Thief Knot, Fastening
She draws a pitch-black line through the sand from an open-air sandwich shack straight home to a small hotel she had checked in a few hours earlier, a walk that would take no more than 20 minutes if it was done in broad daylight and with more people around, even if that would mean a higher chance for accidental collisions.
Just about midway she can feel she is being followed. When she turns towards him, all she can see are two eye-whites a few yards behind her, too high above the water line to be floating. He veers off course, walks down to the ocean and stays parallel to it for a minute or two. To make up for the added length of this deviation, he adjusts his speed and picks up the pace.
She grew up in a village near the mountains which keep mostly silent and are of sparse foliage. Here, the landscape is roaring. To her right nothing but underbrush; plants fleshy at any hour but plumped up even further by the blackness of the night. No telling whether they would be sympathetic to her fleeing across or raise up a series of thorny and poisonous fences, shelter insects that can never keep their stingers pulled and anyway, where would she end up even if she did find a manhole in this vegetation?
To the left of her roils the ocean. Where the waves thin out along its edges, the man lets his feet scatter the shallow water into a series of happy sounds, a small splattering as if he had just drenched the planters around his suburban home and now lets whatever is left in the hose trickle out onto the parched asphalt. If she wasn’t on the receiving end of what’s still to come, she would like to go down there and join him.
Then he makes his turn, takes a trajectory that will inevitably clash with her own course which has remained steadfast all along, and despite being tired and jetlagged, she can assess accurately enough how many more steps that will take. From what he gives off across this small expanse of sand and of air, he is not going to simply cross paths, nor is he planning to walk alongside her. The hotel is visible in the distance, a brightly-lit four-point square Lego block. He is three or four steps away when she greets him, out of instinct, as if this most basic and universal show of respect could stop him dead in his tracks and make him come up with a sudden and better plan.
The male crickets are deafening each other with love songs. They can’t see very well and are not paying attention, are busy flexing their abdominal muscles in decibels that far exceed the scream any one single woman could produce without resorting to electrical amplification. Or maybe they all just stopped the screeching and are listening in, maybe the raucous activity to the right and to the left of the line she is walking has been paved over for a brief moment.
He is looking at her, has no wings to flick and she has none to fly off with and she knows from one moment to the next that nothing can get her out of the situation without leaving some sort of residue. Two bodies that could have so easily passed each other without making a mark. She still wants to have a say in this and play it out in the open, needs to win this battle, even if she is unsure how to translate resolve into any form of victory, and even if victory might mean nothing more than lying alive on her back on a beach somewhere, unable for a while to resume her walk while she thinks she can hear him running away but can’t be completely sure of it. If seen from above and under better lighting conditions, the straight line she walks into the sand with almost imperceptible imprints of her soles, will now have a big knot in the middle. It will take the late-night breezes until morning to untie it and brush off its ugly sounds.
Or, if looked at from above one last time, one could see that the line ended on one side of the knot and that a wholly different one starts on the other, between them a suspension of sorts and a disbelief, at least on her part. The cicadas have recommenced the screeching. If they wanted to, they could now update their narrative and tell each other a new story, unless what she currently hears is only the echo from what they’ve said earlier; maybe there never was an interruption in the noise.
With both legs still gripped by fear, she’ll have to unclench her fists first if she wants to make it to bed tonight, wrap both of her hands around one leg, lift the thigh up, plant a foot forward and then repeat with the other. Or maybe it’s not fear she is feeling but merely a soreness from the rapid sequence of earlier movements, a kicking that her legs have never before executed at such speed, not even when they are running home.
Doro Boehme is trained as a visual artist and writer and currently oversees the library special collections at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work has appeared in print and online, for example in yewjournal, Art On Paper, Art Documentation, and Art Journal, among others. This story is an excerpt from a novel-in-progress, titled Keeping Water From Drowning. For more of her writing and art, visit doroboehme.com