Rigorous
Volume Three, Issue 2



Tears for the War Heroes, for the Philosophy Majors, for the Mamas Who Fight Against the Dust

Exodus Oktavia Brownlow


Slumped against my car-seat, with the air on, and you strapped down, I have covered your human body in ice. While I slowly kill you, I begin to fantasize about who you were before you came here.

1. A War Hero.

Three generations of military excellence are coursing through your veins. Your heart pumps and bleeds for your country. Your mother, a woman who had only told you that she loved you twice (once on her deathbed, and another when she was drunk), was proud of you and who you had become. Your father, as always, has only found himself worrying about you. He has worried about his little boy who used to spend his days studying the delicate anatomy of ants and insects. He has worried about his grown son who now spends his days studying the delicate anatomy of people he has killed. This is not the life you would have chosen had you any other choice, but it is a life that you are very good at.

From beside me, you hiss. Your teeth snap at me as the cold continues to penetrate your skin, turning you into soft stone from the inside.

The heels that you have worn today, easily come off at your snapping. Your brownish-blond curls are now frizzy, and beautifully wild from your failed attempt to run away. We level eyes with one another. My human eyes, with tears. And your human-like eyes, with hostility. There is more thrashing from you. More panic. More evidence that works against my War Hero fantasy.

2. A College Student.

You are in your second year, and you’ve decided to major in philosophy. You like to consider yourself a rebel where you are from. A revolutionary. You believe that all life is entitled to living, and you have resented your kind since birth for its willingness to smut out the life of others just to ensure its own species. You think about your phone being tapped, and government agencies spying on you from your dorm window. You think about being the one to end it all, the one who brings indefinite change. But you are not the one, and some part of you knows this. You are much more selfish than you care to realize, a survivalist just like your race. You wish you could be more.

I was told that the thrashing is the worst part. Cold to them is like fire to us. It is a burning that offers no reprieve, a torture that goes without a breath’s pause. I am watching you without words. Flinching at your hisses. Queasy from your desperation. My brain says that you have brought this on yourself. My heart says that I don’t know that necessarily. In my car seat, I am crying. For...for? It doesn’t matter. In either case, it makes me the most pathetic human in existence. Pathetic, because I am humanizing you, though you are not human. Humanizing you, though you don’t deserve it, though your kind has taken so many of us, humans, away.

Your fight has reached its precipice, an intensity that is beyond any kind assurance. No, this fight has intent behind it, another purpose. Your eyes, like mine, are wet. They are tears that do not cry from your own inevitable demise, but for another purpose. These are the tears of a mother.

3. A Mother.

All you’ve ever wanted in this life is their safety, even though they’ve taken so much from you, and have nearly killed you. This world that you live in is not a good place to be a mother. It is far too insatiable, and you are not. During the takeover, you got separated somehow. Since then, many days have gone by, and you have changed out of more human bodies to count. This world is a big world, bigger than any of the others, and you are a face that your children don’t know.

There is silence now. The almost-final stage. When all physical sensations are gone, the only thing that remains is the mind and its awareness.

You are blinking, and breathing softly, like a caught fish on dry land. No flapping, or fidgeting, but acceptance.

Like a fish on dry land, this is a place that you’ve never been before.

Like a fish on dry land, you realize that the sun looks different above water.

Like a fish on dry land, though you are dying, you realize that there is beauty here too.

We both lay gently against our seats, slightly inclined.

There’s a knot in my throat for you, and questions, so many questions, but I am afraid to ask them. I have never heard one of you speak before, and what if the sound is too human? The whole reason for going through with your death, is that you are not human. I am giving you death because everything that was human, you have taken away for yourself, and destroyed.

I remind myself that you are not real.

Not American.

That you are my enemy. My enemy. My enemy.

But if I were strong enough to say anything, I would ask if you were a war hero, and how you were able to find beauty in anything as disgusting as bugs and insects? I would ask if you were a sophomore student in college who decided to major in philosophy, and if you had come from a rich and powerful background? If somehow that life had exposed you to the same corrupt truths that kept you dazzled in designer and first class?

Finally, I would as if you were a mother who would do anything for her children, including take the life and body of my own mother? Turning her into a shell where you now reside.

But I don’t ask you these questions because maybe you are none of these things. Maybe you just want to rip off my flesh, and leave me only as bones. I don’t ask you these questions because they do not matter. None of it does. Not the fantasies, the humanizing, or the tears.

Gray. The last stage. You are now a statue that no longer breathes or blinks. You are solidified ashes. My mama’s heels kiss at your toes like Cinderella shoes, as if all I had to do would be to slip them back on and everything turn our right. In a separate fantasy, the bad people would lose, and the happily ever after would be waiting.

Since this is real life, my truth is that I am the hero, but I have lost everything.

My finger hovers in front of your nose for just a breath, deciding.

I press.

You crumble.

You cloud.

In my seat, I call out to all the gods—Allah, Buddha, Christ—all the ones who have failed me.

In my seat, I thrash, hoping that I too am a body-snatcher—not human, not real, not American. I toss whatever bits of melted ice I can grab, and throw them on my body but they bounce off, repelled by alieness.

In my seat, I cry for the thing who was the War Hero.

The Philosophy Major.

The Mother.

And the Enemy.

In my seat, I cry for my mama who kept herself in heels and curls.

Who was fully aware of this world’s end, and who is now only dust and ashes.


Exodus Oktavia Brownlow: "My writing aesthetic includes purposeful horror, character-driven fiction, and nonfiction writing that aims to create a healthier world for us all. I am a graduate of Mississippi Valley State University with a B.A in English, and Mississippi University for Women with a MFA in Creative Writing. I am published with Electric-Literature, Barren Magazine, Anti-Heroin Chic Magazine, Valley Voices, Luna Luna Magazine and more. I am a Cruger, Mississippi native."




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