Make-Shift Mountain

October 2, 2011
Grey cement stairs – they were foreboding in any sort of entry. They beckon the way towards what appears to be nothing, a futile endeavor, the top steps disappearing into a dirt mound, becoming part of the hill. But I suppose that I've always been partial to climbing staircases to nowhere. I look down at the bland steps, then aside to the lifeless blue-grey of the hand rail. They were the last vestiges of man-made creation, nonchalantly placed to one side of a winding asphalt road, causally existing so that anyone might miss them. I start up their familiar tread once again. At the top of the stairs I lift my head to see the neglected chain-linked fence, broken and rusted. The gate slowly swings back and forth within its chain, the forlorn wave of an old friend. Through the wire I see the painted blue cement; it's speckled with cracks and bulges, almost as if the forrest around the enclosure had worked its roots up beneath the ground, trying to return the artificial recluse back to nature. But those roots, finally having broken through the boundary of the floor, had discovered the lifeless force of the place, given up, and died. The dried stems of plants lay listlessly from where the concrete had been cracked, looking for all the world as if no one had been to the place in over fifty years. The rest of the forrest was visible through the opposite fence, the vivid brown and green trees continuing the wilderness, almost uninterrupted by the old, abandoned tennis court.

My hand touches the cold metal of the handrail as I pull myself up and over, feet landing with a jarring on the packed dirt to the side of the staircase, the feel of crunching leaves and branches apparent beneath the soles of my shoes. My fingers trail the side of the fence, hitting the metal, almost falling through the opening, hitting another. My left foot feels the steadiness of the horizontal dirt at the top of the mountain, while my other is always a breath away from the less-stable fall of the steep slope I have just climbed up. Two steps more and my knees hit the ground, small twigs poking the skin underneath my jeans. I gingerly touch my fingertips to the smooth bark of the tree that blocks my presence from the rest of the world. Eyes closed for a moment, I feel the soft crunch of the leaves on the ground, like rough canvas, and the dry dirt settling itself under my fingernails.

My eyes are open again and dimly I can hear the sound of children yelling on a schoolyard. Their playful calls and high pitched voices speak the words of nostalgic memory, when little boys yelled, “Scaredy cat!” and little girls with prissy voices and assumed leadership ordered, “Stop that, it's gross!” Their noise begins to fade as I sit down peacefully, tuning them out, their sound waves rising and falling until they finally settle into a steady hum just in the background. The occasional car engine makes it way to my ears, the squeak of tires on pavement causing me to jump a moment, wondering if the privacy of my hermitage has been infringed upon. Then the steady purr disappears, and the sound of quiet buzzing and gentle wind returns.

With the wind comes the scent of the bushes a few feet away, below the slope of my mountain. Their potency engulfs my nose, making it twitch, infused with the sharp scent of tan grass and dried leaves. My mind deceives me and I pretend I smell the salt of the bay – visible, just on the horizon – its phantom scent almost tangible. I breathe in deeply and the feeling fades, replaced instead with the sharp pang of reality. A secret reality.

Eyes closed, head bowed, hands clenched and unclenched – finally laid limp upon my lap – I taste the bittersweet tinge of regret. Just beyond closed lids lay catalysts of the most precious of memories, their honey flavor not yet faded from my tongue. The tang of blood, dripping from the torn skin of my lips, mentions a small hors d'oeuvre of reality, but my misguided buds insist sweetness is just beyond, just beyond. If you only try for long enough the delectable banquet will come upon you and no longer will your stomach flutter for any excess of disagreeable emotions. My mouth grows heavy with the stale taste of defeat.

Up above, nearly touching the movements of mundane existence, my secret remains undisturbed, unbeknownst to anyone but me. At least, that's what I tell myself.





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