BOOK FOR THE DEAD
The landscape of central California—the obscenely blue sky, the parched, yellow hills, the dark green vineyards clinging to the earth—and the bus moving past or through at a steady, mechanical pace, like a projector running through film to make a moving image appear on the screen: the hills, the vineyards, the rows and rows of fields, the cloudless sky. And hanging over everything, the impending disaster: the earthquake, the breaking off of the coast, the nuclear threat, the world flattening—something of that scale—maybe the sun has multiplied, or the water turned to blood, or monsters discovered in the deep sea, maybe the world is just a simulation, but it must be a conflict bigger than our hero, the young man or woman on the bus, looking out the window, going to some kind of camp for survivors. Maybe the disaster is that night has ended, there is night no longer, or that the moon has flown away, or it has drifted too close to the earth, causing floods in other parts of the world, but drought in California, depopulating the region, Los Angeles and San Francisco wiped out, only this barren, central landscape left. Maybe the people on the bus don’t even know what’s happening except that they are on a bus and it is moving.
There is this reoccurring dream I have in which I am swimming in a large swimming pool at the edge of the ocean, but when I start to tire I realize that I’m swimming in the ocean, there is no pool, and then I am filled with fear, fear of drowning, but also of depth, of the vastness of the ocean, and knowing that I will not be able to cross it, knowing that I will die, if not immediately, then at some later point, I will die swimming in the ocean, and the ocean will never end, and only I will. I feel this way sometimes in waking life too, even when I am not swimming but only standing at the edge of the water, on a dry beach, and sometimes I think it would be better not to have dreams at all, not to have seen the Pacific Ocean or a sunrise over it, or even to look at a tree very closely, because these things make me feel small and young and dead.
I don’t know why but when I am feeling sad I like to fit myself into the smallest space I can find, the smaller the better, and I wonder if this is why we put the dead in coffins, so they feel safe and protected and comforted and less alone. I know this is why we swaddle babies, so they can remember what it felt like inside the womb. I move my bed from the wall and crawl into the gap there, or sit at the corner of the shower, where two walls meet, sit with my knees to my chest and the hot water falling from the ceiling like my own personal rain. I feel comforted then. I feel like a baby.
I want to grow my hair very long, as long as it will grow, and lie down somewhere I shouldn’t—in the gutter, by a storm drain, or on the beach at high tide, letting the water lap my body like a tongue. I want my long hair to be matted with leaves, seaweed, shells, and general debris. I want to feel the cold seep into my spine. I want to be alone inside myself. Is this a death wish or a mad wish? To be unloved, like Ophelia, to die mysteriously, the literary ideal for a woman? I would prefer to live, I think, live to see the explosions on the horizon when the bombs are dropped, when the asteroid or the moon or another planet or an earthquake—I would like to live through the disaster and write about it in a book everyone will be too dead to read, the last book of the dead, a book for the dead, and so many people having died, more than people having lived, I wonder why more books have not been written for ghosts.
What do the dead want? To be remembered? To pass onto the next life? Laughter is the best defense against a curse, so maybe the dead want to laugh. Maybe the dead want to live again, for just one day, to wake up to the smell of rain having fallen in the night, or rain in the air waiting to fall, to taste the wind, crisp and living, to watch the leaves turn but never fall, then to watch them fall but never finish falling, never leaving the trees bare. The lakes cold and silent and smooth as paper. The sky a soft grey. To live one day forever, to lie still and pretend to be dead, waiting for the one kiss, waiting to fall in love or to die, falling, but never having fallen, like an infinite series approaching the limit but never touching it.
THIRII MYO KYAW MYINT is the author of The End of Peril, the End of Enmity, the End of Strife, A Haven, forthcoming from Noemi Press in early 2018. Her work has appeared in Caketrain, Sleepingfish, The Collagist, The Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and has been translated into Burmese and Lithuanian. She is the recipient of a Fulbright grant to Spain, a residency at Hedgebrook, and fellowships from Tin House and Summer Literary Seminars. She is currently a PhD candidate in creative writing at the University of Denver, and the Reviews/Translations editor of the Denver Quarterly.