This One Time, 85

This one time a bunch of us were sitting in the hot springs, some of us up to our chests, a few of us up to our nostrils or eyeballs, letting the heat soak in and pump throughout our bodies via our blood and breath. I was one of the ones in only up to my chest. I could feel ice clenching in my hair, pinching and pulling if I moved too much. My arms were on the stone surrounding our heated pool, drawing in the lesser warmth there. The stone was as warm as stone elsewhere would be in the summer sun. It was a happy medium between the too-hot water and blowing ice crystals out of my nostrils.

This time of year we spent mostly in the caves through which the hot springs flowed. The caves were temperate through the harsh winter. We ate bugs and lichen and sleepy bats until the trees and bushes flowered — then we’d eat the flowers and tender green shoots and sour fruit through the summer, then, as the fish got sleepy and distracted, we’d pull them from the water and supplement that with beetle grubs. The springs and hot pools were too poisoned and too suffocating to support fish, but by the time it warmed enough outside for us to range further downstream, we wouldn’t have to spend too much time breaking the ice with rocks to get at them.

The sun barely bothered to climb into the sky during the day now — barely a finger’s breadth above the horizon. It was different now. It stung and heated my face when I looked directly at it, hotter than the hottest days of the summer. We hid from it and spent our time outside in the pools at night.

The skies above us, normally so clear that we could see every star there ever was when the wind wasn’t blowing the snow off the tops of the peaks, was a shimmering wall of green ice, tinged with sunset red. Sometimes we would see the green willowy veil at night, but never like this. Every night it came, almost completely opaque, rippled like the caves carved through the glaciers by the trickles off the peaks in summer. But not the blue of deep water. It was as green as the new green leaves of spring, swept across the top with a brilliant red of ocher, of ripe persimmon, of blood in the trees.

It was beautiful, but strange. It was hard to get comfortable while watching it. Sometimes lightning crackled through it, but there was hardly any noise of it over the distant roaring of the starlight. No smell of ozone over the sulfur reek of the water or the smell of wet monkey.

My neck was tired from looking up at it. I sank lower in the water to quell a shiver and watched the reflection on the still surface of the pool, watching the image break around the bodies and features of my fellows and companions. Despite our disquiet, we were the very picture of habitual serenity. In the pool, especially in the nights of this broken time, there was no play, no maneuvering to move closer to someone who was with someone else, no drama or politics. The eerie glow glistened on damp hair and we kept it all reigned in.

I couldn’t be the only one who wanted to cry and howl. But even the youngest of us were quiet. How can you raise the alarm when you don’t understand the danger? It wasn’t hunger, or loneliness, or injury, or a predator, or an earthquake. It wasn’t invaders from another troop intent on rape or theft. It wasn’t betrayal, or a lie, or a joke gone bad.

How do you voice your disquiet when there are no words?


March 26, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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