TRIP REPORTS - what have you been down to? > Stories - have a cave related tale to tell??

Holding still


I make my own coffee at home but I usually stop for another one to hear what the loafing farmers are saying. Adds up to a lot of coffee. It's difficult to write about these things in the first person.

When I finally pressed the little button it took a while for anyone to come. I held real still. Gravity, grave, grave, and when the he did come he must have thought I was sleeping because he shut the door soft and just stood there. Later, when I left, I had the strange grace to thank him. Reminded me of how dad thanks the cops even after they give him a ticket. It wasn't out of strength or honesty, I just walked to the van and drove off. At least I didn't shake his hand and tell him lies. Within no brotherhood except the most universal are we kin.

Behold the sideways magnetism of this troubled time! Stronger than the weather or obligations or fear of some badly hidden hunk of thousand-dollar adrenaline ejaculating an arrow through my back. No common sense can account for wedging myself in here now (I'm supposed to be places) but I remember that she looked at me and said, "Sometimes logic doesn't matter." She might say it again too, if she existed, if she knew that the water on my neck was only rain, that I was reasoning to myself that no amount of bawling could do justice to her.

The entrance is a crack seven feet high and one foot wide. On the rocks around the entrance are a few old names and a shape that somebody claimed is an airplane but is probably an aborted something else. Probably a man. If you're skinny you can stay upright for a couple of hundred feet. The stream is a trickle most times. The walls are always damp. Spider webs usually get in your hair. I stood still for a long time before I got down to crawl. The cold walls pushed, pushed, but I don't think they made me colder.

I found this place not very long after we knew that we loved each other. I asked her if she wanted to see somewhere where no one had ever been. Fifteen years ago I thought that that meant something. It doesn't. Sure didn't to her, she would have followed me through a hollow log into hell if I'd asked. But I was wrong. After I'd scraped aside some of the cobble and raccoon shit and we'd both squoze through I saw right away that it said "H. L. Suter 1881" on the wall. A ways from there it said "Wallace". She kissed me anyway, of course, then we turned off our lights. She climbed onto my lap and we just sat there, held still, and it was enough.

I laid in the water in the low place. I raked the raccoon shit aside with a flat rock and dragged me through. The room on the other side is risen above the stream. In dry times it is dusty but today it was damp. I turned over rocks for a while on the stream side and saw the same couple of isopods I always see. The isopods around here are kind of like the guys I see when I get my coffee; they're as familiar as my face but I can't remember their names. This morning one of them was Eddie because they said, "What's on your mind?" "Aw Eddie, I'm figuring on the 'ol sun ball coming up aday. I reckon she'll make 'er."

I had a little notepad and pencil in my pocket and I sketched the isopods carefully. Then I sketched the names in the wall, and then a profile cartoon of two men sharing a lantern and squeezing through the low place. Then I leaned back on the wall and wrote:

Her Walk

A moment cut from that universal triple-orbit
Authentically sensual,
not some gelatinous shimmy-stomp screaming
for eyeballs
A decisive accident of transportative magic
like a traveler forced to cross the desert on a unicorn
Cat, cow, woman, and the stork
paused in the fog in the creekbed for one minute, two minutes,

Then I sat in the dark and tried to be fair but I still couldn't and I wadded up the paper. Because even though we came back and surveyed the cave after we were married, and even though we turned off our lights and, skin to skin, did what we would, I knew that if she were here and I could simply hold her still inside of that black jacket it would be enough.

She was the one who taught me finally to go slowly. On the way out I scooted face-south, opposite usual, and saw near the entrance a small carving I'd never noticed before. It was a couple of inches tall, looked like a crow or a chicken. I sketched it too, and the rain blew in.

I know what death is. On the way home I saw killed six deer, one skunk, one possum, one cat, and one strung out bit of pulp. Aside from the biological specifics of their resting places, she is the same now as they are. But I remember too what Jesus said about the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, "He is a God, not of the dead, but of the living." And I remember what Kurt Vonnegut said, "So it goes." So I am a husband, as best as I can tell, of the dead, of the living. At the gas station most of the men were gone, but two were talking in older, slower, evening tones, "When my daddy passed I had a hard time giving him up..... me and him... did a lot of things." She was the only woman ever in my arms, bed, dreams, or heart. I can't say how long this will take.

When I came in the phone was ringing. I took my notebook to my files and put the sketches in the folder that said Airplane Cave. The phone rang again. Probably someone, most likely mom, checking am I ok. Afraid that I'd sound too casual, too ok, I held still, let it ring.


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