Morning yawns a cool eucalyptus breath and the road rattles beneath us as we cross into pastureland. A bird sits on the back of a cow, riding his slow chew. In the shadow of the volcano we swerve, the car tipping like a jar of coins with each long, upward curve, the roar of the engine breathing a hypnotic lull, the thinning air a welcome sedative. In the back seat, the children are cocooned in bedspreads from their hotel room beds, eyes closed but not sleeping. We have climbed this volcano before; we know you will not be at the top. Your absence makes us hate this ride and its overflow of beauty, its lofty heights, but we are drawn relentlessly anyway, calling the whispers beyond the windows your spirit, even though we do not believe. Along the side of the road, nameless yellow flowers reach out of the dry lava rock, cheering our progress upward, waving their wildness like tiny flags. Flowers are not afraid of falling, but we worry about edges, imagine ourselves falling into space.
The air is too cold, thin and shivery as spiderwebs. Last time we came my daughter lost a tooth, the smallest of bones in sacrifice. She was younger then, during the time when your heart still beat out stories and you reached across the sky to point out the dark cinder cones, telling us that the earth breathed through them. Now the gap in her gums has grown a new tooth. The parked cars hover on a bog of clouds. The silverswords that have been waiting here all this time slice our eyes like unripe fruit. We are in it for the optical illusion, and stand at the edge, waiting for the gods you promised to show up and dance their slow hula in the lava rock, the sky, our bellies. From here, it seems like an easy enough task to snare the sun, toss a golden lasso around the days that slide across the sky on this tour bus planet. We take our photos. We ooh and ahh the way you taught us at the horizons that used to include your shape. But awe is not why we are here. We are mourners now, not tourists. The sliding sands are a funeral march, not a parade. We link hands and walk together over the edge as the nauseous, glorious sky spews rubble everywhere. Even mother earth can be seasick.
Your shoes, our inheritance, are covered in red dust, neon laces faded to a resigned jaundice. Nothing can be bright enough. The crater shrugs her rims, offended by our offering; the fit is wrong, our bodies too small to fill her empty palm. Again we look for god, a mythology animated for human vision, and it is everywhere, so much god that we have to put on our sunglasses to shield our eyes. The earth is the deep red of your stilled heart, or so we imagine as we trace the landscape with outstretched fingers. We want magic wands to conjure you but have only the sad potions of memory. No doves appear from behind the rocks. No mirror tricks alter the binary line separating earth from sky. I take photos of your shoes on our feet, our footprints in the dirt. We pretend the path remembers you. Remembers your rhythms. Remembers your weight. Fate is a strange airliner and here, where everyone is breathless, we can only have faith that having travelled so far, we will find our way back to where we began so we can tell the story of the time we were here before.
Christina Kapp’s short fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in numerous publications including Passages North, Necessary Fiction, Barn Owl Review, Gargoyle, Storyscape Journal, PANK, and apt. She teaches at The Writers Circle Workshops in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter: @ChristinaKapp.