By Megan Susman
I dreamt of a golem, once.
In the pre-dawn light, spires of a skeletal city rose above my head, the wind shrieking through gaps of tortured metal and crumbled concrete. On empty streets, roots burst through asphalt and clung to deflated tires. The world sparkled with broken glass. I was alone. Or rather, I was nearly alone. Sparrows flitted through half-opened windows and bowed acacia trees, mice climbed along distended rainspouts, and a lone tomcat watched me from the gum-stained sidewalk. My breath came ragged and fast. All of man’s creations were lost to the wild patience of nature.
I walked towards the rising sun.
On the outskirts of the unnameable city, an oily trickle of a river overflowed its banks, potato chip bags and plastic cups floated on its murky surface. The farther upstream I traveled, the clearer the water became. Sticks and rocks choked the swelling stream, instead of the hundreds of Hostess® wrappers and urine-soaked cardboard landmarks that had previously marked my path. The sun beat brighter and clearer, I could feel its rays pound heavy on my skin. I walked with my eyes closed and head upturned, seeing the red of blood behind my eyelids. I was alive, so very alive.
A deep inhalation later, I opened my eyes. I was standing in a clearing by the river’s banks, next to a grove of willow trees. The branches whispered to each other as I approached. Under the curtain of leaves, a potter’s wheel stood perfect and empty. A book lay upturned in the grass; all of its pages were blank. I walked to the edge of the river and held some of its clay in my hands. My fingers grew hungry, insatiable. I scooped the clay by the fistful onto the front of my shirt until it sagged and threatened to tear with the weight. I deposited the entire lump on top of the wheel and started to spin it. Around and around, my thumbs cut grooves of creation into the formless mass, breathing life into the unliving. The clay stretched and grew, narrowed and broadened, and soon the figure of a man towered above me.
Slowly, as if his mud knees were melting into his mud calves, he crouched. The blunt features of his face swayed and puckered, asking a question. I pressed my palm against his forehead and when I removed my hand, a naked man, of flesh and blood, sat before me.
“What am I?” he asked.
My throat closed and I could not speak.
“Who are you?” he asked, a little softer. He lifted his eyes to the tree branches, the clearing, the book, the river.
“Can you speak?” he asked with a touch of sympathy.
I tried to talk, but I felt the pressure of the river’s current in my throat, the stones and dirt and debris in my lungs. I could not say a word if my life depended on it, and at that moment, I was sure my life did.
“Do not be afraid, I understand. I too, have known what it is like not to speak. In the time before this moment, I slept, always. The world went by in fits of drought and floods, sun and moon. For eons, I felt the stirring of life around me, amoebic, amphibian, reptilian, avian, mammalian. And then, recently, a lurch. A trembling. The world was blasted apart, torn through and through by elements of its own creation. Particles of life and matter slipped off the face of the globe to join the vastness of the universe. I trembled within myself with the desire to stop it all. I wanted to pause the tearing through the power of words, a magic older than the stars and now filtered through modern lips. And yet….”
He stood with no embarrassment for his naked form and peered into the distance, towards the ruins of the city.
“And yet, I am too late. Words cannot save what has already been done. It is a time for action, a time to do. Words may be used to now inspire hope, motivate dreams into a reality. But words will not fix this.” He gestured to the world as a whole, his arm heavy with sentiment.
I too, felt heavy. Slowed and gray, I sank to the ground, kneeling at the golem’s feet. He bent over me, the sun behind his head so I could not see the details of his face, just the outline of his form.
“It is time for you to sleep, little one. This world is not your world any longer. I have been made from the earth, for the Earth. I will do what has to be done to strike a new balance. Time is on my side, and your mortal clock has ticked its last.”
He pressed his fingers to my eyelids and the world flashed a painful series of pale greens and swollen purples. And then the relief of darkness took over.
I dreamt of a golem, once.
Published on page 62 of the Spring 2011 issue of Leviathan.