the writing disorder


New Fiction


by Linda Nordquist

      The rain is a deluge day and night. It bloats the rivers and saturates the ground. The overflow courses down the mountains, giving birth to shallow gullies in the rocky paths. When the ground levels off for brief stretches, the water slows and puddles appear. That changes everything.
      We set out on our hike during a break in the downpour—me, the boy and the dogs. Rust colored mud oozes underfoot. The dogs race ahead, stopping only to mark their spots. They set a frenetic pace, darting from boulder to bush, driven by their exquisite olfactory talents.
      The Doberman is in the lead, his taut hindquarters rolling side-to-side. The mutt, thick-as-a-stump, lopes along, ears forward, tail up. He has fashioned the trot to fit his needs: racing trot for chasing chickens and rabbits, coasting trot for low impact travel.
      Running to catch up with them is the boy, small in stature, thin, with eyes the color of mink and lashes that cast shadows on his cheekbones. He stops at the edge of the first puddle. Swinging his arms out wide, he marches through it, splashing water into his rubber boots. Then he is off, chasing the dogs and squealing like all eight-year-old boys running free. He surges forward, limbs moving with abandon, joints flush with synovial fluid—never a thought to a slip or fall.
      When the boy comes upon the next puddle, he slows and examines the possibilities. Backing up, he pauses, swings his arms and sways back-and-forth. Suddenly he bolts. Leaping like an Olympiad, he performs a near perfect long jump. Both feet touch down in tandem. Water sprays in all directions. Again, knees bent, he springs up, stretches his arms above his head and jumps kangaroo-style out of the puddle. The movement springs from his imagination—after all, he’s never seen a properly executed long jump. He turns with a grin, exposing holes where teeth used to be. His expression is the essence of joy.
      I bring up the rear with a tentative stride, the possibilities of a mishap foremost in my mind: an exposed tree root, a slippery stone, a rock jutting upwards. Confidence in movement is a thing of the past. My joints jerk like R2D2. The walking stick is a third leg. A titanium hip represents new opportunities tempered by the fear of falling. At 9,200 feet elevation, depleted oxygen adds to the challenges.
      But, where the boy exudes confidence, I have determination. And so I trudge along the slippery path in a steady ascent.
      The first puddle is motionless. I begin to walk around it but stop and look at my reflection. A silver-haired woman with wrinkles and sagging cheeks gazes back at me.
      Should I accept or deny her? There aren’t many options, especially since I ran out of ash-blonde hair coloring a year ago. In the Andes, store shelves are stacked with shades of auburn or black. A financial investment in blond dye would be risky. Embracing my gray, however, is easier than reconciling to everything that comes with it.
      I move on.
      The next puddle is shaped like a banana. It looks harmless enough. I decide not to squelch the whim. I press the walking stick further into the mud and walk into it. The cool water flows over my rubber muckers, sending a chill up my legs. I walk the length and am pleased with myself for not engaging in avoidance.
      I am not well-equipped for avoidance. I look the world straight in the eye, always have. I would like to say I never look back, but I do—often—curious as to why of it, why this road traveled and not that. At night, my ears throb with the silence of this place. There are no hooting owls, no crickets, only the occasional distant bark of a dog. It is fertile ground for probing regrets and they are easy to find. Whenever a life zigzags like a windsock in a storm, there are bound to be regrets. But I don’t dwell on them. It was a life lived.
      Up ahead, the dogs have disappeared and the boy is throwing stones into a puddle. He stutter steps, squats, picks up a stone, takes aim and hurls it into the water—everything in motion at once. I can’t remember the last time my body moved as one.
      We round the curve just as the sun cuts through the clouds, shining a brilliant light upon the glacier before us. My eyes squint from the glare. It is breathtaking, a mantle of pure white ice spreading in all directions. The glacier is two miles away across a narrow gorge and up another 7,000 feet, but it seems close enough to touch. Silent and imposing, it is reminiscent of the Cathedral of Notre Dame at dawn.
      “Wow,” he says. “Look at that!”
      “Yes. Wow,” I respond, my voice muted with sadness.
      What else should I say? Do I give him the scientific prognosis? “Listen, kid. Don’t get too excited. In four years that glacier will be just another puddle.”
      I do not want to crush his spirit with any hint of cynicism. But, questions abound: Does truth equal cynicism? How, when the Andean nations are dependent upon glaciers for water and electricity, will he be prepared for the catastrophes to come? Is it my responsibility to teach him? Teach him what? How to survive in a land without water?
      I am speechless.
      A sigh escapes as we turn around. The dogs launch themselves downward, gaining speed like an alpine skier. The boy lets out a yelp and chases after them, his feet barely touching the ground.
       For me, down is worse than up. The jarring of ankle and knee joints makes me cringe. I dig the walking stick deeper into the lumpy mud.
      Up ahead the dogs, tongues flopping, stop and eye a frothy cascade hurtling towards the river at the bottom of the gorge. They lap a puddle instead. The boy races past them with a “whoop.” Their heads rise, hindquarters engage, and piercing barks ensue as they follow the boy around a bend, disappearing from sight.
      I reach a flat stretch and lean against a boulder to rest. The balls of my feet are hot and my calves ache. It wasn’t always this way. Four years ago I hiked above the clouds—all of them. Mountain peaks cut through them like candles on a whip-cream cake. With my legs set wide apart bracing against the wind, I stood at the top of the world. I want to tell the boy, “See? In my life, I have had joy.” But he is nowhere in sight.
       Except for the occasional rustle of branches, all is still. There is a large puddle in the middle of the lane. Images of clouds float upon its placid waters. I look up and down the path. I am alone.
      The urge is strong and I do not resist it. I walk to the edge, raise my foot and stomp. Mud spatters. I move closer and stomp again. I tramp into the puddle, my arms out wide for balance, the walking stick dangling from my hand. I stomp harder and harder, squeal louder and louder.
      The glaciers are dying. The world is awry.
      In that moment, I thirst for life.
      The dogs take the curve on an angle, their bodies hovering close to the ground. As they roar towards me, the sound of barking drowns my shrieks. The boy is close behind them. He plunges into the puddle while the dogs dance and yelp along the edges. We laugh and splash, stomp and shout until we are spent, our hands on our knees, lungs gasping for air, clothes drenched.
      In that fleeting moment, I am giddy with being alive.
      When we get underway, the dogs lope ahead. This time the boy hangs back. He walks along side of me, a look of anticipation on his face. Perhaps he hopes for another burst of excitement and wants to be in on it from the beginning.
      I hope for a hot bath, an Ibuprofen and a nap.

Writer, photographer, activist, and lapsed psychotherapist, Linda Nordquist is the author of “The Andes for Beginners,” a memoir/guidebook that is available in Peru. Her short-story, “Promises” is to be published in the 2012 winter edition of The Write Place at the Write Time. Runner-up in round 7 of NPR’s Three-Minute Fiction contest with “Honor.” Author of three e-books: “Molten Murder,” “Beyond the Tipping Point,” and “Say Goodbye, Say Hello”.

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