Monday, October 09, 2006

The Thing About Lip Burqas


This image was originally posted at Gupshup


This story was originally published in the Autumn 2006 issue of Pressed; Taiwan's Literary Magazine. The theme was lips. It is available at the more interesting places all over Taiwan. The release party was above Frog One, at the Grooveyard, on the night of the Mid Autumn Festival. Once again a good time was had by all. Chere even managed to come by for a glass of wine, and Nick and his sister, Sarah, played their first public show together ever. Then I fell back into the wedding planning maelstrom that has since turned into a blissful evening breeze. More on that later. Here's the thing about lip burqas...


The Thing About Lip Burqas

by Sean Reilly

The steps were steep, iron, and probably should’ve rusted away long ago. Two figures sat hunched in front of their comp-screens at the bottom of the staircase; the top of which could not be glimpsed in the abysmal gloom. A torture chamber? Perhaps, a dungeon. Weapons lay scattered, littering the floor amidst severed heads and limbs. Truncated torsos lay at the foot of the walls where they had been thrown. Like a doll factory had exploded and the doll-makers had wisely moved on. The total absence of blood suggested that the carnage was ancient, or perhaps it suggested something far more ghoulish…. Not everyone drinks red wine.

The creatures were pale and emaciated, but their size mocked the cadaverous mess on the floor by its enormity. The larger of the two shapes parted its lips and broke the eternity of silence, ‘Are you familiar with the burq’a?’

‘Is it a type of pickle?’

‘That’s a gherkin.’

‘Caucasian mountain-climber’s assistant?’

‘That’s a sherpa! Would you focus? Sometimes I wonder why I even talk to you.’

Tiny fingers tapped the keyboard, ‘You are referring to the infamous garment that covers the body and face, leaving everything to the imagination and nothing for the camera, originating on Earth-Prime in their seventh century; a cloth cage.’
‘Yes, on Earth-Prime in their seventh century for the Aryb emiras, or on Selkuri in their Third Great Epoch, or on Xex Stroms 13 during their 87th Ascension of Stroms, or on any one of thousands of backwater planets during one of their self-important ages, eras, ascensions, expulsions, inversions, or more commonly, descents.’

‘I only meant that I’d heard of the wretched things. I don’t, in fact, live in a cave.’ They looked around the dark cavern-like room, shrugged, and let it pass.

Pencil thin fingers blurred above the keys; cursors moved at the speed of light across the screen and back, like digital looms. ‘They even developed a version on the water-system of Schweetuu. Apparently made it nearly impossible to swim and the propellers of their crafts treated them like magnets, very messy.’

‘And your point?’

‘Well, evening gowns don’t make the cleverest swimming attire.’

‘That was your whole point?’ click, click.

‘The burq’a, which you see fit to call a cloth cage, did not begin as a cage. It started as a status symbol, only worn by the elite.’

‘Voluntarily?’

‘Completely, and a coveted piece of royal fashion. On most systems, a commoner found inside one was disciplined.’

‘Roughly?’

‘Terminally. Which brings me to my point: In the planetary system of Zod, every single planet was cursed or blessed (depending on your point of view) with a climate that discouraged clothing. The Zoddites, in short, were nudists.’

‘So I’ll assume they never warmed to the burq’a.’

‘Not the chador, but the naqib.’

‘Chador, naqib?’ click, click ‘Oh, the face veil, but not the smock. That makes no sense. Why cover up the nose and leave all the saucy bits on display? That’s like carving the fig leaf on the wrong part of the statue.’

‘Not the nose; you fool, the lips! There must be something about them we haven’t worked out. The Zoddites came to believe that the lips were the doorway to sin. The Interlink won’t tell me why, it’s blocking the information’

‘What about the Zoddites, and their veiled lips? Maybe they can shed some light on our pointless discussion.’ He said, picking up a small arm from beside the screen and absentmindedly chewing on one of the fingers.

‘The Zoddites are a mere footnote in history, and went the way of the Schweetuu; near total extinction. After the face veil had gone from elite fashion to popular fashion to required fashion, there was a shift in the system’s weather that caused huge, unpredictable solar winds.’

‘And you’re about to tell me that…’

‘The winds blew off a fair number of veils. The Zoddites were horrified at the implications of all that recently covered sin escaping to the fifth wind, and in a fit of religious zealotry they tore each other apart. More veils came off in the melee and the few who were left alive were too embarrassed to speak to each other.’

‘That really happened?’

‘You will find, young Malthus, that many things people feel are for the best turn out for the worst when applied dogmatically with no thought to natural patterns and regional variations. Especially big things like religious, governmental, or economic systems, which are primarily for control and all eventually, become cages.’

There was a distant sound far above their heads. Their eyes locked momentarily and then darted towards the top of the stairs, to where the door may have been, but for an inky gloom. Raw panic froze them. Were the guards dead? Had they been paid off? Incompetent swine! Fools!

A pin-point of light appeared and raced around the outline of a door which flared into a blinding light. Malthus dropped the arm he had been chewing. Quinus fumbled for the Neuron Blaster in his belt, which managed to slip through his trembling fingers and bounce on the floor without so much as an accidental discharge. It wouldn’t really have been much help.

An unbelievably old woman appeared at the top of the stairs. To say her face was weathered would not adequately describe the crevasses that time had carved across it. In the center shone the most massive, horrible lips, painted a greasy, glossy pink that sucked all the minute bits of light from the room. The comp-screens dimmed in their presence. Her hair was blue.

The lips opened.

‘If you boys don’t get back to your homework, I’m coming down there with the belt!’

The lips closed.

‘Sorry grandma!’

The door closed.

‘Do you really think all burq’as were meant to cover just the lips, Quinus?’

‘I do.’

‘This house could do with a lip burq’a.’

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