Our Ice Age child presents her latest drawing. The upper half of the white page is occupied by angular strokes, mostly horizontal and vertical, assembled into a cluster of uneven blocky shapes. In the lower half of the page, the angular strokes give way to scribbled stick figures: bald circles for heads; long parallel lines to the depict the torsos of tall people, and shorter lines to represent either children or midgets; twig-like strokes for legs. Their hands are bundles of blades, but when I squint and allow that concept to slip down the rusted, tetanus-infested chutes of my diseased brain, it shoots back up depictions of hands shredded by industrial machinery. I shut my eyes tight and take a deep breath to wipe my mind clean.
I face the sketchbook’s page again, the stark blackness of those strokes. Jacqueline bought sixty-four crayons so our girl could splash our post-apocalyptic world with color, but this child insists on abusing the night-black crayon. Perhaps we should hold an intervention.
“A street, huh?” Jacqueline says in her honeyed voice. “A street that’s teeming with pedestrians. Very nice, darling.”
My girlfriend has lifted her sturdy buns off her chair to lean over the table, admire the drawing and reward our child with an exuberant smile. Now that Jacqueline mentions it, the angular strokes in the upper half of the page could be interpreted as a row of buildings, but squeezed against each other as if a bulldozer were squashing them from both ends.
I scoot closer to the child, then I put my right arm around her back to pat her opposite shoulder.
“Don’t worry, they can’t all be winners,” I say in my most reassuring voice.
Jacqueline shoots me a startled look.
“Leire, hasn’t our sweetheart gone through the effort of making this drawing and showing it to us? Before this morning, she had never seen city streets. Hundreds of people walking to and fro, rushing to meet the day’s deadline. And now our doll has shared the impression they caused her. Isn’t that marvellous by itself?”
When I release my grip on our Ice Age child’s shoulder, I imagine myself as one of the stick figures in the drawing. I have no eyes and no hair. My legs are made of long lines. What is the rest of my body made of? Blades. I’m a walking implement of death. I’m a machete, an ax, a gladius, a cutlass, a knife, a stiletto, a shiv, a kukri. I can slit throats and slice off fingers and disembowel bodies. My stride gets broken by a lamppost, my foot gets trapped in a gutter, my hips get wedged by a parked vehicle. I suddenly become prey for a pack of ravenous wolves that had been hiding in an alley. They rip open my stomach and tug my guts out until they find a juicy lump of meat to chew on. I didn’t know a stick figure could have intestines. Once the wolves get bored, a gang of street children take turns chipping away at me. A pale-faced boy starts eating my toes. Our adopted daughter should draw halos above the heads of these stick figures so they’ll become angels instead of craven stabbers.
My daydream pops. I’m facing a mama bear who believes that I have disrespected one of her cubs, and who has forgotten that I’m also one of her cubs.
“Marvellous, you said?” I ask in a fatigued voice. “More than that: it’s a miracle. That swarm of comet fragments should have banished us to the storage shelves of history next to the dinosaurs. Our extinction would have cleared some space on this wounded planet for the sentient, air-breathing descendants of squid to rise and rule the ruins.”
“Does the end of the Ice Age have anything to do with your response to our doll’s drawing?”
“Oh, the Younger Dryas cataclysm influences everything; people haven’t realized it yet. Our world was shattered by a cosmic disaster and then transformed into the post-apocalyptic wasteland that has tolerated our birth. In addition, did you know that we used to share this planet with other species of hominin such as the Neanderthals and Denisovans, and that we even interbred with them?”
Jacqueline puts down her latte.
“I did know that.”
“Neanderthal DNA makes up about two percent of European and Asian genomes. But those pairings weren’t a matter of bestiality, Jacqueline! The other hominins were as intelligent if not more than Homo sapiens. We probably shat out millions of kids, who overran our hapless neighbors’ lands. We weren’t above pecking out the eyes of an enemy and stuffing its body under a pile of stones.”
“We have never been more than two steps away from reverting to savagery.”
“That’s right! What have we ever been but a plague upon this universe? An aberration that only managed to stay afloat by murdering its rivals and enslaving the rest. The Ice Age came and went, but it was a gentle rebuke as far as our cockroach-like selves are concerned. Now no barrier stands between us and the void.”
“You are exhausted, baby. You shouldn’t have gone to work this morning.”
“Did you know that the Neanderthals went extinct about 40,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age? However, the Homo floresiensis lasted up until 12,000 years ago, smack in the middle of the Younger Dryas! Some of their descendants might still live in remote desert caves or in the depths of primeval forests, waiting for the chance to find their way back home. And what a home it could be, free of today’s brutes that have turned Earth into a tinderbox of insanity! But one day the cold will return to our world. The glaciers will advance again.”
“What about the drawing, though?”
I rub my eyes, then I swallow the lump in my throat. In the theatre of my mind, our child’s drawing now includes a family of stick figures crowded around a fire, trying to roast some rat that has been skinned and gutted. In the background, sparse plants struggle to reclaim a scorched and cratered plain. Their sun is a circle of burnt sugar.
“All those other humans are gone,” I say grimly. “We’re the last ones left, Jacqueline, and we’re not supposed to be here. What are the chances that we’ll survive for another five to ten thousand years? It’s all so absurd. We are a failed experiment, a genetic mistake.”
Jacqueline squeezes my hand. Perhaps she’s trying to offer me a little hope, or acknowledge the deep pit of despair that lies ahead.
“We won’t die easily, darling. And you need to calm down. None of us should be burdened with the weight of our entire species.”
I point at my head.
“This skull of mine contains my brain, but my thoughts and memories have turned into a pile of rubble. I’m too weak to lift the cracked blocks and arrange them neatly ever again. In any case, my point is that our daughter’s new artwork displays a disturbing drop in quality from the portrait she drew of you. I understand that the decaying sights of our rotten society would only engender a thousandth of the reverence that a single glance at your holy face or tits would inspire, but… her new sketch is fucking amateurish. If we praise the child for every drawing she produces, we risk triggering a creative stagnation. And to what kind of future does that lead? She’ll end up with no friends, no followers on her social media accounts, and a lifetime of unrequited crushes. Maybe she’ll go on like that for ten thousand years. So one of us should toughen her up, temper her spirit and dare her to climb a step higher. I know you’d rather cover the child in smooches and cuddle up to her in bed than challenge her to face the truth, but I’m already harsh towards myself, so I’m the most suitable for this role.”
Jacqueline furrows her brow as she blinks repeatedly. She sighs, then rests her cheek on her fist and casts a tender glance at our child.
“I guess we need that balance between the sweet and the sour.”
The girl must have gotten bored of our conversation: she’s nibbling on the crusty edges of a fruit tartlet that she holds in her left hand, while with her right one she’s coloring a circle with a citrine-yellow crayon. The tabletop between the sketchbook and our child, and around her half-empty cup of chocolate, is strewn with crumbs.
In my cup of chocolate, a swirl the color of old copper is eddying slowly in the surrounding otter-brown sludge. Huddles of bubbles like insectoid eyes hint of the amphibians that slumber in the muddy depths of my beverage. I should down it as a rite of passage: a libation to the dead and a pledge to the living.
“It’s time for your bath, esophagus,” I declaim. “To the night and its dark wonders! I accept you in all your perverse beauty, you wretched demon.”
I raise my cup and chug the remaining thick beverage so that it meets the acid secreted by the internal walls of my stomach. This creates a bubbling eruption, followed by a chorus of gurgles. The bottom of the cup has stained the tabletop with a brown circle that’s meant to symbolize the foulness inside me.
Our child unveils her latest attempt to revolutionize the art world: she has aligned vertically two colored circles the size of tangerines, one citrine-yellow and the other lava-red. Both are embedded in a night-black form with obtuse angles, like an obsidian block carved by some megalithic stonecutter.
What the hell am I looking at? My head feels muzzy, and I’m containing an urge to strip the puff pastry layers of one of those millefeuilles to lap up its pearl-colored cream filling.
“So nice, such striking colors, honey!” Jacqueline says. “A traffic light, right?”
Unless my girlfriend has forgotten that the child can’t understand our language, she has identified the depiction to snap me out of my stupor. I shake my head.
“I see it, a traffic light rendered by someone who recognized them as ominous tools of control. And that’s okay! Nothing is too trivial to be drawn. Besides, any child’s drawing is a good luck charm in this era of technology.”
Our Paleolithic girl narrows her eyes and covers her mouth to conceal a smile, but it remains visible through the cracks of her fingers, and she giggles anyway.
I’m pinching my lower lip and inspecting the circular strokes in night-black that encircle the citrine-yellow circle. However, the child spins the sketchbook towards her, sweeping crumbs to the floor and onto her lap. She turns the page to a blank one. She seizes one of her set-aside crayons, then she places her left forearm next to the sketchbook and leans forward as if to rest her face; I guess she intends to conceal the sight of her scribbles.
Back at that boreal forest, the child’s craving to draw must have been building up like lava in a magma chamber, but she lacked the outlet, unless she was painting on the back of tree bark with her own poo, or with the blood of her cannibalized brethren. A crayon is a gift of civilization.
Our new daughter isn’t just another human being; she’s our link to the past. Her every drawing is an act of commemoration that freezes the world in time.
I’m getting woozier. Blood is rushing to my head in a continuous whoosh, warming my face and blurring my vision. I squeeze my eyelids tight, and when they part again, I witness how the cupid’s bow of Jacqueline’s upper lip bulges out over the glaze of an eclair, the tip of which she has housed in her welcoming mouth. As she munches on the choux dough or scoops out its insides, her lips get smeared with cream. A glob oozes down her lower lip towards the chin.
I wish I were that eclair. I want Jacqueline to shove me head first into her mouth, I want to feel her luscious lips closing around the skin of my naked torso, I want her to tear off my upper half with those white teeth so I can bathe in her warm saliva as her molars grind me into mush.
Mommy moans with rapture.
“This stuff is delicious,” she praises as she wipes her chin with a napkin. “You better grab the remaining ones, Leire, because they are going to disappear soon.”
She has finished licking her lips clean when her cobalt-blue gaze meets mine. My expression must be telegraphing that I’m ready to devour something other than pastries, starting with her pussy, because she narrows her eyes like a cat, cocks her head and widens a knowing smile.
The vision of her lush and fragrant pinkness rises before me like a phantasm. I tremble. When I shift my weight in the seat, my ass feels anesthetized. The clinking of cutlery and the yabber of nearby strangers at their tables come muffled, as if I had dived into a pool. I’m a human chrysalis being encased in an alien cocoon that will isolate my brittle mind from this patisserie, this city, this century, this era. I want to drift away in a fluffy and silky void, where I’d forget about the rigid forms that from morning to night press themselves into my skin.
Author’s note: the five songs for today are “Paint It, Black” by The Rolling Stones, “Bridges & Balloons” by Joanna Newsom, and three by Modest Mouse: “Breakthrough”, “The World at Large”, and “Night on the Sun”.
I keep a playlist of all the songs I’ve linked throughout this novel: link here.
I ended up splitting my notes for the current “scene” and shoving the latter half towards the following chapter, as it tends to happen too often because I go on tangents. At this point it feels like I’ve spent ages in this patisserie, but the current sequence should end in a couple of chapters, maybe three.
By the way, I also ended up splitting the current sequence into two. The previous one, named “A Gift From the Ice Age”, ended back in chapter 67. The current sequence is named “A Hail of Meteorites Upon Our Heads”. Once this sequence ends, there’s only two more left and the novel should likely end.
In case you didn’t know, you can access any sequence of this novel, until I turn it into an e-book anyway, following this link.
I had a blast writing this chapter. And now I’ll have to return to work for a whole new week of exhausting bullshit that ruins most of my creative energies. Unfortunately it’s almost impossible to squeeze money out of this writing game, even though I can happily write from nine in the morning to nine at night as I’ve done today.
A certain neural network pal of mine generated plenty of images related to this chapter: link here.