Root Rot

January 5, 2021

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Fargo Tbakhi (he/him) is a queer Palestinian-American performance artist. He is the winner of the 2018 Ghassan Kanafani Resistance Arts Prize, a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, and a Tin House Summer Workshop alum. His writing is published in Strange Horizons, Foglifter, Hobart, The Shallow Ends, Mizna, Peach Mag, and elsewhere. His performance work has been programmed at OUTsider Fest, INTER-SECTION Solo Fest, and has received support from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. He is currently a Halcyon Arts Lab Fellow and works at Mosaic Theater.

Content Warning(s):
Classism, Mental illness and ableism, Self-harm and suicide, Violence

By the time I hear that my brother is looking for me, and has somehow scraped together enough credit to get on a commercial flight to New Tel Aviv, and that he’s also brought his three-year-old daughter on her first interplanet trip, my insides are already rotten. Can’t get to the doctor without citizen papers, but I know. I can feel it. Lungs, liver, stomach, whatever—they’re done for. Most days I wake up, bleed, drink, bleed, and pass out. I am fucked beyond any reasonable doubt.

When the two OSPs are finished beating the shit out of me outside Farah’s (only place in the Arab Quarter with a liquor license which means what’s happening currently, a beating that is, happens less frequently than if I was drinking somewhere else) one of them checks for warrants. I’m swaying like something in the breeze though the provisional government never fixed the generators so there isn’t any breeze this part of planet. Sometimes I blow in my own face just to remember what wind felt like.

“Hey, you got a brother?”

Word drops into me. Shakes me up bad to hear it and for a second I almost don’t process what it means. Then I do and want to die. I spit out some blood and nod.

“Posted a bulletin. Yesterday, looks like. Asks if anyone’s seen you. Want me to forward your location?”

I try to think and then try not to think, and for a second I am really still, and then that second is one of the worst things I’ve felt in years, so I stay quiet and make a gesture like I’m going to hit the OSPs and they start in again and, later, when they’ve gone and I get feeling back in my body and start to register the pain, I go back inside and then I pray and then I don’t look at anybody and then I drink until I pass out.

§

When I start wishing I was dead I know it’s morning. I spend a few minutes trying to work out where I am. Still at Farah’s maybe. In prison maybe. In the street probably. As long I’m not at the house. Take a few minutes and press at my body. Feet. Stomach. Throat. Eyeballs. Thighs. Feel like crying but don’t.

My fingers are crusted with blood, and I think one might be broken. For a second, I think the blood might be dirt, that red Mars soil, and I get confused and think maybe I’ve still got a job, maybe it’s years ago and I’ve just been dreaming all of this pain, and maybe I’m still handsome and unbroken, maybe Farah and I are still in love and I can still make something grow, I can still get my fingers in the dirt and hear it, and then I shift slightly and get a bomb’s worth of pain from my ribs and my vision blurs blue and when it clears I know the soil is blood. I know where I am and who and why.

I turn over and make myself puke, and it’s that familiar yellow color with the little bit of blood threading through it like embroidery. Try and see my face in it but can’t. I’m sure if I could I’d look worse than dead. Skin pale and covered in bruises, my hair falling out, a few teeth gone in the back and I swear I’m getting shorter too. Maybe if I just lay here for a while nothing will happen and then I can start drinking again.

“Get up.”

Maybe not. Guess I’m at Farah’s. He kicks me in the ribs and cusses me out until I sit up.

“Hi,” I say. Voice sounds like a bad engine and I know my breath is probably toxic. I’m struck by the hugeness of how unwantable I am. Farah used to think I was pretty when I was clean. I used to think so too. Well nothing’s inevitable but change and skyscrapers as they say.

Farah’s just standing there and his arms are folded across his chest. I want to lick it like some wounded animal, him or me I don’t know but there’s some combination of animal and wound. “Hi,” I say again.

“You can’t come back in here.”

When Farah and I were together we used to draw on each other’s chests little maps. Plots of land we wanted to live on, spots on Mars we’d go and build our freedom. He would laugh and then when things got bad he wouldn’t laugh so much. But the ones I drew on his chest were so real to me. I never laughed.

“I’m okay, I just need to rest today. I’ll be okay. I won’t come back tonight, I’ll go somewhere else and cool off and come back tomorrow.”

“You can’t come back in here, ever.”

Really detailed mine were with all the land sectioned off into what types of plants I was going to have and then I’d get so excited to tell him how I’d figured what they needed from Mars soil and sun and air and he would listen and smile or listen and look so sad when things changed and I did too.

“Okay.”

“You haven’t paid your tab in months. And when you get in fights outside it’s bad for business. Offworld Settlement Palmach fuckers are over here constantly for you and no one wants to deal with that.”

Farah was the one who was waiting for me outside Ansar VI when I got out but I didn’t know what to say and neither did he so we didn’t. And he took me back to the bar and poured when I asked and that’s it and that’s where we’ve been since.

“It’s bad for business. And it’s bad for me. They’ll take the liquor license and maybe my papers too. And I don’t want to ever look at you again.”

I sit there like a puddle and try not to think. If I keep my eyes focused on the puke I won’t let what’s happening in. It’ll stay out so I can move and breathe some. I stare at the little thread of blood in the bile and in the corner of my eye I see Farah start to go and the desperation in me rears up.

“Fathi’s here,” I say.

He stops and I can see he’s being really careful with what’s on his face. Blank like a stone wall.

“He’s looking for me. OSPs told me last night. Please don’t do this.”

“Maybe you should see him.”

“Don’t want to see him. Please. I love you.”

“Fuck you.”

“Okay.”

“You owe me too much for that. Just too much.”

“Okay.”

We both shut up and I know that we might not ever stop shutting up now. That we might be shut and closed forever and no openness ever coming back. Every day there are moments like this when whatever might have been waiting for me in the future just goes away, I can feel it just burning up. I wish I could stop drinking. No I don’t. I wish I’d never come to this planet. No I don’t.

“I’m going to code the bar’s door against your breath until you settle the tab. Maybe Fathi can help you. I don’t know. I don’t think I can anymore. If I ever could. I’m sorry.”

Yes I do.

“Please. I can’t pay. I don’t have anything left.”

Farah and I touching the dirt before this was New Tel Aviv, when it was still new. Holding seeds. Playing with gravity and dreaming of freedom. Kissing. The way I could make him laugh like the sun was out and we could photosynthesize.

“You could always sell it. You know somebody in the city will pay good money.”

It. Flash of red. Memory. Dirt. Petals. Whatever.

“Don’t have it. Confiscated. All gone,” I lie.

Farah shakes his head, really tired-seeming. Looks like he’s going to say something, maybe argue, push me to do what I should, but he doesn’t. I think I’m glad about that but I’m not really sure. It’s a long time before he talks again.

“Either pay your debts or don’t come in here again.”

“Okay,” I say. He reaches out and puts his fingers on my knee and I remember how much he used to like touching it, how he liked to feel where it’d been broken and reset. We hold still like that for too long so I say “Can I have one more drink, just to get me going, for today?”

For a second his face looks like it’s got something like pity on it, and for that I’m grateful. It’s all I ever want.

I get out and sun hits me like a missile, and if anyone outside is looking at me with any kind of anything on their face I don’t know it, I can’t see anything at all.

§

Getting to the other side of the Arab Quarter means going through the New Tel Aviv settlement civic center but I really don’t have a choice if I want to get some cash and keep drinking. If I had better papers and hadn’t been in prison I could drink somewhere anonymous and illegal and maybe fade away but oh well. Walking to the delineation gate I stop by the dried out water tanker (left over from when we were still trying to fully terraform the Quarter, when any of us thought this could be home) to visit the cat. She came up on the second or third rocket from somebody’s alleyway in Khalil and when things were good she was adored and we joked about making her mayor. Then we all got fucked and she did too. Once the settlements got on the Mars train and surrounded what we had we were all panicking and trying to stay free and in the panic nobody took her with them. Now she’s forgotten like me. Like all of us I guess, but me especially I like to think. I check on her when I’m sober enough to remember.

I crouch, eye the underside of the tanker. She’s there looking like I feel. We look at each other for a while and eventually I reach out my hand to try and pet her. Too far back and I’m stretching to just get a scratch, something to let her know I’m here. No luck. Oh well. Yank my hand back out and go to look at her again but she’s gone. I stay down there for a moment because it’s cool and my head hurts. The space where she was, where my hand couldn’t reach.

Closer to the delineation gate I find some kid selling flasks. I manage to convince her to take some synth watermelon seeds I found in my pockets for a flask of arak which is all I can afford since nobody drinks it anymore. It does the trick and soon I’m numb again. The thing about drinking a lot is that there’s nothing meaningful about it. Just fucks you up and you’re not in the world anymore and there’s no past or future really just one foot in front of the other if you can manage that. And sometimes you can still kind of experience what’s around you only it’s not as intense on a personal level. Like now, when the arak’s fuzzed me up, the settlement drones flashing hasbara holograms aren’t so annoying. They’re kind of like insects that aren’t biting. Just something to look at with corpse eyes.

At the gate the guard asks where I’m going and checks my papers, which are shit, obviously. I say I’m just going across to the other side of the Quarter and I’m sticking out my arm before he’s even finished looking. Window opens and the little mechanical arm comes out to stick my vein. Once they’ve got the liter of my blood they approve a fifteen minute pass to get through to the settlement. The blood loss and the arak have really messed me up but I think I can manage getting to the next gate into the Quarter in time. They’re usually pretty good about getting the blood back in once you’re there depending on the line, though once or twice I’ve gotten someone else’s liter. Probably healthier than whatever I’ve got going on, probably might have saved my life. I don’t know.

The settlement civic center looks the same as always. Clean and stupid. The glass looks terrible and it never lasts. And they’ve ruined all the landscape work they made us do in Ansar too, synthetic olive trees on every fucking corner like a postcard. And the synth poppies look as sad as I knew they would. I stop and bend down to feel them, the sickly genetic smell. None of the settlers know how to grow anything real here and none of the Palestinians have the resources even if they did know which they don’t.

Before the settlements when this was just empty planet it was so possible, just crammed to the brim with possible. It was going to be free and we were going to learn the land and find God again and all that bullshit. I believed it so deeply I left everything behind on Earth. The people who couldn’t leave I cursed and tore from my heart. I was stupid and I thought things would be different. And when the settlers followed and they liked the wide open planet so much they left the old land behind, they declared any flora from Earth contraband and put me away. Now we’ve got a provisional government I don’t know or care about and my brother’s been living in Reunified Palestine for years while I drink myself to death, which reminds me my brother is here for me, and I want to just pull up everything with roots on this fucking planet, just salt the ground and then salt myself too. But I’ve only got a few minutes before the blood loss passes me out so there’s no time for being angry or anything else.

At the other delineation gate there’s a protest on the Arab side. They’re holding signs in Arabic I can’t read. Somebody took down one of the hasbara drones and they’re passing it around like a football though it doesn’t really roll. People are dancing and something’s on fire. I don’t know what they want, not sure I can even guess anymore. Some days I’m sad about losing the language, but most days I don’t mind it. Ansar policy is to reprogram prisoner consciousness with Hebrew once they wipe the Arabic which serves me fine. I like not understanding things.

The blood bot gives me my liter back and I stand a little straighter. I’m looking at the faces of all the Arabs through the light-meshed gate and I hear myself thinking they’re idiots, they’re evil, we ought to just shut up and die and float out into space, cold and empty as every day here, all we deserve. Sometimes I don’t know what’s my voice and what’s the guards at Ansar VI and what’s the drones and what’s the drink and what’s Farah and what’s God. All I know is when the protesters make space for me to stumble through their anger, when they touch me and tell me to join them, I loathe, I loathe every cell on my body that feels and I loathe every second I’m breathing and the pit opens up in me and I want something more and I don’t know what it is. So I push them away and while they’re yelling and spitting at me collaborator coward fucking drunk I drain the last of the arak and I say thank you to the drone when it passes out an Arab in front of me and I can pocket a few loose coins that spill out from her hands like petals.

§

When I get to Abu Khaled’s he’s curled up on the floor and I can tell he’s soiled himself. Touch his forehead and it’s hot as an iron. Probably he’ll last a few more days and then go. I wonder if he has papers for the house or if it’ll go to the settlers. Last place I ever felt decent was in this front room of his—curled up a lot like he is now and crying nonstop while I tried to dry out for the first time in years. His hands on my head. His hands. Remembering feels terrible so I dig a nail into my palm until the pain brings me dull again. I need to get him stable and then ask for some cash. That’s it. That’s all.

I get his pants the rest of the way off and drag him into the tiny bathroom and into the tub. While I rinse him off and he’s groaning, eyes floating open-closed like a camera shutter, I look at him. Skin used to be brown but now it’s some sick grey blue. Bruises everywhere. So thin you could think he was just pastry.

When I’d stumbled in, that night I was trying to be good, he was patient. I cried and he just sat there and touched me, just a little, just to show he was there, and eventually I slept, and the next day he fed me and we didn’t say anything to each other since he only spoke Arabic and I didn’t. I was close to dead from trying to stop drinking cold, but he kept me alive and I got back to normal. I’d hated him for how kind he was and how it made me feel okay for a moment so one night I drank enough so that I knew I’d do something cruel, and I did, and so I left and knew that it was my fault that I was leaving, which was right. After that I didn’t see him again, but I went back once, late at night when I knew he was asleep, and I worked for hours until the sun was just coming up, sweating and freezing and pissed myself but couldn’t stop until it was right, until I’d made him these long wooden planters with bell peppers growing in them, real ones, part of the stash of seeds I’d hidden, or at least I hoped they were growing, but they were definitely there. I felt good, so I went and loitered near the border fence until the OSP spotted me and did what they do, and I fell unconscious feeling nothing.

Now he’s shivering in the tub all wet. It takes me a while to get him out and into the bedroom because I’m starting to shake from not drinking since the arak a few hours ago. The room is nearly empty. Only things around are socks and his paintings and cigarette butts. Get him on the bed and pull the sheet over him and it pretty quickly gets soaked in his sweat, and a little after it’s got some of mine on it too. Abu Khaled is shaking and I’m shaking and I can’t think straight, and I’m trying to ask him how he is, or if he can hear me, or if he has any money he can spare, but I can’t get the Arabic out though I really try and remember. So for a few minutes the two of us are just making sounds at each other, groaning a little like birds. He starts to sound like he’s in a lot more pain, and I don’t know what to do or say so I start crying and just touching him, his head, his neck, the soles of his feet, shoulders, stomach, just putting my hands on him the way I would put them on soil, just getting to know what it is. He starts trying to say something, and I’m listening harder than I ever have.

“Law samaht,” he’s saying, over and over, “law samaht, law samaht.” I don’t know what he means except that his voice sounds like he needs something. And I’m remembering what he did and what I’ve done and didn’t do, and I can’t fucking understand what he’s saying and I’m a sorry excuse for flesh so I take some deep breaths and I leave him there crying out like I was an angel who turned away. And in the front room I find a few crumpled up shekels and stuff them in my pockets. Hold down some puke and try to stop shaking. Hear him still in the room saying what he’s saying, needing what he’s needing, and I walk out and I shut the door, and in the yard the wooden planters are empty.

§

Next morning I’ve got a few ribs broken. Last night I took Abu Khaled’s money and went to a bar in the civic center. Wasn’t enough money to settle my tab at Farah’s, so I figured it was worth it and besides some settlers might beat me bad enough that I’d be passed out until my brother’s gone back to Earth. No such luck obviously as I’m awake now. Neighborhood drone picked me up walking toward the bar and put me on the municipal timeline, so some settlers came by and I hit one of them kind of half-hearted but enough to get beat. It felt alright. I actually think one of them might have served as a guard at Ansar VI, but I couldn’t be sure, passed out too quick and besides I can’t remember much from those days. This morning the money’s gone and I still haven’t had a drink, so things are pretty bad. Can’t even puke. Can still feel my insides breaking down. I’m willing them on.

Out of options, so I get up from the civic center street and limp through the delineation gate. Nothing left to do but go to the house. My head is killing me and something in my side is aching, in addition to the broken ribs. Maybe they’re poking some organ, something fragile in there, just puncturing it with every step I take back toward the house. Or maybe that’s just all my fuckups talking.

The breath scanner at the front door is busted, stripped for parts by someone since I’ve been here last, so I muscle down the door and get inside. Most of the inside’s been stripped too. I stopped caring about it a long time ago so I let it happen, even encouraged it sometimes. Not much left inside the wooden walls, most of it synth wood but a few planks here and there real that I brought with me on the first rocket. Standing inside it’s still, empty like the remnants of a ghost. A reminder of what gets left when I try, which is nothing. A wave of something hits me and I feel sick, really sick, a new level of pain and nausea. Get on my knees to wait for the puke to come. I know what to do in my throat to coax it out and I do, little burps and swallowing, and soon enough there’s a new puddle of bile on the floor, some arak smell and more blood than usual. Something in me knows there can’t be much of this left. I rest my forehead on the floor. Red dirt tracked in by looters mixes a little with my sweat and I rub it around a little: Mars makeup. Almost pretty again. Don’t want to get my head up from the floor or open my eyes so I crawl with my forehead pressed to the synth wood floor like some protracted migratory prayer. Feel my way around to the little closet I used to keep seeds in. Check first for the liquor compartment—found, broken, and emptied. I figured as much. But I reach behind and underneath and open up the second compartment, the one nobody knows about, not even Farah when we shared this place as lovers and comrades and fools. Eyes closed I’m fumbling around in the dark trying to find the last part of the person I was and then I do. I stay still for a little, and feel the blood pump in my body and around my rotten organs and through to my bruised and broken and reset arms and into my fingers and then somehow a little bit into the soil that my fingers are feeling, and through the soil into the roots of the last real poppy on Mars, the last remnant of the place I thought this planet could be.

When they took me to Ansar I’d already started drinking. Already just a shadow and welcomed the Palmach vehicles, the shackles. Farah already gone even when he was with me, the country on Earth already reunified, free. I knew I’d missed whatever a person’s life could be that was good. The ship had flown. I gave up everything and let myself conceive of the life held in the imagination of Ansar VI and that was all. But still I kept this plant. Sometimes, in that sweet spot when the drink loosens my mind but doesn’t wipe it, I remember the little poppy and get wistful, swear to myself I’ll find a piece of land for my own and get things going, start over, eke out home through the sweat and the tears, and then I take another drink and it all just seems too hard so I let go again. But here it still is, rare as all hell, almost impossible to keep alive on this planet. My last resort.

My hand still stuck in the compartment and illuminated by the artificial sunlight bulb I installed, the misters come on. Wet fingers, a little caked up blood or dirt washing off, and when the sound is done I can hear somebody behind me in the room. I try to yank my hand out and turn around and get up off the ground all at once and do none of them, somehow end up hitting the ground face first. When I can open my eyes and lift up my head a little some things swim into view, two pairs of feet, one big, one heartbreaking small, and I know.

“Hi, Fathi,” I say, trying to push up onto my hands and knees but not quite getting there. Suddenly my arms feel like spun sugar. Nobody says anything while I keep trying to get up, scoot over to the wall and sort of push up against it to get some leverage. Eventually I give up and stay on the ground. I shut my eyes and move my face so they’re pointed where I know Fathi’s face will be and then I open them and I keep them trained only on his face. I can’t look at her. I don’t want to see how she’s seeing.

Fathi looks older but then he always did. People always used to guess he was the older one of us and sometimes I thought they were right. I was born first but Fathi was born smart. Born good maybe. He’s dressed in nice jeans and a yellow collared shirt and I start counting the hairs in his beard to avoid looking at her.

“I’m here to take you home.”

Looking right in his eyes I try to smile a little. “Like that British song. Remember that? Pack your things I’ve come to take you home. Something like that right? Only I don’t have anything to pack.”

“Farah told me you’re sick. Dying.”

Fucking Farah.

Solsbury Hill, that was it. Gabriel. You remember? Every time we’d play it Dad would tell us Peter Gabriel was pro-Palestine. Remember?”

“I don’t want you to die.”

My eyes are locked on Fathi’s face like a leech but I can hear her breathing, I can feel her here with us seeing me and I don’t know why these memories are coming to me now but I need Fathi to remember them with me. I know I smell like alcohol and blood, probably other things more vile and sick, but he’s looking at me without any pity, without any anger even, and for once I let myself sit in that non-judgement, in that love, and I don’t run away this time.

“Do you remember that? Fathi? The song?”

“I remember that. Of course I do.” His eyes are soft and blue. I can feel one of my ribs poking into my skin and I wonder if it’s bleeding but I can’t look down to check because I might see her. “It’s been a long time, habibi.”

“Yeah.” My mouth feels like brick and dust. “How have you been?”

“Good. Things are good.”

Fathi used to cover for me when I came home late back on Earth. When the soldiers were looking for me after throwing rocks. When our parents were looking for me after boys. Fathi was my anchor and I’ve only been able to drift so long because I didn’t have him here with me.

“You know things are different now, back home. There’s a place for you there.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know about that.”

“I do.”

Fathi and I playing football. Trying cigarettes together. The way he held me when my heart got broken. The way his face looked when I left him in the morning, asleep like an angel, and I took my bag of seeds and crawled through miles of tunnels to get to the rocket and held Farah’s hand while we sobbed and the land got smaller and smaller and then gone.

“I left. I gave it up. It doesn’t want me back.”

“It doesn’t want you dead either.”

“I left you there. I left you all alone and I went away.”

“Yeah, you did. So you’re a piece of shit. What else is new.”

Even sick as I am Fathi gets a laugh out of me. But the laugh hurts my ribs which remind me I’ve got ribs which reminds me I’m a person and so on. I try to avoid thinking those things because they hurt so I say something to get this to stop.

“I’m glad I left. And I’m glad I didn’t take you with me.” I don’t feel anything when I say it, because I’m staring at the corner of Fathi’s mouth and praying he’ll get hurt and leave. I don’t want to do this. Fathi’s eyes I can’t read and he comes forward, leans down to me and touches my forehead. Like some insect landing on a bloom. I’m blinking hard and he’s wiping off the sweat from my brow. Fathi speaks soft to me while he holds my hand.

“I will forgive you no matter how hard you try to stop me. B’hebbek. Remember? B’hebbek. You can still come home.”

The Arabic doesn’t process in my brain but it does somewhere else. And I know he’s telling the truth. His mouth is in that little curve it makes when he’s being sincere. It used to make me annoyed that his body was bad at lying and mine was too good. I want to shake him and tell him to lie for both our sakes, for her sake.

“I don’t have papers. They’ve got me on no-transport. There’s no point in trying.”

“One of the port employees agreed to get you off planet. They’ll get you papers and a ticket on our return flight and you can live with us. You can come home.”

“How much?”

“Sixty-five thousand.”

His words are sieving through me like water, and the drink-guards-God-me voice is saying You could get that for the poppy, easy. This is it. This is the moment. This is your soil telling you to come back. This is goodness finally coming to meet you where you are. Trying my hardest to listen. To believe that this is my voice and that it’s telling the truth.

“I’ll try to get the money.”

When I let myself say that my eyes almost waver, almost drop down to meet her gaze and let her see me. But I don’t. Fathi looks down at her, and then at me, and his eyes get harder, sadder. I watch the muscles in his arm tighten, relax, tighten.

“The flight leaves at 11. Meet us there.”

He turns to leave, tugging at his daughter’s little arm so gently, just the way I used to tug at his when we were kids.

“Fathi?”

He stops and looks back.

“How’s the soil?” I say. He smiles.

“Lush,” he says. “Waiting for you.” Between the three of us, Fathi and his daughter and me, something almost begins to grow, something almost claws its way to taking hold. I close my eyes, and as they leave the little one says “Buh-bye” but I hear it for a moment as “alive.”

Alive.

§

Now everything’s a blur. The blood bot a blur. The still-raging protest a blur. Hasbara drones projecting blurs as I get close to the Import/Export and Contraband Office in the civic center, hands obsessively going to the little package of soil and life hidden in my crotch, making sure it’s still there and I didn’t break it. Now the IEC guard checking my papers and getting ready to jail me. Now whispering into their ear what I have and who I need to see. Now the higher up. Now the little room and the surveillance bots blanked for a few minutes. Now I’m taking out the poppy and now the higher up’s eyes going wide and now “Name your price” and now I hear somebody’s voice saying “Sixty-five thousand” and now one of the times I can’t hear if it’s me or God or drink or death or love but now the cash in a discreet little tote bag and now the poppy leaving my hand and now the last chance I had at what I’d dreamed of gone into the hands of a bureaucrat who’d sell it for more than I’d ever dare to dream. But, now, I don’t care. I have what I came for. I know where I’m going. And all the way back through the civic center it’s like I’m floating like the gravity’s gone out again though it hasn’t. And I get my rotten blood back and I keep walking and as I walk I’m shedding so much weight: the poppy, Ansar, the drones and the blood bots, the IEC, the beatings and the OSP, the settlers, Abu Khaled, the protest, the Quarter, hope, home, hope. And then I get where I’m going. And I’m silent as I push over the tote bag of money. And I speak in the voice of somebody too stupid and too wrong to do any different and I want to say so many things but instead I say “This covers the tab and then some. I’m going to sit here and drink and I don’t want you to ever try and stop me” and Farah looks at me like the way you look at something that’s not there anymore, like the way you look at where a plant used to be or a vase or a building, and then something in his eyes changes and he pours me something clear and unknowable and that’s the end of it, and I drink until I can barely speak, and then when I’m ready I go to the port.

§

Can barely stand. Make it to the viewing section and find the hole Farah and I hacked into the lightmesh fence years ago. Sneak through and collapse onto the bit of shadow on the edge of the takeoff platforms and find the one rocket gearing up for a launch. Where Fathi is. Where she is.

Pain in my back and in my stomach. I don’t care. I take a swig from whatever I brought from Farah’s and things quiet down. Just my rot and the settlement’s rot and the planet’s rot all communing, all sharing a body. I’m blissful knowing I did exactly what everybody with any sense thought I would do. I’m already somewhere floating outside anyone’s jurisdiction. And then I look over at the rocket and my eyes roam to one of the windows and there she is.

It’s too late to look away, I’ve already seen her and I swear she’s seen me even though I know that’s not possible, I’m too far away and it’s dark. But I believe we’re looking at each other. She’s plain looking and sweet, a brown curtain of hair and her eyes like two onion bulbs, little I mean, and light. If anything was left of my heart she would break it. I can’t remember her name, if anybody ever told me in the letters to Ansar or on the bulletin or maybe Fathi said it or fuck maybe she told me herself once but I can’t remember. The ship’s starting to lift off and I send my soul with it. I touch my empty knee and I whisper like she can hear me.

I tell her they’re right about me. They always were. I’m bad and I’m a criminal and a threat and I tell her it’s okay, that she doesn’t have to be that way, that people disappear from your life and you can forget who they were or what they did to you or what they looked like drunk, I tell her she’s home and she should know that she’s home, that her dad is good how I’m not, I tell her that God loves her and the land loves her and I tell her that poppies need lots of sun and not too much water and she just has to care for them until they’re gone, and I tell her that they self-seed so beautifully that she’ll forget about them for years and then, so suddenly, like heartbreak or hope or pain, just so fucking quick, they’ll come back, and she won’t even remember they were ever so far gone.

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© Fargo Tbakhi

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