How We Hold The Dead

Fiction from Natanya Pulley

Sly sly sly! In threes, always. She thinks, sly sly sly!

At the video streaming out in front and within her. Here the movement of bodies on boards, on bikes, on air with parachutes yanking out behind them. Bike the coastal rode, bike the dirt womp, bike the mountain crush. Run the asphalt and scaddle rock clifferies. Sly sly sly, She says and knows She’s got the words wrong again. Wrong, off, and slump-like. And her grasp on the length of sentences and phrases and what what that thing that goes high and low like a tail at the end whipping and wooing. Aye aye aye, the words a thing un-doing. But here the video, the stream, the data bits and She can catch them and ride them too.

“Be what you want to be.”

Body on the surf. Body on the slates on the snow. Body on the—on the—in the wind and ache and speed of it all. The wind and whhhh of it all.

“If you dream it, you can be it.”

The video-voice like a hail but a man and he has the deepening and he has the oat oat oat of it all and he says to eat the you and be the you and dream the you and She remembers She was once a You and this video could be for her-You, but it plays out in front of another in front of The Woman in her late year, in her early morning clothes, in her just waking head.

“If you dream it—” The Woman says to a no one, no one thing. And a no one, a nothing is a She that is no longer a body and no longer a name, but a vibration space. And in threes and losing her words and feels the body go woosh on the video because She has learned to spread herself into the stream from the computer. Spread herself from the stream of time and space that the bodied people are using.

And sly sky high! that video with its message of doing and She thinks she can be a doing thing too.

The Woman sips at her emptying coffee and the video shrinks to a smallness in the corner of the screen and the words to dream, to be, to do, to imagine, to live now cramped and the cramped pictures of bodies doing and also something of the stars and something of a deep meadow and soft soft soft the glow of hope. All cramped, corner screen. She is messed that the video plays in the corner now and not on the bigness in front of The Woman. In front of The Woman are the busy screens of messages and peopled boxes and The Woman is checking off her reading and The Woman is reply all’ing and the screen says New, Likes, and red red red exclamation marks. But The Woman is still half-woke, half-dreamt and She knows it. Like She knows under the room is another room and under that is another room, but under that is a heft of limestone and sea fossils spun out with arms and things spun in with shell. And then there is a warmth and a nothing and a pulse and an ache and She knows The Woman is just a small thing to this larger thing around them. And The Woman’s sleep has been a blessing to them both as her wake is a sludge and cramped thing.

She pulls the video big and back and to the front of them, collapses the other bits of data and The Woman is No no no! and oh shit! and what! and ugh ugh ugh! and The Woman tries to open the busy ways again, but She wants the bodies in motion and the dream, the dreamness of bodies in motion and the meadow and the words of being a You that is the you You want to be.

The Woman takes coffee sips again and up the bottom of the cup because there is a no thing left and The Woman pushes her chair back and a huff and her feet are a stomping back to the kitchen. She leans close to the message again and Follow Your Heart in a white swirly lettering across the screen and the body is jumping and there is the earth behind and the earth is thankful to the body in motion and the body is thankful to the lettering and whip whip whip She knows there is heart to follow too. Stirring to mountain, to ocean, to air.

In the kitchen, The Woman is snapping her appliances and pulling foods out and into the pans around her and mumbling and her damn computer and the acting up and The Woman is a closed system to She. And She has grown tired of The Woman. But her tether leads her only close steps from The Woman and The Woman never ever leaves. There is no leaving.

They two are a nothing of nature. The She orbiting The Woman, but The Woman not a sun. The Woman not a planet. Not the earth, not even a moon and She not even a satellite. She is a meteor storm of stored once-self stuck to The Woman and The Woman cares little of the stars and the bodies in motion and the heart following. The Woman cares for the thing in the front of her and that thing is the pan and that pan is hot and that bacon is a sizzle and She knows this and cares too. Because within the sizzle are beads of air and they pop pop pop and on the skin they sizzle to and She imagines the air a buzz in the pan and if She can expand herself back into the sizzle and She can speed up the heat and the air and the sizzle and what explosion does that bacon make on the arm of The Woman so that The Woman stumbles and falls backwards and slumps down after hitting herself against the counter and the slip of the floor.

And if She can untether enough and can slide out from under The Woman who has held her too long and has called her by a name that was once so long ago and once a word spoken and written in the daily of days of self but also of others and now is a dead number on a file. The Woman is a sadness about the loss of She as if they had a tether in another woken day and that tether was something that held others together too because in the world of the bodies (in motion and motioning and unmotion) there is something of a network of selves and those selves seek to self themselves to others and this She somewhat remembers but also cares little for because there is the following of heart and dreams and being what one can be and She thinks She can get there. Can get to a there-in-motion if there is no tether.

The Woman curses, cradles her arm, grease stainburn up and out to the nothing space. And says the once-name of She and begins to think The Woman is being called upon to see something and do something and self herself to a new thing and all the words of those around her that said there is Moving On and that The Woman must continue to live because the once- She would want that, those words come to her and The Woman has what these selves call an epiphany and isn’t the world here to wake her up and that video that sprung sprung sprung to the screen and The Woman was unable to continue her duties so decided to feed herself. And when attempting this, The Woman had—The Woman very had—The Woman simply had been thinking that maybe there was more to life than this, than the grief and the work and the work of the grief and feeding oneself in a lonely way as a lone person without another and couldn’t The Woman also be the kind to follow? And The Woman raises her hand to the counter behind her because The Woman knows there is a phone up there and pat pat pat the counter to get to the thing metal plastic and her sight is many and The Woman calls her friends and says along the lines of the weirdest thing just happened and I think once-name is trying to speak to me and do you believe in ghosts?

And She is working at that tether and thinking there is a gnawing that must happen to break it apart if there had been teeth. And The Woman is a sunkenness that She wishes could sizzle and pop and explode like the food on the pan and what song what song what song could a body be in motion and if She could get it and get to it and get out of it and be a thing bigger than this space hovering and tethered.

The Woman on the floor says, I think I have to let go . . .

She says nothing and cares little of The Woman’s words and imagines there is a body in motion on a mountain or in the ocean or in very air and aren’t they close to being a body in motion in very galaxy and on planets and in solar systems and hushing about the cosmos as wisps and whispers and hums and oh that ache of the stars and forgottenly-damned words made stars and She dreams of being let go—of being—of being let go and coal-hotting to the very wave of the beings around her and then She could be a blood stream or a cellular friction or a slip from air to cloud to rain to earth and back again and this all in motion to follow the heart-beat-action and this a way of being untethered and unnamed and free and—and all—and all.

. . . but I can’t, The Woman on the floor says and picks herself up and steadies her body and her tools and foods and steadies her life and thinks not yet-not yet-not yet and wakes to her woes and her deep empty and this The Woman knows and feels safe in and She is the ch-ch-ch and ghh-ghh-ghh of herself being dragged down the hallway and back to the screens and The Woman closes the video and gets to her voice on form platted center and too full of self for She to watch. “I had a strange moment today” The Woman begins to type and She feels the letters and the place of The Woman’s voice a betrayal and a selfing rude and stubborn and remembers there is such a thing as a cold-heat as there is such a thing as a warm-heat. And wasn’t She this cold cold empty thing now trapped. Now now. And cramped trapped. And isn’t always in the all ways the cold-heat the space of the dead stuck stuck stuck and orbiting and tethered in the lives of the living.


For some women, taking the higab—that permanent oath, that fabric tattoo—can be seen as a form of sacrifice but, for my sister Soraya, one of the most fashionable women of Cairo, if not Egypt, even the world, this would be the ultimate sacrifice.


What is the name of the violence they have learned?
What kind of love have they learned?
Why is it so terrifying when we love ourselves?