Unzipping a canvas tent flap is not quite the same thing as opening stiff hotel curtains, but it’ll do.
Hello, Jasper. I got your last letter just before Sarah and I left San Myshuno for three days in Granite Falls.
This morning I am standing on the shore of a clear blue pond, watching the waves approach and recede. Fish jump up out of the water, making a splash that says “Look, I am here and I am alive,” before they fall back down below. Ducks paddle along the surface, honking to their friends. The pine trees on the far side of the pond whisper to each other through their entangled roots about birds and squirrels and the sun and how this year has been wetter than the last, and suddenly I realize how much I hate San Myshuno.
What does freedom mean to you?
I would tell you what freedom means to me, but I am not sure that you want to hear it.
I want to say things about Bess, but I don’t know what things to say. I can see that you loved her, and it sounds like she died in peace. That’s the best any of us can hope for, really.
I am glad that you found what you needed in the present moment.
In this present moment, I just caught a large bass. It’s dying. I have taken it from its home, and it can’t breathe in my world. It is confused and lost and gasping for air, and the darkness is closing in.
I consider it for a few more present moments, maybe only three or so. Then I decide that I don’t want anyone else to suffer that way.
I remove the hook from its mouth, and then I throw the bass back into its little pond.
I think that maybe time works differently for you than it does for me.
The black hole is always present, in every moment. It is there when I breathe in the fresh pine-scented air. It is there when I notice the sun glinting off the water. It is there when I watch the bass dive down into the pond and swim off.
It is there when Sarah grills breakfast.
She made shish kebabs this morning. They taste like loneliness and canvas and smoke from a grill and tree bark. Also…a hint of elephant?
Sarah’s cooking is always an experience.
Can you taste things like that in food? Or is it just how she cooks food in particular? I’ve tried to tell a few other people about how her food tastes, but it was not received well.
I don’t try to talk to other people much anymore.
I think maybe I should ask her about the elephant.
I ask her, “Why does the shish kebab taste a bit like elephant?”
She looks at me, and her lower lip begins to wobble.
She says, “The tiny elephants. They took my knives.”
“I brought my knives because you know how I don’t like to be without them. What if zombies came during the night and tried to eat our brains? What if we went hiking and we found a giant spiderweb and you got stuck in it and the spider wrapped you up and I had to cut you out before you got eaten? What if we found some really interesting tasty thing here to grill but I wasn’t strong enough to rip it apart with my hands? So I brought all the knives. I had them right here this morning, while you were off fishing.”
“I started getting everything ready for making breakfast, and the birds were chirping and the sun was just rising and there was still dew on the grass. It was nice. I’m glad we came here. I think the forest is good for you. But anyway, I turned my back for a second to check on the coal in the grill. Only for a second. When I turned around, one of my knives was gone! My favorite one, too! You know, the really sharp long one you got me for our anniversary a couple of years ago.”
“So I looked around everywhere for it, but I couldn’t find it. And then I looked at the knives again, and another one was gone! The one we got in Sunset Valley at that quaint little shop by the waterfall, you remember? I really liked that one! A lot! It was nice and sharp and it was great for slicing meat and also I thought it’d be good for slicing zombie brains if I should ever need it for that. But now it’s gone! The tiny elephants! They took it!”
I am not quite sure what to think about this. I ask her, “How do you know it was tiny elephants who took your knives? I didn’t think elephants were native to this area.”
She says, “I’m getting to that part!”
I take another bite of the shish kebab. It is really good. And now that I think about it, I do think the elephant bit of it tastes small and compact, and not at all like a large elephant roaming the savannah and tearing trees out of the ground with its trunk. It does actually taste more like a tiny elephant picking up Sarah’s knives with its trunk and running away.
“So then I said, okay, what’s going on here? And I sat down on the ground right in front of the knife block, and I waited. For a few minutes it was just me and the grass and the birds and the knives, and I thought maybe I was being silly and I’d just mislaid the two knives somewhere, but then, I heard it. A high squeaky trumpeting.”
“Two tiny elephants came out of the trees. They were so cute, with their little floppy ears and tiny little tails! I stayed very still and quiet. They came over to the knife block. I was worried they’d be scared of me, so I tried to not do anything that they could perceive as threatening. One of them wrapped its little trunk around one of the knives, lifted it up out of the block, and trotted off. The other one stayed for a bit, looking at me with great big eyes, and then followed its friend. I couldn’t be mad at them, you know? So I got up, slowly and quietly, and I followed them.”
“They went through the trees to a little clearing, and the one that was carrying the knife dropped it by the other two knives. I looked around the clearing and I saw the other knives they’d collected, and do you know what they’re using the knives for? They’re using them to build themselves a tiny little elephant knife lair! The poor dears! You’re right that they’re not native to this area. Maybe someone brought them camping and they got lost or they were abandoned. They’re just trying to do what they can for themselves. So I cried some, and then I came back here, and I gathered up all my knives.”
“I took all the knives to their clearing, and they were very happy and they did a lot of high squeaky trumpeting, and they have a good knife lair to live in now so they’ll have shelter from the rain and wind, and also if any zombies come they’ll be able to defend themselves, and I don’t have any knives but that’s okay because it’s more important that the tiny elephants are okay, you know? Like we couldn’t take them home with us, because I am pretty sure that our lease specifically says no tiny elephants, but I did what I could.”
I wonder why the lease would specify no tiny elephants? Perhaps it’s related to the man who lived in the apartment before us and who died when he ate his own pufferfish nigiri. Maybe he kept tiny elephants as pets, and they drove him to it somehow. Possibly with their incessant theft of his knives.
I ask Sarah, “If you gave them all of your knives, then how did you make this shish kebab?”
She answers, “I ripped it apart with my hands.”
Well. I think I am safe if zombies should come to our tent in the night, looking to eat our brains. Even if Sarah does not have her knives.
I think she’s about to start crying for the tiny elephants again.
I think, Jasper, that we do have different definitions of silence. Mine doesn’t dance around anything, but it makes sense. I know dread well. It’s an old friend.
Also I am well aware of how my own ego bends my perception of reality around itself. I am also aware that there are ways that it is bending reality that I won’t see for a while yet.
As for creative projects, well, my garden and my lab have both been taken from me. But today I am here in the woods, and after breakfast I will go looking for herbs. Fireleaf grows around here.
Right now I am looking at Sarah. I am tasting her perception of reality in her shish kebab, and I am thinking that I will always have a companion in the battle against brain eating zombies.
I am still not going to tell her about ending therapy, though. She’s already upset enough about the poor tiny elephants.
She says, “They’re okay now, right? They have a home. They have plenty here to eat. Lots of trees and grass and plants and things. And there’s just two of them and they’re so small, so hopefully they won’t make enough of an impact that the park rangers notice and go looking for them. That won’t happen, right? I don’t want anything bad to happen to them. They’ll be okay, won’t they, Seth?”
I tell her of course, they’ll be okay. I smile at her and I make reassuring noises until she stops looking sad.
The black hole is present in this moment too, but I don’t want her to know. I don’t want it to touch her. I definitely don’t want to taste it in her food when she makes dinner later.
Let me know how your dragon came out. I’ll be here to listen if you decide to tell me about your other project.
Also, do you know of any good cutlery stores in San Myshuno? I need to buy some knives when we get home.