Saturday 17 June 2023

Saturday Sample: The Adventures of iris and Zack by I. L. Green, still water

Queen of Bavaria

Previously published by Foliate Oak Online Literary Magazine 2007

“Queen of Bavaria?” Iris asked. “What happened to the Queen of Bavaria?”

“What?” I asked. I pretended to have no idea what she was talking about. My focus was on the half empty bottle of Chivas. When it came to whiskey I was a half empty kinda guy.

“You were obsessed with the Queen of Bavaria. Zach, are you listening to me?”

I poured another drink. I was listening, just not concentrating. Ice is all I could think about. Chivas needs ice. It’s my usual drink.

“Ice?” I asked.

“It’s in the kitchen,” Iris said.

The kitchen wasn’t one of my favorite rooms. It was dirty and messy. We generally kept the entire apartment in such a condition, but the kitchen had grease added to the grunge.

I had to hammer away at the big chunk of half melted re-frozen ice in the freezer bucket, so I could have the smaller chunks for my glass. I loved the cracking noise ice made as it broke apart from being dropped into warm whiskey. I was getting a little drunk. Iris was a bit high from a Tramadol and Valium cocktail.

I sat in the chair facing the sofa. It was covered with dirty clothes, and I assumed it was a pair of shoes digging into my ass. In my half drunken state, I didn’t care to check.

“The whole time we were growing up all you ever wanted was the Queen of Bavaria. You saved money working at the Java Hut for a year. Looked into getting the proper permits for endangered birds, remember? Your mother wouldn’t sign for it?”

“I remember something,” I lied.

“Oh Jesus,” Iris sighed. She stretched back on the couch. Crossed her tiny dark legs, feet propped on the arm of the sofa. She wore only green boxers and a white t-shirt. Her tiny body resembled a preteen boy with its lack of the more pronounced female curvatures.

“Sometimes it seems like we lived two lives. When I was young and innocent, and then after Bobby.”

“I know,” I said. “It seems that way sometimes.”

It seems that way all the time. Except for you, who seems to transcend, like you were unaffected. You have been consistent for the whole thing. Before and after. Like you know some great cosmic secret.”

Iris reached for the pack of Benson and Hedges on the coffee table. She struck a match to lit the cigarette. Her face glowed orange for a moment. The tiny quarter moon slits which were the shape of her dark eyes concentrated on the flame lighting the end of the butt. Shadows flickered around her small pointed nose, and the base of her chin at the bottom of her oval-shaped face. She blew a big puff of smoke into the air above her head. I stood and reached pleadingly with my fingers. She gave me the cigarette she had just lit, pulled another from the paper package on the table, and started the entire process again. She smiled at me after blowing more smoke toward the ceiling.

“We were going to share the bird,” I admitted to Iris. “We wanted a girl, but we had no name. A golden female conure of our own. We talked about it every day, like expecting parents.”

Remember,” Iris said softly, wistfully. She was partially hidden by cigarette smoke across the room. I couldn’t read her posture, or the expression on her face. “Remember when we thought my mother did it? She hated him so much.”

“I don’t think it was hate,” I said.

“She beat him,” Iris reminded.

“Sick for sure. I can’t believe it was hate.”

I was remembering summer lemonade, home cooked dinners, late night snacks and music videos. The blue light of the television illuminating a dark room. Bobby moving to the music, smiling at me. His mother leaving the room satisfied our teenage high carbohydrate and fructose syrup needs were met.

“I still wonder…” Iris trailed off.

“Terminal burrowing behavior,” I blurted.


“It is how they determined the cause of death. Terminal burrowing behavior. It’s the last act of a person dying of hypothermia. I doubt you want to hear about it.”
            Iris sat up. Took my glass from the table and gulped back a large drink. Her eyes were on me as she sat it back down. “I do. I want to know. When did you hear about this?”

I considered leaving. If I walked out now, Iris might forget we ever had this discussion. I could go and skip the whole damn thing. It never should have escaped my mouth. “Zach,” Iris started with irritation. She would remember. This was Bobby after all.

“Suicide,” I said. There, it was out there. Now it was going to be a long night. She stared at me with wide eyed anticipation. She took a breath, her chest expanding heavily.

“Terminal burrowers,” I started, “are in the last moments before dying of exposure. Doctors observe the results; it’s never actually been witnessed. The dead person is undressed, or partly undressed, and they have tried to hide somewhere. It’s thought the skin feels extreme heat just before death. The clothes come off in a desperate attempt to stop the burning feeling. They hide from the heat like an animal in a cave, or burrowing into the ground. They are found behind trees, inside closets, the back seat of cars. If the exposure is heat or cold, the ending is always the same. Terminal burrowing…”“That’s how Bobby was found?” Iris asked in a whisper. Her eyes welled up, a single tear escaped and rolled down her left cheek. Her expression remained frozen in bewilderment.

“It wasn’t some mysterious death Iris. They never did an autopsy, cause they knew. It wasn’t an aneurism, or a drug overdose, or any of the things we thought about.

“I overheard the doctors discussing burrowers with your mother. He was hiding behind the tree by the lake. Found between the tree and the bushes, tunneled into a pile of frozen leaves, with only his shorts on.

“He went outside in the zero degree weather to sleep. I know this, ‘cause he always told me he would go that way. He said he was free. And people who knew how they were going to die were free people. No one ever knew this. Except me, and now you.”

We locked eyes, hers tearful. The implications of the story showing in her expression, framed by her long brown hair. It was like the day after Bobby was found. Why I picked this night, I have no clue. Maybe I wanted to test Iris. Maybe it just escaped from my mouth. Or it was just time for the truth. He was, after all, her little brother. Perhaps something inside of me could no longer stand to have this between us.

Her tears ran free, just like in the bright hospital hallway long ago. Her sobbing was so loud; I held her afraid the neighbors would call the police. I finally carried her to bed. Exhausted from crying and reliving Bobby’s death all over again, she gave herself over to rest.

She slept; I stayed up. Looking out the window at the sunrise, I took a breath of the morning air, held it. Let the coolness of it sit inside of me. I exhaled over the dark city. My home rooted in the Midwestern prairie. As I expelled the last of the morning’s breath, the yellow sun peeked over the horizon, like the shining wings of a regal bird. I breathed it in. The city was suddenly a magical place of youthful mystery. On the streets walked gods and goddesses. In the sky flew the wondrous Queen of Bavaria.

Like a slow motion scene from a big screen movie, the Queen gracefully beat her golden luminous wings against the wind, held aloft by magical radiant feathers. I dreamed she was someone else once. Someone like Bobby, who wanted to be beautiful; who knew how and when to die. To transform into the majestic being he longed to become.

Iris was awake when I went to bed. I saw her eyes blink in the shadows. The hint of longing on her face. It felt as though she was happy I had come into the room. We were still together. We were sleeping in the same bed. I was grateful.

"When I can't sleep at night," Iris started, "it's because I can't keep my mind off of Bobby."

"You have to have an invincibility suit to help you fall asleep."

"How about just you instead," she said as she pulled herself closer. I could feel her thin form against me. She rested her head on my chest. "Just give me thirty seconds."

"No really," I insisted. "When you are trying to drift off, instead of counting sheep, dream of having an invincibility suit. An energy suit which makes you invincible."

She moved her head a bit. Her eyes were closed. "Okay, tell me about the invincibility suit."

"You can't get shot. Or blown up. Or hit by a bus. Because the suit is invincible and protects you. It looks like a fancy space suit, but really it's just an energy field, so you can make it look any way you want. It's run by a little artificial intelligence devise which looks like a remote. You can talk to it if you want, and it will talk back. Mine is named Ingrid and has a girl’s voice.

"With the suit on you can fly, go into outer space, or underwater. You can become invisible and walk through walls. So you can spy on people, or governments, or bad guys. Ingrid can also make a fazer blaster to go with the suit. It's big like a shotgun. Bigger. It's so powerful you could drop an airplane with it.

"And, if you desire, you can see Ingrid, or whoever your AI is. She can look like anyone you want her to look like. If you wanted your AI to look like Naomi Campbell, she would appear so. Same as the suit. She's just an energy field. It's like the holodeck on Star Trek."

"They didn't have a holodeck on Star Trek," Iris interrupted, softly monotone. "I've never heard of that episode."

"It was on Next Generation," I informed her.

"Oh, well excuse me," She chided.

"So you don't know what that's like. But they had rooms on Star Trek able to be programmed like a computer game. Same thing with the energy field. Except the invincibility suit is a little more complex. And it's mobile. A person actually could, if they worked with Ingrid on it, have an invincibility ship instead of a suit. Which would be handy, depending on the adventure. And the fazer cannon can be integrated into the ship. Which would be cool."

"This sounds too complicated to help me fall asleep," Iris said with a blasé voice.

"Well it's helped me fall asleep plenty of nights when I was having trouble."

"Naked girl Zach," Iris pointed out. "Naked girl right next to you. Don't need other stuff. Just naked girl."

"If it's so geeky then what’s that make me?"

"Teddy Bear," Iris answered in a whisper.

“Well Bobby liked it,” I said softly to myself. Iris never heard me. She slept the sound sleep of a weary mind, tired from grappling with the truth.

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