BAP Quarterly

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a boy reading in the woods

by: Saehee Cho

            He had been reading in the woods but now the light had disappeared, so slowly that the sudden realization that it was now dark occurred to him like a deception.  He felt startled and a little resentful towards whatever force had deceived him and he dramatically shut his book, folding it between palms like an angry prayer.  Seeing that no one was there to appreciate this gesture, he let the book go slack against his leg, spreading the pages with the bulb of his knee.
            She had said to wait there and he had, determined, even studious in his obedience.  She said that she had “things to do”, the broadness of her authority smoothing him over.  It had been like this often, him affectionately following her direction.  And though she was barely a year older than him he felt compelled to let her lead him because he liked that space of blind trust, the way his head grew blank and pure when he was with her.  During their weekend sleepovers they’d wait until his parents fell asleep and then they’d turn off all the lights in the house, close all the curtains, and travel through the dark, bumping into the corners of large pieces of furniture.  They’d eventually find each other and he would grab at the edge of her shirt, trail her by her fabric until they fell asleep on the couch.  They had done this so often, he became familiar with the varying degrees of thinness between her shirts.  He often caught himself wanting to say, in this one I can feel your skin tighten when you are cold, in this one you feel like wet paper, in this one I hardly recognize you at all.
            The protruded parts of his body were growing cold, his fingers curling in, his nose a little wet.  His lips were starting to feel like they didn’t belong to him anymore, like deadened scar tissue.  Bringing his hand to his mouth, he rubbed at his lips to induce feeling and he tasted the mineral grain of dirt that he must have swiped off the rock.  It reminded him of how last week she had demanded that they eat soil while watching cowboy movieson television.  She brought over sandwich bags fat with black soil and let the weight of them swing pendulously in front of him, as if she were dangling a carrot.  “It’s chewing tobacco”, she said.  They sat on the rug in front of the television, the dirt making their mouths smell mossy and green. 
            The air had gone moist and his skin a little sticky from it.  He had given her his jacket before she had left and he questioned why he had done such a thing.  She was never cold, her body always flushed and blooming pink tones, her forehead always a little dewy.  But he, on the other hand, was always cold.  He liked the pressure of clothes, pressing him solidly down.  It had been hours, he knew this from the weight of the air.  When they had arrived the air was thick with light and now it had such a thinness to it that it felt sharp in his lungs. 
            Perhaps she was trying to scare him, testing the sturdiness of his character, as she frequently liked to do.  Everything was a competition.  Who can fit more strawberries in their mouth at once? Who can spin the longest without going dizzy? Who can stay awake the longest?  She could very well be hiding up a tree, chewing the ribbing of her shirt collar to keep from laughing.  He looked up, focusing on the bits of sky where the moonlight might betray a small person hiding among trees. 
            Or it was entirely possible that she had abandoned him there.  They had watched a war movie the other day.  There was a mother who left her baby swaddled under a tree, crying and looking back often, the bombs bursting musically above her.  When he had asked Johanna why the mother had done this, she looked at him pouting and said that it was better for the baby, that it was necessary somehow, and that he didn’t understand movies at all.  And with that he felt emptied and convinced that he had been abandoned, the action necessary--somehow. 
            She was probably trekking bold-faced towards home, her body vacillating  between the heaviness of guilt and the delight of becoming newly unburdened.  The nearer she got to home, the lighter her step would become until she was sprinting through the front door of her house.  Days later he would finally make his way back, his body more angular from having eaten nothing but the bark of fallen twigs.  And of course she would just happen to be crossing the street as he was walking up the driveway of his house.  He’d like to imagine that his back would stand erect, the ashiness of dust on his clothes strangely dignifying. His expression aloof, saying that her abandonment had not phased him in the slightest.  But the better part of him knew that he was much more likely to look broken and like an unraveled thing that had once been a boy and that she would probably never be found walking on his street again. 
            He determined that if he had, indeed, been abandoned, he must harden himself to it.  He puffed up his body and imagined a hardness swelling his chest.  He was resolute, methodically inflating himself- the stance of his legs grown wider, the angle of his hips more square. He felt a shudder in the air, the rippling of a motion that had not come from him and without turning he knew it was her.   Two arms parting the darkness, white and shining with the deep glow of bone. He was awed by how she destroyed so much space around her when she walked but managed to do so silently.  This, he determined, was grace.  For all his inflation, his body felt punctured, relieved. She stopped unnervingly close to him and drew in a breath, as if to draw him in.  He felt pliable and willing and let the strength of her breathing take him wherever she wanted.  The slight ledge of her brow bone shadowed her face in such a way that all he could see was a slick of gloss, which he knew to be her eyes.  She pried open his palm and fumbled something precisely in the middle, pushed it in with her thumb with a press like a subtle burn.  “I went to go find you a slice of moon”, she said.  He could not see it but it was warm and velveteen.  It felt splendid in his cupped hand and he knew it was true, she had brought him back a slice of moon. 

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