J. L. BRAMBLE
It began at dusk, in a vast dry part of America. There was only you sitting across a wide stretch of sand and gravel, staring at me. That first night alone was painful, with you on the other side of the saguaro forest. I didn’t know why at the time. All I knew was that I didn’t like your not being with me.
In the morning, the sun burned through the clouds and you were there standing over me, like a sacred boy-spirit come to keep watch, clarity in the dust. Your hair was short and thick, your eyebrows dark, your pale eyes dreamish and wanting. Your nose sloped up, and was dotted with freckles. Soon I would be dotted with freckles as well.
We set up our camp. We ran through dry riverbeds to collect digging sticks, assembled small rocks and large boulders, wove branches together with twine stripped from the yucca plant.
“I will be with you always,” you said. “I am your friend and your confidante.”
I smiled and made you a talisman of smooth-hewn jade. You made me a bracelet. I let my hair grow so that at night it could keep us both warm.
We draped ourselves in birds of paradise and dried animal skins, we burned creosote to keep the insects away. You said that the scent of crushed creosote was like the desert after the rain.
In the afternoon heat we could not rest; we were hungry and aching for wildness. We whooped and hollered and ran across thorns that never pierced our bare feet. We followed dinosaur tracks into the mountains and watched as the clouds swirled into blackness.
You said, “Don’t be afraid of the monsoon. Don’t be afraid of streaks of lightening. Don’t be afraid of the angry thunder that rumbles from centuries away, not even when it shakes from down in the center of the earth and makes us curse gravity.”
I said that I was afraid of nothing.
After the storm we gathered soft rocks and crushed them to paste. We painted stripes on each other’s faces; three copper lines for you, three rose-colored for me.
In the evening, the sun glinted off the sedimentary cliffs, the cacti, and the hoodoo. We watched over the wild canyon, pale concentrated gold outlining dark purple edges, pink clouds puffing against the twilight. Out came the stars, two or three specks of silver over amethyst mountains, then a few hundred-thousand more, till all of the constellations of the southern sky were over our heads; beasts and heroes, ships and shields.
You beat your drums as I curled up at your feet, the thrum-thrum-thrum-pata-pata like an offering. Lizards slithered out of the darkness and gazed at us with glowing eyeballs; coyotes moaned and owls sang in rhythm.
In the night it became cold, and you wrapped yourself round me tighter, saying, “I am your lifelong lover and admirer.” You were opal, topaz and quartz, a shimmer in the dark desert night.
It was like this for a thousand years.
Who could see our courtship? Who besides the bonfires and side-winders? Who besides the cottontails and the prickly pears? Could I even see it myself? Really see it?
Because if I could, maybe I would have noticed when the spotted monster first crept out from the brush.
But I was not prepared for battle.
You turned on me like a merciless sun, a wind that grinds to the bones. You no longer wanted me, or our lizards, our owls, our stars. Chollas came alive with their jumping poison arrows, vultures hung above your head.
I was feather-footed, I could have run. I was strong, I could have stayed still. I could’ve kicked your beautiful face in, I could’ve kicked and kicked until you stopped moving.
Instead I became a tarantula hawk, and claws came out of my feet. Something barbaric rose from inside my chest as I held you down and opened you up. I laid all my eggs inside you. If you leave me, I will take you. I sat and sang to myself as the eggs grew, hatched, and overtook you. I watched you disappear, consumed from the inside. Less and less of you, more and more of me.
Metamorphosis complete, I flapped my translucent red wings and flew out of the sun and into the darkness. Under a shadow and up in a cave.
J. L. Bramble is a Philadelphia-based writer currently pursuing a Master of Liberal Arts degree at the University of Pennsylvania. Her concentrations are in Creative Writing and Anthropology. Her fiction has appeared in Clevermag, Cantaraville, and Slow Trains.