by Asma Mammootty
Art by Megan Xu
Issue: Serein (Summer 2016)
Before the bars can catch its warmth, the filtered light christens their shadows a warm grey.
At the wake of morn, the dark shafts will blend into one,
and in turn, the light will wane.
But it stays
When she held one of them to the window, the shard softened into a single, lucent stroke.
She let the light hold her for a bit, but the ticking clock urged her to continue assembling the sparkling wreckage below.
Hoping for some blueprint or a picture to confirm her guess, she wrestled with the sturdy, cardboard box the antique had come in, but to no avail. Eve had told her in tears that they would not be able to enter the gates without the relic, but due to a lack of self-confidence or a fear of responsibility, Eve had shipped the treasure over and shattered the necessity overnight.
There was only an hour till she had to meet Eve at the gates, but she was well-practiced at piecing the broken back together.
She traced the edges of each with a translucent glue. And then, one by one, she held the pieces to the light and slid each break upon another until they eased and held.In time, the patched apple stood, its many facets decorating the dark walls with dimmed light. If there were anything she would miss, it would be this soft light, scattered and spectral.
As the sunlight waned, the many juts and cracks covering the apple grew sharper, and the object looked more crude and desperate. But Eve’s Guardian was known to live in blinding light, so it was unlikely He would notice the figure’s black veins.
And now, for the gift for her own guardian. She reached for her plush purse and drew out the wooden box. The veneer had begun to chafe against the starched fabric, but the painted lightning bolt kept its dull gold luster. Her fingers slightly shaking, she unclasped her necklace and fed the dangling key at its center to the rusted keyhole. Tightening her grip, she turned the key to lift chest open.
And nothing, she let out her breath, nothing came out. It was empty. She steadied her hands in the folds of her dress. Right. Of course. She had taken out the dying creature asphyxiating in this chamber years ago. The roof of her house was still bleached from the lightning of that day, but the dwellings’ insides remained as did the walls of the chest in front of her. Dark and empty.
She studied the glinting apple and the rough box in its shadow, and gave a slight nod. The first half was done.
Careful to wrap the apple in several shawls this time, she nestled the sphere in her backpack, and tucked the chest to its side. In one swoop, she slung the backpack over her shoulders. Then, she made her way to the cage, silent but aglow besides the widest window in the crude house.
“Ready?” she whispered.
Even when it is dark, the bars are never full. They come in half strokes, solid at the top and spectral in their descent. At times, the light is so bright
that only a stroke of black remains, but,
as do all things with hope,
Something inside her felt raw against her ribcage as she tried to steady her core upon the bus seat’s cushions. What worried her most was the cage at her side that lurched at every blinking light they passed. When those concentrated circles finally passed, she could tell they were at the outskirts, where a sloping streetlight or two suffused a soft orange into the dark night.
“Last stop. Everyone out.”
She stepped down the tall steps, cage in hand, bag on back, and eyes forward. With a final drop, she descended into the dark and kept walking, well after the bus lights had disappeared.
With every step, the cage and its inhabitant chimed, as if to remind her that it was still there. This was the first time it had made so much noise. She pulled the hood of her jacket over her head.
Ten minutes to three, and the Gates were only a few miles ahead. She wondered if Eve was there, with her blue, shining eyes, and if her skeptical husband had decided to join them. She considered if her own guardian was there, with his full beard and deep eyes. Eve had assured her he wouldn’t be, that he had long passed away, but a part of her still hoped that thunder clouds and lightning still existed in the heavens.
Setting the metal cage next to the thinnest tree’s trunk, she unfastened her necklace and slid the faded key into the cage’s lock. With a creak, the door eased open, its hinges sighing from centuries of silence.
“There, now we’re both free,” she whispered.
Turning softly on the grass, she started making her way through the thicket towards the Gates, never looking back.
Too bright, so