by Carol H. March
It started last summer, creeping in through open windows and invisible cracks in the baseboards. One day everything was fine; the next a logjam of words smothered in the interest of peace had formed an impenetrable dam in my throat. When I tried to clear it, I saw the cloudiness in the space between us. Clear edges had blurred.
As the days passed, the fog grew bolder, forming into tendrils like the long-fingered hands of invisible ghosts. We made no objection--the kind of mistake that can be made only once--and then the fog came in earnest, seizing our house in the Sonoran desert with as much vigor as if we lived in a seaside village.
We are down to basics. Do we disappear into the gray mist, or do we speak? Small talk makes the fog thicker. Only real words will do--from the heart, the womb. Can I speak from these places? Can you hear me? I fumble for a way to start and, as you look at me blankly, I imagine you wondering what has upset me this time.
"We're falling apart," I say, but your raised eyebrow reminds me that drama annoys you. You have said this so many times I hesitate to raise my voice for any reason.
"I love you," I say, softly.
“Me too,” you say, but the little girl tone of your voice betrays you.
You are sitting on the blue sofa, and suddenly I see you there as you were the first time I came to your house. You were dressed in turquoise and purple, your face pink with excitement as you talked non stop, anxious to tell me everything important about yourself in one evening. I am encouraged by memory and smile at you.
"I need you to listen," I say.
You lower your eyes and search in the cushions for the remote.
I go to my bedroom, close the door and make furtive sounds into a pillow. The fog laughs, a high thin sound, and settles around me. When I look up, I cannot see the door.
As summer passes, the merciful fog hides unmade beds, dirty dishes, distress calls written in lipstick on the hall mirror. You come and go in a flurry of motion, often late because you cannot see the clock on the wall. You are gone for days on business, and when you return you smile and touch my arm. I suggest that I sleep in your bed. You hug me, pressing your breasts against mine, but that night you read for a long time and when you do turn out the light, your body curls away from me into a tight ball.
As the heat of summer subsides, I spend more time in the city where I help families who have love but nothing else, find food and shelter during a recession. There are more people to be helped than any of us can handle, and everyone at the office is grateful when I agree to work extra hours.
You leave the day before Thanksgiving to visit your mother who is old and cranky that you have not given her grandchildren. She blames me for your lifestyle--no matter that you surrendered to your natural inclinations long before we met--so I am not welcome. Friends invite me for dinner and I go rather than be branded a hermit, and to get out of the fog. The house is full of women. None are related by blood.
While we sit in the living room before dinner, a pale woman I don’t know produces a deck of Tarot cards and asks if anyone wants a reading. With no knowledge that I am about to speak, I volunteer, and everyone crowds around the coffee table to see my secrets revealed.
The pale woman shuffles the deck without looking at me. I sit on the floor opposite her and think of you.
“Just three cards. Past, present, future.” She spreads the deck of cards on the table and nods at me.
I choose my cards quickly and place them face up in a neat row.
“All trumps,” she announces. “A serious question.”
I protest that I haven’t asked a question, but the women in the room who know me smile at each other as if they know better. The pale woman runs her fingertips over my cards. She takes both my hands in hers and squeezes them, still looking at the floor.
“The first card is The Lovers and represents the past. A lover affair, a friendship, a passion of some kind.”
The room is silent. I concentrate on breathing.
“Second is the Tower. The present.”
A groan from the room. I do not like this card. It looks alarming, but a place deep in my chest knows how it feels to fall in space. I look away.
“The tower does not mean physical destruction. Not necessarily. It refers to beliefs, perhaps convictions that are discovered to be untrue.” She looks at me for the first time. “It is change. The tumbling tower makes room for the new. Whether change is painful or not is up to you. But here, see, the third card, the future card, is The Fool walking a new path. A new beginning. Not so bad, huh?”
“No, not bad,” I say. “So I’m the Fool.”
The pale woman shrugs.
“I don’t believe in karma,” says a young blond woman wearing an expensive jacket. “It’s way too easy.”
Some of the women groan again. I notice that we have grouped ourselves according to age, and the groaning women are the older ones.
“Turkey’s done,” our hostess announces. “We can find out about everyone else’s future after dinner.”
At the table we talk about how we are all refugees from our families of birth and never get back to the subject of karma.
The next day I walk in the desert to escape the fog. The rocks and sand form a tapestry of meaning that mocks me because I cannot find the key. Searching for artifacts, I find a jagged white rock you might like and drop it in my pocket. The Saguaros salute me gently. The whisper of their greeting ruffles my hair. I read somewhere that this forest of giant plants is a huge extended family, all connected underground. Now I wonder, is it possible they share one soul? I stand before a huge old grandmother plant, with six fat limbs reaching for the sun. Not far below my feet, her roots spiral round and round, nestled against the coiled roots of her nearest neighbors.
"Does it hurt when one of you is lost?" I ask. They have not answered questions before, so I am surprised when a faint muttering of concern rises from them, as if in unison they breathed in and out the memory of their dead. I stay with them, watching my shadow change shape, while a woodpecker bores busily into the trunk of the grandmother, making a home for its family.
When you return on Sunday, the fog is so thick I don’t see you until you stand in the doorway of my room.
“How is your mother?” I ask. “Did you have a good time?”
You shrug. Your eyes are hooded. “All right. So much commotion. Did you go to Jean’s?”
“It was nice. Everyone was there. They missed you.”
“What did you take?”
“Bread pudding. They liked it. “
“They should, it’s delicious.”
Your skin is so white the word alabaster floats through my mind. “I saved some for you.”
You nod and disappear. When I wander into the living room to see if you want dinner, you’re sitting in your favorite chair engrossed in the television. As you watch, the fog dips down, obscures the screen, lifts, then dips again. Your golden eyes do not waver.
I sit on the floor and wait for a commercial. “Tell me about your weekend,” I say. You glance down, but the screen is magnetic--it draws your eyes back against your will.
“Mother complained. My brother thinks he’s going to get fired. Everyone talked so fast it was like they were running out of time. And I have another trip next week. Sometimes I just want to relax, you know?”
I try another tack. “I saw an eagle in the desert yesterday. It could have been the same one we saw last spring when we hiked on the rim of that canyon. Do you remember?”
The alabaster cracks, softens. “The bald eagle. Yes. It was beautiful.”
“I thought we could hike next weekend. Maybe to that canyon again.”
“Next weekend. Sure. If I’m home.”
“Why wouldn’t you be home?”
“I have a meeting in Boston. I might have to stay til Monday. Won’t know until I get there. It’s a big account. You know.”
“Well, if you’re home . . .”
I go into the kitchen to heat leftovers for dinner, and when I return, you’re gone. The bedroom door is closed, but I can faintly hear the thrumming of the portable television that sits on your bureau.
I go into my bathroom, run hot water into the tub, dump in half a bottle of bath oil, and lower myself gingerly into the steaming mist. The fog is at bay, hovering on the other side of the door as I ponder my choices. For the first time, I wish it would speak. I lean back against the white tile wall and watch the steam rise. Already my toes are pink and shriveled. There are only two choices left. I can stay with you and insist that we break down the dams we are hiding behind, or I can leave.
A sob builds in my chest. I was so certain we were karmic lovers destined to be together. How could it not be enough to find you again? How could being the two sides of one flame not be sufficient? So much joy bubbled up at our reunion we didn’t take into account what kind of people we are--I cannot bear the silence you need, and you cannot bear to hear what I need to say. The fog slips under the door and melts into a puddle of water on the floor.
You stay in Boston until the following Monday and when you return, I am calm. I have decided to save myself. I will leave. And, I will honor your desire to avoid all drama and go during your next trip in mid-December. As if it agrees with my solution, the fog recedes to the ceiling.
I find my voice and speak of unimportant things. You respond by talking about our mutual friends, whether to buy new tires now or wait. You come up behind me and hug my waist, and I feel the relief in you, as if the space created by my decision to leave has allowed you room to breathe. I stroke your hands. Your scent causes my lower body to melt but I order it to be strong. You smile the way you did when we were new to each other, and I feel the quickening in my chest that used to mean I was opening to you and now means I must leave the room. You are puzzled—when have I ever refused your embrace? You come to the bathroom door to ask if I am all right. When I don’t answer right away, you press your forehead against my arm.
"I do love you," you whisper.
“I know,” I say and smile to reassure you. In my heart, all I know is that you—my most ancient lover, lost in some dim past, tracked through endless ages, and miraculously found again stands here smiling nervously, hoping that whatever is wrong with me is not your fault.
Come back, I whisper into your mind. Come back and we will make it right again. It is like shouting into a tunnel--the words bounce back and claw at my throat.
"Nothing's wrong," I say. "Work isn't going so well.” You nod, relieved, and turn away.
I want to cry, but nothing comes out and already you are rattling dishes in the kitchen. The fog descends again as we sit down to eat, and for the rest of the evening, I hate us both equally.
Your flight is early the next morning. At dawn you come to my room, sit on the edge of the bed, and stroke my rumpled hair. I hug you fiercely. Now that the danger is over, you bury your face in my neck, kiss my mouth. Your lips are dry, your scent like flowers that bloom in rain. The fog has receded enough that I can see you clearly. I search for a sign, regret, for anything to make me stop what I am doing.
You kiss me again, quickly. Your heels click on the wooden floor. The front door slams. I stay in bed watching the fog evaporate. I get up to check but there is no trace of it in the house or on the patio or lurking in the garage. I open all the windows so the dry desert air will greet you when you come home. Perhaps you will think I took the fog with me.
My clothes are ready and I pack quickly. Two suitcases and an old trunk for books and odds and ends. I was so sure we would never part again, I sold my furniture when I moved into your house. I take things you have given me--a golden crystal on a heavy chain, some books, a malachite box. Already bundled are the pictures of us together, notes you wrote me before we lived together, three birthday cards.
Last, I go into your room to find my favorite picture, a candid shot of you in a huge brimmed hat, smiling seductively at the camera. I stuff it into my tote bag, hoping you will forgive the theft. When the car is packed, I come back one last time. The air is so clean it hurts my skin.
Without warning I find myself on the kitchen floor, shaking and sobbing. How could I be leaving you? As my body quiets, I climb to my feet holding onto the sink for support. Pulling my house key from the ring, I leave it on the kitchen counter where you will see it, then look around once more, committing everything to memory.
In the car, I realize I don't know where I am going. I pull out of the driveway and turn left. The street ends at the edge of the desert, but I keep going, easing my Honda hatchback onto the rough dirt road. I realize I am heading for the canyon where we saw the eagle last year. It’s a good, steep climb down to the sandy bottom.
Your face flashes in front of my eyes. My heart pounds sideways. But now, behind you, circling your body with her light, I see the golden woman you have always been. She smiles tenderly as if she has heard everything we have not said. Glowing with light, she fills the sky until her tawny hair merges with the clouds. At her feet you are awkward, human, tiny, scared, dressed in jeans and a white sweatshirt that is way too big the way you always wear them to conceal your goddess breasts. I stare at you both, wondering for the first time if either of you are real.
At the trailhead for the canyon I park the car. The morning waits to be filled. I lock the door and stuff the keys in the back pocket of my jeans. I feel light and strong as I walk up a short hill to the top of the trail. Sand crunches under my boots. At the top a luminous desert stretches before me. The Saguaros nod and smile at each other, their whispers so loud this morning I hear them clearly confessing their love for each other. So far below it looks like a child's sandbox is the canyon floor. White and soft, it waits for me.
I take a deep breath and begin the walk down.
Carol H. March lives and writes in Albuquerque, New Mexico where she discovered that the desert lays bare the mysteries hidden at the bottom of the sea. She is currently working on a fantasy novel. This is her first fiction publication.
What is the attraction of the Fantasy genre?
I am attracted to the fantasy genre because fantasy addresses the deep processes that underscore our lives even though they may be invisible to the eye.
Story has always served the function of pointing to the mysterious, and fantasy shows us how the mysterious and the mundane interact to give shape to everyday life. Also, I perceive that everything is alive and contributing to how we experience life on earth, and I enjoy the challenge of trying to communicate those patterns.