Illustration: treasure map screen, X marking a green spot


to A.’s memory

The way to the otherworld is hard to find without a map. Those maps weren’t always hard to come by: a garden would serve as a kind of cosmic map. The world would be quartered and have a well or a fountain at its center, which would, by flowing from the bowels of the earth, connect the chthonian to the sky. To sit at the cloisters and look, was to gaze at the celestial orderliness of the universe. Sometimes, in the place of a well there would be a tree, standing alone, leading our gaze upwards. This map would often be enclosed, cut off from the world – it became an arcane knowledge protected from uninitiated eyes.

So we’ve come to talk of the walls, of the veil, of the protective screen where moths perch on summer nights and obstruct our view of the cosmos. The otherworld has many citizens but it’s losing its visitors – which is us, averting our eyes from the dead. Graveyard dirt is saturated and old, so well-fed that it can’t stomach a single bite more – and full of loose little bones that keep traveling from one end of the garden to the other, as graves are emptied and refilled with rapid efficiency.

We are cramped, we are too many, we have no time. If the soul is the butterfly escaping with our last breath, it quietly stumbles against the same walls, the same vinyl-coated fiberglass mesh. It didn’t always; it was enough for it to be seen tumbling into the room from an open window, to be pointed at by someone who would exclaim, see, grandpa is paying us a visit.

Perhaps it is alright for us to be geocentric in death – after all, this is where we live. If we make a garden out of a geocentric map, then the otherworld will be close by: at the bottom of the well, the roots of the tree. It becomes a place we can visit, a country visible on our map; and we can make space for it, invite it in. It can be a slow and loving visit, a banishing of the cosmic loneliness. No frantic reshuffling of bodies, no covering the children’s eyes.

We take our place in the garden; we eat, we play, and the moths and the butterflies come to us. Look, we’ll say, someone is paying us a visit.

Illustration: little bones traveling through soil to reach a butterfly

Clio Velentza is a writer from Athens, Greece. She is a winner of Best Microfiction 2020, Wigleaf’s Top 50 2019 and The Best Small Fictions 2016, and her novel “The Piano Room” is forthcoming in 2021 by Fairlight Books. You can find her on twitter at @clio_v

Map and Bones illustrations by C.B. Auder.

NEXT – saplings


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