imayat had three daughters who were very beautiful. His wife had three beautiful sisters whom he loved dearly. One night a terrible storm blew in from the east and stayed for five days during which the sun never once appeared and the roads were turned to rivers. The sixth day arrived and the sun suddenly shone down upon the flooded neighborhood and only those who lived underground with concrete walls, iron floors and waterproof ceilings were able to safely return to their old ways of life.
     During this time one of the sisters of Himayat's wife lost her daughter and husband in a fire and after weeping and wailing for hours she hobbled to her sister's home and set up lodging in the foyer. Wrapped up completely in a dirty window curtain salvaged from the disaster, she moaned: “I have lost everything and everything is lost! I certainly won't go on.” Inside she was beginning to harden and noticed the attentions her tears and hair-pulling received from the man of the house. Especially the tears. Amid her salty emissions, she shrewdly set about adopting another little girl to, as she put it, “Replace my pure blind idealism with a tawny tidbit of tried and true faith. When I find her I shall name her honestly, to reflect what I genuinely feel.” With a stooped back and lowered head she secretly buried her daughter, planting her favorite seeds in the fresh-turned soil.
     The neighborhoods of the valley came together and decided that they were going to pump the flooded town free with trucks and windmills. Of course this involved a lot of cooperation and unguarded moments, and after a few months of labor it was also agreed that the collected waters should be made into a viable floating ocean as a symbol of their united efforts to help one another. Plans called for a liquid oval of floodwaters to be gathered, filtered, cleansed, perked-up, colored blues and yellows and released into the valley. The people said: “You can go as far as those mountains, but you must not cross them or you will come undone.” The ocean nodded knowingly in agreement at this, and even smiled when a tall thin farmer warned him fiercely, saying: “We're not above killing to get you back.”
     Life went on in the valley as in the days before the rains, only now there regularly appeared a distant shadow of shimmering gold and radiant blue which gradually transformed as it got closer into a well-rendered and very believable floating ocean, moving slowly, disturbing nothing.
     Life went on and on, full of light, sound and energy.
     The once-bare neighborhood grew mellifluous and delightful as the years progressed. Pear trees blossomed like generous friends over the rooftops: they also housed reasonably-sized birds whose native sounds wove together in the air with human voices to concoct charming sounds of rhythmic living. Here and there an older dog would sidle from one shade to another or lie unfettered in a bright block of sun as bicycle wheels mimicked their slow canine rotations before coming to rest at their appropriate spot.
     The adopted sister of the dead girl, named Faithless, but called the Fatherless Daughter by enemies and friends, wrote poetry from inside a colorless window in a secure house of iron and concrete. When she composed she often thought, though without any real hope, that her long-gone father and dead mother (for that sad woman never moved from the foyer nor forsaken her pitiless grip upon the ripped and tear-spattered window curtain) might receive her selfish thoughts and be mollified by her willful self-absorption and be forced to return from beyond the grave. Unlike the entire world, this girl refused to ever see the goodness in simple things. Instead she fed constantly on drama, complexity and intrigues drawn from her imagination. While alive, her trussed-up mother could only manage to untangle herself long enough to ask: “Why are you so unhappy?” before slipping away again, far from the hard eyes of her only living daughter, into the mirrored atmosphere of her rather wicked and duplicitous mind. One fine day the girl found a golden pipe lying in high grass near a red fire hydrant. No one seemed to be around and there were no footprints or depressions in the area. There were no clues at all as to who might have dropped the golden pipe. “Someone must have dropped this recently because it is still burning and smells like cherries and woodsmoke,” she thought without thinking very hard. “How could this happen without so much as a whisper of worry from the owner of such an expensive piece of work?
     Because the sun was shining and because she had no where to be (she was a pale duplicate of her ambitious burned sister, after all), the brown-haired girl sat down and began to think dreamy thoughts about the possible owner of the golden pipe. As her thoughts were those of a poet and not of a school teacher or blacksmith she soon found herself mouthing the words to a song about swans and day-dreaming of riding aboard a white boat as it trolled blithely toward a mysterious ethereal shore.
     “I would do anything to know whose pipe this is,” the girl thought out loud to herself. In a flash with a swift puff of wind the world came to an immediate halt. Frozen like a mountain of ice. Nothing that had been moving moved. No wrens or finches called in the still neighborhood. No birds sang at all; not one sparrow, jay, crow or hawk; not one falcon, eagle or petweet. Neither a stork nor a jabberer croaked a murmur. There was also a distinct lack of singing and other human sounds in the wide, straight canyons of the canopied suburb. No crickets or critters sounded. Much less missed, though no less missing, were the noises of grass cutters, milk delivery vehicles and public radio stations in the common weave of rhythmic living.
     Nothing moved and nothing sounded except the girl in the grass and a voice which was very familiar. “Oh my youngest and only, the pipe belongs to an alligator named Sidi Ahmed! It is his magic golden pipe which he treasures very much!” the voice practically shouted. “But Mother where are you?” the girl was highly doubtful that it was truly her since she knew her mother was dead from falling asleep with her head in the black stove. “How do I know who you are? You might be the Devil come to rob my raspberry, simmer me slowly and eat me forever!” the Fatherless Daughter shouted to the pregnant breeze, full of poetic gusto and rural bravery.
     After that the air was still for a very long time.
     Being easily bored and rather daring the precocious girl decided to take a smoke off the pipe since nothing was moving and the voice of her mother or the Devil seemed to have gone away. “Besides, I don't care what happens to me in this world! Let that dirty Sidi Ahmed come and try to take my pipe!” She closed her brown eyes, drew from the pipe and held the hot breath within her like a bite of cooked meat. Her innermost wish was to know why things happen the way they do, so before opening her eyes, she puffed up her cheeks and drew from the pipe again. The girl's chest burned with hot air that tasted of cherries and woodsmoke, but still she held the breath within her like a bite of burnt meat. Her heart began to beat a thick trumpet that sounded like: rubble, rubble, burn, rubble, burn. The pipe in the girl's hand felt smooth and cool so she held it to her wrist to calm down. She thought: “I've become a ghost and now I've found a magic pipe and smoked from it. I think I shall wish for exactly what I want!”
The girl opened her eyes to the same world in which time was frozen and began to consider how to phrase her wish. Gradually she became aware that a distant flapping was now quite close to her and in no time the smallest pigeon she had ever seen landed on the red fire hydrant in front of her. Its eyes were tiny moist circles wrapped around an almost invisible black dot in the center. The exhausted bird could not have been as wide as the point of the Fatherless Daughter's brown shoe and no taller than her little toe. First it leaned to one side then lowered its head in the least likely direction.
     After a few moments the pigeon began to stutter out a warning in a high choking soprano, paced by its own rapidly sucking breath: “Y-y-you're only a y-y-young g-girl. Y-y-you needn't be un-ha-happy! W-why don't y-you t-try swimm-m-mming?” The pigeon's barely audible breath was becoming more and more labored. “Dunk-king the b-body h-helps b-break up t-the illusion of, of, of . . . permits!” At this last word the tiny bird made no more sound but coughed and fell down into the high green grass, tiny eyes open wide at last. A tiny blue dung beetle then crawled out of the pigeon's open mouth, moving with its head facing the bird's beak, carrying four pieces of rice. “It's the rice which makes the bird voice and the beetle which keeps the rice honest!” the Fatherless Daughter thought.
     In a puff with a flash of wind the world continued to be frozen in a timeless silence, though now the sky moved swiftly, manifesting all manner of weather patterns and just as quickly dissipating them. At this time nothing in the sky was exempt from incredible change. The Fatherless Daughter was changing as well, instead of thinking only of the value of the golden pipe, she also held it to her lips for its smooth shining coolness. Rather than relish the selfish thought that she had a dangerous alligator's magic pipe, she simply forgot the origins of the pipe altogether. Although she still could have wished for knowing why things happen the way they do, she wished only for relief from the heat that was spreading through her body as a result of the two smokes of roasted air.
The brown-haired girl momentarily forgot her painful family memories in the viperous slow crawl of this new burning, and then she forgot about the burning by concentrating on the night sky.
     Nothing moved except the girl in the grass and the convex dome of clouds and lightning and the stars' immediate drifting. Somewhere, something was stirring in its slumber as a result of all that silence and stillness.
Years passed by both large and small, mostly in silence. Every day the Fatherless Daughter would draw from the pipe and sooner or later an exhausted pigeon would come and whisper the same short-of-breath message perched atop the red fire hydrant. The message always ended with the same warning about the illusion-of-something, then the bird would fall, the eye looking skyward would glaze over and a blue dung beetle would emerge backwards carrying four grains of rice. At first she only boiled and ate the rice, but each time the girl smoked she felt larger and hungrier and soon the rice was not enough. Then she began cooking the infinitesimal pigeon slowly over a fire and eating it along with the rice. In no time at all she was cracking the shell of the beetle by firelight and licking its insides as well as boiling the rice and roasting the bird.
     Years passed and the girl didn't move or think of leaving because she thought that everything was the same everywhere. She even believed that the two sole changes in her world, the sky and the pigeon's advice, were simply complex parts of the same pattern, repeating itself over and over and over again! In the midst of the motionless neighborhood landscape, the girl one day remembered her stepmother and thought quietly and powerfully: “I am not unhappy even though I am suffering greatly!” The Fatherless Daughter had come to think of her body emanating straight lines. Hoping that her dead parents might sense her expanding awareness and be moved to send a message through the death curtain.
     During this time the girl's hair grew as fast as the polished sky changed and soon it coiled and turned, integrated and individualized, under her like a dense brown hedge almost twenty-nine feet tall. It grew a little in every blink and half-second. When it grew to a hundred and seven feet a shimmering gold and red ruby shadow inched over the treeline, a resplendent and realistic watery blue oval! The floating ocean silently approached, moving slowly, disturbing nothing.
The girl had long ceased to be a girl and no longer considered herself The Fatherless Daughter when the moist shadow of the floating ocean changed the unchanging scene. When the ocean was directly in front of the girl on her pillar of hair, a small sea whorled aside and out came all the sounds of the universe. There were clicks, snips pops, horns, hammers, sneezes, streams, brooks, rivers and everything in-between. The sound was both deafening and somehow not a whole lot different than the silence which it had entered, somehow it was both highly musical and horrifying in its expansive, swallowing blankness.
     The sounds of the universe carried outward and rippled back toward the clean dark hole in the ocean, and from this iris emerged an elephant. By the way of introduction, the elephant offered to read the girl's fortune. The girl felt a thrill like smoke inch up her pillar of hair as she began memorizing the elephant's fine eyelashes and elegant deep-etched wrinkles.
     “Why is your skin so gray and dusty?” she asked as she greedily consumed the elephant's gentle form with her brown eyes. “I am mourning my dead because I cannot forget them,” the elephant replied. “I have a weak stomach and little resistance to poachers but with these ears I can hear all the sounds of the universe.”
     The girl hadn't had a helping of the golden pipe all day and she was growing impatient with the ruminating of this dusty old elephant, so she blurted out rudely: “Well how are you going to see my fortune? Tarot, I-Ching, runes, tea leaves? It better not be the bottle spin!” The sound of breaking waves became the creaking of timber that resembled the deep throbbing of stone. These universal sounds unified and became one primary sound emerging from the black hole in the floating ocean, a sound like: rubble, rubble, burn, rubble, burn. The elephant seemed to be listening intently to something, but all that the girl heard was the way her heart beat like a trumpet that sounded like all the destructive noise of the universe combined.
     One hundred and seven feet up in the air and all the girl wanted was a smoke from the golden pipe. “All I want is to wish for exactly what I want!” The girl's voice was angry and sad and frightened that she had forgotten what she wanted years ago. In the silence and the vanity of her hair, and the pride she took in doing everything exactly as she had done the day before, the girl had forgotten that in the face of unmitigated suffering she was truly ignorant. In this disturbed state she reached for the coolness of the golden pipe and took a deep draw and held the sparkling breath within her like flesh on a hot coal. “Oh my only and youngest,” a long-remembered voice shrilled, “You are drowning! You are drowning!” Behind her closed eyelids, the girl could see an image of the sun from underwater and suddenly into the image plunged four enormous squat thrashing limbs! It was the dusty old elephant swimming in the floating ocean! And two small brown legs and ten brown toes told the girl that someone was riding the elephant!
     As the girl opened her eyes, she held the cool pipe to her wrist. All she could think of were those handsome brown feet! She saw Sidi Ahmed for the fist time. The after-image of true love on her eyes was so powerful that at first she didn't recall the description of the original owner of the golden pipe or recognize that it was manifest in front of her. The alligator was peering over the edge of the pillar of hair at the girl, clearly comfortable hanging on by his sizeable claws. Sidi Ahmed's eyes were like extensions of the row of yellow teeth cradling his boomerang mouth, he said: “For stealing my pipe I am going to bite off your arms, legs and head. And because they look to be in good condition I will swallow them without gnawing them and you may live in my stomach and keep the place clean.”
     Just then the elephant came floating over in a muddy sinkhole that had separated from the very believable ocean made of floodwater. The alligator and elephant were distant cousins and from past reunions the elephant knew how much Sidi Ahmed loved a riddle, so he challenged him: “Why don't you take a smoke and tell us what the secret of the Fatherless Daughter's life is? Meanwhile I will read her fortune and get her ready for your stomach.”
     Sidi Ahmed's breathing came slow and regular from his two-snubbed nose and he was still for a long, long time, but his inky eyes had dark comings and goings squirming within them. The elephant said: “If you should find the meaning of her life, she will be janitor in your gullet. If she discovers the truth first, you will be her guide in the hereafter.” Finally the alligator growled evenly: “I will. I will. I will.” Sidi Ahmed's wire sandals yanked out tufts of brown hair as he snatched the golden pipe and went off in search of fire and a quiet place to conduct his experiments.
     When Sidi Ahmed disappeared behind a thick grape arbor the world and the sky began to move in unison again. The elephant floated closer than ever to the girl, so close that she could smell his musty breath and see brown earth on his pink hidden lips. Laying down three cards, he said: “These cards represent dimension, space, and time.” The girl's brown dress was itching, and because the world was moving again, she suddenly felt ashamed to be sitting atop a nest of ratty hair. Impatiently she asked: “Why is dimension more important than shampoo?” “In your body there is a silent memory, it is there prior to time, it is dimension and it is identical to immortal love.” the elephant replied.
     “Now now pretty, wrinkled peckinpah, don't tell me you believe that rubbish! I will certainly not!” the girl laughed loudly and harshly. But in spite of her vehemence the girl was interested in her future, so she added: “What does the goldenrod on the second card stand for?” The elephant told her it was the only flower that grew on her charred sister's grave in the stony cemetery. “The flower is the conduit through which suffering and experience influence your intuition. It thus represents space.”
     The girl was trying to pay close attention to the elephant's words, but the demands of her body seemed to have accelerated since the world was released from its glimmering torpor. As he spoke, the tunnel in the floating ocean was becoming a smaller and smaller entranceway for the elephant to squeeze though if he were to return to the heart of the misty floating seas. With the sounds of the universe thinning out to become normal neighborhood noise, the eloquent elephant scrutinized the emptiness of the final card with his gentle envelope of attention. “What does the blankness mean?” the girl practically shouted in a voice that she recognized to be the Devil's. “What does the final card mean?”
The elephant stepped through a very small hole in the well-rendered ocean, that symbol of union and unguarded moments for a few brave people. The opening closed until all that remained was the trunk of the elephant on a gently waving blue and gold ocean surface, and through it came one word: “Impermanence.”
     Heading home to cut her hair, the girl paused to pull up her brown bobby socks when a thunder clapped and a dark flapping cloud of tiny pigeons blackened the sky and seemed to speak. In a thousand sing-song voices that darted, wheeled, and turned as a singular music, they repeated something like illusion of permanence illusion of permanence illusion of permanence, over and over, again, and again. After the living and flapping bird cloud passed, the girl who has been Faithless spied a necklace made of sixty-one yellowed alligator teeth hanging suspended in the sky. It was barely visible during the daytime but shone at night like a shining razor-sharp guardian beneath the forever starlight.
Life went on and on, changing and unchanging. Memories of the days of smoking the golden pipe and waiting for the sounds of the universe faded, but the girl never forgot the lesson of impermanence, which she carried with her until the day she died. And die she did.