CODE -->
Post Road Magazine #33

Becoming Invisible

Amelia Zahm

Your small foot wraps around the uneven surface of the rock, toes spreading to crevices, curling to grip. Knees bent, you extend an arm for balance. Keen eyes narrow to a squint and scan the ground around the rock patch. Prepare. Leap. Splash. Cold, muddy moss squishes between toes. Feet sink deeper. Streaks of mud begin to dry on bare, pink legs.

The March breeze gusts. You pull your jacket tighter. Clouds swirl in shadows that sweep across the swampy ground. Step, splash. Step, splash. Eyes search spongy green patches and piles of brown grass that nestle between basalt lumps and dark pools. Step, splash. You climb a large, lichen-covered rock and squat. Perched here, you survey your surroundings.

Tiny creeks meander like veins through rocks and seep into grass and earth. This rich bog holds treasure. Silent. Squatting. Seeking. There—a flash of yellow just next to a stone on a grassy mound. Buttercup! Legs hop from rock to rock. Feet grip, more sure now. Heart pounds. Breath quickens.

Your fingers press into soggy soil. Hands dig and probe, pulling up grass and mud and flower. You press the perfect, dripping circle of earth into the tuna fish can. You fill the cup of your palms and water the precious gem. You return to your perch, squatting, watching, listening. Hair ruffles with the wind, one clump sticking up from the cowlick on the back of your head. Pink cheeks, muddy hands, yellow shorts, birthday.

At home, gentle scolding. Where are your shoes? Your long pants? You are filthy. You present the bribe.

For me? It's beautiful.

The wildflower shines on the windowsill.

Then hot water, washcloths, soap. Scrubbing, wiggling, fussing. Clean jeans, warm sweatshirt, cozy socks.

At the table, you eat shake-and-bake chicken, crunching through breading to hot, stringy flesh. Round crumbs stick in your teeth. Potato salad. Green beans. Horseradish. And after, angel food cake, tall and white, a spongy, sticky, gooey mass of sugar and air. A new bike, used and reconditioned, with no training wheels. You will have your first crash in a puddle.

But not until tomorrow.

Until then, bed and flannel sheets, with Mr. Bear and forehead kisses and peaceful sleep. Dreams of treasure hunts.

***

I clucked my tongue to encourage Tango closer to the fence. He took a half-hearted step forward, his rump still angled away. I could make it, but I'd have to jump a little. Holding the reins in my left hand, I climbed up another board.

"Whoa, Tango. Whoa, boy."

I leapt, grabbing a hunk of mane as I landed on the saddle pad. I clucked again. "Come on, boy, let's go."

My bare legs brushed against his soft sides as we trotted across the barn lot to meet Grace.

"Are you ready?" she asked. "We'd better hurry. Dad will be mad if he sees us out here in shorts with no shoes." She turned Jasper toward the open pasture. "Let's go!"

I pressed my heels into Tango's sides. He broke into a trot, eager to catch up to Jasper. I laughed as I bounced on his back, the thick pad cushioning my butt. Saddle pads were easier to put on, and the soft fabric was more comfortable than the stiff leather of a saddle when wearing shorts, but without stirrups or a saddle horn, it was almost like riding bareback.

Grace's red ponytail bounced on her back as she trotted through the emerald grass. Irrigation water splashed up from her horse's hooves, splattering her pale feet with mud. Her long legs hung easily from her hips, swinging freely. I gripped a little with my calves to hang on. Tango took this as a cue to canter.

We quickly passed Grace and Jasper. I heard her shout and knew we wouldn't be out front for long. My hands rested on Tango's neck as the wind blew my hair away from my face. Water and mud splattered my feet and legs. As I settled into easy rhythm of the gallop, I felt the saddle pad move a little. I held more tightly with my legs. Did I remember to tighten the cinch before I got on?

The grass was tall near the middle of the meadow, so I didn't see the main irrigation ditch until it was too late. Tango's neck and shoulder came up as he jumped, and I slid back a little. I grabbed tight to his mane, slipping forward again as his front feet landed. As his hind feet came down the pad slipped again, and I felt my heel slide under his belly.

"Oooof!" Air rushed from my lungs as I hit the ground. Water seeped through my shorts and shirt. Rolling onto my back, I blinked my eyes against the afternoon sun, gasping as my breath returned. I heard the splash of hooves. Grace stopped Jasper beside me.

"Are you ok?" She pressed her lips together, trying not to giggle.

"Did you see us jump?" I sat up. Muddy water streamed down my neck. "Your mom's going to kill us."

"Maybe we can hose you off before she sees."

We burst into laughter. I fell back in a splash and looked at the sky.

"I can't believe my parents said yes. I can't believe we get to ride in the mountains for three days. I can't wait."

"Well, you'd better go catch your horse. If your Mom finds out you were jumping and fell off, she might change her mind."

***

Mrs. Oliver holds her clipboard, scratching notes as she calls you forward. Each student occupies a page, filled with carefully detailed notes outlining physical prowess, accomplishments, fitness. All week you've been sleepless—lying awake worrying what torture the next day's PE class would bring. Pushups? Sit-ups? Line sprints? Humiliations all, but none so bad as pull-ups and the rope climb.

Bile rises in the back of your throat as you shift your weight from foot to foot. You gnaw absently on a thumbnail, pulling at the tender skin, worrying the cuticle until thick and red blood oozes from the corner. With each step forward, the heat at the back of your neck intensifies until sweat stains the armpits of your t-shirt and trickles along your spine near the straining waistband of your jeans.

Mrs. Oliver pushes hard, her basketball coaching voice booming through the gym—faster, more, keep going. She is never mean. Just insistent, disciplined. She doesn't berate you for failing, only presses her lips together as she drops her stopwatch into the pocket of her Adidas sweat pants and scratches the number of your pitiful efforts on her chart. Your performance that spring was worse than the previous fall's.

The physical tests are hard, excruciating even, but you dread the last day of physical assessment the most. Height and weight. You can tell by the way your San Francisco jeans cling to your thighs, the way the metal button marks the doughy white of your belly, the way your flesh mounds and spills over the top, forcing you to cover yourself in baggy flannel, that it will not be good news.

***

Clouds obscured the sky as we prepared to leave the parking lot for the all-day ride to camp. Grace's brothers were stationed in the mountains with a herd of grazing sheep, taking advantage of lush grass in the high alpine meadows. Using horses and mules, we were packing in food and supplies.

Slow and deliberate, Grace's dad Victor filled packs and secured them on the sawbuck saddles. The long oilskin raincoat draped around his lanky frame. The wide brim of his hat obscured his long nose and stern face. Before we left Grace's house that morning, he had laid out strict rules for us. We sat at the kitchen table, sipping pungent Russian tea. In a stern voice he assigned our chores for the weekend.

"You girls will take care of your own horses. Make sure they are tied up and fed. I expect you to round up wood for the fire, and it's your job to wash the dishes and clean up. I don't want a messy camp."

I knew enough about his disciplining techniques to listen closely, and I had promised Mom I would follow Victor's rules.

Grace and I giggled as we worked together to lift the heavy saddle onto Tango's back. I adjusted the rough, woven pad underneath, making sure the saddle was centered. The sweet smell of saddle soap, old sweat, and horse filled my nose.

"Don't forget to tighten your cinch again before you get on," Grace reminded me. "You know what happened last time."

"I won't," I assured her, stroking Tango's chestnut neck.

"Are you girls ready?" Victor called. "Get on. We need to get going."

***

You stand in single file, the line stretching through the high school office, past the counter and out the door into the wide hallway. Mid-morning sunlight streams through the tall bank of windows, turning the cluttered room into a sauna. Sweat drips down the channel of your spine and between your heavy breasts as you inch toward the front. She calls your name, and your stomach tightens. You step forward and slip your feet from the canvas Nike shoes, the ones you bought because the rounded toes make your feet look bigger—a better match for the size of the rest of you. You step on the scale and close your eyes. Your cheeks burn. She starts the weight on your fall number. The needle stays up. She moves it to find the place where that point end will float and hover. With each clunk of metal your heart sinks.

"Hmmm," she says. You don't want to look, but you have to. Slowly you peel your eyelids apart, biting your lip. Your eyes widen, chin dropping slowly when you see the number. Thirty pounds. Thirty pounds more than last fall. Ten more pounds than you lost the summer before, restricting yourself to a diet of cabbage soup, protein and grapefruit.

"That's a lot," she says quietly, making a note on your chart. You smile weakly, trying to chuckle, fighting back the tears that sear the back of your throat. You shrug your shoulders and look away.

You skip dinner.

That's it, you swear. You will never eat again. You will become invisible.

***

I stood on my tiptoes to slip the bridle over Tango's ears as I secured the bit in his mouth. My skin tingled with anticipation as I slipped the reins over his head and pulled on the leather cinch, snugging it against the soft fur of his side. Holding the saddle horn and a clump of Tango's flaxen mane in my left hand, I leaned back and slipped my foot in the stirrup. Pulling hard, I vaulted into the saddle, turned Tango toward the trailhead and dropped in behind Grace. As we crossed the bridge over the rushing waters of Bear Creek, the first drop of rain hit my head.

The trail climbed slowly out of the canyon, along a rim and into timbered valleys. With each mile the rain fell harder, turning to a steady downpour by noon. Soon I could feel cold rivulets streaming down my neck and under my collar. I tucked my chin into my coat. Soon the zipper rubbed my chin, leaving a small red rash. My fingers ached as cold penetrated my damp gloves. Heads down, the horses kept moving, plodding steadily along in single file.

By the time we arrived in camp the rain had seeped through all my layers, and I shivered to my bones. My numb fingers fumbled as I removed Tango's bridle. The earthy scent of sweat and damp blankets rose from his back as I pulled the saddle down. Once we had the horses settled, we gathered around the fire. Wood sizzled and popped, fighting to burn in the drizzle. We ate a quick dinner and retired to the canvas wall tent.

***

The thump-shhh of your tennis shoes echoes down off the high ceiling as you scuff your feet along the shiny wooden boards of the hallway. Your t-shirt sticks to your back under the baggy flannel shirt you wear buttoned all the way up. The waistband of the no-nonsense hose you always wear under your jeans, every single day, even in summer, pinches your fleshy middle. The slower you walk, the less time you'll have to sit in class, listening to the whispers of the girls sitting behind you, ignoring the notes they pass back and forth about you. You know they're about you, because they drop them when the bell rings, just so you can see.

It's your turn to be the outcast. Your turn to wonder what you did or if you did anything at all or who you could have laughed at, made fun of, or ridiculed so that Dawn and Elizabeth would have picked another girl. You tried smiling at your "friends," but they won't look at you. They can't. It's a matter of survival. At least between classes you can hide in the bathroom.

As you move to your desk, you tense your muscles, hugging each one tight to the bone, as if drawing them in could help you disappear.

***

Dim light from the Coleman lantern flickered on the wall. Our wet clothes hung from the wooden tent frame. In our original plan, Grace and I would share this tent and Victor would sleep outside. After the fifteen-mile rain-soaked journey, water filled my sleeping bag, so it hung beside my wet coat, dripping onto the dirt floor. Victor opened one sleeping bag, spread it across a canvas tarp on the floor, and covered it with another.

Exhausted and bone weary, I happily stripped off my last wet layer, rolled up a sweatshirt for a pillow and climbed into our makeshift bed next to Grace. After countless sleepovers, we had shared our beds many times, and before dozing off we whispered and giggled about our ride and the adventures that awaited us.

Rain tapped on the tent roof. The pungent scent of moldy canvas stung my nose, and my eyes watered a little as I shifted my weight on the hard ground. Just like my sleeping bag, my small pack of clothing had gotten wet, so I slept in my underwear and a t-shirt. Even with the flannel lining of the sleeping bags and Grace's close presence, I shivered. Tired as I felt, sleep eluded me.

When Victor reached across Grace and pulled us all closer together, I thought he was trying to keep us warm. I could feel Grace's steady breathing, the stillness of her body. I envied her ability to sleep. Maybe if I snuggled closer to her I could get warm enough to drift off, and maybe I could move away from the weight of his hand on my belly.

***

You dread the walk across the college campus to the dining hall. People move around you in groups, laughing, talking, boys tossing a football back and forth. It's been a week and you still haven't made any friends. When your roommates try to talk to you, your words stick in your throat. Your hands tremble. You look away.

Walking through the glass doors, the cacophony of voices echoing off the linoleum makes you round your shoulders, curl more tightly inward. Upper classmen gather in tribes—football players, soccer players, groups of sorority sisters. Freshman sprinkle themselves around the cafeteria in smaller groups. You drop your head, hoping no one will notice you as you fill a bowl with broccoli and rice, hoping no one will notice as you move to a table on the far side of the room and commit this shameful act. You eat.

***

There are a lot of details about that camping trip that I don't recall. But I recall exactly which pair of underpants he touched: white cotton, with geometric patterns in blue, green, and yellow. I recall holding my breath, terrified to make a sound. I recall being confused by conflicting sensations. Eventually it stopped. But I don't recall whether it was minutes or hours. I know that I didn't sleep for the rest of the night. I lay still and quiet as I could be, curled tightly into a ball, wondering why. I don't recall noticing that the rain had stopped.

***

You find solace in the parties, but you hate getting ready. The other girls style their hair, carefully paint their faces, change their outfits ten times, always asking, "Does this make me look fat?" You answer carefully, knowing there is no worse fate than to show up looking fat. You never ask that question. You don't dare.

The beer tastes good and you learn to love vodka and rum mixed with sweet, tangy juices, dipped out of plastic garbage cans. You learn to love the dark rooms and the loud music and the way your white keds stick to the floor of the party basement. You play quarters and do shots and the beer bong. You smile and laugh. You flirt. You drink like a guy, and that's good. You learn to have sex—with friends and not-friends. You bump from wall to wall, down the hall, the walk of shame.

You sit in class, an iron mallet pounding in your head, a sheen of slick hangover coating your arms and back. You hit the 7-11 for another Super Big Gulp of diet (always diet) Pepsi. You groan when your dorm neighbor bangs on your door to wake you for the 6 AM aerobics class she started dragging you to. You hate getting up, but jumping around to Jefferson Starship and INXS, breathing hard and sweating feels like it might save your life. As long as you don't look in the mirror.

***

The sun rose in a brilliant blue sky. Victor rose early, leaving the tent to start the fire and prepare breakfast. Grace and I climbed out of bed soon after, moving silently. I turned my back to her as I slipped on my jeans. They were cool and damp, but a little time by the fire and in the sunshine would dry them. My eyes burned from lack of sleep as I emerged from the tent into the bright morning. We ate breakfast without speaking. I pushed eggs and potatoes around my tin plate, waiting until Victor wasn't looking to scrape most of my uneaten food into the fire. Once we had our horses ready and camp dismantled, we headed for the higher camp.

Drops of water glistened and dripped from emerald blades of grass as we rounded the corner into the upper meadow. White sheep dotted the landscape, heads down as they nibbled on tender shoots. The horses walked at a brisk pace, enjoying the warmth of the sun as much as we did. In the distance, I noticed the wall tents where Grace's brothers were camped.

"Dad, can we go ride around?" Grace asked. It was just early afternoon.

"All right," he answered. "But don't go far, and stay near the trail."

Grinning, Grace swiveled in her saddle. "Follow me!" she shouted, turning her horse toward a branch in the trail, leading us out of the meadow and farther up the hill. I smiled and exhaled and gave Tango a kick. I'd follow her anywhere.

***

"Extra-large?" she asks, peering at you over her large round glasses. "Honey, these are men's sizes."

"I know." You look at the cement floor beneath your feet.

"All right," she sighs, pulling the pen from the white curls on her head to write the jacket number next to your name on her clipboard. She's been handing out uniforms for lift operators, ski patrollers, and ski instructors for twenty years. She's not interested in your personal drama.

Later, you zip up the coat, pulling the elastic waistband down so the fabric balloons, hiding any shape in bulky faded green fabric. You look sloppy, unkempt, unprofessional, but when you slide along in front of your students, showing them how to balance, turn right, turn left, stop, something happens.

The cold air stings your face, turning your cheeks pink. Under the folds of cloth your body moves, sometimes like you ask it to and sometimes with an intuition of its own. You begin to feel the soles of your feet in your boots, the way your shins press against the cuffs, the way your thighs contract and release, the way your stomach and back engage to help you balance.

You feel brave. You feel fast. You feel free.

***

Steam rose from the streambeds and drifted across the meadows. Late summer wildflowers—purple, white, red, and gold—rose through the tall grass. As the trail climbed the mountain peaks came into view, standing in sharp relief against the intense cornflower blue of the sky. Around us, huge, round boulders rested between flat granite slabs. Sparks glinted off horseshoes, flashing against the stone as we slipped and slid across the flat, white fields. I gripped my saddle horn tightly.

"Grace," I asked. A knot tightened in my belly.

"Yeah?" she answered.

"Last night. When we were trying to sleep…."

"Uh, huh,"

"Did you notice what your Dad was doing?" My heart raced a little.

"What do you mean?"

"Well," I hesitated. "With his hands. He was touching me. I didn't like it. It made me feel weird."

"Oh," she said, turning away. "Don't worry about that. It's nothing. He does that all the time."

"Oh," I said. Maybe I shouldn't worry, then. Maybe that was normal.

***

Sweat beads quickly on your temples and the back of your neck. The August sun burns bright in the cerulean blue above Albuquerque. Six AM and it's hot. Too hot for nine miles, but you push on, your foot falls soft and rhythmic on the dirt trails around the Rio Grande river. Your lungs pull dry air in and push it out, in and out, in and out. After eight months you have adjusted to the desert. Your body thrives here.

This morning, the scale you battled with for decades shows that you weigh less than you have since sixth grade. You checked twice. Then three times. Then four. You might believe it, but your mind tells you, "Just five more pounds." In a few years, you will see pictures of yourself as you are now, and you will mourn. But not just for the impossible size of your button-fly Levis. What you will long for most is this strength. The surge of oxygen in your lungs, the flow of blood through your muscles, the clarity of your endorphin-fueled mind, the feeling that anything is possible.

***

We continued to ride away from camp, winding up a dirt trail, skirting over flat slabs of granite nestled in deep green meadows. The warmth of the sun soon allowed us to peel off our coats and tie them behind our saddles. After being cold and wet for so many hours, I let the sunlight seep into my skin like water into a sponge. I closed my eyes, tipped my head back, and breathed the heat into my pores. As we rounded a corner into a patch of timber, Grace's horse spooked. Tango's ears pricked and he began to prance in place. I shortened my reins, grabbing the saddle horn for extra security.

"What is it?" I called to Grace. She pulled one rein, turning her horse tightly to direct him back to the trail.

"It's a bear."

"What?!"

"Don't worry," she assured me. "It's dead."

Slowly I squeezed Tango's sides, encouraging him to move beside Grace's horse.

"What happened," I gasped, gazing at the gruesome sight before us.

The young bear lay on its back, arms up, as if it had been standing on its hind legs. Clumps of golden brown fur encircled the mass of decayed flesh like a halo. The white mass of the bear's torso undulated in waves. Looking closer, I realized the movement came from the maggots swarming the carcass. I breathed deeply, holding back the urge to vomit.

"Somebody shot it," Grace answered calmly. "It must have been killing sheep."

***

Nathan picks you up at eight for the drive south. You hold hands in the car and listen to loud, angry music. You think it's Tool, but you aren't sure. You talk about his mother. She's getting a divorce. You talk about his grandmother. He's worried about her health. You talk about his dad. He's anxious to meet you.

You buy a big straw hat at the gas station. The heat is more than you expected. You wear a thin tank top and shorts, exposing your skin to air and eyes. In the desert around Elephant Butte you walk slowly, the 115-degree heat distilling time and movement to thick syrup. Squatting, you marvel at the vibrant life in the stark landscape—tiny bugs, spiders, a scorpion wielding his curved, treacherous tail in defiance. Lizards and snakes, napping. Succulent plants, thin blades of grass, tiny purple flowers seem to thrive in deprivation.

In the evening, Nathan rests his hand on your lower back as he introduces you to his father. As you shake his hand you realize that you rest at the perfect center of these men, twelve years older than one, twelve years younger than the other. As Nathan draws you close, you lean in. His father smiles.

When Nathan wants to have sex with the lights on, you agree. As you face him, his fingers trace your jaw, meander along your neck and trickle down your spine. You want to look away, but you don't. Because when you stop thinking about the extra flesh around your waist and hips and let his arms surround you, it feels like falling into a dark star.

***

John and I left the parking lot just after ten, and I sighed with relief, happy to leave behind work and responsibilities and escape into mountains and wilderness for a few days. I led the way, my black gelding opening his stride so that my white canvas saddlebags bumped against his rounded haunches. John followed, leading the pack string in their typical order. First, the tall, sorrel thoroughbred mule, Big Red, loaded with the green wooden boxes holding the kitchen, complete with Hamms beer and a bottle of Zinfandel. Behind her came the "empty" stock who would carry out the wall tent, tables, chairs, shovel, ax, ropes, cots, and miscellaneous accouterments of the hunting camp we were retrieving. Behind Red came Benny, a small black pony captured from the wilds of the Cayuse reservation in Umatilla, then fat, grey Molly, her long ears flopping as her head swung from side-to-side, and finally, Rex, the spunky chestnut gelding as prone to buck, bolt or kick as to stay in line. John's bay gelding rushed to catch up, dragging the slower moving packers a little. He hated to follow another horse, preferring instead to set the pace. John cursed him in that familiar way we all curse the horses we know and love best. I chuckled and slowed my horse as we approached the bridge.

The Lostine River surged through the canyon, tumbling toward the valley over basalt and speckled granite. The roar of the water drowned out everything but the clang of hooves pounding on the wooden bridge. Cool, clear droplets straight from the melting EagleCap snowfields leapt over the railings, chilling my arms and causing my gelding to shake his head and trot. I lifted my hand slowly, feeling the bit, touching it just enough to bring him back to a walk. His ears pricked and he blew, forcing air through his nostrils to open up the bronchial pathways in his lungs.

We followed the trail through towering fir and ponderosa until it emerged into the sunlight, cutting long switchbacks across the steep hillside dotted with yarrow, fireweed, monkshood, and wild strawberry. The landscape opened to reveal the snow-capped peaks of the East and West Fork Drainages to the south, and twisting paths that cut through dense timber toward ramshackle gold mines abandoned years ago and now protected by the Wilderness Boundary.

Riding slowly, sipping lukewarm beer, we climbed to the top of Wilson pass, elevation 7,740 feet. We took a break for lunch. I snapped some photos of the 360 degree view—north to the inhabited valleys, east to Sacajawea, south to EagleCap, West to the Bear Creek drainage. No one grazes sheep there anymore.

***

You feel the block beneath your sitting bones, your shins stretching along the tacky surface of your yoga mat. As you look around the room, you see a nurse, a teacher, an artist, a real estate agent, a restaurateur, mothers, daughters, wives. They come in all shapes and sizes, the shortest 4'11, the tallest 6'1; the youngest is in her mid-twenties, the oldest just past seventy. They gaze back, attentive and hopeful. They look at you. They look to you.

You close your eyes, bring your attention to your breath, quiet your mind. Inhale and lengthen your ribcage. Exhale and release your lower back and sacrum—coming home. You open your eyes, offer the first instruction, and let yourself go.

You move about the room, offering a suggestion here, a subtle adjustment there. You watch your students carefully, noticing the way their bodies move with ease, the places where they seem to struggle, how accurately they follow verbal instructions.

As you transition into standing poses, they move with confidence and grace, expressing their power in Warrior II, their openness in Triangle, their surrender in Standing Forward Bend. They watch your demonstrations, mimic your movements. Each time you offer an adjustment, they respond carefully, pressing into a heel, turning an arm, relaxing a neck. They ask insightful questions, they challenge the boundaries of their strength, they begin to embody stillness. They frighten you a little—with their vulnerability. Their trust. You feel their bodies in your own.

***

The rest of the ride was downhill. Snaking switchbacks along the crumbling granite hillside led us to dense timber at the lower elevation. The horses and mules stepped carefully through rocky sections of trail, looking for flat surfaces to place their hooves. I had to slow my horse a little. He was anxious to get to camp.

North Minam Meadows, our destination, spread below us in a thick green carpet. The Minam River, meandered along one edge, saturating the grassland and drawing mosquitoes to feed the resident brook trout. My back swung with my horse's hips as he navigated the trail, twitching his ears and flicking his tail at flies. I turned my face to the sun and reveled in the silence, broken only by birdsong, fly buzz, the clang of horse shoes on rocks, and the occasional fizz of a Hamm's can opening.

We rode into camp an hour before dusk. I untangled knots and pulled ropes and lifted packs. I tugged on latigos and buckles and pulled pads and saddles from sweaty backs. I scratched ears and gave treats. The mules loved me. John unpacked the kitchen, and I put on shorts and old running shoes, assembled my fly rod and headed to the river.

The cool mountain water soothed my hot, dusty feet and numbed my shins. I flicked my line along the edge of riffles and pools, casting carefully. I lost one fly and broke my line in the branches of an overhanging fir tree and lost another in a log jam I thought I was clever enough to fish. Despite my lack of skill, I caught several brook trout, their brown backs and golden bellies adorned with light spots. We had enough fish for dinner.

The fire crackled, sparks rising with the smoke. I emptied the last of the zinfandel into my coffee cup, feeling full from fish, fried potatoes, salad, and bread.

"Looks like it might rain a little tonight," John said. "There's a cot in the wall tent if you want to throw your bedroll in there."

I looked at the musty tent walls and up at the gathering clouds.

"No, thanks," I said. "I think I'll sleep out tonight."

***

Today you peek around the side of your house, watching from your deck as he walks down your drive. You want to see him before he sees you, watch his gait, the way each foot strikes the ground, see the way each step carries hope, possibility. In the house, you tug at the waistband of your carefully chosen skirt—casual but flattering—a little flattering.

You look at your brand new running shoes and regret the miles you haven't logged in the last two years. You see the dust gathering on your yoga mat. You pull your t-shirt down and your stomach in, trying to forget how you look as you step out the door to greet him.

He kneels in the dirt, extending his hand, palm down, carefully introducing him self to your dogs, ensuring his acceptance into your tribe. He wants to make a good impression. Your chest tightens and then releases, in anticipation, relief, fear. You think, please don't look at my legs.

He found you, even when you were trying to hide, located you—latitude, longitude, north, south. He's investigating. He's looking. Will you draw the curtain and look back? Will you dissolve? Or emerge—explorer, skier, teacher, runner, woman, girl—and let yourself be seen? Leap from the rock, letting toes squish and splash through moss and mud. Turn, and let the wind sting your cheeks pink.



 Copyright © 2018 | Post Road Magazine | All Rights Reserved