[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]
The air is so full of the purple dust that blows up off the sea from the northwest. The rock of the tower is so old. The sun is so crisp and clear. The sky is so blue.
“I made that,” laughs Iphigenia.
She’s flopped on her back on the grass. She’s wearing a pink long-sleeved top. She’s holding up her left hand. She’s looking up at the sun and the sky, but more importantly, at the day.
It’s a happy kind of thing, to have stirred such a bright day from the ashes of nothingness.
She moves her hand to the left. The sun heats. The sky burns for a moment, rippling with red and orange, and then stabilizes brighter.
She moves her hand to the right. The sun dims back to where it was—to just where she thinks is perfect, on a day like today—and the world goes crisp and clear and calm.
She rests her hand on the ground.
She closes her eyes.
And she thinks, I don’t have to be afraid.
There’s a place in the texture of the happiness inside her that’s off-tone. It’s not filled with sunlight joy. It’s shaped like an eclipse.
Here is how it is with Iphigenia.
She is on the grass but she is also in a chariot in the sky, pulled by four burning horses, drawing the sun. It makes her hair fly every which way and her muscles ache great achings and there’s sweat on her face and sometimes she’s very tired but she can’t ever stop until nightfall because there are ravening wolves after her from the moment of the dawn.
The glory of it is tempered with her fear of the wolves catching up to her and knocking her from the chariot and chasing her down as she falls to rip into her limbs with their fierce and terrible teeth.
“Rahu,” she names the red wolf, the scary wolf, the blood wolf.
The other wolf does not scare her as much but she is not entirely certain why.
Sid and Max are up above, on a second-floor balcony. Sid is sitting on its battlement. Max is leaning against the wall in the shadow of an eave.
I want to take the shadow from them, thinks Iphigenia.
It is a great aching, like in the muscles of her sun-self. It comes across her like a wave and she swallows it in silence.
She is very busy doing very important things, is Iphigenia.
She is laying on the grass and she is wearing a pink long-sleeved top and she is making sure that the sun doesn’t fall down or get eaten which would be bad for just about everyone.
The wolves aren’t the only thing that wants to eat the sun.
There’s the solar transubstantiationists.
There’s the sun-eating swallows.
Sometimes Iphigenia gets squiggly icky feelings about the grass that she’s laying on, and all the other plants, like they’re hungry little maggots that want to burrow into her flesh, and sometimes she gets motherly feelings, like she’s a mother bird spitting sunlight into the baby birds’ maws.
Being the sun is surprisingly like being a little prey animal.
But the wolves are what worry her.
So she doesn’t do anything about Sid and Max. She swallows it in silence.
It is June 1, 2004. The sun passes behind a cloud.
Max is saying, “Why do we do this?”
And Sid says, “Hm?”
“Why do we tell all these stories where we’re jerks to one another?” Max asks.
Sid catches a mote of purple dust between his hands, not so much touching it as sheltering it from the wind. He passes it back and forth in the air currents above his hands.
There’s a bit of sunlight in there too. Iphigenia can feel the cracked-clay roughness of Sid’s hands.
“Write what you know?” Sid hazards.
“Ah,” says Max.
The tempo of their exchange is off. That is where Iphigenia feels the pain in it: in the tempo, in the beat. That is what makes her imagine, as she lays there, that they would rather fight with knives than say and hear these words.
I wonder, thinks Iphigenia, if it feels like an eclipse to them.
The thought wobbles in her head.
In that moment she recognizes something that she should have recognized long before.
It is a rising, warbling shriek she shrieks. She does not even realize at first that it comes from her.
He is like a liquid. It is as if he flows from the balcony to hold her head against his chest. It takes Max somewhat longer. Since he is human he is more like a clumpy liquid flowing from a previously unused pipe. He has to stop and dangle over the edge of the balcony for a moment before he can let himself fall. He runs to her like his knees have joints and he sits down to hold her hand.
She does not pay much attention to this but she is unable to stop herself from noticing it because everything is very noticeable of a sudden.
“Rahu is coming,” she says.
The wolf is gaining on her in the sky.
It’s an incredible feeling. It’s like a joy as much as it’s like a bubbling sore squirting fear.
“Rahu is coming here.”
And she is crying and they are gentle to her and she is saying, “Finally. Finally.”
Because when the wolf catches her she can stop running, and better it be now, with Sid and Max right here, than when she is alone.