An excerpt from Mother of Flowers
by Daniel Beauregard
The days passed like eyes rolling back in the head. Coming down the stairs, Don Aurelio, a kinder man than most, was speaking to his wife in the kitchen when no sooner had he begun to finish what he was saying when he was stopped mid-sentence. Don Aurelio’s wife, who stood at the stove stirring a pot of pasta sauce, was hit with a warm spray. She turned and for a moment, thought her husband was playing a prank, like in the earlier days of their marriage. This was not so.
The Hendersons, hand in hand, walked down an avenue lined with chestnut trees near their first house, which they’d bought together two weeks after they were married. It was exactly the home they wanted. At one point, it looked as if the deal might fall through, but finally their loan was approved. They paused, entered into a deep embrace, and blew up in each other’s arms. For weeks thereafter, the tangled limbs of the young lovers were in plain view, caught high up in the chestnut trees, where they were picked clean by birds. Even smaller birds, the sparrows and goldfinches, snatched what they could. It seemed all were welcome, for even the animals were in danger.
From her New England window a woman watched the terns ride the air, the birds’ waxy feathers glinting in the sunlight, when all of a sudden they disappeared. From this distance she couldn’t be sure, but it was likely that the birds had blown into chum for the fish below, if there were any left.
A beached whale exploded off the California coast, although this was nothing new. There were reports of areas where the sea was said to have a pinkish hue, but this was pure speculation; not even marine biologists were sure if the color was due to marine life exploding under water or some new type of algae. Off the coast of Africa, the ocean turned deep red, bearing to shore a foam peppered with what looked like bits of eggshell.
A family on a trip through the Australian outback died of thirst after their horses exploded, one after the other, right out from under them. The Aussie guide, who was bringing up the rear, landed flat on his ass in a pile of guts. Dumfounded, he shouted: “They’ve all bloody carked it goddamnit. Dry as a nun’s nasty and we’re rooted here, a hundred clicks from a pot to piss in. Ain’t this a bodgy dodge?” The family, all in their own little piles of muck, sat speechless. In a few days they ran out of water, and in another week, all died from dehydration. Their cell phones were useless, but that didn’t stop the father from each day climbing hill after hill of hot sand and scrub, furiously pacing, searching for a signal that never came. The sun blistered him badly and when he finally died (he was the first) his wife and daughters were glad they no longer had to look at his meat-pudge face. None of the party had energy left to move, and when the father exploded, they could have sworn that for a moment the spray cooled them, although no one said so aloud.
. . .
An early morning ray of sunlight pushed through the clouds and climbed the foremast platform a centimeter at a time. Above sat the admiral’s bridge, and above that, the navigating bridge, and above that, more steel, then sky. In cold weather, the sun rises at a much slower rate, or appears to. The U.S.S. Nashville maintained a stern and looming presence, anchored out in open water off the coast of Patagonia. Across the deck the flagstaff pierced the horizon, where a frayed and faded American flag at half mast whipped in the wind. From a distance, the battleship looked frosted with snow; atop the turrets, the gun barrels, the deck, a thick white mass clung in place, undulating slightly as if a trick of the eyes, or due to the slow movement of the water which held the ship afloat. But as the sun broke free from the clouds, the ship’s inhabitants stirred, and the deck came to life with the sounds of the seabirds in their nests. The birds flew off in search of food or fought for space on the deck, the platform, the stern, the bow or boom boat hatch; anywhere there was an inch there was a squabble, evidenced by feathers floating into the air. The birds had been attracted by the smell of blood, and they followed the smell and came upon the vessel in hungry packs. The ship overflowed with gulls, terns, shearwaters, petrels, cormorants, sheathbills, albatross.