44.2 feature: Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint reads BLISS PLACE
Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint was born in Myanmar and grew up in Thailand and California. She is the author of The End of Peril, the End of Enmity, the End of Strife, a Haven (Noemi Press, March 2018). Her short stories have appeared in TriQuarterly, Collagist, and Kenyon Review Online, among others, and has been translated into Burmese and Lithuanian. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in creative writing at the University of Denver, and the Reviews, Interviews & Translations editor of the Denver Quarterly.
Driftwood lies bone-white in the sand. The sky droops low. Beach houses line the bay like so many glass jars. A stairway winds up the bluff far away, rising like a bad dream in the night. I say to you we should head back. You say there are too many things to know. You are going to the hills to talk with angels.
Many creatures move in the night, scratching their backs against the shingles of our house. The cicadas sound like sprinklers. The child inside of you is not yet viable. You are hoping for twins, but I am certain it is only our dead mother. Your dead mother, you say, mine is alive and well. But a mother, like the eve of something, is both mine and everyone’s. In our furry bed, you nuzzle your soft head into my armpit. You clean my ear with your fingertip. Your skin is blue lotuses and white water lilies. I tell you so. We go on listening to the night.
Nobody had lived on the island before. The natives from the mainland would row out in spring to harvest clams and oysters and bury their dead. Mother, too, came here to die. Father died first. These stories are all the same. I was not afraid of the island until you came along, with that child growing inside of you. This was no place for a birth. The creatures wouldn’t sleep then. They smelled it on your skin. The tide pulled back, and the beaches laid bare, with all manner of dead things stranded ashore. It was some kind of omen, I knew, so I tried to save a starfish. The thing was glumpy and skin-pink, along its arms were tiny tentacles like thirsty mouths. The sea smelled like it would drown me. I made a mess. The starfish lost a leg.
You found a piece of driftwood in the shape of a whale and showed it to me like some kind of secret. For good luck, you said. You said the island was full of magic. This was your first visit. On the ferry, you had stood on the deck the whole way, from horn blast to horn blast. When you came back to our bench, your eyes were red and your hair wet. Why didn’t you come out? you said. I don’t know, I said. The way ships cleaved the water always made me sick. From the port, we came directly to the beach. You said the city looked so small from here. You gave me the whale wood to keep in my pocket. You were barefoot and happy.
Because summer has ended, everyone has returned to the city and left us alone on the island. On the other end of the bluff, there’s a small town with a post office and a church and your standard coffee shops and diners, but the people there don’t count. They’re part of the season too, and when the tourists and the tycoons leave, they disappear like ghosts. You say you don’t mind the solitude. We walk through the woods to the paved street where glass houses hang precariously from the bluff. There are signs asking us to leave. Private Property, they say, No Trespassing. We count seventeen kittens on the block. You say we should rescue them, or they’ll die come winter. I say they’ll live. Every year they multiply. All it took was one lost pet, and now a whole pack of wild island cats.
Mother was a singer and father was an alcoholic. They met at a hermitage in New York. When I was born they bought some land upstate and tried to live off it. Mother named the property “Bliss Place.” Father salvaged scrap metal from junkyards and never sold any. We grew vegetables, dug a well, pit-fired pottery, knitted sweaters, and my parents failed at everything. Then father got sick. We drove him to a hospital in town and he stayed there a while. I chopped all the firewood that winter. When he came back it was like mother believed Bliss Place would finally work. She was reading all these books on ecology, darning our clothes, over-weeding the garden. Like she could save the Place, and father too. He died anyway. He wanted to. We sold Bliss Place. Mother used the money to build a small house on the island. When she finished building the house, she died too.
Lately, the island has been giving you dreams. Bad ones, without shape or meaning. You curl around your belly and cry and cry. I check the windows for creatures and they run back into the night. I am so tired. I don’t know what else to do, so I sit on the bed and touch your hair. It is damp with your sweat. My father’s hair was wet, too, the night he died. From snow, I had first thought, when I pulled him in from the cold. But as he lay there thawing on our wood floor, I knew. I could smell the blood on my hands.
Mother said she found him in the steelyard like that, how long ago she couldn’t say. I had to go look for the shotgun. A blizzard was coming in, and I knew if I waited until morning it would be buried too deep. The footpath was harder to follow in the snow. I lost it several times and had to trace back.The woods were so quiet. I missed the coyotes. I missed the black bear. I missed the sweet bobcats. I wanted to meet a wolf. I found the shotgun in a small clearing not far away. I don’t know how I didn’t hear it. I don’t know how she dragged him so far. The snow was falling harder then, and somehow I made my way back.
Come winter our child dies, and we walk the perimeter of the island, breaking frozen sand cakes under our feet. I am not in the mood to talk. The sun is small and red and falling farther south. You say you are afraid. After some time, you go home. After some time, I find that stairway again. It rises tenuously, like scaffolding, like they are trying to repair the bluff, like I am trying to repair my heart. I am sorry about a lot of things, but it doesn’t seem to matter.The state ferry comes and goes around the bluff, the last one for the day.What did the angels say to you? I wonder. Was our mother among them? I imagine they spoke only in haiku. I imagine they were so beautiful.