THE BARGAIN, Part 3
“Next stop: Germany! Now!” We flew above a deer chewing on wild cherries by crossroads.
Robert Johnson’s Crossroad played in my head… “ Standin’ at the crossroad, baby, risin’ sun goin’ down…”
We kept flying: over the moss-covered headstone, mirror-like river with green glowworms in the reeds, an abandoned cemetery with Hebrew inscriptions —
— a small dollhouse town with Nutcracker backdrop houses, all pink, honey, and lavender. I saw a blonde girl in an apron outside a bakery with a tray of aromatic pastry and dense coffee, an old woman pouring chocolate syrup over the creamy berry ice-cream…
Yet, I could not get the visions of exploding walls, cartilages and brains out of my mind…
To calm down, I counted castles: twelve, eighteen, twenty-six…
In front of the thirty-first castle, we saw a garden full of naked men and women. They rocked in hammocks, read on striped towels, splashed in pools, and sipped bright-colored drinks. I could see every roll of fat, every mole, every hair and every pimple.
“Ew!” I said. “Why are they naked?”
“It’s just a spa, Mistress. In Germany, people like nude beaches and spas. But if you dislike — ”
And before I knew it, the garden exploded, flesh and blood on the grass.
The dragon roared and raced away over train tracks.
A teenage boy jumped off the train, blood dripping off an ax in his hand. A police car chased him.
I saw a small fire of a gunshot and a shiny bullet like a bumble-bee. It pierced the man’s back and he fell on his face in glass and dirt. His blood mixed with the blood flowing from his ax.
Everywhere down below we saw explosions, gun shots, little figurines, waving arms, jerking legs, twisting mouths and grimacing as if pulled by some invisible strings.
“Enough!” I cried. “I can’t look at it anymore! I want to go elsewhere — ”
“As you wish!” answered the dragon.
He stormed upward and onward, away from the ant-hill down below. We passed glittering mountain peaks. Blue lines behind curved. Lights trembled. Stars sparkled.
The soft breeze made me feel drunk, high, weightless, giddy. The wings fluttered, now pure white, like freshly washed sheets.
From this height I saw the whole planet, a turning globe covered by mushroom-like growths, giant eggs, pendulous swellings, moving rivulets and crevices, melting and morphing magma, molten metal, mercurial creases and grooves, writing rings, slow waves.
This plasma ocean rose and fell like Jell-O, enveloped in a filmy mist. Its milky surface, U-shaped, like a glistening back of a giant white whale, looked like a human brain.
Soon it blurred together and shrunk to the size of a glass marble and then a freckle on the blue-black nothingness. I heard a forlorn note vibrating in the distance — a longing, a needle in the temple, a fear of being alone in the dark.
There was no god in this glimmering universe — that was clear.
“You don’t say,” the dragon’s voice said in my head. “Just because you don’t see something does not mean that it does not exist! I don’t exist, for example, yet you are riding me into eternity.”
“Liar!” I cried, “If there was a god he wouldn’t let any of this happen — Inquisition, explosions, terrorists, fires! What kind of god would allow pain and suffering like this?”
“A loving parent? A strict but just father?” answered the dragon. “Someone who really cares for you and wants to challenge you, to test you, give you a chance to grow up to your humanity like Jesus on the cross, like Abraham killing Isaak? Have you thought of a god as a father who abandons you because he loves you? Did you think about this possibility?”
“You, it is you, who are causing all the evil,” I said.
“Oh, dear,” sighed the dragon. “Logic is not your strength. If he does not exist who created me?! My identity depends on this opposition. He created me to do all the sanitary work, to clean the world from filth and scum. So he can keep his hands clean. I’m just a garbage man. But don’t let you get too confused. We know who really is in charge in this space government!”
A bloody ax flew past us and disappeared into the open space.
“None of this exists! I cried. “You are just my nightmare, I am sick, I am asleep. I want to be home, on my couch, eating fried potatoes with onions! With my boyfriend!”
“You give up that easy?” answered the monster. “Listen!”
And the sound of cello swam in the fog… Distant city lights gleaned through clouds, calling me.
The dragon roared and fell nose downward.
NOW AND THEN
As we got closer I saw snow, frozen ponds, bare trees and marble palaces.
“Vienna! 1938! 1945!” barked the dragon.
Stone statues stared with blank eyes. I saw synagogues collapsing and a Ferris wheel on fire. Smoke and ashes covered the white marble.
Music strangled me, choked me.
We went faster and faster, countries blinked by.
“The Danube! Slovakia! Hungary!”
We followed the curves and bends of the river leaving behind castles, hills, green curly banks, towns sleeping in spider webs and dust. Over the red roofs, we flew and black lakes…
It seemed to me that the soil was saturated with blood and rot, and some terrible writing started to slowly ooze from underneath it. I couldn’t read it.
Someone tapped on my shoulder. I looked up: next to me flew my dead father. He looked pale, yet healthy and happy, the way he used to look before he got sick. He settled on the dragon’s wing and smiled.
“Netta,” he said. “Listen up. I came to have a serious conversation. This might be the time for you to think about moving countries again. I know you like America but America’s not doing well. The disease is spreading. Remember what I always told you? How in 1937 the smart Jews ran from Europe to America and survived and that the dumb Jews — my grandparents — stayed and died? You know my mother survived by pure chance. Time to move, Nettochka.”
“True, but how come you never left Russia, papa?” I said. “Why is that?”
He looked at me with his sad eyes and sighed.
“You know how your grandmother never wanted to leave the graves behind? And I never could leave her? What do you have in America? All the graves are back there — ”
He waved his yellow hand towards where we were heading — towards the East. A terrible storm cloud and murky darkness approached fast.
It was a red, dark thundercloud, and I knew it was Russia.
It covered us like fog, like mist, like twister, and I felt droplets on my skin. I licked my dry lips: salt and dirt. The cloud was of blood; my hands turned red.
“Goodbye, Netta,” said my father. “Move — before it’s too late.”
He waved and jumped off the wing into the river of blood behind us.
We turned around and headed back West.
No, my father was not dumb, I thought. Maybe, like the “dumb” Jews of Europe, he was in love with the dark alleys, decaying castles, shiny cobblestones, old graves and didn’t want a new love. Maybe they all were sad and tired and full of love. Maybe these blurry graffiti down below read “love of land” in an extinct language.
I felt stinging in my chest as I looked down at the patchy bright tapestry, at the hellishly vibrant and intensely detailed landscape. Slowly I realized that a gauzy film covered everything. A slightly-discernible colored veil quivered over the land. It was a map: frayed and decaying yet alive and changing. Dust particles glittered and twirled; formed currents of colors; streamed, trembled and weaved into a luminescent atlas.
Here it was, my love! The dark red clashing with the shimmering gold and the lush turquoise! The fat arrows of armies curved, lingered and then burst through the bouncy membranes of borders. Like sperm into an ovum.
Then the borders decomposed, dissolved and merged like sand paintings in the wind, like a psychedelic lava lamp.
Terrible and alive, Europe grimaced and moved as if giving birth and dying at the same time, in agony and orgasmic ecstasy.
Netta Yampolsky is a staff writer for WanderingStars.com and a freelance travel blogger based in Venice Beach, California. When she is not busy exploring the unknown, she drinks too much gas station hazelnut coffee, smokes Vogues, reads Goethe, Dostoevsky, Kundera, and works on a film script “The Fall of Empire.” When she doubts her destiny she meditates on her last tattoo: “I do not bargain.” You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.