Art (c) 2005 John Barbato
The Book of Mud
Tell us a story, us brothers said to Girl, the three of us sitting, down by the river, around the fire that the three of us had built. A story? Girl said. What kind of a story? A story about us, us brothers told her. A story that we don't know. Once upon a time there were two brothers, so began Girl's tale. But us brothers, we weren't the best listeners. Girl could not get past the first line before we started interrupting her with questions, such as, what are their names? Where do they live? What is this story going to be about? To these questions Girl came back with these answers: that these two brothers both called each other Brother, they lived near a river, and that mud is what their story was about. But we already know all about that, us brothers said. To this, Girl didn't listen. Girl shook her girl head and then Girl started retelling her story. Once upon a time, she said, there were two brothers. And these brothers were made of mud. They were made of mud and didn't even know it. How do I know? Girl asked, and the fire flared up into our boy eyes. I know, Girl spoke this out, before us brothers could poke in our boy voices, because I was the one who made them. I was this girl, Girl said, who always wanted a brother, so I decided, one day, to make for myself not one brother but two. I started from the bottom and worked my way up. Only the moon above me, full and white, watched as I worked the mud up, mixing in river and dirt, until what stood up along side the river's edge on either side of myself were these two boys, brothers, both made out of mud. The first words to come out of both of their mud mouths was the word mother. So that night, in a house not far from the river's muddy edge where these made out of mud brothers got made, I found a woman who was not yet a mother and in her dream, that night, I whispered to her and told her that soon she was going to become a mother. When this mother awoke in the morning she was sick and white of skin and inside her woman belly was a boat being rocked to and fro on stormy seas. The brothers were sailors on that sailoring ship sailing for a world that they did not know of. Months later, they came upon a muddy river that was more mud than it was water, and here they cast out their rusty anchors towards that muddy river shore. When they set foot onto all that mud, it was, to these brothers, like walking on water. They walked up from the shore of this river until they came upon the house where there lived that mother and a man too who these brothers would one day call father. Here these brothers lived and here they fished, and I watched without them seeing me, I watched them grow, these brothers, into two muddy boys. And one day I said to myself, that it's time they know from where they came. So I came out of hiding. Under a moon full and white, I rose up out of the mud down by the river. Us brothers, when Girl said this, we leaned in even closer to the fire. This fire, it had grown bigger with each of Girl's breaths, each of her girl sentences was a log that Girl had pitched into the fire. And now that Girl had stopped in the telling to us of this story, the fire was beginning to fade out. Night swallowed us brothers up inside of its black-holed mouth. All the stars in the sky had fallen. The moon was a ghost of a fish blackened with mud. Us brothers, we got up and walked towards the river and then we kept on walking out into the dark and the muddy waters until the water was up and over our boy heads. In the underwater darkness below, with silver fish scales flashing in the spaces where stars used to be, and with Girl's moony- eyed face gazing down at us from up above us brothers, we could hear the gurgle of Girl's voice, and the words: And they lived, these brothers. They lived happily ever after, Girl said. And us brothers, looking up, looking up at the sky that was now the river, we could see Girl's hand closing in over us brothers-as if over a book-to hold us in this place.
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