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Can you describe it? Can you describe the taste of water?
No, not mineral, not bubbly water…
Plain water, flat, pure water…
* * *
Those cartons, square… cubic I should say… I will always remember them.
They were handed out after the show, back stage. In the rear of the truck, I mean, whose front was the theater on wheels. It went from town to town, suburb to suburb, periphery to periphery, favela to favela.
I sat there. I collapsed, exhausted like a beaten horse, not even removing my stilts, my complicated harness. Still on my wooden legs (those tall sticks I wore, for kids to hold their breath), I recovered after an acrobatic performance: in the tropical sun and equatorial dampness, tramping thick yellow sand…
Someone, a member of the modest production, graced me with a carton cube full of water. I remember pouring the contents into my throat, with the ecstasy of one sipping chilled champagne. I consumed that thing like ambrosia. It was nectar to me.
For, you see, I was thirsty.
What’s special about it? Well, as for many other issues, it is degree that matters. There are nuances. I’ve been around quite a while, but I experienced “the” quintessential thirst in those Brazilian favelas. Summer, midday, a soft muddy soil where we staggered on stilts, feeling, I believe, the opposite of what astronauts felt on the moon.
If they floated we sunk, sucked in towards the center of earth, lifting tons at the end of our fragile extremities.
Still I looked like a butterfly in pink satin: sporting feathers, pointy hats, fancy masks… Tracing arabesques with Chinese ribbons while galloping around, my gaze at roof level, my accordion tickling the unforgiving blue sky.
Miracles of youth and adrenaline, when they mix.
All that effort, that tremendous display of energy and grace, was paid pretty little moneywise. But enormously when I finally, simply, was given that thing.
Water I mean.
Oh my, how could I love it so? Maybe for I had little to love otherwise.
How sad was I, without even knowing. Sadness was like the sand grabbing at my stilts, entwining my steps… while I danced away, just sweating it a tad more. I didn’t notice my sadness or solitude.
Lord, how lonely I was! I knew I would be, from the very beginning.
He had told me about an old flame, about a previous lover living close by. He said she would visit during our tour and I shouldn’t nag or protest.
Did I ever protest? I took it as a natural flaw, like a storm or a draught, something you don’t especially wish for, but then what? If it happens it happens. So I knew I would share my booty with a double, a twin…
I had seen pictures. She didn’t look very different from myself. Dark and small, maybe a little plumper, less angular: all right.
Then he suddenly fell for a third gal, brand new adventure and local actress. Local beauty? Not truly. In fact, that one time I sincerely puzzled, night after night, about what made that plain sweetie so much better than me.
But indeed do our rivals have something that makes them better? Do they ever?
Or is it another problem entirely? Is the question a totally different one?
* * *
As I was saying! Can you tell me what water tastes like? Can you please give me the taste of water?
Water has none.
What you feel is the taste of your quenched thirst.
And sometimes it is all that matters.
Toti O’Brien’s work has appeared in Litro NY, The Harpoon Review, Synesthesia, Aji, Adanna among many other journals and anthologies. She has contributed for a decade to various Italian magazines.