Failure in the Underground Time

At that time everyone lived in a cave underground and the burrow I found to call home hosted so many fleshy languid wayfarers that every move and thought became erotic, even walking to the fridge, now nestled against a few boulders but otherwise the same cheap white affair it had always been in dens of that ilk. Don’t ask me how it worked or how anyone got oxygen because what did I care? Everyone was so sincere and sincere is sex, so no, no one minded living underground, in our burrow or anywhere else, since violence went away forever and life was a boudoir mall cave: rock, and open-faced people, and things people bought before the underground time. Walk out of the burrow through another rock burrow into another rock burrow and pass women in faded silk bathrobes still carrying designer handbags, men in slippers and suit jackets, children in lollipop-sized rubies and bug-eyed Chanel sunglasses. Everything functional and back to a new norm, just step over rubble now, no architecture, no wallpaper, no plants, no sunlight, everyone mellow, all around cave. A hippie living in my burrow left me a love note in a bag of chocolate-covered graham cookies, but I never have any privacy so I walked to the river running through the cave to read. The note was four pages long and full of sincerity, I was sure, and I couldn’t wait; it would totally turn me on. What do you think but when I got there and pulled the note from my pocket, strangers still slung their arms around me and tried to look over my shoulder, everyone sharing everything now, so I waded into the water but you wouldn’t believe the current and with the water rushing and masses of people bobbing along for the ride, urgency lost its hold and the next thing I knew I was at least twenty miles downstream in who knew what burrow. Talk about no maps. Everyone let those go awhile back. But I climbed out of the current and tucked myself in a corner to read the blue-ink handwriting, now smeared. Then I thought of when I met the hippie and returned his warm smile, and I felt something like light, but then I remembered once when he went to the shower and he took off his hat, how his hair underneath fell down to his butt, which meant he’d been growing it out since before the underground time. That was a turnoff, I had to admit, like his hair could get in the way, like I wouldn’t be able to feel his skin. I sat in the corner by the river while contented people rushed contentedly past on the current and I felt contentedness creeping in because the river was warm and fast and the freest of all the free underground, but I clutched the note and couldn’t let go. Still, I’d already forgotten about the cookies and soon I would forget about the note or it wouldn’t matter anymore and I knew, even as I unfolded the note, because it was impossible now not to fail, that the light was fading away but what I wanted was a reason to find a way back through the burrows to the hippie. What I wanted was desire.

Other stories by Lydia Ship have appeared or are forthcoming in Night Train, Hobart, The 2nd Hand, The Battered Suitcase, The Pedestal, A Capella Zoo, Metazen, The Armchair Aesthete, New South, Neon, and The Dead Mule, among others; in 2009, one of her stories received a Pushcart nomination, and she is a Contributing Editor at The Chattahoochee Review. Read more of her stories here–