Lavender – Maggie Bàra
It really was a funny prank. A trick that turned itself inside-out into a treat. Unless you were a city councilman, or the mayor, or one of the sewer rats who threw their cigarette cartons and fast food wrappers out of car windows with nonchalance. I remember hearing a rat talk, back in my hometown, her defense of the city paling amongst us suburbanites.
The teacher even spoke in protest. “There’s so much trash. Litter everywhere.”
My peers nodded and hissed.
But the rat felt demeaned. “It makes it feel like home.”
Home, home, with the mange. Where the beer cans and used needles lay.
Halloween night, the best Eve next to New Year’s, and someone put ten gallons of bubble-bath in the central fountain of the city. Around midnight a bum awoke covered in lavender foam. The rains of God had never cleansed him. The showers from Heaven just caked him in mud. But now, laying in faux-paralysis near the foaming fountain, he smelled sweet.
Clean-skinned and perfumed he’d go on to open his own successful distribution center of cutlery and other kitchen necessities. Still, that was five years down the road.
But on this cold Halloween evening he scrambled up out of fear and stumbled a few meters to a bench as un-washed as himself. Volcanic occurrences from generally passive fountains were no laughing matter.
Come seven a.m. and the suits & ties and serial rapists had crawled out to wander the streets. Rubberneckers slowed traffic with photography of the still-mounting fountain while policemen on their six-foot horses made their way to the center square to answer public complaint calls. One officer named Adam poked our bum with his nightstick, holding his beast-horse by the reins and waiting for the bum to resume consciousness. The bum awoke, and opened a flickering eyelid.
Officer Adam pointed the nightstick at the boiling over bubble-mountain, words coming out sharp behind his chinstrap. “You know anything about this?”
The bum closed his eyes, falling backwards into peace once more.
Officer Adam hit him on the head with the stick. “I said, do you know anything?”
“Oh, it’s gone mad.”
“Did you see anything?”
The bum smiled, still half-drunk. “Oh dear sir, I am blind, I cannot kn—“
Officer Adam hit him again on the head and mounted his horse, circling the ten-foot high pile of lavender foam.
He peered deeply into the mess, searching for the naked statue of Lady Justice that had been thanklessly swallowed. His eyes dodged and fidgeted, his horse bucked and grunted.
The foam peered back.
Blue eyes, green eyes, violet eyes, but only two eyes in all. The sun catching the bubbles and casting all seven colors simultaneously. Officer Adam stabbed at the face with his horse whip.
Those shining eyes saddened and the mass leaned backwards. It said nothing. Officer Adam dismounted and continued thrashing at the foam, the pile seeming to step back and shiver with every beating. Just born and already the world was bruising the poor Creature’s body and heart.
Whip, stab, thrash, swat. Until finally five feet from the now normalized fountain the lavender beast stood. Ten feet high, eyes popping and forming and shining with curiosity and hurt.
Traffic came to a complete halt. Passenger doors flung open, drivers’ windows rolled down with ugly awed faces caught in the nearly eight-o-clock sun. A circle of bodies traced around Officer Adam and the beast made of bubbles. No one moved save the voyeurs with cameras now recording, phones dialing, and mouths hushed but violent.
Officer Adam realized he had an audience and raised his nightstick, prepared to strike the monster straight between the eyes. But those eyes. Not human but better. Haunting, resurrecting, unsure.
The Creature shied away, preparing for Its demise. A short life it’d been. The Thing imagined the places It would go, up and up with balloons let loose by sleeping children. But in the purple-green-blue eyes Officer Adam caught his own warped reflection and lowered the stick. He turned his back and radioed someone at the station. Then, with the lavender monster busy grooming our sleeping bum, he waved the crowds away and waited for much-needed back up.
The Creature spent November 1 through 4 in the drunk tank, where officers observed and city officials bickered about what to do. Scientists claimed the beast be treated as an extraterrestrial would, while church mice trumpeted the arrival of the Devil.
While keeping watch over Lavender (as the officers had named it) Officer Adam worried that the foam-thing could surely slip between the bars and escape. But It didn’t. Every night, a new party of bums and drunks dropped in on Lavender, their hair matted and faces oily; clothes tattered and stinking of the streets. But in the morning gentlemen emerged. Clean, well-groomed, sober, and smelling sweet. Lavender worked them over like wet clay, physical changes obvious but mentally—when Officer Adam would discharge the men they were pure. There was something about staring into those multi-tinted eyes, the smell of a mother, the softness of the beast. With these reports it took the council little time to decide Lavender’s fate.
November 5 through December 24 Lavender was a slave to the city. As a non-human creature, It had no human rights and never did speak a word to protest Its sentence. 24/7 Lavender would stroll through the city, gutter-waste disappearing upon its passage. Always escorted by two horse-riding officers, Lavender would scrub sidewalks until a rat appeared. The officers would club the rat until it was complacent, and Lavender would take it into trance. Sweetening the soul, cleansing the skin. After an upstanding citizen was produced, the trio would trek on, all day, all night, the winter causing those days to become shorter. At night, with no sun to reflect Lavender’s being, the work was much harder. Refurbishing cracked sidewalks and junkies took hours rather than minutes. And when the sun did shine, every day Lavender appeared a bit grayer. The Creature with beautiful eyes had the complexion of old dishwater.
December 24, the cold night bristling with sorry fluorescent Christmas trees and porch lights, Lavender barely inched along a back alley where a horde of meth-heads scratched at their skin. But it did Its best, far-off glimmer of holiday lights providing the rainbow to hush the tweakers. Two hours and they smiled. They went home or found their pockets ripe with a $20 bill for a hotel room. The officers nodded approval behind their scarves and Santa hats while Lavender rested on a pile of cardboard and newspaper.
“Get up!” An officer named Randy produced a nightstick and flashlight.
Lavender did not get up.
“Get up, I said!”
On went the flashlight, shining villainously on the ten-foot beast’s slumped form. What was once clean and alive with perfect glitter had turned to soot and trash and needles. Lavender’s eyes no longer shone in brilliance, but fell inside Its own form, gray, black, filthy.
“GET UP!” Officer Randy dismounted and approached Lavender, kicking a beer bottle laying to Its right.
The other policeman, named Tim, remained on his horse and watched until he managed to pipe up. “Maybe we should call it a night. I mean it’s Christmas Eve and I want to see my family and old Lavender looks really tired and-”
“SHUT IT!” Officer Randy pulled a gun out and onto Lavender, Officer Tim obeying and, tugging his scarf up a little higher over his nose. “Now, Creature, you will get up and resume working, or I will have to follow through with council orders.”
Lavender said nothing, black eyes fixed on the gun, on the angry face of Officer Randy. It knew now what a gun was. It had learned.
Lavender did not get up, but looked up instead. At the moon, the stars, the brilliance It had once had in its youth. The reflection on its eyes brought back the purple, the blue, the red. Lavender just stared at the sky, dishwater body a collection of trash and pain. It began to turn Its eyes towards the gun and Officer Randy once more.
But the shots came sooner.
Officer Randy shook, holding the gun with two hands, barrel smoking in the clean, crisp night. For a second, Lavender didn’t move. It just slumped, as before, eyes barely brightened by the light of the moon.
Another shot, right between those eyes.
One by one, little bubbles began to quiver into the night. The ten foot Beast stood and reduced to eight feet, then six, two, all the while the orbs of reflected light travelling up, up, to the stars. The scientists might have been right. Maybe Lavender was an alien, now returning home. Maybe the church mice were right, and a demon had at last been destroyed. But no words of any human mattered at that moment, the pieces of the Beast rising and then popping, invisible.
The two officers shook in cold and in fear, watching the Creature vanish. All was lost, spare two shining spheres which seemed to stare at the officers as they drifted away. They eclipsed the moon, flying, brilliant, beautiful. Lavender’s eyes watched the officers before they sputtered into thin air, the piercing with their pain, crying in silence, leaving a deeper emptiness to the night than had been before.
It started to rain that night, and it rained for days and days. The stars never shone, the moon was amiss.
Maybe the scientists were right.
Maybe the church mice.
Maybe the officers, or the city council.
But in that rain, smelling so sweet and yet shimmering so sadly, everyone was wrong.
Maggie Bàra is the cynical alter ego of hermit and professional dishwasher Maggie Rehr. Catch her pieces in previous editions of Gone Lawn Webjournal, Crack the Spine’s Summer 2013 best-of anthology, Thickjam, The WiFiles, and The Dying Goose. Or wait around for her writing in upcoming installations of DoveTales and Spark: An Unlikely Companion. She also manages to scribble some occasional nonsense across her online graffiti wall ‘Bad Chemicals’ at http://www.badchemical.blogspot.com. If you see her mother please tell her to send money for coffee and Chinese food. Pretty please. With eyeballs on top.