Particles, by Ian MacMenamin
I am little. I see bacteria floating through the light from my torch at camp. We are in a forest heavy with midnight dew. The bacteria are busy. They commute between invisible pockets of air. They live in my cone of light. I wonder if they’re real so I ask the teacher, there in the dark, are these things bacteria? He doesn’t know what I’m talking about. Are what bacteria? he asks. These little things in the light. I realize he doesn’t see them, and it feels like I have a gift. I can see tiny particles floating around, I can see the elements of things. In this case I see the active air of the forest. I need glasses, really, though I don’t think of that. I just think I’ve been given a little gift. I can look at the things that make up concrete life. I can describe them for you, as if I’m describing the kitchen of a world-class restaurant. The darkness around that cone of light scares me a little less now. Though it still scares me, because of that night, to this day. I can feel the bacteria on his skin. I can see the whiteness of his thighs, swaying through the cone of light like an angel.
I have grown up to almost sixteen years old. Every memory shivers in my legs my chest my forehead and sweat is a memory too fast to see clearly. I still see bacteria. I don’t call them bacteria anymore, I call them memories. Everything is made of these moving memories. They communicate, I have figured them out tonight. I am the youngest at the party by far and there’s wine they say is good wine. There is bad music on and I make a comment about the music. We’re sitting by the fire and everyone shows an interest. Everyone asks me why I think the music is bad. I say it just doesn’t have any heart. They laugh as if I’m too young to know what has heart. I can see the memories in the fire. They’re moving. The bacterial mud in my vision is performing an angry tribal dance. They are upset with what I am saying. I realize that the man the party is for is looking at me. His eyes are soft. His name is jasper. This is his house. His pants are thin. His nose is long. His feet are large. His hair is hard. His shoulders are thin. His face is young but weary. His eyes are changing. His eyes are fingers. His eyes are hard fingers and I can see the light of the campfire in his back garden emitting large memories now. I can see the light of his campfire fingering my ass. I can see the light of his campfire out in his garden pushing me against the bikes in his shed.
My father lives close by, on the other side of the park. He’s in his bed. If he could see me he would hate me forever and I can never tell him I’m sorry for this thing that’s happening because I can never tell him. I can only watch the memories moving angrily, always more angrily, moving about within the cone of light from my little torch, the torch that I hold onto tightly for the rest of my life. I can taste the spittle dropping onto my back. I can feel the fabric of jasper’s bed. I can feel the anger in his fingers even as he lies there asleep. I leave before he wakes up and I don’t talk about this for eleven years. The sun is sharp today and I walk through a park before going home. I grew up in this park. Played soccer with friends. Raced my bike on the dirt track. I can’t much see because of the tears in my eyes. I look up and I try to hand my memories to the birds in a tree. They scatter into the empty sky. I walk into another life.
Ian MacMenamin lives on a small island in the Netherlands. He’s originally from Fairfax, Virginia. He finished his MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen in 2019. His play, Toothbrush, has recently been performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for sold-out theaters. His first book of poetry was published in 2020 together with illustrator Claudi Kessels under the name Eilandgedichten. His fiction and poetry have been published in Trailer Park Quarterly, Juste Milieu and DeFusie.