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"The Spot," short story excerpt

Tuesday 4/19/22

Do you ever think there’s a spot in nature that wakes up on a morning and says, “I think I’ll take a human today?” Some ground at the edge of a cliff, the location of a beautiful view that is regarded as peerless in the moment of its beholding, where hikers routinely stand, hands on hips, heart and respiration rates slowed as they give thanks for their family or their job or their health—the whole package—or else reminding themselves to keep going, that a better future will come. The ground cannot be too consistent, as in perpetually unchanging, because that is not how nature is. It knows that at some point it will have to give way, unclench itself and its firm hold on everything that surrounds it, and fall into the chasm below. Perhaps that is how nature starts over, in its new place, and is remade, forever begins again. The change—the departure—has to happen, and that is why we are nature as well.


A teenage girl having a rough year of high school comes to the forest early on a weekend morning—especially for a teenager—just to get away from it all. Clear her head. She feels safer and more secure in nature these days anyway. Friends she’d had for so long are not friends anymore. She wonders what’s wrong with her. She hasn’t changed. Or at least not in bad ways, but now in the place of those things of which she’d been certain of a previous solidity, she has doubt and confusion. Why is it so easy for them to be hurtful unless she’s doing something wrong? The kinder she is, the less they are inclined to be so, but who is she being kind for these days? Does kindness exist when there is motive, even if that motive is “please leave me in peace?” which is how she feels about this spot and what it does for her. It leaves her in peace.


She stands at the edge of the forest, at the start of her hike, in this favorite spot, the coffee in her thermos still warm, her breathing slowing. She drinks coffee now. Didn’t used to. She thought she’d feel older, more capable, a potential dispenser of wisdom and self-supplier of knowledge, but then she simply liked the taste and liked the mood of these mornings and needed them.


What does the ground feel? All of the life upon it. The grass, the plants, the weeds, the insects, the microorganisms. They are like the muscles, the skin, the pores, the tendons of an arm or a leg. The flame is pressed to the limb, and all of the parts of it feel the heat and the pain. Separate components with certain experiences that happen in tandem. There is a human component in the dirt, and also that which is not human. There may be nothing more like us than the soil below us if properly understood.


She’s careful. She’s not one of those people who takes dangerous photos of herself and then tumbles backwards into a gorge with parts of her neck and spine being found twenty yards away by the rescue team that everyone knows is usually the recovery squad. She reads about those individuals. Wonders if they had that feeling she sometimes does when she has been hurt by someone and is walking away, moving briskly but not wishing to appear that she’s going faster than usual, and then trips, getting angry at the floor, like it’s done something to her, created a bump invisible to human eyes just so someone else could have another chance to laugh at her expense, or the janitor didn’t polish it as well as he polished the other parts of it, and she wants to say, “Do your job, fatty.”


There might be whispers—those whispers—behind her. Why do they remain in place, watching her back as she makes her escape that she officially calls heading to her next class? What could be the appeal? She saw this movie she wasn’t allowed to see a few years ago. A woman was on top of a man as they had sex. You only saw them from behind, and you really only saw her from behind, because he was a limbed stack of linen. She read a review of the movie, which talked about the scene, and it said, “The backs of women are so sexy.” It was a fan review, but she agreed. Why was that? Was it the prospect of possibilities? The canvas that had yet to absorb paint? We are all the same in front of that canvas. Picasso has achieved no more than we have. Not yet. A back has curves without curves. You don’t articulate them as curves in your mind. Shoulder blade curves are not the same as breast curves but they suggest the breast curves are there on the obverse and someone might be about to trust you.