/// unNOTICED PETals \\\
My hands, held tensely in place, just touching, caressing; moistened by cupping the clay, somewhat gently and with enough force to impress grooves into the surface. Child, yes, caught in a reverie, tired yet unrestrained.
“Miranna, please hurry and finish your sculpture so that I can bake the whole class’s stuff at once,” urged Mr. Lende.
It looked somewhat like a person, I suppose, but it wasn’t really anything at all, at least unless you decided to overinterpret the flowing waves and abrupt limbs.
“It isn’t … beautiful.”
“I know. Neither am I.”
If you try hard enough, I think you can convince yourself that it is a fish, with the surrounding water commanded by its forceful swim.
“Is something wrong? You usually produce such emotion-provoking work.”
“Well, I’m not beautiful.”
Please don’t mistreat the sculpture. It is created by the same hands that molded the meek terrier over there, and the goddess with her arms stretched, and the hollow face with the empty gaze.
“Class is about over, everyone. Hand your projects in to me and we can paint them tomorrow.”
I offer him the lump of clay, force it into his hands. I will not let it be rejected, even when his eyes are so defiant, so confused, maybe disappointed. I don’t look back, I just keep walking, out and onward. My hair bounces cheerfully, but I am not beautiful.
I enter the rigid classroom filled with a myriad of countenances. After I find my seat, I release my backpack and watch it drift to the ground, slowly to the eyes of the clock. A resounding thud perks up my friend, but to everyone else, it never even happened.
“What’s up?” greets Alisse.
“Hey,” I reply, pulling out my binder and pen.
The teacher orders, “I have your tests. Please come up and claim them.”
Alisse and I look at each other before getting up to retrieve our tests.
A) Find more food.
I stroll through the forest with the feel of a prowl. I slip from tree to tree, dodging the traps set by the sunlight that would give me away. When the wind blows, I move, harmonizing the rustle of the leaves below my nearly bare feet with the wind’s ruckus.
Suddenly, I spot it ahead, through the bushes, by noticing the small displacement of the low-lying branches of a holly shrub that it causes. I scuttle up a tree a meter or so away from the bush and ready my spear.
Prepare, focus. I position myself to leap, controlling my breaths, and then … slip.
I scream in my head, but not out loud. Falling pretty much headfirst, I force the spear downward and out, towards the rabbit, trying to reorient my body. At the last moment, I jab the spear forward and then hit the ground with a resounding noise that probably includes one of my toe bones snapping.
I look forward in pain, not bothering to move my body. There’s a rabbit at the end of my spear. <Haha, stupid rabbit, you died!>
Is this the mind of a predator? To dismiss the prey as an object? To love the rabbit is to deny oneself, and to deny oneself is to destroy the soul. No human with the desire to live can love the rabbit. The mind helps by replacing thoughts of empathy with the singular thought, “Rabbits taste good. Damn good, especially when I’m hungry as hell.”
And I am hungry as hell.
A strange scent enters my nose. It’s a foreign smell, certainly not one from the forest. I look around inquisitively and catch sight of a freshly dropped cigarette.
“Who the heck comes all the way here to smoke?? Must be some pretty desperate teenager … .”
I manage to crawl over to it and smash it dead with a rock to make sure it doesn’t light the forest on fire. A blaze could destroy in a few days the entire forest and city.
I examine the roll and notice a pale pink stain at one end, a mark of human society.
After limping back to my feet, I commence hopping around, looking for the person.
“Hello? Is anyone here?”
No one replies to my call, so I keep searching. After a minute or so, I see a silhouette trudging slowly through the muddy riverbank. As quickly as I can, I approach the figure, keeping my spear and rabbit at my side just in case it is an enemy.
It is a woman, face tarnished by excessive make-up, wearing a sleeveless blouse meant to be tied tightly in the front by a string that would serve the same purpose as buttons, but the string only loops through two sets of holes, saving only a bit of decency and leaving much cleavage and belly. She moves slowly, perhaps constricted by her tight denim skirt that goes to her knees or by the way her shoes sink into the mud, caught in the suction effect.
<It’s the perfect way to look easy!>
I intercept her course and stare into her eyes.
“Move,” she orders without lifting her eyes from the ground.
“What are you doing here?” I ask.
Her frown seems to tighten into a pensive line.
“I don’t remember anymore.”
“Who are you? You at least know that?”
She laughs and says, “Of course, of course. My name is Mai Iye.”
“I see,” I say. “You’re empty.” I can see it in her downcast but translucent eyes.
She points to her abdomen and responds, “No, I’m not, I carry a child.”
I look at her with examining eyes, but I can see no trace of pregnancy.
“Are you sure?” I ask.
She laughs again and nods affirmatively. “You are very pretty,” she comments. “Are you in love?”
My face is covered in dirt, as I have not washed it for days; my ripped sweatshirt belongs to my brother, so I can barely make out my boobs; my feet stink.
“Nope. Do you … mistake me for a boy? I am not a pretty girl.”
“Oh, in that case, you look like a frog.”
“Yes,” I reply. “But do you love anyone?”
“Come with me; I will show you the man who used to love me.”
She moved more rapidly, now bouncing off the mud as if it were concrete; I struggle to keep up. We reach the edge of the forest and she points to a farm at the very edge of town.
Mai looks at me with excited eyes and points over to a man tending to his livestock. “He’s very handsome, isn’t he? You should go and talk to him, but do not let him say that you are pretty or beautiful. If he does, kill his pig.”
“I understand.” I start down the hill, towards the farm, but stop abruptly when I realize that she doesn’t follow me.
“Why won’t you come with me?”
“He doesn’t love me anymore,” she whimpers, so softly that I would mistake it for the moanings of the mountains.
I leave her there, staring into the vast clearing, while I skip down the hill, using a stick as a crutch, as my right foot still pulsates in agony. At the front of the pen, I stop, resting my arms on the wooden fence painted with red paint. Shards of splinters jut out from awkward angles, pricking my skin.
“Hello, sir! It’s a wonderful day, isn’t it?” I say.
“Who are you, young lady? Do you need to take a bath?”
I look at his face; he looks very human. “No, not at all. I just bathed this morning.”
“You must be very active.”
I laugh lightly. “I suppose you could say that.”
Suddenly, a young boy, maybe five years younger than me, runs out of the back door of the house.
“Daddy, Daddy! There’s a big spider in the house!” he exclaims.
The man turns around abruptly, but then looks back at me, quickly reassuring, “I’ll be back in a minute. Please excuse me.”
The man enters the house with his son, both running energetically. A few seconds later, he returns, a triumphant grin plastered onto his face.
“I have a question,” I say meekly.
“Shoot,” he replies.
“Do you,” I begin, not knowing how to phrase it. “Do you know a woman …”
He gives a hearty chortle. “Hoo-boy do I know a woman. She’s my wife, Chelline. Would you like to meet her?”
“Oh, yes, sometime, but not right now. I mean a woman with long black hair, eyes of a mountain lion, slender legs?”
His eyes widen a bit and then his brows furrow. “Ah, you mean the forest lady? She came, she left. That’s about all I know.”
“Did you love her?” I asked.
“How do you know about her anyway, kid?”
“… I’m not … she … she told me about you.”
“Eh, and what did she say?”
“Nothing, just that you lived here. And that you used to love her.”
He squinted his eyes a bit in a bored disgust. “I never loved her. She just showered me with gifts so that I would pay attention to her, so I did.”
“Oh, I see how it is.”
I turned around and left without saying goodbye, and he shouted after me but made no effort to make me stop. The ground scrolled by quickly below my feet, which hurtled forward in agitation. I found Mai exactly where I left her, sitting on the hillside, cigarette between her fingers.
“Did you kill his pig? It used to be mine, you know,” she said, not looking at me, only staring at the ghastly smoke that curled upward.
“No, I didn’t. Should I go and steal it back for you?”
Mai shook her head. “It wouldn’t do any good now. He already ate the other pigs. This pig wouldn’t know what to do without its clan.”
“Why did you give him your pigs?”
Her face became momentarily contorted, and she took a fierce drag from her cigarette to combat the tension of the past.
“Do you want a cigarette?” she asked.
“Don’t change the subject,” I said angrily. “And no, I don’t smoke. It spoils the taste of pigs.”
“Well, I don’t want to talk about it right now, okay?” she growled, distancing herself from me.
“He took your pigs, he slept with you, then he left you in the forest where you came from? You should file charges against him …,” I suggested.
“I can’t,” she said simply. “They always side with him. They told me that if I ever went to them for help again, they would take my fish.”
“There’s something else that’s stopping you.”
She sighed and looked at me. “Yes, you’re perceptive, I suppose.”
“You still love him.”
Mai frowned and looked around at the scattered houses with billows of fireplace smoke coming out. She shivered, hands reflexively trying to fix up her shirt to seal in more heat.
She turns to me and asks, “Are you cold?” The wind blows harshly, bending the cigarette smoke towards me. I wrinkle my nose is annoyance.
“Yes, I am.”
“I can warm you up if you’d like,” she offers.
“Wait a moment.”
She extinguishes her cigarette below her foot and then closed her eyes. The grass around me begins to glow and then burst into small flames, warming my body. Frightened, I stand up, centering my body in the ring of fire.
“Don’t be afraid. It’s my grass.”
I look behind my shoulder at the majestic trees that cut into the celestial bowl.
“Are they your trees, too?”
“They used to be mine, but now they are his.”
“It is as the stars foretold. Look now, the trees are burning,” I observed.
Mai looked sadly as fire ravaged the underbrush.
“He wants more land to plant his crops and raise his children.”
“Can’t we do anything about it? You seem to have a lot of power over nature.”
The woman glares at me, defensively, revealing an inner fear and desperation.
“NO! We cannot. I forfeited myself when I threw myself at his feet.”
“Then why did you do it, if you knew what would happen? Why do you still dress like one of his kind?” I ask.
“When I was still young, they taught me to support progress and evolution. When I saw the way he dreamed of building an empire of God, making the fertile lands bloom, I thought that if I could secure a place as his friend, it would ensure that he could not falter from his path. I thought that, but I was young. I was still attractive then, and so was he. He had fresh, untamed hair; strong arms, strong will, commanding voice. When I came to him, he had just planted the flowers and he showed me, with pride, the moist soil with the seeds. They were supposed to fluorish that year.
“And they did, the flowers did well, and I gave to him a small piece of land on which to grow food. He gave me a dress in return, so that I would not be naked, for that would be embarrassing. I think we fell in love then, and I began to enjoy the pleasures of the human life. We saw movies, we went to parties; I visited the malls and the museums. I was amazed at what the humans could accomplish. I fell farther and farther away from my home, and I gave away more and more to him so that he would show me more about people and society.
“One day, he came back to our house and told me that I had to leave. I asked him why, and he told me that he had gotten engaged. I couldn’t quite understand … I guess I assumed that we were de facto man and wife. It was at that moment that I realized that I couldn’t go back home, and I tried to explain that to him, but he didn’t understand. He thought that I could just take off my clothes and my jewelry, wash my face and dump my cigarettes, forget everything that I had learned, and just go back to the forest. He kicked me out and the next day, his fiancée and her children from first marriage moved in … and I cried. He noticed but ignored me, killing one of my pigs right in front of my eyes.
“So here I am. I’m one fucked up forest spirit, huh? Not only can I not protect the forest, I still hurt it by leaving trash everywhere.”
I said, “No one is so fucked up as she who would resign herself to wandering around and smoking all day. If you want to fix the forest, you can.”
“How?” Mai asked.
“Come with me, and I will show you how.”
I led her into the forest, along the path that I had often traveled in search of food, back towards my home city.
Electrical Power Lines.
The evening of the next day, we arrived at the other end of the forest. I think Mai had never seen a city so large, for she doubled back in surprise, *?. Thousands of soaring skyscrapers of assorted architectural designs rose out of the ground, lit by white, yellow, and blue lights.