Suzanne owned a hovel near the river. Dug out from the side of a wet stony cliff. A comfortable home, red-shaded lamps hung in the cave’s corners. Suzanne offered tea and an orange slice to every guest, the cup and wedge together on a thin porcelain saucer. She moved swiftly through the place, rearranging pillows on a long bench that rose out of the cave wall and blended into the cave floor. Sit, sit, she’d offer her palms spreading out in front of her to complete the incantation.
Some would try to plant themselves in a rocking chair near the wood-burning stove, but Suzanne always stopped them, hooking their elbow with her own and twirling the befuddled guest toward the bench and its endless pillows. They’d stumble and plop, dust and dried leaves rising to settle. No one ever dropped the saucer. No one ever spilt a spot of tea.
Suzanne busied herself in the cave’s deepest corner with a caldron bubbling above a hidden flame. She knew every guest tried the tea. It was the lemongrass. The aroma wafted to cold nostrils awaking the guest’s senses, but before they could stand to leave, the teacup found its way to their lips.
Sour, with a spiced bite. Their mouths instantly dried, and inexplicably they’d drink more. With cup dangling from crooked finger, they’d sit, hunched, eyes stuck to the cave’s opening—the cool dim forest calm before exploding into a piercing-yellow light, its intensity rising with the volume of the river outside. Shine and noise, the guests overcome, their heads whipped from their left shoulder to the right as if the brain inside were trying to break free. And then, they’d collapse, torso slumped between thighs. In the darkness, the sound of rushing water dissipated to a tingling like a wind chime. They’d blink their eyes open to a thick Oriental rug. A herd of lamas danced atop mauve-bloomed bulbs that burst between perfect tangles of angular vines. The guests watched the lamas turn and hop with the music of the wind chime until they too fell into its rhythm, shoulders knocking between knees. Comforted by their new understanding, they’d grow tired and sleep.
They’d awake naked, hanging upside-down above the cauldron in the corner—a slice of orange wedged deep into their mouths. Suzanne looked each in the eye. The younger ones, she’d pet on the cheek.
Ruben Rodriguez is a MFA candidate at CSUSB. He is the fiction editor of The Great American Lit Mag. You might find him painting or searching for treasure amongst the racks at local thrift stores. You can find his work in Black Heart Magazine, theNewerYork, The Sand Canyon Review, and soon in Midnight Circus,Bird Thumb and Grift Magazine.
–Art by Marta Bevacqua
–Art by Alphan Yýlmazmaden
–Art by Seamus Travers