Project Description

Asleep in the Lithosphere

There is something delicate here. It is like a pizzelle but sweeter. Lighter. Can it be grasped? I’ve almost got it.

It is smooth as skin and elastic, thinner than I thought possible, like ravioli dough just rolled out. It is unafraid and proud because it was made skillfully. Its strong body—whatever it is—engenders fear in me, fear that this joy will soon flee away. I examine it. I am clearly the less durable one here. My self can absorb a lot—sicknesses and injuries, slights and exhaustions and pleasures—but one day they’ll lay me down and I’ll rise no more. This guy, on the other hand, oh, how sturdy! Neither one of us believes he’ll ever see the grave. He had a beginning, but I suspect he’ll go on.

My son discovered him and brought him home to live with us. While jouncing in the gazebo in Gregg Park, his thirty-two pounds unlocked a secret stone. A chasm opened—wider than our peninsula but narrower than an eyespot—and this guy came up (he wasn’t from what people who raise their eyebrows call “The Other Place,” if that’s what you’re wondering—he had just been asleep in the lithosphere).

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the Seventh Dwelling Places. To tell you the truth, I think it was because of our proximity to the Atlantic. She’s so much mystery. In fact, I couldn’t really say if I’ve seen her or not. A little ageless, a little cold, she’s nothing like the straightforward ocean of my birth. I know one thing for sure—she hides cetaceans in great numbers. They’re greedy with their blankets, and I mean baleen, toothed, and la ballena asesina. Anyway, she helped this guy shuttle forth through the crust under the gazebo and here we are. Glory be.

My son can’t see him yet but he knows he’s there. I teach him the Creed and the Agnus Dei and the Our Father and this guy shows up. Dominic and I tried to hug him once, but he’s quick. You’re thinking “leprechaun” but please don’t say it.

At first I thought, There is a crying for wine in the streets; all joy is darkened, the mirth of the land is gone. I was afraid, but a voice told me that the Carasoyn was a gift and to drink it all. It was then that I realized this guy is comet vintage. Of course!

We’ve learned so much that we feel close to bursting from the glory. The more we read, the warmer it gets; my fingertips have nearly ignited at times. Some starfish split into two. If there was ever a gloss on the text, that was it. Our friend has us dreaming up dissertations like, What if two starfish joined to form a new self? and, What is the self? Our son is me, our son is Dominic, but he is an itsy-bitsy starfish above all else. It’s the glad overwhelming burgeon that sweeps you to the point of fission. You flower, you bask, and then you find yourself seven-petalled and airborne above Io. Have you not? One day you may. Solar wind, do your work.

If you do ever discover that you’re sailing past Ceres or over the B Ring, you’ll be tempted to genuflect. After all, a color you’ve never seen is there. Resist this, creature as he is. But if you’re alright with wincing at the sight of your own blood, he’s well worth your trouble. Go ahead and tread the winepress. Grape, Mama.

There is a lot more to it than that but without entering the welkin, I don’t see how I could tell you about it. All I know is that there is something delicate here. You can make it with potato or with ricotta but this one is made with neither. I haven’t yet grasped it, but it’s always there. I admit this to you now with tears—its very shape has eluded me; it continues to occupy a place in my imagination next to bacalao and idiazábal. Despite my blood, these I’ve never tasted.

Laura spoke all these words to the lady behind the counter at Tiger’s Deli on 55th Street.

Silted Shapes

I take walks with my baby along Newark Bay nearly every day. Some days the sun alights on the water like a million diadems, resting there gently, welcomed by the happy little ineffectual waves. Seagulls cry and poke around; squirrels chatter and scamper; tiny fish dart near the rocks. Runners, meanderers, and other mothers with young children burst with the energy of the day. I smile at strangers and make friends with my neighbors. All is well with the world, and there is so much joy to be had in life.

I prefer the other days, which become more common as autumn eddies down into itself. The sun may shine in that hackneyed cloudless sky, but the bay does not receive its erstwhile friend as before. Instead, it is shrouded in dark blue garb, sometimes grey if it wants a storm. The water broods over lists and lists of petty offenses it has suffered, promised to forget, and remembered again. On those days, its little waves are not so little, nor ineffectual: they move forward aggressively, intent on reminding us all of the wrongs committed against them; they grow wicked peaks on their heads, hoping to harm the rocks they meet at the foot of the bulkhead. The bitter little slap-slap-slap they make roughly translates as “You think I am small, and here between Newark and Bayonne, I may be, but in the open ocean you would be loath to meet me.”

On these days, there is nary an animal in sight. They hide, waiting for the fury to pass. When we catch sight of them, they fly or slink or run with obvious fear: they know that they should not be abroad. The only creatures who are out in any significant numbers are those more contemplative waterfowl, the great blue heron and the great egret, who have dubious motives and are complicit with the bay.

The water is impenetrable to the eye, which makes me crave to see the bay bed all the more. I crane over the wall for a glimpse, however momentary, of something beneath the surface. Some areas are shallow and the sand is apparent. Those are not the areas my eye searches. I want to see the dark thing that floats just a foot below the water, the chimera that slithers imperceptibly back and forth between the rusted oil drums and bloated mattresses, the poisonous secret that drags a meaningless trail on the sand, the silted shapes that see me peering down and reach for me. I have learned that real flesh and blood terrors are devastatingly worse than anything my imagination dreams up, and this knowledge thrills my heart into a mass of red ragged ice.

There are still runners, meanderers, and other mothers with young children on these days. I wonder if this is because humans think they have bested the beast which is the earth: they have long since ceased listening to it or looking at it. Yet, the people I encounter by the bay are not the optimists they are on the bright days: they do not smile; they bow their heads as in prayer, resignation, or both; when they speak, they mumble distressedly about politics and problems at home. They recognize that all can never be well with the world, that the bright days are illusions which make them mistake a good mood for peace. On these morbid days they remember Syria, and the Soviet Union, and the Shenandoah Valley.

As I squint into the unrelenting bay, I entertain a secret thought—that my curiosity would only be satisfied if I were swallowed whole by this body of water, for only then could I see into its depths. I would have plenty of time to gaze at its mysteries before its cruel fingers finished me off.

As I walk back home with my son, I know that truly, on these days, the bay must not be brackish at all, but all salt, even more than the sea. There is no doubt about that.

Laura Arciniega

Laura Arciniega received a Certificate of Merit in the 2017 Deep River Books’ Writers Contest for her unpublished manuscript Silent Simon. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bombay Gin, Burnt Pine Magazine, Mad Scientist Journal, and Tweet Literature. Originally from Southern California, Laura and her husband Dominic Zappia now live in Bayonne, New Jersey with their son.