Saturday, August 29, 2009

Love and Impossibility

Here’s another story originally published elsewhere. This originally appeared, about five years ago, in issue 11 of Prose Ax, a now defunct small-run print publication based in Hawaii. This story was my first accepted short story, after at least 36 rejections (probably more like 50--I didn’t always keep a record). It’s funny how your perception of a work changes over the years. I still like this story, but I would probably write it in a much different way now.

A woman stuffed her lover in a suitcase. Based on his size, it looked to be a mathematical impossibility. Yet it worked. She did this out of love and to rescue him from poverty. She was making her way through customs after departing a ferry. It looked as if she were going to get through. Then she averted her gaze from the customs officer and looked down at her suitcase. That’s when he looked down, his eyes cold blue, and saw she was not lifting the suitcase but dragging it. He heard a grunt as she stopped. He grabbed her wrist. She turned cold. He asked her for identification. She showed it. Then he asked her to open the suitcase. She said, no, she couldn’t. He reiterated his request, open it, madam, else I cannot let you proceed. She begged, please don't, crying.

As they traveled by ferry, the waves tossing them about as they proceeded to the better life she talked about, he had complained through the suitcase fabric that his legs were numb, his bladder full, his body twisted into a nightmarish configuration, that he wasn't Houdini and was afraid of dying. She feared the suitcase would pop open. He would be exposed, unable to stand, perhaps urinate in his pants. They would drag him away, perhaps throw him into the water or bludgeon him to death or whatever was done with illegal immigrants.

She and her lover could not have been more different. He was Tunisian and Muslim. She was Belgian and Catholic. They discussed having interracial kids, what customs to follow, what holidays to celebrate.

The hope that all people could find love, cross divides, find happiness despite differences--it would all be negated, once the suitcase was opened. The customs officer couldn’t have been older than twenty-five--probably still lived with his parents-- he was the one to end it. A stranger, a nobody in their lives and others as most people were with each other--he would decide their fate. How can it be like this. How can the random person decide the fate of others. She wept.

He ordered her to open it a third time, but she refused. He moved her aside with a stiff arm and forced the suitcase open. Her lover, his skin pale like death, his eyes sunken with dark circles, fell out. He flopped over like a dying, out of water, fish. He wetted his pants as the officer pressed his shoe into his abdomen.

The officer began waving his arms and shouting in a foreign language. Three officers similar in appearance swiftly appeared at his side and grabbed her lover. They dragged him by his arms. She screamed. He was silent, staring at her with paralyzed eyes, unable to speak or resist. The officer grabbed her arms, strengthening his grip until she finally stopped screaming.

"You will go to the authority headquarters," he said, in French, which she understood. "There you will learn his fate."

"Will he be deported?" she asked.

He looked at her for a second, then turned away to other passengers without speaking.

At headquarters, she gave a person behind a desk her lover's name. She waited in a spacious waiting area with other people. There were crying children, mothers tending to them unsuccessfully, fathers sitting in dazed, wide-eyed silence. Many languages were spoken. Various names were called. People stood, collected their belongings, disappeared. Some returned. Others cried. New people filled empty spaces in the room. Hours passed. She thought about him, how they were only a footstep away from freedom. What would it matter, she thought, if one more person, one who was good and loved by someone, came in amidst the hordes. Day turned into night. She inquired about her lover. There was a backlog, they were trying their best. She waited again. More people came and went. She asked again, a different person at the desk this time. I'm sorry, he said, there's no record. She spelled his name for him, described his appearance. The man shook his head, I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do.

Her lover was lost to her. There were probably thousands of bodies, thousands of names, not all of them matching up, some missing, some dead, many lost forever in the chaos of the system. They were no longer people but numbers, statistics, annoyances. She pondered this for awhile then stood and left, walking out into the street amidst a vortex of people, never looking back.

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