The girl blurts, breathlessly, on their walk. I’m moving to Colorado Springs. She brushes red bang-frizz from her eyes. A flock of honking stripe-necked geese splash down on the lake. Today was her last at work. She’s leaving Monday, she’ll drive down the coast—she wants to see the redwoods before she leaves the Pacific Northwest. There’s no job lined up, no apartment. She’s not worried. It’s more affordable there. She’ll figure it out.
The woman thinks, You’re not worried because you don’t know what’s ahead.
The girl knows no one in town, but she’s not worried about that either. She’ll make friends. She needs a break, a fresh start—if she stays in Seattle nothing will change. Besides, she can do anything. She’s looked online and there’s lots of work. Maybe she’ll go back to school—she wants to do something with her anthropology degree, like teach high school history—she’ll figure it out. There’s plenty of time.
The woman almost says, You’ll never be as free as you are now. Her cheeks flush with the shame of so-called wisdom that the naif already knows. That’s why she going: because she can.
Besides, why spoil it? Stenotic and arthritic are decades from the girl’s vocabulary. Her youth is imbued with a preternatural sense of the walls closing in—and the dexterity to escape. The hairs on a spider’s legs sense the slightest waft of air; the world swipes its calloused hand, and the girl deftly back-scrabbles to a new corner.
Nah-nah, can’t get me.
Ahead: a revisioning. The girl’s first grown-up orgasm. A major breakup that changes her. A crushing discovery of a seemingly obvious existential truth—and the resulting gut-punch: her adolescent versions of these epiphanies, dramatic as they were, were merely amuse-bouche. Before she’s ready, the main course arrives.
Ahead: career change. A friend’s sudden death. A friend’s not-sudden death. One parent’s illness followed by the other’s decline. The fuzzy burden of late-night phone calls in the event of, for which she is wholly unprepared. The first time something becomes the last without a proper adieu. No warning, no ceremony—just empty skyfall, her stomach plummeting, and the crooked jag between wishing she had known what was coming, and knowing she was better off blissfully unaware.
What we take for granted. I thought we’d see Paris again. Which is to say, everything.
It’s stopped sprinkling. A man dashes his hazel eyes across the wet paved footpath. The late August sun swells behind the parting clouds, cooking the Bermuda grass until it stinks of green. There was a time this man would have been too old for her; now he’s age-appropriate. Gross. From his wiry body and expensive shoes the woman knows his type: divorced, healthy diet, reformed of most vices. His faint crow’s feet will stay comely, even at seventy.
The woman is surprised: that low knotty thrum between her legs. He’s handsome, and she’s not dead, after all. Not yet. She fantasizes about the hard come she’d wring from him, or the soul-deep intimacy, and the treachery of knowing which she’d accept one over the other—and feel grateful for. Push eventually does come to shove.
When did she outgrow matchstick jeans? Will she go the rest of her life without sex? What was left behind when her great-grandmother fled the bloodlands? What if the aneurysm bursts? Does worrying prevent a thing from happening or does it call energy to it, bidding it to unfold? What’s beyond the last door? The woman remembers: there’s always something to be made of pain.*
The man’s eyes graze her body—or the girl’s. The woman regrets wearing baggy black capris, which she picked for their pockets. For practicality. To hold, however lumpily, the life-junk her hands have grown tired of juggling, but that she’s obligated to schlep anyway. She balances fleeting horniness against the ultimate betrayal: her own complicit shrug in dressing that morning: Who cares? Besides, no one will notice.
Two giggling gamine twenty-somethings on rollerblades, their flapping wings perilously linked, fly past the man and honk, Hellooooo, Daddy!! He chuckles, thrilled at the ribbing. The girl jabbers on as the wild geese take flight, their calls harsh and exciting**: the untenable shibboleth of not-knowing—still, at fifty-two—what lay ahead.
They circle the curve of the lake moving in different directions.
Gabriela Denise Frank is a transdisciplinary storyteller, editor, and educator living in the Pacific Northwest. Her work has appeared in True Story, HAD, X-R-A-Y, Bayou, DIAGRAM, The Normal School, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. The author of "Pity She Didn't Stay 'Til the End" (Bottlecap Press), she serves as the creative nonfiction editor and managing editor of Crab Creek Review.