By Jonah Howell
Malina began to drown. Her half-formed extremities all a futile flail and splash, as though she enjoyed it.
It was a Saturday. Malina’s parents, Leon and Marcia, sat chatting on a bench in front of the library with Tarik, who had, three hours prior, returned from a year’s assignment in Benin. I sat with them and Malina sat in her stroller beside us.
Tarik pronounced a toast. We’d bought beers from a kiosk on Humboldtallee, and we clinked them. Leon’s foamed froth down his fingers but the drizzle-sogged grass devoured the spill nonetheless.
On Fridays, Leon said, he now audits a class on demonic possession.
“How is it?” I asked.
“Thought-provoking,” he said. “Dostoyevski, Camus. A wide breadth. Much to ponder.”
“When I was sixteen,” I replied, “my family was sure I was possessed. They prayed like in The Exorcist.”
He laughed, as did Tarik and Marcia. “Did it work?”
“I think so,” I smirked.
Meanwhile, Malina stood up from her stroller and stumbled around. (She’d had none of the beer.) Marcia, all smiles, bent down, kissed her cheek, and then left her to wander. She was good, she ensured us. Never gotten in trouble.
The child raced to my shin and embraced it.
She likes you, they said. Such affection is rare; she must smell you’ve got demons. They laughed, and then we all did.
“Bad boys are a toddler’s wet dream,” Tarik said.
Even Malina looked up, though she still couldn’t speak, and she waddled away after gripping my thumb. Halfway to the fish-pond, she turned to him, squinted, and spat her offense in the air before pulling me onward.
Behind us, belly-laughter belied Tarik’s blush. I imagine he stammered out something more heinous, and Leon laughed harder, while Marcia fake-slapped him but giggled despite herself. Business as always while Malina, her lifeguard now posted, released me to goggle the koi in their flagstone-lined puddle.
Demons, I thought, would look just like koi, never a goal in mind, nothing behind them or in front. Their painted backs circle in a timeless liquid waltz to nowhere, each partner the parody of the other. Koi must look just like evil to the anxious, who ignore the present for the sake of the future. Although, I laughed at myself, such thoughts are purely academic.
Malina is poised, above the koi, on hands and onesied knees to get a hawk’s-eye view. Their speckled backs, their spiral dance, entranced her, and she cooed and cackled.
All types of goals, I thought, must then be balls and chains, learned from emulating angels in their eternal wait-and-bow. Compared to these koi, angels are doomed: They, too, are immortal, but God directs them like glimmering puppets. Their eyes are always watching god, so they can never see the glory of a time-arresting cut, of the coming of the Lord with all His blinding solar flair. Lina ducked closer to the fish. One koi flicked its slimy eye up at her but circled all the same, indifferent, nose to tail to nose to tail. She ducked even lower.
The splash was small. Hardly a squall. But I got wet.
Instinctively I reached out my hand to catch her but, on second thought, retracted it.
Now this was thought-provoking, much to ponder. Over my shoulder, Leon and Tarik and Marcia were toasting again, their third, to something funny if memory serves. I laughed, just a chuckle, distracted by some blinding glare. Malina’s hands and feet, from time to time, emerged above the surface, and I could just about see that, through the churn, the koi kept on circling.