a l v i n    p a r k

Mudder

 

It wasn't the heat that drove people mad. It was the hunger. Working in the fields, men and women stripped themselves down to nothing. Their bare skin blackened and burned under the sun and smelled of cooking gone too far. Our bellies sucked in, concave, and I thought about why we couldn't see each other's organs sticking through our skin. There were some who had hung to the hunger for too long and it had rounded their bellies, filled them with disillusion that stuck like grains of sand.


The mud squelched under us, clumped onto our skin, matted into our hair, and made movement hurt. I asked her why our feet were so wet when everything else was so dry. "There is a great river," she said. I never saw a river but she said it trickled its tears into our valley, never letting anything dry out.


Some people felt the hunger tighten so much around their hips that they scooped up the mud under them, what they and hundreds of others had dug their toes into, and swallowed it, handfuls of it. For a minute, they would close their eyes and think about the meals, the roast chicken, the bread, the icing and cream settled over beckoning fingers, before they realized the mistake. The way that mud came back up along with everything else. It slapped down onto the ground, instantly mixed with and became what it always was, but more. The people would roll over and gurgle and we would help them wipe the blood and foam from their chins. Sometimes, late at night, when we were tired and couldn't make out our brothers from our wives, we left those people to lie in the mud, the blood, the foam. We stepped over them, wanting so much to pick them up, to throw blankets over their bodies, tell them, "This is not everything," if we only had the strength and not the hunger.


One day, when the heat and the hunger slapped our calves at once, when the mud felt to boil and the sweat slicked against our bodies, she turned to me and said, "If I die, you eat me. Suck the marrow from my bones, tuck your lips around my thighs, lick the drips of salt away." I nodded, and I told her to do the same.


"If we die at the same time…?" I thought aloud.


She said, "We will swallow each other whole with our last breaths, taste each other's sweat and tears until we are nothing more but everything."


I did not keep our promise though, and when she collapsed and I could not feel her heart, I knew. I told my brothers and sisters not to touch her, look upon her, think of her. They saw the anguish in my face, the eyes dried from so many years of this work, and they nodded.


I have watched her rot. I have watched her skin soak water, bloat, and pop. I have watched her skin flake. I have chased the birds' hungry beaks. I have watched her become the earth. As the heat grows and my brothers and sisters continue their work around me, I eat handfuls of mud, cover my face until it crusts unrecognizable. I tell myself, "This is not everything."

 

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ALVIN PARK lives and writes in San Diego. His work has been featured in Commas and Colons, Penumbra, and The Rumpus. He has a long way to go.


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