By Paulina Reso
I entered an elevator flooded with newspapers. One corner
was densely packed with paper and I feared that, contained in that cocoon,
there was some ill-fated creature beginning to germinate. Underneath the husk I
could have peeled and separated leaves to find rotting fruit. I remember
clutching a ruby orb of an apple in my small hand. Carefully, I stripped it of
its color and burrowed deep until I reached an area faintly tinged by sunlight.
The golden pieces that fell to the ground were sucked in by the sea. I
witnessed a sudden change in my feet; they were no longer firmly planted on top
of the swirling sand, but swallowed by the shifting surface.
Papers twitched in the electric-powered box: each sheet
convulsed like a cell struggling in a turbulent blood stream. When Henrik
nudged me into the nexus of the mechanized tug-of-war game, the air shifted and
made space for me.
“Don’t worry about the mess. Look at this headline. The most
popular name for a dog in Poland is Burek. Brownish-grey!” he said.
Our shuffling feet crumpled papers and deranged words that
once appeared sequentially. Black and white faces stared up at me from Commersant,
Gazetta dlya Zhenshin, Hello, Internet–they
moaned, they spewed ink that was trapped in the captions below. I could hear
the starved papers screaming for someone to read them, to notice their flashy
headlines. Immobile, I let the elevator fling me far above the ground.
Mr. Penguin was on the front page of one of the daily
papers, smiling. As we strode up six flights of stairs, I could hear the
crackle of his dry skin as it stretched to accommodate his great grin. By the
fourth level, I could smell the arid heat emanating from above.
“This is where you can find a tornado trapped in a
bottle. Scientists calculated its precise fluctuations and captured it at its
most exact moment of weakness. When it expanded again, all the tornado could do
was push against the layered glass and plead for exit,” he said.
He pulled me up on his broad shoulders so I could see better.
I felt myself wobbling and gripped his collar, hoping I would not fall into the
Mr. Penguin’s hair danced with the movements of the
earth. I saw it shifting and gliding across the surface of his scalp. It moved
rhythmically, in waves.
“Be careful, Aniela. The current is strong today. Henrik, go
with her! Make sure she doesn’t get too close to the water,” my mother boomed.
I tugged on my striped sundress so it stretched below my
knees. My toes clung to the velvet sand until neurons fired and commanded their
displacement. Fear was in my veins, but my heart beat slowly, taking care to
expel and recall gooey globs of blood.
My family made caramel. They owned a small organ, but
there was no space for it except in the kitchen. One day, the vat of bubbling
sugar burst and covered the precious musical instrument. The gilded legs
glowed. The syrup looked like rain slipping from the ceiling. It stretched and
hung frozen in the air, if only for a moment.
A tornado petrified in a bottle.
Sometimes when I stand at the edge of a vacant space I
hear my spirit pounding against something like an internal wire cage. “Set me
free! Set me free! Do you see how the tornado howls in its cylindrical pen?” it
When enough synapses suck up the serotonin floating in
the nether space, I was able to ignore this plea. I moved a strand of whipped hair from my slimy, salt-sweating cheek.
“Can you spare some change?” a man with leather skin and
a twisted tongue asked me. He cowered in a corner, expecting me to hurl loose
change at his collapsed frame.
“No, sir, I don’t carry any money. In fact, I don’t think
it still exists. I could afford to share this newspaper with you,” I replied.
My crumpled dress dropped to the cement with me. Hands
trembling, I offered him the paper. In his eyes, there was a hollowness, a vacuum. Had his soul
broken through and fled?
“I’m sorry, Aniela, but while you were at school, Burek
escaped. I can’t seem to find him. I’m sure that he’s safe and with his other
friends,” mother said.
An alarm blared and sound particles ricocheted in my head. “Huh. On miejsca gdzie on jest
the keys, I made the instrument scream weeoohweeooh.
A police car
zipped by, followed only seconds later by it shrieking siren. Veeummveeumm. The
air had been pierced, disrupted, disassembled. A street sweeper came to tidy
up. As the water that rushed beneath the machine slithered to the storm grates,
Burek bounced across the road. I did not call after him, but watched as he was
pulled in by the sweeper’s violently swinging brushes.
your hair become so knotty? Let’s see if I can convince this tangle to
unravel,” mother joked.
remained inert in my thistly mane. The harder she tugged, the more sand fell to
the ground. Purple sand from the beach at Big Sur twinkled on the tile.
When I came
back the next day, the elevator was clean.
the mess and frantically hunted for each shard of manganese garnet.
“This is quite
a gem,” the bum exclaimed.
did a fine job collecting a complete story. I had no idea that modern science
had achieved such a feat. A tornado in a bottle!”
He brought an
empty jug of Kubanskaya vodka to eye-level. A white horse pranced across the
“Not trapped in something much larger than this, huh?” he said as he scanned the
I watched a
man glide across the street as if he did not belong to this world. Perhaps he
was nourished by something supernatural. As he turned the corner I noticed that
he had a bundle of newspapers tied around his waist.
beautiful thing I’ve ever seen” was condensed and scribbled across.
I could agree
with him that tumbling sheets of paper that performed acrobatics mid-air were
lovely things, but chained to him, they lost their splendor. Now, they were
just like deflated rags, pleading for exit, begging to let the wind push under
their wings and inflate them once again.