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A Glimpse of Truth

By Jane Nguyen

Humans always liked to describe the ocean as blue—a clear, crystalline paradise blue. A sparkling, liquid jewel to accessorize their towering kingdoms of steel. All of it nestled within dark plumes of smoke like a mystical landscape.

That was a rather romantic perspective. Or as Anubis thought, delusion. This ocean was not a bright cerulean or vibrant seagreen. It was dreadfully dull with its grayish-navy blue seawater knocking at the pier’s columns that dug into the ground below. Still, it persisted by lashing its rocky waves against the invasion of yet another foreign structure crafted and implanted by a human.

He rested his forearms on the sturdy railing of the pier as he inhaled the strong smell of brine through his nose. Through his mouth, he inhaled the burnt, ashen taste of a lit cigarette. A seagull landed beside him and pecked at its feathers. Its yellow beak pointed towards him and opened wide to release a shrill squawk. The sound was drowned out by the blaring of a horn from an oncoming boat.

A tourist boat it seemed, crowded with boisterous Americans who scampered across the deck to snap a picture of the pier. And maybe of him. Others leaned over the ship’s railing to wave and whoop at the pier’s occupants as they passed. Americans are too loud, Anubis thought. He glanced at the deep bronze skin of his hands. Not very welcoming either.

Another round to gape at the Golden Gate Bridge had come to an end. The bridge wasn’t even golden. It was a poor construction that paled in comparison to his homeland. Egypt had been an aurate land with its vast golden deserts, grand pyramids, and glittering Nile of true blue. There was once a time when he held admiration for humanity. Yet, as time passed, they had proven to plow more problems and destruction in their wake. Though, he could not deny that their resilience had brought them to the modern year of 1965.

As the boat drew closer and closer to the dock, the swarm of people moved to the other side of the ship, no doubt rushing to be the first to exit off the gangplank.

Abandoned on the starboard, a pale, young woman stood plainly at the railing with a face obscured by a pair of round sunglasses. A breeze blew through her long ebony hair, ruffling the neat headscarf pinned behind her ears and rippling the fabric of her short blue dress. She lowered the glasses down the slope of her nose, and her gaze met his own across the glistening waves. A

glint of silver from her eyes pierced across that short distance. A sudden sharp buzzing filled his ears, seemingly permeating the air around him.

Before him, the woman was now dressed in a flowing garb of lilac cinched at the waist with long, billowing sleeves. Atop her head sat two large loops of hair entwined within an ornate, golden headpiece. A faint, white glow surrounded her body, radiating from her slim face and shining through her almond eyes. It separated her from the stale, ordinary backdrop of the boat. He blinked. A spray of saltwater sprinkled across his face, pulling him from his daze. The buzzing faded, the tightness in his chest quelled, and the light was gone. The boat continued to cruise along the waves, carrying the same ordinary young woman he had seen before. What was left was no proof of a glowing goddess in sight. But he knew. He could recognize that aura as surely as he breathed, for it was akin to the same flame that surrounded his lifeforce. Did she see him the same way? Had she seen him as the black jackal-headed deity rather than a man? Where he had seen her eyes glow silver, had she seen the harsh amber glower of his own from another life? When the tourist boat docked, Anubis smothered his cigarette and flicked it into a trash bin. He moseyed his way down the pier and past the boardwalk to the space furthest from the beach where a line of buildings cemented in concrete met the city street. Nestled between two aged brick buildings was a marble white chapel with steep steps leading up to its entrance. Its steeples towered against the clear sky, radiating an unbearable squint-inducing glare where the sunlight hit the tallest spires. Above the large, wooden door was a glass stained window. Not very modest, he thought as he ascended the steps. From the higher vantage point, he could see the woman in her sunglasses as she navigated through the sea of people. Despite the distance and her obscured line of sight, her body swerved between the currents of the crowd in a fluid, unbothered stride, untouched by the urgent procession of pedestrians. It was not long before she stopped at the base of the chapel steps. A brief moment of silence followed as she pulled her sunglasses from her face. Her head tilted back to gaze up at him like he was the sun. But while he was not the sun, she was the moon. He knew it to be true

by the eerie silver of her eyes, in the twinkle of her irises that faded to black, the waning and waxing of the moon set in her stare. “Hello,” she called out. She spoke in a surprisingly mature voice that he had not expected from her youthful face. He stepped down as she stepped up, and together they stood in the middle of the stairs at equal level. He had to pull his chin down to look at her while she had to tilt her head back. “Hello,” he said. “I’m not a fan of churches,” she remarked. “You’re like me.” “Yes, I am,” she smiled with closed cherry red lips. “But shh.” She held a finger with a manicured nail to her lips. “I think they would find us quite blasphemous.” “Don’t be coy, little goddess.” He felt a furrow form in his brow, which was contrary to the corner of his mouth that threatened to break into a smirk. She cocked her head to the side, then turned to descend the steps, her hair swishing against the fabric of his suit like a curtain of ink. “I meant when I said I didn’t like churches,” she called out over her shoulder. “Their existence pushes at me, like I’m not wanted here. Tell me you feel it too.” He did. It was a prickling, piercing sensation that pushed at his skin like a knife and twisted into his mind like an ache. He shook it off with a shake of his head and shoulders. Anubis leaped to land at the base of the steps beside her. “Walk with me,” he said.

“Who are you?” the Egyptian god asked with his low, euphonic voice. “I've gone by Jing and Min.” She rubbed the lens of her sunglasses against the material of her dress. A blonde woman walking a dog turned her head to look at them as she was passing. The woman gave them a onceover, her face scrunching up into wrinkles that resembled the wrinkles on the dog at the sight of them. “I go by Susan or Mary when needed,” she added once the woman turned away. Her newfound companion nodded in understanding. “Nowadays, Yue. But truly? Chang’e.”

“Chang’e,” he repeated. It was as though he were analyzing her whole by testing her name upon his tongue. “I am Anubis.” They stopped in synchronization at the ledge of a sidewalk as a trolley car rushed down its track. Her head tilted back to look at him. While he was not the typical man by American standards given his deeply tanned skin, he was completely ordinary in every other way. Dressed in a simple, beige three-piece suit, she could have walked past him on the street and lumped him with every other well dressed man there. Looks were deceiving. He was no more ordinary than she was. And he was no more human than she was. The severe leer of his inhuman face had seen her raw and pure in the same way she had seen him towering and emanating an aura of death. His slender jaw and prominent chin were akin to the slim snout of the black jackal she had borne witness to on the boat. His human eyes were honey-brown, a reminiscent, faded color of the glowing amber eyes upon his jackal head. “No pseudonym?” Chang’e inquired. “It is my namesake and identity. To get rid of it is to deny my godhood,” he said.

“How about a new name?” “No,” he said dismissively. “Perhaps John or Paul?” “No,” he repeated, his lips now pressed together in a firm line. “Chris?” He glared at her. “Anubis it is, and Anubis it shall always be,” she conceded.

“You’re awfully spritely for one so old,” he muttered. “Where are you taking me?” he asked, now seeing that their aimless wandering had turned into a directed path. The crowded streets were packed with cars, and the cars not in use were parked along the sidewalk to take up even more space. Cars were everywhere, for everything, and intended to be forever it seemed.

They came to stop at another crosswalk in the middle of the narrow, two-car street. Lining the sidewalks were tall buildings clustered alongside one another to squeeze into the condensed San Francisco infrastructure. At a first glance, the buildings were equally as unassuming as the rest of the city, all of it quadrangular in design. With their fraying paints and multi-level stories, the buildings bordered the linear road like a concrete valley cast in shadow. Signs were plastered horizontally and

vertically along many of the businesses in large fonts demanding her attention. A laundromat, bakery, bank, and grocery store; all of it along this single block for convenience. Chang’e took a step back to gaze up at one building that towered over the rest like a beacon. The sloped roof was comprised of auburn tiles that swept into upturned eaves at the corners. A breeze blew by, carrying the scent of jasmine and osmanthus to her nose on its journey. The tension in her shoulders eased as she released a sigh. She sank down onto a wooden bench in front of an ice cream parlor. “Chinatown,” Anubis stated, lowering himself to sit beside her. To Chang’e, it was a reminder of a life long gone. It was a far cry different from where she was born and raised. But it was at least something that reflected the preservation of her people and culture. A version of it that was stripped down into simplicity from the fickle hands of time. She could not shame them for it. They had made the best of the cards they were dealt; they learned to evolve and adapt to the everchanging world’s cruelty. “Do you miss your home?” she asked. “Of course. It’s been some time since I was last there.” “I’ve never been to Egypt.” “And I’ve never been to China.” “Perhaps you can visit with me. I could show you where I was raised as a child, where the petals from the osmanthus trees fell into the river beside my home. My mother feared I would drown when I made a game of collecting the petals to bring home to my father.” As she spoke it out loud, Chang’e felt a wistful smile spread across her lips. “That is a kind offer, but I plan to stay in Egypt indefinitely,” Anubis said. His stern brow softened the slightest bit, and it was an all familiar expression that struck Chang’e in her heart. It reminded her of her husband. Whose steely exterior braved the threat of enemy monsters and foul men alike. Yet the hard lines of his face would soften when she steeped tea for him as they sat beneath the dark of night, lit only by a beam of moonlight and winking stars. Perhaps it had been an omen. He was long gone, buried beneath the rubble of the earth by the same home she spoke of. Dust and bones left to settle at a grave that she had abandoned long ago. While she had descended to the skies with the elixir of immorality coating her throat, he stayed below. And she watched his life wither away while she was bound to the moon as a lonely, lunar immortal. The

guilt and shame had eaten at her core when her fingers had traced the rugged inscription of his name upon the gravestone. She never returned after that first and last visit. “There is a grave that you have neglected to attend to,” Anubis said, as if he were reading her mind at that very moment. Chang’e felt her heart skip a beat. “Y-yes,” she admitted hesitantly. “How did you know?” “I once protected the dead and oversaw their gravesites. I would advise that you visit this grave and tie loose ends. You may find closure.” “If you go with me, would the visit not be as dreadful?” She dared to ask once more. Would he know if her husband’s soul had found peace? Or if he haunted the grounds of their home, stuck in an infinite loop of rage or sorrow? And would she ever encounter another being like herself? She could not know how much longer she could endure watching everything fade before her eyes, as she continued to stand unmoving and unchanging in the wreckage of time. The past times she had spent seeking companionship had moved against her. While their skin would wrinkle, her face would stay smooth and supple. While their body grew brittle with age and disease, her body remained strong and healthy. The knowledge that an immortal such as herself existed was always met with fear and rejection. She hardly knew this man—this god. Hardly spoken more than a simple exchange of words and mutual understanding. Her head turned to face him, only for her to see that he had been looking at her with an indecipherable expression. Their eyes met again, and she could see the depth of eons within the windows of his soul that reflected her own. “Will this be the last time I see you, my friend?” Chang’e asked, leaning back into the bench. Anubis pulled out a lighter from his pocket and lit a cigarette, neglecting to answer. He puffed out a cloud of smoke and stood up, his face aloof and posture stiff once more. How easily you move on, Chang’e thought. And how stagnant you have remained.

The moon goddess had grown silent, her cheeky persona and bright eyes now dimmed in the shade from the awning above. Anubis frowned and lowered his head in solace. Well, what did she expect? What use did more travel and adventure serve him? They might enjoy it for some

time, until they grew tired of each other, and a seed of resentment would sprout between them. And what would the point of it all be if he was nothing more than a turbulent deity trapped in human flesh? He could not subject himself to becoming an enlightened nomad or tourist seeking out the earth to find meaning. Anubis offered Chang’e a hand, which she accepted, and pulled her to stand. He rapped a knuckle against the glass window of the ice cream parlor that they had been sitting in front of. “My treat,” he said. She perked up visibly with shoulders no longer slumped. “It is nice," Chang’e said between licks of her ice cream cone, “to be able to share this with someone. It has been buried in me for so long, I feared it would remain that way until I forgot this piece of me. The part of me that was more than...” She waved a hand from her head down to her torso. “This.” “It’s not just a part of you. It defines you,” Anubis punctuated the last word with the jab of his cigarette—still lit—in the air. “Never forget where you came from. What you are. They are nothing compared to us.” “Yet here we are, eating melting ice cream cones with sticky fingers,” she said wryly. “The world has moved past the need for beings like us. We are remnants of the past.” “We will rise again one day,” he said. Though, it came out unconvincing even to himself. “I know you don't believe that,” Chang’e spoke gently. “Our old world has been abandoned. This is the new world. All we can do is learn to move and live with it.” “How can you be so happy?” “You think this is happiness?” she laughed sardonically. “I wasted so much time on the moon, sulking in my mistakes. I came here, to earth, to escape that suffocation. I chose to live a new life. And I continue to live many lives.” “I think that’s what troubles you,” she continued. “You haven’t accepted the change. The change in the world, and the change within you.” Anubis sighed, allowing the truth to settle over him. To live as a man was to die as one. And with each passing year, he could feel the truth of it chipping away at his soul, hollowing out the memory of his godhood, stripping him bare and weak. Some nights he would bolt awake, his heart pounding rapidly like a fragile thing beneath his chest. The fear that he had lost his power,

that he was nothing more than mortal, was a looming threat that hung above his head and clouded sensibility. How many times had he tested his immortality? He had lost count long ago. It was only three days since he had dove into the dark of the harbor, the piercing chill against his skin a stark reminder of his vulnerability. But he could not drown. The relentless, infinite burn of his lungs was a certainty that his body would never yield to the water’s treacherous depths. He knew it would not. He still tried though. How strange and unorthodox it was that he sought to experience a human end, the one thing that separated him from them. He let himself wonder for a moment. Let himself entertain the notion of letting go. To erase the part of his mind that tethered him to the life that perished long ago. A rumble of mirth began in his chest, growing into a bitter laugh that crawled out his throat. “Nothing matters,” he said. “Nothing matters,” she echoed. He offered his cigarette to her, to which she nodded, and brought it to her lips for her to inhale. She tilted her head to the sky and blew smoke from her now smudged lips. “You do know that these are terrible for you, right?” He shrugged. “It can’t kill me.” “No, it can’t. But plenty of other things can,” she glanced at him pointedly. “What do you say, my friend? Care to join me on my trip to Egypt?” he asked. “As long as you join me on mine.” “And...” He hesitated, then shook his head, taking the plunge forward. “And anywhere else thereafter.” The lunar eclipse within the goddess’ eyes shrank, illuminating brighter with the waxing of her moonset stare. Unspoken gratitude passed between them, gratitude on both respective ends. And Anubis could feel the cold, dead thing within his chest start to grow languid with warmth.


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