Sarah E Caouette
Observation: She stands at the porch's edge looking into the ravine, with no stones to toss, identifying what is left of simpler times. She is barefoot and lean. Her silhouette is crescent in a cool half-light. The porch is shaky with rot and rebounds on loose screws like a floating bridge. She hears bees in the heather, enjoying the purple blooms.
A man lingers, steps away, in the hollow of open doorway. He is studying the woman's animal shapes morphing against the side of the house, reading the Braille of her curving vertebrate, watching, as she leans in dangerously close for the better view. The distance from the gap is exhilarating and both hearts race. A mistaken slip would mean— Yet, she persists, leaning in to oblivion with her toes curled.
Behind him are rooms, insignificant and exhausted of use and history. The acts that have taken place within and with perpetual dedication and habit do not matter. They can easily be wiped away—man, woman, house—with no account of anyone ever having been up there.
They are squatters. They are scientists. They are scholars. This house isn't theirs. This house belongs to no one. This house isn't a house at all, but a hunting shack where two generations of men once escaped to play cards and track herds, until brutal winters and age kept them from doing either.
There are stories that this mountain moves, that this landscape changes overnight. For one man who stayed in the shack for many months, swears he woke each day with a face and body he did not recognize. One day he would be old, other days young. Some days, he turned into a woman.
He left the mountain crazed and believing he was no longer the same person he was, later committing himself for observation under the pseudonym hibiscus mutabilis—so beautifully aligned to his claims. And not to be confused with hibiscus schizopetalus, the mallow flower of split petals typically found around wetlands.
There's moisture in the air, a subtle wind, cautioning all living things that a downpour is imminent with the saccharine odor of detritus. The woman thinks if she were to go, right now and find a rock bed to put her cheek to, there too she'd feel the sweat of impending rain. Whether growing or decaying an organism is undoubtedly possessed by the involuntary anticipation of being changed. The man and woman say they do not believe in miracles, but in how evolved they can become.
A few hundred yards away, branches crack under the weight of a large animal traversing the Eastern slope, seeking shelter. The woman's knees weaken, her face flushes. She carefully steps down, and turns to the man. Her eyes are attentive and seeking.
"Pin oaks used to make me weep," she says, over the shushing leaves. Silver maples and poplars turn over. Soft stems curl up tightly. When she was young she would put these coiled leaves on the tips of her fingers, pretending to be an earth goddess with foliage for fingernails.
"I've observed this before," the man says.
"You know in town they say women have flung themselves over. They all drank from that spring where the ferns and fiddlehead grow. Suppose there was sorrow in the drinking water?"
"Sorrow is a toxin only to humans."
"But haven't you heard a rabbit or deer cry?"
The man shakes his head. He is a practitioner of experimental design. He must witness an occurrence happening so many times: Test A for atonal, Test B for basis, Test C for centripetal......Test Z for Zeno. He must consider and weigh all possible variations and explanations, before he can consider it to be true.
"Or how about an eel?" she continues. "Some believe if you witness an eel cry, you'll be cursed."
"Il est comme les anguilles de Melun," the man recites, sounding lurid.
"They cried before they were flayed," she challenges. "Just like Saint Bartholomew."
"They are just stories," says the man.
Faith was rarely spoken of until they came up to the shack. Now, she can't stop talking phenomenon or God. "Something is bound to happen. I can feel it," she says, then shivers, touches her shoulders and stretches out her arms in some known and mystic routine.
He recalls the days leading up to their arrival at the shack, particularly one hot day when he had sat at a long light with his car windows up and his A/C cranked. A family of three had crossed the street in front of his car. The intense-looking male was tatted up like a bathroom stall and missing a shirt, though the pink patterns on his arms and chest proved he once wore one. Belted jeans hung from gaunt hips. Bouncing aggressively the male flanked a female who sported a neon bra and smudges of days old makeup. Her posture was strong and her pace unrushed, as she pushed a flimsy stroller across the intersection. Their twisted up child, sitting in her too small canvas seat, looked up from a wild mat of hair. And the man in his sedan didn't even need to have his windows down to identify that the feral girl was growling at him.
Watching the snarling, detestable family cross the road, the man was not even the slightest bit shocked when the woman turned from the sidewalk and made it a point to raise her middle finger at him.
"Feelings are a chemical response," continues the man to the woman. "Your wiring must be crossed from the altitude."
"But what if I'm the instrument?"
"No," he says. "It's not possible."
The wind picks up and howls over the old stovepipe, and the structure creaks at every joist. The woman is a cross. And the man is unmoved.
"We should go inside and put some supper on. Nothing's happening tonight."
The woman doesn't respond. And the man withdraws.
[For a moment, matter exists without meaning]
The rain begins. It pounds on the roof, and comes down in thick patches through the trees. Steam rises out of the bowl-shaped ravine. Thunder rumbles. The mountain shudders and wakes.
The woman is a shimmering fountain. And the man is weary of the fight.
"I'm going inside," he says, though he's sure she doesn't hear him.
On both sides of the shack streams have formed, trickling down the gradient slope into the fog and void.
Inside the shack, the man looks through their rations for something to eat. He glances at the doorway, and catches her familiar shape still standing possessed on the porch.
How would he explain this to the board? There would be no more study, no results to present, and all funding would be lost. It would all fall on him, since she was just a grad student—a child who believed in make-believe and far-fetched stories.
But she smells nice, he thinks, holding up one of his favorite flowered blouses and pressing it to his face, I'm still just a man.
Crack! An angle suddenly collapses into place, propelling the man against the opposite wall.
Dishes fly from shelves and shatter to the floor. Furniture crashes against each other— weak sticks, folding aluminum, cheap plastic.
The man calls out to the woman, as he crawls across the new slant and corner toward the door. Splinters lodge beneath the skin of his soft hands. An old tobacco tin tumbles past his head. A broken radio. Strips of clothing, like a school of ghost fish.
Peering through the inverted doorway, his mind goes blank of her name. It was the same as his grandmother's. It was something traditional and sweet that couldn't be shortened or taunted. It was a name he'd ushered many times, without much effect. Now he wished he could remember what he called her, how she ever worked her way inside him.
The porch railing hangs as a loose limb. A red-tailed hawk rocks fearlessly on its perilous perch, with talons curled and yellow eyes fixated on the abyss—the passage of time and place, the Here and Now.
They say, that this mountain moves— that some become unrecognizable in the night.
Sarah E Caouette
holds an MFA in Creative Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University. Her work has appeared with The Citron Review, The Good Men Project, Cigale Literary
and DEAD FLOWERS: A Poetry Rag
. She freelances and homesteads in Central Vermont, and is a nominee of the 2016 Pushcart Prize