“Kali Yuga”, by Sam Aldridge

“Where will you go when the levee breaks?” asked Amelia, who loved metaphor and thought it the truest way to communicate.

“Oh, you know, wherever the tornado drops me off,” came Paul’s vague retort as he sauntered on ahead of her. His words struck her as akin to a pebble being kicked absent-mindedly. Wholly unplanned, pushed by a violent force, the pebble settles in the grass and takes what is arbitrary for Fate. It lies in the green bed, submerged in it, crawled upon by insects, rained upon by God, and lives its small life in this new womb of comfort. It abdicates all control.

Paul is a dreamer, she thought, and he never seems to hear me. Their daily walk in the park was an institution, a salute to Normality whose limits they questioned even as they walked within them. The park was constructed after the Civil War when the Union was building for itself Romanesque arches to celebrate the victory of Good over Evil. Further south, their opponents erected statues to their war heroes, bemoaning the defeat of Good at the hands of Evil.

Scattered throughout the park were boulders embossed with letters gone green with time, words that evoked even earlier battles: powder horns, the flash of musket fire, and red-coated conquest. These voices from the past were now overgrown and peed on by dogs and teenagers.

People who had once walked around the park now filled an enormous cemetery a little to the West. Paul thought the park was filled with the dead too, only these ones moved and stooped over smartphones.

He broke the silence grumbling something about how deranged people were to be going about as if Earth weren’t avidly trying to shake them off Her back.

“What was that?” Amelia asked, not for clarification but for his attention.

“I said, it’s a lovely day, we should go roller-skating.”

“Do you know about Hindu cosmology?” came Amelia’s sudden reply.

Here she goes again with her Indian mythology, thought Paul, always Vedas this or Upanishads that. Where does she get this from? She would say a past life, no doubt, and isn’t that a fine argument. Even so, a smile spread on his lips, warmed by the infectious touch of Amelia’s passion.

“Tell me about Hindu cosmology.”

“Well,” drawing a deep breath, “they believe there are four ages, I won’t bother telling you their Sanskrit names, but they begin with the longest and purest where people are righteous and everything is in order. The following ages are shorter and colored by less righteousness, more corruption, until the final, Kali Yuga, when, as Hamlet says, ‘the time is out of joint.’ The Kali Yuga is when everything is flipped: castes inter-marry, rivers are on fire, and it is no longer possible to attain enlightenment.”

They rounded a bend along the lake where old men idled with fishing rods and children came to marvel at the turtles floating lazily, their heads poking white rings in the surface of the inky green water.

“When at last the sands of time run out, their myth says Lord Vishnu will appear on a white horse and wipe out the sinners and demons, leaving the last few virtuous people to rebuild humanity. And the process begins again. All four ages combine into one kalpa which is but a day in Lord Brahma’s life.”

Her illustration reminded Paul of some infinite regression of mirrors, cycling through dimensions, outer into inner into outer, endlessly. Very psychedelic.

“But what I find so interesting about this idea,” she continued, “is that, according to their calendars, we have been in the Kali Yuga since about 3000 BCE! It’s like their version of being cast out of the Garden of Eden, like we’re doomed to be born in a sinful world so far from Truth and Goodness. Like everyone imagines things were better before their time.”

“I wonder if whoever came up with that was just having a really shitty day,” joked Paul, inwardly admiring her wise perspective. Amelia was lost in thought and didn’t hear him. In the reflection of her eyes, birds were suspended in mid-air.

“It’s like we’re so beautiful and perfect in this moment. Right now.” Her voice had trailed into a whisper.

Reaching the far side of the lake, they unconsciously moved toward their favorite bench even though they knew they couldn’t sit there today. The most recent storm had made the lake overflow for the first time in their memory.

A myriad of diamonds sparkled from the sun-flecked water, ducks traced a shimmering wake above the sunken footpath, and a beer bottle bobbed right-side up, caressed by the warm breeze.

He hadn’t felt the breeze before, but now it fluttered curtains around his eyes and thawed frosty rooms in his mind. A vision emerged from the water: it was Amelia approaching on a white horse.

At the edge of the dry pavement their fingers found each other, intertwined, and a secret was vouchsafed them.

(Aftermath of Hurricane Ida in Prospect Park, Brooklyn NY. Photograph by the author)

Sam is a first-year MA student at Pacifica Graduate Institute in California where he studies the twists and turns of Jungian thought. The tide has recently taken him to Kathmandu, Nepal, where he learns music, Buddhist philosophy, and the art of not being on time. 

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