Both Planter and Hunter starve in their mind, both lack a presence they can’t quite remember…you know. It is essentially the worst power, to forget, but we humans hoodwink ourselves like clockwork. In fact, when the bells ring, when we move forward, we jump headlong into another spell. No wonder we are so tired.
The Planter is scuffling in his row of food in the Broonvike Adult Retirement Center a block down. There is a break with nature as he pulls out the sinewy kohlrabi from its hatching-soil. There is a break, but he can’t bring himself to feel it. Too hungry. The first bite. Second, calm, calm. His palms, black with soil, reveal nothing.
But don’t get the wrong idea about her, please. This is a 4.4 Grade Average Point. This is a Runner more fleet than the eyes of any college-scout, a Dancer quicker than any choreography can hold still. This is a formidable Attendance Record. This is an SAT Score waiting to happen. This Hunter is a terrified beautiful thing. She doesn’t know how to kill. She only knows how to deaden. There is a difference.
The Hunter ravenously eats. She is on the roof of the high school. The privilege of being a janitor’s daughter. Dark, drooling food. The Hunter never finishes anything she eats, but she eats to kill, so it doesn’t really matter. Mostly meat, but the occasional grapefruit feels good too, spurting its bloodred down the canyon walls of her left arm. Intoxicated with eating, always a predator. A shoddy predator, a cafeteria-style a-la-carte predator. But she’s off her game. We wonder at how such starkly innocent killers hide for so long from the world. A decided minority hide on rooftops.
The choice of lunch. The Planter, in the cafeteria. There are so. Many choices. His cheekbones scrape against his face, he is so hungry. There is nothing for him, though. With every choice, he plants a risk. With every dizzying choice. A dizzying risk. It is as though you have to stop moving the kaleidoscope before your eyes to see the picture. But things grow dangerous when there is only one picture to see, one risk to take. So the kaleidoscope is ever-moving, the Planter’s hands twisting it to oblivion. So yes, that means no lunch. He grows his own food, as a matter of fact. But that’s in the retirement complex down the road. Kale, kohlrabi, string beans, cabbage, amaranth and marigold vine. And it’s harder to pick that food than nearly anything else. The choice of life and death is always a little risky. Ever on the cautious side, the Planter picks life every time.
The Girl stops reading as I start listening so fully, so abstractly that I am listening to myself too. Then, we both stop. We know who we are (in love with), and it’s not each other, and it’s not the same person, and it is all in 412, so we go there together. The bell rings. The pearl clicks open.
I can only see the runes, though. So she reads to me. And for what it’s worth, when she speaks her voice is drinking wine so fresh it only makes the listener drunk.
It’s only until she reaches the end of the first chapter that I realize that she has been reading the Hunter’s annotations too. In her mind, they have been translated as easily as the German. Seamlessly, as I open my mouth to beg her to start again, she re-begins.
Her reading voice is such that all things slide together, plashless. So my listening redoubles. Every part of me has an ear to this voice.
“At first the little girl had toiled hard to climb with the goat-herd, panting in the heat and making a great effort under her heavy encumbrance of clothes. She did not say a word but looked steadily, now at Peter who jumped about on his bare feet, now at the goats who climbed still more easily on their slender little legs. Suddenly the child sat down on the ground and quickly removed her shoes and stockings. Then, standing up, she began to take off her many layers of clothing until, clad only in her light little petticoat, she stood with her little bare arms stretched happily into the air. This is the greed of knowing what one wants and taking it. This is the greed of the civilized child remembering how it is better to be alive than to be still. This is the immense greed of those who forsake the norm, in one move that is powered not by greed, but by incessant and clamoring faith in things like the wilderness and children. Greed and faith are as twined as shells around a pearl. Only greed can open the shells, and only faith can open the pearl…”
Over the Hunter’s book. Head bent like an altar boy, in repentance for the things I’ve seen, staggered now by what’s in front of me. The smell of poisonous insects in the air. Makes my breath catch. And there she is, walking towards me. A white dress of a Girl. A concerned mouth of a Girl. A dense fabric of a Girl.
She wants me to read to her.
Dust is picked up on the road, her own dust. Her own backpack. Carefully, the three empty juice boxes are held in her hands with the grace of a mother holding child. Carefully, she flattens each one into a little stiff ledge of a box, and places it in the recycling dumpster like she is mailing a love letter. Like her life depends on it, somewhat, but mostly in a state of enjoyment. One, two, three. Who would mail three love letters at once, all to the same person? Only the Girl, and only she would jokingly disguise them as juice boxes.
Every word the Girl writes of her life is brilliant, and she hasn’t picked up a pencil to write since the second grade. There is so much dust, there is so much dust to keep her going just as she is- systematic dust, almost magic-dust. She plans to spend exactly two more hours at this school before she leaves, yes, forever. There are a few things to do before this, just a few. The Girl is reminded of pollution when she sees how clean her own hands are, and ventures toward the swamplands, yes, towards that solemn boy squinting and damaged over the bluest copy of ‘Heidi’ you’ve ever seen.
Here’s how the Girl puts herself back in place. First, she stops moving. She stops functioning. There is only the gentle lapping of lungs, the smooth underflow of veiny matter, a tiny frilled discourse between brain and heart. There is only the echoing ruinous silence of the body. That is it, that is only. There is no love left for thought. All of it stays in the system, the tired and aging and soft-lipped and beautiful system, the system we automatically call ‘us’. The love is in the body, either in severe underestimation of the outside world, or in severe overestimation of our actual selves. We are young, but our bodies are so old. With every second, they lapse. Like a grain of sand falling from a handful, every moment rises in us and our body fails it, our body declines it, for we are dying things, we are almost on the road dead. A long sentence such as this one is only the fool’s attempt to keep living life, to keep life living, instead of as a robust motion of something already dead that is frightening as all hell. So the Girl, she stops. And plays as though she is alive by loving.
The second thing the Girl does is smile.
The Girl drinks a juice box in the forest behind the foreign language building. Yellow and blue leaves rub all over her skin, press into her pebbly back- the world is moving around and around her. She has three juice boxes today. The Girl doesn’t use the folding straw when she drinks; a canine is enough to puncture the side of the box, and with both hands she feeds herself lunch. The packaged straws she will leave in a little pile in the auditorium. Why? Well, why is there lunch at all? Well, why are some people lucky enough to have folding straws and others make trash of them? This is dumb, thinks the Girl, how people are expected to want the same thing.
There is enough time for the Girl to dance or be secret or shout something before she leaves the forest, but she doesn’t. She is preoccupied with juice and her own tears, which have been falling. For some reason, her body turns to lead when she thinks of her science classroom. Which room was it again? 412? She gathers herself. Gently. Her hands have zero lines in them. Blank palms. It’s always been like that, she thinks, but she can’t be sure…
It’s actually “Heidi”, the children’s book. My German’s not so scrappy, and apparently, neither is hers. What makes it a difficult read is the annotations: thick runes scrawled all over the pages, indecipherable to anyone but her. The force of the Hunter’s handwriting is legendary. The book has become a topography map, almost brutally encoded. Cracking open the spine seems like abuse, somehow, but I do it anyways. And I am met with a landscape.
So the Hunter is being played by this subtle character, and she found out about it. So I can see her face now as I think, and it is the innocent beauty of a poisonous butterfly. So I am thinking in real time, the words are in real time, and it’s all happening, all around me. So all is silent. So a trap went wrong. So the Girl turns from the window, and her eyes are wet but she doesn’t know quite why. So the bell rings. So it’s time for lunch. So we all leave.
The book is called “Heidis Lehr- und Wanderjahre”. I wonder vaguely what that is, who I am dealing with here. I read it behind the science building , next to the swamp-area that is too polluted for us to learn from.
So how will this story go? I will look up from my floor, up, up, a rocket launch of a gaze. My eyes, parted in eyelashes. Will graze the lens of right-now, that thick pair of glasses we all wear in secret that shares with us everything, that somehow knows everything. You see, I live off the grid. Unplugged from any sense of right-now, life is just playing music. Built like a door, I am that sightless kid who has learned to listen. The fact that I’m alive today is invalid. The fact. Is. That. I crush myself up in a book or a junkyard or a piece of music, so I can’t see straight and therefore I power off. My mouth is a straight line in time, but when the lens is off, it sags in awe. Music, that state apart from time, is a blessing, one so strong I can live alone for years off it. Like a tree so multifarious that it bears perpetual fruit and shade. In life, we don’t often collect and head for the hills. It’s hard to head for the hills once you’ve started collecting. But I have noticed music, and I have collected the sound, and I have been for the most part, gone. Under the radar of music, my story has written itself. You know how it goes. How time spends itself when you watch television? So has my life spent itself as I am collapsed in music. But it changes: I will look up from the floor, and it means plugging in to the extraordinary nature of time and silence and all human power and a lens that is so furious that
I blink. Awake? Consciousness, released, hammers towards the Hunter.
She, the Hunter. Stops. Where’s her blue book? Somehow it is in my hand.
“Excuse me, is this yours? It was on the floor”, somebody says, and it’s me.
She looks at me across time, which I have recently entered.
I repeat. I’m all in, dull, shivering, reality.
Something catches her eye, and it is the Planter’s hand, aloft, illuminated behind me in a chemical wake. She sees what is carefully inscribed inside. She sees that there is a treasure map there, written in the lines of his palm. It is his art. She knows then that there are risks, and that she is one of them. Bait. How could she tell? Her anger radiates in a sound wave that is too fast for me to hear. It is something machine-crafted, seamlessly checked the way rage by definition isn’t. I am still holding the book. It feels like skin.
The Girl’s story was thirty words long: she was born, and reborn, and reborn, and reborn, and every day she was reborn, and she was also extremely good at science so she was enrolled in room 412.