In her favorite dancing grounds, beneath the wisteria tree so purple in the moonlight, a hole opened up in the earth. Out of it, a hand reached. One she recognized as easily as her own, for she once had held this hand in hers every day. Studying its lines, its rises and falls, its peaks and valleys, its shadows and swirls, the way this hand sumptuously softened in the light, how its veins ached verdantly as its pulse quickened beneath her gaze.
Now, her ex-lover was before her, yellow haired and milky skinned, skirts and boots textured with dirt, cheeks aglow with need, teeth bared, tongue discolored purple with wine.
“Come home with me,” Orcus said, in her grit-lined, silky sinister way.
Despite the heat of summer, Saffron noticed the chill spreading from her throat and down through her armpits, her fingertips, her belly, her toes. As it moved, it opened doors in its wake like the wind will do. These doors revealed beds, bassinets of rose petals, cradles of walnut shells, sofas of saffron, chaise lounges in chemise, mattresses of moth wings, shed after death. Saffron tried to imagine many tiny hers, falling like fainting onto each of the beds, the sensation was delicious.
“I miss you,” Orcus continued. “I need you.”
“Miss” tasted like lavender cookies. “Need” tasted like pennies. Saffron didn’t like this taste, but she licked her teeth until it was gone. The last time she had seen her ex, Orcus was laughing with derision. At her. Something about how she can’t please everyone, how she must embrace who she is. Who Orcus is, that is. How her being true to herself would heal the world. The balance of all things. Orcus had often told Saffron that she was too positive. Too sensitive. Too sweet. Too energetic.
“Not everything is made of light like you, babe. You have to accept that.”
Friends and lovers since they were children, Saffron and Orcus had grown up together, and then grown apart. Every day, towards the end, when Orcus finally made her descent, Saffron had noticed the darkness deepening, spreading from her pupils into the iris of her old friend’s eye. Like she was already looking for light. The light that was right in front of her, that she felt cheated by. Had they always been such diametrical twins? Back to back, night and day, skin milky on one and deep golden ochre brown on the other, hair yellow and hair black. Orcus had begun to exalt her own cold, calculating, introspective and predominantly self interested nature. She had felt very persecuted in the land of sun, so why shouldn’t she find some pride underground? But why then was Orcus here in the summer, the brightest, warmest time of year, asking for more Saffron? Who she claimed was too much?
Saffron had felt that their separation was her fault, for letting Orcus go, for not insisting that she come with, or that they both become nocturnal together on the surface of the earth. Orcus had never reassured Saffron against this idea. This was either negligent, or strategic.
Saffron clasped the hand extended to her in the moonshine. The wisteria cracked and popped its branches, releasing a dried, spiraling pod, as it would in winter.
There were no living animals roaming the blood red, clay-packed halls of Orcus’ underground manor, no sleeping animals curled up in its many hollows. Saffron buzzed with restlessness, even when she slept. This hole was a plantation, and nothing was ever resting, nothing was ever still.
The blood-red walls held murals detailing the various epic ways Orcus had saved the world. Filing cabinets of yellowed, oily papers detailed how Orcus had sold the minerals and earthly materials excavated by her invertebrate slaves from her lands to fuel companies.
Orcus had always loved the dark. Saffron could appreciate darkness, but that was not what this was. It was worse, it was more. This was darkness that ignored the presence and needs of light, but consumed it all the same.
Months passed, with Saffron illuminating the tunnels of the underworld in assistance of Orcus’ animal and spirit chain gang’s endeavors. But even as she lit and lit, rejoicing in the embrace and praise of her long lost lover, the grateful dead, and the fascinating revelation of what the earth holds, even as she too felt warmed by her own light, she noticed a tiredness she had not felt above. This was a tiredness that revealed her own bones to her, and she threw them as she had been taught, divining her path with her dance.
“You can’t leave!” Orcus emitted something between a hiss and a whine, “We need your light! I can’t manage the operation of this realm alone.”
“Then I guess you need to operate differently,” was Saffron’s measured response. She barely had time to utter it before Orcus was at her throat, claws sinking in, breath unnervingly cold,
“I need you, Saffron. You were made to shine, that’s your only job. If you leave you’re just gonna shine for who? For what?”
“For myself.” Orcus no longer had a hold of her. This was probably because Saffron’s body had changed shape. She no longer had a throat in the humanoid sense. She had long, sky-reaching petals, atop her head like a crown, a bustle and a train of her corms, which had been growing, spreading throughout the dank hallways, unbeknownst to Orcus, or even to herself. From her face she had grown three stigmas like tusks. Fire red, glowing. And Saffron was still growing.
Beneath the wisteria tree, Saffron bloomed purple in her own right, and as she and her corm progeny broke through the earth, the spirits who had places to be other than being enslaved beneath the surface escaped to warmer, kinder climes, riding her train.
Fire is light, with teeth. Fire is ever moving, unless it is laid along stones, held down by the barometric pressure of leagues. And even then, it chews and stirs. Waiting for the right moment to bite through the darkness, and light the way.
NEVE (they/(s)he) is a multigender, multiracial, multiply Disabled, multidimensional, multidisciplinary terpsichorean artist of the stage, street, field, stream, and screen. They are an Indigenous African living in Duwamish and Coast Salish lands and traveling wherever they have access and an invitation. (S)He is a 2020 Pina Bausch Fellow and a 2022 Arc Artist Fellow. Visit them online at nevebebad.com and beyond.
📸 Featured image by Neve Kamilah Mazique-Ricardi.
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