Maps In Fiction
Fact in Fiction was a research project, once upon a time. Once upon a time the story may start, when its fiction. What about maps? Maps in fiction.
Maps. A good friend once told me that she knew a book would be good if its first pages included a map. Maps. The news is focused on the map of Europe and the expanse of Ukraine on a map. Such a large expanse, so long unnoticed by many. Maps. They are sometimes tools and always interesting stories. They feature prominently in the gray smudged areas of both collective and individual identity development, of institutional hegemony and control. Maps. I dug into my manuscripts to understand the knowledge my characters hold of maps. After all, as one particular character of mine acknowledged, “What’s the harm in a bit of fiction if it moves the story forward?”
I invite you to page this album of snapshots. Each one reminds how an indirect definition through scene and story informs identity, belonging and understanding. My truest definitions of maps.
The television is always talking. Tonight, its flashes resemble the highway lights’ division. Two tones. One feels like forward. One feels like fear. The colors are painted across a map I don’t recognize. I can interpret the jagged lines as fencerows thrust deep by someone else’s grandfather some long time before. A part of me knows that is not what I was trained to do. I was only supposed to write what someone else had said. The Lord pays attention to the numbers then clears his throat. I translate few words before the pictures snap and change. B O R D E R. T E R R I T O R Y.
Save the Elephants
Maps are funny things.
Maps are mostly pictures
Connected by lines.
Maps take years to change.
Maps take seconds to change.
I drew maps at school.
They were maps of the known world
Unconnected to my world.
Conquered by the outside world.
I hold that map in my hands now.
Someone else drew the lines.
And the lines in between
That we must follow
To stay safe
To move forward
To go back.
Outside the car window,
Some walk along the highway.
I don’t know what to name them.
They walk inside lines.
They walk outside lines.
They are not safe.
Backwards hats and backpacks
Turn and look up
Turn and look back
At our car’s path
At our sun’s path
Speeding between other lines.
Bent heads. Wide hair.
Two hands. One arm.
All glance in the windows that move past them
All guess who might help them read their map.
Maps are funny things.
We’re not drawing maps
Over the ground.
We’re going to dig maps
Up from the ground.
I copy a part of the
Buddhist myth into my notebook
It reminds me
The large footprint of the elephant
Can hide the print
Of any animal
This is what the woman with the elephant necklace
Ori looked around at the hostel dormitory, a room with bunk beds against each wall. No windows. He listened to people breath. Air passed in and out carried in lungs from places he could find on a map and others he could not. Their sheets shuffled, but somehow his movement was always the loudest. He wished he had Yuli next to him. He jingled his watch to hear a click similar to her nametag on her collar as she licked between each crevice of her paws.
Ori couldn’t escape the sensation of floating even hours after getting off the airplane. He felt the cement floor expand over the bottoms of his feet. It reminded him of a basement, cool, dark, damp. The guy sleeping on the bed beneath his hung a t-shirt over the slat board that Ori stepped onto like a ladder rung to reach the top bunk. “Mind the gap” read the t-shirt. That was the caution for the London subway. Lila had a shirt like that too. Mind the gap, he had written jokingly in the e-mail. Which gap? The space between consciousness in his dream and his goal? The slant of letters between fact and fiction? The pages in the novel that flip from beginning to end? All were gaps, like those on the map, an unknown of spaces he should know.
When Dirt Met Star
In the morning, I recognize the shapes felt in my fingers, caught in my skin, somehow woven into Star's hair. Thick like ants, their shapes twirl over and under each thick strand. At first, from a distance, the shapes give the impression of dust. When the sun rises and I move closer, the hair instead appears grayer, older. The shadow of lines on her face before she brushes the strands back behind her ear is a familiar face.
“Believe what?” I speak before I breathe and garble the words.
Star turns anyway. “I didn’t say anything.” She smirks a little.
“What’s in your hair?”
“You say that like it’s normal.”
“They’ve always been there.” She knows I hadn’t. She’s pleased. “Haven’t you noticed before?” She smooths her palms over the textures in her hair. “How do you think I know where to take us?”
“The books. The maps.”
“Ah. Those. Even if you don’t understand them. You know them to hold answers because others who you think had answers kept them. The seeds speak to the wind.” Star exhales slowly and continues, “We, like all creatures, carry seeds, but we were the second soul to carry them. The wind did it first. “And now your gloves. The gloves made of what you call snowflake thread. They’re made of roots that remember what it’s like to be real. The things you touch remember it too.”
Dust Choked and Sore
“How do you get all these songs? You paying for the music?” Etta quipped, anxious, her voice sharp in the heat.
“Copyright, as we know too well, is sketchy for anything real. Like seeds that have a real connection to land and people. I make up for it, though, you know I do.”
“Right, your donation jar.”
“I would never take advantage of disadvantage,” Jeni confirmed. “That’s how ‘they’ turn us against each other.” Jeni had recounted her family’s story to Etta as many times as Etta asked, usually late at night when Etta was considering submitting her own DNA to ancestry.com. Jeni’s family had immigrated from Japan to Hawai’i, in the early 1900s where the first “American” relatives were born next to sugar fields. Then, they’d moved from Hawai’i to California as farm labor in fruit orchards like those trees Jeni’s mother still tended religiously in her own backyard. In California, Jeni’s family had acquired land under the names of the Hawaiian-born children who had lived fewer years in the U.S., but were more American, at least on paper. That meant they could buy land unrestricted by law as their parents had been. It also meant they could die for that land in World War II, but they couldn’t keep it.
Etta had finally at least stopped repeating, “I can’t believe they could just take it from you like that.”
“Turn left, 100 feet,” Jeni’s map app spoke before Etta could. Of course, a computer knew the way home better than she did. When Jeni made the final turn, only cats met them in the driveway. Not one head lifted until the wheels were almost upon them. Then the furry bodies scattered and spread out under tree branches that reached over the worn path. After the truck slipped by, the cats returned to their spots not phased.
I let my eyes hover almost closed to focus on my tattoo. I rubbed the skin quickly to warm it and then nestled it deep into the sand, covering my leg with my tunic wrapped tight. I stretched my senses towards the golden lines and tried to read the tension. I centered my breathing, and again the same storm scent and coughing sensation came upon me, this time much thicker. From somewhere the sound of cloth flapping and tearing free. Was it driving the clouds away? My urge to fight stretched the ache I associated with my tattoo over my entire body, a sensation of etching into my skin. The winds picked up sands and rubbed the way Ab’ used to do with his parchment to erase words. I remembered a time when I had sat at the table scrubbing a stone back and forth to erase my father’s words, but as I did other words seemed to resurface. When Ab’ saw it, he whisked the book away and I did not see it again.
Suddenly a foot jabbed my ribs and I snapped alert. “Bo, bamos,” Oren had returned with the Iñodim. My entire skin’s surface prickled. I settled on my knees and then braced with my arms to stand. “We’ll move quietly to the other side of the ridge we saw before dark. We chose this spot because of that line of protection. On the other side you can explain our path. Just make it convincing that you have a map.” Oren shoved his face into mine. We both understood what we were risking.
Oren gave me a horse’s lead and then settled onto his own mount. He urged the animal to walk slowly and the Iñodim gathered behind him. I fell in last. The moon’s light hit us as we passed to the other side of the ridge. As it did, Oren turned around to count his men and share a gaze of confidence in their decision. His eyes lingered on my face. After he started the line moving around the curve to where we would be unseen for a time, he circled back to me. Reaching me, he blocked my path. The silver light still shone across us, and he squinted even more deeply into my face.
“Eitan. I don’t. I can’t believe it.”
“Pull up your tunic. Look at your skin, all of it. Arms. Legs. I need to see.”
I obliged. I slowly eased the cloth upwards and understood his amazement. The lines were lighter than my tattoo had been, but they were everywhere. It was as if the gold vein had spread across the wider canvas of my body.
“It’s even on your face.” He exhaled slowly. “Well, it won’t be hard to convince the Iñodim that you have a map.” Oren smirked and held a wrinkle in his cheek I knew well. “You are the map.”