by D.S. West

Following the icy path, watching your step but not trying not to fall ’cause you fall hardest that way, you spot movement on an up-ahead tree. The scrawny skeleton of a seagull perches on the highest branch of a frozen palm tree. The dead bird’s beak is perfectly intact, yellow and black, to make the speaking creepier: “Your decision lies between the whole and the part.”

The ill-defined creature is more or less accurate. Nothing makes sense during the winter months. Nothing excepting death. (Cough.) Accepting death. Nothing else penetrates. “Love is the ideal peeling instrument for scraping bones clean,” the gull squawks.

Tugging at cloves of garlic around your neck, your personal protection against paranoia, you tell the songless songbird what’s been on your mind this long Colorado winter. “Then love isn’t what I thought it was,” you explain to the dead thing, no trace of feathers. “Any beauty we find in this phantasmagoria, we have to fill in ourselves.”

“Motherfucking paint by numbers. [SQUAWK!] and die by numbers.” The gull attempts to spread or flap what’re no longer wings. Stubs. “Fuck-ing monochrome! Transient banality [SQUAWK!] As you, materially, allegedly-actual are.”

“Yeah man,” you tell the thing that should but doesn’t frighten you. Though dead and cold, the planet persists. Who could blame its inhabitants for blending in? You reach over your head, feel around in your open backpack. You pull the first can of spray paint you find. (Riot Violet, your favorite besides Plump-lips Pink.) “Life’s supposed to be a peep show.” You show the bird, dead no eyes, the color and you shake the can.

“Spray, spray away! Spray through your days. But keep the backs of the eyelids painted too. Outsides don’t take so kindly to violets. [SQUAWK!]”

The weather turns for the worse. A gust from the East cuts through the valley, rending the bird skeleton. Skull-gull’s intact bill falls from the tree to the ground, equally ineffectual. You poke at it with your steel tipped boot, coming unlaced. How long’s it been? You can’t feel a thing.

You whisper, the camera trained on your lips. Chapped. Cracked. “The distance between surfaces is meaningless.”

[Cut to–]

A surfaced rock in the central Pacific, the spot you meet with your talking ocean pals meet to sing songs and enjoy the tropical climate. You follow the finger of your friend the clumsy pun-prone oyster and find your other friend, the clumsy affable bowhead whale, ferrying a pack of untrained a capella seals on its back. The seals wave to you with their animated flappers (no fingers), barking that godawful seal bark but in harmony, repeating the chorus to a song as they pass, “Spring, you don’t knooooow! (the seal with the deepest voice, alone, says ‘do you?’) How we’ve missed you.”

The mermaid beside you, seashell sports bra gives you a high-five. A merman with curly apple hair and a tribal jellyfish tattoo on his shoulder begins kissing the back of your neck, zeroing around while the mermaid coils her scales up three-and-a-half times in your lap. It’s about to get weird.

Intimacy closes in. There’s bound to be a song. Under the circumstances, it’s likely to include several measures of art film violin. Before any of you take to throat singing, a gull lands on your shoulder, an oil-slick rainbow trout hanging out the mouth. Not just any rainbow trout; your spiritual advisor, Dr. Gordon Pym Erasmus, waving his one good remaining un-chomped fin from the mouth of his lover of many years, Glenn the Murderous Seagull.

You take a look around from the surface of your surfaced rock. Painless, bare-naked ocean as far as your eyes can take you. Head back, laughing into the fat bellies of equatorial clouds, you celebrate your good fortune. Colorado, man. There’s no place sweeter in the springtime.

After the violins caught fire, before a big ensemble number, the merman dances around you awkwardly; it’s awkward between you now. But the mermaid pecks you on your shoulder. Her lips grace you where your backpack strap once rested. You feel a tinge of guilt. Why do you let the winter get to you like that? Come February, you’re ready to throw in the towel. Crawl inside a hole in the ground, chill with sleepy, scary animals that don’t sing or talk. Get bitten, get sick and die. Find a hole in the wall, with
people who unwilling to share this or any rock with you. Get drunk, get drunker. Have unprotected sex with someone compatibly depressed, get sick and die.

Glenn the gull says, beak to your ear so none of your other undersea friends can hear–not even Erasmus, studying the merman’s tattoo, asking if he’s read any Hilda Doolittle–“Mount Olympus. Center of volcano. [SQUAWK!] Fortress of Solitude.”

He continues rattling off real and mythological places. What is it with loudmouth birds, not letting you feel sorry for yourself? The mermaid is intuitive, to make her a better kisser; she dives before the nimbus cloud overhead catches up with the sun. Some friends can’t stand for you to have a good time.

The gull keeps on and on. “Holodeck mirrorhouse. Asgard. Empyrean. Kosmos. Intercourse, PA; Middlesex County, MA…”

You lick your chapped lips, strain your imagination making-believe you’re not dehydrated. That isn’t this hot out, that you didn’t forget your water bottle again, looking for a hole in the wall that hasn’t disappointed you yet.

D.S. West is a writer, artist, and hopelessly lost pedestrian in Boulder, CO. West’s prose has appeared in Thrice Fiction, Beyond Imagination, Crack the Spine, and Loud Zoo. A list of his published work can be found at his pitiful excuse for a website, icexv.wordpress.com.