Lay your life out flat before us. We never could spot you before, halfway round the earth and tied to land so small. But now we possess the science and vision. Now you can speak to us down the telephone cords of time and terrain.

Use scissors to slice off the right scenes; no need to reveal everything. Edit brutally. Soak the naked film in dye and roll it over the drum to dry it out. It is important that you get the tint exactly right. It is important that you show us exactly what you mean.

You have grown up and grown old in the shadow of the great technologies; here is another to tell your story. We will stop up all that leaking light, filter it through until it burns clean and true. We will bottle you and keep you. We will sell your warnings like wishes.



I. An amber glow hangs over your mother’s chambers and you are born, in furious noise and rending. The blood that follows you pools a deep chocolate in the soft, forgiving light. The blood that follows you follows, and follows, and cannot be stopped. Your father, off at war with Russia, will soon return to find you his only child, and he will name you after the boy you should have been. This scene establishes your long familiarity with loss. It marks you for sorrow, for tragedy and most of all for survival, for your own stubborn refusal to be fragile in the early half-light of your first moments and then always after.


II. This is what we refer to as your cowboy period, though of course you never saw those films. Nonetheless, it is a metaphor easy for us, to translate you properly into our tongues. Freedom as a prairie hung with dust. We paint a sepia tone over these scenes, as you grow wild and unformed.  Look closely. You may see your father, forever away in foreign lands. You learn from him to speak the language of business like a man. You learn to dream of money but mostly of buying things with money: jewels, travel, furs, horses, cars, music, lovers. You speak five languages. You ride like a man but you dance like a woman, all hips and knees, all arms and long white neck. You are a jazz swan. You are more yourself than you will ever be again.


III. The first night of your marriage is a long, deep azure. You are painted head to toe in white, shy and nervous because yours is a love match. You will buy a house, move to the city together. You will be a good wife. After the ceremony today you still wear the traditional white hood, to show you will always be a good wife. We do not understand, for all our meaning is housed in our faces. But we see you are still lovely; you are still a swan, but soon you will no longer glide over jazz. Love will make you less yourself, more a wife and then a mother. This will leave you full, some days, to watch your children grow, to stand aside and let pride for your husband bubble up and slide round your little family for protection. It will leave you empty, too, much later than today. It will leave you utterly alone. But for now you follow your new husband into the darkened room, where the warm night slips over your skin like smooth hands, and all your shyness falls away with your white gown.


IV. Yellow for the great flash, for the blindness in the air that wounds the brain as much as the eye. As you gape, on your knees before the nothing, the great blast wave compresses all your tissues and organs. You don’t know what this is, and truly, that is the hardest thing for us to bear. We know. We see the trail of wreckage stretching forward even now. But you only know pain, first, then fear as the release comes and the winds scream through and tear your house down, tear at your face and hair and dressing gown. You are knocked clear across the yard, and you can’t find your two little girls. Your husband is beside you, unconscious. Everything everywhere is a bright blur, a sulfur smear. Like the sun has gone wrong. We shield our eyes.


V. Red for the firestorm. Red for the sudden flames eating your house and your children. Red for your daughters’ cries, red filling your brain as you watch your babies burn. All those years gone to dust. Blood soaking the ground to mark the spot, a grisly ‘x’ of ashes and brick-colored mud.


VI. A sickly green for the strange, writhing tableau before you, for you are sick in heart and mind. You are sick in body. You lie in this makeshift hospital, watch your husband’s skin slough off and his insides spill out. He is a volcano, an unstoppable emptying, almost over. There is nothing you can do. You watch the nurses weeping, praying. You put your hand to your head; feel your hair slide off your scalp in a slippery chunk. You are watching it all, recording everything. Children with no faces. Screams that seem to rise from the underbelly of the world. We scream for you. Cots, floors, tables, walls, all stacked with bodies that are coming apart. The world is coming apart. It cannot be put back together.


VII. This scene is pedestrian, tinted in simple, tired violet for the dusk of your life. Just you and a desk and a calculator. You and your business sense, useful again in this economic boom. Though not really you. Not you-the-whole. Only you-the-part, the part that didn’t burn away, the part that baked in the fire and hardened. Now, you are rainbowed like a diamond. Now, with all of our light upon you, the glow is phosphorus, a glow in the jaw and the fingers. A glow in your old face. You tell us the ugliest deeds of the world look uglier still in floodlights, and we pull the plug at last, ashamed, willing to give you shade. Willing to admit we never really understood you at all, despite our marvelous tools. And so you live your last days the color of elderly ladies’ hair, of doilies, of certain calming teas. Of endings, but not quite yet. Of stories like yours, warnings to the world blown loose like handfuls of dust.


Amber Sparks’s short stories have been widely published in journals and anthologies, including New York Tyrant, Unsaid, Gargoyle, Barrelhouse, and The Collagist. Her chapbook, “A Long Dark Sleep: Stories for the Next World” was included in the chapbook collection Shut Up/Look Pretty from Tiny Hardcore Press, and her first full-length story collection, May We Shed These Human Bodies, will be published in September by Curbside Splendor. You can find her at ambernoellesparks.com or follow her on Twitter @ambernoelle.

Story originally published in Unsaid Magazine.

Adapted from May We Shed These Human Bodies by Amber Sparks. Copyright © 2012 by Amber Sparks. With the permission of the publisher, Curbside Splendor.

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