The Red Rope
The abortionist lives in the jade city, in a maisonette tucked beneath the jasper bridge. A red rope hangs from the doorknob. After school, her children play nearby, in a miniature park within sight of the distant pale green mountains. When a ball hits a child in the face, the stitching impresses the flesh. Those marks are temporary and ice will resolve them.
The assassins in the jade city are subtle and stealthy. Not like the thick-fingered killers working our grit-strewn concrete town. A screw-up here means a shovel swung to the back of your head. In the jade city, the dark-eyed assassins creep barefoot through subterranean aqueducts, scimitars bound to their naked torsos with scarlet cords. Summertimes only a trickle of water flows through the aqueduct though the stone walls remain slick with moisture and you can still smell the fresh mountain snow. There the assassins lie in wait, in bands of two or three. They scratch initials into the wet wall; the fatal moves they re-enact. An eavesdropper would understand it truly, never ever, is personal.
The copper-colored mountain rose from the jungle floor. At its base, the air was dense and walking felt like pushing sopping wet sheets out of the way, one after the other after the next. The never ending sounds of the insects, their rattles and chirps, felt solid too, something to push against. We walked past a snack stand where a girl only a few inches taller than the counter sold drinks and crinkly packets of fried corn kernels. You asked for a piña soda knowing without asking I was thirsty and she pulled a bottle from a cooler and carefully poured the neon yellow liquid into a plastic bag. The bag was cold and triangle-shaped like a heart and when I touched it I said it reminded me of a lizard heart or the heart of an alien. Ordinarily you would have laughed but that day your lips were no joke.
We walked in silence to el rio. You chose silence, not me. In places, the muddy river water swirled green. You helped me into the boat, lifted me from the pier with one hand. Your strength is deceptive, like an ant’s. The most compelling part of you are your hands, the part I love best. Once the boat got going, your mood subsided, like it does, and you drew me near with a welcoming smile, wanting to explain the physics behind the powerful bite of the Amazonian piranha. Their outsize teeth are designed to rip the flesh from the bone. You laced your fingers with mine and told me how piranhas always go for the eyes first.
Each drop of blood in my body would not change the tint of this river one bit. The rest of the neon yellow soda I dumped off the side because it was too sweet to be refreshing.
The scimitar of the assassin is mostly for show though he enjoys the homicidal whoosh of the blade swinging above his head. The gleaming and glinting of the whirling tempered steel is also hypnotic in its way although the assassin’s killing preference is actually the scarlet cord wound about his slim torso. He garrotes. Scimitars leave too much of a slippery slick mess.
An addiction to the assassin, the surprising strength of his slim torso, his apparent understanding of what you are going to say next, can’t be cured. What makes it worse is that it’s not the reasoning part of the person, the top part, the bony part, that is addicted to the way he wrenches the soul from your chest, but a part further down and tender.
In The Jade City
The jade city is beautiful late in the day though that’s when it rains, making the jasper bridge slippery. From the bridge pale green mountains can be glimpsed, one after the other after the next, each with a crown of misty white. The city is quiet except for the shouts of children playing ball. Beneath the bridge, parakeets and manikins nest in the stone arches. I think I understand now. You need to get to where you’re going. That’s why the blade came down, the shovel swung round, the cord unlaced at your hips. You melted away but a part remains, your finger I think, pressing on my memory.
© Mary Crawford
[This piece was selected by Damyanti Biswas]