Bernadette

by Sheheryar Sheikh


He’s bringing his daughter home and sitting three rows in front, four columns to the right across two aisles.

flat bare chest of a boy scars her reverie. And an almost man’s navel like feathers

Above him the twin bags, a strap over the sealed lips of the overhead bin. Below his seat a shopping bag with a wristwatch and black pearl necklace for his wife of twenty-two years, who

He stares at the spaces between cirrus cloud veins.

Like a carpet of

B’s in 8C. She has cigarettes in her coat pocket. She thinks all children are products of

It took Latin America to bring out her latent wisdom. She called collect after a month of his unreplied emails and said Please come and bring

felled towers

He has had to give up things for her. He’s had to begin talking to fill the emptiness.

will not say a word at times.

Space between clouds is blue, between people brown in many hues. Fifty-year old man on an airplane.

a gimmick made him

Cirrus cloud veins interrupt blue strands of sky.

The flow of air on wings. And a possibility of feeling arrived. Her life will be hard because of wisdom. She wants to lose it, drop it like cargo or in the pockets of the plane while disembarking

bring mom

the silence in her mother’s room

a month

He’s releasing the anger in certain blue spaces. Involuntary meditation.

She was in the South, down there, in two rooms living with five boys. One of them almost man.

can swallow sound.

fingers the pack in her pocket, thinks of

One quick throughput, was his daughter’s idea.

new scent in the air.

Fresh tobacco plants grew outside her window.

The hanging strap oscillates loppingly forward and back, enhancing the

taste of green leaves of tobacco.

inertia he feels.

Fifty-year old man with two women gone awry, fixing their lives. His wife and their daughter, B.

She talks about weather in the South, hears the rasp of dehydration in her voice.

He spent a week seeking the village and shack. She’s been living like a boy with boys. She’s been teetering.

He’s had to give up things. He’s listening to music, she to muzak.

It’s a Brahms fugue, says the woman next to B, the one who wants to know the Amazon through her eyes. Were you homesick?

Her mother is a picture without sound. One feels deaf around her

She lived with five boys, one of them often bare-chested, a thin almost man. He stared at B and she remembers that

He’s given up the smell of turpentine

She was trying to break taboos

until there is movement.

Watching the oscilating strap,

she says the Amazon is a wonderful jungle to settle in. Like New York? This one’s a staple

in his chest, heart slows; in his eyes, black shapes hover; involuntary peace, pivotless calm.

he gave her the twig and red balloon. She found Vaseline in her purse

The woman sitting next to B is an anthropologist who went to discover

There are communities of humanimals.

and traditions

in one quick throughput

B thinks she’s had to restrain her reaction to her father’s years of drudgery,

His paintings and sketches of painstaked monuments built brick by brick by brick by

The oldest boy was seventeen with a crop of chest hair and whiskers, and budding man-muscles,

the drone of his

She’s smoked rolled up dried leaves, she’s been with animals, she’s seen the forest as a wise system. She says this, and the woman says, Like Chicago?

details of the shadows bricks make over other bricks, people in active work seen through skyscraper windows-hands and coffee-mug smoke and logos, pictures on desks, screensavers

B’s mother is beginning a descent.

she lathered Vaseline on the balloon

years of criticism over techniques considered mistakes,

Metropolises are waiting for him, the forest has said its last

In the morning, she wakes up and looks at the ceiling for hours. Functions take her to the washroom and near food, but no other

For hours, she won’t say anything. Nods or dismisses

said Please come, after a month

The youngest boy was eleven.

He has given up on a lot of things. He’s given up and is at peace. His baldness indicates the end of hope.

There’s communities directly descended from the Incas that cohabit alongside modern buildings in their prehistoric mud huts, mostly on the outskirts of smaller villages and townships.

B asks, The natives? The woman nods, tipping a thumb-long bottle of chardonnay.

the feel of his palette, which he grooved with fingerprints from use

The man thinks fathering is a journey. He lets this flail inside his thoughts of clouds.

yes or no questions sometimes reach her.

a mouth with whiskers whispers, No vive el estereotipo.

And are they treated like

B was reluctant about the new ritual, so the almost man stood by her. His chest hair like feathers.

mortal cloud currents

Before this month, B’s mother was a blabbermouth

Toilets are busy and aisles are full of

His shadows pencilled, hermetically efforted work. B said Try a building lying on its side.

a gamble on direction

His series on flying buildings, catapulted as if the rush he made them in

two awry women, One quick

What’s wrong? Why don’t you say something?

She gives the anthropologist a chance to see beyond the

cacophony of miniature humans visible in his skyscrapers’ windows, disappearing in the rapid throughput of reclining buildings.

to a wry fifty year old man

who wouldn’t shut up at all. After B left, the silence took over

full pink lips saying, No vive el estereotipo

fix this month

You lived with the natives?

High-lying cirrus streams.

Critically darlinged at last. ‘Our cultural megaphone!’

impatient products of quiet and slow reactions

I’ve been living, she says to the woman, in the Amazon. I’ve cohabited with five boys in a jungle hut for a month. It’s a reaction to my father’s diligence.

this month, in which he’s painted several hundred

the rich rain

hardly slept at all

Did you not feel like deconstructing them? the woman asks.

the fresh air and tobacco

quietly falling into disrepair, lying in bed all day long

the lopping oscillating flap

an almost man with a shock of chest hair looked at her when her father came to take her. He said, Why won’t you speak to me? Is it because of something I did?

When B went South, he began the series of paintings of reclining and flying buildings.

To an anthropologist’s eyes, says the woman to B, all systems are wise. To which B says

the little hair on the chest was feather soft, she recalls.

That’s gimmickry, said her father, before she left, but did what B suggested anyway. His work began to sell.

To rouse his wife he says, Well, you should probably know I had an affair last year. It meant

With the boys she made new rituals to rebirth their ancestors’

Her mother’s face loses wrinkles, laugh-lines disappear.

The critics begin to call and apologize. They ask for prints of

One of them stood in the middle of a circle

The woman anthropologist asks, Would you like to be my assistant on a tour to Australia? B asks, To study the natives? The woman says, No, to go native, and laughs.

Her mother’s golden-yellow hair grows white.

older work, any work. They began to chart his artistic evolution, wrote articles, awarded

they held hands and walked around the middle one, chanting.

He doesn’t hear the music in his headphones, and he doesn’t hear her when the stewardess asks, Chicken or fish, sir?

nothing, but thought you should know.

B looks at the woman and says, You could be studying me.

The flap lops at the stewardess’s bangs. She reaches to touch him. Sir.

When the boy in the middle stopped turning, the sack on his head was taken off. It was always the same boy in the middle, the youngest. Eleven.

a flash of teeth. Sir? He doesn’t look at her when she

sprinkle of lights on the ground, like dust.

she looks younger, as though freshly peeled from a cocoon

shakes him, but he wonders at the turbulence. Skylight fades outside his window.

boys and an almost man.

They lived on her money until his paintings began to earn thousands, then hundreds of thousands and then low seven figures. A month turned buildings horizontal and reversed fortunes.

I had an affair with one of B’s friends.

B left the group at the hotel to join the boys and almost man every night.

We cut through the city like it’s a jungle, says the woman to B.

bring mom

The others followed, once the first one was finished. B used a twig in a balloon’s rubber

Silence isn’t disbelief.

When the group left, B stayed behind. She became tethered to the boys

Outside, the cirrus strings glow in the moonlight. Below them sparkle millions of American lights. He slumps like his soul has left him.

this close to the moon. The flap oscillates

Yes, said B’s mother. I know. Her last words.

she used the stick on the youngest boy while the almost man stood by, making sure. This was his gift.

Her father stood in the doorway, come to take B back. He heard, No vive el estereotipo

The stewardess opens the overhead bin and tucks the flap in.


Copyright © 2007 by Sheheryar Sheikh

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