April 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
Little Heart’s Ease
In the air I go limp. It’s out of my hands, as it is when you fly. First we’re straight into the sunrise, over the clouds, and then we’re inside them. Once in a while, we see portholes through the white and the co-pilot points through the window: there are the highlands; the prehistoric mounds. “That’s where the fiddleheads grow in the summer.” I make talking motions and a wide smile. “You want to fly down?”
We swoop. We swipe lobes off the clouds with our wings. Our stomachs fling back against our spines and hard parts. I think about a man who was buried under ice for 10,000 years. When they exhumed his body, biologists couldn’t find his stomach because it had been pressed into his lungs by gravity and the weight of the ice. Our organs, too, are re-forming themselves into stacked bladders. I fight back against the dinosaur highlands every time we turn and dive straight down into their ragged edges. Our belly must be sliding on snow. It shudders.
The pilot never moves his head. He looks straight with that bovine stare that all drivers have. His arms move independently of his wrists, and his wrists move independently of his fingers. He twiddles things like he only just remembered them now. He makes the things he twiddles look flimsy. It’s hard not to love him while he performs his inscrutable skill. It’s hard not to love someone who takes such enormous liberties with your life.
I don’t bother to set up my tent, since I don’t know how to set up a tent and, anyway, make it an early rule not to expose any limb smaller than a cold-blooded animal. I walk straight ahead through the unplowed paths and up to a clubhouse with picnic tables inside. My food and water is frozen except for a piece of spelt bread and a jar of peanut butter. I curl up on one of the tables and fall asleep in an orange survival suit and sleeping bag. It’s sudden Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s mid-afternoon.
When I wake up it’s black and the cracks in the clubhouse walls are making jet streams out of wind gusts. I fumble for a box in my backpack marked Space Brand Emergency Blanket. I wrap it around my head and curl deeper into the sleeping bag.
The thought keeps creeping up: Is this a fun thing? Is this fun? But it feels like freedom to say, It doesn’t matter.
Come By Chance
Joe has little time for directions. He says he wants to show me something and walks ahead to the family study. His roundness fills the hallway; I can’t see past him. He lets his hands dangle. His hair is a short shag that curls up at the base of his neck.
On the table, spanning an ocean of newspapers, sits a scale model of a suspension bridge, made of Popsicle sticks with the ends chopped off. “My daughter and I built it together. I measured its symmetry and it’s perfect.” Where there are corners, they are right. Where there are lines, they are plumb. Where there are planes, they are level. The engineers have made great use of the round ends of the Popsicle sticks to make gently sloping crania for the model people to-ing and fro-ing across the bridge in classic model cars. There is even a pair of solid Popsicle-stick lines stretching down the length of the bridge, warning the frozen commuters not to pass each other. “Sam’s submitting it to the St. John’s spring science fair.”
I look over at Sam, who is marching the cat back and forth through the hall. Her hands are engaged in strangling it into a heart-stretch pose. They are for brute force only; they want to rip the hairs off caterpillars and force them to race. Instead, they tug slowly at a whisker and bare the cat’s teeth. I find a glue glob on the suspension bridge and smile—I’ve caught them in a lie.
Joe then drives me to the park edge, where the road ends, and says, “Be careful,” before driving away.
At night I can hear things better. I follow distant cracks to the ocean’s edge. The tide is coming in and forcing blisters to boil up through the foot-thick ice. When the arches get too steep inside the blisters pop open like dinosaur eggs. I crawl onto the ice and look down into the asterisk formed by a crack. Pulses of black sea water rush back and forth underneath. I take off my glove and fit my hand down into it, under the wave. The beach rocks are basalt, the oldest lava in the world, moving my hand toward me at seven centimeters per year.
The question keeps popping up, but now it’s changed to a more persistent, Right now: Are you dying? No. Are you dying? No. Are you dying? No.
I walk all day to keep warm, along the stripped paths. I make snow steps against vertical rock walls, clamber up them and defeat gravity. No doubt I pass families of bears stacked up in their dens and functional death; no doubt there is a strange and horrible way that reptiles suspend life over winter, but I don’t remember it. The sun comes up but, still, it seems trapped behind wax paper. Its greyness makes all the dull greens fluoresce. I eat the whole jar of peanut butter with my fingers.
At the park edge, Joe is already there in his car, waiting. Sam’s in the back, crushing animal crackers into a pile on the seat between her knees. Joe flicks the key in the ignition with his fat-man-delicate fingers. “You’re alive,” and we head for the airport.
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