THEY WILL REMEMBER YOU
There was a moment of calming, I recall, I knew there must have been, as I walked, imagining myself not human or even alive, but merely a splash of color amidst the palette of the woods, something brown perhaps, with hints of red making orange. I could be fully natural, attuned and equivalent to my cellular brethren, the grasses and vines and of course the trees, providing havens and canopies, anonymous, content, at once the antithesis of my human wants. But it was precisely at this moment where I first felt the twinge, like a pall or a shiver coming over me, and forgive me if I stray from my detail but this was unlike any feeling I had ever experienced before. It hit me, for lack of a better phrase, down there, for up until that time of my life, there had only been James who could inspire in me such sensation, for up until that time of my James, I had foresworn any urges of the flesh, any sexual ramifications, preferring to consider myself unneedful of such debasement, of such puerile distractions, of such body horror. But this was the magic of James, of what he did to me. He took the base, the sordid and squalid, and turned them into gentle showers of rose petals, lapping at my feet, whispering the most delicate poetry into my ever receptive ears, flowing over my body like a heavenly shower in spring.
But this twinge was different. For starters, it was involuntary, like a sneeze, like a convulsive pelvic shudder, and I felt my lower back arch up, as I grew taller, and craned my neck to the sky. This was pure biology, coming from somewhere else besides the oasis that is James, coming from within, from a darkness that spewed not merely threats but full-fledged spasmodic hammerings, and after my arch, I trembled and stopped in my tracks and fell a little bit at the knees, weaker, gasping, and afraid. My fear was not of the medical variety, for I knew there was nothing wrong with me physiologically. No, this was more like the sensation of stepping into a void, where gravity pulls you by your groin, by your most sensitive and protective area, by your oneness, by your sex. I wasn’t ready for it, I wasn’t prepared (if I could ever be), and the suddenness and shock of its unforeseen arrival brought me nearly to the verge of tears, as in the sense of loss, but it only took a few more seconds for me to realize that this whole experience must have had a source, that it came from somewhere in the woods themselves, like a primeval presence that somehow weaved its way through the baseness of nature to enter me and fill me with an ancient profound birthing of death. For me, for the very being of whom I knew myself to be, the source of my feeling was clear, as water to the day. I stood tall now again, with the world completely changed unto me, a new reality of Anna, who could never exist without in the singular, who could never exist without her self/other, who could never exist without her ever- present Chloe. And in the merest shortness of time, all was confirmed. As faint as a bee and as resounding as a clarion call, I heard Chloe, somewhere in those woods, crying out as if in pain. She needed me, and I had to go to her. I made haste, I ran. Through the brambles and the stickers, veering from the path at the outset, my usual awkward run refined into purposeful intent, the thicket of my Appalachian wood not necessarily restraining me, but not allowing complete freedom of movement either. It offered shallow scratches and scrapes to my bare arms and legs, but nothing to hinder me or cause me any real pain. The woods were saying, simply, “haste comes not without hindrance, but go if you must.” And I must. For Chloe.
Her crying was becoming inevitably more clear to me as I burst through the bushes and vines, though I could hardly call what I was hearing a “cry,” for it was fast becoming just an utterance of the sort I could not define, somewhere between a lilting weep and I don’t know what. The mystery of it slowed my pace, for in that moment I also became aware of the terrible noise of my still awkward movements, and then I first noticed the multitude of scratches on me, light lines of red not oozing but clear, candy-colored stripes decorating stalks of dirty sugar cane. I allowed myself to laugh at my instantaneous analogy, but I was interrupted by another, more forceful utterance from the disembodied Chloe, whom I still could not see. I was careful now to tread as gracefully as someone like myself could, which was not graceful at all of course, but grace was not my goal, instead I pursued mere stealth, and in this I seemed to succeed, inching closer to the source, inching closer to Chloe.
I impart onto you, as a reader, a measure of astuteness, for that is my nature. It is also my nature, both at that time in my story and persisting until this moment now as I write, to possess a near-equal measure of naiveté, borne from a childish innocence. Of this I am not ashamed. It is who I am. So I ask you, dear reader, not to judge me for remaining unaware of the true source of Chloe’s aural expressions — clear as it surely is to you. Remember, I am half of the whole of my self/other, and my judgments are firmly and eternally fixed in the thrall of the context of this. It clouds the real, as it did in my time upon hearing Chloe in the woods. On present reflection, of course, I suppose I was still in denial of the most powerful sort, for not once in my journey to discover my sister’s travail did I happen to thoughts of my James, and the obvious connection between him and Chloe — and remembering then, as I did, the strange and darkly physical manifestation of my hidden sex, the true source of my journey, a feeling that had forced itself on me before I ever heard the sounds of Chloe drifting through the woods. I realized soon, as a sadness and a pall came over me, that there was something behind that shudder, that debilitating weakness in my knees that seemed to come from nowhere. It was a message, and it came in an instant again, as in complete silence now, I moved and gathered the smallest sight of Chloe in a clearing, as I, perched upon the smallest of hills, given cover by the trees, perhaps willows (I’m not sure), saw what I should have known, for I felt it, I felt it like nothing I had ever felt before in my life, and the feeling kept coming, in waves, over and over again, thundering from within me, involuntary, relentless, and cold. I felt Chloe’s every twitch, every shudder, every moan. She was on her knees, buckling, writhing, half-temptress, half-snake, and beneath her was James, both their clothes in disarray. My shock, foolish as ever, was palpable, and my own shuddering forced a burning bile up toward my brain, as I watched them for only a second, for that’s all it took. I swallowed my sick, then let out a weird, pathetic scream, the tone of which I cannot describe. But it was audible enough to scare me to my bones, and I immediately put my hand over my mouth, like some psychotic, schizophrenic loon barely in control of her faculties. I hid behind the tree far too narrow to conceal me, but could not resist the quickest sidelong glance at the entwined Chloe/James. Did they see me? This was unclear, but they sensed me, and their current tryst was interrupted indefinitely. I knew I couldn’t move for fear of being discovered, yet this did not stop me from turning my body fully away from them, and slinking down quickly against the tree, for I sought a comfortable perch from where to become invisible. It was at that moment when I heard the fateful cry, as James cut through the silence like blade to my heart.
Chloe was quick to reprimand him.
“Ssssh!” she hissed in a tone even louder than James, remarkable indeed for a “ssssh!” Of course I was turned away from them, against that tree, clenching my eyes shut with all my forbidden force, praying for escape, a fleeting moment of respite, perhaps for Miss Emily’s ghost to whisk me away to her secret place where the lonely souls gather protected and immune. But instead I heard what the sane might expect to hear: the rustling of the early fall leaves, the panting and creaks, fumblings and mumblings of two bodies reclaiming their decorum, and there was haste in it, so before I could feel their wrath breathing upon me, I did the only thing I could have done. I stood, and I ran.
Behind me was all swearing and consternation, “fuck” this and “fuck” that from the both of them, but it was quickly lost upon me, as despite my most ungainly of gaits I sped with all my ability through that terrible wood, toward which I couldn’t ever know, I just wanted to be away. I thought I was making good gain, even when I heard my name being called. It was Chloe, and as much as I may have accepted a comforting tone, something with just any small trace of forgiveness, it was not forthcoming. No, Chloe instead was mad. I knew she could travel with much more efficiency than I through this terrain, and I knew that she could soon follow through on whatever plans she had to accompany her screams of rage, her “Anna! Anna! Anna!” echoing off some hard surfaces somewhere or everywhere, but I still couldn’t hear the inevitable sounds of her footfall, so I thought I was keeping a safe distance, at least for a time. This comfort was soon dashed, as I stumbled over a small rise, through a small thicket and unto the wall of a ravine which contained my now sadly stooped persona. Apparently I was a prisoner of some ancient Appalachian valley, for in front of me stood a horribly natural rock wall of no less than fifty feet in height, and running of sufficient perpendicular length to me so as to offer no hope of any quick continuance of my current direction. In essence, I was trapped, with Chloe’s voice still calling to me, expanding in its clarity, peppering the air with “fuck” and “kill” and “bitch.” These words would hit the wall of rock and assault my hearing in ever increasing volume, and soon Chloe would be upon me, a thought that filled me with no small degree of monumental panic. Surely she would lash and assault me, and James would bear witness, and most likely intervene, but all hope of any normal life, any safe and quiet life, would surely rise and vanish like so much early autumn hot air to the heavens. I had never before experienced such a physical, bodily frenzy. The rocks were pulling me, and I acquiesced. There was nowhere else to go. To escape the day, I had to climb. There were what seemed to be footholds in the wall. I rose my toe to the first one, and somewhat to my astonishment, my body rose up, then rose up some more. I had never climbed anything before in my life. But some instinct had taken over. Call it survival, call it what you will, but for a few precious moments, my hands and feet moved in some sort of symphonic unison, and before too long I found myself perched upon nothing but two inches of rock, dangling like some newly carved marionette, high above the forest floor. Of course if I had looked down I would never had made it up as high as I did. But my gaze was steadfast against the rock, and focused on the task at hand. I wasn’t sure what I would do if and when I reached the top, for maneuvering oneself over the edge of such a precarious ledge seemed another adventure in itself. But in a moment I would be stopped. Somewhere, now below me, Chloe had entered the stage I had built for myself. Me, strapped to the proscenium arch, high above, directing this play with no will. Chloe called out, was it to me?
“What the fuck?” she yelled, and I froze.
That was the first time I looked down. Maybe it was because of Chloe’s sudden proximity to me. Maybe it was because I wanted to be near her, no matter what she would do to me. I would take my punishment, and quietly die. But for now, I was a spectacle. I looked down. I was three-quarters the way up the rock face, forty feet above the ground. It may as well have been a thousand. Chloe must have sensed my fear, it hung in the air like a sick damp, I’m sure. She changed her tone a little, almost approximating sympathy. Almost.
“Anna,” she chimed, “it was just sex. I’m not in love with him.” I knew my reply before she finished her sentence.
“But, you never…” I said in a breathy voice full of fear, “you never did that before!”
“Fucking shut up, bitch!” she yelled. It was at this time that James stumbled into the clearing next to her. I could not get a good glimpse of either of them, as my front clung to the stone, but over my shoulder I imagined James to be somewhat blank, somewhat innocently gormless about the whole thing. Of course I was embarrassed now beyond my wildest nightmares, but this was about me and my Chloe now, and the world was reduced to spectator. For the moment this included even James. Chloe’s vituperation had steeled my fear. I started to hyperventilate with paralysis. All I could do was whisper.
“Chloe…” I barely managed to utter. “Chloe… Chloe…” “What?”
“Help me… Help me…” I said. And then it came.
I was a bastard child in the lap of an indifferent God suddenly suspended by her fingertips praying for salvation. And mine had to be Chloe.
I thought I heard Chloe mutter to herself. “Shit.” Then James said something I couldn’t decipher in the slightest. Then the air changed. Chloe called out.
“Anna,” she said with a firm resolve, “don’t move an inch. I’m coming up.”
James gave a feeble protest. “No!” But Chloe’s voice told me all I needed to know. She was coming up. A warmth came over me, followed by a chill, and then new sweat started to form on my neck and under my arms, splayed as I was on my toe and finger holds, I was dripping anew, and flooded with shivers that threatened my perch. Not helping a whit were the new sounds coming to me, voices of them, the heathens, entering from stage left, right and rear.
“Holy fuck!” This was Paolo.
“Bent!” This was Clarissa.
“That is fucked up!” This was Tyler. He followed with, “Dude, what did you do to her?” I wasn’t sure to whom this was intended, but Paolo answered.
“I didn’t do shit. The fuckin’ skank kicked me in the balls.” Clarissa cracked up laughing.
“Yeah, a real ladies’ man,” said Tyler.
“You guys should shut up,” said James, but his words rang hollow at that moment. Chloe screamed at them all.
“Everybody shut the fuck up!” I felt the energy all shift back toward me. My chest clenched in a hatred for the world. It pulsated like a wave. Chloe spoke to me in altogether a different tone.
“Anna, listen to me. I’m climbing up to you. I’m gonna climb up there and I’m gonna stand up there with you and I’m gonna help you down. So don’t move, alright?”
Like I was ever going to move.
“I don’t know how you got up there. You’re amazing.”
If you don’t know how I got up here, how in hell are you going to get up here?
“Just be still. You’re safe if you stay still. I’m coming up.”
I could hear her grunt and slip and swear maybe under her breath. I hadn’t thought before about how I got up there forty feet above the ground, but right then I did. This realization was like a horror. It made me feel my fingers and toes, feel the cold rock and how jagged it was, grey and soulless like an ageless monster spitting you out. There was no variation of color in it. It was monolithic and relentless and I had no right to violate its purity. But there I was, a little bug, slipping away. Chloe had the power now, or did she always have it?
She was closer. “See, it’s easy,” she said, lying. “And it will be just as easy going down.” Liar! How eerie it was to hear her voice approach me. I remember thinking that she sounded different than usual. The air was different. I didn’t dare budge.
Seconds later she was near my feet. That’s when her voice changed yet again. It held the slightest of quivers, a scant trace of nervousness that was nonetheless clear as a siren in the night. I got the sense she would not, could not, climb any higher. There was effort now in her speech.
“Anna, look down.” I did as she instructed. This helped nothing. “Do you see where my left hand is? That’s where you can step down and put your left foot. Do you see?” I could see but I still couldn’t speak. Chloe got a little impatient. “Anna! Do you see?”
“Yes,” I finally muttered softly in words not my own.
“Good,” said Chloe. “Now get a good grip on that crack in the rock there, by your hip. You’re going to hold on there and lower your foot to this ledge by my hand. Can you do that for me?” Was this a fucking rhetorical question? I told Chloe the truth.
“Yes you can.”
“No I can’t.”
“Yes you fucking well can!”
“Anna, you climbed up here, right? You can climb down. You can do it.”
“Anna! You can’t just stay on this wall forever! Just do as I say, and we’ll go one step at a time.”
Chloe did not appreciate this statement.
“You’re not!” she hollered. “How can you be stuck?”
“I just am.”
I could feel me and my self/other beginning to slip into that place we so often went, that place of total disregard, that place where one is defined only by how hard one pushes against the other and leaves a mark. It swelled up in Chloe and came charging toward me as she escalated to a bellow.
“Goddamn it bitch, just put your fucking foot down on this ledge! Do you wanna die a loser! A virgin, a boggy scab! Put your fucking foot down now, you... nobody!”
Who’s nobody? I’ll put my fucking foot down you nobody.
I kicked Chloe in the head. I don’t know if I meant to or not. I’ll never know.
All I know is that Chloe lost her balance. She slipped fast with barely a chance to grab hold. I saw something primal in her face, a wide-eyed blankness, a nothing. I watched her fall like it was in slow motion. But it wasn’t. Gravity delivered her to the forest floor below. She fell at an awkward angle. She hit her head and it twisted around. You could tell by the noise it made that her neck broke and Chloe was dead.
I hugged the rock determined to never move. In another eon some paramedics got me down. I don’t remember much else.