I tracked through the African desert, thirsty for you. In the early mornings, I inched eastward, toward the rising sun. In the evening, I walked away from it, as you did from me. During the day, I hid under an occasional cluster of date palms. They were tall and thin and prickly, like you. The ancient Hebrews, the desert wanderers, called them tamar. Was your real name Tammy, by any chance, my love? I wish you’d told me.
My head spun from the heat. I saw bands of people on the horizon. Nomads? Refugees? Rebels? Peace-keepers? Mad lovers? The desert eagles soared above me and lizards lusted after my body water out of their unblinking eyes.
Nightmares gnawed at me when I slept. I played a game. Over and over I had to guess your name, and I lost every time. All I had was gone, and I amassed a debt. At night, I walked again. I shivered from the cold. The stars winked at me. They knew everything but were too distant to share.
Was your name Stella, a star? I wish I remembered.
The night I ran out of water, I dreamed I was offered a cold Coke by a waiter in a white tuxedo. I drank it and my body was instantly covered with ice. The waiter had to pour hot water to thaw me.
I came to the coast at night. I saw bonfires. Fishermen? Pirates? Party-goers? A naked white woman danced in front of the fire. A hostage? A whore? A goddess? She looked like you, and I was ready to run toward her. But then a man added a log, the fire shone brighter, and I realized my mistake.
I snaked closer and found a loaded AK-47 on the sand. I sprayed them all with bullets, like with water from a sprinkler back home. When they fell, I came closer and flipped the woman’s body face up. Her fleeting smile froze forever. She was your twin sister, Lethe.
I took their speedboat and traveled toward Arabia Felix.
Two hours later, the boat ran out of gas. It looked like the fishermen-pirates-party-goers were not taking good care of it. I was afraid to sleep. What if I had to guess your name again and lose again? The penalty would be that I’d never find you.
An hour later, my feet got wet. I checked and found a bullet hole in the hull of the boat. I laughed. I had always appreciated irony.
It was still dark. Clusters of moving lights blossomed on the horizon. Warships? Tankers? Pleasure boats?
Was your name Lucia, light? I wish I could name you.
I knew that one of the lights was your reading lamp. When the water inside the boat reached my waist, I stripped naked and swam toward you. The wind sung of love. The waves caressed my head with their wet, dreamy hands. The fishes nibbled at my feet in anticipation. The eyes of the stars dropped fat, fleshy tears. And when your voice beckoned me from the depths, I had no choice but to obey.
Mark Budman‘s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in such magazines as Huffington Post, World Literature Today, Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine (UK), McSweeney’s, Sonora Review, Another Chicago, Sou’wester, Southeast Review, Mid-American Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, the W.W. Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, Short Fiction (UK), and elsewhere. He is the publisher of a flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press. He co-edited flash fiction anthologies from Ooligan Press and Persea Books/Norton.