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24/01/2013

DARLING

Erin Meier

You’re walking around the lake. It’s a beautiful day. The sun is out, shining benevolently over the willow trees around the greenish flat water. A slight breeze rustles the golden-orange leaves that have blown over the path. The autumn air is cool and smoky.

Other walkers parade by with dogs or strollers or just a relaxed smile. You’re happy to leave the cold concrete walls of the university behind. I can’t blame you really, it looks like a cross between a prison and a sacrificial temple with the strange glistening ziggurats of the dorms looming over the bunker-like lecture halls.

A chill breeze winds around your neck like a python. You shiver and pull the zipper of your jacket up past your soft waist and your breasts. They compress under the slick black Gortex. Windproof and rainproof you amble on.

A yellow-jacket darts past, buzzing importantly. You nod at a fisherman who reclines on a small dock, his pole and other gear arrayed about him like a king at a feast. He turns away from your greeting, and the smile slips from your face. You push your hands into the pocket of your jacket and walk faster, staring at something farther off.

When you come to the fork in the trail, you pause. A woman passes you, her spaniel’s tongue lolling from its pink mouth. As you step aside, I see you glance at the second path, the one that leads off into the forest.

My breath catches in anticipation. You don’t disappoint me. Your grey eyes are alight with interest. Something sparkles, flashes just beyond the trees. You stride into the forest, taking a swig from your water bottle as the gloom settles over you.

I love the way your hair shines as you move, an undulating ribbon of gold. As I creep along behind you I remember the day that I came upon you. Your rosy-white skin gleaming in the sunlight. How you lay prostrate on that boulder, bare as a mussel pulled from its shell. High in the Cascade mountains, miles from any human habitation. Somehow you found my little valley and you made yourself at home. I didn’t mind. I wanted to knead your flesh as a baker kneads bread. I wanted to pull you around me like a starfish on a rock. But you went back to the city.

You don’t belong here. We don’t belong in this flat landscape of strange pigeons and greasy ivy that twines round the trees in a slow death strangle. And because I’d followed you to the city, I followed you here as well.

You beat me, in your queer flying machine, my slippery darling. After weeks in the belly of that ship, stinking of rot and creosote, I finally disembarked. It took me some time, but I found your scent. And now that I’ve found you again I’m taking you home.

Home to the smell of moss, and pine, and salt. Mountains that seem to tumble into the sea. You have a secret longing for it. I can see it in the way you gaze forlornly at the stunted shrubs that pass for underbrush. You miss the deep tangle of the Hoh rainforest, the frantic swell of the Dungeness River, and the rock-strewn coastlines of your childhood.

You pass quite closely to me as you round the corner. I sniff at the air, and grow weak at your nearness. I press against the tree, the bark catches at my fur. You wander down the path. A bird erupts from the underbrush and you give a small shriek. I feel that shriek in every part of me.

But I am cautious, oh so very cautious. I haven’t tracked you this long only to lose you again. You continue down the trail, disconcerted, chuckling at your foolishness. But I see the uneasiness in the way you shift the pack on your back. The way your eyes dart ahead, and then glance with relief at the boy who appears further down the trail. He has a dirty face and he’s whistling. He kicks at a conker on the ground, smiles when you greet him. I can hear your heartbeat, the muddled thump of it.

It isn’t easy to keep my seven-foot frame concealed. My callused hands rest against the soil. I crouch just behind a beech hedge. I pull the stillness into me as the little boy troops past. His nose twitches. He’s caught my scent. A sour odor of fungus, cedar and decaying kelp. It’s very strong, and usually that’s how we’re found out, my kind. The smell. But they’ve never managed  to catch one of us. We’re good runners, and we’re used to hiding. ‘Move on little one,’ I think.

The boy passes, and then there is no one. It’s time. I can feel it. The forest is quiet, a bird calls. Your heart beats languidly, patters. You stand calmly in the twilight, gazing blankly into the distance. Slowly, oh so slowly I creep forward. My heart is pounding loudly now, so loudly I can barely hear your footsteps ahead. I’m ecstatic with anticipation. You are so close now. I gaze at the soft furze of blond hair on your pale forearm. I hold back until…

You don’t hear me until my arms are around you. I cradle you against my chest. My little one. My pale darling. Your screams rend my ears. I ignore them, I know it will only be moments until you recognize me. You’ve seen me before, I came to you as a little girl, remember?

I turn and wade into the shrubs, we’ll be safe farther away from others. You’ve pulled an arm from my grip and you reach up. Expecting a caress, I’m shocked to feel my hair being pulled from the roots. You hold a clump of it in your hand. My fierce darling. I adjust you in my arms, clamping you against me. Your heartbeat is like a bird’s. Your body robust and malleable.

Why should you continue to scream? And why when that jogger burst through the bushes, and began to beat me about the head with a metal water bottle why did you cheer? You fell from my arms so swiftly.

But as you both kicked at me, my only thought became escape. Escape because the jogger, that awful Amazon, had sunk her nails into my male parts.  And as I ran into the trees, I heard her babbling about apes and zoos, the ridiculous woman. But you know me my darling don’t you? You know me? You know me!

I’ll be at your window tonight. I know it wasn’t your fault.

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