La Petite Mort

by Kate Stence

Along mountain pass, ensconced in lush green valley

I wake blanketed in rain, the cold kind. It pauses. Begins again. Drip. Slide. Pour. Onto scalp then eyelashes comes wetness. Slashing.

I look to the night sky and find it swarming. Cumulonimbus clouds seem to run into eternity, letting seep through only a few pristine stars. I look down, then lean forward to pinch a small slug from left pinky toe, noting how much more ethereal painted toenails look when drenched clean, caught within one refined sliver of bare moonlight. For almost two years I have woke bewildered and wondering:  San Francisco or New York? From what hotel, whose couch, then into which life do I live? But, I have never felt quite like this. My shoulders are naked, blades out.

"Believe me, we all are wandering," he once told me. "It's all the same out there."

We were lying in his bed, bathed raw in our newness, saying goodbye when we barely had time to say hello. He had just held his right hand up against yellow curtained covered sunlight and told me it looked old. I already knew the poem's beginning.

"No," I said, "just used."

I reflected, silently, on how I could love someone at first sight. I've never been that kind of woman before. I've never even believed in such things. I tensed that time, in shock, much like coming awake now inside bone nipping rain. I responded to his well-earned world view with, "I built my whole life for this."

Then I rose — slipped back into lace panties, my dainty flowered dress, zipped green leather boots — to walk my own journey.

I look around and see nothing, except my own vulnerability. I inhale deeply and smell naked Earth. Then, I know.

Out of the black comes Ila's question delivered with twanged tongue, "Are you looking for the bathroom, love?"

I remain silent; ten toes sink into thickening mud; my exhausted body drips with her heritage, looking down at her untouched land penetrated by pounding water, and wonder if even she can know how much I seek.

"I think so," I finally respond. "I know I'm looking for something."

She comes out the caravan's rickety doorway within which her younger half-sister and cousin rest, immediately braces her small body against hard rain, then slips her more delicate hand into mine. She guides me through the wooden garden gate; soft flower lips graze my forearm as we pass. "Be careful, the stones are slippery," she says as she opens the door of the home where her Maori father rests with his Native American partner.

"Can you find your way from here?"

Her grip feels firm, even as our fingers slide from so much water. Conflict arrives. Part of me wants to say no. I wish to hold tight. But, I say I can go it alone. Our hands drop, release. We slip into darkness both gone in different directions.

Within the bedroom, the couple soundly sleeps, bodies drawn tight together, their outlines forged from minute moonlight. My eyes run the length of their shadow. They are entwined. Grace. I flinch as if caught, snooping among intimacy.

In the bathroom, I search the wall for the switch. The fluorescent light flickers once then illuminates too fast. It rouses my reflection in the mirror above the cream-colored sink. So, this is what I look like after 13 hours of flying? I sit down and begin slipping out of present. I think past and future, how I have two months of Pacific, fresh air, and words. Freedom. Only four months before I had come off a run at Ocean Beach in San Francisco and wrote that very word in sand along the opposite coast of the same ocean. I ruminate on how I am here to learn of my dear friends Ila and Penelope's islands since both are always on mine. A Kiwi, an Aussie, and an American — three whose love exists so strongly it touches familial. We all walk together in that crazed New York City. The depth of chaos runs deep yet the three of us always have one another even when husbands or boyfriends may not. I have another look in the mirror, give up, then shove down the switch, already knowing the coming blackness will seem ever more so because I've been inside the light.

The rain feels warmer now. I listen as it pours freshness, splattering heavy over thick-leaf plants I cannot see. Goats bleat. I imagine how roughened the normally placid blue water of Governor's Bay. Christchurch, New Zealand. Her world. I carefully open the door of the caravan and inhale children in sleep. The young smell more pure. Perhaps their bodies have yet to take in as much burden so they exhale less of the stench that accompanies adulthood. In the far right corner across from my empty single bed, Ila rests tightly wrapped in a juvenile blanket printed with black butterflies.

I open the bottle of melatonin and pop one more. These days I sleep with pills instead of men, unlike the others within this tiny cocoon, the ones who can shake off life, give in to rest, slipping naturally into the place we all belong. I wait wide-eyed, wading through fatigue beyond that of jet lag. I sigh lightly as I feel my lids lower. Relaxation comes, once from orgasmic release, whereas now from the catalyst of medicinal refrain. He was different, though. He was more than the others. He was affecting. He still is and I am on a polar part of planet. I wonder if the only place to find peace is within dreams or if the cinch of reality can bring it too. How best to belie that tiger?

Along mountain pass, ensconced in lush green valley, I listen to the rain pound furiously against the roof of my current dwelling and give in elegantly to the quiet side.

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Kate Stence is a writer, virtual freelance business owner, and an avid endurance runner. Her poems have previously appeared in SoMA Literary Review. At the moment, she resides in New York City.

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