Really, the mountains were everything to me, and I could never understand why they were not to you. I think we just saw peaks differently. For I, purposefully mistranslating Sappho, thought that one could only reach the sky two arms strong. You were always shyer. Perhaps, you were not actually more shy but more open to it. You let your shyness set your cadence, a cadence of delicate steps that were only heard when listened to. I wanted everyone to listen to me softly the way they did you, but both you and they never did because I was always too deep in the thrush. I still do not know why—to this day—I wish to distinguish what was then mine and yours, as if mountains could have belonged to either of us when we wanted them to. I think, too, that I realized all of this after I first took you up to the mountains, and you were so deeply unimpressed.
Out there, the only time you responded was atop Mt. Vernon when you told me that my crying sounded like birdsong. I was so mad that you had made me cry this birdsong because even the birdsong, sung as lightly as I could, hurt my lungs. They were already turning too coarse and angry for the way of the woods, and suddenly you realized that I am dying, someday. Dying younger than you wanted but older than I wanted—we were always unable to agree on the moment at which I die. I do not think that we could agree on a place either. For I, as one might now expect, would say the mountains, but you would say your own breast. However, despite my willed protests, in between thick coughs and high elevation I do not know if I would truly know the difference.
I met you in town. You were not a townie but from the old city. I found it exotic, a nice change from the latticed and buttered cherry pie we had all grown up with. Now, I have stopped eating butter and, thus, that sweet, sweet cherry pie, but in those days I still churned every lit morning. Picking at your first and then second slice, you would not say hello to me; I think I scared you—we all did. You looked confused as you tried to read the maps, and I came over to tell you that nobody, even us townies, reads the maps anymore. A few years ago, we had forgotten how and relied only on the maps of our fingertips. I think the prospect of this excited you because, until then, you had always feared the unknown. You were delighted by the comforts of things internal like thin suede couches and heartbeats.
I bought you cup of black coffee, and you told me it was too watery for your taste. You didn’t tell me immediately, though, and hovered over the cup, tilting it back and forth as if you were bathing a small, wandering fly. Some minutes later, I grew concerned that there might actually be a fly in your cup. I did not want you to choke nor did I wish the fly to die a death more sloshed than need be. Yet, before I said anything, you spoke up about how the coffee differed from back home and that you missed the sameness of where you had left. Slightly bothered, I hissed that you would get used to it—because the rain waters down everything here and that one should think twice complaining over a cup of something free. Things fell silent, and sometime soon I threw on my boots and walked out the door.
It was the first festival of your first summer; so, you dolled up in apricot lipstick and the cherry blossom dress that I laid for you on our bed. Some of us townies still pressed flowers on thin paper, and I had saved all of my spring petals to make a dress that would suit your sensibilities. The day was unexpectedly hot; so, we shaved your head too, and it was soft and undemanding like a young puppy. You offered to take the blade to mine next, but I had grown far too attached to my full hair in its excess, appreciating the way the thickness of my brows caught sweat on the field. Besides, your lack of hair now set us apart, and since we were one and the same, I think the other townies were happy to know the difference without having to always ask. They knew, only sometimes, by the way I worked what fields we had, and by the way you sat on the porch day to day, rocking.
Everyone was surprised when we had no children and when we continued to have no children. I think first they did not realize that our bodies did not work that way, and later I think they just failed to consider that, as a growing child myself, maybe I did not want any. Maybe you had wanted them, a simple two or three, maybe before you met me. Nevertheless, you always said nothing while I spoke incessantly of my fears of raising children to think like me. But, that first summer when you put on that cherry blossom dress, I cannot lie and say that I did not think once about children or, better yet, about making children—especially as the paper tore rightly along your neck. I felt as strong as ever, believing it to be our first festival of true consummation.
More than anything, I wanted to catch an orca whale, just so I could send it back to the sea. Rumors circled that a pod had found themselves past the sound, trapped within the shallows of the Snohomish—to think of a mighty orca basking in the tears of mountains that overlooked us all! That cold Sunday morning you finally told me that you did not love me over whale-fishing. You had previously thought it something that needed not to be said. I was glad you did. Considering the number of summers you stayed, I assumed you loved me silly and dreaded the moment, during which I would have to tell you that I did not love you myself. But, to my surprise, you popped first, and I was more than relieved. Except, the river was never stiller than that day—not a single fish bit, or even tugged, our fragile line.
Though we were both disappointed by the lack of whales, we were pleased by the fact that we had not disappointed one another. Very rarely did we agree. But we agreed that morning, and that evening sliced the root vegetables in welcome stillness. As we stirred stew, you put your hand, stained with rabbit’s blood, atop mine and asked why we did not love the other. I told you I had no answers, only two more bulbs of garlic and stale bread, and asked if you wanted toast on the side. A comet passed as we licked our bowls clean. Our red-sauced faces shot up in a fair attempt to follow its fading and faded trails. We caught the other’s glance, laughing out flecks of rabbit from our gritted teeth. We could only withhold so much.
Eventually, I took you to the mountains, of which I had always spoken so fondly. You, forever eager and bright-eyed, spent years convincing me to take you, and it was at the brink of a late summer and early autumn when I was finally convinced. We climbed cliffs like Scotland—except on the wrong ocean—to the very top so that we could see far and wide. I felt accomplished after the long climb and expected you to feel the same. I could even see the old city from which you came from, a city to which I had still never been. But you said nothing and continued to say nothing until I broke the silence by offering a few pungent mushrooms, picked along the way. We ate them and their entire stench. The mushrooms provoked funny feelings, leaving you even more dismal. I, however, became euphoric and forgetful, as I prepared myself for the tumble down.
I spoke incoherently of alphabets. In contrast, you felt as though you no longer knew any words, and that escape of language silenced us once again. What I neglected to tell you beforehand was that I secretly feared going down mountains. My great ambitions to reach the top, any top, motivated the climb up, but a deep, lingering fear of falling—of falling off the face of the Earth entirely—locked my knees and wobbled my steps. We were still not speaking; so, you did not understand or recognize my growing anxieties until I nicked a small rock and howled. Awoken, you came, then, to the startling realization that you knew nothing about me except lies on mountains. I, too, came to a single realization: that I might love you, though now I laid neck in the dirt with absolutely nothing but cold lies.
We had always anticipated that I would be the first of us to die and never considered your own death. But it happened, as it happens to all, in a most mild and undisturbed way. We had since given up on the mountains, and even left town once entirely to see the old city. But, like you in the mountains, I felt out of place and short of breath. My crumbling lungs did not fair well with its busy air, and how does one react to a place in which they know neither the land nor a single person beyond their company? You felt unhappy, too, learning that your people had since moved on. That was our first and final visit to the old city, and we never spoke of it.
We said good-bye one morning, leaving one another with a quiet kiss, before I headed for the fields and you to the woods to pick some wild cherries for a pie. I was skeptical. You had long envied us townies and our ability to mother a pie. You never could. Milking the cows, you always knocked over the pail. If you managed to get a few drops, your arms tired easily churning—your butter always lumped. Your dough always crumbled and, if by some miracle you made it to the oven, your pies burned crisp. On the day of your death, I worked the fields, and you made a pie, and everything went right. It was perfectly latticed and cooled nicely. Resting on the windowsill, the pie pleased you in its seeming perfection, and suddenly you became. Only later did I learn you had picked the truest wild cherries, the ones only a townie could digest.
No, you died long after the mountains, long after the visit. But today, I see you as a new child for the first time. I hear your mother call your name and watch her wipe your cherry-stained mouth, comforting you like me.
Eva Schach is a writer and artist, studying art history at Barnard College. She is, however, currently taking a year off from New York City to study in the quaint libraries of Oxford University. Her work has been published across oceans and coasts in a variety of publications, which include The Columbia Review, The Monarch Review, and Notes Oxford.