The Persistent Two
A potted palm, a blue wall, and a ten-foot ladder. A stagehand in dusty black clothes sits atop the ladder. To mark the scene changes, he tosses a handful of glitter.
STAGEHAND (tossing, announcing): A green midsummer pond.
She has come as a newt, he has come as a tadpole.
NEWT: What are you doing here?
TADPOLE: Swimming. What are you doing here?
NEWT: Reading. This book I got from the library says newts can quench fire. I'm a newt. Do you think I can I quench fire?
TADPOLE: Um, that seems preposterous.
NEWT: Yeah, seriously! Although...
TADPOLE: Have you seen fire?
NEWT: Yes, okay, all right. Silly me.
The newt and the tadpole live in the pond for the rest of their days. The tadpole, like any tadpole that finds itself in a stable environment with an adequate, easily obtained food supply, never grows up into a frog. Sometimes at night the newt sits on the high branch of a drowned tree and watches, from afar, the flicker of campfires.
STAGEHAND (announcing): A Las Vegas emporium.
She has come back as a black pearl, he has come back as a white tiger.
PEARL: Look at how I luster.
TIGER: Look at how I glisten: pure-driven snow, riven with stripes of tiger.
PEARL: Listen to you, jeez. Look at how I glow. They polish me every day with a special cloth.
TIGER: It's like you're always competing. Like everything with you has to be a competition. Look at how I shine! They shampoo me with special shampoo they make for pets with white coats. It has bits of mica in it.
PEARL: If you can't be a precious gem, I guess you have to settle for being a shiny pet.
The pearl rolls in its velvet box, iridescing angrily. The tiger furiously angles his flank, turning his coat to the light for best effect. Michael Jackson enters the emporium, looks around, and silently indicates that he would like to purchase both the pearl and the tiger. They go into a shopping bag and Michael Jackson takes them back to his place in Saudi Arabia.
STAGEHAND (announcing): A three-dimensional field of no color.
She has come back as a yellow shape, he has come back as a blue shape.
They drift towards each other, combine into a green shape which briefly turns into a rainbow explosion, and then recoalesce into two separate shapes, once again yellow and blue.
YELLOW SHAPE: Whew!
BLUE SHAPE: That was nice. That was very nice.
YELLOW SHAPE: Hoo, I better pull myself together.
BLUE SHAPE: Gosh. You're an amazing shade of yellow, and very shapely.
YELLOW SHAPE: I know that already, but thanks.
BLUE SHAPE: I think...I think I'm falling in love with you.
YELLOW SHAPE: Hey, buddy, pump the brakes. We just met.
BLUE SHAPE (joyfully, although his joy is muted by hindsight's regret): I never knew. Love: this is what it feels like.
The yellow shape is about to respond but then a passing banana catches her eye.
YELLOW SHAPE: Wow, check it out.
BLUE SHAPE: Hey, what are you doing? Isn't this our beginning? Isn't this our beautiful beginning? Where are you going?
YELLOW SHAPE (distracted): Look, you're nice, but...
In his anguish, the blue shape turns himself into a knife shape and plunges himself into the yellow shape.
YELLOW SHAPE (gasping): Why?
BLUE SHAPE (sobbing): Nooooo!
STAGEHAND (announcing): The San Diego Zoo.
She has come back as a swan, he has come back as a swan.
SWAN: I'm sad.
SWAN: I'm sad too.
SWAN: I broke my left wing once and now it's crooked and weird and I don't feel beautiful anymore.
SWAN: I once killed my own cygnet because...the worst part is, I don't know why.
SWAN: I regret the time I've wasted by being closed off to love.
SWAN: My dead wife, I still miss her. She had a really cute goofy laugh.
SWAN: I wish the zookeeper would bring us some food that isn't pellets.
SWAN: I wish I was a big, bad, fearless wild swan.
SWAN: Me too.
The swan cries. The other swan cries. The swans cry and cry and they don't notice that the monkeys are busy peeling bananas and eating them, and that a businessman with a briefcase has come to the zoo to eat his lunch on a bench near the swan enclosure. The swan's graceful necks make him think of Bibi Finazzo, his favorite ballet dancer.
STAGEHAND (announcing): Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know what to call this one.
She has come back as a bell, he has come back as an ear.
BELL: Can I help you?
EAR: Probably not.
BELL: What are you doing?
EAR: Waiting for my favorite song.
BELL: What's your favorite song?
EAR: I don't know, I haven't heard it yet.
BELL: But you're waiting for it.
EAR: When I hear it, I'll know it.
The EAR and the BELL sit for a while, looking into the conceptual space.
BELL (chiming): DING.
The bell waits for a response from the ear.
EAR: Because I wouldn't be haunted by the idea of the perfect song if the perfect song didn't exist, would I? Are you a philosopher? I need some help here.
BELL: I'm sorry, I'm not a philosopher.
EAR: Oh. What are you?
BELL: A bell.
The EAR does not respond.
BELL (chiming): DING.
The ear says nothing. The monkeys strategically lay out banana peels.
STAGEHAND (announcing): A sidewalk.
She has come back as a woman, he has come back as a man.
The businessman carrying a briefcase slips on a banana peel.
MAN: Ha ha!
WOMAN: Hee hee!
MAN: Just like in the movies!
WOMAN: We shouldn't laugh but I can't help it!
MAN: What are you talking about? It would be ungrateful not to laugh.
WOMAN: If it had to happen, better we were there to appreciate it, right?
MAN: Right! Hello.
MAN: Oh, man. I'm totally falling in love with you right now.
WOMAN: Same here, me with you.
MAN: It's like you're the perfect shape.
WOMAN: It's like you're the ear into which I want to whisper all my secrets.
MAN: It's like the heartbreak in your eyes is the same heartbreak that's in my heart.
WOMAN: Shall we kiss?
MAN: Yes, let's kiss.
And they kiss.
About the author:
Cybele Knowles lives in Tucson, Arizona, where she works at the Poetry Center. Her fiction has previously been published in DIAGRAM.