This piece of flash fiction — stories that are strictly 500 words or less — first appeared a couple of years ago at the travel and arts zine Border Hopping. It was inspired by late-summer, so I thought now would be as good a time as any to republish it here. Special thanks to my brother, Micah Buzan, for the illustration.
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Dragonflies on stained-glass wings skim over a lake. Their reflections flash like finely cut jewels on the surface of the water. Ancient creatures, unchanged for countless millennia, the sound of their flight vibrates in the air as a song.
An old man walks through a rice paddy. His shoes are worn. The wide brim of a straw hat shades his eyes. He has worked here the entirety of his long life. Stooping to inspect a row of young shoots he recalls clearing these fields with his father. They set fire to uprooted brambles, and as the flames danced, the two of them stood in mute solemnity and watched a pillar of smoke rise, then disappear into the pitch of night.
A monk kneels in the street. His robe is the color of smoke. Head bent in prayer he chants low in an even, unceasing cadence like falling rain. Soon this sound blends with the rhythmic tolling of his mokt’ak and pop music blasting from a nearby shopping mall. Occasionally the tinkling sound of change falling into his alms bowl can also be heard.
With the strength of his rough sunburned body the old man has tilled this earth, dug into it, turned it over to reveal the possibilities it guards. He has inhaled the abundant smells of the soil: the smell of life; of fecundity; smells that engender in him feelings of intimacy, of resistance both met and conciliated.
The monk gathers together the day’s meager offering and stands to his feet. His knees are sore; his back aches. He places the mokt’ak under his arm and sets out for his temple as neon red church crosses flicker on with the coming of night.
From a distance two solitary figures can be seen in a rice paddy moving slowly towards one another. The old man is heading for town, home. The monk is hiking up to his temple in the mountains. They meet. The old man bends roughly, without ceremony. The monk bows in reply. They have met like this for many years. Their next meeting will be when this monk conducts his friend’s funeral.
The old man’s family down through the generations will visit the rice paddy to propitiate his spirit through old rituals. They will bring the foods he loved while living: grapes, oranges, and wild persimmons the color of a harvest moon that fall from their branches after the first frost.
On his trips back from town the monk, too, will sometimes visit.
Dragonflies on vermiculated wings flit about the old man’s burial mound. Their jeweled bodies flash in the sun. The sound of their wings—ancient, unchanging—reverberates through the air as it did long before men sought to tame the earth or populate it with gods.
And when eventually the turning of the earth groans to a stop, the song of the dragonflies will be just the echo of that thing beyond the knowing of man, that which his understanding could not compass.