“Say, I could turn morality into a Great Living Chola Temple. That destructive capability belonged to the pragmatists whose reconstruction of morality was far more durable and less dogmatic. If you picked away at our current temple-like morality, its beauty and foundations would soon dissipate like a bonfire in the rain.” I gave the miniature, Danish temple a side-eye glance. It was a gift from my mom’s best friend when she had come to visit from Denmark. It was the most admirable object in this house: a feat of miniature-figure architectural design.
Mother was supposed to stash the Danish temple away early on. She said it was useless and provided no aesthetic addition to the Brutalist concept. I disagreed with her and pleaded to keep it.
It was about the size of a knee-high electric fan and the weight of a box of wholesale printer paper— a marble souvenir ‘Hedonistic Sustainability’ version of a Great Living Chola Temple by Bjarke Ingles. Blocks on blocks crowded together elegantly—a great base with an odd single room for a tip. Behind its silhouette, I could see the stormy, tiger-striped sky.
“But such reflections on a new Philosophy you call Darlingism are useless, aren’t they, Miss Toma? For a sixteen-year-old teenager. At least that’s just my opinion,” the Danish temple said. Its sliding doors opened as it spoke. With nothing to say, I sighed and predicted that the rain outside was bound to stop soon. A family of brown bears passing through the prairie stopped, looked my way, and then trudged off in the direction of the abandoned Russian Constructivist carnival.
Cross-legged on the chair, I pressed down on my skirt and thought of an answer for the Danish temple.
My legs and arms felt cold. “How could you say that? This is major stuff. It’s not useless? I’ve been thinking of Mother’s words, is all.”
“I like what she’s done with the place,” said the Danish temple dodging my question.
Mother had these Capiz lanterns brought in from The Philippines a month ago: shell lanterns emitting a summery glow.
I wanted to be the one to install them around our brutalist residence here on Morov Island. A big chunk of smooth concrete chiseled into a large, flat-roofed cape cod: where form married function.
Mother hovered over my bed when I had finished throwing a spoiled child’s tantrum the other day. She wouldn’t let me say anything during the funeral. She said, “Whatever you do, sweetie, just don’t commit a sin. You’ll anger God.”
“Mother, just to clarify?’ I asked her in between sobs. “Anything but sin?”
“Yes,” she said.
So, I stole away to our living room the next day and ordered our young maid—Chimed—around but using please or would you kindly. I told her to take my dirty clothes from my room, place ribbons in my hair as I read Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, and polish the pews in our little chapel as I prayed for my older brother. I thought the maid needs to be taught how things work because she’s new here—it was for her own benefit.
When she started to bore me, I dismissed her with my best smile. “Go away now,” I said.
The island was big enough for a three-hour walk around with a panoramic view of the Sea of Okhotsk. It was a rare occurrence for me, but I sometimes saw Sakhalin Island. From the manor, you could see the shimmering of their houses on the coastline—families upon families eating fish for dinner under a single kitchen light.
A month prior, I’d been in our residence in the city of Darling, Khabarovsk Krai. My father hadn’t come home from Dubai, and my mother was on the island. A problem regarding a nasty scuffle among the old and new staff caught her attention. Meanwhile, it was just my tutor and me who were skimming through the poems of Renaissance poets who left no impression on me. Perhaps that’s why the maids hung the Capiz lanterns without me.
Now, it was just me and the Danish temple.
“I know it’s still hard to start processing everything but isn’t it a good thing you’re on this island?” it asked.
“How so?” The thunder of the tiger-striped sky gave me a fright. It was like the sky was wailing, and bombs were falling around us. Would they activate the storm warning system? I hoped not. Those sirens were loud.
The Danish temple spoke up again. “If the weather was even close to admirable, you’d be in a better mood—probably swimming in the sea or tanning in a bikini. You wouldn’t be contemplating new philosophies.”
Maybe not, I thought. Perhaps I should take a warm shower. “Can I talk to you later?”
“Why don’t you tell me about your philosophy then?”
“When would you like?” I asked it. “I’ll take you to watch the black sands on the south end of the beach. Would you like that?”
“Can you carry me that far? Won’t you hurt your back?” it gave me its sympathetic, horizontal smile.
“I’ll pull you along on one of my handcarts,” I said, making a silly face.
“But it’s raining,” said the Danish temple.
“Then I’ll wear a raincoat. Duh!”
I sunk myself into the warm bathtub. It was a little too warm for my liking, but waiting in just a towel would do more to annoy me. How did my brother feel as he was incinerated by the funeral furnace? He couldn’t have felt anything, of course. But watching himself turn to powder must’ve been painful. It was only rightful that he felt that way. It was he who angered me with his rude comments and inappropriate advances.
My brother was three years my senior.
There was a time my brother took me to see a high school soccer game. He wouldn’t let go of my waist, and my insides felt all warm. From the kick-off until the last whistle, he explained the game to me. He turned to face me to make sure I wasn’t bored.
We had our own dirty little secret on this island: an abandoned Russian Constructivist carnival at East Beach—there was a restricted area that showed the beauty of the Eastern end of the world.
Father had it torn down some days after the incident, but I still thought of its curvatures. The last time I went there, I admired how they painted black and white streaks onto the Ferris wheel. I’d like the massive tents housing circuses that the people from Sakhalin island would visit. I’d liked observing the undulating sea that followed me as I climbed the steps of the empty waterslide. Surveying the altered landscape, I saw all the possibilities for my future. But in it, I saw neither my brother nor my parents. This made me feel somewhat uneasy. I used the ladder to get down because my brother didn’t allow me to slide down—in that deep, dark tunnel, there could have been a sharp piece of plastic; I could have fallen straight into the scaffolding.
Now, it was noon. I pulled the Danish temple along the side of the highway that led us straight to South Beach. The red of the handcart glistened, and its wheels crunched on the concrete.
There’s a small community in the middle of the island. During local festivals, the whole island seemed to convene there. I looked forward to it every summer, and tomorrow I would see the second festival of the year.
I picked up the Danish temple and placed it on the hill’s plateau that divided the black sands from the parking area. The rain kept pouring, but the jacket I wore was heavy enough to keep my dress dry. The parking lot was vast, seemingly stretching forever. The tall streetlights were already on and gave the dark island an industrial atmosphere. Everything was a shade of grey here, and even the emerald ocean had darkened.
“You should recount everything that happened,” said the Danish temple. “Where is your new philosophy—Darlingism—here, Miss Toma?”
“Mother said not to acknowledge what was never yours. So, I thought less and less of my brother. Why now?”
“Don’t misunderstand Darlingism as lukewarmness or laziness,” said the Danish temple. “Think of it as a more accessible road to sanctity for the common man.”
I grasped for the words, which seemed to rise like water from an otherworldly well, rushing forth like a geyser. “What’s your opinion on beauty? I’m speaking of myself and this society.”
“There are lots of beautiful girls like you—more here than in other nations—but it’s not pure genetics,” said the Danish temple.
“It’s hard for me to understand that there can ever be sin in beauty. But even if I’m harmlessly vain, I might as well, shouldn’t I?”
“I might as well get my face done,” I said.
“If it’s not intrinsically evil and it does good for you and others, you should.”
I thought hard about this for some time. Most of the things I did were for the sake of harmonious familial life. But inside, I was no better than those china dolls.
“Darlingism is essentially Bayes’ Law,” said the Danish temple, its sliding doors moving smoothly.
“How so?” I asked, twirling the ends of my shoulder-length hair.
“Darlingism is moral experimentation. You dismiss the effect of action as long as it does not anger God. As you keep practicing, you’ll realize that you naturally tread the line between sin and righteousness.”
“Sounds more complicated than what Mother said,” I replied.
“But the possibility of you not committing a sin on purpose is low, especially as you get older. It begs the question: without deliberate intent, what exactly are you practicing?”
“I’m just living less critically, is all.”
The wet, black sand framed the emerald ocean well. I wanted to take a picture, but I’d forgotten my flip phone. I was too excited to spend time with the Danish temple.
I thought about which procedures I should undergo. Should it be a breast enhancement or a lip injection? A nose job would be good too. As I contemplated my body, I realized how wonderful the sand particles felt beneath my feet.
The dark ground was sturdy but cold. I kept walking towards the ocean, where I thought I saw young kids playing by the lighthouse.
Instead, they turned out to be men who were having a smoke break. They eyed me and my Danish temple, so I turned back. I loved playing by the lighthouse when the workers would abandon it to go home to their families. It was usually left unlocked in case of emergencies. But today, it was useless to try. There were workers, and the handcart with my Danish temple was too cumbersome.
Growing up, I discovered that I was a mystic, so my parents insisted I receive homeschooling.
I was always hearing things about the world around me. It was like God had given me the foresight to interact with the world in a way most beneficial to me. But I was never good at hiding it, and my parents—though supportive—locked me up at home, so I knew very little about anything else. I’m a cute, sheltered nun.
Before leaving, I looked up at the sky and chanted a special prayer. As played on a theatre screen, images of how the second festival would look flickered by in the sky. It was really like Darlingism in its most embodied form.
Beautiful people with beautiful problems walked alongside one another: families, friends, and lovers. I saw the radiance of the stars illuminating the tops of the houses around me, and I saw adorable kids running between the adults. In the center of the plaza, I saw my brother waiting for me with a tender smile. “Toma, I’ll be waiting,” he said.
When I was finished with this surreal vision, my Danish temple and I returned home. My arms hurt after all that pulling, but the Danish. Temple and I had another conversation about my Darlingism.
“How about telling me some tenets regarding Darlingism?”
“Tenets? I haven’t thought that through,” I said.
“I had homework to do.”
There are four characteristics of Darlingist thought. These tenets I had impromptu while I pulled the heavy Danish temple up the highway. I told it that, first and foremost, (1) Morality should be purely based on natural law. If it’s not intrinsically evil, then there’s no need to worry about it. Everything is permitted, but not all are beneficial. (2) Beauty is a moral obligation (Not beauty solely based on western standards but beauty in general.) This applies especially to infrastructure and architecture. (3) Protect the outcasts. These can be children with disabilities or mistreated belongings. (4) Believe in what you don’t see—like love, friendship, and virtue.
I waited for the Danish temple to say something, but it remained silent for the rest of our walk.
Spirals reminiscent of black holes tossed and turned in the corners of the brutalist home—and they only grew more prominent.
I missed Brother because I wanted to tell him about my contemplations with the Danish temple today. But he was never to return to earth. I missed him very much, and I wanted to tell him about my reflections with the Danish temple today.
“If you could tell your brother something now and bypass heaven’s theatre, as the first Darlingist, what would you say?” Asked the Danish temple. I had placed it beside me as I watched some TV.
“You’ve only been gone a few months, but it feels longer. I see you often in my visions—a boy smiling in the plaza. There’s a bazaar nearby like here, huh. What could you have been smiling about? Please do tell me, your sister. As you very well know, the older I get, the less likely it is that I’ll get vivid images of your face. The opportunities to see you will dwindle and fade. Nevertheless, if we shall meet again. I hope to explain to you this philosophy of mine. I never meant to hurt you, and it just so happened that you lost your footing on the Ferris wheel ladder . . . and down you went, right back down to me. It was my idea, wasn’t it? To go up the rusty ladder. I don’t blame myself, and I shouldn’t. We’ve done more dangerous things than that, remember? Brother, I want you to remember that I’d like to give you a big hug when I see you again. Until then, keep smiling for me. I love you!”
The Danish temple was silent as if mourning the memories behind my words. Did I feel like crying? No, I didn’t. The spirals started up again, and they were bigger now than earlier in the evening. My heart raced, and I hugged my knees like a fetus. Amidst it all, the Danish temple was indifferent.
What could this mean?
Who wanted something from me?
Who wanted me?
It was useless calling for help because I doubted that anyone could see what I saw before me. Should I reach out to see if the spirals had any significance? This isn’t a sin, is it?
Sometimes, preternatural influences squirmed their way into my heaven’s theatre. But was this really a vision or an assault of some kind?
The Capiz lanterns shimmered outside my kitchen window, the classic sign that summer might last forever. I was paralyzed by the beauty.
I reached out my hand. The tips of my fingers caught flames, and I screamed in intense pain. It slowly spread up my wrists, forearms, and shoulders. The invisible fire slowly consumed my skin. The smooth Danish temple was silent, looking elsewhere, and this offended me. I desperately looked for water of any kind.
As I laid on the placid, marble tiling, I shriveled up like a Coprinus comatus. I saw black goo oozing out of me, and I clammed up. I felt like I was experiencing a stroke.
I woke up the next day in the local hospital. My skin was pale but without scars. A pretty nurse took my vital signs as she looked me over, knowing I was already awake. ‘Hi there, Miss Morrow. Are you still feeling nauseous or in any pain? If so, on a scale of one to ten, could you rate it for me?’
“Nauseousness would be at a six, and pain would probably at a seven.”
“I’ll call the doctor on duty, and we’ll see what we can do for you, Miss Morrow.” Her lips formed a smile as sharp as a blade, and with haste, she left the room.
What was this sluggish feeling?
I fell asleep again for who knows how long, and not even the doctors could wake me.
So, I remembered how unaffected those Capiz lanterns were in the midst of that storm. Furthermore, Sakhalin Island’s lights refused to be extinguished by high waves. I, among all things, remember I once was loved by a sweetheart Danish temple. It was there when I mused, and oh, it was good to me.
I missed the smell of the sea—how it coated everything from the roofs of old ruins to the small yachts by the wharf. Was I willing to leave it all behind and depart? Just being pragmatic. You know, it begs the most pressing question: if I hadn’t chosen to wake up, it wouldn’t be a sin now,