Final Conflict

Final Conflict

Final Conflict
Photo by R. Gino Santa Maria on Adobe Stock

Sand ground into my shoulder blades. Scratch scratch on aluminum. I opened my eyes to a sky white on white. I blinked. Blue clouds with yellow edges. Against the hull of the canoe, lake water rocked and licked. Under my head my folded windbreaker rustled as I turned my head. A thin breeze floated across my face, laden with milkweed and indigo pollen. I didn't sneeze. I should have been sneezing. I didn't sneeze.

Where was Angela? Fallen back against the seat in the stern. I lifted my head. She wasn't. My head dropped back on the windbreaker. She was in the lake swimming. I must have fallen asleep in the afterglow. Angela was paddling about. I could hear her. No. Small waves, just tickling waves mumbling to aluminum.

Angela. In a moment, her fingers, covered with duckweed, would creep over the gunwales. Then her dripping hair, her blue eyes, her mouth, parted slightly, would rise over the edge of the hull.

Just before I had slipped off to the land of nod, she had been sitting on me, twirling her fingers in my chest hair. My arms had held her thighs pressed to my sides, her knees against my ribs.

Daniel. I'm sorry I was so mean. She drew a figure eight over my sternum.

You've more than made up for it.

Still. I didn't mean what I said. I believe you.

Nothing ... My hand drifted up her thigh.

Nothing happened, I know. She spread her fingers across my chest.

You do? You know?

Spectacular swords of lightning crisscrossed the sky, and the canoe rocked with tremendous explosions of thunder.

She looked up in terror and grabbed the hair on my chest.

Hey!

I shut my eyes. Her hand let go.

Did you hear that? Her voice quavered.

My eyelids would not open to the fire, white, pulsing.

My hand brushed against my chest. I looked at my fingers. Why was I expecting to see blood? I looked up from my hand, then reached for the dark, twists of hair tumbling over Angela's breasts. My breathing stopped. In the sky a V of geese slid slyly across my vision. Planes. No, geese. True geese. Angela didn't see them. A green glint in her eyes held mine with a look of shock and hurt. She leaned down, her breasts nodding, grazing my chest. I held one of them still so the nipple could not escape, could not die. Ever. She leaned back again, taking her breasts away. In my palm I felt a slight weight. I lifted my hand gingerly, cupped. A pink-orange egg rested in my hand. A faint pulse against my palm. I sat up. Angela had fallen out of the boat again. I sat up, looked down at the egg. Not an egg. A scarlet hummingbird blinked, held me with its eye, my face, my eyes reflected in the eye of the bird. Wings leapt to a buzz. Then gone. Not gone. A red speck darted across a blue cloud. I put my hand to my ear to hold Angela's voice in my head, still harsh, still warm with a devotion only jealousy knows.

I can't believe you would do this to me. Her eyes had turned steel gray.

Don't believe it. I shook my head.

I must. I see it all so clearly.

So you think. I tapped her temple with my fingertips. It's all here. Assumptions.

Of course you would say that.

I slid my hand into her hair and cradled the back of her skull. Maybe I could heat some thoughts loose. Send them into the clouds.

Angela pulled away, took my wrist and placed my hand in my lap. You are fixated on her, Daniel.

Angela, it was nine years ago.

The canoe lifted slowly. I heard water dropping from the hull onto the lake, onto lily pads. I stretched and looked over the side. Two giant wooden wings had sprouted from the sides of the canoe. We slid forward at a slight incline. The clouds tilted, moved with us, flew alongside us. Escorts. We could not become lost. Twenty feet across, each wing. Over forty feet of wingspan. Plenty to hold us aloft. The wings rose and fell on the wind, their wooden joints creaking a crooked tune. I lay down, my head on the rumpled windbreaker, and pressed my ear into the fabric. Searching for Angela, her lapis eyes, her elegant hands, her hipbones, ribs, collar bones.

Nine years. Nineteen years. What difference does that make? You found her again.

She found me.

What difference does that make? Angela shook her head sadly.

Okay, okay. Let's say your imagination believes . . .

Intuition. There's a difference. She stared at me, her eyes green.

Say your assumption is right. Say I did sleep with her. One more time. To give a memory one last breath.

No. You gave it the first breath of new life. In your heart, my heart, our heart.

Her eyes would not let me go. And I would not look away. I whispered. We have many love ghosts. This one will never be made flesh again.

She looked away. If only I could know that.

You must. Angela, Lorel is dead.

The clouds had turned yellow. The edges had overtaken and swallowed the blue. A fragment of the highest cloud tore away from its mother, turning ivory, then bone. Unseen forces hollowed out two dark holes. Eye sockets. Lavender rain dripped below the eyes, the eyes that could not see, and streaked the cloud, falling earthward. Leaving teeth.

Dead? Angela placed her hand on my lips.

Dead to me. I muttered through her fingers. I held her wrist and bit her forefinger. Gently. A nibble. A love bite yes.

Angela started to smile but caught herself. For good? She pulled her hand away and rested it on my shoulder.

Yes. I reached up and pressed my hand on hers. Angela, you have crowded her out. Out of me.

She glanced away, then looked again into my dark eyes with her blue.

I leaned in and kissed the corner of her mouth. It's true. I learned ...

You learned?

Nothing. Nothing had ever been between us. Lorel and me.

Nothing. She closed her eyes slowly, erasing blue flecked with amber sparks.

Ever.

Angela opened her eyes. The sparks had melted. I believe you. She slid her hand to my neck and pulled me to her lips.

The canoe rocked in a sudden gust. Angela tumbled overboard. I fell back against the scratch of sand on aluminum and held on tightly to the gunwales. The vessel slipped through the turbulence. And in the sudden calm the geese came flying back. If only Angela were one of that silent formation of calling birds. She could break free of the flock and circle down to me.

Struggling against the waves, Angela clung to the canoe, her fingers splotched white with the strain. I sat up and pulled her out of the water, out of the air. Into the canoe. Safe. Leonardo's wings creaked with a wheezing heartbeat. Above us, yellow clouds threaded through the many formations of geese flying north, east, south, west. Angela sat cross-legged before me. Lavender tears. Bone light spread around us, backlighting her face. I touched her cheek. She reached out to touch mine. Her hair, in a wild tangle, flared around her face, waves of ebony gone white, alive with lightning.

The skull-jarring concussions of thunder filled me, my viscera, my veins. Broken shreds of muscle rose like tattered rags into the light that consumed the sky. And from far above, black clouds rained down bright shards of bone.

About the Author

Malcolm Glass

Malcolm Glass has been writing and publishing poems, stories, and plays for seventy years. His next book, "Her Infinite Variety," a triple-hybrid collection, will be released in 2024 by Finishing Line Press

Read more work by Malcolm Glass.