Anjali Deshmukh
 
 
 
Lesson 55, or Falling Lilac: You are a Calm Lake

You can’t be afraid of blood. Not just seeing it—feeling it, hearing it, sometimes… tasting it if you’re really unlucky. If you can’t accept that, then you should leave.

 

You don’t have to be a masochist—actually, you can’t be a masochist. If you took pleasure, then you would never be able to concentrate, to live a patient life. Think of it as an exercise in self control, single-mindedness. Maybe, if you’re the type to think too big, striving for separate from, maybe sometimes even higher than human. I’ve been injured so many times, I’ve lost count.  

 

Oh, that scar?

 

That’s from 2001. 2001 was a real special year- I assume you’ve heard about it by now? What a Game! 2001 will go down in history as the year we came within the 99thpercentile of New York City. New York City, can you believe it? No one ever thought it was possible that the Game could mirror the conditions of any city, let alone New York. We built a monument to a city that year.  It was its own monument. But, no, I say it was even better. It was the city as it could have been, maybe as it was supposed to be.  That’s the grace of 1 percent.

See those little flecks of blue in the scar? 

 

Yeah, that’s right, to the left of my sternum. No, my left. That’s the color of the biggest shard that hit me that year. Sharp, curved at the end into the slimmest, most elegant instrument made by randomness. Damn it hurt. That knife came down on me early on in the Game, in the second round. With 6 more rounds to go, I had to just grin and bear it. They patched me up and sent me on my way. Doctor says that it’ll be the death of me. It’s just the tip of a little iceberg moving straight towards my heart. Time’s running out.

 

No, they can’t take it out… It’s like some kind of shrapnel. They say I’ve got more time if I leave it alone.

 

Stop working? What, are you kidding? And who’ll replace me? You? More like sending a rabbit into a wolf’s den, that is. You’ve got a lot to learn still. You’re too… excited by it all still.

 

Yeah, now you see what the rush is all about.

 

You’ll get it… there’s nothing like a little story of blood to drain away the excess optimism. You are born to be a realist.

 

Yes, right, 2001. 2001 gave me seven scars- those players were tough. That was the year of Cen and Krmtski. Clearly there was some kind of personal vendetta infusing their moves, because I wasn’t the only cut body that year. Usually it’s just a cut here or there. But the two of them dripped red on red, fresh cuts criss-crossing dark bruises. The red of the shards, the red of the blood, the mixing of red and blue to make new purples, with yellow to make new browns and oranges. Messy.

Two of the most ruthless, competitive players in the last 50 years: fifty years is a long time in Game history. And they had a history, too. Cen’s wife, Somaat, was Krmtski’s ex wife. She was an actress—alien beautiful. With eyes that had endless depths, eyebrows that curved with intense compassion, and—I’ll let you in on a little secret— a mind that that was an abyss of emptiness.

Only the people that got close to her knew what a vessel she was. Haven’t seen anything like that in the movie business since. How could anyone that void of thought be so unfeelably, sociopathically expressive? You’ve seen pictures, right?

 

When you replace me, you’ll understand how I knew about her emptiness. You will inevitably be privileged to hear and see things that no one else will ever experience. I know some people better than they know themselves.

I haven’t decided yet whether I’m going to take them to the grave or pass them all on to you. Do you want to be a vessel? You get to decide.

 

No one knows how she got involved in the Game scene. Actually, I think it was probably because of her that we had our limelight moment thirty years ago. Celebrities buying front row seats, arms—even mine—tired from giving autographs, commercial contracts, not to mention the intellectuals, environmentalists, urban planner, politicians, stock brokers, philanthropists, architects, artists. Everyone knew my name. I was hated and loved maybe even more than the players. I wasn’t too much older than you then. Now, I wouldn’t even think about giving someone an autograph, even to open up a bank account.

That cycle’s passed, but what goes around comes around.

Honestly, if everyone wasn’t so calm, it would’ve been like some scene in a bad horror film. But everyone’s eyes were on the Game… The first rowers: the rich, the important.  Somaat and her flock had taken possession of the first row. Everyone in the flock but Somaat wore full, black veils and flowing black robes—only the slits of their eyes hinted identity. They formed a line of tall black posts surrounding her.

 

No one knew who they were—relatives, friends, fellow actresses that liked the anonymity. A few tabloid reporters tried to find out, but Somaat had friends in very high places, and unwanted company steered clear of her.  

Even their hands were covered. They wore long black gloves up to their elbows, to remind themselves of the shiny, distracting rings and bracelets that needed to be stifled in the room of the Game.

The cameras filming the Game would zoom in on her, as she covered her mouth to whisper in the ear of her shrouded companions.

Somaat was different. She liked to stand out. Always. At every Game, Somaat wore a bright white, perfectly fitted business suit with a turned up collar. She was tall and slim, always 3 inches taller than her dark flock. Her hair was pulled back in a tight bun, while her companion’s veils flowed down their backs. They always stood for the entire Game, forcing everyone in the first tier behind them to stand too. That was the way she was, it was her way of commanding an audience without saying a word.

Their bodies were protected from the flying glass by shiny, clear riot shields that formed a net more than 25 feet high. Only the hems of their robes picked up the mark of their Game history. Seeping from under the riot shields, only their hems bore small rips, tears, sweat, drops of blood that timelined their loyalty, pleasures, vanity.

The audience could see into the Game perfectly, but the players on the inside could only make out the dim outlines of forms and bobbing heads shifting like an erratic bed of anemone.

 

They made that decision years before. But that’s a lesson for another time.

 

Me, I could decide how I wanted to experience the Game. That’s why we’re different. We get to see what we want to see.

After four hours of gusts of wind and arcs of fire, quaking, and deluge, we were nearing a time out. The fifth round. I was totally drained, and my bandages were leaking all over the place. It was so much to keep track of. Some Games were easy breezes and pale sunlight, with not a civilization in sight. But this one was littered with the imprint of humanity. The players were moving too fast for me to even make sense of the pattern. I was terrified that I would fail.

 

You simply cannot fail. There’s no other way to break it to you. If I failed, there would be no second chance.

 

The Room was getting restless, and slumped bodies in the second tier red-flagged boredom, the enemy of any good Game. Even Somaat was betraying her humanity. The companion to her left was swaying a fan by her cheek, careful not to create a breeze strong enough to displace her hair.  She shifted on her feet, ignoring the pain of her four-inch heels spearheading the wooden boards of the floor. But just as Cen’s coach was about to call a time out, Krmtski skidded a purple shard across the south side of the board. It hit a sharp pocket of heat and split, sliced almost perfectly into two nearly identical triangles that slid across the board like hang gliders on a smooth plane of space. 

It was already pretty amazing, enough for me to grab a hold onto a pattern to try and bring it all together. I was about to turn away towards my calculations when I felt the slightest breeze ripple across my arms. Right before they hit the edge of the board, the two slices of purple picked up a pillar of wind that I had never seen before. Before I could even understand what was happening, they were whipped into the air like a geyser, violently repelled magnets aiming for the heights.

The crowd was suddenly silent and alert, bobbing anemone gone still in currentless waters. Everyone was squinting up at the domed ceiling, cavernous darkness mingled with the overpowering glare of the lights bathing the Game. Hands over eyebrows, mouths hanging open in curiosity, sifting through the depths.

But I found them. I always do.

And the crowd followed my gaze to two flecks of light breaching time in the bowl of the ceiling, succumbing slowly to the weight of gravity. I was there, measuring the distances, calculating the heights of the towers against the computer screen built into the Game floor, and just as I came up with the match, they were falling again. The wind was still carrying them along its unpredictable path, turning it along angles of two-dimensionality that shielded its glint from prying eyes, along the side of its slimflatness.

And then, scouring twins of purple in the sky found their home below, erupting into small splashes of blood on the wrong side of the riot shields.

A spinning lilac dagger slicing her perfect brown eye. A spinning lilac dagger puncturing a hole in the hollow between her collar bones. She leaked red down the pristine white of her business suit.

At first no one even noticed, our eyes were turned up just like hers, waiting for the end of this small journey to expose itself. When she slowly crumpled to the floor, a statue upturned at its base, a high-pitched siren of fear emanated from the flock, as they stepped back from the blood gushing in a pool around their hems. She executed her death as perfectly as she did her life. But even so, just like that, time and wind betrayed beauty, and Somaat became collateral damage.

We had two more rounds left in the Game. The players kept going. They didn’t even know what had happened. Or if either of them did, they never let on. Swarms of figures moving on the other side of the riot shields meant nothing more than excitement to them.

 

I… Well, I knew exactly what had happened. But her death paled in comparison to the Game history that had been made that day. We had proven what we thought was impossible, don’t you see?

 

After that, there were investigations, questions, accusations, even a trial. Both Cen and Krmtski were called before the Game regulators. I was, too.

What are the odds that Krmtski did this on purpose?  

Who can control wind like that?

Isn’t that the very premise of the Game, that we can shape the elements of our inorganic, material existence?

Yes, but through the Element of chance… Who can possibly control the Game like that?  

But you don’t believe in the Game?  

I believe in Chance.

But someone has to wield Chance.

Chance isn’t a weapon.

And why not?

So, what do you think?

 

That’s right, you don’t. You’re not paid to think. You aren’t paid to feel. You don’t have an opinion. You’re paid to intuit and oracle and observe and state the facts, free from slim skins of belief and colors of persuasion that tip interpretation into emotion. Are you up for it?

After the trial, both players retired from the Game, rich men. The collection of Game pieces from that day were worth a fortune. They told the press that Somaat’s death had left them scarred, that it had shown them the shadowy side of the Game’s violence. But I knew that wasn’t why they quit. It was because both of them knew that they could never, ever live up to the extraordinary reality they had constructed that year. Everything they would ever do would fail to measure up to the monument they’d built in 2001.

You’re looking a little nervous there. You can still back out, you know. Granted, you’ve wasted a good two years of my life if you do, but you haven’t passed the threshold yet.