This far below the natural earth, the sky darkened. The sunlight that filtered gold through the leaves lost itself halfway down. It dropped away to grey then to white until it became colourless, a canvas, retreating to allow the other colours to breathe. The rocks in the river were rust red. The ferns peeking between them were fevered green, and the moss clutching the sides of the gorge was jade.
That was it. That word. Jade. That was the word she knew now, years later, was her word. Jaded. The moss was jaded by its own overindulgence. It clung to everything, even the red rocks, and it glowed like phosphorescent fish beneath the water. She was jaded by an absence of overindulgence. She clung to nothing, no one or no place for very long.
Is this what it was like, she wondered, to have an affair? Like Jane Eyre, who worked so hard to carve a space for herself only to end up in the ashes of a man’s home? In the end, living in a home built from someone else’s ashes. Or like Catherine who never consented to mix her bones with a man’s bones? In the end, to share her grave with someone else’s body.
Yes, this single word was her word then. She rolled it around in her fingers like a polished stone. It was heavy and such a strange shape, like a curious object from a natural history museum. She was aware of her own flesh around it. The soft folds of her palm.
‘What are you thinking?’ she asked. She kept her head tilted toward the canopy. Up there, the light was real. Down here, by her fingers, it did not exist.
‘Nothing, really,’ he said.
She did not look at him because that word weighed her down. Jaded. She was too jaded to be here, alone—ha, but not alone—with someone who might want to kiss her. Instead, she moved away from him down toward where the stream cut a corner. The water parted around something. Something red and unmoving like the rocks.
‘Oh, look,’ she said with a voice heavy from its own underindulgence.
The creature lay with glassy eyes held open. Its eyes, too, looked like polished rocks. Its belly was bloated, or perhaps just pushed out by the water, and its tail drifted back and forth in the current. She wanted to press her fingers into its coat. She wanted its nails to prick her skin. She realised, years later, that what she wanted was dead.
No, she did not wade into the water and kneel beside the copper corpse. She allowed only her toes to dip into the river until she felt the cold water seep into her shoes. The creature’s fur shivered. A habitual elegy to its former self. The sun glinted in its glassy eyes, and she felt some of the weightiness of the word in her palm drop away.
She wanted to cover it. It had more dignity than this. She looked back at him, but he was now looking at the light, like she had just done. His head tilted back.
Alone then, she unwrapped her scarf, and as she did so, she dropped the word, and it tumbled into the water like a heavy, curious stone.
Angie Spoto is an American fiction writer and poet. She holds a Bachelors degree in Creative Writing from Lake Forest College and is currently studying Creative Writing at the graduate level at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. She has lived in Austria, the Netherlands, and now lives in the UK. Visit her website at www.angiespoto.com.
Photo credit: Angie Spoto