I will live and die for the ocean, but goddamn if there isn’t something about a mountain stream. It’s not so much that the mountains make me feel small but that the world seems bigger with them in it. I want to gather them up in my arms and hold them close. You say, it’s nice, but I couldn’t live here.
I was the runt of the litter behind two boys. Once, my brother threw a picture Bible at my face, broke my nose on a pastel-colored Jesus Christ. I was unaware of how the cover would reshape my face, how the contents of the book would reshape my contents. Both would take some sorting out.
You bring two peaches on our hike, one tucked inside each pocket. You bought them from the side of a Winnebago on the way here. I thought you were buying a bouquet. It would have been senseless, extravagant. Something like you would have done before. But a carton of peaches can be a kind of flower.
I’d always been malleable, easily shaped. On the first day of third grade, the teacher called my name and asked – her question more like a statement – “you like to be called Liz?” My parents called me Bessie, but I didn’t want to disagree. As far as the teacher and my classmates were concerned, my name was Liz, and that’s what they called me from September to June.
You don’t call me Bessie either. You call me duck, you call me wife.
We are quiet as we climb, alone with our own thoughts. I take in the sights, the greenness of it all. I remember wanting to be like the moss, nestled and coiled in your folds, touching everything and holding it together like a second skin.
I remember a day I spent before you, seated at a square table next to a window. Sun slanted through the glass, cascading across a woman’s face, beautiful as light striking a placid pond. It illuminated the golden strands in her hair like ribbons of honey or rivers of sap. She smiled and her teeth shone white, a single dimple making its appearance. I felt my stomach flip. She talked about how good the salad was, the irony of fried chicken on a bed of spinach. I thought, I want to kiss you.
This is tiring, you say.
It is a mountain, I reply.
Once there was a series of firsts that were also lasts. The first time I drank vodka from the bottle (the last), our first failed threesome (the last), the first time I threw up on the bed like a dog (the last) and cried that I would never be enough for you (one of many). I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wonder what would have happened if you weren’t there.
We reach the summit and I try to look where you are looking. I can’t know for sure, can’t see behind your eyes. You don’t do this. You follow your own gaze, hand me a peach and bite into yours, bite and keep on biting.
Eventually your teeth will find the pit.
Elizabeth Muller is a writer living in New Jersey with her husband and three children. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Catapult, X-R-A-Y Lit, MUTHA Magazine, and others. There is a burger named the “wolfjaw” on a menu somewhere in the Adirondacks. She thinks they didn’t quite know what to call it. Sometimes she feels the same.
image: Alan Tenhoeve