Utopia

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: February 08, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 08, 2018

A A A

A A A


 

Turning left in front of the neighborhood strip mall, Lorna’s long legs and luscious lips still throbbing in his loins, Mazan fails to see the the black clad motorcyclist passing straight in front of him.  His vision goes white in the glare of a helmet closing in on his windshield.  Hours before, he and Lorna shimmied and shined in prom splendor.  They shook the dance floor.  He ran his hand up her thigh and dipped her.  At the moment of impact, the motorcycle mixes with Lorna’s satin midriff in a jumble of sensations.  Squeal of brakes, glitter on her eyelids, waves in her hair, fruit punch, wingtip shoes, a sore throat from singing along, metal on metal, glass shards, the smell of burnt rubber, dinner salad, signing the credit card bill (“I’m an adult now,” he remarked), opening the door for her, closing the door for her, his car hood crumpled and smoking, her red toenails caged behind gold leather straps, a pool of blood on asphalt.  His seat belt catches and his head whips forward.  Before he opens his eyes, the radio - “now I do what I want, now I do what I want….”  Headlights busted and the radio peters out.  The motorcycle on its side in front of his car, the rider’s leg beneath it and the rest of him splayed beyond.  Mazan closes his eyes again.  His heart jumps into his throat and back.  Open your eyes.  Call for help.  His voice refuses to penetrate the momentary stillness.  And then the sirens arrive.

 

Friday afternoon, as she wheels the recycling bin through the halls collecting paper and cardboard, Meg T. lets fly a broccoli fart as satisfying as the last winged note of the Bruch violin concerto.  She’d listened to it in the art room during lunch hour while she painted and snacked on rice cakes and fresh veggies.  Ah, raw food, light as butterfly kisses, which she washed down with kombucha, that sparkling rush of sunshine to her stomach.  She dabbed her lips with a cloth napkin just as the piece ended.  She packed up her homemade lunch sak, put away her brushes, turned off the radio and gave a grateful farewell pat-on-the-speaker to concert violinist Anne Sofie Mutter for an hour well spent.  

After lunch was Social Studies, where she’d chosen Amy Beach, a woman composer and pianist of the late nineteenth century, as her History Day topic.  Mazan, Meg’s best friend, tried to choose Sylvia Plath but was told to choose again.

“Ms Whitecomb told me she’s not a good influence and that our history day people had to be ‘meaning-makers,’ as though the only fucking meaning is that the world is all hunky-dory.  I happen to think Sylvia Plath changed the way we read novels.  I could make a good argument.  But they won’t let me.  I’d choose some dumbfuck famous person and dig up crap about their infamy, even though the world thinks they’re damn near perfect, but it’s not worth it.  George Washington chosen yet?”

“Wait, what?”

“Do.  You.  Know.  If.  Anyone’s.  Chosen.  George.  Washington?  Weren’t you listening, Meg?”

“Oh, right, don’t think so.  Better ask.”  She hadn’t been listening.  At least not outside herself.  She’d been listening to Beach’s music seeping through her skin, the goosebumps welling in her arm follicles.  Mazan slumped back in his desk and opened a ratty paperback.  Meg smiled as she penciled a timeline for completing her project.  The more time to stretch out an assignment, the better.  Each day she had to spend with Amy Beach, a balm to her soul.  

Pre-calc came after Social Studies, then Chemistry, then the bell rang, releasing her to her after school activities, Environmental Club chief among them.  Three times a week, she and her social justice warriors combed classrooms for recyclables and compostables.  In the yearbook, they’re featured standing on top of their earthy stash like mountain climbers who’ve achieved the top of the world, who’ve saved it from burial under its own filth.  

The last of the bins stored neatly in a row in the janitor’s closet after her successful recycling run, Meg dons a naugahyde jacket and hemp backpack and pedals over to the community garden.  “Buenas noches!” she calls to Felipe, the building engineer, and “A bientot!” to her French teacher, the wind whistling through her hoop earrings, one in each of three holes in her lobe.  They sing a major chord accompanying Meg’s steady revolutions.  The sun uplifts cottony cirrus clouds gliding grandly across the April sky.  Cherry blossom petals fall on Meg’s path, as if Northwest Wisconsin laid out a pink carpet just for her.  

In the garden, she stoops down to uncover debris from the light green crowns of perennials just beginning to poke through the packed dirt.  She recalls playing fairy sprites with her elementary school buddy.  She and Susie ran Barbies through the grass to rescue snails from evil spiders.  They ruled miniature kingdoms in their backyards.  Now, Meg does better than rule; she raises beds and covers seedlings with fertile mounds and mulches pathways between plots.  She fills a wheelbarrow with her clippings and rolls over to the compost tumbler.  She opens the loose flap on the large cylinder.  Inside, the leaves and food scraps have settled.  No one has been here since last season except a bird who’s built a nest on the pile and laid three turquoise eggs.  They are more lovely than any gem Meg could ever covet, not that she covets slave-harvested gems, but sparkle does attract her.  She is eighteen, after all.  The eggs lean on one another like love at rest.  Meg stares in, her arm going numb holding open the lid.  And then she drops it, latches it, and turns the crank.  Once, twice, thrice, then four times, and five, until she flees from her Eden so fast her flowered skirt whoops up to where it can’t catch in her spokes.

 

“Scoot over, Alice,” Meg says to her big sister back at home.  Meg takes the spot warmed by Alice’s SpongeBob-slippered feet.  The sisters glare in parallel at Family Guy.  Alice has been out of high school a year and works at Dairy Queen.  When she returned from work three hours ago, she changed into sweatpants and fell onto the couch, where she’s been ever since.  She looks like, and possesses as little fortitude as, a dilly bar.

“What are you doing here, big shot?  No date to the prom?”

“Nope, no date.”  She slurps a Blizzard Alice brought home. Chocolate chunk clogs the straw.  She sucks with all her might.

“I thought you’d go with Mazan.”

“No, Alice, we’re just friends!”

“Jeez, I’m just asking.  Anyways, what’s up with ice cream?  Aren’t you vegan?”

“Yeah, well, I needed a break....”

“You know what, Meg?  That’s disgusting.  Just choose already: are you or aren’t you?”  Alice gets up from the couch, tossing aside a fleece blanket.  A chill blows through Meg inside and out.  She thought a Blizzard might be the antidote she needs for her vegan craze, like a de-detoxin.  Maybe she crushed that nest because she’s a zealot gone too far.  Why’d she do it?  She doesn’t understand.  She thought a creamy treat would bring her back to her nice, orderly, goal-oriented baseline, that it might even bring her closer to Alice.  She thought she could tell Alice what she did over some junk food.  But now Alice seems farther away than ever, her sister’s fat a solid moat around her twenty year old heart.  Meg re-tucks the blanket under her rump and finishes her medicinal milkshake in the glow of prime time while, outside, sequined teens dot the night, a constellation of revelers.  Among them, Mazan shines brightest, his big eyes smiling, Lorna at his side, vixen victim of Cupid’s arrow.

 

Monday morning, Meg stands plaid-brained in front of her locker.  She has no idea what she needs to put in or take out.  What does she even have first hour?  Her classes criss cross each other on a grey background of Mazan’s absence.  He didn’t call on Saturday.  That day, she tried to read about Amy Beach at the library but got distracted by a melee in the anime section.  An army of librarians escorted out someone who’d ripped the jackets off a bunch of new graphic novels.  Meg saw a wide back with call number stickers stuck to it exit the side door before the library returned to its normal hum.  Meg abandoned the history section for fiction.  She buried her nose in this year’s Pulitzer winner in the M aisle.  Amy Beach sounded as pedantic as pretty parlor music on her headphones.  She let the Indigo Girls rock her eardrums instead.  Sunday, he didn’t call, either.  She took herself out for coffee before an orchestra rehearsal and frozen yogurt afterwards.  Home felt moist, like she’d turn into a mushroom if she stayed there too long.  Now, Monday, she was completely unmoored.

Last year at this time, she and Mazan and the other environmentalists had put on a recycled fashion show in the city park.  Mazan announced each “contestant” as he or she strutted across the bandshell stage in Doc Martins and vintage wedding dresses, beaded vests and fatigues.  When it was her turn to take the spotlight, Mazan’s voice lifted her swooning off the floor.  “And here she comes, ladies and gentlemen, the retro queen, the hand-me-down diva, the star of the giveaway pile, Ms Meg T.!”  It was then she fell in love with him, who made her more beautiful than she was, whose presence cast her a golden crown.  Mazan was solid to her liquid state, math to her arts.  But after everyone had changed back into street clothes, Mazan led Lorna away to smoke with his arm around her waist.  Meg remained his confidant, his best friend, but never became his girlfriend.  Almost but not quite.  The epitome of her wishy-washy, pie in the sky existence.

 

At Environmental Club Monday afternoon, Meg pairs up with Miles on the second floor.  While Miles details his latest skate tricks, Meg listens to the clickety-clack of the recycling bins against the linoleum.  She feels run over by a train after a fuzzy day of school sans Mazan.  Ground down.  Miles and his board can go to hell for all she cares.

“Did you see it, Meg?”

“Huh, what?”

“That bird that just flew into the window.  Did you see it?”

“Oh, no.”  Probably the suicide mission of a mourning mother, surmises Meg.

On her way out, leaving Miles the garden tasks, she greets Felipe and her French teacher with a silent wave.  She stops at Burger King instead of Dairy Queen, to avoid Alice.  She orders a veggie burger and onion rings and cries into her Coke.  Her tears pop the carbon bubbles one by one.  Then she bikes to Mazan’s house.  

Mazan lives with his sister, Evelyn, and a mom with frayed edges.  He can’t bring himself to trip over the label “developmentally delayed” to describe Evelyn.  Delayed, yes, but unpredictable.  Twenty going on six, or three or forty, depending on the hour.  When she acts her age - or why or for how long - there is no explanation, at least not that his mom could pay for.  Once, fifty strokes into her hair brushing ordeal, Evelyn pulled a handful out because she hit a snag and couldn’t handle it.  She’d slipped a Hershey’s bar into her pocket at the gas station a few weeks ago.  She paid for her milk, though, and walked out.  She offered a bittersweet square to Mazan, along with more change than he expected, when he was done pumping, and he took both without asking any questions.  She betrayed no regret, her flat face rumpled as she masticated.  Another time, when a waiter took her plate before she’d run her sausage finger through the gravy, she threw her napkin at him.  Then she waved enthusiastically to him as they departed the restaurant.  Slow, then not slow.  Calm followed by a storm.  Deliberate then frenzied.  No justification for her actions and rarely consequences from which she learns.  So, Mazan and his mom roll with the punches and treat her like the glue she is between them.

Evelyn is in the kitchen with her Mom, washing potatoes, when Meg arrives.  

“Hi, honey.  Mazan’s in his room.  It’s been rough around here but he’ll be glad to see you.”

“Rough?  How so?”

“I’ll let him tell you.”

“Hi, Evey.  How’s it?”

“My Meggy!  I miss you!”  She hugs Meg then won’t let her go until she’s painstakingly picked off every potato shred she’s deposited on her back.

Meg trudges up the stairs, heavy beneath extra books for Mazan and her expectations for their meeting.

Knock knock.

“Hey, Maz, it’s me, Meg.”

“  “

“Maz?”

“Yeah, I’m here,” he sighs.  “Come in.”  Meg lays down on top of his covers and snuggles him.  Mazan’s eyes are puffy and his cheeks damp.  Her hands on his face speak for her.  The birds settle on the telephone wire outside, eager to listen.  

“I killed someone, Meg.  After I took Lorna home after prom and was coming into our neighborhood, I turned left by the strip mall, you know?  I didn’t see a motorcycle and I ran into him.  There were cops all over a minute after.  My car was totalled but I wasn’t hurt.  Can you believe it?  Not a scratch.  And the other guy?  He died in the ambulance.  We haven’t learned his name yet.  Mom’s dealing with most of it.  I can’t, Meg.  I’m so tired.  Completely out of it.”

“I’m so sorry Mazan.”  They lay in silence again in the cozy dark room, a sniffle here and there.  The ceiling fan whirs.  As her eyes adjust to the unlit space, Meg makes out the drawings he’s pinned to his wall, her artwork hazy but present.  His hoodie looks like the Reaper floating across his desk.  Her skin settles down next to him, dry and relaxed.  She hadn’t noticed until now, at rest, how her heart’s been racing.  She was jittery and now she’s calm.  Details bombard her.  There’s her copy of Catch 22 peeking out from under a sock, that he’s been borrowing since last summer.  There’s his cumberbun.  There’s a cd case without its cd.  There are his toes shuffling under the blanket, sounding like prairie grass in wind.  A shaft of light cascades stepwise down his dresser, each drawer shut to a different degree.  Dust motes sprinkle the air like pinpricks.  They settle on her, tiny seeds she suddenly knows will sprout.  

In the still air of Mazan’s room, she has an answer to Alice’s insistent questions: what are you, Meg?  Decide already.  She belongs here, right here, in between, with Mazan she decides.  She knows why she had to turn that tumbler crank, why she defies her vegan tendencies; because she’s seduced by contradiction and paradox.  She’s, at once, a bonafide goodie two shoes and a screw up.  She doesn’t need to be Mazan’s girlfriend; she wants him, however they are together.  She’s okay without labels.  That’s where she fits, where there is no fitting necessary, where the boundaries are blurred.  She can create here, out of the jumble of everything, she can make something of her pubescent mess.  It’s the best she has to offer, companionship in the non-sense.  She lifts up her head when Mazan’s arm goes numb beneath it.

“I brought you your homework, Maz.  Get this.  They want us to write about a bloody utopia in English.  They said we’ve had enough dystopia; they want to hear how we imagine a world not gone sour.  Where nothing bad happens.”

“Really, Meg?  Now?”

“I know, right?  But I’m actually sort of pumped about it.  I feel rebellious, like you did about history day.  Chemistry’s kicking my ass without you.”  Mazan chuckles remembering how Meg mismeasured all the chemicals in their last experiment and he had to make up results to work for the final formula.

“Evelyn got kicked out of the library Saturday for ripping covers off books.  It’ll take my mom months to pay for them.”

“That was her?!  I was there that day but didn’t see much.  I was a little out of it all weekend.  Let’s just say I’m off the vegan bandwagon.”

“Oh yeah?  Pretty soon you’ll be smoking, too, I bet.”  He punches her shoulder.

The moment Meg smiles as wide as embracing Alice, downstairs, Evelyn blows a kiss at her mother, which she catches with a clap on her cheek.

“Evelyn,” Mom says at the sink, “I do believe that’s the quickest you’ve been in ages.”  And Evelyn blushes.







 

Utopiaby Meg T. English 2nd hour

 

Once upon a time, there was a girl who had children with many fathers.  She’d been cast into the sea by her first lover, a Viking, when he discovered her on his ship.  She planned her escape from her village as soon as he announced his imminent raiding trip: she would stowaway on his ship and surprise him once they set sail.  He would be so happy!  And she would see the world!  Alas, after only a few days into the trip, he found her under a tarp on the main deck.  What he thought was a leak turned out to be her peeing.  What was the only girl aboard to do?  He saw her as his crewmen would see her, with her image burning desire into their already sunburned skin, what of it they left exposed to the Northern climate, anyways.  Her red hair, her lips crimson and her lungs spewing fiery gasps when he embraced her.  It would never work to have her here.  He threw her overboard to die.  For her own good.  

She was not undone.  Rather, her tenacity and her Viking lover’s powers grew tenfold in the child they ocaissioned before their departure.  Frozen upon contact with the Bering waters, the mother’s body welded itself to a nearby iceberg.  But within its womb, the growing baby created her own incubating warmth.  Her fingers extended through her mother’s tender skin as grass.  Her toes reached further up as trees.  Her hair flowed across her mother’s swollen body, a river.  Her eyes were flowers, her ears insects.  She melted the tip of the iceberg with her fecundity until she appeared to float on the water’s surface.  So it was that she, on a foundation of ice, became home to any and all who, like her, made life from death.

This floating, living island zigzagged slowly through Scandinavian fjords.  As it bumped into coastlines, rag-clad townspeople flocked.  

“I heard a voice,” one whispered to another, “it beckoned hence.  It said I was forgiven.”

“For what are you forgiven, my dear sir?” another whispered back.

“For an accidental sin.  I killed a child with my oxcart,” he whimpered, “a child running across the road who didn’t look before crossing.”

“I, too,” the neighbor opened up, “was told by an inner voice to come relieve myself of my burden.  I ate the ham forbidden by my religion.  I didn’t know - honest - or, perhaps I did, but didn’t want to know what I had done.  I didn’t want to offend my hostess.”

Another chimed in over the shoulder of the second.  “I killed my horse branding it.  Should never have gone branding when I was mad at my wife.  Took my anger out on that poor creature.  And now I’m here.”

The conversationalists looked to the horizon made lumpy by the fertile isle.  It arrived on the beach as the sun set, an illuminated gangplank, a female tongue made pinker in the dying rays, unfurled for the guests.  They spied each other and walked forth, as though led by an invisible force, which they were.  The island mother knew each of their hearts, the secrets, large or small, ripe for the work of love.

On board, the accidental sinners found one leg-peninsula while the not-as-accidental sinners filled the other.  They commenced to plowing.  One digger of the left leg unearthed a kneecap.  Before his eyes, it became an unfurling bud and then a fruit unlike any he’d ever seen.  It smelled of licorice and orange peel.  He plucked it off, gobbled it down and discovered energy enough for hours more plowing.  Another digger stopped to cry when the dust clouding his shovel triggered a memory; he was back in his village, the woman he accidently killed during a tribal war falling in a heap of dust on the main road.  The island mother beautified her land with his remorse.  When he lifted his hands from his wet, crumpled face, butterflies emerged.  He sniffled and went on digging.  A female farmer refused to sleep.  She had her acres planted within two days, so motivated was she to fill her mind with toil instead of replays of her accident, in which she dumped her friend over the edge of a cliff when she tripped on a guardrail.  The island became a sanctuary city for those who would otherwise have been stuck in a moral no-man’s-land on land.

After eons floating and melting, freezing and buoying in and out of inlets and open seas, the island mother felt a tug on her metaphorical sleeve.  She saw a man lying on railroad ties, just at the edge of a railyard, breath held, ready to die.  The oncoming engine screams its warning.  A meter from the man’s head, a pebble has been inadvertently kicked onto the tie.  It derails the train, which topples in front of the man, who, befuddled more than disappointed, rises and scurries home before he’s seen.  She watches him pry open his front door before it reaches its creaky point.  He doesn’t want to wake his wife.  He removes his shoes and socks just where his wife has instructed he leave them.  As he climbs into his side of the bed, our island heroine plants words in his mind, which he can’t help but mumble.  “The last fuck up… I’m all fouled out… fouled up… fool… tool… sail… isle… saved….”  Before his head hits the pillow, he rises once more, grabs his pants from the chair next to the bed, his shirt from the hook on the bathroom door, replaces his still warm socks and shoes, and leaves the house to follow the voice.  To date, this is my hardest nut to crack, thinks the island mother, a goose-pimply murmur spreading through her land.  A real moral enigma, who kills an engineer in the midst of his own botched suicide.  As the man makes his way to meet the floating land, her foundation trembles with desire, miniscule cracks in her ice bed.  What could he possibly give me?  What on earth could I create with him?  She sighs plumes of steam from the spring at the center of the island and waits for an answer to come to her.

On their way to pick up this man, the island gets stuck in the middle of a river.  She dams up the flow and almost floods when a lumbering woman kicks at the island tongue.  She won’t knock, as she won’t touch flesh with her own flesh.  This is the decision she made after she killed a man, her helper.  In a rage, she threw a chair at him.  It punctured his spleen.  Although he didn’t bleed externally, he collapsed when his internal bleeding stopped his heart.  Immediately remorseful, she caught him as he fell, squeezing him in her manly arms.  She didn’t know it, but that only made things worse.  He died before the ambulance arrived.  She’s never touched anyone since.  When she kicked the island, which she sensed was her new home, the tongue stuck out.  She’d jiggled the island just enough that water gushed over the tongue-bridge.  The island regained her momentum as Esther climbed aboard.  The island’s answer had arrived.

Esther had special needs.  She barely spoke and winced when anyone got too near.  She tried plowing but her rows went crooked.  She tried pitching hay but she was afraid she’d use her hoe as a weapon.  She tried harvesting at the southern end of the island, but she ate more than she added to her company’s bin.  While they waited to figure out where to place her, Esther picked reeds from the riverbanks and wove them into baskets.  So, she figured out her own job - basketmaker.  

Further down the river, where it opened up a mile wide, they stopped at a dreary port.  No one came at sunset and no one came at twilight.  The welcome crew were put off by the ravens shitting on the empty tongue and wanted to leave, but at midnight a lone straggler shuffled up the tongue and was swallowed onto the island.  This was the hard nut to crack, Mark.  

They gave Esther to Mark, or, Mark to Esther.  Both sullen and stoic, the pair wandered the river gathering grasses and reeds.  Mark prepared them and Esther wove them.  Soon, they had the monopoly on baskets at the island market.  Esther made intricate designs with different colored grasses.  She wove wavy baskets and tall ones, baskets that served no purpose beyond beauty.  Sometimes she made nothing at all.  And sometimes she made enough for four markets worth.  The island inhabitants thanked her for gracing their homes with her craft, but she just crossed her arms in front of her and stared at the ground or looked up at Mark, whose social skills were a notch higher.  Mark nodded to their neighbors and tipped his invisible hat, like he remembered from the movies.

And so, after all these eras, what did the island accomplish?  What did Mark contribute to the island after all?  What’s the point to this tale?  Must she respond, our island heroine?  She was merely a mother -- whose children speak for themselves, whose fathers, all those weary criminals-by-default, who hadn’t asked to participate in this social experiment, but heeded, like sailors to the Sirens -- doing what she does best: create.  What conclusion could we possibly draw from this unorthodox family portrait?

Mark’s time was running out.  He could no longer keep up with Esther.  Indeed, she’d become his keeper, cupping her hand under his chin, yes, touching him, when he could no longer feed himself.  He said to her one day, “we’re heading back to where we come from, Esther.  I feel that Midwest dampness in the air.  I have a favor to ask you.”  He’d already consulted with the island’s leaders.  It would be a first, but they were a progressive group, not afraid to try to new things, even when they were doomed to fail.  He wanted to accompany Esther off the island.

“I left my wife to come here.  She’s lonely and so are you, Esther.  You’ve got so much to give.  She needs you, more than you need her.”  He knew if anyone could handle his wife, Esther could.  He’d learned to trust her unpredictability after all these years.  It taught him not to hold grudges.

They found the old wife sweeping the upstairs hall.  Every day she dusted a corner of a table or a new cobweb.  She’d folded and refolded the clothes in Mark’s closet so many times, they practically folded themselves.  The daily chores kept her long gone husband alive to her, in his detritus he seemed closer than perhaps they’d ever been.  See, she’d been a sun to his darkness.  She married Mark thinking she’d uncover the secret light buried beneath his doldrums.  She was determined to unearth it, as determined as she was with her students.  She loved him like an assignment she would do perfectly or not at all.  Times tables and spelling words, a place for everything and everything in its place, recess 23 minutes, no more, no less, the standards were met.  No failure allowed.  But the more she tried, the rowdier her students became, and the gloomier her husband became, until, at last, he was gone.  Was it her?  Had he escaped from her?  No, it couldn’t possibly be.  Who would run from salvation?  Who would eschew hope?  How could he do this to her?  And, so, she turned her back on the night.  She ignored anything she didn’t want to see.  She went to bed at sunset and rose at dawn and in between made a mission of her teaching.  The kids were the future and she was their beacon, no matter how bleak fate seemed.

She dropped her broom when, like apparitions, they appeared behind her.  She pounced at her husband but he thrust Esther forward.  She hugged Esther instead and, unpredictably on cue, Esther hugged her back.  Mark died in his old bed with Esther on one side and his wife on the other.  The island sank when the iceberg melted to a nubbin no longer capable of keeping her afloat.  But the mother and her many lovers sow children galore in the form of stories with endings as varied as all the ways there are to die and be born.  

 

 


© Copyright 2020 mari liv-tollefson. All rights reserved.

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