4. (The Hill)
I shook my head free of all memory and thought. I shook it until it hurt and pain danced light in front of my eyes (gold-flecked light). I imagine all this flashbacking and memory wielding is doing is slowing me down, making me second guess every step. Your face changes shape. It’s as though I’m gazing at your reflection through a pool of water. I take a step back and turn around. I’m no longer in, or even near, the tree-filled forest of birds. I can’t even hear a single bird cry out. I’m hovering near the edge of a very wide, steep hill. I probably would have tumbled down it had I not regained my present senses in time. There is nothing now behind me but water, slipping between the saw grass in metallic flashes that occasionally surround smatterings of tree hammocks. There are no giant Evergreens or Redwoods in sight, no giant wooden boats weaving to and fro, no Wren in the sky.
Maybe I died back there, down in the water when my gator left me. I imagined myself whispering for help, the boat ride. Could I have merely dreamed the idea of all those angry, armed fish coming up, and out from the depths for revenge? I saw them so clearly, darting through holes in TV’s that had been blown out by shotguns, car windows rolled down much too late, as revealed by skeleton hands waving me on. Are the riverbeds still full of rusted metal? Do treasures lie in wait, forever etched below the sand? Could one of the water witches, whose singing I’d eavesdropped in on, sent me on a spell, leading me into a forest that she conjured just to be cruel? Did she pull back a veil just to confuse me, and lure me in, only to let it fall shut after I was fully committed to your trail? I see no sign of that dense, loud clutch of trees. Instead, I see a Sun hanging near the hill, a deadly orange. It casts a golden sheen on the waters. How can this hill be? It looks like a tumor in the middle of all these flatlands. (Will it spread, and raise more hills like these across all the banks of the world?)
It makes no more sense than the forest did, so I have no choice but to meet its bottom. Perhaps once I reach the bottom the hill, too, will vanish like another veil falling back into place, removing you from my sight. Perhaps I have been slipping from veil to veil all along, catching visions of you here, and there. Perhaps once veils fall closed they stay veiled, leaving things no different than before. I am still here, though, chasing your iridescent trail. I feel in my blackbird heart that it was you who did this, you, in the farthest end, who’s sent me in circles. I am moving through memories, stacked on memories of what was and what might be. All I see behind me are miles of swaying glades. The hill is waiting for my feet to move. I’m so thirsty; wishing I could go back and drink from the river. It’s not sweet tea but it is something. What if the exact moment I turn my back on the hill is when it vanishes, and I miss my chance to get to the bottom? Who knows what might replace it? I’ve heard sounds far off in the distance, things from the incomprehensible corners of my thoughts. Things that respond to my whispers, they are overflowing with foreign whispers of their own. Too much talking can drive you mad. The overlapping is starting to wear me down. I feel around my waist. My sweetwater flask is gone, along with my belt, strung with the things I picked up from the forest bed. I reach up, tentatively, to my neck and smile so hard that my sunburned cheeks crack open. I feel the ribbon, the wonderful (though now featherless) soft, red ribbon wound reassuringly about my dirty, itchy neck. At a time, not so long ago, it contained some small amount of nourishment, and encouragement from a flying friend. I’m here and now (again). I slowly begin to see traces of you across this new landscape/dreamscape. It’s as if you were waiting on me to focus myself, to center my mind’s eye before revealing yourself to me. The hill is covered with a light down of moss and is mostly bare, with a dark earthy terrain and a few patches of what looks and feels like crabgrass. I kneel down and inspect the earth under the grass, and see smears of shiny colors. Gold threaded with crimson, the brightest ivory and sage, and lightning yellows. I inhale until it stings. The earth smells like rained-on quartz and the dust that piles at the end of the line. Soot so darkly gold that it looks black, and then the colors change, like fluid, never remaining a permanent stain. It makes me dizzy, peering down at these remarkable colorshifts. My eyes have no real way to capture their description. The colors change as quickly as my little hands move over, and over the things you’ve left behind. I start my descent with vermillion, and fuchsia, smeared all over my cheeks and mouth.
My shoes sink into the cool earth as I kind of scoot down the side of the hill. I take care not to drift too fast because, as lightheaded as I am, I’m sure I’d topple head over heels and likely break my neck were I to quicken my pace any further. I can see the bottom; it gives way to a small meadow full of sunflower fields. Déjà vu hits me across the face and I force myself to slow down, to gingerly slide along the softer patched of earth. I am stained from my toes to the tip of my nose. Smudges and smears swirl around my limbs. I must look like I have been rolling in a bed of moths, or butterflies, rolled amongst them until their wings were rubbed as clear as glass. The crabgrass hurts and I’ve grown welts on my ankles. Further down I go. I try not to think of vertigo, of launching myself headfirst down the hillside, of concussing myself. I scoot along and focus on the bottom, on what looks like a circling of tree stumps. The closer I get, the more I can make out. I notice the stump closest to the base of the hill is carrying a passenger. It’s the cat, I know instantly. Not knowing why I know this, but now I feel a panicked urgency to hurry. I all but cartwheel the rest of the way, deliriously. Answers, the cat may have them.
I’ve reached the bottom; finally, I sprawl out as moments flash by. My ankles and legs are raw and red. I feel throbbing pain throughout my entire body. My head feels detached from my neck and shoulders. I keep seeing doves, though I don’t know why. There are blindingly white doves, way up high in the ruddy sky, moving in circles. I’m reminded of the tree stumps, of who I thought was resting on one or waiting for me, perhaps. I try to stand up and immediately topple over like a small child who’s still learning how to walk. I try and I fall again. I have no strength left. I resign myself to just lie still awhile and wait out the dizziness and fatigue. The doves continue to circle. I feel close to throwing up. I can’t bear the sight of them much longer. I wish they’d just go away. “Go make circles over someone else!” I plead, “Can’t you see I’m sick, here? Leave me alone…” I close my eyes as I whisper my last, and still I see them turn. Except now, they are moving through the dark green behind my eyes. They flash, like a neon sign. I fall into a restless sleep; it’s my only salvation. My body shudders as I drift off.
When I wake up it is near dark out and the air is cool. Torches have been placed near the tree stump closest to the base of the hill where I lay. I find myself able to stand, gently, and I wobble over to the cat, who’s still there, watching me. I feel a flush of embarrassment for he must have watched me falling all over myself and cursing at the doves. They are no longer overhead. I smooth my mess of a skirt and curtsy. I try and remember the language of cats.
I shimmer, “Why hello Mr. Cat, do you mind if we chat? For I’m so pleased to meet you, you’re my favorite cat.” He shimmers back, “Oh come now my dear there is no need for that, I am but a cat that may do this or that. In the end I am hunger, poise and possession. If I live any longer you’d find my obsession has taken its toll on my limb and my love. I grieve for tomorrow, it hangs on a dove. She has long lost her way, to bring us Today, but the doves do not pray, just follow their calling.”
But the sunlight had fallen, fallen down the hill.
(The movement had scarred me a permanent chill)
He shimmered more, “Will you rescue her? Look above for the dove; won’t you care for her? It’s a matter of love.”
I kneel down to the cat, his face hangs low and his eyes won’t meet mine. I shimmer, “I’ve seen your doves, and they circle above.” “I couldn’t see her!” He cried, “All the others have died!” I take my fingers and place them under his chin and slowly tilt his head up. I am already crying into my stinging, melted cheeks. His eyes were once brilliant and bright blue, I could see that. His third eyelid was hiding them almost completely. There was yellow goop in their corners that ran down and met his nose. It was dripping a dark liquid down onto the ground in a heart-shaped pool. His eyes tried to open wider at the site of me but could not. He sneezed and sputtered and rambled (incoherent shimmering) about a worm that was living inside of him. I let him talk, even though I didn’t understand. Sometimes you don’t have to. Sometimes you just listen. He was a rather large, dirty, white cat. I wanted to cradle him in my arms and take care of him. He looks past me now, up at the night and shimmered to me his last message:
“The bottoms have taken the hills inside; the hills have taken the trees. The trees have taken the houses in, the houses have taken the roads, and the roads have caught the towns and cities, rolled them in the fields. They’ve sunk them down in the oceans, deep. Sunk them and not one did weep. I wait for the passing of man. I’ve waited as long as I can. I wait for the things that stir, down beneath the sand. Stars have been roaming and blinding the doves, and the moon has taken an axe. The doves’ follow their sisters but it’s he who casts blisters along your painted tracks.“
I sit up. They sky is long and unforgiving in its pitch above me. The stars do not blink. I look to my side, the cat is gone. I will look for his dove; it’s a matter of love.