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Bottled and Un-bottled

by Alex Dally MacFarlane

Five bottles on a shelf, they sang songs to me on a cold winter’s night: songs of lips against snow, of roots, of tusks and of gold and of all that piled in the room, spoils of my father’s travels. They always found a way into his pockets, those oddments.

And I, their un-bottled sister, was their ear.

And I, their ten-fingered sister, stood on tiptoes in the kitchen to take dried peach slices from the wooden boxes, to take cardamom and cloves from the dispenser. I stood in front of the shelves and dropped my fruits and spices into the bottles.

They murmured thanks, every one.

Eyes and mouths and four finned limbs grew from them in haphazard ways, puzzle ways, and I watched them as if they would move just-so in their bottles and make a neat pattern.

“Have you seen fish in the water?” one whispered -- or was it two? I couldn’t follow all their mouths.

I tilted my head to the right, looking at the dried blowfish behind one of the bottles.

They swam around it in the toilet bowl, pressing their lips to it -- like fingers, I thought, to learn how it felt -- and they swam down when I flushed, down through the pipes that curled like my hair, down to the underground rivers.

I’d stolen my father’s oddments before. If he noticed, it was only to see an empty space on his shelf for another travel-token, another spade-shaped coin or intricately carved statue of a mermaid.

A week after I emptied the five bottles, he filled them with shells and sand from a black beach in the Aegean.

And I, growing older, saw the five un-bottled boys on warm nights when I walked alone by the river.


those cool brothers! what a mysterious idea--I love it. Almost like loas.

Posted by: David | February 2, 2009 10:36 PM

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