Essays    Reportage    Marginalia    Interviews    Poetry    Fiction    Videos    Everything   
Flight of the Buraq

The witch listened to nothing but her water heart.

Fiction | Fiction, Flash Fiction, Remains, ghosts
December 21, 2022

The witch logs online, tweets song lyrics from her grandmother’s kitchen. “Fee hawaa, fee hawaa,” croons the man in the movies. The pot stirs a potion of periwinkle revenge: saffron bubbles sputter a smell of waxy pomegranate dew. A spurt stains the carpet. There is desire, there is desire, her cunt cries. With a golden ladle, she cascades her draught into the chipped “F” mug (for Fatimah) and takes no more than a sip. Now she’s on the ceiling looking at her tattered kaftan, her Hello Kitty slippers, a decomposing and days-old Slurpee from 7- Eleven, and wonders how she will ever let herself go. 

The moon is a lake, and she swims in delight. She hopes to barter with the moon crater for a permanent solution. I gave up my body, she says. It doesn’t belong to me, but this place, I feel like I belong, I feel like you could be my uncle, even. The crater isn’t impressed by her speech, but it is lonely and lets her stay. The crater, after three days, leaves her a brick of feta cheese and a strange flag that has been flying in zero gravity for some time. Her tears freeze on nothing and bob like fishing lines in the river rouge. She remembers her home country, a man she embraced so deeply she forgot she was weighed down by anything at all. NO, I am your home country, she hears echoing in the silent cosmos of deep space. 

Fatimah the Witch makes her uncle, the crater, a sandwich of moondust and date jam, tells him she is taking a weekend trip to find the voice calling to her. The voice sounds at the same glimmer of the sun each lunar day, rubbing her feet and warming her nose with its faithful line. I love Qabbani, I have his poetry tattooed on my ribs, she says. Her uncle engulfs the sandwich whole, spits out bits of pebble and pit. Ya binti, he continues, spitting. That the voice is no good, no good like all the others you ran to, and then away from, and all the way out here to butt-fucking nowhere. The witch finds an iron unicorn in the boulder shed and fiddles with the radio braided in its mane. I hope I can find a station with variety, is all she says before blasting off. 

It was cold like a stolid winter before the Souk. When she ascends to the first of Saturn’s moons, she breathes easy like a starfish along the briny shore, unlike before when she felt conflicted, a tight congested common cold. The Souk is ordinary with a blue fountain in its middle. The tile gleams like Orion’s hypergiant under her feet. The purple haze of sky and the multitude of blood oranges imported from Jupiter’s storm are the only stark contrasts of color. All else, including her, are an icy gray. Where would you go, the pistachio seller inquires, if all you knew was stolen and written onto tapes? Before she opens her mouth to answer none of his business, her radio sounds, I AM your home country, I AM your home country, I AM your home country

The pistachio seller sneers, Home are the people in your orbit, now don’t forget to pay for those. She hands the pistachio seller liras from Lebanon, tomans from Iran, a lone euro, and a crimped Thomas Jefferson. She spits out six pistachio shells like a shotgun for good measure. The pistachio seller nods sheepishly as she leaves.

It is unusually warm for Pluto’s moon. She forgets which one—is this hunk of red hard clay an asteroid, meteoroid? She falls asleep for some time because Mercury is in retrograde. The star patrol tried to warn her what could happen, so many hundred thousands of radio waves ago, but she didn’t listen. The witch listened to nothing but her water heart. It rages like the ocean inside of her trying to touch a moon’s gravity, but what moon? 

She thinks more about the why of the moon, really. It had its reasons for calling her away, and she wants those reasons more than anything. After a big yawn and a twitch of her graceful fingers around the radio knob, she finds the station she is looking for. The radio sounds: I AM your home country, I AM your home country, I AM your home country. The voice stopped speaking to her weeks ago and now only plays a riff of a song. Incomplete? Trying to find itself, or trying to find her? 

I don’t know much about music, she says aloud to the green speck stuck to her black sparkle boot. The speck is all too aware of how alone she is, how the trapped sound of her voice scratched her throat for days. 

It sounds a lot like Bach in that knife fight, but with a somber instrument, eye-shaped, clunky, a tapping shell. The speck abandons the ship of her boot as she dances to the cracks in her voice out loud. The hunk of rock below trembles like a jumping jack. Fatima the Witch recites the Quran while jumping to the next hunk in this deep space.

I AM your home country, I AM your home country, I AM your home country. As the faux red earth crumbles from under her, everything travels at Michael Jackson moonwalk speed. She throws herself onto the tin-can trailer hightailing it away from the Mercury core, so slow it’s almost fast. She screams the wedding zalghouta, as her hand slips and she slides down the metal beast somehow catching her belt-loop fanny pack on the curved door handle. The eyehole is shaped like a lion, and she presses against it, praying destiny is real. After meters and meters of flying and her dying wedding cry, the door swings wide and she dives. 

The man inside does not move from his tanbur, even as she struggles with closing the door. Hyperspeed causes the cozy chamber plush with Persian rugs to fill with galactic dust. Fatimah charges to the marble kitchenette and dunks her head, sort of on fire from the velocity, into the full sink. Koi fish and mint leaves tangle in the left hemisphere of hair that survived the intensity of this homecoming. She sits lotus-legged in front of the bearded man playing her song: I AM your home country, I AM your home country, I AM your home country. 

Fourteen hours after her song, incomplete on repeat, the musician stops playing and finally sees her for the first time in something more than a bikini on a clean beach in his dreams. Are you real? They both stammer like a pinhole camera, inverse and glowing no larger than a blink; a spark appears as they touch hands, palm to palm. I AM your home country, I AM your home country, I AM your home country. 

This song is a burning bush, what I thought your voice would sound like, before I heard it, he says, pulling her to his side amongst the patchwork of pillows. Do you like cats? She demands, her heart, a class-four rapid leaking all over her rose-gold crop top. His laugh is pop music in her ears and his tomcat brings a rat to her feet. They play chess, badly, at the little table near the seashell sink, and she lets him win. The tomcat is shimmering beige with blue leopard spots, and brings a yellow bird as they hold hands. The bird croons like the man in the movies, half-stirs a wing, as if looking for home. At a new kitchen table that smells eerily like her grandmother’s, she has happily let herself go.

This story is part of the Remains notebook, which features art by Chitra Ganesh.