Monarchs

Mariela Romero crashed back into Nimsi’s life the night the Plymouth plant caught fire. And what a rouser of a fire that was, chemical green, they say, left everyone hollering hallelujah for lawsuits. But for Nimsi Alouette it started as just another Wednesday night tending bar at the Bayou Bengal. Nine hours caught between a lumpy cock and hungry eyes. The Bengal was a juke joint in Voliere, a town about an hour southwest of New Orleans. Kenny Lee was the other bartender. His penis had mastered the surprise attack. Nimsi tried to stand guard, but that was a futile enterprise. She had to turn away, had to bend over, had to smile and talk to customers.

She tensed every time he squeezed past. His long, lumpy cock traipsing across her behind, his gut trawling her back, wheezing out a pardon as he passed.

Kenny: checking the liquor sales—Pardon—

Kenny: pouring a pitcher of beer—Pardon—

Kenny: capping his coffee—Pardon—

Avoiding the pardons was a game Nimsi felt destined to lose.

When she wasn’t watching out for Kenny, the customers were watching her: hungry eyes that flickered across her breasts as tongues licked lips; the old men’s erectionless eyes that looked because they’d always looked; finally the true holy terror of eyes that kept no secrets about what they’d do to her body—not a person, just a body—and she felt that if she were to be thrown atop the bar—clothes rent, legs tied wide—their laughter would be the clarion call for the games to begin.

When the strain ran too high, she’d abscond to the back fridge and scream at the keg stacks. First, she’d say: I quit. Then when her anger boiled over: I’ll slash his tires, punch his dick. In the end, Dale’s voice always chanted in her head: we need the money; we need the money; we need the money. This mantra kept her going most nights. That Wednesday too. Even as she tasted blood from biting her lip when Kenny squawked his last Pardon, this time swearing she felt it move.

Then in strutted Mariela Romero.

Nimsi couldn’t believe her eyes. And what a sight it was—black-clad as the Reaper, left-side scalp cropped tight with thick black folds cascading down the right. She wore a septum ring, eyebrows dyed red, and winged eyeliner so thick it could be considered war paint. Every patron turned her way. Their mouths fell agape, drink and food forgotten.

Nimsi darted from behind the bar. The two women embraced, their laughter redounding over the barroom din. Lordy, how long had it been?

*

Six years earlier Mariela had entered Nimsi’s life in a similar fashion. Chemistry class, just after midterms, junior year. Skin-headed, staring fuck-you at the room. Sat down next to goth-pale Nimsi. Nimsi wrapped in XL clothing despite the AC only half-working, self-conscious about her big breasts, big belly, big butt. For the next ten months, they were inseparable.

Mariela was Venezuelan, her father was a poet and her mother a labor organizer. They’d run afoul of Chavez and came to the US where they bounced as visiting professors among second-class colleges, like UL-Voliere. Drinking with professors, discussing how to disrupt the Bush administration.

Buy guns, live in the swamp, attack, they suggested. Profs huzzahed as they uncorked more wine and bellyached about chasing tenure.

Meanwhile, Mariela was teaching Nimsi how to pack a bowl, play power chords instead of the clarinet, and lose her virginity to French Quarter hustlers. O what a riotous night, in a bed fit for a giant—both girls on the same mattress, two male lovers atop them, beside them, behind them, heads between their legs with Nimsi’s hand in Mariela’s. Mariela laughing, wild, like a bull in bed, moaning and thrashing one moment and making faces at Nimsi the next. Queens, loneliness was a stranger to them.

*

“Where you’ve been,” Nimsi asked, placing two beers on a table near the door. Nimsi clocked out early leaving Kenny bedazzled by the spectacle.

“Migrating,” Mariela said, smiling, white teeth in a sun-kissed face. “This place has charm.”

She tilted her head back, stared up an alligator’s gullet, a thirteen-footer crucified to the wall, dusty and punctured with dart wounds.

“I don’t drink here. I mean, I’m usually closing,” Nimsi confessed. She felt Kenny’s eyes on her. She crossed her arms over her breasts. Somebody’ll come, she thought. A drunk to call Mariela a freak or someone simply wanting to fuck her. What’s a pretty girl like you— “Maybe we should go—,” but Mariela waved her off.

Truth was that Nimsi didn’t drink anywhere. Didn’t want people to see her alone, no matter how lonely the trailer got. Didn’t want to argue with Dale. He worked offshore on six-week shifts. This was week two of another offshore stint. If she drank alone, people might talk.

“Were you kidnaped by a biker gang, is that why you don’t call,” Nimsi asked, examining Mariela’s attire.

Mariela grinned, “Yeah, but they made me their chief. Bloody Mary and the Mydols.”

Nimsi chortled, “No, wait, lemme–,”

“Mona Pause and the Dusty Muffins,” Mariela continued, both women laughing now. Band names. The old game they’d never tired of as teenagers. They’d wanted to form a punk duo to protest the Iraq occupation: balaclavas on, tits out, amplifiers to the max.

“I came from Mexico City,” explained Mariela. “Then Monterrey. Crossed the border at Reynosa. McAllen, Corpus, Galveston. Lake Charles. Stopped at the gas station on 347, asked if anyone knew you. Someone did.” She took a long sip of her lager. “But the real question is why are you still here?”

Nimsi held up her left hand, wedding band. Three men watched from the pool tables. She covered her breasts again.

What’s a pretty girl like you—

“Hope he doesn’t mind me crashing.”

“He’s offshore,” Nimsi said.

“An oilman,” Mariela laughed wildly. “You fuck an ATM and still work in a shithole?”

Nimsi glanced at the pool table. Soon they’d come.

What’s a pretty girl like you—

“He’s just a hand,” Nimsi answered, not wanting to talk about Dale.

Billiards clacking, quarters in the jukebox, the men choosing a leader.

“What happened to Vegas and doing make-up for Cirque du Soleil.”

Nimsi took another glance. Denim shirt, tall, blonde, white face obscenely tan.

“Another year, maybe. Money’s good here. We’re saving up,” Nimsi said, and almost believed it.

“I bet it is, with these,” Mariela squeezed Nimsi’s breasts.

Nimsi heard laughter from the billiards table.

What’s a pretty girl like you—

“Kenny pockets tips,” Nimsi admitted, didn’t know why.

“Cut his hand off, nail it above the bar,” Mariela suggested.

The blonde arrived: “Excuse me, ladies, wanna join us for a drink and a game of pool.” He spoke mainly to Mariela’s breasts, bare beneath the tattered remains of a flannel shirt.

“You look healthy enough,” Mariela answered, studying him close, “but I gotta see the goods up front.”

“Do what now, darling,” Blondie said nonplussed, but no less confident.

“A dick measuring,” Mariela explained slowly. “So, unless you’re willing to drop your panties in front of God, your fellow man, and that American flag on the wall to prove that you have at least seven inches of experience, I’ll have to pass on the offer.”

Blondie leaned into her face, intimate, said, “A mouth like that’ll get a bitch’s face beat in.”

“Then you better get to it,” Mariela said, not a twitch, not a blink.

Blondie retreated, red-faced and quaking, huddled with the others.

“We should go,” Nimsi said.

“But we’re having a good time,” Mariela said, quite relaxed.

Nimsi wasn’t listening, too busy tugging Mariela out the door. The men followed, laughing now, casual, no one noticing them, Blondie slapping a cigarette pack on his palm.

Outside, Mariela said, “You can ride with me,” and tossed Nimsi a battered helmet. Mariela straddled a gnarly motorcycle that looked as if it had been driven through wastelands. Mud-covered and tricked-out with dual-purpose tires, saddle bags, sport-silencers, beastly engine.

“Hold your horses, darlin,” Blondie said, nearly within striking distance.

Mariela gunned it, scattering rocks, screams followed as the bike charged into the distance. Nimsi clung to Mariela, felt her small breasts through the jacket. Holding Mariela, the bar receding, Nimsi felt her shoulders drop, felt something that she’d nearly forgotten, safety.

*

They skirted the Atchafalaya Basin. No traffic at that late hour. Stars overhead as the motorcycle left the highway for hard-packed gravel. Mariela stopped at the swamp’s edge, lights glinting over the tree line.

“Awful smell, huh,” Mariela said.

“That the plant,” Nimsi asked, pitching a thumb over her shoulder at the exhaust stacks of Plymouth Chemical plant.

Mariela nodded, asked, “Nimsi, why are you still here?”

“Takes money to leave,” Nimsi answered. The bramble was a pale sickly yellow in the headlight’s glare.

“Not if you came with me,” Mariela said, grabbing a cypress limb that snapped without resistance. She threw it into the water, broke the silence. No cicadas, no frogs. “Is the money worth it? You were shaking like a leaf back there. What happened to the girl who once threw a bloody tampon at what’s-her-name because she called me a wetback whore?”

“Cristina Lotief,” Nimsi answered. “She got fat.”

“Then there’s justice in the world. Now what happened to you?”

“You know what, I grew up in a trailer with my grandma, didn’t have parents that worked at a college,” Nimsi said, tired and angry. “So too damn bad if you don’t like it.”

Mariela cackled, “There she is. Still alive. Speaking of which, my dad died. Mom had him cremated. A shame since he always wanted a Viking funeral. He said to put him on a boat, pile it with wood, douse it in gasoline, and let the tide take him out. Then we’d all line up on the shore and shoot flares at him. Whoever lit him up for Valhalla won a door prize or something.”

Mariela rummaged through her saddle bag and came out with a flare gun. “Shoot flares with this.”

She handed the gun to Nimsi, who took it by the barrel. Its weight surprised her, and the flare gun fell to her thighs before she could wrap both hands around its body.

“No,” Mariela said, arms around Nimsi, breasts to back. “Like this.”

She rearraigned the gun into firing position.

“Aim for those dead trees, the ones silhouetted by the lights. Imagine those guys from the bar are walking towards us, hard-ons bulging, about to teach a bitch a lesson.”

“I don’t like this.”

“You don’t like working at that bar, but you still do it,” said Mariela, cocking the hammer. “Imagine you gotta stop them, could you fire a warning shot?”

Nimsi’s breath fell in time with her friend’s. She shook her head, started to speak.

“Only a flare,” Mariela reassured her. “We’re surrounded by water. There’s nothing to fear.”

Mariela squeezed the trigger over Nimsi’s finger.

It fired with a pop that sizzled a red tail across the water, burning up the night as it screamed across the swamp before thudding to a halt under the dead trees. There it stayed, sparks flying, until the morass around it began to flame, soft at first, then higher licks.  

“Let’s go,” Mariela said.

Nimsi watched the flames rise, but even in her horror she noted how their tongues were a strange greenish hue.

“Now,” said Mariela, voice hard.

Mariela didn’t panic, drove steady back to the road where she raced south on the highway. Nimsi looked over her shoulder, saw the growing light on the horizon.

*

When the news crews from CNN, NBC et al. arrived, everyone claimed to have seen the green fire. Truth was that most people woke to radio alarms and television reports that said the Plymouth chemical plant had to be evacuated and that the smoke looming over the town could be toxic. Even worse, the fire began a half-mile away from the plant itself.

Nimsi couldn’t sleep, kept waiting for the SWAT team. Mariela slept till ten, then ate four eggs, two pieces of toast, one orange, and two cups of coffee, black.

“You knew about Plymouth. You used me, made me an accomplice,” Nimsi said.

Mariela shook her head, swallowed hard on the toast, said, “That’s their language.”

“I can call the cops, explain it.”

The warmth drained from Mariela’s eyes like hot water from a tub, leaving Nimsi cold.

“We already did,” said Mariela.

Mariela called from a gas station pay phone, after hours, no CCTV. Flames a dirty smudge in the distance. She called KLOX in New Orleans, then 911. The smoke didn’t last long enough for the national news teams to capture firsthand footage, but there were plenty of willing witnesses.

Like Kenny.

He arrived at the Bayou Bengal with his tan teeth and pale frog face scrubbed, hair pomaded back like a gentleman. He nearly croaked when Laura Roberts of FOX news came in for a little local flavor. He explained that he’d lived his whole life in Voliere, thought Plymouth Chemical was an honest company. He was shocked, outraged even, that they could betray the townspeople with an illegal dump into the bayou. A black laughter swelled inside Nimsi. Kenny drank and golfed with half the lower-level Plymouth brass. She had to grab her mouth to keep the laughter inside and she knew if she let go she’d probably vomit instead.

Roberts’s cameraman panned a shot of the Bengal and Nimsi furtively searched for a mug beneath the countertop. A giddy terror rose in her. She knew the truth, and she was good at keeping secrets. Although Roberts looked bored, Kenny yammered on, claiming that not only was he a fan of her investigative journalism (here he proffered a salacious smile), but that he was honestly considering suing Plymouth as well.

The black laughter rippled out. Kenny shot Nimsi the evil eye. She swallowed the laughter, hot as acid, vowed no more pardons that afternoon.

She told Mariela all of this when she got home from her lunch shift. Found her retooling the motorcycle behind the single-wide. Glock by her side.

“And they said the FBI’s involved,” Nimsi pleaded with her.

“Definitely, probably own stock in Plymouth.”

“Why’d you this, Mariela,” Nimsi heard Dale’s voice coming from her mouth. “At work today, I kept waiting on the cops to come in or those guys from last night. I didn’t know whether to shit myself or go blind.” One of Dale’s favorite aphorisms.

“To do what? Shit yourself or go blind,” Mariela echoed, laughing, like the fluttering of wings, choral and joyous.

“This is serious,” said Nimsi.

“Yes, it is,” Mariela agreed. “You know the cancer rates around here? Emphysema?”

Nimsi thought of her late grandmother, the hyaline mustache of her oxygen tube.  

“Twice as high as all other parishes in Louisiana. Anyone complains or even whispers the word lawsuit and Plymouth threatens to close. Makes me wonder who works there, employees or hostages?”

“Well, the word lawsuit’s as sacred as scripture now,” Nimsi said, proud for a moment, but her eyes still searched the tree line for a sniper’s scope, police dogs. “But, I still gotta live with it.”

The two friends sat looking at each other. A pipit sang out from the branches of the sycamore that shaded the trailer.

“Look, I just. I wanted to see you, Nimsi. That’s all. I missed you,” Mariela said, putting away the tools. “Just gimme an hour and it’ll be like I was never here.”

“No,” Nimsi felt nauseous, thinking of pardons and the hungry eyes. “I don’t want that. Stay.”

“Thank you,” Mariela said. “The FBI will track every Muslim within 500 miles. Last thing they’ll be looking for is an Hispanic lesbian on a motorcycle, and a good Catholic at that.”

Lesbian. She’d never said that she was a lesbian. Although her mother had taken female lovers. In fact, and Nimsi had never breathed a word of this to Mariela, she’d once touched herself at the thought of visiting Mariela only to find her mother home alone, about to go into the shower.

“And you should quit. Come with me for a while. Money can’t be worth some greasy bastard rubbing his dick all over you. And I hope it’s okay to use Dale’s tools.”

At the name, Nimsi’s heart sank.

“Tell me about him,” said Mariela.

So Nimsi did. Sitting on the grass drinking his Millers as Mariela cleaned, wrenched, and burnished her motorcycle. He’d been a regular in the Bengal, Nimsi explained, nice, hardworking, a bit rough. Nimsi asked if Mariela was with anyone, but she only shook her head.

“Do you ever get lonely,” Nimsi asked. “Living like this, doing, you know, this stuff?

“I got family. Above and below the border. People like me. Free people, kind, people who give a shit,” Mariela said. “Dale works offshore?”  

“Yeah,” Nimsi explained, “on rotating shifts. When he’s offshore, he calls on Mondays and Wednesdays, but sometimes he’s too tired. He complains about the sun and his bunk mate farting beneath him. I tell him work sucked and he says we need the money. That means suck it up. Then he comes home and sometimes sleeps for a week. Wakes up long enough for me to cook him three meals a day and spend half my tips and his whole paycheck on fishing gear. He wants to go pro, like, be a professional fisherman, have sponsors, get paid in bass boats. Then he comes home at night, smelling like fish. I pretend to sleep, but he rubs my nipple for a while, like that’s enough to get me wet, then he rolls me over. Not exciting, but I don’t ever say that, cause I’m a good girl, don’t tell anyone, it’s my secret, be a good girl, don’t tell. Sometimes I don’t feel much down there cause he’s only half into it himself, just doing me a favor, a service, like rotating the tires. But sometimes he comes home from the rig like Attila-the-fucking-Hun, and he fucks me for two days, sleeps for two weeks, then leaves. Sometimes we get in fights because he thinks I work late on purpose. And, he’s right. But I don’t admit that. I just get upset. So, he says that I’m a pouty little girl and that he doesn’t run a damn daycare, but he does want a family and that’s why he never buys condoms and he doesn’t know it, but I hide my birth control in the B12 vitamin bottle but sometimes I don’t remember if I took it or just dreamed I did. Then I worry. Then I’m late. Then I’m praying that it comes until I make myself sick and Kenny’ll say that I have morning sickness and then I’m—

Nimsi stopped, choked out by her words, her mucous, all over her face, tears too, with Mariela holding her hand.

Mariela, wiping away the tears, softly asked, “Nimsi, are you telling me those weren’t B12 vitamins I took his morning?”

Nimsi laughed, full and free. Remembered how good that felt.  

After they came inside, Mariela decided on a bath. She loved baths, could lounge for hours in water. I’m a cancer, she’d once explained, I’m astrologically partial to water. While alone, Nimsi used Dale’s old laptop to google environmental crime and some of the cities Mariela had mentioned. Accidents had happened, or criminal activity reported, along fracking sites in east Texas. Incidents involving illegal logging equipment sabotaged along the avian migratory trail on the eastern shores of Mexico. Gas tankers sabotaged in Lake Charles. Evidence of multiple suspects, no other traces.

“What are you doing?”

“Checking the news,” Nimsi said, closing the laptop.

Mariela stood, naked, toweling herself. She looked Spartan, brown-skinned and strong, a vine tattoo flowering from hip to jawline.

Nimsi, nervous, trying to think of something to say, asked “How’s your mom?”

“She’s in Mexico City, with this reporter, Alma, living in a huge studio, like, 10 stories up. They paint, sculpt, and they’re armed to the teeth. Narcos beat Alma years ago, raped her.”

“Oh, Mariela, I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be. She’s mom’s true love. They’re the same tough soul.”

Nimsi looked at her wedding picture on the wall. She was short in a white dress and no glasses, fair-skinned with a big smile, her eyes irritated by the contacts that she hated wearing. Dale at 6’6, ill fitted for that suit and his forehead pale from always wearing a hat, his face tan from the Gulf sun. His arm around her stiffly like he was afraid to hurt her or that she’d run away.

“Thanks for coming,” Nimsi said. “For staying, I mean. I’ve missed you.”

“You’re the reason I stopped,” Mariela said.

Nimsi nodded, couldn’t speak. Mariela walked down the hall, bare-skinned and beautiful not because her body matched a Cosmo cover. Rather because she was unafraid, and that fact left Nimsi stunned. She’d never be caged, Nimsi thought, never. Mariela turned at the bathroom door.

“I’ll pick you up from work tomorrow. I’d like to show you something.”

*

CNN was gone. No Anderson Cooper anyway. Only local news channels left, and, as Kenny explained to his customers, “Just dipshits looking for a scoop a day late and dollar short.”

“I tell ya,” a customer, crusty greybeard, said to Kenny, “better keep a firearm handy. Muslims’ll come for the oil refineries, first thing terrorists hit over there. And guess what, bub, from here to Houston is Refinery Alley.”

Kenny hiked his pants up and moved to refill his coffee cup, running his dick along Nimsi’s lower back—pardon, he breathed, close to her ear.

“You think they did it,” Kenny asked.

Coffee refilled, he passed her again—pardon.

“Yep. They got cells everywhere. Got a mosque in Baton Rouge now. Won’t let nobody in there that aint Muslim.”

Nimsi needed a fresh mug. Kenny was leaning against the dish rack underneath the counter.

“Excuse me,” she said.

“Yes ma’am,” said Kenny as he pulled out the dish rack and stepped back.

She went for the mug and felt his fingertips on her hip, his penis along the crack of her behind—pardon. It moved, only a little, and a scream roiled in Nimsi’s throat. She spun fast with the coffee urn and hurled steaming Folgers directly into his crotch.

He shrieked, danced with wild hands ripping at his jeans, “Stupid little bitch! Shit, shit, shit!”

Kenny ran to the small kitchen. Nimsi shouted after him, “Don’t touch me!”

Several customers stood to watch, greybeard said to Nimsi, “Sweet shit, girl, watch what the hell you doing!”

“Fuck. Off,” she screamed, face purple and crude.

Motorcycle throb. Mariela cutting through the parking lot, circling for the back door.

Nimsi ran for it. Took the tip jar too. Through the kitchen, saw Kenny’s shoes kicked into corner, pants down, bent dick-first into the kitchen sink, the two cooks applauding. Nimsi hit the exit, pocketed the tips, all of them, sent the jar skyward.

“You okay,” Mariela asked.  

“I burned his dick,” Nimsi said, climbing onto the bike.

The exhaust blended with Mariela’s laughter as they accelerated into swampland.

**

Mariela attacked the curves so hard that Nimsi feared she’d eat asphalt. They traveled west along the top of the basin. The world became a verdant blur chorused by the lulling, hammer strike of exhaust. Dale, Nimsi suddenly thought of Dale, saw his hound-dog face, felt his semen sliding down her inner thigh and felt like crying, so she did, squeezing Mariela tight and she was thankful that Mariela had somehow come back into her life. Now. Right now. She needed her now.

Mariela leaned hard into an exit, snaked in and out of traffic, not giving a damn at the honks or the fingers being flipped her way. She sliced through pine shadows, racing away from civilization. Mariela claimed an old two-lane blacktop, nothing more than a paved logger’s road when hulking pines were cut down by the thousands and pulled by mules and freed slaves that couldn’t tell the difference in that work and the previous. She cruised through a derelict gate and down a foot trail until the motorcycle was hidden from prying eyes.

Nimsi disembarked and Mariela followed, removing her helmet.

“Gotta move fast,” said Mariela, taking off in a steady trot down a half-visible path. Nimsi followed, panting. The sun was slinking towards the tree line. Nimsi began to sweat despite the chill. They broke free of the bramble, saw the swamp.

Before them stood a hut, a turtle shell of cinderblock. Mariela climbed its sides, taking vine and driftwood as handgrips and footholds. At the top, she offered her hand to Nimsi.  

The sunlight was striking the trees, which looked heavy and dead, like a red fungus grew upon the branches, dragging them earthward. Nimsi’s heart sank for a moment, sensing that Plymouth’s perfidy knew no bounds.

“Plymouth poisoned it? That’s what this is, another dump?”

“Nope. It’s a weather outpost, research” said Mariela.

“I’ve never heard of it.”

“The Carter administration built it to study rising water levels, but Reagan dismantled the program two years later. My parents used to get high out here.”

Nimsi looked at a half-buried chain-link fence, the exposed crescent moon of a large, parabolic antennae.

“Jesus, you’re serious,” Nimsi turned to find Mariela’s Glock in her face.

“Who’d you tell about Plymouth?”

“Nobody!”

“Dale? Kenny?”

“No!”

“Dale then, you sent him an email on this.” From her satchel, Mariela retrieved Dale’s

laptop.

“I looked up some of the cities you mentioned.,” Nimsi said, voice quivering. “Saw that stuff got sabotaged.”

“Yeah, well, now there’s a trace on this laptop. Plymouth on fire and someone looking this up. Maybe not now, but eventually the dicks will stop watching Muslims and backtrack to the strange girl in town.”

“No,” said Nimsi, not scared, anger boiling.

“No traces. That’s the rule. We stand up for the earth. Fight for it, for what’s left. But we’re smart. We’re ghosts. Now you can be one too.”

“You’re gonna fucking kill me?”

“Take off your clothes.”

Nimsi covered her breasts.

“Off.”

Nimsi began to undress. As she did Mariela struggled out of her jacket, untied her boots awkwardly on one leg never looking away from Nimsi. Soon both young women were naked. One heavier and ashamed with an arm across her large breasts, striated with stretch marks and the other taller, slimmer with no breasts to speak off but long strong legs and a flowering jasmine vine stretching from hip to jawline, an Aztec goddess on the shoulder, a sacred heart along the pelvis.

“Don’t think of it as a killing,” said Mariela. “Think of it as breaking a cocoon.”

She flung the laptop into water where it sank like a secret. Nimsi began to cry.

“It’s okay to cry. I came here guarding something. I wanted to see you, but I could tell you needed me. So, I stayed, but you don’t see, same as no one around here sees. Now turn around and face the water.”

Nimsi did as she was told.

“Look. I want you to see why we do these things. I want you to feel why.”

Mariela pointed the Glock at the half-buried antennae and fired off five successive shots, then another four into concrete. The shots redounded in a terrible rolling thunder, shattering Nimsi, breaking her, and she wept openly, furious at her friend.

“Look,” Mariela shouted, right behind her.

The heavy dead fungus of the trees suddenly began to shudder free as the clumps of leaves began to fall and flutter through the flat air. More and more began to float and flitter and sail and fly into sunlight. Nimsi lost her breath as she realized that every tree before her now trembled with life as the weight of thousands began to take flight. The butterflies approached them, circling and dipping and falling over each other in the air, a swarm of beauty. Close now.

Mariela spun Nimsi around. “Hold out your arms,” she said.

The butterflies began to flutter against them. Both women laughing like the girls they still were, and they looked at each other, two perfect nudes as the butterflies surrounded them in an orange gyre, some landing in their hair, on their noses, fluttering before their laughing mouths, alighting on their nipples and shoulders and outstretched arms, wings kissing skin. Nimsi was crying and Mariela too but there was no sadness between them. Only joy.

 

 

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