Depressions on the Moon
Depressions on the Moon
by Matt Briggs
ELISSA NEVER TOLD JASON ANYTHING. Rather Elissa’s texts became shorter and less frequent. At her peak, Elissa had been a three-times a day texter. She sent him a short note in the morning telling him something about her dreams. She had vivid and violent dreams. She dreamt she was a starling that had gone on a rampage against the squirrels in her neighborhood. It was a re-occurring dream and had become a running joke between them. When her dreams were peaceful, she would say her dream had been “starling-free.” She sent mid-day texts in the middle of meetings where she was seized with boredom. Must die. She sent texts in the evening that were vaguely amorous. I am not wearing any pants.
Jason wasn’t sure if she was dating anyone and he didn’t want to have the discussion with her because then he would have to break down his own dating life.
They met online, had coffee at a silent, fussy coffee shop near his work that he realized was a mistake as soon as she showed up in a business skirt and gigantically tall shoes and talked without concern about people overhearing them. She talked about her preference for being tied up, about dominant versus abusive men, about the sadness she felt for men who could only have a single orgasm. It sounds sudden and violent when it finally arrives for them, she said. “Well I don’t really mean finally. Sometimes there is no finally about it. But it always sounds sudden and violent, like something important to the dude’s bodily operation has been yanked from their intestines, like ambergris from a whale.”
“Ambergris?” he asked.
“They use it to make perfume. Or used to back when whales where game.”
He didn’t know what to make of this. The way she said it sounded like she meant the whales were game, like they were down with it, down with the men hunting them, killing them, and then pulling the amber whatever from their bodies. Nonetheless, he liked her. After a couple of months, he thought things might continue with her for some time. They settled into a frequency of her coming over to his apartment, or their going out to the movies or dinner, every other week when she was in town. She travelled for business and was out of town every couple of months. He actually preferred her presence when she was out of town because she sent emails that were chatty and personal. And it was over email that she began to tell him about her childhood. She had grown up in rural Oregon as part of a religious cult and had been married when she was fourteen to a second cousin. She escaped and went and lived with suburban relatives in her early twenties. The memory of those years, which she had put behind her in her early thirties, began to come back. She would write to Jason about it. She was otherwise blissfully normal unlike the other women Jason has met on online. She didn’t take any psychoactive medication. She was overweight in a way that Jason liked. She had a firm and soft stomach shaped like the topside of an apple. Elissa had gentle curls of hair that fell across her round shoulders. She often plotted diets but nothing came of it and so they continued their schedule together and Jason could continue the schedule for months, a year, and then two years. He had no thoughts of a future with himself much less someone like Elissa. This lack of thoughts was to Jason a good sign. There was nothing he would change.
For one thing seeing her once every other week and her traveling allowed him to continue dating.
He was also seeing Mary. Mary was a dark haired woman who was plump in a traumatic way compared to Elissa. As long as Jason knew Mary, she had been eating a very strict diet for health reasons. She had been diagnosed with a wheat allergy and nickel allergy that had caused her a variety of problems, and so she ate fruits, vegetables and a variety of meats. She had long black hair that had turned grey when she was in her twenties. She had a stark, dramatic face with full lips and an engraved aquiline nose. Jason marveled over the beautiful and even striking photographs of her on her Facebook page. Even in a casual shot of her at a dinner table where most people in their early forties were afraid of their chins and were caught in the awkward attempt to align their faces to the photographer in their known best angles, Mary always looked striking, angular, and beautiful. In person, she looked rather repulsive. But Jason’s image of her had formed from her online photos and that was typically how he interacted with her, or with the lights on. During a movie, she always fell asleep.
He felt it would be a mistake to settle for anyone unless he was absolutely certain, and the only thing that Jason was certain of in his life was that he was uncertain. He embraced a professional mantra of “embrace chaos.” He imagined himself as a kind of surfer allowing events to carry him like a wave toward the beach. He didn’t think about the extension of this metaphor, that eventually the wave would crash into hard land. He worked as a contract project manager. He had travelled from city to city for well-paying contracts. Jason regarded his father’s life long job at IBM as the relic of a bygone era that was thankfully gone. He regarded his parent’s marriage and their divorce as relics of this era as well. Jason had never married. Without marriage, there couldn’t be the inevitable divorce. He thought maybe when he was really established he might have a child or two. Yet he wasn’t really attracted to younger women. Sure he liked how younger women looked, but aside from idle fantasy, he never found himself dating a woman who was that much younger than him. He found the woman his age had started to go through menopause. They were all too old to have children. And practically the concept that he would have a child or two someday became more remote for him. The agenda of younger women was marriage and babies. And his agenda may include babies, but did not include marriage.
The women his age had developed health problems and a hard-irony that he found attractive, provided they were not bitter. He liked a caustic sense of humor, but not a bitter worldview. Usually he found this hardness was like a crust over an overwhelming generosity and sweetness. He’d been in Seattle long enough now that he regarded the city as his home and for that reason he often thought about leaving. He didn’t want to become too attached to anything. Attachment, a Buddhist friend had said, is the root of suffering, and Jason believed that detachment was important and even essential to a happy life. Jason was committed to the uncommitted life.
In one area Jason differed from his male friends: Jason did not believe in suffering. His friends believed if they sacrificed and suffered for something, for their job, for their wife, for their family, that it would make things better somehow. Suffering for them was an end to and of itself. Jason didn’t have a stomach for discomfort much less suffering.
Jason was dedicated to a pleasant time. Not a good time. A good time was something someone became attached too. A bad time, too, was something someone became attached to. Jason was committed to a good enough time.
He had plans with Mary to spend a weekend away. It was the first weekend away they had planned. They had been going out for a year. Even the labels he used avoided commitment or attachment or clarity – when he was dating someone he was talking to them. When they had been talking for a long time he was going out with them. He didn’t use friends with benefits much less causal and never girlfriend. Jason tended to avoid weekend trips. If pressed for a label, which often happened, he would say he didn’t know what he wanted. He would instruct the woman to keep dating. It was important to his theory of attachment that he assume they were in fact dating because he himself was dating, only he wasn’t dating until he found what he was looking for. He already had that.
He was busy with his contract. He arrived at work a half-an-hour before everyone so that he could work out for an hour longer then his lunch break. He left work a bit later than everyone else and his commitment or rather his seeming commitment didn’t go un-noticed. They asked him to go full time and he began to look for work elsewhere and so they increased his pay and he signed another contract. He visited Elissa every other week and Mary he saw about once a month, missing the occasional month or she would go and visit her boyfriend in another city. She had a boyfriend in another city and this provided for Jason a degree of comfort and knowledge that eventually things would end between Jason and Mary and maybe between Jason and Elissa. It was all-temporary, like contract work, like his leased Audio, like his leased apartment; everything about his life was on loan, borrowed, rented. The Buddhists called the impermanence of things “suchness.” An exercise involved gazing on waves and trying to keep each individual wave in your mind and letting it go nearly as quickly as it was perceived. Jason bought stocks with the intent of selling them. He didn’t buy books or rather he did buy books but only when he had to buy them rather than checking them out from the library and if he did have to buy them, he sold them and bought more books that he had to buy. He kept his apartment tidy and empty of objects except for his exercise bike; except for a glass desk on which he kept his laptop and speakers. He had a single bookshelf with the books he was currently using. He replaced his television with a tablet computer and watched movies in the same way he read books from the crook of his couch. The rest of the time he was comfortably secure in a routine changed nearly every month so that he would not even become entrenched in anything predictable. His life was fresh. He was aware that if he didn’t keep things in motion that he would die. All living things were in motion.
Mary kept things in a kind of light and fluffy state and he enjoyed this about her, but there was something slightly off about her and this light and fluffy aspect of her that he couldn’t quite read. She had hidden depths unlike Elissa who desperately wanted him to credit her with a creative and vital life. With Elissa he would attend bookbinding classes, poetry readings, whatever art show had been recommended by the bloggers. Jason busied himself when he was with her with living her idea of the vital life of an artist. She spent a weekend coordinating a read-a-thon at a literacy center, and another weekend at a continuous poetry reading. In contrast Mary might spend her weekend ensconced on her couch and tell Jason that she was too busy to see him. When they did meet though she was sunny and bubbly and they would sleep together and have elaborate sex that gradually escalated until they were on the floor panting and sweating like two wrestlers each attempting to win the regional pennant.
And so for Mary, Jason felt a degree of trepidation and before this weekend trip that he felt she had managed to force out of him after months of planning and asking and finally they were going to go hiking in the mountains in a remote valley, on the Friday night before the trip he idled typed her name into the Google and searched. He had done this a dozen times before. He looked at her pictures and he thought about her. And then he typed in her name again but he used her user name from two years ago from the dating web site where he had initially had coffee with her and he typed in the name and came across a blog with that user name and he read what the last entry was about. Her name was MoonDepression5. She referred to herself as MD5 on her blog. MD5 wrote on her blog about a trip she was planning with her boyfriend, who has the nickname, Jaysick. Jaysick, she wrote, loved the outdoors and she had the strategic mistake two years ago of saying she liked to go for walks and he took this to mean hiking, and in fact Jason had been on many hikes with Mary and he thought about it and he thought she had suggested it because she liked to go hiking and then he realized no, he had set up these dates, he had driven them, he had packed the lunch, and often these hiking trips never happened at all but rather dissolved into him picking up Mary and then their having heated sudden sex for hours on the floor of her living room.
He read the blog and in reading the blog he grew to know a different person. This woman was far more emotional than the Mary he knew. This woman wore her emotion on her sleeve. She talked about a relationship where the man said to her one day, when she was in his bed one morning after an evening of having sex, he came back to the bed with his coffee and he said, “I saw you in my bed and I wondered who you were and I didn’t know how you got to be here.” They broke up later that day. She had a long relationship with a man she thought was too large when they first met. He was an enormous man. He barely fit into his side of his car. For some reason, Mary noted, large men drove small cars. Riding with him she felt like they were always moving a futon mattress in a Volkswagen Golf. She was unsure she could stand going anywhere with him, and yet she liked and hated herself for thinking anything about his size. By the end of the summer they were going to wine tastings and parties.
He read about her meeting him. He was by this time involved in her story, and his first response when she began to describe this guy she met, was “and who is this guy? He can’t know her like I do,” and then he was like, “Oh. It’s me.”
He read about her trepidation at first because he was laconic and off limits about his parts of his life. At first Mary thought he was having an affair. And then she realized that maybe he was damaged in some way – she never really suspected that he was dating other people. In the first year of his relationship with Mary was when Jason met Elissa. He’d met them around the same time, and he had seen a number of other women, but it wasn’t until he’d been seeing Mary for about a year that Elissa also became a regular thing. He had not thought much about it. He had just gone about his life, and gradually he was only seeing these two women. Neither of them moved the conversation to “the talk.” And it was a strange sense of getting outside of himself for Jason to read the account the last two years of their relationship from Mary’s point-of-view.
A year ago she had an intense relationship with a man who she at first said was her soul mate. They matched on so many levels and she could not imagine living without this man. She could not imagine her life when she died without still knowing this man. In one post she did a comparison and contrast of her relationship with Jaysick and this other man, Mark. Mark was a kind of catch by stretch of the imagination. He had founded his own company making software servers that had some obscure connection to data centers. The servers could deliver vast amounts of information very cheaply and were easy to use and ended up being used by a lot of hospitals and clinics and nonprofits that had complex data needs and not a lot of money. Mark was a poet and she included one of his poems and Jason had to admit that while poetry was not his thing, this was a good poem. He liked the poem. He was curious about Mark in fact. And then it came out that Mark had a wife in another country, that Mark in fact had another lover. The term lover was used by Mary in her blog and Jason has never heard her use the term aloud. She only used it in this context. The term lover essentially meant fucking in this case. A woman didn’t call a man she was a merely friend with, even if she loved him, her lover. She called a man she was fucking, her lover. And yet she might as well call him her fucker. For this reason, the insistence the term required in terms of imagining a woman with a man having sex with the woman who used the term, the imagining being more visceral and graphic to Jason than the actual act of intercourse. In short, it would be less onerous if rather than declaring her sexual relationship with a man she just dropped her drawers and screwed this man right there. For these reasons, Jason hated the term lover. And yet in the context of Mary’s blog it seemed she used the term to heighten the irony of her discovery of the vast erotic life of Mark were . Mark was thinking about making Mary his replacement lover in Seattle and throwing over his other backup lover. Mark got into a fight at a bar over Mary. Weeks later, Mark pressured Mary into having a three way with Mark and one of his vice presidents, yet another lover. Mark was surrounded by lovers. How nice! The aftermath of that pressured sex was a long and convoluted breakup, and of course Mark could remember this period of time and Mary seemed the same as before – light and sunny and yet she had, had this experience, all while feigning interest in their quest to find a hidden Bonsai Garden in north Seattle that they never did actually find. Maybe she was really interested in stunted trees? And then Mark dumped her or she dumped him. It was a confusion of mutual break up. There were three months of puzzled, repetitive blog posts afterward of her trying to figure out what happened. She expressed that in some ways Jason was a consolation prize. That he had never changed during this period and that he was there every other week like a metronome. That in fact, that is how he had sex, like a clock, a repeatable process as reliable as a coffee maker. He had stamina and he was passionate, but tick tock and after ten minutes he would come and fall into a deep slumber. He couldn’t help it. He tried to drink caffeine to prevent that from happening. It still happened. He didn’t know what he could do to stop it.
And so he finished reading the blog late in the evening, and went to work groggy the next day and didn’t do much. He went home and slept and woke to pick up Mary with the information from the blog festering in his brain. What was he supposed to do now? He knew about her mental life. He knew about an emotional life that she had kept from him. And he wanted to talk to her. He wanted access to that world. But he liked how things had been. He wanted the relationship to remain the way it had been. But he also wanted to interact with this other woman she concealed from him. He didn’t even know how to say it. He wanted to know her. But he could know her by reading her blog. Instead he wanted to know her as a person sitting at the table across from him.
He picked her up. He was half expecting her to greet him in a silky kimono and they would find themselves tangled in freshly washed limbs on the knit cable carpet in her front hallway and then claw and kiss their way onto the couch and then into the bedroom. He anticipated this in opening the door, but she opened the door she had a backpack and wore cut off blue jeans and thick socks and heavy boots. She was ready for hiking. Hiking it would be or at least they would get to the cabin and he could go hiking and she could spend the afternoon in the jetted tub.
On the drive he wanted to say something about her not having to hike if she didn’t feel like it. That he could go for a short hike and they could spend the afternoon and evening in the cabin. He could go for an early morning hike as well. He imagined climbing out of the cabin in the early morning and up the side of the valley, up through the forest and the steep side of the ridge to the ridge line and then quickly up the ridge to the summit of the mountain and up the rocky scree field to the very top of the mountain and up into the cool early morning. He would like that, imagining Mary in the cabin sleeping and then waking and drinking coffee and reading her book and doing the crossword puzzle, and maybe emailing friends, and then his return from the mountain top and they would eat lunch and then maybe walk down the stream to then sit in the dappled sun and talk. He liked the idea of that and thought it would fit more with her comfort level.
“We are out here to hike, aren’t we?” she asked
“Well yes,” he said. “But we are also out here to get away from it all. Just hanging out in the cabin is fine as well.”
“Don’t you want to hike?”
“I can go for short hikes,” he said. “I like to be out away from everything. But I like the idea of coming back to you.”
“Well if you are hiking, so am I,” she said. “Unless you don’t think I can keep up.”
“I think maybe you don’t like hiking as much as me,” Jason said. “I like being together here you and me, and if I can go hiking and you can just hang, then we can both do what we like.”
“But we are coming out here to be together,” she said.
“We are,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean we have to actually go on the hike together.”
“It does,” she said. “Why are you trying to get rid of me?”
“I like hiking,” she said.
“I don’t think you do,” Jason said. “And that is fine if you don’t.”
“I would have told you,” she said. “I’m an open book. No agenda.”
“Well I couldn’t lie if I tried. I mean I could say something, but if it was a lie there is no way anyone would believe me.”
He thought about telling her what he had read, but even though it was a blog, and even though it was under her username, it would show that he had not begun reading the blog back when they were first dating; typically Google clearance occurred around the time of the first date. After that Jason supposed it still happened where a girlfriend might scour the web, but it suggested a kind of compulsive, stalkerish thing going on. If he talked to her about the blog now it would indicate to Mary he had just now decided to do the search. And then he would have revealed to her that he knew this stuff about her. There was the also the fact he was unsure about all of the detail and not that it wasn’t true detail – it was he felt surely stuff that happened – she had, had a three-way for instance. She had had a surprising number of sexual partners during the last two years while he had a modest number in comparison. But he was unsure how accurate the detail was: it was distorted from her point-of-view, from the emotions she was dealing with feeling at the time, from a lot of things. Jason had no training in literary forensics. He wasn’t a therapist. He knew what he had read, and things had happened, and Mary had thoughts about those things. He knew that much, but he also didn’t really want to jump to conclusions. She had continued to show up for their dates, and that alone was concrete compared to her posts.
“What is it?” she asked.
She had given him his chance to spill the beans.
He smiled and shrugged. “I’m just concerned that you enjoy yourself.”
“I always enjoy myself,” she said. “No need to worry about that,” she said.
He held her hand while he drove with the other.
She was always bright and sunny, and yet under that were other things going on. He wasn’t sure if he really wanted to peel back the veneer of happy go lucky. He had no idea what would happen if he did, and yet, knowing it was there meant it was there. He knew it was there and yet it was going on the entire time behind a happy face mask.
After they stowed away their gear they hiked up the side of the mountain.
Jason could not help but feel he knew her interior monologue. They didn’t go far after they arrived at the cabin. He thought that she liked this. She was relieved that the sun had just gone behind the ridge. The bracken fern and foxglove around the cabin held the last daylight. Between the trunks of the heavily creased bark of the Douglas fir it was already dark. Jason left the outdoor light to the cabin off, and started the fire and he lit the kerosene lamps. The cabin had electricity but he liked the idea of being without power. Their cell phones were plugged in and charging. Their lamps were placed on the desks in the cabin. Later they would cook, but right now he opened a bottle of wine and they sat down together on the couch constructed of pine boughs and heavy, slightly-laminated cushions. The plastic fabric made a crinkle sound as they moved. They drank their wine and didn’t talk, but Jason’s mind was busy with whatever it was he thought Mary might be thinking. He didn’t know what she might be thinking – about how far they had driven just to have glasses of wine and make out on a rather uncomfortable couch. They had sex after drinking their wine, and she complained about the skin on her ass sticking to the plastic cushion. Jason tried to move things to the floor, but then thought about her blog entry talking about splinters and stray toys left by the last tenants of the house bothering her while he ploughed her, albeit briefly, and so he moved her to the bed, and bent her over the edge of the unmade bed and fucked her from behind, grabbing handfuls of her ass flesh. Jason desperately tried to keep his orgasm at bay. He thought about scenes from movies where men fought coming too quickly. He imagined Sting with Zen candles and herbal ointments employing some technique of everlasting erection from some Tantric Yogi to the Rock Stars. A black board and diagram must be involved. And yet he went too far and began to go soft, and so brought himself back into his body with his hands on her beautifully white flesh. She made soft groans. He tried to detect some signal that she was not enjoying his labors, and when he couldn’t, he came instantly. He removed himself and pulled free his condom with its tidy packet of sperm and went to the bathroom to wash his hands and dispose of the package. He returned and tended to her while she had her eyes closed imagining something he was curious to read about later on her blog. He knew at least from her blog that she rarely faked having an orgasm. She provided plenty of helpful pointers, and he found these instructions that grew in insistence and brevity the closer she came to finally having an orgasm, exciting. He did think she was having orgasms from intercourse but he knew now that she rarely did, unless she had, had a lot to drink, and had been stimulated for sometime either by previous orgasms or by his touching her, or something. This insight from her blog was very helpful. Once they were done, she showered and he dressed in his official outdoorsman clothes and they went outside to walk around the park grounds where the cabins were located. It was still light on the sides of the valley. The valley itself was dark and the lamplight was on near the road. They walked to the bridge over the creek. The creek ran through rapids, fell in cataracts, and meandered in a deep pool lined with granite sand, mica, quartz crystals, and muck. The roots of the trees were exposed by the erosion and they ate on the mossy bank. She set her head on his shoulder and he held her there. He didn’t know what she might write about this moment or even if she would write about the moment in her blog. There were vast swatch of the time together that didn’t make the cut into her blog. It occurred to him then that her blog was a representation of what things were like – it was a characterization as much as anything else and no less real or more real than anything else that anyone wrote. It just happened to be about her and about him and about her lovers. He also knew from reading the blog entries that Mary had a tremendous tenderness and emotional yearning that she wanted moments like this. It was almost as if a moment like this could not be saved from being wrecked in her account because she was so hungry for them. Mary seemed content at that instant as they sat in the noise of the stream. They could hear the clatter of birds in the dusk above them. There was the sound of a small engine somewhere in the valley and then it stopped. And it was just them in the small segment of the world. The ground held the heat of the day. The air was thick with pollen, dust, and pockets of heat as they walked through the meadow back to the cabin. Above them the stars started to show and Jason wished for an instant for any time at all that he could stop thinking and planning and scheming. At that moment he was thinking about how he might find another session of sex. Her agenda now was obscure to Jason. He didn’t know why she came here except that while they were here she had Jason’s undivided attention. But she had his undivided attention when she had his cock in her throat. So he didn’t get it. But he was also ready to get a drink and read. And so he poured them two very strong drinks. He built a fire. Mary put blankets down on the couch and curled him and he sat down next to her. He wanted to read and listen to her breathing and then later in the off chance that they could get busy again, but instead he found after a few pages, the warmth of the fire, the lavender scent of Mary’s body wash, the soothing nature of the novel he was reading, that he was having trouble staying awake. He didn’t want to fall asleep. He knew that if he fell asleep Mary would be angry in her blog. That if he fell asleep she would write about how he had sex with her, went for a walk, and fell asleep. So Jason put on some hot water. “Do you want coffee or tea?” he asked. Mary said no thank you. He had packets of instant coffee. It was supposedly gourmet, but there really wasn’t anything could do to instant coffee not to make it taste like instant coffee no matter the cost. But there was really nothing wrong with the flavor of instant coffee. It was its own thing just as the flavor of Hershey’s Chocolate was its own thing – chocolate in far as it did actually contain cocoa, instant coffee in so far as coffee beans were somehow involved in the industrial process of making the powder. Jason had instant coffee and was more awake as he read his book and they read for what seemed like hours. He made it, he felt. He had made it. And then in the darkness, he brushed his teeth in the fussy little bathroom that pulled water from the creek and into a treatment machine. The entire cabin was both modern and ancient and he liked that it was not contemporary but that the conveniences were Space Age – products of people who had stayed in severe conditions such as the Artic or deep space. The rest of the cabin was built from materials found in the valley itself – wood, cement, gravel, and glass. And then there was the water conservation toilets, sinks and shower. The repositories of recycled water and water treatment. The solar powered fridge, and the wood stove that emitted no smoke.
He woke in the bed. Mary slept soundly in her pajamas. He was naked but he always slept naked. He took a shower and began breakfast on the range. He made toast, bacon, and eggs. He knew this was Mary’s favorite part of the entire experience, was to wake up with these things made for her. She liked waking to the sound of him in the kitchen, and so he made the noises for her. They read the news on their phones while they ate their breakfast, and then they dressed in their hiking clothes. He had the lunch he’d bought earlier that week, a bottle of wine, a picnic blanket. And they set off. He walked slower than he normally did. He liked to walk quickly when he started to warm up. The warm up was the most difficult part of the hike and it took him a good hour or two to finally warm into his muscles and the walk. The first half hour found him wanting him to stop. He always thought of any excuse and he was aware that Mary may try to seduce him, to get him to go back to the cabin for a morning of heavy duty sex. They walked through the bluish morning, through the meadow thick with wild flowers and bracken, and then through the heavy stand of fir trees to the trail that wound up on the side of the valley toward the ridge. She stopped after half an hour and somehow her shirt had become unbuttoned. He could see the crease of her cleavage and she held her backpack such that her breasts were both crushed together and a finger was “accidentally” pressed into her cleavage. “Well this is a start,” she said. She leaned into him and kissed him. She caught him staring at her cleavage. “Pity to waste a morning on the trail. We have a view already.”
He resisted. He shrugged and said, “Do you want a drink of water?”
“I’m very thirsty,” she said. “I think the bacon was salty.”
He handed her the water bottle.
She drank it, turning toward him.
For a second he thought about her being grateful for getting back to the cabin so early. How she would let him come into the shower with her. It would be worth it, he told himself. Wasn’t that the entire purpose of all of this anyway? Why drag her along to the top of a mountain when he can get even more laid by going back to the cabin with her now?
At some point he figured he would have to tell her.
All of his values and his sense of self pointed to the fact that had been seeing her and that he was seeing her because he liked to have sex with her. If he really wanted to go hiking, he could go hiking himself. But he also realized at that moment he had this image of them returning from a day that he couldn’t even predict yet and even if it proved to be a boring day of climbing endlessly up the meadow side of the mountain to the top with clouds and sky and the sun he had an image of them returning to the cabin having been somewhere and all he would want at that moment was to strip off his boots and socks and shower and lay down in the soft bed with her and not do anything except lay in a position of escape from the endless pressure of wanting anything. He would want nothing at that moment except for the moment not to end.
This is not to say he didn’t desire her. This is not to say he was totally willing to strike the bargain of going hiking and not hiking and instead getting freaky in the mountain cabin. A man could hold on in a relationship of weirdness, coolness, distance, even infidelity and abusiveness for the promise of a weekend in a remote cabin filled with freaky sex. But against his better or worse judgment as a man, Jason pressed on toward this moment he desired. He didn’t know if he would tell her about his having read her LiveJournal on the slopes of the mountain where they would be trapped into discussing it and he may get through it with her, or on the way back where he would certainly risk her feeling violated in some way as if he had read her personal diary. He had come to terms if the paradox that was there if any.
They continued then up the side of the mountain until they arrived at the ridge where they took a break. They both ate oranges. Jason could see the valley with the cabins on one side and on the other side a remove valley above the more trafficked valley on one of the river forks. They were drenched in sweat. The sun was still coming up over the mountain and they passed into the shadow of the peak then almost like traveling back into the earlier part of the morning. They kept moving until the trees began to thin and get smaller and then finally near noon they came out onto the meadow. Although a meadow sounds flat, and this meadow was at nearly a forty-five degree angle up the side toward the summit of the mountain. The peak, a granite outcropping rose from the summit. It wasn’t a tall peak. Snowfields lay in the shadow of the summit, but otherwise the air was dusty and warm already in the sun. The grass held dew that would evaporate pretty quickly. The clouds of moisture rose from the valleys in heavy sheets. A bank of the clouds rose near another peak across the valley. But below them they could see the thin curl of the river fork and the marsh where the creek near the cabin joined the river. They continued up the side of the mountain through the meadow each step like walking up a staircase.
Finally they came to the summit. A trail travelled along the very top of the ridge where hikers and animals were funneled toward the very tip of the mountain on the peak. The trees here were mostly dead and just snags. Insects buzzed in the heat. There was a type of insect that made of a long drawn out twee. Twee. Twee. Mary breathed in and out and out and said, “I think I’m done. I don’t need to get to the very top. I don’t need every last thing that is offered me. I don’t need it all.”
“We can stop, but we are so close. When we look down from the very top everything will fall around us. We can see everything from up there.”
“I don’t need that,” she said. “I just need to rest.”
“You can rest,” he said, “but why don’t we just take a few more steps.”
“Always pushing me along,” she said.
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t want to go any further, she said.
“We are here already. We can just go up there.”
“I’m good,” she said.
He didn’t want to leave her there but they were so close to the very top.
They ate their lunch under a copse of stunted pine trees. The pitch smelled like paint thinner. They disturbed moths nesting in the needles. The wood colored moths fluttered like black specks in the bright sunlight on the mountainside. Jason considered what she would think having come so far and not going all of the way. Her blog entry would have none of the triumph of a hike like this and all of the pain and agony. He wanted both things in her blog entry.
When they stood, they had sat long enough that their feet were inert and stiff. His blisters ached. He could see that Mary was even in worse condition than he was. “Lets’ head back,” he said. “Maybe if we can head toward the summit we could touch the base?”
She agreed. And ten minutes later he felt more limber and rested. The snowfield at the base of the summit was cooler. They drank water and then he refilled his water purification pump and they drank snowmelt right from the mountain. She began to climb the mountain without him asking her and they got right to the top. They stood on the rim of the granite ledge exposed at the tip of the mountain. She embraced him and kissed him and he dropped his power-bar wrapper. It fluttered into the wind, a swirling fragment of red and gold foil and jumped into the sky. It whirled into the bluish space above the valley.
They moved more quickly and easily back down the meadow. Going down was easier but left different muscles sore and pretty soon Jason wanted to be going up again since it relied on a more familiar set of sensations. Going down was easier but left him blistered and gasping. They passed through the trees and it was now early afternoon. It occurred to him he would ask her about the blog. He should explain how he came across it but he decided not to then. He could wait. He didn’t know when he would tell her. He had a hard time imagining that years from then he would bring her a cup of coffee and say, “You know I read your blog, MoonDepression5.”
They passed through the forest and finally to the cabin. They showered and lay on the bed, hardly moving, too tired to eat, too tired to do anything except feel the firm softness of the bed. He knew then he wouldn’t ask her about her blog. He had his thoughts. Jason thought, “Jason never told Elissa anything.” There was nothing to ask. She had her thoughts. Mary used a slightly medicinal body wash, an herbal antiseptic and the smell of pine needles.