Distance (Draft 1)

Posted by on July 24, 2014 
Filed under Fiction

The weather felt perfect. A brilliant gold sun floated in the ice-blue sky like a beacon. Green mountains rose up from the ground toward the sky and sun like furry moss clumps. The mountains’ trees swayed back and forth in a calm breeze, their leaves rippling upward, churning out a steady snake hiss among the thousands of bird calls echoing throughout the countryside. The breeze smelled of honey and peat, a soft scent, but one not easily ignored. Mountain laurel, squat and slender with delicate fibrous branches, bloomed cotton white along both edges of the well-worn path the couple traversed. The laurel stood stiff and crooked as if violently yanked from the ground during its most crucial stage of forming an erect-trunk-habit. Tiny birds peeped in and out of the laurel, watching the hikers with their eyes as shiny and round as machine bearings. The birds seemed to take shelter in the waxy-leaved trees, whether from the sun or predators did not matter. The important aspect of their flittering rested in the joy the display from being among the delicate little limbs. The birds hopped and chirped, bouncing around, sometimes in one place in a tree, sometimes in many at once, their tiny heads cocked sideways  examining the big world outside the trees, as if the world burst into a thousand-rayed macrocosm outside their shadowy insular jungle. The birds sang throaty shrill, but magnificently exciting, chirps to the day. Their song carried the power to kill pain and suffering. It sheltered the wilderness from harm.

The couple ascended the crumbly dirt path. Loose pebbles from the woman’s steps rolled randomly down to the man behind her. She glided along far ahead of him, not looking back, not acknowledging his heavy steps on the ground, his faint pig-like grunts. Strange, she always acknowledged his annoyance before; she usually hiked with him. Why wouldn’t she slow down?

Samuel watched the stillness of the scene ahead while he labored up the dirt path, his pack tight on his back, his mouth tasting of jasmine pollen. He stepped up and down like an arthritic dog. They already hiked over fifteen miles already and he felt the distance in his bones. Ahead of him, Candace skipped along the path. Her flowing blonde hair gleamed like a halo. Her thin waist, hidden under skimpy green hiking shorts, swiveled and shimmied above her tan legs like a buoy.

“Hey now, wait up!” said Samuel.

“Come on, we haven’t got all day to get back. We’ll be out of light soon,” replied Candace.

“I know. I know that. I was just watching you and thought I’d like to be closer to you, but you’re way up there bunny hopping. Come here bunny.” Samuel beckoned her back to him with his long slender, but hairy forefinger.

“A bunny? So sexy to be called a bunny. Why can’t I be a mountain lioness, or a vixen?” she asked.

“Why would you want to be a vixen? What’s so great about being that?”

“Well, I’ll have you know that being a vixen would be dangerous. Vixens are female foxes. You know you’d like me to be your little feral vixen.”

“Yes,” said Samuel, ‘“Vixen’ does sound delicious. But you’ve got no tail, do you?”

“We’ve all got tales Samuel. You should know that better than anyone else.”

She stopped and turned toward him, shooting an arrow’s stare into him. He stopped still. Her bright green eyes and angular cheekbones reminded him of a mountain cat. She seemed to stare at him, but past him simultaneously. He wanted to look her in the eyes. His vision leapt toward the mountains behind her. They stood an emerald green in the late morning sun. Samuel saw a light breeze cutting the leaves of the trees, still sweeping them upwards. He heard the velvet chirps of the birds around them. He wished he lived in the trees away from everyone else, just he and Candace and the birds, with no past, no future, only the leaves, the trees, the sun, the moment, and the chirps.

He looked at his tan hands, turned them over and saw his calloused palms. His stout hairy legs and dirty hiking boots felt stiff. He kicked dirt with his left boot.

“I guess we do. You’ve known them for a while. I don’t know why you can’t let it go. I have.”

“Let it go Samuel? Nice way to say it. Why don’t you let me go? You know, I think I have to. It’s right to do and we’re wrong, now.”

“I can’t Can, you’re all I’ve got.”

“Let’s try now. Why don’t you try to let me go right now?”

“What do you mean, right now?”

“Right now, like I’m going to leave right now and you’re not going to follow me. You’re going to turn around on this path and walk back the way you came and I’m going to keep going this way. We’ll just split up here like we never met.”

“I’m not sure I can do that Can.”

“You don’t have a choice Samuel. It’s better this way.”

Candace turned and quick-stepped up the path, toward the hard-scrape mountains and away from Samuel and the singing birds, leaving him feeling hot and spiny, his head heavy, his thoughts like the dark sludge at the bottom of a swamp. He turned mechanically, seeing her moving away out of his periphery, and stiffly descended the path along the way in which he had just came.

A dark hound-shaped cloud moved into the sky, casting a shadow over the woods below Samuel as he slowly descended the path. He felt cold without the sun on his back. The breeze picked up, prickling his skin and making him shudder. The forest below looked cold and unfamiliar, even though he had just passed through it not even an hour before. He could not hear the birds anymore. He missed her already. Could she really be gone?

He turned around, frantically searching for her on the path, but did not see her. His stomach drowned in acidic yellow bile. He felt sick, like when, as a boy, the flu struck him down for a week during his one and only summer time at camp, when his parents seemed like blue shadowed memories as he lay on the stale canvas cot and shook, longing to simply be home. He never wanted to feel distant from anyone he loved again.

He had to find her and make things right between them. Why should a silly thing like this split them up forever? Everyone has some moment from their past that they would rather forget. He thought she knew this better than anyone.

Samuel felt anxious as he ran up the path, passing the spot in which they parted. He saw her tracks in the tan dirt. She shouldn’t be too far yet. He noticed more dark clouds to his right, the east. Samuel could hear the low rumblings of thunder in the distance. He could smell the rain, like new rust, moving toward him. He hated thinking of Candace hiking alone, away from him. He thought of the storm as a hungry beast, a monster capable of swallowing her up like a crisp snack, taking her away from him forever. He ran.

His feet felt light, his socks like dirty feathers. In the sky, a black and yellow cloud swirled slowly around the peak ahead. He watched his shadow stretch into a skinny stick ahead as he used the balls of his feet to propel himself hard up the slope. The cloud reminded him of a week-old bruise. He thought about the center of a bruise, the tender part. He imagined he could live in the cloud’s center, above the loneliness, the loss and endless searching.

Samuel searched for her figure on the trail. Maybe she started to run too. She’d be much further ahead yet if she had. His breath beat hard into the back of this throat. He swallowed a hot wet lump of phlegm as he reached for the water bottle attached to his belt. The bottle held fast to its holster. Samuel stopped and yanked the container, fumbling it off his fingertips, and watched it tumble down the laurel-lined slope to his left. He dropped to his knees, his lips trembling. A prayer seeped from his lips like black molasses.

“Lord, or whatever you are up there, please please let me find her. Let us be okay. She’s all I have. I need this, please. I just need this favor this once. I’ll do things differently. I’ll change if you’ll please just let her come back to me.”

He laid his forehead in the dirt, his body forming a humble, folded posture, as if in prayer. He wept.

He wept for being lost on a trail he had traversed so many times before. He sobbed to bring her back. Maybe she could hear him. He rubbed his face in the dirt, his left hand clutching the base of the nearest laurel tree. His sobs shook his body, and in turn, the tree. He felt something tap his hand as lightly as a sleeping baby’s breath. Samuel raised his face to look at his hand and discovered a tiny laurel flower resting on it. The flower, a pale pink unlike the other laurel blooms along trail, rocked steadily in the light wind which accompanied the incoming storm. Samuel watched the flower shudder among the hairs of his hand and a strange calm swept through his soul. He stared into the deepest pit of the yellow stamen and thought about the weight of the pollen embedded there. He could not feel the flower on his person, yet to an insect, a bee especially, the collected pollen bears a massive load. The bees completed the muscular task of harvesting pollen every day of their regulated lives, their only mission: gathering powder for the good of the hive, for the strength of their queen. Samuel realized he lost his queen. He had no one to gather for now, no need to store emotions in their relationship, no desire to care outwardly for another. He realized then, watching the small flower rustle like tissue, that he alone had the power to care or not care, connect or not, with anything or nothing. That his happiness depended entirely on his will, like a breeze dancing with flowers, like bees travelling with pollen. He knew, in the soft afternoon stillness and the grey-green silent sky alive in the calm before the storm, that he only wanted to hear the little brown and white-speckled birds sing their healing song.

 

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