Inside your house you can cry and have babies and dinners with the food laid out in so many dishes, in a bubble of clean oxygen where the entropy of the world does not penetrate. The beans are an electric, radioactive green. The rice is white, because white is the colour of wealth.
In the inside of your house where you are sheltered from the pregnant sun, where the floor is made of cool regular tiles and you can lie down on them, press your face to them, you are afraid only because you have things you don’t want to lose, like babies and stuff. Inside your house you collapse like an observed waveform. We see you. You cohere.
Your unfair face makes you uncomfortable. When you come home you take off your face and put it on a shelf with your wallet and your keys. You like to relax with no face. When you drink water your lipless mouth stings and you leave stains on the glass like lipstick. When you dandle your babies their little hands are slick on you.
You learned at your mother’s knee that you do not exist and that your face is a delusion and that nothing is real. And that you are also eternal and imperishable because of the endless turning of the wheel. On the wheel you are always born into sin, though not in the same way as foreigners are.
You also learned from her to be suspicious of toddy-tappers and drummers and tanners and untouchables and, whatever they might have to say about it, fisherfolk, royalty and foreigners.
The sun cannot change her spots, she said. You were born to the earth and the rail. Your inheritance is manure and the oil of engines. These are the things that are pure.
You are immune to sunburn but when you were eleven, sunspots left pinpricks on your skin like the white spots on a deer. Sunspots peak every eleven years so you assumed that this, too, was your inheritance.
Outside your house, you forget to cohere. Every time you leave your house, you begin to scatter in the wind. Even a light breeze is dangerous when it’s tugging away at you, smearing you into the world. When you pull yourself together you’re not sure how much of yourself you’ve lost. You are afraid of unspooling to nothing but a wisp of will under that unruly sun, sun with a bun in the oven, sun in the family way.
When you were eleven they blew up the Joint Operations Command next to your school. The explosion shook the rickety old wooden building you were in. All the kids in your class cheered while dust and splinters from the roof rained gently on you. Death meant a holiday.
They declared the building unsafe after that. To you that building has always represented the world. Old, narrow, shivering in its timbers, unsafe for habitation.
When you were almost adult, they told you that the asteroid 1997XF11 would destroy the earth in 2028. You planned out those last thirty years in exquisite detail. You wanted to be beautiful and perishable. You would have no babies. You would learn to love the stark imbalance of unfulfilled potentials.
And at the end, when you would gather with everyone else to watch the purifying fire in the sky, you thought you would cheer. You thought everyone would cheer, after a life spent learning to be the last.
The wheel is broken, you would shout, and we are free at last.
A week later, they said they made a mistake in their calculations. 1997XF11 would pass by, close enough to reach out and touch your face, but without impact. That was your first love, and your first heartbreak.
You are happy that you had the chance to love again.
You love and fear the sun for four reasons.
One is that it is an all-seeing fiery eye. You feel it is reasonable to fear such a thing.
Two is that your mother wanted you to be as fair as possible. Fairness is the virtue you are charged to cultivate because you were born with a peasant face and unfair disposition. You were born to the purity of manure and oiled engines but you could never stand that shit.
Three is that, apart from being itself an agent of observation, the sun facilitates observers. It lets us see you. It is a collaborator, a snitch. It is a nudge and a whisper and stares at your uncomfortable face.
Four is that the sun’s contractions are growing closer together.
If you could, you would leave the house with no face. You would take more risks with no face. You would face the sun with no face. You would lose face with grace, with no face.
But when you leave the house, you always check the shelf for your wallet and your keys and your face, and you take them up and put them in their place.
Every time you decohere and pull yourself together the world is not quite as you left it. Things seem different, like the exact frequency of yellow they use in streetlights at night. You try to explain to your babies that they belong to the clan of manure and engine-oil, and also that nothing is real. But they only look confused.
You wonder if everybody else has this much trouble just keeping body and atma together — whether this incoherence of form is some universal but shameful secret of the human condition, like everyone is just too embarrassed to admit that they lose the thread so often they’re not sure if they exist or not.
You begin to suspect an inconsistency in the world being continually recomposed as uncertainties collapse in the moments of willful observation.
The moments of your unbeing — the grey probabilistic smear that comes so close to fading to black before you snap back into the moment with lungs burning from the vacuum — is when the world assumes a configuration such that you do not exist, that you have never existed. You are not inside your house. You are haunting it and we do not see you.
This is when you go back into the inside of your house to look for the cool regular tiles. You put your face on their comforting symmetry. You map yourself on their grid. Now you can cry if you want to. Do you know where your babies are?
The contractions of the sun are measured in flares. Each flare is the biggest ever recorded until the next one usurps this title. The time between these excesses of the superlative shrinks from months to weeks. Soon they will be only days apart, then hours, then minutes. Satellites will crack and fry like eggs. Tall people will bend and break. Fair people will tan in concentric circles like tree rings.
In the inside of the house of your bones you are tawny and electric, but you earth yourself too soon every time.
“This never happens,” you say, but the sun is already wiping her lips and moving on.
You don’t have any babies. You never had any babies.
Your dinners are lavish because they are an argument against poverty. The swarming of dishes forms a grid on the cool white tablecloth. White is the colour of purity, of modesty, of grief, of fairness. At your mother’s funeral you wore white, you lit the pyre because fire purifies. But fire is heat and heat is entropy and entropy is poverty and death. To be fair is to be cool and to be successful. All of these entangled perspectives are the bones of the old world jutting through the thin white skin of the new and, simultaneously, that skin itself when it smothers you like a caul over your face.
Heat is a mystery, but you welcome the sweat when it beads on you because this is the interface between your insides and outsides. This heat that you feel is the heat of your unending reentry into atmosphere. You are burning up from misaligned velocities.
After the funeral you spoke only in speech balloons for a while. You wrote the words before you blew them up, so that the expansion distorted your tight, narrow script into an inarticulate moan. It took you a long time to learn to choose your words.
Even now when you want to express happiness or terror in their purest forms, you draw a sun, a circle with lines radiant. When the balloon expands, the sun grows fat and the lines reach out and you can almost feel the warmth on your unfair, undeserving face.
When the contractions hit their peak the sun will scream and throw back her head, glowing white with effort and purity, and push out her daughter, a squalling, naked singularity.
In the inside of the lattice of improbabilities that constitute you, you will lay your face against its cool grid and try to think cool white thoughts like your mother wanted you to, while the rickety old wooden world unspools in the solar breeze and you with it. You don’t know if the wheel is broken, if you are free at last, but you know at the least that death means a holiday.
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Story copyright © 2014 by Vajra Chandrasekera
Artwork copyright © 2014 by Gregory St. John
Vajra Chandrasekera lives in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and on Twitter as @_vajra. His work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Apex, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, and Black Static. Due to an unfortunate geas, his bios always end abru
Gregory St. John is an artist and fiction writer living in Gainesville, Florida. If he is not painting or sculpting, tending to his gardens and chickens, studying history and science, reading while walking his four dogs, cooking, or building something, he is hard at work at the family perfume business, Solstice Scents. He is currently drafting his first novel and editing a collection of his short stories titled The Short and Curlies, featuring “The Presence of Hell,” “Servant of Stone,” “A Helping Hand,” and “The Dare.”