14 January 2012
Cumulus – Olga Joanna Kotnowska
Cumulus by Olga Joanna Kotnowska (24)
Behind the fence that runs along the track, tussocks of sugarcane rise; from a mess of dry leaves, bright green blades push up and with sharp tips point, reach higher than the top wire that stretches between the rotting trunks that hold the fence together. Along this way it smells sweet and sticky, and Katya takes this in, this life of his, and the hot rocks against her feet and the sweet stickiness, and the sun, its heat against her face, against her bare collarbone – pressing.
The rocks along the track form a mosaic that is not symmetrical and Katya invites him to a game where they are only allowed to step on rocks. They cannot tread over ant highways that push ahead beside them, veer off at angles across the track and continue on the other side. They cannot tread on the dead leaves stuck across rock faces, nor on the leaves scattered in the spaces between, where the dirt that makes up the track is mostly dry. They must avoid the branches and the sticks, covered by sheets of bark that bend around and come undone, reveal webs now abandoned, and webs that are still homes. Katya giggles and pulls at his hand, from rock to rock she challenges her height with wide strides, lands hard against rock surfaces that are hot, against surfaces that are smooth, against sharp edges. He complains that his feet are too big, that his feet are bigger than the rocks and betray his chances of winning this game, that it is too hot and instead he pulls his hand free from her attempts, watches her continue ahead of him, watches the muscles press against the skin of her white legs with each stride.
Beside them, along the track, on the other side of the sugarcane field, the river continues; it continues but here it is quiet, behind a wall of green tangle that in this place does not leave. But Katya knows it is there, the river, and in the spaces where the wall of leaves and stalks, trunks and branches thins out, she sees the river’s surface glisten purple now that late afternoon approaches, and now that late afternoon approaches, the sky is restless but slow. The clouds drag themselves across; they hang low, almost vertically, and they drag themselves across but they look still. The edges that were once defined are now merging; they are dragging themselves into one another, huge masses of cloud falling across one another’s paths. The hounds begin to bark from behind the sugarcane tussocks, and Katya looks back and giggles, forms bridges between rocks with each step, faster, and when she lands on the dirt that she is not allowed to touch, she screams and giggles and jumps back onto the nearest rock, and the hounds squeeze out from underneath the lowest wire of the fence. The hounds’ barks gurgle over the top of one another and each bark encourages the next; on their heavy paws they crush up the track towards them, an uncombed mass of black and brown and white, molding wide paw-prints in the dirt, in the places where it has stayed moist since morning.
When the river curves it rips the track in half, and here on the summit of a large boulder, Katya waits for him to catch up. In front of her, the track slopes down under the body of the river, and underneath the river’s body the track takes the rocks, and how do the rules of this game allow her to reach the other side now? Here, by the river’s edge the hounds stop, wide thick heads crash into backs and thighs and tails that whip. The dogs watch her but she is only standing, and with the blocks of their snouts they measure up the river, some drink and the tips of their ears dissapear underneath its surface, and the youngest hound invites the others to play, with nips to their necks and tails. The river flows slowly, but with a confidence, it flows and it is patient; it is not hurried by the downpour of rain. This sticky sweetness does not leave Katya, she lets it invade her breaths; she smiles. From behind she is so innocent; and this is what he sees. She stands in front of the river, her right hip bent and her head up in the air, her fair strands tied loosely above her neck, and she sees something he does not, because she smiles, always she smiles. From underneath her dress, her legs are so bright, they are strangers to the sun. And she is a stranger to the sun. The cliffs of her shoulders rise up; they are defined, with sharp edges, a sculpture, and today this sculpture is his. When he walks up, with the back of his fingers he traces the hills and valleys of her spine, the complicated geography of her shoulder blades, he whispers, ven conmigo.
Up, across the sky, the clouds continue to grow and spread themselves thickly. They hang lower, and they are darker now, now that the sun that is setting no longer highlights their bellies with a faded pink. Here, the clouds are thick and tall and across the whole of the sky they reach. Katya points up, Look, the clouds are so well fed! He does not answer, and her words he probably does not understand, these words with which she addresses him. He pulls her, off the track that is cut by the river, and along the bank, over ferns that tumble into the river he pulls her, he pulls her underneath branches that twist around those of other trees, and around lianas that hang from above, he pulls her between the trunks of young trees that are still thin, and with his free hand he pushes the lighter twigs aside, snaps them out of the way, and the river runs beside them still, always the river, and now it is not purple but darker. Her palm is swallowed by his, her stride challenged by his pace, by his knowledge of the coarse edges and turns that is this river-bank, this place of his that is impossible. When she resists, he does not respond to the slight pull of her hand, and she allows him, again.
The river is calm here. And they wade in. She does not take her dress off, across the slight curve of her back, across her ribs the silk sticks to her skin when she wades in. In his grasp her hand does not rest, she feels it. She feels the surface that is his hand, and she closes her eyes, smiles. And they wade in and her heart weighs down against her flesh; she can feel it, or something like it, something heavy against her skin. She feels it stronger when she looks at him, and quick glances are enough to feed this hunger. And now that she is here, his hand in hers, she asks herself to remember this, to remember now, and she wants to feed this hunger with now, with the now that will be a memory. He glances down and winks, and the river is cool across the sweat of her legs, it stings the cuts and the grazes that this morning she did not have. And they wade in so slowly and she does not want to reach anything because reaching means the end. She does not look ahead at the forest in front, does not look up at the sky that this evening does not rest. From the bank behind them, hiccups of a capacho announce the coming of night and the rains. Katya glances at him; the dark mole sits where his left cheek first begins to arc, the steep slope of his nose, the slope of his forehead because he is concentrating when he leads her in.
In the middle of the river, she wraps herself around him. She rests her cheek across his shoulder, kisses his neck. He whispers words to a song, he whispers the words slowly so she can understand, or at least some of it. There is no tune but the words speak of the river’s grace, of how it stretches from one side of the world to the other. Around his torso and hips she is heavy, at the thought of her he thinks of porcelain because she is pale, and in this place of his she is fragile. When he begins to sink, he feels the smooth boulders along the river’s bottom with the tips of his toes, he pushes up, himself and the giggling porcelain stuck across his torso. He breathes in the drops of water across the back of her shoulder and she tightens her grip.
¿Pero cómo es que el río se extiende por el mundo de lado a lado? Katya asks, in his language with which she takes risks, this language with which she stumbles and assumes, even now, when this language is beginning to lose its music and starts to hold meaning. She kisses the root of his neck, kisses the drops of water and across her lips they are cool. Into her shoulder he whispers, ¿Puedes ver dónde termina? And so Katya looks up to find the river’s end. When she looks up past the wall of his shoulder, the river flows on, around the bend it continues deep and quiet. She looks back, heaves her body up his torso because she begins to slip, and the river flows towards them from where it cut their path, from further, where it is not a river but a horizon, with the green of the forest that is now hard to make out, and from the grey and black shadows that have become the sky. And no, Katya cannot see the river’s end, and so the words to his song are true: the river stretches from one side of the world to the other.
And this is me, she thinks, here. In the middle of the river she presses herself against his body, tightens her grips, and to be somewhere but here would be a mistake. Katya joins the moles that sit scattered across his face, she joins the moles with lines that she imagines, and with the lines she makes shapes but mostly paths, and they all lead back to this mole, the mole that sits where his cheek first begins to arc, and on this mole Katya rests. When she smiles, he does not look away from the green of her eyes because this he cannot do, even if he wanted to this he cannot do. They grab at him and this he cannot give up, even here, in the middle of the river that is deep, where he sinks, he cannot look away and give their green up. She lets her weight pull him down, she lets it all pull him down and she thinks herself heavier, and pulls him down and the river is quiet here but it swallows their shoulders, necks, their faces, and before the water closes in over her whole, she suffocates and it is not the water that traps her but the sky; she looks up and the clouds are so low. The clouds have eaten what was once a sky and what was once a day, and here the clouds sit and their bellies are so full, and the thunder roars and it all trembles, this place. And the clouds, they eat the world and they hang lower. The air is moist, it has become heavy, this heaviness grows and it crowds, and invades when she breathes. And the river swallows, and she sinks, she sinks with him against her body in her grasp where she longed, but the clouds, they said something else.
And she knew, she never wanted to believe in omens but she knew then. And when he did not return, and when days and years later he still had not returned, when Katya was left behind in this strange place of his where the green never leaves and the rivers continue, she could have never blamed him or anyone because she was warned, she knew, because the clouds; they said something else.