CACTUSES IN MOTION //
m + c had a disagreement about cactuses. About how old cactuses could be. The age to height ratio, as it were, of the cactuses, which grew in abundance by the side of the highway and throughout the hills and canyons surrounding the highway along which we were driving. i sat in the back watching the cactuses go past at the side of the road. Along which we drove in a car that was dusty and obscene.
The day before had been uphill through jungle. Banana trees and coconuts, among other things. We descended from the mountains in the evening at breakneck speed, predatory birds and burning fields below us. Farmland set alight to clear stubble. A sheer drop at the side of the road. We discussed which of us would die in the crash: if c + i were to die
and m were to survive; if m + i were to die and c survive; if m + c were to die and just i was left.
But of course our morbid fantasies were nothing more than mathematical.
In evidence we survived to drive the next day along the highway which cut a swath through the extensive and impenetrable forest of cactuses. Many of which were taller than most people. As tall as trees, though because narrow and columnar, more indicative. How old were the cactuses?
Pretty old. m knew for a fact that cactuses that are very tall are very old. Mistrustful and inhibited vegetables. It could take hundreds of years for a cactus to become tall, like the cactuses beside the road. They prioritise stability over height, m said. They grow in increments. A little tall, a little wide. A little tall, a little wide. They take their time. If they sense a tremor within themselves they freeze. Their trajectory is oblique.
But not necessarily. c held evidence to the contrary. This being the cactuses that grew on the balcony of c‘s grandparents’ apartment in Germany. These having grown tall and skinny in a matter of a few years. Driven perhaps by an intuition that in some direction there exists a greater and more relentless sunlight than that which they have been placed in a position to experience.
However. If m remembered correctly, the German balcony cactuses grew very near to the wall of the apartment in which c‘s grandparents lived. In which case, m said, the matter was very clear. The cactuses had been tricked. Had adopted a european confidence in established structures. Had cultivated a false sense of stability, hoodwinked by the proximity of the wall.
// (In the future, c will respond by email:
I dont like to have those discussions with m when its so much about “smartshitting” while its clear that none of us has the actual knowledge.
As this is the case, let’s change roles.) //
Put m + i in the front seats. c in the back of the car. Further alterations. Now our vehicle has a big transparent sun-roof and runs on high-fructose corn-syrup. Now the dust and dirt is on the inside. Loose comfortable heaps of soil. Now we are swollen and fleshy. Making the most of our ribs. Big vertical ribs. All the way down to the floor. Now we are cactuses, driving through an uncultivated human landscape.
Cactus m + cactus i had a disagreement about persons. About what gender persons could be. Persons were located at intervals along the side of the highway, hanging in clusters. Loosely rooted, upright, apparently sun-seeking. Cactus c watched their limbs move loosely as we passed. The question up for debate was whether, like certain species resembling cactuses, persons were unisexual. Producing distinct male and female orifices in different locations on the body. Or whether, like true cactuses, androgynous, though self-incompatible.
The latter, i said. Persons produced relatively few floral openings. As did we. Though in their case open more often during the day and shut at night. Giving off a subtle scent like old water or old meat. And between these openings such constant traffic in and out. A
buzzing exchange that surely implied a general similarity, i thought. A widespread compatibility.
But m was confident that personal protrusions were generically divisible. The mouth female. The nose lobule male. The anus male, but the sphincterish pupils female. The auditory canal male. The areolas female. And how to call those soft little spines, such a unilateral and sympathetic feature. Male when emerging from the limbs. Female when emerging from the eyelids or jaw.
In actual fact. m had a distinct impression that in a further sense, gender could be located in persons somewhere within the structural axes. As something more pervasive. Stored vascularly like water. Presumably not as fundamental as water. That, like water, gave uprightness, without, like water, dictating form. A sap? A resin? An oozy goo?
The idea of water gave us thirst. We’d been transpiring like crazy all day. Now the sunlight was diminishing and with it the number of visible persons. We descended from the mountains in the evening at a slow pace, pollinator bats and burning towns below us. A sheer drop at the side of the road. We discussed which of us would identify in a collision with definite articles: if c + i were to be female and m to be male; if m + i were to be female and c male; if m + c were to be female and i male.
But of course our sexual fantasies were nothing more than grammatical. //
This started life as a record of conversations between myself and two friends. None of us share a native tongue, which was not a barrier to communication – still, in our observations and disagreements we were able to see how the bones of alternative language structures were pushing up beneath the surface of the things we said.
(Though unlike bones our languages had an awesome plasticity and were always knitting themselves together in new ways.)
And in some ways, none of us share a gender – though again, I’d say that what we were able to communicate to each other by, between and across genders was and continues to be more interesting than the forms those genders take.
Megan Gulch is a writer. Original artwork by Jo Cook.