What a Culture War Might Look Like
Michelle Reale

Cars swerved around me and angry cab drivers shook hairy fists in my direction. I pulled my stand of wares on two wheels and set it down where I could. I would follow the ladies in the heels like shiny spikes, and their mouths glossy, like what they might say could influence world leaders. The men too, not to be forgotten. The financial types were the kindest, all navy blue and pinstripes with shiny money clips. The ex-prize fighters, the housewives, the men in clerical collars, the worst. They scuttled in the district pulling their coats tight around them, as if they might be forced into exile if they were noticed.

I would sell to anyone who was interested. I mined the jewels myself, with a pickaxe, wove the silky scarves from the waste of rare worms found in places many would not dare to venture. I let people haggle for the price, but always managed to get what benefitted me the most.

When I was approached by a man wearing gold brocade and whose feet did not touch the dirty city street, I stood up straighter, smoothed down my unruly hair with a drop of spit in the palm of my hand. Rearranged my breasts as they had a mind of their own. He spoke in a language I had to decipher and some of the words became garbled. He chose brooches, scarves, hairpins and shoes in the colors of citrus fruits. I thought how fitting, though I could only guess where he was from. When I asked, he hesitated as if I would be offended should he tell. It is a war, after all, he said. I hit him on the top of his head, acting but not feeling playful. He offered me more than what he would take away was worth. I told him to take it, to get away from my stand. We lived in sensitive times and I was afraid others would see.

On satellite television, I saw his country. The trees had funny shapes and they did the dip and sway in the rare breeze. Its leaders were both solemn and hilarious. In a rarely seen glimpse into the lives of their women, I watched and saw the elegant curl of their hair and the way they held their heads high, the downward slant of their ochre-colored eyes. I saw the jewels, the hairpins, the scarves, all brilliant in their far away sunshine. It had been too easy, now I would be credited with accessorizing a country. This would likely be seen as an act of treason here, in the country of my birth. I shuttered my stand, removed the wheels, sold them for a currency I was not familiar with. Lived off what I could until I boarded a ship that would take me to sunnier climes.

Michelle Reale is an academic librarian. Her work has been published in Eyeshot, Smokelong Quarterly, elimae, Word Riot, Monkeybicycle and other places.

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