Today’s words – two girls :: thick braid :: peel :: heavy traffic :: allergic reaction – are unashamedly borrowed from CAKE.shortandsweet‘s Wednesday Write-In #3 (originally held in September 2012). CAKE has been offline for the past few weeks, and I’ve missed it terribly. Let’s hope it comes back soon.
two girls :: thick braid :: peel :: heavy traffic :: allergic reaction
All The World’s a Mountain
She carried the thick braid with her everywhere she went. It lived in her pocket, wrapped up in a fine linen cloth, tightly bound around itself like a never-ending loop.
She didn’t look at it very often, but its weight was always there.
‘What is with this rush hour, huh?’ muttered her neighbour, a tall and heavy-set man with skin so dark it absorbed the day. His voice made her fingers tremble, and she realised she’d been clutching at her coat, squeezing the lump of hair within it like a totem. ‘You ever seen such heavy traffic?’ The bus they were riding in sat, honking, amid a sea of metal and glass. The windows were beginning to run with moisture, and the air was too heavy to breathe.
She did her best to smile at him, but he – already forgetting her – rose sharply to his feet.
‘Hey! Yo! Driver, man! What’s happenin’ up there?’ He squeezed his way past, his elbow slamming into her shoulder. He did not bother to apologise, and she felt something sharp at her heart. Another layer of her patience began to peel away.
She ignored the yelling that kicked off around the driver’s cabin as she smothered the fear, the growing anger, the rising rage.
Her hand found the braid again. Through the fabric of her coat it felt cold, and wet, and heavy. She squeezed it, clenching her eyes against the noise and the heat and the stench…
No two girls could be more alike, mama had always said. Born the same day, each with hair like evening and eyes like the dawn. We were friends. Always friends. Our hands fitted together like they’d been carved as one, and we were so rarely at odds that the older folk smiled and said of us that we could read one another’s minds.
But what is sweet and lovely at five is not so at fifteen, and still less at twenty.
My friend’s mama took her away before she turned twenty-one and sold her to a man from the mountains. He became a husband more bear and hair and growl than human being. She called out to me, her words not formed by tongue and teeth; I heard her, but not with my ears. She was so far away. To say I missed her is to make a mockery of the words. An oozing void gaped within me where my heart had been.
And then, one day, her voice stopped.
I packed a bag and left, mid night, on feet grown so used to silence that mama never knew. She slept as I climbed out the window; she slept as I slid into the shadows. She slept as I made my way to the mountains.
I arrived as they pulled her from the lake. Her hair – my hair – dark with dark water, sodden with cold, swollen and dripping and dead, flopped around her neck like a serpent. Her braid was neat and perfect, but her eyes were sealed.
‘She had an allergic reaction,’ blustered her husband. ‘She ate some berry or other and ran into the tarn, out of her senses. Stupid townish woman.’
They commiserated and sympathised and filled him full of their sorrow, but I could see the laughter at the core of him. He’d had what he wanted, and he’d got what he wanted.
Before they buried her, I took her hair.
After they buried her, the mountain man vanished.
My bag has grown threadbare over the years. My clothes are clean but out of date. My name changes every time I am asked for it. I leave no trail.
And I look into the eyes of every man I see, waiting for the spark of recognition. When I find it, I will know what to do.
She sweeps to her feet and grabs her battered travelling case from the overhead rack. The braid drags down her coat on one side, making it swing. She strides up the aisle and asks to be let off the bus in a voice she doesn’t recognise, and before he knows what he’s doing the driver has pulled the lever, the door has hissed aside and she is off, striding between the rows of unmoving cars.
A man – shrunken now, and shaven, eyes hidden by a cap – watches her pass. Before the door can slide closed again he runs for it, squeezing through the narrowing gap and plunging out into the melting light of a city day. His own pocket is heavy, but not with a token of love.
He was born to the life of a tracker. All the world’s a mountain, if you need it to be.