Love Letters to Earth

by Henry Quicke








Their breaths return to normal, and then to something slower than normal, accompanied by the pleasing feeling they are just barely alive.  The flashlight has fallen to the floor, its beam gone dim.

It is a long time before either of them have the desire to talk again.  The priestess resists the urge to cry by speaking first.

“Any last words?” she asks, sniffing once.

The anthropologist sighs out the last of his bodily tension.  “I also have a confession to make,” he says.

The priestess is disappointed by this, believing that he has fallen into the standard pattern of doomed anthropologists, confessing their wrongs, pleading for forgiveness, groveling before anyone who’ll listen.  She’d thought he was different.

“I made up all my stories,” he says.

She isn’t sure what to make of this.  “They’re all lies?” she asks.

“You could say that.  But they’re the best I could do with a few small pieces of truth.”

The priestess doesn’t seem to believe him, so he opens his notebook and flips through the pages for her.  Most are blank.  A few have drawings of dancing stick figures.  A few have random scratches that even in the dim light do not seem to constitute a written language.

“And all those times I leaned against a tree and seemed to be taking notes, I only pretended to take notes because I liked to watch you dance,” he says.

A tear darts down the priestess’s cheek.  “It’s a shame that you slept with me,” she says.

He wipes the tear with his thumb.  “I don’t mind it, really.  It was worth it.”

“You were willing to die just to sleep with me?”

“Yes,” he says, because now he knows it’s true.

“Then it doesn’t matter that your stories were lies.  I believed them anyway.”

“That’s why you are the priestess.”

She lays her head on his chest.  A wave of heavier rain sweeps through the forest and passes over them.  For a few minutes, it’s useless to talk.

When the rain quiets again, the priestess stirs.  “Are you finished collecting your thoughts?”

The anthropologist smiles and reaches for his flashlight.  He bangs it against his palm to get a new beam.

It is still dark, and the rain falls steadily.



At dawn, the last few drops of rain strike the top of the rain forest canopy.  They fall through the puzzle of leaves, rolling, spattering, diving, until at last they strike the forest floor and vanish in the mud.

The warriors appear at the door again.  The priestess turns her head away to hide the tears.

“Take him,” she says, and the warriors grab the anthropologist and pull him out of the hammock, leaving the priestess swaying by herself, facing the wall.

“I am a collector too,” she whispers softly.

He stops and looks back at her shoulder and her softly swaying hip.  “Of what?”

“Anthropologists,” she says.  “Because sometimes even a priestess forgets.”

The warriors yank him through the door.  He is led out into a ceremonial clearing where the villagers have formed a circle.  Someone beats a drum.  At the center of the circle is a block of wood, worn smooth on top and still wet from the rain.  A tall man stands casually next to it, his belly hanging over his loincloth.  He is holding the anthropologist’s machete, twisting it with his wrist, making lazy designs in the air.  He greets the anthropologist with a nod and a shy half-smile.

The warriors tie the anthropologist’s hands behind his back, then press him to his knees in front of the executioner’s table.

The anthropologist feels the cool, wet wood against his cheek and smells the plantains that have been mashed on this table in preparation for a feast.  He closes his eyes.  The drumming stops.  The executioner draws in a breath.

The anthropologist feels a very slight irritation on his head and neck that slowly turns to warmth.  He has time to open his eyes one last time, to see some small part of the world.

Though a pair of hands holds his head to the block, he is able to turn his eyes to the source of the warmth.  It is a ray of sunlight, the first he’s seen in weeks.  Somehow the tiers of tropical clouds have aligned their tiny breaks.  Or else a vertical column of wind has punched a hole.  He wonders at his good fortune.

Just as the executioner’s machete—the anthropologist’s own—swings down on his bared neck, the anthropologist smiles, knowing he is at last in the light, and that his body will soon begin to dance.