Emily Clayton, “The Ebb and the Flow”

You stand, brush in hand, facing the sea as sickening chartreuse drips from the easel’s chipped ledge. What rot, you whisper, as you shift your gaze from the canvas to the distended, fluid mass heaped beyond the Southern California coastline. The death of the land means the death of the sea.

I watch another putrid splash trickle from a brush stuffed with synthetic bristles and a plastic handle, evidence of a land lost and bleeding, forever vanquished to a cavernous enclosure belowground, and I think, perhaps, that you’re right.

I’m scared to admit it, though. I’m a new woman in a new world, and the odor of vague possibility is overwhelming.

It seduced me from the cradle, the nursery, the school yard. It suckered me in from my first kiss, my first set of wheels. I watched the black smoke belch from the tail pipe, and I felt the toxic bubbles churn into my lungs and throat, down into my stomach, before rising, ever so slowly, back to the top.

They spilled over one autumn, some years ago, splashing my eyes and depositing hazy recollections of bleakness as beauty. These little granules worked their way into my optic nerve, and from there to my brain, until what I saw was distorted, destructive, and wrong.

But it felt right.

I was transformed, and I helped countless allies, fed them countless nourishing formulas, all in the quest for power. Little by little, bleakness as beauty came true.

We scaled the concrete ladder, and we fought the enemies back, the old ones, the survivors. We scoffed at their cries and cut out their hearts, burying them mid-palpitation beneath the dips and swells of their very own limbs.

You, though. You’re an anomaly. You don’t fit in this world, and you won’t change your beliefs. I’ve watched you. Stalked you. Fluttered over you while you slept and whispered those words of destruction.

I cannot break your resolve to uncover the ancients, to bring the light into this power-driven concrete ghetto wasteland, and at times I feel what you believe. Your simple-minded wishes have a strength all their own, and I’ve already lost half of my toxic drive. My synthetic heart beats for one taste, one touch of what it means to be pure and untainted.

I flutter behind you, watching as you slap on decaying cadmium green and stab at the canvas with slashes of burnt umber.

Cerulean blue, I whisper. I’ll make it right with cerulean blue.




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