Read Mayflies Online

Authors: Sara Veglahn

Tags: #The Mayflies


The Mayflies
Sara Veglahn


. Just a trickle, nothing more. Soon rain and more rain, and later: a flood. In time, the water shifted from a small still pool and embraced gravity. It moved in a line over rocks and trees and cities and towns. A whole world covered in water. A whole world outside the water.

The river gained speed and coursed through the valley it had made. What started as a clear stream merged into something muddy and full of catfish and mayflies and other things that fell and disappeared into the dark water.

In the beginning, a mayfly has no wings. She lies buried until it is time to emerge. Once she reaches the surface and removes herself from the mud, she is altered.

In dreams, I walk through mud. I fall into it and feel changed. My ladies are always there, as they are always here with me now.

I began as a girl. She began as me.

I pull myself up and out and stand with water streaming from my limbs and hair. I am a fountain. The ancient story of girls who followed each other one by one into the river and never came back is repeated until the story becomes a story of only one girl who follows nothing and goes into the river alone.

This is how that story goes:

I walk through the streets at dawn. A thick fog hovers here and there.

At dawn, I am out on the street, my pace steady, my shoes sharp clacking on the pavement. There is no one else.

The river comes into view only as I reach it. It's summer, and there's a damp heat rising from the patch of grass where I now stand. The water laps against the heavy black rocks. It is nearly time for the mayfly hatching.

Until I reach it, the river is invisible.

She is here and I am her.

My wings emerge damp and fragile.

She carries herself down to the water.

My captors, my saviors, myself.

The world outside.

Nothing changes.

It is unclear where the water ends when everything is water.

Her outline makes a shadow against the wall. It moves with the cool breeze that comes in through the window. A situation of disappearance. No one knows where she's gone and she isn't sure either. Solid ground, yes, but slippery and moveable. She is scattered across the floor.

I see her there and begin to gather the fragments.

I am here.

Can you see?

Look into the water. My face makes many faces.

And there is this day, right now.

There is the day before and the day to come.

There is each day.

The Mayflies

. The streets and sidewalks are marked with a trail of our damp footprints, yet we are nowhere to be found. We sing all of the old songs, march in a line like children. At night, in summer, our steam rises. You believe you see a hand emerge from the water, a dark soaked head of hair that turns toward you. You think you see us in windows and doorways, in dining halls and tea rooms. We are there, beside you but we are not there. We are there beside you and we are there and not. We are always there beside you.

A new moon. The kind seen in daytime. A chance of snow or freezing rain. The heat wave was predicted to last several more weeks, and the newly hatched mayflies covered everything. In meadows, crickets formed their songs. In the songs, a train from far away, an ear pressed to the rails. Something sloshing. All of the ladies in their Egyptian costumes were standing on the balustrades, their arms and hands making sharp angles. Hundreds of ladies and hundreds of angles.

I moved through corridors. Blood to blood. No light. Lost.

A motorcycle or car raced to where someone would pull me out, sticky and wet. A bus or train was racing there, where someone, I don't know who, pulled me out. I was no longer attached to my mother. I was no longer attached to my father.

Before everything, there are first things. Small high window views. Her little prison when she was small and waiting. She saw everything that she saw. A mistake in wanting. Everyone waving where she could monster. Throw this mean over the fence. And now flung or thinking so. She was waked.

Try to catch her. There, in the meadow. She traverses the region of ripples. She is transparent and obvious as she flies. Unused to such movement, she grows tired. There is a summer inside her summer. She returns to mud and is troubled. She waits. It is morning again and she is alone with the light. Three come to greet her. She sees them standing above. Her tiny eyes are confused by their faces reflected in the water.

In the first dream I remember, I walk back and forth on a red footbridge and stop to watch the rushing water. It is like the water that comes out from the side of a dam. It is very cold and the water is several shades of gray. There's an airplane in the sky writing a message in smoke that I cannot read. I am alone in a field. It is winter but almost spring and very muddy. I don't like walking in the mud. I fall down into something soft, like feathers. I can't remember anything more from this first dream.

In the middle of nowhere (outside the outside world)

A mother walks into the steam of a steam train and disappears

(once upon a time)

Two sisters run to the tracks they put their ears to the rails

A door opens to a door and to another

Everything river-colored

Furrowed fields

To get to the river and the ghost

They must run a long way

She is a fly in the water

(some girls can jump through fire)

One girl decides to leave in the night

The constant agitation of the river bottom

She goes to see her ghost

When he comes to her she is unafraid

“Tell me what happened”

A man walks in to a river…

There is the whistle and smoke of a train

They stand as it passes

They yell into the water

The first time I speak to a ghost I don't realize it's not a real person. I sit in a green chair and look out the window at the wind blowing the trees so hard I think they'll break. I've been looking out this window in my apartment for a long time.

My back is to the door of the room in which I sit and that is when I hear a low voice. The voice says my full name. I think the voice belongs to a neighbor or to someone delivering a package. I say, “Yes? What is it? Are you downstairs? I'm coming right down.”

I reach the front door and see no one. I look all around, up and down the street. I go back inside and look in every room, every closet, every dark corner. I am not afraid. I don't hear the voice again.

Below the surface. The burden of air and taking it in. I've buried myself deep in mud and silt. My ladies are looking for me, I know. They will find me soon enough, but how will I appear?

She is here too. She sits folded into the sediment. We hold hands and look to the sky that wavers in the wake.

The first stage of life is water through the body. Her body is water. It is water, air, and salt. She is there in the mud. In mud she lies in wait. There is a transformation. Stones and vegetation, thorax and wings. Abdomen and legs, tail and gills. Each stage presents a great vulnerability. She flies and everything empties out. She burrows and becomes different. She lets go her anchor, lets the water go. She floats to the surface.

One year, early in adulthood, I went to live alone on an island off the coast of Scandinavia. The rocks were hard and black and it rained almost every day. The house had many windows and sheer draperies. There was always a breeze flowing through the place putting everything into motion. My ladies either lounged in the sun or searched the beach for small shells. A young woman who looked like me came once a week with supplies. One time she told me everything about her life. I listened but she grew frustrated by my silence. Then she tried to become me and I tried to become her. We tried to switch.

Later, when I was dying, I saw nothing but the ceiling of my room, the arcs of plaster hanging by threads, the plaster angels losing their faces. I was both silent and could not stop speaking. I said things like, “A long road down to the valley”, and, “There is nothing but the shape of your hands to call you back, to tell you what you must do.” My ladies continued on. They massaged my arms with fragrant oils, they sang low clear songs.

When I look at my hands I think,
These are not mine. This is not me

Mud and insects and we went walking there right down in it, fish smell, dead fish, mud and insects, we went there walking at night in the summer it was different than in winter, it never froze really, there was a slime that covered you if you submerged yourself and you couldn't get the smell out, it was more than mud or insects, or fish smell, dead fish, it was rotten, the impossibility of really reaching the bottom because the bottom was so deep with mud whatever was down there something ancient like the catfish that hovered slowly suspended moving barely their scales like armor, their ancient bodies a call to a past we weren't a part of, this smell, it got into everything.

She spent days alone in the city, where she wandered back and forth between the apartment she rented downtown and the bridge with its red neon sign advertising beer and its blue neon sign advertising flour. It was a time of collecting things.

She picked up everything she found. Someone's lost shopping list or coat button. A shard of green glass worn smooth by traffic. Once, a fifty dollar bill dropped outside the museum. She looked around for someone looking around for lost money, but when no one appeared, she slipped it into her mitten and kept it folded against her palm.

Soft snow grabbed her hair and coat. Her boots on the salted sidewalk made a noise like chewing. She gazed at her apartment building from across the street. It looked both warm and hollow. She crossed the street and climbed the stairs to the door. Her key did not fit into the lock. She tried it the other way and it still didn't work. She tried a different key and it didn't work either. She tried every key she had. It was dark and cold and getting colder. She sat on the stairs and examined her keys. They seemed familiar. Nothing was different. She tried again—each key right-side up and upside down. Something must have happened. She turned to the buzzers on the wall to try to call someone, anyone, to let her in. As she scanned the names for a familiar name, she saw that her name was not among them. A sound like waves sloshed through her. She returned to the street and saw that it was not her building. She was on the wrong street. She had been so sure that this was where she lived.

I have a dream in which a horse is stolen by horse thieves. I am supposed to ride this horse, but when I come back from getting ready to do so, the horse has been stolen and the thieves are waiting for me too.

It didn't stop raining for days. The water kept rising. We didn't know what to do except wait for it to stop. The road became a river. The water moved so fast you would be carried away if you fell into it. An expanse of water larger than the valley it filled. Bursting its banks. Such escapes—away from rivers and the language of rivers. To seek something soft like mud or feathers. You wouldn't be found. The water bursting its banks.

When I died, the sun shone strong. A clear day without much breeze. All the traffic was stopped on the bridge and no one was in any hurry. Many people stood outside of their cars, reading the paper and waiting to go. Everyone in their summer clothes, everyone alive.

The streets where I died were narrow with shadow. The shadows expanded past the corner store. I would walk through days inhaling and exhaling. I would have to close the blinds to the glare. Everything I loved was placed into boxes. Everything I had was packed away.

I gazed long at the soft sun. I was down.

When the great wave burst through me, I was stranded. Drowning on concrete, the sidewalk clanging with bells, I opened the door and had faith in symmetry. What did I know? My ladies redoubled. They ate red popsicles and drooled the juice down. They imitated each other's rhythm, seeming sorry, all of them saying, “Run along now, run along.”

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