The Philosopher | Karen Runge

The Philosopher

 
 

There’s something malicious about the way the sun strikes our caravan windows in the early morning.  The house we left behind has those big, sunny French windows — the kind that need thick, heavy curtains to lock out the full flood of sweet, natural light.  I didn’t appreciate it enough, I think, when we lived there; the way all that open sunlight catches the dust motes drifting around the room, the milky slide of it in the still afternoons, the honey-shimmer of it, soft and warm, pooling over my skin.

Here in our travel trailer, stationed in a field at the edge of town, the windows are Perspex.  They’re small, tense and claustrophobic, shut in with rubber and plastic.  They open only a grudging inch at the bottom, a space barely wide enough for you to stick your hand through, and wriggle your fingers in the Summer air.

We wake up in the morning gasping on stale breath stuck to fibreglass walls, and the flimsy grey blinds make a high-pitched raking sound when you pull the cord to slide them back.

I sometimes think life in a caravan is like living in a centipede.  Everything segmented, everything squeezed into the same narrow space, compartment linked to compartment leading on; moving through it is like being digested, or maybe like being spat out.

Trevor stays in bed while I climb over him, and bump my way the three steps down the corridor and into the kitchenette, filling our pot with water, lighting the gas,  going quietly through the cramped cupboards that slide open, Japanese-style, revealing the tin of instant coffee, the jar of sugar, the mugs.

I’m getting big now, and my belly crushes hard against that counter.  Recently I’ve become scared to turn sideways in case I get stuck.  A hippopotamus woman, trapped in a giant centipede, her girth widening ever further by the flesh-thing growing inside of her.

While the water boils, I make my way up to the mouth and open the door.  Like the windows, it’s small, sealed with plastic and rubber grips, and opens with a flimsy whoosh of air sucked shut.

Maybe I shouldn’t tell myself we live in an insect.  Maybe I should think of it as living in a submarine, or a spaceship.  Throw a hint of adventure to the metaphor; make it feel a little less poisonous.

I step outside barefoot, clutching the doorway for support.  With my new heaviness, the fear of falling has begun to creep up on me more and more often.  Hippo woman, splat, helpless in the wet of the dew-shining grass with blood pooling out from between her legs.  Staining her dress.

But I’m too careful to stumble, and I savour the cool sting of the cold wet grass under my swollen feet as I set up the tarpaulin awning.  It’s a roll of thick red that changes the light inside the caravan from dull grey to porno-sick.  It gets stuck behind my eyes sometimes, that colour under light, and gives me headaches.

By the time I’m done and the water is ready, Trevor will be waking, sitting slowly up and glaring at me with bleary, bewildered eyes.

“Sleep a little longer,” I whisper to him, but he’s always quick to peel himself out of the sheets, the shape of him cast in the red glow clawing in through the blinds.

I’d never tell him, of course, but he has the funniest morning face.  Warped, wrinkled; splashed red and white, like a new-born baby, or a very old man.

He climbs over the bedclothes, the wire-thin frame of his body and his tense, small shoulders tinted paste-pink.  He’s thinner now than he used to be, and I am bigger.  I’m beginning to feel awkward beside him.  Beginning to feel ridiculous.  The huge hippopotamus woman living in her centipede house with her scrawny, bookworm lover.

He puts his glasses on, his jeans, and I have to shuttle myself into the bathroom to let him pass.  Sometimes he backs me out just past the kitchen, where the counters end and there’s a space just big enough for me to slot myself in, neat against the wall, compact, packed away.

He sets up the tables and chairs outside while I finish making our coffee.

“I’ve got a lot of work to do today,” he says as he sits down outside, and squints his gaze toward the sepia-black shadows of the woods that grow up at the end of the field.

Sometimes he sits and stares for hours like that.

*

Trevor is a philosopher.  Or rather, he studies philosophers, and writers, and anyone who was ever considered to have said something great, and he analyses their insights for an audience of philosophers, and writers, and other people who dream of someday saying something great.  The box he takes out there with him every day is a mess of layer upon layer of musty paper filled with notes and scribbles and quotes.  We didn’t have enough space in the caravan for him to take all his books with, so he had to resort to photocopying, tearing, scribbling down references in his own shorthand code.

I used to scratch my way through those papers, in the beginning, like a little girl going through her father’s briefcase.  Stupefied by all that serious, black and white writing, all those underlined words.  Feeling, always, as though I were committing some kind of crime against his privacy.  And feeling something else, too—a kind of desperate curiosity.  Thinking to myself, ‘This is what moves him,’ and reading ever deeper between the lines.

I’d try to decipher the cramped scrawlings and tense scribblings he’d filled up and down the margins, chewing my fingernails as I read.

It took me a while to realise that I was staring at a pile of mismatched, disembodied fragments of thoughts from different men who had lived at different times, known different worlds, struggled with different problems.  It took me even longer to finally appreciate what a mess Trevor was tangled up in, trying to pull something coherent out of all that clash.

‘God is dead!’ Nietzsche.  Or should we say Zarathustra?

Trevor loves that quote.  The thing is, everyone knows that joke.  We know it so well that it’s lost its cleverness; become trite.

“God is dead!” says Nietzsche.

“Nietzsche is dead!” God scribbles His reply on the walls of bathroom stalls across the western world, His strong, derisive voice lost between the less enlightened declarations of ‘Anna loves Mark,’ and ‘Godflesh forever’.

It’s cheeky to make fun of philosophy, I know, but who can help it?

*

In the evenings, a pack of wild dogs slips out of the woods; they weave their way through the secret paths that twist through the grass of the field, and come to our door to beg for food.

Their bodies are small, wire-thin.  Their fur is worn, scabbed, torn out in patches from the violence of fights or the slow poison of parasites.  Their noses are hard, cracked dry, shining candy-red in the catches of light that glow down on them from our caravan windows.

One of them has a torn ear; the other is missing an eye.

I try to reach out to touch them sometimes.  They baulk at my hand as it slides out through the darkness, glowing pale white, stretched out to them where they stumble forwards and backwards on their trembling legs, growling at each other, yipping at me.

I leave the scraps on the doorstep, hunching myself up in the doorway, crushing my belly against my knees.  Watching them feed.

“Those animals have diseases,” Trevor says.  “You shouldn’t let them near you.”  And he puts his hand on my belly where his skin pumps clammy warmth through the thin fabric of my dress.

“They’re just trying to survive,” I answer.

And he lectures me about prenatal care, about the risk of diseases, the dangers I pose to the fetus coiled inside of me.

I want to explain to Trevor that I’m lonely, that everything else is blank around me—that it’s just me stuck inside myself, and even that invaded now by the tiny stranger I feed with my blood and fading vitality.

“Friendship is unnecessary to survival,” said C.S. Lewis.  “But friendship gives meaning to it.”

My survival is meaningless.  Friendship with these creatures may be impossible.  But I find myself wanting it, desperately.  And so every night when the group of glowing eyes skitter toward me through the sea of starlit grass, I hold my hand out to them in the darkness, and try to touch their scabby, blood-streaked fur.

*

Every Sunday, we spend an hour in the morning fighting with our old Ford, and then bundle ourselves and our bags of old clothes onto the dust-smeared seats and drive into town.

We work on a tight schedule, Trevor ticking through our pre-prepared list.  Collect the fresh laundry, drop off the old.  Go to the supermarket, the hardware store, the petrol station.  Go to the Doctor.

The locals know us, maybe, as outsiders and eccentrics.  They stare at us in the aisles of the supermarket.  The women’s eyes flick to my belly and then up to my face, disbelieving at the sight of the hippo woman, spat out of the mouth of the centipede, and waddling past the fresh produce in her dirt-smeared dress, on her swollen-feet steps.

The Doctor Trevor takes me to see on those days has told me several times, sensitively at first, and then gradually with more gall, that he disapproves of the idea of a heavily pregnant woman living in the middle of nothing.

“It’s Bohemian,” I told him in the beginning, when I was still trying to teach myself to like the stale air of our caravan, the long days of sun searing down through the thin shield of the red awning.  The mind-numbing boredom, the heart-breaking sight of Trevor with his hand frozen on his pen, the chaos box he once called his treasure trove untouched beside him.

“It’s irresponsible,” the Doctor’s frown answered.

And I smiled; mocking, cheeky.

The truth is I like my Doctor, this man who pokes and prods me every week, who studies the things I cannot see.  I agree with him, too—but I think I’ve come to enjoy spiting him.  It’s the most entertainment I get all week.

“You need to take prenatal vitamins,” he says.

“Women never did that in the old days,” I reply.

“Lots of women died back then, too.”

“Well maybe that’s a good thing,” I say.  “Aren’t there enough people in the world?”

And I can see him fighting to control himself.  Can see the lecture forming at the back of his mouth; a thick torrent of fury sharpened to slice through my ignorance and bull-headed romanticism.

I myself am not a romantic; I don’t really believe the things I say.  But the truth is I can’t bring myself to argue with Trevor about what he’s done with our lives.  So what other defense do I have, but to pretend that this is what I want?

“This can’t go on forever,” the Doctor says.

And I answer, “I only dread one day at a time.”

He doesn’t know it, but I’m quoting Schulz.

*

The visits to the Doctor make me giddy, and when they’re over Trevor and I go to the cafe on the main street to treat ourselves.  He has budgeted this carefully.  He assures me that the advance given to him by his editor, which we are already stretching further than the six months it was designed for, can handle the expense of a hamburger, a plate of pancakes, split between the two of us.

The cafe is small, almost as small as our caravan, but the windows are big and clean, washing wonderful swoops of smooth sunlight in on us.  I gulp it down like air as I kick my shoes off under the table.  I rock back on my chair.  I play with my cutlery.  I am dizzy on the ecstasy of stimulation, and I don’t care about the stammering waitress, the gawking locals.

“What did the Doctor say?” Trevor always asks.

And I give him a more mature rundown of the Doctor’s update, trimming off the careful advice and sober warnings as easily as I trim my pancakes with syrup.  I don’t tell Trevor about those tiny wars, about my childish offenses.

“So everything’s okay, then?” he smiles, the light glinting off his glasses and hiding the nervous twitch he’s developed in the corner of his left eye.

I reach for his hand, and he lifts it to kiss the tips of my fingers.  What we’ve lost in romance we make up for in pretense.

*

There was a time, of course, when all this really did seem romantic.

“Behind every great man stands a woman,” said this man I loved, this older man, with his bookshelves crammed with tomes and his mouth full of quotes.

I was really proud to be that woman.  Proud to sit on his lap in the evenings, laughing, dizzy on wine.  My body light and firm and filled only with me, my own healthy stream of insides, heart to spleen.  My uterus still pure and un-invaded.

I don’t know what unravelled him.  It might have been the news of my pregnancy, inciting the dull-thud realisation that he was going to end up raising a child exactly the same way he had been raised: stiff as starched cotton, bland as chalk dust.

“I want to do something different,” he said.  “How about we go a little wild?”

Maybe it was the clash of that word ‘wild’ cutting so crisply out of his slip-methodical lips, rimmed by his perfectly trimmed beard, but it sounded like a great idea.

“Fantastic!” I said, already reveling in our irresponsibility.

What, exactly, did I think I was going to do with myself on these long months, with my body morphing around me, smothering me, and my lover losing himself out there under the suffocating roll of that sick-red tarp?  Read?  Write?  Muse?

I don’t really remember anymore.  I guess I thought there would be more talking, at least.

‘Philosophy begins in music; philosophy begins in highest wonder.’  Plato.

Sometimes I peer through the smudgy thick Perspex window to look out at Trevor, his jaw slack, eyes empty; the tip of his pen scraping a tiny circle of tense nonsense on the blank sheet of paper before him, and I think, ‘Where is your wonder?’

I thought the book would be finished, by now.

*

The dogs come at me with quivering lips, trails of saliva slinging out their mouths in tense silver threads as they snap and twist and nip at each other.

I’ve just finished scraping out the cans of tuna fish we opened for dinner, and my fingers are wet with a thick, oily spread of brine and tiny flecks of pink flesh.

It’s hard for me to crouch these days, so I submit to the ache of my back and seat myself out the door of the caravan.  I’m so big now that it’s more like wedging than it is sitting.  Even my bones seem to have swelled, locking me hard within the narrow doorframe.

I purse my lips to let out a low whistle, and the dogs tangle against each other at the sound, stopping short of the invisible line they’ve drawn between the worn circle of our habitation, and the sweep of wild grass that is theirs.

I hold my hand out to them, my fingers shining wet with grease.  They catch the smell and their eyes roll ecstatically, but still they reel away when I move.

The earless one takes a step closer, his eyes locked to my face.  I know not to look at him directly, so I try to focus on the hand I hold out to him.

That hand of mine, shimmering pale in pure light.

He moves so fast I almost miss it, save myself just in time from jerking back—and in a blissful moment I might have dreamed, I feel the slide of his dry red tongue on the ends of my fingers, the tip of a canine scraping my thumb.

He is wholly shocked at his own behavior, prancing away a few leaps to rejoin his fellows, his hackles slightly raised but his eyes wide and incredulous, snatching disbelieving glances back at me.  He has crossed a line, and he knows it.  I imagine he is measuring the consequences of this act.  Wondering if he has betrayed something he shouldn’t have.

I’m holding my smile back, trying to seem calm—but I want to laugh, I want to dance.  I feel alive with joy at his sacrifice.

I twist my body awkwardly to dig into my pocket, and pull out the fresh tin of tuna.  I peel the top off and scoop the pieces out with my fingers, dropping them onto the earth at my feet.

They come one at a time to eat, obedient as orphans lining up for their bread.

“Thank you,” I say to them.

High on my endorphins, the baby gives me a kick.

*

Our life has become, in some small way, a war of modern sensibilities crushing against nature.

For instance, we are helpless without batteries, and it’s criminal how quickly they run flat.  In our world of electronics it amazes me how anyone—us—would choose to unplug themselves, submitting to the world of damp matches, leaking water tanks, gas canisters, candle wax.

For the first few days after a trip into town, when we’re feeling wealthy with our cache of new supplies, Trevor and I listen to the radio in the evenings—smacked dumb by the sudden hiss and buzz of a thousand outside voices, musical beats, advertising jingles.  By day four, the batteries are dead, and our meals together revert back to sombre rites of cohabitation.  Revering our food, avoiding words.

It used to cheer me up, having the radio, but the truth is that over time it has begun to feel like an invasion—all these people we don’t know, screaming in our kitchen.  Trevor and I, stuck in our silence, almost embarrassed by the sudden chaos of sound.

“Let me turn it down a little,” Trevor says, and by the end of our meal the radio is reduced to a low, hissing whisper.

We relax a little then; we begin again to talk in the low, conspiratorial tones of captives trying to discuss the possibility of escape, but too terrified to say anything directly.

For instance, I don’t ask him about the book.  Mentioning it would be almost obscene in its cruelty.  I can feel his tension over it, feel how fragile he is.  He is beginning to stink of failure—a dense, desperate smell, tinny and acrid, peeling off his skin.  His left eye always twitches.

And he doesn’t ask me about the baby.  He can feel my awkwardness—he sees the sweat stains under my armpits, under my breasts, hears me sighing, huffing, struggling to move.  If I were to curl my hands to fists and begin to beat my belly, I don’t know if it would even occur to him to restrain me.

We love each other enough to accept the misery of the other.  We love each other enough not to interfere with it too much.

“It’s going to fly by,” Trevor had said to me, so enthusiastically, on the day we hitched up the caravan and tanked up the car, and set out on our bohemian ‘holiday’.

I kept my hand gripped tight to his knee as he drove.  The wash of excitement was like fire in my solar plexus, burning somewhere above the place where the beginnings of our child nestled, a tiny clutch of arteries, a harmless pin-prick of a beating heart.

But time has slowed to an aching stop; only the baby seems to remember it.  Every day, it grows a little bigger.  It demands the deadline it was promised.   It communicates this to me every time I open the tiny wardrobe that holds our clothes, and stop to stare in torment at the row of cheap wire coat hangers, ringing together on the rack.

*

‘The larger portion of the truth arises from the seemingly irrelevant.’  Poe.

Is it irrelevant that my baby kicks me every time I walk toward the woods?

I wish there were some way I could explain to it how desperately I need to escape the light of the caravan—that vicious fire-pink, tearing tiny blood-spots behind my eyes, making me shiver, making me retch.

Trevor sees me fumbling, stumbling on my feet, my eyes squeezed shut against the blinding pulse of the migraine—itself still just a baby, threatening to swell.

“Go lie down,” he says, catching my arm as I pass.

But it’s worse in the room, sweating nausea into the bed sheets sick with our smells—his sour as vinegar, sweet as pine-nuts.  And mine, changing now, milky as cream and slightly rancid; getting worse.

Lying down on that bed makes me feel as though my body is ballooning—puffing up, getting ready to explode.  My cheeks thick slabs of rubber heavy on the slim bone of my jaw, my hands so swollen I can barely curl my fingers.  The baby crushes against my insides, shoves down on my kidneys; a twisted knot of strange, new flesh fighting my dimensions for more space.

I keep imagining that out there in the woods, there is a perfect hollow, lined with moss, cool and dark and secret and just for me; a groove in the earth or against a rock that will so perfectly fit my proportions.  Swallow me into it, cradle me, hold me in a gentle brace of sweet-smelling earth, of natural musk and wildness.

Desperate to find it, I walk away from Trevor.  I know he would stop me, know also that he would forget me; losing himself again in the chaos of a thousand mismatched quotes.

The baby twists inside of me, thudding down on my bladder.  A secret slide of urine bleeds into my underwear, and then chills against the inside of my thighs.  This is how children begin to torture their mothers—it begins as early as this.

I imagine it inside of me, beginning to cry.  Tiny, blind eyes closed tight, exactly as mine are when I try to rest under the dread of that red light.  The mouth is open, ejecting a gurgle-scream that vibrates against my diaphragm.  I can feel the tiny fists and feet thudding against the prison walls that are my flesh.

I make it to the first line of trees; just far enough for their shadows to pattern down over me, and to softly touch my face.  It’s a moment of ecstasy.  I can taste the cool on my tongue; the stillness soothes whispers through the blinding pain that cracks against my temples.  I make it this far, for one instant of peace, before the baby’s kicks turn desperate, the urge to urinate overwhelms, and I’m forced to go back.

‘There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.’  That was Nietzsche again, I think.

But it isn’t my body that’s keeping me from what I want.  It’s the body of this swelling thing, voiceless and faceless, setting its demands and beating me from the inside as it screams.

“Can I get you anything?” Trevor asks as I walk back toward him.

I smile at him; I shake my head.

*

Evening.  Trevor moves his table and chair back inside, folded, packed against the wall.  He lies down on our bed with a copy of Colin Wilson’s ‘The Outsider’, a book he once decorously told me is required reading for all contemporary philosophers.  He’s been reading it, I think, for at least five years, now.  Over and over again, in an endless stream of repeated analyses.

I go to feed the dogs, one hand gripping the rubber doorframe as I edge down the steps and into the wild, an open tin of bully beef in my hand.

A line of eyes watch me from the wall of trees.  I cross the border and stand in the grass, the tall, dry blades tickling up underneath my dress, brushing lazily against my thighs.

It amazes me, how silent my friends are, moving swiftly through the grass toward me.  They stop short, drawing a new imaginary line, not accustomed to me leaving the halo of light that glows from the caravan windows.

They’re not used to me towering over them, either.  I can’t see them too clearly in the dark, through the tall grass, but I can make out the round edges of their shoulders; stances set, hackles slightly raised.

As slowly as I can with the awkward bulk of my body, I sink down into the grass.

They come at me slowly, sniffing at my vast edges, leaning back on their haunches.  I dig a ball of flesh out of the can with my fingers, but when I offer it to them, they duck away.

The female, her one blind eye glazed white and oozing pus, her muzzle a dull-shining zigzag of scars, stops short in front of me.  We are level now, with me so low on the ground.  She watches me with her one good eye, that eye that glows steady moon-yellow in the dark.  She smells like wet earth and blood stains.  She smells of sacrifice.

Was she born wild, I wonder?  Did she have a home, once, with walls and carpets and evening walks?  Was she abandoned one day, her masters moving on without her?  Or did she choose to leave; some ancient wildness singing back to her as she stood on the doorstep and stared out to the woods beyond, enticing her away from her life of soft blankets and regular meals?

She leans toward me, her body quivering; tense.  She jerks her head forward and snaps her jaws over my fingers, tearing the rubbery flesh of the food away from me with a vicious clip of teeth on bone.

It hurts, but I don’t react.  I cradle my hand in my lap for a moment, waiting for the pain to fade.  It slows to a sting, high and hissing.  Blood seeps into the fabric of my dress.  Flower splashes, slowly blooming.

Impatient, the earless one edges forward, taking hold of my sleeve with his teeth.  He tugs at it, testing.  The fabric gives a slow, gentle rip.  I dig out another mound of meat and throw it into the grass beside him.  He turns quickly, leaping on it, swallowing without chewing and then looking back at me.

I feed them like this, one by one.  When they go for my hands, their teeth tear through the soft skin of my fingers.  Their fangs puncture holes in my palms.

When the tin is empty, I throw the hull out into the grass and they jostle over each other, running after it.  They’re going to cut their noses, licking it clean, but I guess they don’t mind that any more than I mind the blood that pools in my hands, that runs off my fingertips.

‘Life itself is an exile.  The way home is not the way back.’  Colin Wilson.

Behind me, the caravan windows glow yellow with the dull, sick light of the gas lamp.

*

The light is unbearable in the morning.  It always was, but now it burns—an acid bath washing over me where I lie on the damp sheets, slowly twisting, a skinned whale beached on white.

Trevor is already up, which is unusual.  I can hear the water beginning to boil and I struggle up onto my elbows to look at him.

“Let yourself sleep,” he says, looking over at me.  “You don’t rest enough.  I’ve told you that.”

“What’s the time?” I mumble.  And he shrugs.

He brings a tray to me.  Black tea, very sweet.  A plate of biscuits.  An apple, sliced, the outer edge rubbery and dry with age.  The only thing missing is the flowers.  Maybe the apology.

“Don’t get up,” he says.  “Please.”

There’s a moment, when he goes outside to roll out the awning and casts the light in the caravan red, when I think I’ve finally begun to hate him.

*

Hours later, I’m dizzy when I stand, my body shrieking at me to lie back down again.  I can feel it in the strange fuzz of pins and needles that work up and down my legs, move through my hands, spread stuck between my joints.

I ignore it; stumbling the few steps through the caravan to the open door.  I don’t turn to look at Trevor, seated as always at his desk, pen to paper, lost in his own exhausted chaos.

The wounds on my hands are swollen, angry red.  I twist them together, testing the pain.

“Where are you going?” Trevor asks.

“I need to walk,” I say, but I’m barely walking, almost stumbling, forcing the swollen, spinning, aching bulk that is me further out into the open stretch of grass where just last night, a pack of half-wolves fed from my hands.

I can smell the wild washing in on the wind; a net of calm clasping over me from the cool sanctuary of the forest, where there is a hollow, there is a hole, designed so perfectly to fit the contours of my body.  Where I need so badly to lie down.

The baby twists suddenly, a giant butterfly flipping against my insides.

I grip my battered, swollen hands over my belly.  The baby is kicking my bladder, punching my diaphragm.  Fighting me.

“Come with me,” I whisper to it.  It doesn’t have a choice, really—what I’m doing I think is asking for permission.  “Please come with me.”

The sky spins blue above, the grass burns yellow below.  Only ahead of me, I catch a glimpse of cool, eternal green.

And that’s when I fall.

*

“The car won’t start,” Trevor says.  He’s bent over me, holding one of his papers over my head to block out the sun.  I can just make out the words, ‘Existence is…’ in the first line.  I would like to finish reading that sentence, but I can’t focus on it with Trevor fanning the page like that.

“You’re in labour and the fucking car won’t start.”

I’m managing to sit up, now; heaving my bulk back up onto my elbows.  The earth between my legs is wet.  My dress is stained a soft, watery pink.

“You haven’t finished your book,” I squint up at him.  “We can’t go until you’ve finished your book.  You know that.”

He stares at me, unbelieving.  He looks as though he’s about to cry.

“The baby’s fine,” I say, to reassure him.  “It’ll be hours still before it comes.”

He watches me for a moment.  He nods.  “Come on,” and he digs his hands under the wet of my armpits and struggles to hoist me up onto my feet.

We make it back to the caravan; Trevor eases me up the steps and through the segments that lead to our bed.  It lies in a coil of red-tainted sheets, waiting to absorb me and all my blood.

“I’ll walk to town,” Trevor says.  “I’ll walk to town and come back with a car.  And then you’re getting out of here.”

He does not say the word ‘we’.

I see myself alone in a hospital, and I see him out here in the evenings alone in the glow of the caravan, reading and pretending to write, oblivious to the row of hungry, glowing eyes slowing advancing from the line of trees beyond.

He turns to go, and I catch his hand.

“Please,” I say.  “Roll back that goddamned awning before you go.”

*

I count the minutes after he’s gone.  Tapping them out with my finger on my belly.  One, two, three…

The pain helps me to keep track—counting spaces between the surges of agony that make me grit my teeth, make the sweat burst out of my pores and my eyes blur blind.  But by the time I’ve force myself to stand, I’ve lost count.  My swollen feet throb under my weight, and I cling to the walls as I stumble back down the length of the caravan.  Centipede segments, one two three.

It spits me out and the blaze of sunlight tears new, fibrous lines of pain across my skull.

Headache.

Labour.

I focus my eyes and see the veil of grass ahead of me in a shield of gold.  The last barrier between me and the perfect peace of green.

‘Death is a challenge.  It tells us not to waste time.’  Buscaglia.

I will take this challenge.  I will waste no time.

*

The hollow is easy to find.  I knew it would be, just as I knew that it was always there.  Even though I stumble, stop, buckle, stand up, stumble again—every step I take leads me directly to it.  The sweet-smelling groove lies lined with soft, damp moss, traced perfectly against the walls of a rock and shadowed by the wide, full-spread branches of the trees.

Slowly, I take off my clothes; my final sweat-stained strip-tease, remembering all the times before when I stood naked—ready to wash, to rest, to make love, to fuck.  To make a baby.

It’s stuck inside of me, and with another spasm of pain a wash of blood runs out of me and soaks into the cool earth.  Slowly, I lower myself into the hollow and lie back, my feet resting apart on the rocks.

Between my legs, the earth turns red. Rivulets of it lick down in a spider-web criss-cross over the rocks, streaking down and soaking into the velvet patches of moss.  When I push myself up to look down at my body, I see the ghost-pale shimmer of my open thighs glowing stark against the spatters of black mud, of bright red blood.

And through the view framed between my raised knees, I see the forest blackness beyond me slowly filling with eyes.  With those eyes come shadows.  Moving, ducking, stepping to and away from me, but always closing in.

They smell the blood—I knew they would.

I collapse back, gasping on knots of pain.  My eyes roll up, higher, to where the sky paints soft, sunset light behind the pattern of leaves.  The glowing red of the sinking sun.

Silent steps circle around me; hot breath blasts on my bare skin and cool, soft tongues begin to lap at my feet, my knees, my thighs.  Noses nudge in against each other to reach between my legs.

‘Philosophy doesn’t mean anything once you’re free to make your own.’

‘To be happy, all you need is the right kind of red, in the perfect stretch of green.’

That’s me; I’m the one who said that.

I whistle, low and breathless.  The dogs jostle against each other at the sound; eager, impatient.

“Come to me,” I say.

 
 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

 

Karen RungeKaren Runge was born in France, raised in South Africa, and now lives in China.  Really.  Since she entered this violent adult world, she’s worked as a barmaid, secretary, project manager, TV actress, English teacher, editor, and interpreter — but she has always, always been a writer. You can find her at www.karenrunge.wordpress.com

 
 
 

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