|Nine Days on the Tree
Author: Guede Mazaka
The world's hidden itself away. That was what a little bird told Sands, the third time he woke up. The first time, it'd said that it was still nighttime.
Bullshit. All of it. The world's still there, glorious and raunchy and cheap as the crumpled bills in the gutter, but it's gone and tossed Sands out. As if he weren't good enough for it. As if he'd failed it, when in reality he's been one of its best players yet. Is one of its best players. He speaks its patter, he walks its saunter, and he fingers its sharp bones.
It's hiding from him. Well, that wasn't going to save it.
Orange was the first color he lost.
It used to be flat citrus soda in dented bottles, faded posters shredding off the walls, lurid fluorescence in the rentable shitholes of the world. He didn't notice it much, too distracted by its prettier friend green. But orange was the warning hue--red was the one that said too far, too fast, too late-and it wasn't any surprise that Sands had missed its passing.
Then again...he feels the pebbled skin of the round fruit giving under his pressing thumb, the juice spraying vibrant scent into the air. He sticks his head out the window and feels the sun burn right into his head. And as his neurons blister-explode, like so many kernels of popcorn, he thinks that maybe colors can't be lost. They just...change.
His hands are sticky, though he's not quite sure what layer's on top: blood, orange squirt, or just plain mud. There are tear tracks on his cheeks because the ducts don't really work right, and he knows this because he can hear the confused pity. No one's brave enough to risk the good Samaritan act, though. Not in Mexico.
The country's crawling out to meet him, slow because it's hard to go forth on hands and knees. It's sniffing along the trail he's flung far and wide behind him, tracking down its own. The peso-hungry whore's stained him, down where the sun don't reach, and Sands laughs at that.
Because he's finally found his balance, among the well-dressed mongrels and the crippled myths. Nothing's quite as it should be here, and that includes him.
O-ren hates the Bride.
She does so with the patient detachment that she's always striven to maintain. She hates the Bride for what the woman has done to the yakuza empire O-ren had worked so long, so hard to conquer. A dream of revenge, suddenly broken into little bloody flakes, and by what? Another vision of vengeance. O-ren wants to know why the Bride's hatred should be stronger than O-ren's; after all, B is a new one to this particular game.
But O-ren has hidden that part of herself very well, and she refuses to ever look at it. She's not afraid of looking upon its brutal ugliness--she's afraid of looking and not seeing anything.
South America's a land of browns and yellows. Its overall color is green--jungles and heat and wildness--but its earth is orange mud. Fetid, rotting, and yet capable of supporting vast amounts of growth.
They're driving down one of its roads, ochre splashing up against the windshield like liquefied flesh, when the Bride tells O-ren the name of her daughter.
And fool that she is, O-ren wonders aloud, and Beatrix answers her. Not the Bride. Beatrix.
It's harder to wish Beatrix dead and O-ren free of this strange bondage than it was to wish the Bride dead.
The girl is playing outside, watching cartoons on the bed while her mother cries and laughs on the bathroom floor and O-ren sits on the toilet, still waiting for a chance that never came.
She'd taken the Bride's side partly because the wom--Beatrix--was the strongest. Partly because O-ren found herself unable to do otherwise. But she'd hoped that Bill's death would end everything. That had been what had kept her sane.
But Bill is buried in the backyard of a small town's biggest hacienda, Beatrix is staring at her hands, and O-ren is still lacking peace.
"They're so dirty..." murmurs the other woman.
O-ren remembers all her lessons. She thinks of Macbeth, and thinks of Iphigenia and Clytemnestra, and thinks of her own hands. Then she slides off the toilet, and closes her eyes while Beatrix traces their soul stains.
The Underworld is gloomy and dank, with spirits dismally gusting about on the prevailing wind. It's the place of waiting, the place of judgment.
Perhaps that second quality is why Achilles still retains some memory of life. He cannot let himself wander aimlessly as the others do; he takes no comfort in the melancholy tale-telling, or even the dubious lightness that bathes the Elysian fields. Instead, he walks the riverbank, wishing for some monster to rise up and offer him a fight. For a way to break out of this eternal tedium.
And then he meets with the shades of his father, of Patroclus. And he cries out after them, comes forward to greet them with all the fervor of a weary soul finally returning home.
And they smile, but listlessly. Embrace him, welcome him--but these are not the men he loved. These are ghosts.
Achilles slips away from them, ducks beneath a sighing willow, and only then ceases to hide his grief.
Bronze is the color of war, and red is the color of death. When blood splashes across a shield, it is the exact shade of the vivid orange trickling down the center of Hector's chest. "As you can see, I still wear your mark."
Achilles never learned to apologize; he gropes toward it on occasion, but his gifts aren't those of silver-tongued Odysseus. So he doesn't bother. Simply reaches out cupped hands and catches the bright drops within their hollows. "Why is it that we of all of them cannot rest?"
"Our tolls were paid, our honor kept or restored...but it was never our war." Hector shrugs. "Our battle, but not our war...until we stole it. There's a leap after that, but my wits will not follow it. Nor do I want them to."
And his gaze bends as his knees do, and while Achilles watches in shock, the other man sips from the bowl of hands.
Their skin has dried somewhat, but in the desert of the Underworld, it still feels as if Achilles has been drenched in a thunderous downpour. He's a little surprised when he discovers himself slightly smaller than Hector, and even more so when he finds the taste of the man to his liking.
"Dead and still golden." Hector strokes a finger along Achilles' leg, ending with a slight press on the scarred ankle.
"I treated your corpse like..." Shame and guilt: lessons Achilles learned too late, in too wrong a way. Only now does he have the sight for truth.
A hiss, a flash in dark eyes, and a kiss. "In this place, you have the only other spark of life that I've come across. I think I could forgive anything for that."
"Stain of life," Achilles corrects. They don't belong here. Hector should still be in a thriving Troy, and Achilles...wonders if he'd ever belonged anywhere. But this circle of tangled limbs is good enough, and he soon gives up to the rest it holds.