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Slippery Elm

♦ Chuyển ngữ: 1 bình luận ♦ 17.07.2009

To Cookie

Slippery Elm Branches

You think it’s far away, when it has spread all over the world, though only near borders. You think it belongs to another town, a deadly omen, but always distant, isolate. You think it brings pain, but like a dream it sinks in softly, its presence less than a mosquito bite, an ant’s sting. Its horror lies in its closeness, closer than all your loved ones. It presses against you, on top of you. It slips right inside you.

So it has come. Outside the door stands a sapling elm, pale green, swaying in the early summer breeze. Strangely how the elm stands, a connecting point between the glass-enclosed room and the long, deep path pulling endlessly from his gaze. The elm is the same age as the boy but nobody knows this. The boy is thinking of it. Pain. It assaults his throat, leaving bruised needle marks like imprinted claws.  Nonstop cough. When it arrives, it pushes its whole hand down his windpipe. The boy doubles over and vomits a thin, light stream of fluid, green like the color of pool water deepened by algae. The boy floats open-faced in the pool, weightless. Noises surround him. Sleep floods his eyelids, where the green of algae water, of slippery elm resides.

Can’t predict what will happen when all this green is torn up. Something rips across his brain. Order to disperse. Fingers slip underneath his forehead, inside his brain, stirring, mucking up his soft tissues. His head is sloshed with fluid.  A fluid thick as baby mush. Babies are comatose when they nurse. It slurps. It sucks the viscousness out of his brain. To have someone suck out your brain is pure bliss, like emptying your bladder in one big arching mess. The boy murmurs “suck some more, suck, suck it all out.” It hears his command in a delirium. Nourished by the nutrients from the boy’s brain, it rises up like a giant shadow with tentacles pushing deep, deep into his head.

It becomes a brain-sucking horde.

It has become them.

The beasts run across the Central American plains. They change color from white to black. At dawn they are black like charred meat. At night they become white like bed sheets. They turn gray when the sky is cloudy. They run across the elm forest. They crush trees and plants that block their way. Fallen elms lay strewn in their paths, oozing green sap over the earth. The crazed beasts march on. When they leave the elms are flattened on the forest floor like white strips of fabric. A white strip slowly takes flight, covering the boy’s face, holding in his breath, pushing his breath inside his body, containing his breath.

The entire elm forest becomes a face mask on the boy’s face. He dreams oxygen-deprived dreams.

funny surgical facemasks

The boy sees the horde parading into his room, convening about his bed, staggering. They slip inside him through every available orifice: his mouth, nose, ears, eyes, anus, pores. Four-legged beasts are travelling inside his body. They claw at walls, crevices.  Headless beasts.  Severed heads dripped with gloppy mush; their bloody tissues fanned out like roots.


A doctor’s voice … “a new announcement from WHO, first case in this area, the 1985th person from  California, 33,902th in the U.S., 89,921th in the world ….”

Drops of mercury dissolve in tubes, flowing in a ceaseless simmer. The boy drifts off, thinking who who who, who am I. I am it. It takes shape as a number, rows of numbers flashing nonstop, a flashing point among a chain of numbers, a multitude of tiny red points. It has a code name, a terror that has reached many borders, bringing the whole world inside each body, bonding with everyone. We are the world. He vaguely grasps the meaning of these bonds, but has no name for them.

“…isolate, special quarantine … predict its return … in the Fall, more resistant …”


The boy droops. His body is empty, truly empty, there’s nothing in it. In his dream the slippery elm has run dry of its sap.

Yesterday who carved those numbers on the bark of the young elm out there?

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