What I saw in Purgatory
by Jesse Nissim
There was a bulimic orange storm at my back, swollen from sucking us all up, engorged and ready to hurl us back out against the rough terrain. There was a grass gutter for running in. Too hot, I rocked. My exaggerated weight sloshed from side to side, as if it was sloshing against the sides of a waterlogged trench. I was caught in a cylindrical tank, a whirlpool nightmare; something wasn't right about it. One hemisphere was entirely burning: a sky breathing fire. The rest was a moving picture full of soothing cool scenes, none of which I could actually reach. A metaphysical diptych: the cool world slid between the layers of the world of flames. I kept preparing myself to ride the fire into a pool; I could always see one out of the corner of my eye or feel one below my feet, but each chance turned into an orange streak emitting steam. So I just kept running from the fire.
2. Disorientation as a black umbrella, handsomely-shaped.
I found an umbrella open in my left hand. My feet kept up, one and one and one-step, as if it would always be this way. Resting places might approach; no matter. The sky might threaten to shift to cool, no matter. Marathonesque, I would respond to subtle changes in terrain and temperature by shifting into a new groove. I seemed to be moving along the border at the edge of a field and a road. All I knew for sure was that whatever the reason I was running, whoever I was running from had rendered me hungry, thirsty and in great emotional need. I could not name the exact emotion in a language that was familiar to me. Strange words perched on my tongue and I didn't know what to do with them. The umbrella somehow made me feel sheltered from all the things I did not recognize.
3. Outside of the frame.
This may have taken place: I went out to the parking lot and then remembered I had sold my car last week. My dark clothes were trapping heat against my skin. My mother always said black garments suited me. I couldn't tell which way was up.
4. Never have I felt such color.
Time was strangely changeable. I was not truly awake and yet, I couldn't leave except by foot. I felt my body move through an invisible thickness and my heart constrict from my forward effort. I thought I might be in the city where I lived seven years ago. Steam from the underground subway life drifted up through the sidewalk grates, making me a ghost and smelling like dim-sum. Orange made a dome in the sky, streaked with warmth. Without temperature I would have never known which way to go. It was beyond fever.
5. Rivers of silk fabric.
Rivers of silk fabric rushed and bellowed alongside me like strains of cool air. They sounded like expensive, flapping bed sheets, or quick fires descending a hillside, then crackling across a valley. Something enormous and unknown tried to overtake me on all sides. I felt rageful and delinquent, could not remember what I was running from, which era I needed entrance to, why the sky's minutia suddenly had the power to warp and grow. I ran. Every few minutes an hour passed. I wasn't dressed for it. Unsolicitous passersby would fly towards me and get sucked into the swirling orange sky. I may have become part of the sky. Maybe I was the storm. I don't know; I did not have a mirror. Despite my terror I found that I was laughing. My ability to garner the right response at the right moment was clearly gone. What had I done to deserve this?