“It’s about the stars,” she explains. “He doesn’t know if they’re there, or if they’re not there. So he decides all he wants is to look around—see what he can see. Fuck the stars.”
Then she turns off her light. Falling back into the cushion of her canvas bag, she lights the next cigarette from the butane flame of a Bic, and with a cast of her wrist returns her book of Lorca to its place by the tent. It’s gotten to be very late.
The mosquitos are asleep, a small miracle so late in August—that, or the tumorous smoke of green leaves and wet wood on the fire has kept them hiding in the shadow. The cicadas and crickets, though, are vehemently awake. And so in the silence, there is no silence—instead only the constant wheezing and humming of small life’s various frictions.
Sex and eating sex and eating sex and eating.
She is there—in the bluff and riverland of lower South Dakota—with her brother, who is older, and her sister, who is younger. Going on twenty-seven years now she is by so many measures in the middle. Middle of the siblings; middle of the country; middle of the warm, shared bottle of rye. Middle of the college degree (postponed thirteen semesters now); middle of this or that romantic disaster; middle of the long-troubling bout of restlessness. Whatever else she had landed in the middle of remains hers alone to catalogue—there being, after all, only so much that whiskey and campfire and the palliative of wilderness can reveal.
“Well holy shit!” the older brother says. “Lorca, huh?” And passing the rye back to the younger sister, he too makes a bed for himself in the dirt, turning up toward a modest patch of black sky and white stars.
Three days earlier—in the gently-used Volvo—the siblings had driven the four hours across farm and field to find themselves here, outside. And before the Lorca and the rye and the incorrigible lights of fire and star, there was the oatmeal breakfast. There was the shared mug of instant coffee. There was the battered apple. There were, emerging from the linty darkness of the middle sister’s purse, the tiny squares of acid waiting to be dissolved on outstretched tongues.
“Open up!” she said.
“Amen,” they said.
Then from camp they had walked to the wooden bridge thrown fifty feet above Split Rock Creek. Having had to pass through so many numbing miles of industrial cropland to get here, they now felt acutely aware that this place was different. Here, where the creek dammed and pooled. And where from both sides of the water grew sheer cliffs of granite and pipestone. And buttressed by the blue-green of the water and the hard pink of the rock were the various colors of grass and shrub and tree reaching above it all. And in the air—fleeting from ledge to ledge—the cunning beaks and squat bodies of kingfishers, impatiently pursuing a meal. The spit-and-mud nests of cliff swallows hung in the shadows. And then beyond the horizon, nothing. It ended. Bled back into the city and interstate and standardized shopping experiences it had spawned.
And maybe it was the chemicals slowly warming their brains, and maybe it was the slightly caustic particulate coloring the air (blown over from Sioux Falls, Sioux City, Albert Lea), or maybe it really was simply that lovely, but the siblings did manage to spend quite a long while on that bridge, looking every which way, taking photos for future use.
Holding her iPhone to the middle distance, the younger sister pressed the screen, then consulted the results. Pressed the screen, then consulted the results.
Curled a few feet away on the bridge, was the crushed body of a ringneck snake. “Look at the goo!” the older brother said as he settled on his haunches, camera snapping the teaspoon of translucent mess that once must have been some critical bit of snake plasma.
Finally, past the bridge, sitting on the bank of the creek, the three undid their shoes and unlatched their clothes for the water.
“This is so chill,” said the younger sister.
“This is so chill,” said the younger sister.
And in fact it was—the birds birding themselves across the water, the current rolling out its waterly patterns in the sand, the breeze—very chill, indeed.
Needing always to be first, the older brother said something loudly, and then dropped gracelessly in. The cold sting of water shrinking his vitals. The clean rush of creek through his knotted hair. The immediate buoyancy of the body.
“It’s perfect. I’m going out to the middle,” he explained.
“Why do you always have to narrate everything you’re doing?” the middle sister asked.
“I just want us to be on the same page. I don’t want you confused.”
“Yeah, thanks for that.”
“I’m going to take out a cigarette and light it and smoke it and then go swimming, ok?” the younger sister interrupted.
“Ok,” the middle sister said.