FEATURED STORY // JULY

On the Dark Side of the Mtn [art].png

ON THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN, BY THE LAKE SHORE

 

Marion fell for Yves like a house on fire, down to the foundations, right at the moment he opened his mouth and asked, How are you today mademoiselle?

Hook, line, sinker, fatoush, done, sayonara, houdou neverstoodachance. The deep dream of his stare pierced her heart, which was, inconveniently, already leaking in several other places. 

To him she looked like a woman who’d been standing on a riverbank waiting for a boat. He waded across easily. She realized later, as we often do, that he’d parted a sea to do it.

She found herself edged with longing at the bell of his greeting. It reached her eardrums and filled them with beach sand. He was the sea, he was the was the shore, he was the one who watched storms push across the lake in silence with lips of Dionysus, cherry and apple, sweet as candy.

Marion spun in circles trying to find herself without him first, needing the lash of experience on her back and the crush of heaven on her shoulders night after night in the steam of the swamp. She broke apart and became nothing. The branches of an oak overtook her body. She baptized herself, over and over, in the lake of her dreams. Over and over Yves circled back for her like a raincloud birdgod on wing, swooping mightily like thunder, stretching wide, flexing a span of wings she hadn’t noticed before.

She fought the loosening of her tongue; she ducked and hid, sometimes behind trees. He found her. She flitted out of his embrace. She loosed arrows with the giggling backward glance of a nymph. 

She held her secrets tightly until one came out, and then another, lying in his arms caring for nothing in the material world save the weight of his limbs and the tender parts of his earlobes. Oh, she fell, all right. Hook line sinker fatoush.

***

Marion, what was left? Could you still see their dreams?

 

***

 

The clouds gathered over the lake and trembled with lightning.  She turned south, toward home; the bridge carried her.

 

Yves's truck was idling in the driveway. I've been calling you, he said.

 

Inside Marion collapsed into a chair by the plate-glass double doors and spoke no more that evening. She watched rain soak the dock. He made tea. They sat. He turned her shoulder into his arm and wrapped her tightly under his wing.

 

***

 

Do you want to tell me whats happening, he asked the next morning. She was making coffee. The sun had come up over the water in wild strokes of lemon-orange. His hand went to the small of her back; warm cotton, linen, sleep still clinging to their skins, coffee and banana, I want no more than this, she thought, steadying herself on the counter, turning to him, desperate.

He saw her lips part but nothing came.

He cradled her. They waited.

Storms swept across the lake and years passed. They slept deeply, entwined. Still she did not speak. Yves rebuilt the house after a wall of water smashed through its walls and took its supports out to sea. She painted murals while he laid new foundations, reinforced the cisterns, repaired their small boat. Years passed. Marion's hair, once sungold, turned white. Grey clustered Yves's beard, which he now wore year-round to protect his face from the elemental forces weathering them steadily.

One afternoon Marion felt the stir of a beast in her belly and looked up to see seven gulls diving for the water in shifting V-flight. The rumble rose gullet-high, quickly, and she gasped for breath as she fell.

Yves did not see Marion spin like a twist of wind over the edge of their dock and plunge headfirst into the lake. She sank, and sank. The bottom was a relief somehow; she came to rest with sixteen feet of murky unfiltered vibrating cool between her body and its next breath. She saw the distance. She searched for fear and found none. She waited. None came. Humming in bubbles she righted herself, kicked off, and swam in long reaches to air and sun.

At the moment she surfaced Yves heard a crack of thunder from the cloudless open blue sky. It was ancient. He breathed. There, again. Anchor. Motor. Throttle. His bones moved like levers. The boat sped toward the shore.

When Yves could make out their dock from its neighbors he began scanning for Marion. Her silhouette did not move behind the windows. Nothing stirred. The door was ajar, he saw, gauzy curtains wallowing in overheated three-PM breezes. Where? There. Clinging to the ladder. Heaving. He cut the motor, threw anchor and dove off the bow, closing the distance in a dozen powerful strokes.

Marion would say later that she had looked to the approaching figure swimming to her and seen, clearly as you please, the body of a tiger shark, then a shadow-seal, a winging sea-creature with fins and a long grey tail, and finally a dolphin leaping from the crest of a wave. Then the rescuer was upon her and it was Yves, draping her over his mountain shoulder and lifting her up to the dock like a careful treasure. The sun spun above. Marion's eyes rolled back in her head.

When she came to she was shaking violently, all chattering teeth. He had covered her shoulders with a towel and was in the house collecting blankets. Shock rolled through her, head to foot, one wave then another.

Yves sat beside her and took her hands in his. She shook. Her eyes were wild. He waited. May the shelter of the Mother be with Marion here. She looked everywhere - the sky, the water, the house, him, him. She clutched at the air and howled. A glimmer of thread dropped from the air above, then another, catching light, but her eyes strained to focus on lines so light and golden. A moan left her, unrecognizable. A hand flew up to stifle it but too late; the sound was already halfway across the lake on the back of a wind blowing down out of the north. He held her more firmly and began to repeat his prayer. May the safety and shelter of the Mother be with us here. Keep Marion with you. Keep us close to you. Eyes half-closed. His warmth traveled into her hands, up her arms, into her neck. It mixed in her blood. Iridescent strands were all around them now, on the dock overlooking the placid lateday lake dotted with fishing boats jetskis sails long snaking causeway shimmering in the distance. The web did not seem to faze Yves. His concentration flowed on, hot to the touch at the temples, her raincloud birdgod rescuer, drowner of doubting sorrows, lake of lamentation, tower of stone, grove of cypress and balsam wood, pyres and palo santo in gripped fingers, grey shadows all around them suddenly, everywhere, grey mists of being that were sliding down the threads. What was form? she wondered, what was shape and color and vision if phantoms could descend easily from pure blue sky, what was form and what was she? Who was Yves; brilliant brownskinned angel phantom; now eroding, greying, hands withdrawing from hers, recoiling, changing, shouting her name.

Marion felt a wet crystal break off at the corner of her left eye and heard its tiny crash on the dock. It skittered between slats and was gone. She looked up. Yves, too, was gone.

 

***

 

I am not here.

Marion reached for the necklace at her throat. But I am. I am here.

Where?

Submerged.

Where?

She studied a group of tadpoles studying her feet. Raindrops fell on the open book in her lap. Tip. Tip, tap, tap.

River mud edged her toenails. She pulled her feet from the water's chill and whispered an apology for disturbing a cloud of sentiment. Sediment.

Where?

The blood of my body spills so easily. It is a wonder I am still able to bleed.

Tip, tap.

Soft-lit thundercloud dabbed with a brush in some other sky. Coursing over the ridge. Rose-grey. Tip, tip, tip.

If I am fortunate enough to enter the river, I will not falter, she found herself thinking. If I make it that far, I will know I can swim.

 

***

 

Be careful, Marion. It is not easy for you here. The strangeness of this place. You are a changeling. Have you not known, all this time?

And were you made to protect me?

If I was made at all, it was to be the mirror rising to your lip. There. Can you see?

 

***

 

When Marion woke up in the room the sun was warm on her shoulder. She'd been spinning, spinning in circles until maximally dizzy yes, just a little bit more darling, yes, of course I will, it is nothing for me, I am already given over. In Yves Janus and Neptune took breath; they stowed their tears and the wind off the lake in the lean contours of his frame, felt soil and water as his hands, which were made of course to know Marion before she knew herself. He had never made it a secret.

Marion, yes, Marion, can you hear me? Across this vast body of waves, yes, do you hear my voice? Do not leave this frontier.

 

***

 

Please tell the courtroom what you saw when you began walking.

The place was mostly as I remembered it. The tides had shifted the sand but the trees were there, and the knee-high reeds in the shallows. I kept walking. Into a wood. The path was as wide and worn as an avenue. The canopy of tree and moss was thick. I rounded a bend and stepped into the room.

A room?

Yes.

Then what happened?

Everything was white, then black, or light then dark, I couldn't see. When the light came back up I saw her.

You saw who?

I saw the tree.

And everything, I saw everything:

The light fading through the creeping vine; the gold-threaded web of mother spider, tall of crown, attended by multitudes. The tree was reaching for the sun above the swamp. It was reaching for the sun.

 

Alison McConnell