turning from white to indelible, tobacco juice amber.
In fact, considering such evidence, we suspect the soul isn't so vague after all, not a cloud of longings but solid. Calcareous. And we begin to understand why it's said that everything we know for sure, we know in our bones.
The sheep have grazed to the ground the last dry alfalfa, a mindless rumination that leaves a lot to think about. Sheep are thorough. Imagine what they could do if they were predatory, if those grinders were incisive and they had a taste for flesh. If in a nightmarish mutation, their flock became a pack, no mild little shepherds from the Andes whispering Quechua to lazy dogs could control them. They'd roam the hills all summer, decimating the varmint population, surrounding even the baffled jackrabbits. And then in the winter, half-starved and scenting our blood, they'd come down where we live. Imagine what sheep could do if they weren't skittish, so scatter-brained, but as patient and focused as crocs, hiding out in the dead grass that didn't interest them at all.
She's lost confidence in the little rose bush—or in herself. Not that either of them has wilted, especially the plant that she sets on the porch rail each morning for an hour of sunlight followed by a sip of water. It's thriving with three full blossoms now and one bud tucked under thick leaves.
But soon she'll have to loosen it from its cup into scooped out earth, which is troubling. Imagine that incalculable change from a handful of potting soil, snug sustenance, to connectedness with the immense, terrifying world.
She just can't believe it will survive the transition. If it were her, she'd be plucking off her own petals and chewing on them, dropping stunned leaves at her feet. She wouldn't take the risk, but stay right where she is, good for a few more flowers before she finally perished, root-bound and withered.
Down here at the bottom of the Temblor Sea, the dust never settles, but drifts like plankton in the dry air. Millions of years into their dream of death, Miocene leviathans feed endlessly, blotting out the clouds as they swim south from San Francisco Bay. Occasionally when no one is there to notice it in the unfunded storefront museum in town, the bones of a leatherback turtle lift their massive skull, breaking the surface of our consciousness, and we look around this flat land, amazed by how deep it is.