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short stories


Curriculum Vitae

by Danuta Hinc

Published in The Muse, Spring 2009

The details of life, they asked her to reveal, didn’t exist without excluding the life she knew to be.  She sat in front of a computer screen and watched her face in a soft glare.  Straight into my face, no angles makes me look younger, she thought of the light.    She tried to remember when it all started to change, her eyes drowning deeply into the sockets and the skin around them turning into parchment.  She couldn’t tell, ten or twenty years ago? Gently, she took a tiny fold of skin of the right eyelid between her fingers and pressed it for a couple of seconds, then watched the skin stay raised for a long time.  Dry, almost dead.

They asked for her name, and she thought, my name, closing her tired eyes.  On that winter day, when she was six, it was still early enough to hear another story.

“It will be the last one,” her mother said, “and then you have to brush your teeth and go to bed.”

She nodded, smiling, embracing her waist tightly and leaning forward in a green armchair.

“Your name was supposed to be Katherine,” her mother continued, “but every time the nurse brought you to me for feeding, I would say Mary Magdalene, and the name repeated itself in my head many times until I decided to let it be.”

They asked for her birth date as if such a thing can be measured with numbers.  Is it the one expected by a doctor and written in a small column of a chart?  Is it the primordial moment of pushing forth and knowing it has to be done without knowing what is it that has to be done? Is it the one filled with a sudden flame that opens the lungs?  Or is it the moment of the first sound and the first touch that can be sensed through the walls of the womb, signaling the vastness of all life?

Marital status, she read the next column.  Were they asking about the empty now or were they asking about all that she carried within?  The first man died in her arms, white eyes turned backward and purple swollen lips that couldn’t stop shivering even after the last gasp was long gone.  She put her finger into his mouth; his tongue was coarse like a piece of wood.  The second man drowned in the river during the summer they spent together.  He jumped; his perfect body still arches in the air on the background of full trees in the low afternoon light above the meadow where they left their bicycles.  No one knew how shallow the water was, and how rocky was the bottom.  His eyes were open under the water, blue coins on the white bedrock.  The third man came at night while the candle was burning in the window and lay down beside her.  He was the one who with time became the flesh of her children.  The one who touched her gently and open her body with ease, causing the rivers to rush through her arms and legs, helping the wind to finally open her clenched fists and let go of all that needed to be released.  His fingers traveled her skin to help her remember and then forget without sadness.

Children, she looked at the page.  Her body absorbed the first one; she was told it happens all the time.  It became her breath; the wave that carries her through the days from dawn to dusk.  She doesn’t have to remember to know that it is there.  The second one was born in the pool of blood she saw with a corner of her eye while her body was thrown up in the air in convulsions no one could stop.  The words spoken that day hung above her head like heavy grapes; we are losing her, but she couldn’t understand if it was about her or the baby.  The third one, a boy, came on a quiet spring day and sucked her breasts with vigor of someone who was destined to live a long and healthy life.  This is the one who told her, I love you more, and when he did, she knew he would carry her fears of water and fire into the future, believing in the end of the world and the Day of Judgment.  The fourth one inhabited her dreams. It was a girl with curly dark hair that bounced with the smallest movement.  She wore summer dresses and shoes with pink flowers propped around her ankles, and she was to remain four, in a space beyond simple time.

Education, her eyes wandered off the screen out the window where a thick forest hummed tirelessly, but all she could see was the face of the Latin teacher she tried to forget, but couldn’t since forgetting in vain turns always into remembering.  There was only the face with thick-framed glasses and a mole the size of a small cherry on the lower lip.  Every time the teacher spoke, the cherry moved forward and backward, almost falling off the lip, but always being caught in the last second.  The thick glasses guarded expressionless eyes that when closed, made the face disappear, leaving only the restless cherry; you didn’t pass, it said.  With a knot in her navel, she closed her eyes again.  The name escaped her, but she remembered his white wavy hair and an open face of a god.  His hands traveled the air with open fingers, drawing fluid images with grace and conviction.  We don’t really know Jesus, he said, because all we know is what they chose to include in the Bible and this is only part of the truth. His palms turned upward and his fingers opened and curved to hold invisible apples.  He weighted them for a while and then said; the Gospel of Thomas says Jesus was real, flesh and blood and he knew how to resurrect someone from the dead, but he also knew how to kill.  And he did.  There was a strange silence in the room; she could still recollect the sound of her own breath brushing the back of her throat.  And he did, the god repeated his statement.  Jesus, as a boy, killed another boy who, after heavy rain, was trying to stop water from running down the path.  Jesus said, let the water run, but the boy didn’t listen.  Jesus touched him with a stick, and the boy fell to the ground and died.  I am asking, said the god, who was Jesus?  She opened her eyes and looked at the thick forest.  Who am I?


The Form of Words

by Danuta Hinc

Published in Little Patuxent Review, Winter 2010

All she needed were words – they kept her alive.  Parting her lips just so, she used to put them on her tongue one by one.  She tasted them slowly, pressing them to the palate, waiting for them to dissolve into sweet bitterness that nourished her body and soul. She liked the taste of all the words, even the ones that made her shiver for she knew life was meant to be ripe in fullness.  She said, red tulips, and touched the moist petals with care.  Moist, she said, looking inside the black center, and yellow, she said, taking a deep breath to absorb the flower and to feel it within.  Hot, she said leading her finger through a candle flame and feeling it burn her the way she remembered.  With words and through words she was able to connect and become one with life.  It was the only life she knew.

That night she stood on the top of a tall tower, facing a dark forest.  All she wanted was to die.  She wanted to die the way no one ever died before.  She wanted to disappear with no trace, and then come out on the other side without memory.

Being on the tower, she tried to remember the words that made her.  She wanted to feel them one more time before she jumped.

First, the church in the valley where she got married at the age of twenty-two.  Forever ago, she thought.  Forever ago, she looked up; the sky was gone, swallowed by a matte cobalt darkness that seemed to stretch without end.  Facing up, she closed her eyes, knowing this is the only way to see.  The dome of the church, supported by sharp arches that met at the highest point marked by a single star, was filled with petals of pink roses and white lilies.  They circulated in the space, weightless, saturated with light softened by the stained glass windows, each in a dance of its own.  She stood at the open door of the church waiting for a signal of the new beginning, and      it came.  At that moment she wanted to live forever.

The man she married was a rock, broad and heavy (something he wanted to change), but with gentle long fingers and deep blue eyes.  When she asked him for words he said he preferred numbers but was willing to try something new.  I can like words, he said, and she hoped for the best.

He led her away to a tower on the edge of the forest.  Every morning, early at dawn, he would leave her to travel distant and strange roads to meet people who burdened him with numbers packed neatly into narrow columns.  He traced the numbers with his long fingers, up and down, for hours to identify similarities, differences, and other conjunctions that were supposed to explain the order of useful things.  Every night she waited for his blue gaze and when she placed his dinner plate on the table, she watched him eat.   She didn’t eat with him because she was never hungry for food.

They made quiet love every night for the first forty-four days of their life together.  The world didn’t belong to them, though; for nothing was made real for nothing was ever said.  In silence all was wrapped in nonbeing of eyes, nonbeing of lips, nonbeing of groins, and nonbeing of gestures.

She waited many months for the man to share his words with her but he never did.  Maybe another day, he would say with the best of intentions.  I will wait, she said.

Her days in the tower were filled with small tasks.

Books, she removed from shelves neatly, one by one, dusted all four corners and, with hesitation, after pressing them to her chest for a while, placed them back, in the same arrangement.  She found pleasure in the spring garden when soil, softened and warmed up with life, revealed forces that could never be defined nor halted. Her fingers found an easy way to dive deeply and feel the roots, the dark places of beginning where the light is contained in a dry seed and waits only for a drop of water.   She carried words on her fingertips and placed them deep inside the soil on the flesh of the roots whispering, grow white, grow silver. Become, become.

The first night the man brought his work home, he told her he wouldn’t have time for words after all.  She knelt in front of him and said – I’ll wait for you.  He said, don’t, that won’t be necessary.

He spent his nights away from her, tracing columns of numbers with care and dedication.  And then one day he left without a word, leaving her in the tower on the edge of the forest.

Her loneliness grew deep and wide with many unspoken years.  During those years she visited the forest every day to touch the bark of tall trees and see how it changes through the seasons, to smell jasmine blooms in the spring and to taste berries – blue, she thought pressing them to the palate, waiting for the juice to run down her throat.   Red, she thought picking the soft flesh of nimble twigs.   Black and prickly, she thought watching the fruit on the hot summer days.

One day she met a man on the edge of the forest.  I came to rescue you, he said, and showed her his butcher’s knife.  Do you like words, she asked.  I can love words, he answered.    And then he lowered his voice and asked if she could rescue him, too.  This way we could belong to each other; let’s try it, he said.  She cried when she agreed.  He cut her open with the knife that he carried.  This is the only way to heal for the both of us, he said, but don’t take my word for it; and that’s something she didn’t understand.  Her body was stretched on a table in the man’s house as he immersed his hands in her cut-open chest. He took her beating heart into his palms and felt it, her blood dried fast under his fingernails.  Does it hurt? He asked closing his eyes.  Does it heal you?  She whispered looking at him.  Yes, it does heal me, he said.  Well, then it doesn’t hurt me, she said, letting her tears drop down freely since he didn’t look. Finally he took the heart out and looking at it under a better light he said, you are too good to be true, I don’t know what to say.  It doesn’t matter; she tried to find the right words fast, but couldn’t since they were all contain in the heart the man was holding.  Speechless, she went back to the tower.  It took her three years to recover and feel her heart again.

The third man came to fix the roof.  He climbed a tall ladder to the top of the tower, looked down and signaled with his hands that the tower was very high.  He used his hands to communicate for he was mute.  When she saw his arms waving above his head she wondered about his words.  He inspected every inch of the roof and wrote on a piece of paper – the whole damn thing needs to be replaced.  She agreed to pay the amount he asked for and he agreed to finish before the summer was over.  He came every day for three months and after replacing the roof he fixed many other things – old wires, clogged sinks, broken windows and shaky floors in the basement.   They ate lunches together on hot summer days and looked at the forest.

One day she asked him if he liked words.  I don’t have any words, I am mute, he wrote on a piece of paper.  What about inside, she asked pointing at her heart.  I don’t know, he wrote, looking down his chest.  She felt deep sadness discovering his emptiness.  Do you want me to share my words with you?  She asked.  Okay, he said.  From now on she shared what she had.  This is rough, she said sliding her fingers down the wooden board of the table.  Rough, she repeated making sure her lower lip met the upper teeth just so, producing the sound she desired.  This is life, she said showing him her garden, opening the earth with her fingers.  Feel it, she said, unearthing a small cave full of worms and insects.  He shook his head, no.  When she took him to the forest she showed him nests with open blue and green eggshells.  They left months ago, she said, but the smell of their young feathers is still here.  The man stopped her and wrote on a piece of paper, I like your body, be my wife.  It’s not enough to like the body, she said.  I want it, he wrote again.  I am made of words, she said, I am sorry you are mute.  He grabbed her throat and pressed it to the forest floor.  Now all her words were in his hand.

She saw the sky falling away like a freed tent.  When the birds screamed their high-pitched scream she immediately knew someone was dying in the forest.  Is it I?  She thought but wasn’t sure.  All she knew for sure was the man’s body pressing her to the ground.  It was his heavy breath and the smell of his sweat.  It was her neck in a tight clasp and the warmth of the boiling blood in her temples.

When she woke up the man was gone.

She decided to live with her words without sharing them ever, but soon fell ill from holding it all back.

She tried to heal herself and went back to the forest.  Take my words, she whispered, touching the rough bark of the tall pines.  Take my words, she whispered, caressing the new moss under her feet.  Take my words, she screamed to the sky above.  No one listened so she felt silent.

The fourth man was a pilgrim.  He knocked on the door of the tower and asked for water.  His words were clear and his asking was tender.   Do you like words; she asked already knowing the answer.  Yes, he said, and emptied his pockets full of blossoms to prove it.  She gave him water and asked him to come inside.  Let me hear you, she said.  Let me hear you, he answered.

They exchanged many words over many days.  He interrupted his travels once a week and she was grateful.  Every Saturday they lay naked next to each other and shared.  One day, he said, you have to die before you can live again after all you have endured.  She didn’t understand, but took his gentle word for it.  Can you help me die, she asked.  I will make you die softly, he said, and she closed her eyes, showing him she was ready.  He kissed her forehead first and then all the parts of her body that were ready for him.  He planted words behind her ears.  He planted words at the bottom of her neck in the niche big enough for the tip of his tongue.  He planted them in the soft skin of her armpits and in the creases of her elbows.  Some he planted in the warm spot below her breasts and some in her blood, warming up the gentle surface of her skin. He was generous beyond her imagination and let her have all the new words he made for himself.  As he kissed her she opened and revealed herself without shame or guilt.

Then one Saturday he came changed by his travels in a way she didn’t know, yet.  She looked at him and felt her heart sink.  I have to tell you something, he said.  His face turned white, it became translucent like a piece of old parchment and his gentle eyes turned black; he was about to say something terrible, she could sense it.  She smiled to give him courage, what is it, she asked?  He interlaced his fingers so tightly that the skin turned white and red. He said, I am thinking.  Her heart was pounding.  She recognized the old felling of fear that filled her chest all the way up to her throat when the mute man pressed her to the ground.  Finally, he said, I have sinned against you, I found someone with words that mean a lot to me for I grew to love them in a faraway land I left a year ago and I have been hungry for those words since then.

A strong thunder shook her body and lifted her above the table were they were sitting.  She arched in midair and her eyes turned into white moons.  He watched her come up and fall down many times until she was ready to face him again.  They looked at each other in silence.  She reached across the table for his hand to see if she was able to feel anything, and she did.  He held her hand and as he kept confessing, his face slowly turned into embodiment of sorrow.  All she wanted was to hold him tight, but her numb limbs didn’t allow her to move.

Finally, when all his words were spoken, she waited to see what she felt in her heart and then she said what she felt – I forgive you, I forgive you not because of what you did was right but because I want to forget, I want to empty myself  from your words for they were false.

That night she went up to the top of the tall tower to face the dark sky.  All she knew was that she wanted to die.  She wanted to die the way no one ever died before and so she made the wish – let go of me without trace, she said.  The matte cobalt sky above her head contracted into a veil and as it descended to where she stood, it gathered light from the stars that were about to be born.  Her sternum split in half and opened to the light – I need a man, she said to the sky that was descending upon her, who can take my words the way they are and make them his own.  I need a man, she said, who can give me his words the way they are and let me make them my own. She spread her arms to open herself wider and that was the moment she disappeared in the light that entered her and when she finally came out on the other side, the memory was gone.  Her sternum closed and the sky opened with a thin ribbon of blue above the horizon behind the forest – the pale new light of the first day.


3 Responses to “short stories”

  1. Monica says:

    very good….I like