When I was eleven years old I had a dream that my house was burning down. And I wouldn’t call it a dream, really—it was more like a fantasy. When I woke up the blanket was pulled over my eyes. No, this is no joke.
I woke up covered in sweat, unable to find a pocket of cool air. Nowhere in California did it seem like I could find a pocket of cool air.
In the months after my father left, my mother insisted we all sleep in the same bed: her, my sister, and I. At night, she read aloud the final chapter of the New Testament in order to teach us how to endure hell.
No, Revelation. There is only one revelation.
And the Revelation was this: at the end of times, there would be a rapture. One would be taken from the bed, one would be left behind. Then God would rain fire down on the survivors, all this was retribution for us turning our backs on Him. Hell hath no fury…
In Northern California the hills go dry in the summer. The hills didn’t used to go dry the way they do now, but in the sixteenth century, the Spanish inadvertently brought over a non-native, invasive species of grass. This invasive grass choked out the wildflowers, little scrubs, sea-colored hills: blue, purple, green, grey. I imagine in those days, and in the right light one might not be able to differentiate the land from the sea; it was all continuous, flowing –
Turned them gold, almost blonde. Towheaded hills, sweet hay. Torches, really.
In the summer it looks so beautiful. The sun beats down on that golden grass, the grass in turn reflects its rays: a commingling of heat and light, bright and supple. All the land becomes one shimmering beacon, a paean to victory.
Every day poets are put out of business.
I say inadvertently because a side effect of victory is often even more success. An object in motion stays in motion. Winners won’t stop winning.
The Europeans wanted California to reflect whiteness in every form it could take. People. Animals. Doctrine. Language. Myth. Food. Land.
Like fire they propagated their gospel. Like fire they ate it all up, leaving no bone, even.
Fire, fire, fire, fire, fire, fire, fire, fire, fire.
The Book of Revelation gets its name from the Greek word apokalypsis. A direct translation might be ‘revelation.’ Another interpretation is ‘unveiling.’
Revelation: God marries man. Man becomes wife. Kiss me, she says.
Fire, fire, fire, fire, fire, fire, fire, fire, fire.
The hills go dry in the summer: flaxen, crispy, bubbling oil. When I was a kid, land management used to burn large swathes of the golden grass black, right before the summer season so the wildfires wouldn’t billow out of control.
So they fight fire with fire?
I deserve to be put out of business.
When I was growing up the hills were green. The clouds were white. The sky was blue. Bliss.
I was so stupid angry, from the time I was eight to the time I was eighteen.
I was mad at my father, I was mad at my mother. The anger was a hot thing which sat at the base of my stomach, right above my pelvis. It was an iron oven and it burned, big furnace. I fed it, it burned. I tried to stamp it out, but I don’t know, I wasn’t efficient; embers remained, glowing.
All the while the sky shone indecorous blue.
How angry I was that my outsides were so incongruous with my insides. Sometimes I wished I could turn myself inside out, to see the hot thing at home in a hot world. That was the fantasy, I suppose.
Now the sky is orange. Now the air is smoke.
In Genesis, God wiped out His creation with water.
So can’t he do it again?
I’d prefer a world underwater over black hills, orange sky. Fire sounds like screaming. Underwater it is quiet, murmurs.
No, he can’t do it again. She gave me a look, like, what is this trap? And Your room really is a mess.
I didn’t realize God was afraid of repetition. This, we share in common.
Five years ago I moved to New York. I remember when I left, the way the plane rose over the oak trees, the hills. They were golden, they remain golden in my memory. It was late August, it was early September.
California looks so smooth from the sky. All that texture goes flat and just as you crest the horizon the land shimmers (show-off). If you’re lucky enough to catch a view on a good day, which is always –
Always I wonder why I left. Now I complain that sweat covers my body for three months of the year, I complain of the cockroach infestation, of the Indian meal moth infestation, of the rats, of the sound of honking, all night, of our car horn which broke because fucking rats chewed through the wiring (we sat in the car angry and tense and mute).
I’ve gone back four times in the past five years. Each time the plane is about to land I am convinced we will crash into the water, the belly of the plane skimming the waves, and just like that, plop!
I inadvertently say a prayer, muscle memory from when I believed in God and used to pray that I would be the one taken from the bed, I used to pray that and look over at my sleeping sister, my sleeping mother, continue praying.
I pray: “Take me God and make it not hurt, please; I would rather the water than the fire” and in my fantasy sometimes he listens, sometimes he doesn’t.
People tell me the sky is orange, they send me photos. My mother sends me a video through Whatsapp of the air (which is smoke) and yes I see it but no, it’s not real.
Color is a funny thing, I say, and maybe that’s just the tint or the angle, or the light, very harsh.
And – and maybe you should get a new phone, looks a bit smudgy because in my memory California is golden is golden is golden, is clear and warm and perfect, sweet and endless. I’ll never forget it, California
Maz Do is a writer living and working in New York. Her fiction appears and is forthcoming in Scoundrel Time and Jellyfish Review. She also has essays in Huffington Post, gal-dem magazine, Aurelia Magazine, and Popdust. This year she was a finalist for the Kundiman Mentorship Lab and shortlisted for the Alpine Fellowship. She’s also online @_mazdo.