Ghost In The Quicksand
By Sarp Sozdinler
The bridge was still arched and tall enough to pass for a bridge. It was the spot where I’d once tried and tested the limits of my body. After twelve years apart, it looked older, calmer, like me. It didn’t look like a place where anything could happen to people, good or bad.
I leaned over the railings and my hair dangled in the air like a stalactite in a hot cavern. Upside down, home didn’t look so bad after all. Those leafless trees I’d climbed a million times, those streets I’d drifted through like a ghost in the quicksand, but now they all looked and smelled different to me. A trickling stream wiggled toward the other side of the border and lured me out to a sacred land I was born into. A veil of peace covered the desert, and for the first time, Arizona looked like the kind of place where people could deal with their lives instead of running away from it.
“Lady, you gonna jump or what?”
I turned around to find a fair-haired boy on a big white cross that formed some sort of trinity with a broken washing machine and mannequin atop the curve of the bridge. I evaluated if he was worth it, the cookies. Waking up before sunup, I’d baked them as a gesture of goodwill—sweet and salty and triangular, precisely how Mom liked them—with the similar intentions to those of an explorer presenting goods to a tribal chief to break the ice. Sculpting those crunchy, meteoric surfaces was a form of expression for me, a pastime where I could transfer my unspoken feelings and thoughts into the dough with the dexterity of an artist. Every block of sugar has a soul underneath and it is the obligation of a chef to uncover it, I used to pretend to Mom as a kid with a mock grownup voice. She used to find it funny until I baked for her a white chocolate cookie in the shape of a pregnant lady the day after she returned from a weeklong trip with her then-new boyfriend, but now the joke was on me.
“Will you please step down?” I hollered at the boy on the cross.
“Say”—he opened his arms wide—“how’d you reckon this here thing carried a hundred pound crucified man?”
I shielded my eyes from the sun. “Don’t forget to wash your hands the next time you climb that thing, okay?” I said, and started unloading my backpack onto the washing machine. “Those nails should probably have tetanus or something.”
Spotting the cookies, the boy slid down the cross one hypothetical nail at a time; the machine’s front lid was missing a piece in the shape of a crescent moon that matched the broken contours of his front teeth.
“I didn’t put no sugar in those cookies in case you wondered,” I said, unfolding the napkins. He reached for a glass bottle of Coke, nodding.
“Just so you know, you don’t have to pretend you like them,” I added.
“Or pretend you like me or would like to talk to me for that matter.”
The boy’s lips settled into a flat line. “I didn’t not like you, lady,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said, and faked an adult smile.
He downed two hazelnut cookies peppered with sea salt, and the crumbs formed a flora on his budding mustache like dandruff. I waited for him to wear an expression on his face for feedback.
“You know,” he started instead, “they say if you eat a person’s brains, you start to own his knowledge.”
“Jesus.” I took a bite of the hazelnut cookie myself.
“It’s the truth. Folks say it’s what lizards around here do for no reason whatsoever.”
“Do what?” I asked to make sure.
“Suck it all out.” He scoffed as if it were the obvious answer. “Memories, friends, plays. Maybe those cookies of yours, too.”
We set our beverages down on the washing machine and fell silent.
“What do you know about the lady of that house, boy?” I said after a minute or two, gesturing with my head toward the plains ahead.
“What house, lady?” he asked.
I pointed at the white-pillared mansion that looked dilapidated and solitary on the far end of the bridge.
The boy stole a one-eyed glance at me. “You mean Mrs. Serrano?”
“She doesn’t seem to be herself much lately.” He went for the last cookie I’d spared him. “She’s got very old in the past few years, though.”
“But she’s a strong lady all right. Strong enough to survive for at least another couple of years.”
“You think so?”
He brushed the crumbs from his sleeves distractedly.
“What about the house, then?” I asked.
“What about it?”
“Do you think it’ll survive, too?”
The boy looked me over from head to toe, then glanced back at the house. “I wouldn’t be so sure.” He sighed. “But if I had to guess, I’d say it will survive the next decade.”
I pointed at a thunderstruck tree twenty feet down the porch. “Do you see the tree?”
“That one over there. With no leaves.”
He squinted like a lens having a hard time focusing.
“Well, it looks big enough to survive the coming week.” He slurped the last gulp of his drink. “Maybe the following year, too. Or the next twenty.”
I pointed down the bridge. “What about the man with the dog?”
He looked down: A collie was taking a dump by the stream, next to an old man with no teeth. “I think the tree will outlive the man,” he said. “But for his part, he’ll outlive the dog.”
“I’ll outlive the dog, too.”
“And the man?”
“And the tree?”
He paused. “I’m not so sure about the tree,” he said. “But I know we’ll all be lizard food one day and become someone else’s memories.”
Sarp Sozdinler’s work is forthcoming or has been featured on Passages North, Solstice, Writer’s Digest, The Remnant Archive, along with some European publications, and selected as a finalist in Waasnode Prize judged by Jonathan Escoffery. He currently is working on his first novel..