The Pilgrims

The Pilgrims

By Clio Velentza

I HEARD THE FLIES BUZZ TWICE IN MY LIFE, ONCE OVER THE DEAD BODY ON THE RIVERSIDE, AND ONCE ON THE NIGHT BEFORE I ESCAPED.

The dream of you was sharp and brief last night: you wanted me to know the way, you said, but all you had was this paper boat. You had drawn the two of us on its prow, stick figures hand in hand, big smiles, a sun. I had taken it because I didn’t want to make you cry. I’ve never seen you cry, not like you’ve seen me. Not like that time at the riverside.

I didn’t have a lot of faith but I kept the paper boat, pressed it against my chest to feel the crisp folds stab my skin. All I could think of was that I hated water. And I couldn’t get those flies out of my head.

I remember how a fly had landed on the back of your neck that day, and I leaned in to touch it even though your face was underwater, limbs sprawled in mud. I put my hand on the dark spot. The finger sank inside, finding the quiet, spongy place where you might curl up and wait for me.

That was when I cried, not caring that it was pouring, not caring that you were right there, submerged, listening.

Tonight I can hear the drunk songs behind me. I can see the river’s surface, a blink in the light of a sickle moon. See your little body, a flower bed for the hopeful. Now it is my turn.

I didn’t want to cross because you were with me, but I was not with you. Your breath, your smell, your watchfulness cast like a net.

The dream of you came as a challenge, you flipped a silver coin for me; tails, tails, heads, and I caught it in the air. I saw the face of the roman emperor. Heads and tails on different sides of the river, you said. It was your bad habit to give omens for advice.

At least one of us was there that day at the riverside. I’m certain because I know most of the things you know, and because it was raining, which made me ache inside. It’s been enough time since, so it’s a good place to be again. A good place to see each other. I want to look at your face and ask, is this how it’s supposed to go?

I heard them when I escaped, those bullets buzzing past me like flies. I felt their stings—one after another—their bodies, burrowing in me. I remember the tang of the river at night, the dark taste of mud. Your voice closing in. How your finger alighted on the back of my neck, its gentle afterthought.

You’re looking back tonight, and I know what you’re searching for. I can still see the coin soaring to catch the light, the emperor’s vanishing act. I can see the mid-night hum of eager feet. See what little is left of me. It is your bridge across the water.

About the author

Clio Velentza

Clio Velentza is a writer from Athens, Greece. She is a winner of “Best Small Fictions 2016” and a Pushcart nominee. Her work has appeared in several literary journals, and she is currently working on a novel. Find her at @clio_v.