Tilt by Molly Liu
Tilt by Molly Liu
The world is tilted when you wake up. Grounds are up and down with bumps and holes, like after an earthquake. Outside the window, the gap between the buildings and the ground is becoming bigger. Faraway, a mountain is linear to the flat ground in the air, facing you directly. Lights from the building shine together almost automatically; you think there is screaming.
Your house is safe. The fluffy bunny, his watch, the mint you forget to water, the swimming goggles, all lying peacefully beside the window frame. An alpaca, a cross, a knife, a stamp, a rubber duck, a stress ball in the shape of a bus, a glass case, a glass wiper, a glass box, all lying on your bedside table. Along with Annie Dillard’s The Abundance at the bottom.
Closing the window, you are back to the bed and have a dream. In the dark place like mother’s womb, comes noise, asking you if you want to leave, to try, and pinkly lights keep shining on your face. It is like someone is ready to deliver you. But you clung to the darkness and said no. Repeatedly, repeatedly, no. Finally, the noise disappears and leaves you to the darkness. A still born of the dark.
You wake up with a wet face. You wipe it up with your sleeve and go for a shower. Hot water spray on your puffy body until your pores are all red.
“Years back, we discovered that the world is flat as well as the sea is falling down slowly. When it starts falling we don’t know.” The voice from TV, “but today, more than the sea is tilted.”
Maybe that’s because of your discovery that the world started tilted, he will say.
20 years ago, ever since the discovery, locusts, viruses, wars, volcanic eruptions all came together. Up until today, “many homes were ripped and sent to the sky, many people’s places are sinked down to deep holes…” The news reporter says, “if there is any solution to this, the next election can have its winner.”
But does the word winner make sense now?
The First thing that rings in your mind is that he is cooking omelet in the kitchen. Water, salt, pepper, eggs and olive oil. A flip, and the omelet is done.
“So, what about her?” He asks.
“She is good.” You answer with a flat voice, “but I probably shouldn’t take breaks.”
“No, we should keep working so we don’t starve.” You say, “The world is a mess now.”
“Anyone might lose their job.”
“But not you,” You drink up the water, “and not me… after the delivery.”
His omelet lay flat between you on the table. It looks like gold.
“Sure.”He finishes the coffee.
You rub your eye socket with your palm. You always wear two black eye sockets nowadays, “I can help with the dishes.”
“Yeah,” He didn’t look up, “Your turn.”
As you wash the dishes, a tale he told comes back to mind. It’s a tale at the age that people still don’t know if the world is flat.
A young researcher is writing a paper about how the world frames. After five years of asking and notes-taking, he decides to seek it from the end of the world. He borrows a ship to the island everyone says is the end of the world but no one really gets close to. Through waves and storms, he pictures the end either round or flat, but when he reaches the borderline, he can’t tell for it’s dark inside out.
He sees light from above. Up, is the sky and cloud from the other world, houses upside down in the sky, people walking in between the houses, also upside down. Purple and pink lights shining from above. He never knew the clouds’ look in this angle. Keep walking, he walks toward the other side of the world, and never returns, with only a lost boat behind, like all other seekers of the island.
You remember his words after he told you the tale: I want to be the guy who goes in there. I want to try.
You are thinking of this tale again, after seeing the miracle the seeker saw on a flat world. His world is round, but yours is transforming, and what will happen you don’t know.
You thought to yourself that it’s reasonable that he wants to get lost in the seeker’s dream, as he is always so dreamful, believing in all kinds of fantasy. That’s why you love him, in the beginning.
You finish washing and return to the bedroom. Seems like today you two can take a day off.
You put on your shirt, sweater, and coat. With some lipstick and a hat, you’re done.
“Going anywhere?” He looks at you from the bedroom door.
“No work today, we’re going to the streets,” You smile, and pick up a coat for him, “ Come, get dressed.”
You two walk out of the place after the draft is done, he puts his hand in the long coat when looking up.
A kid is pointing at the white sun in the sky, another wonder. Sunlight is white along with a blue cloud and the white sky:“Pie.”
And she’s right. The sun looks huge, inflated, with a different shade of white than the sky. It looks bizarrely beautiful, like a lady with only white clothes on.
You think of the time you witnessed a partial eclipse. The sun swelled up only partially, with an angle then a quarter then one third, Changing from yellow to purple. Either way, you can’t look at it in the eyes.
“What’s going on” “What happens” “No school today” different phrases spread around the street.
When afraid, people are also wondering and curious, hoping for something even more special to happen.
The kid puts the finger one pointing at the sun into his mouth. You give the kid one last look and follow him.
“Impossible.” You answer impatiently, “I know you’re into these studies… but it can’t be some goodness in the sky weaving her hand and all these just happen.”
“Why not?” He says.
“If she wanted this to happen as a punishment, she would have done it already; if it’s just a joke, it would have been done in other ways.” You wave your hand just once.
“By ‘these’, do you mean all the locust, volcano, war, virus…?”
“I think it’s merely the sixth mass extinction.” You reply with a straight face.
By the time he takes control of himself and stops laughing, you’re already looking at the sky with dislike.
“Sorry, dear,” He stopped laughing, “it’s just… look at this. The world is upside down and you think it’s only targeting us?”
You try to say “species” but he laughs again: “Let’s just say it’s magic so we can stop arguing. This is beautiful. I want to be part of it.”
You sigh and put your arm into his.
In the old story, Goddess that has wings and is high up in the sky. Every day she transformed and shed her wings, and the feathers that fell and touched the ground became human.
Her other name is sun. People praised the sun for her creation.
Maybe it’s her in the sky. You think as you walk. It’s just that she gets tired of shading wings and decides to move on. And the first thing being turning the world till it tilted, so people like him and the kid can look with wonder.
From the eyesight, everywhere is trashed. The buildings are hanging in the sky, the houses are deep in the hole. Colorful lights line up on the building, shining pale lights. RV lying on the slope. Wires tangled together. Empty bridges with fallen leaves.
Under the white sky, tall buildings swing into different positions. Power generation tower stands on the dusty road. On the ground, a bird is eating a dead squirrel.
Upon one of the buildings, a woman is looking down. You look up to her and are scared of her eyes. That’s the mood of despair. Silently, her soul is crushed. A moment later, she closes the curtain and disappears from the windows.
You half expect that she will reopen it and throw things down. But she just stops all interactions.
He pulls your hand. The sun is even paler now, like a hollow eye filled with ice, base color not white but shines out white light. Some are filled with wonder, some are with fear.
The day you proposed to him is the same. Is that relieved or embraced in his face? You can’t tell.
Under the shadows, you see more strange scenes. Homeless jumping on the tilted ground, holes in the middle of the road, traffic lights on the floor above the ground. Faraway comes with a fire alarm, and screams.
“Black hole,” A guy on the street wearing the doctor outfit but is clearly homeless lectures, “The thing that causes this is called event horizon. When the night comes, the sun falls to a level in which we can’t see it anymore; not that the sun disappears, just some of us can’t see it anymore. Our eyes do the similar trick when it’s close to the horizon; when the light reach the event horizon, it’s bend by the powerful black hole, consumed without return, therefore he can never really see what’s inside the black hole, and this is why we can’t see some of our horizon lines as well. The sea is not tilted, it just disappears from our eyesight.”
He hasn’t stopped, so you have to go after to follow him. He looks directly at the group of people who are handing booklets and the other group of people who are listening. There is his goddess.
“One dollar each, just printed. It’s Goddess that brushes her on our world that all these bumping and sinking happens. Please, one dollar each.”
Goddess’s hand. He hands one dollar to them, and puts the booklet into your pocket.
“It’s all physics.” Another skinny sleepless homeless walks past and grumbles, “It’s the land movement that causes this, but the gravity is there within the soil, so nobody is falling out in the air…”
You can’t find a word to say. Is that little gesture a mock? Is that a way of trying to convince and share with you? You can’t tell.
Two young ladies in fancy clothes who are listening are arguing, one saying it’s physics the other calming this a dream vision. You look away as they look at you and start discussing whether you’re also an object from a dream.
“We should go see the mountains,” He says, “The taller ones in the national parks.”
“They are probably hanging in the air now,” He adds, “birds in a net.”
“I don’t mind.” You say, smiling, “We would just have to go to yet another park.”
You take turns driving.
You get two tickets from the outside, past the redwoods and pin tree, into the park.
He buys some food and snacks at the opening, along with a cat decoration for the car key as the souvenir for the park. He blushes when you catch him buying that.
The mountain is stable on the ground.
He walks on the front with a stick. Bees flying to your side, you brush it away and look toward the lake.
The plant has big leaves and white grain on top. An empty bottle is left beside the lake. There is no river otter, but a fascine dam indicates that there once was. You look up, trying to find deers. There is none. In fact, there is no other thing but dust and grass near your feet. You bent down to pick up a flower, and crush it when you found a bug. He watches you doing this without a word.
After you’re done, he waves at you and you two walk towards the middle part of the mountain where the slope is becoming steep.
You found company. The lady next to you is with two children and a warm smile. She is a single mom. She hasn’t told you her marriage, children and life; but she does share some tips about hiking with you. You take that in with a smile.
“The trick of climbing is to walk fast. After a period of time you will feel the body lighten up, stress gone. Soon you’ll be tired again, but don’t stop; cross the line and it will be fine.” She pads you on the shoulder.
“I see.” You say, looking at the inchworm squirming on the air with a white fat body. It reminds you of when you’re little, you climb up the trees, past the sticky slug, all the way to the nectar.
Sun goes up; you all start walking. She soon walks past you, along with others on the road. People start to show up, all are looking up, into the not-quite burning sun.
Bees are hovering on the rooted roots on the side. A few silver-like fruits fall on the ground, crushed by feet.
“What do you want to see?”
“What?”He turns the head.
“At the top.”You open up your palm in the air, as if that explains anything.
“Just the usual thing,” He shrugs, “The sky up there, whether it is twisted like the lower place; don’t you want to know?”
He turns to the sun, studies it, and says: “I want to, either way.”
You two walk hand in hand like children, all the way up the hills. Dogs run past you.
You climb to the top. Looking down, where the lower mountains are is now a ditch. It looks black, filled with water and mountains on top. Some soil keeps falling to the water. From this height, the mountain looks like a toy in the crystal ball, in the black lava of water. Trees look pointy with dream-like clouds over it near the ditch.
Mountains are deep in the trench. An immense green. It makes you feel like you’re in a different world, a world where the green dominates all fresh. You let out a breath, watch it disappear into the air. The green inputs something into your sanity, makes you calmer.
Five deers jumping through the rocks between the mountains, searching for food. Panic-driven animals must be too small to see. Small roofs from faraway start to light up. Young people walking with milk tea on their hands, talking and laughing. Old people walking past strangers, greeting. You turn to him, wanting to see if there is something in his eyes too, something that shows he sees it differently than you. But he just looks up with eyes filled with bizarre emotion, so you look up.
Hundreds of birds flying up the sky, wings shielding the sun, cutting back and forward in the sky, as if they don’t know where to turn. All kinds of feather join into a circle, rotating like a major spot sucking birds in. Spreading out, consuming in, a pattern blurred in the sky.
High on the sky is a swirl. The central part has the brightness pink, like an eye looking out. It changes the shade of the sky, to an extent that stars begin to peak. They circled the swirl like a million baby suns, accompanying it to face the strange new world.
Storms are swelling near the tornado under the swirl.The sky is going through a revolution. Leaves, trees and mountains are all crumbling in it. Whirlwind changes the atmosphere of the environment. It makes the cloud look heavy, like blue creams, and the birds flying beneath it are the bread grains.
“That’s enough for me.” He says, almost as a whisper. You try to look into his eyes, to see if he sees the same thing and feels the same way as you do: dread. Your heart is beating slowly itself, and you want to know if his heart does the same trick in his chest.
You didn’t see what you wanted.
“Let’s go?” You ask, already taken the bag you dropped. You two clean everything up, and go back down to the mountain, prepare to go home.
It should be enough. But two days later, you suggest that you go see the sea.
It isn’t so far away. You take turns. When it’s your turn, you tap your hand on the wheel, thinking of the sea the seeker has been.
When he drives, you lay on the backseat and listen to jazz. It’s a song about lost love, referring to a son but always being mistaken as lover. You sing along, and rarely, he didn’t say anything about it.
“Do you really want to go there? We don’t have to if…” After a while he says. His fingers flicker on the wheel.
“Hon, we are halfway through.” You reply, ignoring the sudden panic coming from your heart.
You’re not kids anymore, you don’t do things in half.
After you go down the highway, there are two young adults on the roadside, putting their thumbs up. The girl is in a ridiculous straw hat, very summer style; the boy is in flip-flops with socks, looks like a rapper.
He let them in the car after asking where they’re going. You pick a favor of gum and hand it to them.
“Thanks! We have been waiting for half an hour.” The girl says, “Our Uber breaks down on the highway, and we don’t have any way out until the highway police take us down. I called 8 Ubers on the highway and they all cancelled me.”
“The speed there is too fast. Plus it might be illegal.” The boy says. He takes the gum but only puts it in his backpack.
“You just come from the highway, right? I think probably you have seen our Uber.” The girl says, “Anyway, his phone is Huawei so there is no Uber app in the phone, and mine just runs out of power for the calling, so we have to hitchhike now. But either way we are going to the sea!”
“Don’t be overexcited.” The boy says, help her remove a strand of fallen hair. But his eyes are smiling.
“Do you know the sea is… Wait, I will hold the surprise for you.” The girl chuckles, her voices clear as water, “I’m not overexcited.”
You drive on. City views past your window. People on the street are all walking as usual; as if nothing has happened. You stop at the parking lot, accept their invitations to go together, and park the car. Soft sand stains on your shoes.
You walk to the beach with him, arm in arm. Their laugh spread in your ears.
He suddenly says:” You remember the tale?”
“Which one?” You ask, push your hair back behind the ear.
“The map drawer’s,” He says quietly, “Many other than him knows the island but wouldn’t go; perhaps they know, if they go there they wouldn’t want to return anymore.”
There is a sense of sadness in his voice. Before you can reply with anything encouraging, the girl pulls your sleeve, “There, we will be going right there. You two can catch up and see it when you want to.” And then they walk to the cliff.
“Maybe it’s good to not have to return, to have somewhere you want to go?” You mock.
“The one stays, maybe they already have something good to look forward to, they don’t need to get on an adventure to see strange beings.” He says in a fast pace, “The map drawer, he has nothing.”
“Either way, they say after one done it, one wound’t want anything else.” You said with a bitter voice.
“Then it’s like drinking poison.”He says bitterly.
“One has to test to see if it’s poison or not,” You pat him on the shoulder gently, “We should check out the sea.”
“What if I regret it?” He asks, looking at nowhere, like a child losing his direction. That moment you think back on your dreams, the map drawer’s story, and all the mess the world made; conflicting emotions stuff your heart. You clutch at the edge of your clothes, ask: “How?”
“I feel like spending my life up without knowing it. I have come to this step, but most of the choices I made are either unconscious or without knowing. I think you face the same problem too. Especially these days. Why do you want to check out the sea? Haven’t we seen enough?”
“That’s because you want more.” You want to say, but you know he needs some other words. You lay your fingers on top of his, and smile: “come, let’s see the sea.”
“Have you regretted it?” He asks, and you look into his eyes, see that he is asking for something more than the sea, and he is determined for the truth. You breathe: “Perhaps, but I will take the risk. Only when we reach there can you know where you should belong.”
You two walk to the cliff, walk to them. Your arms are not together, but they often brush. The girl is shouting to the sea with amazement, the boy forgets his pride and joins her.
The sea is falling down, causing a waterfall, in which the water turns to white. A hill of snow in the sea. Where the endless water used to be, the water that spread out into endless space is now a fall, mixed in white and blue. Even looking from the distance you can feel the strength, the drive of the fall. They are crushing, going, and wouldn’t stop for nothing. It’s like a goddess under the cliff.
Then it rained, and some people left; but you and him stayed. The raindrops on the water are like a self-repeating melody. A million lights crumble on the surface of the water, bounce up, and disappear.
You two walk to the front and look down. Under the rain, the view of the sea changed. You see the distant island, with trees and cities, with people walking in it. They are smiling, with an ease on their face. You reach out your hands, almost want to touch them, but they’re too far away.
“Mirage,” You murmur, almost a sigh, “Your dream land.”
“No, that’s only the reflection from our city,” He says, without a single movement, “You see the cars? They’re the cars we have seen.”
You fix your eyes on it and after a while you say: “Yes.”
“Do you really want to be there?” Suddenly you ask.
“I would stay.” He says.
“But you wanted to.” You say, almost a sigh.
“I would stay.”is his only reply.
You too are soaking wet in the rains, holding hands, like mad men. The group has already left, the waterfall turns black under the rain and finally, the islands are gone. You put your hand on your belly, feel the strong heartbeat of a child, a new life.
It’s like the flow washes everything away. The fishes are gone, the birds disappear, the sun hides her face. The only thing remaining is the flow, quite as fate, and harsh as fate. You close your eyes, and the island does not reappear on your eyelid, as it should be. In fact, you forget what it looks like all of a sudden.
But that’s okay too, because when you asked him:“ That’s beautiful, right? Have you seen it?” You are not hoping for a logical answer, just an answer that proves that you’re on the same page, that he sees what you see and feels what you feel.
He returns his sight from the sea and looks at you. His hand gently surrounds your neck, thumb brushing your chain. He opens his mouth, and closes it, as if losing his words. Finally he smiles, “Yes,” strangely, almost as a child, “I see it.”
Copyright Molly Liu 2020