She will never see Africa. She knows that now. She will never foray out from the trees onto the Savannah. Never follow the Nile. Never. Not in a few years. Not when the children are older. Not when she has saved enough money. Never.
She is here, her feet not planted in the soft sand of possibilities but rooted to the living room floor. The celebrant faces clustered around her seal her fate.
“So birthday girl,” jovial voice, “What do you say?”
The crowd expects a response, and quickly.
Marion shrugs; her smile spreads like honey across her friends’ whole-wheat faces. “Good food,” she mugs; exotic food now her only adventure.
“That, we do well,” her sister confesses proudly.
“And drink,” her husband David chirps, “Speaking of which….” The exuberant host retrieves his wife’s glass and fades to the kitchen.
Her husband has played every role he can imagine. He is no traveler.
* * *
Standing by the window, the last of the pale sunlight seeping through the glass, Marion is pulled back to her other kingdom. She returns there often now, thanks, in part, to the medication. There she is wakened by the sun’s warmth, early morning eyes blink at cracks of space, hints of openness seen through the pattern of enclosing branches.
There, through hours dense as foliage, she scurries through the house of trees, scrambling up and down the rough trunks, swinging from perch to perch. Her eyes lured beyond the shelter to the flat open expanse.
Hesitantly, she moves forward. Swinging rhythmically from tree to tree then stops abruptly at the edge of her knowledge, the last tree. Her head cocked, she spies a shadow scampering across the yellow sky.
The shadow is here, in her living room, she is back to the voices.
“To the next 50,” a voice roars.
“And the next.”
“Who knows,” David speculates, “The way things are changing….”
A chorus of groans, “Here we go.”
“Who brought the professor?”
Affectionately overcome, David raises his hand. “I accept defeat. I appreciate when a crowd wants circuses.”
“I know 30 first-year students who’d argue that point,” his colleague says. Scattered laughter and shuffling feet: the herd drifts towards the canapés and shoptalk.
* * *
Marion remains near the window. The first time, even the shadow flickering across the mind would be as terrifying as the scrape of rat’s claws. But a powerful curiosity, a painful longing pulls. Her crouched body cradled in the familiar womb of branches slowly moves from her mother. The hot connecting chord trembles to protect the vulnerable flesh. The membrane peels to separate them like an adhesive bandage from a wound.
The other animals carelessly chirping and jostling are unaware that a sister considers venturing beyond their tree cradle. Reaching forward, the sharp sun-knives pierce the flesh, burning the eyes. Marion turns away, digs in, back to the cool afternoon.
* * *
“Just ten years to go then, eh? Or are you planning an early retirement?”
“We haven’t decided,” David smiles. “Looking at options.”
“Like winning the lottery?”
“Something like that.”
“What you need is a rich old aunt.”
“Don’t we all?”
* * *
Someone went first. Someone who was young, curious, incautious, pulled roughly away from her mother’s nipple. Some she scrambled down. Seeing a bird perhaps, or scampering animal, the adventurer ran to catch a shadow. And once across the line: exposed. The small naked body impaled on the sun’s blade.
Visible from above. Visible from below. Visible.
* * *
“David said they offered you a promotion?” Marion’s friend says.
“It’s been suggested,” she replies.
“Is that good news or bad?”
“I don’t know.”
“Marion hasn’t decided what she wants to be when she grows up,” her husband says.
“Worse still, I haven’t decided to grow up.”
“You’re too grown up, that’s your problem,” her friend rallies.
“It’s David’s influence.”
On hearing his name, the kindly man moves to his wife’s side and squeezes her to his ribs.
“What am I being accused of now?”
“Making me grow up.”
“I thought Mother Nature did that.”
“No, she just makes us grow old.”
“Up, old, what’s the difference?”
* * *
The eyes fold shut sealed by the heat of the day, the sun hot, but she still cradled in her tree’s womb. (Behind her the music of family, friends, chattering, voices rising, laughing and chiding.) The lids slowly unpeel. She is here on the edge, hairy back pressed against the familiar rough trunk, chest exposed to the open space. The air shimmers, waves of heat, yellow, insistent.
Skeleton fingers grip her face; a taunt wire caught in her chest, winding ever tighter, pulls her forward. Her stiff legs snap untangled. Her body is awkward, uncontrolled. Clutching the trunk, she shimmies to the ground. Hooked to the sun wheel the wire of curiosity draws her to the edge. The body splits. Behind: cool, hesitant, comforting repose. In front: hands outstretched, legs bent, she cautiously moves out and pushes ahead. She crosses the line. Contact.
Embraced in heat, within the waves, the furnace, she fumbles headfirst on mechanical legs, below the stiff grass prickles the flesh. Still advancing from the familiar, her breath held, expectantly; the sound of those safely nestled behind her now memory, subdued. She leans towards the unfamiliar open horizon.
“David said you have a chance to take some time off.”
“Yes I do,” Marion replies.
“Escaping our rain drenched Island?
“There’s a problem with the kids,” she says.
“David will be on his own.”
“He’s of age.”
“Where are you going?” her sister calls from behind the metal tray.
“I don’t know. Africa?”
“Maybe you and David, but the kids?”
“No way city boy will go.”
* * *
There, at last. Exposed to the sky. Unprotected. No enclosing tree, no shadows, no branches, nothing. She a vulnerable insect scuttling across the celebrant’s table: the hostess unforgiving. When she turns to summon the others, they call her back.
“Spaceship to Marion.”
“Hey, birthday girl.”
Slowly focusing her eyes, Marion warms to the circle of faces, round and golden, every smile beaming at her. Can she tell them of her journey? Explain the frisson of the unknown, the alien risk of this other world far from the comfort of the warm nest, where they remain contentedly entangled with family and friends. Would they join her?
David’s warm bony hand encircles her fingers. “Come back,” he says softly. She will, she will come home but she will not leave anything behind.
~ Melodie Corrigall
Originally posted at: http://www.stonepathreview.org/page/2013-fall-vol-02-issue-08/story-africa/
Photo credit: 1 World Maps Online