“Earth Comes Down” – Fiction by Maria Pinto

Yemaya - artist unknown
Yemaya – artist unknown

“Earth Comes Down” is Maria Pinto‘s bluesy slipstream short story about a mysterious woman who appears following a powerful storm. It’s just one of many cosmically flappy lits in our Fall 2015 issue, now available in print ($6) & PDF ($3). 

{ 1 }

SHE WAS FOUND ON THE WOODED SIDE OF THE HIGHWAY by two paramedics on their way back to dispatch. The eye of mega-storm Yemaya had lately passed over us. Though the rain had stopped, the sky still roiled grey and white like restless marble. Downed trees and branches hindered evacuation travel, so the highway was otherwise bare, and there she was beside it, pacific and strange in the mud. Though the medics initially feared she might be pinned there by flotsam from the woods, this was not the case. She was a sight. Her skin glistened with some sort of arctic-blue ooze. Twigs and leaves stuck to it. She wore a thin blue, brown, and green shift and no underthings. Not enough for the way the winds still huffed. Her mouth opened and shut like that of a beached fish, though she made no sound. She was maybe biracial, her hair wavy and matted in places.

Wilson, who is now under investigation for the woman’s disappearance, sat in the back of the ambulance while Reece drove. Wilson claimed that during the long ride to the hospital, even though she had not made the slightest noise before they strapped her to the bed, the woman stared up at the ceiling, babbling like a child. A coo here, a gurgle there. She was breathtaking, according to the report Wilson gave. It was superfluous information, to be sure, but it had been included anyhow. She was “so damned gorgeous we could barely look at her; so gorgeous it was easy to imagine that a man or group of men had taken what he or they wanted and left her for dead on the side of the road.” It was too easy to imagine this and too easy to imagine it again. Like a nightmare fantasy you close your eyes and savor. The report said that at least the paramedics had had the grace to look sheepish as they rhapsodized upon the beauty and violability of her form. They could not help themselves. Men will be men.

{ 2 }

A mute, ethnically ambiguous young woman was admitted to the Emergency Room at Sacred Heart at 1:13 AM. The charge nurse says she was lucky to get a bed, since they were slam-packed with people who’d been injured during the storm. People who had been crushed under the rubble of their ripped and crumbled homes, people who had been swept up and carried off by the mini-tornadoes Yemaya had brought with her. People for whom there was nothing more the doctors could do. So why should this nameless woman have taken up a bed? After all, her only maladies seemed to be a little strangeness, a little trouble walking, a dearth of recent washing, a missing identity. “You’re going to be an insurance issue for sure,” the nurse had told her, and then, more confidentially, “You smell like old seafood and smut. We’ll get you cleaned up.”

When she’d been bathed, a younger nurse wheeled her into the ER and was startled when the other patients, who had been resting there docilely, recoiled and yelled and shouted at the new admit’s approach. “It was bedlam,” said the younger nurse, who’d grown up on a farm. “Like stallions rearing up just before a quake.” Orderlies were called in with tranquilizers to secure the situation after some of the more severe cases ripped out their IVs in their attempts to get away from her. But after a little while, even the orderlies got into a state. The doctor in charge gave the word to put the new arrival under quarantine and listened, in mesmerized awe, as the once-babbling woman began to repeat the phrase she would say for the remainder of her stay. “My waters are broken. My waters are broken.”

{ 3 }

The doctor who looked over the woman said she was in fine health, actually, if a little disturbed. He detected no pregnancy to explain her strange words. She appeared to be in the grips of a new disease—something we can’t yet name, something unpredictable. But her body fought the affliction just as a robust teenager shrugs off the flu. She seemed teenaged, but it was rather hard to say for sure. The doctor noted this with some discomfort. Maybe in her early 20s. The oddest thing of all was that she had no navel. When the doctor reacted to the unmarred skin of her belly with a furrowed brow, she smiled at him, and, though her lips didn’t move, he heard words that could only be hers in his mind saying: “I wasn’t born. That’s one reason you will care what I have to say someday.” The doctor was going to recommend a psychiatric evaluation, but by morning, which also brought with it news that the largest tropical wave ever recorded was forming off the Eritrean coast, the young woman had vanished.

{ 4 }

Me and Joe had been working 18 hours straight and I could barely keep my jaw from hanging open, much less keep my eyes from closing, but for some reason, after dropping Joe off at dispatch, I didn’t park the ambulance and get into my own car, even though all I wanted was a beer (or twelve after what I’d seen that day) and a good night’s rest. Instead, I felt my hands steering me back to the hospital. I had to know what was happening with her. She’d looked so vulnerable when the staff took over for us, like she was being swallowed by a beast that wouldn’t rest until it had digested away all the shit that was special about her. I know that sounds insane and maybe, temporarily, I was insane, but I knew I had to go to the hospital and spring her.

I parked the (at this point stolen) ambulance in the receiving lot and was struggling to keep my eyes open, trying to figure a way to get her out of there, when I heard thunder and dogs barking nearby and cats howling like they were in heat. The storm was over and we were in the calm afterward, I’d thought, so the thunder and renewed rain woke me up some. Then there she was, crawling out of an air-vent near the rear exit. She is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Even in that hospital robe. And not just because it doesn’t close in back. You know how they say pregnant women glow? She actually does, like one of those halos at a rave. I must have nodded off for a moment because when I came to she was in the passenger seat and we were driving towards my house two towns over, where my wife and kids would be asleep. It was 5:30 in the morning. I hadn’t slept in 19 hours and I still don’t know how I managed to maneuver through the flooded streets and around all the debris the wind had thrown this way and that in the road.

“What is your name?”

When she spoke, her lips didn’t move. I felt her words like a breeze in the whorls of my ears.

“Matt Wilson. What’s yours?”

“My names are too many. It will hurt you to know them.” I chuckled at this. Looking back, I should have been terrified, but I felt too strange not to be calm. “Why are you so morbid? So obsessed with death?” she asked.

“Me? I’m a paramedic. I’ve seen gruesome things.”

“I meant a more general you. I already know the answer, but I want to know what you know you know.”

“Huh?”

“So you know nothing. Anyway, I am sick. I have been poisoned and raped and now I am hemorrhaging. When I am healed we will have another look at what to do with the future.”

So it was rape. And what was this about “what to do with the future”? Wasn’t she going to report it? Did she need me to find the bastard? I clutched the steering wheel harder, but felt the anger drain away from me just as soon as I registered it. In place of the anger was a distinct memory, like being dandled on a giant knee. She started humming and giving off heat like a blast furnace. She smelled alternately of pinesap, desert rose, and the more compelling notes of the deep summer bogs I’d grown up wading through. Above all else she smelled of salt and soil. I felt I might faint, both from the effort it took to stay awake and the headiness of her ever-changing perfume. I felt helpless.

“Why am I so attracted to you?”

“Attraction leads to love and love should lead to protection. Attraction is holy.”

“Speaking of attraction, I’m taking you to my house, where my wife is. She’ll be jealous.”

“No, but that is kind. This is where our paths diverge, Matt Wilson. But let me leave you with this. And tell others.”

Her saying this is the last thing I remember for sure. I feel like I dreamed what happened next. My steering wheel was useless all of a sudden. She coaxed the ambulance over to the side of the road by cooing and babbling to it, even avoiding a live power line that had fallen into the street and was hissing in a puddle like a not-quite-drowned snake. Then she compelled me into the back of the ambulance, onto the stretcher bed. She stripped off her hospital gown and in the next moment I was struck blind, that was the last thing I ever saw, will ever see, the vague outline of this truly divine and truly animal thing, the most beautiful shape in the universe to a man or a woman, and then there was the most profound, ecstatic feeling I have ever felt: like my self rising up, above the most tired I ever was after a shift, for a long, creaking stretch; or like a satisfying sneeze that took its time coming; or like my first orgasm inside a woman who was coming too; or like the giddy time I met and danced with my wife-to-be at that roof-deck party with a full moon rising above us, and I was amazed I could have that much fun sober; or like the way I felt my heart’s capacity stretch at the sight of my daughter’s head crowning, as she made her clean slate way into this world, with a miraculous face that looked a lot like mine. It was all of those feelings at once and more besides. And then the mysterious woman was gone, gone, gone. Just disappeared. I know I said I feel like I dreamed it, but I know I didn’t. My only proof is this non-medical blindness. My doctor can only scratch his head and say it’s psychosomatic. I had to call my wife to pick me up from a muddy ditch near a highway onramp that morning. She told me I wouldn’t stop grinning, despite the fact I would have to find a blind man’s work. I couldn’t tell her a thing. I spent the rest of that day getting used to my useless eyes, knowing I would go to jail. But that just means I’ll have some time on my hands, uninterrupted by the mundane, to think about what happened and to maybe write it down.

{ X }

IMG_9077Whenever MARIA PINTO really thinks about the forms and habits of seahorses, she has to chuckle. She studied creative writing at Brandeis University and was an Ivan Gold Fellow at the Writers’ Room of Boston (her adopted hometown). Her recent work has appeared or will appear in The ButterBartleby SnopesThe Missing Slate, Literary Orphans, and 100 Word Story, among others. Her debut novel is looking for a home. She’s working on her second.

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