D r e a m S p a r k l e
Volume 1, Number 2
AN UNPREDICTABLE DECAY - Chapter 1
In one of my past lives I was a goblin named
Ookatay, a warrior. Shadou was our fearless leader,
but I was most cunning, wise beyond my years.
Unfortunately, there are some things in life that we are just required to do. That’s what I thought as I leaned all of my body weight into the door to the women’s locker room. With the expertise of an FBI agent, I navigated the maze in avoidance of unsightly, naked old women and giant, pink breasts. Amusingly enough, I never outgrew that habit.
My muddy winter boots occupied one locker and my shoulder bag took another. We had left the house fifteen minutes late again and I still hadn’t changed clothes. Gripping my towel between my teeth, I struggled to switch out flowered panties for the embarrassingly high-cut swim suit without exposing an inch of skin. Although the towel was kiddy-sized, and not a plush monstrosity like the other kids had, it still dragged in the puddles of pool water thanks to my tactless maneuver.
The pool deck was a mess of shivering toddlers followed by pudgy white boys in too-long swim trunks. My teacher had just finished attendance. I scurried after the group on the balls of my feet towards the diving blocks, avoiding her scornful gaze. She was convinced that I must have undiagnosed asthma, and it was to my advantage to let her go on believing that.
Direction 1: Get in the water. I stepped onto the lip of the pool and sucked in my breath as cold water lapped at my feet. The girl next to me leaped effortlessly into the neon depth. Pretty Boy did a showy cannonball which, as I recall, was against the rules at that level. I knelt on one knee and tucked my head down between my extended arms. From the corner of my eye I watched my classmates dive one by one as I teetered back and forth causing my pressed palms to dip in and out of the water. In a rising panic I threw myself forward.
Heavy, course hair, like the kind that ran in my family, will pull you under. If you grow it out, as every good girl should, it would need a flotation device of its own. The wild, black mane danced in the wake of my flailing limbs. When I finally opened my eyes, I saw light as though it came from every direction. I cherished the memory because the lake only looked like that for a single summer, and never again. Its water once glowed in angelic hues of green upon violet.
A strong current pulled at my feet and riled up the sandy bottom. I blindly reached out for her stream of feathery fins, and gripped the rippling muscles with every surface of my body. Her scales had become smoother over the years and increasingly luminous. I rarely caught a glimpse of her cuttingly sharp face as it swerved wildly ahead in the murky distance. She moved with a nauseating, circular fluidity like a desert serpent caught in a sandstorm. The speed alone was terrifying, but I made it a point to never complain. A life for a life.
“You crazy turd face!” Nala shrieked, yanking up a clump of my hair in her deathly grip. I gulped for air and splashed water everywhere in an attempt to sit upright in the bathtub. I had left out the bath mat on purpose only to slip and fall back, banging my little bones about the ceramic. A heavy patter of rain calmed my excitement.
“How- I see no bubbles for fifty seconds! You gone be drowning,” Nala continued but began to settle back against the wall, taking post, but losing patience. “Don’t tell when you catch ammonia in that cold water.”
I had collapsed my arms over the tub’s edge and tried spitting up. Nala glared at my mischievous smirk and babbled on in incoherence.
“Ssh, wait,” I croaked.
Even the tinkling noise of daily life was muted by the torrential storm that plagued the lake. However, there was an odd silence that pierced the room where a moment before, and nearly an hour leading up to that, had been filled with the far-off barking and bickering that was normal for a Monday night.
“Madame!” The sudden sound of wood on wood sent a wave of alarm through my veins and the yelling commenced, only this time they had moved closer. No doubt my mother had trailed after my father to his room like an animal lured to its demise.
Hearing one disjointed argument after the other had become altogether commonplace. It was the rising hysteria in her voice that had me on my feet in an instant. Ignoring my towel completely, I jumped into my night shirt and nearly split the side open with an elbow.
“Nala, don’t be scared. Don’t be scared Nala.” She nervously circled my wet feet, absorbing water into her thin fur.
There was a buzz of commotion at the foot of the door when I tried opening it soundlessly. A couple demons scurried into hiding behind the toilet, as usual. The remainder of my rat-like posse followed me to the top of the unlit stairway in a hushed murmur. I knelt down to their height and we inched down the dark steps until the scene came into view.
My mother paced awkwardly down the strip of light created by his doorframe. I’ve never said she lost a fight gracefully. Being at a loss for words and stammering, she was oblivious to the rush of water streaming across the foyer tiles from beneath the front door.
Nala hissed from the landing, “Do something,” and perhaps the apparent flood was what she really referred to. I craned my neck back to assess the hallway for ideas. The second floor had remained littered with toys and stuffed animals ever since my father had relocated to the guest room.
A thundering splash of water and cursing jolted me to attention just in time to witness a swivel chair tumble into the kitchen. My bare toes gripped at the dampened carpet fiber. Without need for direction, an assembled pile of teddy bears and bunnies formed before me. I turned my focus to my demons at work, no longer able to stomach my mother’s cracking voice. Her threats were somehow pleading and pathetic.
A well-planned distraction could ruin a poorly played game of war. Bear 1 made its target, and a flurry of fuzzy animals rained on the battle field until the ammunition was drained.
I can’t say I have acted so daring ever since then. And I can’t say I uttered a sound the entire time, but come to think of it, silence has a way of shadowing memories. Perhaps the water had begun to recede, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch. My mother was terrified at the thought of even being submerged to the knees. I secretly shared such qualms, and so, never understood what convinced her to have a home on an island. Although the idea could hardly have been hers, I suspected it was the only way he would build our mansion of a house.
Her retreat, too, went unnoticed, and the tension suddenly thinned with the trill of the telephone. Oh, a device of unspeakable relief. In a more practical sense it meant that the lines were intact, and thus our connection with the real world. It’s a shame no one picked up.
Little Nova, completely unperturbed, had started skipping down the outside of the oak rail, stopping to dangle over the edge with his plumed hat in hand. He meowed on, “God save the gracious Queen. Long live the no-no-noble Queen,” and Niko, dislodging from my side, followed suit without hesitation. I had never encouraged the younger demons’ reckless behavior, but admired their audacity.
My troop descended, tip-toed across the moonlit warzone, and approached the guest room. Only a dim glow radiated from beneath the heavy door. No evidence of movement was spotted except for the sporadic creaking of the door itself. It grew louder, giving way to a nearly human gurgle.
Someone who has seen a Baby Buddha would probably find Podi less than entertaining. The door’s hardwood grain began to warp and his form emerged, head first. I rolled my eyes away in anticipated disgust as a hanging lantern bloomed into life. It highlighted his unsightly bulbous belly which protruded the most.
“Once upon a time I was a worshipped deity carved into the helm of a ship of cutthroat pirates,” Podi chortled in his disjointed, nasal voice. How satisfying it would have been to nail a jewel through the belly button of his royal, joyful self.
“Wait a sec, you naked fool.” I crossed my arms to dramatize my impatience. “Name your game or let me pass once and for all.”
His already squashed face puffed up with indignation. “Alright, make me laugh. Just you try.” His chest sank into the door as though he was settling back for a movie marathon, a smile already creeping into the corners of his shapeless lips.
I held a foot out to prevent any of the others from advancing because this was my battle. In reality, no one was interested in meddling in these risky propositions and they jostled back and forth nervously. I snatched my weapon of choice off of little Nova’s head, his prized green, felt hat. Tugging the feather insert free, I spun around wielding the item more threatening than my only knock-knock joke. Nova whimpered.
The guest room was hardly apt to house one man’s lifetime of odds and ends, never mind someone incapable of throwing out grocery receipts and expired coupons. I pressed into the door gently anticipating any number of obstructions. Poking my head through the narrow gap felt like lying wide-eyed in front of a hot space heater. My demons scattered. The temperature was unbearable. He was not well, which was nothing new, but I could have seen it coming. Learning to play his sympathy game took time to master. It was a bi-annual, end-of-semester event known as the Shot Ego Showdown. The most basic game play was being aware of his dreaded student evaluation deadline. From there, my plan was simply one of evasion.
In the dark, he sat brooding beneath a desk lamp with his nose buried in lab reports. On second glance I realized that he had drifted into another slumped-over snooze. Outlined in matching streams of sweat, his leathery, stubbled jaw hung so heavily against his chest that it displaced to one side, promising the risk of drool. He shuddered awake.
“Iginla at the point. Steered away by Joseph, and it’s off the end of his stick. Poke check just inside the line. They’re trying to hang on. Ten seconds left, that’s all.” The crowd waved wildly. Balanced on a banana box, our fuzzy, little black and white began to whine. I expertly adjusted its rabbit ear antennas.
“What was the score?” No answer.
Squinting to make out the swirling jerseys, I hummed along to Coach’s Corner as Don Cherry charged straight into the latest controversy. “And Air Canada, you should be ashamed of yourself. By the way, where are their corporate headquarters? We know where – Montreal.”
Sitting on a pile of socks and cheap ties was making the best of a bad situation. I hated hockey. It moved too quickly for my eyes. The phone rang.
“Chih. All this man talks about is damn Montreal and they’re not even in the playoffs.” He sat upright with an outraged scowl intensified by his long shadow crawling up the wall. It stopped ringing.
“Where’s the newspaper assignment I gave you? The Sunday one costs twice as much. Don’t tell me you lost it already.”
The change in topic jarred me. I stumbled to my feet and stepped on a graphing calculator poking out from under the bed. It tickled delightfully. The number of potential toys in this room was endless. I could hardly be held responsible for a cutout article about political unrest on the other side of the world. Although I feigned interest in searching, the lake lured me to the window. I imagined her vaulting up to playfully gulp at the rolling fog. Well, anyways, that’s what I would do if I were the size of a whale.
Nestled in the corner of the window frame was a little, white Buddha statue. Carved from glimmering granite, he sat forgotten and dusty. I scratched at the glass behind him, mesmerized by the frosted halo encircling his body.
“And I called that teacher of yours this morning. Whatever the hell school taught that woman to waste time on field trips never showed her how to answer a damn phone call. Didn’t I tell you to ask her to move you up?”
Gripping the windowsill, I stammered, “They’re just different spelling words. It’s no big deal. The other kids –“
“That assignment was to prove to her….Underline the vocabulary in red and make sure you use a ruler. Where’s that pen?” He began sifting through the desk clutter, pausing only to throw me a thin sleeve of Forget Me Not seeds that occasionally showed up on the doorstep with the catalogues. Narrowly skimming past my cheek, it bounced off the statue.
Wiping his brow, he took a moment to recall. “My mother’s favorites. She grew them everywhere like weeds.”
I carried the packet to the closet and shoveled my way through the heap of putrid, yellowed lab coats entangled on the floor. The jammed closet doors dug into my ribs. Somewhere in the dark corner was one of my stashes of the world’s unwanted free bees and perfume samples. Occasionally he came across a sandwich or sausage link in the mix, but I normally found better hiding places for such horrors.
“Why don’t you just plant ‘em?” I asked over my shoulder, already out of breath. That was a stupid question. It took the past two years to map out a garden walkway and sprinkler system. “Just planting,” didn’t exist here, and a long lecture was bound to ensue.
He stood up revealing the circle of bare threads in a once navy bathrobe right where his bony bum had sat for years. “I’ve been thinking,” he mumbled in a continued attempt to unearth a red pen.
I crouched down and retreated deeper into the closet, behind the sliding door. The heat was enough to toast me on all the edges. Maybe he’d forget I was here. Maybe he’d forget how much the Sunday paper cost.
“I should adopt a Sri Lankan child. He would be so happy to have me for a father. If I asked one of our school boys to help me mark these lab reports, he would say, ‘Yes, Mr. Wijesekera.’” Looking back at me, he tilted his head, and blinked in dramatic mockery of his imaginary boy child.
I felt the tickle under my heel before the stench of rotting flesh really became apparent. I was paralyzed. Out of the depth of the closet, unraveled from the lab coats, rolled out an oozing, God-forsaken, little creature. A mutilated, bat-like head lolled about, and the tiny, clenched frog fingers were nearly human. It was contorted backwards as though weighed down by the enormous, fiery eyes going cloudy with decay. I had never before witnessed my father’s demons, let alone made sense of how they came into existence.
Conventionally, I named the creature Alpha 1, and never spoke of it to anyone, not even my demons. My knowledge of nuclear reactions didn’t go beyond my father’s research work. It wasn’t until much later that I understood the cause for these emissions and the bizarre energy that surrounded their creation.
“Over there, girls your age run their household. They cook and organize everyone. Who is this, Sunethra used to dress me for school and buy the bread every morning.” He sucked in his breath. “Such fresh bread with little gulla we used to pick out.” I could hear the smile in his voice even as he grimaced at the thought.
Bounding out of the closet from all fours, I catapulted myself onto the bed like a dog struck on the shoulders with a cane. Tiny objects filled the disheveled bedding. In my attempt to avoid them, I nearly tumbled straight into the most treasured toy around.
My father and I were building a giant, bamboo-framed kite with the most delicate pastel tissue paper. I remember how it was propped on the end of the bed, against the wall, like a permanent fixture. It never got damaged because he slept on the edge of the bed and I only occupied the top half of the mattress once I, too, became a permanent fixture.
The desk was pushed up against the foot of the bed, but was indistinguishable as a separate piece of furniture. Items of clothing, unopened letters, and all matter of chaos spilled between the divide. Seated next to the kite, I cleared out a hole and wiggled my legs under the desktop.
“Daddy, can I help you mark? How was your day today?”
He scratched his ear with two fingers and paused to watch me. It had been a few weeks since I had last trimmed his ear hair, and the thought made me anxious. Within a single afternoon I had broken the clippers by dissecting everything organic in my sight. My eyes flitted over him uncertainly and he was still watching the fixture across from him fidget like a mutt with fleas.
“Why, that woman is giving me shit again.”
“Which one?” I mistakenly thought out loud, to which he erupted into his queer, cackling laughter. If I acted quickly, I could have taken credit for the apparent joke with my unconvincing grin.
Returning to his solemn self, he shoved the stack of graded reports towards me for finalizing, and dropped his wristlet watch on top. Usually it would tick until morning, but maybe the heat had gotten to it. I wound the knob as far as it could go and announced that it was 10:13. My favorite calculator also had to be smacked into life. I was famous for disassembling it in school with tweezers and mini screw drivers like a circus act. A full recovery was unlikely at this point. 23+39+27+35+36+29+7+ uh oh.
“You know, look at these. This girl, I can’t even read what is written. ‘Dear Dave, I have not been able to study much because of work recently. Is there any way you can take this into consideration?’”
23+39+27+355+36+ uh oh.
“That woman assigns me lectures based on evaluations from this load of donkeys. That’s how this Canadian system works.” He often paused to repeat the word, “Canadian,” and snarled with all his teeth. “They come there just to hanky panky, and the girls are worse than the boys. In minus forty degree weather, they’re still coming in short T-shirts and applying lipstick for a chromatography lab. How much of that chemical do you think they eat off their mouths in a lifetime, and then complain that their hair is falling out?”
23+39….Gosh, it was impossible to concentrate. The phone’s ringtone was more distracting than TV static. I fudged the numbers and drew Walmart smiley faces next to each grade. Good job! Better luck next time!
We had to make up names for our soccer teams today. Tyler kept on yelling, ‘Red Sox, Red Sox,’ and Mrs Inhaber had to tell him to shut up. A better quote came to mind.
“Mrs Inhaber got mad at me today. I said there are shapes with more than eight sides, like a dodecahedron. She said, ‘Not everyone’s fathers have a PhD.’ But you never told me that. I knew it all by myself.”
“Madame, you didn’t ask me what happened.”
“I told you my evaluations come out today.”
You tell me a lot of things. “Oh yeah.”
“Here, analyze this. In fact, read it out loud. I want to hear what your opinion is.”
The page was confusing and there were lots of big words. My insides churned. One should always remember the evaluation deadline. It’s like the chemist’s tax day that seldom involved a rebate.
“I find it hard to follow his lectures because of his ac…accent? Dave is often late for class. His ac…accent is difficult to understand. What are they talking about? You don’t have an accent.” Although, I’ll hand it to them, I was dropped off late to school every day. Sometimes I’d catch him saying words funny or really slow if he was nervous. Iodine, for example.
In the time that it took for me to formulate the perfect opinion, the phone went off again. He launched out of his seat, ripping the cord from the wall, and accidentally taking out the desk lamp in the process.
In hindsight, it’s amusing to think of myself wedged into place in the black of that room. I pretended not to hear the cursing as paper took flight and something snapped beneath clumsy feet. The image of a bleeding, red pen making its grand appearance on his carpet pleased me.
“If it’s money they want they can just forget about asking me. All these rich men sitting on their thrones think they can dictate everyone’s lives. Well, not me.” He resumed his position.
“Lucky and the Big Guns, eh?” We had labels for everyone.
“Yes, indeed, and I’m sure this master plan of theirs will never work.” Then he lowered his voice to a whisper, although we were most definitely alone in the house. Whispering is great for dramatic effect. It makes the listener believe that you are divulging an honest truth to which only they are privy. “Your mother was good friends with Tissa. Did you know that?” He had an uncanny way of popping his eyes out that made it appear he was coming closer to you.
I squinted back in defense. “Friends with who?”
“Why, Tissa is this one, Lucky’s brother, in Vancouver. He’s running that temple in No-Man’s Land, BC. He must be preaching to the bears.” His cackling resumed.
My favorite story was about Lord Buddha stopping the crazed elephant, Nalagiri, in her tracks. The thought of a monk taming our unruly Canadian wilderness was laughable. I could just picture a bald, brown man being chased down a mountainside and tripping over his tightly wound robes. The rhythmic slapping of his slippers would be the perfect accompaniment to his desperate mantra.
“Lucky assumes we’ll all jump on his bandwagon and throw money at his feet to build a Sri Lankan, Buddhist temple. He’ll be sorry to see how impossible it is to build anything from our country in this cow town. Why, our foolish women are already deciding on how to feed the hamuduruwo. Ha, what hamuduruwo, and from where, I don’t know. We bring one from Sri Lanka and he’ll disappear under our noses, claiming refugee status.”
“Ha, Daddy, we can steal one of Tissa’s hum-durus!” The satisfaction in this idea was mutual.
“Can I be a hum-duru when I grow up?” As soon as the words were out, I regretted saying them. I liked having long hair and stealing cookies and making squeaks with my runners to annoy people.
“Mm.” He acted pleased, but in reality, there was no such thing as a nun who could contribute to society.