by Craig Davis
Even though it was really just a bend in a creek bed which had washed away the sandstone, a bluff of maybe, 40 feet. Everyone thinks the water is slowly winning because it eats a little at the rock, but really it’s the little rocks in the water that do the work. The creek kept turning, the water ushering the dirt towards some ocean, somewhere which never impressed them either, not too much. Tim knew it was sandstone, though the creekbed was made of different rocks, limestone probably, and there was some kind of big pinkish blocks in the fields that were something else entirely, and then of course the chert-rock that they used to think was flint and would not wash away. Here they name hills. And it’s not hard to believe that the same people who called these shapes hills might also call a bluff a cliff. People here were less modest before they let the trees creep in. When your voice could carry, over the inflorescences, leaping the bottoms and riding the big south wind. We used to really holler here. Tim faced the cliff and letting out a whoop. The sandstone sent it bouncing back like low angle light off the water. Katie peeled off a laugh.
“Want to try the rope swing?” she said, lifting her shirt. Over her head.
She was ribbed and nearly titless. Her bra was black and her skin was wonderfully pale and her thin mousey hair was pulled high up on the back of her head. Something in the curl of her mouth made it all play together. Tim said something sexual. Katie stepped from her shoes, pushed her jeans off her hips and made for the rope. She was in the water with a squeal and Tim caught the rope on the backswing and swung out, fully clothed, over the eddying elbow of water and with the girl’s high lilt still pinging around Echo Cliff he let go and – I shit you, not – never landed. He spread his fingers and a tall gray column cloud roiled down and curled back up under him and lifted him up and away, over the buff colored bluff and Katie in the creek could not see where he flew off to. She could see only the black soles of the boots he was wearing and the mass of smokey cloud blocking the sun suddenly and the leaves of the sycamores and cottonwoods and blackjacks tremble and lift and Tim Jones was gone. She stood with her gaze lifted and her long throat offered up. Water dripped down from her hair and, of course, found channels down her back. The creek eddied around the tops of her rump.
We will need to recall all this.
The creek was stand-up shallow, even out in the middle, and Katie felt the silt at the bottom of the pool give and try to take as she stepped out, until she got to the pebbly channel and winced her way to the bank. She crossed her arms over her chest and shivered. Some sunlight got through the thick of summer sycamores, she squinted at the fringe of grass along the top of the bluff for a long time. She could still here his voice echoing around in the cradle of sand and stone and water and she wondered what the fuck was happening.
Could a burst of weather and wind carry away a boy? How could a cloud vanish into a cottonwood bough? How long had she been standing there? How long could echo last?
She was crying. Sobbing, really. Sitting Indian style, pebbles digging into her hipbones through her unpadded buttcheeks. She had buried in her face in her hands. She was crying so hard she wondered where her tears were coming from. What reservoir? There were puddles of tears around her feet. Katie, Tim kept echoing, louder and closer, it felt like.
She wiped her eyes on the back of her arm and was alarmed to find it dry. She lifted her head and there was Tim, stepping out of the creek, straining against the sopping soil.
“Katie,” he said, loudly. Harshly.
“Tim,” she said.
“Katie, are you okeh?”
The water coming off him in little rivulets caught the light and condensed it. She saw runs of crystalline sunlight drip, drip, dripping from his sleeves, his finger, his jeans. She looked at his face. It was scary. She saw his curly brown hair was matted against his skull. His head seemed too round.
“Why are you sweating, baby?” she asked him.
“What in the fuck are you talking about, Katie?” he said. Still scary faced. She looked away, something in the leaves and the light. The bark was rubbing off some of the trees, showing bone and greenish white. She looked away.
“Katie, are you crying?” he asked her.
She began to laugh.
“I think this shit’s working,” she said, and felt something big and hollow slip down into her when she swallowed.
He began to giggle then and flopped to the ground down beside her. They tried to kiss, but it was pretty fucking weird and they quit.
“I think we better stay here a little while,” he said.
Then he said, “Let go for a walk.”
“Okeh,” she said, “Where.”
“Up out of this bottom, up out of these trees.”
“Yeah, they’re kind of creeping me out,” Katie nodded. Her hair was damp and moved heavily. She found her clothes and after a while she got them on. He kept trying to poke her pussy when she bent to pull up her pants.
Out into the lea, the sward, the range. Tim and Katie would climb up out of the scrub woods of east Kansas, right past the Wabaunsee county line, into those big, nearly lunar landscapes the uplands made there, then. They would find the wind, coming from the south, which should shock no one, and let it whip their hair and luff their shirts. It was the end of a dry summer. The grass wasn’t even chest high and was already starting to patch out into russet – the color gold wishes it was. They walked for a while into that light they have there. Maybe it’s all the dust, the dust that’s in the air when the sun sinks, and it gets filtered through all those particles of deep brown dirt. Maybe the turf keeps some of the light held back for sundown, like how water seems to save light for the end of the day, then sends it all blinding back into your blinking eyes, all at once. Maybe the ground leaks it out a little, lures the sun down to meet the soil, and it makes that light they have there, only there, in that place where Tim and Katie went walking. Whatever it is, when you leave it, it shames you a little. To not be able to bear its beauty. To hide your eyes with mountains and forests. To pretend to know the sea. Whatever it is, it’s in our women, our girls named Katie in that light. Our boys, big, broad young, they brave it. And the noise of the dry sheaths of grass, shushing you … shhhh. Shhhh.
Shut the fuck up.
Run your hands along the inflorescenses. Forget the failed towns. You should have never tried to build cities here. Where you can’t see a fence and the trees are as modest as me. You can call that creek a river, you can call that pond a lake. You can call the girls Katie and you can tell the people passing through there’s a cliff nearby where they can wade a bit or watch the sun set over the pasture. But you don’t have to. You don’t have to say the word prairie when you’re walking though one. You can call it a pasture even, if it scares you so much. Shhh. It’s dusk. Sunset. Call it sunset, the color that we know. Or don’t. Don’t call it anything, or ever recall it, or let it come calling back to you. It doesn’t need us to see it. Shit, maybe we shouldn’t even. I don’t know. But I am sure we shouldn’t worry, Katie. If we just keep walking this way, it’ll wear off, eventually.