In The Arms of Khajuraho, 970 CE

Lakshmana Temple Khajurâho

In The Arms of Khajuraho, 970 CE
by Tara Isabel Zambrano

I am all stone, the monolith giving way to a slight slope below my navel. For a moment it seems as if a dark river has appeared between my thighs, but it’s your long, matted hair that sweeps on my midriff while you rough the remaining panel, a soft sun on your muscled back.

On the ground, there’s a hole, the size of my neck. You stop, place your forehead on it as if transferring thoughts, a light wind settling between you two. Watching, I want to touch the hole, I want to touch the bare wall where I’m not carved yet.

You always wear white, your warm blood rushing behind the serene. I was a block the first time you spoke to me. Now my breasts are full, my hips are broad. You chisel my legs locked around a male statue and I feel an openness like my skin has ripped to reveal another layer. The sandstone skin of another woman rubs against my pelvis. Her long hair draped over her bare shoulders, her eyes twins of moon. She’s transcendent as if the world is built around her.

On the neighboring panel, warriors, dancers, dragons and serpents, under your unfaltering gaze. You inspect them one by one, carve an anklet or a cummerbund, shape an eye or sharpen the chin. The walls tremble. Stone chips scatter like seeds. Tired, you remove your clothes and stand naked, watching the ascending spires lit by the afternoon glow. In distance, a river gushes like a lover. With a feline leap, you disappear, and I hear a splash, the laughter of a woman. I imagine you and she coiled like snakes. When the moans rise, the dried leaves stir, the clouds drift in strange shapes. A wild world.

Come evening, you return with her: I recognize her from the laughter, wrapped in the warmth and mysticism of Khajuraho. You light a match, she runs her fingers on the carved panels, traces the contours of couples primed with passion and its futility before they embark on their journey towards enlightenment. In the amethyst light, I feel a twitch in my belly, traveling upward and settling in my chest and eyes, as if I have a soul.

In that moment, none of us know in a few years you will be beheaded, in centuries to come, our temples will be invaded by foreign rulers: our bodies will be desecrated, bent in fire. None of us know, in time, pleasure will be spoken with contempt, women who want will be shamed. It all seems so absurd now. So I wait for the dawn and it’s colors, the stone that will become a part of me, watching you and the woman sleep like children, a bright crater of a moon and an undying beauty of a barefaced land stretched between us.

Tara Isabel Zambrano is the author of Death, Desire And Other Destinations, a full-length flash collection by OKAY Donkey Press. Her work has won the first prize in The Southampton Review Short Short Fiction Contest 2019, been a Finalist in Bat City Review 2018 Short Prose Contest and Mid-American Review Fineline 2018 Contest, been published in The Best Micro Fiction 2019, 2020 Anthology. Her stories have been nominated for The Best of the Net, The Best of Small Fictions and The Pushcart. She lives in Texas.
Detail of photograph of Lakshmana Temple, Khajurâho by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra (CC BY 2.0).