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Aniridia

Aniridia is wrestling with the end of the world, who has already used four illegal tactics including her teeth.

“You can’t win,” whispers the end of the world in Aniridia’s sweating ear. “You can’t even see what winning would look like.”

“Yeah,” grits Aniridia, “but it’s the only game in town.” Her teeth are grinding, and so is her shoulder, an inch from the ground.

“This isn’t a fair fight,” says the end of the world. She’s watching from the audience and checking her phone. “It’s not a fight at all.”

But, Aniridia knows–heart muscles trembling–it isn’t over either.

Aniridia

Aniridia closes her eyes and it comes burning at her, the one memory she never summons, the day her father didn’t come home. It was incongruous and beautiful, a sunset like brushfire. She sat and watched television until fear beat in her heart like wings.

No note. No trace. No end to the questions, all these aching lost orphan years later, and finally she knows:

The end of the world’s not a girl or a dream.
The end of the world’s not a house.
The end of the world is the story you tell when your reasons for living run out.

Aniridia

“You aren’t supposed to see this,” says the end of the world.

Aniridia looks out at the auditorium and the dead filling its seats, quiet and still.  “I didn’t intend to,” she says.  “I want to go home.”

“Have you walked the maze?” The end of the world straightens from her sutures. “Have you named names and dug at the cracks? There’s no home for you anymore.”

“Dead dear fear feed fled,” Aniridia whispers, then grips the curtain, forcing glossolalia back down her throat.

“Which will you be?” she asks. “The end of the house?  Or the girl in the world?”

Aniridia

When she looks up from the amorphous stanza she realizes she’s walked out of the area backstage and into the wings. Red curtain legs hang ranked alongside her, and she peers around them to see the grand drapes drawn shut behind a false proscenium. This device, she recalls, is called a tormentor.

Is there an audience out there? Of whom or what would it be composed? She almost doesn’t want to look, but her father would admonish her for willful blindness. Aniridia thinks of his poetry books and goofy legerdemain, and pulls the velvet apart to step out onto the apron.

Aniridia

Aniridia shouldn’t be surprised to find that someone’s left their copy of the script down here.

Not that it’s the kind of thing one can memorize. The words are scribbled in haste down the inside cover of a blank octavo, and they slide and blur under the wobbly pinhead of light; by the time she gets to the bottom, she’s sure the top has changed:

Fever dreams and mondegreens,
Innocent of time;
Tarry, scurry, hide the seams,
Multiply your eyes

Close the book of holorime.
Night will swallow day
And ink, and knives, and things unkind.
You’re better off this way–

Aniridia

It’s some time before her nose catches on and Aniridia realizes where she is: backstage. Not any backstage she recognizes, but the smell is universal, velvet and rope and dust on the lights.

And nerves.

The path is narrow, like a game trail, or the routes preserved through the hoards of the mentally ill. The tiny keychain LED leads her with a cold bubble of light, catching on jars of catseye marbles and stacks of wire birdcages. The cages are too small for more than one occupant. If you like birds that much, Aniridia wonders, why not keep them in pairs?

Aniridia

Beneath the newspaper bundles there’s another room, cold and dim. Aniridia looks down, realizing for the first time that the light comes from nowhere here. None of the rooms has had the courtesy to provide a lantern.

“It is very dark,” she mutters to herself. “You may be eaten.”

The rough-edged hole she’s torn is not a way out, but it’s a way different. She thinks of her father, diving into deep cold water, holding his breath twice the length of the pool.

As she lowers herself into it, Aniridia leaves fingerprints on its edges. The newsprint looks like ash.

Aniridia

“An archaeologist is like a detective–for history!” Aniridia mutters to herself, the kind of platitude that assembles itself in your memories of childhood when you’re not looking. She wipes her dry brow; she’s tired but not thirsty. The floor is yielding up evidence.

She’s torn out a rough square of boards underlaid with dense stacks of newspaper, its print archaic and blurred with time. Monochrome faces stare up without expression. She’s filthed her hands with ink.

Aniridia is struck by the idea of one way out of this place, and then struck again, with the certainty that it won’t burn.

Aniridia

Aniridia walks and pieces things together. This is a house with a train stop out front: however strange either construct might be, she’s sure of that. It’s not a house she’s meant to leave.

What kind of house has doors that only lead in? A prison. An asylum. Really, the same thing.

The frequency of her heart ascends, but Aniridia quells it. Prisons are just one extension of a system of control. Control implies a desire for order, and order, says Newton, implies a system not fully closed.

Aniridia snaps the handle off the pump and starts prying up the floor.

Aldous

Aldous puts the book back and walks to the next shelf, then pulls down another. Darren Darya Daryl Dashiell–wrong way. Two shelves back. Three. Ban Barathrum. Closer. Aldaea. Alder. Aldi.

Aniridia.

It’s a misplaced word. Aldous is certain her name should be there: Alejandro comes right afterward. Someone’s been messing with the order of things.

She replaces the slim volume. It’s not a name at all, is it? Greek roots: an, without, and then Iris, rainbow, messenger of the gods. But she never claimed to be getting their mail in the first place.

Aniridia leaves the library, determined and bound.

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