Papagaia Dream by Janene Michaelis

“So let me state the problem back to you to be sure I am getting it,” Therapist tapped her notebook.  “Ted,” she paused, “you are not able to satisfy Marie.” 

Therapist looked at Marie, at Ted, at Marie.

“Yes, that’s it,” said Marie.

Ted scooted to the edge of the couch. “That it not it, exactly,” Ted said.

Therapist and Marie shared a glance.

Therapist’s office was oblong, perfectly situated between suns, windows east and west facing so that, at this midmorning hour, there was hardly any shadow against any object. No shadow under the brachy fern, no shadow under the tadpole globes, the desk, the telestation, nowhere, no relief for the eyes, just bright, light, whiteness.

“That is exactly it,” said Marie, “I am not satisfied.” She wrapped a tentacle around her water bottle.

“No, that isn’t it,” Ted raised his voice. “I, we, have a great sex life. Believe me, we are satisfied. She,” he gestured at Marie, “is definitely satisfied.”

“So you are saying that you, Ted, are satisfied.” Therapist scribbled something in her notebook, looked up at Ted, tapping her pen on her most prominent bright white tusk, tap, tap, tap.

“I’m saying--” Ted’s voice got louder still.

“Oh, beg pardon, I am satisfied sexually, of course.” Marie uncurled a tentacle from her abdominal scales and held it out over the coffee table toward Therapist in a sentient U.

Therapist looked up from her notebook.

“We do have a great sex life,” Marie looked at Ted.

Ted blushed and looked at his hands. Pink, naked, man hands.

Marie’s scales rippled aquamarine, then amber.

“I am sexually satisfied, but I am not satisfied,” said Marie.

Therapist looked knowingly at Marie and Marie looked knowingly at Therapist.

Ted rubbed his temples.  “Could we close the blinds? It is very bright in here.”

“Ted, Marie is saying she is not satisfied.  Do you want Marie to be satisfied?” Therapist rested a meaty white paw on the tadpole globe closest to her, the tadpoles nipped at the glass beneath her fur, stirring a vortex of flashing white bubbles.

Ted closed his eyes.  “Yes, I want Marie to be satisfied.”

“And you know, that is, she has told you how to do that?” Therapist placed her paw back on her notebook. The tadpoles darted about, then drifted apart, still.

Marie nodded. “I told him that to satisfy me he must maintain eye contact with me for forty-two hours.  That is how it is done. As a Lorinthian, of course I do not sleep, so such an activity is effortless for me.  But Ted, he must sleep, almost every night it seems, and he can’t seem to, that is, when we try to sustain eye contact he can’t seem to—”

“I can’t stay awake,” said Ted.

“He can’t stay awake,” Marie said, in a whisper. Her eyes flashed green, then violet, then amber about her horizontal pupils, her scales rippling.

“I see.” Therapist scribbled in her notebook. “How long can you make it, Ted?”

Ted looked at Marie, rubbed his temples. 

Ted looked at Therapist.  “I made it twenty-six hours once.”

Therapist looked at Marie, sighed and wrote something in her notebook. A tadpole nearly overtook another tadpole but did not. The other tadpoles drifted sideways in the wake.

“Twenty-six hours is a long time! It’s almost super-Human!”

Marie looked down at the glistening, black tentacles curled in neatly her lap.

Therapist stroked her white tusk thoughtfully.

“Why don’t you tell me a little bit about your parents, Ted.”

“Divorced,” said Ted.

“Right,” said Therapist, glancing at Marie.

Marie did not meet her eyes.

“And how did you two meet?”

“At a fundraiser for the University,” said Ted.  “A gent sneezed in her glass.  I got her a fresh one, but tripped bringing it back to her and cut my hand. She compressed the wound in her tentacles until the bleeding stopped.” 

Ted looks down at his hands.  Pink. Bare.

Ted looked over at Marie.  She was looking at him.

“Marie was, she is, the most beautiful creature I have ever seen,” said Ted.

Marie shivered.

“And you want to satisfy Marie.”

Ted looked down at his hands, at Marie. “More than anything.”

Marie’s scales rippled green then gold then purple. Her eyes glistened.

“Right. Tell you what, I don’t usually do this,” Therapist wrote something down, tore the corner of the paper and extended it to Ted.  “You need something that will keep you awake.  I know a guy who has something that will keep you awake.”

Ted looked the paper.

Priest

Papagaia Temple, Rio, Brazil

Earth

***

The shuttle driver dropped Ted by a small wooden hand-painted “Papagaia” sign with an arrow pointing to a narrow trail winding between two cliffs into a dark, sunless slice of dense jungle. Ted adjusted his backpack, rested a hand on the Sig laser in his belt and made his way down the trail, the sound of the river abruptly vanishing as he pushed back a vine and turned the corner.  Not a sound.  He did not know what he expected of a jungle, but he knew now that sound was definitely something he expected of a jungle.

A scream ripped through the thicket.

Ted unholstered his laser.  

Probably just a tamarin, or capuchin, or blue cat, but he was taking no chances.

Stillness. He pressed on.

A kilometer or so down the trail, he saw another sign with an arrow. Papagaia. Another kilometer and it grew darker and quieter still. Then he heard the faintest music.

He shook his head.  He was starting to hear things.

But no, there it was again.  A strange song, louder and louder as he walked on.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn’t have to wait so long…

Around the next corner was a tin-roofed shack, smoke rising from its chimney, the door swung open on its hinge, a shaft of light shone down the path, illuminating Ted’s feet.

Above the door, a small sign. Papagaia.

Ted walked to the open door. “Hello?”

“Come on in!”

Ted stepped inside.

It smelled of lye smoke. A yellow hammock, a papasan chair with a red cushion under a blue cat, a mirror-covered wall, a small table with a record player and stacks of National Geographics, a red macaw on a perch in the corner methodically stripping a cigar, a pile of brown spirals on the floor beneath him, and him, he, the priest, sitting at a table by the sink, polishing a silver urn.  

“Have a seat, take a load off,” Priest gestured to the chair across from him without looking up.

Ted dropped his backpack on the floor and sat.

Priest’s too-small white tee shirt had a unicorn print, a unicorn-belly-up-bleeding-rainbow-blood-from-its-throat print. Blue hair misted Priest’s belly, his legs, his one exposed foot, the other foot tied up in an orange and yellow scarf. He chewed an unlit cigar.

“You must be Ted,” said Priest.

Ted nodded.

“Evelyn sent you.”

“Is that her name?” What was Therapist’s name?

Priest looked up. “Jesus, man. Yes, her name is Evelyn.”

Ted looked at his hands.

“A hell of a lady, that Evelyn,” said Priest.

“Lay-dee! Hell-uh-vah!” said the macaw.

“Here.” Priest grabbed a small brown bag from the kitchen counter and handed it to Ted.

The bag smelled familiar, something from his past that he could not quite place.  He opened the it. Inside were small brown ovals, creased lengthwise, like Marie’s pupils.  As they caught the light, the ovals glistened ultraviolet.  They smelled of earth, of deep, sweet, musky oil and bark. They smelled like the dirt between his mother’s toes. Like her garden, like slow-roasted beets.

“What are they?”

“Beans.”

“Magic beans?”

Priest smiled. “Sure.”

“If I eat them, they will keep me awake?”

“Jesus, man. You don’t eat them, you brew them. You grind them up, and then it’s two heaping spoonfuls per cup.  You got me? Not one spoon per cup, not two spoons per two cups, it is two spoons per one cup, non-negotiable, ok?” Priest scrubbed the urn in small circular motions, clockwise, counter-clockwise. “You do that, and yeah man, it will keep you awake.”

“I…brew them.”

“You brew them, brah.”

“Right,” said Ted. 

Awake.  

“Thank you. What do I owe you?”

“Tell you what,” Priest wiped his brow, “you put in a good word for me with Evelyn and we’ll call it even.”

Ted stood and held out his hand.  “Thank you, Priest.”

Priest looked up and laughed.  “I’m not the priest, brah, Macanudo over there’s the mother-lovin’ priest.” He gestured toward the macaw. “I’m just Tom.”

“Ma-caw-uck-in-udo!” said the macaw, bobbing up and down.

“Right. Thank you Tom.” 

Ted clutched the beans to his chest.

***

At home, at dusk, filled with deep, crepuscular longing, Ted ground the magic beans. He brewed them, two spoonfuls to one cup, as instructed.  Then he drank the rich, warm, deep, dark, earth and wood and spice and bittersweet liquid.  It tasted like somewhere he had been before, somewhere he could not place, somewhere alive. Awake.

As the suns set, Ted looked into Marie’s eyes.  Ultraviolence pulsed through his veins, his neurons, his pupils.  He looked into Marie’s amber-gold-green-purple eyes, into her dark horizontal pupils and forgot his ugliness, his pinkness, his nakedness, all his weakness.  Her eyes grew, consumed him, swallowed him up, he was lost in a sea-tapestry of beauty, cool-heat, pulsing feeling, he was lost for hours, days, years, time was no longer with him, with them, he and she were outside time, outside reason and thought and structure and inside each other, there was no longer any separation between them, their love was not two things but one, his feeling for her and her feeling for him and their feeling for them was one and only and not apart and they were lost in each other and lost in time and place and space and all collapsed and held and he looked down at his hands and they weren’t naked, pink hands, they were tentacles, sticky, sinuous, black tentacles, he looked at his stomach and he saw scales, gold, emerald, amethyst scales rippling aqua, now green, now greener than the deepest, darkest jungles on Earth, greener than thought, greener than all things.

“Marie, look at me.”

He was beautiful.

But, oh no.

“Marie, Marie, my darling, I must have fallen asleep. I must be dreaming. This has to be a dream.  This can’t be real, I am so sorry I fell asleep, I could not stay awake for you.”

“No, my love,” Marie touched his face. “You are not asleep.  You have, in fact, just woken up.  You were asleep before. You are awake now.”

“I was asleep? I am awake now?”

“Yes, my love.”

“This isn’t a dream?”

“No, this is not a dream.  You are awake now.”

He looked at her tentacles, at his own.  At her scales, at his own. Green, violet, gold.

“Marie, I am like you.  I am beautiful.”

“You are so beautiful, my love.”

“We are. We have been.”

“Yes.”

Marie held out a tentacle, he reached out and held it in his own. His scales rippled. 

He had always been beautiful.

Janene Michaelis is a fiction writer living in Olympia, Washington. Her favorite authors are Octavia Butler, Ray Bradbury, J.M. Coetzee, and Jess Walter.  She is currently working on a dystopian-Pacific-Northwest-love-triangle novel in which Slaughterhouse Five features as a pivotal character-object.

Janene's "Papagaia Dream" won 3rd place in Sci-Fi Coffee's Coffee Lifts Creatives writing contest.