Nolani coughed. Sand? What? It tasted awful, oily salty brine-y… tangy… citrus-y? Like some disgusting margarita that sat out all night in the heat by the ocean and then all the next day and then all the years it took until it was nothing but rocks and chemical lemon dust in the bottom of the glass, which itself hadn’t actually ever been washed from the first day her mother had put it to use in their slum cantina. The day… Well, her father would never have bothered to wash it after that anyways.

As she coughed it out she quickly became aware of a smell layered over all the taste. Metal. Rust. Like she was sitting next to her father’s angle grinder back home as he ate away at the corrosion that grew over everything in that salty air. The determined attention which he threw himself into punishing the cars and lampposts and street signs and junk he valued so much.

She looked wildly around half hoping half fearing that she was waking up in his garage after yet another night of trying to drown her feelings into oblivion at every cantina as if by visiting them all she could avoid visiting the one she feared. Blinking the sand out of her eyes and squinting to see the familiar gaudy bull’s horns in the corner…. But no as the sand fell out the bleary view resolved itself instead into a craggy rock formation, or wait, no, was it a plant? Grey and piling like stone but obviously organic in some way. The whole world was crags and peaks and gravel and grime and carbon scoring from some recent blast or impact or who knows what. Like some vision from an icon where the stones sloped and squared impossibly shaped and nothing like the dirty littered beaches and slum streets she was used to.

She pushed herself up slowly noting with surprise and then alarm the pain all along her left side, her cheek and shoulder raw and oozing in places. The sand clung to her with some sort of static like the styrofoam bits after she’d unwrapped the cheap candles they’d sell to tourists, anything they could to eek a few more bucks out of them. Inches of grime shifting underneath her knees and feet as she stood, giving away too easily as she stumbled to her feet. Almost like some sort of tiny feathers or powder sitting atop metal plate that reverberated with a dull vibration despite the seemingly thick layer of powdery padding on top.

And yet, it made no noise. As she paused to listen, at first the only sound was a crackling and popping of… electrical fire? And, no, there was her favorite song she’d play. Her one comfort. On the juke box… Coming from the ship she had stolen from him. His life’s work. The thing he’d scavenged all the metal for and planned to use to escape Her death. She’d taken it and used it instead. Leaving him in actuality. Mirroring the way she’d felt he left her after her mother died. She’d wanted to leave him to rot. Wanted him to see how every day when he’d thought he was grinding rust off of metal, he was really grinding layers off of her heart. She’d wanted the torment to eat away at him. No angle grinder with which to heal the wound.

Only now as she heard the song, tasted the salt, smelled the rust, felt the… it felt like snow. Memories of a cabin. He’d taken her to the mountains. He must have spent every extra bit he’d saved to drive their beat up muffler-less junker up into the mountains to stay in that shack. And he’d played the guitar for her as he wept silently for their love. And she’d pretended to be asleep. She’d hardly looked at him the whole week. She’d never helped a bit. Never once taken off the holo-visor. Never picked up the cloth and the oil off the bench between them and polished the freshly ground metal. She’d just sat in that garage they used for a house behind the bar while he slaved away on that two-seat “escape pod” as he’d called it. She’d never bothered to wash the glass. Just shook it out behind the counter, pretending, not caring, and pouring another watered down margarita while he bussed the tables and did everything he could to keep her shielded by the bar at least.

In a panic she realized who had thrown away what, and as she rushed over to the crashed ship she’d never bothered to learn to land, nor paid attention while he tried in his own way to show her how to build, she realized who it was who was really left to rot.

Originally written in about 15 minutes for a writing exercise during Artefact 2020. We were tasked with writing 5 paragraphs, one for each 5 senses, about someone "on an alien planet". I spent another 30 or so minutes cleaning it up, and here it is.

When given the assignment, the words "Nolani coughed" immediately appeared in my head. I practically fled the room seeking a quiet space to find out "who is this Nolani? Why is she coughing?". Turns out she's a coastal-dwelling, dark complexioned (South American?), twenty-ish girl.

I just looked and discovered Nolani is Hawaiin for "Beautiful one from heaven", which seems to appropriate/accurate to be co-incidental. I have no idea how that happened, but it makes me almost afraid of my brain.

January 30, 2020

Louisville KY

St. Michael's Orthodox Church

© Christopher McCulloh.RSS