Creative nonfiction PREVIEW

Notes on Creation

Shruti Swamy

"Justina" by  Zivile Zablackaite (Credit:  TAYO   Issue Three)

"Justina" by Zivile Zablackaite (Credit: TAYO Issue Three)



:  something that is created: as
a :  world
b :  creatures singly or in aggregate
c :  an original work of art
d :  a new usually striking article of clothing


A gap between buildings is like a gap between teeth. The apartment building has been dismantled, not because it was neglected, only it wasn’t as valuable as what soon will take its place, new and gleaming, like a porcelain crown. A man in this future on the twentieth floor will remember to look out his window—from his vantage he seems to float. The room is wide and cleaned by invisible hands and he eats food made also by invisible hands: good food, arranged in a pale box for him, made for him, delivered by a man with a name. Money paid already, no tip, the man takes the food from the other man and closes the door. He works in the building next door making things that are new and gleaming and have no friction, he lives in his apartment alone, in a state unlike loneliness. He finds lovers and they marvel, touching their fingerprints against the expanses of glass.

In a small room in the building that was once there, a woman rubbed the chest of her child, the child, unwilling to close his eyes, the day still in his body, though not the body of the women, where wariness stopped day from entering, and she sighing almost close to tears with the burden of her heavy body, while the body of the child was light. He was talking about the anteater he saw at the zoo. Just one anteater didn’t he get lonely? And where is his mother? Does he miss her? She didn’t answer him, stroking, hushing, at the end of her patience, her mind already travelling into the labor of tomorrow, which would start before dawn. Where now? Swallowed. From their window the city glistened. Theirs and not.


Between you and me, there once was nothing, and now there isn’t, there’s something. In the present tense, we forget our past, we imagine love where there was none, because we can’t remember the time that came before it, the time before the days spent apart and the nights together, the days spent apart but never alone because each hour held the knowledge of the other, not insistently, like an alarm going off, but quietly, like the sound of heartbeat or breath fading in and out of consciousness as we went about our tasks. Sometimes I ask you for the moment, the salt point, the change in feeling and knowledge, the instant where love burst from friendly indifference. You can’t say. You don’t believe it was a moment, but a series of moments, a few weeks, or months, in which our something bloomed. But I think it was a single hour, I think it was a single minute, a single second, where we crossed over, where the something we felt arrived, and then became irrevocable. But you can’t remember either, you accuse. It’s true, I can’t. When I search myself it seems like the nothing was never there. I remember the nights I spent curled, alone, and warm, the morning I woke in the dark to a lightning storm and I thought the world was ending. I can’t remember what I felt then, truly, alone, watching the sky split again and again open, from the window of my bedroom, and then the window of my kitchen, where I stood, barefoot, and cool: exhilarated, terrified: this is the end of the world, this odd, underwater light, this purple sky. I don’t remember the precious emptiness at the core of me that allowed this fear. I stretch this memory now, falsely, over you.  


To make bread you can use yeast from a packet to leaven the dough, or you can mix equal parts flour and warm water in a jar, cover the mouth of the jar with cheesecloth, and set it beside an open window: soon there is something in the mixture that you did not add: not water or flour but some third thing, wild and in fact living, that found its way in: spontaneously appeared—carried in from the breeze, or coded in the flour—no one knows. You set the jar on the windowsill and you invite in mystery. The yeast you find in such mixtures in San Francisco is different from its equivalent in New York. The bread we make here from this yeast is ours alone, it knows us in particular our tongues. Bring it in a container to Chicago and the composition will shift to mimic that of its location, the bread you bake from it will be Chicago bread.


I bake you a loaf of bread. It is a physical act, I use my hands and arms, mixing the soft inedible flour with salt, water, and the wild-yeast mixture I have made, stirring first with a spoon, then with my fingers. Then I am standing on my toes for leverage, I am using my shoulders, my back, making bread for you, turning a ragged lump of ingredients into a soft and pliant ball, warm-skinned, silky, to slide into a bowl. It sleeps for hours under a towel, it has the presence of a cat, when I lift the cloth it has inflated: yeast has given it breath. Baked, it exudes the smell of gold. It is warm, has spring, sounds hollow—suddenly something: just food, and humble, but it was once nothing we could eat, a nonsense of raw flour and salt. It gives me pleasure to watch you eat. I taste with two tongues: yours and mine.


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