Best of the Net 2009  



Finds: A Game


It's not only women that search.


Men do it, too, but come on. They're always done before the gun shots. Women have the eye, they have the gut. There's nothing wrong with that. And on difficult courses like this, at big Sales out here in the desert with all these bright red tents and mirages, you have to have the eye. You have to have the gut. Men drop like flies in this heat, their dusty pockets stuffed full of low-scoring brass bells and scented tea bags.

But you:

You still flutter your fingers over parchment pages, stacked at random amid these aisles of unmarked boxes. Why not? It's unlikely you'll find the winning item here, yes, because it's unlikely to be as easy as that. Win it all by finding some ancient call from long ago? Some easy connection to history? Here at the biggest Sale of the year? Right.

Still, you've been unlikely before.

Like the time you found those old Polaroids of your mother, while competing in a Nostalgia Sale at Red Square. She was just a teen in those photos, gladly lost in some past volley of her youth on an American shoreline. It was her in a one-piece bathing suit. Her with windswept hair. A grand prize Find hidden for you in the streets of Moscow.

And you were unlikely to find that set of number 2 pencils, as well, at the spring Forgiveness Sale overseas; their small erasers last chewed by your father when he was just a child. But you could tell those pencils were his from first glance, somehow, even before you saw the word Albertóa name you never called himódrawn in boyish cursive on the white ceramic cup that contained them. So, you came to remember that he was just an innocent boy once like you were just a girl once. His girl. You came to Forgive. And so you raised your father's cup to the sky.

You stood there triumphant and teary, beneath celebratory gunfire in Galway.

That's what the best of these Finds can do for you, if you're lucky.

If you have any hope of winning at all.


And this time you are off in Peru; again Searching in some corner of no place.

Another contestant, a woman, pushes you aside and says, "The parchments! Maybe it's written right here on a sea scroll!" She rifles through the pages you were just looking at, breaking their dry corners in her ravage. "Maybe it's a message!"

You back off and let her have it. Nothing to see here. You understand that.

Nothing to know.

Incense burns thick in a tent behind you. A man on the ground grabs your ankle.

"Three days and still nothing!" he says. "How do they expect us to do it?"

You bend down and give him some water out of your wine-skin.

"We signed up for this," you tell him. "I always have to remind myself of that."

The man squeezes out the last of your water. He takes each drop as if it were honey.

"But I don't understand," he says.

He reaches into his own breast pocket and pulls out a swath of hair. He twirls it around in his fingers. "Look at this," he tells you. "I found it on a table. She was just a baby when she died. Don't you understand that? Don't you know what this means to me?"

The hair this man holds is strawberry blonde. So strawberry you believe that you taste it. Even through the dirt of the desert. Even through the thick of your own white saliva. You believe with your tongue that you taste it. It is tied with a cut of purple ribbon and he begs you, "Please, just look at the way the light bounces off it. My little girl's hair. Can't you picture the light?"

The man begins to cry so you unclasp the empty wine skin from its strap and lay it on the ground beside him. You stand up and draw a collapsible looking glass from your bag. You pull the scope to and scan the area. You see gypsy kids loping between the tables like coyotes, nosing through the pockets of heat stricken gamers.

"How does this not win it?" the man asks you. "Don't they know what it means to me?"

"Of course they do," you tell him. "Maybe memories aren't what they're looking for."

"Then why do they even have this?" he asks. "How did they even get this?"

A gypsy boy pulls on your skirts. He motions at the man on the ground.

"He's not mine," you tell him, and the boy rummages through his sun-faded pockets.

The man places the hair in his mouth.


Men are all blubbery heart, that's their problem.

You can last for days without water. You are determined to Find.

Now:

At the end of your scope is a table, covered with various jars. Before you can reach it, an old woman jumps into your vision. She waves an earthen crucifix in her hand. She shouts up at the judges, who are watching the game from their guard towers.

"You aren't even looking!" she tells them, "I think this is the first one ever made!" She pulls at her hair. "Shoot your guns, damn you!" she yells. "Don't you know I believe in God?"

The judges' rifles remain shouldered. They sip spiced tea from brass cups.

Peru is a long way from home.

It is a long way from neon lights and the city. A long way from your own empty house. It is a long way from the same knife and fork that you eat with every day, washed before each small meal in your sink, and never placed back in the drawer. It is a long way from the life that seems already lived to you now--already fixed--and grown around you like the shell of an egg.

All the best Sales are a long way from home. And all the best Sales are like that for everybody. An African eyes a pelt on your right. A Korean weighs a vase on your left.

All of them are just like you. And all of them are looking to Find.

That's why you come to a Life Sale like this one.

That's why you empty your savings to travel, and stop even at this cluttered table of jars, each hermetically sealed and full of oddity.

An underwater castle. A fetus. A heart.

Nothing to see here. Nothing to know.

But the opposite of this constant looking is worse; you understand that.

A trip back home? A death in the sand?

You lick the sweat off your lips and are thirsty.

A jar with a carrot in it. A jar with a brain.

Three full days have found nothing and so you think perhaps you need to adjust your old strategies. Perhaps this Sale is not meant just for you. Perhaps this Sale is meant for you all. So, you stop searching the jars for your distant father, your dead mother. You stop searching for what you can't change. Behind you, a parrot lifts its talon, scratches its beak.

You spot a jar with a large camel inside of it.

Somehow, it is a full-sized camel stuffed in.

You raise the jar to the sun and see the camel's brown face painfully fixed--mashed by some strange magic against the glass--its two broken hooves crooked under its chin. You touch your hand to your heart and study the lips of this beast, the bent hump, the matted fur, and all of its bared yellow teeth. It is so still in there, so cramped.

You see one of its leg muscles tremble.

"Oh no," you whisper, "please no," and tap on the jar with your finger.

The camel opens its eyes and it sees you.

The glass fogs up in your hand.

The camel panics. You both do.

All animals do, when they mistake the sound of gunshots for thunder.


-M.O. Walsh (from LITnIMAGE)





***