K. (The Face of the Dark Waters) / Elena Malkov

In its white fever, the moon glows over the water. It dreams of its own enchanted night and its own secret darkness. Always the other realities teem right at the fingers, bruised thick blue.

Beneath the bone of my forehead I carry a black gem, and it reflects no light except a purifying flame, the likes of which do not belong in this world. And when I sleep a woman made of fire and ash licks my face clean.

I find a feather floating in my glass — a message from her, the moon. Into darkness she pours out thick electrum ribbons, they linger over the water.

I am listening now, I am watching now.

We all worship the dark mother, the night. The moon is her eye or her tooth gleaming.

It is a dream, it is.

How else to explain the feather (there are no birds) and the music like vibrating tines in a hollow cavern.

Above the trees shines the moon, and in the smudged windowpane its bright face reflects twice over, stretching itself across the glass, each iteration dimmer but more splendid.

Every half-remembered dream rains down from the sky. Powdered glass, it piles up in the streets and feels so soft to the touch and sparkles bright, but leaves blood staining the fingertips.

Confrontation with the dark: lay as a corpse lays, with the palms opened up, ready to receive these blessings. But all that comes is shrieks and wails and grief of every sort. A consequence of breathing in the fire, purifying that inner murk, cleansing and cauterizing. Would that my flesh were numb and my spirit receive the flush of flame! Then — no more darkness.

As for the black gem — what is its purpose? I press it against my forehead and it burns my flesh. It is too large and heavy to eat, so I hold it in my hand. Carry it with me, never letting it go. My bones grow rigid, and my muscles melt, and my hand freezes in its fist.  

I sit on an ice floe, rocking over the water.

On an ice floe gliding over frigid water. Frozen light and frozen darkness.

There’s no point except in ritual, which is warm and unwavering.

My prayers address themselves to her: art, time and power. The power to harness human dread and lift it, as a great stone, into a higher form of art. The art of absence and forgetting, bleakness and unrest. Perhaps a physical disquiet, even, can greet us in its face.

How do fools and nonbelievers dream? Openly, even soulfully. But so often their magic words bounce off reality as though it were a copper drum. Such is all prayer.

K. is illuminated only by the moon as it appears in dreams. And there is no language to describe such power and the stirring of the soul.

The will weakens at night, and strange things happen. Decisions are rushed and furtive, the rabbits consult each other, asking their own questions of reality. Everything speaks, but softly.

The only true achievement is absolute stillness. It is a kind of mockery of death, but really it is death’s embrace. Stars melt and shift. Trees darken against the freezing sky. The skin begins to lose its luster and memories are hoarded to prove a worthy existence. There is no answer to the rules of time, may we look death squarely in its face when it arrives. If only this vanity could be shed…!

I expel a rotten kind of suffering, that is the primary purpose of my talents. It doesn’t always suffice to pray. And then I question myself, and lose myself in thought.

Is it enough to picture in my head a mountain, patched with sparse yellow grass and copper-mossed boulders? I do not need to visit the mountain or believe in its existence, but I do see it. And whatever feelings it evokes belong to the intemperate desire for all experience: every life, every thought, every word. To fall into lives as into shards of fractured glass, to dissolve.

Prayers ring out over depthless waters. Those that hit the crest of the waves are swallowed whole. Underwater, life teems, the border between worlds is sharp and strong.

Elena Malkov is a fiction writer living in Richmond, Virginia. Her work has been published by Slippage Lit, Fiction Kitchen Berlin, From Whispers to Roars, STORGY Magazine and Typishly. She is fiction editor and co-founder of Sublunary Review.

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