Light and Other Harsh Elements

by Mark Rudolph

After the storm, we walk down through the woods to the lake.

You say, "I have something I want you to see."

It's the first thing you've said to me all morning.  You're punishing me for some reason—the scalded coffee, the uncaught mouse in the pantry, or the downed telephone lines.  If I asked, it would only make things worse between us.

Everything is freshly scrubbed: the green moss on the stones, the wet leaves sticking to my shoes.  With the sky still cloudy and trees lacking shadows, I peer through a silver mist and remember having read that the brain, if deprived of adequate light, will imagine definition and color, height and depth.  The need to see creating something to see.

I stop to peer at a spider web, no longer a sheer gauze, but now pearled with rain, but you tell me to keep moving, there may be copperhead nearby, cold and wet, unwound and waiting for the sun.  Another mistake I've made. Another error in judgment.

When we reach the bank littered with cracked limbs and storm debris, you point to the center of the lake, saying, "There," where I see a large bush floating.  But, no, I'm wrong again.  It's a sycamore floating upright or resting on the bottom.

Sunlight breaks through the clouds, and the leaves come alive all at once, flashing gold and green.  You smile, pleased with yourself, as if you had arranged it for me, but you don't understand what must have come before: thunder; wind striking the tree at just the right angle, with just the right force; and the lake heaving in fear and anger.

Perhaps the sycamore had stored in its taproot the inevitability of it and leaned a little each day into the lake.  Or it sensed something on the other side—a firmer soil, a freer light—and yearned so much that it had to make this last desperate attempt.

I turn to tell you, but you have already lost interest.  You signal to a stranger across the lake, your arms flashing above your head.

This is it, I think, and close my eyes.  The last miscommunication.  The last misunderstanding that splits us apart.

I walk into the lake, shedding skins as I go. First the loose skin of clothes falls apart at the seams and drifts away on the current.  Then the skin of pain unravels like an indigo skein and trails out over the water.  Last the crimson skin of love peels away like wet leaves, each ragged piece hissing as it strikes the lake.  Finally, diamond-eyed, all sinew and scales, I swim
toward the tree; my wake cuts an expanding sine wave.

Winding into the ivory branches, I let the sun evaporate all thoughts of what I've left behind.  I flick my tongue in and out, tasting you on the wind, a flavor like scorched earth, and all the while, you call and call in a language I no longer understand.  Perhaps I never did.

Copyright © 2002 Mark Rudolph

Mark's fiction and poetry have appeared in Strange Horizons, Electric Wine, Chiaroscuro, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet and other print and electronic venues. He is also a graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers' Workshop.

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