The path had always been there, as a child, in her mind. She shaped it with her developing brain, while outside her bedroom door the real world grew unbearable. First, the path was sun-bleached and composed only of flat, glaring concrete. What if something were to come for her? She wanted to be able to see. The sky matched the ground in its clarity and flatness. The horizon was a thin flat line.
In real life, things came for her. They bit into her but did not destroy her. She clawed her way through adolescence, grasping any ridiculous handhold: her high-school sweetheart whose laugh reminded her of a thin-throated frog, a repulsive older man whose eyes saw nothing but her body. She said yes to almost anything, because she knew what happened when she said no. If she was nice enough, she thought, she would be safe.
There were two worlds. One, she lived with her skin and voice. Anyone could have them. The other, she inhabited with the safest and softest and most secret parts. No one could touch those; no one could enter that world.
After her childhood, her adolescence, the men who took her way from herself; she rented a house in a town whose name she’d never heard. She had her own bedroom whose door she could leave open. Her own screen door leading into a small backyard. Through the backyard, a path, so different from the one she had envisioned as a child. She set out. The sun painted and unpainted her through the clouds.
A spot of sun sparked through the treetops and momentarily blinded her. She blinked and thought, I am blind. She stepped to the side of the path and shrunk. Her miniature palm wiped at her miniature eyes. When she looked up everything was distorted. The trees were towers hung upside down in the sky. At her feet was a small body of water.
Had she forgotten her shoes? She looked back, towards the screen door which she had surely left open. Her bare feet-bottoms were brown.
When she’d been young she and her mother had gone to a park; an unusual occurrence. Neither she nor her mother were one for outings. Even more unusual, it had been raining. Her mother was determined. I never take you to parks, she said. You should go once. They emerged from the car dry and were immediately soaked. Eve followed her mother’s sodden black head. She placed her small shoes into her mother’s larger footprints. She wondered if her mother were taking her somewhere bad, then her mother turned, smiling. Come on!
They walked together, their feet making sucking sounds in the mud. They made sucking sounds with their mouths, laughing. Eve’s body relaxed. Her mother’s arm looped through hers. After a while they came to a concrete slab and a broken swing. And old playground. Her mother turned towards her, a curved blankness where her face had been. Eve shuddered backwards through the memory, into the present.
The puddle at her feet had expanded. Far off, she heard the screen door slam. Above her, the clouds darkened. Something split open inside her, and she was large again, but when she turned to look behind her, the path was gone. She could only walk forward.
On the path, Eve forgot about her house and flipped through flashes of memory: she and a school friend riding in the backseat together, windows open, hot air on their faces, their hair tentacled and wild. Laughter. A boyfriend tossing her playfully into a rippling emerald lake. A monstrous face above her. Bed sheets, wet. The click of a hotel lock.
She rifled through her mind. She had come from where? She was going where? She patted herself down. Why was she barefoot? A sound tore through her and lunged out of her mouth. It filled the air. Silence followed. The sound came again. She was the sound. She jumped and, like in the nightmares she’d had as a child, floated up. She waited for the inevitable drop of her stomach, the rush of the oncoming earth beneath her, but it didn’t come. Instead, she floated.
Eve saw through each roof. The innards of the houses laid themselves out, glossy with revelation. A girl, cowering in her bedroom. A girl, giving a lesson to her stuffed animals. A girl, practicing faces in the mirror. A girl curling her hair. A thousand girls, doing a thousand things, all of them accompanied by one another, yet alone.
Eve, Eve, Eve, Eve. Her name pulsed in her ears. Each weave of her mind encountered a different landscape, a different self. Her mother had taken her to a park and disappeared. She had made herself translucent and changeable and melted herself to what required covering. She had hidden behind what others wanted her to be. She swam in the air until night. The stars appeared and she glistened. Her heart pulsed with them. She twirled. She waited for what was next. The silence was so complete. She had been going somewhere. She swam in the air. The silence was so complete.
The silence was so complete. Her floating slowed, as if the air were growing incrementally thicker. First, thick like smoke. Then, thick like goo, like Jell-o, like dirt.
Her mind thickened. Her body dispersed down to its cells and she was the dirt. Each fingernail seam, composed of hundreds of earth particles; each cuticle segmented seed pods all forming a half moon. Fungi paths grew through and around her, dispatching their communications to the trees whose roots formed her hair. Her feet elongated and reached deep until her toes hit hard rock and pressed themselves there. Energy came. Electricity. It had always been with her. Her memories were in the current, blending with millions, billions, trillions of other memories and transmitting themselves through the soil. Far away, someone was in the desert, their forehead sweating from the sun hung on bright. They looked at the sky. They heard the current.
It sung. A buzzing. A humming snapping in the heat. The person in the desert searched through the undulating air for silver electrical lines, which were the usual source of the sound they were hearing, and found only mirages, far-off. They smelled something sweet, like soft cotton clothing hung on a taut string line. In their mind they pictured the clothing, white and diaphanous, floating on the surface of a small current of air like a curtain in a window.
They were on a walk, to escape the city. Their red dress hung flat over their chest, loose around their knees. Dirty knees. Knees pricked with desert dirt, from the ground where the person had knelt and prayed. Their shoulders stung crimson.
The humming was coming from somewhere. The person walked north and the sound almost escaped. They turned south. It was coming from there, and that is where they walked. The humming thrummed in their chest.
A grove of trees waited for them. Eyes watched. Leaves vibrated with the wind and leaked water like smooth, sparkling chunks of diamond, reflected in the bright moonlight. The one from the desert arrived with blistered shoulders, crimson to match the dress. They shivered under the leaves. The humming was so loud their teeth chattered. It wasn’t raining, yet everything was wet. The mossy ground sunk with each step they took.
They met there, not knowing they had been walking in the same direction, from different directions. They all wore red dresses. The grove made a circle of light on a spot of ground. They watched as light unspooled from the sky, strings of it, and settled on the ground in the shape of a body. A woman’s body, translucent, then solid. All of them thought of something blowing in the wind, something sheer and delicate, but when the woman stood they understood she was not delicate. She was large, and made of something that was not skin. She held her arms out and they stepped into the circle of moonlight. She embraced them and they shivered. They saw where she had come from- a place like they’d come from. It had unmade her. But she was alive, and new.
She gathered them around her and they burned.
They turned to ashes and recomposed. Their synapses were newly sewn with gold. They fired. She whispered in their ears. Her secret was: this is not your first time.
They shivered in the heat of her breath. The humming was coming from them, all of them touching.
Hadn’t they felt their ancestors tugging on the strings which encircled their waists? Some of the ancestors clanged metal things together, smashed glass, stomped. This resulted in tinnitus, small inexplicable scratches, heart palpitations. Don’t you see them? She looked at the ancestors, now sitting cross legged in the dirt, their clothes wet from the dripping water.
You are pilgrims, she said. Your path is sacred. Inside your chest your heart burns. You were born that way. Sometimes, when others glimpse the fire, they want to destroy it. They want to take it. They can’t see it in themselves, but it’s there.
She took her hand, pulsing with light, and placed her palm hard on each of their chests. The four of them gasped in unison. They heard the clanging of metal. The world melted around them and Eve picked herself up off the ground. Her ears rung. It was dark. The thunderheads absorbed the ghostly lights of the town; the full moon glowed behind wispy clouds. She felt around her waist. There was the sensation of a belt. She made her way down the trail. She had left her screen door open. Once inside, she latched it before making herself dinner. A sadness settled around her, not unfamiliar. It accompanied her as she steamed vegetables and made rice. On a large plate she piled the vegetables and rice. Too much just for her. Above her, a cloud uncovered the moon. Someone knocked on the front door, three times.
Eve opened the door to her mother. Her mother, whose face was featureless as a mask, entered the house, carrying a casserole. She set it on the table next to the rice and vegetables, and sat down herself, facing forward. She did not speak.
The knocking didn’t stop. Three red dresses containing three separate people came one after the other. Eve recognized them but found herself struggling to place where from. She smiled. She had never felt so accommodating. Something in her had shifted. The sadness, in its familiarity, left her. Each of the red dressed people touched her on the sternum with their pointer finger. They transmitted warmth, and she shivered with delight. On the table, one by one, they set down a dessert.
More. The ones who had not been collected into the center hold, into the whole, arrived. They knocked and she opened her door, warmed repeatedly by their joy upon seeing her, whom they didn’t know. She received them without fear. She had dreamed of this.
The table was piled with dishes, each balanced one on top of the other, each a different shade of color. The moon shone into the windows and they turned off the lights to eat under its silver breathing. Fog came in through the open windows, but they were not cold. When they were full they held each other’s hands and sat in silence. The house was full of them. They listened and in the quiet they heard their ancestors, who sat outside, breathing with them.
They rose; they opened the screen door; they walked into the night. They walked in a line down the trail, each hand holding another’s hand. The moon spun its light around them and the sky whitened. Eve was in the middle, belonging.
Pam Posey is a Los Angeles based artist who investigates the natural world and represents her findings in paintings and works on paper. By questioning the stability of scientific methodology and relying on observation and research, she presents alternative ways to describe and interpret nature. Posey holds an MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a BA from Bennington College. She has had solo exhibitions at the Institute of Cultural Inquiry and the Craig Krull Gallery and her work has been exhibited in numerous group exhibitions, including “Every (ongoing) Day” at Arena 1 Gallery, “The Language of Landscape” at Annenberg Community Beach House, and “Freeway Studies” at the Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College.
Stacy Selby grew up in the Pacific Northwest and has lived in many other places, like Syracuse, NY and Czechia. She is currently working on a book, HOTSHOT, about their experiences as a firefighter, wildfires, land management, and climate change.